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Book Three Pt 2 - The Reckoning

Written by - Tempyst

Ithramir waited a bit, seeing if his kisses would awaken Lithwyn. He could tell she was sleeping, but how deeply he did not know. He smiled softly and kissed the top of her head. Placing the bottle of wine on the desk he sat down in one of the chairs nearby.

"My dear sweet mate, I know my proposal last night was a bit out of form for me, but you should know by now, how much i do love you and how long I have waited for you. But, even being healed and finally one together, I know you are still fearful, still pensive, so I will not push. I ahve waited this long, I can wait a hundred times longer for you. I will be leaving in a short while with the army again. I hope to see you again before I leave, but I know how work can keep us both very busy. Be well my melommin, nad come to me when you are ready."

Ithramir stood and gazed once more upon her beauty, then left, needing to get some sleep then to ready himself for a return to war.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya glanced back once at Alaric and admired what she saw. Now Kaya, get a grip, you have business to attend to. She smiled softly to herself. She dressed, then headed over to Ithramir's office, getting there, just as Ithramir was.

"Ah Kaya, good to see you please come in." Ithramir held the door open and after Kaya and he both entered his office, closed the door behind them. "How are things going for you now Kaya?"

"Kaya took a deep breath, things are going fast, but quite well. I do not mean to rush, but I know you are busy and so lets get to business." Kaya paused, then continued. "I am planning on going west, to Port Westgale and confronting Beridane. He is the one who placed the demon inside of me, to assassinate you. If i am to hunt demons and find out what is going on, I need to see what he knows about the demons. And frankly, I have no other clue where to start."

"And a little vengence is a good thing too, isn't it?" Ithrmir chuckled.

Kaya blushed, "Aye, it is." Then took another deep breath. "Once I have word, I will get a message back to you, somehow."

"That would be appreciated. Now, was there anything else?"

"No Sir, except...It is indeed an honor to meet you and serve with you. You are the reason I am here. I mean, the reason I lead the rebel groups in our homeland, and tried to get the elders to see things in a new light. I grew up with stories of your accomplishements and victories. And well, Thank you for leading the way for the rest of us." Kaya saluted Ithramir, and he returned the salute.

"Thank you Kaya, for believing." There did not seem to be much more to say and Kaya walked back out and headed to the grove while Itramir waited for his next appointment with Renalis Dalomar.

Once at the grove, Kaya headed to the kitchen they had there and grabbed some food, then headed back out to wait for Alaric and her guide.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Owen strolled lazily towards the crowd gathered near the city's main gate and Nayse quietly kept pace beside him as they made their way through the golden oceans of wheat.

As she saw the pair approaching, Dolce cut a path though the crowd towards them. "YOU! I should have known you'd be involved in this. I swear, you're worse than the late Chancellor Klein's son!"

Owen just smiled. "It's nice to see you, Dolce."

"Do you have ANY idea what you've done," she kept yelling at him, and he stood there smiling as Nayse looked on, "Do you have ANY idea what's going to happen now?

"I'm doing fine, thank you for asking. How have you been these days?"

"Owen..." Nayse said quietly from the sidelines.

"Oh, fine. Dolce, I did nothing but protect my fellow countrymen. They started it, I just struck first. And... if I had to guess, I'd say that Magistrate Grady is going to send some of His Majesty's loyal soldiers to put down the heinous farmers' rebellion at squalid little Banwall."

"Exactly," Dolce yelled at him. "This is squarely on your shoulders, and since you started it, you're going to finish it." Dolce abruptly turned and stormed off towards the keep.

"Hah! Modeka would be proud!"

"Well... we should be going. Sister will be expecting us shortly," Nayse said, starting off towards the gate. Owen followed quietly behind her.

Written by - Agmund

"Condemn me to a life in hell, cast me down, I care not," he quivered with anger.

“You're upset, and understandably so… I cannot fault you for it, indeed perhaps in your place I would be as well,” she lowered her head slightly as he turned to face her, causing her long lochs to slide downwards over her body. “The people still have need of you, and there is still much life left within you, will you now turn aside from who you are? Are you so weary as to forget the counsel that set you upon this path?”

Her voice had sunk to a low whisper, and while she had spoken his eyes had searched her over, not with the same look of awe as they had previously, but with a look of dismayed familiarity.

“If I despair, it is not because I no longer wish to aid those who are in need, but rather because my mind and body can no longer lend themselves to do so,” there eyes met as he raised her head gently. “I have not forgotten you, nor can I trade the past for what could have been… or might have been. We both did what we felt was best, and now… especially now, we can have no regrets in our decisions,” his head shook with sorrow as they embraced.

“Hmph,” he muttered into her ear “The All-Father chose wisely…

“I asked to be here, in fact I begged that I be allowed to speak with you,” her eyes began searching the ruins of their surroundings as she interjected, and broke free of his arms. “Not because I thought I could convince you, but so that I could look upon you once more, and offer you at least some hope.” Her eyes turned back to him “That day upon the hilltop of Anaris, I prayed that it would be you that would find me… but you never came, hours and hours past… I…” her voice cracked as she tried to compose herself.

“I have regretted that day always, and now I, the person who has the least right to ask anything of you, stand before you to beg you to return,” she feel to his feet and wept “please go back, go back I beg you, if not for me for my people, if not for them for yours.”

A long sigh erupted from him as he saw her there and in that state. He tried to weigh the decision facing him, but there was no scale he could place it upon that had not already burst. He was trapped, and although it was something he was accustomed to, this time it was much more personal. In the past he could force lamented decisions from his mind, now the one that haunted him the most was at his feet.

“Very well, I will return and venture into the east,” his words held resolve, but his heart held little. “Now stand up and counsel me as you have done in the past,” they smiled at one another as he helped her to her feet.

Written by - Tempyst

"Will Amara be joining us this evening?" Raevyn asked the eleborately dressed, rotund elf.

Jalayn smiled and took a sip from his glass. "I do believe she will my friend. Again, I cannot thank you enough for bringing me back my treasure."

Raevyn smiled. "No, thank you for your generosity m'Lord. I am only sorry that the drug I used put her under for so long. I do look forward to hearing her sing. From what you tell me, it is beautiful beyond compare."

"Aye it is, which is why I had to have her as my own. Nothing but the best I always say..."

****

"No! Tell him I will NOT be joining him!" Amara threw her chamber pot at the servant, causing the woman to quickly depart the room and lock the door behind her. Amara paced back and forth. The grey cat that lay on the foot of her bed let out a small growl, then stretched and yawned. "What are you complaining about? And how in the devil did you get in here again?" She stormed over to the cat, with the intentionof tossing it out between the bars in her window again. but when she reached the bed she changed her mind, knowing full well the beast would just find its way back inside." She sat down beside beast and without thinking, patted the cat's head. She had woken up the evening before, her head throbbing, with the cat sitting on her chest. Jalayn had been there too, smiling at her. SHe knew he said something about being home at last, but the drugs had given her such a headache she didn't care what he had said.

Now, a day later, he sent word though his servant that she was expected to dress for dinner and sing for guests. Like hell I will. "I just wish this would all go away."

As she spoke those words, the cat seemed to smile, stood and stretched. "As you wish." Amara looked at the cat, hearing it speak, but before she could say a word the cat pounced on her chest pinning her to the bed. Amara tried to pull the cat from her, but it wsa growing in size and shifting, changing. The tail and whiskers changed to tentacles andthe mouth grew large and salivating. "I have been waiting to hear those words child, and now, I can continue on with my work." Amara screams as the monster dug its claws into her, the tail tentacle wrappeing around her feet and the whisker tentacles piercing various parts of her body. The dark grey apendaged began to pulsate, and sickly sucking sounds could be heard.

A short while later, Amara dressed, then walked over to the door and knocked, signaling the servant she was ready.

****

"Ah, here she is Raevyn, now doesn't she look lovely?" Jalayn spoke proudly of Amara.

"Indeed she does m'lord, you are in deed a lucky man." Raevyn watched Amara, but seemed puzzled by her movements and actions. Perhaps he is keeping her drugged; seems logical. I doubt she would be down here willingly. "Good evening Amara, how are you?"

Amara turned to Raevyn and smiled, then sat down between him and Jalayn. "I am fine sir, thank you for retrieving me and bringing me back to where I belong." Yup, she's drugged, such a pity though, to lose that fire she had.

The three sat and ate, small talk wafting over the table between Raevyn and Jalayn, with Amara being the quiet, the perfect companion, as Jalayn referred to her as now. After desert had been served, Jalayn asked Raevyn if he wished to share a brandy before bed. Raevyn shook his head no. "I would rather be going m'lord, as I have many other patrons to see to. And though I hate to be rude there is the manner of my, compensation?"

"Ah yes, I am sure you thought I forgot or was hoping you would. Amara, over on the desk there, in the silver box, please bring my guest the contents." Amara nodded, got up and went to the desk setting behind Raevyn. Raevyn could hear her fiddle with the box, then her soft steps as she approached him. Then there was sickly sound of flesh being pierced.

Raevyn looked down and saw a writhing tentacle had pierced his torso. Blood poured from the wound and as he tried to speak, bubbled from his mouth. The light faded from his eyes and as the tentacle was pulled from his body he slumped over, face falling onto the dirty plate before him. "Very good my precious, I do so hate to pay for anything that was always mine to begin with. Now, shall we go to the parlor and have you sing for me?" Jalayn did not even hear the many tentacles lash forward with lightning speed and wrap around his limbs. All he felt was a quick tug then all went black for the merchant guild leader.

The grey cat took it's time licking its fur, cleaning itself up before wandering out into the night.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

As Owen and Nayse made their way back through town towards the keep, it seemed as if the entire town was gossiping about what had happened. As the pair approached the keep's main gate, Owen noticed the smiles the guards wore in place of their usual grimace. "Young Lady Quintale... and Owen, too. What brings you two here," one of the guards said to them jovially.

"Oh, sister is demanding our presence. If we may beg your leave sirs, she really does need to see us immediately."

"Then, by all means, my lady, please proceed," the guard said with a sincere bow. Nayse hurried into the keep's foyer as Owen followed listlessly behind her. The guard held him up, though: "Hold on a minute there. Is it true you, I'm mean this can't really be true, but I just have to hear ya say it, did you really..."

"Owen..." Nayse called from the staircase.

"Sorry guys, I'll tell you later. I know better than to keep her waiting," Owen said ginning.

"Which one? Nayse or Dolce?"

"Heh heh... which one do you think," Owen smiled as he walked away. The guards had a good laugh at the truth he spoke.

****

The two entered Dolce's office and she immediately jumped out of her chair to greet them with a barrage of yelling. In her wake, she sent a large leather bound tome crashing to the floor from the endtable next to the chair.

"It's about time you got here you fool! There's precious little time already and you just keep WASTING IT!"

Nayse stood to the side and frowned. "What are you so upset about Dolce," Owen asked as he picked up the book and placed it back on the table.

"What am I upset about? What am I upset about!!? Do you know what you've done to those people? Do you know? Do you even care? You've put a death sentence on all their heads!!" Dolce didn't care who heard her anymore. Her fear had overtaken her.

Owen sighed and sat down on the edge of the massive desk in the center room. "Look out the window there, Dolce. Do those look like people who are trembling in fear of their deaths? Do they hide in their homes cowering like little field mice? They SURE look scared to me."

"What he says is true, sister. The people are talking about what happened. Most seemed rather pleased. Even though it was small, it was still a victory," Nayse said quietly, trying to calm her sister's frayed nerves.

"Do NOT take his side Nayse! It's my duty as Banwall's leader..." Dolce said sharply.

Owen quickly butted in: "I don't remember you being appointed Countess?"

"Shut up you hayseed! I should have you drawn and quartered! I HAVE to protect these people.... I HAVE to... for Mother and Father... If I don't, then who will?"

Owen stood up and walked to Nayse's side. As he moved, the flames of the small silver candelebra on the desk seemed to follow him. "They will, of course. You should've seen them Dolce. Your little farmers fought like giants. There ARE other options besides laying down, you know."

"Hah! You think we can fight them! You're insane Owen! You've been out under the sun a bit too long!"

You have no idea.

"We'll be slaughtered! I'm sure just as soon as one of the survivors gets back to Lohenheim we'll have an entire legion bearing down on us!"

"We don't have to fight alone, Dolce." Nayse spoke up.

"Oh we don't? And just WHO in the nine hells would be foolish enough to stand with us!!? Who's foolish enough to die for our mistake?" Owen's face grew stern as Dolce turned her anger and confusion on her sister.

"Hey now, don't yell at her. I'm the one you're mad at, remember? And you know, for someone who spends so much time with her nose buried in a book, you sure are dumb," he paused then went to the window again and looked out over Banwall's golden oceans, "It's easy to get people to die for you. Anyone can do that. If you really want to succeed... if you really want to win, then get people to live for you."

"Enough of your philosophical rambling! Do you have an answer or not!?"

Owen sighed, then smiled again as he turned to Dolce. "Bryce, Eli, and Elliot."

"That's... that just might work..." Dolce said - quietly, "Dolaart has been calling for war since this started, and Lungard certainly has no love for occupation... Plans are well and good, but how do you think we're actually going to win them over?"

"That's the easy part. I'll just go piss Bryce and Eli off until they think they've got a chance of getting even for the tournament; and it's not like anyone from Dolaart to be shown up by anyone from another city. And Elliot's your cousin, I figured he'd come along if you just asked him to."

"You make it sound so simple..." Nayse said.

"It's just that simple. We have to take things one at a time... and not lose our heads panicing." Owen said as he glanced over at Dolce.

"Fine then. If it's really so simple, then prove it. I'll send Elliot a letter, but had better bring the ENTIRE Dolaart army back with you!"

"Heh, count on me! I'll be leaving here directly," Owen said as he turned around and headed towards the door. Before he exited the keep, Nayse cought him at the foyer again.

"Please be careful Owen. And come back safe," she said, almost pleading.

"Of course Nayse. I'll tell Bryce and Eli you said hello" he said smiling.

****

A few hours later, Owen was on the road east out of Banwall. He carried a small weather-beaten pack with some salted meat, apples, and a few loaves of Banwall's famous bread. The thick green cloak he wore blew in the strong wind that seemed to sing though the trees.

"What are you so happy about?"

No reply came, only the wind sang in response.

"Yes, I AM enjoying myself," he said laughing.

Owen continued on down the fine cobblestone road towards Dolaart with only the wind and the clear blue sky for company.

Written by - Archeantus

Cresting the hill, the towering trees looming over him, amidst the dimming light, the blind warlock sensed he had finally come to a moment he had longed for, for what seemed like eons. Perhaps it truly had been eons, he was not sure. But at long last, the time was finally at hand. Lowering his sightless eyes down the clearing, he felt his old friend’s presence warm in his mind, like a fond memory of a time so far distant that it seemed to come from a dream. Reaching out mentally, he found the Dwarf’s location.

“Pharsalus” A far older voice than the dwarf had recalled, called out down the forested clearing. Through the mist, Archeantus levitated down the clearing to stand before his long time friend. He gave the dwarf a moment to take his appearance in, for he was far different, but it was as brief as moments can be. Archeantus let a smile shine in the soft light of the canopied forest.

“It has been far too long old friend.”

And with that, he wasted no more time, and hugged the dwarf as a brother.

****

At the reappearance of the others, Jasmine once more regained her silent demeanor. Teran went to teach the young Queen, and the young queen seemed to have learned more than a few things. Mavigan seemed more confident, more capable, and yet more prone to misuse her knowledge. Her eyes spoke so much to those who were truly looking. So much to prove, and so much to escape, thought Jasmine.

They stayed the night there, and in the morning they set off early. From that point on they traveled near unceasingly. There were long days of silence. Within the group, there wasn’t much conversation, only things that must be said were spoken. It was a grueling schedule. Every now and then, she would exchange glances with Sabbatine. She would receive a sickly sort of smile every time, a smile that seemed more alive to her than Jasmine had ever seen by any living. Perhaps it was her perspective of one who had seen the best and the worst of life. Or perhaps she had forgotten what it was to smile. Either way, Jasmine always found herself stealing a very faint smile when she knew none were looking. It was a smile born of pain. Her whole arm had transformed to become a strange pale grey, like ashes born of fire. It was a terrible feeling, to slowly be dying. It was a hurt unlike anything she could have imagined. It took all she had to restrain her screams periodically through most of the day, and especially at night as the curse spread through her veins. The need for sleep slowly left her. Some nights she was able to sleep, others, she didn’t. Those nights, her and Sabbatine would look at the night sky slowly darken, and in turn, slowly lighten as the first crack of light appeared on the horizon. They would then repeat the process over again, another day of travel and silence and thought.

During this long journey, Jasmine had watched the queen incessantly, secretly. She was surprised the young woman had endured what many weathered soldiers would have begun to complain about. There was a grim determination that boiled in her fiery heart, Jasmine thought. But finally the complaints came. Yet with each step, Jasmine became more and more intrigued by the young queen. Not because of anything identifiable, the intrigue defied logic, but it was there nonetheless. There was something about her that was unmistakable. And that something was far dormant, whatever it was.

One morning, it was announced they would leave their horses and from that point on they were to now journey on foot. It rained that day.

The landscape began to change. It slowly became a grey waste. A rocky land of death. It was far cooler as well. They were far north now. A strange chill wind bit into their huddled figures as they made their way toward wherever it was they were headed. A fog became more and more prominent. It increasingly became surreal. There was a strange feeling about the place. There were unearthly sounds at night far out into the dark fog.

And finally, after days of walking through the fog and rain, midday, Teran pointed down to a small valley, down to a shadowed edifice. Immediately Jasmine felt an odd sense of power rise in her right arm. The curse spread once more, creeping its way over her shoulder and down her waist. She stifled a cry of searing deathly pain. Looking down into the dark crypt below through tear filled eyes, she wanted nothing more than to leave. Down there was something she could not face. Something she could not kill.

Her destiny. Her life, and her death, all out of her control.

*****

Gadianton, sword drawn, watched the undead figure through the biting wind and snow as it encountered the lich ahead of them. The lich evaded an attack, but soon appeared to be communing with something in the howling wind, for the undead stopped and stood motionless. There was a dread silence, only the howl of the wind sounded, and then the lich ran forward, beckoning them to follow.

Something was amiss, there was danger. Gadianton could feel it. He knew it well. And so he followed, his elven sword at the ready, and his followers were short at his heels.


Written by - Aethelwulf Page 22 Book 3

"Ah there you are Kaya!" Alaric had just spent almost an hour searching the Druid Temple for the lass, and here she was, in the place he should have sought out first; the grove.

"Well then, shall we be off?"

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya smile warmly. "Well, once our guide is here, then yes, I think we shall be off. I am anxious to deal with this as soon as possible." Just as Kaya finished her sentence, Dalomir stepped into the grove.

"Greetings my friends, I thought I would come and see our new demon hunter off on her expedition." His voice was filled with excitement.

Kaya actually lbushed a little at his words. "Well thank you Dalomir. Uhm, my new friend and I are anxious to go, who might this guide be?"

"Well, a demon hunter is usually part of a team, specifcally, one who can heal the hunter when needed. Since you have no healer at this time, we had to find one for you. Now, Dorve*, she wasa bit reluctant due to the fact you are an elf, but she follows Nyrondis' call and goes where she is needed."

"What does me being an elf have anything to do with..."

"It is because ye elves are stuck up arrogant picklebottoms, that's why." Everyone turned towards the new voice. Standing there, was a shortk stout, well bearded female dwarf. "I have yet to meet one woh doesn't have their panties in a bunch, thinking they are better than everyone else. And that included yer precious commander Ithramir."

Dalomir let out a small cough. "As you can see, Dorve enjoys expressing her thoughts and letting everyone know what they are, but she is a first class healer nd can hold her own in battle."

"Damn straight I can little man. Now, if you be through chawin, introduce me."

"Dorve, this is Kaya'Talas, demon hunter for our god Nyrondis, and your new charge. This other fellow is Alaric and is seeking passage with Kaya."

"Ya didn't tell me there would be two of them." Dorve grumbled. "Oh well, it's not like i cannot handle it, I have transported many more than this. It's just a bother don't you know and daorned impolite to be suprised like this."

Kaya stepped forward and held out her hand. "Tis a pleasure to meet you Dorve and I hope I can change your opinion about elves. Not all of us are arrogant pricks."

Dorve chortled. "Aye, we shall see shant we? SO, you both ready or do you need time? I am ready to head out whenever you two are."

"I be ready and i believe Alaric is too."

"Fine, so be it. Now, Kaya, have you learned how to enter the tree realm? Ya know, where ya walk into the tree and train and commune?"

"Aye, I have learned thought it is still quite foreign to me."

Dorve sighed. "Well at least you've done it. And you human, I will assume you don't even have a clue you know what I am talking about. It's alright, I have taken folks like you through the realm, just make sure that when ye be inside ya don't wander off and git lost. It could take years to find ya!" The dwarf stroked her beard and took a deep breath. "Okay, so here is what we do. We all will hold hands and I will lead you into a tree. Now, your first instinct will be to balk, i mean it is a tree right? Well, close your eyes and have faith and follow and DON"T let go of the hands ye be holding until I say so. Alaric. Since you ahve no experience at all you will be in the middle, Kaya, you will be last. Now, once inside, it will feel a bit thick. No, I cannot explain it any better than that. Time is different in there. We will still be walking, but for every hour, even a day out here, will be only moments, barely an hour in there if that. depends on how badly I want to get you through this. To rest, we will have to come out into this realm agian. Then, to travel, we will head back in.

Now, I hear you are going to Port Westgale. Once upon a time, I would be able to take you into the grove there, but since Beridane has taken over, he cut down all the oaks there..." Dorve let out a soft soft sob and Dalomir shuddered. SHe took a deep breath. "Because of that, I will only be abot to get you to a small grove just outside teh village, about an hour's walk in the normal realm. that is the closest travel oak there is there. IF Beridane finds it, he will cut it down as well, but for now, it is well protected." Dorve looked at both of them. "Any questions? None? Good then, let's go."

Dorve took Alaric's hand and Kaya took the other. "Close your eyes Alaric and just follow me." He did as the dwarf told him and felt her move. Kaya watched Dorve slip into the tree, then with a hesitant tug, Alaric followed. kaya took a deep breath and entered the oak.

They were off.

****

*Pronounced Door-Vay

Written by - Pharsalus

The old Priest's mind lit up.

Pharsalus...

He smiled like he hadn't in what felt like a thousand years as he embraced his young counterpart. It was an awkward hug, given their height difference, especially as that difference had only grown as the Dwarf's stoney bulk had worn away considerably since the days of Aerynth.

There was a pregnant silence. Pharsalus didn't know how long they'd been standing there greeting and laughing and patting each other's shoulders. It had been so long...too long. He finally let go and took a step back, giving the lad's new look a once-over.

Arch, my boy, you've finally done it! You've become a grizzled old wretch, just like the rest of us! And blind to boot! He laughed at himself. Being in the Warlock's presence was the greatest feeling he'd had in a very long time. He looked down at his own half-naked form and suddenly remembered his embarassment from before.

"You'll pardon me, lad. You've caught me a tad disheveled. What a day!" He laughed again. "Thurin keep me, I've had to walk around like this in front of the ladies all afternoon! It's just not proper!"

He turned and nodded towards the small camp where the two women were. A soft, orange light shown faintly visible through the countless softwood trees and shrubs that surrounded the re-united duo.

"Come - we've much to discuss, and I have met another from the Old World who is interested in joining us. We will camp tonight and set out at first light."

The two disappeared into the chirping, croaking cloud of leaves and brush, leaving the clearing quiet and alone as it always had been. They pushed through in silence, allowing the events of the day to move between them in invisible beams. Sounds, emotions, fears, feelings, tears, laughter - all passed nigh-instantly between the two comrades in perfect secrecy. Pharsalus was glad to have someone to share his mental talent with. He feared losing it at one time, though now the muscle of his mind was as limber as it ever was.

A few more minutes of ducking and pushing brought the two men to the outter fringes of light from the campfire. It had dimmed some as dry wood became more scarce. Vylia was still awake, sitting loose but alert across from the sleeping Ariel. Vylia's eyes shot in the duo's direction.

"It is only I, and an old friend." the Priest said with a grin. "This is Archeantus, another wanderer from the Old World." Pharsalus allowed time for introductions, turning his attentions quickly to Ariel, who had stirred slightly. The priest's face turned solemn as he plucked her dreams like pedals from the air - they were horrible dreams. The girl's mind was battered, her sanity nearing exhaustion. The next few weeks, provided she stayed that long, would be difficult for her. Content she was still sleeping as soundly as an assailed mind would allow, he turned back around to Vylia and Archeantus.

"Vylia, you should sleep. We've much ground to cover, and I need sleep only seldomly. I can stay awake and keep watch. Archeantus can brief us as we walk tomorrow. I expect no drama, but should it arise, I will need you at your sharpest."

Written by - Vylia

Vylia was hardly surprised that they had picked up another traveller, she had heard the laughing as soon as it began. What caused her eyes to dart at them so suddenly was that she hadn't picked up on the fact they were approaching until they had come within a few feet of the clearing. When Pharsalus introduced the newcomer as Archeantus something in her mind sparked, but she couldn't quite place it. "I feel I should know that name..." she mumbled to herself.

When the dwarf suggested she get some sleep, she realized he was probably right, she was obviously tired or they wouldn't have gotten so close unnoticed. She nodded with a slight smile on her lips, "Of course, but it would hardly be prudent of me to not stay alert when you were out of sight. I've lived long because I am cautious after all." With that she laid back down and stared at the sky a moment before drifting off into sleep.

Written by - Tempyst

Ithramir looked over all the paperwork upon his desk. By the gods does it never end? He sighed, then went to the amoir in the office, pulled a bottle of brandy and poured himself a glass, then sat down to enjoy it. The day had been long, the easiest part had been his appointment with Kaya. Renalis did not even show for his appointment, sent no note nothing. That did not please Ithramir, and he began thinking twice of the offer he had been planning to make to the young wizard. That meant more paperwork, to find another wizards to take over leading the war wizards of his army. He sat back, sipped the fine brandy and let his mind drift off to Lithwyn. Even she had ignored him this day. Where are you my love? I know you are in the castle. I know you are well. I sense you, I send my love to you, yet you leave me here. Ah, I will never understand you yet, I understand you completely. I had hoped the cleansing would have helped...oh well, I told you I would be patient, and patient I shall be. I love you.

Ithramir finished his drink, then set out to find himself a wizard. I give Renalis 24 hours, if I have not heard from him, then another will get the job and I will take us into battle soon after.

Written by - Ariana

Beridane leisurely sprawled in one of the chairs in his chambers dressed in nothing but a robe that had formerly belonged to his brother. He had only recently been thoroughly enjoying the attentions of his most recent pair of bedwarmers, and was not at all pleased to have been pulled away from such enjoyable activities. As it was, Beridane had been startled when the heavy doors to his chamber had been shoved open and his Chancellor scurried into the room.

Beridane had barely contained a look of disgust at the picture his Chancellor made as he scurried into the room. Damon was a rotund man whose height did not warrant his girth. He was dressed in the rich robes of his station, but they were ill-fitting. Too long in some places and stretched too tightly in others, his thinning hair hung low in his eyes, but did little to hide his rounded and reddened cheeks.

He watched with an unimpressed eye as Damon obsequiously hastened in the room, genuflecting and bowing with respect as he did so, but recognized the signs that there was important business to discuss. Motioning to everyone in the room to vacate the premises, bodyguards and companions alike, Beridane turned a critical eye on his Chancellor. Ever since Damon had brought him the news that the demon he had summoned to kill Ithramir had been slain, Beridane’s opinion of the man had diminished, despite the fact that Damon had come to him highly recommended.

Looking at the fawning image before him, Beridane again wondered why he had ever believed the man was made of stern enough stuff to successfully complete the missions he set him. Rolling his eyes, Beridane said in a bored tone, “What is it now, Damon?”

“My Lord,” the chubby little man began, rubbing his hands together with excitement, “I have consulted with the Oracles. They have stated that reason our last attempt failed was because the sacrifice we used to summon the demon was too weak resulting in a weak demon being brought forth.” Damon interjected a little bow. “They indicate that if we use a strong sacrifice, we can summon forth a demon with enough power to accomplish the task.”

“Too weak, eh?” said Beridane. Heaving a sigh, he righted himself in his seat and scratched his chin lightly with the gleaming hook extending from the place where a hand should be. “And what sort of sacrifice do they suggest?” he asked, gazing fiercely at his Chancellor.

Damon bowed and scraped again. “My Lord, the Oracles suggest we use a servant of Tinorb this time.”

Beridane gave a bark of dry laughter that held no amusement. “A servant of Tinorb?” he said hotly. “They are either dead or in hiding. Where do the Oracles suggest we find such a sacrifice?”

“Actually, my Lord,” said Damon, “one such servant currently resides in your dungeon.”

“What?!!” Beridane yelled, jumping out of his chair to bear down on the little man, brandishing his hook meancingly. “Why was I not informed?”

The closer Beridane got to Damon, the lower his bow became. “It appears, my Lord, that the jailers intended to hold her for ransom. They have been… dealt with.”

Beridane listened to the news with a fierce expression on his face. Fire burned in his eyes at the thought that someone in his own court would betray him, but the blaze died down to a heated smolder upon hearing the problem had already been dealt with.

Turning from Damon, he walked over to the window and stared out the glass, idly noting the gleam of armor as the sun began to rise. Waving his good hand as if he was swatting at a fly he said, “Very well. Proceed with your sacrifice.”

Damon glared at Beridane’s back and his image fluttered once hinting at things unseen before returning him to the pudgy little man the King despised. With his back turned Beridane failed to see the change in Damon’s countenance.

“As you wish, my Lord,” said Damon. “We will set up outside the manor house. We should be ready by nightfall.” Giving Beridane a parting glare, Damon hurriedly left the room. He had things to prepare.

Written by - Archeantus

Resting his hand on Pharsalus’ cold, firm stone shoulder, he allowed himself to be guided through the darkened path.

“Do you see her Pharsalus?” Archeantus whispered in the Dwarf’s mind as they slipped back into the darkening forest. The warlock’s mind had opened and the two merged their most recent experiences, feelings, wisdom, things far exceeding what language could convey. At the heart of what the Dwarf saw, blazoned in the Dwarf’s mind, he beheld the Abbess lying upon the cold sandstone floor of a darkened cell, a dim light shining upon her huddled figure.

“It is her.” He projected firmly skipping the old priest’s response. “By the Gods, we found her.”

It was then the Dwarf began to sense there was something of vast importance that had yet to be revealed in his old friend’s mind. They reached the camp in silence and came upon the ranger and a small curled figure sleeping by the dying fire.

Archeantus turned warmly to a life force he knew long ago.

“You have come, Lady Vylia of the Repentant.” He said expectantly, bowing his hooded face only slightly, respectfully. He reached out his aged hand and waited for the soft elven hand of the lady ranger. She stepped across somewhat confusedly and took him by the hand. He clasped her hand, seeming to want to be able to look upon her with his eyes, and gently smiled a strange sort of sad smile.

His attention then quickly shifted to the small sleeping figure near the fire. He turned back toward the Dwarf, who only nodded as if confirming something they both already knew. Archeantus turned back toward the small girl, his face shifted into one of quiet knowing sadness. Then he turned toward Vylia once more, hand still clasped and asked, “If you could, show me where I might rest my weary frame. I have something I need to relate to the both of you.”

Vylia helped him sit down near the fire, still appearing to be slightly confused. He looked toward Pharsalus, “Take a seat old friend. I am about to answer the question that is on your mind.”

It was then that a small spark of light appeared down through the trees flying out of the darkness, coming to whisk excitedly around the warlock’s grim face, and then in turn to Pharsalus and finally to Vylia, seeming to be saying hello once more. The warlock’s lightened only slightly sensing his pet’s excitement. But the moment was short lived, for he had grave news.

By the flickering light of the fire, the old warlock continued, speaking in an urgent, controlled voice, relaying a message that had waited thousands of years. “Our time has come. Dashed apart in the wake of the foreknowledge of the Gods, some of us into the deepest reaches of the multiverse, it is now we have been reserved and gathered to heed the desperate need that lies before us here. It is on this world that the fate of more than we can ever comprehend lies on the edge of a knife. Many others have come to decide, from many worlds, by the Hands of many Gods, but for us, who hail from Aerynth, we have been called to gather on the morrow by the light of the moon that shines upon us now, to save our dear Abbess from certain destruction. And it is there, that our long road together will begin again. And by the All-Father, and Saint Lorne of old, we will succeed in doing what must be done…” The warlock’s voice seemed to trail off, knowing something that could not be spoken.

He looked up to the skies, and spoke once more, “We’ll have little rest tonight, and many nights hence…”

He could feel the many questions that suddenly rose in each of their minds, and he spoke before they could speak them. “Please, all shall be explained in time. It is sleep we’ll need for now. All that matters is we are there in New Ancora on the morrow…”

With that, the old warlock sat back and slowly, the fire died, and those that needed sleep, slept.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia felt like she had just barely fallen asleep when her memory clicked and she snapped awake, sitting up suddenly and whispering, "I KNOW him..." She slid quietly from her resting place to move closer to Archeantus to get a better look at his face. "It has been a long time my old friend. I had forgotten how much humans changed over the years," she continued in a whisper as she pushed a lock of hair out of his face, "It has been a long time since I have seen any of the Hands, it is a miracle unto itself that any are even still alive. How I wish Turin were here to lead us once more," she finished with a smile.

Moving back to her things she gathered up her bow and quiver and slipped into the forest with as much sound as a leaf falling. With the return of Archeantus she figured things had gotten serious enough that it was necessary to gather her twin T'lnarion blades, and if speed was of the essence then a pack of her rations would certainly come in handy as they wouldn't get much chance to hunt.

Written by - Teran

Two minutes after leaving his companions Teran returned and beckoned them to follow. He led them into the room which was lit by candles lining the walls and a single brighter candle on the table near the middle of a room. A woman dressed like the acolyte they had slain in the hallway lay slumped in her chair, her face planted in the book she had been studying, blood from her brutally slit throat soaking the pages.

There were three men laying on pads up against the walls, none of them were breathing though their cause of death was a mystery as there were no visible marks on their body. Teran slipped through the door opposite the group and stood guard outside for a moment considering their next course of action. They had committed now, they could not leave for if they did their enemy would know they had been here and would be much more alert to future infiltration attempts.

Sabbatine sniffed the corpses and stuck out her tongue at each one until she checked the one at the table. Her eyes got wide and she bent down even closer, pulling the dead woman's head back by the hair and licked some of the blood off her neck. Sabbatine grinned from ear to ear.

"This one was a healer!" she proclaimed.

Sabbatine shoved the woman out of her chair and onto the ground, she sat awkwardly in the chair and began flipping through the bloody book, reading its pages curiously. After a moment she stood up and looked over at Jasmine and approached her looking a little nervous. After a moment of hesitation Sabbatine held out the gruesome book for Jasmine to take.

"Maybe this will help you." Sabby said in a tiny voice.

Teran stepped back into the room for a moment and beckoned Mavigan to follow him.

"Keep this room secure." Teran told the other three women... well one woman, one undead construct, and the strange catlike creature.

Teran sped up once he and Mavigan were in the darkness of the passage, he knew there more acolyte's nearby and he wanted to eliminate them before they discovered their presence and were able to set off some sort of alarm.

They soon came across the people Teran had detected but these were noy acolytes. They were not dressed like the ones in the room these people had well crafted armor and weapons in hand. For a moment Teran feared they had been detected and this group was looking for them but they were in no hurry and walked in such a way that suggested this was routine.

Teran moved closer and closer to the patrol. When they were only a few steps behind he slipped one of his daggers into Mavigan's hand. Though his weapons looked plain they had many secrets. He was not sure of the quality of Mavigan's weapons so he offered her one of his own.

His blade was surprisingly light and slightly warm to the touch, it felt fragile as if it would shatter if it ever pierced anything tougher than flesh. Once Mavigan had his blade he swiftly moved forward and caught the rear guard just as the woman in front of him rounded a corner. He clamped his hand over the guard's mouth and pressed his blade through the man's back, his armor did not slow the assassin's dagger even a little and he went limp immediatly and began bleeding out on the floor.

Teran was up and moving before the guard was resting on the ground, the kill had been silent enough that the other guards heard nothing over the clatter of their weapons and armor. The next guard in line was much closer to the guard in front of her, she would not be as easy a kill. Teran approached her the same way he approached the man who had been in the rear and when they were approaching a four-way cross intersection. Teran brought his hand around just as he did with the last guard but his hand stopped short in front of her mouth and some sort of magical barrier briefly flickered to life. His blade's own enchantment dispelled the shield but it was an extra second for her to call out first in surprise and then in pain as the blade slipped into her back. The other two guards whirled around, swinging their weapons wildly hoping to halt any attack but they were not met with any attack. Teran let the corpse of the second guard fall to the ground and prepared to rush the remaining two.

The guards glanced at each other and nodded, one of them turned and ran down the hall deciding that they were no match for a pair who had slain two of their own without a fight. The remaining guard stepped into the middle of the passage, intent on delaying them as long as possible.

"Get the runner." Teran murmured quietly in such a way that only Mavigan would hear.

He stepped into the remaining guard and drove him back into the passage on his left, leaving the path clear for Mavigan to give chance.

Written by - Vylia

Teran stepped back into the room for a moment and beckoned Mavigan to follow him.

"Keep this room secure," he said, right before him and Mavigan slipped down the passage leading out of the room. Yea, right... Keeryn thought to herself. She wasn't stupid though, and didn't want to endanger the group by having an argument with him so she waited a few seconds before quickly and quietly slipping into the passage after them, ignoring any protests from the other two.

Keeryn had no intention of leaving Mavigan alone with Teran again, and she certainly didn't want to spend any more time alone with that THING called Sabbatine. She didn't trust it at all, and trusted Teran only slightly more. She slid quietly down the tunnel, her cat-like senses aiding her in making sure she didn't get too close while still keeping them within range of her hearing. It took her a moment, but she realized she was hearing another set of footsteps further ahead then Mavigan, and she knew it wasn't Teran since she hadn't been able to hear him moving even when she was right next to him. She crept forward as close to the ground as she could manage without dragging the spear, which she held close to the head to keep it from giving away her position around corners.

It didn't take long for her to find the first body, and then she heard a muffled cry for help around the corner. She sped up slightly until she reached the corner itself, and peaked around cautiously just in time to see Mavigan rushing off past Teran, chasing a guard while the assassin appeared to be pushing another down a side passage. Since stealth was no longer necessary she came around the corner before unleashing a burst of speed that sent her past Teran quickly enough for him to feel a breeze on his back, "Fool," she growled as she ran past, hurrying to catch up to Mavigan.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm and his squad followed behind Mavigan's group with Wilhelm tracking nearby heartfires and Resini scanning by magic. Mage/Warrior pairs were sent out to dispatch any enemy that came close on either side or from the rear. All was done with stealth and nondetect ward to avoid alarm. Bodies were dragged into empty rooms. Wilhelm and Resini both detected Mavigan's group enter a large room ahead and then split up. Wilhelm detected Keeryn moving up to join Mavigan and Teran, fulfilling her role of bodyguard. Teran was like a faint shadow to Wilhelm's tracking sense and would not have been apparent at all if Wilhelm had not known he was there and was watching closely for that specific shadow. Mavigan was almost as good and Wilhelm was impressed at her progress.

Wilhelm divided his team into three groups when they reached the large room, one Mage/Warrior team holding rearguard while he and Resini each took a pair, Wilhelm to the left and Resini to the right, to cover the side passages that wrapped around the room. Resini kept the three groups in telepathic contact. Mavigan's mission, whatever it was, lay ahead with Teran and now Keeryn, but their rear was secure.

Written by - Archeantus

As the five of them, led by Teran entered the candle-lit room through the dim hallway, Jasmine’s dark eyes beheld the scene like so many she had created, so many times before.

There in the middle sat an eternal slouching figure in a chair, a woman, her face firmly planted into the bloody pages of a book. Three men lie dead, unmarked. The scene brought back so many vivid memories, memories that at the time had brought her deep satisfaction. She had exulted in the very creation of such a scene, the blood smattered walls, the finality of their eyes, the horror in their lifeless faces, the smell, the blood caked on her blade days later. Though now, she viewed the scene before her from a different vantage point. She stood there lingering in the darkness from where they came in the entrance to the room, slightly illuminated from the candlelight, and watched in morbid fascination as the undead woman toyed with the limp figure of the woman as if she were now meaningless object. Jasmine forgot all else, and her mind centered on that one thing. She did not see Teran leave them and return, she did not see Mavigan followed shortly by Keeryn leave the room. She only beheld the dead woman’s livid eyes suddenly staring at her, her head had been turned sideways across the table, the book had disappeared.

Her body began to tremble. Her heart began to beat rapidly. And she grew cold. Distantly she heard a timid voice, and her hands suddenly possessed a book, but she did not realize much of what was happening around her. She only stared into those lifeless eyes and began to feel apart of that eternal darkness that called to her.

Then came the silent pain once more. The curse spread down her leg, up her neck, across the half of her beautiful face. The same face that had been used to cause so much damage, now was powerless, dying. In the sheer pain of the continued death that spread through her, her eyes had closed tightly, and her face contorted in agony. She could barely stand and her hand clutched the cold stone wall beside her to keep from falling. When she could bare it no longer, her voice about to scream wildly into the darkness of the crypt ahead, it suddenly ended. And she opened her eyes…

…and her vision had changed…her face was now half frozen in death, one eye had become black as pitch, the other alive and fervent.

She now viewed the world with death’s gaze, and life’s hope and fear, and in her hands she held an old leather bound book, blood soaked and unadorned. She did not comprehend anything about it, only that it was the first image she had seen with her strange vision. Colors were skewed with nothingness and grays. Everything was on the verge of death and decay, light and darkness. The candle’s flame, resting on the small table in the middle of the room was extinguishing and flickering at the same time. She could hear something as she slowly stood again. It began to grow faster and faster. It was a beat, and she realized it was her. It was her beating heart. And suddenly the tension of the moment invaded her consciousness. Years of the excitement of the chase, the limitless drive to survive, to evade her captures, to beat the ever growing amount of justice that stacked against her, awoke her out of her reverie. Her instincts kicked in, and she felt the familiar tinge of danger.

It was her lifeblood.

She found she was alone, save the undead woman who was rummaging about the room. She could feel the presence of others, seeming to come on all sides, others that were not those she’d journeyed with. There was a look of desperation and confusion flashing in her life’s eye as she quickly surveyed her surroundings. Her hand instantly went toward her side, and stayed, her cursed hand hovering above her blade. She looked as it seemed to tremble in anticipation, but she lowered it with great exertion, and her other hand suddenly took the blade and unsheathed it.

Her breaths came out in quick bursts, as the effort to change the throbbing temptation to end her life nearly overtook her.

“No…” She whispered shakingly. Closing her eyes, and shaking her head, she regained her senses and quickly took up a defensive position in the room in a dark corner.

Survival in its very base form took hold, and she stood there, waiting, her long dagger pointed outward toward whatever came through the entrance of the room.

The book that was in her hands moments ago had been dropped where it was given.

Forgotten.

Written by - Tempyst

They traveled through the milky landscape for hours, hiking through the forest of this alternate space. It was after dark that Dorve finally brought the out of that eiry landscape and back into the normal world. Kaya took a deep breath, feeling that she could finally breath normally again. Her body, her very soul felt tired after that journey. "I am glad we are coming out here to rest Dorve. Thank you for you guidance."

"Ye be welcomed lass, you two are not such bad folk. Now, lets get a camp going so we can rest and getstarted in the morning again. We shoudl be where we need to go by tomorrow dusk if we travel quickly on the morrow." Dorve stopped talking and set about making a fire and preparing food.

Kaya looked over to Alaric with tired eyes. "So, my new friend, how do you fare after today's journey? I look forward to it being done and being able to get down to business. SO, Why do you seek out Port Westgale? Oh, and I know why I am after Beridane, but why do others seems to be after him? I mean, back at the citadel, the very mention of his name really got people hot under the collar. DO you know?"

Written by - Tempyst

Lithwyn finished up her paperwork, then headed to the infirmary to check on any wounded that were left. A few hours went by, but her mind was not on her work, but on the one she loved; Ithramir. SHe could feel his thoughts, his love for her. Yet, why I am so hesitant? He, is not like the other, Ithramir is...he is Ithramir. Suddenly everything became clear. He is who he is, no one else and he loves me. He, loves me and that is all that matters. I have been over thinking, over analyzing, and it is I who has the doubts, not him. But no more, I don't want to live like that anymore. Oh Ithramir...I love you. I Love You. She let out a squeal that caused those in the infirmary to look at her strangely, but she did not care. She used her magics, her connection with Ithramir to find him. I have to tell him, I have to tell him now. SHe gathered up her skirts and ran out of the infirmary, going after the one thing she finally knew she wanted.

Written by - Turin Wallace

For some days Turin traveled in the pure white world of the snowy north. Slowly, he was progressing to the south, ever closer to Westgale.

In his path he found few populated villages, most were devoid of all life, while the few that had habitation were odd affairs. People would lock their doors, run away, fleeing at just his glance. No amount of cajoling would coax them out to speak with him. Something very odd was stirring within these mountains, but now was not the time to investigate. His purpose was to reach Ariana, if he could, and to get her to safety.

As he was pondering this and the thoughts of how many, if any, of his friends from Aerynth were still alive, he finally crossed over into the lush green valley of Kilas. He was now in Westgalian lands.

Off in the distance he could see a farming village. Spurring his horse lightly forward, he was curious to see what he would find here.

After a short ride, he was close enough to see that this village was not as peaceful as he thought it was. For in the fields, along with the workers, was a garrison of soldiers. What struck him the most odd was that the workers were not adults, but rather children, from the ages of five to eighteen or nineteen he estimated.

Continuing forward, for by now he was spotted, he wanted a word with those in charge to see for himself what was happening here. Then, too, so did the soldiers who saw him coming.

"Who in the blazing hells is that?", yelled the sergeant.

"Not sure, boss. Whoever it is, he ain't welcome here if he comes for rest or trouble," is the reply of one of the soldiers.

In the meanwhile, one of the younger girls had stopped working to stare at the visitor, only to get a crack across the back with a whip. The soldier who struck her, saying,

"Back to work you filthy daughter of a dead rebel. Maybe if your parents were smart you children wouldn't be here, but now they are dead and your ours to do with as we please. Don't forget it."

To further instill the thought he kicked her behind her knees, only to strike her once again with the whip to make her stand up and get to work once more.

This, Turin did not fail to see or take note of. As he slowly closed in, he looked about and saw their poor condition. Starved, beaten, and demoralized, these children were no doubt orphans being used as cheap labor...or worse. Anger arose from within the depth of his soul. His riding cloak hid his face, more importantly it hid the sword strapped to his back.

Assessing the situation as his mount steadily carried him forward, Turin knew he was well outnumbered. His only advantage is that they did not know him, or that he was armed. Although, by their posture, he figured they would be ready for anything.

Muttering an old Ranger Knight prayer, taught to him years ago when he was a fledgling Crusader, he says quietly,

"Mighty All-Father, hear a humble servants plea.
Let me be like the mountains, strong and immovable.
Let me be like the water, fluid and graceful.
Let me be like the wind, swift and powerful.
Let me be like the great oak, bowed but never broken.
Father, grant me victory."

It had been a long time since he had prayed to the All-Father, and as he got within hailing distance, he hoped he heard him.

"You! Stop! Come no closer!" The soldier screamed.

Turin said nothing, but kept moving forward.

"I said stop!!" The soldier grabbed Turin's horse and tried to peer into the face of the cloaked man in front of him.

In a slow, calm tone, Turin says,

"Pray tell, what is this town and who are these people?"

The soldier replies,

"It's none of your goddamn business stranger, if you value your own life you will ride back from where you came from and leave these children to us."

Turin replies,

"Ah, I see, I have been lost for quite some time. I was told Westgalian hosptiality was warm. I see from this visit it is quite warm, seeing as they don't feed children and grow fat while working them to death."

The words got the desired effect, the soldier grabbed Turin and attempted to pull him from the horse. It would have succeeded, if it hadn't been for a long sword being stuck into his brain at the same moment.

Jumping down, he grabs the mini-crossbow located just inside his horse pack. Rolling to the right, he dives into the rows of wheat as crossbow bolts begin to land all around him. Luckily, he watches the children scatter as the soldiers are focused on him.

"Did we get him?!" One soldier yells.

"That bastard killed Hatagan!" Yells another.

"You two, go into that field and see if we hit him. If he's alive or wounded, bring him here so we can have some fun before we finish him. We'll cover you." The sargeant yells to two footmen.

Crouching, Turin waits. He can hear the two soldiers approaching, but he stirs not. One move now and he will either be a pincushion or ran through. He waits.

Then, finally, he can see the tops of their helms. With a lunge he sticks one guard through the leg, with his five shot mini-crossbow he levels it and fires into the face of the female soldier. As she groans her last, he takes her weapon and removes the other soldiers head.

Dropping down with the lifeless body, Turin can feel the bolts whirring and whizzing by his body. Propping the headless corpse in front of him, he can hear the dull thuds of bolts striking flesh.

"That no good son of a whore! Did you see that?! Nela and Jern...dead!" A shaken soldier yells.

"It's one man, you idiots! Those two made too much noise and were too close together. You three, go get him! Now!" Yells the sargeant.

Turin breathes deeply and thinks,

"Well, old boy, this is sure one fine mess I got myself into. Feel too much like the old times again!"

He chuckles lightly at the thought, but not much, because he can hear the three soldiers closing in. A quick inventory check produces a hand axe (courtesy of Nela), his sword, and a mini-crossbow with only four bolts left. He knows he can get two for sure, the third may pose a problem, as will the remaining soldiers with crossbows.

No time left to think, the soldiers are on top of him. Taking his helm, he hurls it into the air. The bolts fly all around, thus distracted, Turin buries the axe into the nearest soldiers chest, and hurls his sword into the stomach of another before rolling away from the mace strike of the other soldier. Pulling up, he aims the crossbow and hits the soldier in the chest, dropping them.

"Fuck this, Yurio! I am out of here! If you want this guy so bad, you kill him yourself you son of a bitch! One soldier yells, as he turns to leave as fast as he can.

"Yeah, screw this place. I won't die for wheat or for bastard children. If he wants this place so bad, let him have it. I'm outta here! A second soldier yells, followed by the remaing three soldiers who decide to leave.

Yurio stands, crossbow pointed at the stalks of wheat, for one long moment. Yelling out, he says,

"Before I leave, let me know your name, so I may pass it along to those who will be interested in meeting you. For, mark my words, you will pay dearly for this day!"

The stalks stir gently, the sargeant lets loose his bolt, only to miss a groundhog scurrying away. An uneasy silence last for a few seconds, then an arm reaches around the sargeants chest and pulls him back onto the waiting sword. Pierced through the heart, the last thing Yurio hears is,

"My name is Turin. Send my regards to whoever runs the hell you are going to."

Sitting down on a tree stump, Turin looks himself over. His new armor held up well. He notices a few deep dents where bolts had hit him and bounced harmlessly away. He lives to fight another day.

Now, to his charge, the children. Watching through cracks and crevices, here and there, they had seen the whole event. Calling out to them, the children are unsure of this stranger, for if he could do that to their captors whose to say he would not kill them?

Deciding it was best to speak to their appetites, for when he saw them at first it must indeed be great, he began cooking some fine deer meat along with loaves of wheat and rye bread. Setting a table seperate from him, he lays the food out, then sits down at his own table and begins to eat.

Eventually, slowly, one by one the children emerge from houses, woods, and underbrush. Smiling, Turin points at the food and allows them to eat as they pleased. He watches as the older children tend the younger, until finally all have had their fill, though all sat and ate in relative silence.

Starting a fire for warmth, for the nights grow cold even here, so close to the mountains, he sits down and turns to them saying,

"Children, I am called Turin. I would wish to call you friends of mine. You have suffered long and cruelly, that ended today. I beg you sit, tell me your names, and tell me of the events that led you here."

Not one said a word, not one stirred from the table, until at long last the eldest girl stood and replied,

"Sir, how can we trust you? Yes, you freed us from those soldiers of Beridane, but how can we know whether or not you'll abuse us just the same? Or worse? Or even take us to be sold as slaves?"

Turin's heart was heavy at these words, for they had right to be suspicious. Their suffering had been great. Freedom was still a dream to them and too much to ask for. He replies then this way,

"A master does not cook and start fires for those he owns, an abuser does not allow his life to be put in jeopardy for those he abuses, and a slaver does not care to know of the names and lives of those he sells. I am a Crusader of the All-Father, to which I am heard you people call Tinorb. I will neither harm or abuse you, for I am sworn to protect, to heal not hurt."

Finally, the eldest boy stands and says,

"Crusaders carry a symbol of their faith, where is yours? Until then, how do we know that your armor is not stolen and you masquerade as one of their order?"

Turin says nothing but takes the symbol from around his neck and throws it into the hands of the boy. The children gather and look at it intently, then the boy throws it back, saying,

"It's not good enough. Again, it could be stolen, just like that armor. We need more proof!"

Turin, not known as a pinnacle of patience, replies,

"I have offered my life, fed you, given my word, and showed you more proof than you need and yet you ask for more! Very well then, let there be no doubt now!"

Chanting lightly, he calls forth the blessing of the Holy Mantle, and is esconced in a light blue glow for a moment.

Finally, in a moment, the children rush over and tackle their hero.

After much rejoicing, the eldest boy says,

"My name is Edoric, I beg your forgiveness for testing you so hard. We have trusted no one but ourselves for a very long time now. We doubt you no more, sir Turin."

Patting the boy on the back, Turin replies,

"Understandable, lad. I am not offended. Now, tell me about how all of you came to be here."

Edoric began and told him everything. How many good men and women resisted Beridane's soldiers, only to be cut down, their lands taken and the children killed or forced into laboring to feed and "entertain" these men. Further, Turin found that there were thirteen children in all that had been freed this day. From oldest to youngest male were: Edoric, Hugo, Kalven, Lorien, and Belnan. From oldest to youngest female were: Selae, Frela, Ione, Vola, Melie, Helga, Leley, and Caety. After talking of more things before deep night fell, which consisted of them assaulting him with questions about himself, they went to sleep.

In the morning, Turin found two of the dead soldiers horses and tied them to a wagon. Having the children inside and secure, he gave them directions away from Westgale, upon the path his sister and mother were on and in the direction of the citadel. Giving them his triune symbol, he says,

"Edoric, Salae, keep to the route I have told you. After a few days, you will find a small town, look for a red-haired half-elf and a red-cloaked elven lady. Their names are Nica and Deluwiel, tell them I have sent you. All will be well, and if anyone bars your path, show the symbol and they will let you pass."

As he started to leave, he heard Caety say,

"Why can' we go wif you?"

Turin wheeled his horse around and replied,

"Young lady, I am going where no sane man would go. I go to rescue an old friend from the port city. Plus, I have made no friends here from yesterdays actions. But trust me, little lady, I will see you again."

Giving them all a reassuring smile and wave, he rides off, knowing that the injustices will only become worse the longer the madman stays in power. He will rescue Ariana, or die in the attempt.


Written by - Ardwen Page 23 Book 3

“We’re slowing down.” Ardwen said to the rapidly cooling air around him. His breath was already forming wisps of grey tendrils that spiraled quickly away.

The dragon’s voice was deep but fluid, as if a river had decided to speak, “Yes and no. The spell that enabled us to traverse such a great distance is dissipating as we’re almost at Westgale. I will have you to the city proper soon.”

Ardwen let out a pensive hum before responding, “To the city, yes? And then? How are we to enter? Surely you don’t intend to land inside the city.”

The dragon craned its massive head backward to look at the Elven warrior, Ardwen could swear that it had a grin on its lipless mouth, “Oh, I thought you knew? You’re going to be jumping in.”

“Jumping.” Ardwen said bluntly, the word escaping from his mouth with a thick puff of grey mist.

The dragon was grinning now, of that Ardwen had no doubt, “Jumping,” it confirmed, “of course I’ll weave a spell to soften your fall.” With that it turned its head forward again into the sky before continuing, “But it’s no sure thing. Slowing your descent is one thing, but it will not be flying. As I’m sure our friend Sycon can tell you, flying takes an enormous amount of energy – you don’t know any magical arts do you?”

Ardwen scrunched his face in confusion and frustration at the prospect of magic, “Spells? No, not me, I tried once – made a mess of it.”

“Just once?” The dragon intoned, “You never thought it important enough to try more than once? You’ve got the potential, it shouldn’t be hard for you.”

Ardwen snorted, “What should be and what actually is are two different things. But now is not the time for this discussion, when will you be ready for us to jump?”

The dragon sighed, and to Ardwen it felt as if the whole beast rose and then gently fell, “I’ll start winging circles, we’re over the city of Westgale now.” The magical bubble that had surrounded them, the ward that had made their transport so easy finally popped with their arrival. Air seemed to rush in, and Ardwen took a deep breath of the fresh night wind.

“Sycon,” Ardwen began, returning his mind to the task at hand, “I think it best if we go to separate points in the city. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and it is imperative that we find Ariana before anything . . . unfortunate should befall her. And, if you’re silver friend here speaks truly it would be a damn waste to have you drift down when you can direct your own path.”

The dragon on which the two would be liberators were flying suddenly raised a huge claw, and with a gesture that looked to Ardwen like a flex the warrior noted a white sheen traverse across his being. It disappeared quickly, but the air rung slightly with the aftershock of unleashed magic.

“I suppose,” started Ardwen, “that was a ready signal?”

“Go forth warrior, may you find that which you seek.” The dragon said levelly, turning its head once more to lock eyes with Ardwen.

Ardwen stood unsteadily, balancing on the rippling hide of the great beast’s back. He cast a glance over its side and saw nothing but a rolling bank of clouds. He was meant to jump from above the cloud line? This was insane! What if this elaborate “float” trip of his saw him drift into a barracks? Insane, stupid, ridiculous . . .

“Ariana,” Ardwen said in a breathed whisper that had cooling mist streaming from his face like smoke, “the first words out of your mouth better be, ‘Ardwen, you would have been a much better Priest of Battle than Turin. Also, you were right, Aethelwulf does smell of cucumbers.”

He grinned slightly, the memory of his old companions filling him at once with resolution and sadness. With a final glance to Sycon and a reassuring smile (as reassuring as he could make it anyhow) he said, “I’ll see you in Westgale Sycon, don’t do anything stupid and die before I do!” And with that he leapt.

And hung in midair.

“Huh.” Ardwen said aloud to the empty air, watching the dragon spiral away to begin another circle to keep itself aligned with the city below, “Well, this was far more gentle than I – OH SHIT!”

The last part was spoken in a near scream as he suddenly plummeted downward, cutting through the night darkened clouds like a crossbow bolt through black cloth. He couldn’t see a thing, his eyes stung with chilling water and he could hear plinks as ice and droplets connected with his form, this was of course, nearly drowned out by the growing scream of wind in his ears.

And then he was through the clouds, and could see, and he wished that he couldn’t.

He was falling headlong toward the city, the earth below seemed to rush up to meet him, as if he was not traveling fast enough to meet it! Ardwen desperately tried to right himself, if the spell had failed he was doomed, if not he might still live – but almost certainly not if he landed on his head. Twisting and turning Ardwen noticed a peculiar dragging sensation on his back, it was his large blade, its side was causing resistance as he fell. Thinking quickly he drew it and thrust it down, using the flat of the blade almost as a giant fan. This did two things: it ripped the blade out of his grasp, leaving it spinning dangerously before it fell below him, cutting through the air like . . . a blade through air.

The second, and more merciful thing, was it let him right himself. Almost immediately Ardwen noticed his fall was slowing. “Son of a bitch.” He cursed aloud, the wind taking his words as he spoke them, “If I lost my favorite sword for nothing . . .” He let the sentence hang unfinished in the air. He noted his descent was slowing, but it was still too fast for comfort, and probably for living through the arrival part.

As he came closer to the city Ardwen saw where he was going to land, and hopefully live. It looked like some manner of slum, the houses were mostly wood and stacked one on top of the other. The streets were dark and poorly lit, but it made sense to Ardwen, why would they waste tallow and wax on the poor?

The ground streaked ever closer, but his descent continued to slow, and Ardwen breathed out a long sigh of relief, laced with a few choice words of course. It appears his sword’s sacrifice was not in vain, though he was falling slower, landing on his head would’ve killed him still. He at last could judge which house, or to be more accurate which roof, he was going to land on. Curiously he had noted it fairly early, as the house he was going to land on was one of the only two-story structures in the area, the roof was flat – a sign of poor construction for a wooden building. Even more curious was the fact that the house was directly across from a three-story wooden building that looked as if it carried some importance as a (rather poor) whitewash job had been administered to it recently.

Ardwen grunted as his feet slammed down on the building, he let his legs crumple and rolled to absorb as much of the impact as possible. He realized how smooth the roll was, and reflected briefly that he would not have been able to do it with the large blade strapped to his back. Righting himself Ardwen looked around only to see a confusing mass of structures and edifices spiraling away in all directions. He could’ve kicked himself for not getting a better view of the city as he fell, but then again, had he not corrected his fall he probably wouldn’t be alive to kick himself.

Deciding to turn his attention to more immediate matters Ardwen looked at the building on which he had landed. Sure enough, it was a case study in shoddy construction: holes in the roof were often covered with no more than scrap collections of wood. It seemed unusually thin too, and Ardwen wondered how it did not collapse when winter snow piled on it, likely no one cared if it did.

“Did you hear that?” A faint voice cried out from below. Ardwen froze, crouching, he rested his left hand on the hilt of the longer of the two blades at his hip, and he strained his ears to listen.

“Something’s on the roof brother! I’m scared!” Another voice called out.

Ardwen blinked, comprehension dawning on his face, the voices were coming from inside the house, from the people that lived there. His fall and subsequent roll must have awakened them. The Elf silently hoped that he would be able to make it off the roof without drawing any more attention to himself, he had been fortunate not to land in a guard patrol, and he did not want to squander the advantage of surprise.

Ardwen took a step, the roof below him groaned in protest, almost simultaneously a piteous whimper and shaking voice called up from below the warrior, “Brother! Brother!”

Another voiced soothed back, “Quiet Tancred, I hear it too. It’s just the wind, go back to sleep.”

Ardwen let a smile cross his face, “Just the wind.” He willed silently, “no one is up here on your roof planing homicide on a massive level or anything.” He almost laughed at his own train of thought, and took another step, and the smile disappeared from his face.

The roof creaked alarmingly, a sharp wooden snap rang through the air, and Ardwen’s eyes widened as the floor simply gave way under him. His reflexes kicked in and Ardwen sidestepped the widening hole, his right foot touching down behind his left as he spun out of the way. Another wooden pop sounded through the air, and Ardwen realized his right foot had gouged through the roof as well. With a last, pitiful groan, the old timbers gave up the fight and the section of roof Ardwen was standing on gave way.

He plunged into the room below, but the fall was not far, shorter than Ardwen had expected. Dust and splinters filled the air as Ardwen’s feet stomped on the ground, he had managed to keep his footing despite the fall. He glanced around in the room, his Elven eyesight granting him superior vision in the dim lighting. He saw sleeping pallets on the floor, two of them, one stirred – the thin sheet rising up like a lump from the bedding.

In a blur Ardwen moved toward it, blade drawn . . . and then stopped. The lump was small it was . . .a child.

“Tough luck kid.” Ardwen hissed, “Don’t blame me. Blame yourself or god.” He drew back his blade to strike, it was a pity almost, but he could afford no witnesses. This was a mission of dire importance, and he could afford no mistakes.

“Terror . . .T-t-” The shape beneath the sheet squeaked out.

Ardwen’s sword arm froze, “What did you say?” He hissed.

“Terror of terrors.” The shape said softly, Ardwen could hear something very much like tears obstructing the words.

Ardwen took a few hasty steps back, the words ringing in his ears. It was a coincidence, it had to be a coincidence! “How do you know that name?” Ardwen barked, causing a pitiful sob to escape from the figure beneath the blanket.

“Leave him alone!” A voice, the other one Ardwen had heard called out. Spinning to look at its source Ardwen saw the second pallet had another child in it, this one was not cowering beneath the covers, but stood in some manner of bizarre half-crouch half-kneel. The boy couldn’t have been much older than eight years as they numbered them on Aerynth.

“Your brother?” Ardwen inquired, sweeping a hand toward the other form, which still remained obscured beneath the sheet.

Ardwen turned quickly, detecting motion at the far end of the room right before a man called out, “My sons!” In a defiant roar. The newcomer charged toward Ardwen, armed with an old hoe that looked about as poorly made as the erstwhile roof. The man swung wide, he had strength, Ardwen could see muscles ripple in his arms, a farmer no doubt. Ardwen let the blow connect with his right arm, the hoe gave a metallic screech of protest and the man pulled it back – a large chunk missing out of it where it had hit Ardwen’s plate armor.

“Hey.” Ardwen called softly.

The man ignored him, swung again, this time Ardwen caught it, “Hey.” He called again, louder. The man merely tried to yank his makeshift weapon away, and Ardwen finally roared out, “Tel’hi!*” Ardwen doubted the man could understand Elven, but the warrior’s raised voice did the trick. The man locked eyes with the Elf.

“Why,” he started, grunted as he tried to pull the hoe away, Ardwen let go of it and the man continued, “why aren’t you fighting back?”

Ardwen paused, why indeed? What was this man to him? What were all the lives in this city? He had murdered before, men, women, and children. Why should this time be any different? Ardwen sucked in a breath, he had to find some clarity here regardless of if he got by with talking or killing he was wasting time.

“Look,” Ardwen began, “I’m not here to fight you or anyone more than I have to. I’m after a lady very dear to me, she’s been taken prisoner by the false king of these lands and I intend to win her back. The figure beneath that sheet there said . . . something . . . I . . .”

The man raised an eyebrow and his chipped weapon, “That ‘figure’ is my youngest son Tancred. I’d heard the shouting and noise up here, damn my eyes if I didn’t find you bearing steel against them.”

Ardwen grimaced, “Look, I’m not a nice person, it’s not in the job description where I come from. But no one here has to die. Hey, this may be a chance for me to turn over a new leaf. Maybe even not murder so many people as I originally intended. I’m here to oppose Beridane at the least, isn’t that worth something?”

The man spat, “True enough that man is no true king, times have been hard, and they’ve only gotten harder. But you don’t’ look like a hero to me, I’ve got my two sons to care for, and a family that needs me besides.”

Ardwen raised an eyebrow as if positing the obvious unasked question.

“Wife died last winter.” The man said flatly.

“Oh gods,” Ardwen groaned, “how typical of the All-Father to land me right in the middle of a damn sob-story.”

The man barked a laugh, and it was as bitter as one Ardwen had ever mustered, “I just want you out of here and my boys safe. I’m not asking for help from the likes of you.”

Ardwen paused, he titled his head to one side, “You’re not asking for my help, but you’re going to get it anyhow.” The warrior mussed aloud.

“What the hell are you mumbling about?” The farmer retorted.

“Tell me your name.” Ardwen asked.

“Why?” The man said, a confrontational tone edging into his voice once more.

Ardwen sighed, “I am Ardwen, I have no last name. There. Your turn.”

“Renild,” the man began, “Renild Capet.”

A loud knock suddenly reverberated from downstairs, and a booming voice split the air, “Damnit Renild open up! Waking us up at this ungodly hour to check on your worthless hide, damn you! We heard the noise all the way across the god damn street, now open up!”

“And that would be?” Ardwen said simply.

“Shit,” Renild cursed, “You’ve got to get out of here. If the city guards find you here we’re all dead!”

Ardwen looked around him. The child who had stood up had huddled close to his father. The man, Renild, stood motionless, his face was creased and he had placed one arm around his son. The other boy was still under the flimsy protection of his covers, but Ardwen now heard soft sobs escaping from under them.

Ardwen felt something in him loosen, he felt detached from the present situation, as if he was suddenly watching it from someone else’s viewpoint. He let his body relax, he rolled his shoulders, and then he let out a long breath that he was not aware he was holding. Renlid looked at him curiously and said softly, “What the hell was that for?”

Ardwen simply nodded slowly and looked at the man, a smile not born of happiness crossed his face, “I’ll deal with this.” With that Ardwen began to walk to the narrow stairwell. Renild walked over to a narrow window, it had no glass but rather a sheer sheet covering it, motioning his son to stand still he swept the cloth aside and looked below.

“Stop,” Renild hissed, “There’s five of them down there. You don’t understand Ardwen, they’ll kill you for just being in the city. And then, they’ll kill me and my boys for coming into contact with you. They don’t care for us, they’re hired muscle – thugs, murderers; men lured here by the promises of Beridane’s lawless rule.”

Ardwen stopped at the threshold of the narrow staircase and said, “I’m sorry for troubling you and your family. I owe you one, and this is the least I can do. Do me just one favor, OK?”

“What?” Renild asked.

“Keep your boy there away from the window. Don’t let him see what I’m going to do to these men. It’s not good for them, you see, at such a young age.” Ardwen’s voice was emotionless, and he finished walking down the steps without looking back.

Renild looked out the window again, at the five guards below, another hammering knock and curse rang out from the guard on point. He watched on, he had to, whatever this warrior thought he could do his life and his two sons’ lives hung in the balance.

Under the sheets, Renild’s youngest boy dried his tears. He was turning something in his hands, an old gift from his departed mother. He smiled at her memory, and then sniffed again to dry his tears. The little object was a necklace, and on it hung a symbol made of three interlocking rings*. The boy looked at it again, and thanked the voice that had told him what to say.

****

“Pig-headed old fool.” Derick muttered to himself. He had gathered four other men from the barracks across the road to go and check on Renild’s house. It’s not that he cared about Renild, it was to save his own ass. If something should go wrong and he was reported as having not even bothered to check, well . . . his life could become much more uncomfortable.

“I’ve had it, if that asshole won’t open the door I’m busting it down. Lon, come up here and help me.” Derick’s tone was sullen and resentful, why did he always have to get stuck on these slum assignments? He’d report Renild as a traitor, throw him in jail to die, he could drum up some evidence surely. He just wanted the bastard out of his hair, making him stand out in the middle of the street when some ale and a warm bed waited for him was too much. As Derick watched Lon begin to move toward the obstinate door it finally swung open. Not bothering to look who or what had opened it Derick blurted out in anger, “Disobeying the king’s guards is treason! You can either come along, or we can execute you here.”

“I think,” a voice responded that was definitely not Renild’s, “I’ll rip you open and write with your innards on the wall.”

“The he-“ Derick started saying, but he was unable to finish. He was also unable to see whatever took his life, for all he got was a sensation of something moving fast, and a sharp pain in his throat. Then there was only darkness.

Upstairs, still glancing from through the little window, Renild let out a sharp gasp. Ardwen, had just killed a guard in one fluid motion. Renild’s mouth was slightly ajar, and he thought his eyes were lying to him. The warrior had two blades in his hands; the blade in his left hand looked longer, but Renild was having trouble telling. The soldier had not remained still, with one of the guards dead he circled to the left side of the other four, for their part the guards were cussing and shouting, but they had enough presence of mind to fan out. Two of them had spears, and the other two had longswords, and in the street they would need room to use their weapons without hacking each other apart.

Ardwen had not waited for them though, he dashed toward one of the guards holding a longsword, with one blade he swept the sword out wide, twisted, and brought the other blade down on the man’s wrist. The blade clattered to the ground, and Renild could see a hand still attached to it. The guard was screaming, and blood was pumping from the severed stump at the end of his right arm, but Ardwen paid him no further heed. He was already rotating, using the motion of severing the man’s hand to meet the other blade wielder. Ardwen now stood sideways to him, the shorter of the two blades picked off parry after parry, and then Ardwen twisted the blade around in his hands, bringing it up behind him. The man dashed forward, Ardwen used his other sword, not to parry, but to impede the path of his opponent’s blade.

Then he did something Renild wished he had not seen. He brought the other blade he had readied, and he brought it in swift and low toward the man’s midsection. He did not drive it directly in, rather he drove it up, the warrior’s sword exploded from his back with a wet gasp. The man Ardwen had impaled had stopped twitching by this point. The warrior turned, and used the man’s body as a shield against the two spear users. They both scored striking blows against their own friend’s corpse. Ardwen lowered the blade he had sheathed in the dead man’s body and with one foot slid the man’s corpse off, one of the spear users jumped back, from surprise or disgust Renild could not tell, but it was all the opening Ardwen needed.

Ardwen burst forward, his body did not seem to move so much as it looked like he fell in the direction of the man, but this was no fall. The man flicked forward with his spear, desperately trying to keep this armored monster away from him. Ardwen smacked the side of the shaft with a blade, and cut the head of the spear off, and then he was in range to kill. He brought a knee up, smashing it into the gut of the unfortunate guard, he pushed off with the other foot, and it seemed to Renild like he rolled over the back of the hunched guardsmen. Ardwen had gotten out of the way just in time, for the spearhead of the other remaining guard dashed forward. The guard was no fool, nor was he inexperienced, he managed to correct his thrust and avoided impaling his ally. Of course, the other guard could not voice his appreciation, Ardwen had already logged a sword into the base of his skull, and the man simply slid off the blood red blade.

This was seemingly too much for the last remaining guard, he turned and begin to run. He did not get far. Ardwen took one leg, stepped in front with it, brought the guards right leg back, and with one hand still clinching a blade he toppled the guardsman forward. The man fell facedown into the dirt and gravel of the street. He started to voice some curse or plea, but he had no time to give it words as Ardwen stepped on his knees and twirled his two blades so that they faced downward. He had reversed his grip on them. Renild let the cloth slip back in front of the curtain, he did not want to see what was coming next. But the thin window covering could not block out a few gurgling screams.

“Come on,” he spoke to his two sons, his voice quavering with equal parts amazement and fear, “we’ve got to get out of here. They’ll be more guards, and when they see what happened, they’ll be questions. Brom, take your brother Tancred and get whatever food you can from the pantry, pack light and quick. Then you go and warn the neighbors.”

“Dad,” his son Brom responded, looking confused and on the verge of tears, “what’s happening?”

“I don’t know son,” his father said, he tried to strain a smile but it came out as a sad, resigned look, “but we’ve not got any time to waste, hurry!”

“Aren’t you coming?” His boy said.

“I’ll be right behind you son, there’s something I need to see to first. Now, no more questions, go.” He ordered.

Brom nodded his head, went over and roused his brother from his pallet, and in a few moments they were out of the room. Letting out a relieved sigh, Renild hesitantly grasped the cloth obscuring his view to the recent fight. His hand twitched there for a few seconds, as if debating if he really wanted to see how the bloody job below had finished. He decided he could take no chances, what if more guards had arrived? He flicked aside the cloth, and nearly expelled bile into the street below.

Of Ardwen there was no sight, the warrior had apparently moved on. The street was empty save for the corpses off the five dead guards. The last one to die had met his end gruesomely, his back had been ripped open, with so many punctures and slashes that they ran together in a macabre river of red blood, torn flesh, and gore covered bone. Renild felt sickness rising in his throat again but he willed himself to look on. He noticed something on the side of the house across the street.

He strained his eyes, perhaps Ardwen had written something on it? It was a large three-story structure that had been commandeered by the city guard early on, but they rarely used it, the best house in the area or no it was still in the slums. Renild leaned forward from the window, trying to get a better look. It was dark, and he had to narrow his eyes some more. He muttered the letters aloud to himself, one at a time, “A-R-I-A-N-A” the script read. “Why is it so difficult to read?” Renild asked himself. The letters were runny, the writing hasty, and the color was a deep red. Then Renild realized what Ardwen had used to write on the wall. This time he did vomit.

****

*Elven – “Put an end to this. Lit. “To end this”

*The symbol is of course a Triskelion, one of the sacred signs of Tinorb, who Ardwen would better know as the All-Father.

Written by - Turin Wallace

After leaving the children to make their own way, Turin rode further south. After a few days, for he kept off the beaten paths, he arrived at Galville.

Galville was just another township on the way to Westgale, except it was the first town one would reach if you left from the northen gate of the city. A few hours ride, to be sure, but for Turin this was the last stop before the city. Entering the local inn, he finds a table, noticing that the place was very quiet for this time of day, which was evening. Propping his legs up on the table, he waits for the serving lady to arrive.

It was then that he noticed the stares of the few local patrons who were there. However, they were levelled at himself per se. They were staring at the golden triskellion upon his chest. After a few moments of silence, Turin had enough, and says,

"Pardon me, but what strikes ye all most odd about my appearance, or rather my current coat of arms?"

Silence followed for a moment more, then the landlady finally walked over to where Turin was sitting and in a whispered tone, replies,

"You are a Crusader, are you not? Do you not know the tragedies that befell the king and queen here? Or that your order has been officially disbanded by the current king? If you are found, you will be imprisoned, or executed on the spot...as well as anyone who aided you."

Removing his feet from the table, Turin replies to her,

"These are indeed black days, lady. Under such circumstances, I will not cause you undue stress. All I require is a mere bottle of wine, some dried meat, and a few loaves of bread. Here is payment, I am sure it will cover said items and any anguish I have caused."

As he said his last words, he dropped a tightly stretched, but small, bag of coins upon the table. The lady picked it up, peeked inside, and nodded to him. Hurrying off to get his items, Turin made his way to a window and noticed the villagers beginning to gather outside. With a sigh, he turned back to the sounds of the lady rushing back to him with the items he requested. As she hands over the items, she says,

"Milord, where do you travel, if I may inquire?"

Turin's reply was simply,

"Westgale."

He saw her wince at the name, he had seen it many times since he arrived in these lands. It seems as if people believe it to be the seat of all evil on this world. Who knows, maybe it is? It doesn't really matter now anymore, a friend has need of him, that is what matters. He'll find a way in, somehow.

Recovering from the silence, she says,

"Whatever for?! Are you mad? Or maybe an idiot? I said you will be imprisoned or executed on sight!"

Raising one eye at the show of emotion, and irritated by being called an idiot, Turin sharply replies,

"Lady, I need no more opinion or advice from ye. I have paid for your services and I will take my leave, and quickly. However, to answer your direct question, a friend of mine is already imprisoned and I am going to her aide."

A half-hearted smile graced her lips, as she says,

"Risking death for love? Even more a fool than I thought, though it is a noble task."

In reply, Turin says,

"No, it isn't for that love that I go, for that type can be fickle and fleeting. I am going because of a love of friendship and of family. No other reason, but then, is that not reason enough?"

Corrected, the lady says,

"I did not mean to offend, sir. I understand your task now, foolhardy though it is. I will pray for you, but if I am to do so, what name will I use?"

Turin replies,

"Turin is the name, and yours?"

The landlady responds,

"Devora."

Turin says,

"Devora, save your prayers for those more worthy than myself. I thank you for the warning and help, now I must go before someone outside lets on that you have helped me. Perchance, is there a back door I may use?"

Grabbing him by his arm, she leads him through the kitchen, to the only other outside door in the place. Opening it, he slips through and she pays a kitchen hand to bring his horse to him. As he mounts his horse, he gives her a nod and smile, saying,

"My thanks, lady Devora, may your kindess be repaid a thousand times over."

Spurring his horse, he turns and rides off. Turning away, she mutters,

"The coin will do that, you poor fool."

Just before dawn, Turin crests a hill and sees the city of Westgale for the first time. Sitting for a moment, he views it in it's immensity. Well defended, large and thick walls, it's back to the sea. It is a design he is familiar with and knows that it will be hard to get in and out not noticed.

Looking to the sky, he mutters a quick prayer as he throws a travellers robe over his shoulders and pulls the hood close about his face. With a slight tap of the spurs, he makes his way to the main gate.

Fortune, fickle as she is, gave him a nod this day. There was a caravan of merchants entering the city this day, and he slipped in and through the gates pretending to be one of their guards.

Unfortunately, getting in was the easy part. The city was foreign to him and now he must not get himself caught while poking about, here are there. He figures the poor section is the best place to start, and it isn't soon before he finds it. Not like it is hard to find, one need only follows one's nose and look for the most delapidated buildings.

Sure enough, the poor sections tavern and inn, the Wounded Lion was soon before him. Dismounting, he swears he sees a figure in an alley close by. Glancing back, he see's nothing but shadows. Cautiously, Turin enters the inn and takes a seat in the back. At least there will be few questions here, for gold will do much to close and open mouths when it is in short supply.

After getting a decent meal and a weak red wine, Turin sits back and ponders for awhile. To relieve his thoughts for awhile and remembers his friends. How many times did they sit like this and recount stories or make battle plans? A sad smile graces his face as the memories of his friends race through his mind. If only a few were here now, he muses...

Thus reposed, Turin consigns himself to wait for dark and then to venture out to see what he can find.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm crouched in the shadows in the hallway to the left of the large room, scanning the area and awaiting either Mavigan's return or the need to go to her aid. His two companions Danil and Sandra quietly took out yet another wandering acolyte, stashing the body in a side room. Through his tracking sense, and the mind links between the three mages, Wilhelm monitored the actions of Fiernum and Aldeth as rearguard and Resini, Ethan and Maeve on the other side doing the same. So far they had avoided any alarm or outcry from the dark cultists here.

The undead Saabbatine and the assassin Jasmine remained in the large room while Teran, Mavigan and Keeryn were up ahead. Wilhelm noted that Jasmine's heartfire was changing, a darkness slowly spreading outwards across it. She must bear some sort of curse, he decided, as he could sense layers of pain. Deep inside he could sense a tiny core of light remaining, so she was not lost entirely to the darkness. An undead warrior and a cursed assassin were odd companions for Mavigan's training mission, and he would continue to watch them closely.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya listend as Alaric explained what had been happening in this land while she was a prisoner of the orcs and the demon. Everyword boiled her blood and made her more determined to see that this man Beridane got what he deserved. Then while still on edge, she and Alaric worked out sparing, getting the anger out of their systems, or at least under control. Then the sweet lure of sleep. But it was not enough, for it seemed as soon as they drifted off, Dorve awoke them, saying it was time to head out once more. Dorve said she had been exploring a little and found an oak, close to the northern gate of the city; a young sappling that had escaped Beridane's eye.

As they walked, they tried to formulate a plan, but because none of them knew exactly what lie ahead, plans were not very helpful. It was decided that their first objective was to get inside the gates and find someplace to lay low. Kaya suggested heading to a poor section of the city, for there would probably be less guards and fewer eyes looking out for something amiss. Alaric and Dorve agreed.

Finally, Dorve stopped, announcing they had arrived at the sappling. WIth great care she pulled them out one at a time into a dark, dank, and dreary afternoon. Kaya inhaled deeply, feeling the heavy hair all around her. SHe wished for a moment to go back into Nyrondis' realm, but quickly stopped those thoughts, for she had a mission ahead of her. "We all set for this you two?" Kaya asked. "You know neither of you need go with me."

Alaric just let out a snort and Dorve glared. "I will not be letting you down Kaya, I am here for the long haul. Beridane does not scare me."

"Thank you, both of you. Now..." She took another deep breath, "...let's get going, be careful, keep your ears and eyes open and pray that fate and luck are with us on this journey."

They traveled for about an hour before they found the road to the city. There was some traffic, mostly weary looking farmer types bringing goods to the new ruler. All three of them dirtied themselves up and gathered up stacks of twigs and limbs, to look like they were bringing firewood back to their homes and fell into line with another group of weary folks. Soon the gates of Port Westgale rose before them and the salt air reached their nostrils. Kaya breathed deeply, enjoying what sea air she could make out. It has been far too long since i smelled the sea. SHe thought.

Luck was with them, as the guards at the gate paid little attention to a few more dirty, wood carrying peasants. The three of them stayed slumped under the burden of the twigs they carried, and worked their way into the city, looking around for a place to hole up. Soon, the sign of a place called the Wounded Lion cught Kaya's eye. SHe watched it for a bit, making sure no guards entered the place. THen when the coast was clear, she made her way to the back of the tavern, having the others follow her. When she reached the back door she knocked on it loudly. "What do you want, no beggars allowed!"

"We are not beggars sir, just poor farmers looking for a place to hole up. We have wood we can give you for your fires if you will give us a meal and a room."

The door opened and a gruff, greasy man looked out. "HOw much wood?"

"Three backs full sir."

He looked them over with a weary eye, then let out a heavy sigh. "Alright, but only one room for the three of you to share, and one meal, no more. Leave the wood here and get to the front."

"Thank you sir." Kaya and the others dropped their bundles and headed to the front of THe Wounded Lion and they headed in. It was just as dark and dank inside as it was outside, but they found a table and a tired looking barmaid brought them over some stew and weak ale.

"Okay you two, this is it, lets try to make a plan."

Written by - Ariana

At Teran’s directive, Mavigan took off with the speed of an arrow, pursuing the remaining guard. Clutching Teran’s dagger in one hand, she pulled one of her own into her other with a quick flick of her wrist, and focused all of her attention on catching the runner.

The fleeing guard was wiley, however, and had the distinct advantage of knowing the layout of the labyrinth of tunnels. As soon as he sensed Mavigan getting into range, he ducked into a branching tunnel. Mavigan, thinking only that he was attempting to get away, charged forward around the bend. Once in range, she leapt at him, bearing him to the ground face first, and lodging Teran’s dagger into the base of his neck.

Exhilarated with her success and panting with exertion, it was only as she withdrew the dagger that she became aware of the other sounds around her – the scraping of wood on stone, the sound of metal clanking, the slide of metal on metal. Looking up, she found 7 well equipped men freeing their weapons and moving to surround her.

Blindly, she had followed her quarry right to the entrance of a small barracks.

“Uh,” she said, faking a large smile, “Hi?” The warriors around her did not seem to be impressed. With a quick bound, she gained her feet and started to back out into the tunnel she had just come through.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn was no fool, she knew what this guard was doing. Her people used the same ploy on some of the prey they hunted, and sometimes the prey used it on them. The last time she had been in such a situation she had nearly lost her life, that would not be the case this time. This time she was ready. As she rounded the last bend she saw Mavigan atop their quarry, but she also saw the men behind her.

Keeryn was just far enough behind that they didn't notice her behind Mavigan, and as they moved to surround her Keeryn threw her spear, narrowly missing the bounding Mavigan and impaling the guard in the middle. She then shoved Mavigan to the dirt as she caught up to her and used her momentum to flip into the impaled guard's chest, yanking her spear from him as the body hits the floor, and spinning to face the remainder of the men a fierce roar leaving her lips as she readies her spear.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan backed up slowly, attempting to keep her eyes on all 7 of the men advancing on her at once. It wasn’t working all that well, and she had just about decided to turn tail and run when she was abruptly shoved out of the way, her face landing in the dirt. Her daggers went skidding from her hand to rest against the opposite wall, partially buried in the dirt.

Righting herself and spitting out a mouthful of dirt, she saw the cause for her fall was Keeryn, who had already dispatched one enemy and was now roaring at the rest of them. Three of the enemy focused their attention on the new foe, while two others turned toward Mavigan. The last enemy went towards the back of the room and started fiddling with something in an alcove that Mavigan could not see.

Not having time to ponder to his actions, Mavigan quickly withdrew several throwing daggers and sent them flying. Managing to hamper one of her attackers with a hit to the shoulder, the elbow, and the thigh, she dived out of the way of the second attacker and made a mad scramble to retrieve her main weapons.

Her searching hand located one dagger, Teran’s dagger, and she rolled onto her back swinging upward as the blade of a sword came down. The shock of the parry traveled up her entire arm and she uttered a long stream of curses as she tried to get out of the way of the next blow.

Out of nowhere came a loud clanging noise, the sound not unlike that of a lot of large bells all being rung at once. Everyone seemed to pause as the sound reverberated and echoed throughout the chamber they were in and then was carried down the tunnel where another loud clanging rang out in response. The noise was deafening and Mavigan thought she felt the floor tremble in response.

As the sound died down, but continued to echo from farther and farther off Mavigan figured out what that man had been fiddling with in the alcove. He had triggered their security system and their cover was now blown.

As motion returned to everyone and Mavigan renewed her efforts to regain her feet, there was only one thing running through her mind…

“Teran is going to be furious with me!”

Written by - Turin Wallace

How long did he stare out the window, remembering times long ago, and watching the faces of the people who moved by? He sure as hell didn't know, maybe a minute, maybe an hour or more. Rousing himself to another glass of wine, he looks at the bottle and finds it half full! As he raises the full glass to his lips, he jokes with himself that he is losing his touch. Downing his glass and refilling it, he can see that the mid-morning crowd is starting to arrive.

Looking about the fair-sized main room of the inn, he can see little groups here and there, with a few solitary individuals like himself lost in thought, or downing a quick breakfast before hurrying off to some task or another.

It was just then that he felt it.

Almost subconciously, he clenches his fists, as if trying to grab hold of something. His hands had a slight tingle to them, not much, but enough to make him wonder why he felt that way. Looking at the bottle in front of him, he now really starts thinking he has lost his touch! Shaking the feeling off, and rubbing his hands, Turin goes back to pensively watching the window.

It isn't long before he is interrupted by some newcomers, who are rather excited both in manner and speach. At first, Turin attempted to mind his own business, but since these men were rather loud he decided to listen in as they spoke.

"Gods, did ye hear that Strom? They say they were killed horribly."

"Aye, ye best be sure I managed a peak before being ran off by them new mercenaries that came to look at their friends. Horrible sight, t'be sure. Whoever did them in, Jerg, I tell ya they pissed them off something fierce!"

"Look ye two stop jabbering on about that! We see the dead everyday, shouldn't surprise us to see a few more. Plus, the only good mercenary is a dead one." Spits in disgust.

"Aye, Gern, that be the truth of it. Still, what makes the whole scene odd was that name scrawled on the wall. Jerg, what did they say it was written in?"

"Blood. It was written in blood. I hope I never see something like that again."

"You know, boys, methinks that could be the reason for the deaths. Maybe those low-life mercenaries raped or killed a man's wife, lover, or relation by that name. I tell you what, anyone who saw the sight will never forget that name!"

"Aye, Gern, it does make you wonder who this Ariana is."

"Aye, thats fer sure boys."

Ah, the game is on then. It looks like he isn't the only one here to send a message, although someone added a more dramatic flair then he would have. At least he hoped it was just a random coincidence, some other woman with the same name, it should be possible in a city this size to have a few hundred Ariana's running about. Somehow, though, he knew this not to be the case.

Leaning back in his chair, Turin made no attempt to move and glanced out of the window now and then. There wasn't much to do now anyway, as the building these men talked about would by now be swarmed looking for clues or anything else that may lead to the culprit being caught. More importantly, it gives the guards time to get the corpses out of there before the poor strip their bodies of coin, armor, and weapons. Late afternoon, at the earliest, he may stir to look at this place. It isn't much of a trail to follow, but then, anything is better than nothing.

Written by - Vylia

Only three of the men decided to focus on her, so Keeryn decided to give the others a reason to pay more attention. She saw the man in the back messing with something on the wall, but she had no idea what he was doing, maybe looking for a way out, it wasn't really her concern. One of the men made a motion toward her and she focused her attention on the grim task at hand.

The guard made a wide swing at her, Keeryn ducked beneath it and kicked out with one leg. The man blocked with his shield, but she shoved against it, at the same time shoving off the ground with her other foot pushing the man off balance, and sending her toward the back wall of the room in a smooth backflip. The moment her feet contacted the wall, she crunched up and pushed off the wall to send herself off of it in a spin, her spear swinging out wide. The blade caught one of the other guards unprepared and slashed across his face, leaving a deep gash across both eyes. The guard she had shoved off of had gone staggering back into one of the ones that had stayed focused on Mavigan, while the third managed to block the spear. Keeryn used the stop to drop herself to the ground, lifting her spear straight in the air, with a sweeping kick that left the man on his back as Keeryn finished the spin, twirling the spear around, coming to stand over the man as she stabs him in the gut. Keeryn pulls the spear out of the side of his gut as the spear slices through his armor, leaving a huge gash across his midsection as she turns to face the third guard that finally got his balance back.

Keeryn didn't give him another chance to attack. She attacked his left side where his shield was, forcing him to block blow after quick blow. He tried to attack her with an overhead attack this time, but she just used the butt of the spear to block the blow by shoving it into his hand and pushing it back up and spun around again bring her spear across his chest in an upward slice, continuing the spin and leveling the spear to slice across his throat. Keeryn finished the spin facing the man who had been messing with the back wall just as a loud clanging reverberated through the room.

The noise was loud... VERY loud. The shock of it sent Keeryn to her knee with a scream, it hurt her ears so much. She was grasping one of her ears with her left hand, spear on the ground next to her clasped by her right.

Written by - Wilhelm

There was a quiet period after the last acolyte was dealt with, during which Wilhelm's tracking sense noted that Mavigan and Keeryn had encountered a group of enemies up ahead. From the agitation of their heartfires he concluded that they were fighting, but there was no sign of either being injured, nor was there any divine prompting, so Wilhelm continued to guard the escape route while scanning nearby heartfires.

Wilhelm wondered if Mavigan and Keeryn, skilled as they were, could deal with those they had met without an alarm going out. The answer came when loud bell sounds were heard from up ahead, followed by other repeats further on. Clearly an alarm system had been triggered to warn the complex. Wilhelm turned to the mage next to him and said,

"That's done it. Pass the word to the others to prepare to deal with a rush of folks responding to that alarm. We WILL hold this escape route open!"

Shortly after the mage passed the mental warning to the other two groups, all three groups became intensely busy dealing with cultists rushing up from various directions. The sounds and flashes of fighting and spells could no longer be kept inaudible to the pair within the main room.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya sat with Alaric and Dorve and ate the food that was set before them and found the stew was actually quite good. The ale on the other hand; the mometn it touched her lips, Dorve spat out a rant of dwarvish that would have made anyone hearing it blush. She immediately stood and headed straight to the bar, still speaking. When she arrived back she had three full mugs of a dark, thick ale. "Now, this is a proper drink to go with stew. Hell, it is a proper drink to go with anything at anytime. Now, enjoy, my treat." Both Alaric and Kaya took a mug and a deep swig if the thick dwarven ale. Now this was a drink. Kaya thought, but her thoughts were interrupted by a couple of exited individuals.

"Gods, did ye hear that Strom? They say they were killed horribly."

"Aye, ye best be sure I managed a peak before being ran off by them new mercenaries that came to look at their friends. Horrible sight, t'be sure. Whoever did them in, Jerg, I tell ya they pissed them off something fierce!"

"Look ye two stop jabbering on about that! We see the dead everyday, shouldn't surprise us to see a few more. Plus, the only good mercenary is a dead one." Spits in disgust.

"Aye, Gern, that be the truth of it. Still, what makes the whole scene odd was that name scrawled on the wall. Jerg, what did they say it was written in?"

"Blood. It was written in blood. I hope I never see something like that again."

"You know, boys, methinks that could be the reason for the deaths. Maybe those low-life mercenaries raped or killed a man's wife, lover, or relation by that name. I tell you what, anyone who saw the sight will never forget that name!"

"Aye, Gern, it does make you wonder who this Ariana is."

"Aye, thats fer sure boys."

Written in blood, hmm...now that does not sound like normal activity. It sounds like it could be something demonic, I mean , what kind of individual would write a name in blood on a wall. But who is Ariana? But as she comptemplated this, Alaric turned around, mug in hand and addressed the men who had been speaking.

“Ariana? Ariana! Tis a noble and fine name of the greatest woman in history. She was abbess, queen and high priestess and on top of all that she founded this kingdom. She is mother of this place, and you should know that, if you be educated right. And there are probably hundreds of citizens throughout the kingdom named after her. Shame on you for forgetting where such a name comes from. As to why it would be written in blood, seems there be foul play afoot for someone of that name.” Alaric sat back and took another swig of his ale.

Kaya leaned over, her hood falling off her head revealing her long, slender ears and long black hair. “Alaric,” she whispered, “keep it down, we are supposed to be keeping a low profile.” She sat up, and looked around, glad to see that most had turned a deaf ear to his rhetoric. “Maybe they will just think you were an old teacher longing for your days in a classroom.” Her violet eyes looked about again, hoping things would remain quiet. “I need to see what this is. Perhaps it is nothing, but it could be demonic activity. We all know that Beridane consorts with the like, so something could be on the loose, and I need to check it out.”

Dorve sighed. “Aye, sounds like plan, but first, let us finish our ale. We dare not let it grow warm, and, we would do better to be under cover of darkness. If there is demon taint there, it will be there still.” Kaya nodded in agreement and sat back, drinking the stout ale and watching the room.

Written by - Ardwen

“Not a good night.” Ardwen muttered to himself as he tensed his muscles to spring to another rooftop. Moving around like this had been the only way to avoid detection since his slaughter of the five mercenary guardsmen the previous night. As a consequence of his actions Ardwen had spent the night on the run, ducking from ally to ally, building to building, and of course fighting when he got the chance.

He had killed again, but to his great chagrin only two more corpses could be added to his count so far. Ardwen had his reasons, foremost being that a dead body was a beacon to the men hunting for him. Worse still, the guards had switched their tactics: they were organizing searches of buildings in the area from the ground up including the rooftop levels. In the dead of the night this had not concerned Ardwen, his sable armor blended in perfectly with the darkness, and his superior night vision ensured he could remain a step ahead of the patrols.

But now there was another problem, a big one. A problem that was even now working its way over the city roofs and walls, shedding light down onto everything it touched. Ardwen glanced into the sky, and squinted his eyes at the source of his worry, “Why couldn’t you just not rise for one day?” He muttered at the impassive sun. Ardwen knew, logically, that his time was running short. Every minute on the rooftop increased his chances of being detected, and when the sun reached its zenith not even the dark alleys would provide much cover.

The warrior’s stomach rumbled. That too, he grimaced, was another concern. He had not had anything to drink or eat since setting out from the Citadel. The journey via dragon had allowed them to reach Westgale at an amazing rate, but it did not ease his body’s need to eat and drink. Leaping to another rooftop Ardwen looked up and guessed it to be about mid-morning. He had to make a decision soon, if he was caught this whole trip would be for naught, it was time to take a gamble.

He followed his nose, his empty stomach lent its urgency to the task as well, and soon Ardwen found himself looking at a modest inn. Ardwen pressed himself flat to the roof he was on and clambered over to the edge. He dared a quick glance down the ally and found it empty save for a few huddling figures who did not seem intent on going to the inn. “Alright, can’t just burst down there and start hacking,” Ardwen muttered to himself, “I’ve got to play this smart, very smart. Now, what do I have to work with?”

Ardwen closed his eyes and focused his mind to the task at hand. First and most troubling he had no coin, not for the first time he cursed himself for not bringing any gold with him from the Citadel, gold could so often make things go smoothly. Second in his list of concerns, he was covered in blood. True, none of it was his, but his fights had lent a good amount of sanguine coloring to his armor – his blades were clean though. “Allll . . . right,” Ardwen sighed to himself, “not much to go on. But I think I can wing it.”

Ardwen rolled over onto his back and then lifted his torso off the ground as if he were doing a crunch; that brought his field of vision back to the interspersed rooftops he had hopped on to bring him to this point. The elf crouched low and dashed to edge of the building, dropping down as softly as he could he found himself in a narrow walkway in between the two buildings. Working frantically he brushed off his black cloak and flicked off as much dried blood as he could, tossing the cowl of his cloak over his head, and making sure his two swords were hidden as well as he might, he strode out into the alleyway next to the inn.

Mercifully, not too many more people had arrived, but Ardwen knew he had not a moment to spare. He walked over to the inn, taking a minute to note its name, “The Wounded Lion,” Ardwen whispered as he walked over to it, “what a strange name.” The warrior walked up to the door of the establishment and pounded on it. Almost immediately a small port at eye level opened up and a pair of gruff eyes stared out.

“Yeah? Name your business. And you’d best not be a damn beggar! I know times are tough but we’re not running a charity here.” Spoke the voice, which sounded just as rough as the eyes looked.

“I am no beggar good sir.” Ardwen said, adopting a soft tone, “I am merely a thirsty man looking for a little respite from the day’s heat, and perhaps a good drink to drown the dust of a long road.”

There was an awkward pause and the voice from behind the door suddenly said, “You aren’t from around here are you?”

“Damnit.” Ardwen thought, perhaps he had overdone it. Still, he could play off this, “No sir, I’m in the city to find a dear friend of mine. A member of my family, as it were, that I have not seen in some time.”

“Touching.” The voice snorted, “Now, you got something to pay for entrance besides pretty words?”

“P-p-pay for entrance?” Ardwen stammered.

Ardwen saw the pair of eyes roll, “I knew you were a beggar.” And the little viewing port began to close-and then stopped.

“What the-“ The man exclaimed before seeing a hand gripping the bottom of the little viewing window’s frame. Whoever the fool was outside the door had stuck his hand in to prevent him from closing the wooden slat. It was not the first time someone had attempted this, sticking there hand in, their . . . armor-clad hand . . .

“Now,” Ardwen hissed, “you have a choice before you. Let me in, all nice and quiet, and you’ll get no trouble from me. Resist me in any way and I swear I’ll bust down this feeble door, gut you like the corpulent human pig you are, and then I’ll write her name again using your damn entrails!” With that the armored figure outside the door presented his left hand, it too was clad in metal – metal coated in blood.

Ardwen saw the eyes behind the little window grow wide, and in an instant he could hear a lock being undone and the door swung open. Ardwen hurried inside, the cool air and the sense of relief causing him to sigh. He glanced only once at the man who had stood bouncer at the door, his face was averted and he was studying the floor as if his eyes could cut a hole in the wood.

Taking no further notice of him, Ardwen quickly slid into a table. A few eyes turned to him, but one more patron entering did not garner that much attention. Ardwen kept his cloak wrapped around him and his face downcast. Suddenly a voice slurred out, “Why the hell does it smell like bloo-“

“Drinks barkeep!” Ardwen roared out, cutting the man off.

“I’m coming! I’m coming! No need to shout.” A woman called out as she wove her way from table to table.

The drunk who had moments before attempted to make a comment about Ardwen’s peculiar scent stumbled closer to the elf. “Keep calm,” Ardwen cautioned himself mentally, “remember! Play it smart! Don’t kill him, don’t kill him, don’t kill him . . .”

The inebriated man leaned in closer, sniffed and said two things, “Ya even have t’shave yet lad? See, back in,” here the man burped, and Ardwen smelled alcohol on his breath, “back in my day, a man wore a beard! Why’s ya smell like blo-“

“Barkeep!” Ardwen called out again, and suddenly he couldn’t help from laughing. It was a laugh born of desperation. He felt that his situation would have been hilarious if only he were not in it! Here he was on another world trying to save Ariana. He was awash in a sea of humanity, he had no clue how or if he could get home, and now he was trying to fend off incriminating statements from an old drunk. “I-“ Ardwen let out another hoarse laugh which caught his sentence in his throat.

“I don’t think you understand,” the elf tried once more, “to keep me waiting any more would be . . . murder.” Ardwen chortled at his own private joke. “Why,” He began again, “with better service I can almost guarantee you’d make a killing!” Ardwen bowed his head almost to the table; his laughter coming in short chuckles.

Ardwen raised his head up and looked at the drunk who had accosted him. The man’s eyes were grainy, his scruffy beard was solid grey, and his face was a mixture of wrinkles and paunchiness from too much drink. “No I don’t have to shave. Now, we’re going to play a little game, OK?”

“Ah, yeah, sure.” The man replied lazily.

Ardwen practically growled in reply, “It’s called ‘shut up or I kill you’. There’s only one rule to the game, I’ll be very curious to see if you can figure it out.”

Even the old man was not so drunk to realize he had come very close to crossing a dangerous line and as he backed away he was finally silent. Ardwen mentally congratulated the man on figuring out the rule. As he looked around though, he saw a goodly number of eyes turned toward him. Almost imperceptibly Ardwen shifted in his chair to better position himself in case he had to fight, and he also scanned the room: not for faces, but rather for potential exits.

“Not a good morning.” He sighed.

Written by - Tempyst

Alaric, along with the others, had turned to watch this large, new stranger. But when he heard the voice, it all fell into place. He turned his head to Kaya and whispered. "By the gods I do bleieve that is our friend Ardwen, you know, the big elf in all that black armor."

Kaya looked the elf over and it too fell into place. It is the berserker. At least he is not chomping on anyone's leg. "You are right Alaric, it is he; I wonder why he is here."

"As do I and I intend to find out. I had charged him once, with this sword here, then he left it behind. Now I have to find the rightful owner of it, here somewhere in this city, and then here, who shows up but the elf who had left it behind. I need to talk with him, it surely cannot be chance that we are meeting up here." Alaric stood, clutching a wrapped and tied bundle tightly. WIth a firm step, he made his way to the elf's table then sat down opposite him, placing the bundle upon the table. Kaya stood and followed Alaric, standing behind him protectively.

"So Ardwen my friend, what brings you all the way out here?" Alaric said. "And may I treat you to another drink?"

Written by - Ardwen Part II of Page 23 Book 3

Ardwen saw two people begin to approach his table, “Oh great,” he thought, “here we go.” But as the two got closer he recognized them: Alaric and Kaya. As Ardwen looked them over he noticed the parcel Alaric placed on the table as he sat down; it was Turin’s blade. Still wrapped in its colors of mourning, Ardwen flinched at the sight, as it was it was still a poignant reminder of his former Priest of Battle. A reminder he did not need at this juncture.

"So Ardwen my friend, what brings you all the way out here?" Alaric began. "And may I treat you to another drink?"

Ardwen didn’t respond immediately, he took a second to note Kaya’s position behind Alaric. She was standing slightly behind him. Ardwen took one more brief glance which told him that if it came to a fight Kaya would most likely move to the side while Alaric engaged directly, there was a table in between them, and besides from the side they could press him in two directions at once. Ardwen shook his head slightly, trying to clear such thoughts that had become automatic after a lifetime of war. He finally looked up at Alaric and said, “Water please,” seeing Alaric raise an eyebrow Ardwen continued, “I want to keep sharp. Alcohol clouds the mind and dulls the body. And if you’re buying I’d like some food as well – stew if possible.” Even if the water here was unclean (as Ardwen had little doubt it would be) he had drunk far worse on Aerynth, his body would shrug it off.

Pausing for a second Ardwen continued, “Not bothering to conceal names Alaric? Bravo, I hate such cringing cowardice.” Ardwen stopped and held his left hand out across the wrapped parcel on the table. He did not touch it, but the elf passed his hand over its length.

“Strange,” Ardwen started again, still staring reverently at the wrapped sword, “so strange you’d bother to carry around the sword of a dead man. You said he was a revered figure here?” Ardwen let out a laugh that was equal parts humor and amazement, “I wonder what he’d say to that?” Ardwen put on an official “scholarly” gloss and raised his voice to better annunciate his words, “Saint Turin Wallace, saint of fine red wines and playing boardgames while besieging cities!” Ardwen let out another snort of laughter before shaking his head at how ridiculous it sounded even to him.

“Ah, and to get to my purpose,” Ardwen started, he looked up and locked eyes with first Kaya and then Alaric in turn, a slight smile touched his lips and he said emotionlessly, “didn’t you get my message? I wrote her name all over a wall not too far from here. She’s here Alaric . . . I know it. And I intend to find her.”

“So,” Ardwen finished, “your turn to tale your tales.”

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya relaxed her stance and sat down at the table. "So you are the one who wrote that name on the wall, and knowing that, not surprised it was in blood. What? You didnt have enough body parts left to spell it out with?"

"Now, now Kaya, there is more here than meets the eye." Dorve interrupted them and put down a new bowl of stew in front of Ardwen. She snorted at the site of him, then went back to the other table to finish her ale. "So, you believe her to be here, after all this time? Amazing! That would make some sense too I suppose, with the dreams I have been having. I've been seeing Turin in my dreams, I have been having these dreams of the one known as Lord Turin. In them he seeks to and fro for something dear to him. For some odd reason he seems incomplete without this item, and he is desperate to find it. Then there is an Archon, who pointed to Turin, then pointed in the direction I was to go and here I am. Ithramir sent the sword with me so I could return it. Do you know what this means Ardwen? Turin Wallace is here!"

Kaya listened to them spout names and wished they could just get onto business here.


Written by - Turin Wallace Page 24 Book 3

Turin had barely a chance to turn his head when he heard a man say,

“Ariana? Ariana! Tis a noble and fine name of the greatest woman in history. She was abbess, queen and high priestest and on top of all that she founded this kingdom. She is mother of this place, and you should know that, if you be educated right. And there are probably hundreds of citizens throughout the kingdom named after her. Shame on you for forgetting where such a name comes from. As to why it would be written in blood, seems there be foul play afoot for someone of that name.”

With a half-chuckle, Turin thought, "Seems she didn't do so bad after all. Guess I'll see a bunch of shrines to Our Lady of the Hands and hear a few hymns before all is said and done. She definitely was a pious one, that woman was."

Glancing over at the table, he saw the man who spoke, he bore something of the familiar in his tone. What, he wasn't sure. Then when one of his companions leaned in, he could see the ears, she was an elf! Elves are not welcome here, usually killed on sight from what he heard from a few villages on the road here. Not his business, though she should be more careful.

It wasn't until they got up to greet someone who had been sitting at the far end of the room that he saw the blue and white bundle. The item inside must have had some import, for he saw the man clutching it tightly while they talked to...Ardwen?

His ears never decieved him, but that rather rough looking..elf? It couldn't be him. Ardwen was a druid, but then, how long ago was that?

Moving closer, his own head and body still cloaked and hooded, he leaned against the bar and ordered a drink as he listened in,

“Not bothering to conceal names Alaric? Bravo, I hate such cringing cowardice.”

“Strange,” Ardwen started again, still staring reverently at the wrapped sword, “so strange you’d bother to carry around the sword of a dead man. You said he was a revered figure here?” Ardwen let out a laugh that was equal parts humor and amazement, “I wonder what he’d say to that?” Ardwen put on an official “scholarly” gloss and raised his voice to better annunciate his words, “Saint Turin Wallace, saint of fine red wines and playing boardgames while besieging cities!” Ardwen let out another snort of laughter before shaking his head at how ridiculous it sounded even to him.

In mid-drink, Turin paused. The voice sounds familiar, and more to the point, how did they get my sword?

After a long few seconds, and listening to the mock laughter, he put the glass down and smiled. He listened further,

“Ah, and to get to my purpose, didn’t you get my message? I wrote her name all over a wall not too far from here. She’s here Alaric . . . I know it. And I intend to find her.”

“So, your turn to tale your tales.”

He listens to first Kaya, but then hears Alaric say,

I've been seeing Turin in my dreams, I have been having these dreams of the one known as Lord Turin. In them he seeks to and fro for something dear to him. For some odd reason he seems incomplete without this item, and he is desperate to find it. Then there is an Archon, who pointed to Turin, then pointed in the direction I was to go and here I am. Ithramir sent the sword with me so I could return it. Do you know what this means Ardwen? Turin Wallace is here!"

In almost an audible whisper, Turin says to himself, "Closer than one would think."

However, this is not the place for such a "surprise" event. Enough people began to listen in to the conversation at hand. No doubt someone will dispatch the guards here soon, what with all the names being thrown about.

At first, he thought of just throwing his hooded cloak off and revealing himself, but then thought better of it. "Not convincing enough," he thought. After pondering a minute, he smiled and said, "Perfect! I owe him one for the ribbing."

Grabbing another bottle, Turin deliberately spills some wine on his robe, and staggers near the table where they were sitting. Acting like a drunken old man, he bumps into Ardwen, excusing himself.

Plainly, he can see Ardwen didn't take none too kindly to this provoking, he can see the restraint, not in his eyes, but by the tensing of his muscles.

"Good, this will be easier than I thought, Ardwen." Turin says in his mind.

Without another thought, Turin pushes Ardwen, hard into the table. Ardwen, reaches for his weapon, but Turin doesn't move and says quickly,

"There is *hic* one thing *hic* I detest more than the king. Know what *hic* what that is?"

Turin pauses, staggers a little, then says,

"An damned ugly elf!"

Yep, that did the trick nicely. It's a full on race to the back alley, with Turin just keeping himself outdistanced and deftly avoiding the flurry of strikes coming at him. Even more lucky was the back door being open as he bursts through, slamming it hard behind him. Hearing it splinter behind him, he thinks,"Gods Ardwen, I see you got a fitness regimen while I was away!"

Finally caught in the back of the alley, Turin stops running and straightens up. He looks at the enraged and bloodlusted elf, pulls his own pair of daggers out, and says,

"If ye want the blood of a saint of wine and boardgames, now is the time to collect, Ardwen of the Glenn!"

Under the hood, Turin smiled and awaited his response.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya cringed at teh smell of the old man, then at his words. "There is *hic* one thing *hic* I detest more than the king. Know what *hic* what that is?" She watched the man stagger, then say, "An damned ugly elf!"

OUCH, but a good one old man. Kaya thought. She almost laughed out loud but the look on Ardwen's face was not one to be laughed at. As the old man, whom she noticed moved a bit more quickly than a drunk man, ran out to the back, Ardwen followed. She and Alaric too, took up and followed suit. This should be a good one, but damnit Kaya, you should know better, after this you are all going to have to find some place else to lay low, if that would be possible anymore.

Dorve sighed, took a long draught of her ale, then slowly walked out through the back, knowing someone was going to need her healing.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen grinned at Kaya’s comment, he was glad to see another Elf, and frankly he did wonder if he could have written Ariana’s name in body parts. Pushing the thought out of his mind, Ardwen turned his attention to Alaric who spoke in length about Turin Wallace, Ardwen’s former Priest of Battle and one of the men Ardwen most respected. Apparently poor Alaric thought Turin was not only alive but in Westgale.

Ardwen sighed mentally but pretended as if he was listening. Alaric was so easily duped by the gods. Ariana being alive was one thing, Ardwen had not seen her die, but Turin? No, they had buried Turin. Sure, he had died a True Death in an age where no one could die, but was not that all the more reason to believe he was gone forever? Should he not be in the heaven prepared by the All-Father enjoying his eternal reward for his faithful service? Ardwen almost felt sorry for Alaric, it was so easy to delude oneself into believing, but Ardwen had no time for pity at the moment.

Ardwen was about to make some reply when he noted another drunk coming towards him. The man was cloaked, but Ardwen could see the fresh stain on his garb from heavy drinking. “Another one?” Ardwen muttered. He made no move, but watched as the man came closer and closer. With dismay Ardwen watched in rapt horror as the intoxicated fool bumped into him, without another thought Ardwen’s body tensed. The man had the grace to excuse himself, but Ardwen felt his blood pumping. This . . . lesser had the audacity to touch him!

Ardwen hastily yanked off his own cowl and stared at the man, his eyes locked in a dare for him to push him just a little further. Ardwen’s daring gaze turned to pure rage when the man pushed him into the table, his hands whirled to his blades but the drunk did not seem to notice. Instead he slurred out, “There is *hic* one thing *hic* I detest more than the king. Know what *hic* what that is?" A short pause and then the offending man finished, “An damned ugly elf!”

The man dashed away at a speed Ardwen could scarcely believe a drunken man could achieve. Ardwen’s swipes found no purchase, and soon the man slipped out into the back ally and slammed a door in his face. The elf sneered and plunged his two blades into the door, they cut through and Ardwen shouted as he rent the door to splinters. Ardwen found his quarry in the back ally behind the Wounded Lion.

The figure looked at Ardwen, straightened, and drew a pair of daggers, then even more surprisingly came this from the drunk’s lips, "If ye want the blood of a saint of wine and boardgames, now is the time to collect, Ardwen of the Glenn!"

Ardwen stopped, he held his left blade out on its side. The flat of the blade caught the morning sun while a gust of wind blew down the ally, billowing Ardwen’s cloak and hair behind him. The elf responses chillingly to the man’s words with, “See this blade? Better men than you have died on its edge. Do you think a single line can save your life? You probably overheard what I was saying in the inn, as for the name . . .” Ardwen paused here not sure how to respond.

Finally he began again, “Well, you can take off the hood so I can see your face clearly or,” Ardwen said pausing for effect, “the real ‘Saint of Red Wine’ would be able to stand against me in a fight . . . at least for awhile. If you’re brave or stupid you could try and convince me with those daggers.”

Ardwen stepped forward with his right leg, bringing him into a side-stance, “I admit your impersonation is very skilled. But that doesn’t make you Turin.” With that Ardwen sheathed the shorter of the two blades and gripped the remaining longer sword with his left hand on top. Ardwen brought the blade so the cutting edge faced up with the hilt near his body, the actual blade was pointed to Ardwen’s left at about his shoulder level. Ardwen awaited the man’s response, the elf's only signs of motion were from the wind and his steady breathing.

Written by - Turin Wallace

“Well, you can take off the hood so I can see your face clearly or,” Ardwen said pausing for effect, “the real ‘Saint of Red Wine’ would be able to stand against me in a fight . . . at least for awhile. If you’re brave or stupid you could try and convince me with those daggers.”

Turin replies,

"Fair enough, Ardwen."

Undoing the robe, then casting it and the hood aside, Turin stood before those in the alley. The golden triune on his breastplate glinted in the afternoon sun. Levelling his eyes at Ardwen, he continues,

"I can not only stand against you, Ardwen. I can defeat you, if I must, though I would prefer to simply speak to the first person I recognize in a very long time. Ariana has need of us and it would be a waste to fight a friend."

Turin lowered his daggers, but remained at the ready. Turin had seen Ardwen's stance a myriad of times and it was best to be ready for anything. He could only hope his words did not fall on deaf ears.

Written by - Aethelwulf

Alaric watched the exchange between the beserker and the drunk with a bit of alarm. He knew that they had been treading far too heavily in a time when extreme stealth was what was called for, and given Ardwen's recent encounters, Alaric knew that they really didn't need any more attention drawn to themselves.

Suddenly, the drunk was fleeing with Ardwen fast on his tail. Alaric gathered up Turin's sword, and in a sharp whisper, quickly muttered a warning to Kaya.

"Ware lass, keep an eye out here. I fear that our friend may be about to draw the ire of the city watch."

With that Alaric quickly followed Ardwenn out into the ally, arriving in time to see the "drunk" loose his robe. Alaric's eyes were drawn to the golden Tirune, and then to the eyes of Turin Lord Wallace.

Written by - Ardwen

“Fair enough Ardwen.” And with those words the figure cast aside his cloak. Ardwen noted the golden triune, but the elf couldn’t bring himself to look at the man’s face. He heard his voice again, “I can not only stand against you, Ardwen. I can defeat you, if I must, though I would prefer to simply speak to the first person I recognize in a very long time. Ariana has need of us and it would be a waste to fight a friend.”

Ardwen finally risked a look at the man’s face, and wished he hadn’t. It was Turin, as he remembered, his Priest of Battle. Ardwen moved suddenly, but it was not to attack, he dropped to his knees, the tip of his blade rested against the ground. The top of Ardwen’s head faced Turin, it looked for all the world as if the elf had just collapsed. Silently, but with a disturbing sureness, Ardwen reached his right hand to his hip – and drew the shorter of his two blades.

“I-“ the warrior began and then paused, “I’m not sure how to say this, did you get my letter?” There was another, longer, pause and then, “Lived for too long commander; that’s all there is to it. You know I joined the Deathless legions after the Hands left?”

Ardwen had not moved, his gaze was still locked on the ground below, “I was alone, and I gave into the darkness inside of me I - Damnit, I thought you were all dead!”

Finally Ardwen’s head came up, his face was drawn with pain and regret and he said vehemently, “Why do the ghosts of my past keep haunting me?” With that Ardwen’s right hand drew his blade and there was a screech as the tip struck the armor covering his stomach. From his kneeling position Ardwen had not been able to put much power behind the blow; the sword was too long and the tip simply slid off. Cursing, Ardwen let go of the blade in his left hand and he began to fumble for the seam in the armor.

Ardwen looked up and finally locked eyes with Turin, “Take care of Ariana please, and tell her I’m sorry.” He implored.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin watched as Ardwen knelt, spoke to him, then cut himself. Ritual suicide was rare, Turin never believed in it, and after Ardwen finished speaking he acted.

Kneeling in front of Ardwen, Turin says,

"We have lived for far too long, old friend. However, I am not ready to part my friendship with you, you'll not die this day."

Leaning forward, Turin grabs Ardwen in a hug, followed by a faint burst of blue light. The healing wasn't as taxing as Turin first thought, for the wound was more superficial than serious. Gripping him tightly, Turin continues,

"I know your pain, Ardwen. My own darkness and regret for past transgressions haunt me daily, and will until I am no more. However, your death brings no honor, not to anyone, including yourself. You are capable of great and noble deeds, Ardwen Macsul, believe in yourself as I believe in you, as the All-Father believes in you."

Leaning back, Turin looks at Ardwen's face, gives him a stern look followed by a brisk grin. He says,

"Now, let us find a place more suitable for talking. Seems Ariana is in a proverbial "pickle" and we need to get her out of it."

Standing up, Turin offers his hand and says,

"I need your help, Ardwen. Will I have it?"

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Much time had passed, for Kiradia atleast, it seemed like a life time. She had watched from on far the wars and happenings of the world she planned to conquer. Her blood burned in anticipation of the part she would play in adding to the cacophony. Kiradia stood on the very top of a massive tower, newly built with her reinvigorated magic. It spiraled upwards into the heavens, with an altar to the Dragon, Terror of Terrors on top.

Already the white marble stones were well drenched in blood. Behind Kiradia stood Allarin, he was a different man now. His hands calloused and drenched in blood, his eyes a powerful red and his body honed to the perfection of a warrior. The same sword lay across his back, just as sharp as it ever was for all the bloodletting it had caused.

“Allarin..... are the preparations finished,” Kiradia said, as a way to start a conversation.

“Yes Mistress, everything is in order, all regiments report full strength and armorment. We are ready to march for war.”

“Good, then at dawn tomorrow morning, with the first rays of the Dragon's destructive fire on our backs, we will march.”

Turning away from her breath taking vista of the lands, Kiradia retired to her chambers, communing with the Dragon.

Allarin moved on after his Mistress had left, he made his rounds, checking on the men and his people. While the land was bleaker than before, it had returned to a form of prosperity. Farms made food again, the people were well fed and had shelter. But the price of that was steep. Every man and woman between the ages of sixteen and thirty had been recruited into the new army. Trained and armed, human now faught along side Kiradia's horrible creatures of war. Converted Orcs, Trolls, Minotaurs, and Orges, all transformed by his Mistress' power, the same as him in many ways.

Their cavalry was a mix of human on horse and deeply disterbing creatures called Centiros. Mistress created beastmen, for lack of a better turn, a mix of goat and human. She breeded warhounds using magical means to increase their size and ferocity. They now stood at eye level with a Dwarf.

Life was better for those who were disabled, too old, or too young. They were spared the horrors of witnessing Kiradia's Army, were kept unaware of everything. They lived iydilic lives inside lust villages.

Tomorrow... everyone would witness the horrors Allarin's Mistress had created. But today... more slaughter of sacrifices to the Dragon, Terror of Terrors.

Written by - Aethelwulf

Alaric released the long breath that he had been holding. When Ardwenn tried to pierce himself, Alaric thought for certian that the elf beserkers end was nigh. When his blade went askew, the thought flashed in Alarics mind that perhaps there was indeed an All Father of sorts. Moving slightly to Ardwenn's side, he glanced at the drawn face of the beserker, and noted that the dark fire that normally blazed in the elf's eyes seemed clouded. Ardwenn's gaze was fixed on Turin, and indeed he seemed to be in another place, and time entirely. Alaric then looked up at the man before them both, and watched in silence as Ardwenn spoke.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen reached out and gripped Turin’s proffered hand: wrist to wrist. His head was bowed still, in deference, and in humbleness. Emotions that Ardwen had not felt for some time. “You would still have use for me? You believe I am fit to help you? I am . . .” But Ardwen cannot find the words.

“I-,” Ardwen began, and then stopped and shook his head with a slight grin, “Nalye i dagnir o wath*. I am with you ‘till death, and if possible, beyond even that Turin.”

Ardwen finally releases his grip and crosses his arms in front of him, his face has a pensive cast to it now, and he begins pacing slightly. Eventually he stops and the only motion he makes is to scan the area and glance at Turin, as if expecting the crusader to vanish suddenly if he does not watch him.

****

* Elvish – “Thou art the bane of shadow.”

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya watched the event play out before her. Though she did not know the whole story, she knew something amazing had just happened. A soul was saved, least it is what it seemed like to her. Whoever this man Turin was, he must surely be great. Kaya looked forward in learnning more of him.

Dorve popped out of the shattered door. "I gave the innkeep enough coin to keep his mouth shut and to pay for he damages. I didn't see anyone dash out, but to be careful, we should all move onto someplace else, especially since we know of the name on the wall now." The dwarf looked at Ardwen and Turin and stroked her beaded beard. "I have no idea where you two fit in, but now that you are here, and apparently know each other and Alaric, when i say all of us...that includes you two as well. Now, you elves, put your cowls back on before it is known throughout the whole city that there is elf bait in town."

Written by - Teran

Sidgard smiled at his old "friend" when he heard the familiar sound of currency clink in the bag that had been dropped in front of him on his table.

"Thanks?" he asked in mock confusion, slowly taking the bag into the folds of his cloak.

"I need something." Teran said quietly, a very subtle smile creasing his lips.

Sidgard suddenly found himself wishing he hadn't taken the money quite so quickly. Teran never smiled... at least not at him... Sidgard actually couldn't recall Teran showing much emotion at all in the past. He licked his lips, estimating the size of the wealth he had just been handed... for such a small bag it sure was heavy.

"What do you need?" Sidgard asked in his silkiest voice focusing his gaze on the second heavy looking (but small) bag in Teran's left hand.

"I need some armor crafted." the Assassin said very quietly.

Sidgard shrugged finding it hard to believe he'd be this over paid for such a simple request.

"It must be functional, light weight, silent, and..." he trailed off.

"...and?" Sidgard sighed loudly to show his annoyance.

The Assassin smiled again before he continued "It needs to be extremely resistant to all the common schools of magic. Immune even."

Sidgard's eyes were wide open. "Nuh-uh." he hissed, both bags of currency were back on the table almost faster than Teran could follow.

Teran stepped back from the table indicating that he would not take the money back. Sidgard stopped trying after a moment and considered the problem. Teran knew that Sidgard could probably make it happen but it would not be easy and it might even be more expensive than the considerable amount he had already handed over.

"I will pay any amount for the armor to be crafted." Teran rested a gentle hand on his friend's shoulder "I will pay you double whatever the armor ends up costing in addition to what I have already given you tonight."

Sidgard nodded, his mind already churning through the possibilities.

"Caster types don't like enchanting items to allow resistance to their magics... this will take some time. I need a year at least." Sidgard said distraction evident in his voice.

"I will need it in eight months." Teran murmured sounding apologetic.

Sidgard sighed again. "Eight months then."

The Assassin departed, confident that Sidgard would get the job done. He was not worried about the cost, he had more money than he knew what to do with. He was worried that Sidgard would not be able to get the job done, Teran wasn't even completely sure that such an enchantment was possible but he knew Sidgard would find out if it was possible and how to get it done.

Eight months passed far too quickly for Sidgard. He had never worked so hard, travelled so far, or failed so much in his life. It seemed that no such enchantment existed until after four months he stumbled across the answer. Sidgard could not believe his good fortune, nor did he fully trust it. It cost him dearly, everything Teran had paid him and virtually everything he owned beyond that... but he had a flawless suit of oiled chain and leather armor enchanted to the desired effect. Sidgard had no way to test it however because to test it would give away its nature and extreme worth. He would have to take the enchanter at his word and pray Teran would not kill him if it was flawed.

At last Teran returned. Sidgard showed him the armor and the assassin was genuinely impressed. He could sense the powerful enchantment and admired the fine quality of the armor. This would not only serve the specific purpose he had in mind but many purposes he had not yet dreamed up for many years to come. He paid Sidgard well, doubling his former wealth though after so much time and hard work Sidgard seemed happier to be free from the responsibility than he was to receive any amount of money.

****

Teran stepped into the doorway prepared to test his armor against real opponents for the first time. He saw three robed silhouettes and though he wasted no time advancing into the room it was clear they had been ready for him. Orange light exploded as one of the figures released a fireball. It travelled far too quickly and there was no room to dodge so Teran rushed straight into it. He was pleased when he felt little more than the impact, it seemed that the blistering heat had been completely negated by the armor. The mage who had conjured the fireball stared wide eyed as the Assassin tumbled into the closest mage to him, this one had not yet completed his spell.

His blades penetrated the cloth robe and flesh, piercing the mages heart. His spell died mid cast and fizzled in a minor explosion of arcane energy. Teran noted the room temperature dropped rapidly and his cloak virtually froze on his back and he felt the icey blast climb his back rolling over his armor. Teran whirled as the ball of ice rolled off his back and smashed into the ceiling freezing the stone and showering the room with little chunks of ice. He flicked his hand out cleanly slitting the throat of the mage who had cast the ice spell. She fell back grasping at her throat and was dead a moment later. Only the fire mage remained. He had backed into a corner and brandished his small dagger for self defense. He fell to Teran's blades a second later.

The Assassin glances around the room, assessing the damage. He started breaking the ice off of his cloak as he examined some smoldering papers and what appeared to be a map of the complex with markings on the map. The room his party was occupying was marked with curious symbols, one mark for each party member except one. He guessed Sabbatine was the they had not detected given her place as a magical "void". He gathered up the map and a few other documents he wanted for closer study. As he stepped out of the room he heard the alarm get sounded in the distance. He picked up his pace, folding the map and documents up and placing them in a pouch. He ran at full speed towards the corridor Mavigan had chased the guard down.

****

Sabbatine stared intently at her hand mumbling and grumbling to herself.

"Go away!!" she hissed, glaring poisonous daggers at her fingernails "Stop growing!" she shrieked a little louder.

She nibbled at them with her sharp teeth before examining and nibbling again. She hissed loudly before nibbling one last time, at last she seemed content. She paced around the room, dragging her spear along the floor, making intricate designs on the dusty floor. Sabbatine was dead and Jasmine wasn't one for conversation. Sabbatine couldn't blame her though, soon she'd be like her... well sorta. Sabbatine glanced over at Jasmine and grinned from ear to ear... soon she might have someone near her who understood what it was like to be dead... what it was like to stop breathing... stop eating... stop drinking... and worst of all, stop sleeping. Sabbatine warbled at that thought, chattering some more to herself. She couldn't even remember the last time she slept, years and years and years had passed.

"I wonder if that's why I'm crazy." she asked herself in a surprisingly sober tone as though experiencing a startling moment of clarity.

She looked over at Jasmine, gone was her unbalanced smile... the slight crazed look in her eye... her childlike demeanor. Sabbatine stood up straightly and looked around as though seeing the room for the first time. She reached up and gently touched her elfin face with both her hands, gently tracing her fingers along her high cheekbones and then to her ears and up to where the tips of her lovely ears had been cut off as a mockery, to make her "appear more human since she acted like one" her captor had said. She remembered crying as she clutched at her bleeding ears while she watched dogs fight over what had been cut off.

For just the briefest second Sabbatine looked horrified and then she blinked and grinned at Jasmine. The unbalanced smile had returned and after she blinked again the crazed look in her eyes was back as well. Sabbatine licked her lips and clutched her spear tightly. She cocked her head as though listening and then hissed at the darkness in the direction they had come from. Sabbatine set the spear on the table but as soon as she took her hands off it rolled onto the floor with a clatter. Instead of retrieving it she unsheathed the sword and axe she had been carrying across her back. She set both on the table and grinned widly when neither rolled off (an impossibility given their shape) and snatched her sword back up. If she remembered anything from the moment before she showed no sign of it.

"Huxel says I'm her saint." she chirped abruptly at Jasmine "Saint Sabbatine... sounds kinda funny doesn't it? Or does it sound nice?" she waited for Jasmine's answer as though putting great weight on the woman's opinion.

She hefted each weapon in her hands weighing them, testing them once she had her answer from Jasmine. Then she switched hands, axe in her right hand sword in her left. She chortled her satisfaction and was in the process of re-sheathing them when she heard the alarm sound. Her eyes darted around nervously but when no one came Sabbatine seemed deeply dissapointed.

"Who doesn't come running when they hear an alarm?" she snarled sounding both angry and dejected.

After another moment she abruptly cheered up when she heard a very brief clang-thump. Someone was in the halls behind them and they had dropped their weapon or something (Sabbatine told herself). She bolted into the darkness without any explanation to Jasmine and a moment later came to a stop.

"Oh. It's you." she whined sounding utterly crushed.

Her faintly glowing eyes pierced any concealing enchantments that might have been in place. She gripped her weapons as though thinking to attack Wilhelm and his allies and then claiming that she did not know they were allies later on."

"No, Teran would never believe that." she whined out loud and seemed lost in her thoughts completely oblivious to what reaction Wilhelm and his allies might have to her sudden arrival.

****

Teran found Mavigan and Keeryn easily and rushed past Mavigan in a blur, his sopping wet (and freezing cold) cloak slapping her right in the face if she was not quick to evade. He parried a weak attack before thrusting his dagger between the ribs of one of Keeryn's attackers and pushing him out of the way. His entrance was so abrupt and subtle the soldiers paused for the briefest second trying to figure out just what happened. Teran had all their attention buying Keeryn and Mavigan the briefest moment to mount their own attacks.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan managed to dodge the next sword swing, hearing the sword smack into the ground next to her right shoulder. Rolling left, she put her feet beneath her and ended up in a crouch. Still short one dagger, she clutched the one Teran had given her with a skillful hand, and prepared to launch herself at the warrior bearing down on her with ominous purpose.

Without warning, something brushed past her, smacking her hard right in the face. The thing was wet and freezing cold and stung as it heavily struck her across the bridge of her nose. The impact momentarily blinded her and caused her to lose her balance. She toppled backwards and was once again sitting on her butt on the dirt floor desperately trying to avoid the sword strike she knew was coming.

Written by - Teran

Teran sensed the danger his apprentice was facing and whirled around despite the impending attacks from around him. He swiftly kicked the guards knee from behind forcing him to kneel and throwing his attack off balance while he had his sword drawn back to attack. The Assassin knew this was not enough to prevent the attack and reached out to hook the dagger he held in his right hand around the guards sword to prevent the attack but had to abort the move at the last moment when he sensed an attack coming from behind and above. He tried to pull the kneeling guard back with him as he blocked the attack with his right hand but again he sensed he had not pulled the guard far enough back.

Teran abandoned the dagger in his right hand and with lightning reflexes brought his hand down on the guard's sword. It sliced through Teran's flesh easily but stopped at his bone and skipped along shortening the length and speed of the attack even as Teran threw himself back pulling the guard with him. He had slowed the attack just enough and shortened it distance just enough that Mavigan was uninjured though some of Teran's warm black blood splattered across her face sharply contrasting with the ice water that had been there.

The Assassin had not been able to plan much further beyond desperately throwing himself backward. He felt a blade pierce his side but the wound was far from life threatening. Just before he hit the ground he crashed into the shins and ankles of a second guard. With a little bit of satisfaction he felt one of her ankles twist underneath his weight and heard her yelp as she fell on him. His satisfaction quickly vanished when the guard fell on his left side, her body weight twisting his only remaining dagger out of his grasp. Teran cursed her good fortune as he punched her in the jaw with his bleeding right hand but this did little more than remind her of the mortal danger she was in.

He struggled to kick the male guard off of him while trying to evade the female guards attacks. She was inexperienced and her attacks lacked strength and speed so in turn Teran was able to easily evade or block them. He managed to disarm her with a sharp blow to her wrist but in turn she slapped the sword out of reach hoping one of her allies might finish off her attacker. Teran connected with a strong punch to her nose, crushing it under the blow but she seemed unfazed as she struggled to gain dominance despite the blood now flowing freely down her face. She rolled to her left reeling under another one of Teran's punches struggling to get out of his reach however by doing so she rolled off of his dagger.

The Assassin snatched up the dagger quickly but before he could deliver a killing blow he had to block an attack from above by a third guard. The force of the blow nearly caused Teran to drop it again but he maintained his grip and kicked out at the guard forcing him back. He surveyed the room and noted that the guard who had been pinning his legs was now up and struggling to gain some semblance of balance. Teran gave him a swift kick in the rear sending him towards Mavigan, he was confident she could handle him despite her circumstances and if she couldn't... perhaps he had been wrong to try and teach her in the first place.

Teran had his own problems, he was still trapped off of his feet with a wounded right hand. He did his best to look more wounded and far weaker than he was, the guards likely felt comfortable with their number advantage and if they underestimated him he would swiftly even the odds.

Written by - Ariana

As she wiped the icy cold water from her eyes, she glanced around to assess the situation. Quickly pulling the mate to the dagger she had lost as she regained her feet, she saw Teran attempting to rescue her as he always did.

And, as always, there was a price.

Blood, black as pitch, and terribly warm splashed across her face. She started from the contrast of icy cold and firey warm, and she drug a finger across her cheek. Gazing at it, she could see plainly the ichor was black.

Something inside her squeezed hard at the sight, and in the space of a breath, she was engulfed in the sensation of thousands of tiny needles were piercing her skin. As she crouched there, the sensation intensified, and Mavigan soon felt as if a whirlwind were howling through her chest. Gritting her teeth with the effort of containing whatever it was that threatened to come out of her, she glanced at her fingertips which were lightly coated in Teran’s blood and then looked to where Teran was wounded and struggling.

Something inside her shifted, and in an instant Mavigan decided to do something she had never done before.

She was going to channel it.

Focusing, she mentally funneled the whirlwind into Teran’s dagger. She had no way of knowing if she was doing it “right”, and it certainly was not as easy as it seemed. She forced the power to do her bidding through nothing but sheer force of will, and had she been looking at the blade instead of Teran, she would have seen it glow a bright blue that seemed to elongate the blade making it appear twice its normal size.

When Teran kicked the man her way, she was ready. As the man’s momentum brought him to her, she started her own momentum forward and made a clean strike, slicing open his throat. There was a sizzle, a pop, and the smell of burnt flesh, and then the head dropped to the floor, followed a moment later by the body it had been separated from.

Mavigan paid it no heed, however, as she turned and used her own blade to dig into the side of the female warrior, and then continued to turn in an effort to put herself between Teran and the enemies he faced.


Written by -

Written by - Tempyst Page 25 Book 3

Kaya looked at Dorve. "I would tend to disagree with you. I think we should stay put. You heard how those others were talking out loud about what happened. If they felt that free in this place, it must be pretty much off the radar. And so far, I don't hear anyone coming after us, so I would suggest we all go back inside like we made good." She then looked at Ardwen and Turin. "Besides, if you are seeking someone Beridane is holding, they are probably in his cells, and you are talking with someone who has been there."

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn was dazed and confused, the alarm had left her head and ears ringing to such a degree she could barely focus through the pain. She managed to stand up just in time to see the man responsible for the noise come charging at her, and narrowly avoided his stroke. She swung back, but the strength behind it was weak, and the spear wobbled slightly as she tried to maintain her balance and clear her head.

She saw Teran come rushing through the door to aid Mavigan, but was so busy with her own fight she didn't see much after that. She blocked a wide swing from the guard with the midsection of the spear then attempted a kick to his shins to try and get him off his feet. It wasn't strong enough to affect him much through his armor, but it did cause him to back up and give her some more room. That was all she really needed, since the man didn't have a shield to effectively block her attacks with. She advanced on the man with a quick series of stabs, pulling the spear back just in time to avoid having it swatted away before stabbing at him again. He was dead soon after.

Keeryn stopped to try and gather the rest of her whits when she saw one of the soldiers advancing quickly on Mavigan's right. She reached down at her waist and pulled the whip that was loosely wrapped there, and with a loud crack she wrapped up the upraised wrist of the guard, who promptly dropped his weapon. She didn't have the strength to pull him back, but she was able to keep him from advancing.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm's three groups were busy handling small groups of confused cultists responding to the alarm. Stealth was no longer an option, although the three mages maintained their anti-scrying shields while also casting temporary paralysis spells at a cultist. This was a practiced maneuver that held the foe approaching the mage, allowing the warriors to deal with their own foes first before turning to deal with the mage's foe. The glow of magic and the clash of weapons rebounded off the walls as Wilhelm's forces dealt with a score of cultists.

Wilhelm's eyes began to glow as he channeled the power of the All Father. A green glow settled upon him as he imbued his armor with a divine mantle. A red pulsing glow enveloped and invigorated his forces as he chanted a battle chant. Danil and Sandra's spirits rose with the power of his noble inspiration. A white glow shown from his warhammer and shield. Blocking one cultist's attack with his shield, he crushed the skull of a second with his warhammer. Danil blocked another cultist's rush with a shield bash and then ran him through with his sword. Sandra froze another in place with a spell while maintaining her scry shield with clear effort. Danil quickly dispatched that foe as well.

Wilhelm could sense and hear his other teams accounting well for themselves. The rearguard pair was preventing anyone from making it to the entrance, with Fiernum's arrows taking anyone emerging into the rear corridor and Aldeth paralyzing any extra until Fiernum could shift aim. Resini blasted distant foes with levin bolts as his two warriors Ethan and Maeve handled any who got close, thereby preventing any from getting past them to move towards the source of the alarm.

Wilhelm shield blocked his second opponent and then dispatched him with a wraparound blow. He noticed then that Sabbatine had moved out of the room and was looking right at him. "She must be able to penetrate concealment spells," he though, "but then she is Undead and such spells likely do not work on her." Wilhelm had no further time for her, as a new wave of cultists appeared, these arriving in better order having been warned by the sound of combat.

Once again Wilhelm and Danil each moved to take on a pair, blocking one with the shield while attacking the other, while Aldeth froze another and stood chanting her scry shield. However this time a sixth cultist arrived and, moving past his frozen companion plunged his sword into her side. As she fell, Danil dispatched one foe and knocked the second towards Wilhelm and jumped to attack the last cultist before he could finish off the helpless mage.

Facing three foes, Wilhelm knocked one back with his shield parried another with his warhammer and moved to engage the third to stand by Danil. His other two foes took this opportunity to bolt past this glowing deathbringer and run up the corridor towards Sabbatine. Wilhelm turned and gestured and a glowing pillar of holy censure incinerated one of them. With a wave and a gesture he offered the other to Sabbatine and turned to assist Danil in dispatching the remaining two cultists.

Wilhelm then knelt before the stricken mage and lay his hands upon her, calling upon the All Father. A bright light spead from his hands and Aldeth's wound shrank and vanished. The pain left her face and she smiled at the paladin as he helped her to her feet. Once again she resumed her scry shield, although they all knew that the group had been exposed to detection for a time.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm's three groups were busy handling small groups of confused cultists responding to the alarm. Stealth was no longer an option, although the three mages maintained their anti-scrying shields while also casting temporary paralysis spells at a cultist. This was a practiced maneuver that held the foe approaching the mage, allowing the warriors to deal with their own foes first before turning to deal with the mage's foe. The glow of magic and the clash of weapons rebounded off the walls as Wilhelm's forces dealt with a score of cultists.

Wilhelm's eyes began to glow as he channeled the power of the All Father. A green glow settled upon him as he imbued his armor with a divine mantle. A red pulsing glow enveloped and invigorated his forces as he chanted a battle chant. Danil and Sandra's spirits rose with the power of his noble inspiration. A white glow shown from his warhammer and shield. Blocking one cultist's attack with his shield, he crushed the skull of a second with his warhammer. Danil blocked another cultist's rush with a shield bash and then ran him through with his sword. Sandra froze another in place with a spell while maintaining her scry shield with clear effort. Danil quickly dispatched that foe as well.

Wilhelm could sense and hear his other teams accounting well for themselves. The rearguard pair was preventing anyone from making it to the entrance, with Fiernum's arrows taking anyone emerging into the rear corridor and Aldeth paralyzing any extra until Fiernum could shift aim. Resini blasted distant foes with levin bolts as his two warriors Ethan and Maeve handled any who got close, thereby preventing any from getting past them to move towards the source of the alarm.

Wilhelm shield blocked his second opponent and then dispatched him with a wraparound blow. He noticed then that Sabbatine had moved out of the room and was looking right at him. "She must be able to penetrate concealment spells," he though, "but then she is Undead and such spells likely do not work on her." Wilhelm had no further time for her, as a new wave of cultists appeared, these arriving in better order having been warned by the sound of combat.

Once again Wilhelm and Danil each moved to take on a pair, blocking one with the shield while attacking the other, while Aldeth froze another and stood chanting her scry shield. However this time a sixth cultist arrived and, moving past his frozen companion plunged his sword into her side. As she fell, Danil dispatched one foe and knocked the second towards Wilhelm and jumped to attack the last cultist before he could finish off the helpless mage.

Facing three foes, Wilhelm knocked one back with his shield parried another with his warhammer and moved to engage the third to stand by Danil. His other two foes took this opportunity to bolt past this glowing deathbringer and run up the corridor towards Sabbatine. Wilhelm turned and gestured and a glowing pillar of holy censure incinerated one of them. With a wave and a gesture he offered the other to Sabbatine and turned to assist Danil in dispatching the remaining two cultists.

Wilhelm then knelt before the stricken mage and lay his hands upon her, calling upon the All Father. A bright light spead from his hands and Aldeth's wound shrank and vanished. The pain left her face and she smiled at the paladin as he helped her to her feet. Once again she resumed her scry shield, although they all knew that the group had been exposed to detection for a time.

Written by - Ariana

By the time Mavigan positioned herself in front of Teran, she was panting heavily with the effort of channeling the power. She was not trained to manipulate such power and did not have the finesse with magic that long-time practitioners and worshipers did. Instead, she was manhandling the energy, willing it to do what she wanted, but the effort was quickly draining her energy reserves. Already she could feel her muscles begin to tremble with fatigue, and she knew she could not hold it.

So, without preamble, she simply let it go. The glowing blade flickered once, twice, and then returned to its normal state.

Her arm felt like lead and she wasn’t sure she could lift it to make another strike. Backing up slightly, she planted her feet in an effort to stay upright and did the next best thing. She dropped Teran’s dagger so that it landed next to his uninjured hand.

Written by - Archeantus

He woke to darkness, his face awash in the morning sun glinting through the canopy of trees overhead. He realized long ago, his blindness was as much of a curse as it was a blessing from his god. He could feel the sun, but he could not see it. Reaching sideways for his gnarled staff, he lifted himself up and stood over, what he perceived was his sleeping friends. His sightless eyes shifted to each in turn.

Pharsalus had slept upright. His ancient gemmed eyes were dull, his stalwart frame shifted ever so slightly.

“So much has changed old friend, I can feel it within you.” Archeantus whispered softly.

The old warlock then shifted to a small figure sleeping soundly, nestled upon Pharsalus’ cool forearm. Her peaceful face shone in the morning’s sun. A sadness suddenly crept over Archeantus’ wizened face. Pharsalus had shown him what the little girl had just endured. She was now an orphan. Her family cruelly murdered before her.

“Ariel,” Archeantus said, near inaudibly, his blindfolded face shielding most of the empathy that would have existed in his one bright blue eyes. “I am an orphan as well.”

He slowly edged near her sleeping frame and knelt down and kissed her forehead. “You are not alone.” He whispered as he rose.

He then probed for Vylia, and found she was still gone, but near.

Turning, he let out a soft sigh.

It was time.

“Angellus, wake them.”

The small little spark, as if excited about the request, whisked about energetically bouncing off the stone dwarf’s face. Pharsalus woke with a start, suddenly having to frantically wave off Angellus from his face. The small little girl woke at the sudden motion.

“Old friend, I fear the time is at hand. We must be on the road before the sun crests the eastern mountains. Many are already there.” Archeantus said with a slight smile, noting something his pet must have been communicating with him about getting to awaken the sometimes cranky dwarf.

They picked up the meager belongings they could carry, ate a small breakfast, and were soon on the road. When asked about Vylia, Archeantus said she would find them; she was a highly skilled ranger after all.

Ariel, the small girl had cried when she left the only place she knew. It was only a tear, and not a word had passed through her lips, but she had strangely attached herself to the dwarf, her gentle hand in his rough stone hand as they walked. Angellus hovered about her playfully, and she seemed to enjoy it’s toying, appearing to be fascinated by the attention, keeping her young mind off of the terrible thing that had happened the day before.

It was late afternoon when the small group caught sight of the spires of New Ancora and the great walls that encased the sprawling city by the sea. The day had grown stuffy, but there was a coming chill, and clouds deepened across the blue sky.

Archeantus led them away from the road, to a shaded section where there rose a large oak. He then began to concentrate, telling the Dwarf to cover Ariel’s eyes. When the Dwarf realized what his friend was up to, eyeing to top of the battlement high overhead, he simply shook his head and was about to protest, when he began to lift from the ground. Archeantus could hear him mutter under his breath, and a slim smile formed in the shadows of his hood. He had grabbed Ariel and had shielded her wide eyes from the height they were now at. The warlock was just below them, hovering over the walls silently. When they reached the cobbled ground once more, Archeantus gasped with exertion. Pharsalus whispered a prayer, asking if he was alright. He nodded after a short pause, as he leaned upon his staff, catching his breath.

“Yes, I’ll be fine. Come,” He said “We are late. We must reach the inn. They are already there.”

Without warning, Angellus suddenly flew forward as if in silent command, obviously going to see what its master already felt.

*****

Jasmine gazed at Sabbatine after the latest push of the curse that continued to flow through her veins had happened. Her eyes viewed her undead counterpart with a sort of morbid fascination, even contentment.

She simply watched as Sabbatine too was going through some sort of reflection, both of them thinking about so much, seeing things with a clarity that startles. For the briefest of moments, she saw the female undead’s look shift, her dark eyes loosing their crazed hue. Jasmine continued to stare, getting used to seeing things die about her, and then listened to Sabbatine’s sudden chatter.

"Huxel says I'm her saint. Saint Sabbatine... sounds kinda funny doesn't it? Or does it sound nice?"

Jasmine made no reply, but continued to watch as Sabbatine went about the room, grinning and carrying weapons, and then suddenly she left. The moment she left, Jasmine whispered, “It does sound nice.”

Written by - Turin Wallace

Gripping Ardwen's hand, he pulls him up, saying,

"Glad to have you with me once more, Ardwen. I have no doubt in your skills and neither should you, old friend."

Smiling, Turin listens to what Dorve and Kaya have to say. He replies to each,

"Quite right, on both counts, to each of you. No doubt Ardwen and I caused quite a scene, however, if the innkeep has been paid to keep his mouth shut then I don't see as to why we cannot stay here a little longer. We can offer him more money, if needs be, but doubtless after he has seen the size of our group and willingness to cause trouble, he may just be smart enough to keep his silence.

Now, as for Beridane's cells, yes, now that's information we could use. Let us get back inside, relax, and get our next plan of action down. No doubt our Ariana will need us very soon."

Gathering up his robe, Turin then uses it to cover his armor. As they turn to go inside he looks to Alaric,

"Good fellow, it seems you have something there that is supposedly mine, may I inquire just what it is?"

Written by - Aethelwulf

"I believe good sir, that this is your sword" Alaric handed the bundled weapon to Turin. "It is my hope sir, that we will have an opportunity to see it wielded against the darkness once again. There is also, this letter written by one who you know well" Standing back, Alaric watched intently to gauge Turin's reaction.

Written by - Pharsalus

"Well, Mr...er, um.... Sir," Millean "Miles" Underpin started through a line of pins held firm between his lips, taking a small step back and observing his work. "I typically tailor ON manequins, not FOR them," he chuckled to himself, "but it's a good look, surely! You've good form!. There was a pause as Miles cocked his head to one side, eyeing his subject in the mirrors, and nodded his head with finality and a grin. "So? What do you think?"

Pharsalus looked at himself in the three-panel tailor's mirror. He'd walked into this place half-naked, blood stained, and overall unpleasant to behold based upon the frequency with which this man's shop sat on the surface of the minders of passers-by. It had been a long trek here, having to stay in the shadows and back alleys of businesses and homes for fear of his stone frame being noticed and drawing suspicions. But here he was still standing stiff with arms slightly outstretched, as had become habit after doing so for the past hour and a half. He liked it.

The garb Miles had put together for him was simple: a white tunic, breathably loose in the middle, sleeveless with the edges himmed with thick white thread, and plain white trousers that stopped, finely hemmed, just above his ankles. He wore a pair of white, wide-toe boots that Miles had recently taken in for repair by a local noble - they were a bit restrictive, compared to nothing at all as the old Dwarf traditionally liked, but for covering his very noticable (to all the wrong people, he figured) physique they were more than passable. Miles was even kind enough to throw together a white, long-sleeved overshirt that hung long to just above his knees and tied at his waist with a simple, gold-thread rope that knotted and the excess of which dangled in a pair off to the left of his middle.

He did like it, very much! He even caught himself smiling - how long had it been since he'd had anything professionally tailored! His smile weakened a bit as he realized for the first time in ages how slender he'd become. What the forgelings would say to him about a Son of Thurin being so "sparing"! The past two centuries away from home in the woods, training, teaching himself, learning the limits of himself in this new world - they had taken their toll. He flexed one arm, making a loose first. The runic bands about his wrists and running down the inner track of his forearms, across his back and chest, and ultimately down the inner track of his thighs and around his ankles were staunch reminders of what he'd been forced to learn, and what he silently prayed would not be needed in this new war for the honor of the Queen.

*AHEM!*

Pharsalus blinked, and forced a smile as he patted the chest of his new shirt. "By Thurin's stump, lad - it's fine! FINE work, indeed! Loose, cool, clean - 'twer metal, I'd say no less than a Dwarf's hand had ever touched it."

Miles smiled. He'd long taken the needles from his lips and now shuffled through the various blueprints and tailoring schemes lying in loose stacks. He was confident his work was satisfactory even before the strange little golum - for lack of a more accurate description - had responded. He returned to his spot directly behind the Dwarf, who stood eye-level on a stool, and brushed his hands along the tops of his shoulders and back to smooth out the wrinkles and make the final finishing adjustments.

"Yes, yes... I thought you'd like it! Your friend - the blind one - was very descriptive of your tastes. Odd thing, too - for being blind, he'd quite the eye for fashion! I was a bit worried about snags - your skin's a bit more course than most my customers, y'see - but the leather padding there should keep everything tip-top! Just try not to get it wet too often..."

The Priest nodded, hopping down from his perch. "Indeed, I'll be truely careful. I thank you for throwing in the added covering - most reasonable of you."

"No worries, little one!" Miles said with a smile as the two exited the back fitting room into the front waiting area, where sat Archeantus and young tag-along. "It is what I do. I understand well the need for some to hide in open view, if y'know what I mean. Just remember to come back if it tears or frays - I'll fix it right up, no charge!"

The Dwarf dropped a coin purse onto the desk to pay the man for his good (and timely) work, bowed slightly and thanked him again, and followed Archeantus and Ariel out into the street. If Archeantus was correct, the rest of these destined warriors were already gathering at the inn in the heart of the trade district. Pharsalus couldn't remember the name. Your memory's not what it used to be, it seems, he thought to himself with a quiet sigh.

The trio stayed beneath the awnings of shops and taverns along the way until the narrow street splintered into a four-way intersection bustling with people. The Dwarf kept Ariel close at his side and followed Arch through the throngs of bakers, travellers, sailors, merchants, guardsmen, soldiers, widows, wives, and a vast assortment of children and men shouting orders as frequently as they did obscenities. Pharsalus could sense Ariel was strangely calm. Time, and what appeared to be familiar territory, was smoothing over some of the more minor mental lesions she would be forced to mend in her time - a show of promise, he thought, of a strong young woman-to-be. They pushed forever forward, deeper and deeper into the noise and fog.

Written by - Vylia

"They're making it a spectacle for all to see," Vylia said as she slid in behind Pharsalus and the others. "I don't know how I know, but I can feel it in my gut that the event they have planned for late this afternoon will involve Ariana. I've only heard a few whispers about it, and none of them mentioned where, but if I had to guess I'd say either the castle's main courtyard, or the city square." Vylia was covered in a dark brown worn cloak from head to toe, the hood pulled far over her face. "I had to climb the walls to get in, you three took off over them before I had a chance to get close enough to ask you to wait. While in enjoyed the exercise, a bit more patience on your part would have been appreciated Archeantus," she pauses to smile for a moment, "It's nice to see some things don't change TOO much."

Written by - Archeantus

Archeantus smiled beneath his hood sensing the stone dwarf finally step out into the main section of the little known tailor shop donning his much better concealing garb.

“Much better Son of Thurin. Now I won’t have to hear all the off hand thoughts of every passerby who catches sight of you.” He teased, but they both knew concealing the otherworldly features of Pharsalus was imperative to do anything in the city.

They stepped out into the morning light of the bustling street, and began walking down amid the crowd through various intersections, all full of shops of every kind, which were full of individuals of like manner, of every walk of life.

Archeantus seemed to be communicating with his pet, for he began to lead them through the throng toward where the others were. Despite himself, Archeantus felt a pang of growing excitement. He had waited for so long, decades, centuries, eons…

"They're making it a spectacle for all to see," Said a familiar voice. "I don't know how I know, but I can feel it in my gut that the event they have planned for late this afternoon will involve Ariana. I've only heard a few whispers about it, and none of them mentioned where, but if I had to guess I'd say either the castle's main courtyard, or the city square. I had to climb the walls to get in, you three took off over them before I had a chance to get close enough to ask you to wait. While I enjoyed the exercise, a bit more patience on your part would have been appreciated Archeantus," she paused to smile for a moment then added mischievously "It's nice to see some things don't change TOO much."

The old warlock turned at the voice, realizing his thoughts had become irony. He shook his head and smiled back at the elven woman. “It seems I’ll never have enough patience. It’s true Lady Vylia. My humble apologies. If I would have known you were so close…” He said, and then added in a more grievous tone in response to her observation. “I’ve been detecting a few of the same thoughts myself from more than a few of the guards around the southern entrance. But no matter where, rest assured we’ll quickly discover the planned location, we must save her at all costs. She has a very important mission to accomplish here.”

His face grew solemn, and he then turned, seeming to hear something.

“Come, Turin has revealed himself.” He whispered, and with that, strode forward back into the masses, toward the inn down the road that bore the sign, The Wounded Lion.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen pulled his hood over his head again and followed Turin back inside the Wounded Lion. Turin had displayed such confidence in him, such trust. But, Ardwen doubted if he could make good on Turin's faith. Of his ability in combat Ardwen had no doubt, but when it came to rescuing Ariana, and when the time came to confront her and his past. "Well," Ardwen thought, "it will not be a good time to be Ardwen when that happens."

Ardwen was brought out of his ruminating mood by a few words from Alaric, words that just happened to mention Turin's sword and a letter. A very familiar and special letter in fact. The letter the Elf had scribed at the Citadel when he still thought Turin was dead.

"Alaric," Ardwen whispered sharply, "while I appreciate your steadfast dedication in delivering the Priest of Battle's blade, the letter is . . . not necessary."

Glancing up at Turin and practically feeling the question in the air Ardwen cleared his throat before saying quickly, "It is a mere note I penned before I knew you still lived Turin. It's a rather trite account of several sundry deeds and pensive reflections. Not really worth reading. A waste of time at this critical stage in our mission in fact."

Looking at first Alaric and then Turin again he says slowly and clearly, "I think it best if the letter is disposed of and we move on to more pressing matters, agreed?"

Written by - Pharsalus

The air was thick with heat, dew, and the scent of meat, bad wine, and a general tension so thick, it seemed to collect as a gradual stain on the Priest's new garb. The Dwarf silently cursed as men with greasy shoulders and dirt-faced children pushed and shouted and blundered their way past them. Pharsalus felt soiled for being in such a place - what isolation had done to his patience for the lower dredges of the Race of Men! He clutched tight Ariel's hand, so much so at times he feared bruising it. She said nothing, however, only walking silently, eyes clear and pointed forward, dodging and weaving like she'd walked this line all her life. The Priest looked over at her as they walked, smiling silghtly under the shadow of his white hood. Her thoughts were solid - nervous, questioning, but firm and fearless.

"Stay close, lass," he said reassuringly as their gazes met. "The tavern is only just head - we'll soon sit, enjoy a drink, and find out what all this messy business is all about!" She nodded and smiled bashfully. Pharsalus could feel on the surface of her mind she'd still not fully warmed to the idea of following a piece of lawn decor around - her grip on the Dwarf's hand was tentative, still very unused to such a stone solid grip. He returned his view forward, stepping up his pace a bit to keep up with the much longer legg'ed Warlock.

Eventually, the throng pealed away like a curtain of flesh and heat and revealed a wide, brightly lit intersection of two brown and slate cobblestone roads that, as far as Pharsalus could tell, had no names. A wide wooden sign, split across the middle from the left side hung tired on clinking, iron chains: The Wounded Lion.

Gah! The Wounded Lion, the Priest cursed, pressing his eyes shut for a moment in visible frustration. So simple a name! By my Father, I've a lot of meditation to do when this is over! Simply unacceptable!

The entry way was lit on either side by tarnished brass oil lamps as old as the establishment itself and whose tired, yellow light was held in tight circles around its sources, smothered by the weight of the haze of morning industry. The door to the place, like everything else about it, looked aged and soured; long, wide strips of knotted, weathered woodgrain showed through what remained of faded green and gold paint, and the hinges ground and whined in shrill protest as what the priest perceived as tavern regulars - and some not so regular - filed in for their first cap of the day. Archeantus was the first to cross the thresh hold, pushing the door open and holding it until Pharsalus could catch it with his free arm. He loosened his grip on Ariel and allowed her to go in ahead of him. Vylia followed up the rear, though Pharsalus had to probe her mentally to confirm it was her - in typical rogue fashion, she was very well conceiled, and he appreciated her for it. He turned to address Arch - the boy had paused to take in the scene.

"Take Ariel and find yourself somewhere secluded to sit until we can meet these compatriots of ours." Pharsalus had turned his attentions to the flask in his sash, which he'd clumsily retrieved. "I simply must fill my flask with water! Would you like anythi...?" Arch had already left him, moving deeper into the room, dodging patrons and oveturned chairs with a confidense and grace no mere blind man could. "Well, my dear Vylia," he said as he turned to a woman that was most definitely not the Ranger. "Oh! Bother - I beg a pardon, madame! I thought you were somone else" The portly woman wondered at him - Pharsalus ducked down his head. "I'll...uhm...just go on about my way, hmm?" He struck out cautiously across the room, small crystal flask tight in his grip, his head low and well hidden beneath the hood of his shirt.

He eventually, after several nervous encounters, reached the high edge of the barkeep's counter. He could barely see over the top of it, and he almost startled at the sheer size of the man standing on the other side. He was very bald, very tall, and of mountainous girth about the middle. He leaned forward onto his elbows and smiled.

"We', wot canna' getcha', li'l one?" His breath was quite rank.

"Water only, please, to fill my flask." Pharsalus offered up his flask to the awestruck barkeep and placed a coin awkardly on the counter.

"By the... tha's a real piecea' work, ye' go'ther!" the Man-Ogre continued as he ladled water, best he could, into the small crystal piece.

"Thank you," Pharsalus replied, trying not to to sound as rattled as he felt. "I... I made that myself, actually, years ago - was something of a talent of mine." The man handed him back his flask and scraped the coin along the surface of the counter, letting it fall with a soft clink into his apron pocket.

"Fine work, sah', truely!" A shout resounded from the rear of the place, presumably from the kitcen. The barkeep rolled his eyes. "'F you'll excuse me."

Pharsalus had already started his way back across the room. He stopped, as his mind lit up with a sudden pang of worry. He didn't immediately recognizing it, looking about him - as far as a man of his stature could - and seeing nothing immediately out of the ordinary. It wasn't until several more paces and the turn of a corner that he realized its source: Ariel!

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya pulled her hood back over her head and followed Dorve back into The Wounded Lion. Already her mind was going over what she recalled of Beridane's cells. They found their way back to their table, sat down, waiting for their new companions.

"Hey Dorve, look, seems like you are not alone here." Kaya pointed over to a new set of customers that had walked in.

"Hmm, mighty interesting looking dwarf he is. Wonder what brings him to this hole in the wall, he seems dressed too fine for such a cultured place." Dorve chuckled and stroked her beard. She sighed, keeping an eye on the new figure, wishing she was back home. Dorve clutched her staff, which she had managed to disguise as a normal walking stick instead of the full bloomed elder staff it was. That would surely give me away, even though I hate to do it my friend, but it was a necessity.

"Dorve, did you hear me?" Kaya looked at the dwarf.

"Oh, I'm sorry lass, I must have drifted for a moment. Now what would you be saying?"

"I was saying that it won't be easy getting into the cells, and if you could sense if there were any oaks or trees or anything still inside his compound that could help us."

"Ah, well, there is an oak within his compound, but I do not know how safe it would be to go through it, it may be guarded or trapped even."

"Hmm, well we shall see what these others want to do. I will say though, I am a bit disappointed that it was this Ardwen and not some demon who wrote taht name on the building. I know I should be glad, but I am getting antsy. I want to do waht I am not trained to do instead of just sitting on my ass. And if Beridane has this lady Ariana held prisoner, and she is as important as these people seem to make her out to be, I would suspect he has plans for her, and I bet it concerns his new hobby of demons." She looked up, noticing that the others were approaching. Taking a sip of her now warm ale, Kaya waited for them to sit down so they could share their knowledge and form some sort of a plan to rescue this Ariana.

Written by - Archeantus

Archeantus stepped through the doorway, holding it for his comrades, despite his eagerness to step forward and find his long lost friends. He stopped once he knew Pharsalus, Ariel, and Vylia had passed through, and took in the scene, with every last sense he possessed. He heard, smelt, and perceived everything, taking it all in, finally at the moment he’d dreamt of since the day he’d lost them. A wave of memories suddenly flooded his hungry mind. Memories of Aerynth, of Ancora, of the smell of the eastern sea, of the view from the battlements when the sun set, of the incomparable taste of a hot juicy cheese biscuit, of Trynian, Kiera, Boradamir, Turin, Aethelwulf, Wilhelm, Ezekiel, Alariel, of Ariana, and of Saint Lorne. Laughter, mutterings, thoughts, every sip of ale, every smile, scowl, stare, all were felt and experienced by the aged warlock. He was sitting now, having unconsciously obeyed Pharsalus’ request to take the youthful Ariel to a secluded table. His mind continued to race, to remember, and finally began to probe. He could feel them, they were so near he could….

Archeantus’ head turned suddenly, his blindfolded face centered on a dark figure who had suddenly appeared before him, back turned, facing the young Ariel. He had caught the man’s thoughts in the river of information he’d been taking in, they held nothing but dark intentions. The man’s sweaty hand had grabbed her, he felt her sudden apprehension, he could see her frightened eyes in his sharp mind. Without a moment’s hesitation, he entered the large drunken man’s mind, and shortly found what he sought: his deepest fear.

To the patrons of the tavern, the dull sound of conversation was rudely interrupted by a loud outburst from a dark corner. A large obese man, belly protruding out of his greasy shirt, toppled over a table, sending goblets of ale and their contents slashing everywhere, yelling at the top of his lungs,

“PIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGS! PIIIGS EVVVVVERYWHERE! AAAAAAHHHG!!!! HOOOGS!!”

He proceeded to crash into whatever was in the way, seeming to dodge unseen things, screaming fanatically on his way to the exit. Bursting out the door, the patrons sat in silence as they heard him scream down the street.

A soft light faded from the recesses of the Archeantus' hood, a slight grin on his shadowed lips.

Written by - Pharsalus

"PIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGS! PIIIGS EVVVVVERYWHERE! AAAAAAHHHG!!!! HOOOGS!!" pierced, and for several moments silenced, the clinking steins, music, and murmur of conversation in the The Wounded Lion as Pharsalus came into view of the scene. He stopped his advance and rolled back and to his side, stumbling into a chair, as he avoided the oncoming patron; his hands clutched his tempals as he continued to scream, desparately fleeing the unseen force that assailed him. The Priest continued forward, pushing through curious patrons - many of whom laughed and jeered as the man ploughed toward and out the tavern door - toward where Ariel was standing. He slowed as he approached, seeing a horrible, blank stare stricken into her porceline face. In an instant, he knew what had happened, and he burned with a heat he almost feared to admit - The wretched bastard, he thought, as he pulled one of her hands from her chest and gently tugged her to a seat.

Archeantus sat in the shadow of the corner table; it didn't take their special connection to know what had occurred. The priest would have chuckled were he not wholly focused on ensuring no further damage was done to the poor girl's psyche from such an incident.

"Pay these heathens no mind, lass," he said as comfortingly as possible - he wasn't doing a very good job of masking his frustration at the whole ordeal. This was no place for her, but where else was she to go? She still wouldn't speak, and he dared not violate the inner recesses of her fragile mind to find the answers himself. No - she was in his charge, until she was strong enough to return to whatever family she had left. He continued pouring serene thoughts and visions into the back of her mind. After several moments, he felt her hand relaxed, and she finally took an uneasy seat on the edge of Archeantus's booth. She was still wide-eyed. She was still scared out of her wits.

Pharsalus brought up and uncorked his flask, holding it in front of her. "Here - drink. It'll calm the nerves and rinse the fear from your mouth." Ariel turned a distant gaze to him, slowly reaching for and finally taking the small crystal bottle. She tilted it back hesitantly, still uncertain why she was still associating with this ambulatory statuary. Pharsalus smiled as he sensed her confusion at how cold the water was on her lips. "What did I say, hm? Fresh and cool! It will empower you better than any alochol ever could, so long as its had from that flask."

Ariel took another drink. She had almost completely relaxed now, and the length of her gaze returned to its place within the space of the tavern.

Pharsalus took his first moment to look around. The air was heavy with serpentile clouds of pipe smoke and the thick scent of cooking meat, foreign coffee, and seasonings of several varieties. It was a smaller room than he'd originally suspected: the tables in the center fanned out about five or six paces from the door, going all the way to the back of the room in a column two to three tables wide and no more than six deep. The edges were lined with small, candle-lit nooks in which were afixed stationary tables and benches of fine - but worn - planks of fir wood. Or perhaps it was pine. Pharsalus was never very good at identifying wood. He finally took a seat on the edge of the bench, Ariel sliding over closer to the young Warlock to make room.

"There are strangers here, lad," the Dwarf said after several moments of silence, "the kind too strong of will and lavishly equipped to frequent the likes of his place." As he spoke, he nodded slightly to a table not far from where they currently sat. There were two men there, and the old priest picked up the distinct feeling that a third would very soon be joining them. He continued watching them as they talked, sometimes laughing, sometimes bearing a stern look of concern and focus, shifting in their seats - they weren't very comfortable, if this bench was any indication. They were Elves, of sorts, as Pharsalus could make out the ears and the slight builds and that haughty mental signature that only Elves had. But these were not like Elves like those in the Old World - or so he didn't think. His feelings were terribly confused by this pair - his eyes told him they were elves, as did his gut. Elves of this new world. But they were tinged with a familiarity, like a mark of birth, that made the Dwarf's mind pang with want of home.

Aerynth, his mind wandered,

Abbess... He closed his eyes in quiet meditation.

Father. He dozed off, upright in his seat.


Written by - Tempyst Page 26 Book 3

"PIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGS! PIIIGS EVVVVVERYWHERE! AAAAAAHHHG!!!! HOOOGS!!"

Kaya, Dorve and everyone else turned towards the man who was stumbling about and heading for door. He stumbled into Kaya and she pushed him away, her hood falling once more. Damn thing, it surely wasn't made for ears like mine. She pulled it back up and heard Dorve chuckle, the first bit of merriment she heard from the dwarf since they met.

"Imma gonna get me some more ale, you try not to loose that hood again." Dorve stood and walked towards the bar. Kaya sighed and just sat there, waiting for the others. As Dorve walekd to the bar, she felt a grimy hand clutch her bottom. She stopped, eyes narrowed, then turned around to the body whose hand was still clutching her rear.

"Hey der shortstuff, yer ..." the man's eyes grew large as she saw the angry, bearded face of the dwarf. "ACK!" He let go of her rear, "A beard!! Imma not that drunk!" The men at the table with him laughed. Dorve smiled, but did not laugh.

"I kin handle you grabbing me, but no one. NO ONE makes fun of mah beard!!" With a speed most did expect, Dorve grabbed the man by his collar, pulled him down and smashed his face into the table. The man sat back up, his eyes rolling in the back of his head, then falling forward unconscious. "Now, do any of the rest of ya have anything to say about me?" The other men at the table put up their hands and then went back to drinking, just hoping that the little dwarf would go away.

Satisfied she had gotten her point across, Dorve continued tothe bar, got her ale and came back to the table with Kaya, a broad smile across her face. "That felt good, I almost hope it happens again."

Written by - Vylia

"The dwarf is right Ariel, do not heed the man's words or gestures. Many men find their courage and their sense robbed after drinking enough," Vylia paused a moment as her own eyes glazed over for a moment, looking as if she wanted to cry herself at some distant memory, then they returned to normal as she turned her gaze and a smile at the girl, "I promise you, while I am near you need not fear any such fate, and any man who tries such a thing will find himself short a limb when he finally wakes."

"Try not to use those tricks too much Arc, you'll scare the locals into thinking you're a demon worshipper if they find out it's you causing it," she paused, thinking, "Why pigs?"

Written by - Archeantus

"Try not to use those tricks too much Arc, you'll scare the locals into thinking you're a demon worshipper if they find out it's you causing it...Why pigs?" Vylia asked inquisitively.

Archeantus turned at the sound of her voice and whispered with a smile, "When he was in his teens, he liked to tease the hogs while they were eating. He fell into the trough once, and has been deathly afraid of pigs ever since..."

He then turned his sighless gaze, as if in mid thought, toward the young woman, seeming to sense her trembling frame. She was now joined by Pharsalus, who sat near her. Reaching out, he gently placed his old hand on hers. Leaning in slightly, he whispered in her ear, "He'll never touch another again with dark intentions without seeing a large pig..."

Written by - Aethelwulf

"Alaric," Ardwen whispered sharply, "while I appreciate your steadfast dedication in delivering the Priest of Battle's blade, the letter is . . . not necessary. I think it best if the letter is disposed of and we move on to more pressing matters, agreed?"

The somber look in the elven warrior's eyes gave Alaric pause. He was often taken aback at the depth of sorrow that this blooded warrior seemed to carry about him. He wore darkness as others would wear a cloak.

"As you wish friend." Alaric spoke as Ardwen made to turn away. "Tis not my intent to cause harm here. Perhaps you should tend to it then. " Alaric handed the letter to Ardwen, and then rested his hand lightly on the warriors arm.

"The burdens of the world are heavy enough lad." Nodding towards Turin. his voice dropped to a whisper as he spoke to Ardwen. "The blessings that do come to us, are often not at all what we expect."

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin watched the exchange between Ardwen and Alaric, all the while keeping an eye on the letter. Once it was safely back into Ardwen's hands, he says,

"It's your business, Ardwen. I would not pry into your affairs against your will. Now, let's sit down and see what we can come up with regards Ariana. Seems they are going to make a spectacle of her, seeing that the heralds have been screaming about a special event in the courtyard this eve."

As the group got busy chatting, enjoying what food and drink they could, a commotion broke out inside the inn.

"PIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGS! PIIIGS EVVVVVERYWHERE! AAAAAAHHHG!!!! HOOOGS!!"

The man went screaming and flailing past everyone and out into the streets. Turin glanced at the man, then glanced back to the table, but something caught his eye. A rather slim, cloaked man in the corner seemed to be...smiling. In the dim light, it was hard to see, but it certainly seemed a smile.

Turning back to the table as Dorve removed herself for some ale, and her subsequent adventure to the bar, he still felt like something smacked of the familiar with the event. He couldn't place it, but he felt like the smiling figure was someone he knew. Plus, with the way things were headed, how many more from ancient Aerynth were roving around this world?

Figuring discretion was the better part of valor in this case, he removes his cloak and yells to Dorve,

"Dear lady Dorve, could I trouble you for a bottle of red wine since you have already made the bar?"

Most of the taverns patrons paid him no mind, but by showing himself, he hoped that those who knew him would see and recognize him. Then, perhaps, they would have more hands to help the Abbess.

Written by - Archeantus

Archeantus’ head suddenly shifted as a voice rang out amid the din of the tavern. It was a voice he’d heard many times, a voice that he’d grown to recognize as a father figure when he had none. It was a voice that had mended shaking knees on the fields of Paundrill, a voice he’d heard lend bravery when none knew it was there. He knew who had spoken.

It was Turin.

"Dear lady Dorve, could I trouble you for a bottle of red wine since you have already made the bar?"

Distinctly Turin.

“Pharsalus. Do you see him?” The old warlock anxiously asked his friend, cursing his blindness. “He must be accompanied by the others.”

Pharsalus didn’t hear him. He had actually dozed off!

Archeantus then perceived Vylia’s keen hearing had detected the familiar voice.

“It’s him, isn’t it Vylia? It's Turin, at long last.”

Reaching in faith, before he heard her confirmation, he pulled forth the medallion from the recesses of his tattered grey shirt, the same medallion that Boradamir the smith had made for him so long ago. It's golden hue dulled, it still shone in the soft candlelight of the tavern. He held it up in his hand, left it dangling upon the old chain, three rings intercected, a triskellion, the bastion of faith he knew Turin would recognize and recognize well.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin's eyes watched the room, a few patrons left after looking at him, most likely to get away from the inevitable trouble that was going to come soon. It was then a faint shimmer caught his eye, looking to where the cloaked figure was he spied an old triskellion!

Still unsure of just who it is, he moves through the inn, only stopping once he gets near the cloaked figure who still clutches the holy symbol. In a firm, yet gentle voice, Turin says,

"Good friend, with that cloak about your body and head, I cannot tell who you are. A friend no doubt, however, as you hold the symbol of the All-Father in your hands. The same symbol I wear upon my chest. Come, reveal yourself, so that I may know you by name."

Turin then waits, with an eager spirit, to find out who this person is.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya chatted and listened to those she now found herself allied with. I could learn much from these two, I hope we have time for me to do so. She began to feel more at ease, more at home, like it was before Tahlon had taken over her father's, captured her and sent her away to this foreign land. In time, I shall return and set things right in my homeland, this I swear.

"Dear lady Dorve, could I trouble you for a bottle of red wine since you have already made the bar?"

Kaya looked at Dorve, expecting to see the usual grim look upon her face, but instead was surprised with seeing a bit of a blush. She smiled, glad to see that the dwarf had some other emotion besides seriousness. Wine, that does sound good. "Dorve, could you bring a second glass please?" This time the scowl returned, but the dwarf returned with her ale, a bottle of red wine and two glasses. Kaya looked to Turin. "I hope you don't mind sharing some with me. It has been a long time since I have tasted wine." She tasted the smooth, red liquid, closed her deep purple eyes and savored. The taste brought her back to home once more, before everything had gone terribly wrong. She let out a soft sigh, a look of sadness washing over her face for a moment. Then she sat up and shook off her self pity.

"Indeed, this Beridane does have something planned, but I think it may be more than what it seems. He used me, to try and kill Ithramir, by placing that demon inside of me. SOmeone so important, her sacrifice could be used to unleash something else, another demon perhaps. We must stop this, ave your friend, but we must also prevent whatever else he may have planned." But Turin was not there, he had gotten up and wandered to another part of the room. Still, she hoped he had heard her words.

Written by - Archeantus

The voice had come, he was now standing over them. The old warlock stood, basking in the moment he longed for. Reaching for his hood, he pulled it from his face, revealing an aged visage, far different from his youthful demeanor Turin would have remembered. Blindfolded, his long grey hair pulled back, his garb tatterned and warn, he finally spoke,

“You speak the truth old friend, you always have, I am a Son of Ancora, faithful of the All-Father, defender of the Abbess. My image may be far different, but I am the one you knew as Archeantus Alyander. I am here the same reason you are, we have been called here to save her.”

Archeantus could hardly contain his glowing smile, but he added for good measure in a solemn whisper “...For the All Father and Saint Lorne...”

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen clutched the letter tightly and nodded slowly in appreciation. He listened to Alaric speak, and Ardwen too turned his gaze to Turin. A thought crossed his mind, “No, whatever the gods intend in this, it is not to bless me.”

Turin then spoke in turn, "It's your business, Ardwen. I would not pry into your affairs against your will. Now, let's sit down and see what we can come up with regards Ariana. Seems they are going to make a spectacle of her, seeing that the heralds have been screaming about a special event in the courtyard this eve."

Ardwen’s eyes widened in shock and he unconsciously had his mouth open in a little “o” of bewilderment. Ardwen’s tone was dangerously low and heated when he spoke, “A spectacle? These humans wouldn’t dare!” Ardwen clenched his left hand into a tight fist, but it felt hollow. It yearned for a blade.

Then something even more unexpected occurred. Turin shouted for wine (red, of course) and removed his cloak, bearing his Crusader garb for all to see. Ardwen finally noted the person Turin had his eyes on. It was a man standing across the inn, his features obscured by a cloak and hood. Ardwen watched with mild amusement as the man held forth a Triskellion and Turin went to meet him.

Ardwen turned his attention away, the man was not a threat to Turin, and Ardwen had seen enough reminders of his forsaken legacy in the Hands. He sighed and sat very still, seeming not even to breathe. But he heard Kaya’s words, “"Indeed, this Beridane does have something planned, but I think it may be more than what it seems. He used me, to try and kill Ithramir, by placing that demon inside of me. Someone so important, her sacrifice could be used to unleash something else, another demon perhaps. We must stop this, ave your friend, but we must also prevent whatever else he may have planned."

That got a reaction out of the warrior. He closed his eyes slowly and then opened them again. Ardwen’s face was caught in a frown; his eyes stared intense hatred. He did not look ready to merely kill: he looked ready to kill his foe’s families, then his friends, and then flay the flesh from his enemies until they stopped forming useless words on their bloody lips. “This Beridane,” Ardwen began, and his voice was winter, “is keen on dealing with demons. I will show him and his people that there are some things more terrible than the ones you can pull from hell.” Ardwen looked over at Turin, the question on his face plain to see, “Why had the killing not started?”

Written by - Vylia

Archeantus could hardly contain his glowing smile, but he added for good measure in a solemn whisper “...For the All Father and Saint Lorne...”

Vylia echoed his words before adding a few of her own, "For Ariana, and the Hands of Providence."

"Indeed my old friend, there are a great many of us coming to her aid. It is always a pleasure to see you returning in your role as the All-Father's champion. Perhaps this time you will have a plan that I won't argue with... too much," Vylia says the last with a grin, remembering well all the old fights she used to have regarding their tactics.

Written by - Teran

Sabbatine's eyes were so full of hope and innocence Teran regretted he could not satisfy her desires.

"I'm sorry Sabbatine." he shook his head sadly.

"I'm so cold." she whined softly, taking one of his hands in hers to emphasize "See?!?"

"I'm sorry." he repeated "There are many men in this city perhaps one of them would be better suited to satisfy this specific need?"

If Sabbatine heard him she didn't show it. She was seemingly dazed, now gripping Teran's hand with both of hers as though she were trying to leech every bit of precious warmth. He folded his hands around hers and stared into her pale face. Her eyes glowed ever so slightly green and she wore a tiny smile on her face as she stared at thier enfolded hands. Teran could see love in her eyes, at least her version of love and he could see color returning to her hands and slowly inching up her arms. The look of pure bliss on her face chilled Teran but he could not look away. He felt pangs of regret when he saw how much she suffered and he found himself wondering why Huxel allowed her most trusted servant to suffer as she did.

"I'll build you a bigger fire." Teran murmured trying to cheer her up.

Sabbatine's eyes flicked up to his face for a moment before she gripped his hands even more tightly. "That won't work. I don't know why but it just doesn't work." she whimpered.

"What does work?"

"Well... I always feel warm after eating." she grinned wildly "Ummm... also after being near someone and especially when we lay in b-"

"That's enough." Teran snapped a bit too harshly, he definately didn't like where she was going with that.

Sabbatine jumped at his sudden change in tone jerking her hands out of his. He could see a profound expression of regret plastered on her face as she meekly reached out and grabbed his hands again. He noticed her hands were not nearly as cold as they had been and had even even appeared to be alive.

"I'm sorry." Teran murmured "Some of the things you do are best left unspoken around me." he smiled and he stood up and walked around the table still holding her hands.

He gently picked her up peering straight into her green eyes. She was stunningly beautiful when she wanted to be if only she took better care of herself. He could understand how she was never short on lovers who she might lure into the darkness and consume once they had their fun with her and she had her fun with them. Up close her elfin features were far more obvious, he could see royal blood lines in her features and he found himself wondering which royal family had lost this maiden. The only thing that marred her beauty were her ears jagged and scarred as they were.

He laid her on his mat and gently wrapped her in his blankets. He awkwardly laid with her that night keeping her close allowing her cold body to sap the warmth from his. He slept soundly and he knew she would not move for fear of ending the warmth should he shift in his sleep. When he woke up that morning he forgot the time and place and he hugged the now naked body Sabbatine next to him out of reflex.

"Angel" he whispered blissfully gently caressing his lover as he nuzzled up to the back of her head breathing deeply.

Roses. He smelled roses, he always remembered his Angel smelling like roses. Her hair was so soft... Teran's heart froze when he saw her ears and memories of his present circumstances returned to him and he sat upright on his mat so quickly he spooked Sabbatine who also sat up without the slightest concern for modesty.

"I'm sorry." Teran said in guarded tones but his face was turning red with humiliation.

Sabbatine sat there with her mouth open dumbly... she had no response to what she heard, her mind reeled at the new information Teran had just accidentally revealed to her. Part of her was happy to find out something more about her friend but she knew if her dead flesh were capable of blushing she would be red on his behalf.

"Who is Angel?" she chirped gently as she moved closer to Teran wanting to be near his warmth once more.

Teran cocked his head as he watched her move closer to him but at the last moment he moved away and got off of the mat and retreated to the table they had sat at the previous night. Sabbatine was sad but she sank into the spot he had been laying in and wrapped herself in his covers, trying to keep the warmth from fleeing her body.

"You are very pretty." Teran said gently trying to change the subject.

Sabbatine giggled but she wouldn't be so easily deflected. "Do I look like Angel?"

"Yes you do." he admitted.

"Who is she?"

"She... was... my wife." he seemed to be hesistant to speak of her in the past tense "She is dead."

Teran blinked suddenly returning to the present. He glanced around wondering how long he had been distracted and was relieved that it had only been for a second or less.

"Their weapons are poisoned." he warned in a soft voice even as he worked to cleanse it from his own body "It is subtle guard yourself against distraction."

He could not tell if he was blushing from his brief distraction, he hoped not and he cursed his weakness. Perhaps he had grown soft in the time he had spent with Mavigan teaching her. He knew that was not the case and chided himself for making excuses and blaming others for his own mistakes. It would not happen again.

He deftly picked up the blade that had dropped near his right hand and managed to untangle his legs and was on his feet a second later. He surveyed the situation, and saw that five guards remained standing. One was already disarmed and of the four remaining he saw that one was an elf, two were humans, and the fourth was an orc. The humans were both attempting to flank Mavigan and the elf was standing in a supporting position eyeing him nervously. The orc was advancing on Keeryn brandishing a large two handed axe.

With speed that mocked even elfin reflexes Teran passed between the two humans and gutted the elf as he viciously kicked her legs out from under her. She felt wounds open up on her belly and neck and she felt her body hit the ground. Tears erupted from her eyes as pain wracked her body. Peripherally she saw both of the humans fall with bleeding chest wounds dead before they hit the ground. She struggled for breath that would not come and died a moment later. The orc whirled around sensing the disturbance behind him and stared with wide eyed terror at Teran and his three slaughtered allies. He swung his large sword our of reflex but Teran avoided the attack and had pierced the orc's heart before he could reposition his weapon or even defend himself. The Assassin turned in time to see Mavigan and Keeryn finish off the final guard.

During their moment of respite he studied the map he had liberated from the hidden room and began heading back to the room Sabbatine and Jasmine were guarding signaling that Mavigan should follow him.

****

Sabbatine hissed with delight that the strange human-friend-of-Teran had saved one of the victims for her. The acolyte had turned to gape at the incineration of his fellow foolishly allowing Sabbatine out of his line of sight. The undead construct tackled him with enough force to break bones. He cried out as he felt her tearing his flesh with her fingernails as she tried to claw through his robe. Her teeth shredded his flesh as she feasted and once he stopped crying out and struggling pitifully a thought crossed her mind.

She dragged the corpse back to the room she had left Jasmine in and left it in front of her watching Jasmine expectantly.

"I killed it for you!" Sabbatine chattered "You should eat, you might need the energy later on!!"

Sabbatine was quite a sight to behold. Blood stained her mouth and neck and her entire chest was soaked in it as well as the tips of her hair giving her a particularly unique look. Her face was flushed with color and she seemed to be experiencing quite a bit of pleasure basking in the warmth and she was in an especially good mood grinning wildly at Jasmine peering expectantly hoping the woman would appreciate her thoughtfulness. Sabbatine had never looked more alive to Jasmine than she did right now.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm's tracking sense showed no further enemies in their area, so he ordered his three squads to tidy up. After all wounds had been healed and weapons cleaned, the dark cultist bodies were dragged into and stacked inside empty side rooms.

Each mage then picked up an empty container from one of the rooms and set it in the middle of their corridor. After dripping some of the spilled blood into the container they chanted a similarity calling spell. A reddish-brown mist arose from the floors and walls and from their clothes and was sucked into the containers, until all of the spilled blood and fluids were in the container and the corridor and their clothing was clean. The containers were also placed into the rooms.

The three squads then took cover and renewed their energies with watered wine and travel bread. Wilhelm's tracking sense noticed the return of Teran's party and he passed the word for silence.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin saw the man pull his hood back to reveal his face, then he spoke to him,

“You speak the truth old friend, you always have, I am a Son of Ancora, faithful of the All-Father, defender of the Abbess. My image may be far different, but I am the one you knew as Archeantus Alyander. I am here the same reason you are, we have been called here to save her.”

He recognized the voice, his face though worn, still showed that the man was indeed Archeantus. Wasting not the moment, he takes Archeantus and gives him a hug, saying,

"The last I saw of you, young master Archeantus, was when my house outside the city of Ancora fell into disrepair with my absence. We talked by the sea, you were full of the vibrance of youth, your studies consuming you. It has been far too long, and I see that you are not so young as you were then, but then aren't we all a little older?"

Chuckling as he released his grip on Archeantus, he continued,

"Aye, we are here for a purpose. It seems neither history, nor the will of the gods, was fit to let our Order slip quietly into the mists of time. Our immediate purpose is to rescue our Abbess, but then, I feel that we have a much more important task ahead of us. An evil more sinister in nature than Beridane can summon has awoken in this world, I can feel it, however impalpable it seems to others."

Pausing a moment, he notices Vylia and smiles, saying,

"Well, don't change on account of me! Even the best of plans should be questioned, and it has been far too long since I had someone argue in-depth with me on tactics."

Gently he reaches down and takes of hold of her shoulder, smiling. For if she was standing, she would have been taken hold of and embraced as well. Looking to the table, he spies a dwarf of old and a young child with them. Walking over to Pharslus, he places his hand of the dwarfs shoulder and says,

"Pharsalus, master dwarf, it has been far too long since I have seen you as well! Someone of your skill and fortitude has been sorely lacking in this vast new world. We will need the skills of all if we are to be of service to our beloved Ariana."

Pausing, he addresses the young girl,

"Young lady, I fear I do not know your name, but you travel with the most upright and true companions that I know. My name is Turin and I am pleased to meet you."

The young girl hides herself partially behind Pharsalus, and Turin recognizes some great wrong was committed to this girl and her family. Trust must be earned and not given blindly, in time, he hopes she will trust in her new family. For now, other tasks must be tended to.

"Good friends, I ask you to come join us at the table over here. Ardwen is also with us, and a few others who are risking all to save Ariana. We are planning to see how we can..."

Before he can even finish his sentence, an armed guard of around twenty enter the Inn, while more are seen outside. The captain looks at everyone, spies Turin, points, then says,

"That one over there, kill him!"

Turin raises his eye, grabs a chair as the guards swarm, and says.

"Well, looks like we get the fighting started early!

Written by - Archeantus

Sabbatine appeared back into the room, bloody and excited, dragging a mutilated corpse she’d slain. She continued to pull the dripping body directly toward Jasmine, who watched with a quiet disgusted interest. Jasmine noticed, quickly, the trail of blood Sabbatine had left bringing the corpse to her. Her mind, as if it had been asleep for months suddenly awakened, churning, calculating, evaluating everything about her as she gazed upon her undead counterpart, face dripping with blood. Details flooded into her mind, outcomes, and decisions flowed.

"I killed it for you!" Sabbatine chattered "You should eat, you might need the energy later on!!"

It was then she felt the first pains of hunger. Hunger for life, intermingled with an almost insatiable yearning to eat what was offered to her. She eyed the fleshy remains with one eye that hungered, another that sought to look away. Ultimately it had the opposite effect upon her. Her first instinct was to escape, to survive, to live. But she knew, and readily admitted she would not deny the offer again. Slowly, she was accepting her fate.

Mocking the thirst that had awoken within her, she feigned interest, and tore off a piece of flesh with her dagger, adding a hungered smile for good measure. In a deft motion, she brought the morsel quickly toward her mouth, and appeared to eat, but the morsel instead rested in her other hand behind her back. The act was merely for the benefit of the undead creature she had strangely come to admire. She didn’t want to offend her. There was something far more to the undead woman than Jasmine supposed, something she had slowly come to know after a long period of quiet observation.

It was at that moment Teran and the others stepped back into the room, a map in Teran’s hand, mingled with blood.

*****

There was a sudden movement, and he felt the strong embrace from his long time friend.

"The last I saw of you, young master Archeantus, was when my house outside the city of Ancora fell into disrepair with my absence. We talked by the sea, you were full of the vibrance of youth, your studies consuming you. It has been far too long, and I see that you are not so young as you were then, but then aren't we all a little older?"

Archeantus nodded, recalling those times long ago.

“True Turin, I have aged more than even I’d like to remember. Blind, but as sharp as I’ve ever been.” He said with a full smile. The old warlock hadn’t been this happy in a long time.

He then listened to Turin remake his acquaintances with those he knew from Aerynth. It was a moment he couldn’t have dreamt better.

Archeantus smiled faded suddenly, not hearing Turin speak to youthful Ariel, his head focused on the faded wood door of the old Tavern.

"Good friends, I ask you to come join us at the table over here. Ardwen is also with us, and a few others who are risking all to save Ariana. We are planning to see how we can..." Turin added…

The breath of warning was on the old warlock’s lips just as the tavern door flew open. A flood of armored city guards poured into the sudden cramped tavern, leaving its guests in a fluster of confusion and surprise. A few quickly stepped out of the way approvingly, snidely eyeing the religious symbol etched into Turin’s breastplate. Others sat with quiet interest…

“Angelus…” Archeantus called out within his mind, but received no reply. Furrowing his brow for a brief moment in wonder for his pet’s silence, he quickly refocused his attention back to the unfolding scene. He would have to do without his long time companion for the time being.

It was only moments when the steady finger of the captain of the guard pointed directly at the Priest of Battle, granting his death sentence.

“No…” Archeantus whispered through gritted teeth, upon hearing the stern command, realizing the sudden gravity of the situation. He would not loose those he had waited eons for, the moment he’d found them again. Nor would he yield. It was imperative they remain unhindered, or Ariana was lost.

His eyes flared golden, summoning his dormant powers, his body hardened.

As the guards launched their attack, Archeantus unleashed his mind. A wave of mental energy flowed outward, passing through the onrushing guards. They suddenly slowed their pace, as if they had found themselves in knee deep in a swamp. The warlock had only bought them a few moments of time, perhaps enough for Ardwen and the others to make their move…


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...


Written by - Tempyst Page 28 Book 3

As Dorve took a swig of her ale, the glass was shattered by one of the guards, who had over swung his sword. Her eyes narrowed as she took her staff and thumped the man on his shoulder, lettting out a soft, low whistle. He turned, sword still in hand and glared at the dwarf before him. Glaring, he raised his sword ready to strike. Dorve shook her head and nodded down to the floor. The guard looked and found that swarming up his legs wer dozens of large sewer rats. Dorve stepped back and smiled while the guards attention turned form her to running aorund like a crazy person, trying to get the rats off of him.

Written by - Ardwen

“Ardwen behind you!” A voice rang out. Ardwen spun around, noticing the two soldiers who had been skillfully slain by an arrow apiece. Ardwen’s thoughts flashed quickly through his mind, given haste by the chaos of battle around him, “The archer warned me, even knew my name. This skill, no human could have done this!” Ardwen attempted to pivot to face where he thought the voice had called out only to find he was staring at another armed soldier.

“Do you so enjoy death?” Ardwen snarled as his new opponent vied for superior footing.

The man had the presence of mind to bark out, “I saw what you did to Salm, you bastard! Killing him while he was begging for mercy!”

Ardwen let his lips curl into a thin smile and he said simply, “By attempting to withhold the Abbess from me your lives are forfeit!”

The man swung, his strike coming in for Ardwen’s head, Ardwen blocked, his sword held at an angle to deflect the blow to the side, to the man’s credit he recovered quickly, but not quick enough. Ardwen unsheathed his second sword, sweeping it out in one smooth motion that knocked the soldier’s blade wide, first right, then left. Before he could bring his sword back around to block Ardwen was already pushing the longer of his two swords through his chest.

The man had no more words, the light in his eyes extinguished, and he died with a gurgling shutter. Ardwen wrenched his blade free and whipped the blood off with a quick twist of his wrist. Trying once again to locate the archer that had helped him Ardwen finally laid eyes on his benefactor during the fight. He opened his mouth to say something, something important, something that was stolen away as his memory provided a concrete name; all that came out was, “Vylia?!”

Written by - Pharsalus

What began as an attempted arrest had mushroomed into an all-out melee in the sleepy, urban tavern. Pharsalus dared not take the time to count faces, but a quick survey of the room between blows revealed at least a dozen people, some well armed, some with naught but broken bottles and small knives, some drunk, some not were flinging themselves into the fray. Now was such a moment. A guard fell limp and unconcious beside him as he resolidified his form: legs together at the ankles, aft arm bent in an L behind his back, fore arm bent in a V before him, fingers open and tight together in an earthen blade. His face remained grim as he let his senses remain totally open. He didn't need mental agility to know from where these bungling guardsmen would next assail. This was too easy. This was a waste of time.

He spun and dropped low, throwing his leg outward in a wide semi-circle behind him. He felt the impact, stone against flesh, God-forged rock against fleshling bone. The guard cried out and fell forward, slamming into the planked floor, now stained with spilled foodstuffs and dust and blood. Pharsalus allowed his momentum to continue as another guard stepped forward. Where the bloody hell are they coming from?? He flexed in the middle and pushed off with one hand, sending him into a low horizontal spiral. He twisted hard, letting his leg fly out and upward, again feeling it connect against the chin of his target. The guard stumbled, gurgled, eyes wide and watering, and fell back. Pharsalus caught himself as he landed, very low, the bulk of his weight supported by one hand, fingers splayed against the dusty wood, and his legs, bent and spread to provide stability and launch thrust.

It was exhilirating. He hated to admit it to himself, but he was thoroughly enjoying himself. He had trained every day for the past two centuries for just such a brawl, but he'd never known anyone against which he could test himself. He took note of bad footing, weight too quickly shifting to one side to dodge a blow, weak balance, lost leverage in a kick. But even as flawed and inexperienced as his technique was, the priest remained terribly agile, spider-like. He had no connection to this world, and so he was not to heavy, not to stuck to the ground as he was on Aerynth. He was lighter, faster, more capable in ways he never thought possible for himself, and he never got over it. It thrilled him.

He corrected himself during a lull in the assault, returning to his rigidly prepared stance and took inventory of himself. He was still together, his clothing untouched by hostile hands. It almost amazed him that he'd gone so long without staining his new clothes. He liked them, and he loathed to think of how he'd get blood out of his tunic anytime in the immediate future. A sound from ahead and to his left - wooden doors slamming, quick feet on a cobblestone road.

A runner! he thought, turning his eyes to the sound. What his eyes couldn't see, his mind could clearly. A guard now sprinted, prepared to call for aid. More guards. More lives lost to those far less hindered than himself. He took a final note of the guards he'd felled - all breathing, none conscious. He nodded, satisfied, and focused his energies to his legs. One guard still stood in his way, his face stricken with a fear for his comrades. Pharsalus addressed him, almost a whisper in the roar of the battle royale around them.

"I give you an offer boy, and I give it only once. Your comrade seeks to worsen a bad situation, and I cannot allow it. You will either move, he paused, flaring the light seeping from his eyes, more for dramatic effect than actual hostility, ...or I go through you.

The man's mouth fell open and eyes widened as he dropped his sword, taking a shaken step backwards. He was young. Too much time wasted. Time to go! He didn't give the man a chance to respond. He blew forward, keeping his head low and legs moving with speed that belied his statuary make. The gap between him and the fear-frozen guard closed almost instantly, and Pharsalus flew left, stopped, and then threw out his right palm. It was white and cut the air around it like fire from the skies. He felt his palm flatten against the guard's ribs.

BOOM!

The man flew, limp, unconcious, to the side into a table of onlookers. The priest didn't stop to ensure the man's safety - it had become a secondary priority. He sprinted forward, bursting through the tavern doors, following the path of the guard. The sounds and scent of the city outside, hundreds of eyes drawn curiously to the commotion in their beloved pub, sat as a haze in the air. The man hadn't gotten as far as originally feared, most likely slowed by heavy armor and the weight of a standard arrest gone bad. Pharsalus could read the fear in the air, like a trail of scent, as he closed the gap between them. He ducked and dodged and wove through curious crowds, keeping his mind and energies focused on his legs and feet. He moved with magical speed now; not so much as to risk injuring bystanders, but quickly enough to easily overpower a formidable sprinter.

The man ahead of him stopped and turned, uncertain, like a deer in a trap. He wasn't even trapped, really - he had plenty of road left to run, plenty of places to hide. But he didn't. Pharsalus smirked. On his last hurried step, he pushed off and lunged, sending himself airborne at immense speed. He drew up his legs beneath him and threw forward his knees, rearing back a fist, the whole of his person burning with white, illuminous vapor.

CRACK!

Contact. The man cried out as two stone knees slammed into his left and right shoulders, and gurgled as a fist imprinted itself into the flesh of his left cheek. His head wretched hard right as his body fell quickly beneath the weight of the stone priest. The two impacted with the smooth stone, stil wet from the morning dew and daily drizzle. Pharsalus rolled forward, springing forward on his hands, twisting in the air, and correcting himself as he landed in a crouched position facing the fallen guard. He waited a moment in silence - crowds had gathered around him, hushed and wild-eyed - standing slowly as he kept himself poised, tugging the cuffs of his gloves and tightening his hands to fists. The air smelled of rain and unwaashed bodies. His spectators stared at the little man in white clothes, almost mystified. Pharsalus puzzled as he felt the clinging to the dome of his head. Then it occured to him, and he suddenly looked and felt ridiculous and sheepish.

His hood had come off. He was exposed to the public eye, small beads of mist clinging to his earthen craft head, pooling around his blue gemstone eyes, and streaking down slate cheeks. Men looked at their wives, whispers began to circulate as eyes turned from the priest to the fallen guard and back again.

"DEMON!" a shout came from the quickly angering throng. "He has attacked a guard! Beridane! Beridane will kill us all!"

"It is a Wizard, seeking to destroy us!"

"No no - a daemon, says I! Lookit 'im! 'Is oyes burnin' whoit 'ellfoyre!"

Pharsalus took a step back, his hands out reassuringly.

"Good people! I assure you I am no demon! And this guard attacked me fi..."

"IT SPEAKS!! COVER YOUR EARS! HE WILL CORRUPT YOU!" The perpatrator was a man toward the front of the crowd in black and white robes with the most brilliant green eyes Pharsalus had ever seen. Much to the priest's chagrin, the foremost of the crowd, angered by the assault on a city guard, fearful of what such an assault would bring upon them from the Great Usurper, began to charge, shouting as they came, arms in the air.

Pharsalus didn't know what to do. His mind exploded outward, desperate for the sake of these citizens. He wished them no harm. ARCH! He was already sprinting full tilt - no magic, for fear of drawing even more attention to himself - down the avenue, a roaring, tumbling, shouting mob close on his heels.

ARCH! My boy! We... we have a situation!

He ducked into an alley. The tavern. He had to get back to the tavern.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya felt the rush of battle fill her and it felt good. It has been far too long. She took out several guards, rushing to the ones that were coming in through the door. Then she remembered the cracked opend back door. As she looked in that direction she saw the runner. [We can't have that go on now can we A'lanthear.[/i] But Before she could make her move towards the back another guard lunged at her, weidling two nasty looking curved daggers. Kaya turned her attention back to what was in fornt of her, but determined to get it done fast and to take off after the runner. The guard sneered, the look on his face told her everything. He thinks I'm just some inya*. I'll show him. She feined a look of fear and dropped her stance. The man took the bate and lunged. But his bravado and enthusiam put him off balance and Kaya immediately dove forward, tucked up into a ball and rolled behind him. The man let out a sound of surprise, then a gutteral sound of death as she plunged both daggers upwards between his ribs. Quickely she pulled out A'lanthear and dashed towards the back door.

Running hard through the alley to the street she looked around, but the runner was no where to be seen. She sighed and started to turn back to the tavern when she heard a shout. "DEMON! He has attacked a guard! Beridane! Beridane will kill us all!" Kaya froze, her senses immediately going up. A'lanthear, do you sense any demon?

No Mistress, but there is trouble brewing and magic...I feel it.

So do I my friend, We must check it out. Kaya ran to wards the shouts and soon found a gathering of people.

"Good people! I assure you I am no demon! And this guard attacked me fi..."

"IT SPEAKS!! COVER YOUR EARS! HE WILL CORRUPT YOU!"

Kaya barely heard the shouts above the crowd. THen she saw him, Ths short, strange being, with brilliant blue gems for eyes, running right at her, an angry mob right behind him. Kaya reached out with her aura but found the strange creature to not be demonic...but how to convince the crowd. she whispered to the air, A'lanthear, show them our might. The two daggers in her hands glowed brightly and formed into one, large brillian long sword. Kaya flung off her cloak, showing her black and green armor, the symbol of Nyrondis prominent on her chest. As the little man ran past her she brought A'lanthear up above her head, the sword still glowing, and yelled "HALT. This creature is no demon."

"MORE MAGIC AND TRICKERY! SHE MUST BE IN LIEAGE WITH THE DEMON! GET HER TOO!" Unfortunately, the crowd seemed to be listening to the priest kept on charging. Kaya looked at them, then decided the strange little man had the right idea. I cannot fight all of them and I must get in a more defendable place. THE Tavern! Kaya turned and also headed back towards the tavern. Kaya turned back down the alley and saw the little man just reaching the broken doorway. She hoped she could make it back in time as well.

Written by - Turin Wallace

As the brawl continued, and old acquaintances met with new in the now expanding melee, Turin focused his attention on the guard in front of him. The man's eyes told him he didn't want this fight, most didn't. They were doing the job they were paid for, some still in the guard after the assassination of the royal family. This was the only job they knew. In some way, Turin regretted that some good men were going to not go home to their families today.

Staring the man down, Turin waited for him to make the first move. The guard came at him, more trying to knock him down with his shield than to actual hack away at him. Standing his ground, Turin leaned into the blow and stood the charging guard straight up. Locking his eyes to his, Turin saw the look of surprise in them, until they were extinguished by a swift chair leg to the top of his head. The man crumpled, unconcious, at his feet.

Seeing a runner dart out the door, with Pharsalus at his heels, Turin let a slight chuckle for he knew Pharsalus could catch him with ease...either by sheer speed or with his spells. Turning his attention back to the room, he saw his companions and friends still fighting what was left of the guard sent to stop them. Seeing a movement in the corner of his eye, he turns around in time to parry the swipe of a guards hand axe. From years of fighting, Turin instinctively buries the sword to the hilt in the man's chest. In a whisper, Turin says,

"

"Sorry lad, but you shouldn't have done that."

Just then Kaya sprinted to the back door, and seeing the room was well under control, he decided to follow out back. Upon reaching the alley way, he was almost knocked down by the speeding Pharsalus as he ran inside. Kaya was hot on his heels, and Turin somehow knew he would regret doing it, but he decided to go outside and see what was going on.

What was going on was a mob that he literally bumped into! The first few stammered back, recoiling from the crusader as if he were a source of terror. Turin glared at the crowd, they had quieted for a brief second, as many still knew what a servant of the All-Father was. Using the brief moment, he says,

"So, I see all of Westgale has gone mad. Is there none among you that still serves the All-Father, or Tinorb?"

The green-eyed priest at the front shouts,

"He serves and protects demons, slay him!"

Turin locks eyes with the priest, a stare that would melt iron, and replies to the on-rushing throng,

"I have never, nor will I ever be a thrall of the dark! Your words are as venomous as your soul, priest. Those that die this day will be upon your head."

With that, Turin stands just inside the doorway, letting the crowd come one at a time. He would spare those he could, but this was going to cost them precious time they did not have.

Written by - Archeantus

With each grisly death, which happened in stunning frequency, Archeantus flinched in growing pain. He was aware of who each man was, he knew their hearts despite himself. He knew who would miss them. He knew the now orphans that had lost a father. He knew what they had done previously. He knew whether their deaths were justified. Long ago, deep in the reaches of the void where his God had kept him, his mind had ascended to a place that had unlocked many things within him, creating as many difficulties as strengths. But it was the will of his God and so he had obeyed.

His mental powers poured outward, entering all hearts in the room. It had become his sight.

A guard darted out, and the warlock detected Pharsalus heed the chase. He perceived the fear in the room from many of the patrons, the longing to end such things because of a memory of times past.

They were winning, the guard’s hearts were not in the fight, but the sudden voice of Pharsalus pierced his thoughts, filled with warning and danger. Archeantus refocused his mental channels and sent them outward toward his friend. Once he realized the grim situation, his grayed eyebrows raised in alarm. They lowered then in determination.

Stepping toward the middle of the chaos, oblivious to the fight around him, he held his staff in front of him, steadying himself. Lowering his head, he built up what was needed to perform a very difficult skill. Collecting each consciousness, mentally cueing all with the immediate intention to lay harm on his friends, he grimaced as the action began to drain his mind. He trembled as it strained him of most of his energy.

“It is time to end this.” He whispered through gritted teeth. “For her sake…”

He was aware of Turin’s clear voice, then, declaring the truth to all who heard. "I have never, nor will I ever be a thrall of the dark! Your words are as venomous as your soul, priest. Those that die this day will be upon your head."

And as Turin’s words escaped his lips, the old warlock unleashed a mental wave.

Instantly those that bore intentions to kill forgot what they were doing. They stared blankly as if in a trance. The priest, the mob, the guards. Yet there were a very select few who still sat, fully aware of what had happened. Deep inside them, they still possessed their faith, but had not the strength to follow it when they had seen the symbol of the All-Father, and heard the words spoken by those that bore it. They had been spared, intentionally, to know what was done. They had not seen any willing to face the guards in a long time, nor had they seen any who would be willing to show their honor by acting upon it. Seeing the fight had given them courage…

“Come Turin,” came a very weak voice amid the sudden silence. “I can’t hold such an effect for long. We must escape.”

Written by - Vylia

Vylia spared Ardwen a smile, but even she was uncertain if it was pity for what he may have become, or the fact she was glad he had remembered her. She had just been about to speak when suddenly all of the fighting stopped. The majority of the crowd stood there stunned, unsure of what had happened, but all of the guards and some of the taverngoers were practically frozen still. It was then she noticed that Pharsalus and Turin were no longer in the tavern, then she heard Arch's voice, “Come Turin,” came a very weak voice amid the sudden silence. “I can’t hold such an effect for long. We must escape.”

Vylia turned toward the voice to see the exhausted Warlock leaning against his staff. She slung her bow over her shoulder and across her body, drew her the shorter of her two blades, and ran over to help hold Archeantus up with her other arm to help get him moving toward the exit, sparing a glance over her shoulder at Ardwen, and then at the girl-child Ariel, "Come on you two, time to go."

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn was feeling very woozy from the smell of so many unwashed bodies. It smelled very like rotting flesh to her nose. When the group stopped before the door that Teran was fiddling with she was visible swaying on her feet, her hand held over her mouth and nose to try and filter out the smell, and her eyes barely open. The moment the door opened however, the smell of blood was so overpowering that she became instantly alert. While a very worrying thing, a pool of blood instead of a floor, the smell was so strong that she could no longer smell the bodies, and it was a smell she was both used to, and slightly ashamed one she enjoyed.

Blood meant a fight, and her ears perked up listening intently for anything coming at them from the sides, her eyes piercing into the drizzle of blood coming from overhead for anything hiding above them. She saw the thing just as Teran called out a warning to Sabbatine, and visibly flinched as she saw the creature crush Sabbatine like a rag doll. As it tossed her body aside Keeryn circled wide around it to the right of the group, studying it's speed as it moved and then swung at Teran. She was worried about that large arm with the pole, and those smaller ones were a little hard to pick out amongst the miscolored skin all over it's body.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin had prepared himself to fight those who came through the back door of the inn, but he heard a familiar, yet weak voice speak,

“Come Turin, I can’t hold such an effect for long. We must escape.”

Turin turned and nodded his agreement, only to realize his old friend could not see it. As Vylia reached Archeantus' side, taking him by the arm and encouraging everyone else to leave, Turin replied,

"Aye, master Archeantus, let us leave. We seem to have worn our welcome thin here. I will follow, the rest of you leave first."

As the group quickly filed out, Turin reached into a pocket and threw the money pouch upon the bar table, saying,

"There should be enough to pay for the damages incurred, our food, and our drink. Good day, innkeep."

With that, he followed his friends out the door and into the foreign town. Looking about, he states the obvious to his friends,

"We need shelter to hide from these people and the guards until we are ready. Something near the town square is preferable. Anyone know of such a place?"

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen saw Vylia's glance, and her smile. It was tinted with something more than a simple smile though, and Ardwen could not decide if her look was one of joy or pity. Inwardly Ardwen grimaced, he expected anger from his former companions, resentment, even rejection, but pity was something he was not prepared to face - not now.

Ardwen tried to focus back on the battle, but the morale of the enemy soldiers, indeed everyone in the tavern, seemed broken. Many stood in a silent stupor, none attack. Ardwen thought to capitalize on this odd development until he heard Turin say, ""Aye, master Archeantus, let us leave. We seem to have worn our welcome thin here. I will follow, the rest of you leave first."

Ardwen complied immediately with Turin's order, flinging the blood off his blades and stepping outside the Wounded Lion with the rest of the reunited Hands. It was then Turin posed another, much stranger request, "We need shelter to hide from these people and the guards until we are ready. Something near the town square is preferable. Anyone know of such a place?"

Ardwen "hmphed" to himself softly and addressed everyone in the group, "Commander Turin, I must . . . humbly disagree with this course of action." Glancing around at the others Ardwen continued, his voice soft and persuasive, "It is true that in time we might have a more opportune moment to strike at our foes in this city, but we must weigh the benefit of such a . . . course . . . with the downside."

Ardwen waved one of his swords in a circle in the air, the gesture meant to indicate the whole of Westgale in its expanse, "Ariana is still in the enemy's grasp. We know that she is in danger. Should we then delay? What have we to fear? We are more than enough to handle whatever pathetic resistance these humans wish to throw at us. I advise a more aggresive course, let us take the fight to them! Our options are manifold: a little torture would yield more information we could use. We're in the slums, we could set fire to the surrounding buildings and stage a distraction."

Ardwen smiled slightly and nodded his head as if delivering the end of an eloquent argument, "I do not mean to rebuke you commander, it is not my place. But, what benefit would we garner from waiting and stealth?"

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin waited for Ardwen to finish, then answered,

"Ariana is in danger, however, this Beridane is surely going to have his security forces massed in and around the place of her planned execution. It's not the danger posed to us that I worry about, Ardwen, it's the danger posed to her."

Pausing a moment, to let the thought sink in, he continues,

"If we would bound into the square, as we are, all it would take is one brief moment for the life of our Ariana to be extinguished by a guard. Whether it be by blade, spearpoint, or arrow shaft. We must use guile, let him believe he has his way until the right moment, then we deliver the humiliating blow to him. We thrust out our hands, in unison, and take back our Ariana."

Pondering, he then says,

"However, you are correct on two points, we need to be quick and we need a bigger distraction. However, Ardwen, we will not use torture nor will we burn down the houses of these people."

His words were stern, but not harsh. Looking ahead, he could see a guard house, more than likely the place were those they had dealt with came from. Pointing, he says,

"There, burn it down. Spare those you can, kill those that resist. Grab armor and cloaks, we will enter the courtyard square as disguised as we can be. If Archeantus has the strength for one more of those spells that affects the minds of the mob, then we may have a chance to get Ariana clear, once we free her."

Before Ardwen went to move away, Turin grabs his arm, and says,

"Your thoughts are always welcome, though you know we only take life when we have no other choice. We will save Ariana, even if it takes our lives first. Believe me old friend, I want to rush into that square and cut down all in our path, but the sheer weight of numbers would overwhelm us. Our numbers are few, Ardwen, and I would prefer to get all of us out in one piece. You may not like my plan, Ardwen, but I need you with me to pull it off."

Letting his gentle grip on the elf's arm go, he waits for his answer.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya ran back through the broken door, the mob lcose behind. She saw Turin take a look and speak his words. Then, those they had been fighting stood quietly and she heard the soft voice of Turin's friend. Taking advantage of the lull, she and Dorve both made their way outside with the others. She watched Turin and knew, felt in her gut that this was a good man, a leader, one to be respected and listened to. She listened to his words, and wished she knew more of the town so that she could help them find and rescue their friend, but all her experiences were in Beridane's dungeon area. Then she saw him point towards a guard house.

"There, burn it down. Spare those you can, kill those that resist. Grab armor and cloaks, we will enter the courtyard square as disguised as we can be. If Archeantus has the strength for one more of those spells that affects the minds of the mob, then we may have a chance to get Ariana clear, once we free her." Kaya spared no time and bolted towards the shelter.

Written by - Ardwen

Turin had waited for the warrior to finish. Ardwen looked at him, curious as to his answer. “Ariana is in danger,” Turin began, “however, this Beridane is surely going to have his security forces massed in and around the place of her planned execution. It's not the danger posed to us that I worry about, Ardwen, it's the danger posed to her."

Turin paused, and Ardwen turned his head slightly away, as if he were trying to penetrate the clouds hanging over Westgale with his gaze. Turin began again after, and explained how easily the humans in this city would end Ariana’s life, an overt attack would give them too much warning to execute her. But then Turin took Ardwen by surprise with his next directive: they would use a distraction, a nearby guardhouse was to be burned and the equipment inside purloined and used as disguises.

Ardwen began to walk toward the house but Turin grabbed his arm and stopped him, "Your thoughts are always welcome, though you know we only take life when we have no other choice. We will save Ariana, even if it takes our lives first. Believe me old friend, I want to rush into that square and cut down all in our path, but the sheer weight of numbers would overwhelm us. Our numbers are few, Ardwen, and I would prefer to get all of us out in one piece. You may not like my plan, Ardwen, but I need you with me to pull it off."

Ardwen was facing away from Turin, and for that he was grateful, his face was undoubtedly red with shame. “My lord Turin,” Ardwen began, “I’m sorry . . .” Ardwen paused again and turned so that his left side was facing Turin, the warrior’s body was silhouetted by the dying light of the evening, “Your plan is fine. But know this: I won’t lose any of you again, and hell take the costs in life!”

Ardwen turned once more, fully facing Turin, “I tried Turin . . . on Aerynth . . . I tried.” Inhaling sharply and sighing Ardwen gave voice to a question, “We have some catching up to do I’m afraid. But first, the warlock you met . . . is is really Archeantus?”

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin could sense the change in Ardwen, his body spoke volumes even if he spoke little. Answering his question, Turin says,

"Aye, it has to be Archeantus. His words, demeanor, and spirit remain the same though his body bares the scars of time, violence, and age. We all have these scars, I'm afraid, though some are easier to see than others."

As he watched the others of the group begin the work of taking the guardhouse, he took a step next to Ardwen, placed his arm around the elf's broad shoulders, and said,

"I share your feelings, old friend. I won't risk losing all of you again as well. Our enemies will once more quake with fear at our approach, their sleeps hindered by the nightmares we shall give them! Now, let us continue our bloody business this day and take back what is ours. Then, my friend, we can sit around and catch up on all things."

Turin felt kinship with Ardwen, he could see the fire and sorrow in his eyes. Unless one was themselves once a slayer, no one could understand. Turin was one, merciless and unforgiving, but that story could wait. Suffice it to say he could understand Ardwen better than anyone else at the moment. Giving Ardwen a broad smile and slight shake, they head off to deal with the guards and their base, curious to see how the others are faring.

Written by - Tempyst

The cries of woman and children could be heard through the air. Cries of fear and uncertainty. Kaya knew those cires very well. They tugged at her heart and made her blood run like fire thorugh her veins. She remembered being afraid and uncertain.

Several guards came from the shack she and the others were approaching. She veered to the left and found herself facing two guardsmen, one, young and wide eyed, barely strong enough to hold the sword in his hand, the other old and tired. She could see in his eyes that he was weary. As they circled her, she drew forth A'lanthear. The young one charged first, eager and green, not waiting until he had the upper hand but wanting to get in the first blow. Kaya easily sidestepped his attack and as he passed her she turned and kicked him in his ass, pushing him down into the mud. The older guard then charged, his experience telling him when the right moment would be. Their swords clashed, the sound of steel ringing through the air. But the guard was old and weary, Kaya was still fresh and full of vigor and had a purpose.

The young guard rushed her again, thinking that her occupation with his comrad would give him the advantage. But she easily swept her leg and knocked the old guard down and stomped his gut, knocking the air out of him while keeping the young one at bay with A'lanthear. "IS BERIDANE WORTH ALL THIS?" she shouted. "IS HE WORTH YOUR LOYALTY THAT YOU WOULD DIE FOR HIM?" She parried the young guards moves then knocked the sword from his hand, A'lanthear pointed directly at his throat. SHe looked at the young man, her eyes almost pleading with him. "Are you willing to die for a monster?" The young guard shook his head and ran.

Kaya turned back to the old guard who still lay on the ground, out of breath. She held a hand out to him. "Are you ready to die for him? Or will you join us?" The old guard looked at her, she could see contempt in his eyes. For a moment, her heart began to sink, fearing she would have to kill this veteran.

"Beridane is a fool and I do not die for fools. I will stand with you and yours." He took Kaya's hand and she helped him to his feet. She could now see a fire in his eyes that was not there before. The man now had hope. He picked up his sword and with Kaya turned to see how the others were fairing and hoped more had heard her words and would join their cause.


Written by - Ariana Page 29 Book 3

Mavigan was more than a little surprised at the utter joy with which Sabbatine latched onto her soiled and bloodied rag. The creature seemed to be actually gleeful, and seemed to attach more significance to the “present” than had been intended. Mavigan had no intention of disabusing her of that misunderstanding however, and simply put the clean rag Sabbatine had thrust into her hands into a pocket for later use.

Thankfully, Teran had arrived to shorten the awkward and uncomfortable situation. He made an attempt at an inspirational speech, but Mavigan only listened with half an ear. There was something tingling at the very edge of her senses, something hanging just out of sight, and it was driving her to distraction. Even with her attention diverted, however, she managed to get the gist of his message – shove Sabbatine out front. It was a strategy that made sense to her, so when the group began moving again, Mavigan trailed behind. She often looked over her shoulder as if she expected something to be there – yet the space behind her remained empty.

As they trudged ahead, there were even more things to distract Mavigan from the task at hand. People, hundreds of them, of all different races in large cages. Dirty, malnourished, and emaciated, Mavigan could feel their eyes burning into her as they moved past. Teran moved past without so much as a glance in their direction; Mavigan could not do the same. “The man is heartless!” she thought to herself as she gave up trying to ignore the pleading stares and made her way to a cage full of humans. She reached a hand into her pouch feeling for her lockpicks as she looked for the door to the cage.

There wasn’t one.

Mavigan’s brow scrunched up with confusion and she searched the cage again, lockpicks held tightly in one hand. No, she had not made a mistake. There was no door, no lock to pick. Uttering a curse, she replaced the picks and stared at the floor. She was too cowardly to look these hopeless people in the eye and tell them she could not help them. Instead, she kept her head bowed, muttered a quick apology and hurried to catch the rest of the group, a deep seated anger slowly starting to burn in her belly.

She stopped herself at the door, nearly choking on the smells coming from the next chamber. Seeing the floor was nothing more than a pool of blood, Mavigan stayed near the door with Keeryn, who seemed to be having difficulties. “No way am I stepping that that!” she thought to herself.

Once the large abomination dropped to the floor, Mavigan was doubly glad she hadn’t stepped forward into the gunk. When Teran indicated retreat, Mavigan was more than ready. She stepped back from the door to allow room for the others, and took a minute to study the beast. To her eyes, it appeared to be covered in a bright sheen – but the sheen appeared to have myriad cracks. These cracks seemed to follow the seams from which the monster was put together.

“Interesting,” she thought, taking another couple steps backwards. She wasn’t sure what she was seeing, but she had a distinct feeling it was important. Taking note, and waiting a time to test her brewing theory, she concealed herself in the nearest pile of deep shadow.

Written by - Archeantus

"Aye, master Archeantus, let us leave. We seem to have worn our welcome thin here. I will follow, the rest of you leave first."

Thankfully resting on Vylia’s steady arm, he nodded to Turin’s comment and allowed himself to be helped out the back door.

Feeling the afternoon’s sun beat on his face, he took in the smells and sounds around him. The pulse of the city came in waves. Rumors and laughter, whisperings, hopelessness, darkness all came to his mind. There was little honor left in Ancora, only a few who believed, but they were there, most living pretended lives, a façade of cynicism and feigned laughter.

Archeantus then hear Turin’s voice again, clear and firm. "We need shelter to hide from these people and the guards until we are ready. Something near the town square is preferable. Anyone know of such a place?"

He then heard Ardwen, for the first time in ages. He held reservations, and far more. Archeantus then focused on the elven warrior. An eyebrow rose slightly upon the realization that much had changed within him. Even on the surface of Ardwen’s mind, the old warlock could sense great doubt, and yet at the same time, a budding hope, an exceeding dim hope that even the warlock could not pin down as to what it was in.

“So much confidence he’s gained, on so little faith.” Archeantus whispered inwardly, marveling at how far his old friend had come on his own merits.

He listened as Turin spoke to him. He could sense the kinship buried there between the two. Much would happen that would kindle the spark of trust and friendship in the coming days between them, great difficulties.

Turin’s voice pierced his thoughts again, now directing it toward him. “If Archeantus has the strength for one more of those spells that affects the minds of the mob, then we may have a chance to get Ariana clear, once we free her."

He followed Turin’s line of thought and directed his wizened head toward the barracks.

“When the moment arrives, you can trust I’ll rise to it.” Archeantus said, eager to see a plan emerging, and eager to follow Turin into battle once more.

Some began to move toward the barracks quickly following Turin’s directive. But Archeantus stayed a moment longer to overhear the last few words between Ardwen and The Priest of Battle.

“My lord Turin,” Ardwen began, “I’m sorry . . .” Ardwen paused, standing slight away from, “Your plan is fine. But know this: I won’t lose any of you again, and hell take the costs in life! I tried Turin . . . on Aerynth . . . I tried.”

Archeantus then understood without having to dive into Ardwen’s mind any longer.

Aerynth had taken its toll.

He heard him inhale sharply and sighing, then spoke a question, “We have some catching up to do I’m afraid. But first, the warlock you met . . . is it really Archeantus?”

Such a question caused the old warlock to smile. Without speaking aloud, allowing the moment to pass between the two, he said to himself, “Yes Ardwen, even I wonder sometimes.”

Stepping forward toward the barracks, with the help of his staff, he added, “We’ve both changed.”

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm waited until Teran had led his group away from the room. Then he quietly called his troop into the room to regroup and refresh themselves, although the mages maintained their concealment spell. He found the map that Teran had left behind on the table and studied it. The room he was standing in had several odd markings. He saw that Teran had marked three locations, two rooms and a passageway, as the marks were still fresh. Likely the last was their next route and the first two were to be investigated. He showed the map to Resini.

"It does look like Teran wanted us to investigate those two rooms," Resini replied, "and we had best do so together. Since we will be leaving this area unguarded and more dark cultists are likely to arrive, let us leave a distraction."

Resini explained and Wilhelm chuckled and nodded. They went back to the room full of dead cultists and drenched one of the bodies with blood from the blood-filled urn. They then dragged it back into the main room leaving a trail of smeared blood as if a dying man had dragged himself into that room before he died. They then scattered the other bodies and doused them with the rest of the blood, as if they had all died messily in that room. In the main room Resini took the dead mans blood smeared hand and with it wrote in blood on the floor the name BERIDANE.

After a final cleanup they then left and made their way to the first room. What must have been a concealed panel was standing open and the signs of a magical struggle were obvious from the scorches and melting ice chunks plus the three dead mages. While Wilhelm looked through the scorched documents scattered about, Resini led the other mages in a Divination and then reported that this appeared to be a magical watch station where those three mages had been scrying the intruders before they were slain, presumably by Teran.

Wilhelm realized that the odd markings on the map in the room they had left represented the members of Teran's party. The lack of such markings in the corridors outside that room showed that Resini's wards had held and Wilhelm's party had not been detected. Wilhelm extended his tracking sense towards the other marked room, while Resini cast his own shielded scrying spell, and they both noted the presence of three mages in that room, which was likely another such hidden watch station.

With the mages taking turns maintaining a sheild against magical detection, Wilhelm's troop made their way carefully towards the other watch station. Wilhelm's tracking sense allowed them to avoid several groups of cultists moving towards the main room behind them. He hoped the distraction there would sow confusion among them.

They crept up to the concealed panel entrance to the second watch station and Wilhelm placed his ear to the panel so he could better understand the muffled voices they heard from within. One voice inside then increased in excitement enough for Wilhelm to hear it clearly.

"Hah, we have them trapped. They have entered the lair of the Abomination. All we have to do is send our forces to bar their way back and the Abomination will take care of them for us. Jornan, run to the Watch and have them seal off the Abomination's larder."

Wilhelm quickly motioned the others to prepare, and he stepped to the side and readied his hammer. The panel opened and a roibed figure stepped out hurredly. Stepping in from behind Wilhelm felled him with a smahing blow to the head. Meanwhile the room practially exploded as the four mages paired up to take out the other two mages in a dazzling barrage of spells. While the mages then panted and rested, Wilhelm led the others in a quick search of the room and found another marked map, which he added to the first. It appeared that there had only been two such hidden watch stations in this quadrant. They then sealed away the three dead mages in the room by closing the concealed panel and magically locking it in place.

"We must hurry," said Wilhelm, "as it appears that Mavigan may be in true danger from whatever this Abomination is." With the mages again taking turns maintaining the scry shield, Wilhelm then led his troop quickly but quietly towards the third place Teran had marked on the map.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen almost flinched from Turin's arm. It was an odd sensation; he had placed Turin and the rest of the Hands on a pedestal far above the trite morality and concern of other mortals. They were demigods, paragons of virtue and righteousness, and he had been completely sure that he would face a fierce rebuke for his actions. “I suppose,” thought Ardwen, “that I had forgotten they were also human, subject to the same vices and virtues, weaknesses and strengths, as other men.”

Ardwen turned to watch Kaya subdue two guards, one who looked like he was past his prime, and the other who looked too young to be soldiering at all. Ardwen shook his head slightly and leaned against the wall of a building adjacent to the guardhouse. The Elven warrior turned his gaze to Archeantus who was walking toward the guardhouse. Ardwen called out to him suddenly, “I think Kaya has this one. So long as she doesn’t attract an army of old men, children, and beggars I’m fine with however she deals with this pathetic lot. But Archeantus,” here Ardwen paused to shift his stance, he placed one foot flat against the wall of the building and crossed his arms, “do you not have even a minute to spare for an old friend? Far be it for one of Twilight born to question the flow of time, but it seems I’ve missed out on either a few decades or several millennia.”

Written by - Archeantus

Walking toward the unseen stucture of the barracks, he heard Ardwen's fiercely calm voice call out to him, mentioning one Kaya, who could take care of herself. Shifting his head slightly toward her direction, he paused, as if gauging the validity of the statement, and nodded in the affirmative. Turning, he stopped and faced Ardwen, who then added, "But Archeantus, do you not have even a minute to spare for an old friend? Far be it for one of Twilight born to question the flow of time, but it seems I’ve missed out on either a few decades or several millennia.”

"Ardwen, if I had my way, I'd spare several millennia to 'catch up'. In many ways," he paused here and slightly lowered his head downward perceptively, almost knowingly "it would take as long to come to know one another like we knew each other on Aerynth."

The wizened warlock lifted his head now, gray strands fluttering in the wind, a sad determination appearing on his weathered face.

"But time is not on our side, perhaps it never will be. Ariana's fate will be decided in the hour. When we have her secured safely in our hands once more, laid waste to the villiany at work here, then you shall have far more than a minute. We have much to discuss you and I."

Archeantus' sightless gaze lingered upon Ardwen.

"It's time to put all those years in Aerynth to the test."

With that, he turned back toward the barracks and began to walk.

Written by - Vylia

"Turin!" Vylia shouted to her old friend, pointedly ignoring the conversation between Arch and Ardwen, it wasn't her business what they discussed after all."If you all are going to dress up like good little guardsmen then I will take the roof near the event. I have twenty arrows left, and I intend at least two of them for the fool who thinks he can simply execute Ariana while I'm still alive. Show me where you plan to set up, and the fool on the platform dying could be a very good signal for the rest of you to move, no?"

Written by - Archeantus

The falling blood rain, seeped into her hair, her face. Jasmine, however, glared lividly at the monstrosity before her, the whites of her eyes seething through her dark hair.

As she slowly became more and more soaked in blood, something awoke inside of her.

Her passive streak ended. It was time to unleash the killer within her once more.

In the moment the beast swung at Teran, she darted forward, like a panther, her own “claw” clasped firmly in her cold deadened hand. It was almost startling how good it felt.

The beast knew she was coming, its many eyes and faces glared down at her, shifting to slay yet another. It’s large putridly green arm, reared back, the massive club in its clutches, and swung down toward the onrushing figure, seeking to splatter her into the bloody pool.

The club slammed into the pool in an explosion of blood, but Jasmine masterfully launched at the near perfect moment, and landed on the club itself. Taking the exact course she envisioned, she scurried directly up its Orcish arm, which immediately flew back in alarm, her dagger plunged into the thick skin and held onto the small bits of hair. Another smaller grabbing hand rushed toward her, and she swung expertly up and out of its grasp, wasted no time, and jumped onto the second arm hanging onto its grotesque forearm, and then to a third furry arm which joined the others, never taking her eyes off her goal. From the third arm, there for only the briefest of moments, she then jumped over a final swipe, twisting her body in the air, and planted her dagger firmly into the cold yellowish eyes of the Orcish face.

It let out a scream of terror, raising its multi-faced head upwards toward the raining bodies and fumbled backward. Able to slightly gain footing on its bloody chest, she pulled her dagger from its home, and kicked off, landing gracefully with a splash ten feet backward.

Not a second passed, and she flew forward again…

*****

Walking toward the barracks, Archeantus suddenly lifted his head to the skies. A small glowing orb had suddenly whisked down and flew erratically about his blindfolded face. It flashed and darted outward, pausing in a certain direction, and darted back, flying more erratic than before.

“She’s there now?” Archeantus said out loud so the others could hear. “Then we have far less time than we hoped.”

Over across the growing throngs of people that were now gathering in the main courtyard, hung the Abbess, there for all to see. Her face was marred with bruises and cuts, and dirt. Her once smooth and elegant hair fell raggedly down across her face. Many pointed, some jeered, some watched in silent curiosity. Guards were pouring in from every corner of the courtyard, some posted on the outside of the throngs of the crowd, others gathered around the platform where Ariana hung, creating a steel shield to ensure what was to happen, would happen, “at all costs” as they’d be commanded. There was a small portly man, clothed in royal garb directing them, who appeared anxious to begin.

It was dusk. The sun grew fainter by the minute, as it lowered downward toward its western resting place. Night was quickly coming.

Back near the barracks, Archeantus motioned to Turin.

“Lord Turin, I have been informed they have her hung from a post directly in the middle of the courtyard just west of us. There is already a great crowd forming there, and by the looks of it, three times as many guards as we’ve just faced.”

The old warlock then appeared to listen to his glowing friend once more.

“We need to act, and act now.” He said. “Secure your disguises quickly, I’ll provide the distraction, or rather my little friend will.”

Archeantus shifted his head back toward Angelus, who was now erratically floating around Turin, Ardwen, Vylia in turn, urging then onward.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn had been studying the beast, looking at it's movements in an attempt to find openings in it's defenses when Jasmine rushed in. Keeryn had to admit the woman was very fast, her series of acrobatic movements and attacks had little waste in them. If Keeryn didn't hate her for having attacked Mavigan before she would have admired Jasmine's prowess.

Instead she decided to take advantage of the situation, and as soon as Jasmine landed in the pool once again Keeryn charged in at the same time as Jasmine launched her second attack intending to use Jasmine as a distraction to strike at the beast's armpits when it raised it's arms to swing at the assassin.

****

“We need to act, and act now.” He said. “Secure your disguises quickly, I’ll provide the distraction, or rather my little friend will.”

Vylia smiled slightly at the eager bobbing of the creature in front of her before she brought herself back to the present. "Since we're short on time, and we now know the exact location the Abbess is being held I will head in ahead of the rest of you while you disguise yourselves. I'll climb the wall and attack from there when the signal is given, have Arch's little friend signal me when you wish to begin and I'll start by killing the bastard that intends to sacrifice her."

With that Vylia gives Archeantus' arm a light squeeze, "Stay safe my friend," before walking over to look Ardwenn in the face, staring up into his eyes. "You've changed, but remember that all people change, even the Deathless. There is great strength within you to draw on, as long as you can keep control of yourself," Vylia placed her right hand on his cheek, "You are not a killer in your soul, no matter what you may have done. I have Faith that you will do the right thing from this moment on, let your mistakes be forgotten and forgiven." Her emphasis on the word Faith obvious as she leaned up and kissed him lightly on the other cheek before sprinting off to the castle wall.

It didn't take her long once she had left the group to reach the walls, even slinking through the city's backstreets and alleyways. The layout was familiar, almost like being home after so long. As she climbed the wall she thought to herself with a slight grin on her face, How is it, that as tenacious as humans are, and as many structures as they face, that they always neglect to smooth the outer walls when they are done? Vylia stopped just below the battlements and listened for any guards patrolling it. After a few seconds her keen ears picked up the rattle of chainmail heading her direction as she flattened herself against the wall.

As soon as the guard has walked passed her she slid quietly over the edge and behind the guard silently drawing the shorter of her two blades. "Excuse me, I was wondering if you could help me with something." As the guard turned, a surprised look on his face, Vylia stabbed him through the eye into his brain. She grimaced in disgust at having to kill, even if the man did serve an evil master, before cleaning her blade on the man's tabard. She quickly sheathed the sword, then pulled her bow over her shoulder and looked both directions for any other guards nearby, an arrow knocked and ready...

Written by - Archeantus

"Stay safe my friend." He heard Vylia say, a comforting squeeze upon his arm.

"You as well Lady Vylia. For the All-Father and Saint Lorne."

He heard her speak to Ardwen, nodded at her words, and then heard her quick steps fade off in the distance.

"All-Father go with you Vylia," He whispered to himself, "All Father be with us all."

Written by - Ardwen

"Ardwen, if I had my way, I'd spare several millennia to 'catch up'. In many ways," Archeantus began, "it would take as long to come to know one another like we knew each other on Aerynth." Ardwen noticed a look of steel cross over the warlock's face, the wind picked at his hair and grey strands fluttered in the waning light.

"But time is not on our side, perhaps it never will be. Ariana's fate will be decided in the hour. When we have her secured safely in our hands once more, laid waste to the villiany at work here, then you shall have far more than a minute. We have much to discuss you and I." Archeantus finished calmly.

Ardwen had the strangest sensation pass over him. He knew that Archeantus was now blind, but he could practically feel his eyes staring at him, as if he were using some vision that was not based on sight. Ardwen chalked it up to his nerves and shook off the feeling in his mind.

Archeantus had but one more thing to say before continuing toward the barracks, "It's time to put all those years in Aerynth to the test." Ardwen simply let out a soft "hmm" to himself and remained leaning against the barracks. Briefly he wondered when it would become obvious that he had no expedient means of starting a fire.

Ardwen noticed something else a few moment later, a glowing point of light and fire began to dance around Archenatus's head. Ardwen thought he recognized it as a pheonix, a familiar of sorts that summoners could conjure. "Was Archeantus always a summoner? I do not think . . ." Ardwen thought, before letting the thought die off, it seemed so trite in light of all the other changes.

What Archeantus said next though, was anything but trite, “We need to act, and act now.” Secure your disguises quickly, I’ll provide the distraction, or rather my little friend will.”

Ardwen was just about to walk over to the guardhouse when he heard Vylia speak, "Since we're short on time, and we know the exact location the Abbess is being held I will head in ahead of the rest of you while you disguise yourselves. I'll climb the wall and attack from there when the signal is given, have Arch's little friend signal me when you wish to begin and I'll start by killing the bastard that intends to sacrifice her."

What she did next however, surprised Ardwen. Vylia walked over and stared right into the warrior's eyes and said, ""You've changed, but remember that all people change, even the Deathless. There is great strength within you to draw on, as long as you can keep control of yourself," Ardwen kept a still poise as Vylia's right hand came up and rested on his cheek, "You are not a killer in your soul, no matter what you may have done. I have Faith that you will do the right thing from this moment on, let your mistakes be forgotten and forgiven." Ardwen couldn't but noticed the stress she placed on the word 'faith'. Then, she kissed the warrior on the other cheek before swiftly sprinting away to her sniping post.

Ardwen finally stopped leaning on the building next to the guardhouse. He watched as Vylia dissapeared amongst the streets and buildings of the city. "Vylia . . ." He said to the empty air, but he could find no more words. He could never seem to find the right words at the right moment. But he knew in his heart what he wanted to say, he wanted to say, "Thanks for believing in me, for all of you saying that it's worth saving me."

He walked over to the guardhouse and looked at the door, it was closed. Drawing the longer of his two remaining blades Ardwen held the blade over his head and brought it down in a shockingly fast arc, two sparks shot through the air and two rusted hinges hit the ground, cloven in twain. The door wavered and fell inward, it thumped against the floor and sent dust and dirt scattering in the orange evening sunlight. Ardwen looked passed the threshold and said loudly, "If anyone's in there and wants to live, then come out unarmed; don't do as I say and I'll kill you."

Ardwen nodded and said gruffly under his breath, "I'm getting soft on these barbarians."

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin nodded, knowing full well that time was running out for them and for Ariana. Watching Ardwen break the door, Turin walked into the now empty guardhouse. Taking a look around, he then exits just as quickly. His search was only meant to be sure no one was left alive once the distraction was set.

Moving outside, Vylia had already left, and the others were waiting. Closing his robe, he nods to Archeantus, saying,

"Burn it down."

Pausing, he then continues,

"Once it is set aflame, we will head to the square where she is being held. Disguise yourselves as best you can and remember, once the killing starts protect Ariana, nothing else matters."

Giving each a long look, he finishes by saying,

"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."

At a brisk pace, Turin leaves the burning guardhouse and moves quickly toward the sacrificial square with his friends.

Written by - Archeantus

"Burn it down."

It was time. He had his directive. The way was clear.

The old warlock lowered his head, and whispered mentally to his small little friend who was flying around and around and around its master’s hooded head, forming a sort of glowing crown in the dying light.

“Angelus, ignite.”

Upon the command, the fluttering ember suddenly pulsed in excitement as it shot upward in the air. It flew just above the tops of the roofs, overlooking the barracks. Swirling energies coursed around the small nucleus of flame that now gathered momentum and blazed brighter and brighter. It descended suddenly, now a ball of flame, a falling star. Moments before it burst through the upper window, near the top of the building, the ball of flame again transformed, and in a brilliant display, wings exploded outward from the center, and a loud shriek coursed through the air.

It echoed for only a moment down the streets, as clarion call to those who remembered it, those who had fought long ago in a long forgotten sundered world. It was the sound of warm harsh memories, the song of hope renewed.

It was the phoenix’s cry, the very sound of rebirth, and it went through those that had long ago called themselves the Hands like the warm sea wind of the eastern sea they each knew so well.

The next moment the flaming bird burst through the window in an explosion of embers and flame.

A few seconds later, the windows glowed with fire, which hungrily crept up the walls and burst out the roof, becoming pillars of dancing flames. Smoke poured upward, dark black ominous smoke.

Feeling the heat of the burning building, the destroying wind whipping his loose robes about him, the blind warlock turned away toward the direction Ariana was being held.

“There Turin, it is done.”

But he was not there, Turin had already launched forward down the cobbled street. Archeantus could hear them following him. He had the fleeting sensation of a single wish that would never be fulfilled. He wished he could had seen them, going to save her, their armor flashing in the setting sun.

Taking a breath, preparing himself, the warlock took his long staff, and pulled in a fluid motion, revealing a remarkably ashen blade of perfect straightness, a blade that hadn’t seen the light in ages, a blade once known as the Jen'e'tai.

The blind Warlock took the blade in both his weathered hands and burst into the air.

Written by - Tempyst

"Burn it down." Turin paused, then continued. "Once it is set aflame, we will head to the square where she is being held. Disguise yourselves as best you can and remember, once the killing starts protect Ariana, nothing else matters." Giving each a long look, he finishes by saying, "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." Turins eyes caugher hers and she felt his gaze pierce her being.

Kaya disguised herself as best she could, but the best disguise was to keep her cloak up. She listened to the words of her new friends, then watched as the barracks caught fire and heard the scream ofthe phoenix. It was a cry that set hope in her heart and cleansed her soul. It felt good to have purpose again. Being a demon hunter gave her purpose, but she was used to fighting for the people with the people, and this was going to be a good fight. She turned and quickly caught up with Turin and the others, with Dorve close behind.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Alarin grinned as he swung his sword in a downward two-handed grip, the blade splitting through the helmet and skull of a doomed young man. The man who now lay crumpled at his feet was a militiaman for the city of Smarsh. This city was the last stepping-stone for the Army of Terror controlled by his Mistress, Kiradia. It was a small speck of a city compared to what Alarin planned to use his army to conquer but it controlled a large expanse of mountainous country that included a passage through the land into Orc territory. That passage would decrease the amount of men and animals Alarin would lose to rough terrain.

Looking across the horizon of the hill he stood on, Alarin watched as a small group of six plate armored, great sword wielding minotaurs charged into a group of Militiamen nearly triple their number. Even with such a difference of numbers, it was very nearly a slaughter, the small, weak men (with almost no training in war) only managed to kill one of the Minotaurs before they were brought down and butchered.

The king who ruled Smarsh was a fool, Alarin thought to himself. To believe an army like his could be defeated by a bunch of boys with toy swords was insulting. Alarin would make sure that king felt his blade, on the battlefield or the altar of terror, he would feel it.

Later that night…

As the army of Terror made camp for the night, and the men drank and diced and slept, Alarin came up on the lavishly large tent of his Mistress. All around the tent, and three at the entrance were men that even Alarin only barely understood. He could feel their power, the icy chill that went down even his spine. These men unnerved even the minotaurs with their quiet manner. They never spoke to you, though if you were denied entrance, you would know about it very quickly.

As it was, the men stood at attention, and the first man nodded his head slightly, letting Alarin through to enter the tent. Kiradia sat upon the floor, her legs crossed and her palms on her knees. In front of her was a floating orb of burning fire; the heat coming off it was enough to sear the skin off a dragon if you touched it. Alarin squinted, seeing that the same fire was reflected in the eyes of his Mistress.

Sitting on a comfortable chair, Alarin waited for Kiradia to finish her meditations. Knowing that to interrupt for any reason other than to protect her life was a death sentence in the making. As Kiradia slumped slightly the fire burned out, leaving nothing more than a dull black orb, which promptly fell to the ground with a duller thud.

Alarin silently handed his Mistress a glass of wine, which she drank slowly, “Thank you Alarin. Now, give me your report.”

“Yes Mistress. Today we fought a group of about five thousand men. Militia more like than not. We lost less than one hundred men. I expect the King to send out his entire army when he learns of the true size of our army, given that many of the Militia broke rank and ran like the dogs they were. Word of this will spread, and when we conquer Smarsh our coming will spread even more. These rumors will spread to Orcs first, and a few of the humans will survive the Orc lands and reach the Elven and Human lands to the west.”

“Very good Alarin, go now, I must rest. Tomorrow we will advance again.”

“Yes Mistress,” said Alarin, as he walks slowly out of the tent.

Written by - Archeantus

She dashed quickly along the shallow blood pool, directly toward the monstrosity. It had hardly gained its footing when it detected her coming at it again. Raising it's large arm which held the large club high into the air, it brought it down again, with a great splash of red, but Jasmine had beat it, and ran directly underneath the natty legs.

Again she launched upward, her dagger in her teeth, and began her ascent.


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.


Written by - Vylia Page 31 Book 3

As the ritual continued it became more and more obvious that they were planning to summon something VERY big. "With Ariana's soul as the bait, I'm not surprised. I wish I knew how they got a hold of her though... and that is a sickening thing to see, how can these people not rebel against such disgusting rites," Vylia mumbled to herself just before the ugly torch burst to life. She took aim as the man made his way slowly to the bonfire, waiting for some kind of signal from the others. When it didn't come, and the man was but a few paces from the pyre, "Time to die you bastard," and she let loose her arrow right into the chest of the chanting priest. As the arrow thudded home a second embedded itself in his throat, followed quickly by a third in his now gaping mouth.

As his body tumbled back from the impact of the arrows first one, then another of the dark assistants was dropped by an arrow through the neck as they stood staring in surprise at what had happened. As the remaining guards searched for the archer the third assistant dropped to the ground, an arrow through the chest, but the fourth managed to jump off the raised platform, the arrow aimed for him clattering uselessly upon the ground behind where he had stood.

As Vylia turned to look across the wall for incoming guards the torch went out, so quickly she could have sworn the entire thing was an illusion. But her attention was focused elsewhere as a large group guards charged her position from both sides. "Fantastic, where's a levitation spell when I need it." Firing arrow after arrow at the incoming guards, only a few actually hit home as they raised their shields in defense. She took to firing at legs, and brought a few more down, but had to drop her bow and quickly draw her swords as they closed in, barely in time to block the blow from a guard that had charged at her while her back was turned. "400 years of practice, and I still can't take out a swarm of charging cronies, what has the world come to?" She taunted as she removed the sword hand of the man who had charged her before running him through. Then the rest were upon her.

She had to fight men off from both sides, weaving in and out of sword blows. The majority of her actions were defensive, parrying one attack after another as she tried to find an opening she could exploit without getting skewered. "This is not going to end well..."

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya watched with the others as the ritual began. The site of Beridane caused her to plase her hand upon A'lantheer and begin to take steps forward. It was Dorve, who placed a firm hand upon her arm that stayed her. Then her attention was drawn to the fat man in the robes and his guards. That is the same one who put that demon in me...that book...i know that book...CRAP Kaya suddenly knew what they were going to do; summon something and it was probably going to be something big. As the chanting and incantations began, she and A'lantheer felt the demonic presence growing.

When the portal opened, Kaya could wait no longer; she drew A'lantheer and and stqrted to rush forward. It was then she saw the torch bearer fall, his back filled with arrows. That was it, that was the sign. WIthout hesitation Kaya let out a battle shout and lunged forward. I have to destroy that book...that is my goal. Three of the black robed guards saw her leap forward, sword gleaming in the setting sun. With shrill hum, A'lantheer glowed and Kaya separated it into a pair of identical weapons. She began to hum and smiled as she took on the three guards.

The first one knew not what hit him as first one sword cut down his chest then the other, criss crossing and felling him with the blows. As the robes fell from the guards, she could see them for what they truly were. Lith'raug*, sand demons from the elven, her homeland. Kaya let out a battle cry. I thought I smelt their dry hides. Kaya shouted to the others as she boar down upon the other two robed creatures. "Be wary there are Lith'raug among them. Aim for their throats and sides and inner legs." The one behind her stood up and growled a curse at her.

The other two creature finally reached Kaya, but she had the advantage. These sand demons, lizard men as most would call them now, were not used to fighting in thick clumsy robes or on solid ground. There was no sand dunes to use as cover or to sink into. No chance of surprise attacks. They had to come at her straight on...just as she liked it. She started singing an old battle cry, and the two attacking her hesitated; they had not heard such calls so far from home. Their hesitation was just what she needed. Kaya tucked and rolled and landed a well placed blow on the left inner thigh of one of the lith'raug, A'lantheer slicing his leg off in one smooth stroke. BLood sprayed everywhere, but she lept up undaunted just as the second one lept at her. The two collided and fell rolling upon the ground. Sharp claws tore at Kaya, but luckily her new armor was sturdy. Kaya brought up her knee, for though they were reptillian, they still had sensitive areas. The creature yowled in pain and let go of Kaya, giving her the chance to slice her two swords acrossits neck slitting the throat.

THen she felt the teeth clamp into shoulder and and a heavy weight fall upon her back. Kaya screamed from the sundend pain and thrashed, trying to rid herself of the lizard man. Then, just as suddenly as it was upon her, it fell to the ground, Alaric's sword piercing it's side. "Thank you my friend. Now, lets get us some more!" Alaric flashed her a smile then charge off into battle. Kaya looked around, watching others engaging both lith'raug and human opponents. Kaya looked for a way to make it to the altar. I must get up to that book.

The Lith’raug are a reptilian based race, their skin is red, leathery and scaly. They have protective eye covers over their slitted eyes, to keep the harsh desert sands out. They are clawed, with slightly larger snouts filled with razor sharp teeth.

Written by - Wilhelm

The Chancellor staggered back, struck by Vylia's three arrows. His dying thought was to complete the sacrifice or else his own soul was forfeit. As he stumbled to his knees he tried to toss the green-flamed torch upon the waiting kindling. Just then, the pillar glowed brightly for a moment, the excrement and graffiti upon it vanishing instantly, and the torch went out. With a final cry of despair Chancellor Damon collapsed.

Those with Inner Sight, and those who still believed in the All Father, saw a ghostly image of a giant one-eyed man superimposed over the pillar, and the woman bound to it, pointing a rune-carved spear at the torch with a beam of light shooting from the spear to extinguish the torch.

The shadowy gap in the air ceased its motion towards the bound woman, shivered a moment, and then moved to the Chancellor and sank onto his body, which convulsed for a moment, and then the darkness vanished.

The giant figure then looked directly at the advancing Ardwen, nodded in approval, and gestured at Ariana. The ropes that had bound her so tightly parted and fell away and she slid down the pillar. The figure then faded away, saluting with his spear those advancing to rescue Ariana.

Cries emerged from the assembled crowd in the square:

"The All Father be praised!"
"Death to Beridane!"

Throughout the crowded square citizens threw themselves on the guards, engaging them in combat with whatever came to hand. Some guards, still loyal to the gods, threw off their tabards and joined with the crowd. It was not enough, the crowd was mostly unarmed and untrained, but for a span of the guards were busy defending themselves against the rebellion that had been brewing for weeks against Beridane's tryanny and blasphemy.

Written by - Archeantus

From across the way, Archeantus heard a familiar whisper in his mind, “Fantastic, where's a levitation spell when I need it."

He quickly scanned Vylia’s mind to understand her plight. She was surrounded.

He could not do much, he had to conserve his energy, but he could buy her time.

Pinpointing where she was, he stepped up and off the ledge, and flew across the scene of growing violence, landing twenty feet away from the melee on the battlement, Vylia in the heart of it.

A few of the guards yelled in triumph seeing they had the lithe female elf trapped, but found the elf’s fortitude a hard foe to defeat. Still they gained, her defense bound to fall under the onslaught. That was when they heard a shrill whistle from behind the left most force.

A couple of them turned their heads to see where the sound came from to behold a man in tattered grey robes, his face blindfolded, a staff in his hand. His face was shifted slightly sideways, as if his attention was elsewhere.

The old man’s other hand raised, and beckoned them, which in turn pulled the staff apart revealing a long white blade. This blade rose to point directly at them, the old man’s face then shifted, centering on them as well.

“Angelus, come.” The old warlock called in his mind.

The few guards who noticed the old blind man, called out to their immediate comrades, “We have another rebel on our hands.”

One of them vying to reach the elven female turned at the statement and about laughed at the sight of the old man and the sword. Turning, he chuckled, quickly rising to what was perceived to be an easy challenge.

“I’ll take the blind man, you all have fun with the elf!” He laughed.

Raising his sword, he rushed across the battlements in the dying light, letting out a firm cry.

At about the same moment, a shriek was heard throughout the courtyard, and a bird of flame burst over the chaos below, toward the battle on the battlements. Angelus flew upward and dove directly into the group opposite from its master. The fiery bird rose and fell like flaming lightening, instantly sewing discord.

Now it was the guards who suddenly found themselves surrounded.

The guard came upon Archeantus, bringing his curved Falchion downward, aimed directly at the old man’s blindfolded head. His strike landed against a sudden blade, which appeared far more quickly than the guard could have suspected from the look of the older swordsman. His hands stung, it felt as if he’d just struck a pillar of rock,

The guard found himself aghast at the sheer strength of the older man. He paused, his eyes looking into the calm face of his opponent. Other than the cloth that covered most of his face, it was as if he were looking into the face of someone watching the still sea. It startled him and he paused even further, a pause that would have spelled his death. But the man did not retaliate. Instead, the guard was granted a sudden vision of his family, which ended quickly, for his sword was suddenly struck cleanly from his softened grip.

“Go. We are not here to destroy, but to liberate…” The old man whispered.

The guard blinked in utter shock, noticing out of the corner of his eye a medallion of silver and gold, three rings interlocked one with another, dangling on a chain around the old man’s neck.

“Go Mathias” The voice commanded more firmly. “You have a greater calling to perform than to die here.”

Mathias hesitated only a moment longer, he knew his life had been spared. He ran past the old man, realizing there was a change in the air. Once past him, he stopped and looked again at the robed man from behind, the image of his family still fresh on his mind. He looked down at his feet and there was his sword where it had fallen. Stooping down, he picked it up thoughtfully, gazing at the battle all around, the dying sun lit the clouds a vibrant red, and sheathed his sword.

Turning, he ran toward his home.

The warlock then whistled again.

Written by - Rikshanthas

As the two travelers exited the Lucky Albatross, the setting sun bathed their dark cloaks in its red glow, as if in blood. Trumpets sounded from the direction of the city plaza, causing the pair to look in that direction as they circled around to retrieve their horses. The informant they had consulted had said something of an execution, that nearly everyone in the city had already been "encouraged" to attend, and the guards were "informing" the rest. Not wishing the guards' attention, they had agreed it would be a necessary evil to attend this likely-undeserved-and-unjust execution.

Their horses were not where they had left them; the ropes which had tethered them were quite obviously cut. Furious neighing and shouted curses carrying from not too far away indicated the bandits were having a rougher time with their spoils than they'd expected. " 'Atta'girl Nightwind," Lienad said as the two closed on the would-be thieves.

They rounded a corner to come face-to-face with the bandits just as one of their number, a grizzled-looking human who'd obviously had enough, ran his sword through the neck of the struggling mare. Lienad froze in complete shock as the priceless animal sank to the ground, coating everything in a pool of red. He was not aware he had shouted aloud, but suddenly all six of the remaining bandits were facing him; Nightwind had managed to drop one with flying hooves. His eyes were riveted to the mare; the blood pulsing out onto the stones may as well have been his own. His vision blurred, somehow Astalder found its way into his hand. Then he was charging them, his cloak flying back as he shouted a vicious curse upon them all. Lienad was upon them in an instant.

The first two, standing together, were decapitated where they stood, too stunned even to react. A third was run through before he could draw his weapon. Another managed to put up a meager defense, but was swiftly cut down by the grief-mad warrior. Another, obviously a coward, dropped his sword and bolted. Which left only the one who had slain the horse. A single swing of the enchanted blade sundered the bandit's crude sword. The next seperated his hands from his arms. Finally a full-body thrust into which was poured more hate than could be believed possible for one man, ended the hapless bandit's existence.

For several moments the blood-covered warrior simply stood there, breathing heavily from the exertion and barely-contained emotion. At the light touch of Shara's hand on his shoulder he collapsed to his knees, somehow crawling to his fallen mount's side and cradling her still head in his lap. Blood still trickled from the vicious gash in the mare's neck, dripping into a pool now nearly an inch deep. The tears came then, running down his face unheeded as he silently held she who had been more than a simple mount or tool, but a valiant battle companion, trusted friend, and too many times to count, his very life. Shara knelt beside him in silence, placing an arm around his shoulders for support as the trumpets sounded once more in the distance.

Something inside her prompted Shara to place a hand on the mare's neck, and she gasped in dispelief. "She still lives!" the elf exclaimed. Withdrawing her arm from Lienad's shoulders, she placed both hands firmly over the open wound, desperately calling to Nagarren to save one who needed and deserved Her healing, a truly noble spirit worthy of Life. She felt the power of the goddess' response, opened herself to it and let it flow through her into the dying mare. Lienad simply watched, too numb with shock even to breathe, as her hands were bathed in a yellowish light, and the blood seemed to flow backward, returning to the mare's veins even as the wound closed, leaving only a jagged scar. Nightwind raised her head from Lienad's lap and looked up at him, blinking sleepily with such a comical expression that he burst out laughing even as the tears flowed down his cheeks. Then Shara slumped against him heavily, and he caught her before she fell to the ground, his expression changing to a mix of concern and surprise.

"You never told me you were a cleric," he said almost accusingly. "All these years and you ask me about my faith now that your horse is saved?" She replied quietly, managing a weak, teasing smile. "I wasn't, really. I never took the vows. Turned away from that path, couldn't deal with all the stuffy rules. The last few weeks have kind of shoved me back onto it." She tried to rise to her feet, and would have plunged right back to the ground had Lienad not caught her up in his arms and carried her to her own mare, which had placidly stood by throughout. Nightwind, now standing a little unsteadily but growing stronger by the moment, looked on stoically as Lienad placed his companion in the other's saddle, where she slumped. "I'll be fine," she said wearily. "just need ... rest ..." and she flopped forward in the saddle. Lienad made sure she would not fall, then began the walk to the main square, Nightwind following without a hand on her reins.

They had not been walking for more than a minute when he noticed a hooded figure skulking in the shadows. Astalder flashed back into Lienad's hand. "Identify yourself," Lienad said coldly, pointing the Dragonblade directly at the figure. Hands raised in a placating gesture, which parted its cloak to reveal a markedly feminine figure. "I --" The mysterious woman seemed about to say something, but paused as if unsure how to proceed. Then she simply drew back her hood. Lienad gasped, letting the tip of Astalder drop.

"Ankhara?!" he managed to say. The raven-haired enchantress had not lost an ounce of her dark beauty in the decade since he'd last seen her. Lienad was dumbfounded for a moment, then his eyes narrowed suspiciously - knowing Kari, he could guess her presence was anything but coincidence. "You had something to do with this, didn't you," he said angrily, waving his free hand back toward the corpses of the bandits. "You sent them to set an ambush for me!" There was no need for her to respond, the haunted look in her eyes answeringing his questions. "Why, Kari? In Tinorb's name, why?" His voice was steel.

"I didn't know it was you!" she exclaimed. She described her plan to him: grab the horses, and when the hapless owner followed, dispose of him quickly and quietly and retrieve the Dragonblade. "You know I don't kill out of malice or greed - I was desperate," she said almost apologetically. "I need the money that sword's worth - well, not all of it," she said guiltily, "but enough - and I'd never in a million years have thought you'd be the one carrying it! I never realized the universe could be quite that cruel!" Her face darkened into the expression of a man facing the hangman's noose. Lienad sheathed Astalder as she continued in a self-insulting tone. "I should have recognized Nightwind, there's never been a horse that fine outside the Elven capital." The mare seemed to perk up at the compliment. "I'd never have taken on Gelrund if I'd known - the man's dislike of horses was common knowledge. I'd have killed him myself for hurting her if you hadn't been you, and come charging in like the Uruloki himself. But you travel with an elven cleric now?" She looked toward the form slumped in the second mare's saddle, her face brightening slightly. "That was a relief, at least. I guess we've both changed since we knew each other." Her expression darkened once more.

Sounds of shouting carried from the town square, causing both of them to turn in that direction. Then more shouts, from much nearer and in a different direction. Ankhara put both hands on Lienad's shoulders and pushed him toward his mount. "You've got to get out of Westgale," she said quickly. "Word's spreading that the Dragonblade is here; those idiots I hired couldn't keep their mouths shut. Soon you're going to have every lowlife in the city after you. I can try to mislead them, lay a confusion spell on the area, but it won't give you much time," she added, pushing him into the saddle when he wouldn't move fast enough. Suddenly, too swiftly for her to react, Lienad hauled her up in front of him. "We'll drop the horses off at Jak's place, then I need to get to the main square," he said as he hauled Nightwind around, grabbing the reins to Shara's mount and urging both horses to a quick canter. "Don't know why, but I can't shake the feeling I need to be there. And I'm not leaving without you this time, Sis."

Written by - Teran

Teran's eyes opened serenely as Mavigan's lips were on his own. For the briefest of moments his guard was down and his emotional state was readable through his eyes. It was a look that could have made a grown man weep, there was so much sadness and misery on show... he had the look of a man broken by centuries of pain. His eyes were so haunting that some might have thought it more merciful to let him die and be free of whatever baggage he was carrying. It took him only a few seconds to regain his composure and fix a hard stare on Mavigan.

"Next time keep the one you break for yourself." he snapped before his expression and voice softened, "Are you hurt?"

He cradled his shredded left arm with his right arm trying to slow the blood flow. He closed his eyes and cleared his senses and focused on his arm and the pain it was causing him.

****

"AAAAIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!" Sabbatine shrieked as she lept out of the blood pool towards the creature.

She put so much power behind her jump that at her apex she was at least thirty feet above the swirling pool. She clutched her sword and axe in each had as she descended towards the beast. Her aim was nearly perfect and she landed on the creature's left shoulder even as Jasmine leapt or fell off. Sabbatine slipped and began to fall off but she stabbed her sword into the creatures shoulder wedging it between two bones and stabilized her position. The creature cried out in pain and overbalanced itself as it lunged for Jasmine, unable to stop its momentum long enough to make a serious attack at her it had to continue its dash to stay upright.

Sabbatine began swatting at its massive head with her axe, cackling with glee as bones began to crunch and flesh was ripped by her wicked axe. Her smile was stretched almost to her ears, every one of her teeth was showing. She seemed more like a charicature of her former self born from savagery.

"You can't drown me in blood!!" she cackled bringing the blunt side of her axe down, crushing the bear face's jaw and giggling as she watched its teeth fall out of its mouth.

She brought her axe around and tried to stab it in the face to little effect but the childlike face began to whimper and cry much to Sabby's glee. For almost a full minute she pounded on the creature, rarely using the lethal edge of her weapon. Finally she did enough damage and the creature fell down. She pulled her sword free and began to beat on it with both her weapons. When the creature stopped moving she looked around with her wild eyes and shook her head shaking some of the wet blood out of it. She finally fixated on Jasmine and grinned, licking her bloody lips. She seemed to be seeking Jasmine's approval.

Written by - Archeantus

As Jasmine lifted from the blood, she knew the creature was upon her. She had only moments. But it was then she heard the gleeful laughter. She hastily fired a glance behind her only to see the once crushed Sabbatine directly on the top of the creature, her sword planted firmly within its shoulder. The creature overstepped Jasmine, seeking to regain its balance.

As she stood, she continued to watch in amazement as her undead friend began to unleash blow after blow upon the monstrosity’s many heads. And when the beast fell, Sabbatine was relentless, continuing her onslaught.

Finally the bulbous creature lay still, partly submerged in the blood that had given it life. Sabbatine stepped off her kill with near child-like glee, shaking her head of the gore she created.

Jasmine simply watched in a state of budding surprise, and then when Sabbatine looked at her, with excitedly dull eyes waiting for approval, she could not help herself.

She smiled, then began to laugh.

Covered in blood, injured, the smell of rot and evil all about her, Jasmine laughed. Far from mocking, nor was it loud and grating, but it sounded like it had been contained for years until this moment.

Wiping the blood from her face, and sheathing her dagger, she let her laugh slowly die out contentedly. The sight of the look on Sabbatine’s cheerful face, and the experience of combat had been exhilarating for the assassin. She hadn’t felt this alive in a long time.

Finally she was able to speak, realizing she should say something to Sabbatine.

“That was fun, wasn’t it?” She said with an actual grin.

Written by - Vylia

"Okay... giant flaming bird to my rescue is it? Heh, if the fanatics back home could see this they'd die on the spot," Vylia laughed as the tables were turned in her favor, Archeantus to her right and a phoenix on her left, surrounding the guards in both directions. As a few of the guards turned at the sound of Arch's voice Vylia took the opportunity to cut them down their backs, her swords curving back around just above the ground to block a pair of blades from the guards on her left.

As their confusion mounted she took full advantage of it, carving into one after another, cutting off hands and across thighs in an attempt to badly injure them rather than kill. It took less effort and she needed all the energy she could muster just to stay alive, even with the reinforcements. Anyone looking from the outside would have thought she were dancing, and they'd have been right, though it was a dance far more deadly than any court function. Her whole body was on a swivel, spinning under and around blade strikes while parrying others. Cut, spin, parry, duck, upswing, roll, kick... Vylia had accepted death before she had climbed up here, but she'd be damned if she was going to let one of her friends fall with her.

She wasn't without wounds herself however, even she wasn't fast enough to block or dodge every strike. It was only a matter of time before the adrenaline coursing through her came to an end and her body gave out. It was getting closer, she could feel it, she had backed herself against the edge of the battlements, the courtyard behind and below her, and the remaining guards in front. Her sword arms felt like lead, she was barely able to hold them at all... it was at that point that she heard the voice in her head, "Have faith in me, jump." She didn't pause at hearing a voice in her head before she yelled out, "Arch, it's time to go! Let's join the others on the ground!" and without looking behind her she leaned back and leapt backwards off the castle wall, though it looked more like she had fallen back with the amount of energy she had to push off with.

Written by - Ariana

When Teran began to splutter and cough, Mavigan sat back on her heels, a sense of relief washing over her. She watched his chest rise and fall on its own a few times before she pulled her feet out from under her and shifted, back propped against the wall of the cavern. She completely missed the look in his eyes, but heard quite clearly his admonishment. She jerked as if he had struck her, but the anger quickly followed. “Next time I’ll let you drown!” she spat at him as she scowled and scooted herself along the blood-slick floor until she was at least a foot away from him.

It was obvious from the set of her shoulders that she would have liked to have put even greater distance between them, perhaps a continent or two would suffice, but she was feeling queasy and faint, so she stopped. Affording him no more glances, she leaned her head back against the wall and shut her eyes, a hand creeping up to cover her still bleeding belly wound. When Teran gently asked, “Are you hurt?”, Mavigan responded with tight-lipped silence, ignoring his question and choosing instead to focus on the sounds of battle, and the subsequent sound of creepy laughter.

She concluded from those sounds that the beast had been defeated and their ragtag group had been victorious. She allowed the tension of the battle to flow out of her much the same way her blood was still flowing from the deep puncture wound in her stomach. Suddenly feeling very sleepy, she wondered if anyone would mind if she took a nap.

Written by - Teran

Teran's expression softened as soon as he saw that Mavigan actually was hurt, grievously so. He moved to her side and knelt down. Emotions flooded his thoughts as he considered his brief history with her and all she had been through because of him. He wondered what punishment she would choose for him if... when she discovered what he had done to her family. He wondered if he had the guts to face whatever the consequences would be... Teran almost laughed at that thought, he was certain of what the consequences would be.

He peered at her searchingly and felt his emotions stir once again... it disturbed him that she had this effect on him. He actually found himself conforming to her desires, he found himself seeking her affection. He gently picked her up, cradling her in his arms and putting his own pain out of his mind as he sloshed back towards the now dead beast.

Sabbatine cheered excitedly "I killed it Teeran! We killed it!" as he walked past heading for the exit that was on the opposite side of the room clutching Mavigan in trembling arms. He climbed out of the blood and gently laid her down on the floor. He began to strip away her armor so he could get a better look at her wound without exposing her to their companions. The cut was deep and undoubtedly painful. Teran knew he could patch it up but with wounds like that magical healing was a far better than natural healing.

A cold wind blew over Mavigan and the Assassin made only worse by their blood soaked clothing. He could not see very deeply into the tunnel that lay before them but it did seem to be going down and cold air was blowing out. He turned and called Sabbatine over and motioned that she should go get Wilhelm and the others who had been covering their rears while he tended to Mavigan.

Written by - Wilhelm

Resini carefully studied and tested the odd cells and the lock-less bars, looking for magical traces of the means by which the people were put into and taken out of the cells. At last he looked satisifed and said,

"Very clever. It's a dimensional rotation spell."

Forming a circle with his assistants, Resini combined and focused their powers and directed his wand at the bars of the cell in front of him, rotating the wand and reciting a spell. The bars seemed to rotate with the wand, but through some other dimension, turning first 2-dimensional, then 1-dimensional, then vanishing. As Resini held his wand steady, the rest of the group hustled the prisoners out of the cell. While Wilhelm and the healers formed their own circle to heal the prisoners, Resini reversed his spell and the bars reappeared. This was repeated for each cell. The prisoners, revived from their torpor by the healing, fell to their knees in thanks to their rescuers and to the All Father who had sent His paladin to rescue them.

From the prisoners, Wilhelm leaned of their terrible intended fate as food, flesh and blood contributors to the Abomination ahead. Wilhelm was torn, because these people needed a chance to escape this complex but his group's duty lay ahead with Queen Mavigan. Wilhelm learned from the prisoners that a dozen of the prisoners had been soldiers, and this gave Wilhelm an idea. He talked to the former soldiers and they agreed to lead the prisoners out in an escape attempt that would also serve, if discovered, as a diversion for Wilhelm's group.

He and his party led the prisoners to the closest of the rooms in which they had stashed the bodies of the Dark Cultists they had killed, and had the prisoners don the clothing and weapons of the cultists. Resini placed his hand on the forehead of the most experienced soldier, whom Wilhelm had chosen as the leader of the escapees, and mentally transferred a map of images of the way out and the other rooms in which they had hidden slain cultists. Led by the soldiers, the band of prisoners left to provision and arm themselves and pretend to be a large cultist group headed for the entrance in response to the invaders.

After wishing them well, Wilhelm led his force back towards the dark passage down which Mavigan's group had gone. He had sensed through their heartfires that Mavigan's group had defeated the Abomination, but also that Mavigan and Teran were badly wounded and needed healing.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen’s face was a set of grim and hard lines. He was fighting with everything he had to keep the Beserker armor in check, but as the obviously sacrificial ritual proceeded he didn’t know if he had it in him. There was simple and undeniable urge rising in him, the desire to kill and maim. Ardwen’s time in the legion had only fed this desire, this base instinct to fight and slaughter. It was more than a simple emotion, it was the ecstasy of the fight, the irony smell of blood, the balance and edge of his blades, it was the only time he truly felt alive – felt whole.

Slowly, silently, Ardwen moved his left hand to grasp the hilt of the longer of his two blades. The motion was mostly hidden by his cloak, and was only aided by the fact that all attention was on the perverse incantation that was being carried out before him. Right when Ardwen could not contain the urge any longer, right when he was about to rush forward, three quivering feathered shafts found the body of the human that was holding a pale green burning femur.

That was the signal, it was obviously Vylia, and she had found her mark. Yet before Ardwen could move forward he saw an ethereal image of the All-Father coalesce into existence over the pillar Ariana was bound to. With some manner of holy magic, the figure extinguished the vile torch and released Ariana's bonds. Ardwen was not certain, but he could have sworn that he felt the figure gaze on him, he was certainly not sure why, but it almost seemed to nod in approval. Ardwen managed to dash off a quick, yet fervent thought, “I know what I said before,” he attempted to say with both his mind and soul, “but if I live through this, let’s talk,” then he hastily added with what amounted to a mental smirk, “or throw lightening at me, it’s all good.”

And with that Ardwen burst forward. He had but one objective in his mind, make it to Ariana’s side and shield her. As fast as a striking serpent Ardwen had both blades in his hands, people were falling over one another to make way for him. He had almost made it to Ariana’s side, his made dash seeming to pay off more than he expected, he was almost there when a guard leapt in front of his path to bar his way. Ardwen’s face turned into a predatory snarl and without slowing his pace he shouted, “You bar the way of death itself mortal!” The man did not move.

Ardwen flipped one of his blades over in his hands so that the shorter of the two faced the opposite direction. With his left arm held forward and the blade horizontal the warrior looked like some rotating set of blades that only awaited its chance to begin its reaping. “Ride the whirlwind.” Ardwen thought, the name of the technique briefly flashing through his mind. He moved in, the guard swung his own blade in an overhead arc.

The guard was good. A professionally trained mercenary he had years of fighting experience behind him. His equipment was well crafted, he did not spare expenses on his gear. The guard was good. He had fought against many foes from many different lands and schools of fighting. He was good, and yet even had he used the entirety of his life to practice and train, and even if he had used what years remained to him in his life, he would not have come close to the more than five millennia of warfare Ardwen had experienced. Ardwen’s longer blade sprang up, parried, moved aside, the elven warrior rotated, and the guard died with multiple points spouting blood: two on the lower arm, and two on his shoulders.

Ardwen grabbed the corpse before it fell, stabbing it with his shorter blade and using his leverage to control its descent as he hopped over it and found himself at Ariana’s side. Another guard, alarmed at how quickly this sable-clad warrior had gained his position rushed forward. Ardwen danced fire this time, a rain of blows that abandoned all defense, he was not here to protect himself, only Ariana. Ardwen’s blows were too fast and too imbued with strength for the guard to withstand, his defense crumpled and Ardwen clove his head in half with a feint that turned into a return stroke. Grasping this body too as it fell he stacked it on top of the first.

Ardwen could not spare a second to even look at his Abbess. The guards and mercenaries were recovering from their shock and rapidly pushing back the rebelling populace, Ardwen knew he had mere moments before they rallied enough to try and swarm his position. Still Ardwen said awkwardly, “Abbess, I am here. Here to protect you, here like I should have been all along. I swear that not a single blade nor arrow will touch you.” But Ardwen felt the thrill of combat, his blood pulsing through his veins and beating a chaotic rhythm in his temples, and in much the same spirit of morbid jesting as he had with the All-Father he added, “Let us see if I can build a wall out of them.” The warrior switched his blades back into the position to ride the whirlwind. He could hold out, but not forever, he was strong, but not invincible, he could only hope that the other Hands would be able to break the backs of Beridane’s men.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin stood and watched the proceedings, awaiting the fatal shafts of death Vylia would unleash. He did not have to wait long. Relieved that she would not meet such an end, he returned to the task at hand: she had to be spirited away and quickly.

With a simple movement, he removed his robe and unsheathed his great sword. The others were already deep into combat, Vylia was in a desperate fight on the ramparts with Archeantus assisting. Kaya, Dorve and Alaric were dealing with both guards and the lizardmen who were part of the ceremony. Ardwen was defending Ariana.

The populace was more a mob now, with guards hacking and firing into the rebels. "Bravery and flesh can only go so far against steel and tyranny", Turin thought. Moving towards the mass of guards that were slowly trying to encircle their small group on the platform, Turin says,

"For the All-Father and Saint Lorne! Stand down or be put to the sword!"

The guards look to each other, then rush the Crusader. Positioning himself between Ardwen and the new horde of oncoming guards, Turin says to Ardwen,

"No need for a wall of the dead, just get going, head to the docks. Take the southern exit from this place. You should have a downhill fight, find the first ship you can commandeer and put her aboard. Oh, and don't come back, I'll hold them as long as I can. Now go!"

Shouting to Kaya, Dorve and Alaric, he says,

"Let them be, protect Ardwen and Ariana, follow them closely!"

Watching them turn to follow, he mentally calls out to Archeantus,

"Arc, old friend, change of plans. Can you teleport Vylia and yourself out of here and onto the docks? There are too little of us and the populace will be slaughtered if this fight continues. We have attained what we came here for, it is time to go."

He could almost here the un-asked question in the secondary pause. Answering as best he could, in-between parries, Turin answers,

"No, I don't think I'll be taking that ship. Don't ask, just get out of here. Protect Ariana and save yourselves."

With the others already gone, Turin stood alone upon the platform.

Written by - Ariana

She had no conception of the flow of time; for her there was only the Now. Her life simply seemed to move from one discomfort to the next, with no discernable pattern or reason. Thus, it was for her, simply another form of existence as she remained tied to a post, on display for all who cared to see. For the space of one now, all was quiet and uncomfortable and unbearably bright. The next now exploded into her senses with a cacophony of noise and shouts, and for a moment, the light she shunned invaded her, so bright it burned. She remembered the sensation as one she had felt before she had been ripped from her comfortable void of darkness and roughly deposited into this realm of hard boundaries. The light burned and consumed her from both the outside and the in, and she lifted up her voice in a hoarse, whispering scream.

And then it was gone, and she felt herself sinking down into the realm of light and noise. Fear turned to panic, and panic turned into a raging beast with claws and sharp, deadly teeth, tearing at her heart and flesh. Propped up on hands and knees, eyes clamped tightly shut against the invasion of the light, she flailed around madly with arms and legs, hands and feet, desperately trying to find a way out, a path that would remove her from her nightmare.

Finding no salvation, no escape, she curled up into a tight ball, arms thrown protectively over her head, a trembling mass of flesh half buried in the hay. Caught in the throes of panic, she almost missed it – the slight brush against her mind of the darkness that represented home. When she did detect it, her trembling slowed and then ceased as she focused her entire being on that tiny bit of dark. As it drew closer, and finally took its place beside her, she lay still as death, afraid that the tiniest movement on her part would cause her to be abandoned.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya's eyes were locked upon that book. She heard Turin yell out orders, but there was no way in hades she was going without destroying that abomination. It was her duty, her charge to rid the world of such, or at least send it back to the abyss from which it came. "Dorve! ALaric! Help Ardwen!"

Dorve muttered under her breath but did as commanded. She swept up her arms, staff in hand, and with the earth shaking, huge vines erupted from the ground, writhing about like the tentacles on some unworldly creature. Vines snapped about grabbing up those that fought against her companions or whipped about, hitting them and throwing them through the air, clearing a path for escape. Alaric stayed his course and protected Dorve so that none of the guards would interupt her spell.

Kaya made her way to the book fighitng and cleaving everything that crossed her path. With each step nearer to the darkness of that tome, Kaya'Talas felt a power grow within her, one she had never felt before. Nyrondis was with her, guiding her hand as she fought her way to the altar. Byt the time she reached it, she was bruised and bloodied, but her focus was on nothing else. She reached for hte book, but quickly drew her hand back in pain, feeling the burning, evil energy down to her bones. Kaya let out a cry, but gritted her teeth and united A'lantheer, then raised it to the sky. "NYRONDIS GIVE ME YOUR POWER - MAKE ME YOURS SO THAT THIS EVIL MAY BE DESTROYED!"

Vines that had been under Dorve's control, wrapped themselves around Kaya, melding into her. As each one dissolved into her body, she grew in size and power. A green energy encompassed her and to those that could see, it seemed as if the form of great horned stag superimposed itself over her giant form. SHe raised A'lanteer high above her head and she Let out a battle cry, "FOR NYRONDIS AND THE ALL FATHER, BEGONE DEMONS!" A'lantheer pulsed with green energy and Kaya swung the sword down with all her might, hitting the book, splitting it and the altar in half. SHe could feel the evil within that book, feel the anger.pain and hate.

A frightful, eirie screamed filled the air; the book let out its evil howl for all to hear. A black, glowing energy burst forth from the tome, then the screams were gone and a bright, glowing life filled light emerged. Kaya could see now, the souls of all who had been sacrificed in the name of this book. All off them floated upwards, men, women, and the children, from teens to newborn babies. They all smiled and she could feel their thanks and gratitude for the end of their agony. Kaya felt the tears flow down her face as the souls finally found their way home.

Then Kaya felt the energy leave her and saw the book and altar crumble to dust. SHe fell to one knee, feeling weak and vulnerable. Taking a deep breath she prayed again. Please Nyrondis, give me the strength to help my friends, then I can rest. SHe got to her feet, feeling her second wind hit her. She smiled and then lept down and joined the fight, helping to making sure the way was clear to the docks.


Written by - Archeantus Page 32 Book 3

"Arch, it's time to go! Let's join the others on the ground!"

Vylia jumped.

It was then he heard Turin within his mind. It was time to leave, which meant only one thing. They had her. There were questions, but Turin was adamant.

Time to go indeed, he said to himself.

Archeantus could hear the rest of the guards rushing toward him instead, upon having the elf jump to her apparent death.

The sequence was only a matter of seconds, but the directive was clear, getting to the docks was all that mattered.

The warlock lowered his head, and vanished in a soft glimmer of light, the moment the guards were upon him. Vylia never made it to the ground.

They both found themselves upon the wooden docks by the sea, multiple vessels towered over them, gently rocking in the tide near the shore. It was quite a transition from chaos to calm.

Immediately addressing the confusion Vylia would have, he said “They will be here in moments, Ardwen will have Ariana, and the others should be shortly following them. We need to cover their path as best we can.”

Not wasting any time, he then probed the consciousness of those still there, gathering what was happening.

Pharsalus had been protecting the girl Ariel, and how was carrying her as quick as his short legs could carry him toward the Docks.

The elf Kaya and her companion, still had more to do there, but knew the urgency.

Alaric, a man the warlock knew as a descendant of Aethelwulf was embroiled in combat with the strange sudden beasts, helping his companions, but once the way was clear, he rushed toward the exit, and ran alongside Pharsalus across to the southern exit.

When the warlock came back to Turin, he realized the Priest of Battle still remained alone upon the wooden platform that Ariana had been planned to be executed on. Turin was completely surrounded.

Raising an eyebrow in worry, but knowing Turin’s sheer fortitude, he could not guess Turin’s intentions. Still, the warlock would not trade Turin for Ariana, not if he had anything he could do about it.

“Angelus, Turin. Protect him.”

Finally after the few moments of evaluating the situation, he again turned to Vylia. “Be ready, I’ll help get them here” and without another word, the warlock took to the air heading to the southern exit.

****

Jasmine then noticed out of the corner of her eye, Teran gently carrying Mavigan who was now unconscious, across the room toward the exit on the other side. He placed her down on the ground out of the blood on the cold stone and appeared to be examining her.

Jasmine could feel the cold wind coming from the exit. She hadn’t noticed it until now.

Then something strange happened.

She heard a voice.

“…Heal…her…heal them both…”

It was gone as soon as it came. Looking quickly about her, Jasmine grew immediately fearful. She did not want to hear anything of the sort. It was not her. She did not possess any such power. She tried to refuse the very existence of what she had just heard. But the thought had taken its hold and the idea swept across her mind like wildfire.

Who had spoken? Why did it speak to her?

Then another painful spasm suddenly took hold. The curse continued to spread. Jasmine winced in terrible pain; it caused her to keel over, and she nearly lost consciousness. But suddenly the pain was gone, and in her refocusing view was only Teran huddled over Mavigan.

Moments passed.

Teran felt a trembling hand on his shoulder.

“I..can help.”

Kneeling, she took her hand, still full of life, and rested it on the young woman’s belly. She looked at Teran, a look of confusion and budding faith, that seemed to say she wasn’t exactly sure she could do a thing, and then returned her gaze back to Mavigan. She then closed her eyes and a soft blue light illuminated the darkness near the exit and then was gone.

She was startled at what had happened, almost disappointed, but she did not pause, she then rested her hand on Teran’s arm, and again the blue light appeared and left.

Suddenly rising, she said “Don’t you dare tell her.” and walked back into the blood toward Sabbatine.

Written by - Rikshanthas

Jak's home and shop looked exactly as it had in Lienad's dream, down to the scorch marks. Only, they were not harried fugitives, and there was a third with them - the last person in the world he had expected to meet. Lienad wondered at this twist of fortune, and not for the first time felt like a pawn on some great game board. He glanced toward the heavens with no small amount of irritation before dismounting. Nightwind had been healed of her near-fatal wound, but the mare was still recovering her strength - she stumbled as Ankhara also dismounted.

"Place looks deserted," the half-elf said as they circled around the back of the small building. "That's the point," replied a chuckling voice from behind them, causing them both to whirl around to face the speaker. "I see you haven't lost your touch, Jak," Lienad said by way of greeting, as the other stepped out from behind the small shed off to one side of the shop. "Well I'll be a son of an orc. Lienad?" Jak replied with a surprised grin. "What's it been, five years? Six? What brings ye back here after all this time?" As he spoke he motioned them toward the shed, which offered temporary stabling for the horses.

"I wish it were a social call," Lienad said grimly, easing the still-unconscious Sharanya out of her saddle, "but we need your help. My friend here needs a place to hide and rest while I deal with something in the main square." Her hood fell back, and Jak caught his breath, finally exhaling loudly. "$%#*in' A, mate ... ye've got a Forest Elf in the middle o' Westgale. What in the nine 'ells is wrong wit'cha Lienad? Beridane's cronies'll kill 'er, and me, if they find 'er 'ere. This is some hello, mate," he said, shaking his head. Then he shrugged. "Eh, I'll do it. Not like the bastard knows I'm 'ere anyways. Anything t' piss 'im off is fine in my log. Now, this have somethin' t' do with that execution ol' Smackywack's makin' such a spectacle of?" He put his hands on his hips and spit to one side. "Heard it was a priestess o' the All-Father too, may they all rot fer it. But a guy like me ain't much of a fighter, so what can ye do?"

"Priestess of the All-Father?" Lienad echoed. Maybe that was the reason ... "Well I doubt I can stop an execution. But I do need to get to the square. All I can ask is, when she wakes up," he gestured toward Shara, who now rested on Jak's own bed, "she's going to want to come after me. Don't let her. She's not exactly going to be in prime fighting shape the moment she wakes up, and I don't want to be worrying about her. If I'm not back for her in an hour, get her out of the city any way you can." Jak nodded. "Aye, that'd be the smart thing. Good luck to ye, lad. Stick 'im one fer me. An' tell ye what, if'n ye do make it out o' the lion's den, don't come back here. Get to the dock, find the Pride o' Peracus - it's the one wit' a blindfolded siren fer a prow. I know the cap'n; that's where we'll be." With a nod of acknowledgement, Lienad was off at a ground-eating pace, Ankhara matching him step for step. "In for a copper, in for a gold," she said in explanation, shrugging.

They arrived at the square a few minutes later to face a scene of total chaos. The people were rebelling against Beridane's militia; among the combatants were several armed and armored warriors, easily distinguished from the ragtag civilian rioters. On the raised, brush-covered platform Lienad guessed had been intended for the execution, he saw the black-armored elf he'd fought with at Minas Aure standing guard over a huddled form, presumably the ill-wished priestess. Standing with them was a tall man in armor bearing the seal of the All-Father; Lienad immediately recognized the crusader as the man from his dream, or vision if it had been such. This priestess was obviously important. "Well, Beridane, if you're still watching, feast your eyes," Lienad said softly, whipping back his cloak and drawing his weapons. The Dragonblade made a ring as it was unsheathed that seemed to echo far out of proportion, penetrating the sounds of the riot enough that he almost thought it could have been heard by everyone in the square. "Pick your targets and clear a path," he said to his long-lost sister as twin kamas seemed to appear in her hands, then he charged the nearest guard between him and the mysteriously-familiar crusader, blades high.

He heard a shout come from the direction of the palace balcony, but the words were muffled by the familiar blood rush that accompanied battle. The ancient blade drank deeply in the ensuing flurry, yet it seldom seemed to strike a fatal blow. He swung with perfect aim at one guard's neck, and he could've sworn the weapon rotated in his hand so the flat of the blade caught the side of the guard's unarmored head, knocking him cold. Another strike, aimed at the heart of a leather-clad soldier, seemed to kick upward and strike him in the shoulder, causing him to drop his weapon. Yet a third guard was cleanly decapitated, and another run through with the unerring accuracy he had come to expect from Astalder. By the time he reached the platform he was thoroughly puzzled by the weapon's behavior. He saluted the crusader who now stood alone on the platform, raising the shining crossguard to his lips - funny how blood never seemed to stain the blade.

"Quite the rescue, huh?" he said with a quirk of his eyebrows. "If you're planning on making a run for it, I know a ship at the docks that'll get us out." He whirled in time to block a strike that had been made at his back, then kicked the unbalanced guard solidly in the side, sending him off the platform.

Written by - Ardwen

"For the All-Father and Saint Lorne!” Turin’s voice rang out, “Stand down or be put to the sword!"

Ardwen’s spirit soared when Turin joined him on the platform. Here he was fighting alongside the Priest of Battle, just as it had been in days long ago swept away by the stream of time. Turin glanced down at the two bodies Ardwen had stacked in a desperate attempt to make an ad hoc bulwark, the Priest of Battle spoke, “No need for a wall of the dead, just get going, head to the docks. Take the southern exit from this place. You should have a downhill fight, find the first ship you can commandeer and put her aboard. Oh, and don't come back, I'll hold them as long as I can. Now go!"

Ardwen visibly flinched. He felt as if he had been slapped in the face. Turin was telling him to leave? He did not wish him to return? The elf was momentarily bewildered; rapid thoughts sailed through his head as he wondered what Turin was thinking. Was not he the logical choice to keep around? Turin spared a glance at the elven warrior and Ardwen had to resist the urge to weep. He wondered if he was destined to lose Turin again, even now he could scarcely stand to look upon his face, for the very sight of him made fresh the scarred wound of losing him the first time.

Finally, Ardwen moved to comply with Turin’s order. Before he turned to support Ariana and make good their escape he had to say something, anything. Ardwen opened his mouth to speak, his voice was choked and choppy, “If you die,” Ardwen began giving voice to his fear immediately, “I die.” Ardwen finished bluntly. He had no other way of saying what he felt, and the statement was true enough.

Ardwen turned to face Ariana. Earlier he had been too busy trying to secure his defensive position to take stock of Ariana’s wellbeing. But now, up close and undeniable, Ardwen finally saw the horror that had been wrought upon her. Here, at his feet, the spiritual light of the Hands was curled into a defenseless ball covered in hay. “Abbess?” Ardwen questioned but received no answer. “Abbess?” He said again, worry and fear coursing through his voice. He knelt down next to Ariana, and held out both his mailed hands.

“What is this?” Ardwen said, swallowing a lump in his throat, “What trick of fate or slight of fortune is this?” He picked Ariana up, gently, using both his arms to cradle her emaciated frame. Ardwen was strong, a lifetime of war could hardly have left him otherwise, but to him it seemed as if the merest breeze could have carried Ariana. Ardwen briefly removed one hand and flung his black cloak protectively around the Abbess. He looked at Turin, his commander, who stood alone now on the platform, as defiant and as shinning as summer sun.

Ardwen let out a grunt mixed from frustration and divided loyalties. He was carrying the Abbess, more precious than his life, he was running from combat and leaving behind a man that deserved to live where he deserved to die. Ardwen placed his left foot forward. To the elf it seemed to travel in slow motion, the leg extending, the foot pressing down on the hard stone beneath. It was the most difficult step Ardwen had ever taken in his life.

With that, everything about the warrior seemed to hasten, the guards pressed in, Ardwen’s pace turned into a barreling charge with his armored frame acting as a shield of flesh and metal to Ariana. Turin had succeeded in distracting most of the guards, but not all of them. Blows rained down upon Ardwen, who had neither the time nor means to defend himself, all he could do was twist and turn his torso to make sure they hit him instead of the unarmored Abbess. Sword and spear scraped off hardened plate, and still the warrior pressed on. He felt a sharp pain in the back of his right shoulder and still he ran. A half-seen spear grazed his right cheek and sent red blood bubbling down his face, a thin rigid blade found a gap in the armor near his thigh, and Ardwen could feel fire and blood shoot through his right leg.

But none were enough to stop him. Devotion and rage in equal part lent him strength, and the beserker plate numbed pain and fear alike. Ardwen was almost out of the square, almost to the southern exit. He knew Turin was still behind him – alone. Ardwen’s lips moved in a hoarse prayer, the words seemed to form themselves of their own volition, and before he even knew he had spoke them Ardwen had shouted, “For the All-Father and Saint Lorne!” And with that he passed through the southern gate.

Written by - Vylia

“Be ready, I’ll help get them here” and without another word, the warlock took to the air heading to the southern exit.

"Archeantus, don't you go flying off to help them and leave me here!" But he was well out of earshot before Vylia could finish her sentence. "Damn kid... how dare he leave me here when everyone else was still in trouble. I can still fight, even if I am..." Vylia had started to take a step forward, but never finished it. As soon as her foot left the ground the last of her energy left her and she fell forward, collapsing onto the dock. Her swords clattered uselessly to either side, hair fanned around her head, as her wounds slowly continued to bleed the life from her body.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst sighed, after making all the plans to leave and head north to find her father, both she and Lucant were told by Dalomir that the elder druid of the citadel grove, Ceredan, wanted to see them.

"It is probably nothing Tempyst, don't worry."

"I know Lucant, we are but servants of Nyrondis, and it is his will we must fulfill."

Lucant chuckled and hugged his wife tightly. "How true that is, especially now. Say, I bet it is just some message he wants delivered as we head north, or something along that line."

Tempyst smiled and kissed Lucant. "I would imagine you are correct. ANd I do need to stop worrying so, we are together now, and together we will face the future."

Lucant returned the sweet kiss of his wife. "Now, let's go see Ceredan, the sooner we know what is going on, the sooner we can be on our way north."

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan slowly awakened from slumber when she felt a very cold breeze blowing across parts of her skin. Her eyes cracked open slightly to see Teran bending over her. As her senses slowly returned to her she became aware of other things – the look in his eyes she wasn’t sure wanted to identify, the warmth of one arm wrapped around her shoulders, the slight pressure of a hand on her stomach, the prickling of goosebumps rising along her bare…

Mavigan shot up out Teran’s embrace. Had it not been for his quick reflexes, she would likely have brained herself on his thick and exceedingly hard head. “Hands where I can see them!” she shrieked as she desperately tried to pull her shirt down. The cloth was soaked with blood, as was the rest of her, and tended to stick instead of glide down her skin.

As she fought with the uncooperative fabric her hand brushed the place where she had had a gaping wound. There was nothing, no wound, no scar, no evidence she had ever been injured. Mavigan eyed Teran with more than a little suspicion. She knew only one thing that could provide that degree of healing, and she had thought Teran had little to do with the spiritual arts.

Filing the inconsistency for later investigation, she reached for her armor and quickly put it back on, nearly gagging with each and every squelch against her body. “I feel gross,” she said to Teran, who was looking at her from his crouched position with more than a little amusement. “You sure do pick the worst places to take a girl on a date!” she said, rising to her feet, finally taking a look at the dark tunnel that lay before them. “That where we headed?” she asked him, pointing at the cavernous darkness.

Seeing him nod, she sighed. “OK, but you better hope there is a pool or something up ahead so I can wash this gunk off me! ‘Cause if there isn’t, I’m going to be very very cranky.” Spotting Keeryn still standing in the middle of the pool, she called, “Keeryn, let’s go! The sooner we do whatever the hell we are supposed to do, the sooner we get a bath!”

Written by - Ariana

She lay still as death, terrified that slightest movement would cause her salvation to disappear. Soon, the darkness she had longed for was brushing against her, and she unconsciously held her breath waiting for it to completely engulf her as it had done before. But it appeared that it was not willing to move any closer than beside her.

She felt touches, but unlike those she had become accustomed to in her existence in a hard, bounded universe, these were gentle. They cradled and carried, protected and cherished, and she found herself confused. Had she been mistaken? Was this not her salvation? Yet a dark aura was there, pulsing against her. She could feel it, knew it for what it was.

Confused, and still seeking the complete joining she had expected, a small noise of protestation arose from her throat, and she shifted, attempting to burrow deeper into the dark.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn was still standing over the beast in the middle of the pool, poking at it several times to make sure it was really dead. She had seen that Mavigan was hurt, but the others had attended to her quickly, and she had no skill in the healing arts. As much as she disliked them, they had proven trustworthy to this point, even the abomination Sabbatine. She slowly walked the room, glancing at the ceiling every now and again to see if anything else might come dropping on top of them.

Mostly she was concerned with the sounds she heard on the other side of the door they had entered through. She was unable to tell if they were friend or foe, but there was definately a good deal of shuffling going on over there. She was about to mention it when, then realized if they were a threat they'd have burst in by now. Then she heard Mavigan calling to her, "Keeryn, let’s go! The sooner we do whatever the hell we are supposed to do, the sooner we get a bath!” Nodding in her direction, Keeryn walked over to the only other exit in the room, listening intently for anything on the opposite side of the door. Other than the drip of blood in the room they were in she heard nothing, and signalled to the others that it was clear, waiting for them to come to her. As they walked over she stared Teran in the eyes, "Well, oh great leader... where ARE we heading anyway?" The sarcasm in her voice was obvious to anyone with a brain in their head.

Written by - Ardwen

“Abbess!” Ardwen hissed between clenched teeth, “please stop squirming!” Ardwen’s feet continued to beat a frantic pace as he tried to make for the docks. Despite wearing plate armor he had quickly outpaced the pursuing guards, and Ardwen mentally thanked the several scouts he had trained with during his time on Aerynth for their teachings in regulating breathing and pace while running. Ariana, however, was a different matter entirely. Ardwen had never imagined, even in his darkest nightmares, that Ariana would ever have to rely on him. The Abbess of the Hands had always seemed like a figure beyond weakness to him, for she had stood at the fore of the guild, and every day she had decided on matters that would shape the very course of history on his world.

And now? Now Ariana seemed incapable not only of speaking but understanding the spoken word as well. She had no vast army of the faithful to protect her, even Turin, Vylia, and the other returned Hands were beyond helping now. Ardwen thought how ironic it was that it was now up to him to do that which he could least imagine, to rescue the person who had helped rescue him. “I’m getting distracted,” Ardwen growled to himself, “keep fo-damnit!” Ardwen’s keen vision had swept ahead to the waiting structure of docks jutting out into the harbor, and he saw a figure collapsed on one of the wooden piers.

The warrior pressed himself for more speed, and his long strides quickly ate the distance. As Ardwen was finally able to slow down, he knelt next to the form and noticed it was indeed Vylia. She was bleeding from multiple wounds, her hair fanned around her face, and the wooden beams beneath her were slick with blood. Ardwen cursed aloud, he had no skill in the healing arts; he could do nothing to staunch Vylia’s wounds. Ardwen placed Ariana down on the dock next to Vylia, she clutched at him as he released her and unfastened his cloak to array over her. She cried out as he rose to survey the area, and Ardwen had to fight the urge to simply snap and run back into the city and start swinging his blades.

“Never thought it’d end like this.” Ardwen said as he noticed guards filing out of the nearby streets and alleys. He unsheathed his two blades and positioned himself ahead of Ariana and Vylia, he spoke as he did so, “All my life, all I’ve ever done is swing my swords. The Elves of Aerynth didn’t care why you fought, just that you fought for them. A weapon doesn’t need to be understood, a weapon doesn’t need to think about why it’s doing what it’s doing, it just needs to kill what it’s pointed at.”

The guards were drawing closer now, several were making motions, in a vain attempt to impose order on their ranks. “I guess what I’m trying to say,” Ardwen began again, “is that I had friends before I joined the Hands, sure. I cared for some of them – a very few - like brothers. But, I was lost. We were all lost. None of us cast any light, none of us tried to lead the other out of the darkness of our own rot, we didn’t know the way; we didn’t know if we could even if we knew. But you, you were always so radiant, like nothing I had ever seen. But, I’m not sure if I should thank you.”

Ardwen rushed forward, meeting the first of the guards on the pier. The man had a shield and shortsword, Ardwen whirled one blade in low, right to left, and struck at the delicate knee-joint in his armor. The man’s mouth opened in pain as he hobbled a step back, Ardwen did not give him a chance to go further, he grabbed his shield and kicked the leg he had cut, the man stumbled, and Ardwen threw him into the dark water at the edge of the pier. “Because,” Ardwen finished finally, “it’s become so difficult to swing my blades. Is it always this hard when you’re protecting another? Did my swords always feel this heavy?”

Another guard came in, this one swinging a greatsword, and Ardwen had to sidestep and parry to direct the momentum. He locked the large sword with one of his blades and brought the other in low, sweeping upward with the cutting edge facing the sky, the human warrior was soon without a right forearm. Ardwen did not know how long he could hold out. The berserker armor kept him numb, and he had yet to unleash its full potential, but that frightened him, how could he protect Ariana and Vylia if he let the armor consume him? There was also the pressing concern that eventually the guards would get enough archers to coat the pier with arrows. Armored as he was, Ardwen might live, but the others . . .

Ardwen crushed the thoughts; they were distractions. A warrior must have one mind in battle. He swung his swords, it was all he could do, and all he wanted to do.

Written by - Turin Wallace

King Gongrane had kept his watchful eye on the people of Smarsh for a long time. In this unforgiven place, with Orcs to the west and the hill country to the east, there was no time to let one’s guard down. Being one of the very few settlements to survive in this place was a source of pride to him.

What disturbed him were the rumors of a dark army sweeping down from the mountainous east. Already word had spread about how they sweep over the land, smashing all resistance before them.

Gathering his most trusted advisors, Gongrane calls forth one of his emissaries and gives him a mission,

“Olan, ride out to find this army and it’s leader. Find out what purpose it has and see what their plans are regarding our country.”

With that, the King orders more drills and extra watches along Smarsh’s borders. Gongrane isn’t above fighting his own people is necessary to keep his kingdom intact, but Smarsh hasn’t survived this long through brute force alone. Cunning, guile, and deception have always worked well here. Perhaps they will serve in this situation too, only time will tell.

****

Turin stood alone in the courtyard. He could hear the yells of a few to go after his friends as they made their escape, for him, there wasn’t much chance of making one. Standing on the sacrificial platform, he could only inwardly chuckle at the irony. “Never been one for theatrics,” he thought.

Looking to the encircling guards, their faces illuminated by a few torches and the burning guard house, it gave them a devilish glow. Speaking up, he says,

“Well, lads, it’d be a shame for all of you to get worked up for nothing, so let’s have at it!”

He couldn’t even finish his sentence before the guards jumped onto and around the platform. With his great sword firmly in hand, Turin delivered punishing blow after punishing blow. The dreadful sound of steel cutting air, like a melody of death, gave music to the fight that was waging.

“So long as they keep charging me, the archers dare not shoot in this low-light. But, by the All-Father, I know not how much longer I can hold out,” Turin thought.

Trying to keep from being overwhelmed, he moved his back to the wall, keeping the guards from completely surrounding him. He could only wonder how his friends fared at this point, did they get Ariana out? Have they been retaken?

Just then, a cry rang out,

“All guards, man the ballistae and trebuchet towers along the port walls! All available naval personnel, to their ships! The harbor is under attack!”

With that, a large number of guards dispersed, making their way to the ships and walls. During his time fighting, he had not noticed the commotion coming from the docks. “Must be a pirate raid, or something else, not that it matters much. Now, at least, we’ll all have a better chance!” Turin thought. With some hope, he redoubled his efforts to fight his way clear of the mob.

It was not to be that easy, however. There were still a good number of guards blocking him from the gates. He was quickly becoming tired while they were still fresh, waiting for their chance at him. It was then he heard someone say,

"Quite the rescue, huh? If you're planning on making a run for it, I know a ship at the docks that'll get us out."

Meeting the gaze of the warrior in front of him, he was in no mood to ask questions. Replying, Turin says,

“The problem, friend, is making it to the docks in the first place. Seems we still have a few dozen guards who want to bar our way, but I’d gladly welcome the help.”

As both continued to fight, giving Turin a welcome reprieve from handling these guards all alone, he could sense a familiar presence among those in the courtyard. Someone he knew all too well. Could it be she was here? Would she come to his aide? He would know soon enough.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya and DOrve rushed roward stirking out at any who got in their way to let them escape with Ardwen and the others. Then Ardwen stopped; once otheir companions was on the docks hurt. "Dorve can you do something for her!" Dorve grumbled something about the conditions, but knelt down beside the fallen archer and the woman Ardwen had carried out of the square. Ardwen was busy cutting down the guards that had come from the docks, but Kaya could hear footsteps behind them. She stood, A'lanthear in hand and with the help of others in their group began to fight off the guards that had gathered behind them. Kaya could feel the energy Dorve was using and hoped it would be enough and in time to keep Vylia alive. Dorve put he staff down and her hand upon the archer. She has lost a lot of blood, but there is still fight in her, I can feel it. A deep green energy wafted from her hands and engulfed the fallen elf. Dorve murmured under her breath a healing incantation and concentrated.

Kaya swung A'lanthear with skill and precision, taking down those that charged her. But she could feel her injuries taking their tole on her. It was then she heard the commotion from behind her; the harbor was being attacked. I pray Nyrondis, that they are on our side, I don't know how much longer I can fight.

You will fight as long as you are needed Kaya, I am here with you and will giver you the energy. Kaya smiled, hearing the words of her god and feeling his divine power fill her once more. Then the guards that she was fighting broke away, running and heading to wards their posts.

Seeing a break Kaya turned around and yelled at Ardwen. "We need to go! they are heading to their posts Ardwen. Pick up your queen and lets go!" THen Kaya knelt by Dorve and Vylia. "How is she Dorve, will she make it?"

"I dunno Kaya, why don't you ask the lass herself." Kaya smile as she saw the elf stirring and her eyes flutter open.

"It's about time you woke up Vylia," Kaya chuckled, "you might have missed all the fun!"

Written by - Rikshanthas

“The problem, friend, is making it to the docks in the first place. Seems we still have a few dozen guards who want to bar our way, but I’d gladly welcome the help.”

Lienad flashed a wicked grin at the older human as he swept Astalder in a flurry of quick slashes, which had the intended effect of pushing the encircling guards back to arm's length. "Reminds me why I always carry a pair of these," he said, producing a palm-sized glass flask from a pouch at his belt. In one quick movement he sent it shattering at the feet of the guards, and from it billowed a swiftly-expanding grey cloud of smoke, which irritated exposed skin and caused eyes to water and throats to constrict.

Lienad was ready for the smoke's effects. The guards were not. He quickly made a hole in the circle of guards, through which he all but dove, carrying the beleaguered crusader with him. As soon as they were clear of the smoke, Lienad took several deep breaths, wiping his eyes and looking back with a shake of his head at the confusion one well-placed smoke flask could cause. "Gods bless alchemists," he chuckled. "That takes care of one problem. Come on, your friends're probably waiting for us and I'm willing to bet there are a lot more soldiers between us and the docks," he said to the crusader, turning to leave the square before more guards caught sight of them.

Ankhara ran up just then, two guards following with swords drawn. Lienad made ready to defend his kin, but the guards pulled up sharply, nodding to Lienad and crisply saluting the crusader. "These two were part of Pallanon's elite," Ankahara explained. "They've been here undercover ever since, waiting for an opportunity like this." She looked at Lienad's companion. "Who's your friend, Lee?" she asked curiously.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia looked up at Kaya, her mouth twitched in an almost smile, and responded, "If you call bleeding to death on a dock fun, then I think we may have to part ways." Looking around she grimaced, "This place has turned into a real war zone, and I'm pretty sure this isn't because of us. Those men are running to their ships." Standing up she turned to look toward the sea, "By Pandarrion..." she almost sank back to her knees, "how are we to get past all of that?"

Written by - Ardwen

Kaya's voice rang out over the din, "We need to go! They are heading to their posts, Ardwen. Pick up your queen and let's go!"

"Break!" One of the guards out of the mass pressing in on Ardwen and his friends shouted, "break and get to the defenses! We're under attack from the sea, we don't have to kill these bastards here, just make sure their ship is sent to the bottom!"

Ardwen grunted as he stopped another blow from a guard using a bastard sword, the man did not launch another thrust, he simply dropped his weapon and ran. The guards were already breaking ranks and manning the harbor defenses. Ardwen spun around to face the three others who had arrived on the docks; he quickly took tally of what he had to work with. Vylia was on her feet again thanks to the efforts of Dorve, but the warrior was uncertain if she could still walk, much less fight.

Ardwen noticed Vylia frowning and saying, "This place had turned into a real war zone, and I'm pretty sure this isn't because of us. Those men are running to their ships." The archer rose to her feet and continued, "By Pandarrion . . . how are we to get past all of that?'

Ardwen glanced at Ariana who had remained motionless beneath his cloak. "Vylia," the berserker called out, "can you still walk? I'm going to take Ariana aboard the ship." He knelt down next to the prostrate Abbess and picked her up. From his kneeling position Ardwen looked up at Vylia and said, "We're both from Aerynth, we can take the facts. Unless there's a miracle we're not going to make it out of this one. Even if we could get past the guards, I don't see Turin or Arc here, and I'm not keen on leaving without them. I say we board this ship, we can defend ourselves far better on it. We go until the end, but we don't let them have the joy of killing us, and I don't like the thought of being a prisoner . . . you understand what I'm saying, yeah?"

Ardwen picked Ariana up and moved to the ramp leading onto the vessel. "Still," he thought, "I wonder where Arc is? Why would he leave Vylia bleeding to death and alone? I swear I will never understand these humans. Arc may look like a wizened old man, but for him to go rushing off like some inexperienced whelp. Damn fool boy." Ardwen finished before pushing the thought aside. Once he was on the deck of the ship he found the captain's quarters, the door was locked. Ardwen simply kicked down the door, splinters and sawdust swirling through the air with each blow. Inside the apartment was fairly well provisioned with a bed, a wooden chest at its foot, and several desks. The warrior pulled back the covers and gingerly placed Ariana down, covering her before snatching his cloak back and fastening it. Ardwen thought it strange she had stopped struggling so much since being brought inside, perhaps she found the darkness of the room easier on her eyes.

The elf walked outside the room to the ruined door and breathed in the salty air. He had no great love of the sea, but he could find no comfort being in the same room with Ariana. He leaned on the frame of the door and closed his eyes. The armor's effects were wearing off, and he was starting to feel again. He knew it was dangerous to stay under its influence for too long, but Ardwen briefly wished he could just stay numb all over. "Ah," he said to himself, "this will not be a bad death. Maybe I'll end up back on Aerynth." Ardwen didn't know, perhaps he would, or perhaps the All-Father would judge him. The uncertainties of his own demise filled the elf with a sense of discomfort. He ignored it the best he could, squelching his own thoughts just so he could keep himself together. He let time tick by and carry him with it, knowing that what would happen would happen regardless of what he thought. No one died calmly, simply slipping away, for everyone has doubts and fears. There was little peace in dying, but there could be resignation and grim acceptance. Ardwen stoically acquiesced to the latter.

Written by - Vylia

"Vylia," the berserker called out, "can you still walk? I'm going to take Ariana aboard the ship." He knelt down next to the prostrate Abbess and picked her up. From his kneeling position Ardwen looked up at Vylia and said, "We're both from Aerynth, we can take the facts. Unless there's a miracle we're not going to make it out of this one. Even if we could get past the guards, I don't see Turin or Arc here, and I'm not keen on leaving without them. I say we board this ship, we can defend ourselves far better on it. We go until the end, but we don't let them have the joy of killing us, and I don't like the thought of being a prisoner . . . you understand what I'm saying, yeah?"

Vylia looked up at Ardwen as she picked up her fallen blades, "Yes, I can still walk, and fight if need be. Arc went after Turin, I don't think he realized I was as hurt as I was, I didn't notice myself until I tried to move for that matter. I won't leave them behind either, we all get out, or none at all." Her face grim she followed Ardwen onto the boat, speaking again before he disappeared from the deck, "I've done my share in a dungeon, and it is not something I will ever repeat." Vylia looked to the docks to make sure nobody who shouldn't have had followed before turning her gaze back to the sea. Ships were going up like tapestry in a blaze, cannon fire and even a few obvious magic spells flying almost without heed to who they were hitting.


Written by - Tempyst Page 33 Book 3

Kaya listened to the exchange between Ardwen and Vylia, then when they took off towards the ship, the elf made sure Dorve was able to follow with them. "I'm fine lass, though I sense something odd going on. There is magic in the air, but something is not quite right."

"Look at what is going on around us Dorve, of course something isn't right, but lets get to the ship, I just hope Ardwen picks a good one to board." Kaya and Dorve both gathered themselves and ran after Ardwen and Vylia, following them aboard some ship, then downstairs to the captain's quarters.

Dorve waited until Ardwen placed his queen upon the bed, then went over to the still woman. "Ardwen, I will do what I can for her, never fear, she won't die on my watch." Dorve waited to see if the large elf would let her attend to the woman.

Kaya, seeing Dorve was doing what she could, ran back outside to the deck of the ship, helping Vylia make sure they were protected.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen nodded as he ran over Vylia's words in his mind. He found it strangely comforting that Vylia agreed with him. Still, it didn't change the fact that the situation was only becoming worse. The ship Ardwen and the rest of the small band had piled onto was awash in an ocean of bloodshed and strife. Other vessels, of makes and designs Ardwen did not recognize, were cutting through the water, but the defenders of Westgale were mounting an effective defense of their own. Great engines of war traded salvos across the harbor, and Ardwen could tell that magics of all sorts were being employed, though Ardwen's loathing of magic meant he was not nearly skilled enough to identify, much less do anything about, the spells being flung on both sides.

Ardwen's attention was snapped back to the captain's cabin when he saw Dorve walking through the door. Ardwen drew his cloak around him, hiding his arms inside it, and he had a hand on the smaller of his blades. If he needed to kill the dwarf, a longer blade would not serve as well inside, and the shorter blade's thinner cutting surface would more smoothly cleave flesh and cloth. The dwarf noticed him and said, "Ardwen, I will do what I can for her, never fear, she won't die on my watch." Dorve then paused, eyeing the beserker.

The elf nodded, respecting Dorve's earnest desire to help, but Ardwen was still uncertain. Not of the dwarf, but of how much help "healing" Ariana would be. In his five thousand years of war Ardwen had seen all manners of injuries. He had seen men recover from wounds that should have killed them, and he had seen people die from what they thought was nothing more than a mere scratch. However, Ariana's wounds were different. That she was physically hurt, there was no doubt, the rough treatment of her captors and her imprisonment had seen to that, but there was something more, something deeper to her wounds as well. The swordsman was not entirely certain that Dorve's efforts would do more good than harm.

"Still," mussed Ardwen, "Ariana is hurt physically. If her wounds become infected then it won't matter what kind of mental damage she has, as she'll most likely die. But, if her condition is serious enough, then the shock of divine healing may only make things worse. At the least she could panic. Well, I also need to consider that we're not likely to get a better shot at aid than this. With Turin and Arc still somewhere in the city, we've got this dwarf. It's starting to look at me funny too, I think I've kept it waiting too long--"

"Well," Ardwen said suddenly, "give me a minute alright?" The Elf tossed his cloak back and slouched against the wall next to Ariana's bed. The warrior leaned his head back and bounced it softly against the wall, as if he was literally trying to jostle his thoughts. "Dorve," he said, "let me blunt here. Ariana's hurt, yes. But her injuries are more than just physical. What I'm afraid of is that she's got some sort of . . . block . . . against divine power. I mean, Ariana was one of the, if not the most, talented prelates I have ever known, and that is saying something. If she was still in contact with her deity, couldn't she just heal herself? Hell, if she could still use the All-Father's power, could she not have just blown up her prison and melted the guards' faces? OK, the last part is what I would have done, but still, the example stands."

Ardwen paused and squeezed his eyes shut tight before continuing, "What I'm trying to say is that I'm concerned your healing may only agitate her condition. On the other hand, having her cuts and scrapes healed, at the least, would probably increase her chances of survival. So . . . so . . ." Ardwen's eyes popped back open and he blew out a long sigh, "I don't know. Damnit! I just wish there was something I could do." Ardwen moved from the wall and took the longer of his two blades, still sheathed, and planted one end on the floor, he held the hilt with both hands and leaned on it. His eyes were locked on the floor.

"You know," Ardwen said, "this is the captain's cabin. So if I know anything about sailors, especially human sailors . . ." the elf broke off his sentence and walked over to the chest at the foot of Ariana's bed. He unsheathed his sword and let the sheath fall to the ground. With two quick strokes he cut the lid on both sides, a third struck left the blade in the top, Ardwen pulled on the hilt. The wood creaked and splintered, and a loud crack shot through the chamber as the chest lid gave way. The elf pawed through the contents, tossing out a bright red shirt with laced cuffs, several pairs of dress attire, and several more sets of men's clothes before rising from his search with a triumphant look on his face.

"Ah," Ardwen said, "see?" He held in one hand a long silver gown, embroidered, and obviously very expensive. "This," he said, "was most likely a gift for the captain's wife. Alright, alright, it was most likely a gift for one of his favorite pleasure toys, but what do I care, aye?" Ardwen coughed to clear his throat and looked directly at Drove. "Now," he said, "I'm going to go and ask Vylia for her advice on this, Ariana is her Abbess as well after all, but there is something else --" Ardwen broke off and cleared his throat again, "Well, you see . . . Ariana is not . . . not dressed . . .appropriately for a lady of her station. By which I mean to say is that the Abbess was most cruelly deprived of her vested raiments and relics."

Ardwen paused then lowered his voice and said, "In respect to the Abbess's lack of proper attire if you, or one of the other ladies here present, would resolve that with this . . . regal gown - whilst I was standing guard - it would not go unappreciated." With that Ardwen handed the gown to Dorve and spun around quickly, "You know how these humans are," he blurted, "so prone to cold and sudden chills. My concern is that she be able to survive the climate here, that is all." Ardwen snatched up his sword and sheath and returned them to his side and walked out of the room. He found Vylia and Kaya starring at the war around them. Ardwen walked near then and shook his head, "Vylia, Dorve wants to heal Ariana, I'm not sure what to do, and the subject of women's clothing was broached. I can kill a man before he blinks. I've fought dragons, demons, and things I can't even name. But, I think I'm in over my head here, a little help, please? " He muttered.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia just smiled at Ardwen's nervousness before speaking. "I knew you were a good man Ardwen, but I never thought you would be afraid of a naked woman," she teased, "I suppose that proves I was right, hmm? There really is still a good man in that berserker's armor of yours." She patted him on the shoulder before spinning past him with a light laugh as she headed to the captain's cabin.

As she walked into the cabin and saw the door she muttered, "It looks like I'll have to work on his entrance skills a bit." Looking up with a demure grin, "Hello again Dorve, I should thank you again for the healing." Looking at Ariana curled up on the bed, "How is she? If you can heal her wounds it would be appreciated, but I think Ardwen maybe be partially correct. I do not wish to sound ungrateful, but if you could heal her physical wounds and leave any mental ones until she has further stabilized it may be best. If Ariana was herself she wouldn't have stayed in that place for more than a few nights, I think she was affected by the demonic powers they invoked, even before the ceremony. It's probably best if we wait until Turin returns, since he is Pandarrion's champion, and could speak with the All-Father more directly on the situation." Nodding, "As soon as her wounds are healed what do you say about getting her into some clothes?"

Written by - Tempyst

Dorve gritted her teeth as she listened to the large elf ramble. They always have to talk to much don't they? Maybe a good wack with the staff would shut him up? But then he handed Dorve the gown and left the room. "Finally, peace." Dorve muttered. As she went to the woman on the bed. Then Vylia entered and began to speak. Dorve looked a bit exasperated. "I dinna planned on doing anything intrusive to your queen. My healing powers are not that advanced and most of my energies went to healing Vylia. All I propose to do is to clean her up and take care of the minor wounds that are upon her body, the kind that could fester if not treated and become annoying. Then we can clean and dress your queen." Dorve set down her staff and took off her cloak. Closing her eyes she waved a hand over the naked woman, assessing her injuries.

Written by - Archeantus

Crossing over the varied rooftops at a rapid speed toward Turin, the warlock had only one thought, there was no way in the Dragon's dark abyss he'd gain the Abbess only to loose the Priest of Battle. But within that great singular thought, was the distant sound of something Archeantus could never have anticipated.

His flight slowed as this new information invaded his senses, and suddenly he stopped altogether and turned toward the direction they were to escape by ship.

If he still held the ability to see, from his vantage point high over the city, he would have beheld the billowing smoke as cannons exploded across the blue, and the two fleets that were about to meet in full force.

"By the Gods, our way is blocked." The warlock realized. "But by who?"

He was suddenly torn. Rush to Turin's aid, or discover the threat that had suddenly, almost inconceivably blocked their escape. And then it hit him. The coincidence was too high. It was at that moment he zeroed in on the one at the head of of invasion fleet.

A smile raced across the old warlock's face.

"The All-Father is in this."

He knew his course now. Quickly, he gave Angellus orders. "Find Turin and the one that is with him, and lead him through the safest route toward the ship Ardwen has chosen. Protect him with all your might old friend."

It was not long until a small spark of fire appeared directly in front of Turin as they made their escape, urging him onward.

Archeantus then flew back toward the docks, sending probes to determine how his friends were doing. Sweeping past them, high above the small vessel they chose, he flew into the very thick of the deepening navel battle in search of the one who could turn the tide for them.

The invaders had to know of their escape, otherwise all would be lost.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin smiled as the smoke worked it's way into the crowd, his new friend had come prepared. Feeling a quick, firm tug, Turin followed him through the hole he created in the ring of guards. Meeting those who barred the entranceway, he watches as three more join in them. Eyeing them cautiously, his doubts are dispelled when he hears,

"These two were part of Pallanon's elite. They've been here undercover ever since, waiting for an opportunity like this."

Turning to the lady, he hears her ask,

"Who's your friend, Lee?"

In a quick, but gentle response, he says,

"The name is Turin, and I think we ought to make our way to our friends if we want to get out of here. Though, the way is yet barred."

Nodding to the front of them, guards and soldiers were streaming into the docks. The only way through was to cut a path. Charging into the first group between themselves and the dock, he knocks one soldier down, and in one swift motion carries the head of another away. The time for mercy had long past, the docks had devolved into a true war zone.

As the last two soldiers prepared to strike at Turin, and his new friends, the fresh corpse of the man just killed exploded towards them. The soldiers were impaled with the bones of the dead man, gore covering them all. Turning his head quickly, he saw the robed figure he was searching for appear behind them. The figure paused a moment, then removed the black hood that guarded the face of a woman. That red hair, those haunting green eyes, yes she had come. Looking to the vial around her neck, he saw she still carried it with her. As his friends paused, then prepared to defend themselves, Turin says,

"Hold, friends! She is an ally, though her methods are a bit strange. Come, the time for questions is later, let us continue to fight ahead."

He could see the questioning look in their eyes, even in hers as well, but the more immediate need of not ending up dead took precedence. Taking his first true look at the docks since the whole rescue began, he could see ships in the harbor exchanging fire and guard towers returning fire. One of the lighthouses was aflame. Groups of men were clashing at various key dock locations. The harbor, illuminated by the light of ships aflame, showed some ships close enough for boarding actions, others listing heavily to one side or another, yet others had silently slipped under the sea, with only their masts jutting above the waterline marking their resting spot.

Turning to Lienad, and the group, Turin says,

"Seems we landed ourselves into the middle of a raid. We need to get down there and quick, before the Westgalian's get us, or these raiders mistake us for them."

Pausing, he asks,

"Well, which boat do you think they made it to?"

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya left Dorve in the captain's hold, now it was time to make sure she was not interrupted. As she reached the deck, people were running all over. It was chaos outside, Ships were coming in bombarding the port and the city. The port was slow to respond, having been caught by surprise. A sailor ran past Kaya and she caught his arm, stopping him in his tracks. "Where is your captain? We need to make sure that we are not hi; we need to make suer they know we are friendly."

"The captain's gone and I am too!" The sailor pulled his arm away and ran off in a panic.

"Damnit!" Kaya spat. Then a look of enlightenment came over her face. FLAGS! Have to find the right flag to raise! Kaya Looked up and saw to her dismay a flag or Port Westgale upon the mast. She grabbed at another sailor, this time she had A'lanthear drawn and pointed at the young, scared boy. "Where are your flags boy? We need to raise a flag of truce so we won't be hit!"

"I...I..." the boy stammered.

"Listen kid, I will hold you here and we both will go down with the ship unless you come to your senses and help me with the flag. NOW WHERE ARE THEY?" The young boy's eyes grew wide, but then he gulped and seemed to come to his senses, being used to following orders, Kaya's command was actually a comfort to him.

"Follow me Ma'am, they are over here." The boy led her to a box on the deck. He opened it and inside were several different flags, but the one they wanted was easy to find. A pure white flag of truce and surrender. Kaya grabbed the flag and steered the boy back to the mast.

"Now, we must hurry, we need to get this up as fast as possible."

"Yes Ma'am!" The boy began to lower the Westgale colors, with Kaya helping him with the heavy ropes, while saying a small prayer. Nyrondis please watch over us and let victory be on our side.

Written by - Rikshanthas

At Turin's query, Lienad took a quick glance across the docks, trying to place the ship his old friend had identified for him. "There," he said, pointing toward a not-too-distant berth, to a sleek courier sloop which seemed a hive of activity. "The one with the siren on the prow. I have friends aboard her, so it's as good a ship as any to start looking." The words were no sooner out of his mouth than a glowing ball of light flew out of the air at them, then circled back toward their intended destination, seemingly urging them in the same direction. Deciding Turin's apparent familiarity with the thing could be discussed at a later date, Lienad simply said, "this thing seems to be pointing the same way. I'll take that as a good sign. Let's go." He then headed for the ship at a brisk jog.

****

Eleven armed men and women swept up the gangplank onto the sloop, led by a sea elven woman with a stern expression centered on the woman and boy lowering the Westgale flag from the ship's mainmast. At her arrival the boy froze, nearly dropping the rope. The woman gestured swiftly to the others with her, shouting over the cacophony of battle, "everyone get to your stations, make ready to heave off! We're going through the first opening we get. Jak, go check on your friend, then I'll need you on the rigging," she added with a sideways nod to the grizzled-looking half elf with her, who trotted briskly belowdecks. Most of the others who'd been busy running seemed to gain new confidence with their captain's arrival, and returned to their posts with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The silver-haired sea elf turned back to the stranger, her golden rapier in a ready position. "Now, who the devil are you and what in the nine hells do you think you're doing on my ship, in the middle of an invasion no less?" she demanded coolly.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia turned to Dorve when she started hearing the sound of a large number of footsteps upon the ship's planking, and several muffled but loudly shouted commands, "Seems to be quite a commotion outside. Do what you can for her, I'll keep you covered." With that she drew her swords and walked back out of the captains cabin, barring the way for any who intended to enter.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya turned to the voice that was directed at her and saw that this must be the captain. Let's see if I can still be a diplomat. She glanced at the rapier, but did not let it shake her. SHe looked cooly back at the elf. "I am Kaya'Talas, born of the port Nen A'Naur within the Naur'Lith. I was told the captain was gone, thus I was trying to get some manner of sign up that we were not with Beridane. My companions and I rescued their queen who was to be his sacrfice in the square, and now we are looking to get the blazes out of the port, once everyone makes it aboard. Your ship looked well enough for the job. Now, would you kindly lower your sword and let us make sure we don't get blown up with the rest of Beridane's fleet?

****

Dorve did not even look up. "Go ahead Vylia I will wash and dress your queen. There is not much I can do for her, she seems to not like the touch of magic. When I scan her, she frets, and when I try to heal, it causes her more pain it seems. But I will watch over her and keep her safe from more harm." Dorve then stood, looked about for the wash basen; bringing both the basen and pitcher back to the bedside. Dorve then took a clean bandage from her bag, wetted it and began to gently wash the queen's body and wounds, so that the woman could be dressed properly.

Written by - Archeantus

The sounds were deafening to his acute ears as he passed above the sea battle. The wind whipped through his long graying hair, and he could feel the smoke and mist upon his wizened face. The battle was intensifying, and the sounds of fire and lightening flared periodically down below. The warlock could sense the magical nature of many of the seamen who now fought for their lives upon each of their collective ships. He could feel the heat rising above toward him. He could feel death and life, courage and fear, but his focus was upon one ship, still further out.

He was growing increasingly tired. His flight was extremely taxing, and he could feel the weight upon his mind as he increased his focus to stay adrift in the wind. He picked up speed, trying to make it to his destination. Just then, there was a huge explosion just ahead of him down below in the sea. A wave of steam shot out into the sky, as did the sudden feeling of death, of minds going silent. It was unnaturally large, and it startled the warlock for a moment. His flight faltered and he refocused and gained altitude, yet his mind grew worried.

His thoughts wandered backward, of what was happening behind him with his friends. He knew they had to shove off soon, the battle here was growing, and their way through was quickly becoming more and more difficult. Again, the warlock flew faster, weaving through explosions, and the ongoing sounds of swords clashing and yells of defiance.

He could not go much further, and he slowly lost altitude coming precariously close to many of the battles near the sea. But likewise, he was growing closer to the mind he had locked onto. There was a blast of fire, and splinters shot out to the left of him, some lodging themselves in his hands and face. He tried to rise higher, but his mind was quickly loosing its strength. Black smoke invaded his mouth and nostrils, and he choked, coughing, trying to gain fresh air.

Gritting his teeth over the strain that pressed down on him, fighting the gravity that increasingly pulled down on him. He then felt the spray of water on his face. He must have been only a couple feet away, and then he felt his feet dangle down and splash into the water, causing a terrible drag that sent a pounding pain to his troubled mind. Archeantus cried out, and somehow found more, and gained a few feet. He needed to make it. Putting all he could, he knew the mind he sought was just ahead, but it was still too far.

He flew into the sea about fifty feet from the vessel known as the Wavehammer. He fought to swim to the surface and erupted with a big gulp of air. The old warlock was utterly exhausted, he no longer could alert the one he sought with his mind, and so he did the only thing he could think of, knowing the 'Hammer had to be within range of his voice. He yelled the name of the one he knew they'd recognize, and the one he sought, hopefully above the din of war.

"Munchadin!"

He face suddenly submerged again, he kicked to regain the air, and called it again and again.

Written by - Teran

Teran lurched to his feet after Mavigan stood up. His face became a blank mask and an unusual smirk creased his lips. Without speaking a word he brushed past Mavigan and began his descent. The passage spiraled down but it had many forks and branches. Teran guessed they all lead more or less to the same level based on the map he had seen. After they had descended about 80 feet the stairs stopped and there was a short hallway that lead to what appeared to be more stairs. He put a hand on one of Sabbatine's cold shoulders as she carelessly stepped past him, having failed to notice he had stopped. She yelped with fright and glared at him for a moment before shuffling in place looking terribly nervous.

"Stay here." he said quietly, stepping out in front of the group studying the ground, walls, and ceiling intently.

He could sense the presence of a trap, every fiber of his being told him there was a trap in the passage. He took another step forward and then another. He was confident he had made sufficient preparations to survive any trap that he might set off but he hoped to completely avoid whatever might come out at him. Finally when he was almost to the other doorway a magic field of some sort appeared behind him. It was a smokey gray color (similar to his blood). He examined it closely and touched it. The field offered a little resistance but he could push himself through if he wished.

"Some trap... it didn't even kill you!!" Sabbatine giggled as she approached it. She touched it herself but found that it would not yield to her. She pushed harder but no matter how much force she applied she was locked out.

"It won't let any of you through." the assassin muttered "You will have to find another way down. Sabbatine you need to lead them, I suspect these traps try and sense something specific about a creature and lock everything else who does not match that detail out. You have a little bit of a lot of people inside of you I do not think it would be able to create an effective door based on a sample from your body for Mavigan or Jasmine... but for Keeryn... I don't believe Sabbatine has ever eaten one of your people, you would be permitted to pass." he said giving his voice a cryptic edge.

"If you fed Sabbatine some of your blood perhaps the trap would permit you through with the rest of them." he said masking most of the amusement in his voice.

Sabbatine licked her lips and looked over at Keeryn hungrily.

"Sabbatine." Teran snapped, bringing her attention back to him "You need to find another way down. You cannot become separated from these three. Protect them as I would protect them. I don't know what we are going to face below but we will need everyone down there if we are to survive." He turned away from the barrier once he was done speaking and headed for the stairs down.

Sabbatine eyed Keeryn a little bit wondering if she would freely share her blood as Teran had suggested but decided that decision could wait until they found a similar barrier. They had to backtrack a little bit but soon found a similar passage downward and a similar break in the stairs with a short passage identical to the one they had become seperated from Teran in. Sabbatine stopped when she saw the familiar terrain and glanced over at Keeryn, barely able to contain her grin. She could smell Keeryn's bloodscent and it was better than anything she had ever smelled before.

"Sooo um... K-Keeryn?" Sabbatine's grin was so wide it almost split her face completely in half.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm's squad bade farewell to the freed captives after helping them to arm and equip themselves from the fallen cultists and instructing them on the route to the surface. Wilhelm then led them down the dark passageway towards an increasing smell of blood. Wilhelm's tracking sense told him that the abomination ahead was killed and that Mavigan and Teran were no longer wounded, so someone must have healed them. He wondered if it was Mavigan or someone else in the group.

Wilhelm had difficulty sensing Mavigan's exact postition because she seemed to be moving in or near an enormous are of lifeforce. Wilhelm had never sensed anything like it. As they near the opening to a large chamber the smell of blood became extremely strong and Wilhelm could now sense Mavigan and the others moving off ahead. Now he could see a great pool of blood nearly filling the large chamber, and in the middle of it was the dead abomination with many arms, legs and heads. He was impressed at the size and most relieved that Mavigan's group had defeated it. However, the pool troubled him greatly.

"Resini," he said, what do you sense about that enourmous pool of blood ahead of us?"

Resini pulled out a crystal and activated it and then looked through it at the pool and gasped. "Gods preserve us, that pool is filled with trapped lifeforce! It must hold the captured souls of hundreds of people!"

Wilhelm felt a growing inner rage and pressure and realized that it was not just his own reaction to this abominable cavern. He relaxed and both welcomed and yielded to his god. To the others, Wilhelm began to both glow and grow taller, one eye blazing with light, the other covered with an eyepatch. His warhammer transformed into a glowing rune-carved spear.

"Abomination! Blasphemy! This injustice cannot and will not continue!"

Tinorb the All Father, God of Justice, waved his left hand in a circle and a brilliant white horizontal circle appeared over the pool. He traced another circle to the right with the tip of the spear and a black circular void appeared off to the right. Holding the spear overhead with both arms, He commanded,

"In the Name of Justice, let thee be free of this corruption to pass on to the Light!

A large column of dark red liquid rose from the pool and was sucked into the black circular void. Clouds of glowing particles pulled free of the red column and formed images of the trapped souls whose blood had been shed into this pool. The purified souls bowed in reverence to Tinorb and then ascended in a joyful spiral into the air and vanished into the white portal. Wilhelm's companions stood enraptured by the miracle before them as the great pool slowly emptied and then vanished into the black void, along with the remains of the slain abomination and all other traces of the black necromancy that had taken place here. After the last of the souls had departed, and the room had been cleansed, Tinorb turned to Resini and handed him a small crystal vial containing a last portion of the blood pool.

"Take this with you and use it to pass the trapped door you will find ahead of you. Take heart in this temple of the Dark, for We of the Light are with you always!

Resini took the vial and he and the others bowed. The figure of Tinorb then shrank back into the form of Wilhelm, who shook himself and took a deep breath.

"A great deed, but a very tiring one afterwards. Our work here is done, so let us now follow after Mavigan's party. Be wary of attack now, as the dark forces now know we are here."

Wilhelm, clearly fatigued, led them across the now empty pool to the exit beyond which led to a passageway which descended further into the depths.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan was a bit disturbed by the nonchalance with which Teran appeared to be leaving the rest of them behind. The excuse he gave seemed rather flimsy to her. Sure, Sabbatine couldn’t get through, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t.

“Oi!” shouted Mavigan as she approached the barrier. “You’re not going without me!”

Eyes narrowing with determination, she raised a hand, placing it on the barrier. Taking a deep breath, she pushed. There was resistance, and Mavigan pushed harder. A tingling started in her belly where she had earlier been impaled with the shards of Teran’s dagger. The sensation was uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and a grin of triumph graced her mouth as she felt the barrier start to give. The tingling moved from her belly, up through her chest and into her arms, and as the sensation covered more of her body, the resistance of the barrier lessened. With a final heave, Mavigan forced her way through.

Turning to Teran, she stuck her tongue out at him. “Told ya!” she said with a grin.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Nodding to Lienad, Turin moved in the direction of the boat pointed out. The only things stopping the group from getting there was a group of angry guards. Wielding his great sword, Turin was the first the cut into them, quickly followed by his companions. The fight was over before it even began. Turning around, he says,

"Seems we better hurry, or we'll find more guards standing in our way."

In a quick sprint, the group is close to being on board. Seeing a confrontation between Kaya and another elf, Turin knows that his friends must have attempted to commandeer the boat when the captain was away, no doubt the female elf with the rapier. Yet, there wasn't a whole lot of time for talking and Turin wasn't going to politely ask for permission to come aboard.

Making a hard run up the gangplank, he and the others are on board before the crew can make a move to stop them. Moving beside Kaya, Turin looks at the annoyed captain and says,

"Captain, we'll have time to discuss our business and compensation once we are free of this harbor. However, I suggest we start getting the hell out of here before we are either boarded by folks unfriendlier than ourselves, or we are set on fire or sunk. You may have every intention of going down with your vessel, but I can assure you that I do not."

Seeing her give him an incredulous look, he adds,

"I really don't think we have time to argue, captain. Let's just say that if we weren't of the reputable type, we'd have already killed you and taken the ship by force."

Turning around, Turin heads off to find Ardwen to see how Ariana is doing.


Written by - Ardwen Page 34 Book 3

Ardwen turned around when he heard the ship's captain and her armed guards running onto the boat. The Elven beserker had been starring out across the harbor, not truly watching what was going on, his thoughts and mind had been far removed from the present. The sound of drawn steel and hurried footsteps, however, forced the warrior's attention back onto the present. Ardwen saw a silver-haired female Elf holding a rapier and shouting orders. Ardwen did not move to interfere, it seemed that Kaya was intent on speaking with the captain.

Shaking his head slightly Ardwen positioned himself near the entrance to the deck below, and thus to the corridor that lead to the captain's cabin and Ariana. Ardwen continued to watch the exchange between the unnamed captain and Kaya, seemingly lethargic and uncaring of what was happening around him. Finally though, something happened that broke the Elf's torpor - Turin ran onto the deck with another figure Ardwen recognized, a soldier by the name of Lienad. The Elf wondered where Turin had acquired his companion, the last time he had seen Lienad had been at the Citadel, and then only briefly.

The Elven swordsman watched as Turin exchanged words with the captain. Ardwen took a few halting half-steps away from the door, and then Turin began walking toward him. The beserker glanced back at the entrance to the decks below once, almost fitfully, and then returned his focus to his Priest of Battle, waiting to see what his next move or order would be.

Written by - Rikshanthas

The captain was about to make a sharp retort to the other elf when a warrior in full crusader's regalia all but flew up the gangplank to stand right in front of her. She seemed to try to say something as the crusader swiftly explained their presence aboard her ship, but he was gone again so swiftly she was left still with one finger raised, her mouth working soundlessly at the abruptness of it all. Several seconds passed before she lowered her hand, closing her mouth and shaking her head slowly. What irritated her the most was the man was right. They needed to get out in open water before they were crushed amid the escalating battle in and around the harbor. She resheathed her rapier and dismissed Kaya and the lad who'd been helping her with a wave. "Go ahead and get the flag up," she said as she turned toward the ship's wheel. "Was going to do it myself anyway," she muttered. Glowering at the crew who'd been watching the exchange, she shouted, "well what are you louts standing around for?! Get this ship going!" Shooing them all to their duties, she then busied herself with the task of getting the Fair Sea's Call away from the dock as quickly as possible, making a mental note to ask once they were underway, what the Desert Wolf was doing in the human capital.

****

Boarding the ship barely a stride behind Turin, Lienad didn't even stop on the deck, heading instead toward the crew cabins and brushing by a familiar-looking black-clad elven warrior with barely a nod of acknowledgement. The world could go to hell, he had to be sure Shara was alright. Then he could go topside to help the crew. He started checking every cabin: the crew would all be topside anyway, so he had no worries about disturbing anyone's privacy. He realized his mistake when he opened the door to what must have been the captain's cabin, to find a dwarven healer tending to the human woman they had rescued from execution - a decidedly naked woman. His sense of decency arose swiftly, and with a cough and a quick "sorry, wrong room," he shut the door just as quickly, his cheeks turning a deep red. He thanked whatever gods might be listening that the hallway was empty, then resumed his search.

Naturally, the object of his search was in the last cabin he could check. He nearly collided with Jak as the latter was exiting the small cabin. "She's still out," the half-elf said by way of explanation. "Set 'er up best I could, so she'll be about as comfy as a ship's bunk can afford 'till she wakes. Y' ask me she'd be th' better if'n she sleeps this whole mess through. Less stress fer the lady," he finished with a wry grin. "Check on 'er if'n it'll ease yer mind, but doan be long - cap' needs all the help she can get," he added as he climbed the ladder to the upper deck. Lienad edged the door open enough to see the bundle tucked cozily in the lower bunk and assure himself she was fine, then he headed topside as well.

****

Ankhara followed the others up the gangplank at a slightly less reckless pace, then stopped and looked about, unsure how to proceed. She wanted to help - given their lives were at stake, she'd do just about anything - but she was completely helpless when it came to naval matters, this being the first time she'd ever set foot aboard a ship, to say nothing of sailing. As the thought occurred to her, she felt a wave of nervousness, which she quickly suppressed with a silent prayer to her patron deity, that the chaos in the harbor work in her favor, as it so often did. Deciding that there was little she could do at the moment, as the crew seemed to have things well in hand, she took up a position at the ship's bow, looking about the harbor for anything particularly noteworthy.

A high shriek pierced through the cacophony of the battle to reach her ears, startling her with the realization she'd completely forgotten about her companion. As if on cue, the hawk swooped in to perch on the rail right next to her, chirping impatiently. Ankhara held out a gloved hand, and the bird hopped to the new perch with an imperious chitter. "All right, what did you find out?" she asked, stroking the hawk's feathers. The bird responded with a twittering that no listener would have been able to follow, but the half elf nodded as if she had understood every note. It then chirped a querying note. "Well, I guess we can pass the report on, for all the good it will do," she replied, standing and turning toward the aft quarter, the hawk taking wing to alight on the rail of the crow's nest.

Written by - Turin Wallace

As Turin walked away from the captain, and summarily not hearing any return argument, he could assume she was going to get this blasted ship moving. Looking around a brief second, he found Ardwen standing at the entrance to the lower deck. With a brisk step, he was soon standing with him, saying,

"Good work back there, Ardwen. Now, tell me, how is she? How bad had she been mistreated?"

Peering into the dimly lit lower deck, Turin focused back on Ardwen and listened to his response.

Written by - Ardwen

"Good work back there, Ardwen. Now, tell me, how is she? How bad had she been mistreated?" Turin Wallace asked.

Ardwen looked at Turin. The Elf's gaze wavered, glancing first at the crusader's face, and then at the deck below. Ardwen cleared his throat softly before looking at his commander again. "Ariana," he said, "is . . . hurt, badly. Her body has been tortured: cuts, bruises, lack of food and water. The wounds are infected. But Turin--"

Ardwen paused here before spitting everything out at once, "It's her soul and mind. She does not recognize me, did not recognize any of us! She has not spoken a word, she has not understood a single word, nothing." Ardwen leaned against the wall behind him, the motion pushed one of his sheathes forward. Ardwen idly pressed against the handguard of his blade with his thumb, pushing the blade up from the scabbard's throat, then he pushed it back down, again and again.

Ardwen shook his head, ceased fiddling with his sheath, and said, "I don't know how to help her. I hope you've got some ideas commander."

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin listened intently and saw the concern on his friends face. The news was worse than even he expected, but drawing in an audible breath, he puts on a smile and says,

"All things can be mended, even the mind. We should focus on healing what we can, I assume Dorve has been been tending her wounds? If so, it's a start, but we need to get her in a place better suited for her care."

Turin looked about the ship as he saw they were preparing to get under way and make their break free of the port. Looking at Ardwen, he says,

"The sooner we are out of harm's way, the better. Which reminds me..."

It is now Turin begins to remove parts of the armor he was wearing, until only his red gambeson remained. Finishing his sentence, he says,

"...we best not take any chances. If we get hit, and pray to the All-Father it doesn't, we'll need to get off this ship with Ariana. If we get free, all the better. In either case, armor makes no difference now Ardwen. Lay it aside until we are safe and docked."

Smiling, Turin wraps his armor into a bundle and places it into one of a few empty crates on deck. Sighing, he places the top onto the crate and hopes that the sea salt doesn't do too much damage to the steel before they reach port. Of course, if they sink, it won't matter too much.

Steeling himself, as his fate is out of his hands, he descends into the lower deck to check on Ariana himself.

Written by - Ardwen

"All things can be mended, even the mind. We should focus on healing what we can, I assume Dorve has been tending her wounds? If so, it's a start, but we need to get her in a place better suited for her care." Ardwen watched as Turin looked about and spoke. The crusader turned to face the Elf and said, "The sooner we are out of harm's way, the better. Which reminds me..." Ardwen raised an eyebrow as Turin removed his armor and finished his speech with, "We best not take any chances. If we get hit, and pray to the All-Father it doesn't, well need to get off this ship with Ariana. If we get free, all the better. In either case, armor makes no difference now Ardwen. Lay it aside until we are safe and docked."

Turin placed his armor in a bundled and then laid it inside a chest on the deck. Turin tossed a wane smile at the beserker before heading below deck. Ardwen had moved away from the wall slightly, but still had one hand on it. The bladeweaver took his other hand and moved it to his forehead and muttered, "This is just stupid." Ardwen walked over to the crate where Turin had paced his armor and rapped his fingers on it, the Elf contorted his face in thought and consternation. Ardwen walked to the entrance to the decks below and passed down the narrow flight of stairs. The warrior sighed and muttered as he began to fumble with his armor, "Freakin' ship goes down and he expects me to swim back to the Citadel with Ariana. First my sword, then my armor, there'd better be some damn fine 'heavenly rewards' in the hereafter for this! Stupid oaths of stupid loyalty from stupid fuc--"

Ardwen's voice was cut off as he removed the chestplate of his armor. Every section he removed brought pain, literally, as the armor could no longer keep his body numb. Finally the warrior undid his metal leggings and boots. Ardwen then gathered the armor together and arrayed it as if it were on a stand: the greaves and pauldrons all arranged to appear as if they were on display. Ardwen let out another sigh as he bent his back backwards and then doubled over to touch his fingers to the floor, trying to stretch his back and legs. The motion caused a stab of hot pain to shoot up his side and he reflexively grasped the spot, his hand came away red, looking down he saw the spot where he had taken a blow protecting Ariana in their dash to the harbor.

The warrior's clothes were the colors of Avari, a deep blue shirt with long loose sleeves and black pants, well made, but frayed at the bottom of the legs. The right sleeve was threadbare around the warrior's elbow, it looked as if holes had been poked through it all around. Grunting Ardwen ripped the sleeve off and tossed it on the floor. Ardwen placed the smaller blade through the sash that ran about his waist. Keeping his other blade in his right hand he went back onto the top deck and leaned against the wall near the entrance, his eyes narrowed and his mouth in a sullen downturn as he looked around.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya listened to the interchange between Turin and the captain, then figured she was no longer needed. She turned and left the cabin boy and the captain to get along with their business. She knew little about ships, but she did enjoy being on them. Well, except the last one, that prison ship was no barrel of laughs. She thought of going downstairs to see how Dorve was doing, but figured the druid knew her business and would call her if she was needed. Besides, I would rather take my chances up here during battle than be caught inside in a small, enclosed area. She watched Turin speak with Ardwen, then remove his armor. Figuring that was a good idea, she removed her own, not that she wore a lot. Then she watched Ardwen remove his and could see he was injured. Kaya made her way over to the warrior. "Looks like you took a pretty good hit there. I'm no healer but I know a bit about tending wounds so they don't get worse. I could take a look at it if you wanted; I think Dorve has her hands full with your queen."

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn was absorbed in her own thoughts as they left Teran and Mavigan behind to descend another staircase and find a way around. 'Why does she keep leaving me behind? Does she not want me around? Did I do something to get her angry? She seemed happy enough to have me along at the start, what changed?" She was so absorbed she almost didn't see Sabbatine stop, and ended up stopping herself less than a foot in front of the creature as she turned around with a huge grin on her face. "Sooo um... K-Keeryn?" She shuddered visibly.

"I think not, I have a better idea. Since Teran, in his eternal wisdom, seems to think you won't trigger the trap since you're made up of a lot of different people, I suggest we just walk right next to each other. This hallway is more than wide enough for all 3 of us to stand shoulder to shoulder. If you wouldn't set it off by yourself then with Jasmine and I next to you the effect should be the same." With that she she moved to the left side of the hall to stand right next to Sabbatine, though facing forward rather than the way they had come, ignoring the look of disappointment on the creature's face.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia turned to leave as the door opened for just a moment, a human man walked in, and his face turned beet red as he mumbled, "Sorry, wrong room," before he ducked back out, shutting the door behind him. She waited a moment to allow the man time to gather his wits before she walked outside to lean against the wall next to the door. He was searching for someone, but it wasn't her place to ask questions, and he didn't seem a threat to anyone after his last entrance. Vylia watched as he spoke to another man who had walked out of the furthest room, looked inside a moment, and then headed back in her direction, heading topside. Vylia nodded at him as he passed, a knowing smile on her face.

After a few minutes Turin came walking down the stairs, and it was all she could do to stop from crying at the sight of him. "I thought you might not make it, I'd have returned but for Ariana's presence. You can't go in just yet, she isn't dressed, the dwarf is still looking over her physical wounds. As much as I respect you, I'll have to protect Ariana's propriety since she cannot do so herself. I know you are worried, but we've waited this long, a few minutes more will not hurt." Then she noticed a cut on his neck, "You should do something about that neck wound, looks like someone tried to get you with an arrow and nicked you. How are things topside? I heard a good number of footsteps up there."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen gazed at the wooden deck beneath him as he sought to lose himself in thought. Suddenly, he saw the lower part of Kaya's legs in front of him and then heard the female warrior say, "Looks like you took a pretty good hit there. I'm no healer but I know a bit about tending wounds so they don't get worse. I could take a look at it if you wanted; I think Dorve has her hands full with your queen."

For several moments Ardwen said nothing. Finally the Elf slowly raised his head, but he did not look levelly at Kaya. "My, my," Ardwen said, "so much noise over nothing. You shouldn't worry about me." Ardwen lowered his eyes back to the deck and finished, "Besides, shouldn't you save that concern for yourself? I've got this feeling . . . something is about to give. I'm not just speaking of our attempt to escape Westgale, I think this is only the start of something much larger. But then again . . ." Ardwen never finished his sentence; he seemed content to stare at the ship's planks and let his thoughts wander.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya sighed, "There is bound to be more, I can feel something more too. so it will help to have everyone up to par. My wounds are very minor, but that one looks like it might need sewing and I have had my hand at sewing up a few wounds. Now, if you would like to wait for Dorve and forgo a scar, then so be it." Kaya saw the cabin boy walk by and motioned him over, asking him to bring a wound kit over. "Now, Ardwen, I can be as stubborn as you, the wound is still bleeding, I see the fresh blood. Please, humor me and let me help." The cabin boy rushed back with wound kit in hand and gave it to Kaya. "See, I am all ready."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen raised his head and looked directly into Kaya's eyes. "You're irritating me," he began, "you don't know what I'm capable of withstanding and what I'm not. I'm not made of glass like some of you seem to be. I'm giving you one warning, don't even try it." Ardwen started to rest against the wall again when he suddenly stood erect and let out a "tch" of frustration. The warrior walked to the side of the ship near the below deck entrance.

Ardwen tried to gaze into the sea, but the view over the harbor was far from peaceful by now. "Ruined my chain of thoughts." Ardwen muttered gruffly to the air.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya sighed. "Fine my friend, I was only offering to help. Go ahead, be macho, see if I care." Kaya stood up and went back to see how Dorve was doing. She brushed her way past Turin and Vylia and enterened the room.

"Good, someone to help me dress her." Dorve said. SHe held up a dressing gown and motioned for Kaya to lift the unconsious woman so that she could slip it on over her. It did not take long to get the her decent and settled onto the cot. "YOu two out in the hall, you can come in." She looked at Turin and Vylia, then back at the woman and sighed. She has a lot of deep muscle and bone wounds, nothing broken, but a lot of bruising. I did what I could for the minor cuts and abbrasions, but there is more to her injuries than meets the eyes. There is sometiung I am not equipped to deal with. WHenever I try to probe deeper, and a bit clumsily I admit, she starts to writhe and cry out in pain and anguish. She needs something I cannot give her, and for that, I am sorry."

Written by - Teran

Mavigan's triumph was short lived. When she turned to where the assassin had been there was no one. He had simply vanished.

Teran crept swiftly down the passages now out of sight of Mavigan. He had not anticipated her getting through his shield. He smirked at the thought, there were no other traps like that in this place, that was a trap of his own creation though it had failed him. He could not have anticipated enough of his blood entering her body to allow her to fool the trap into thinking she was him. She had perhaps signed her own death note he brooded, there were dangers ahead he could not protect himself from much less her... things he had not anticipated. Every step he took deeper into the labyrinth his sense of what truly waited for them got sharper and his reservations grew.

Moving like a ghost he murdered a dozen patrolling guards. Despite the breach in security it appeared that they did not believe anyone would make it past their abomination and thus were far more relaxed than they should have been. After many curves and turns and forks he found himself in a long passage with a bright light at the end. There was nowhere for him to hide in this passage so he boldy strode forward. He sensed that he was being watched, how could they not be watching him so close to their lair.

The assassin felt the trap closing in around him. He felt his doom approaching, he tensed getting ready to move swiftly. Suddenly the spider web shape became visible to him and he attempted to defend against the attack. The floor, ceiling, and walls exploded inward at him. He raised his blade in defense but it was too late. He felt stinging in his left hand as the bladed webbing cut through two of his fingers leaving them on the floor. He saved himself from being decapitated only by sacrificing his blade to the much more powerfully enchanted weapon that now had him trapped. An inhuman roar escaped from his mouth, rattling the tunnels all the way back up to where Mavigan was, even to where Sabbatine and the rest of the party were.

The webbing had him imobilized. It had all but shredded his flesh and clothing and armor with such force that his blood had splashed the walls and floor leaving designs on it eerily similar in shape to what now ensared him. It all happened to rapidly the Assassin had to catalogue in his mind what exactly had occured. He stood awkwardly, contorted to the shape of the bladed webbing, pulling him in different directions completely immobilizing him. Blood seemed to pour out of his body, but the assassin was not worried. As powerful as this weapon was, it had not killed him yet and more importantly it had not been able to cut through his bones. Pain clowded his thoughts but he did not lose his senses. The "webbing" that had trapped him was a very fine metal he guessed. It was so fine he had difficulty actually seeing it anywhere his blood was not coating it. It was sharp and well crafted. He still clutched his dagger in his right hand, protecting his neck with it. The blade had stopped the strange weapon but it had been damaged beyond repair in the process.

He saw the silhouette of his attacker further along the passage. Though he could not make out the details do to the backlight, this person was vaguely humanoid, wearing a long robe and hooded cloak, had armored gauntlets that seemed to be manipulating the webbing as though it were a net of some sort. As the creature came closer Teran could see that it was wearing a mask crafted into the visage of a skull. He guessed his attacked was female based on the way she walked and the vague shape of her body though there was no way to tell for certain short of undressing his attacker or taking off her mask.

She stopped just out of arm's reach of him examining her trapped opponent through the darkened eye sockets of her mask. Teran calmly peered back through the bladed webbing, regarding her as though she were something to study, not an opponent that had bested him. She pulled on the webbing and it tightened but it did not even scratch one of his bones. More blood poured onto the ground but despite such great loss he seemed unfazed by it. She examined the growing pool on the floor and noted that whatever she had caught was, it was not human. Without another word she turned and pulled the assassin off of his feet, dragging him along the ground unceremoniously towards the light of the final chamber. Teran hoped that with him caught they would not reset the trap and snare Mavigan, he doubted she could survive such an attack.

Behind Teran the fingers that had been cut from his hand seemed to grow and harden into something different but similar. The material was blackened, hard, and smoldering with heat, each one resembling a talon or claw or the tip of one at least. When Mavigan came upon the scene she would find the claws, the strange pattern of blood on the walls that had been burned about a quarter inch deep do too the acidity of his blood and the massive pool of his blood on the floor and the smears of blood he left as he was dragged towards the light.

****

Sabbatine glared at Keeryn and tensed up before leaping forward intending to set off the trap Teran had described before the delicious smelling beast had a chance to set it off herself. Sabbatine cheered in victory as she leapt forward but nothing happened. She narrowed her eyes and jumped forward another few steps and seemed really dissapointed that once again nothing happened. She narrowed her eyes and glared at Keeryn.

"Cheater!" she growled, and she turned and walked into the passage that lay ahead of them.

A few seconds Teran's cry reached them and Sabbatine's eyes grew huge and she trembled in fear. Though she did not recognize the cry as Teran's she recognized the cry as belonging to a monster.

"There are monsters in here." she whispered fearfully.

Written by - Vylia

"There are monsters in here," Sabbatine whispered fearfully.

Keeryn's gazed narrowed to the thinnest of slits as she responded after the bone jarring scream, "Yes, there are. And at least one is untrustworthy." She shoved her way past the abomination, walking to the next set of stairs, she turned before descending, "Come on, we need to catch up to Mavigan. If there is something dangerous enough to make a scream like that running loose I don't want her left alone."


Written by - Vylia Page 35 Book 3

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

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Talonmane

"Ready?!" called the Admiral and Captain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Ariana

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Wilhelm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Talonmane

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mavigan!"
"Marlie!"

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

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

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

****

{back to the present}

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

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

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

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

Written by - Pharsalus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Wilhelm

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

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

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

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

Father Jathom turned and said solemnly to the guard captain,

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

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

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

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

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Wilhelm

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

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

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

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

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Agmund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Talonmane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

{back to the present}

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

Written by - Agmund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Written by - Talonmane Page 36 Book 3

{flashback to 2-1/2 days ago - Munchadin's ships in dangerous battle 800 miles out from Port Westgale. Beridane has had a standing bounty on all Ancoran loyalists, and the payoff for the capture or sinking of the Wavehammer and the peg-legged Dwarf are amoung the highest. An hour ago they were found and attacked by canny mercenaries looking to collect, in sleek, quick boats numbering at least two-dozen. But not long after the fight commenced, a light, whispy fog rolled in over them, and things have been dicey since. While all were equally blind, the lighter boats had the advantage of speed and maneuverability, and were using their shot catapults to pepper the bigger ships, and even the cruiser was feeling the damage...}

"I know what I saw uncle, matching us five-hundred feet off Starboard!" Marlie stood on the rim, leaning far out to point in the direction of her sighting, her other hand grasping a line for balance. Mate Perry stood in greater safety within the Star main's high basket, peering though a small telescope in that same direction. Without taking the device from his eye he yelled, "I dunno Cap'n. It's so hard to see out there I can't say the lass is right."

On the other side of the ship, the crew were handling more of the enemy that were, at least, visible.

"Fiaahhhre!" At Bimglin's order the three super-heavy ballistae on the Port prow loosed their held tension, and with a noise that sounded like three great strings on a giant lute of the gods were plucked with harsh intent, their tree-sized, iron-capped bolts lanced out. One missed, flying into the unseeable distance behind a cloudy wall and causing little streams of the fog to spin about in the disturbance, but the other two blew through the forehull of a corvette - one just above and the other just under the waterline. The boat listed and turned immediately in the impact. The Oathfather, one of the 'Hammer's destroyer escorts changed course and passed in front of the cruiser, following the wounded boat into the mists and firing her two forward catapults. Three seconds later the rat-a-tat-tat sound of clusters of metal shot hitting wood could be heard. "Ye-ah!" yelled the young Ironbrow sailor standing next to Bim, pumping his arm in the air in victory. The quiet First Mate gave an approving nod...it sure sounded like the destroyer's fire found the target too. Bim bent to help the fore crew reload one of the guns, rolling one of the next bolts into position onto a loader track. Cranks were then used to draw the great bow and pull the bolt up off the deck and into the firing position on the body of the ballista. The sails above groaned and moved as the ship began an increasing turn to port.

Munchadin stood at the Starboard rail near the center of the ship, staring out into the distance toward where his niece suspected some foxes ran, shadowing their course. He held his right arm high and back, motioning silent orders for mate pilot Sorbhulim that turned the 'Hammer slowly away, making it look as though they weren't aware, and baiting the foxes to strike. Sailmaster Brogni saw what Munch was intending and had his crews ready the equipment for a sudden heel-over in the same direction. Another motion of the Captain's arm and Feburt, again at the belowdecks communication horns, informed the Portside gun crews to be ready. Bimglin saw that command too, and with an encouraging pat on the backs to the Port fore gun crew, he moved aft to ensure the weapons all along the cruiser's side were set to go into action.

In the distance throughout they could all hear the muted noises of other fights - their other ships undoubtedly in the same position they were, battling half-blind and slowly being whittled at and taking more wounds.

As Munchadin left the Starboard rail, heading across the ship and up onto the meso-deck, the Wavehammer kept her motion and slowly presented her aft-side to the enemy...who got brave...

"There!" came the cry of the young Dwarf woman as two, then three, then a total of five corvette's burst the line of mist just head of where she had called their position minutes before. They were agile-looking craft with low, sidespread sails of a strange geometry and harsh angles to construction that seemed of a wood foreign to the experience of any of the crew.

Munchadin climbed onto the massive timbers that made up the pieces of the two presently disassembled trebuchet that could be mounted to the cruiser's central deck for strategic bombardment. Once atop the fifteen-foot-high pile, he could see the enemy, and wasted no time spinning his right hand above his head in circles whilst yelling "Turn!...Turn! Bimglin, take fire control!"

Sailmaster Brogni had trained his crews beyond exhaustion for moments like this where they had to work with whatever wind was available to get the heavy ship to piroette like a dancer. They worked in unision with ballast crews belowdecks, who moved giant counterweights along rails that ran the width of the ship between its two hulls and that kept it balanced. Crafty use of these weights could help the ship in any maneuver. The ship turned harder to Port, though seemingly not quick enough...but then as the sound of metal screeching on metal ended in several immense dull thuds, Brogni smiled at what he knew were the counterweights reaching their positions and he ordered the sails put to their final necessary trim. And the cruiser spun.

An eerie quiet held sway broken only by the continuing distant sounds of the rest of the wide seabattle...quiet until the First Mate called the mark.

"READY...FIAAAHHRRE!!" Bimglin mustered all ther volume he could into his baritone call while Wavehammer's maneuver brought her Port hull perpendicular to most of the approaching five boats...one of which disintegrated in a hailstorm of wood and metal and another that fell over sidewards and nosed in hard with a watery spray. A third took heavy damage but kept coming, along with the remaining two that were just lightly wounded. "RELOAD!" Over a hundred sailors on this side of the ship worked to make ready again the 42 mangonel cannon, 13 heavy ballistae, 23 light ballistae, and 9 catapult above and belowdecks that had just fired the tremendous broadside.

But even as that was occurring, and as the sails and rigging around and below him were flapping and slamming into new positions, catching the wind in new ways to recover from the hard change of course that had spun the ship near to the opposite direction, Mate Perry in the high basket next to Marlie cried out, "Avast! at Star-aft! incoming!" Marlie jumped from her spot to move over toward the new sighting, and gasped. Out of the fog plowed another squadron of 5 corvettes in formation, partly wounded, and behind them and to the right and heading sixty degrees from them came the half-burning shape of the Oathfather, clearly in a losing position and running from pursuers. More of the strange mercenary boats followed soon after him and beginning to overtake the destoyer, at least another four.

The Wavehammer's Portside then took the brunt of the attack from the remaining three foxes, whose deck catapults shot a tar-like substance all over half the side of the ship. It could be barely felt, and hardly seemed an attack at all, especially as the crew noticed that the substance wasn't on fire. Few saw the attackers peel away after their strafe. The cannon crews belowdecks started to understand what had just happened. The stuff had covered most of their gun ports, and they couldn't get it off.

Back up top, Munchadin left the meso-deck and ran-hobbled to the stern of the Starboard hull. At the same time Bimglin, who also had not yet realized the state of the port side after the attack, was heading to the rear of the Port hull. More of the merc boats kept appearing out of the fog behind the Wavehammer. Brogni didn't wait for the Captain's orders, and was setting his sailors to get the cruiser moving faster away from the new threats.

"The fog is partly lifting uncle. I count at least 14 boats out there, some coming for us, some for the 'Father!..." yelled blond-braided Marlie. "...or are they?" She was puzzled. Whilst the corvettes were taking shots at the destroyer and long shots at her own ship, something just didn't seem normal to her. "It's almost as if they are fleeing themselves," she said just loud enough for Perry to hear."That's it! they're running from someth...!"

Marlie didn't get to finish her sentence as the fog suddenly, impossibly blew apart as though the breath of Tiertiala herself made it so. Like two curtains that were holding back the sky, the cloudy material parted, and a ship unexpected burst from the whispy remains...an Elven ship and triangular mainsail bearing the stylized 'A' and anchor form of the seal of Ancora. One figure, cloaked and hooded with arms outstretched as though they alone could have spread the mist apart stood high on the prow and seemed to emit a presence that instantly dominated the area. As the rest of the frigate cleared the dissipating fog, something they could not have dreamed was to be seen, for filling this ship's sail was the breath of a collosal creature of magic and wind, water and storm, nearly a third the size of the ship itself. Mate Perry dropped his telescope. Marlie came down off the higher perch and steadied herself in the basket, holding the rim with one hand and grasping Perry's arm tightly with the other. Her voice quivered, "What have they done? what have they brought with them?"

The figure on the prow of the incoming frigate then gestured with one forceful stretch of its arms. A far distant rolling thunder was bare heard, and a powerful gale then whipped over them all. The rest of the fog as far as the eye could see was blown into nothing, and the truth of what lay behind it revealed. On either side of the lead vessel came multiple ships, all recognizable, all flying colours most friendly, and behind them, more ships than could be counted by the two lookouts in the basket. The mercenary corvettes may have wounded the Oathfather badly, but it was now clear they ran into something they could not hope to match and were indeed trying to run for their lives from a fleet...what would become the reincarnation of the Westgalian fleet...gathered from around the world by one heroic crew whose mission would go down in history. Gossamer Wing had survived and had returned...and was not alone.

A short time later, amoungst the cheering and revelry as the remaining mercs were rounded up or ran off, Munchadin stood at the a rail and handed Bimglin a cigar. Taking a long puff on his own, he watched the mooring ropes go out that would link the cruiser with his long away frigate. The hooded mage - as Munch assumed was the case - was nowhere to be seen, nor was the mighty storm elemental which he assumed was commanded by said mage. There would be time enough to investigate that situation in the coming hours while the rest of the fleet would have a celebration honouring the crew of the 'Wing, he thought. On the other side of his ship, he knew his people were working hard trying to remove the strange tar and clear their port guns. Using that unknown substance was an unexpected tactic, and he was still thinking of ways to defeat it for their future encounters. Oddly enough, a smile that contained a warmth he hadn't felt in months crept over his lips. The status quo had just changed in more than one way, and the war would now be different. "Aye. Aye, now we've got ourselves a real fight lad. And now, we bring that fight home."

****

{back in the present}

Wavehammer streamed ahead toward the courier. Westgale's port - due to its use by the enemy as a tool - was in growing flames. Munch's fleet both in the harbour and out to sea continued battling for what they held most dear. At the helm, Munchadin felt that smile again.

Written by - Teran

Teran came to rest in a heap towards the center of a small but brightly lit room. He others around him including the one that had wounded him. He knew that they were begining to understand that his expressions of pain were merely an illusion, another disguise he wore.

"I have never seen anything survive such terrible wounds." one of the people murmured.

"He can't living, is he a golem?" hissed another.

"I have seen his kind before." a calm feminine voice murmured from behind her skull mask. "This wyrm will make a fitting sacrifice to our masters when they arrive."

There was a moment of silence in the room and then the female voice spoke again.

"I will tell the elders that I have fixed their problem here. Make sure that... thing... does not go anywhere." She marched out of the room leaving Teran alone with three observers.

Written by - Talonmane

{flashback to 60 minutes ago. The outer defenses of the Iron Fleet at Port Westgale have been breached by the combined flotilla of the Ancoran loyalists and their Doledran allies. They have split into two fleets: one that will penetrate the harbour and another that will stay farther out and picket the possible approaches that any Ironskane vessels could take to come to the Port's defense. The Wavehammer is, of course, leading the harbour fleet and has already passed the peninsula breaks that mark the entrance to the harbour and Munchadin has ordered a long course to the South which will bring them 'round the circumference of the area, eventually passing the shipyards and paralleling the pier. They are joined by the 'Hammer's squadron, the rest of their wing, and a wing of Doldedran skirmishers . The Admiral (a term now rightfully said - finally) has set a multi-pronged assault meant to take out every resource floating or standing at the port. His own group's task is to pass the pier and ensure every ship and every dock still there is destroyed. Additionally, they will be watching for any loyalists who need aid, for after several interrogations of captured enemy sailors during the last 30 minutes, they've found out that someone has been causing a commotion in the Port. Munch thought that perhaps Ithramir's Elves got word to local friendlies about the date and time of the sea raid (a raid the Elves had no idea was now a full assault).}

The Wavehammer cruised on following the South peninsula of the harbour, beginning her course that would flank the heaviest fighting. They had bourne the brunt of the outer assault and smashed their way in, and it was now time for the second line of attack vessels to drive ahead, secure the center of the harbour, and guard the Doledran bombers as they set up their long catapults and trebuchet for shore bombardment. The front line ships had split, with some heading the long ways 'round North and South, some remaining back with the rearguard, and some joining the fast boats in their charge for the inner third of the area to harass the shore with strafe and present obvious targets for the Usurper's shore defenses.

Kildef looked up from where he was helping mate Doni and 2 sailors lay out two long rope stacks in seperate circles next to the ship's Port-aft light ballista. One rope was attached to the length of a loaded bolt beneath a thin net. The other was readied upon a second bolt and net but lay off to one side, in place for reload. Kildef held one line, smelled it for the tenth time, and for an equal number of times recoiled from the pungent odor.

"I know, lad, that stuff's stinkin up me stern decks somethin' fierce, but the finger-waggler thinks it's goin'ta help with somethin'...an' if that somethin's what I think it is, then I'd even put up with the stench of me mother-in-law's fishhead stew." Munch crinkled up his nose and gave a foul look at the thought of that.

Kildef laughed a moment and then stood and hefted the stock of the ballista, moving the gun around in its gimbal mount and testing its heft, range and ease of motion, and sighting along it as well. Normally it took two sailor's to do so steadily, but the son of a Northman father and Amazon mother could man it alone, and if necessary, reload it alone - and he intended to do so at the moment of its special purpose at this event.

He could still feel the hazy attachment to the mind that even now floated a mile away upon Gossamer Wing, at position between the bombers and the rearguard near the harbour entrance. A 'mage', Munchadin had thought, but the Ranger knew better. Only one sort of being gave off that telltale aura, and few he had known in life - mostly in his other, past and clouded life - glowed with a presence of that unforgettable magnitude and...

His thoughts were interrupted by a stern projection of mental warning as a flap of wings and scratch of sharp talons on wood brought his gaze to the railing. Yes, old friend, I know I should keep that off my mind. Yes, I know I was told any strong emotions felt toward this could reveal our plans to it. Well, then, I'm glad your here to correct me, as always. Kil stared back at the coin-sized yellow eyes of the old great owl. The rail upon which the bird perched put his eyes about even with the Ranger's own. How are your feathers? Yes, I know the salty and watery air is bothersome and itchy, and... As if to comically puncuate the next point, the owl suddenly sneezed. ...and gives you a terrible cold. Well, you'll just have to put up with it. It's should rain in a few days and that will help. You could have stayed North with father, you know. Yes, I know then you would have missed our...friend. Well, if you want to be here then quit your complaining.

Olawahoo had truly become the equivalent of a grumpy old man, with timeless wisdom and more quirks than an Ironfjord ore barge, as Munch might say it.

The Admiral stood on the rail-step several yards from Kildef with telescope in hand. He left the running of the cruiser to his capable First Officer - a field promotion for the worthy Bimglin, long overdue - and instead monitored the positions of the vessels in his group and peered far at the tactical positioning unfolding in the center of the harbour with over a quarter of their ships. He could see that the Usurper's docked vessels has started to come out to meet them, and they were running right into the Doledran skirmish boats - maneuverable clippers with excellent wind efficiency and guns that covered them well. The Doledrans had perfected their use as defenders ahead of the heavier siege ships, and a sailor could watch and marvel at their agility and teamwork that near always led to manipulating an enemy into a loss of wind just within the gunsights of the heavy cannon aboard the bombers.

The 'Hammer's squadron suddenly came into long range of two medium ships that flew the Iron flag, and Munch nodded in satisfaction at Bim's orders to let them be unless they closed. If possible, they would continue to penetrate without stopping all the way to the pier.

But then something tugged at the Dwarf's very soul. It felt as though a line had suddenly come taught at the base of his neck and nearly yanked him off the stern of his ship. Dizzied, he grasped at the rail and shook it off. He saw Kildef tense and swing the ballista to the NorthWest, pointing it high. The Ranger's owl had to regain its own balance, flapping its wide wings as it regained a solid foothold. Joining Kildef's gaze, he could see the sky over the harbour entrace turning smoke grey and then nearly black, highlighted by an eerie glow as if a full moon lay behind it. The morning sun became obscured by a haze, and all around it was as though dusk came early. Echoing across the bowl of the sky then came a twisted cackling laugh that Munchadin knew too well.

"By the gods," he said, "the finger-waggler was right. It's that she-monster. It's Hrulga!" His tactical thoughts raced, and his experience held sway over his worry. "Bimglin! Signal Commodore Kolajian on the Doled'Beru and then all ships. Tell 'im the wings are his and he's to continue the mission. The 'Hammer is headin' back there, to that thing. That's where we need to be, Bim. Make it happen."

The cruiser had not begun to curve out and away from the group when another wave of dread crashed over the crew, far greater than the last. Kildef appeared to know and to recover quicker than the others, and pulled himself back from the gun and into a meditative stance. The sky above the harbour entrace was flashing with unknowable magics, and a red light could be seen forming next to what at this range appeared to be the tiny dot that was the harpy hovering four-hundred feet above the water. Some members of the crew groaned and held their heads or their guts, some knelt, and others looked around frantically as though lost. "Doom!" cried one. "What end approaches?!" moaned another. But Munchadin was most proud of that half of them that stayewd at their posts and roade it out, and of his officers and mates who quickly came to the aid of those who were terrified.

Kildef seemed to eminate a barely perceptible green light himself as under his breath he chanted. He reached into a bag at his waist and removed a dried maple leaf. Palming it, he knelt suddenly and slapped his hand to the wooden deck while uttering loudly "I imbue thee Brialla, shield this fallen wood and repel the intrusion of Chaos from this good home!" The twin hulls and all wood on the catamaran came into focus in Munchadin's eyes more clearly than a moment before, and for a long second all seemed quiet and calm upon the ship, and only two clear, hooting calls from the great owl interrupted the moment. Then all sound returned, and the fear abated...mostly. It seemd to hang distantly now, and being aboard the ship felt...guarded...at least from something. Munchadin could not help but hold the rail gently with one hand and bask in the woarmth of that second or two. Looking around, he saw his people recovering and returning to their work.

He put his hand on the Ranger's shoulder and offered, "That was great lad. It's made a difference." Kil looked up, one eye red with burst blood vessels and sweat upon his brow, his breathing a bit gasping. He nodded to the Dwarf with a slight smile. "Now boyo, you be ready on that bolt in case..."

An large flash came from next to the harpy, and in the clouds near that point an eruption of light played as if lightning occurred deep in their hidden heights. A circular depression formed, glowed bright as eclipse's corona, and then shot forth a meteoric fireball trailing blaze and darkness, sparking and boiling with magic. Munch hobbled over to the rail further to Port and watched that hellish torpedo detonate upon one of the Doledrun schooners 2 miles to their North. The ship shattered at its midpoint, both fore and aft ends whipping up toward the sky as a cloud of steam and spray erupted. When the explosion cleared, the remains of the vessel was mostly sunk already.

Munch, as the rest of the crew, were not cowed by it - Kildef's spell ansured that. But they were all shocked, all in wide-eyed disbelief, despair, and anger. Few words were heard. Eighty-Four men...gone is a heartbeat! And entire ship...sa.. He could not even find the words. Next to him, once more at the gun, Kildef's shaking expression quaked with fury and a low growl came from his snarling jaw - an expression he had only known once before, when the Ranger's father came across a child possessed by a lesser demon in a town outside an ancient ruin whose name the Dwarf forgot.

Munchadin looked back toward the sky. "NO! I'll nae have this you devil! Bimglin, get this ship over there, and do it fast!" and he then addressed the whole ship, looking into every face he could. "Sons and daughter of Ancora! We're goin'ta end that black albatross today. I've had enough. I'm tired of her sticking that broken, poisoned beak in our path over the years."

As if on queue, another flash, and another fireball ripped from the heavens. This one fell wide of another Doledran skirmisher, but close enough to capsize the ship and leave waves treacherous for any crew who lived and tried to jump clear.

"I've had it up to the top braid in me beard with that one. Are you with me lads? For our brothers out there? For our slain King and the people he led and loved? Are ye with me fer Ancora?!" A crew raised on Munchadin's oaths and curses and speeches cheered loud enough for the harpy to hear it. "Well, good then!" The Admiral growled. "Today, we're goin'ta clear the seas of that witch forever!!"

As things calmed on the ship and they concentrated on their tasks and made their turn, the sails now filled with the wind that was completely in their favour whilst at this heading, and things were finally quiet enough again to hear the sounds of combat in the distance. Over those sounds came a faint plea for help from out Starboard and below...

"Munchadin!"

"Mun......din!"

"MUNCHADIN!"

Kildef furrowed his brow and tilted his head to listen. Nothing. Must have been nothing.

But Olawahoo heard better. Surprising the Ranger, the preybird leapt aloft. on silent wings he drifted out as low to the water as he dare go. Owls of his type have no place over seawater, he was not built for it and could not keep it up long. But this owl was intuitive and could feel a presence he knew. His unmatchable vision scanned the water, and bobbing in the waves, he finally spotted the man. He screeched loudly, and sent the image to Kildef.

The Barbarian reeled, dropped the butt of the cannon and ran off the pilot's deck. "Man Overboard!" he yelled while continuing aft following the Starboard railing. He turned back for just a moment to catch Munchadin's eye, "He's from shore, Admiral! we need him!" He didn't wait to see Munch's reaction and turned back toward his feathered friend. He could see Olly having a hard time hovering over the waves about 100 feet out, and the ship was still moving ahead. He heard the Sailmaster's orders and the sound of the canvas furling and and the splash and metal clanking that accompanied the two anchors that were loosed from their bays. In his mind he felt the bird relay just one notion: Archeantus!

Within 2 minutes the man was aboard and the sails filling again. The ship's healer and an assistant had arrived with blankets, and Marlie apprioached Ollawahoo carefully with a towel and tried to gingerly pat the moisture off the big bird. Kildef was astonished as he let her, and in fact opened his wings for the complete treatment. Looking down at the coughing man, their eyes met for the first time in...what had it been? an Aeon?

Written by - Archeantus

The next few minutes were a blur. He had exhausted his very will, seeping into his physical strength, he now fought to stay above the surface of the water. The sounds of war silenced, as the water engulfed his blind-folded head, and then exploded once more as he fought to keep afloat. Bereft of his mental powers, alone in the raging deep, he began to loose consciousness, his urgent calls shrinking into mere mumbles.

He came to a point where there was nothing left to do, he had expended everything, and so he did the one thing in desperation he had left. He prayed….and lost consciousness just at the moment he detected something familiar, the sound of flapping wings...

The next thing he knew, he was being hoisted up and over the wooden deck of the ‘Hammer by strong arms. He was incredibly cold, and shook violently, his teeth clattering. He was given a blanket, and he huddled there on the wet deck, coughing the water out of his spent lungs.

The old warlock took in gasps of air initially, but they slowed rapidly, as did his heart rate, his mental powers were returning, and he disciplined himself to overcome the cold that racked his body. He was instantly aware, many were watching him, but being blind, he could only guess where he was.

That doubt was shortly lived however, for he drew in a breath in sudden recognition as his mind found one it knew well.

“Kildef..?” He wheezed in genuine surprise. Detecting his thoughts (what had it been? an Aeon?), Archeantus returned with an old raspy voice, and a painful grin, “Possibly two old friend.”

Rising to his feet now, he strength rapidly growing not loosing a moment, he then gravely added, "I'm afraid pleasantries will have to wait, I've come here with all haste, bearing information you especially would like to know. Please, where is the one known as Munchadin?"

Written by - Ardwen

"Make way!" Gongrane could hear the shout echoing from outside of his hall. He had called another council and dispatched one of his finest diplomats to try and stall for time against the army that had gathered on his lands. "Make way!" The voice echoed off the stone walls of Gongrane's palace. The reverberations made the voice sound hollow and dull.

The king of Smarsh rubbed a hand over his face and placed his crown back on his head. He returned to his seat and composed himself, looking toward the large double-doors that marked the entrance to his chambers. The doors flew open without preamble and four armored knights entered the room. The knights wore the livery of his personal guard, but it was what they bore on their shoulders that caught the king's attention. The four warriors carried a cloth stretcher, and upon it was a prone figure.

Gongrane felt a growing knot forming in his stomach as he rose from his seat and rushed to the side of the stretcher. Gongrane was not a soft man, his small kingdom shared borders with the savage Orcs, and that meant a near constant struggle simply to carve out a living for the peoples of Smarsh. However, the sight of the diplomat Rish still churned his gut. Something had scorched the man, quickly and completely, leaving open blisters and welts that wept puss and clear liquid across his skin. The diplomat seemed to have trouble breathing as well, and he looked up at the king and mumbled over blackened and cracked lips.

The knights quickly informed their liege that the diplomat had been found badly burned along one of their patrol routes. There had been no attempts to hide the body, the enemy had meant for them to find him. Gongrane knelt down next to the man, trying to make out his words. The king leaned in close and implored him saying, "The future of our realms, and of our very peoples may depend on what you can tell us. We would ask for their sakes that you find the strength to make one last report, old friend."

For a brief instant the diplomat's milky eyes fixed on the king's face and he said in between gasps, "Terror . . . comes . . . the fires . . . of-" a spasm of coughs interrupted the man, and he spat black flecks upon his cheeks; Gongrane could only guess what innards he was hacking up. However, he managed one last word wheezed out of rattling lungs, "heaven." Rish spoke never again.

Gongrane slowly stood up; he looked at his four knights in turn. "See to it that Rish is given an honorable burial. He has given his life for our kingdom, and is to be awarded full honors as a loyal vassal and friend. You, my knights sworn by the land, you too have heard his dying words. War comes to Smarsh, we are to make ready with all haste and met this foe."

The four warriors bowed as one and bore Rish out of the room on the same stretcher he had been brought in on. King Gongrane grasped a nearby chair and lifted his crown with his other hand. It suddenly felt so very heavy.

Written by - Talonmane

{still 35 minutes from present time}

"Time is always in a rush around us, isn't it?" Kildef looked to the sea a moment and then at the palm of his own hand, still stained with the outline of a maple leaf, and then focused beyond at the Warlock once young and now, uncountable years past, the same man, but with layers of destiny having changed him irrevocably. "Ever the gods' work through us, both then and now." He strode forward to take Archeantus' hand in his, the other clasping him warmly at the shoulder. The Ranger hesistated in sadness for a moment as he beheld his old friends blindness, but forced himself to smile and continued, "Welcome aboard the Wavehammer.

"A Cap'n reserves that line fer himself, matie. Now who's this that bring me ship to a halt durin' matters of life and death? I've got pieces of men and wood bein' blown apart upon the surface of me sea and someone decides in the mid'l o' it to go fer a swim? Whate'er ye got to say, mister, let's out with it." Nothing took the stage on the ship from the alternating heavy footstep and peg-tap that marked the approach of the Admiral. He looked the newcomer up and down and stared as though his gaze could bore through the old cloth covering the Warlock's eyes.

As if to punctuate the moment, another meteoric blaze vaulted from the clouds and engulfed the aft end of one of the Doledrun assault ships. The sound of crashing wood and burning embers was dulled by its travel over the waves and was but a white noise - an odd subdued roar by the time it hit the ears of the catamaran's crew. Munchadin's focus left Archeantus long enough to see it happen, then fixed again firmly upon the visitor, hoping somewhere in this mysterious arrival would be a piece of hope and not more fuel for the growing fires of this day. The 'Hammer was at flank speed again, not able to rush fast enough toward the red-clouded scene.

Written by - Ariana

Speed was discarded in favor of stealth, and Mavigan silently crept forward following the long trail of gore. The passageway offered no concealment as it was long and straight and brightly lit, and Mavigan hoped her efforts at stealth would be sufficient to keep her hidden. The light confused her – she could see no physical means of illumination and they were deep underground. Had there been torches or braziers, she would have extinguished them without a thought, but magical illumination was not something she knew how to counteract, so she trudged forward slowly and quietly.

Eventually, the walls of the passageway began to open up into small chambers carved out of the stone. At each one, Mavigan would press herself against the wall and peer into the room, looking for sentries or soldiers. Thus far, each cell was unoccupied, and Mavigan silently cheered her good fortune.

Her fortune changed at the fifth cell she encountered. The trail she had been following led straight into this particular cell, and she repeated her procedure, back pressed into the stone wall, eyes peering into the cell. Teran lay in the center of the small room surrounded by a growing pool of his own black blood. Mavigan bit her tongue to hold in a gasp. He was in very bad shape, his body covered in long gashes, many of them deep enough to reveal the white gleam of bone.

Mavigan had never known anyone to survive such wounds, and she quietly observed him, waiting with bated breath to see if his chest still rose and fell with life. She felt a flood of relief when she saw him take a breath. It was a shallow, shuddering breath, but he was still alive.

Mavigan then turned her attention to the other people in the room. There were three men, dressed in some sort of robe that were similar to the outfits of those guards they had encountered before; yet, she could see no weapons. No swords were sheathed by their sides, no axes were strapped to their backs, and not one of them carried a staff. If Mavigan had met the three on a street in Westgale, she would have thought they were nothing but pansies, unable to give her a good fight, and would have passed by them without a second glance.

In this case, however, the lack of weapons made her nervous, for if they did not engage in martial combat, then they must have skill in the magical arts. It didn’t help that there were three of them to only one of her, and she knew that Teran would be of no help. Her one advantage was their distraction, all attention currently being focused on the injured and bleeding man on the floor. In fact, Mavigan thought idly, they were staring at him as if he were an enigma that needed to be studied, a bug under the lens of an alchemist.

She felt vaguely offended at this for some reason, but she quickly locked the sentiment away. Anything that kept their backs to her was something she could use to her advantage. She would only have time for one surprise attack, though, before they would be upon her. Mavigan knew she had to kill them fast, before they sounded the alarm, if she and Teran had any chance of escaping this pit.

Silently stepping into the room, she crept behind the man on the right. Murder was a matter of a few seconds as she placed a hand over his mouth and drew her dagger across his neck in one quick swipe. As the corpse slid to the floor, Mavigan threw her dagger with a deft twist of her hand at the man standing nearest to her. The dagger caught him in the throat and he went down noiselessly. The third man, farthest from her, had recovered from the initial surprise of the attack and was softly chanting as both of his hands began to glow.

Mavigan drew her second dagger and charged him. Her weight knocked him over and with a slight adjustment, Mavigan cushioned her fall by allowing all her weight to land squarely on his chest. His chanting ceased and as he lay there gasping like a fish out of water, Mavigan made quick work of him, by digging her dagger deep into his throat.

Once she was sure he was dead, she rose, pulling her dagger from him. It came loose with a wet sucking sound, and she wiped the blade as best she could across her blood-encrusted pants as she reached for the other weapon also lodged in a man’s throat and pulled that one free as well.

Both weapons were sheathed as she hurried to Teran’s side. The grievous wounds she had seen from the doorway appeared even more grisly close up. “You are the most jeopardy friendly person I have ever met,” she huffed over his still form. She paused only a moment before adding, “This is going to hurt like a son-of-a-bitch.” Reaching down, she grabbed him under the arms.

He was heavy, but to stay here was to die, so she began dragging him out of the cell and down the passageway, retracing the blood trail that had led her here. She could do nothing about the trail, and she knew they would find them easily, but she hoped that she could run into Keeryn and the others if she backtracked. So she dragged him from cell to cell, wincing at every bump she caused him, and the seeming loudness of the sound his clothes made scraping against the stone floor. At each cell, she laid him back down and she peered out of the doorway, searching for guards or the beast she had heard earlier.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Kiradia looked out over the barren landscape of the few miles that separated her army from the walls of Smarsh. Her army was arrayed behind, her General Alarin and Lieutenants, formed in a half circle around her, the halberdier line in front, Swordsmen behind, Archers behind them, with her Knights split in two groups on the flanks of her line. Mixed in with the Halberdier line were herds of Beastmen, who would be manning the battering rams and siege towers. The rest of the creatures and regiments in her army were being held back, with the trebuchets, the only useful group among them was the Minotaurs, but they would have to be held back until a breach was formed in the wall and the Swordsmen had gained a foothold.

The half circle of Smarsh’s walls rose high into the sky and would not be easy fortifications to crack. Along the entire wall were archers ready to rain down arrows and pitch on her troops. Undoubtedly, there would be many soldiers at ground level waiting for any crack in the wall. However, Kiradia was sure that to the defenders of Smarsh, her army must look like a black tide of terror, unstoppable and immortal.

Kiradia turned to Alarin, “General, how much of our army will we lose to this siege, even if we breach the wall today?”

“Far too much Mistress, even if we take Smarsh, we will not be able to push past it with the forces we will have left.” Alarin’s eyes were clouded with a red film, as the magical sword he carried raised the blood lust his mind felt towards the coming battle.

“We must break their spirits, and destroy multiple positions at the wall. For now, to minimize casualties, we should hold the army back and bombard them with our catapults,” Alarin finished.

“Very well then, make it so, my General,” Kiradia said.

“Yes, Mistress,” and Alarin raised his hand, a flag raised up behind him, signaling the trebuchets to begin firing. As Kiradia watched, a thousand fires lighted the night sky, tar soaked rocks hurling at the walls of Smarsh. The explosions set the walls to shaking and great amount s of dirt shot into the air.

“Magnificent….”

Written by - Talonmane

{present time aboard the Fair Seas Call. The Captain and her crew are making haste to sail but its going slower than usual. Part of the reason they came to Port Westgale was to get certain 'gray market' parts that seemed to be available only here these days - another sign of the sorts of commerce that lay in the future of the Port while under Iron rule. The pilot's wheel and its connection to the stearage had been in pieces on the aft deck in preperation for receiving some of those replacement parts, and was now being hastily reassembled.

Much of the area around their dock is periodically blocked from sight by the smoke of battle formed from fires both in the harbour and on shore. The sky has heavily darkened, and they've seen powerful magics causing red glow in the distance and the sounds of breaking wood and explosions even beyond that expected in normal battles sometimes reached their ears }

Captain Jenara Peracus looked over the rail and down the line of her ship, her Elven eyes focusing into the distance where Ankhara's arm pointed. Between the passing clouds of battle-smoke dancing on the water a ship could be seen less than a mile out. In another moment she identified it as a massive galleon, probably five times the weight of the 'Call. It came forward on a belligerent course, her bow pointing right 'tween the eyes of the siren upon her sloop's prow. The course didn't waver. "Crew, looks like we've earned someone's attention! Get your land-lubbin tails movin' 'cause we're casting off right now.

She didn't take her eyes off the incoming vessel, which was growing larger by the moment. Could it be? Friendly colors? Then why does she charge us?

"Don't take too long to consider it, Captain. Hunting birds have particular instincts, and I know one who sees no friendly intent coming from that ship."

The skipper took the measure of the other woman and again that of the coming galleon. Something's wrong, she felt it in her gut. Bounding away from the rail, she muttered "I knew I shouldn't have chosen that name. Since when is the sea these days ever fair?"

At her word the lines were cleared from their moorings and the anchor brought in. The courier's two jibs came up over her long bowsprit, followed by the main and aft sails ahead and behind from her single raked mast. They filled slowly...too slowly with the South winds that were their only hope along with their skill. But perhaps the gods too had a hand on her, Jenara would later reminisce, for she started to crawl ahead, and none too soon.

The silver-haired Elf jumped up the stairs to the pilot's deck and was distracted for a moment by the pieces of the wheel mount that were still laying about. "Well, you got the important parts, I guess. We can take care of the rest af..." She turned to face the bow and her breath caught in her throat at the sight of it. The Galleon was indeed of Ancora, and it's charging, menacing form dwarfed them. Whatever hope she had held for this ship to be some kind of escort who would turn away and join them at the last moment was gone. The size of it filled her forward view, and she decided then something unnatural was at work here. Sailors usually had pretty strong survival instincts when it came to shoring themselves, but these were plowing ahead, and after smashing through the Call they'd bury themselves right into the pier. "Someone wants our passengers very dead. We'll just have to make sure we all live through this, 'cause the price of their tickets just went up, and I mean to collect it!"

Grabbing the wheel and being careful not to yank it from its loose position on the mount, she called the order and pulled it herself half to Starboard. Looking at the sails, she begged them to fill. As if by her sheer will the boat picked up...a bit faster...and bit more, bearing rightward as she left the dock. It won't be enough! By the shells and stars it won't be enough!!

Written by - Vylia

Vylia almost fell over onto Ariana as the ship suddenly veered to it's starboard side. She barely manages to catch herself, and the catatonic woman at the last moment. "Something isn't right," she pauses while she tries to listen to the voices filtering in from the weatherdeck, "There's a lot of noise coming from up there, and none of it sounds calm." She bites her bottom lip a moment as she stares at the door, then back to Ariana, her facial features shifting from frustration to worry and back again. Finally, she makes her decision, "Turin, care for her please, make her whole again... I'm going to find out what's happening up above." She hops to her feet and takes two long strides toward the door before stopping to turn and speak again, "If I'm not back shortly then something really is wrong, we may have a fight on our hands." Then she leaves the room, heading topside.

What she saw when she got there made her gasp, the galleon was enormous, far larger than any of the ships she had seen in the harbor earlier. And worse yet, it was closing on them very quickly. "There has to be something I can do," Vylia looked around for the person in charge when she saw the captain at the wheel of the Call shouting orders, she rushed up the stairs and came to a stop beside her. "Captain, I need a bow, some arrows, a few rags, and a lantern... right now! We can't outmaneuver them in this harbor, they're too large, they wouldn't have to turn far to ram right into us. It's a long shot, but with the wind on our side I may be able to hit one of their sails, or the rigging, and slow them down a bit."

Written by - Ardwen

Gongrane squeezed his eyes shut. He flicked the lips open a hair second later, the brief fluttering of his eyes was the only sign he gave of the stress and weariness that now piled upon him. The siege engines of the opposing army had begun pounding the walls not long ago. Gongrane knew what the enemy was up to, but his own siege engines were insufficient to counter such a barrage. Already the King of Smarsh had spent precious time and manpower organizing bucket and burn patrols to ensure the pitch and tar coated trebuchet shot did not ignite large swaths of the town.

The enemy had numerical superiority, but Gongrane knew sieges rarely came down to direct numbers. While storming a city was certainly possible, it took a dedicated, well-supplied force. “Well,” Gongrane thought sourly, “that or a traitor amongst the defenders.”

“My lord?” A voice wretched Gongrane’s attention back to the present. Before him kneeled a lightly armored man with a long bow on the ground at his side.

Gongrane recalled the man’s name, Chonatas, before responding, “Have the men seeks shelter in the towers, tell them to stay below the crenellations, those will not protect them against a direct hit. Our siege works are few, but direct those we do have at taking out the enemy’s engines and crew.”

Chonatas barked out an affirmation before seeking permission to rise and depart. Gongrane waved his hand and gave him his blessing to go. On the way out of the tactical chambers the archer suddenly stopped and said hesitantly, “Your grace . . . there are reports of things in this army, things not human or ork. What should we do if-“

Gongrane interrupted him, “Man, ork, beast, or something in between does not matter. The gods have not seen fit to make creatures that do not need sustenance of some sort. We hold them back, commander, make them wait, test their patience and supplies. When winter, or gods will it, disease breaks out amongst their ranks they’ll be unable to press the attack. Do you understand?”

The man snapped a bow and said, “Of course my king! We will hold them back!” Chonatas said no more and walked swiftly out of the room.

Gongrane walked out onto a small balcony that overlooked a vast stretch of wall. He had moved the strategy center of his command to his palace, many rooms had been converted into ad hoc command centers. Gongrane had wanted a balcony, had wanted a way to get a broad look at the city in one sweep. What he saw now coincided with what he heard: deep booms like close thunder, sharp cracks as rock hit rock, and the night sky bleeding trails of orange as another volley of siege engine fire streaked through it. “I pray to the gods that we can Chonatas, I pray that we can.” Gongrane whispered to the night air.

Written by - Talonmane

{present time aboard the Fair Seas Call and seconds before it appears that a galleon flying the friendly flag and colours of an Ancora loyalist is going to run our heroes down as they are leaving the dock.}

Captain Peracus, without taking her widening eyes off the incoming galleon, simply said "Weapons locker!" as she pointed to a mate who was on his knees and picking up pieces of the wheel cover near Vylia's feet. He reached over to what appeared to be an 8 foot long ornate deck couch that butted up against the starboard rail. His fingers quickly found a hidden catch, and with a click, the seat popped open a bit. He pulled it up, and inside the deep locker were a variety of weapons including bows, crossbows, hand weapons, ammunition, a few pieces of leather armour, spare ropes and several grappling hooks and other supply items. Of note were also some torches and various small bags. The mate left it to Vylia to choose her weapon, as he immediately grabbed up a torch and one of the bags. From within it he took a cannister of powder and carefully shook a tiny amount of its contents over the business end of the torch. It crackled a bit and flared to bright life. Lastly, he grabbed up a handful of arrows that were already rolled with cloth for use with fire...a not uncommon sailor weapon but one that was used with utmost caution.

He voicelessly offered his aid to Vylia by holding out the ammo and standing ready with the torch.

Everyone watching the charging galleon bearing down upon their ship's bow (now to her port bow due to their continuing turn) suddenly saw her turn just a few degrees, enough that she would still ram the 'Call but probably slip to her Port side while doing so. Sailors on that vessel could now be seen leaning over their own Port railings, and some began firing from crossbows. Jenara counted at least 5 who spun rope and hook, clearly waiting for the moment they would ram and pass so they could attach lines to the smaller ship and either keep her remains from getting away or to tear her apart.

Arrows and bolts now fell around them, piercing sail and embedding in wood, though mostly missing and falling to the water. She watched almost helplessly as two large ballistae on the galleon fired. Both shots were intended for the base of the courier's mast: one hit the deck just next to it, inserting its head a foot into the board, and the second flew wide and under the sails but grazed one of her crewmembers at his right shoulder before continuing out over the water. The elf was knocked off his feet and nearly over the side, and she couldn't tell from her position the extent of the wound...but thought it bad.

The 'Call had doubled in speed over the last few moments. Her turn at least now gave them the best possible take on the wind. The other ship was now coming at them from Port forward, and it still had the initiative and was easily able to adjust course to stay on them. Preparing for the worst, she called out in her loudest voice, "Prepare to abandon ship! Get the passengers from below and prepare to jump over the Starboard side!" She was furious at even having to say it, and it broke every promise she'd made herself when she bought the boat and every promise she'd made the crew.

So she broke another promise too. As Men say: what the heck? And she prayed.

Then the oddest thing of the day occurred. In the midst of all this, as Vylia raised her weapon and aimed and the pilot's mate lit the tip of the arrow from the torch, all the other noises of the moment were joined by others unexpected.

"Wait!...listen...what is that?" From far off to aft came the sound of crashing wood. Then again, and closer. Another few seconds and it happened again. "If I had to guess, that sounds like the light docks are getting smashed!" cried her mate from high on their mast's tiny crow's nest. They couldn't see those farther docks through the smoke but it sounded like he was right. Port Westgale served the large and small, and the courier had been moored this time amoung the line six thin, light docks. A large ship could go right through those without batting an eye. Since the sound of breaking was so steady, she could think of nothing else it could be.

And with the continuing beat she then heard another; a sound altogether different. This time she could not believe her Elven ears, and it appeared that neither could the others near her. Only Ankhara still down at the Port rail on the main deck seemed to understand what it meant, and a knowing smile broke over that one's otherwise serious face.

It was the singing of many voices, and as with the sounds of smashing wood it was growing loud. A time like this and some mad, scurvy fools are out there singing?!

Written by - Vylia

Vylia sees the men along the railing of the incoming vessel clear as day, but she has another target for now. As soon as the pilot lights the arrow her ears pick out the sound of singing in the distance. Someone is enjoying themselves out here, I hope they aren't friends of that ship or we're going to have more problems. Shaking herself out of her private thoughts Vylia takes aim at the main sail again, pulling the bowstring nearly to it's limit before tilting the bow skyward for extra distance. "Pandarrion hear my call, let my aim be true, let the enemies of The Hands feel your wrath for the deeds they have committed against your priestess and her people." She releases the arrow only a moment before a crossbow bolt from the other ship clips her left shoulder, causing her to cry in pain, but she refuses to hide, instead focusing on the arrow in flight. She follows the arrow towards it's target, practically willing it to hit.

Written by - Archeantus

"Time is always in a rush around us, isn't it?"

“Only when we are together old friend.” Archeantus returned as he felt Kildef’s weathered hands rest on his shoulder reassuringly.

It was then he heard the voice of the one he sought, a daringly stern Dwarven voice.

“Captain Munchadin,” He began, all the while sensing his great displeasing curiosity at the warlock’s presence “Who I am does not matter, what matters is I come on behalf of the progenitor of the city and it’s ideals, I perceive, you hold as dearly as your hold to this ship and what it represents. There beyond the smoke of war, near the shore a small elven vessel has just set out to escape the worst of what lies ahead of her. She bears passengers, one in particular that wove the banner you fly over your sails, many many years ago. By the Gods, you and your crew been called to save her.”

He spoke quickly, decisively, his head pointed directly toward the stout Dwarf, his sightless gaze boring right back, unflinchingly.

Without another word, he lifted the golden medallion from beneath his tattered grey shirt, revealing the triskellion. It faintly shone as if in reply to the distant explosion from afar.

The warlock’s head turned slightly toward Kildef, as if finally replying to his friend’s earlier comment about the Gods, but now it was directed toward them both, and to those who stood nearby, risking a slight preoccupation in the mysterious castaway amid their escalating duties.

“You will see the work of the Gods here today. Great and terrible things. But one hope lies out there, for Ancora, and for this world, and we must keep it alive. Now quickly, I implore you, set a course toward the docks with all haste.”

Written by - Talonmane Part II of Page 36 Chapter 3

{still 30 minutes from present time aboard the Wavehammer}

What's this? Munchadin hobbled forward two steps. The triskellion, he knew - everyone knew - but such a medallion, with those certain metal hues and a wearing of time that a Dwarf even removed from metalwork for so many years could recognize the make and age. It was nothing less than an exact copy of only one other that he had seen held by the royal family and worn only at certain occasions by the Kings of Ancora...and he knew that one was presently safe due to the quick thinking of General Alaric, having been taken from the dead body of Pallanon and now likely locked away deep in the Citadel.

"But...laddie, that would mean -" Munchadin's words caught in his throat. He turned to Kildef, aware of the stories told by the Ranger and his father. "Do you have one o' those too?"

Kil looked out over the water and to the sky, shaking his head. "I had. It was buried with my mother, on Aerynth, as was father's. It was toward the final days, and there was nothing in the deeds we did following that burial that would allow us to wear that in good concience. 'Twas better that she watched over them, and they, her." He turned back toward Archeantus, one fist clasped white-knuckle tight. But as he said thes next words, a great outpouring on hope and compassion tore away the more tragic memories. "So the Abbess lives?" At that notion, Olawahoo raised upon his pinions and flapped several times and let out a long keening cry atypical of his breed. It startled Marlie, but as the bird settled down again she continued drying his feathers. Kildef went on, "It makes sense, and I will admit to praying it was so. With you and I and -" Suddenly thinking of the person aboard the Gossamer Wing, the Ranger walked to his owl companion and solemnly met the great yellow gaze. He held back Marlie's towel from any further treatment and implored "You must get to our friend on the frigate and relay this news. Yes, it will matter beyond words."

Munchadin's thoughts were locked into a debate over one of the most critical decisions of his life. Ships were sinking, Men and Dwarves dying by the score. They had to get to the 'Wing and the others who even now contended with the sea witch. With the cruiser there, they stood a chance of ending that abomination. But now, by the gods themselves, if Ariana Trueblood lives, at this time of our nation's need, what greater sign could there be, what mission for us more important? His face was contorted with the pain of the choice that others may have witnessed for a second or two. Resolute in his duty and that of his sailors - each one who would lay his or her life down for their country and what it stands for...and there is no greater symbol of that than...

"Kildef, tell yer messenger to pass on t' the crew of the 'Wing that they'll 'ave to hold out 'til we make the round trip to shore and back. They'll have to use their imaginations, think of anythin' that'll distract Hrulga. Tell them that they're to hold that entrace t' the harbour," The Admiral paused almost imperceptably, "at all costs. Bimglin! prepare to take us about and make fer the pier at all possible speed."

Whilst the mighty vessel began its new turn, the sails above moving through their realignments, Kildef took Ollawahoo upon his arm and headed up to the stern rail. Munch and Arch were about to follow, when the Admiral turned to the blind man, and stated "Thank ye fer riskin' yer life t' bring us this astonishing revelation. Now, I dunnae necessarily want t' know how ye got out here, but to find us in the midst o' the fight, ye must have a special sight beyond yer covered eyes. We'll have need o' that gift to pull this off. The smoke down on the deck is everywhere, and I'll need ye to lead me to our destination. This harbour I know like the bottom o' me tankard, but I'll need ye to get us t' the right place with no time t' lose."

They conversed for a moment longer, and then split up - Arch to the prow of the ship and Munch back to the pilot's deck, where Kildef said a few final words to the owl and then launched him skyward.

Munchadin mounted the level, layed down his cane, clapped his hands together and rubbed them in anticipation. He motioned mate Feburt off the wheel, "I'll be playin' the tune for our couple at this party, lad. But stay close and relay me orders."

With one foot he tapped the switch at the base of the wheel that raised the floor just behind the pilot's station up a foot, to the height a Dwarf needed. Such accomodations were built into the ship everywhere they could think of it. He firmly gripped the holds on either side, and things felt a bit righter with the otherwise fateful day. He called to the crew to prepare them. "Ahoy! me lads and lass, harken to me words an' know our course! We dunnae lightly leave our brothers at the head o' the harbour t' the beast. Nay! A callin' we have, a duty beyond that pulls on ev'ry oath taken." He paused to let that sink in. "The Wavehammer was built fer this day, I say! Everythin' this crew has accomplished has trained us fer what happens next. Ye know, as we were runnin' to meet the monster; as our sailors were dyin' at its terrible grasp, I prayed to the gods, prayed to Providence to save them and us. Well, now we must save Providence.

He stopped again to look over the faces of the crew within his sight. "We may pay a sharp price before this is over. But I know ye're with me, and as always, there is no finer pride - bottomless, it is - than what I have fer this crew...no mightier awe - wonderous, it be - than what I have fer this ship we've built."

His first officer called up from amidships, "As we make the turn 'cross the pier the wind will be wi' us, sir, fer that final leg. Shall we make the most o' it?" The crew cheered and whooped, with many a hearty 'huzzah!' in the Grayshire tradition heard in the din.

"Yes," Munch turned, looking all about their great vessel. "I think ye're right. The lad and lass haven't had that bonnie dance in too long a time, and if there e'er was to be an occasion, this is it. Sound it!"

Bimglin was pleased to give the order, "Sailmaster and Pilot, bring us the rest of the way about! Set again toward the shipyards then we'll cut across the pier. All hands! Clear the Port hull! Get word above and below to clear the Port hull! All top gunners below t' man ballast! Prepare for Port Ascension!"


Written by - Kiradia Afirewen Page 37 Chapter 3

It had been a week of hard shelling. Endlessly Kiradia had sent rock after rock hurling towards the walls of Smarsh. She kept her siege engines working from sun up to sun down, two teams per trebuchet, each pulling twelve hour shifts. The noise of it all was deafening on the outside. One could only imagine what the defenders on the walls heard and felt.

Though her supply of rocks seemed endless, which in fact it almost was being this close to the mountains, her supply of trebuchets were not and that fact had made itself apparent half way through the week as one of the trebuchets snapped at the cables from over use and killed 6 men. Two more had been destroyed by enemy catapult fire. One was irreparably damaged, and was already be salvaged for parts, while the other was being worked on and might be operational again in a couple of weeks.

“We do not have time for this General, pounding away at the walls endlessly will not win the siege, eventually our reserves of rock and stone will run out. And then the amount of bombardment will be limited by how much rock we can drag in a day. We must push the walls, accept loses and charge through the front gate,” said Lieutenant Krin.

“You bring up valid points Lieutenant Krin, we will eventually be forced to commit our forces, but not before the time is right. Mistress thinks ahead of this battle, and ahead of the next, and if we commit too soon, we will lose too many troops to the defenders of Smarsh. The defenders are not blooded or wearied enough yet…”

A strong gust of wind blew through the command tent as a woman robed in black walked through. Kiradia looked over her men before speaking.

“They will be blooded and wearied, soon, General Alarin. All of you will come with me.”

Just as quickly as she had come in, she walked out again, with her Generals rushing to follow behind her. Kiradia walked towards a prepared circle in the middle of her army. She was flanked by the Silent Ones, all of which made sure no one but the Generals were anywhere near Kiradia.

Inside the circle was a little girl, clothed in white, a small creature. She was from Smarsh, and streaks of tears ran down her face as she looked upon the horrors around her. The little girl screamed for her mommy almost constantly, which simply set the crowd to jeering and calls for the girl’s death. The people of Tuscrin had become jaded to life, and now were almost as maniacally evil as Kiradia herself.

As Kiradia stepped into the circle, she grinned softly and the crowd quieted down. Even the girl became silent in the presence of Kiradia.

Kiradia gave a gentle smile as she walked up to the girl, “Do not be afraid little one, you are safe here, and I have a group of other little girls who would like to meet you and be your friend.”

Even with the whorl of tattoos crossing her face, Kiradia still held some bit of her old power, to calm others around her, especially children. Taking the child by the shoulder, Kiradia led the girl away from the crowd and the circle, towards her own personal tent, inside of which could faintly be heard the sounds of laughter. Kiradia smiled down at the girl and helped her inside of the tent.

General Alarin came up on Kiradia, a curious look on his face.

“Mistress, what is it you intend to do with these girls?”

“General, you know better than most that as of right now, our army lacks magical support. My magic alone will not be enough in the battles to come; inside that tent is another… place, where I have limited control of time itself. Inside there, those girls will learn magic, and grow old enough to be useful. They will grow by years, while we will pass time in months. The next time anyone sees that girl, she will be a young woman, with the full command of Dragon magic at her fingertips. Corrupted to my designs, loyal to me and no one else. They will not even remember Smarsh, at least, not as anything more than a distant memory. Now, about those walls we are having such a hard time getting through.”

All this time, Kiradia had been walking back towards the front lines of the siege, where her trebuchets continued to pound away at Smarsh. Kiradia stopped at the top of a hill, with a commanding look over the landscape between her and the walls. It was just past midday, and the light of the sun was full on the backs of everyone.

Kiradia sat cross-legged on the trampled glass, her eyes closed and her hands in configuration, dark clouds of smoke rose up in a circle around her, condensing just above her head. Becoming almost solid, a dark glow emanating from the globe. Even in the bright day, the darkness cast a shadow over everything, the glow visible even from the far walls of Smarsh.

With her mind completely focused on the spell she was weaving, she spared only a single moment to give her command to General Alarin.

“Prepare the Beastherds and Spearmen to march on the walls. Prepare the battering rams.”

With great speed Alarin and his Lieutenants prepared the regiments and formed the lines of marching order.

Finally, after a week of bombardment, true war came to Smarsh.

Written by - Agmund

No words were spoken. No sound was uttered. Like the massive statues that rose up to the ceiling as if to hold the very mountain back, the five kings stood in silence. Stoicly they stood upon a circular map, ringed by the first kings of the land within their most sacred of halls. The Dwitharim; where in was written the history of Njorundr, its people, its culture, and its very way of life recorded upon the walls all around them.

It was the largest of the dwarves who spoke first. His beard was braided into two gray strands, and hung nearly to his boots. At intervals, rune covered silver rings wrapped around the braids with a bar extended from one to the other, keeping the braids an equal distance apart as they spiraled downwards. A crown of plain silver adorned his balding head, and within the wrinkles of his face could be seen the years of its weight.

“Dark has our rule been, as dark as the deepest of Graedium’s caverns… but darker still… are the days ahead,” he uttered with great sadness. “The survival of our forefathers kingdom shall now rest in the hands of our children, and by their blood will it remain,” he added, lifting the crown from his head and placing it gently upon the floor.

The four remaining kings, one human and three dwarves followed suit, laying their crowns, each having been worn by countless of their kin before them, upon the floor. Then, as one, they left the great hall, their eyes gazing upon it for the last time.

Thru the maze of passages that made up the very heart of Kazukthule, they journeyed. With each step, men and dwarves, the eldest of Njorundr, adorned in their finest armor, fell in behind them. Women and children lined the corridors, and watched in silence as their husbands and fathers fell into the line. No tears were cryed, and no voices were heard as the procession passed thru the iron gates of Kazukthule and into the sunlit courtyards of Dun-Algur. Here to, the ranks of the procession swelled as it winded thru the cities streets and into tiered fields of gold.

As they came upon the outer gates of the city, five figures could be seen standing between the gate towers high above them. Yet, as they passed thru the gates, there was no pause, nor wave goodbye from the kings and their followers, nor from the onlookers. The procession merely continued in silence until at last, the gates closed behind them.

The five figures turned to the south and watched as the line disappeared from view. At that moment the human, who wore a wolves pelt around his shoulders, broke the seal of a scroll within his hands and read aloud to the four dwarves around him “Hear now the last command of your fathers and obey them well. We travel into the heart of the Eirwood, and we take with us the fury of the mountain ages. If we win the day, we shall send message, but we will remain trustworthy to our oaths, and journey into the heart of Dagafeln if need be. We shall fight until there is none standing either before us or amongst us. For you five, our kingdoms rule is left. Remember well the oaths, and the laws of the first five, and rule with the wisdom of your forefathers.”

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

The forest crickets around Lothiel-Gadith continued chirpping away their nightly symphony as they always had, oblivious to the events that had so recently taken place in the nearby elven citadel. They sang along, uncaring if anyone heard them at all, which suited the man dozing in one of the massive old oaks just fine.

He sat in the lower branches, back to the tree's worn bark. A sleeveless ash-gray overcoat that covered down to the ankles served as his blanket. His feet - crossed left over right - held his nearly empty pack in place as it dangled over the edge of the branch from around his right foot.

"You sleep in the strangest places," a female voice, a barely audible whisper, said from behind him. Unsure if the man heard her, she adjusted her postion on a branch behind and to the right of him.

The man in the tree only responded in the same whisper, albeit with an Ironskane accent, "When you talk like this, it's very hard to hear."

"Don't play games with me Thrush!" The woman steadied herself again on the branch as she became increasingly annoyed.

As uncaring as the crickets, the man yawned at her frustration. "Thrush? Why are you using that old codename?"

"I thought that I would do you the courtesy of not using your name. I don't know who else could be listening. The rangers own these woods after all, and there's a rather large group of knights nearby as well."

"Ah, the knights... Merquise's I believe. A group went in Lothiel-Gadith a while back. They haven't returned, so I can only assume they've managed to acquire room and board for the night. I'll sneak in with the baggage train tomorrow morning probably. There are at least a thousand, just from a quick look, who would notice one more?"

"And just what is it that you're after here in the first place," the woman asked, having finally found a semi-comfortable position.

"Oh, now I can't tell you that, can I Finch," the man whispered light-heartedly, returning the same "courtesy" she had shown him, "After all, what would be the point of this delightful cat-and-mouse game if I just up and told you? Which begs the question: just what are you doing out here? I wasn't aware I had a tail.... are they really that paranoid?"

"It can't be helped," the woman said with a shrug. As she tried to regain her balance, she continued: "Intelligence doesn't like losing one of their captains, especially at a time like this."

"I went through the proper channels to resign. They have no right..."

"Just be glad your old lieutenant has a soft spot, or it would be someone else here right now," she stated, cutting the man off in mid-sentence. "I should be going anyways. I've already been here too long."

The man reached into on the hip pockets on his overcoat and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Holding it up, he said to the woman: "When you get back into town, could you give this letter to a courier? It's for my sisters... I was going to drop it off myself, but it's much more reliable this way.

"I'll be sure to do so," she said, plucking the letter from his hand.

The leaves rustled slightly as the woman -gratefully- slipped off her branch and down to the forest floor below. The crickets continued on with their symphony as if nothing at all had happened.

Written by - Tempyst

Dorve stumbled up on deck of the ship and looked around. Damn these ships, we were meant for land not water. Finally, amidst the people running around, she saw Kaya setting down on a barrel. She carefully made her way to Kaya. "Are ye alright Kaya?"

"I'm fine Dorve, just feeling worn out now from destroying that book back in the courtyard. How are you my friend?"

Dorve just gruffed and looked Kaya over anyways. When she was satisfied the demon hunter wsa alright, she backed up a bit. "Well, seems you are fine, which is more than I can say for that lady down in the hold. I dunna know what is wrong with her. Her injuries are far out of my league."

"Well, I am sure you did all you could Dorve, and now you can check on others." Kaya nodded over to Ardwen. "Though don't bother with him, he is liable to toss you overboard if you suggest he needs any help."

Then they both turned when the sounds of shouting reached their ears, and then they saw Vylia light her arrow and send it flying forth to the ship that was bearing down upon them.

Written by - Ardwen

The wall shook with the impact as another immense, rounded, rock crunched into its side. Chonatas had seen war before, the people of Smarsh were a tough and taciturn population, many living out their entire lives with the shadow of the orcish hordes, and worse, looming over them. But Chonatas had never seen such a thunderous and unending bombardment before. For a solid week the siege engines of the enemy army had been pounding the walls of Smarsh. Outnumbered and outgunned, the siege works of the defenders could do little to stem the tide.

Chonatas thanked the All-Father that King Gongrane was leading them still. The King of Smarsh had proven amazingly resilient, despite the stress and cares that had to flood his mind daily. When the siege engines paused to reload or for repairs the king had ordered swift teams to patch the walls, and behind many of the walls he had constructed bulwarks of wood, hay, and crushed rocks and masonry. Chonatas had at first wondered what the purpose of these bulwarks had been, they would not hold back an attacking force if the main wall were breached, but then he had seen them bend and correct themselves under bombardment. Placed adjacent to the wall as they were, the temporary bulwarks worked to provide pliability to the rigid stone, reducing the damage the enemy missiles could inflict.

However, in Chonatas’s mind the most important thing King Gongrane had done was keep morale high. Despite the noise and fire of the bombardment, despite the unyielding threat of death outside of the besieged walls, the king had worked tirelessly to keep spirits high. Every few days the king had ordered processions through the streets headed by priests and monks carrying holy relics. These processions would go and bless the defenders; often pausing at particularly beleaguered sections of wall to ask aid from the holy relics and the gods to help them. Chonatas didn’t know if the gods actually did anything to help, he had certainly not felt any real difference when he received a blessing, but the sheer show of faith and the unfurling of venerated icons and banners was enough to set his resolve.

“Chonatas!” Barked a voice from his right, “Get your head out of your ass and point that viewing glass to the siege lines!” Chonatas snapped out of his thoughts and muttered a hasty acknowledgment to the captain that had just shouted at him. Raising the glass piece to his right eyes, Chonatas swept it over the enemy lines. At first he saw nothing unusual, but he quickly noticed that the viewing glass had become filmed from dirt. Chonatas removed it from his eyes and ran a cloth over both ends, he held it back up again and peered through once more, only to notice the same film remained. Chonatas breathed a silent prayer as he noticed that the unnatural film was in the air itself, like a shadow draped on the very sky. That was not the worst of it though as Chonatas saw disfigured half-beast humanoids and spearmen pouring out from between the trebuchets and catapults.

“Captain Ikthonos,” Chonatas began, “take the viewing glass and spread word to the men, it looks like the enemy are lining up for a real push against the walls. I need to go and report to his highness immediately, he has asked me to keep him personally appraised of all changes on the front.”

“Understood Chonatas,” Captain Ikthonos, the man who had earlier yelled at Chonatas, said, “go swiftly, and worry not, I’ll rally the men here and send our swiftest runners to the other posts.”

Chonatas saluted and began running down the steps of the tower to the base of the wall as fast as his legs could carry him. It seemed that after a week of bombardment the enemy would at last start the real war for Smarsh.

Written by - Talonmane

{present time aboard the Wavehammer. Reference the entirety of my posts. At this time the ship has turned North in front of the shipyards and headed up the coast, passing the heavier docks that make up the Southern end of Westgale's long pier. Only a few burning or sinking hulks remain docked; all other ships have launched by this time either to join the fight or to try to get away. Half of the city's port district is smashed and much is ablaze, but her defenses were built to be redundant and resilient, and the traitors manning them could still fire significant salvoes into the near and far harbour.

The great catamaran cruises upon her Starboard hull. Five minutes earlier a fireball out of the clouds had detonated upon the outer side of the high-riding, unmanned Port hull. Sparks and flaming debris now fall around the crew, joining the arrows, ballista bolts, and rocks fired in from the city's defenders. Unfortunately, the 'Hammer offers them a very large target as she cruises by at relatively close range, though smoke in the area gives at least some cover. Two-dozen sailors run and crawl about keeping fires controlled - more difficult with the ship at a 40 degree incline, but they are trained to do it. Some don't live through it.

Munchadin is ever-aware that the mass of the burning Port hull is disappearing, and though he constantly tunes the ride of the ship he knows they'll have to come down from ascension any moment and eject the ruined half of the vessel. Fortunately, the finest shipwrights amoung Dwarf and Man foresaw many tactical scenarios and provided the Wavehammer with a variety of ways to survive.}

Marlie glided for a moment through the open air between the Starboard sails and the waves before the arc of the swinging rope to which she tightly held brought her up and around the aft rigging. She used her legs to attach herself, tied the rope off, and then scrambled around to leap onto the great canvas of the second sail on the aft mast. She let herself slide twenty feet before grabbing a crossbeam. Rotating around, she wrapped her legs about the beam and stretched back in the direction of the hull, where a two-foot hole was burning ever-larger into the sail. She drew her knife and cut around the burning debris that had lodged itself in the fabric while trying to hit at it with her free hand. Wincing at the burns she incurred, the young Dwarf decided to finish making a few more cuts and then lifted herself back to the crossbeam, got a good grip, and released her legs so she could instead reach down and try to kick the debris loose. That worked, and the useless wood fell to a smoking finish in the salty blue. Marlie frowned at the hole in the sail, but knew today there would be many, though these were the least of the damage. She tried not to look at the other side of the ship, fearing that the sadness would break her ability to continue. She turned herself away from it and shimmied across the beam to the mast and climbed the rigging again to the top.

Below her and shoreward, the last of the heavy docks went by. She was in no positrion to see them coming, but knew they'd be passing the light docks any moment, and somewhere there was their destination. Unexpectedly, the 'Hammer turned in several degrees. Marlie needed a better vantage point. Tying off the loose hair from one of her long blonde braids that had come undone, she then moved out of the tiny basket at the top of the aft mast and grabbed the swing line that was anchored to the mainmast and that would carry her all the ways around to the foremast. Good thing her uncle was very busy, she thought. He gets very worried when she does this.

Marlie positioned her grip above the slack of the rope and let herself fall from the basket rim. The rope arced her beneath the great sails of the main mast, and as she reached a point where she could finally see out in front of the ship, the first of the light docks emerged from the smoke right in front of them. Instinctively she held on tighter and winced as the Starboard hull crashed right through the dock like it were nothing but kindling, the remains of that dock breaking apart below her as her arc took her just fifteen feet above the snapping wood. Onward she continued around and up and into the sails of the foremast, where she was able to catch into its structure, tie off the swing rope and move up and out to the small basket exactly like the one she had just left at the back end of the ship. Now with an unobstructed view out ahead, she could see each of the light docks come up before being smashed through by the continuing course of the cruiser. But her keen sight was distracted by a scene far below and to her left, where the visitor Archeantus stood beneath the jibs at the base of the bowsprit.

The stranger was doing an admirable job standing up despite the high angle of the deck, and he seemed to comprehend the foot-stands built into the rail and benches for this purpose. Whilst holding on with one hand, the other pointed off to the NorthWest as he explained something seemingly urgent to Bimglin at his side. The First Officer nodded his understanding and ran carefully back sternward. Marlie tried to make out anything in the distance in the direction of the stranger's point, but saw nothing. She smiled though as the crew began the 9th verse of the Mountain Wedding Song...for the second time.

Written by - Talonmane

Munchadin roared out his laughter as the 'Hammer went through the seventh and eighth docks and he shook his fist at the shore. "Me grand-daddies helped build those docks an' someday soon we'll do it again. But ye'll 'nae gain any more use o' 'em, ye 'Skaner bastards! ha-HA!"

Bimglin's torso became visible just over the edge of the stairs and he called out over the many sounds of the moment, "Admiral, the blind-man says the courier's just left dock 14 and is tryin' to bear North. He says there's another ship out there charging in at 'em: a heavy. And Sir...he says it's one o' ours! He thinks there's others anglin' in too.

"Traitors! Blast it all!" His mind raced with the thought. One of the squadrons that joined the 'Wing could have been a plant. But he knew those men, knew them all. Aye, an' ye thought that o' half the crews who went over to Beridane in the first days after the King had been slain too. There's no use denyin' it, now. There's been a foul ribbon o' unrest that weaved its way through the navy that Beridane must have fostered and leveraged...and still does. Nothin' left to do now but route it out!

"Alright, Bim, get 'im off the prow and back here. I'll need some finer directions fer what we're goin' to do. Get 'im quick, lad! An' pass the word to cut the last lines to the Port hull. Feburt, send word below to make ready to eject the ballast and cast off the Port'!"

Munch continued guiding the 'Wavehammer onward, smashing through the light docks of Port Westgale but beginning to angle them back out. He glanced up at the Port hull...her masts now falling to pieces, sails utterly consumed. Raging fire and smoke blazed over a hull that would no longer be seaworthy if they let it down to the water. His eyes teared...he could not help it. There was but one thing left to do now. But he'd make the sacrifice count. Bimglin returned with Archeantus.

"Alright lads, here's what we're goin' to do - "

Written by - Archeantus

He'd been standing at the prow of the 'Hammer, holding to the sturdy rail as smoke and embers and loud explosions showered down upon him. He couldn't help the irony of it, a blind man leading a ship, but he knew what had to be done.

There was a sudden crash and he tumbled to the deck, finding himself slightly dazed. A wave of heat hit his face as he tried to return to his feet. He could not determine the ship's condition, but he sensed the journey back to his friends would have a great cost. The ship swayed upward, lurching forward and he once again stumbled, only to find a strong arm grip his forearm, and then another steadied his back, helping him to his feet.

"Cap'n needs ya right away" Bimglin said urgently, his voice fell shrill over the din.

Archeantus nodded, and was led toward Munchadin. All around him, he began to sense the shape the ship was in, he could feel the worry seeping within him, and when he came to face Munchadin, he knew the stakes were high.

"Alright lads, here's what we're goin' to do - "

His mind steeled itself for whatever would happen and he began his work. Lowering his head slightly, the warlock calmed the Dwarven Captain's mind while he spoke clearing him of distractions, focusing him.

"Keep your eyes centered through the smoke and fog, you'll see directly where you must go." Archeantus said evenly. He then turned toward the direction, his sightless gaze motioned them all to look.

15 minutes ago

A small bright ember weaved in between onrushing deck hands who ran about the 'Call trying to get to their stations. Men and women, sailors all, yelled in the commotion issuing orders or pleas to help, but the small spark paid them no attention, it flew directly toward a specific cabin. It had only been moments ago having arrived back with Turin. Diving underneath the crack in the door it anxiously fluttered about the unconscious figure lain on the bed, urgently detecting the faint movement on her chest, as she slowly took in breaths. Ariana still lived. It's erratic flight slowed somewhat as if in relief, and it finally, slowly came to hover just above her forehead as if guarding her from harm, showering her closed eyes with a soft warm light.

Minutes passed.

There was a great commotion going on, screams of panic, as it received the call from its master. Suddenly it burst from the room, leaving the lone figure again to candlelight.

Back to present

Flames licked the upper sails, smoke fumed all about them, no one could hardly see anything through the fog of war ahead. There was a despair, despite their best intentions, they'd nearly all fought till their hands were bloody, and their wills were laid bare. It was then the warlock screamed above the crashing waves and cannon fire, his torn robed whipping in the wind.

"BEHOLD!"

He pointed, not ahead of them but above.

All eyes desperately poured through the thick smoke, aching to see what it was and then they saw it.

A burning white light erupted up through the smoke two hundred yards ahead of them, slightly to the left. It seemed to brighten the higher and higher it flew, and it let out an unmistakable shriek. It reddened it fury, and to some, it seemed a flaming cannon ball shot toward them, but its climb was completely vertical. In it's wake, it left a trail of flame and light, and when it reached the sky above the smoke, it formed wings that spread in a dazzling burst of flame.

"There!" Archeantus yelled vibrantly. "Our destination lies just below!"

They could all follow the trail of fire down into the smoke. They then realized it was moving slowly, and some with weathered eyes could detect the faint outline of a dark ship moving toward another smaller.

"Quickly!" The old warlock cried, "We have little time!"

Written by - Talonmane

Marlie cut the last line that ran from the foremast to the forward edge of the meso-deck. Glancing back she could see nothing else topside that attached to any point outside of the Starboard hull proper. She pulled herself up to the basket once more. She arrived in time to hear the Warlock's voice, and to see the extraordinary light that burst forth above their destination.

Looking out ahead she could just make out the pinpoint firefly glows of burning arrows rising above the smoke layer and falling back down toward some unseeable target. Archeantus' light broke through the smoke and began to reveal the outlines of two ships. Then all alone amoung them, one arrow, brighter than the others, rose defiantly from the smaller vessel. As it reached its zenith, she was mesmerized as the arrow itself burst with a searing whiteness as though ignited to greater destiny by some unknown agent. The area was now lit as though the full gaze of the Jedden Lighthouse turned upon them. Like Inveor has opened his Lantern's shield so all the world will see what's below... Her mother's words had always seemed fanciful, and like other quotes from the scriptures of Dwarven religion, very distant. But those words felt like they were written to describe this very moment.

There was no more smoke in the way of that light, no darkness, no obscurity of any kind. Everything was visible. Marlie could see a sloop out ahead, clearly the source of the sinlge arrow and the target of every other arrow. She felt her uncle turn the 'Hammer to Port, taking a heading that would put them between the fleeing boat and the galleon that was coming in hard. By his course she couldn't tell precisely what he had planned. As they continued to close, it became obvious that the galleon was one of their own. Finally catching the revealing details, she called out to anyone within earshot, "It's the Striator! Galleon at Fore-Port is Commander Degor on Striator!" She saw several flag signals then. "And he's warning us off!" Just who does he think he is? she wondered.

The bright arrow continued on its path whilst the sky behind it remained lit in the Warlock's will. Blinding as burning magnesium at the moment of impact, the arrow fell into the center mainsail of the galleon. The stylized 'A' and anchor symbol of Ancora that spread over the great canvas was instantly torched away, as if to declare loudly this ship's loss of the right to fly it. And in its place, burning with a holy fire before the sail was utterly consumed was the outline of 3 joined circles. Out of Marlie's sight and back on the pilot's deck, Archeantus grasped the glowing symbol of like shape that hung about his neck; and though she could not quite hear Kildef's words, she knew he exclaimed an ancient oath.

Written by - Talonmane

{On the Fair Seas Call...}

"That was...some shot!" Captain Peracus remarked to Vylia as she surveyed the seascape now visible to her. The source of the singing was now clear: the vaunted Wavehammer, a ship she only knew from having seen it under construction not far from here over a decade ago. She remembers at the time thinking the thing would never be seaworthy; that even the Dwarves wouldn't find a material and structure strong enough to joint the two hulls together that could survive the stresses of the sea. But her concerns were now revealed as folly. Even with one hull half destroyed and blazing the ship held together.

The high-riding cruiser moved up quickly almost alongside them, putting itself right between the courier and galleon. She wondered if they were going to just sacrifice themselves to the impact? What could be so important about these passengers? Why -

Then the catamaran took a maneuver that made her pause in astonishment. With the galleon less than two lengths from them, the 'Hammer cut hard to Port. Simultaneously, three large sections of the outer hull opened and massive metal rails stretched out. Sliding down the rails came immense metal counterweights. Jenara knew these must be the ballasts that the Dwarves designed to counterweight the hulls. This caused the ship to angle the burning Port hull even higher out of the water. Then, just before the cruiser would pass the galleon, the noise of some huge machinery straining and snapping preceeded both the counterweights and rails sliding from the Wavehammer into the harbour. She watched in awe as the two ships passed, and the inferno that was the Port hull of the cruiser collapsed down upon the galleon in an explosion of embers and wood. The half-metal keel, shallow and long as it was on a catamaran, was still ridged enough to split the three masts and shatter the top decks. On the cruiser, the Port hull and meso-deck completely seperated from the Starboard hull, some of it not cleanly, tearing apart the Port-side edge of the surviving ship (now a single-hulled ship unto its own) at its top two decks. The Wavehammer sailed on, bobbing back and forth as she adjusted to the loss of mass and the new sailing configuration, and began a Star-side turn.

The galleon likewise continued on a straight course, which caused their now-blazing form to slide just behind the 'Call, with massive burning pieces of the Port hull of the Wavehammer still rolling off the galleon's deck and into the water. One large section actually bounced off the back side of the courier before careening to the waves. The galleon - no living crew visible on her deck - continued past and behind them and impacted upon the rocky wall that made up the area of the port just North of the pier. Some sailors could be seen attempting to leap from her lower gunports. None could tell if any lived.

As Jenara tried to adjust course out to join the Wavehammer, she found the rudder to be sluggish and partly inoperable, surely damaged from that falling debris. "Great." She remarked, thinking of the irony of how they came to the port in the first place to repair the stearage. And as she looked out to the ship ahead of her that just saved them, it dawned on her that things could certainly be a little worse...

That was when the Ironskane frigate charged out of the smoke to the North (Archeantus' light having faded or moved on by this point) and several grappling lines shot over their rails.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya and Dorve watched the great ship pull up aside their own; they both could see sailors with hooks ready toss over. "I don't know how well I can fight Dorve, I am pretty weak, but keep me up as long as you can and I will do my best."

Dorve nodded and patted Kaya on the shoulder. "Aye lass, I will do mah best to keep you going and I will be right by your side."

Kaya stood, drew the sword Alanthear once more, and waited for the onslaught.

Written by - Teran

Teran sat slumped where he was laid. There was no movement aside from his shallow breathing.

"I have never seen anything like that." his voice was barely audible "She was amazing."

He raised his head and looked at Mavigan. He grinned and it stretched literally ear to ear as one of the blade wires had slit through his cheeks. He held up one of his hands and admired the damage that had been done. Wounds like his would have killed just about anyone... or anything, but not him. He stood up, a seemingly impossible feat given how much of his muscle has been torn away but somehow he maintained an almost natural and fluid movement. He stretched out his arms and admired the wounds, looking very much like a scarecrow in the process.

"You're very fortunate Princess. If you had been with me I'd be picking pieces of you up off the floor right now hoping Wilhelm had some trick to bring you back." He grinned at her again.

He began taking inventory of his gear. Not much had survived the attack, he had no weapons left and his armor was destroyed and he doubted the anti magic enchantment had survived the damage to the armor. He discarded what was left of his cloak and pants and began scavenging what he could off of the dead guards unconcerned with modesty for the time being. It took him two minutes to dress and when he was done most of his wounds had closed, his flesh had regrown and he appeared ready though he had not picked up any of the fallen weapons. He clenched his fists and peered into the hallway.

"How do I look?"

Written by - Vylia

"That was... some shot!" she heard the Captain say from behind her. "The All-Father helps his followers in their time of great need... though I dislike asking for his aid too much, he has a tendency to ask for other favors in return," Vylia turned and gave the Captain a lopsided grin just in time to see the grappling lines impact upon the deck before dragging back to catch on the rails. She didn't hesitate as she snatched up the last of the cloth-wrapped arrows, "Light it," and took aim, firing the moment the pilot had moved the torch from her firing path. The arrow streaked out across the water and stuck into the aft-most line. It took a moment to catch, but once it began it spread and snapped quickly, the two ends plunging into the water with a hiss.

"I need all of the arrows you have left, hurry. We need to take out as many as we can before they reach the deck or things could get ugly. Get someone to go downstairs and warn those below decks. Anyone with a weapon down there should get ready at the bottom of the stairs in case someone gets through, and if you have a pair of short swords I can borrow it would be appreciated." Vylia rushes over to the railing in front of the grappling lines before turning to grin at the Captain again, "I'm sorry we're such a bother Captain, it seems we've painted your ship with a bullseye. If you can bear with my demands a bit longer I promise I'll do everything in my power to make sure she survives in sailable condition."

Written by - Rikshanthas

Leinad stepped out onto the deck just as the first of the grappling lines shot over the rail and punctured the deck not 2 feet from his boot. As the Ironskane frigate continued to attach itself to the 'Call like some monstrous parasite, Leinad, still holding the hatch open, turned and shouted back into it, "We're being boarded! Get your weapons out!" Then he dropped the hatch and moved to draw his weapons.

The moment his hand touched Astalder's hilt, an unfamiliar feeling of righteous anger washed over him. He saw the priestess they had rescued, Ariana if he had overheard the name aright, as if he were standing in the room with her; her wounds seemed to be highlighted in an eerie glow, which only fueled the irrational anger rising in him. His vision cleared to once again reveal the wartorn harbour and the frigate attempting to board them, but the feeling of just anger remained. His sight seemed clearer and more focused, his nerves were taut with battle-readiness. As the ancient Dragonblade flashed into his hand, any onlooker might have caught a glimpse of the blade's fire reflected in his eyes, as if some power had been awakened.

Lienad held up the sword, which seemed as molten fire, and unfamiliar words came to his lips; as the blade swung forward in open challenge of the invaders, he spoke, barely a whisper yet louder than thunder: "Ed' i'ear ar' elenea, naur Tel'Celeb'loki vas'gothrim Late'Agar!" At his words, a lick of flame escaped the sword's surface, as a hot blade sparks when the hammer strikes it. Assuming an aggressive stance, he waited for the first wave of attackers with an almost bloodthirsty eagerness.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Kiradia raised her arms to the sky, seemingly involuntarily, as if drawn to the black orb that levitated above her head. Black specks dotted around the landscape, covering everything, getting everywhere. Slowly, the black orb began to rise up swirling around its center going faster and faster. Soon, Kiradia’s robes began to sway in the air, her hair whipping around. Quicker and quicker, the black glob of magical energy rose up, as if towards the sun, spreading out, blotting out the sun entirely, and night settled over Smarsh, as suddenly as a thunder crack. The wind became deafening, making it impossible for anyone to hear anything and harder to keep your eyes open long enough to see anything. Anyone wearing a helmet was buffeted somewhat, but still affected by the unnatural wind.

With a great crash and boom, three pillars of black obsidian crashed into the ground, digging deeply into the bare earth in front of the walls of Smarsh, dark red symbols running down the entire length of all sides of the structure, pulsating with unnatural energies. Each pillar rose high into the sky, pointing towards the black globe blocking the sun. General Alarin watched Kiradia’s lips move, and carried on the wind, every soldier, citizen, and king in Smarsh heard the same words all at once…

“Oblivion comes.”

As the echo of Kiradia’s words died out three streams of white-hot fire fell like a waterfall down the three pillars, mixing with the air and using it, pushed towards the walls of Smarsh in a massive wave of white death by Kiradia’s magic, the black flecks in the air catching on fire, massive explosions rocketing around the sky, sowing confusion just before the big finale of Kiradia’s spell. The fire of the sun itself, descended upon Smarsh, crashing into the walls with such force those weaker sections of the wall fell into a pile of rubble before it even had a chance to melt.

Many fires were set at the places where the walls fell, building catching like candles. Where the walls didn’t fall, great scorching scars crisscrossed the wall, the wave of fire climbing over the wall, incinerating most of the defenders almost instantly. Very few people could have survived such a conflagration, and even those that did survive would be so horribly burned as to be useless in a fight.

Releasing her hold on the magic, Kiradia’s arms fell by her sides, her breathing heavy and labored, as if she had just run a couple miles. The winds dissipating and Kiradia looked up at her General, her brow glistening with sweat, “Prepare twenty of the best Minotaurs we have, you will lead the battle from here General Alarin, I need to capture King Gongrane and I will not allow any chance of failure.”

“Yes Mistress,” said General Alarin, as he walked off to follow Kiradia’s orders.

Kiradia waited patiently as she watched her army press forward to the walls. Her massive ranks of spearmen and beast herds met little resistance from the walls as the battering ram lined up with the gate. Shouted orders were given and the battering ram was wound back, then with a bang, the ram dented the gates of Smarsh. Along the entire wall, regiment after regiment began to spill into the broken wall section, spilling into the outermost streets and back alleys of Smarsh.

A pounding of hooves broke Kiradia’s reverie, as twenty towering Minotaurs formed up behind her.

Kiradia spoke softly as she stood, “We will be attacking the castle of Smarsh itself, do not rush off and attack other groups unless they attack us first. Now, let us go.”


Written by - Talonmane Page 38 Book 3

{As the ships get farther from shore the battlesmoke on the water thins and eventually will be a non-factor (at least until the ships get closer to the battle on the opposite side of the harbour), though it is still twilight-dark, and a haze is still on the surface, limiting visibility into the deeper harbour to about a quarter-mile.}

"The feel is different, get used t' it! Nearly all o' ye've sailed single-hulls. Bring those memories t' the fore now. She'll come about faster, respond t' the wind better, but dunnae over-compensate...ye'll want t' almost feel like we're on a sloop, but we're still ridin' a heavy line ship. You there, Tarbin and Beckman, pull in that slack! Ordrim, we'll nae need ye there now, get down below an' help with patchin' up the Portside. You there, get up an..."

Bimglin approved of old Bragni's ways. How could he not, as the Sailmaster had been his own teacher for a decade...for longer than he'd known the Admiral. Not a Dwarf lived who knew more of sailing than the grey-haired, patch-eyed master. And after this tour, he swore he'd retire. That thought made Bim sigh more than the sight of Wavehammer's torn Port skin.

"Sir! I've gathered the boys as ye've ordered, and' we're ready t' bring it t' em!" Bimglin faced Sergeant Porgrim, head of their contingent of marines. He nodded in satisfaction as he looked over the group of twenty and the dozen veteran sailors with them. "To the Starboard rail, then, make ready to rope down." Bim walked with them across the ship. He knew Munchadin was angling to allow the courier to catch up to them and come alongside, and they'd be ready to head down and help repel the 'Skaner trash and counterboard them. Looking aft from Star, he could see that the fast boat's Captain had naturally been trying to catch up with her new guardian, but next to her, the frigate was nearly on top of them.

Marlie's call interrupted the scene, "Ahead! Look ahead!", the words rang from the top of the foremast. Out of the haze in the distance before them an unexpected shape plowed into view. Heading right for them, it caused the breath to catch in most sailor's throats, their eyes to go wide, and prayers to be spoken. Those who witnessed the creature days earlier helped calm those who hadn't, but all were in a state of questioning fear. It's head rising over thirty feet off the water, with a rooster-tail wake streaming out behind it as it closed faster than any ship, the air over it crackling as a personal thundercloud, and the water in a wide radius depressed slightly by powerful winds, the sea-storm elemental approached. It was vaguely similar to the upper body of a humanoid, with a wide torso, two long and thick arms and hands, and a triangular head capping the body with no discernible neck. It appeared made of water toward its lower half and thick clouds towards the upper, encompassed by tornado winds and tiny, periodic lightning arcs. Upon the head was a simple crown, with a belt at its waist and gauntlets on its wrists, all made of an aquamarine oricalcum. White eyes emitted two lighthouse-bright beams that scanned the waves before it and sometimes passed over the wood and canvas and crew of the 'Hammer.

"It's alright! Do no fear it, for he's an ally!" Kildef's powerful and confident voice relieved the crew's concern.

Next to him on the pilot's deck at the stern of the cruiser, Munchadin spoke from the wheel, "I imagine this is the mage's dog again?"

"He is no one's pet, but yes, he was sent by our old friend. His name is Aquanimbulos, and he is a lord amoungst his kind...that explains the crown." The Ranger peered with concentration toward the incoming wonderous creature. "Elementals are not animals, but I have been able to hear some before when they know our language. Thus it is with this one. He says he's been sent to speed our way to the battle with the harpy and..." Kildef paused, and looked astonished, awed, then angry but worried. Looking directly at the Admiral, he finished the sentence, "And her summoned demon!"

"And now we know from whence the sky-fire comes. I knew she had nae power like that herself. It had t' be somethin' she summoned. And with the power we've seen today, this is no motley imp..."

Kil shook his head in affirmation. "No, no motley imp. I knew we faced a creature of Chaos, but this is beyond my experience. Aquanimbulos hasn't been to the fight yet, he is just arriving and knows only what our friend has told him in magical communication across the distance. He fears - yes, you hear me right, even this elemental lord fears - that it is a demon of higher order, something that will expect a high payment before departing our world again. You could not be more right, Munchadin - Hrulga must be ended today, if she is capable of something like this. But what price will we pay?"

Written by - Talonmane

The crew of the light Ironskane frigate Overpride tossed two more grappling lines across to the courier. She could not flee. Despite the lines they tried to cut, there would be more. For this was a pirate ship, used to the trade of capture and boarding for the warchest of the Iron Crown. Sailors hungry at the thought of further plunder eagerly awaited the closing of the distance, some with long planks.

The captain did have concern that they were closing with the big cruiser, so he told the rest of his crew to make sure to lash the courier to them, and told his fighters they'd better make quick work so the sails and rudder of the other ship would be theirs, and the two lighter vessels could then course away and outrun the heavy.

Ineviatably, the distance closed and they began their assault. The first Ironskane marauders dropped planks and leapt the gap onto the 'Call...

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen stood rigid at the entrance to the decks below. He did not bat an eye when Vylia demonstrated her archery skills. It was to be expected, she was an Elf after all. The elven warrior had but one interest in this whole sordid affair: protect Ariana Trueblood at all costs. When an enemy vessel painted in red and black approached he still did not stir. When grappling lines were flung onto the deck and soldiers began to draw their weapons in preparation for the coming assault Ardwen still remained at his post.

As the enemy ship closed in further, one of the soldiers under the command of the female captain stopped in front of Ardwen. “Get to the line,” he said, “don’t tell me those swords are just for show!” Ardwen said nothing; he simply made eye contact with the brash fighter. The man flinched from Ardwen’s gaze and ran to join his fellows in the line. When the human warrior Lienad said an incantation in Elven to his blade, Ardwen’s eyes twitched open slightly wider in surprise for an instant. But, it was not what Ardwen expected, and he quickly put the event from his mind.

Ardwen took in the sights of the deck. The enemy vessel was preparing for a boarding action; bolts and arrows were thudding into the wood of the deck, however they were mainly focusing on anyone trying to cut the boarding rigging. The pirates, or servants of the enemy, Ardwen did not care which they were, started leaping the gap from deck to deck. The elven swordsman could see that they still had reserves on their ship. Despite the fierce fights roaring across the surface of the ship, Ardwen made no move to respond.

Two of the enemy swordsmen broke through the front line, making a mad dash to try and work their way around the warriors defending themselves in a line. Ardwen saw one of them wave a slender blade toward the entrance, his companion's mouth opened, but Ardwen could not make out what they were saying over the din of combat. Ardwen placed his right hand on the sheath of his longer blade and pressed his thumb against the guard; the sword popped up from its seat, and Ardwen's other hand grasped the hilt.

The man on the right died first. He did not see the stroke that killed him. Intent on charging and overtaking the sole wounded guard he had lead in with an unbalanced thrust. Ardwen had dashed in, at an angle, the blade grazing past him by a fraction of an inch. This had put Ardwen behind the man, and the elf wasted no time in thrusting his blade straight behind, spearing the human in the chest. His partner had enough time to look and gape as a hand length of bloody steel thrust from his friend’s chest.

He watched as the elven warrior, who they thought wounded and easy prey, wretched his blade free with a single pull. He watched as his companion’s corpse fell to the deck, blood pooling beneath it in a sanguine puddle. He tried to get his own sword moving, wanted to have a chance at beating this monstrously fast warrior. But thought was a speed too slow for the pace his foe had set; by the time he had the presence of mind to will his arms to move the elf’s blade had already traced a red line diagonally across his chest. His vision swam, and then went black.

Ardwen removed his blade from the back of the second swordsman’s neck. With a snap of his wrist the beserker flung the excess blood from his blade. He did not bother to resheathe his sword, and he promptly returned to his post at the entrance to the lower sections of the ship.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia knew as soon as the first rope was cut that it was a hopeless effort. They merely tossed three more lines across for every one cut. She took two of the remaining arrows offered to her and fired them with barely any time to aim as the pirates started to jump the gap onto the smaller courier and two men went tumbling into the sea. Quickly she took the final two and copied her previous action, this time with less stellar results. The first man caught the arrow in his arm, while the second caught the arrow to his thigh. The first landed on the deck with a grimace of pain, but simply advanced on her with anger in his eyes while his companion splashed into the sea with a scream.

Vylia dropped the bow and pulled the two short swords from the deck in front of her that the pilot had left before running off to arm himself and join the defensive line. "These will have to do I suppose," she let out a sigh, "Do yourself a favor human, return to your vessel and you may live awhile longer. There has been enough blood spilt this day." The man just roared angrily at her as he charged, his weapon held at his side. As the blade swung wide at her Vylia did not even blink as she blocked it with the sword in her left hand and brought the right up to slice across his throat in one clean motion, turning the counterattack into a full spin that turned her to face the next pirate that had jumped to the deck and the dance of death began for the second time that day. Where she would normally have shown mercy and pleaded with those she fought to give up, even if their friends had shown no such intention, she had asked once and the situation warranted no further limiting of her abilities. She had seen Ardwen by the door to the lower decks and knew she didn't need to worry about protecting the way below.

Steel clashed, limbs were lost, blood flowed, and men died...

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya's body was fatigued from earlier, her hand shook as she held Alanthear high. Then she heard the sword's voice in her head once more. No worries mistress, I will help, but you will pay for it afterwards.

Do what you have to my friend, we have not come this far to loose. Kaya steeled herself and felt Alanthear's magic suddenly wash over her, refreshing her body. But that was not all, she felt Alanthear within her and all about her; Alanthear was the one in control now. All she had to do was make sure the sword did not leave her grip and the rest would be taken care of. And it did not come too soon. There were dozens of tow lines attached to the deck already and many sailors from the other ship began jumping over onto the "Call.

She saw Vylia and Ardwen out of the corner of her eye, but did not have the time to appreciate their prowess. She felt he body lurch forward, then slide gracefully into position as two of the enemy sailors charged at her. Alanthear took action. The sword began to glow and shimmer softly as Kaya began to dance. The sound of metal hitting metal filled the air; Kaya swung and Alanthear clanged against their swords. Her speed was abnormal, the two enemy sailors quickly lost their pace as Kaya stood then down. Finally, one dropped their guard and Alanthear dove in, piercing the man through his ribcage into his heart. This caused the other sailor to pause, giving Kaya and her sword another the chance to swing and slice open his neck, leaving him to gurgle upon the deck of the ship.

More sailors kept coming; ALanthear and Kaya kept fighting. Then they felt it. They felt the evil in the air. There is a demon somewhere close Alanthear, do you feel it?

Yes, Mistress, I feel it, but I don't know where the abomination is.

We will have to worry about it when it comes closer, I cannot fight in the water, and we have our hands full here, but keep your senses up my friend, keep watch. Kaya's thoughts were broken as she saw one enemy sailor make it past and start to head to the doors that lead below. Kaya jumped and followed the sailor, screaming at him. The sailor turned and saw her bearing down upon him and stopped to fight for his life. The fight did not last long as Alanthear fought through Kaya, disemboweling the young man before he knew what hit him. Kaya stayed her place and waited for the next fool to attempt to go down into the hold.

Written by - Agmund

”Listen carefully Tomas,” the old priest whispered. “Those two have been thru a lot, and are in great need of a friend,” the priest motioned over to the two elven children before looking the boy in the eyes again.

“And while I am aware, that you have work to do, I would consider it a great favor if you would watch over them for just a little while. Audun, will be along shortly to take them in tow, but until then be kind to them… and if you have any food to spare, share it with them,” with that the priest slung his saddlebag over one shoulder, and began to walk away.

“Father Agmund…” the boy said, causing the priest to turn around, “What is happening? I mean is everything going to be alright?” A gentle smile erupted from the priests face, “yes, I believe it will be, although difficult times lay ahead, we shall prevail.”

“I want to help somehow. I can fight, if someone would teach me,” the boy looked down to the ground, “I just want to help.” Father Agmund face grew serious, “Tomas, lad, you are helping. The horses that you tend carry the might of Lothiel-Gadith into battle. Everyone, young horse master, has some part to play, and yours is a gallant one,” he stooped down and clasped the boy by the shoulders, “have faith.”

“Besides,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “my nag believes your brush is heavens vestibule.” They both laughed aloud as the horse let out a whinny of agreement. “Now,” the priest said hastily, raising back up to his full height, “I am off to find Lord Ithramir.”

Written by - Ardwen

"What were the figures on our provisions again?" King Gongrane asked. The king was sitting in a wooden chair, fingering through a mound of paper on an unadorned wooden table. The room the king was in was Spartan and bare, but Gongrane did not care. The king had, over the course of the siege, established several command posts where officers could go and receive his orders. These impromptu command centers also allowed the king to move about frequently, keeping his exact position known to only the upper echelon in his forces.

Gongrane thought it a prudent decision. There had been reports of more and more people missing everyday. Most of these reports indicated they were young girls, but Gongrane had no doubt that if the enemy were capable of abducting citizens, they would salivate at the chance to get their hands on a king. "The foodstuffs?" Intoned the grey robed official in front of the king. The figure fidgeted before leafing through some papers in his hand.

"Yes, the foodstuffs." Gongrane repeated.

"Ah," The man said before pulling one of the sheets out and reading in a droning monotone, "the supplies in the northeastern granary are still sufficient. However, we've had reports of weevils infesting the stockroom in the northwest tower. My king, I would recommend a workforce to ensure that the stock is winnowed. After all, I'm sure we would hate for--"

But the man never got to finish his sentence. A voiced crept into the room, discorporate, as if carried into their minds itself by some vast alien power. It had but two words. Two words that reverberated through the very sanity of the people of Smarsh, "Oblivion comes."

Gongrane looked up sharply from one of the papers he was eyeing. The attendant had turned pale, and he had dropped the paper on grain stocks. All at once, the door to Gongrane's room flung open and a man stumbled in. Gongrane recognized the man as a petty officer, he did not know his name, but his uniform marked him out. The man's face was covered in soot and ash, and his eyes were two white orbs that seemed impossibly wide and white. "My king--" the man coughed, but Gongrane could see he was out of breath and having a hard enough time standing.

Gongrane dashed from his seat to the man's side, helping to ease him to the floor. He could feel the cinder and grime rubbing off on his hands, but the king cared not. "Forget the titles," he said hastily, "tell me, what happened?"

The soldier looked up with those wild eyes; he coughed up bits of black, "Sorcery! The enemy is in Smarsh! They are coming!" Gongrane rested the warrior gently on the floor. He was still breathing, softly. The effort had taken much out of him, and Gongrane could only pray he would pull through. For now though, he had the lives of all his subjects to worry about.

"You," Gongrane said, rising to his feet and looking at the attendant, "send word to everyone you can find. Decry it in the streets, herald it to the city itself. Enact the evacuation plans, people are to make for the western mountain passes. The officers are drilled and know what to do. We feared this day would come, but I will not have my people reduced to slaughter and slavery."

The man nodded, turned to go, stopped and said simply, "My lord?"

The question hung in the air, and an uncomfortable silence stretched before Gongrane answered, "No. My place is here, giving my people guidance and time. They will not rest until the leader is dead; they know what a powerful symbol a king can be to a people. I do not know who or what these madmen are, but I feel they are after more than conquest and plunder. Now go, remember the passes to the west! You'll pass through Orc lands, but our people have fought them before. Make for Harathad-Dor, perhaps the Elves will find it in their hearts to grant refuge."

The man hung at the door. Gongrane could see his face contorted in sorrow, and a tear streaked down his cheeks. "Go," the King of Smarsh roared, "My last order goes with you!" The man jumped slightly, and darted down the hallway; he was quickly out of sight and the old king was soon alone. "Do not let me die in vain." Gongrane whispered.

Written by - Turin Wallace

"Turin, care for her please, make her whole again... I'm going to find out what's happening up above."

He could hear Vylia stepping away and onto the deck above. The ship had veered sharply and was at an angle now. While the decks above were brimming with activity, the room where Ariana now rested was still and only disturbed by muffled sounds. The only illumination was the single candle that burned inside a lantern, which hung from a beam.

Soon, Dorve excused herself as well and headed topside, where no doubt her skills were going to be needed. A healer's duty is never done, and they never lead boring lives.

Standing above the physically and mentally broken woman before him, Turin allowed himself a private tear. Beridane was a monster, he knew that, but to see the Abbess in this state shook him to his core. He was a Crusader from a now long ago past, his abilities were not those of a healer, but that of a defender of the faith, a protector of the weak, the vengeful sword that struck at those who preyed upon the innocent. However, he did know of one spell that may mend far more than what the others had done, but the price paid would be high. Did it matter now? It was his duty to exhaust all possibilities, it was what all those who donned the triskellion-encrusted armor were expected to do, and he had no choice.

Standing, he placed both his hands out over the shattered form below him. Breathing slowly and steadily, he simply said,

"For the All-Father and St. Lorne. From my own strength, may yours return, Ariana."

A small, faint glow began to flow around him and over her as he began to recite the words of Adelmo, the Patriarch. The longer he recited, the brighter the glow became, until finally it was complete. Pallid and gaunt, Turin had completed the ritual of Sacrifice, the greatest skill in healing a Crusader could perform. At the cost of self was another healed. Falling to the floor, he could not move, and he began feeling the darkness wash over him. As his thoughts faded, he only hoped it did her some good, and that his compatriots could stem any boarding action that would occur.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya took stock of the situation. She and Alanthear could see the number of men crossing over onto their ship was plentiful. Ardwen, Vylia and others were taking care of what they could but some of the ship's hands were getting overwhelmed. Alanthear pulled Kaya to them. It was then Kaya noticed something odd; everything seemed to be slowing down all around Kaya. Then she realized everything was not slowing down, but speeding up and Alanthear was growing in brightness. Hold on Mistress! Alanthear whispered. Kaya tightened her grip and let Alanthear do his work.

The pair came up behind one of the enemy boarders'; Alanthear came down upon the man's shoulder, shattering his collarbone, cleaving through skin and bone, sending him straight down on the deck. The deckhand backed up but not soon enough, for the other enemy had closed in and opened up his stomach, entrails hanging out now. The young deckhand collapsed on the deck at Kaya's feet. She let out a battlecry and lunged at the man holding the bloody sword. Alanthear parried the man's onslaught easily; almost seeming to toy with the man. Then, taking advantage of Kaya's litheness, the pair tucked and rolled ending up behind the man. Alanthear lunged upward before the man could turn around and severed the man's spine in one stroke. Before the man they had just killed hit the deck, Kaya, Alanthear still in hand, was standing again, rushing into the fray to help whoever she could.

Written by - Agmund

Thorgrum and Morthand stared in mute shock. A large crevice began just to their left and continued as far as the eye could see to the west, and the opposite was edge barely visible to the south. Like an axe wound upon a wasteland of chilly barren earth, the crevice cut so deeply as to fade into darkness far below. But the blade was not sharp, and jagged stone spires swept up from end to end, each with its own demise, and its own twisted form.

Strung between them were countless ropes, planks, and bridges, all with there own hideous design. Some of stone, some of wood, some of iron, and some strung together with pieces of all three. Skulls, bones, rusted weapons, armor, and shields, hung grotesquely at random intervals. Adding to the chaos of causeways was the lift systems of ropes and pulleys, and worse was the crude metal pipes that jutted out: each billowing its own plume of smoke.

Most of the crevice where the orcs had not managed to build, or adorn with terror in some fashion, was covered in a thick, slimy, black moss. Yet, in a few places, ancient stone could be seen, stone that perhaps would be white if it were not for all the grim and filth of the inhabitants. It was in those spots that the two seemed to stare, from one to the next, trying to make sense of it all.

Indeed, they could see that there was evidence of a past here, and that it was far more ancient than the orcs were. Though it was almost completely concealed, vast monolithic pillars lined massive entrances, and spires carved into the shape of swords and spears swept into the sky as if to strike the very heavens.

“How in Tinorb’s name are we are ever going to get in there,” Throgrum muttered under his breath, “let alone get out. There has to be a thousand different entries, and no knowing how many sentries guarding them.” The dwarf pulled back from the edge and leaned against the rock wall behind him.

“There is no need to go inside,” Morthand whispered over his shoulder, “all we need to do is find a good vantage point, wait for nightfall, get to it, and then count for a few days, to try and get a rough estimate of their numbers. Remember my friend, we are only here to spy, not to fight.” He looked back to the dwarf, who seemed to be somewhat annoyed, “do you think you can manage that?”

“Aye I can manage it lad,” Throrgrum said dourly. “Question is will the orcs let us, and will we be able ta’ slip away with,” he was suddenly cut off by Morthand. “There,” he whispered, pointing to what he figured was the largest of the entrances. It was on the southern side of the canyons widest point, with a large stone bridge going directly to an entrance of equal grandeur on the northern side. The original bridge may have been something of beauty to the eye, but it was now defaced beyond recognition.

Sharp iron spikes had been pounded into the stone guardrails along the span of the bridge, each with a skull of one race or another thrust upon it. Some still had hair attached; others wore the helm they had entered their last battle with, and many bore the evidence of deaths blow. The once graceful arches of stone that bore the bottom of the bridge, now lay in a quagmire of insanity. Shacks of wood and metal had been built into the web of the arches, and like a goblin honeycomb, it teemed with life. So much in fact that a second bridge of iron had been riveted in beneath it.

The Entrances on both sides of the canyon, also had signs of past glories, but they too had been defaced. Each was square in design, matching the width of the bridge in dimensions, for the bridge itself was flat. Only the support arches had any curve, and they bore out directly from the crevice walls themselves, almost appearing as though they had been pulled out and shaped from the stone.

The capping stone of each entrance was wide, by around 6 feet, forming a ledge above that was adorned with all sorts of nasty trophies. The two could not make out the northern side from their vantage point, but they could clearly see the southern side was the main exit. It began an upward grade right inside it, and from their position at the top of the canyon they could make out a small steady stream of foul creatures emerging from the ground beyond it.

The canyons rock wall jutted out for some fifteen above the exit, and with the width of the stone beneath it, and the trophies, created a good hiding spot. “Although getting there wont be easy, it appears to offer good position. Since it’s the exit side, I would guess that the Northern side is most heavily populated, so we can see what numbers are coming and going, and maybe over hear where. What do you think Throrgrum?” Morthand said.

Throrgrum grinned, “if’n we make it there we will be close enough to spit on their heads. If’n we don’t then likely we will get to kill a few before we die. Either way it sounds like my kinda entertainment, so ya count me in.”

Written by - Vylia

This fight had turned out better than the last. Though she was outnumbered most of the time, it was never more than two or three at once, and their complete lack of skill made them easy kills. Vylia winced inwardly every time she killed a man though, regardless of how evil he may have been. The number of men started to taper off rather quickly however, probably due to it being such a small ship, though the archers stayed on the other ship, firing at targets of opportunity. She was frequently forced to dodge the arrows while avoiding swords swinging in her direction as well.

Then Vylia noticed the bolts and arrows had stopped, and at first she thought they had run out of ammunition, until she realized all of the borders were dead at her feet, or the other elves defending the courier. She let out a deep breath of relief which caught in her throat as she saw four more men crossing the boarding ropes. Three of them were in leather tunics and the fourth had a highly stylized hat and metal breastplate, he was obviously the man in charge. He had a grin on his face as he crossed over to the Call and hopped lightly onto the deck. "I hope these men are better than the rest of your crew, or you are all going to die a humiliating death. Let's be done with this," Vylia didn't even wait for a response before she charged the group, "Everyone else stay out of the way!"

One of the men leaped in front of the captain as the other two split up to try and come at her from the sides, but Vylia paid no heed to them, focused on killing the man in her way first. She unleashed a flurry of sword strikes that the man only barely managed to parry, and his friends could not aid him without the possibility of killing him should Vylia move, but he wasn't able to keep it up for long before the short sword in her right hand slid into his gut, slicing through his leather armor before getting stuck. Vylia pulled on it for a moment before she saw the malicious grin on the man's face and ducked to her knees just in time to avoid a sword strike into the back of her neck, which instead plunged into the first man's throat. She quickly threw her elbow straight back from her kneeling position, catching the man in the groin hard, and causing him to stumble back in pain, his longsword still in his friend's throat. Vylia quickly stood up and grabbed the longer blade with her right hand as she stabbed straight down the throat of the gasping man with the short sword in her left before leaping backwards out of the way of the remaining henchman's swing, violently pulling the longsword from the throat of the first man which caused the body to fall forward onto her attacker, forcing him to regain his balance and stop the attack. The enemy captain however had no such obstruction, and took the opportunity to press the attack while she was still in the air. Vylia barely managed to block, but the extra force pushed her to the ground jarred the short sword from her grasp, it fell clattering to the deck behind him as he continued his attack.

The man came at her next with an overhand swing meant to split her skull in half and she brought the longsword up to block as she kicked out with her legs. He stopped the swing midstroke and sidestepped out of the way before attempting to stab straight at her gut. Vylia rolled to the side out of the way and stopped on her stomach, her hands and sword beneath her. She pushed up before shoving on the deck with her feet and came up into a quick handstand that moved her legs out of the way of the swing from the remaining leather-clad henchman that had finally gotten untangled from his friend's corpse, and flipped up onto her feet before twisting her upper body to take a swing at the man as her lower body turned to line up with the rest of her. She now found herself facing two men with three swords to her one. "Come now girl, just surrender the ship and the rest of the crew can live, I'll even ensure my men won't touch you." Vylia just shot the man a wry grin, "They couldn't touch me before anyway, and all of your men are dead, you have nobody to take this ship over with. However, I won't give you the option of surrender." With that she charged the henchman with an obvious overhand swing which he moved to block as she took a short hop barely a foot off the ground and swung her right leg into the side of his knee, forcing him down as she changed the direction of the swing, grabbing the sword with her other hand and pushing it around to the side and then under his sword to come across his throat with such force that the sword continued through his forearm and spun about to clash with one of the captain's swords in a shower of sparks. While surprised her was no fool and too the opportunity to stab forward with his other sword. Vylia just continued the push, using his solidly set blocking sword to continue her body spinning sideways out of the way of the stab by the tiniest fraction of an inch as she brought her right knee up into the side of his gut before sliding around behind him to run for her dropped blade. A cheer went up from the crew as Vylia picked up the fallen short sword and turned to face the captain, her right knee stinging from the hard impact with the steel breastplate.

The pirate captain grinned, "No more fancy footwork from you with that knee, hmm?" He advanced on Vylia slowly, laughing, carefully even though it was obvious her knee was hurting. Vylia favored her left leg as the two of them circled the deck, looking for some kind of opening. "Damn I wish I had brought my own blades up here," Vylia mumble under her breath as the weight of the two swords continued getting heavier from the constant fighting. She was waiting for him to come to her since she knew she wouldn't be able to make a reasonable charge, her knee hurt more with every step. He finally did charge, coming at her a little faster than she expected, was she almost caught off balance since she was just stepping and had all her weight on her right leg. Vylia stumbled slightly as he came at her with an overhead swing which she blocked, pushing up with the longsword just as he brought his second sword around from below. Vylia blocked the lower attack, knocking it to the side so that it narrowly missed her leg. However this left her wide open on the sides as the captain's swords came in again quickly, trying to take off her head. Vylia forced herself to fall backwards, throwing up her left leg to catch the man in the groin as she fell to the deck. "Forgot to armor your most vulnerable spot... Captain," she said with a sneer as she threw the short sword straight for his head. The sword speared him straight through his right eye as he looked up to respond and he fell back from the force of the throw. Vylia let out a sigh of relief as she fell into unconciousness, her body exhausted.

Written by - Talonmane

The long bolt punched through Jenara's right shoulder and buried itself to the feathers. She was rocked back from the wheel and off her feet, and let out what she thought was a rather undignified cry. The wheel then spun freely, the 'Call banking suddenly Starboard to the will of those few 'Skaners left to sail the frigate. The last few minutes had been a battle of sailing ability, one in which the small courier was handicapped as she tried to intercept as much wind as possible and keep it from the frigate's sails. Only the Captains orders and hand at the helm made at least a stalemate possible...and they'd continued on course to pass the Wavehammer. But not now. With the enemy winning the pull and the 'Call's tiller loose, they pointed North...up the coast and away from the cruiser that was their only relative salvation.

Her crew were engaged with boarders, and she felt nothing but dizzy.

Aboard the Overpride, the one remaining gunner who brought the Captain down finishes loading his next bolt. He is still flush with that little victory despite the many deaths of his comrades. Snearing, he swivels the heavy crossbow around and aims for the woman responsible for so much Ironskane bloodshed. If he is to fall today, at least he'll die knowing he took out the Elf Captain and the wretch who slew his. He considers it no matter that she has fallen to the deck.

Written by - Rikshanthas

The captain's cry sobered Leinad somewhat. He'd never had trouble killing when necessary, but this bloodthirsty anger was new to him, and he had a feeling it wasn't quite his own. He withdrew Astalder from the skull of an unfortunate raider just as the deck beneath him suddenly heaved to one side. As he fought to keep his footing, aided in no small part by Astalder digging itself into the deck and acting as a support, Leinad caught sight of another 'Skaner aiming a crossbow at a fallen elf not too far from him. "Now that's just dirty," he muttered, loosing his last dagger from its sheath. The gunner was nearly fifty feet away, too far to guarantee a kill shot. He'd have to settle for distraction.

Leinad's arm was steady as ever, and it seemed luck favoured him. The thrown projectile struck the gunner's hand, pinning it quite painfully to the side of the crossbow just as he fired. The bolt went wide, embedding itself in the 'Call's hardwood deck rather than elven flesh. The gunner snarled in equal parts anger and pain, turning to see who had ruined his kill.

Written by - Talonmane

The gunner made no attempt to suffer quietly. He cried out and grunted, breathing heavily and quickly as he pried the knife from the wood and flesh. He knew the battle was turned, and always one to live first and avenge second, he sucked on his wound a moment then spit the blood and disgust in his attacker's direction, taking only long enough to point at him and curse him, sealing in his mind an oath of extermination. The gunner ran, tearing a piece of his own clothing and wrapping it about his wounded palm, then he dove off the far side of the ship and began the swim toward land. Not far off, he knew he would make it and get word to the hierarchy. The Overpride and all hands were good as lost. But he'd live, and one day would find the Fair Seas Call again...

Jenara tried to stand, but the waves of nausea hit her once more. As she fall back down, the two feet of bolt jutting out from just inside her right shoulderblade snapped against the deck, and she involuntarily cried out. I can't pass out dammit...not in the middle of this...those bastards won't have my 'Call. Not today, not ev... And the light faded. In her last concious awareness it seemed the boat had now taken a hard turn back to Port? It was probably just her condition that made her think it. ...that's impossi...

Everyone on the Ironskane frigate and the privateer courier - both vessels still tied together by many grappling lines and a few hooked boarding planks - felt the sudden and steady turn back to West. It seemed, even to those who knew not sailing, to be against the sails, or the wind, or anything normal. The wooden structure of the frigate groaned and her mast strained to the forces at work, and the courier was just along for the ride. In a moment, the form of the great cruiser was again seen in the distance to their fore, and defying explanation, they picked up speed.

The half-goblin pilot of the Overpride had no control. Frantically he'd spun the helm either way, and to no avail. The ship just kept heading West. He stomped the deck and whimpered, looking about in an awful nervousness, glancing up at the sails and sharing looks of confoundment with those few sailors left alive on their boat. Superstitious was far too mild a term for one who was at once a sailor and of Goblin blood, and it was all too much to bear. A quivering cry escaping his cracked lips, legs shaking, he turned to run for the stern rail....

He made it one step, then froze in a shock most involuntary. Quaking, his throat rasp dry, he tried to call forth a scream, but could only wimper and shake his head, his features tight and mouth wide in a look of unabiding terror. Just beyond the aft rail rose a collossal form, a nightmare or a glory (depending on whose side you were on) born of sea and sky. Its penetrating gaze of light fell upon the half-man/half-goblin and a growl made of gale wind and crashing surf eminated toward the pitiable little thing.

The pilot finally called up the dry scream from the last of the air in his lungs, and, as his greenish-brown hair turned white in the span of 3 seconds, he fell backward, throwing up at the same time. His head hit the metal wheel-mount on the way down.

Aquanimbulos couldn't tell if the biope (the term the elementals used for all non-elemental, non-energy biological creatures) was dead or simply unconcious. He felt satisfaction and pity, but kept to the course at hand and pushed the two vessels ever onward toward the Wavehammer.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen remained by his post. He watched the display of swordsmanship by Kaya, but inwardly he cringed in disgust as he realized her sword was the one doing the real fighting. "A quality blade was one thing," thought Ardwen, "but reliance upon it to even fight is unworthy." Still, Kaya did her part in thinning the numbers of the advancing boarding party. However, Ardwen's attention was briefly turned by the arrival of several new combatants, one wearing what looked to be an ornate metal breastplate.

Ardwen took note of this immediately, watching for small signs in the man's movement as he hauled himself onto the Calls's deck. It was rather obvious that he was a cut above the rest of the rabble that he had sent onto the deck, but Ardwen quickly determined he was nothing extraordinary. Furthermore, Vylia seemed to have already picked him out, and Ardwen was still unwilling to leave the doorway to the decks below. As Ardwen observed the fight unfolding between Vylia and the iron-clad human and his partners, an enemy boarder managed to break through the lines.

To be more accurate, he had managed to get lucky and dash through. The soldier that was fighting him had been distracted by one of his friends, and for some reason the man had taken the chance to run by. The Elven warrior watched the man glance madly about, and he watched as his eyes alight on his form. "Don't," Ardwen breathed to the air, "go some other way human." The human, of course, could not know that the wounds on Ardwen did not bother him, could not know that the seemingly injured Elf had seen more warfare than he had years of life.

No, all he saw was the blood and the lax stance, all he saw was prey. He ran forward, and in response Ardwen removed one of his hands from his blade, keeping his left hand on the grip. As the soldier reached him Ardwen made no move to react, even as the man's sword came in for his side. As his foe's blade raced in Ardwen twisted his left arm inward and to the left, pivoting it at the elbow. This brought his sword in line with his enemy's, and a resounding parry rang from the blow.

The human seemed put off-foot by the sudden movement, but Ardwen just stared at him coldly. The human grunted as he tried to overcome the parry and force his way through. Ardwen let out a sigh and said, "You're not gripping a hoe. The strength of a sword strike comes from more than just the arms, it's the form. Hips, stomach--" Ardwen decided suddenly to demonstrate. With his right hand he grabbed the top of his sword's grip, shifted his stance, and rotated the blade. The man's weapon went wide, and with another rotation Ardwen's sword sliced into his forearm, severing it. The human's knees hit the ground and he let out a strangled scream, but Ardwen's blade cut it short.

Flinging the blood off once again Ardwen shook his head head and finished his speech, "The rotary force of the stroke, that's where the power rests." The victorious Elf had just enough time to glance up and see Vylia hurl a sword through the eye socket of the richly clad human captain. Vylia hit the deck, hopefuly just unconcious. Secretly Ardwen envied her for finding a worthy opponent. Briefly Ardwen considered moving forward to help her, but before he could make a choice the deck lurched violently.

Ardwen had not bothered to assume a stance for his last battle, and so he was caught off balance against the sudden shifting. Pitched forward, his knees hit the ground as he tried to steady himself. The Elf briefly supported himself with the spread fingers of his right hand as he kept his blade out of his own path in his left. The tugging shifting quickly passed, and Ardwen was able to stand again. Yet the Elf appeared to hold himself more rigidly, and while his face remained calm his eyes looked about the deck again, almost as if he was checking to see if anyone had noticed his undignified stumble.


Written by - Talonmane Page 39 Book 3

Of the final crew of the Ironskane frigate, only two remained on board and surrendured, cowering at the prow, too afraid to follow their shipmates into the water.

After a few moments of pushing by Aquanimbulos, the two linked vessels have come alongside the 'Hammer, where Sergeant Porgrims party of marines and sailors came aboard and hastily crossed to the Overpride to commence a full sweep and take over the ship. A field healer stopped to check the condition of the crew and eventually tended to the Jenara's shoulder wound. A second apporoaches Ardwenn and inquires about his wounds and the condition of anyone below. Bimglin also comes aboard and speaks with the Captain, then gives final orders to Porgrim.

Only 5 minutes has gone by and the lines and ladders are removed and the Overpride casts off from the other two vessels, now under command of loyal forces and on a mission only known to a few.

In the middle of this, nothing can stop Kildef and Archeantus from descending to the Fair Seas Call as well. The Ranger had not seen his former comrades for a time uncountable by years. He is torn by the joy and, yet the grief of Turin and Ariana's conditions.

In the distance miles ahead, the sky is still filled half with fire, and all know they are free only to charge ahead into that conflagration, and into the jaws of something that even the sea-storm elemental fears to challenge.

Written by - Agmund

“By Gromall’s Beard he’s goin’ ta’ take a wee!” Throrgum looked down the rope as he cursed out loud. Directly above him, perhaps thirty feet, an ogre thundered his way to the edge of the cliff. At first Throrgrum had thought nothing of it, at least not until some unusual devilish orc laughter could be heard coming from the same direction. It didn’t take but a second for the old dwarf to figure out what was next, which lead him to look down at Morthand for more reasons than cursing.

Morthand snapped a glance up quickly, not because he paid any attention to what the dwarf said, but more so because he had said it very loudly. “Shhh,” he uttered, but then he realized what was about to befall them. Shooting his head back down, he whispered just above the roar of the orc city, “Don’t move my friend.”

“Easy for you ta’ say!” Throrgrum replied very angrily, with both brows arched into a V, and jaw line clenched. Both of them were braced against the canyon wall, but neither was prepared for the smelly foulness that assaulted them. Throrgrum caught the worst, and it seemed to him to be the equivalent of a barrel of orc sewage.

After it had passed, visible tears could be seen in the Dwarf’s eyes. He murmured “my beard,” in a childlike terror, and his face grew pale white. Beads of sweet began to form rapidly on his forehead. Morthand had no sooner managed to look back down again, before catching the old Dwarf’s breakfast on his head.

It took the crashing footfalls of the ogre to remind them of their surroundings. Each seemed to hold their breath as the laughter of the orcs faded into the distance, to be replaced with the monstrous roar of the hive. “I might as well chop the damnable thing off,” Throrgrum suddenly spouted. “And you!” he added as he began to climb, “just get ta’ climbing!” Morthand knew the Dwarf well, well enough to know when it was a lost cause to argue with him, so they once again began the slow descent.

They reached the ledge just as a loud thunderous boom echoed against the canyon walls. The sky above had turned dark, and the wind had just begun to pick up. Ominous black clouds raced across the moonlit sky, and lightning could be seen dancing across the horizon.

The two had barely begun to scan the trappings adorning the ledge, when the downpour began. Neither of them wasted any time in taking advantage of the falling rain. Throrgrum quickly unbraided his beard, and held it outwards in the water with one hand, as the other fished around for a bar of soap in his pack.

Around half an hour passed, during which they had changed clothes, and disposed of what they were wearing previously. They had settled in underneath an outcrop of rock that jutted out above the ledge overlooking the massive bridge. Skeletons, still in their armor and many with weapons still in their belt loops, were propped up as trophies along the length of the edge, providing a sort of screen to shield the pair from keen eyes.

“This is a good spot,” Morthand said as he peered down at the bridge, “Wasn’t easy to get to, but at least we can get a good idea of their numbers.” Throrgrum, however, did not respond. His eyes were fixated on one skeleton in particular. It was one of his kinsmen, and while Morthand could see that he was obviously saddened he could equally see an unusual gleam in his eyes.

Morthand, who had been raised by the old Dwarf, was unaccustomed to his lack of words, and it was not until after he looked at the skeleton more closely, that he understood the look in his eyes. The armor that the skeleton wore, though damaged badly with the passing of time, was clearly marked with the Icehammer in several places. More importantly, it was the armor of a king, which in turn identified the skeleton before them as one of Throrgrums grandfathers.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen knew little about sails and guiding a ship through water, but it was becoming rapidly obvious to him that something preternatural was occurring with their ship's bearing. First, there had been the jarring and swift change of direction, and then the ship had remained eerily steady and on course, even picking up speed as it went. Ardwen's brow furrowed as he looked from the entrance he was guarding, to Vylia, to the sails of the ship which no longer seemed to guide their course.

"Just for a second . . ." Ardwen said as he tossed one last look at his surroundings before dashing out next to Vylia. She was indeed still alive, and as Ardwen knelt next to her to make sure she was going to remain so he finally caught a glimpse of what was causing the two joined vessels to move so unnaturally. Pushing the ship the boarders had crossed from was a water elemental, the likes and kind of which even Ardwen had rarely seen. The upper part of the creature seemed composed of storm clouds, and at the top of this swirling mass of cloud was a crown. It was obvious that it was a lord of elementals, and Ardwen knew that to summon and command such a powerful entity would normally take a circle of mages, or one insanely powerful one. So the question hung in Ardwen's mind, who had called this one?

Almost as if in answer, another ship pulled alongside the two conjoined vessels. Ardwen tensed himself, looking from Vylia to the entrance below, but it became rapidly obvious that these were not more enemy raiders. Bandages and healing magics were being applied to the wounded, and a human healer approached Ardwen. He took one glance at Vylia and then at Ardwen and immediately asked to treat their wounds. "Treat this one first," Ardwen said as he rose from his kneeling position, "I'm fine." The man seemed to want to protest, but Ardwen sliced a hand through the air as if to signal him to cut his chatter. Annoyed now at the bellicose Elf, the healer remembered his duty and asked, "Are there any other in need of my skills? Any wounded below deck, perhaps?"

At the mention of the holds below, Ardwen's eyes darted to the entrance and back. "Per--," but Ardwen cut himself short and said, "no, nothing you can do. Though . . . Turin . . ." Ardwen trailed off once again, his eyes narrowing.

The healer was already preparing to aid the wounded female Elf unconscious on the deck when he heard the difficult Elven warrior finish as he walked toward the entrance, "You'll need to be heading below deck anyhow. There might be someone down there you can help. But stay away from the lady. You'll know of whom I speak when you see her."

As Ardwen reached the entrance he took one last look at Vylia to make sure the healer was doing as he was told. However, Ardwen also caught a glance of someone else moving along the vessels. Two people, to be exact. One was Archeantus, and Ardwen was silently glad to see he had not only lived, but also looked none the worse for wear. The other, however, caused Ardwen some concern. While nothing seemed impossible in this world, from the dead walking and breathing to lords of the primal elements aiding them, Ardwen was still loathe to give voice to his thoughts. All Ardwen could muster in fact was a single, puzzling word, "Jagan?" He whispered.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya took down two more of the enemy boarders before the flow subsided and the boat began to speed off. The glow surrounding Alanthear subsided and Kaya could feel the effects of battle take her over. Dorve ran over to her and when realizing she could do nothing for the elf, scoulded Kaya for her over exertion. Then Dorve saw that Kaya was passed out and her scolding was falling on deaf ears, so she made sure Kaya was tucked out of the way of the sailors and went to attend the other wounded.

Written by - Rikshanthas

With the immediate threat over, the firey glow left Astalder, and the blade returned to its now-customary golden hue. Leinad suddenly felt the weight of his exertions, to which the battle-lust had blinded him, and sank to his knees. The impact sent a shock through him as he abruptly became aware of the numerous wounds he had received; though the injuries were mostly superficial, none critical, the pain was like a bucket of ice water over the head. Seeing the great ship pull alongside the small courier, Leinad stood, with difficulty, and walked over to the gangplank that was extended between the two vessels, sheathing his blade.

One of the first men to cross, a particularly stout Dwarf with the look of a seasoned marine, eyed Leinad as he approached and said reassuringly, "ye kin put away tha sword, lad, we're on tha same side after all." Lienad looked down at his hand in disbelief. Why, he'd just sheathed it as he stood to greet them! But sure enough, there was Astalder, at the ready in his grip. His eyes on the sword, he slowly and deliberately slid it into its sheath, only to find he could not remove his hand from the hilt. Quickly, he assumed a casual air, placing his other hand on the pommel, attempting to hide the fact that the sword had glued itself to his palm. Nodding to the sailors as they boarded to help clean up and refresh the 'Call and her crew, Lienad turned toward the hatch to the lower deck, slightly annoyed but not surprised at this turn of events. Astalder was a fickle blade, prone to throwing him surprises like this at random times. Though it had never openly communicated with him or anyone, he would swear on all the gods' names the thing had a mind of its own. This last battle had pretty much proved it.

He drew the weapon once more, casually, letting the tip drop to the deck before idly bringing the edge vertical. He pulled a cloth from a small belt pouch and began to lazily "clean and polish" the sword (anyone could tell it needed neither cleaning nor polishing), silently hoping no one else would question his "choice" to remain armed.

Written by - Agmund

Throrgum looked Morthand dead in the eye when he finally spoke up “For us there will be no final oath… there will not be one last march in our final days. I will not return here as a king, and nor shall my father end his rule in this hell. Neither in yer last days will you come here. There will be no final oath for you ta’ proclaim.” His face grew grim, grim with the face only an aged dwarf could produce. It was one of stoic grit and determination, the face of a dwarf who was proclaiming a binding oath.

His cheek began to quiver with a sort of angry twitch as he continued, causing one large braid of pepper gray hair to jump back and forth, “Nor shall yer children, or the children of the mountain or any of Njorundr… take the oath of Dagafeln.” His voice became a low rumble. “For I will return long before the final oath, and I shall lay waste ta’ this place and these… rats!” he reached forward and grabbed Morthand by his shoulder armor.

“And when I am finished, I will strike the oath stone with my hammer, and crush the dwithar written upon it! THIS I swear… by the bones,” he pointed to the skeleton, “of my kin.” He squinted his eyes angrily at Morthand, barring his teeth, as if the man questioned his words.

But Morthand said nothing, and his face was free of expression. He knew the seriousness in which all dwarves took an oath, and with Throrgrum even more so. He knew that Throrgrum would follow thru even without an army. And he knew that if Throrgrum saw doubt in his face, the dwarf would jump onto the bridge and attempt to slay every foul creature in view, and of course perish in the attempt.

Thru out his youth, he had thought that Throrgrum did this in an attempt to teach him, in a somewhat resentful manner, the traditions of his people. As if he, a human, would not understand. Later he had learned that in fact it was very much the opposite. To an old dwarf more than others, it was a game. One in fact, that they took great pride in. It was a personal test of mettle that only the sternest of dwarfs have the guts for. But to call it was not taken lightly, because once proclaimed they will follow it thru, or curse themselves in whatever death seeking fashion they can locate.

However, there was one more thing wrapped up in this particular oath that Morthand took great note of. In his years living in Kazukthule, he had seen many a dwarf proclaim an oath, but oaths written in the ancient runes of the Dwitharim, were considered sacred. Some had been carved in place with the very hands of the first five kings of the mountain, and have remained ever since. Removing this oath would essentially remove an age old tradition of the kingdom itself.

“You want to remove the Oath because it has sent our people to die needlessly?” Morthand suddenly asked, and then quickly realized he made a mistake. Throrgrum responded by snarling in rage and shoving him almost off the edge. In fact, he had to scramble in order to make sure that he didn’t fall, or knock down the skeleton.

“Stay calm, I appologize, I should not have questioned your motives,” Morthand blurted out and quickly snuck back under the outcropping. This, however, did not cause the anger in Throrgrums eyes to abate, which neither comforted nor surprised Morthand. Something deep had drawn this peculiar oath from the dwarf, something even he could not understand.

“Can you not see it lad?” Throrgrum waved his hand towards the insanity around them. “This is what the blood of our people has purchased us… not honor, not glory, but madness! They perished here and for what… ta’ slow our deaths? Don’t get me wrong boy, our for-fathers had a vast wealth o’ wisdom… but why let such a place fester under yer very noses for so long?” he spat. “Ignorant pride, which is the same reason it has taken so long to make peace with the Elenshauer.” He added angrily.

“They should have contacted the western kingdoms, they should have banded together and dealt with this threat, long before it grew into this!” he pointed his finger straight out towards the canyon. Morthand could only listen, and since he knew full well that Throrgrum was speaking the truth, he saw little reason in making him angrier by interrupting.

But Throrgrum had finished, and out of nowhere he simply sat down and stretched out. “I think I’ll have a smoke,” he exclaimed and started rummaging thru his pack. “Just like that?” Morthand asked in shock. “Wha?” Throrgum replied, like he didn’t even hear what the man had said. “Just like that your going to shut up, sit down and have a smoke?” Morthand responded in complete confusion.

“Yes,” Throrgrum said as he looked over to him, “You have a problem with that lad?” he added somewhat annoyed. “Well… sort of yes, but at least your not going to attract as much attention… so no… go right ahead,” Morthand said slowly. “Ahh,” Throrgrum let out, and then held out to Morthand like a kid winning a prize the wooden pipe he was hunting for.

Morthand just shook his head, and grinned, “You amaze me, I don’t think it would be possible for me to ever really understand you. You just went from beserk rage to a relaxing smoke in 10 seconds flat,” he chuckled.

“That’s yer problem lad, you never know when to give up,” Throrgrum said gleefully. “Give up what?” Morthand laughed. “Trying ya dimwit, yer never going ta’ understand me, so give up tryin!” the dwarf chuckled merrily. “Yer part of a long tradition of fathers confounding their sons, a tradition I simply attempt ta’ pass along,” he grinned with pride.

Morthand looked rather surprised to hear Throrgrum call him son, something he had never done. The dwarf, had always treated him like a kid, but since Throrgrum lost his wife to an illness, and customary to dwarven tradition, refused to remarry. He had no children, thus leaving Morthand unsure if he was being reared as his son, or out of friendship for his father. He had no siblings to compare how he was being raised, so in many ways, his sought to understand what it was to be both human and dwarven.

Seeing the curious look on Morthand’s face caused Throrgrum to beam a toothy grin, “Wha? You don’t think I know you try with everything you can muster ta’ understand me? That you don’t take every action and word I commit ta’ analyze in that brain o’ yers? I’m way ahead of ye lad, way ahead.”

“But not far enough to figure out how to light the pipe in the dark, without drawing attention,” Morthand said. “Well, no, not that far,” the dwarf conceded with a chuckle, “But then I raised a smart son fer that.” To which he added with a nod of his head and a low rumble of a whisper, “Yer never goin ta’ win lad.”

Written by - Vylia

The healer looked Vylia over closely and he was quickly able to ascertain that her unconsciousness was not due to bloodloss, but from exhaustion. He found and healed all of her visible wounds, including the badly damaged knee but she still didn't wake up. At that point his work was done except for one thing, which meant he had to talk to that fool stubborn elf warrior again.

It didn't take him long, the man stood out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of the crew. He walked over to him quickly, "Your friend is healed to the best of my ability, but she has no energy left. She needs a place to rest and seeing that everyone else is busy, and you refuse any healing yourself, would you be so helpful as to find her a place to sleep until she recovers completely? I need to return to my duties." The healer quickly turned to attend to several wounded crewmen without waiting for Ardwen to respond, putting the man from his mind as he got down to business.

Written by - Ardwen

Before Ardwen could return below deck the healer he had dismissed earlier returned to him. He had a simple request: find Vylia a room for her to recover from combat fatigue. Ardwen was honestly a little surprised Vylia needed to recover even after her healing, had she really pushed herself so far? The healer had scurried off before Ardwen could respond, but it did not matter.

The Elf walked over to Vylia's prone form and lifted her off the ground, using both his arms to support her. Thoughts fluttered through the warrior's mind, useless distractions, but he could not set them aside. In truth, he was starting to resent how complex things were becoming, and how hard these complexities made it to simply fight unhindered. "Such must be the feelings," thought Ardwen as he carried Vylia below deck, "of all those who have someone to protect. Am I simply worried about losing them again . . ."

Ardwen allowed the thought to end there as he shifted Vylia slightly to enter Ariana's room. The Elf could think of no better place, indeed, no other place Vylia would rather rest in then in the same room as their Abbess. As Ardwen's eyes swept over the room though, the scene was far from what he expected. For collapsed on the floor was the Priest of Battle, limp as if dead. Ardwen's breath caught in his throat as he walked as quickly as he dared and layed Vylia gently down next to the bed.

Ardwen placed a hand on Turin's shoulder and shook the paladin gently, "Priest of Battle, Priest of Battle, sir!" Ardwen said urgently. Turin did not respond, but Ardwen noticed he was breathing steadily. "What the hell?" Ardwen hissed as his mind raced through what could have possibly knocked Turin out without anyone noticing.

"Abbess?" Ardwen questioned as he turned his gaze on the bed Ariana was in. Then he rememebered that Ariana was in not condition to help. "No," Ardwen growled as his frustration turned to anger, "none of you get to go to hell without me!" The warrior ran back out into the hallway and began to fling open doors with abandon, he found a room for storing extra arrows and arms, a room with what appeared to be foodstuffs, and at last a room with a single small cot next to a desk with books and papers spread on it.

Ardwen yanked the blanket and pillow from the cot so swiftly they flapped and made an audible noise. He ran back into Ariana's room and used them to make Vylia as comfortable as he might in such a hurry. Giving one last appraising look at the room he ran as fast as his legs would carry him to the above deck and shouted Archeantus's name once, before remembering a trick that sometimes worked with Sycon.

"ARC," Ardwen's brow furrowed as he focused on the thought so fiercely it almost seemed to echo within his skull, "NEED AID, TURIN'S DOWN AND VYLIA WOUNDED, DO-" Ardwen cut the thought short and shook his head, he had no clue if it was working. So he simply went back to shouting the warlock's name again.

Written by - Talonmane

"Alright, we're nae goin'ta wait fer 'em. Bragni, full sail! Feburt, tell Bim to get the business o'er with and cast that boat off our side. An' make sure they stay in our shadow." Munchadin paced the pilot's deck, impatient that they were not making better time back to the mouth of the harbour. He was in a Dwarvish brood.

Within five minutes Kildef returned. "Admiral, our elemental friend is suggesting that the courier not cast off from our side. He'll get us there faster if he concentrates just on our sails," said the Ranger as he once more readied the ballista with the special payload.

"Bah...it's unnatural, that. But I'll take anythin' at this point that'll get us out there fast." Munch walked to the front of the upper deck and caught sight of the sailmaster again. "Bragni, change o' plans. That big wet blob o' wind'll be gi'en us a hand...or...whate'er. Orient the sails fer...well...ach, by His forge, ye'll figure it out!" He returned to the wheel, mumbling - something he did more when in foul spirits.

Aquanimbulos ascended off the Port side, and began to inhale. The wind fell from the 'Hammer's sails. For two minutes this continued, and the sea-storm elemental grew to twice his normal size. All wind in the area seemed to cease, and all was quiet but for the collosal intake of breath.

"Brace yerselves!" called out Bimglin from amidships. He stood at the Starboard rail where his booming voice could be heard as well by the crew of the 'Call. It was a tense moment in time, and an electric charge to the air could be felt building...

....It was shattered by the crack and flash of a huge thunderbolt from the Southerly sky that impacted upon the backside of the elemental at the moment that he began to exhale. At the same time, a light mist of rain fell around them. Everyone in the vicinity jumped or cowed at the explosion of light and noise. All but Kildef, who was laughing.

"By the gods, lad, me heart nearly burst from me breastplate. We've got sailors droppin' ropes an' shocked witless an' divin' fer cover...and here's you, havin a giggle! What madness?"

"I can't help it! Our big friend out there may seem an awesome and awful creature, but he is just like us. When the lightning struck, in my head, all I could hear was "Oops...!" And the Ranger burst into a new round of uproarious mirth. And after a pause, his beard and brows now wet with rainwater, the Dwarf joined him, for a time at least, losing his brood.

The great exhalation began slowly. As the natural winds once again filled their sails, the elemental added to it almost gently. But this grew...and grew. Bragni had his sailcrews tune the great rigging to the abnormal source of power, and before they new it, the sea was breaking across their prow at a speed at least twice what the 'Hammer had ever made in the best of conditions even with her full catamaran's compliment of canvas. A deep - if such a description could be applied to the sound of wind - blow filled the sky around them, though it was not over-loud and in fact was rather soothing to the ear. But it did make sending voice orders difficult.

Munchadin had Feburt pass the word to Bimglin and ship's mates to be ready, for momentarily, they would again be in a warzone. And no one could know just what they would find there. In particular, several sailors stood ready at the cruiser's lit signal lights, and Marlie was ready with flags. Organized communication with the other ships of the fleet would be crucial in the battle with the harpy.

Written by - Agmund

It had been hours since either the man or dwarf spoke, and both were busy in their own fashion. Morthand was taking detailed notes of the surroundings, including what was coming and going below them, while Throrgrum seemed to be preoccupied with an attempt to map out the best direction for an assault.

A loud cry of terror pierced the air, causing both to jump slightly. Too far away from the edge to see what was going, Throrgrum whispered to Morthand as he looked up from his work “What’s happening lad?”

“A siege engine, looks like a sort of trebuchet knocked off an orc as it was crossing the bridge,” Morthand replied. “It’s the second one to cross in the last hour or so, and it has a great host of orcs following ahead it,” he said worriedly, “but I cannot make out the direction they are going.” Morthand looked over his should to Throrgrum, “Its not that the orcs are silent, its as if they aren’t aware of where they are going. The masters are merely whipping them into file, and herding them out. Just grumbling, and complaining, no other clues from there lips, its almost as if they know we are here.”

Throrgrum nodded his head no, “nay lad, if’n they knew we where here, we’d have dun’ been killed or captured hours ago. The orcs are more cunning than ye realize. They know this is a big place, and that spies could be anywhere. They are tight lipped merely as an added precaution.”

When Morthand turned his attention back to the bridge, something of great interest caught his eye. A small shriveled up orc, old and ugly, with a nose that jutted out several inches from his face like an axe. The skin of the orc was a drab olive color, but it had large white crack like wrinkles of near bone white, appearing almost like an affliction. Apparently to feeble to walk, the orc was being carried upon a sort of canopied throne, though without a seat.

Instead it was covered in layers of various furs and hides, while the canopy seemed to be a form of cloth, albeit roughly made. It was held aloof by poles at either corner, and one central beam directly behind the orc. The litter itself was about eight foot by eight foot, and while it wasn’t very grandiose, the method in which it was being moved was.

Large wooden beams underneath it extended out from the front and back by an additional eight feet in either direction. These were attached, strangely, to a system of wooden supports built directly onto the bodies of eight ogres. Four of them were in the front, and four were in the rear of the litter. Each bore a thick leather harness that wrapped around their shoulders and waist. The harness in turn had large upside down metal pouches, crude, but sturdy looking, that held columns of iron rods.

The rods supported a flat circular block of wood about a foot above the head of each ogre. Atop them were iron coils which meet another block of wood above them, but these blocks were cut in a U shape at the top, allowing them to fit snuggly beneath each support.

“Looks rather comfy doesn’t he lad,” Throrgrum whispered from beside Morthand, which startled him somewhat. Upon seeing the young man jump, Throrgrum cracked a wide grin, his lower jar line jerking far off to the side. “Well, ye got quiet and wide eyed all tha’ sudden, so I had ta’ see fer meself, what ye were lukin’ at,” he looked back to the bridge and the litter which had journeyed roughly half way across it, “I can sure see why… cause that is one helluva n’ ugly… rotting piece of…” Throrgrum seemed to stop there searching for the next word, his head lurching left to right. He was making a horrible face, his tongue sticking out just barely between his barred teeth. His cheekbones curled up high; almost breaking against his brows as is they battled for supremacy.

But then out of nowhere, he stopped. His gaze turned slightly dark and twisted, as he looked Morthand dead in the eye. “Lets kill the damned thing,” he said in a low rumble. Morthand was about to protest, but Throrgrum gave him no chance. He placed his hand on the boys shoulder, grasping it firmly as he continued. “Listen lad, don’t talk, just listen… That thing down there is a shaman, an orc shaman, and likely of great power. I have told ye stories, how many times, when ye were a child. Stories of our ancestors, these are no mere myths lad.”

“That is the evil of those stories,” he pointed down to the litter as it passed the middle of the bridge. “That orc has the potential ta’ kill far more of our kin, than the armies of Dagafeln could ever do alone. He will imbue those ogres beneath him with untold powers of protection… AND death wielding powers in turn!”

“Your out of your mind!” Morthand shook his shoulder free. “Our purpose is to report back with numbers, that is the only way we stand a cha,” he didn’t manage to finish before both shoulders were gripped and the dwarf shook him a moment. “IF we manage to get out alive lad… there’s no way Dun-Algur would stand a chance against that army, we are here now and,” but this time it was Throrgrum that was cut of.

“How do you know that army is heading to our home, we have no way of knowing where it is going,” Morthand said with little effect. The dwarf was shaking his head no, and a soft smile lined his face as he replied, “It doesn’t matter where its going lad, the point is we are here now, and we can stop that thing from killing many, no matter where it goes. What does matter son, is that soon, he will be directly beneath tha’ ledge we debate upon. He will be exposed, and that you and I have the ability ta’ slay him.”

“But,” Morthand protested and was cut short yet again. “Nay lad, the time fer talkin’ is fixin’ ta’ pass, I have chosen my path, oath be damned, and perhaps I along with it. You have ta’ decide for yerself if’n ye wish to join me on this one, because likely we will both die.”

For a brief moment the two said nothing. Throrgrum was looking at Morthand but Morthand seemed to be weighing things in his mind. He was looking over to the side, eyeing the position of the litter. Then he let out a long breath, as if he had made his decision, he looked back to the dwarf and whispered, “Your right… count me in.”

“Morthand,” the dwarf said simply, “I have always been proud of ye lad, as if ye were my own blood. You have served the memory of yer father well, and I am certain he looks down upon ye from the mount with equal pride.” Throrgrum glanced over the ledge, and suddenly shuffled to his feet, but continued to talk: his voice growing in volume and ferocity.

“Lets go ta’ meet our kin now, but before we do lad… lets show what were made of!” he finished in a shout; yanking one hammer up in his right hand, and ripping a hammer from the rotted belt of the kinsmen beside him. He shoved the skeleton as roughly as he could off the side of the ledge, and leapt off behind it, leaving the man wide-eyed, but with almost equal zeal.

Written by - Talonmane

Battlesmoke now ruled the bay's surface again as the sounds of creaking masts, crackling fires, and sailors at war arose in the distance. Looking out ahead of Wavehammer and Fair Seas Call, the world was intermittantly grey with a deepening red sky. The rain had stopped, and the unceasing low thrumm of the sea-storm elemental's breath brought with it an unexpected warmth. The crew was energetic, curious about the fate of their fleet-mates at the nearing mouth of the harbour, and their confidence rode the steady and determined will of their captain.

"Smoke clears ahead! We're coming through!" The ever-enthusiastic voice of the young dwarf woman rang from the top of the foremast. But her voice then trailed off and cracked, "Oh, my god..."

They emerged into a custom-made arena on the sea. It was as though they stepped through a wall that made up a grey perimeter encompassing an area at least two miles wide. Something was pushing all the smoke to this circular edge. It could be seen drifting in thick wisps from the wreckage of vessels across the vista, getting blown radially outward from the center of activity, a point seemingly beneath the harpy and her summoned charge. No special wind could be detected...the smoke simply moved at a constant rate from wherever it formed toward this artificial edge, even against the flow of natural wind. Ships of both navies, many dozens, were burning hulks. Just as many were engaged in boarding actions, grappled together for hand-to-hand fighting. Less than 10 vessels in sight appeared to still be moving and firing in ranged exchange. Of these still maneuvering, none were of Munchadin's ships-of-the-line: the long schooners, galleons, destroyers, and dreadnaughts were either burning, sunk, or in close combat. Only the lighter ships still danced, both Ancoran and Doledrun, against an equal number of enemies.

Accompanying the revelation of the scene before them came a wave of nausea and fear that broke over the crew. Merely being in clear sight of the demon shifted the emotional atmosphere, and a darkness seemed to plunge in upon them making colours less apparent and the contrast of black and white more stark. Bimglin had tried to prepare the sailors for the coming of such a moment and worse, so most held on tightly to their duties, while a few fell to one or both knees and lost composure. One man who was new to the crew with this voyage and whom they did not know well, backed away from his post at ship's center, holding his head in his hands and with a contorted, soundless expression of tortured pain. Brogni tried to approach him, but the poor hand took one look his way, screamed from his core with a hysteria no one ever expects to come from the throat of a grown man, ran to the port rail and collided with it, tumbling over the side. Bragni was left to stare with his arm still reached out. All on board needed no explanation - everyone could feel that if one would just let go, not hold on to duty and sworn courage and vengeance against Ironskane - or whatever else would drive them - just a moment of letting go could mean a similar fate. Bimglin looked up from the rail toward Munchadin at the pilot's deck, shaking his head. The man was lost, going under without an attempt to swim.

A moaning laughter echoed around the dome of sky, increasing to dominate the moment. It was a noise carrying promise of doom and the end of all things; change without control, and the burning of whatever it encountered. Only a god could laugh at the volume of thunder. Or the opposite of a god...such as this. And next to the source of that cacophony, the harpy spoke. Despite her still being more than a mile away, it was as though she were in the head of all listening, with a voice that cackled and screeched, that was nothing but unappealing and wretched. Her focus was the dwarven admiral.

"At last, the fool of fools arrives! The sorryest navigator in an ocean of damned pawns...and with him, comes the main course: a feast for the Red Realm, a dinner that will feed Adramelech's fifty-nine legions for time unknowable! Behold - Munchadin - your schemes unfurled...and know the beginning of the Masters' reign on this Earth!"

As the witch spoke the clouds above shook with energy and from her left, at the command of her hellspawn, a blazing meteor tore down and toward Wavehammer.

Written by - Talonmane

"To starboard, NOW! Bim, cut the lines t' the courier! Get them off and away 'ere they can maneuver to save their lives! And I hope that elf Capt'n has half a wit in 'er pointy 'ead..." Munch cranked the helm over as Bragni's sailhands tried to assist with the orientation of the canvas as best they could. The ship was then slammed hard from port as Aquanimbulos rammed himself into their side and pushed. Some of the water that made up much of the elemental's body crashed over them like a storm wave, soaking half the crew. But the cruiser was saved - the fireball hit the bay just off their left side. As a massive volume of water was vapourized, the elemental then turned his power to containing the steam and forcing it to become liquid again in an instant, thus keeping the ship from destabilizing.

With a hurricane roar Aquanimbulos rocketed away and up. Crashing bolts of lightning erupted from each of his arms and slashed at Hrulga and the demon-lord as he charged them. While hard to see at this distance, to Marlie it appeared that the electricity was intercepted and dampened by something else, as though a magic protected the targets. Rain then fell in great sheets over the foes, but it turned to steam before ever reaching their foul heads. The steam from that rain then betrayed the arrival of a building tornado of wind. Marlie watched as the elemental joined with this tornado storm and flew at maddening speed around the demon and harpy, the steam getting pulled with these winds and revealing the shape and strength of the cyclone. Lightning thundered from the clouds now as well, as Aquanimbulos poured on everything in his power. Nothing could be seen within the tornado but a reddish glow fighting to dominate the electric blue of the elemental's assault.

Kildef cried out from Munch's left "Oh! this is a distraction, admiral! our friend says to do whatever we can now, he can't keep this up."

"Alright lad! Ahoy me crew! Get yerselves together. Dunnae let the fireworks make you think we're naught but little bugs compared to these giants. The day will be won by the actions of dwarf and man and elf! We are as great as they, I say! We carry the heart and blood of ancestors who fought these same enemies of Life. We dunnae run from them - we war with them as we must! Fer Ancora, fer her heart that still beats and to not see the providence we carry devoured in the din...and fer the 'Hammer that will sail out of this night and be rebuilt whole again, HUZZAH! I say!

Brogni, ahead full. Signallers, tell all ships that have guns t' break their other fights and execute the mage's plan! Kildef - stand by to fire, and ye'll 'ave to make it count. Make yer old man proud..." by His Forge, I wish Jagan were here with us now. Though he ne'er spoke of it, Ah've always known his life, his purpose, was to see us through moments like these. Ye'd better still be alive, Barbarian. Fer if this is just the beginning of the real war, how can we get through days worse than this?

The Fair Seas Call banked off and away, allowed herself to clear the cruiser and fall behind her.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya could feel the warm ground under back, hear the birds chirping and the insects buzzing, the sun warm on her face. I could sleep here for hours...

"We do not have the time for that Mistress, our presence is needed elsewhere."

Kaya opened her eyes slowly, then sat up, then turned to the direction of the voice. Standing there was a tall, handsome man, dressed in full plate. "Who are..."

"I am A'lanthear Mistress and I am here to guide you." He could see the questions in her face and already had the answers for her. "We are in the dream realm; you are unconscious on the ship, having over extended yoruself fighting, though it could not be helped. This is my true form, well, at least it was before my body was destroyed, but that is another story, once we do not have time for right now. Right now, our presence is required elsewhere. Nyrondis seeks to see us both."

"Well," Kaya started, getting to her feet, "it is a pleasure to meet you like this. And, I should like to hear your story when we have time." A'lanthear nodded and held out his arm for Kaya. Kaya smiled and took it and let A'lanthear guide her to their destination. He lead her from the small clearing through the woods. Kaya could tell that they were being watched, but the eyes upon her did not worry her. She glanced about at the lush woodland, marveling at the trees, flowers and creatures she could see.

"We are here." A'lanthear said softly. Kaya looked forward into a new clearing. It ws filled with creatures of all kinds, predator and prey alike, but neither paid head to the other. But at the far side stood the largest oak tree she had ever seen. She gazed upwards and still could not see the top. But her eyes drifted downwards to its base, where sat Nyrondis. Just gazing upon his form caused her to drop to her knees, for here was her God. Nyrondis stood, brushed his dark hair from his face and moved to Kaya.

"Greetings youngling, please, rise." He held out a hand to Kaya and helped her to stand. Kaya stood, her knees still shaking. "I wish we had more time, but you are needed elsewhere. For now, the two of you are here to complete our bond, so that you may be able to go and help in the battles ahead. Please know, what you face, you cannot face alone, for this thing is greater than you, though any lessers it may summon you should be able to take care of." Nyrondis then stood to his full height, and power eminated from him that could not be denied. "Kaya'Talas, do you swear to me, your allegiance, to be a full fledged demon hunter in my name and my name alone? To this do you so swear? ANd you A'lanthear, do you still swear as well?"

Kaya knelt on one knee, her hand still within Nyrondis'. "My Lord and Master, I hereby pledge to you my heart, body, mind and soul. Your cause is mine and your command my will." Upon saying the words, she could feel the warmth and affection eminating from him, and felt her soul become whole.

A'lanthear knelt as well. "I too give to you my soul Nyrondis, to continue this fight for you and all creatures of good."

Nyrondis smiled. "Very well, I take your pledge Kaya'Talas, Demonhunter, and now I am afraid our time is at an end. It is time for you to go back and help your friends against our enemy." Nyrondis leaned over and kissed Kaya upon the head. Kaya sighed wishing this could go on forever.

Mistress...mistress, wake up, we are needed. Kaya opened her eyes, her notrils filled with the stench of smoke and blood. She jumped up, placing her hand upon A'lanthears hilt. She smiled, feeling refreshed and renewed and ready for action. SHe could feel the new strength within her, the power from Nyrondis. SHe looked around then stopped, her eyes on the horizon, gazing at the monstrosity there. This is not going to be easy.

Written by - Archeantus

He could feel their presence growing closer and closer through the sounds of battle and the spray of the wind. Archeantus leaned forward off the side of the 'Hammer, sensing they were now but yards away.

Finally he heard Kildef's anxious voice.

"Come old friend, it's time."

Archeantus nodded, at once relieved as he was worried. He detected a few were unconscious.

Being led across the thrown planks between the two vessels, Kildef hurriedly took them directly toward the Far Seas Call where at long last most of the Hands of old were finally in one place.

The old warlock stood a moment, taking in what he could learn, opening his mind to the ship's condition. It was during this that a stern elven voice pierced his probing mind.

"ARC, NEED AID, TURIN'S DOWN AND VYLIA WOUNDED, DO-" Ardwen stopped, wondering if he was getting anywhere.

Touching his finger to his temple, Archeantus replied mentally with an edge of lighthearted concern. "I am coming. No need to keep calling my damn name."

Stepping past much of those who were being tended to, he descended to the lower quarters, Kildef and Pharsalus in tow, where Ardwen stood; Vylia, Turin, lain about the floor, Ariana remained, resting upon a bed.

The old warlock appeared in the room, his staff in his weathered hands. His blindfolded face worked it's way about the room, and then centered on Ardwen.

"Telling them accounts of your many war campaigns I see."

He detected the sudden low grumble, and smiled gravely before the stern Elf had a chance to reply.

"I am as happy as you are to find them still with us."

"As am I!" Kildef roared in from behind him.

Pharsalus, simply gazed long at those he hadn't seen in ages with those deep gemmed eyes of his, reflecting the soft candlelight of the room.

There was a stillness then in the air, as a pause fell through the room, all of them looking and sensing each other as the precarious situation began to propel forward once again.

The ship lurched forward, powered by the magical elements up above.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya could feel the demon's presence; feel its magic flowing through the air and over the people on the ships. She could also see and hear the crew of the ship she was on, begin to react to the magic and it was not pleasant. Stay steady A'lanthear, we shall do our best to give these people some strength. Kaya positioned herself by the main mast, placed a hand upon A'lanthear's hilt, then began to sing an old battle chant, one meant to give strength and hope. First, the chant started out low, almost inaudible, Kaya closed her eyes and focused her new found energy, reaching out to Nyrondis for strength and guidance. Then the chanting grew louder, more defined, the sounds coming from her soul rising above the cries and screams of her shipmates. I hope this will help them A'lanthear, I hope this will help.


Written by - Talonmane Page 40 Book 3

"Muridel...", the dwarf whispered her name as their lips met after 7 years of seperation. It was sweet, so sweet, thought Munchadin, moreso than he remembered. He pulled back then just to gaze in her gray eyes, and the face of the dwarf-woman he'd married made him ache, the love was so true. She put her soft hand to his whiskered face, and he leaned into it with a fervour as tears formed in his eyes, and he smiled with a degree of joy he shared with no one else. The married lives of dwarves were a most private thing, and especially of that the deeper emotions of man and wife.

"My brave Munnie, me heart bursts for your kisses. Oh, how Ah've longed fer you to hold me in cold cavern nights. Ye've been out sailin' the world an' savin it too, if Ah know a whisker on yer cheeks. But yer home now, nuthin' else matters. The children are home t' see their father, too. Doni's begun his third apprenticeship - learnin' how t'make the machines of Men, if ye can believe it; an' Grudel's leadin' her mates in the 'vanced schoolin - an' with that hi-fancy elf teacher at that! An' Brungi...ach, little Brungi is no more the infant ye knew, and he spends all his play time tryin' to be like his Da - untyin' an' tyin' those naval ropes ye keep, and playin' wi' th' model ships in yer study, tellin his mates they'll some day be his crew...an' on yer ship, if ye can believe it!."

Munchadin shook his head, his beard now wet from the waterfall in his eyes...the joy...his family...he pulled her in and tight then, holding her to him and breathing in the scent in her blonde hair and letting himself drown in it all. How could the days...so many days...at sea be worth leaving her? Leaving them? Why did he ever go?

She whispered in his ear, "A hot stew's on, an' yer Ma's biscuit recipe's not been fergotten, with butter fresh made an' kept in th'way o' them halfling folk ye met 2 voyages ago. An' yer brother's had three kegs o' his best sittin' in our basement since nearly th'time ye left. The Ironbrow household an' name an' participation in the Parliament has been kept up an' we prosper! Gold, platinum, and silver accounts are all greater than when ye left. So come now, we'll go home an' see the tots, an' we can pick up Doni on th' way. We'll 'ave a supper and ye can tell yer tales an'give yer presents and catch up on all th' goin's-on. An' then when the hour is late, we'll 'ave the night t'ourselves..." And she kissed him more passionately than any dwarf would do in public, though certain allowances could be made for a husband and wife parted for long years.

He was so happy, he had thought it was a trick of his mind when he started to hear a strange and soothing song playing in the background. He then noticed the environment for the first time. They were on a pier in a place unknown to him. All around, members of his crew were joining the families who'd come to greet them, and behind, Wavehammer sat in a dock too close to any shore he was aware of. There was a sea fog beyond near vision, and getting his bearings was difficult...nae, impossible. The odd song, rising and falling like a wind grew in his mind, and with it, his thoughts seemed to clear.

"Muridel, my longin' fer you, my love fer our family, it is deeper than any waters Ah sail. But dear, dear lassie, somethin's just not right...

****

He ran with a speed and freedom he'd not known since...since Aerynth, since the days of endless war and closely-held peace, where the campaigns were never finished and the threats to then-Ancora never over. Ancora...and the Abbey before the greatest of their walls had been erected...he could see them in the distance between the trees of this forest as he ran. He was in the woods Southwest of the fairgrounds, where a great gathering had been happening since the day before. He remembered this time...

He ran, dashing after the lithe wolf as nothing slowed either of them. Farther and further from the Abbey they bolted, until the sounds of the fair were but an afterthought. But then he lost sight of her. The grey wolf, agile and deadly in her prime, deadly Kildef knew all too well as did many in the region. This wolf's territory was being ever-encroached upon in these days, and she was ever ready to fight. Truth be known, she'd go looking for it as often as not. Yet this Kil felt deeply; understood innately. It was the untamed he desired...for he never let it show in his life, his life that was always of duty and rightness, the Honour of a Knight Ranger and steadfastness necessary to see the return of the Preservers. Yet with her, he could allow himself to be consumed by the wild...

He was knocked from his feet in that instant, the wolf leaping from dark cover and onto him...he fought to hold back the jaws as they slipped and tumbled down a leaf-covered slope. By the time they reached the bottom, turning over and again, the wolf was no more. Instead of the jaws he fought to keep at bay, he found himself over and his own face inches from that of the woman he'd chased for two years. She still held that annoyed furrow to her narrow eyebrows, that nearly perpetual expression of annoyance toward any man. With a strength surprising to many, but not him, she used her legs and grasp on his tunic to twist him over and exchange positions. Victorious, her smile finally shown. For but a moment, a softness was betrayed, and she relaxed. But he knew this one too well, and he showed a slight smirk with one eyebrow raised, for he didn't expect that moment to last. The Amazon didn't disappoint him. With the hunger and agressiveness of her alter-ego her mouth took his. He pulled her in harder, one hand grasping in her hair. This wasn't something of love, but of animals under a forest canopy who devoured something each sought.

The Abbey seemed more distant with each second. Why did he not move to her city when he had the chance? why stay with the Church? Did not Braialla call him to her side with greater need than the All-Father, who had no shortage of champions? Did not his own half-Amazon blood have a meaning? He found that he didn't care right now about any of these things...but only of the passion, the fury in the moment. He growled the name more than spoke it, "Aya..!"

But a noise; a low song; a chant unknown to him reached for his attention. In response he held her hair tighter, hair that...was completely dry? That should have been still wet from the soaking she received all through the day in that booth of Turin's? With great effort he pulled her head away. He tried to think of that song between his ears as an annoyance, an interruption to his moment of desire fulfilled, but it wasn't such a thing. It called him to reality. Did this actually happen that day?

Written by - Ariana

The darkness enveloped her as her body rocked sometimes gently, sometimes violently, with the turnings of the ship and the cresting of the waves. She dwelled there, in darkness, grateful for the comfort it provided as she grew accustomed to the strange feelings buffeting her.

She felt … lighter than she could ever remember feeling before. Pain was an aspect of her existence, so commonplace that it had burrowed its way into her very soul. She no longer remembered what it was like to live without it, and the sudden freeing from the constant ache in her bones and joints and muscles was disconcerting and frightening.

But then she felt it, an insistent tugging at her soul beckoning her to follow. Curious, she opened her eyes and found herself further astounded. Though the room was dark save the light of a single candle, she could see things that had once been nothing but blurry blobs. The room she was in was paneled with dark wood, and her eyes could detect knots and whirls and imperfections in the grain. Amazed, she lifted a hand and rubbed gentle fingers along the wood near her head before the tugging grew more insistent.

Rising and seating herself on the edge of the bed, still more wondrous sights were there for her to behold. Figures stood before her clearly, each with different clothes and faces begging to be explored. She did not recognize any of the figures, but that did not concern her. At the moment, each seemed to be lost in a world no one else could see, not reacting to one another, and certainly not reacting to her. Had she more time, she would have liked to explore her new wondrous discovery, but the insistent tugging she had felt before was quickly becoming a demand.

Rising to her feet, she stood unsteadily for a moment as muscles long unused relearned how to support her. Not wasting time in heeding the summons, she half-stumbled half-walked across the cabin and pushed through the door. Climbing the few blood-slicked steps to the deck was the work of more than a few minutes as her bare feet struggled to gain purchase on the worn boards.

Reaching the deck she looked to the bright glow ahead of her. It spanned as far as the eye could see, and though glowing brightly, it caused her no pain. Instead, the light felt comforting and familiar and silent tears dripped from her eyes as she realized that this was home. Reaching out with one arm she made her way forward towards the light, taking no notice of the destruction around her – the splintered wood, the bodies of the slain, the piece of railing that was missing in the area for which she was headed, the long fall into the water below should she get too close to the edge.

She noticed none of these things, instead wholly focused on the light and the faint sound of music she was certain emanated from it. Above all else, this is what she wanted. Above all else, she wanted to go home.

Nearing the edge and the drop before her, she continued determinedly forward, until the sound of flapping wings caught her ear. Momentarily distracted, she put her arm down and quickly glanced around for the source of the sound. Off to her left, she saw a great white owl alighting on a secure piece of railing. The insistent calling lessened considerably, no longer sounding urgent, so she turned from the beckoning the light and instead made her way to the great bird.

Standing before it, she stared at it. It returned the favor and stared back, its unblinking golden orbs gazing deeply into her blue ones. After a moment, it cocked its head at her. She cocked her head at it, and it soon became a game. It would outstretch its wings and she would respond by stretching out her arms. She would stand on one foot, and it would follow suit. They were soon joined in their merriment by a small glowing ember, which apparently won the game since it could perform stunts neither the bird nor the woman could emulate. The bird soon tired of the game (or losing), and fervently flapped its wings at them both while letting loose a great squawk.

In return, she smiled.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan heard a whisper of movement behind her and quickly glanced to see where the noise might have come from. Her eyes grew wide and her mouth dropped open with shock at the sight of Teran not only stirring, but getting up. Arms limp at her sides, she could only stare with open-mouthed fascination as Teran moved about the cell with a natural and fluid movement that belied the grievous wounds that even now were healing.

Her astonishment at this, however, was nothing compared to the choking surprise she exhibited when he stripped. Though dumbfounded, she could a blush creeping over her cheeks and the bridge of her nose as Teran presented her with the full moon and monty. She was too shocked to do the decent thing and turn her back on him, instead gaping at him like the village idiot.

It wasn’t until he was fully dressed with wounds nearly healed and peering out into the hallway that some of her normal composure returned. Though the blush had yet to recede, Mavigan was able to admit that he was having fun at her expense. So, when he flashed an arrogant smile at her and asked “How do I look?”, Mavigan promptly responded by punching him hard in the shoulder.

“Dumbass,” she muttered along with a few choice phrases that implied his lineage could be traced back to a goat. “Can we please get the **** out of here now? Preferably without me having to wade through more of your blood?” Then, wanting to make her point perfectly clear, she kicked him in the shin.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya's voice grew stronger, louder, and as she chanted, words began to form:

"Be not afraid
Of this day of life
We're here to win
We're here to fight

Call on your soul
To ride the wave
Of pain and sorrow
Your life it will save

Death holds no power
o'er a heart strong
wake up and fight
to right the wrongs

Be not afraid
Of this day of life
We're here to win
We're here to fight."

Written by - Turin Wallace

Since boarding the ship, Purgatori had gone down into the holds of the ship, letting herself shrink into the darkness. Her purpose in coming had been a personal matter, for Beridane had done much wrong before usurping the Ancoran throne, and she owed her life to the old man above. Quietly, amid the squeeking of the rats and the creaking of the cargo, she began to scrawl symbols of protection into the timbers of the ship.

Soon, she could hear and feel the commotion above, as they were being boarded. Scrawling dark runes that glowed red into the doorway, she prepared herself for those foolish enough to disturb or harm her. With a motion of her hand, they would ignite and send slivers of death into any intruder. Nodding in satisfaction, she sat down, and closed her eyes.

When she woke, she was back in the study at Greydale. Old, dusty tomes lay before her and her master, Lucius, was speaking about the perfect technique for raising servants. Today was a special day, however, and it was to be her first incantation of the raising ritual. As Lucius finished speaking, he turned to her and waited for her to speak the words. It was then she noticed...singing...which she found odd in this quiet and dark study. Usually only silence filled the still air, and still, she could hear clear singing. Shrugging it off, she threw her head back and prepared to begin the chant, when a feeling of something amiss struck her. Taking a deep breath, and with the words of the song becoming more clear, she again attempted to speak the words of power...only to realize that this was wrong.

With a shake of her head, her eyes opened into the darkness of the ship's hold. How long had she been here? Instinctively, she tugged at locket between her breasts, for something was not right. Opening it, the vial emitted a faint pulse of energy. Where normally the energy was enough to light a room, now it was faint.

Flicking her hands in controlled motions, the dark runes went out and she charged out of the hold and up the stairs. Throwing herself into the room where the Hands of old gathered, she paid no heed to any of them, save for the old man laying on the floor. Cradling his head, she looked for signs of life, and after seeing his chest slowly rise and fall with each slow breath, she then looked to those standing about.

What she wanted to say, but could not say, was to get him up and off the floor. Her eyes and face spoke volumes and motioning with her hands, she hoped they would understand. Her mind screamed, "He needs care! Won't you people do something! Your precious, mad, Queen lives and you leave him on the floor! Fine friends, all of you!"

It was then she felt one of them probe and respond within her mind...

****

After Turin slumped into unconsciousness, his mind was blank. Only after sometime did he feel a slight pressure on his shoulder, the voice of Brinna waking him. The day was perfect, a cloudless blue sky, the green of the forest for miles around, and a slight gurgling from the stream they were camping at.

Looking at Brinna, he took her once again into his arms and kissed her. It was not unusual for him to do so, yet why did today feel different?

Speaking, she said,

"Turin, dear, my mother is dying. She asked that I visit her, but I did not want to go without your permission. You think it best that I go to see her?"

Turin replied,

"Why would you even wait..."

His words trailed off as he began to hear singing. An elf woman's voice, no less. Looking around, Turin felt wrong, something wasn't as it appeared. He could see Brinna looking at him, but somehow he knew it was not her, he wasn't sure how but he did.

As he laid back, and letting the darkness once again take him, he whispered these words,

"You are a woman of action, not words. You are not Brinna..."

Written by - Tempyst

You will not sssuccceed Kaya'Talas...you are weak... Kaya heard a familiar voice inside her head as she chanted. Ssssee, even now you falter in your goal.

Kaya steeled herself, her hand clenched aorund A'lanthear's hilt until her knuckles turned white. I will not fail my friends! I am not *her* anymore, I will break them free! The demon laughed, making Kaya shudder, for she remembered that laugh too well. It was the same laugh it had after it slaughtered those children using her body. Laugh all you want monster, you do not possess me any longer... Kaya took a deep breath and continued her chanting, this time with a louder, stronger voice; fading out the demon's laughter, but still leaving her shaken.

Written by - Ardwen

The demon swooped around the deck of the mortal sailing vessel. It was a sign of the fragility and briefness of the lives aboard that they needed such a thing to simply move over the native elements of their own world. He had no temporal body. He had merely come to the mortal realm at the sight of a tear in the medium separating the Red Realm of his world, and the vulnerable shell inhabited by mortals. The opportunity to inflame hatred, cause suffering, and feed had been more than he could resist, and so he was even now searching for a soul to ensnare.

But, there was a catch. Adramelech himself had come to this world, and the many souls present were already being tested and tempted by other powers. He had to find a mark, and quickly. Passing through the very substance of one ship, the demon hovered above the deck, swiftly searching to see if any of the nearby souls would suffice. Nothing. Disappointed, the spirit prepared to leave, but then suddenly paused. There had been something there, no, someone. Someone coming up from the wooden holds below the ship. Watching intently, the demon saw an Elf emerge from below onto the open deck. He looked wounded, blood caked on his body, and the demon could smell violence and death hovering about him like the aroma of some elegant dish. If he had a mouth, he would have smiled.

"Oi! Ardwen!"

Ardwen jumped and spun around to find the source of the voice. What the warrior saw caused him to draw in his breath and nearly took the wind out of him. He saw his old friend, whole and happy. Ardwen stood dumbstruck, his mouth moving slightly, afraid that if he made a sound it would scare away this blessed meeting. Ardwen lamely reached out one hand, the fingers and muscles limp and slack, and placed it on his old friend's shoulder.

"You--" Ardwen whispered before being cut off.

"Pandarrion in Heaven Ardwen, you look like you've seen a ghost. Are you feeling alright?" Ardwen's friend asked with a slight chuckle. The Bladeweaver looked at his friend closely; he looked exactly as he had remembered him. His hair was long, white, the mark of his northern heritage. He had a gentle smile on his face, and his shocking blue eyes seemed to at once offer friendship and understanding.

"I-I'm fine, Elerus. Better than fine, this . . . I am fantastic." Ardwen said, returning the smile and laugh.

"Saaa," Elerus began, the familiar speech pattern was as much a joy to hear to Ardwen as the sight of his friend. "I'm glad you could make it today. I know how much you enjoy Ohanami, and I for one wouldn't miss it for all the treasures of Twilight."

Ardwen blinked dumbly at Elerus's words before he looked around. The sight was beautiful, beyond even his wildest imaginings. They were in a gentle meadow, softly rolling hills covered the landscape, and he and his friend stood on one of the crest of those low hills. Dotting the hills in thick groves were Shidarezakura, or in the vulgar tongue, weeping cherry trees. They were in bloom, their branches laden with slightly pink blossoms that swayed lightly in the warm wind. Ardwen had not seen their like for more than three thousand years. Hadn't he? Didn't Elerus and he go each year to watch the blossoms scatter in the wind? It was, as his friend said, one of his favorite activities, and the delicate blossoms only came once a year and lasted but a few weeks. Why would he miss the event for so long? Ardwen pushed the thought out of his head. Missing Ohanami for three thousand years? It was a stupid notion. Ardwen was certain he could not suffer to miss it for one year, much less several thousand.

Ardwen and Elerus picked a nearby tree and sat down beneath its branches, resting their backs against its massive trunk. Ardwen took in a deep breath, savoring the sent of the spring air, and as if on cue a slightly stronger breeze stirred the flower-heavy boughs causing soft pinkish petals to drift through the air. The petals made lazy loops and settled on everything, including the two Elves. It was more than Ardwen could endure. Softly at first, and then with sobs, he began to weep.

"Ard? Hey, what's wrong?" Ardwen could hear Elerus's voice tinged with concern, but Ardwen had covered his eyes with the back of his arm to hide his shame, and to dry the tears.

"This . . . I . . . I'm afraid. I don't want to leave this!" Ardwen said through gritted teeth. He looked over at his friend, the edges of his vision still misty.

Ardwen watch Elerus grin and shake his head slightly, "But Ardwen, you're not making any sense. Leave? You don't have to leave. Who said you did?" He said. In response Ardwen could only shake his head side to side slowly and bite back more tears.

The demon was watching all of this with great interest. It had been a trivial matter to pick out the memories of the Elf, and he was silently amazed at how easily the warrior had succumbed. Still, all was not done. The Elf was close to breaking, but not quite there yet. The demon searched through more memories, more names and faces. He was shocked at the depth of those memories, for the Elf had lived for longer than he had thought possible for their kind. He was sifting quickly now, trying to find the right key to totally crush the Elf's will. The demon reveled when he found the threads of an old and buried memory. It was the Elf's father. As he followed the memory the demon learned that Ardwen's father had died while he was but a child. More than that, he had been murdered.

"Why do you weep, my son?"

Ardwen heard the voice, and could not believe it; part of him did not want to believe it. The Bladeweaver looked up, and saw him standing there, alive. "Impossible . . ." he said. "Fath--" Ardwen felt tears drip down his face again, and he began to laugh. It was baying laughter, relieving laughter, and a touch of something else, something deeper.

"What is wrong my son? Why do you cry? Is this not all you could want, all you've ever wanted?" Ardwen heard his father's voice inquire.

Ardwen had his head titled back, still chuckling. He stifled his tears and gestured with one of his hands, "Everything I could want? Yes, yes it is. This is paradise. I behold before me my friend that I thought lost by the growing years and the distance between worlds. I watch that season which is best. But above all, above all, you are here."

The demon knew he had chosen correctly. He summoned his art and power to move in for the final ploy. In the illusion, Ardwen's father knelt down, placed a hand on his "son's" shoulder, and smiled while asking, "Why out of all here are you most pleased to see me?"

The demon watched as Ardwen returned the smile. He watched as the warrior reached up along the arm his "father" had placed on his shoulder. He watched as he trapped that arm in a hold, and twisted. In a blur he had drawn one of the blades along his hip, and plunged it through his own father's chest. The violent movement had carried them both backwards, and Ardwen stooped before the prone body, his sword's hilt still protruding from his father's bloody chest. Ardwen lowered his head next to the gasping form and whispered, "Because I've always wanted to kill you twice, old man."

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Dartanian’s sleep was not a restful one. Despite the exhaustion which clung to his body from the weeks upon weeks in the field, he was plagued with unpleasant dreams. It was not the first time he had had such dreams, or indeed the first time he had had this particular dream. Yet somehow, this time was different….

He was sitting in his father’s command tent, pouring over a slew of maps displaying troop movement and disposition. They had been engaged with the forces of Baron Hayner ever since the assassination of King Pallanon. Thus far the skirmishes had been fought to a draw; the Noble Houses of Merquise and Hayner knew one another all too well. Still, the battles had been steadily tipping in favor of the Barony of Hayner, due no doubt to the support of Beridane the Usurper, who provided Hayner with a seemingly endless supply of funds and supplies he had stolen from the countryside of Westgale.

This was precisely the dilemma which Dartanian was currently working on. His father Robert had asked him to personally take care of the supply problem. Dartanian, as was customary for the heir to House Merquise, was in command of the elite cavalry unit known as the Blue Knights. Hoping to kill two birds with one stone, Dartanian had decided to use the Blue Knights to disrupt Baron Hayner’s supply lines and take what they could for themselves. If his plan worked, it would severely cripple Hayner’s forces and give House Merquise a distinct advantage in the execution of the maneuver which Dartanian’s father was currently planning.

He was studying the maps sketched by his best scouts when he realized it; this was a dream. Soon they would come, and there would be nothing he could do…Spinning around abruptly, Dartanian tried to call out, but the scream caught in his throat.

“What’s the matter son?” his father asked, looking up from reports of his own.

He sat bolt upright in bed, panting hard, a cold sweat covering his skin. Allowing himself to take several long, deep breaths, he was able to slow the pounding of his heart somewhat. It had been so real, much more real than ever before. How could that be? It was the same exact dream after all. It just didn’t make any sense.

Rising quickly, Dartanian pulled on a set of proper clothing and headed out into the hall. After several minutes of searching, he was able to find a good vantage point atop one of the battlements. He gazed into the night, scanning the black horizon. Some distance away, he was just able to make out the site where his men were camped. He hoped that his men were able to sleep more peacefully than he was; they would certainly need their rest for the days to come.

As he pondered this, he felt a strange sensation from far to the west. Aiming his gaze in that direction, he could not make out anything bearing special notice, yet the feeling remained. It began to grow, and as it did, Dartanian began to feel small and helpless. It was the same feeling he had had minutes before as he dreamt. Could this strange feeling have something to do his dream?

****

Many miles away from the Citadel, a lone swordsman was camped in the middle of a dark forest. The wood from his small fire popped intermittently, the soft warm glow struggling to pierce the night around it. A large warhorse lay close to the fire, fast asleep. The man was dozing lightly against a large tree trunk, a thick cloak wrapped tightly around him for warmth. The wood was nearly silent—which was quite unusual—and a rather loud pop of the wood served to stir the man from his sleep.

He opened his eyes slowly and scanned his surroundings. Nothing seemed to be out of place; his horse and all his belongings were where they should be. He surveyed himself mentally…all was in order. Then what was this nagging feeling, almost like a dark presence weighing heavily on his mind. He had felt its ilk before, but this was different, much darker and more menacing than any he had felt before.

The horse stirred, letting out a somewhat annoyed whinny as the man rose to his feet. Seeing that nothing was amiss, the horse lowered its head and fell back asleep. Turning his head from side to side, the cloaked swordsman continued to scan his surroundings, hoping to discover the source of this disturbance. As he did, the feeling grew, and he was able to pinpoint it. Turning westward, he gazed hard; no doubt this was where the presence was, but how far away he could not tell.

Pulling back the hood on his cloak, hoping to get a better view in the direction of the dark presence, the man revealed the pointed ears of a half-elf and several blood-red tattoos covering his face. The presence continued to grow. There was no mistaking it now, this presence had a vile demonic taint about it. “It is for reasons like this which is why what I am doing is necessary,” he thought to himself as he continued to stare into the blackness of the night.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn sniffed as the three of them walked through the door on the other side of the passageway. “Something doesn’t smell right, I can smell blood, a lot of it, and it doesn’t smell human. That’s a good thing, except it’s a bit overpowering, I can’t tell if there are any other scents in the area. Mavigan may be in trouble, we need to hurry. Follow me.” Keeryn runs off down the hall, turning corners quickly and silently, listening for any sounds besides the ones made by her companions as she searches the compound in search of Mavigan and Teran.

It didn’t take long after she found a staircase up to the previous floor before she found a trail of blood, a long streak on the ground, with smaller footprints in it, like what one would expect to find if a small person was dragging or carrying someone bleeding to death. Keeryn only hoped that Mavigan wasn’t hurt as well as she followed the trail, hoping it would lead her to the wayward pair. She turned a corner and came almost face-to-face with a wandering cultist, but hardly slowed as she cut him down, slicing across his throat causing a spray of blood out and across her right arm as she continued to run past. She ignored the surprised look on the face of his companion, trusting the two behind her to deal with the other wanderer.

A few minutes later following the trail, as she entered what looked like an area filled with metal spears shoved into the ground and ceiling, she rewarded with a familiar voice, "…without me having to wade through more of your blood?” Followed by what sounded like somebody getting kicked. Keeryn slowed to a stop just before she got to the source of the noise and peaked inbetween the bars to see Mavigan glaring at Teran, her face completely red.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm and Resini led their group further down, quietly following the trio ahead of them. No further cultists approached from the rear, indicating to Wilhelm that the escaping prisoners had drawn their attention away, or that none were willing to pass the abomination lair. Wilhelm prayed the ex-prisoners would make good their escape.

Wilhelm could tell from their heartfires ahead that Keeryn and Jasmine were not injured, while the undead Sabbatine was the usual unreadable blur. The smell of blood grew stronger again, especially after they crept up a staircase to find a long streak of black inhuman blood accompanied by bloody footprints.

Resini pulled out a wand and passed it over the black blood and murmured a cantrip. A sinuous image appeared briefly and vanished. Looking suprised, Resini whispered to Wilhelm, "Dragon blood."

Wilhelm looked started for a moment, then nodded as something became clear to him. He motioned them to proceed.

They then came upon the bodies of two cultists, showing that they were back into the inhabited area. Wilhelm and Resini split the group off to the right and left and cleared out several more cultists before determining the area was now clear of foes. Reforming, the group continued until Wilhelm motioned them to halt before an opening into a larger area.

Peeking through the opening, Wilhelm saw the trio they had been following over by a line of metal bars. Beyond them Wilhelm could sense the heartfires of Mavigan and Teran. Teran's unusual heartfire was less obscured than before, but more strange because it seemed to show him as badly injured but the wounds were healing rapidly as Wilhelm watched. This confirmed Wilhelm's suspicion.

Wilhelm was pleased to see from her heartfire that Mavigan was tired and worn but not seriously hurt. His group again settled down to wait and to watch the rear.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin once again felt the call into consciousness. This time, however, was gone the gentle and idyllic scene he had only moments before awakened to. A tinge of sulfur hung in the air, and before he even opened his eyes, he could feel the presence of something other-worldly in front of him. Slowly, Turin opened his eyes.

Standing before him was the demon, Abigor. With a voice that made him inwardly cringe and feel awed at the same time, Abigor spoke,

“Turin Wallace, Crusader of the All-Father, one of the old ones of Aerynth, listen to me. The fell lord Adramalech has set his sights on your Queen, Ariana, and wishes to take her as captive. His purposes are his own for doing so, but even now his plans are coming to fruition. Oh, you may fight against him and have done so, but know this: you and your friends will lose this fight.”

Turin nearly laughed, how many times had he heard this line before? Yet, before he could say a word, the demon pointed to a pool that somehow appeared between them and spoke,

“Do not think me a fool, Turin Wallace. See for yourself.”

As he looked into the fell waters, he saw himself and the others on the boat, and the events transpiring. He could see the battle being waged and the power Adramalech was wielding. It did not look good.

Raising his voice, Turin replied,

“I’ve seen worse yet, and we have pulled through. This causes me no fear or regret. If this is all you have, then leave me.”

Then Abigor spoke further,

“Your faith in your friends is admirable…but foolish. Watch and see what will happen.”

Turin watched and saw the battle turn, his friends were either drowned or slain, and Ariana taken. Worst yet, the demon showed him of future events not of their own situation, watching the world fall evermore into darkness.

Turin, averting his eyes from the scene, spoke,

“It is enough. If that is our fate, and that of this world, then leave me to face it with my friends and family. Take your gloating elsewhere.”

It was then the demons eyes held a damning glint, and a sickening smile graced Abigor’s face. The demon then came close to Turin, whispering in his ear,

“It does not have to be so, Turin Wallace, Crusader and Champion of the All-Father. I could, for a small fee, be inclined to disrupt the plans of Adramalech and aide you and your friends.”

Before he could reply, the demon knew what Turin’s next question would be, and whispered further,

“The price shall be determined later, for who knows what will be necessary to stop Adramalech this day. I so loathe locking myself into a deal and finding I sold myself short. However, take a moment to think it over, we aren’t in a rush.”

Turin had faced evil many times before, and each time he and his friends had the last laugh. Although he knew that the last vision was a fraud, something felt right about what he was seeing in the scrying pool. Still, he decided to test the demon before him, saying,

“Be gone, fell spirit! Just as the last vision was nothing of substance, something playing on emotions and feelings long past, you simply are preying on the fear of the present and future. You are nothing more than an illusionist and perverter of facts!”

Abigor’s eyes gleamed white hot, anger was roused within the demon, Turin sensed it. In reply, Abigor seethed the next words,

“Fool of a man, do you not know the fallen lord has given me the power to foresee what is what will yet be? Adramalech will crush you and your friends, like you swat a fly, he will do to you. I offer you a chance to avoid that fate, along with your friends, so long as you pay my eventual price. Your time is running out, Turin, I will not extend my offer again.”

Quickly, Turin’s mind raced, could Abigor actually be telling the truth? Demons deal in deception, but what he was saying rung true, and Turin could not shake that from his mind. As Turin pondered quickly, he asked aloud,

“Why do you wish to aide us? Why not help Adramalech? What purpose is there to helping us?”

Abigor replied,

“Why do men fight each other, Turin? It’s simple, really. Adramalech has insulted and done me wrong in the past, I only wish to return the favor. His anger will know no bounds and hells themselves will shake with his fury if I can thwart him. I, however, will relish in my victory and delight in his suffering.

As for you, Turin Wallace, I will reward you handsomely for your part.”

Turin raised an eye, intrigued. He then asked the inevitable,

“Reward?”

Abigor motioned towards the scrying pool, what Turin saw made him turn pale. Abigor laughed, and said,

“Serve me, and you shall be a general in my army. Fully one-sixth of my army, ten legions, will be yours. Just think of it, while you and your friends’ flounder on faith in the All-Father, I give you power, glory, and hellish legions to command against your foes.

All for the price I will name, later.”

Turin faltered. With power such as this, with troops such as this, who could oppose him…them. His mind straying, he cries out,

“All-Father, save them! Save me!

A sickening laughter broke the silence that followed. Turin glanced about, believing he would see his patron god, or an archon at the least appear to bolster him and cast this demon back to whatever abyss he came from. He was wrong. The demon spoke,

“No, Turin Wallace, the All-Father will not and cannot save you or your friends. Only a demon’s bargain can. Your time dwindles, what is your choice?

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Turin spoke,

“Very well, Abigor, aide my friends to escape the fate Adramalech had planned, and I will pay your fee.”

Abigor’s eyes flashed with devilish glee. Then, with a flourish, offered up a parchment from out of thin air. Holding it out to Turin, he says mockingly,

“What? Nothing for yourself? Surely you are not this magnanimous, Turin Wallace…”

Turin’s eyes flashed angrily back, but with an even voice, he replied,

“Let’s leave that for another time, demon.”

No sooner were his words spoken then he could see the writing on the parchment shift and change. Looking he could see the arrangement between the two spelled out. With a hint of glee, the demon said,

“Very well, I feel generous. I’ll save that line for you; however, it in no way alters the price I will ask. That, Turin, is set and unalterable. Nothing, once you sign, will change it.”

Looking straight into the demon’s eyes, Turin nodded in agreement, then solemnly replied,

“Then, let’s get this over with. Now, where is my ink and quill, so that I may sign my name?”

Abigor boomed a terrifying laugh, and offered a smoking, dark bladed dagger, while saying,

“Oh no, we do not deal in such things. You will sign in blood; it tends to stand up better than ink.”

Thus, Turin took the blade and slit his palm. Reaching out, he took the parchment and let his lifeblood drip onto the pages. The deal was set, the contract binding. In a rush of wind and fire, Turin began to lose consciousness, but could hear Abigor saying,

“It is done.”

Back in the hellish underworld, a robed figure stood before Abigor, and asked,

“Did he submit?”

Abigor smiled a toothy grin, and replied,

“He did, you knew what you were talking about, fallen one. I guess we both get what we are looking for.”

The robed figure just walked away.

Written by - Archeantus

The passing moment of peace, so long sought after by the wizened old warlock swiftly passed interrupted by a young woman entering the dimly lit room. Her impassioned eyes centered on the resting Turin. Quickly, she rushed to him, gently cradling his head in her trembling hands. Her eyes then glowered around her, looking about to those around her accusingly.

Archeantus knew her thoughts before she voiced them mentally, her fiery eyes left nothing to the imagination as to how she felt about Turin’s unconscious state.

"He needs care! Won't you people do something! Your precious, mad, Queen lives and you leave him on the floor! Fine friends, all of you!"

The warlock sighed, while lowering his grizzled head, and entered the young woman’s mind, quickly gleaning small bits of key information.

“Purgatori, one who owes her life to the one known as Turin. Please understand, your concern for him is matched two fold by all those you see here in the depths of this vessel. We all owe our lives to him, many times over. He rests for but a small moment—“

It was then that Archeantus felt a strange sensation surge deep within his mind. A darkness began to spread, slowly clouding his mental connection he held so dear to his friends. With the darkness came an emerging fear.

Quickly now, he continued speaking to the young necromancer, growing increasingly unnerved. “—I am sorry. There is something terrible happening. Our fates are all in jeopardy. Prepare yourself well Purgatori, the debt you owe may be called to pay in full very quickly. Till then, look into the open eyes of the one who saved you—“

With that, Turin was released from unconsciousness, as was the warlock’s mental connection to him.

In deepening alarm, Archeantus progressively lost his ability to detect his friend’s minds. One by one then fell into darkness to him, and he began to feel truly blind. And suddenly he felt alone, in all its gnawing fury. He panicked, stepping back in sudden terror, hitting against the wooden wall behind him.

“Am I losing my powers? Have I failed?” He began to ask his God fearfully. “After all I have done, everything I’ve sacrificed to be here? Is it all for naught?”

He was greeted with a mocking laugh in reply.

The voice that followed was full of Demon taint, showered in malevolent intent.

“You have failed you fool. Such a long road you’ve traveled only to see your destination and fall. You are nothing but a helpless old blind man. Your friends minds are in our clutches, and nothing you can do will save you. You are a pebble to the wave. Wither and kneel, cry out the name of the fallen one.”

The warlock then saw before him in his mind’s eye everything he’d done, worlds he’d lived, friends he’d won and lost as he journeyed ever forward, lives he’d lived, wars he fought, women he loved, eons he’d spent in the void, all in the name of reaching full circle, to come back home to those that formed him from the small worried boy, to the promising youth, to the faithful young man. Everything to find what he lost, to come back to Ancora, wherever she rested, whatever the cost.

He watched them fade out of his vision, one by one, his hands outstretched as he screamed helplessly.

Again the mocking laughter, again the deafening feeling of loneliness.

The vision shifted to present, he saw the ship they sailed, saw what they faced. Reddened lightening and blazing fireballs wielded by forces beyond his control cut through the wind and smoke from above. He watched them die at the hands of wave and sea, fire and hate.

The maddening desire fueled his passion having been spent through every sightless step through his timeless journey to be with them again.

“Do you see what shall befall them Archeantussss,” the voice hissed vehemently “There is nothing you can do. Their fate is sealed.”

“No…” he fought “No…it cannot be. It cannot end here.”

His fists were clenched in growing anger.

A wave of darkness then swept over him, deeper than the blindness that besieged him for so long. He slowly knelt and cried, beginning to believe that all was lost. And when the darkness appeared to completely engulf him, a small ember shone slowly through the mists of sadness and illusion the demon wove. The old warlock felt the familiar warmth of his constant companion.

Raising his weathered face to the soft light, his jawed clenched as he realized that not all his links had been severed, only one remained, and it was enough to call him back.

Seizing control of his near broken mind, he focused with all his might, and with great effort, shattered the demon’s illusion.

Taking deep breaths, he slowly spoke.

“Nothing is set in stone demon. I would fly against infinite odds if there was but a faint hope to save them. Go and tell your lord…I am coming.”

The darkness left, but the danger had become all the more real. They were being tested, all of them, and he could not help them, they were blocked to him.

“Thank you Angelus.” He whispered to his old friend who was buzzing excitedly around his head, seeming to implore its master to head above deck.

Reaching into his robe, his old hands rested around the golden medallion.

“Father, what must I do?” The warlock prayed.

And then slowly he walked up into the storm, knowing that what had to be done would soon reveal itself.

Written by - Ariana

As she stood smiling at the glowing white image of the owl, a dark fluttering of wings caught the corner of her eye. Turning towards the movement, she saw another owl, this one dark as pitch alighting on the rail near the wall of white. Hopping from one foot to the other, the black feathered beast seemed to beckon to her, its great red eyes in stark contrast to the golden ones that even now tried to impart a warning.

Unbidden, her feet turned from the light and took her closer to the dark. One hand closed tightly on the rickety railing near the black bird that seemed to hop over a few inches as if to make room for her. Slowly, she began to heft herself onto the railing, when suddenly a great screech echoed from behind her and white collided with black sending both tumbling into the roiling air beyond the ship. The railing wobbled dangerously, and she tried desperately to maintain some sort of precarious balance.

Written by - Talonmane

Old Thanduin had lived long and seen much. He should have retired after the last ship upon which he'd served was decommisioned, but he couldn't imagine life anywhere else. He had not just long life, but the peace in one's mind that settles upon the aged who can look back at a journey greatly lived and forward in acceptence of the inevitable fact of mortality. It was thus different than the long years of the immortal elves. He had travelled the length and bredth of the world, and it held few surprises for him. It was thus that he alone of everyone in the harbour this day never believed the infernal illusions for a second. His actions in the next moments would perhaps save the ship, and in so doing, save much more than that.

""Ye'll 'ave t'do bet'r than that, ye ole Scratcher! Me wife - whose soul be for'e'er blessed, fer she ne'er traffic'd wi' th' likes o' you - ha' been dead these pass'd thirty years. Ye can bring out me whole fam'ly, march 'em all 'fore me weak'nin' eyes, me mates an' ev'ry lad and lass ah've met, fought with, drunk with, in ev'ry port in this great round world. Bring 'em all out an' parade 'em through me 'motions, me guilts an' regrets, d'sires an' pities, rages an' loves. Ah'll still know 'em all as Ah always have, no matter ye're twisten' an' baitin'! Ah'll still spit at ye, ye grande LIAR!, an' ha' a great Dwarven belly laugh as Ah piss on yer shadow when ye pass on by!"

As swiftly as his creaky legs would cary him, the grayed dwarf ran to the pilot's deck , grasped a rope and heaved himself to stand on the fore-rail. He listened carefully and let the timbre and pace of the distant chanting song become as the cresting and falling of the ship's keel in the waves. His considerable baritone which earlier in the day boomed out the Mountain Wedding Song now took up Kaya's tune, at first adding a smooth accompanyment to her, then after a few full verses, his was the dominant voice in the air. He sang his full life into it, as legends say the greatest of the DwarfSmiths had done to the finest metalworks of their storied careers. He was no one's fool, and knew in his heart what could be at stake today, and what life he had earned and had yet to give was breathed right now. He defiantly stared down the demon in the distance, a joy and fury in his bad whitened eye, and a tear in his good one. After all, he did not want to bid goodbye...but taking this as his time and moment, he let his passions go as they may.

****

Munchadin shook it off, yelling from his gut. He stumbled backwards and onto his backside on the hard wood of the deck behind the 'Hammer's helm, grasping out with both hands trying to hold onto the vision. He knew it was false, but the strength with which it had called to him still tore a wound in his soul.

Next to him he saw Kildef as well on his back, a great pile of rough-braided rope held tightly in his arms, which he pushed suddenly away after inhaling the smell of it right to his nose as if he were trying to gain the scent of something dear to him. This was one of the great coils they'd readied earlier that day, a special and awfully stinking material that was strung to ballista bolts and woven into nets and wrapped about the shafts. The Ranger choked and coughed at the stench, waking to full conciousness and kicking himself back away from the material. He stood as he could, looking around in suspicion, one hand at the hilt of his long blue sword.

The Admiral and Ranger both took in their surroundings: sailors all over the ship coming awake - some startled, some weaping, a couple even laughing heartily where a few others were in maddened anger. But upon seeing their mates and feeling their ship beneath thier feet once more, the tide of emotion fell and each gathered up the duties of his post. they were trained to hold on to such things. When in doubt: duty. They also took up old Thanduin's accompanyment to Kaya's song. Some had difficulty with it, but even they would merely humm as they could, and loudly. Amoung them, only Bimglin was quiet. He checked each on and nodded periodically to Munchadin, but it was as though whatever periodic voice he had was not yet returned to him. They each suffered the remnents of the demons' intrusions as they could.

In the midst of this as the last of the crew were recovering from the illusions, a woman's scream tore at the sky in heart-wrenching, trembling anger and fear. "Marlie..?!" Munchadin called her, and his niece answered still in the throes of the visions, yelling at the top of her lungs, "You CAN'T 'ave her! She's NOT yours! NOOO!......MAVIGAN!!"

"Oh, Marlie, darlin'..." Munch's insides wrenched at the power of her yells, as the name of the Ancoran heir echoed out a second time around the entire harbour. He hobbled quickly down to the main deck and foreward to get a glimpse of the basket atop the foremast. The young dwarf-woman was draped over the basket at the waist, her normally-braided hair half undone and hanging disheveled about her head. She was choking after having vomited - something that she never did even once since she was a little girl aboard ships.

"...Ah'm alright, uncle...Oh! they're coming for her! We've got to help! they'll take her!"

"Who, darlin'? Mavilina?" Munch said, using a dwarf-form of Mavigans name, a use carrying the familiarity of someone in the family or close to the family. It was what he had called the princess since her earliest days as a childhood playmate of his niece. "Darlin', Mav's not here, and who is going to take her?"

"No! not her..." Marlie pulled herself up onto her usual spot upon the rim of the baskert with one hand grasping the nearest rope, and thrust her other arm out toward the Far Seas Call that was following aft and just to starboard of the cruiser. "Her!!"

Aft, Kildef listened to this exchange. In an instant all remainder of the infernal vision was blown to the winds, with nothing but a fond memory of his wolfish friend from another age still left where it belonged: in the recesses of the mind where one recalls past glories. Marlie could only mean once person. Leaning off the aft rail, he resisted every urge to plunge into the cruiser's wake. He had to stay here, had to fulfill his part in the plan, or they day may be lost. Relying on his brothers and sisters in Providence was nothing new to him, and he had to pour all faith into their ability to keep Ariana safe.

Relying on his brethren had always meant one name above all others, but last he knew, the Crusader was down and out, though he would be needed, by the Abbess and by them all. Archeantus would be seeing to him, but Kildef felt something here was terribly, momentously wrong - his Ranger's gut told him, and his sternum ached from the feeling. He called out over the back of the ship in his great Northman voice, "TURIN!!"

From the foredeck, Bimglin called back, "Sir! It's time!"

Marlie looked down to Munch and nodded, recovering herself and showing him that she was ready by reaching into the basket and pulling up the messaging beacon. He only said, "We'll see it through, lass. You count on that." And he returned back and up to the helm, checking to be sure Kildef was ready at the ballista mount. The Ranger seemed preoccupied, and stared back repeatedly to the courier. Their eyes met a moment, and the dwarf knew from the look that the man would carry out his end of things, despite his worry for the others.

The Wavehammer had been sailing straight forward the whole time, closing with Hrulga and Adramelech. In the sky, the elemental Aquanimbulos was nowhere to be seen. The enemy had somehow withstood (dare not i say, weathered) his assault. Munch shuddered to think of the force that could do that, and he mourned the absense of the creature that was beginning to grow on him. He was quite a handy friend for a sailin' dwarf, and had a sense of humour too, he thought. Nearby, coming in from two other angles, the Oathfather - still sailing despite her wounds of the past 3 days - and the Doledrun destroyer Rennafont also neared their planned positions. They were triangulating upon the targets, and each were armed as was Kildef's gun.

Munchadin smiled a bit at it, that they were still able to come to this and be in position. Was the 'mage' right? would the viney, hempy material hold true to what the ancient stone record said? The 'mage' had supposedly searched the world for this knowledge and then again for this plant. And the source for it was even in question. They would not be really sure until it was tried. And that was now...

"Flash the boys to take aim, careful aim! Get the right target...Kildef...yer ancestors're watchin' ye, they'll guide yer hands if'n ye trust 'em, and trust the Father. Bragni! be ready fer a tug-'o'war here!"

In response to their closing, the presence of Adramelech surged and once more they felt the demon's aura extend over them all like a sheet of heat and evil. Though nauseous, the crew took it this time. The demon's comrades, in their failed efforts to steal the will's of the crews, had only made the people stronger in their resistance to it. Hrulga, however, still had vast power at her disposal.

"Your sorry destiny is fixed, dwarf! There is no end other than what I have knitted with the fine needles and yarn granted by the Master. You have used up whatever defenses you had, whatever pitiful inklings of strategy your could devise...feel now the Red Fire!"

The clouds again roiled in brightening red turbulence, and the next meteor tore down toward the 'Hammer.

"Plow ahead, mates! Faith!" The Admiral yelled, and prayed harder than he ever knew he could.

****

Around Far Seas Call, seven flying fiends closed in fast on leathery wings and trailing sulfurous vapours. The Summoning proved true, for they could feel their full forms present on this plane, and they were free to go where they pleased. Oh, the havoc! the sensuous disaster we could spawn! the terror! and not least, to delight in seducing mortal women, to sire a clutch of tiefling progeny! Ahh...But the Arch-Duke has stayed our liberties, and bade us one task alone while present here: swoop in on the brightest of the bright soul sparks floating below, and take Her to the fort of our ally.

Easy enough to find, for no mere spark was this, but a pulsar of unexpected magnitude. The Arch-Duke was right, this is a treasure to bring unto the Realm, a victory the likes of which has not been seen since the Age we challenged the gods directly! Dleglumu, leader of this troop, saw the human woman now, a beauty to be sure! worthy of all possible effort to turn with desires beyond the natures of mortal men, wor...but alas, she was destined for greater things, for the Arch-Dukes pleasure, and this we cannot deny. This in fact, we must bring about. The woman stepped near the edge of the boat.

They swooped down to its deck. There was an awful, painful keening, a chanting to their wits. ...what?! a hunter!! Never! we will peel the memories from her soul and the skin from her body! We will take her as we will, and revel when she admits her willingness to the taking! We will send the message of our power that will not be stopped!

Written by - Archeantus

Reaching the deck, the spray and wind hit the warlock's face. He could hear the yelling, could sense the desperation that pervaded the hearts of the souls present upon the two meager vessels. Many called out to unknown visions, coming to grips with inner demons, from within and without.

He would have no more of this, time was gold.

Centering himself, with the wind blowing wildly, the sea shifting erratically, he began to build the fragments of all the souls of the 'Hammer and Call who would hold a part in the battle ahead.

It was then he heard a rising chorus lift up from din, from both ships now, rising in voices old and young, human, Dwarf and Elf.

He finished his work, fortifying their minds from further attacks, then added his soft voice to the battle song.

Yet he sensed something was immediately amiss. It was her She was.....here...outside on the deck. But where?

Cursing his blindness, he knew she was near. How? He twirled around in frustration. The danger amplified suddenly, knowledge coming from Angelus.

Reaching out mentally, he caught hold of the closest one he could trust with such danger.

It was Ardwen.

"ARDWEN!" The old warlock cried out over the wind and song.

He did not know where she was, or how she had appeared on the deck, he only knew Ardwen needed to save her. Darkness, great darkness was rapidly approaching their small vessel. Quickly he pierced his consciousness with all the urgency he could convey.

"Ariana is in great danger, she is here on the deck, I cannot see her, I only know she is close. Terrible things approach. It is up to you my friend...Save her...."

Suddenly he felt the fire of his small friend and he knew Angelus would reveal her. The fire grew, as Angelus formed into her full form. Small embers fell like rain, illuminating Ariana's precarious form, so very faintly upon the rail.

Then a booming voice thundered above.

"Your sorry destiny is fixed, dwarf! There is no end other than what I have knitted with the fine needles and yarn granted by the Master. You have used up whatever defenses you had, whatever pitiful inklings of strategy your could devise...feel now the Red Fire!"

Archeantus took a sharp intake of breath. He had seen this before, the demon has made sure of that. He knew the outcome, could see the massive ball of flame rocketing toward them.

"No..."

"....Ahead...............FAITH!" He could distantly hear Munchadin roar from the 'Hammer.

He could not stop it. The weight of it bore him down. He could not protect them from such a thing...

Faith...

Angelus was gone, embers still slowly floating slowly down. She was going to meet it.

Kneeling down, the warlock cried out, not knowing the outcome of such a clash. The thought of loosing his closest companion rocked him to the core.

Faith...

"Father...please..." he said through clenched teeth.

Angelus now high above, coursing and bursting into channeled searing flame, like an arrow of light, flew directly into the fiery doom.


Written by - Ariana Page 41 Book 3

Music, the same angelic melody she had heard emanating from her wall of white, suddenly seemed to surround her, gaining in volume and coming at her from many directions. She quickly glanced around, trying to find the location of the sound. She found, instead the dark and the light owls carrying on some kind of wrestling match, only this match involved sharp beaks and cruel talons.

Not understanding why her feathered friends appeared to be hurting one another, she stood fully upon the wobbling rail, trying desperately to both keep her balance and reach out to her two friends. Arm extended, the great birds were beyond her reach, and she was about to stretch even further, beyond her limit, when sparks fell onto her from above.

Curious, she looked up to see her little friend of light suddenly grow into something large and massive. She was delighted with the change, and extended her arm upward, beckoning to her friend with a silent request to come down and play. A frown crossed her features as the phoenix ignored her and instead shot straight up towards the heavens leaving a bright trail of fire in its wake.

This was not right, she knew. Her friend was not meant to leave her. Her friend was meant to stay. She felt something push hard inside her, seeming to make some barrier she had not known existed, buckle outward. The sensation made her catch her breath and wobble just a bit more on her precarious perch. “NO!” she screamed inside of her head, the words bubbling up from some part of her she had forgotten existed. “STAY!”

The louder she screamed the thoughts inside her head, the harder the pushing from inside her became until finally, with one great push, something burst from inside her soul, covering both herself and the departing phoenix in a nimbus of bright light.

She did not know what had happened, but she could feel that it was right. So, even as she lost her balance and started to topple off the rail, her eyes were fastened on the firey figure above her, and on her face was a small smile.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya sensed the fiends as they circled the ship and watched as five of them landed upon the deck. One stood shorter than the others and carried a spear, that Kaya could tell was made of nothing but pure evil. This fiend looked about, then sneered as his eyes caught Kaya's. "YOU! You will weep at my feet this day Hunter and I will show you pain beyond your imagination." The fiend leader then charged the demon hunter. Kaya's voice held strong, she said nothing to the demon in response, knowing she needed to keep the chant going in order to save the others and keep their minds clear. A'lanthear, you will need to fight, as you did before, but this time I am ready for it.

Yes Mistress, we will defeat this beast and show them they are no match for those who dare to confront us. A'lanthear began to glow once more; Kaya could feel the power well up inside of her, her voice stronger, louder, her body lean and hardened for the fight. The demon let out a scream, but it did not frighten Kaya. She lept forth and A'lanthear rose up to meet the demon's spears downward arc. Sparks flew as the two weapons met.

The demon hissed in distaste as the sparks that landed on him seared his leathery skin. "YOU think you are so powerful Hunter, I shall show you what true power is. You think you felt the evil when you were possessed, you felt nothing then, nothing but scraps of terror. I will capture you and show you what true horror is. You will wish you were dead a thousand times over." Kaya kept chanting, A'lanthear's glow almost to full force now. The light made the demon wince, but not falter. "What, you have nothing to say but that silly chant? It does nothing and I will rip your voice from your throat!" The demon swung a clawed hand at Kaya, his speed surprising. She pulled back enough to only get glancing scratches from his attempt.

Kaya relaxed her body and let A'lanthear take charge. She hated to do this, she wanted to fight the demon on her own, but knew she had to keep the chant going, it was doing good, she knew it. She could hear a chorus of voices helping her own. We will succeed! Kaya lunged at the demon and the two of them fought, weapons clashing together in a hail of sparks and profanities from the demon. Then in a burst of energy, the demon set forth an attack of such speed and force, pushing Kaya back to the edge of the deck. A'lanthear, in a burst of light and magic, set back against the demon, matching its speed and ferocity. Anyone watching could only see a blur of attacks between the two. Every attack the fiend pushed forward was met with a counter attack that pushed him back. It was then the fiend leader spat out a command and brought one of his flying minions down into the frey. The flying demon was cocky but slow, as the fiend leader stepped back for a moment, the other dove in to attack.

Everything was a blur to Kaya, and though she was aware of a second target now, she did not know which one A’lanthear was fighting. It took all she had to keep her chanting going. "Come now Hunter," The new demon hissed, "you surely must be tired of all this, You god is nowhere to be found, it is only you and I now, you know you will succumb to me, you are lost and alone, being a hunter only secures your loneliness, give up to us and we will show you pleasure beyond belief, give up and join us, fight for the more powerful side and you will be richly rewarded. These mortals don't appreciate you, they know nothing of what you have gone through, but you have felt the power, felt the strength, and you know how it good it tastes." Kaya heard and felt the demons offer; for a moment, it seemed that the voices that were chanting with her stopped and she was alone, alone in a cage once more, waiting to be fed, waiting for a drop of water. Where were they when she was captured, did anyone even care? Kaya's voice weakened for a moment, feeling the strength of these creatures, hearing their offer. But then she saw the faces of the children, the children she had slaughtered under the power of a demon and she screamed out the chant, her voice close to hoarseness. A'lanthear sent forth a burst of magic, magnifying her voice, sending it out over the waves to the other ship even. The voices came back, echoing her chant.

NEVER DEMON. NEVER WILL I SUCCUMB Her thoughts screamed at the beast and her voice cried out over the waves:

"Be not afraid Of this day of life We're here to win We're here to fight …"

The demon screeched and once again set forth a flurry of attacks, but did not expect a burst of speed from Kaya and her sword. It rushed down to take advantage of an opening it saw and in return, A’lanthear lunged straight into the demon’s heart piercing it completely. The fiend screeched in agony and burst into flame, quickly turning to a pile of ash landing at Kaya’s feet. But Kaya didn’t even see the ash fall, for A’lanthear had rushed her about ready to take on the fiend leader once more.

The fiend leader grabbed hold of his spear and rushed the hunter. “You dare to defy us Hunter, that was but a lucky shot and I shall not be as foolish.” He pushed forward, keeping Kaya on the edge of the deck, but Kaya and A'lanthear fought back, with equal speed and determination. Once again the demon tried to lash at her throat, trying to silence her, but it did no good, her voice held true and strong. But the demon would not give up gracefully and continued to pummel at the demon hunter. Every burst of speed the demon brought forth was met with increasing speed from the team. Finally the demon broke through and grabbed Kaya by the throat, A’lanthear and the spear pressing firmly agasint one another. Kaya could feel the leathery grip and hated it. But then an idea came to her. Kaya continued to sing, but this time she focused her voice more towards the demon, as if singing only for him.

The fiend screamed, letting Kaya go and backing up away from her. Kaya gripped A’lanthear tighter and they dove towards the demon, striking with a new vigor. The fiend leader brought up up his spear, swinging around to block her attack but mistepped on the deck, tripping over a rope. A’lanthear took advantage of that and brought himself down hard, slicing through a leathery wing. The demon screamed again, this time in physical pain. A’lanthear struck hard and fast, again and again, wearing the demon back against a mast. To Kaya it was still all a blur, but she continued to focus her singing towards the fiend leader, making him hear the words of hope, making him feel their meaning and strength, making him hear all the voices that had now joined in.

Alanthear struck the fiend leader again, this time slicing through a leg, causing the demon to fall to the deck hard. A’lanthear saw his chance and took it, rushing Kaya towards the demon without fear or concern for anything but one goal, death. With a might swing, rushing past the upheld spear and claws and took off the fiend’s head. The head screamed as it fell to the deck, eyes wide in surprise, then the body burst into flames and fell to the deck, slowly burning into ash. Kaya stood panting over the pile of ash, her head spinning, her body sore from the fight. But with a new strength, she bent down and picked up the spear, raising it high in the air, still chanting to give hope to those who were still lost and to show the remaining demon’s that their leader was no more.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen wrenched his sword free and stood to his full height. He spared only a cold smile for his father's dying form. A soft voice called from behind the Elf, "You've already killed him Ardwen; you know he's dead." Ardwen turned to face his "friend", still sitting beneath the knotted branches of the weeping cherry tree.

"Nothing more than the bastard deserved." Said Ardwen. Turning swiftly, he came to face what he was certain was merely another illusion: that of the first friend he had ever made in his long life. "And what of you? Do I have to drive a sword through your heart as well before this facade is over?"

Elerus stood up, stretching and crossing his arms above him as he leaned against the tree. "I had hoped that could be avoided. Besides, you don't have time to waste here, it seems others need you."

"What--" Ardwen began before being cut off by a booming voice that seemed to shake the very firmament of the world.

"Ariana is in great danger, she is here on the deck, I cannot see her, I only know she is close. Terrible things approach. It is up to you my friend...Save her...."

The illusion was crumbling. All around Ardwen the very earth disintegrated, the light of the sky went out, and Ardwen's world was subsumed in darkness. Ardwen searched frantically, not knowing what to expect, but intent on finishing the job of ending the illusion as soon as possible. Ardwen noticed only one thing remained, Elerus was still there, still standing in the darkness. The other Elf seemed to be looking up into the impenetrable darkness above; as if staring at some distant star only he could see.

Ardwen noticed a smile play across his lips, but it was not a smile born of joy. "They are not the only ones . . ." whispered Elerus.

Ardwen strode over to his friend, his steps long and driven by a hard resolve. The warrior still did not know if any of this was real, if any of this could be real, but his heart told him what to do. He grabbed his friend's face along the chin, forcing Elerus to look directly at him. Ardwen's face hovered only inches from his longtime companion and the Blade Weaver spoke his words in dour tones. "I hear you." Said Ardwen, "Know this, it does not matter if this is real or fake, nor what distance separates us, if you need me . . ."

The swordsman trailed off as piercing light returned to the world, in the distance the Elf could hear a rallying battle chant rising and falling on the winds. Ardwen decided that if he did not finish his sentence now, he might never get the chance. "Kimi wo mitsukedasu!" He intoned. The false world, for all in it that might have been true, shattered. Ardwen found himself on the deck of the ship he had boarded to leave Westgale. The ocean was choppy, salty spray licking up the sides of the vessel, and there was a sickly sanguine light in the sky.

It did not take the Elf long to find Ariana. She had climbed onto the railing along the side of the ship and had her arms outstretched toward the sky. Ardwen's feet thumped into the deck as he raced to pull her down from her perch. As he ran toward his Abbess though, he noticed something unusual. The air around Ariana seemed to shimmer and ripple, as if he was watching the scene through moving water. As Ardwen drew closer a wall of force that nearly took his breath away buffeted him. The impact nearly drove him to one knee, but the Elf managed to stumble forward, throwing out his arms to grab hold of his Abbess as she swayed dangerously far forward.

He managed to grab her. Ardwen's arms wrapped about her waist, and the Elf pulled backwards. Both he and his Abbess lost their balance, and as Ardwen's back hit the deck Ariana landed on top of him. "Off! Off!" Ardwen fumed. Then he saw something, a black blur at the edge of his sight. Almost by instinct he grabbed Ariana again, a hand on each shoulder, and pushed her to the side, using his body as a shield. Pain ripped his left shoulder, and a spray of glistening red followed the direction of a grotesquely huge talon as it cut into the Elf's flesh.

Blood dripped down from the wound, splashing softly on both the deck and the white fabric of his Abbess's dress. Ardwen's face was set in a horrible grimace, his eyes shut in pain. "I thought I'd thrown them away." He murmured. The Elf rose to his feet. A demon from the darkest pits alighted on the deck in front of him. It stood nearly a head taller than the Elf, its flesh was the color of rusted iron, and great bat-like wings unfurled from both shoulders. He supposed the creature was male, but it was androgynous to such a degree that it was difficult to tell either way.

Ardwen took a step forward, placing himself between the demon and Ariana. "Move aside." It spoke, its voice surprisingly smooth and clear, "Come not between my prey and I. Yield, and I may spare your life." Ardwen did not move. The creature seemed to sigh, a human emotion distorted to inhumanity on its features. The warrior noted it had one of its arms behind its back, and it brought this arm around and held aloft two swords in the air. Ardwen recognized the blades immediately, for they were his. With an almost careless shrug the demon tossed the two blades aside. The swords spiraled in the air, flashing briefly, before careening into the churning ocean. "You had your chance. Now, we do this my way, slowly, and painfully. I will enjoy seeing you come to regret."

Ardwen crossed his arms in front of him so that one arm's elbow rested against the inner elbow of another. This put his left hand on the right side of his face, and vice versa. Ardwen thought of Elerus, thought of the Hands, thought of all the faces that looked out at him from the past. He knew he could no longer run, no longer hide, for they had bled for him in the past, and raised him up when all others were content to let him fall. "Naruhodo, demo kono tatakai ga awaranai." Ardwen said. As soon as the words left the Elf's lips, twin lights appeared in his hands, each mirroring the other. The light emanated in a conical shape from his hands, brilliant white near his palms while the fringes and rays were a pale pink.

A grid-like pattern formed in the air, outlining the shape of two blades in precise squares the color of the edges of the light. The light faded, but the warrior now held two blades, one white and the other black. The demon took a few steps forward, the deck hissing beneath its talons, before having to dodge swiftly to the side as one of the blades whipped past its head. The creature's eyes narrowed and it noticed the Elf had tossed the white blade, narrowly missing. The demon smirked and moved forward again before a sharp, biting pain, in its left wing gave it pause. One of the Elf's blades had returned, twirling back through the air in a great arc and slicing its wing. Black blood bubbled from the wound and seared the deck as it hit. The demon was not concerned. The wound was superficial and the only reason the Elf had scored the hit was because of a cheap trick. Obviously at least one of the swords could be thrown and would then return to the wielder's hand.

As the demon watched the Elven warrior reached up and caught the tossed blade. The demon's grin grew. Things had just become interesting.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia awoke with a sudden intake of breath, tears flowing down her face, and anger burning in her eyes. The demon had brought all of the pain back... her time after being kidnapped, her lost child, the days of unending pain when The Turning occurred, physical pain, emotional pain, and a reminder of the torment her soul had taken. She could feel something was still very wrong here, the demon may have been banished from her mind but the feeling that there was still more to come wouldn't leave her.

The next thing she noticed was that Ariana was not in her bed, and Turin was passed out beside it instead. She rushed over to him, checking for wounds, and upon finding none checked for a pulse. It was there, still strong, but he wouldn't wake no matter what she did. Perhaps he was exhausted as she had been, though his skin had taken on a sickly white hue. Vylia knew there was nothing she could do for him right now, she would need all of the energy she could call on to fight the evil that was coming closer to the ship with every second. She picked up her swords, that she had foolishly left belowdecks when the pirates had attacked, and headed for the main deck.

Vylia heard Archeantus' shout for Ardwen, though if anything else had been said she missed it. She looked to the left quickly, noting Ariana's precarious position, and Ardwen already running to her aid, but she also saw the demon diving toward him and knew that if they collided Ardwen would never reach her in time and the demons would win. But that didn’t come to pass, as Ardwen lunged forward, despite the buffeting winds to grab Ariana about the waist and pull her back to the deck, then throw her off him just in time to avoid her being hurt by the demon’s attack. Vylia stared in amazement as Ardwen called forth twin blades of magic akin to her own and launched the white blade at the demon before it curved back to slice across it’s skin, blood bubbling on the deck. All of this occurred in what seemed to be slow motion before Vylia came back to her senses and saw the other demon diving for the Abbess.

Vylia charged at the demon, borrowing Ardwen's manuever and throwing her shortblade in the demon's path causing it to pull up from it's dive to avoid being skewered. The demon turned to regard her with a growl as her sword sailed over the railing and into the depths of the sea, but Vylia did not slow until she stood before the Abbess, her longblade clutched in both hands before her. She heard the fight between Ardwen and the demon behind her begin in earnest and she smiled at the horror before her, "Come demon, feel the bite of my blade and die a quick death. Your master may be beyond my abilities, but you are not." Vylia turned her head slightly toward Ariana, "Abbess, you may wish to get below decks before things get out of hand."

Written by - Ariana

She was aware of a very brief but familiar sensation of weightlessness, as if she had returned to life before she had been forced into this body. But the sensation was gone before she could enjoy it as rough hands seized her around the middle, yanking her back from the Void and into the world of hard forms once again.

A gasp of air was expelled from her lungs as she landed on top of …. something, and then was roughly pushed to the side. Now that this form she had been given no longer ached constantly, she found herself rather annoyed with the rough handling, and she started to squirm. It took her several moments to realize that the aura she felt sliding against her skin like oil was the same one she had clung to before. The darkness she had felt pulling at her before was considerably diminished now, and she wondered at the change.

The person rose, and she pushed herself up behind him. Details that had before been hazy to her light deprived eyes were now crystal clear, though the sounds that surrounded her were muffled and strange. She took in a sharp breath as she stood amazed at the wonders that surrounded her. Lights flashing, colors contrasting with one another, and moving creatures of wonder in every size and shape she could imagine spread out before her, a veritable cornucopia for her senses. Her fingers practically itched to explore.

She has just stretched out a hand and taken a half-step forward towards a rust-colored, angular creature that had wings not unlike her feathered friends from earlier, when her attention was diverted by the sudden arrival of a second person. This one she did not recognize and she did not understand the sounds it seemed to be directing towards her. Unsure of what she was supposed to do, she responded with the only words she knew.

“No,” she said in a voice that was little more than a whisper that was quickly carried away upon the wind. Vocal cords, unused for centuries, struggled to meet the demands their owner placed upon them. “Stay,” she added, a curious gleam entering into her eyes.

Convinced she had responded properly, she lost interest in talking, and instead honed in on the latest thing to capture her attention. Carefully, with one finger, she gently reached up and stroked the small triangle of flesh peeking out from under a mass of blonde hair. Marveling at its softness and enjoying the feel immensely, she gave a raspy, dry-throated giggle, and reached out to repeat her action.

Written by - Vylia

"No," Vylia barely heard the whisper, and wasn't sure if she really had until Ariana spoke again, "Stay." She was about to argue the point when she felt Ariana lightly stroke the tip of her ear, but before she could respond the demon was upon her. She knew she couldn't sidestep it, for that would leave Ariana directly in its path, so instead Vylia waited until the last instant before stepping slightly out of the claw's path before placing one hand on the flat side of her blade and shoving the hand away from both herself and Ariana. "Lady Ariana, if you must stay here, then please do not distract me." The demon grinned down at her, "You can't beat me if you keep trying to protect the girl... Leave her and you mortals shall live another day." Vylia went at the demon with a wide swing to test it's speed, which it easily block with it's clawed hands, sparks flying from the claws like little suns. "After all the trouble we went through to get her back, you think we'd leave her to the likes of you now? Besides, who wants to live forever?" Vylia grinned as she began a quick series of stabs and slices at the demon, forcing it on the defensive and giving herself several paces between the fighting and Ariana, allowing full movement on her part.

"If you wish to die, then I shall grant that wish. You should have stayed trapped in our illusions, by the time I get through with you, you shall be begging for mercy!" The demon accented its point by beginning it's own barrage of attacks, and Vylia was hard pressed to keep up with her one remaining sword slashing back and forth, always stopping the claws only inches from her skin. "I spent twenty years being tortured by people who thought they could cure the sin of even one's race if they tried hard enough. Nothing you can come up with scares me in the slightest. They liked fire too, myself I prefer the sun… Rama Surinen," and to the demon's surprise it found its claw stopped not by the longblade, but by the short one that Vylia had thrown overboard. Its surprise only increased as she slashed the longblade across the demon's chest and the skin burned away even though it knew itself immune to fire. With a howl it backpedaled even further from the treacherous elf, clutching one hand to its chest. "All life is sacred demon, even yours. This is your last chance to leave." "Never! And for this wound you shall suffer a thousand years of torment in my master's dungeons!" With a mighty yell it launched itself forward, striking at her with such fury that even with both her blades Vylia was kept on the defensive, dodging as much as she could, for every parry left her arm tingling from the force of the blows.

Vylia glanced behind her slightly, a worried expression on her face as she realized the demon was pushing her back toward Ariana. She accepted the next hit, dodging slightly to the side so the claws merely grazed her arm instead of gouging out a chunk of her flesh, and used the opening it presented to slice off a pair of the demon's fingers from it's right hand, her longblade flaring as it once again touched demonic flesh. It was then that both Vylia and the demon she was fighting noticed Kaya holding the dark spear aloft, the demon's attack faltered and Vylia did not hesitate as she drove both of her blades into it, her longblade piercing it's heart and bursting forth with a light almost as bright as the sun as it sprouted out of the thing's back. The creature promptly burst into ashes, settling in a pile upon the deck. Vylia raised her shortblade in salute to Kaya just as she was shoved to the deck from behind…

Written by - Talonmane

The two amphibians easily grabbed into the wooden hull, climbing in an undulating fashion and heaving themselves over the port rail and onto deck of the mortal's small vessel. They were not demons, but things of myth that were said to serve the immortal infernal. Sailors tales called them Merchas, for reason lost to time. As other mers the upper body was humanoid, but in their case, the lower was thick, long, and eel-like, with a tall fin running along the length of the upper surface. The upper half was twice large than the torsos of Men, smooth and slick and featureless on the front, and scaled as thick as heavy armor on the back. The arms ended in over-large, webbed claws, and a second pair of arms just below the first were presented as thick tentacles precisely like the main pair of a squid: long and whip-like, but with a wide oval at the tip with many suckers. With no real neck, the thickness of body went right into the head, which was shark-like, and could not bend forward very far to look ahead when it 'stood' on solid ground; instead, it had to turn the head to one side as much as it could to lay an eye on what was before it. On land it did not have the agility in the upper body to lunge with the great jaws, depending instead on using its four arms to bring a foe close. Nor could it slither very quickly on a surface. But its body and arms were nimble in reaction. The creatures were coloured a milky pale on the fore, and a very dark greyish brown on the rest. The vessel perceptably listed under the arrival, for they were denser, heavier than appearance would suggest.

The fiend still in orbit saw them come aboard and flew in behind them, hovering out of reach. "You! you have no stake here. Begone, before you find the heat too much to bare and your soft carcasses dry and crack and split open to pour your guts to the fish that are normally your only victims..."

In return, one of them turned to face the winged one, its tentacles lashing out and missing as the fiend pulled just out of range, water droplets spraying and steaming upon the hot flesh. In a voice exceedingly deep, and as if a growl echoed in a vast cavern, it retorted, "This is our world, imp! We act as we please, and your Lord will need to deal with ours to gain the prize." It pointed a gnarly finger at the fiend and continued, "The bargain is this: turn over the traitor Harpy, and you can take the woman. Otherwise, she comes with us!" it said, twisting it's hand then to use a thumb to indicate Ariana as the subject of its speech. The mercha squinted the one eye it kept trained upon the demon, and displayed a fierce intent. "Be a good dog now and go tell your master." Then it folded its arms, as if to wait.

The other new arrival gyrated slowly toward Ariana, and found both Vylia and Kaya in its way, and a fiend on deck that had just attacked Vylia and shoved her down. Ignoring the demon, it spoke, "Land walkers, I bring greetings from the Children of Mercherasul. We invite all of you for an extended stay in L'Rhyhae, where the imps cannot threaten you. You will have to undergo certain...changes...however, to withstand the Deep. But there is great reward to be found serving our Lady, or her consort, the Lord Leviathan. I can assure you a future of victory over your tormentors, and your House in time might come to rule a country again...in Her name. Refuse...," and the creature widened its jaws and flexed its limbs under an intense show of threat, bringing to mind that of both a shark and a bear, before once again relaxing to give a rather calm impression, "....and be devoured."

The fiend on deck hesitated...whom should it attack first, it wondered?

****

Angelus flew at the incoming meteor still hundreds of feet above the 'Hammer. Ahead of the elemental the air wavered in layers just before impact.

The harbour and 30 miles around it were lit brighter than day. The fireball detonated and expanded in a searing luminsence and with a noise explosively great, and shockwaves that temporarily took the air from ships sails. No debris fell, as apparently anything solid in the meteor was disintegrated in the blast. It continued to glow, dissipating only slowly, the light and heat fading, all but at the center...

****

The Wavehammer was not much slowed, gliding on as Bragni's sailors worked to get the wind back in the canvas between cheers and breathless relief.

"Yes! yes, me hearties, our prayers were strong! Now hold yer places, and remember that. Were plowin' down the mouth o' Hell now - dunnae look up, just stay t'yer duties. Marlie, tell the lads to fire!!" The ship was closing with their foes now, less than 500 feet from the point where Hrulga and Adramelech floated 400 feet of the water. Munchadin steered them slightly to starbaord, opening up the line of sight for Kildef to fire from the port-aft light ballista. The dwarf barked out his name, exuding an absolute confidence that the job would be done and well, "Kildef!"

In the past minute the Ranger tried to convince himself that the lives he cared for balanced upon this shot. He succeeded.

The harpoon lanced out with a heavy twang, and all else seemed so silent. The rope at Kil's feet fed out and out, streaming into the sky. The shaft of the bolt spun, and in so doing released the strings that held a wrapped net. The air caught in the loosening material and it began to billow.

The demon smirked at the incoming shot, as well as the one he saw rising up from a Doledrun vessel beneath him. Hrulga crowed and looked quite pleased to have to opportunity to show again how futile Munchadin's efforts were. But this expression fell then into a dark realization, and she felt herself as if in a pit alone. She scanned the area, looking about for the source of her fear as her face contorted further into hideous expectation of being thwarted.

From the Southwest at the surface of the harbour a smokey cloud rolled back and Gossamer Wing sprinted out. At her prow, where the crew of the 'Hammer saw the figure stand once before, a secreted person spun about to let an outer cloak toss away, and a staff of long, ancient wood raised and took light. A heavy gray owl perched behind screeched with surprising volume. The ropes and harpoons from Munchadin's three ships glowed in a hue of green.

"AACKAAWHH! You! Not YOU!"

FUMP! came the sound of Kildef's harpoon as it punched through the Harpy's side just below her right ribs. Its net had unfurled behind it and now covered the witch, sealing her in a green cage. She screamed and cried, and tore at the material to no avail.

Next to her, the shot from the Rennafont came at the demon, but Adramelech was fast enough to catch the bolt as it passed through his magical defenses. His left hand smoked as the flesh encountered the strange fibrous material, and he realized then what he was dealing with. In rage he grasped the rop and began reeling it in, intent on having his way with the Doledrun ship. He didn't see the harpoon from the OathFather ascending from behind...

Marlie watched and her breath caught in her throat, and hope was dashed as the bolt missed and proceeded to complete its arc down toward the water.

Adramelech, try as he may could not set the rope aflame. But this he expected since he knew of its special properties. So he pulled taught and let the ship below think that even though they missed, they still kept him busy. And he reached above the clouds once more for a fiery doom to rain down to the vessel that was now stilled and could not escape.

The person at the prow of the elven frigate, clearly now female in form, but whose face was still hooded, held her staff aloft and sung. The notes were long and beautiful, and both the clouds and harbour to the North - not far behind where the demon and harpy hovered -began to spin in a slow vortex. In the midst of the sky between cloud and water, a rushing of wind occured, and what looked to be a localized storm materialized and grew. Lightning cracked and flashed from on high into the apex of this storm, and a funnel of seawater from below and cloud from above both met there, in a magnificent show.

The woman's singing reached a crescendo, and at the strike of another lightningbolt, a sphere of power exploded outward, and all of the weather phenomena displayed coalesced immediately and sharply and all was quiet. In glory, stretching his limbs and feeling reknewed, his lighthouse beam eyes falling upon Adramelech and Hrulga...Aquanimbulos had returned.

Written by - Archeantus

The nightmare had begun. He could sense the powerful beings had arrived as they had in his vision. More would come, yet still his attention was focused on what would happen high above them in the tumultuous sky.

He could hear his friends and comrades engage the nightmarish enemy, but he could not stray his mind away from Angelus. Something was happening to her that was highly peculiar, she was receiving strength from multiple sources...

"Who...could...?" The warlock whispered.

The moment she struck the meteor he lowered his head in silent hope. He heard the large explosion, felt a wave of heat.

And felt nothing...

His breath stood silent as he realized she was gone.

He began to shake, feeling a long lost anger build.

"No..." He repeated again and again.

The odds began to stack against him, all his hopes and dreams crumbled and there seemed to be nothing he could do about it.

The anger took hold and he screamed, ripping the blindfold from his head revealing a ghastly red scar across his deadened eyes. His wet gray hair clung around his anguished face.

The scar was a price he'd paid in Aerynth, a sacrifice for not following them to this world long ago. Coming back to them was a further price. His youth had long been spent reaching them. Now his treasured companion, in many ways his sight within his blindness, had been taken from him. What more could he give? Kneeling there, hearing his friends battle, their fate falling out of his trembling hands, he screamed further and took the medallion of his god within them.

Clutching the triskellian, shaking in sheer desperation and anger and rage, he was about to rip the gold necklace from his neck, the very faith that had carried him for so long, when he heard a stern voice whisper deep within him.

It said one word, and said no more. When he heard it he knew it was as much a reprimand as it was a show of love.

His head lifted, and he stood.

For all the things he could have been told, it was the least likely. He had seen nothing of this in the vision the demon has shown him. The All-Father could see further. And so totally devoid of understanding why, he did what he'd been commanded, a directive from the All-Father himself and left his friends in dire need there on the deck of the Far Seas Call.

"Fly..."

Launching himself into the air through his grief and pain, channeling his mind, he rapidly gained altitude.

It was in that moment something strange happened.

His sight returned to him, a blessing born of obedience. It shocked him and he nearly faltered in his upward flight.

For the first time in ages, he saw the world as he had remembered it. It was as exquisite as it was painful for he knew that all could be lost in the next few precious moments. Nothing however could prepare him for what he saw. Looming over him two powerful beings, a large demon lord and his cohort towered in the reddened skies, wind and lightening raging about them.

He suddenly looked down now, peering at the few small vessels and even smaller inhabitants that now fought for their lives. It was then he heard a few small ballista fire and watched as small harpoons made their way up toward the massive beings, one from the Wavehammer, more from the others. The first expanded into a net and landed within the Harpy's hide, who seemed to let out a cry of shocked dismay.

Archeantus glided watching the moves his friends made, making slow realizations as his anger slowly subsided.

The Demon Lord made a deft movement and grabbed one of the harpoons out of the air, seeming to laugh, yet finding something strange about what he held.

The other harpoon sailed past him, missing its mark...and fell back toward the sea...

In a sudden realization the old warlock knew the purpose of the divine command he'd received.

"Winds and Faith don't fail me now..." He said as he darted across the sky, a small speck to those above and swooped, unknown to the Demon Lord, downward in a large arc to retrieve the falling harpoon.

Stealing the harpoon from the sky, he held it in his hands and looked back up at the Demon Lord Adramelech.

"You won't see this coming. You'll pay for her death." He said, still feeling the anger boil inside him.

Arcing back, he cut through the wind flying upward now, his tattered gray robes whipping in air. Moving out and away, coming from behind the Demon Lord, the small warlock was now above him. Pausing a moment, he resolved his course and dove in as fast as the wind allowed, the harpoon gripped firmly ahead of him, it's sharp point aimed for the Demon's exposed back.

The Demon Lord detected the flying Warlock at the last moment and suddenly twirled around to swipe his powerful arm at his assailant. Archeantus had prepared himself for such a moment and changed his course, spinning quickly underneath the Demon's arm to pass behind him. Stopping suddenly in mid flight, finding himself with his opportunity, he raised the harpoon, and with all his might, and thrust it into the Demon's back.

Great pain entered into the warlock's body as the harpoon's spear entered. He screamed yet held on with everything he had, waves of heat burning his body, his mind straining to hold on to his very soul.

It was only seconds, and he fell unconscious falling rapidly to the sea, and to death...

Written by - Ardwen

"Such a paltry trick will not change your fate Elf." The demon hissed as it circled around Ardwen. The Elf did not reply; instead the warrior simply kept in step with the winged beast. Ardwen was focused now on the footwork, trying to make sure his foot was the one on the outside of their two circles so as to give him the advantage of reach with his blades. The demon was not content to wait and dove in at the warrior, driving two clawed hands forward, one high and one low to throw the Elf off.

But, Ardwen recognized the movement. Instead of trying to strike back against one hand he pivoted the sword in his left hand so that the sword faced down, holding the other blade upright, the demon's twin attacks met two blades. Sparks were born as Ardwen parried the demon's attack, and the sound of hardened fingernails scratching against steel shot through the air. The demon pulled back uninjured, but it did not pause. It aimed a baleful hand at the Elf's head, and as Ardwen raised a blade to block it, it launched its other fist at the warrior's exposed ribs. The second blade once again frustrated it as the swordsman held it perpendicular to his raised arm.

Finally the demon broke off, using its great speed and wings to win some distance between it and Ardwen. The Elf watched as it narrowed its eyes in consternation, and he could feel the demon's focus on him. "How," it spoke. "can you block my attacks so readily?" Ardwen did not know if the thing truly expected an answer, but he was not giving one in any case. He wanted it to believe that the last two blocks had been out of sheer ease of reading its movements. They weren't. The demon had so far thrown a double-strike and a simple combination, and the attacks were very similar to those used by Sundancers (fierce unarmed and inhuman warriors themselves from Aerynth). Ardwen had been guessing, taking gambles of calculated risks.

The Elf knew that those who fought unarmed with any great skill had a style, and the demon was no exception. The basics were always the same. However, Ardwen realized he had not yet truly challenged the creature either. The warrior knew he had to go on the offensive and gain the initiative in the fight. Ardwen leapt forward and brought both his blades to bear against the pit-spawn. These were not the fluid strikes of Bladeweaving that drove Ardwen's two blades. Instead, the Elf moved the two blades in tight circles, driving in his attacks mainly from the side. As brand struck claw the fight continued at a furious pace. The demon's blows sent shudders down the warrior's arm, yet Ardwen found the skill in each blow more frustrating. The demon knew how to control its strikes, never over-committing, and whenever Ardwen would rotate an elbow or wrist to bring a blade to attack, the demon had an interceding claw in answer.

The Blade Weaver had no idea how long the exchange went on, but something finally broke it. Ardwen saw a brief blur of movement just at the edge of his vision. More in instinct than anything else, the warrior jerked he left hand in to block. It was just in time as a roundhouse kick thudded into the Elf's arm. Still, Ardwen was caught ill prepared, and the demon let the kick slide past. The beast's talon hit the deck, putting its back toward Ardwen. The Elf moved in. In response he was knocked off his feet by a backwards thrust kick from the same leg that had thrown the roundhouse. The demon had never fully set it down; it had kept its weight off the leg and waited.

Ardwen saw the turbulent sky above the ship deck, and he greedily sucked down air. Then the frame of the demon filled his vision. It did not kneel down to attack as a human might; it had no need to. With a twisted smile it raised one talon above the Elf, ready to drive it down and gut the prostrate warrior. In desperation Ardwen tossed one of his blades into the air. Amazingly the creature contorted itself out of the path of the whirling blade, and it sailed harmlessly by. Still, the creature did not attack; instead it lowered its wicked talon and glanced upward. It spoke, and its voice was now calm and condescending, "I know it will return." The demon spoke true, even as it finished speaking it moved, and Ardwen's sword once more missed its body.

Then Ardwen tossed the other blade. The demon, however, had read the movement, and though it had to shift feet it managed to dodge the blade. It raised a bestial talon again and prepared to end the fight. It was caught on both sides as the two blades found purchase in its foul flesh. Ardwen's eyes tightened and his mouth set into a smirk. The other blade had followed its mate, as they were supposed to. As it was still in midair it had moved to follow its oppositely colored companion. The demon had been caught in a pincer, foot raised and unbalanced, and its blood now sizzled and hissed as it poured from the two deep wounds.

The warrior sprang to his feet and reached forward, with an intentional twist of the imbedded blade he removed one of his swords from the demon's gut. The other sword ripped out of the demon's flesh in response and returned to Ardwen's hand. The demon crumpled to the deck, and its body began to burn and singe into ash. Ardwen took both of his blades and threw them at the same time. They fluttered through the air. The two blades, both black and white, plunged into the demon a second time. The harbor was lit like daylight for a brief instance, and Ardwen heard a mighty boom resound through the air somewhere far above him. The boat listed slightly. However, as the fire that devoured the hell-spawn expired, the two blades were nowhere to be seen, and all that remained was a pile of flaky ash that reeked of charcoal.

Written by - Talonmane

"We both know I'm bound to inform my lord, not that it is at any command of yours to be a messenger, you stinking whale-food. You have no idea what you've stumbled into here, and I'll be happy to explain on our future battlefield. For now, I indeed go to bring word of your slimey involvement. And watch the mortals. They're likely as not to make a clamy stew out of the likes of you..." And the fiend sailed off and up toward Adramelech.

The mercha turned to join his partner in speaking to the humans, who were now joined by Ardwen who had just downed his foe.

"M'rhoe, you are too quick to fall into sharky instincts, all teeth and no wit. Forgive us, worthy land-striders. I am Jh'roros of L'Rhyhae, and we represent our Lady Mercherasul. We wish you no harm this day - quite the contrary - we want only what you do: for the woman there to be left unharmed, and the fire-demon's plans to come to naught. If you choose to not return with us, you put yourselves at continuing risk - and not just yourselves, but us all who are legitimate inhabitants of this world. As long as that woman is in the open, unguarded by great power, Adramelech and even others of equal or greater intent may come to rule us all. Come. Let us show you the Iridescent Pearl of the Deep, magnificent L'Rhyhae!"

"Jh'roros, you are too patient with them. Look at the ash...these are rebellious and independantly-minded. Mere offers will not bring them. You are foolish." Said the M'rhoe, who absent-mindedly picked pieces of fish and bone from his 3 rows of many teeth between sentences.

"Pay no heed to my assistant here, the blood in the air has fouled his reason."

The fiend on deck who had pushed Vylia and who had been listenting to this exchange backed up one step, and still seemed very unsure as to who to attack. He knew he had not the faculties to out-talk the amphibians - he was a soldier, not an ambassador. So, he continued to back up slowly and take in the scene, all the while watching Ariana, and hoping to make his move...they only needed to get her off the ship and into the air...one quick swoop and...

Written by - Agmund

The dwarven skeleton crashed through the canopy just behind the center beam, and a mere couple of feet from the shaman. The old dwarven warrior followed right behind, with one hammer raised high and to the right, and the other low and to the left. His legs were poised in a similar manner, and his battle cry was a silent scream of emotion.

Within his eyes one could see the countless battles of his for-fathers: the oath takers in a delicate dance of death. They fought to push forward; one generation of elders after the next, in rows of glimmering mail. Always they fought, but always they fell. From many, to a few, then finally to one, and though badly bloodied the one struggled until the last breath escaped his lungs. He fought madly, gasping for air until at last he too was dead.

Time after time they pushed to take the bridge. Fighting pitched battles amongst a sea of enemies, they fought with all they could muster to reach the other side; but none ever did. In what would seem to be senseless and needless death, came the honor of giving the enemy one last shout; one last glorious charge.

Throrgrum’s hammer struck the wrinkly wretch in the shoulder, and the momentum behind it forced the shoulder blade down into its innards at a deadly angle. The shaman: who was obscured by the draping canopy, made a croaking sound, but it was barely audible above the unceremonious landing of the dwarf.

His left leg had given way behind his eagerness to push the hammer as deeply as it could go into the body of the shaman. This caused him to end up in a sideward spin, though uncontrolled, which sent him rolling off the litter and crashing face first between the bridges railing and two ogres. Morthand, however, managed to land right beside the dead shaman, and on both feet. He brandished a long sword in his right hand and a large round shield on his left arm. Realizing rather quickly that the shaman was already dead, and that Throrgrum was in trouble, he screamed out “AAAAHHHH! Face me! FACE ME!”

A cacophony of sound erupted into the air and the foul host marching across the bridge turned their attention to the commotion. Taskmasters of various ugliness shouted orders, mostly to kill, but one above them seemed the loudest. With the situation becoming apparent to the orcs and ogres closest to the scene, it was that same voice that they headed.

“Alive! Take them alive!” shouted a somewhat small orc at the front of the still raised litter. Throrgrum had just shaken off the sting when the orc slapped an ogres leg “Down scum down!” That sent the massive ogres into action and they moved as quickly as an ogre could to lower the litter to the bridge.

“Fight em’ lad! Fight em’ till ye can fight em’ no more!” Throrgrum roared loudly as he regained his senses. Morthand responded with a battle cry that nearly brought a tear to Throrgrum’s eye. Indeed, as the gray bearded dwarf raised himself to one knee and prepared to swing his hammer into the leg of an ogre, he could see the man leap into action. He leapt onto the very supporting beams the ogres carried, and once there he wasted no time in slamming his blade down deeply into the spine of a massive brute.

Throrgrum almost stepped outside of himself to watch the human; the man he considered his own son. For the dwarf everything had slowed down. His eyes went from uncertainty to confidence: his heart from sadness to acceptance. This would be their end, but he could see no better end than to perish here, in battle beside his son, upon the bridge of his father’s blood.

The old dwarf growled “That’s it son!” and dropped one hammer, gripping instead the hammer of his clan in both hands. He swung it with all he had into the kneecap of the ogre beside him. This, however, caused a cascading effect, that Throrgrum did not anticipate. The litter was in the process of being lowered to the ground, but because the system holding it aloft was complex, it meant that the ogres had to lift the supporting beams off to either side of the wooden blocks.

Now that the weight of the litter was no longer suspended upon the stout bodies of eight ogres, but rather precariously in their moving arms, the father and son had upset the balance by removing two of them from the equation. The effect gained momentum quickly. The ogre that perished by the sword slumped to the bridge, leaving the large blocks held in place by the steel rods to crash into his body. While the ogre who met with the hammer howled in agony, tossing the supporting beam off his shoulder. All of this culminated in the litter falling quickly at a sharp angle towards the side of the bridge.

It was all Morthand could do to keep his balance upon the beam, and while he struggled for his footing, Throrgrum was shuffling rapidly underneath the litter in an attempt to come out on the other side before it fell. The dwarf emerged just in time to meet a wall of orcish spears, with the taskmaster leering in front.

Written by - Ariana

The object of her attention moved quickly away from her, and her arm dropped down by her side as her lips pursed in a pout. Everywhere she happened to glance, people seemed to be playing with the large feathered creatures, and some new slithery, wormy ones, and no one wanted to play with her. Her pout turned into a frown, and she moved away from the blonde and stepped closer to her dark-haired friend.

The boat suddenly tipped sharply, and her bare feet slipped in the small puddle of red, viscous liquid collecting on the smooth boards of the deck. Her feet shot out from beneath her, and her hip smacked hard into the planking. The pain dazed her for a moment, and she sat there, one hand rubbing the injury, the other propping her up, as the fabric of her dress acted like wicking and soaked up the red liquid.

As the ache dissipated, she became aware of a slick wetness on her fingers. Bringing both hands into view, she stared of the redness that coated them. She rubbed her fingers together, watching in fascination as the liquid smeared across her skin. The sight of it stirred something inside of her, the merest hint of a memory, as if she had been coated in this substance before. She brought her hands to her nose and sniffed the substance, and then cautiously stuck one finger in her mouth.

The salty, metallic taste exploded on her tongue, and she grimaced as she tried to spit the taste out. She knew this taste. It was one with which she was intimately familiar. It was the taste of pain. She did not know how she knew this, and whenever she tried to push the knowledge, her head ached with the effort.

As she continued to spit the pain out of her mouth, the world exploded with a great noise and a blinding flash of light. She jerked with surprise, and once the light faded, her eyes searched the sky, desperately seeking something. She found it, and quickly rose, eyes never leaving the light in the sky. Unbidden, tears began to track down her face. Her quick taste of blood had opened the link she had long ago sealed away, and she was acutely aware of the pain around her. It roiled and bubbled inside her much like a storm-darkened and frothy sea.

Tears still streaming, she opened herself up to the opposite of pain. Arms stretched out to the sides, she let it flow through her, around her, and towards the sky. This time, there was no explosion as she called the power, desperate to stop the aching turmoil around her. Instead, there was a gentle shimmer of light and comforting warmth that expanded and continued to expand around her until it reached the sky.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya stopped her chanting and growled. She could still hear the words going on around her and was pleased. But she was not pleased with what was in front of her. She listened to the offer the shark like creatures made with a grimmace. When they finished, she raised A'lanthear and pointed it towards the speaker. "You smooth words mean nothing to me. I cannot speak for my comrads but as for me, I would never serve you or your mistress." Kaya was about to charge in to fight once more, when a soft warm glow encompassed her, making her anger and pain fade away instantly. She looked back and saw the remaining demons blasted back off the ship by the glow, while the shark monsters looked merely annoyed. She stood there wondering for a moment, what was going to happen next.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia turned herself over quickly after she was knocked to the deck, but stayed there just as stunned as the demon that was standing over her when the serpentlike creatures pulled themselves to the deck. She was unsure what side they were on, and given the current fight would probably have attacked them if one hadn't said they weren't there to fight them. She bounded back to her feet, intent upon the being she knew was hostile, smiling mid-jump when she was hit with the holy energy. She knew the feel of that spell, and knew it meant Ariana was recovering, it did nothing but reinforce her sense of duty to protect the woman. The force of the spell was strong enough to shove the demon over the railing, forcing it to work it's wings quickly to keep from falling into the sea.

Vylia tskked, mentally admonishing herself for taking so long to get up and allowing the demon to escape, even though it was forced off the ship under no choice of it's own. With a sigh and shake of her head she walked across the deck to stand beside Ariana once more, regarding the new arrivals with a bit of suspicion now that she had some time to think more on what they said and registered what Kaya herself had replied. "I think we all shall pass on that offer. We have our own allegiances to stick to, and your Lady is not amongst them. Pandarrion and Brialla guide my course, and I do not feel any urging from them to follow you into the depths." Vylia looked around the ship, to the dwarves still singing, and into the skies above at the demons still hovering there and smiled knowingly, "I think we have this event well in hand, even with the Demon Lord left far above us, our faith shall see us through." Even so she did not put her blades away, and held them ready in case any of the demons suddenly got brave.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Turin heard Archeantus' voice calling to him, and he was finally free of his dream-like state. Except, these were no dreams or nightmares, they had been real. Feeling the soft hands that cradled his head, he looked up to see Purgi holding him, her eyes wide with concern. He let his eyes glance at his right hand and a fresh cut was evident.

Looking back up, he asked softly,

"Are we out of danger yet?"

Purgi just shook her head, meaning no. Turin cursed,

"Damn. Well, someone needs to keep their end of the bargain."

A brilliant light burst forth into the room.

Minutes later, Turin strode out from the room, careful to lock the door behind him. Making his way to the deck, he found chaos and carnage all around. A feeling of sadness welled up inside of him, as he thought, "If it is to be my future, this madness, then for my friends I shall bear it gladly."

Seeing Ariana standing on deck, he caught a momentary glance, her eyes were not as cloudy as they once were. There was hope. To Turin, he felt the crushing effects of those who have none, envious of those who now do. Though the battle was fierce, though others had paid the ultimate price, his friends and allies retained that spark that would drive them forward.

Shaking these thoughts from his mind, he could see the Merchas striding upon deck. He had heard their demands, but when they saw him, he could tell they saw what he had become.

Before either could react or speak, one of the hovering fiends lashed out at Turin, distracting him from the new creatures on deck.

"So, you think you can stop us?! Think again fool of a man!"

The fiend lashed out at him with a whip, as is if completely calculated, Turin instinctively grabbed at it. Such an infernal weapon would normally singe and burn mortal flesh, but as Turin held it taught, struggling against the raw power the fiend possessed, it's eyes lit up. It saw him clearly, and began to say,

"Our master has been betr..."

Turin yanked hard upon the weapon, and the fiend crashed hard into the deck. Deftly wrapping the whip about it's neck, Turin choked the life from the demons body, the job being done once it's body began to smolder and reduce down to ash.

Looking back at the Merchas, Turin vaguely says,

"An infernal prince once performed a service for your Lady and Lord. Remember it, and leave this place."

The Merchas hissed and howled, they knew what he had mentioned, though to someone outside it would seem just an odd statement. The lead Merchas replied,

"So he did, mortal. We have not heard your name before, but know this; we look forward to many more encounters with you. These rather droll winged fiends get so tiring and offer very little in conversation, however you, you may offer us some entertainment.”

As they slithered back into the sea, a chill went down Turin's back. He could not place the odd feeling in his body, he did believe they would meet again, but it was what they considered entertainment that gave him pause. However, Turin had other more pressing thoughts on his mind.

Throwing a glance out towards Adramalech, an odd smile graced his lips, and he once again went below.


Written by - Talonmane Page 42 Book 3

The meteor plowed into the waves just to the fore-star of the Rennafont, missing the destroyer but capsizing her in the sudden displacement of water due to impact and instant conversion to steam. That side of the ship was on fire from the heat for but a moment before twisting round and into the bath, crewmembers running and diving to live. The attack and sacrifice made by Archeantus had distracted the Arch-Demon and saved most of the Doledrun sailors' lives.

Adramelech still held the bolt that he had caught, and it's rope still ran all the way down to the sinking ship. A twist came to his lips as he turned to gaze behind and below, and with unflawed grace and unerring precision he hurled Rennafont's harpoon straight at the Warlock. In afterthought he spoke a curse to the man, tired in phrase he'd used one-thousand-thousand times before. Each word was a quake across the firmament.

"Live through this, if you will. But hunted and haunted all your days you shall be..."

The Infernal concentrated for but a moment, and Oathfather's bolt flashed into smoke, ashes, and flame, it's steel head liquifying and running down the demon's back until it dripped entirely from him, the wound sealing behind that metal, leaving his flesh as undamaged as before Archeantus' attack. Or so he thought. Later, in his personal chambers, one of his concubines would discover a tiny scar, and in a rage of vanity would he increase the curse upon the man 10-fold.

As he aimed his countenance to the battlefield once more, he then felt the real attack, the one for which all else had been a diversion. Ancient words were ascending from the prow of the sleek Elven frigate and the net encasing the harpy eminated a cascade of magical hues. The spells coming to bear were loosening Hrulga's grip on the summoning, and yet more then that, the hellish prince felt the tell-tale tug from the other side of the dimensional tunnel. No sooner had he begun to consider his substancial list of enemies to determine which could be responsible for such interference, but then a fiend soared up alongside him, and reported what he knew. With less volume that before, but still each word a drumming to the clouds, he spoke,

"Thus, the Sister of Scales sought to counter our efforts? And yet turned away with a few simple words. Some other prize tempts Mercherasul's interest. Soon enough shall we know, for no doubt He who offers it stands at the opposite side of this passage, working to draw me back. Yes, this stinks of betrayal."

He whispered then to his winged soldier, who promptly vanished in a splash of crimson light. Adramelech continued for all to hear with a bearing of lust in his intent, "It seems, dear Ariana, that I will not yet lift you beyond earthly bounds...that you will not yet feel my passion nor bathe in my attentions tonight. However, I can be most patient. With the waiting comes deeper imaginings of the ways you'll be touched by the Infernal..."

Hrulga moaned and crowed then, in pain and powerlessness, and in knowledge of what could be coming. Adramelech noted again her bonds and the source of the magic bringing the summoning to a close. In curiousness, he addressed the hooded caster upon Gossamer Wing,

"And I would know thy name, green-wise one. I have contended with you before, either you or whomever your master. Our eyes will now seek your every path. It is a shame you are out of my reach as well - you would have made an acceptable substitute to bear across the threshold, even in place of Providence's Light. Alas, it appears that thy allies will see to it I make do with a far less appealling sacrifice!"

He spit the last words in obvious disgust at the harpy. He seemed to know what was coming next, and took no action to stop it, resigning himself to the day's outcome.

Spell words in ancient elvish eminated from the frigate's prow. Aquanimbulos, now fully formed again and having waited out the Arch-demon's speech, replied in his own tongue, then commanded the surrounding air to change. Cold arrived in a snap, and everyone on the harbour suddenly felt plunged into a deep winter's embrace. The demon's skin steamed. The temperature fell to well below freezing.

From hundreds of feet below Adramelech, where the Wavehammer now cruised beneath and on by, a dwarven voice offered, "Here's the deal Ah'll make with ye, ye great cur! The witch is yours, as long as Ah never 'ave to smell her briney breath on me seas again!" With this, as the ship sailed on ahead, the rope connecting the cruiser to the harpy began to unslacken and eventually grew taught. With great yank and terrible screech of anguish Hrulga was pulled to the edge of her protective circle and collided with its magically delineated cylindrical wall. The runes and drawn lines of the circle appeared to crack in the impact, as though they were written on pottery tile. With the sea-storm elemental's severe change to the atmosphere came an alteration to the environmental circumstances of the spell that held the circle in place.

Adramelech, in rare amusement, looked from the harpy to the circle's cracks and then down at the ship below, and reeled back in laughter. Hrulga gasped and cawed as the pull, made greater from wind Aquanimbulos fed to the 'Hammer's sails, attempted to rip her from the protective confinement.

Passing opposite to the cruiser, Gossamer Wing had approached and stopped just below. The lithe figure at her nose held the old gnarled staff aloft a last time, and with the other hand removed the concealing hood. Long, silvery hair fell about the aqualine face and pointed ears, and a light undimmed by the foul forces present shown like an aura, and some would say a bell chime of magnificent, heart-aching beauty rang in the distance and swelled something in the souls of the good people present. The Elf said,

"Our century in contention is over, Hrulga. You've left me no choice but to use this opportunity to watch you removed from this world. I would not wish the fate that awaits you upon any, but to allow your continuing presence in these dark times, would be worse. Perhaps death will finally find you. And peace."

The Druid - for that is clearly what she was, now that her presence was not held back in the last - uttered one soft phrase, and the circle around the witch dropped to impossibly low temperatures, and shattered.

The Wavehammer leapt forward, dragging Hrulga straight into the arms of Adramelech. For while the circle the harpy had used for herself was intentionally a barrier both from within and without, the triangle within which stood the summoned only kept the demon from leaving it's confines. Nothing was there to seperate her from the infernal embrace. He held her tight, and breathed onto her leathery neck, said something in her ear, and she screamed, for the first time sounding nearly human in her abject terror. As the summoning spell dissolved and the tunnel from the Red Realm collapsed, she called forth her final oath.

"This is no end! I will never fade, and my sisters will find a way to return me! The dwarf's ship will be sunk and the splinters spread to every land, and the fires I'll bring back with me will burn your forest, Druidess! And my true Mistress, yes! Coming she is! With armies and death and command over power you've not known! My Mistress and my sisters will be your end! And I'll watch you shrivel, elf wretch! I'll see you broken from your earth and devoured by your own beasts! Your doom will accompany new rule over this world, your kind enslaved for eternity! You'll witness it, and you'll cry yourself to death, SALVORAH!!"

A thunderous echo was suddenly the only noise in the sky. It faded. Night's more comfortable coolness on the water replaced the frigid cold of the past few moments. The clouds broke, and the stars arrived.

Written by - Archeantus

Archeantus' figure fell lifelessly down toward the sea. His limbs lifted up in the violent currents of the wind, as his hair whipped chaotically across his face.

Time seemed to stand still as the immensely powering being uttered a curse upon his falling assailant. His words crackled as thunder, and from his precise hand, he wielded his lightening--the same harpoon which had moments ago been embedded into his back.

It shot toward the falling warlock aimed perfectly toward his heart.

Downward he fell, closer and closer to the vast sea.

Yet from the heart of the storm clouds, beyond them to the Moon whose face was hid, shot a small ember, who grew in immensity and brilliance in the night's sky until it flew upon wings of fire.

Blazing in fury, a lone shriek born of hope shot out into the darkness.

Angelus dove toward her master leaving a trail of fire in her wake, seeking to reach him before he was lost. Like a comet, she rocketed toward his falling figure, just in time for the harpoon to plunge into her fiery exterior. Passing through her, it melted significantly, leaving only a small shard of white hot metal, and it was this shard that entered into his chest, near his heart.

Entering his skin, it strangely cooled immediately, yet left a searing gash, and a wound that began to pour blood, which splattered out into the night's wind, leaving a soft red stream floating upward as he fell.

Angelus changed course perceiving the complexity of the solution to his rapidly approaching death. She flew past him, noting the sea was moments away.

With his back toward the sea, she flew underneath him and twisted in the air until her blazing wings cradled his listless body, never touching, but falling along with him. Now along with his blood, thousands of embers shot upward as they fell.

Channeling the currents of hot air between them, Angelus lifted her master upward as she gained further and further space between her, the sea, and him.

The moment came, and there was a brilliant flash of sudden flame as the phoenix splashed into the sea with a great column of steam. Archeantus followed her into the steam, splashing into the sea, cradled by flame.

The softer impact jarred him out of his unconscious state and he found himself many feet down immersed in the icy cool of the sea.

Kicking his legs and waving his arms he swam upward. Bursting to the surface he found his strength had all but failed him. Twisting in the water he made out the faint outline of a vessel near him.

It was the 'Call. Angelus had steered him near.

Focusing his mind to generate the last bit of energy he possessed, he lifted himself slowly out of the sea, and erratically floated, dripping, his head dangling in the air to land with a thud on the deck of the Far Seas Call once more.

Kneeling he looked with the last of his strength to see a figure standing there in the light of the moon and stars which now shined in the darkness.

"Ariana..." he whispered, his eyes warming. Lifting his near lifeless arm toward her, bleeding now on the deck, he tried to say more but couldn't.

And then his eyes closed, as did his sight once more; blind. He did everything he could, but fell unconscious, with his arm outstretched, and the other holding a certain medallion contained within the vest of his robes. A faint smile could be seen upon his lips.

He had been granted a glimpse of her, a view from the vantage of the end of a long journey, and the beginning of a new one.

Moments later, a small ember floated from beneath the vessel going toward the Abbess and stopped before her face. It seemed to pause there for a small time, and then it danced, gleefully, before her curious eyes.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya watched the exchange between Turin and the shark creatures, curious as to what was meant by the words spoken. Then watched with a mixture of relief and dissappointment as the creatures left the deck. SHe watched closely the one firend left in the sky, hoping it would decide to come down and try its strength against them, but again was dissapointed as it flew away back to its master. We will meet again and next time you will not escape fiend. Then with amazement watched as the giant demon faded from site and everything was calm. The chanting voices faded, and they were replaced by cheers. Kaya lowered A'lanthear and it's glow subsided. As soon as she sat down upon the deck Dorve was upon her, checking her out for wounds, but finding none, as the lady they had saved had healed them all with her own magics. She also finally put down the spear she had been clutching tightly. "Wrap that spear in a blanket Dorve, it is a worthy trophy but needs cleansing, I am sure the elder druids back at the citadel will be able to do something about it."

Dorve nodded, "That I can do, then I will see about any others that need my help since you obviously don't need me." Dorve took the spear gingerly and went down below to find a blanket to wrap the weapon in. Kaya took a deep breath, and for the first time since this began, relaxed and looked around, seeing the carnage that still aly upon the deck, then her eyes stopped on Ariana, and wondered what was so important about this woman, that demons woudl fight over her. Seems to me A'lanthear, that it might be worth while to stick around her, and figure out why she is so valuable to these demons.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen turned from the smoldering remains of the winged demon's form to see why the ship had begun to list. What the Elf saw did not please him. There were bizarre aquatic creatures that looked like the malformed result of a squid and shark mixed with a human latched to the ship. Finished with his fight, Ardwen went to stand next to Kaya and Vylia. If these watery arrivals wished to snatch away the Abbess, Ardwen thought it best to face them as a united front. The demons, however, seemed to have other ideas. They spoke, first one and then the other, offering various trite and petty assurances of power and the aegis of their lord.

The Elven warrior kept his face neutral. Having served in numerous honor guards, he knew the value of silence and intimidation in negotiations. However, when one of the beasts mentioned undergoing certain "changes" to see their drowned demesne, it took all the restrain Ardwen had not to give some outward signal of his anger. More than that, to Ardwen's sensibilities it was such an obvious trap. The "changes" would obviously have to be some means to breathe underwater, and to survive the great pressure of an entire ocean trying to cave one's chest in. Ardwen was suspicious that these alterations would someone not allow them to leave for the surface easily, or at all. The warrior mussed over what a clever trap it would be, caught in an underwater realm as a seeming act of protection.

Unfortunately, Ardwen had no idea what he could do about it. He was wounded and tired, not only from his recent battle, but also from the entire excursion to Westgale. The bitter thought crossed his mind that this was supposed to have been a simple ordeal. Ariana had been trapped by a simple lot of barbaric humans, and Ardwen had thought a little bluster and show of force would have been more than enough to cow them. Instead, he had gotten involved in affairs that stretched beyond the mortal realm itself and involved this world's hell and apparently its princes. To further yank the situation out of his hands, Ardwen had no weapons. The two blades he had traced were spent in delivering the final strike to his demonic foe.

The Blade Weaver considered tracing more, as he was probably still able, but the prospect did not please him. Already Ardwen was apprehensive that Vylia had seen him trace Haru and Fuyu, and it also nagged at the Elf's mind that he was not aware of Vylia's history with her own people. True, she appeared like too much of a steadfast Pandarionist to be really immersed in the politics of the High Court, but there was the risk hat she recognized the blades. Ardwen tried to rationalize that there was no way Vylia was old enough to do so, but he knew firsthand that an Elf's precise age was difficult to determine. In the case of Twilight Elves, it was near impossible.

Ardwen decided to do the least he could do, and standing nex to Kaya and Vylia was about it. The warrior reasoned that it would be safest if he held his hand for now, and if the demons wanted to buy them time by talking he was willing to oblige. Despite these concerns, Ardwen found salvation arrived in an unusual, if not unexpected, fashion. The Elf watched in mild amusement as Turin simply ordered the demons off the ship. Even more amazing, the disgusting creatures complied meekly and oozed back into the watery abyss from whence they had came. The Elven warrior felt a brief sense of pride, after all, that was his Priest of Battle, able to order even the infernal to yield with mere words!

The sensation faded quickly, and was replaced with a decided lack of sensation, namely pain. Ardwen swiveled his head to his left shoulder and saw that the flesh was knitting back together. In a few moments a thin pale line was all that remained of the wound, and Ardwen found he could move the arm much more easily now. However, Ardwen still felt like the layer beneath the surface flesh was entirely too warm, almost as if scalding water flowed beneath his skin. The Elf figured the demons talons had some sort of poison on them, but it did not concern him. Ardwen had shrugged off numerous types of venom and poison over the years. More concerning, but even more out of his hands, was what was happening over the harbor.

Something, or someone, had greatly upset the great Arc-Daemon above them, and the air cracked and howled with arcane energy. Ardwen expected some great fiery meteor to usher forth from the heavens at any minute, but it did the exact opposite. It suddenly got cold, very cold. The dread prince of hell above spoke in defiance and dire promises, the large majority of which Ardwen simply deigned not to listen to. It was, after all, merely more of the same rote most demons spewed out. However, ignoring the cold was a different matter, and while Ardwen was used to northern conditions, it soon became too cold for any earthly climate he had known. Luckily, it did not last long, and the great cold served its purpose by pulling the harpy above them to hell.

"Finally . . ." Ardwen muttered to himself as the preternatural forces in the air above finally settled down, and natural night (and natural night's native temperature) returned. There was, however, one thing out of place. It was something Ardwen was not sure he wanted to notice, but a huge plume of steam and vapor rising from the water near them was hard to ignore. Ardwen watched as a battered Archeantus rose from the water. The warlock made it to the deck, crumpled to his knees and stretched a hand forward as if trying to grasp something that was a distance beyond reach away. The Hand of Providence then pomptly collapsed to the deck, but Ardwen noticed a faint smile on his lips.

A split second after Archeantus's body had slumped to the deck Ardwen was at his side, kneeling down next to him. It did not take a skilled physician to see what was wrong with the human, for in his chest was a seeping wound that wept blood. Ardwen let out a string of choice blasphemies, but he dared not stir the warlock. A piercing wound was one of the deadliest, for while small they could easily puncture vital organs and almost always caused internal bleeding as well. If they were too deep, sometimes amputation was the only option, but as this wound was in Archeantus's chest, Ardwen did not think that an option.

"Medic!" Ardwen roared out. "This man needs a healer!" The Elf did not have to wait long before one answered his call, but as Ardwen looked around it was only one. The warrior's eyes narrowed to gleaming slits and there was a fire in them. "This man," said Ardwen, "is a hero, and for more than what he has done here today. He saved your miserable lives, which is a damn sight more than what I would have done. He needs, and deserves, more than one of your kind here." The healer looked insulted; however one glance at the warlock's wounds seemingly convinced him that the Elf's hate-filled words had some merit. He quickly began motioning for more to assist him. Satisfied that his part was done, Ardwen rose from the gathering knot of people and walked to the front of the ship to where it narrowed to meet the prow.

The Elf slumped against the side of the ship and allowed himself to sag to the ground. His knees were in front of him with an arm on each, and Ardwen cocked his head to the side as if trying to rest it on a shoulder. As comfortable as he cared to make himself, Ardwen stared out into the starlit night and thought of all that had just transpired. Even if he were not tired, it was still much to think on, and Ardwen found his thoughts flowing swiftly, like the water that slid past the hull of the ship below.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia smiled down at Archeantus as he fell to the deck, understanding full well why he himself had such a smile on his face before his collapse. Her smile changed to worry however as she saw the gaping wound in his chest, but Ardwen beat her to him, and with his usual browbeating tactics secured the help of several healers for their unconcious friend.

Not that everything was done, the demons banished or run away, the enemy ships all sunk beneath the waves, Vylia had time to think on the events of the day. It was nothing new really for demonkind to be after Ariana, Vylia knew she had a great deal of power and knew that it would be a great boon to them if they could twist her to their side. Turin's command of the merfolk however was slightly worrying, even though she knew that Turin's presence had influenced thousands to follow his orders before now, something did not ring true in her mind. He had commanded and they had obeyed meekly, rather than with the fear that usually accompanied his orders toward their enemies.

On another note, Ardwen's swords made Vylia's thoughts cascade back to her past to think on old legends, though she couldn't quite remember what it was about them that was so familiar. Considering that Turin had gone belowdecks and Ardwen was still here, Vylia decided to try and solve at least one mystery before resting, so she sheathed her blades, and unbelted the scabards as she walked over to sit against the rail beside him. "I see you lost your armour somewhere, and not just the metal one. Your heart is returning, or else you wouldn't have rushed to Arc's side so swiftly. It's nice to see." She turned to regard him with a smile, her mass of blond hair sliding from her shoulder to cover half of her face.

Written by - Ariana

She gazed with curiosity as creatures came and went, but when a tiny spark alighted before her eyes and seemingly danced a little jig, her entire countenance lit up with delight. It was only natural then, that when her little friend began to head towards one side of the deck that she followed, people parting before her like water.

The ember led her towards a person, who lay unmoving upon the planking. Curious, her eyes watched as the tiny spark danced around the head of the figure, seeming to call her attention to him. She knelt beside him and with gentle fingers first traced the ragged scar that cut across his face, then his rounded ears, and followed by stroking the wet silver strands of his hair as it faintly glittered in the moonlight. The varying textures beneath her fingers delighted her, and she was prepared to make the circuit again when the frantic motion of the ember caught her eye.

It was now perched above his chest, and appeared to be jumping up and down in a frenzy. As intended, the motion drew her attention to the hole in the man’s chest, and river of blood that flowed outward. She repeated her action of earlier and rubbed her finger in the blood, then popped the finger into her mouth. She could taste the pain as earlier, but there was a strong bitter undertone to the substance. Her face contorted in disgust, and she spit out as much of the taste as she could.

Understanding dawned and she held one hand over the wound and allowed the same energy she allowed to flow through her earlier, do so again. A glowing ball of light appeared over the wound, and it began to close. The flesh knitted itself together and the blood ceased to flow. When it was finished, the ember started to dance again, seemingly a much happier dance than before, and she smiled.

The use of power, though, was draining, and she could feel her eyelids drooping. When she could no longer hold them open, she laid herself out beside the man she had just healed, taking no notice of the blood-stained deck, and promptly went to sleep. As she faded, her friend the ember, took up position right over her heart.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen did not stir as Vylia sat down beside him. However, it seemed the female Elf was not content to be silent, and had questions of her own. The Elven warrior heard her words, about his heart, about his returning compassion. Ardwen kept a neutral face, yet he bothered to raise his head and half-glance at Vylia. The woman's face was partly obscured by a tumble of blond hair, and for a minute Ardwen found himself wondering where she had gotten the hair coloring. Blond was not a rare color amongst some Elven families, indeed, it was found in the Dar and Twath houses both. With a mental slap, Ardwen noticed he had been thinking about the wrong thing, and he bought a moment by sighing and looking skyward.

"Vylia." Said Ardwen. "Archeantus is a member of the Hands of Providence. You know that makes him different."

Ardwen paused for a minute before turning his face to look at Vylia again. In the darkness the only distinct feature on the Elf's face were his eyes that caught the moon and starlight. "But," Ardwen said, "there's something else on your mind, isn't there?"

Written by - Vylia

Vylia leaned back against the railing, looking at the now clear sky, as Ardwen spoke, "Vylia, Archeantus is a member of the Hands of Providence. You know that makes him different. But, there's something else on your mind, isn't there?" "You're not a very good liar you know. The longer you're around normal people, the more you'll start to care again. It's a good thing though, it'll give you something to protect when you aren't around Ariana." She turned to look at Ardwen again, "You're welcome to use my blades if you like, since yours seem to be gone, unless those ones you conjured are more convenient for you. I still have my bow... and it would give me a reason to keep you alive," she paused for a moment as she leaned against Ardwen's shoulder, "Other than trying to restore your lost compassion anyway."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen visibly tensed at Vylia's words. The warrior did not care to correct her on her perception. If she had not felt the bite of failure as a protector she would soon enough, in due time. Ardwen knew that when that happened, Vylia would have to find her own answers, as Ardwen had himself. What troubled the Elf more than the archer's words over compassion, however, was her mention of him tracing blades. Before he could form a reply, he felt Vylia leaning against him. He had thought to stand up and speak, but . . . he now decided it best to let her rest. Besides, if she were in an amicable mood, it would make what Ardwen said next more appealing.

"Vylia," Ardwen said, "I don't feel like having a big argument right now over right and wrong, I think we'll each find our path in that regard. However, I must ask you to tell no one - especially the other Hands - that you saw me trace those blades. Now . . . is not the time for them to inquire about my past. I have some . . ." The warrior trailed off before finishing with an imploring, "Please."

Written by - Teran

"I'm sorry Princess, I did not mean to desecrate your pure mind with profane images." he muttered, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Teran adjusted his new uniform, pulling it into place. The clothing was unfamiliar to him and uncomfortable but such concerns were merely cosmetic in nature. He examined his fingers and seemed content that he was nearly whole again. His gaze moved to Mavigan and her fascination with him and he smiled, amused at her reaction to his unusual talents.

"We can't depart. We haven't yet found the source of the problem, or were you planning on abandoning all the innocent people down here to their fates?"

He peered into the dark hallway while waiting for her reply.

Written by - Agmund

Growls of anger echoed across the canyon walls as more and more orcs poured onto the bridge from both sides, but the dwarf’s rage grew unchecked. He waded head long into the teaming mass; swinging his hammer in fluid like arcs. The endless sea of orcs was working to his advantage, and no matter what direction the cap flew, veins burst, and bones shattered.

Morthand could see that Throrgrum was surrounded, but he had his own problems: several large and very angry ones. There was no place for him to get footing on the bridge, and the litter was beginning to teeter on the stone railing. He could barely hear the dwarf shouting above the roar, “Jump lad!” But there was no place for him to jump too, so he worked to keep his balance, hoping that when the litter went, he could land in the void left by its disappearance.

As the litter began to slide completely off the bridge, Morthand bent his knees and sprang forward in desperation. He had aimed for the one spot that was now clear of orcs, though, he had not counted on the ogres themselves. It was this that was his undoing, and the ogre who was first in the rear of the litter, swung one humongous arm into the mans chest, sending him hurling off the bridge… and into the chasm of darkness below.

Throrgum tried in vain to fight his way towards the litter: towards his son. However, he was encircled, and with each pass of the hammer, his arms grew weary. Each time an orc fell, the hole filled with another, and another, and the dwarf could only watch with horror as his son fell from the bridge. The same bridge that that had taken the lives of his fathers, now took Morthand, and soon he would join them.

Madness crept into his mind, and though he could hear the voices of ancestors calling him home to the great hall of Graedium, his lust for blood was yet unabated. “Alive! Capture him alive you fools!” the orc taskmaster continued to shout. But the dwarf had let go, and now his rage roamed unbridled. He wielded the hammer of his clan, and an axe from a felled orc, and death followed his gaze.

“I am Throrgrum! Son of Morgrum and Delgrum before him!” his roar pierced the night sky. “Wielder of the Icehammer, oathbearer, and orc slayer!” he hurled the axe into the face of an orc. “I am your doom!” he cried out as he slammed the hammer into an ogre’s chest. “I am your death!” the hammer whirled back to smash another’s face. Foe after foe fell, pilling up around him, and with each battle cry he felt strength surge thru his body. Until at last, the enemy backed away, forming a ring of flesh around him, but keeping their distance.

“Hear me Dagafeln!” He called out in the ancient tongue of dwarves, “Your time is coming!” Spreading his legs shoulder length apart, he stood his ground. His beard dripping with blood, and his chainmail hanging in tatters, he spit upon the bridge and waited for the orcs to advance. As his chest heaved, he eyed the orcs around him, glaring at each in turn.

A dull thud reverberated off his helmet, and for a brief moment he swayed upon wobbly legs. Spinning around he prepared his hammer for a strike, but he soon found that the crowd behind him had kept their distance. His mind was filled with fog and clouds, and though he saw the rock at his feet, he could not do the math. Instead he stared dumbly as another rock caught him directly in the face, causing a misty spray of blood to erupt from his now broken nose.

Falling to one knee, he concerted his efforts into fighting back the impeding darkness, and after what seemed like an eternity he began to rise to both feet… only to be hit again from behind. This time the rock landed in the small of his back, and he jerked in pain, falling to both knees. The orcs howled with laughter, and the crowd began to spin.

“Yes, we will have this one alive” the taskmaster gloated in front of him, “this one will tell us everything we wants to know.” He began to say something else, but whatever it was hung there in his throat. Throrgrum had taken the hammer into both hands and raised it above his head. He hurled it the short distance, with everything he had left, and it landed between the orcs legs. As the dwarf fell to the blood covered bridge, the laughter went silent.

Written by - Vylia

"If that is what you want, then I won't tell anyone. However, I'd like to know more about them, if you don't have a problem with that." Vylia stood up suddenly, blushing as she realized that she had perhaps gotten a little too personal by using Ardwen's shoulder to rest against. "I'm... going to go find an empty cabin. If you want to borrow my swords, just say so. I'm going to go get some sleep... it's been a long day," she paused for a moment, "I'd also like to know what you were about to say before you cut yourself off." With that she walked toward the stairs leading below, her steps nearly qualifying as a run.

Written by - Archeantus

The calm sounds of the ocean slowly seeped into his consciousness. Muffled voices seemed to be near. He was at first startled to find his sight to be darkness again but the feeling passed as if he attributed the experience to have been but a dream.

His calloused hands however came to rest upon his face, as they grazed across the ragged scar. He often wondered who he would have become without his blindness. His hands then rested on what had been a terrible wound near his heart. It had healed, but the pain still rumbled deep within him and he feared it would haunt him for the rest of his days.

It was cool and the night's breeze soothed him. His tattered robe was slightly damp but he'd been attended to. The last thing he remembered was the sight of Ariana, a memory he would cherish for the rest of his days. His grizzled face hid a faint smile once more as he remembered.

Taking a deep breath, he slowly lifted himself from his prostrate position. The moment he had done so a stern but caring voice warned to take it easy.

The warlock quickly scanned the woman's mind and found what he sought.

"Sorsha, you have my thanks for looking after me. I feel much better. Now if you could help me up, I would like to stretch my legs."

"How did y--" She began to ask but remembered it whispered he was a mentalist.

She seemed to protest but the warlock insisted.

"I am well enough to stand."

He did not wait and she was forced to steady him as he slowly came to his feet. The moment he did so however he became wobbly and she quickly held him aloft.

He chuckled.

"It appears you know my condition more than I."

Despite the pain, he was in good spirits. There was a certain feeling of peace aboard the ship, he could feel it, could hear it.

"My staff Sorsha, if you could?"

She nodded and took his weathered staff which was nearby and placed it in his hands.

"Are you sure you are able to walk?" She asked, her tone had a slight bemused quality about it.

He smiled inwardly. "Truthfully, I don't believe I am, but I'll try anyhow."

With that he began to walk forward, and then paused and turned around.

"Any chance my blindfold is still around on deck?"

The young healer looked and spotted a small wet piece of gray cloth against a pile of rope across the deck.

"I see it sir, one moment."

Retrieving it for him, she handed him the cloth. He did not take it immediately, seeming to be looking at her while still holding the cloth.

His pause started to unnerve her and she was about to let go when he spoke.

"Sorsha, he will forgive you. You do not have to face the pain alone. Come back home."

She nearly gasped at the mention of something she'd held tightly to the dark recesses of her heart. Something that she'd been running away from for far too long.

He did not wait for a response but turned and walked slowly away leaving her trembling, but moved.

He was nearly run over by Vylia who ran past him.

He stopped and looked back detecting the remnants of her conversation and then turned toward Ardwen sitting further down the deck taking in the ocean breeze.

Slowly walking toward his old friend, he stopped near him and waited, standing close, his face gazing into the moon's light, letting the breeze slowly lift his gray strands.

Slowly he rested his hand on the Elf's shoulder.

"I am glad to find you well old friend."

He did not say more and left it to the Elf's choice of solitude.

Taking his hand off Ardwen's shoulder, he lifted the blindfold to his face and slowly tied it in place.

Angelus came then and buzzed about his stern features.

Written by - Talonmane

Admiral Munchadin let the sky's echo fade, and in the quiet then turned and let his gaze fall upon every member of his crew within sight. He tapped his brass pegleg hard to the deck as well, tap-tap, tap-tap, a known signal to those below that danger had passed - battle was for now, over. With a fierce yet relieved grin, he shouted out for them, his crew, and the maiden - sadly now husbandless - that was his ship, "Wonderous Awe! Bottomless Pride! Onward sail the Hammer upon the Waves! Brell'khu Thak'Zeladrun Phad'bra!" And the crew echoed his words in celebration, tired though they were, and yet filled as any with after-battle sighs and gratitude.

Feburt had reeled in the long rope with his hands, and at the end of it their harpoon and net still were tied. It appeared no matter of this world had gone over the Red threshold with the harpy. The man looked to Kildef and especially to his Captain, smiling and yet grim, "I will clean and dry it and mount it in our hall below, for the day it may be needed again!" And with that he was off, not needing leave of Munchadin for such a task.

The Ranger echoed the dwarf's earlier words, "That was some shot...never had I made another like it. Some grace must have been upon us today."

"Aye, an' we'll all like 'ave to make such bullseyes o'er and again in times ahead. Ah say it again: we've just seen a beginnin' of conflicts...much more await." Munchadin and Bragni's sailors had in the meantime had slowed the ship to let both the courier and frigate come alongside - the 'Call pulled up as she had before to the starboard hullside, and the 'Wing on the other side of her.

Kildef left the pilot's deck, and as he came to the rail amidships, he was in time to see the great grey shape of Ollawahoo settle onto rigging next to a woman on the smaller boat, she clad only in a nighgown it seemed. And then his heart was glad, for he knew it was Ariana, and she was safe. Other old Hands were there as well, and just standing, with assistance, Archeantus - what power allowed this he could not know. Only Turin Wallace was unseen, and at that thought, Kil's heart felt unsure and a bit heavier. Yet he resolved to keep faith that they could make it right, moreso for he saw then the Druid Salvorah crossing the gangway that had been erected 'tween the lesser vessels. He descended himself, wishing to witness the meeting of the two women.

As the moments passed, the three linked ships and what few remained after the assault on Westgale Harbour sailed slowly through the narrow inlet. By morning they passed that third of Munch's fleet that blockaded the area, and set many of the survivors with them, though some half of the Doledrun contingent left to return home, heal their wounds, and prepare for more. The Wavehammer squadron would escort the courier to the nearby isles, and the council of their next day would decide the future paths.

Written by - Turin Wallace

While the battle was over for those on deck, the one for Turin's fate was only beginning below, in the small cabin that once housed Ariana.

Inside, a portal was open. A greater fiend of Abigor stood, wreathed in heatless flame, body black as coal. Before him stood Turin, his palor still pale from the transfer of vitality to Ariana, but standing straight none-the-less. Purgatori herself, cloaked in black, stood off to Turin's right, a silent witness to the events transpiring.

The greater fiend spoke,

"The master's bargain is complete, mortal. Adramalech has been defeated and your friends are alive. Now, it is my master's wish to welcome you to the Infernal Planes. There is much he has in store for you."

Turin only nodded in silence, knowing his end must be upheld. Before taking a step, he asked,

"Am I allowed to go above, one last time, to see my old friends?"

The fiend laughed. Relishing the moment, he then responded,

"No, it is enough to know that they are safe. You may not delay any longer."

Turin felt a stinging in his heart, to not be allowed to see them one last time was a harsh reality, but one he must deal with. He could only be satisfied with knowing they were alive and well, and that would have to do.

It was then that he felt Purgi close to his side, as if she were going to go with him into the portal. Turin saw the fiends eyes alight with an evil glint. For him to walk into the Infernal Plane was bad enough, but for a time he knew Abigor would keep him from the depravities that went on there. She, however, would be under no protection and fiends such as the one before them would rather enjoy what she had to offer.

Turning to her, he simply said,

"No, you must not follow. Stay with the others, and more importantly, look for Tempyst, as she is called. Deluwiel and Nica are already at the Citadel and may have already found her."

With a similar stoicism, Purgi accepted his words, and knew they rang true. Much needed to be done, no matter how bitter this parting was.

Turning back to the portal, the fiend motioned for him to hurry. As the fiend was passing through, Turin followed, but was halted by a tug. Swiftly, he turned back around and saw Purgi holding his sword in her outstretched hands. Smiling, he gently took the two-hander from her, leaned in and kissed her forhead.

Then, with a gentleness, he said,

"Worry not, and have faith. Even in this, some good may yet be worked. No matter the outcome, know that I love you and your sister, and I will see you both again. Tell our friends that I miss them and that I hope, in time, they will understand what needed to be done this day. Goodbye, my daughter."

Turning back, he stepped into the portal and was then gone, leaving nothing but ash on the floor and the tears of his daughter in it's wake.


Written by - Ariana Page 43 Book 3

Mavigan rolled her eyes at Teran and his supposedly sarcastic wit. But when he had the gall to assume she was content to leave behind innocent folks, her response could not be contained.

“You,” she said with an imperious air, “are a Moron." He could hear the capital letter. "When I said “here”, I meant here.” She further emphasized her statement by gesturing to their present confines. “I didn’t mean here!” With that she moved her hands to convey the entirety of the cavern and their situation.

Mimicking his action, she too poked her head out of the doorway, muttering as she did so. “There is a beastie down here, I heard it. I would rather go around the cursed thing than straight into it.” As Teran looked one way, she looked the other and to her delight saw Keeryn with Sabbatine standing there. Flashing Keeryn a smile, she added haughtily, as if her next statement would settle the matter. “And Keeryn agrees with me!”

Written by - Ariana

The dream came, as it often did.

Dressed all in white, she stood on the frozen surface of a black lake in bare feet. The surface was so shiny and smooth it could have been obsidian, but she wasn’t fooled. She had, after all, done this before.

As though thought dictated action, the glimmering surface of the lake ruffled slightly, as if from a breeze. The ruffles turned to small waves that began to lap at her feet as two large sheets of darkness rose from beneath the surface. She watched them with wary eyes, wondering what they would show her this time.

Once the blocks reached a level even with her eyes, they stopped and hovered over the surface of the lake. As she watched, images began to form on the surface, first outlines, then bit by bit, color was added. When the process was complete, she gasped at what she saw.

The pane on the left showed a woman, dressed in white as she was, with features that exhibited a deep and soul-wrenching sadness. There were bags under the woman’s eyes from many sleepless nights, and worry lines had etched themselves into the creases of her face. In one hand she held a candle that burned brightly, but cast deep shadows across the woman’s face, as if even the presence of light could not lift this woman’s burden.

The pane on the right showed the same woman, dressed in the leather garb of a warrior stained the color of dried blood. Her face showed no sadness, only cruelty and dark determination which was emphasized by the jagged scar that ran across one cheek. Where the other woman held a candle that burned brightly and banished the darkness, this one held a pike upon which rested the head of her most recent kill. Blood, so dark it appeared black made a slow trail of gore down the pike and onto the hand and arm of the woman who bore it proudly.

She took a step back, away from these images, the black surface upon which she stood squelching with each step. These were very different from the images she had been shown before and she fidgeted with indecision.

And then, from one breath to the next, her dream became a nightmare. The semi-solid surface upon which she stood turned to sludge and she began to sink. Looking down at her feet to try and pull herself loose, she saw that she wasn’t just sinking, she was being pulled under. A dark hand clutched her leg tightly, the black nails shaped into fine points that pierced her skin as it drug her slowly, inexorably down into the sludge.

As she was being pulled under, there was a ripple of movement from the inky sludge around her, followed by an explosion as thousands of bubbles burst from the black swamp to hover in mid-air, far from her reach. She could see movement within each of them, and she knew that somehow this could save her. She reached as high as she could desperate to take hold of one, but though she stretched forth her arms, they remained frustratingly out of reach.

Tears of frustration poured down her cheeks to mix with the viscous liquid that was enveloping her, but it wasn’t until the suffocating blackness closed over her head that she screamed.

Written by - Rikshanthas

It was all a nightmare. Just a crazy, stress-induced nightmare, and Leinad was convinced that any minute now, he would wake up in his bed and laugh it off.

He had been on the deck of the 'Call, sailing toward the inevitable confrontation with destiny, when it seemed as if his sanity decided to go on strike. The deck, the whole ship, the entire harbour, washed away as an angry painter smears his hand across a work which displeases him, to be replaced by what Leinad could only rationalize as a waking dream. Old wounds he had thought healed with time, were torn open once more as he was forced to relive the worst memories he had ever tried to forget, every moment in agonizing detail. First the expedition with his mother in his youth, which became a massacre as they had stumbled into an orc ambush. Their party, many of whom were like family, was decimated in minutes. He was once again forced to watch one of the orc lieutenants send his mother's head sailing across the battlefield, and over twenty years of reflection still did not allow him to overcome the conviction that he could have saved her, had he been just a little faster, just a little stronger ... and a lot braver. It was the first time in his life his resolve had failed, the shock of his mother's death petrifying him until a blow to the head brought blackness.

He had spent the next eight months as an orc prisoner, so numb that he had been mostly spared the lash, meekly following orders without a sound, or so it seemed. For unbeknownst to the orcs, and to Leinad's own regret, he gave into the darkness that day. Fear left him, as did care for pain and concern for others, all that remained was black hatred, and the rage he contained had fueled him through every grueling task the orcs had put to him. So it was that when he made his escape, his savagery took the orcs completely by surprise - he had literally torn a few of them apart with his bare hands and teeth, and mutilated several more when he found a weapon. The search parties they sent to recapture him suffered heavy losses, for he had taken his mother's lessons concerning guile and stealth tactics to heart, and he wasted no time taking his revenge, sometimes using the same kind of trap and ambush as had cornered his party. The orcs consistently underestimated him, for they believed him only human. But Leinad's mother had been a half-elf, and she had passed on many traits which Leinad used to the fullest - his hearing was keener, his vision clearer, and he was exceptionally agile and fleet of foot for a human. He continued to harass the orc camp for a full month, using their search parties for practice and leaving their mutilated and decapitated remains to be found by their companions. Eventually the orcs sent out a large force to raze the forest around the camp and get rid of the 'pest' (Leinad chuckled viciously at this memory, that he, a lone human boy, had been able to so stir up an orc clan, but it had worked in his favor). They were forced to return the next morning when they sighted smoke rising from the camp; their chieftain's head greeted them at the door, mounted on the same pike as his wife. Another pike held the heads of the search party commanders from the past month. He had entered the camp under cover of night and assassinated the chief and his woman while they slept, going on to eliminate every other orc in the camp in utter silence, so that the camp was emptied without a whisper of an alarm. The women were not spared Leinad's bloodthirst that night, but upon finding children in the camp, he paused, something in him staying his hand. But only for a moment, and he quickly and efficiently made sure there would be no one to raise an alarm. He released the other prisoners as a matter of incident, to further hurt the orcs; one of them, who had been like an uncle to him, took one look at the blood-soaked boy and shook his head, whispering a prayer to the All-Father as he left, for he had seen the darkness in his eyes. When Leinad was fairly certain the camp had been cleared of all life, he set fire to the buildings, using whatever accelerants he could find to hasten the process. The smoke drew the attention of a passing cavalry troop, who made short work of the remainder of the orc marauders, but were surprised when they saw the state of the camp, believing it a barbarian attack until one of the former prisoners told them the truth. They returned to civilization, two ice-blue eyes watching them coldly from the trees as they went. He didn't know who they were, nor did he care at the time, but he could still remember the troop as an azure sea, both envying and hating their gleaming, perfect appearance.

With the orcs dead, his hate had turned to those who had effectively sent his company to their deaths. He became an accomplished assassin; no one knew his name, but his methods became infamous, after he paid several prominent individuals a visit. His victims were found decapitated with a black dagger through the heart and a white lotus resting on the stump; the heads were always found 9 feet from the bodies. No one would ever know the significance of this signature, for Leinad could never speak of those dark years of his life. A simple twist of chance in his twentieth year changed him forever. The incident had been burned into his memory, for it had revealed to him how far he had fallen, and for the nearly two decades since, it continued to haunt him.

History would record the death of a wealthy merchant of Westgale named Valdaine as the last known case of the Lotus Assassin's presence in Greyshire. The man's body was found with a dagger wound to the heart, but his head was still attached, and in his hands was the signature lotus, the petals stained red. Authorities were baffled by the seeming change in pattern, and even more so by the abrupt end to the murders. In truth, Leinad had stabbed the merchant in the darkness, and when the man fell into the lamplight, he saw he had murdered his own estranged father. The realization that he had been so blinded by hate and anger as to destroy the closest thing to family he had left, cracked the shell he had become, leaving only emptiness. Unable to bring himself to continue his pattern and behead the man, Leinad instead set him in a state of repose, placing his hands over the wound in his heart and setting upon them the lotus which had been his mother's favorite flower. He then took the dagger which had ended his father's life and stumbled out into the night, a deep depression seizing him.

The memory faded, but the feeling of empty, crushing despair remained. Leinad stood in darkness, everything around him shrouded from view. He still held the black iron dagger which would eternally symbolize pain and loss for him, though it had grown since his memory, for it now had the length of a sword. It also felt uncomfortably hot in his hand, but he could not throw it away. He saw himself, a fading, middle-aged mercenary who had nothing behind him but death and misery, and nothing to look forward to but more of the same. He saw the harm he had brought to those around him, how he frequently hindered those he wished to help. The blade in his hand seemed welcoming; a quick slice would bring an end to the regrets, the fears, the pain. He looked at it for a long moment, a single tear rolling down his cheek, over the scar that ever served as a reminder of his shadowed youth.

He was about to put the blade to his neck when he felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder. The darkness all around him brightened to natural night; he stood once more on the deck of the Far Sea's Call. Leinad realized what he had been about to do, and why ... and what would have happened to his soul had he done so. He looked down at the black blade in his hand, shuddering inwardly; the weapon burned like the sun, yet he felt no pain. As he focused on the sword, it began to glow molten orange, warping and brightening into the familiar golden dragon's wing of Astalder as the sword threw off the demonic illusion. Leinad's resolve hardened; he recalled his last despairing thoughts with open laughter. Death he had behind him in plenty, and misery; but ahead of him lay death and misery to those who would oppose him, not for himself. Such he swore loudly, raising the enchanted blade high with an old elven oath of valour. Middle-aged? Fading? Hah! He was a quarter elven and not even forty, he could look forward to sixty years or more as hale and hearty as he was at that moment. He did not need to turn to know whose hand now squeezed his shoulder reassuringly before sliding off, who always seemed to be there just when he needed her the most. With her at his side he could face anything.

Which was just as well, because at that point things actually got weird.

There were fiends, and strange shark-squid-eel-man-things, an Arch-Demon and a harpy, storms and fireballs. A flying blind man and an elf druid who seemed somehow older than the sea itself. The priestess they had rescued nearly blasting the fiends with far more power than any simple acolyte. The crusader he had met during the rescue all but ordering the shark-things off their ship, and being obeyed. And that was what Leinad had been able to follow.

The battle ended somewhat abruptly; the three ships sailed abreast toward the morning. And life goes on, Leinad thought to himself, turning away from where he stood at the 'Call's prow to find a quiet cabin to think. Silently he vowed that at the first opportunity he would find out who the hell these people were, and why his life had gone crazy ever since he'd met them.

Written by - Agmund

“Eadarolus…” the aged sorcerer said under his breath, but loud enough to be heard, “will soon be covered in chaos. Too the south,” he pointed to the faded tapestry hanging in front of him, “the witch Kiradia emerges… but where shall she strike next? And whom is she working with, if anyone? What strength of numbers does she bring with her? So many questions yet unanswered… Too the north the orc horde has marched,” his finger slowly traces upwards, “and beyond the eastern range Beredaine wages war against Westgale.”

Pulling his hand away from the tapestry, the sorcerer Agmond crossed his arms, and his brow wrinkled in thought. Then he began to speak again, as if he were giving himself counsel. “If it is as we believe, and Beredaine is in league with Durok. Then Durok will focus on Harathad-Dor as Beredaine slowly breaks Westgale. In order to aid Beredaine, Durok will be forced to either breach the southern or northern pass, both of which continue to elude him.”

“But then,” his hand went to his bearded chin and began to draw strands of gray straight down thru his fingers, “How aware is he of the danger to his west? He has to be aware that the Ellenshauer and the people of the Five Kings are united under one banner… surely,” he nodded in agreement. “Is his force large enough to fight those of both the east and west?” his eyebrow raised in question.

“And… what will happen when his forces and those of the witch collide. Will they join together or will one try and force the other aside and merely wait to tackle the victor… while they are weak,” he stepped away from the tapestry and then exited the room altogether; now he stood upon a small balcony, mountain walls extended out in front of it, but then gradually gave way. Beyond them, one could only see clouds of mist and hear the crashing waves of the sea and the squelching sound of seagulls.

Agmond’s hands slide down to the stone railing and he held it tightly as he looked outwards. The railing was patched with moss in places, but an expanse upon its top was kept free by his roaming hands. Most of the tower and the balcony itself were carved directly from the mountainside. Only a very small visible portion was built of rock, and covered with a wooden roof, and that was at its pinnacle. Nestled within two great arms of the mountain, and at its height, the tower was nigh invisible.

This was the place that Agmond did his best thinking, but today his thinking was clouded with doubts seemingly from all directions, and as his hands glided back and forth upon the railing, he only grew more r