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Book Two - A Gathering Storm

Written by - Archeantus Page 14 Chapter 2

Her fate came in the form of two elven guards who had apparently been ordered to take her out of her cell.

She appeared slightly apprehensive about them entering. She stood backed up against the cold stone wall. Yet there was a shred of defiance in her eyes. Those darkly set brown eyes, eyes that had charmed and slain countless men, now peered, not at the guards themselves, but at the space just out beyond the cell. She paid no heed as the guards took her by the arms, and hoisted her up and out of the cell.

She was now in the open, free, unavoidably free.

Her head, lowered, her raven black hair hung loosely down as they carried her through the journey back to wherever it was they were taking her. She had heard Teran moments ago, yet had no idea where he was now. They took her up the winding stairs and through corridors, and wide balconies, to a beautifully adorned room. They did not throw her to the floor; they placed her on the soft bed.

When they had done as they were commanded, they asked her if she needed anything. She sat and looked at them in a sort of stunned daze. The pair looked at her, and then at each other confusedly. Shrugging, they each gave her a bow, and left the way they came.

She heard the lock to the door slam home. Moments passed in perfect silence, vast stillness, until she stood and looked quizzically at her surroundings. A ray of afternoon light poured through the balcony window and she found herself gazing into it for a long long time. And then averting her gaze, something else caught her attention.

Walking slowly toward a stand by the bed, she reached out gradually to take a deep red rose from its vase. She brought the flower to her nose, closed her eyes, and remembered...

Written by - Wilhelm

It was evening and the party had moved indoors into the Great Hall. The feasting, dancing, and merriment continued. Wilhelm saw Mavigan dancing and enjoying herself. He had passed the word that today was Mavigan's Birthday and she should be treated as simply Mavigan, not the Queen. It seemed to be working. Wilhelm was enjoying a conversation and ale with some Dwarves when he saw Priestess Alulael approach and say,

“Wilhelm... is it? I am sorry, I've never been perfect with names... I wish to talk with you.”

"Certainly, Priestess Alulael. Have a cup of Dun Dennoch ale and have a seat. I was stationed there for a time as a young knight when I accompanied Mavigan's father there on a diplomatic mission, and their ale is legendary.

I expect you wish to talk about Mavigan and her need for clerical training. I'm afraid you met her at a bad time. She was never much of a morning person anyway, and that night of trials left her in a particularly bad mood. She has always rebelled against anyone trying to force her into anything. Evidently that also applies to Nagarren as well, so you are in good company. I should also mention that unfortunately pink is her least favorite color.

My suggestion is to make use of the birthday celebration and to give her a gift. As you know, she was never able to progress to Initiate because her innate barriers precluded her demonstation of a clear channel to Nagarren. I think we may take that the partial Avatar manifestation in her confrontation with Ithramir as a clear sign of such a channel. Present her with an Initiate ring as a birthday gift in acknowledgement of this achievement and offer in a friendly way to help her avoid such channeling headaches in the future. You can have a quick informal ceremony of initiation and perhaps the Goddess will be able to take advantage of it to let Mavigan feel the inner divine approval."

At this point Wilhelm saw Lucant and Tempyst join the table, looking radiantly happy but at the same time showing a sense of determination. Looking into the Tempyst's heartfire, he noticed a second faint presence and smiled. Some of Tempyst's radiant expression was explained. Shew almost glowed with the joy of life. Wilhelm noticed a medallion she was wearing, quite a unique piece of jewelry, ornate, rather fancy for a druid. Upon the medallion was the Triune ring emblem of the All Father. Perhaps it was a wedding gift from Lucant. Looking into Lucant's heartfire Wilhelm blinked in astonishment at the changes in Lucant, who now had a divine channel of his own of suprising strength, and at the links to Tempyst and the sword as well as the divine.

Lucant then spoke up and said "I beg your forgiveness for the interruption my lady, Lord Wilhelm. I again beg your forgiveness for bringing up business at such a joyous occaision, but time is short." Lucant paused and took a drink before starting, as if he needed a bit of liquid courage to face the truth. "Nyrondis Himself has informed Tempyst and I that a demon seeks Lord Ithramir's life. I do not know the name or the man, other than that he is Avandor's avatar, but I assure you, I do not intend to let this demon have its way. We will be leaving this night to seek him out and put an end to him. I thought that you might like to know, sir, as we are in Her Majesty's service now."

Wilhelm's concern was obvious at this news, which confirmed what he had seen in Lucant and the sword. He pondered the matter and then replied,

"This is grave news indeed. However, let me first congratulate you and Tempyst on your union. A soulbond is a rare and precious thing. And let me also congratulate you on your impending fatherhood. I have to say I did not expect to ever see a living Demonhunter, and while I congratulate and commend you for taking on this duty, and for your service to Nyrondis, the cause is of grave concern. Ithramir is the lord of this citadel and he has just led an army off this morning to relieve the Orcish siege of one of the outlying elven forts.

Hearing that Slaktor's forces are allying with at least one demon is very bad, as it may imply an alliance with other dark powers. We have already had a necromancer involved in the attempted assassination of Mavigan. It appears that was not an isolated event, and may mean that Beridane also is meddling with dark forces. Indeed, they may have talked him into the coup in the first place.

Your service to Her Majesty must yield priority to your service to Nyrondis, but in this case they are in accordance. You and Tempyst must go after Lord Ithramir as fast as possible and attempt to thwart this demonic assassination attempt. Speak to Lithwyn about this and she will provide you with a fast escort and spare horses. You may need to fight your way through to him. Ithramir is a very important ally and it is vital to Her Majesty that your mission succeed in preventing the assassination. Trust in your Demonslayer and Nyrondis and learn from them. Tempyst can also help you learn your new abilities. I know little beyond that about a Demonhunter, except that Nyrondis only creates such a team in times of true need."

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst smiled, watching the new found light within Lucant. His joy was her joy and now they would face the world together. She wandered about for a bit, taking in the sites and sounds of this party, not so unlike the festivals they would have back in the conclave. Today had been a whirlwind, and one she felt would continue to blow for the rest of her life. She watched everyone smiling, laughing, but then a saddness hit her. There was something missing; family. Her thoughts went to her adoptive uncle, Corren, and wondered where he might be in the world. She wished she could let him know that she ha found him and no longer would she be alone. Her fingers ran over the gold medallion she wore, tracing the gems there, the large opal. She wondered if her mother and father would be happy with the way her life had gone. As Tempyst made her way over to Lucant, she felt a sudden ache for that which she had never known, but quickly put it out of her mind. What good does it do to dwell in the past, what is done is done. Everything happens for a reason; we just have to find that reason.

Her eyes caught a glimpse of Lord Wilhelm and noticed Lucant heading over that way as well. She made her way through the crowd and placed her hands upon his shoulders as he sat down at the table. She could see the expression change in Wilhelm's face as he delivered their news. Wilhelm took a breath then spoke. "This is grave news indeed. However, let me first congratulate you and Tempyst on your union. A soulbond is a rare and precious thing. And let me also congratulate you on your impending fatherhood. I have to say I did not expect to ever see a living Demonhunter, and while I congratulate and commend you for taking on this duty, and for your service to Nyrondis, the cause is of grave concern. Ithramir is the lord of this citadel and he has just led an army off this morning to relieve the Orcish siege of one of the outlying elven forts.

Hearing that Slaktor's forces are allying with at least one demon is very bad, as it may imply an alliance with other dark powers. We have already had a necromancer involved in the attempted assassination of Mavigan. It appears that was not an isolated event, and may mean that Beridane also is meddling with dark forces. Indeed, they may have talked him into the coup in the first place.

Your service to Her Majesty must yield priority to your service to Nyrondis, but in this case they are in accordance. You and Tempyst must go after Lord Ithramir as fast as possible and attempt to thwart this demonic assassination attempt. Speak to Lithwyn about this and she will provide you with a fast escort and spare horses. You may need to fight your way through to him. Ithramir is a very important ally and it is vital to Her Majesty that your mission succeed in preventing the assassination. Trust in your Demonslayer and Nyrondis and learn from them. Tempyst can also help you learn your new abilities. I know little beyond that about a Demonhunter, except that Nyrondis only creates such a team in times of true need."

Tempyst blinked. Fatherhood? But how...

Mistress, Nyrondis has great faith in you, please, have the same faith in him. Everything happens for a reason. A'lanthear whispered softly.

Tempyst's hand went to her stomach; closing her eyes, she openend her heart and smiled. Yes, she felt it, nestled safe within her, their child. She wrapped her arms tightly around Lucant's neck and whispered in his ear. "It is true, already I am with child. Our child." She looked back up, tears of joy in her eyes, and smiled brightly at Wilhelm. "Thank you Sir, for all you have done for us this day, thank you. We will go find and speak to the Lady Lithwyn now, so we may make haste." Tempyst bowed, and took Lucant's hand leading him back out into the party searching for Lithwyn.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Emerging from her room, face freshly washed and wearing a freshly pressed robe, Lithwyn strides down the hall towards the party. Sounds of music and laughter reach her ears long before she throws open the doors and steps inside. The room, taken in with a glance, is filled with people laughing, eating, and dancing. So many people, she vaguely wonders if most of the citadel really did march off that same morning. Of course, celebrations have a way of bringing people out of the wood work.

Deftly dodging around people, Lithwyn makes her way to the buffet table, eyes widdening.

They've really outdone themselves tonight. This all looks amazing. I will have to remember to give the kitchen staff a raise or some gifts or something... wow.

Reaching out, she plucks a biscuit off a small tower of steaming goodness and pops half of it into her mouth. It wasn't until that bite that she realized how hungry she was. One hand flashes out, grabbing a plate, the other starts pilling up food.

Some fruit, cheese, cheese is good, oh that roasted turkey looks divine, oh just a bit more then of that, I'll definitely have to take more of that bread, so warm and fresh, don't we have any of those little pastries? You would think... ah there they are.

Taking bites now and again as she adds to her plate, she is oblivious to all around her for the moment as hunger has taken over her every thought.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

She wrapped her arms tightly around Lucant's neck and whispered in his ear. "It is true, already I am with child. Our child." Lucant was overjoyed beyond words. He could only hold his love in arms, though he knew she felt his joy. "Thank you Sir, for all you have done for us this day, thank you. We will go find and speak to the Lady Lithwyn now, so we may make haste." Tempyst bowed, and took Lucant's hand leading him back out into the party searching for Lithwyn.

As he followed Tempyst through the enormous crowd, Lucant questioned A'lanthear: "What have I done to be so blessed? Why was I chosen?" I need not tell you what you already know, my master. You will see in time. "As you say, A'lanthear. Surely, you must have known about the child as well. Why didn't you tell me anything?" "It was not my place to tell you so, master." He tried not to think about the demon or the shadow he had seen earlier in his dream. He knew what A'lanthear would say if he asked about them.

"There she is!" Tempyst exclaimed, pointing towards a elven woman behind a table full of food. She seemed to know Tempyst and motioned for the two to join her. After she and Tempyst had exchanged greatings, Lucant steeled himself and spoke to the woman. "My lady, I am Lucant Dolvan...an Initiate and Demonhunter of Nyrondis." He was rather uncomfortable saying a title after his name, especially one that seemed to have an importance he was not fully aware of. Regardless, he proceeded with the formality that had been drilled into him years ago. "I do apologize for what I am about to say, but it cannot be helped," he said, bowing his head, "Nyrondis Himself has warned us that a demon seeks Lord Ithramir's life. He has also charged us with stopping this demon." He rose his head and continued, "Lord Wilhelm already knows of the situation and directed us to you. He told us that you would be able to help us in this charge."

Seeing the worry on her face, he tried to reassure her. Looking into the woman's eyes he spoke with a confidence he did not know he had. "It is my duty as a servant of both Nyrondis and Her Majesty to safeguard Lord Ithramir. I intend to do so. We both do." he said, taking Tempyst's hand.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst could feel the joy in Lucant's heart when she confirmed the news about the baby. She too was overjoyed and held onto him tightly. But there was more to be done this night and their joy had to be put aside.

After looking around for a bit, Tempyst say Lithwyn. Her heart warmed for this elven lady, for she felt close to her even though they had just met that morning. Tempyst waved and Lithwyn waved back. When they reached her, Tempyst gave the Lady Lithwyn a long, heart felt hug. "So much has happened M'Lady, since we met this morning. I have found him!" She beamed as she introduced Lithwyn to the man of her dreams. Lucant flushed a lttle, but took Tempyst's adolations in stride, she he was fast learning that his new wife was not one to hold back emotions. "Lucant is my soul-bound, my husband, and even though this is ajoyous occasion, we have grave news." Tempyst turned to Lucant.

Lucant steeled himself and spoke to the woman. "My lady, I am Lucant Dolvan...an Initiate and Demonhunter of Nyrondis." He was rather uncomfortable saying a title after his name, especially one that seemed to have an importance he was not fully aware of. Regardless, he proceeded with the formality that had been drilled into him years ago. "I do apologize for what I am about to say, but it cannot be helped," he said, bowing his head, "Nyrondis Himself has warned us that a demon seeks Lord Ithramir's life. He has also charged us with stopping this demon." He rose his head and continued, "Lord Wilhelm already knows of the situation and directed us to you. He told us that you would be able to help us in this charge."

Seeing the worry on her face, he tried to reassure her. Looking into the woman's eyes he spoke with a confidence he did not know he had. "It is my duty as a servant of both Nyrondis and Her Majesty to safeguard Lord Ithramir. I intend to do so. We both do." he said, taking Tempyst's hand.

Tempy squeezed Lucant's hand, letting him know she was there with him. She looked Lithwyn over and sensed her rush of emotions and could see worry, then realized, this Ithramir was to her, as Lucant was to Tempyst. She put an hand on Lithwyn's arm. "As my husband said, we are here to keep Ithramir safe, but we must make haste. Wilhelm said you could provide us with horses and other necesseties."

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Placing down her laden plate for a moment, Lithwyn embraces Tempyst tightly. Ignoring the stabs of hunger pain, she gives the pair her full attention. She can’t quite explain why this young woman would be able to pull at her heart so, but it doesn’t bother her. The Gods have a plan, after all. As the two part, Lithwyn does a double take at Tempyst.

“You… you are pregnant! Tempyst! I just saw you this morning!” Looking at her, Tempyst smiles, overjoyed.

"So much has happened M'Lady, since we met this morning. I have found him! Lucant is my soul-bound, my husband, and even though this is a joyous occasion, we have grave news."

Looking with surprise to the young man next to Tempyst, she finally remembers to close her mouth as a large smile spreads across it. Reaching out, she embraces Lucant in congratulations and joy for her new charge, Tempyst. Remembering protocol, she steps back and picks up her plate again, calming herself as she beams at the two.

"My lady, I am Lucant Dolvan...an Initiate and Demonhunter of Nyrondis." Only moderately surprised by the title, an instant later she puts two and two together. The sword, Tempyst, her soul-bound. Of course. "I do apologize for what I am about to say, but it cannot be helped, Nyrondis Himself has warned us that a demon seeks Lord Ithramir's life. He has also charged us with stopping this demon. Lord Wilhelm already knows of the situation and directed us to you. He told us that you would be able to help us in this charge."

Speechless, she can only stare at him. The color drains from her face and she drops the plate of food, the clanking on the floor only a small sound amidst the roar of music. The sound enough to jar her to her senses, though, if only partially, Lithwyn kneels down to the floor as a member of the kitchen staff is already by her side, helping clean up the newly made mess. Her thoughts erupt into chaos as she tries to just focus on cleaning bits of food off her dress. As Lucant begins again, she looks up at him.

“It is my duty as a servant of both Nyrondis and Her Majesty to safeguard Lord Ithramir. I intend to do so. We both do." Glancing at Tempyst, the druidess eagerly adds, "As my husband said, we are here to keep Ithramir safe, but we must make haste. Wilhelm said you could provide us with horses and other necessities."

Rising to her feet, she swallows hard. It is true. It wasn’t just a dream. It was a vision, a true vision of what is to come. He will die in battle. He will be killed by this… this demon. And. She. Just. Let. Him. Go. Her mind and her mouth begin working together and a torrent of words pour from her.

“I… yes, yes, of course. They will have camped for the night, the journey is too far to make non stop. But they will rise early, perhaps even before the sun breaks. You’ll have to ride hard, but our horses are bred well. What else do you need? If you leave within two hours you should be able to make it there in time. Do you know the way to Minus Aure? No, I don’t suppose you do. I can easily arrange an escort. What do you need? Did I ask that already?”

Wringing her hands subconsciously, she looks around the room for one of the many messengers.

Lucant is a demon killer, a chosen one. He will save Ithramir, surely. Won’t he? That is his purpose, isn’t it? Tempyst came to find him, and we just happened to meet. There can’t be more to it than that. Coincidence.

Her worry numbs her to the gentle nudging she feels within. The touch of Kaia’hanas is lost on her for the moment as she focuses on preparing Lucant and Tempyst’s departure.

Written by - Tempyst

A messenger came over and then dashed off as Lithwyn gave him instructions. Tempyst looked at her new friend and her heart went out to her, sensing her distress. She reached forward and took Lithwyn's hand in hers. Pulling it towards her, Tempyst placed Lithwyn's hand over her heart, where her mark of Nyrondis was. Looking up into Lithwyn's eyes, she spoke softly, barely even a whisper, but Lithwyn could hear it clear as a bell. "It is alright to be frightened, but do not let the worry consume you. We all will arrive and save him." Lithwyn felt a rush of warm air wrap around her and she could have sworn she felt leaves rustling under her palm. Tempyst smiled softly and let go of her hand. In a normal voice, she looked intently at Lithwyn. "Now, what do we need to do to prepare? I only need to go back the room that was given to Lucant and I to retrieve the rest of my belongings then I will be ready. Lucant? What do you need my love?"

Written by - Teran

Teran watched Lady Lithwyn retreat to do her own things in preperation for that evening. Teran had something very important to do before being seen at the feast that evening. He had a meeting with Beridane. He needed someplace quiet, someplace dark, and someplace he would not be interrupted.

He ventured down into the catacombs, finding a forgotten corner. The assassin began his spell. He took deep breaths and slowly fell into a regular breathing pattern. He murmured some shadowy words and went silent. Anyone observing might think he had fallen asleep on his feet or perhaps was simply standing very still watching his prey...

...But the assassin was somewhere else. His avatar crept through the long and narrow passages of Beridane's stronghold. He passed in front of a mirror and took a moment to examine himself. He did not appear completely solid, as though formed out of the darkest shadows. His entire body was wrapped in dark ragged cloth or bandages, almost like he had been mummified. The only break in the wrappings was a strip for his eyes. He looked terrifying, perhaps death incarnate and that satisfied the Assassin.

It did not take him long to find Beridane, though he was a very frightened and paranoid man, he was a creature of habit. Teran found him in one of his many rooms, sharing his bed with three women. The guards posted outside the room did not see the assassin enter for he could slip through walls and doors with a mere thought.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," The Assassin snarled, "but you and I need to speak."

All four people in the bed were stunned into silence seeing Teran's avatar standing over them. He held out his left hand and the three women slumped back down, most certainly dead Beridane suspected.

"W-what do you want, assassin!" he cries out, obviously trying to alert the guards outside his door.

"Tell me who the stranger is." Teran murmured.

Beridane's eyes narrowed. He had no way of knowing who the assassin might be talking about, but he had a very strong and nagging suspicion that it was Gadianton... and at that thought his eyes flickered with recognition.

"I d-don't know who you mean? W-what stranger?"

"If you are trying to test my knowledge you succeed in only testing my patience!" Teran states, his dark voice growing more vicious with every word.

"Gadianton!" Beridane blurts, cowering before the assassin "His name is..." his voice trailed off and he looked around... the assassin's avatar was gone.

Teran inhales suddenly and is back in the catacombs. "Gadianton..." he murmured.

He had never heard the name before but he knew without a doubt that Beridane had not lied to him. He began his short journey out of the catacombs and headed for the feast, wanting to make a quick appearance for Mavigan and anyone else who might be concerned with his whereabouts, no longer than an hour. He had more to discuss with Jasmine before he, or perhaps they left the next morning.

Teran was not hungry but he gathered up a small plate of food and nibbled a bit while he watched everyone else enjoy the feast.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

"Now, what do we need to do to prepare? I only need to go back the room that was given to Lucant and I to retrieve the rest of my belongings then I will be ready. Lucant? What do you need my love?"

Lucant paused for a bit as he quickly formulated a plan. He began to think outloud, hoping that his plan would do something to ease Lithwyn's worry. "The High Druid of the conclave here, Dalomir, said that I was the first Demonhunter in over a century. I would suspect that this demon would not be expecting to have to contend with one. I'm sure the army also has more than enough to worry about without knowing that a demon is after their general's life. As such, I'd like to use this element of surprise to its fullest. If possible Lady Lithwyn, could I be provided with the standard issue equipment of the human division that marched with the army this morning?" He paused again, hoping he sounded like a Demonhunter to his wife and her friend, as he couldn't quite convince himself just yet. "We'll slip in with the human division and lay low until we find the demon. When the time and place is right, we'll spring the trap."

Looking at Lithwyn again, he continued. "I realize that seems a bit of a roundabout way to do things, and that it places everyone in great deal of danger depending on how fast this demon moves. If that plan is too bold for your liking, my lady, I am open to any suggestions, but I give you my word as a husband and as a man that I will not rest until Ithramir is safely in your arms again."

Written by - Turin Wallace

With speed, the combined army moved quickly across the landscape. The land was rich in color and vegetation this time of the year. With the last gasps of summer, and the onset of fall, some of the trees turned color while the others remained in vibrant hues of greens. The fields were filled with flowers of all kinds, a rich tapestry of color and life. It almost saddened Ithramir to look upon the sights before the army, such beauty to be cut short if they failed.

Then, after one last hill, the plains of Vernais stood wide and open before them. In the backdrop, the huge snowcapped mountains of the Amlug Anc, dark and imposing. In the center, with smoke ascending, was the elven fortress of Minas Aure.

“We are almost there!” Ithramir thought, as he pressed his mount to go faster.

****

Inside Minas Aure, the garrison was fighting to the last. Much like the Citadel of Lothiel-Gadith, there were many rings of the city, each then sub-sectioned off incase of such a siege. It was as if the builders had anticipated such an attack and wisely constructed the fortress to withstand an invasion, at least for awhile.

The elven garrison had been pushed back from the outer walls, the second ring, and the inner ring. Their last stand was at the great gatehouse that kept the Orcs from gaining access to the elves homeland behind them.

It was then that an elven sentry saw the large army coming to aide them. She saw the banners of the elves, intermingled with strange human ones, and even a few dwarven banners fluttering in the wind. With a shout, she yells out,

“Ortha lle hun, an lye il-awarth! Hir Ithramir tol-an min nef!”

A cheer went up from the beleaguered troops and they fought all the more harder, knowing that their friends were coming.

****

The army, hard pressed to make it to the fortress before nightfall, rode hard across the plains. Every hoof-beat drew them closer and closer to the large structure looming above the flat land. Finally, they drew close to the gates, and a horn was sounded to let the garrison open the gates.

Swinging the huge gates required time, something they had precious little of. Ithramir’s own heart stopped beating while he dismounted and waited to hear the creaking of the huge metal gates opening up. He could hear the sounds of battle inside, were any alive? Were they too late?

After what seemed an eternity, a second horn sounded from inside, and the huge gears of the gates began to move. As the doors began parting, Ithramir turned and shouted to the dismounted army behind him,

“Fear not the horrors you are about to face! Steady your spirit and your arms! Let us turn back the black tide before us; let us make safe our lands and the lands of our friends! Do not fear death, fear failure in our mission! Let the Orc know no mercy and expect none for yourself, let us kill them all, or let us die trying! Charge!”

By the time Ithramir ordered the charge, the gates had swung wide open, showing the hellish fighting inside. Elven blood and determination had opened the gates, the garrison had given most of their lives in the hopes their countrymen would exact vengeance upon their killers. Ithramir, and the elves in his charge, knew the score. Today elves, men, and dwarves would bleed together against the Orc.

Moving into the main gates, the elves led by Ithramir slammed into the tired Orc invaders. Human infantry followed, with Dwarves joining the fray merrily. The first ring of the fortress became a charnel house. As the sun sank lower, the fires from the burning city provided light to kill by. And kill they did. If there is such a thing as hell, both armies were now in it. Looking about, all one would see is the bodies of the fallen in the furnace-like red-yellow glow of flames, blood flowing in rivers on the white stone streets, and cries of the fighting, the wounded, and the dying.

Shortly after the moon rose into it’s highest arc above the mountains, Ithramir sent the word to all the commanders, via Catherin, that half of the city was taken. Orcs still held the eastern half, but the army should rest and take care of the wounded for the next few hours. Archers should be placed along the walls to continue to harass the enemy and keep watch for raids during the night. Above all, each commander was to meet with Ithramir at his command tent, located at the gatehouse.

Ithramir placed a hand against one of the steps leading up to the battlements. He was covered in blood. Taking a wet cloth given to him by a cleric, he wiped the sweat and blood from his brow. Cleaning himself off enough for the time being, he sits on the steps and begins to get reports of the fallen.

“How bad is it, Nysden?”

The chief cleric looked at the notes in front of him, then replies,

“The garrison of this place numbered twenty-five thousand. Those fit for duty are numbered at around five hundred. Wounded range in the number of two-thousand. Some of those will not survive the night. Lastly, well, we lost over twenty-two thousand, milord.”

The number rang in Ithramir’s head. So many died, how many more will need to? Showing no emotion, he then says,

“The numbers for today, how many fell from the relief column?”

Nysden looked at his notes and replied coolly,

“We fared much better, but some commanders have yet to report, so we are still a bit sketchy on human and dwarven casualties. Still, we estimate we only lost about a thousand of our own this day, with roughly another thousand wounded.

In an annoyed response, Ithramir says,

“Even one more is too many right now, have the commanders get those estimates up to you as quickly as possible.”

With a curt reply, Nysden says.

“Of course, milord.”

As Nysden turns to leave, Ithramir says,

“Nysden, the days events have left me a bit less than courteous, don’t hold it against me…too much.”

Nysden turns around, half-smiling, he replies,

“No, of course not, milord.”

Nodding to Nysden a half-smile, Ithramir leans back against the steps and waits for the other commanders to arrive soon. Catherin beats them to it, and takes a seat next to her commander, letting out a large sigh. Turning to the crimson stained elf beside him, he places a hand on her shoulder, and says,

“Well, I’ll give you credit, your lasting longer than my last adjutant. Of course, we were fighting tired Orcs, not fresh ones. Still, I think tomorrow may go well for you. You showed considerable skill today.”

Catherin turns and says,

“Thank you, milord. I was just following in your wake.”

Nodding, they both sit quietly for awhile until Catherin breaks the silence,

“We took them by surprise today, didn’t we?”

Staring off into the distance, Ithramir says,

“Yes, we did. Tomorrow won’t be as easy. Even now they will be bringing more Orcs, fresh ones, through the mountain pass from Minas Uial. That one we will need to besiege, and compared to that, this will be the easy part.”

Catherin says nothing in response. The silence between the two spoke volumes for the challenges ahead. Hearing footsteps approaching, Ithramir and Catherin stand up, and prepare to meet with the commanders who will be meeting with them about how to proceed tomorrow.

Note: Ortha lle hun, an lye il-awarth! Hir Ithramir tol-an min nef! - Raise your hearts, for we are not abandoned! Lord Ithramir comes to our aide!

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya awoke screaming, not only from the nightmares she had had, but from the buckets of cold water that had been tossed upon her. She sputtered and instinctively tried to get away, but with little avail, since she was still in the small cage. A few more buckets of water were tossed upon her, making the blood on her face and arms streak and turn pink. After getting her breath, she looked around and could see the sun had risen. She could also see that there were now two more orc driven wagons, each on with a larger cage in the back and filled with prisoners. Two orcs came to her cage, opened it, then grunted something at her. She hesitated, not knowing what they wanted and that resulted in getting poked with a sharp spear head, which promted her to move where they directed her to go. One orc opened the door to one of the other larger cages and Kaya shuddered, remembeing what had happened the night before. She backed up and felt the spear head poke into her back, but she did not care. She even felt it slice into her skin, but still did not move. No, not again, they can't make me do this again.

Yesss, I can Kaya. Kaya jumped at the sudden appearance of the voice inside her head. Ah, you thought it a dream did you? Well, it wasss not a dream, but a delissscious nightmare. Did you know that fear tassstes like sssweet wine, while death tasstess like honey. BUt of courssse you know that child; you have killed many in the name of your caussse. But today, if you are good, no killing. But if you are not, then sssweet, sssweet nourssshment. Kaya moved forward, but still not fast enough. The voice screamed. YOU WILL OBEY KAYA'TALASSS OR MORE INNOCCCENTSS WILL DIE AT YOUR HAND. NOW GET IN! Kaya put her hands over her ears and moved forward, stumbling into the cage. The other prisoners did not seem to care about their new companion and kept huddled against the bars.

You said you wnt me to kill someone. Who is it? Is it a prisoner? More children?

The voice purred, almost seductively, While that would be niccce and indeed I may have you engage is sssuch fun, we have one goal that mussst be taken care of, anything elsssse isss pleasssure.

Who? Kaya slumped against the bars, trying to find a comfortable spot while the wagon began moving down the road, hitting every rut.

All in good time child. If I told you too sssoon, it would ssspoil the fun and besssides you may try to get sssome ideasss about how to warn our target and that will never do. Now sssleep child, you mussst save up your ssstrength. Kaya suddenly felt the world spin around her, then was lost in the darkness.

The demon used some of its powers and took control of Kaya. It rendered her unconscious because it was tired of the mortal's prattling. Yes, the fear and anxiety provided nourishment, but even a demon can only stand so much. He looked around his surroundings, smiled wickedly as he looked over the other mortals in the cage. They are all weak, but oh ssso tassty. Their fear will make usss ssstrong. The demon closed Kaya's eyes and drifted off in thought, reserving its own power. Oh how I long for thisss to be over. Beridane, you think you are sssafe becaussse you know my name, but there are othersss who will sssee you tortured at their handsss. All of you mortalsss will be ssscreams at the sssight of the ttrue massster when he appearsss. My imprisssonment isss but a sssmall pricce to pay for the future. But ssssoon, with thisss ssslave, I will onccce again be free. The demon chuckled to himself and then focused on the pain and fear that was emminating from the other prisoners, basking in its warms and collecting their energy, making him stronger and stronger.

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln rode hard at the head of his company, the plains virtually flying by. Like many of his men, he was tiring. They came off a long voyage across the sea and marched to meet Ithramir, only to leave the next day for this hellish ride. But it didn't matter, they were going to do what they had forsaken their homeland to do: fight for a worthy cause.

Finally, they reached the gates, and a horn was sounded for them to open. After several nerve-wracking moments of nothing being heard but the fighting on the other side, the gates began to swing open. Everyone dismounted, and Ithramir turned to address the assembled army.

“Fear not the horrors you are about to face! Steady your spirit and your arms! Let us turn back the black tide before us; let us make safe our lands and the lands of our friends! Do not fear death, fear failure in our mission! Let the Orc know no mercy and expect none for yourself, let us kill them all, or let us die trying! Charge!”

The gates were fully open, revealing the carnage on the other side. Isuiln yanked his twin swords from their sheathes, the faint blue glow emanating from them leaving short tracers in the air behind them. These were powerful swords, enchanted with great magic. And they were about to taste orc blood again, for the first time in many years. Isuiln dashed for the gates, among the forefront of the charge, and he could almost feel Aylan behind him, as he always was. The nearest two orcs had their backs to him, and he ran them both through, pulling his swords free before the orcs even realized they had been hit.

As his swords came out, the glow changed, and became orange. Isuiln moved on, dancing his blades through orc after orc, and each fallen enemy turned the blades more and more red, and Isuiln began moving, faster and faster, until he seemed nearly encased in a red glow as his swords twirled around him, twin blurs that ended the life of every orc that came near. Aylan followed him doggedly, doing his best to keep up and not let Isuiln become overwhelmed.

Isuiln pushed harder, deeper into the orcs, swinging his blades with speed that no orc could match, and accuracy no orc could escape. He was far from invincible though; his leather armor was sliced through in several places, though the wounds across his torso and back were shallow, and a dagger protruded from his left thigh, were a dying orc had placed it as Isuiln had passed. Isuiln had yet to notice it. He felt no pain. No thoughts crossed his mind. All he could do was kill, and to stop killing while any enemies were in sight was to die.

After what seemed like days of fighting, the orcs were pushed out to the Eastern Half of the city, the fighting over for the moment. Isuiln stood hunched, gasping and panting, his eyes darting about, looking for another to kill. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and swung around, almost taking Aylan's head off before he restrained himself.

"Captain, the orcs are beaten back. The fighting is done." Glancing down at Isuiln's swords, thick with blood, which only enchanced the red glow, he shook his head. He also saw the dagger in Isuiln's leg, and pulled it out. His captain didn't even seem to notice. "Ithramir has called for all the commanders to meet, but I'll go in your stead. From the look of your swords, you'll soon be in no shape to do any talking."

Isuiln only nodded, still very tense, his mind now racing, all the thoughts that had been suppressed before now flooding his brain. He cleared his thoughts, and knew what he had to do next. He entered the nearest building, a small shop, stepping over the corpses, and made his way to what must have been the owner's living quarters. Sitting down in a chair, he pulled a pouch from his side that was always with him, and withdrew a small bowl. It was gold, and intricately carved. Any with magic sensitivity would sense the strong enchantments on this bowl, remarkably similar to that of the swords. But this bowl had very pure magic upon it, while the swords had much darker magic.

"Evil to be used against itself, and good to cleanse it's weilder," he muttered to himself. He set the small bowl on the table, and picked up one of his swords. Using the point, he cut a small line diagonally across his hand. Picking up the other sword, he cut another line the other way. Holding his hand over the bowl, he squeezed, letting a droplet fall into the bowl. The instant it hit, he ceased to be himself. In his mind, he was suddenly an orc, the first one he had killed several hours earlier. He saw himself fighting an elf, preparing to hack him down, when suddenly he felt searing pain in his chest. He collapsed to the ground, rapidly bleeding to death, he saw the elf with the glowing orange blades, who had struck him down, then all went black. Isuiln gasped as he came back to himself, still feeling the pain of the orc, grasping at the phantom wound to stem the pain. He spent a few moments collecting himself as the excrutiating pain faded, then moved his hand back over the bowl, and squeezed a second drop out. He experienced the death of his second victim. Then another drop, and his third. He kept doing this, over and over, looking more haggard and pale with each death experience. Over, and over, and over. Until at last, he came to his last kill of the evening. As he came back to himself, all the weariness of the battle came over him, and for the first time, he felt the pain of his own wounds. He opened his mouth to scream as he fell out of the chair, but didn't even have the energy to do that. He hit the floor with a resounding thump!, but he was unconsious before he even hit. He laid there, comatose, the bowl still on the table, yet mysteriously there was no longer a trace of the blood it had held, and his two swords at his sides, once again glowing a faint blue.

Meanwhile, Aylan was with Ithramir, reporting their casualties, which were blessedly low, though many suffered injuries that, while not life threatening, were often dabilitating. He sat through the meeting with the commanders, and after it was through, he headed for the building he had seen his Captain enter. He went to the back and found Isuiln unconsious on the floor, looking as if he had been through hell and back again. He cleaned him off, dressed his wounds, and hauled him bodily into the single bed. He then closed the door, and propped himself against it, so no one could enter without him knowing, and slept, weariness overcoming his worries of the battles to come.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Diosr smiled grimly as the gates opened before him, the carnage of Elves fighting desperately to hold back the Orcs long enough to get the gates open. Despite racial pride, he had to admit the Elves fought with a skill and ferocity that was splendid to behold. Calming his mind, Diosr focused his thoughts so that the connections between body and ax were seamless.

Finding the calmness he knew so well Diosr turned to his Dwarves. Each one of them held their axes ready to chop the Orcs in front of them. One thousand strong Dwarves began pounding their feet as Lord Ithramir gave his speech at the front of the line.

Starting a war chant of his own he felt his blood rise as his men joined the chant.

“When the Dwarves go to war
The mountains hear their call.
The ground shakes and cracks,
Even the mighty fall.

When Dwarves go to battle
Wearing gleaming, Mithral mail,
Ready to face any foe,
Never thinking they may fail.”

Ending in a final crescendo of power Diosr turned back to face the gates and laughed mightily, adding an fierceness to the war mask he wore.

Though the Elves had the honor of being the first to charge, this being their battle above all others, the Dwarves following barely a step behind and beside the Humans. The sound of thousands of pounding feet pounded around Diosr but nothing could shatter his focus now. Before reaching the battle line Diosr took three bounding steps forward, adding enough momentum to his first forward stroke that it cleaved straight through two large Orcs. Stepping in between two elven warriors he stepped in time with them, pushing forward through the mass of black bodies before him.

Diosr knew his objective. He and his men were to take the upper walk ways of the inner rings. He ducked a swipe from a dark great sword which took off the head of the Elven warrior to the left of him. Roaring his rage in counter point to the Orcs bellow he swung his Great Ax upwards, splitting the Orc in half from the groin up in a splash of dark red blood.

He had a long day ahead of him.

****

The day was cold, though the snows were light the cold breeze waifing through the village promised more snow fall to come. Inside a wooden Inn the regulars and guests of the night played their games drank their fill of decent enough beer.

Another soft breeze went through the Inn as a woman stepped through. She wore deep black robes that covered her body quite throughly. Moving her head from side to side she scanned the room before stepping forward to the bartender and sat down, asking for a glass of water.

Most had not taken more than one look at this woman, strangers with strange customs were not entirely rare around here. However, over the next many days in the future, they would begin to wish they hadn't been so open. Lifting a vial from her belt she poured the contents into the water and watched as it bubbled softly.

Letting a small chuckle escape her throat before she gasped in pain and dropped the glass, clutching her hand and watching it fall to the ground in a shatter of broken pieces. Men and women around the bar whipped their heads around and the closest men moved forward, helping the woman back into her chair and asking if she was ok.

Nodding softly the woman smiles and excuses herself to a bed. Once she reaches the newly rented room she laughed greatly, until it hurt, her plan was beginning.

****

Diosr leaned against his Great Ax as he spoke to Lord Ithramir. His breast plate and chain mail dented and splattered with blood of all kinds.

“Lord Ithramir, this day has been a glorious battle, and my men hope for many more like it.”

Taking a deep, needful breath Diosr continued, “I understand you wish to know how many of us died or are on our shields*, well, at last I checked the confirmed deaths was 54 with the seriously wounded numbering 90. Most likely 80 of those will live the night.”

Turning slightly so he could see more of the city around him, he watched as his orderly Crossbowmen sporadically took shots at Orcs along the walls walk ways and in the streets below, waiting for Lord Ithramir's reponse.

****

Nodding to Sir Wilhelm she stepped away from the table and took out a wrapped box. Slowly she made her way to the Queens area of the party. Spinning and twirling around to make her way to Queen Mavigan and softly presented her with the small box in both hands.

“I am sorry for the way we originally met Queen Mavigan .. I humbly request your forgiveness and accept this token of hopefully a future friendship.”

On our shields. On His shield. And other such says involving a man laying on his shield all mean wounded and unable to fight again without healing in Dwarven language. It is the closest translation from actual Dwarven language.

Written by - Ardwen

He held it reverently, not knowing what to think. Here, in his very hands, was the blade his late commander had born into battle so many times. There had never been an occasion when Ardwen did not listen to Turin’s commands, for while the Priest of Battle could be strict, he was a man that one naturally wanted to follow. As befitting his position, Turin had often given rallying speeches on godliness and piety, but after the talks were done those same speeches didn’t stop him from taking up a flagon with his men in the Red Drake Inn.

Turin had turned a collection of men into an army, one that performed great deeds in the service of the city of Ancora as she expanded her influence and grace throughout Aerynth. All the Priest of Battle afterwards maintained his fine tradition, until in the waning years before the betrayal when the office was officially dissolved. And now, so many years later Ardwen had in his grasp the very blade of the first Priest of Battle. The Elf did not know if it qualified as a relic, though he would not speak ill of his commander he wasn’t exactly saint material all the time. Still, the blade was not something to sneer at, even if one were to disregard its past, the Dwarves had inlaid their runes in it, and at the very least it was a consecrated weapon.

“But then,” thought Ardwen, “That’s not the problem. I don’t doubt the authenticity of this sword, so it raises more questions than answers. This blade proves everything: Alaric’s claims, the similarities in names, places, and people; it may even provide a hint to my arrival. So why does it feel like I’m holding a scalding iron in my hands?”

Ardwen looked down at the blade again. He had wrapped it once more in its protective leather and had it cradled in his arms, but even the brief unveiling Alaric had allowed dispelled all of Ardwen’s doubts. But as much as he may love the blade he carried now, it was Alaric’s words he valued more. He had mentioned Aethelwulf, the very architect of Ancora, departing from this realm. More significantly perhaps, the blade meant that the Hands had come here, that some may still remain here, and if they didn’t then either their remains or some further clues did.

“This world, “Ardwen’s mind continued, “has very suddenly become too precious to lose. How many years has it been? I was always content before I joined them to just fight. Let anyone else find a reason for me, so long as I got to swing my sword. It was all I ever had and all I ever needed. I didn’t fight because I had something to commit myself to or for, I fought because I didn’t want to die. They, they were the ones who changed me. I failed them miserably, I’ve become the very thing I hated.”

“I’m so sorry.” Ardwen spoke the words beneath his breath, “I’m just not the man you tried to make me. I’ve failed you Abbess; I’ve failed all of you. But, if this is truly the last place that you came to know . . . then I can do one final thing for you.”

Suddenly Renalis flies next to Ardwen’s mount, the mage looks at him and speaks, "I do not seek to profess that I know you sir, but I will tell you this - I too have lost much and know at least in part the pain you feel. You have not lived too long and there is more to your life than to just die in the great battle ahead. Live on. Live in spite of those that tried to take it all from you and help these people, the descendants of your friends. Fight alongside them and protect the kingdom as you once did. Do not go quietly into that good night. You and I sir shall carve a bloody path in these Orcs for daring to attack. We shall help destroy them and save these people. Not because it is the only thing we are long for, but because it is just and right, and because Ancora needs help."

The mage placed a hand on Ardwen’s shoulder and continued, "I shall go with you if you would allow me the honour, friend, and we shall see the graves of your friends who would have defended and went on defending Ancora until their last days." Renalis removed his hand and kept flying, his face deep and pensive.

“Renalis.” Ardwen began slowly, “I will neither tell you to fight with or apart from me, the choice is entirely yours. But as for me living . . . five thousand years is a long time. Everything has passed me by, empire’s crumble, whole worlds change, and friend’s die. But I won’t die yet, if I can help it. Orcs threaten the blood . . . and there is the matter of my friends’ resting places.”

Ardwen lowered his head, his eyes narrowed, and his voice became iced steel, “That Renalis, that I will die for. Nothing will keep me from paying one last regard to them, nothing. I do not care if every Orc ever spawned stands in my path, if all the nations of the world bar my way, or if the very gods themselves deny it. I will see them . . . before the end, whatever that may be.”

The countryside rolled by as the army made haste to their besieged comrades. Trees splashed with colors contrasted sharply with those of verdant green; small flowers dotted the hills and meadows. Finally, they crested one final hill, and there before Ardwen stood the most beautiful sight of all: a beleaguered fortress set against a backdrop of towering snowcapped mountains. Smoke plumed in billowing sable from the fortress, they’re time was desperately short. Ithramir urged the army on, and man and horse focused their efforts on devouring the distance the plans presented.

The host of Elves, Men, and Dwarves was hard pressed to reach the fortress before nightfall. A horn resounded from Ithramir’s vanguard, and for what seemed an eternity silence followed it. Ardwen took the time to dismount, stretching his legs and reaching one arm back to grasp the grip of the large sword on his back. Of Turin’s sword Ardwen left it tucked safely in a scabbard on his mount – he would not defile the memory of his commander, if he was to die today then so be it, but he would fight and die as an Avari for his people.

At last a second horn reported back, and the distinct sound of metal on metal rang out from the gatehouse as the huge doors began to swing wide. Ithramir spoke again, “Fear not the horrors you are about to face! Steady your spirit and your arms! Let us turn back the black tide before us; let us make safe our lands and the lands of our friends! Do not fear death, fear failure in our mission! Let the Orc know no mercy and expect none for yourself, let us kill them all, or let us die trying! Charge!” Almost unconsciously the berserker had taken a few steps toward the visible slaughter in the first ring of the fortress defenses. When the word to charge finally issued from Ithramir Ardwen ran with all the speed he could muster toward the gatehouse.

Every pounding footstep took him closer to the battle, right before reaching the Orc host Ardwen swept his eyes over the scene, a morbid conglomeration of charnel sights and acrid smells. Ardwen rushed toward the first Orc he could find as Ithramir’s vanguard crashed into the Orcish horde. That first Orc died as Ardwen’s huge blade clove it from naves to chops, Ardwen twisted and the sword swept in a wide arc from right to left. The berserker heard a few Orcs shout out in their strange guttural tongue, and one even managed to put a sword in the way of Ardwen’s blade and his body. It was not enough. Ardwen’s sword split steel and then flesh as the warrior drove the blade on with the momentum of his body and the force of his arms. One, two, and finally a third caught in the back as he tried to scamper away fell to the ground dead.

Snarling Ardwen pressed forward, and three Orcs rushed him. Two of them carried a spear, and the third was using a sword and shield. The ones with the spear thrust forward and made a simultaneous stab toward the Elf, Ardwen twisted and brought his blade down at an angle, snapping the spear shafts like kindling in a diagonal cut. Ardwen snapped his blade forward and used the flat of the sword to smash the closest spearmen in the skull, a booming ”crack” echoed through the air and teeth, blood, and snot shot out from where the Orc’s face used to be. The other spearmen looked down at his broken spear, he looked at the blood-covered berserker, and he ran.

The Orcish swordsman apparently thought better of fighting though, and he quickly closed ranks as Ardwen withdrew his smashing hit. The Orc moved in with a quick overhand chop of his blade, and Ardwen was forced to make an awkward parry by bringing his blade near his shoulder and holding it horizontally. The Orc swordsman hooted in exhilaration as he pressed down with his sword, hoping to drive the Elf off-balance and finish him. Ardwen smiled and pressed back. The Orc grunted and stumbled back a few steps as his blade was tossed up with the pressure the berserker exerted. It was not much of an opening, barely a few seconds and risky, but Ardwen took it.

The Orc was wearing a helm that protected his cheeks and brow, but not his face. Ardwen thrust one black-clad hand into the Orc’s exposed flesh, digging his armored fingers into the Orc’s eyes and skin. The Orc squealed and dropped his sword as both its hands groped for Ardwen’s one. Ardwen moved his right foot back, and flung the Orc to the ground while he stepped back. The Orc lay on the ground bleeding and whimpering; Ardwen brought up his blade and used the flat to crush its head like a rotten melon. Blood, brains, and the gods’ know what else sprayed in all directions.

Ardwen did not revel in the gore though; he swiftly brought his blade back into a consummate guard, and saw the vast host of Orcs that still stood. Another Orc stepped forward, this one using a flail. The Orc twirled the spiked orbs with some skill, but the sectional nature flail would prove his undoing as Ardwen brought his sword out from left to right, snapping the weapon out wide, and using the return blow to eviscerate the beast where he stood. ”Pathetic!” Ardwen roared, “Is this the limit to your strength? Is this all you fetid sons of bitches can muster? Fight me! Fight me damn you!”

And fight they did. Orc after Orc after Orc took up the challenge, and Orc after Orc after Orc was laid low by the Elf. The Elf did not go without wounds though, a gash traced its way across his right cheek, and the Elf was painfully aware that his lack of a helm made his head a tempting target. The fight pressed on, and even Ardwen’s arms started complaining of the effort. But at the end when the Orc host was finally pressed back, most of the blood that coated the Elf was his foes. The fires from the burning city had given enough light to finish the battle, but even then the moon had reached its zenith before the order to halt and consolidate was given.

Ardwen placed the tip of his blade against the ground and leaned on it, his breath came in deep gusting bellows. He looked around him and nodded, they had won for now. The Elf brushed a hand against the wound that cross his cheek, but of course he could not feel it for the metal gauntlets he wore. The Elf worked his mouth, it was a little sore, but nothing serious. There would doubtless be those with far more serious wounds. There was, however, something seriously concerning him.

He looked about for Ithramir, and found him easily enough. Ardwen did not approach him, he merely propped himself against a cool stone wall with his sword. Ithramir was seated on a flight of stairs that lead to a nearby battlement; already he seemed occupied with reports and commands. Ardwen merely glanced at him from time to time, but he was far enough away to not seem like one petitioning to see him, and in truth the Elf did not desire to speak to him. It was strange, but it was in fact the armor that had drawn Ardwen near. “This sable suit is his gift, or curse.” thought Ardwen, “Either way, it distracted me in today’s battle. I could . . . feel it. I couldn’t give myself entirely over to the bloodlust. I was . . . afraid. Afraid of what it might do, afraid of what I might do. Gods, listen to me! Afraid, a warrior of Avari afraid to grasp his own damn weapon! I’m getting soft, I should’ve used it.”

Suddenly that one thought seemed bolded in the warrior’s mind. “Yes,” Ardwen’s thoughts streamed along, “I should have used it! I will use it! I am the master here! It’s not sentient, why was I afraid it could manipulate me? Ha, I’m being a fool. I’ve nothing to fear . . . I am strong enough. Yes . . . soon . . . very soon.” A half-smile crossed the Elf’s face, and he remained propped against the wall thinking of other things. But, he was glad the struggle with the armor was resolved, and he was especially pleased that he was so clearly the victor.

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