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Book Two - A Gathering Storm

Written by - Turin Wallace - Page 1 Book 2 posted on Fri Jun 24, 2005

Ithramir's sleep was short on rest and long on unease. After no more than a few hours, he gets up from his bed and walks over to the table holding his armor and weapons. Reaching down, he grabs the special half-plate armor he had commissioned years ago for an Orcish campaign. Like his usual chain armor, this one was constructed of intricately woven mithril chain and plate, light and strong. The extra plates, however, were for protection and not ease of movement. Ithramir had a feeling that it's design was to be once again fully tested.

After donning his armor, he straps an ancient ironwood round shield to his back and slides Urugdanir, his personal longsword, into it's sheath. Lastly, a quiver of full arrows and Throssgurth, his longbow, are put into their respective places.

Picking up his helm, he turns to face the mirror and let's a slight smile cross his face, thinking,

"Not much different than when I first arrived, except now I give, not take, orders."

Turning to the open balcony just off his room, he see's the sky beginning to lighten. Dawn will be upon them soon, which means he must be ready to lead the army once more, for good or ill.

Walking from his chambers, the almost inaudible clinking of chain and plate the only things giving away his movement in the silent halls, he makes his way to the courtyard. As the sky grew lighter, one can see the movements of all preparing to leave the citadel. Horses being barded and saddled, soldiers re-checking supplies and weapons, companies unfurling their banners to let their compatriots find where to assemble, and the silent murmur of men and women busying themselves in their tasks.

It was then he felt a slight tap upon his arm, turning, he see's the human woman Gennah. Bowing her head, she waits for Ithramir to address her, which he does,

"Your up early this morning, Gennah. I heard Lithwyn has given you work with the seamstresses. I take this visit has nothing to do with the cut of my armor or cloak, does it? Come, why are you out here?"

Gennah, looks up and replies,

"Milord, you gave me and my boy freedom, you have given us a home, and we have been treated with nothing but respect. I...well, you know I grew up in the company of soldiers...being with an army is...well...what I do best. I cook, clean, and know a little bit about mending wounds. I suppose, well, I mean to say...I want to go along."

Ithramir studies her, and it's true, it wasn't all that long ago she was nothing more than a slave to a company of soldiers. No doubt her skills would be in demand, not that the small reserve of elven priests, priestesses, and cooks weren't enough. However, he could sense a bit of himself in her, life in the field brings hardships but comfort as well. Perhaps she needed it as well.

Looking at her, he replies,

"Gennah, you may ride with the army, but your son stays here. The good ranger Fiernum will escort you over to the appropriate section."

Calling the ranger over, Ithramir tells him what to do, and also has the ranger inform Lithwyn of Gennah's request.

Returning his mind to the tasks at hand, he strides over to the stables and mounts his horse. Finding another ranger, one who wasn't completely busy this morning, he tells her to go and fetch the fellow commanders who will ride out with the army this morning. He tells her to have them assemble with him at the main gates. With that, he rides over to the appointed spot, wheels around and watches as the minutes pass by until dawn, when they will ride out to war.

Written by - Wilhelm

A rap on the door roused Wilhelm out of his light sleep. The sky though the window to the courtyard showed the pale light of pre-dawn and he heard the sound of larks below in the garden and the distant sounds of an army preparing for march in the outside courtyard. The door opened and the Queen's Guardsman entered and bowed when he saw Wilhelm was awake.

"Thank you, Gareth" said Wilhelm. "Help me get ready to go find the Queen and then see the army off." With Gareth's help Wilhelm attired himself in full battle gear, donning his white plate armor with the interlocking rings, his silk royal tabard, his chain of office and his white fur cloak. He tied Mavigan's faded blue scarf about his belt as the favor of the Queen's Champion and took up his silver faith hammer. While he would remain with the Queen, the full military dress was needed for appearances in the sendoff, and given the assassination attempt last night might be needed in truth.

"How fares the Queen?" He asked Gareth, as he broke his fast with some bread, cheese and wine left there for him.

"The healers have dressed her wounds, but she refused magical healing. She sleeps still in Ardwen's chamber, attended to by a healer and a maid and watched over by four Guardsmen. And by Ardwen still propped against the wall!" Gareth said with a chuckle.

Wilhelm also laughed at the image. "It will be interesting to see her reaction when she wakes up. Let's not miss it."

Wilhelm and Gareth left his chamber, and Wilhelm ordered the remaining guards to maintain their watch over the chambers. He sent Gareth off to the kitchen to request a breakfast suitable for a hangover be sent to Arwen's room for the Queen, and then he made his way toward's Ardwen's chamber where he nodded to the attendants. He saw that the maid had some changes of clothes for Mavigan ready, at which he nodded in approval.

Gareth then arrived with a server carrying a tray with tea, fruit, and the specially requested fresh cheese biscuits. The tray was set on the table inside the chamber. Wilhelm appropriated one, strictly for testing of course. He then leaned against the wall outside the chamber but near the door, munching on the biscuit, to await the rising of the sun and of the Queen as well.

Written by - Agmund

A warm bath, he couldn’t really recall the last one he had. It was a comfort that he just wasn’t accustomed to in his travels, but one that was sorely missed. Perhaps he would have remained in the water longer, but he chuckled several times as he imagined his wrinkly skin shriveling up more than it already was. “Yes, yes, its time to get ready, else everyone will think you’re a giant raisin or an old prune, of course you are an old prune” he murmured to himself as he dried off.

“Now what to wear,” he pondered as he looked over the few garments he had spread over the bed. “Not much to choose from,” a grin stretched across his face, “not that you’d make much of an impression in either regard.”

He settled on the least tattered of his trappings, a simple white robe, not as discolored as the others and trimmed in blue and gold. It was of course hooded, like the others, but the hood was in far better shape.

After getting dressed he stopped for a moment, his eyes falling to the worn saddle bags that sat on a small circular table. Two comfortable chairs rested to either side of the table. It was indeed the first time he had really taken a good look around the room. Last night was merely a blur in his mind. He could only recall letting his saddlebags drop to the floor and climbing into the bed.

The bed took up the majority of the room, its headboard resting against the wall opposite the door. He looked over the headboard for a time, its reddish wood carved in intricate details with patterns of ivy and leaves. A night stand flanked either side of the bed, both in a design similar to the carvings of the headboard. On one nightstand was a small candlestick, and on the other a wash basin, towel and soap.

In one corner of the room was the tub, nearly behind the door, and opposite it was the table and chairs. A painting adorned the wall behind the table. His hands were busy clasping his belt in place as he eyed it.

The colors were vibrant yet dull, the detail fine yet not overly so. It was of the citadel itself, albeit from a great distance, and there standing on a grass covered hill in the forefront was a host of elves riding towards the viewer. They appeared stern as if the task ahead was grim, but the painter had put right into their faces a certain determination, as if they had already succeeded in their task. Vowing to ask someone about the artist and perhaps the details surrounding the painting or the subject at a later time, he headed out of the room in search of Lord Wilhelm.

After stopping more than a few times to get directions he finally managed to find him, propped up against a wall beside a door. A sly grin stretched out across his lips “I expected you would be up early this morn, however, I figured food would be the last thing on your mind.”

“You have the appearance of someone going to a festival of some kind,” his eyes twinkle beneath bushy gray brows. “Is there some sort of dance or ball I am unaware of, or is there a lady of the citadel you’ve taken a fancy to?”

Written by - Kiraida Afirewen

Diosr woke up with a grumble about 'bloody scented candles' as the female ranger softly woke him up. Squinting his eyes he looked out the window of his room at the first rays of light coming through.

“First light already eh lass?,” turning to the ranger he nodded her way, “Go and tell Commander Ithramir I'll be out in a few moments.”

Turning back to his armour on the table across from his bed he nodded and started to put on the chain mail and breastplate. With all the leather straps firmly in place the stout dwarf looked at himself in the mirror as he put his hair and beard in the braids of a warrior. With gold wires running through the tips of the beard.

Finally, when he is ready for battle, he steps out of his room and marches down the corridors of the fortress towards the front gate where Ithramir was. Moving through his men's camp he quickly picks up his horse while giving words of encouregment and greetings to his men before riding it over to Ithramir.

“Good morning Commander Ithramir,” nodding his head to the Commander he nudges his horse up beside Ithramir and looks over the combined elf, human, and dwarf army, “this is quite the impressive sight.” Looking over the crowd he waits for the long march to begin.

****

Though no ranger came to wake her up, Alulael Sadrilil was already wide awake at first dawn and getting dressed to meet a Queen. Putting on an elegent pink and white design open at the sides of the legs with white thigh length socks. The dresses top leaves her shoulders bare but the matching pink cloak helps cover that up. The attached gloves of the dress cover a little bit past her wrists.

Nodding to herself in the small mirror her room has she wraps the belt around her waist and buckles it on. Looking at her staff propped against the wall where her bed is pressed against she shakes her head no.

“I will not need that... and it would be considered threatening most likely.”

With that final touch to her dress she steps out of the room and into the bussling corridors around her. Soldiers and peasents alike swarm through the walled fortress making everything ready.

Wading into the maelstrom, she asks as many people as she can where the Queen is. Hearing many times Ardwen's room she slowly works her way to a reletively quiet corner of the fortress where a number of men waited at the door of a room. Stepping slowly over to the men, wary of their weapons she gracefully walks forward.

“Hello gentlemen.... I am given to know that this is where Queen Mavigan Brelonna of Ancora resides here. I wish an audience with her.” Taking a deep breath she waits for their answer.

Written by - Wilhelm

"Good morning, Father Agmund." replied Wilhelm quietly. "Queen Mavigan is still asleep, recovering from her first Avatar experience. I am waiting here for her to emerge. Nagarren almost broke through in the stress of theassassination attempt. Mavigan's channels were too sore last night for her to accept healing for some minor injuries, so she apparently stumbled into the first room she came to and fell asleep. It was Ardwen's room, and he has rested the night propped against the wall on his great sword. Mavigan will likely be ready for some healing this morning and hopefully for some counsel as well on her experience. What she really needs is a Priestess of Nagarren to help guide her through this initiation process that has begun, but perhaps you can help her. In any event, it should be interesting to see her reaction when she awakes." Wilhelm chuckled.

Wilhelm then saw a serene woman approach, dressed in pink and white, who came up to them and said,

“Hello gentlemen.... I am given to know that this is where Queen Mavigan Brelonna of Ancora resides here. I wish an audience with her.”

Wilhelm bowed to her and replied,

"Good morning. Her Majesty has not yet risen to bid farewell to the army. I am Wilhelm, Queen's Champion and Paladin of the All Father, as you can see. This is Father Agmund, Priest of the All Father. You may wait here with us, if if you like, and tell us your story."

Wilhelm quietly reached into the doorway to the amply filled tray on the table there and then turned back.

"Cheese biscuit, anyone?"

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn wakes up with a loud yawn and stretches her limbs like an oversized cat. Peering down over the ledge she notices the large gathering of soldiers that weren't there when she went to sleep last night. "Hmmm, guess I missed some things while I was napping last night. Maybe I should go find Wilhelm and find out what's going on."

With that she leaps lightly over the ledge to land on an outstretched tree limb, climbing down the tree, and dropping the last few feet continuing into a light jog towards the main hall. On the way there she stops the first person that didn't look too busy, and was directed to where the Queen was sleeping as it was the likeliest spot to find Wilhelm. When she arrived she noticed Wilhelm speaking to a man in white robes, and a woman in a disgustingly pink colored dress, thinking to herself how that much pink should never be in the same place. "Gooood Morning Wilhelm," as she slips right between the paladin and the pink woman to peer into his face. "What's with all the commotion?"

Written by - Rikshanthas

The Loremaster's thoughts kept returning to the human Renalis as he examined the many records kept in pristine condition at the Citadel. With much effort he had managed to convey his wish to see their library, where he would find the information he needed if he was to remain in this world for any length of time. After several hours of poring over the various scrolls and books, with help from an Adept that Vhar'Kanix was beginning to think had been assigned to babysit him (a thought that caused him some annoyance at first, though the time saved by her assistance was a relief), he was able to understand their language well enough, though speaking it was another matter entirely. He was nearly unable to produce the proper sounds, his echo chambers being decidedly different from their vocal cords, to the point where he felt it would be better not to speak aloud at all. Fortunately he did not need to, since his mage companion Aelarra was not averse to the mental contact he had attempted out of sheer exasperation, though she understood his reluctance to communicate that way. So she had agreed to act as an interpreter, relaying his thoughts should he need to speak to others -- like the commander of the outpost, who would no doubt wish some form of formal indroduction now that Vhar'Kanix could properly deliver it.

Through it all, his thoughts were dominated by the puzzle of a human who had somehow come into possession of a kharai and not only survived the contact, but was actually able to tap its power. Vhar'Kanix had never before known a human who could channel the energies of such a stone, though he knew of several who had tried. He made a mental note to discuss it with the man at the earliest opportunity, now that he could properly communicate.

The commotion outside piqued his curiosity. Putting down the book on recent history he had been reading (he had found the elves' amazement at the speed with which he absorbed information amusing), he walked over to a window and watched the soldiers preparing to march, his eyes fading to a deep blue. Must history always be written in blood? he thought sadly. With a resigned sigh he turned to his companion. *I suppose I should speak with Ithramir now; if the army is moving out soon I will not have the chance again for some time, if at all,* he said with forced detachment. Turning toward the stairs, he headed out to the courtyard for a word with the commander, Aelarra following on his heels. He managed to pick Ithramir out from their brief meeting earlier, by the gate at the front of the massed soldiers. Making his way around rather than trying to push through the crowded courtyard, he saw the dwarf sidle over to the elven commander and say something Vhar'Kanix didn't quite catch over all the clanking armor and general chatter. Drawing near to the pair, he made a shallow but respectful bow before turning to Aelarra. The elf stepped forward. "Lord Ithramir, may I formally introduce Loremaster Vhar'Kanix, a scholar of note among his people. With your permission, he would like to remain here at the Citadel to collect information about our culture, history and so on for his people's Great Library. Apparently they're big readers," she said jokingly, smiling at the memory of the fearsome-looking creature bouncing about like a child at a fair when they allowed him run of the library.

Written by - Archeantus

The magical journey had not gone as expected. Vermigard did not have the mental strength to travel through the mystical corridors that the Irrithica demanded from its user. They had found themselves in the forest outside of Ancora, the same place Gadianton had appeared in the night of the royal family’s assassination. It was deep and dark when they appeared though the portal; the mists of the forest were pervasive and held a mystery that seemed strangely apparent to Gadianton. There was something different about the wood. Yet such thoughts were second to securing Vermigard’s life. He had only moments to live; his very soul was hanging to his body by a thread. The bounty hunter’s face was taunt and pale, he had expended everything he had to get them where they stood. Kishkumen’s soul stone blazed in the darkness, and the mage hissed with worry as the emergency of the situation arose again. They held a stranger as well, one that the mage was desperate to secure.

“To Ancora.” Gadianton whispered firmly. “You must carry your prize if you are to keep him. I will not leave the bounty hunter to his death.”

The necromancer looked at him for the briefest of moments as if to remind him of the needlessness of trying to keep him alive. He could easily revive him as an undead, ready to serve.

His master merely looked at him with a wildly calm ferocity that spelled out his meaning quite clearly. Never question him.

They both carried the unconscious upon their shoulders and began to set out for Ancora, when suddenly Gadianton fell to the ground.

He gasped for breath, nearly screaming. The mage managed to hear his master muster a few short words from underneath the black cloak of the bounty hunter. “Not….again….the forest…”

And then Gadianton too, lost consciousness, collapsing under the weight of the bounty hunter. Yet where he lost connection to the outside world, he gained access to a memory that seemed so far away that it spanned past his own waking life…

…yet there was a connection…a connection that was a piece of a puzzle of massive complexity...a puzzle that Gadianton did not want to exist...

Written by - Turin Wallace

Waiting at the gate, it wasn't long before he saw a dwarf riding through the dwarven section shouting and yelling encouragement to his troops. Soon enough, he had rode all the way to the gate and said,

“Good morning Commander Ithramir, this is quite the impressive sight.”

Looking over, Ithramir nods and replies,

"Welcome again, Diosr, and an army always looks impressive enough before a battle. Few things are as awe inspiring as seeing the colored banners, the glinting of armor in the sun, the massed ranks marching in order, and the sounds of an army on the move. It's the rather brutal purpose of it, and the blood stained fields it leaves behind that causes one to pause."

Pausing, he lets a small smile escape him as he says,

"Still, it has been far too long that a combined army has formed in a few lifespans of all our peoples. You have my gratitude, master dwarf, for your aide is greatly appreciated this day."

Nodding to the dwarf, Ithramir then notes the strange beast from the night before making his way to them with a female mage for the citadel's library. Stopping in front of him, he listens to the female mage say,

"Lord Ithramir, may I formally introduce Loremaster Vhar'Kanix, a scholar of note among his people. With your permission, he would like to remain here at the Citadel to collect information about our culture, history and so on for his people's Great Library. Apparently they're big readers."

He listens to her chuckle a bit, then he says,

"Tell Vhar'Kanix that I am pleased to meet him and that he will will be regarded as a guest within our walls. So long as he does not bring trouble or harm to our people, he may use our library at his leisure, but also under escort. I trust, Aelarra, you can find someone suitable for the task."

With a nod, he returns his attention to the tasks at hand and the ever approaching march.

Written by - Archeantus

“…Gnolaum, we came here for a reason.” A tall tanned skinned woman began. The dream vision clouded into view upon a scene of marked familiarity and yet such livid detachment.

“I know young one. I know your story, I have been watching. I watch all the precious lives that move ever forward.” A glowing being interjected smoothly. “You have risked everything for this man. You began your journey not for you but for him. You have continued in your effort, unrelenting and tireless. You have found your brother Kaladin, and have learned the value of family. You have learned the value of upholding the virtues for the remainder of your life because of the example of your friend Tarsis. You have exercised faith in every leg of your journey here. You have fought the darkness in your heart. And now you are willing to risk all that you have fought for, just for the chance to save him.” The being said, looking down at the woman.

There was a slight smile that came across the being’s face, but it quickly shifted for her expression turned grave. She lifted her hand in a wake of silver and blue, and held it out in a closed fist. Slowly, she opened her slender fingers like a flower blooms, and a small glowing Pearl floated up and out of her fingers, held suspended in the air.

The woman locked the image of the pearl in her steel blue eyes and held it there for a long moment. The being’s golden hair shimmered in every direction like the rays of the sun and shone down warmly upon those that were gathered with the woman.

“I must warn you of the danger you are now placing your friend in. His life force is faint and he still exists within the gem, but I cannot offer any wisdom as to what the Pearl may do to him. He is in great pain, more than we can imagine. If the gem decides to seal the powerful magic still residing within it, it shall bring him back to you, but if it decides to unravel the magic, it shall free him forever from its confines.” The being said, her musical voice warned solemnly.

The woman shut her eyes as she heard that He was still alive. For her, that was all she needed to know to make her decision. But she knew she could not go forward without making sure that this was what they wanted to do. She looked back at Tarsis and Kaladin, her eyes searching for the confirmation to everything they had fought for and risked their lives for.

“Ariel.” Tarsis said. “Either we’ll end his pain or we’ve won him back, taking the Pearl is the right thing to do on both counts.”

Tarsis looked so tired; his eyes were suddenly very old. Raising her eyebrow the woman, who was apparently Ariel, looked at her brother.

“He’s right Ari. We’ve come all this way to do this, and you’ve come so far, it wouldn’t be right to turn away now. Raven would have wanted it.” Kaladin said.

Ariel knew they spoke the truth, she felt it in her heart. But the thought that she would never be able to hear his charming voice, to feel his unconquerable strength was so difficult for her to deal with that she considered turning around and facing the final leg of her journey with the knowledge that she had forever let him go. She knew Raven, knew him better than any individual possibly could. And with that knowledge was the temptation. Out of all the people in all the ages of the world, this man was the only one who could have helped her. And at this moment, she had to come to terms with something else. The feelings that coursed through her ran deep for him. Deeper that she ever realized she could feel for another.

Death. Life was far too short. The eternal darkness had nipped at her heels all her life. Were the relationships she had, doomed to end? Was it all worth it? If she turned back now would she be able to face her selfish desires? The uncertainty and the inevitability of it all shook her to the core. The only way to find the answer to her question, a question that everything rested on was to keep the promise she’d made to Gnolaum. She trusted in that. But she knew that once again her decision was to be based in faith. Her head drooped in desperation, and she felt a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

It was Kaladin, her brother.

“You already know what you should do. It’s only a matter doing it now. I don’t want to loose him, but I don’t want him to be in pain anymore either. Please think about what he would have done in this situation.” He said.

Looking back at her brother and then at Tarsis who was slightly hunched over, she nodded her head and turned back toward the waiting Gnolaum.

“The Pearl.” She firmly said her hand held outward.

Gnolaum looked down sadly for a moment and then lowered her hand. The Pearl was freed of its place and slowly made its way to its new owner. As it came nearer, the green gem began to glow, its swirling colors brightening in intensity. There was a tingling sensation that centered in her heart, and it too, intensified. As the Pearl continued to drift down to her, she found herself being pulled up to it. Her feet lifted off the ground and she too hovered in the air.

And then the tingling sensation turned to pain. The Pearl was within reaching distance now, and she forced herself to lift her arm against the weight of her doubts and suspicions.

Down below Kaladin whispered, “Take it Ariel, take it.”

Her trembling hand surrounded the pearl, and she had one last fleeting thought of leaving it…she closed her eyes….. and suddenly gripped it tightly, looking into the tender eyes of Gnolaum.

At that moment Gnolaum vanished.

A blast of power and wind burst outward from her hand and sent Tarsis and Kaladin to the ground. The green gem glowed so brightly that it was difficult to look at her suspended in the air. Currents of lightening flickered and flashed from the Pearl, striking the ground chaotically. An intense heat poured outward, and caused Kaladin and Tarsis to scurry further away. They shielded their eyes, hoping against hope that all would be well.

A resplendent globe abruptly surrounded her, and glimmered with every color imaginable. Bolts of lightening of blues and greens and reds shot out of the aura of power. A deep rumble began to thunder across and within the ground. Kaladin and Tarsis, trying to look at the orb, noticed it throbbed in intensity and beat. It grew deeper in rhythm, flashing ever more quickly, and so did the sound that boomed out of it with each beat.

THUMP ! THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!

Over and over again, faster and faster! Each time a different color burst out in the night illuminating the darkness around them. It flashed with such brilliance and rapidity that it stunned the senses. And then, when it had reached its peak, it began to beat slower and slower. The urgency of the situation died down with the beats of the orb. Gently now, the beats were a few seconds apart and then they were a few moments.

THUMP!.............THUMP!...................THUMP!

THUMP..............THUMP......................

THUMP...........

And then there was no more, and all that was left was perfect silence. The silence was broken when a thud landed down on the ground, and a pained voice called out. The soft blue glow of a giant illuminated tree now lit their way in the darkness as Tarsis and Kaladin hurried toward the figure lying on the ground.

Kneeling beside his sister Kaladin gently picked her up as her eyes fluttered in consciousness. She opened her eyes and Kaladin beheld they held emptiness. Like she had been devoid of everything she was. Staring up blankly she gazed at nothing.

“Ariel?” Kaladin softly asked her, feeling a touch of dread.

She made no response.

“Ariel!” Kaladin then screamed shaking her face.

“Wake up!” He continued. “Wake up!!”

Suddenly a gasp came from his sister, and her eyes flooded with remembered pain. She struggled against understanding her bearings and finally she saw her brother.

“Ariel! You’re safe.” Kaladin said. Tarsis looked over his shoulder.

She just looked at Kaladin for a moment and then her eyes glazed over in sadness, and she began to cry.

“I’ve lost him.” She sobbed. “Raven’s gone.”

Gadianton burst from the dream, heaving, and disoriented. He then heard a familiar voice...

Written by - Ardwen

He opened his eyes. That was the only motion the Elf warrior made to indicate he was awake, he let his eyes trace a route to a nearby window in his room, it was not dawn yet but the greyish tone of the glass and curtains spoke of a rapidly approaching sunrise. Ardwen let his eyes face straight ahead, he saw Mavigan’ sleeping form, she had yet to awaken.

“It would probably be best not to awaken her.” He mused silently. However, this was likely the only free time he had left before the coming march to war, and there was something he had to do first. Shifting his weight from his greatsword Ardwen made his way slowly over to the room’s single window. Grasping the blade with one hand he clawed aside the curtains with the other, the room lightened a fraction with the obscuring cloth brushed aside. The Elf took a few steps back; he heaved the greatsword over his shoulder and lowly slide it down the back of his armor. Like his other suit, the blade caught on a small device that fit with the hilt.

That still puzzled the warrior, and disturbed him. While it was possible that the armor had been forged to hold some manner of blade like his, the fact that it should fit so easily was beyond coincidence. He pushed the thought out of his mind, why should he question such a small parcel of good luck? Besides, he still had a time-honored and very necessary tradition to perform. Slowly lowering himself to the floor, the Elf knelt with his right knee facing forward. He let the greatsword trail to the right, as tradition mandated, with his sable cloak spilling straight down his back.

Ardwen bowed his head and closed his eyes. But this was no prayer he was to offer up to the heavens, nor any words of thanks for seeing another day – such things were weakness – not for the Avari. This was to be an oath, a promise given at every opportunity before the tides of war crashed upon the easily swept shores of peace. Ardwen stilled his thoughts, he cleared his mind, and in a solemn and somber voice he intoned:

“Day shall yield to twilight, as fall to winter. In winter’s heart shall our people know a new spring, one that will be without end. Our enemies will bar our course: they will come with fire and steel to drive back the cold they cannot understand. They will march upon our cities, our lands, and our revered palaces. And we will kill them.

For we are the Refusers: we who are beyond death, beyond life, beyond all weakness. We pledge ourselves to this cause, the cause of the Firstborn. We will not yield, we will not falter, and we will offer no quarter. Let the lessers know they have invoked the wrath of the Throne of Stars itself, let them tremble from the chill of death, and let them curse the encroaching darkness. Gurth Gothrim Avari.”

So saying Ardwen opened his eyes and rose slowly. The pledge had been given, war was formally declared against the enemies of his people. His mind slowly strayed over the events that always followed the oath, the things he had done once giving them. His mind went to so many faces, all dead because of him. Men . . . women . . . and children. The oath made no exceptions, once it was given only death would remember the story of those they killed.

Ardwen turned from the window and faced the chamber’s door, a few silent moments passed. His ears caught the sounds of footsteps in the hallway outside, the door was opened softly, and a man carrying a tray of fresh food entered the room. The paladin known as Wilhelm entered the room them, and snatched a strange variety of biscuit off the tray. He swiftly went outside and passed out of sight beyond the doorframe, Ardwen would’ve placed bets he was waiting just outside though.

Still he did not sit, did not speak as more people began to gather near the entrance. “Typical,” thought Ardwen, “Mavigan may be a half-blood but she has all these people trying to steer her. Do they honestly think they know what is best?” An old man spoke to Wilhelm, questioning him on his formal attire. Ardwen took note of that one, he was no expert on how long humans lived, save that it was a mere breath compared to his people, but this one seemed ancient by their standards. He had the look about him of an old gnarled oak, withered buy steadfast.

Next a woman garbed almost entirely in pink arrived, asking for an audience with the Queen. Ardwen’s back stiffened when he heard Wilhelm announce the man as one Agmund – Priest of the All-Father! Ardwen sneered and gave a noise that was somewhere between a scoff of disdain and a laugh born of malice. The Paladin Wilhelm reached back into the room and procured another strange baked ball of dough. Slowly Ardwen walked over to the tray, he had no mind to eat truly, but he was curious as to what exactly the biscuits were. The steam from the biscuits caught his nose, and he instantly wished he had never approached.

He knew what they were immediately: cheese biscuits. It brought nothing but painful memories to his mind . . . they had loved cheese biscuits. His lips twisted into a pained sneer and laughter practically dripping with venom escaped his mouth, he steeled his voice and spoke, “Of course, of course! Why wouldn’t there be cheese biscuits here? Here, of all places!” His right eye shot up to the ceiling, as if he were trying to bore a hole in it with a glance, he continued, “Do not think that I don’t know what you’re doing All-Fool. Meddler! Do you think these little reminders matter to me? Idiot! I’ll have my vengeance – Deceiver - against all who have wronged me, especially against you . . . especially against you.”

With that he snatched up one of the biscuits and crushed it, the warm biscuits squished in his metal-clad hand. Bits of crumbs fell to the floor and tray, and Ardwen turned his hand over sideways, spilling the scraps off onto the floor and wiping what he could off on the table surface. Without a glance to those outside or a single word, even to the recent arrival of Keeryn, he stormed off down the corridor seeking Ithramir . . . Ithramir and a bloody field to drown his pain.

Written by - Ariana

Awareness came slowly to Mavigan as she lay on the bed. The events from last night had made her tense and hyper aware of her surroundings. The sound of slight shuffling and light murmurs served to slowly bring her to consciousness, and once the brain was active, her body began sending messages of complaint. The aches began in her feet and traveled upward, through her legs, into her back, and finally reaching her head until she could feel her heartbeat throb in time to the pain in her body.

Deciding that she didn’t want to deal with this, Mavigan attempted to relax her muscles and return to the wonderful blackness of slumber. Her attempts, however, were soon thwarted.

Mavigan furrowed her brows in irritation. Someone was spilling invective rather loudly near her warm cozy cocoon of slumber. Idiot. Couldn’t they see someone was trying to sleep?

She shifted her head slightly and popped one dry, bleary, and slightly crusted eye in the direction of the disturbance to see Ardwen, in the black armor he habitually wore crushing what appeared to be a biscuit vehemently in his fist.

Mavigan’s first though was to wonder how the elf managed to pee if he wore his armor all the forsaken time. Her second thought was whether or not she had enough energy to gag him so she could go back to sleep.

Ardwen then took the choice from her as he started stomping out of the room. Not wanting him to escape without some sort of punishment for his rudeness, Mavigan inhaled a great breath and then shouted at his retreating form with a thick and creaky voice, “Moron! If you didn’t like baked goods, all you had to do was say so!” Then to emphasize her point further, she grabbed the nearest item which turned out to be her pillow, and tossed it with all her might in Ardwen’s direction.

The reaction from her ill-timed toss was immediate. Pain ripped through her system, strangling the air from her lungs and causing her to flop back onto the bed panting for breath. “Ow,” she said.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm and the others heard the creak of armor as Ardwen awoke and moved away from the wall inside the room. Then those outside heard him say,

“Of course, of course! Why wouldn’t there be cheese biscuits here? Here, of all places! Do not think that I don’t know what you’re doing All-Fool. Meddler! Do you think these little reminders matter to me? Idiot! I’ll have my vengeance – Deceiver - against all who have wronged me, especially against you . . . especially against you.”

There was the sound of something soft being crushed and a soft pattering on the floor, followed by Ardwen storming out through the doorway and marching down the corridor, scowling fiercely. Wilhelm and Agmund exchanged puzzled looks. Then they hear the voice of Queen Mavigan inside saying,

“Moron! If you didn’t like baked goods, all you had to do was say so!”

A pillow then flew out of the doorway. A groan and a thump was heard within. Wilhelm turned to Agmund and the Queen's maid, smiled and said quietly,

"Father Agmund, it would seem that the Queen is awake and most likely in need of your healing. Clarise, your mistress will need your help and those clothes now."

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln opened his eyes yet again, for what seemed the hundredth time that night, and saw the sky was turning gray. He rolled himself into a sitting position on the side of his bed, wishing his night had been more restful. But, alas, his brain had been churning non-stop since his head had touched the pillow. And how could it not? He had left his homeland, forever banished by his own cousin, and his men had all followed, to the last one, knowing they would share his fate. And now, he was in the presence of not only one avatar, but three! And on top of it all, he was off to face a horde of orcs. Belegra Avandor, mani caelamin uma'lye?*

He couldn't do this... he couldn't condemn his men as he had condemned himself. He rose, put on his armor, then moved to his weapons. He paused a moment as he picked up his swords, then firmly clasped the belt and yanked them out of their sheaths. They were twin rapiers, both glowing a soft blue. If only they could stay this way, he mused. Then he slung his quiver over his back, and paused again as he picked up his bow. It was excellently crafted, a sign of his rank, given to him on his promotion by his cousin, Elborne. That was the only reason he reached any rank of leadership... he was cousin to the leader of the elves. But everyone, even Isuiln, knew that he and his troops were never meant for battle. Sure, they had just as much training, and were more qualified than most of the standing army, but they were merely a decorated honor gaurd. Likely a big reason that many of his men had followed; it would likely be their only chance to be more than shiny trophies patrolling the palace. But I never should have allowed them to follow me, Isuiln thought with regret, knowing how many gave up their families, friends, and entire lives, just because he gave up his nothing of a life. He had to send them back. And so, with determination etched on his face, he strode from his room towards his soldiers' quarters.

As he entered, he saw all of them were already up and about, preparing, and those who looked up and saw him entered broke into smiles, lighting up their faces. It tore into him, knowing all these men had given up for him. Then his second in command, Aylar, came up to him and bowed deeply, one arm across his chest, in a respectful salute.

"Quel amrun, Captain. I trust you slept well? We'll all need it, with the hard ride we have ahead."

"Quel amrun, Aylar. But the ride is just what I came to talk to you about... I want you to take all the men, go back to the ships, sail home and beg for your exile to be pardoned. As long as I'm not with you, Elborne should relent."

"But Captain, we cannot do that. We all knew the penalty for following you, yet we still did of our own accord."

"Yes, follow me you did... for that I am grateful, and undeserving. I am not fit to lead you, or any of these men, or any other elf. The only reason I have any command is because royal blood runs in my veins. Please, return home. It was foolish of me to ask any of you to accompany me. I had nothing to lose... you all lost everything."

"... Sir, may I speak plainly to you?"

"Of course, Aylan, I would never want you to speak any other way."

"We didn't have to come. You asked, but any and all of us could have declined. We could have stayed at home with our families, safe and secure, marching up and down the palace looking pretty as a payerra flower. But that's not what any of us wanted. We became armsmen to defend those of our kin that couldn't defend themselves. There was no need of us in the Homeland, but great need here. And even when you decided to come, you did not order us to accompany you. You asked. Any officer can give an order and have it obeyed, but only a true leader can ask for men to follow him, and have not a one turn his back. There's not an elf I'd rather follow than you Captain."

With that he turned to the rest of the men, unsheathed his sword, lifted it in the air and shouted "Avandorho Hyanda!"* There was a sound of many weapons being drawn and picked up, then they all lifted their weapons and shouted the same back. Aylar turned back to Isuiln with a smile.

"We are with you all the way Captain, mellonamin."

Isuiln smiled broadly. "Thank you, my friend. And I don't have anyone I'd prefer watching my back than you." They clasped eachother by the forearm and brought the flats of their blades up against the other's shoulder, a gesture particular to Isuiln and his men alone. It had always amused him when he had walked through the streets of the capital and seen small children doing the same with their wooden swords, or creating ones of their own.

Confidence restored, Isuiln turned to make his way to the courtyard to inform Ithramir that he and his men were ready.

*Great and Mighty Avandor, what have I done to us?
* Avandor's Blade, which is the name of Isuiln's company.

Written by - Agmund

A pillow then flew out of the doorway. A groan and a thump was heard within. Wilhelm turned to Agmund and the Queen's maid, smiled and said quietly,

"Father Agmund, it would seem that the Queen is awake and most likely in need of your healing. Clarise, your mistress will need your help and those clothes now."

“Father Agmund, PLEASE sit down and relax… pacing about the hallway will do you no good,” the door guard laughed. There he was outside the Queens chambers as the maids and bed nurses aided in delivering the heir to the throne. Would it be a boy or girl? He collapsed onto a bench as he pondered further, his ears scanning, his eyes piercing a hole through the door in wonder.

The hallway faded into obscurity, and he found himself buckling his saddle securely into place. He felt one tug, then a second, and of course he already knew the hand that pulled at his robe. Leaning down he scooped the little girl up into his arms. A smile lit up the girl's face, a smile framed in red hair as bright as the sun, and amidst that sun, two sparkling blue orbs peered into his eyes.

“Father Agmund?” he could hear the words faintly in the back of his mind. “Father Agmund?” and with that he snapped back to reality. He appeared a little more than lost standing there, but he recalled what Lord Wilhelm had said. “Yes of course… Clarise,” he motioned for the lady to enter as he opened the door, and then fell in line behind her.

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