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Book Two - A Gathering Storm

Written by - Ezikial Page 17 Book 2

A gentle wind played across an open plain, dancing with the wild flowers and weeds alike, leaving criss-crossing patterns in its wake. The sun had just begun to rise, alighting atop golden stalks of wild growing wheat. The scene seemed serene, a tranquil pasture that went on like an endless sea. All was in place, save for a figure, which darted across the small hills and creeks. His pace was brisk, and he would disappear among the tall grain only to jump out of it a moment later. Crickets and birds alike stopped their songs abruptly at his approach, enough equipment on his back to field an army jangling along as his deep breathing kept pace with his pounding feet. But it wasn't for the noise he made that the surrounding wildlife quieted; a feeling grew at his passing, spreading like the wind outward along the plain. He was headed for war.

For the past three days, Ezikial Stonebrewer, son of Clan Stonebrewer, had marched at a pace only a dwarf's legendary stamina could endure. He was aided, of course, by the thought of reaching his goal quickly; a war against orcs, a battle that would ring for centuries in legends and myth. No Stonebrewer would miss it for the world.

So it came as a surprise to Ezikial when he found himself summoned before King Trevor IronFist himself, leader of the dwarven clans under Graedium peak. Ezikial would never forget the look that his dwarven king had etched upon his face, worn so often as of late. His face was as carved and set as the magnificent throne room he dwelt in; his grim tone echoed in his grim words. Orcs has once again amassed, and he feared that the inner discussion of the three kings of Kazukthul would muddle supplies and dwarven reinforcements from ever reaching the allied forces assault. Ezikial was to serve as an advance scout and support for the allies, as well as an ambassador of his people. Warriors and supplies alike would follow as they could be pulled from the homeland effort of defending the kingdom against the local orc clans.

Ezikial kneeled before his King as he was given his order. The dwarven warrior lowered his eyes, as much out of respect for his King as to hide the excitement dancing within him. True war had never been seen on such a scale by his homeland, only the constant feints and skirmishes with the local orc tribes. To be allowed the position of the first Stonebrewer, nay, the first warrior from Kazukthul to set foot on this battlefield was an honor he and his clan would treasure for centuries. He listened patiently to his lord, willing himself to be still and stoic as his final orders were handed down. It took all of his will to keep at a steady pace on his way to his small room, where he quickly loaded a light pack. Only a few essential supplies of dried rations, and his emergency flask of ale, tucked safely behind his archanthite breastplate does he take with him. The rest of his armor, as well as his shield and newly forged axe, affectionately dubbed Cutter, are stowed in or on his travel pack. Darkness had fallen when he finally made his way to the snowy slopes that guarded his home. His orders left him little time to say goodbye, and with one long look at his mountain home, glittering in the moonlight, he began his journey.

A doe and her fawn jumped from their bedding, only a few feet from the dwarven warrior. He paid little heed to them a they disappeared through the pasture; his eyes were locked straight ahead, his mind and spirit already at the battle that lay ahead of him.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Morning's first light crept across the captain's quarters. Leov, Glen, and Dom sat slumped over a large circular table going over a chart of the surrounding seas. "Leov... we've been out here for four days... we're low on food, the whiskey's nearly gone, and there's bound to be ships out looking for us. We can't just keep sailing around aimlessly," Glen pleaded as he slammed a fist down on the table. Steadying one the shaken candlesticks, Dom offered what seemed to be the only viable solution: "I've heard that the elves at Lothiel-Gadith took in the survivors after the coup. If we go all-out, we should be able to make it there by late tonight." Yawning, Leov firmly replied "We're going for Shrikefield. At full speed we can make it to Tarka in just three more days. The supplies'll hold that long." Glen, in a fit of rage, stood up from the table and yelled "Damn your iron will Leov! I thought you wanted to save our people!? Would you have them starve to death at sea for your own stubborness!?" Raising his voice in turn, Leov responded gravely: "I AM thinking of our people, you fool! Of course we can get to Lothiel-Gadith sooner, but do you think we'll be safe there with those war-mongering elves? Their fortress are falling one by one to the orcs! It's only a matter of time... I'd rather push the supplies a little and make sure everyone is safe in Shrikefield than damn us all to the fires of war..." his voice trailed off as Glen saw how serious he was.

Tiertiala's Grace continued steadily southward throughout the morning and late into the afternoon. A call came down from the crow's nest that shattered the uneasy peace that had settled over the ship: "'Skane ship on the starboard! It's just sittin' there! It's the Iron Hand! What do we do, Cap'n!?" The wind blew fiercely and Leov looked up towards the sky - almost as if he knew - before taking command, "Move to approach! Get the women and children below deck! Everyone else prepare to board!" After closing the distance and boarding, Dom stated the obvious, "Everyone's gone... what happened here..." Leov, uneasy about the situation, barked out orders like any good captain would: "Everyone spread out and search the ship, see if you can find out what happened. Get the food and whiskey first, after that take whatever weapons and other supplies you can. Someone get that flag down, too, that's sure to come in use."

The ship was deathly quiet and a thick air hung about it. Leov headed down to the holds with Glen and Dom in tow without seeing a single Ironskane soldier - alive or dead. Seeing everyone already underway looting the holds, Leov turned to Glen. "I never did thank you properly for saving my neck Glen. Let's go see what was in those crates you were asking about." As the trio cracked open one of the heavy crates, a cloud of dust exploded into the hold. Amidst coughing and wiping their eyes, they peered in to see a motley collection of tarnished old statues, stacks upon stacks of dusty books, and some old weapons - mainly daggers and a few swords - resting in the crate. Leov picked up one of the daggers and examined it briefly before placing it in his belt, then picked up one of the swords and exclaimed "It's all a bunch of junk!" as he drew the old sword from its sheath. He noticed the intricate engravings that ran the length of the blade and a name that read Sulrista, though he thought nothing of it as he swung the blade down expecting the dull edge to bounce harmlessly off but instead easily lodged it in the wooden crate. "Easy there, kid. This stuff looks pretty old, but it seems like its in good condition. Maybe we can sell it for a high price when we get wherever we're going." Dom said as Leov pulled the sword out of the crate and sheathed it in his belt. "Fine by me. You guys finish up down here. I'm going to check out the captain's quarters."

Upon entering the captain's room, Leov felt an unnatural chill rack his entire body and his eyes were instantly drawn to an old book laying open on the captain's desk with a pitch black ribbon marking the page where the captain had stopped reading. Leov rumaged through the captain's wardrobe and found a red knee-length coat trimmed with gold accents. He muttered to himself about it being bought with Kassal's riches as he put it on to combat the deathly chill. Moving over to the open book, he was horrified by what he saw: it was written in some language he had never seen before in what appeared to be dried blood; several crude drawings depicted some sort of disgusting ritual, and the captain had scrawled several small notes in the margins. His horror grew as he flipped through the heavy pages seeing the same thing. Unable to bear the sight anymore, he slammed the book shut and cut open the captain's pillow with the stolen dagger. Scattering the goose down across the room, he quickly wrapped up the book and hurried out the door, nearly running over Glen in the process. Steadying his shaken brother, Glen said "Leov... this ship hasn't been adrift all that long... it was heading towards Shrikefield, not Westgale." He showed Leov the navigator's charts to prove his point. The wind blew fiercely once more and Leov turned his head skyward. "I know... I know... I'll do as you wish...my goddess" he thought. He turned back to Glen and said with all the seriousness of that morning "Whatever happened on this ship, it wasn't natural... get everyone out of here, NOW!" As Glen hurried to pass the news, Leov caught Dom and yelled "Change the course, we're heading to Lothiel-Gadith! Dom looked confused, but obeyed his orders nevertheless.

After everyone was safely back aboard Tiertiala's Grace Leov ordered the Iron Hand burned and explained the situation to Glen and Dom, he went to his room and sat the book on the table. "I hope I'm doing the right thing..." he said to the cats sitting on his bed.

Sulrista litterally means "Wind Cutter."

Written by - Rikshanthas

Sharanya woke sometime before dawn, roused from a fitful sleep by the sounds carrying from the nearby army's encampment. She sat up in her bedroll and stretched, blinking sleep from her eyes and not quite suppressing a yawn. One hand instinctively moved to comb her once beautiful red-gold hair, now a muddy, matted brown mess. She jerked her hand back in disgust. Folding her bedroll as neatly as possible, she stuffed it in a pack on Nightwind's back and looked around for Lienad, finding him crouched on a rock outcropping observing the campfires intently.

"Have you been watching that camp all night?" she asked testily. The man never did rest when he should. "Most of it," he replied flatly. "Didn't sleep much." He looked toward the brightening horizon that heralded the new dawn, absently fingering the long sheath of daggers across his leather tunic. His gaze flew back to the camp when they heard a horn call ring out, and he saw most of the fires were gone, with those remaining being rapidly extinguished as the army began to move out. Noting the direction they were marching, he rose and walked leisurely back to where Nightwind stood. "Relief army off to break the siege at Minas Aure, coming from the Citadel no doubt," he said, his eyes backtracking the army's course as he tossed the few items they had removed back into the travel packs and adjusted them on the mare's back. "We'll wait for them to get some distance before we head there."

"Hells with that!" she shot back. "Those are my people fighting and dying at Minas Aure, I'll not cower at Lothiel-Gadith like a little girl!" she said, her voice dripping with rancor. Her fists clenched at her sides and she squared her shoulders defiantly. Lienad sighed softly, realizing he'd have to knock her unconscious to get her to the Citadel, and he wanted a fight as much as she did. "Fine," he said after a moment's pause. "But you're not going anywhere near the front lines," he added in stern warning, passing her his shortsword, bow and quiver, and deftly jumping to the saddle, pulling Sharanya up behind him. So much for refugee status, he thought ruefully.

As they cantered down the hill toward the marching army, Lienad realized the troops weren't dallying - he stepped Nightwind up to a full gallop in an attempt to catch up to the mounted force, easing back when he realized it was pointless, and the best he could do without taxing his mount was to keep pace with them. "I'd wager they'll make the fortress by nightfall, at this rate," he said over his shoulder.

They arrived at Minas Aure's gates in full dark, over an hour after the avenging army entered the city. After a brief spat with one of the guards, which Sharanya defused just before Lienad would have punched the fool, they came into Minas Aure itself. The organized chaos typical of a city besieged made it difficult for the pair to find someone who could bring them up to speed on the status of the siege and the effort to retake the city. However, once they learned where they would be useful, Sharanya was quick to take up a position with the archers and let fly a lethal barrage, sometimes shooting up to three arrows simultaneously with the unerring accuracy of one much practiced and naturally gifted.

Lienad, meanwhile, sailed into the orcs like a mad dragon, Khelek'urya shining as it flashed through leather and hide like thin glass, shattered steel and bone, its chill edge making even minor blows often fatal. Blood froze and cracked before it could stain the curved crystalline blade. His own had turned to ice the moment he drew the ancient sword, and he proceeded to coldly cut down all who challenged him, without compassion or fear, stopping only when he stood alone. The sensible orcs had retreated to a safe distance from his position, as had the elves and humans who had observed his rash advance. As soon as he lowered his blade, fatigue and pain set in, and he limped back to the makeshift infirmary, sheathing Khelek'urya only once he was well away from the fighting.

He found Sharanya there tending the wounded; just as he was about to wonder what had brought her away from the archers' positions, he noticed the limp in her step - and the wide bandage around her left thigh that indicated its cause. When she caught sight of him, she swore and rushed over to help treat his numerous injuries, her expression equal parts concern for his welfare and disgust at his recklessness. He stoically endured her ministrations, accepting the draught she passed him in the hope it might warm the chill that always gripped him when he wielded Khelek'urya. Once he was suitably stitched and bandaged, she left him with a firm command to get some rest, since dawn was no more than an hour away - he'd fought the entire night. No sooner had he laid his head down than fatigue overtook him.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen had cleaned his armor and blade, and in fact he had spent most of the night restless . . . constantly passing an oiled cloth over his steel in an effort to settle his nerves. It wasn’t the upcoming battle that had the Elf so anxious, far from it, it was an almost “sixth sense” feeling he’d been getting since he resolved to use the armor in the coming battle.

It was all so much rubbish though. Regardless of what the armor was actually capable of fully utilized Ardwen knew he could handle it. Did he not hail from the Age of Twilight on the world of Aerynth? What horrors could possible exist here that would give him pause? “I’ve been too long amongst the lessers here.” Ardwen murtered under his breath. But the words rang hollow even to the warrior; they lacked his usual conviction and vehemence.

So much had occurred so quickly, events piling on events until it all came to a head on the journey to Minas Aure. The warrior’s resolve had wavered ever since Alaric had handed him Turin’s blade. He’s left the Priest of Battle’s sword on his mount, feeling himself entirely too inadequate to wield such a revered weapon. But if the issue were only a sword, this would all have been much simpler. The real problem was the fact that the blade was hard proof that the Hands had arrived on this world . . . some one hundred and fifty years ago.

That left Ardwen with precious few choices. Likely, most of those who had originally arrived had long since passed away, and all Ardwen would find would be their gravestones. Still, Alaric had mentioned something of Aethelwulf (Ellestor have mercy) leaving. “Turin’s sword . . .” Ardwen said while staring vacantly upward. The Elf merely sighed and began working his way toward a frontal regiment for the coming battle. Though the Elves here were different, they were eager to fight; Ardwen found himself having to push and jostle for position at the front.

The prospect was made much easier though when Ithramir called out to him from the mass of warriors, “Ardwen, join us to be the first into the enemy. You fought well yesterday, you have much skill, and a fellow elf is always welcome to fight with me.”

Ardwen bowed his head in thanks and replied, “May the Ellestor praise you kano Ithramir, you do me a great honor.” The commanders were quick in getting the amassing host into ranks and formation. With a simple motion from Ithramir the gates are thrown wide and Ithramir gives but one initial command: follow.

The fighting on the other side was swift and fierce. The Orcs had positioned the level with archers and packs of soldiers in houses or narrow alleys. Ardwen lost himself in the fighting. There was nothing to him but his sword and the enemy, no sacred blade from a man he believed dead, no guilt for all the innocents he’d killed, only thoughts of how to wield his sword and kill the foe. In what seemed no time the main body of the Orc forces had been routed and the fighting turned to more intimate flushing of any remaining pockets of Orc resistance. The fighting was deadly, but Ardwen joined up with any party of Elves he could find to help systematically flush the Orcs out.

It was outside of a small one-story house that Ardwen would meet one of his greatest challenges yet. “I suppose you want to go in first Ardwen?” One of the Elves in the small band of ten (including Ardwen) said.

Ardwen grinned, he was enjoying himself, “Worried I won’t leave anything for you kinsmen?”

The Elf who had spoken to him the first time merely shook his head, “I told you, call me Elrin. There’s no reason to be so formal. The only thing I’m worried about friend is not getting back to my family . . . I miss my wife already.”

Ardwen nodded slowly, “You let this one go in alone then. I’ve no wife or anyone waiting on me.”

Elrin merely scoffed, “You may be strong but there’s no telling how many are on the other side of that door. You can't protect everyone mellonamin, sometimes you just have to let go.”

It was Ardwen’s turn to scoff now, “Let go? What a particularly un-Elven thing to say. But have it your way, time’s wasting.”

Ardwen took one swing at the wooden door and brought it crashing down, immediately they charged into the room, Ardwen at the fore. They rushed into a room full of Orcs. Ardwen pivoted to his side and brought his greatsword down and across his body, using the flat of the blade to shield himself. It was an instinctual move, for the Orc archers had loosed their arrows when the door crumbled down. Ardwen heard several arrowheads strike his blade, and heard a few more report into the walls with a resounding “thunk”.

The small band of Elves was hard pressed to fight in the cramped quarters, and the Orcs had both the advantages of numbers and preparation. Scanning the Orcish ranks quickly Ardwen found that’d placed about five archers at the rear of the room, the remaining Orcs bared the way to them. In the cramped quarters Ardwen had little room to swing his massive blade unless he wished to kill a fellow Elf, he let the sword fall to the ground and brought out his T’lnarions, the curved swords of a Bladeweaver.

An Orc stepped in front of him, Ardwen shifted his stance, the Orc lunged, and its lunge met with “The Dance of Flames”. The Dance of Flames shifted to The Dance of Water, and another Orc fell. Another five arrows streaked through the room, and Ardwen was forced to snap his cloak in front of him in the vain hope of batting any incoming arrows to the side. By sheer luck his hand caught one as it flew in, but luck wasn’t entirely with him. The sharp arrowhead grazed the warrior’s gauntlet, and Ardwen could feel blood and warmth flowing from his left hand.

Elrin wasn’t so lucky. Not as heavily armored as Ardwen the archers had picked him out, and Ardwen caught the sight of two feathered shafts quivering out of the Elf’s chest before he fell to the ground. Ardwen let out a bestial howl. He had failed to protect the Hands, had failed his friends, and now he was failing his people. He flipped the two T’lnarions in his hands and launched them at the Orc archers in the back, they both found home and a moment later there were three archers. Ardwen dove and snatched up his large blade, and then his thoughts faded.

When he came to, a moment (though in truth it felt like hours) later the room was filled with Orcish dead. Out of the ten Elves who had entered the small house six still stood. Elrin was already dead along with three others, four more were wounded though their injuries did not look severe. That was when Ardwen noticed that the remaining living were staring at him, or rather at a point near him. Ardwen followed their gaze and noticed that he had his blade extended upward, and on the end was an impaled Orc, its dead feet not even touching the ground. Ardwen lowered the blade and kicked it off.

The Elf walked over to Elrin’s corpse and knelt down. He merely looked, and spoke no words. A moment later a thunderous “boom” echoed in the air. One of the Elves looked up at Ardwen, “They’ve reached the gate with a battering ram. We need to tend to the dead and wounded . . . you’d . . . are you alright Ardwen? You fought like hell, you split five – forgive me – you look like hell too.”

“Where is the gate?” Was Ardwen’s reply.

“They’ll be soldiers flooding toward it in preparation of the gate falling. Likely Ithramir himself will lead the van into the fray again. Follow the men and you’ll reach it soon enough. But are you sure you want to go? Gods be good friend you look as if you’ve seen your own grave.”

“I’ve been staring at that for some time, let me go.”

The other Elf merely nodded yes in reply, and Ardwen walked out the door of the slaughterhouse. True to his words, men and equipment were being ferried up to the gate where a Dwarven battering ram was already smashing into it. Ardwen saw Ithramir, he’d received a grazing wound on his neck somehow in the fighting, and Ardwen felt his guilt anew . . . he had said to follow him. But the fighting was so intense, and there were so many that needed help that . . .

“Making excuses again?” Ardwen heard himself thinking.

“No, there were too many that needed my help. I cannot be everywhere at once. This is a war, men die.” Ardwen replied to . . . himself.

“Needed your help? Yes, your aid certainly did Elrin good, did his corpse remember to thank you?”

“Shut up!”

“Did Ariana thank you as well?”

Ardwen’s face contorted into a mask of rage, his breathing came in hisses between clenched jaws, he made replay to himself, “Ariana might have came to this world. I never found her or anyone! I died fighting for them!”

“Once again, a lot of good that did. You’re pathetic. A swordsman who cannot protect even those he loves! Because you’re weak! Weak and you are ashamed to admit it! Release me!”

“Wha . . . ahh . . . hel-.” Ardwen gasped, his throat grew tight and the warrior fell to one knee. The warrior vaguely registered heads turning toward him, and an Elf walked forward and proffered a hand to help him to his feet. Ardwen refused it and choked out, “Stay . . . away. I-.” And the warrior let out an ear-splitting yell as pain washed over his body. The whole of his being felt as if it were aflame, but what unsettled him even more was the erratic movement of the sable cloak that he had donned with the armor. “It came with the armor, it’s part of it.” Ardwen thought dizzily. Some darkness suddenly overlapped the warrior’s field of vision as if he were in the maw of some great beast that was slowly closing its jaws.

But Ardwen remained conscious, painfully so. For a moment his world remained pitch black, but then he saw a single figure step forward from the lightlessness void as if he had coalesced out of the shadows. Ardwen’s eyes widened and his mouth hung as he realized the figure was none other than himself. He watched transfixed as he walked toward himself. Finally this doppelganger spoke, “So you are ready. Power. Power shapes the world. It can slay armies, save lives, and shape the destiny of empires. Power is absolute, with enough of it there is nothing that is beyond your grasp. Mortals and gods alike have long sought absolute power, that state wherein they reign supreme above all others. Ardwen, you have tasted the absolute in your lifetime. Tell me, when you slew the demon in the Abbey at Ancora . . . what did you truly feel?”

Ardwen did not even have to think, was not even conscious he formed the words as his voice rang our against the darkness, “Before my final battle I had felt rage, a burning deep rage. A rage which was more akin to fire than even the flame itself, it burned away all delusions, all weakness, everything.”

The figure nodded and grinned approvingly, “Yes, that is the answer. Those who have known the depths of perfect anger know that in the end even hatred consumes itself. In its wake there is nothing, a perfect state of no feeling. There is only the immediate purpose left by the residue of anger. Such completeness is power incarnate. But your understanding is not total, tell me Ardwen, do you know why you felt such deep hatred?”

Once more Ardwen’s voice replied in answer to himself, “Because they were my friends, my brothers and sisters. How could I not?”

Ardwen’s double titled his head as if in thought and began suddenly, “But you are mistaken. The word friend is a gross understatement. You, and everyone else, hate because they also love. Think! If you loved nothing, what reason would you have for hate? If you had not loved your brothers and sisters as if they were your own blood would you have cared for their demise? Hate and love depend upon one another. They are opposites yet each is used to define the other. How could you know hatred without love? It is impossible. Yet, for one brief instant before your own death you felt an absolute, touched upon a font of power. You felt hatred so deep that there was nothing to define it, and so you lost feeling for anything. Do you understand now?”

Ardwen did not feel his head move but he knew he had given a signal that he did. His other self simply said, “Nothing is given without a price. You have made your sacrifice. Now, I want to help you harness that rage, that berserk fury. Will you accept me?”

Ardwen’s own voice (was it his own) gave a flat reply, “Yes.”

The figure gave a cold smile and simply said, “Then it is done.” Suddenly the figure collapsed, and Ardwen was eerily aware that it was mirroring what was happening to him. Something came up from the cloak behind the figure, who was sucking in air in desperate gasps. Something . . . enveloped the figure’s head. At first, Ardwen could not tell what it was, and then he realized with a horrific awareness what had blocked his vision: it was a helm.

But no typical helm was this, it had come from the cloak like some crocodile breaking through the water. The helm was indeed shaped like some monstrous beast’s maw, with a great gaping jaw line that gave it a feral almost wolfish appearance. Gazing into the beast’s gullet Ardwen could see not but blackness. Then the beast opened its eyes, or what Ardwen assumed they were, white jagged lines that ran down both sides of its drawn visage.

And then Ardwen saw once more. The world was drained of color, he saw only whites and blacks and their mixtures. The movements around him seemed sluggish, as if the world were moving through some viscous fluid. There were people shouting near him, but their words seemed strained and muffled. The Beast that was Ardwen looked down and saw his large blade in one hand, his other not even needed to carry the burden. The Beast looked at the gate; it perceived weakness . . . the gate was about to collapse. It could smell fear and hatred from the other side of the gate, and the Beast hungered.

Written by - Archeantus

“We need to leave” He said.

She was quickly given her traveling supplies. Without further pause, she mindlessly placed the cloak around her, and followed Teran to the stables. Saddling her horse, they road out through the massive gates across the deep chasm to the forest beyond in silence. The elven guards knew Teran was not to be stayed.

The night was chill, and their breaths came out in slight bursts of steam as they made their way deeper into the forest on the fringes of the valley surrounding the majestic elven citadel.

Soon Jasmine spotted a glimmering light far ahead deep in the forest. As they came closer, it appeared Teran knew the strange dark figure that stood before a warm fire.

The two exchanged in conversation, Jasmine listened curiously enough to know the situation.

She was a mage tracker. She then understood. Yet it was also when Jasmine realized the youthful female was an undead. She was not shocked; she’d seen a few, dealt with more than a few, they had a strange way about them, but they could be tolerated. Yet here, she knew she looked on her future. It angered her when she was confronted with the pale blue visage of the undead Sabbatine.

And when she heard the being ask hungrily, "Did you bring her... for me?" Jasmine said nothing. Teran clarified who Jasmine was, and mentioned two others who were to come. At this Jasmine dismounted her horse, and pondered over who else Teran had recruited.

Now standing before the fire, reaching out her hands warming them, she looked at the undead woman again, and slowly turned back, her dark eyes gazing into the dancing flames.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

It was foolish mistake, fit for one so inexperienced to make. Lucant had not been paying attention to his feet and had tripped over a piece of rubble while trying the avoid the orc's mace, landing him flat on his back. Tempyst's scream brought him back to his senses and as he opened his eyes he saw the orc looming over him, ready to deliver the final blow. As the orc swung his mace downward toward Lucant's head, Lucant responded in kind by swinging A'lanthear upwards towards the orc's exposed chest. The orc was already too far into his swing to back out and he impaled himself on A'lanthear. Lucant stared into the orc's eyes, still burning with hate and rage as he died on the blade. Feeling no remorse, Lucant brought his leg up and placed on the orc's stomach; a firm kick dislodged the orc from A'lanthear.

Lucant stood up and looked down at the orc, who had already passed. It was the first life he had ever taken and he knew it would not be the last. He knew that this was the reality of war. Still, he could not help but feel that by killing the orc, he had killed a piece of himself. He wlcomed Tempyst's embrace and the focus and determination it gave him. He was reluctant to let her go, and when he did he saw that her innocent beauty was marred by the orc's blood. He never wanted to see that sight again and swore to himself to keep such a thing from ever happening again. "Come my love, we have much to do," she said as she climbed atop her horse. Lucant sheathed A'lanthear and mounted up once more.

After making their way through the debris littered streets and scattered pockets of fighting, the pair finally arrived near the third gate. A loud sound like thunder rang throughout the shattered city, followed by the sound of cracking timbers. Alarmed, Lucant showed the royal emblem that Wilhelm had given him to a wounded soldier who was sitting with his back against a shattered wall and asked him where Ithramir was. "Lord Ithramir... is just ahead at the third gate. If you... need his attention... it'll have to wait. The dwarves... are nearly... nearly through the gate," the soldier said, gasping for breath. The two dismounted and thanked the dying soldier before heading towards the assembling army. Another thunderous crack rang through the air shortly before they joined the army. Lucant shouted to Tempyst above the din: "We're nearly there! Don't worry when the fighting starts! As long as I draw breath, I swear that no harm will come to you!"

Finally joining the army, Lucant and Tempyst shuffled through the crowd, heading towards the front while desperately looking for Ithramir. Before they could find him, however, another thunderous boom rang out and the massive gate let out the beginnings of its death knell.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir made it to the gate and watched closely as the dwarves continued to batter down the ironwood doors. The doors were strong, but they weren't impervious, and the dwarves knew this. During the early morning hours, they had constructed a battering ram of wood capped with a large piece of stone. Every mighty swing landed with a resounding boom. Between the booms you could hear the dwarves chanting. A soldier nearby says,

"I wonder what they are singing?"

Not knowing who made the comment, Ithramir still replies to those near him, saying.

"It's a dwarven war chant. Be honored, no one other than a dwarf has heard this in hundreds of years. It is sung to honor the fallen and those who are about to fall. They sing of honor to their clan and to themselves. It is a mighty song."

As more troops began arriving at the battered gate, Ithramir got word of new people entering the city and helping. Two sets of men and women, each driving headlong into the city and helping them. It is then that he recognizes one of these couples to be Lucant and Tempyst, whom he met briefly inside the Citadel. It was rumored they were looking for him. With a half-smile, he tells the soldier who told him this,

"Well, if they need to find me, here I am. If they don't arrive soon then I'll be in there. *Points at the gate* I'm sure I won't be too hard to find."

Nodding the soldier goes back to find the two.

Turning back to the gate Ithramir and everyone else finally hear the sound they were waiting for, an earsplitting crack. The doors are falling. With renewed vigor the dwarves began mercilessly pounding the door, some even pulling out hammers and beating on the door while the ram was swung even faster. More cracks, splinters falling all around, the doors are almost breached. Ithramir calls out,

"When the gate falls, we charge through! Commander Isuiln, remember, you must strike the last gate and hold it. We'll join you when we can!"

Swinging his head back around, sword in hand, he finally watches as the great doors give out. The ram goes completely through and following it the dwarves. Raising his own sword, Ithramir charges into the now opened third circle, with it's huge central keep before them.

The orcs had been waiting for them, however. No sooner did they charge in than they were met with a counter-charge from the orc troops. They were going to retreat or go down easily. Orc archers from the keep began taking their toll on the alliance troops, who were hampered by the orc infantry. Still, return fire from their own archers, and the steady progress of their own soldiers made it known that the tide here had shifted. After a long, bloody advance, they reached the doors to the keep.

Calling to Diosr, Ithramir says,

"Break it down."

With a nod, the ram is rolled into position and the booms begin anew. Leaning himself against a wall of the keep, protected from archers by an overhang, Ithramir rests a moment. He can't remember how many orcs died by his hand this day, hacked or slashed into oblivion, nor does he know how many of his own met the same fate. He looks out across the courtyard and it looks more like a morgue, bodies and body parts strewn about and in every which way. Spitting, he can't wait for this to be over.

Then, he feels it.

"Ithramir, you will need my help atop this keep. A servant of my enemy stands there, waiting to do battle. She is powerful, second only to the one who masterminded this. No one must follow you to the top, they cannot stand against her, but you will. Also, know this, there are other forces at work against you. You have caught their attentions, some may seek to aide you, others will want you dead. As always, I will guide and help you, but you must also be aware at all times. Rest now, I shall return once you reach the uppermost level."

Ithramir had wondered how long it would be before Avandor talked to him. Resting himself, he waited to hear the cracking of the keep doors and the mad charge inside the keep, and then to whatever awaited him on the top floor.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst clung to Lucant as he pushed their way through the crowds. For a moment, she felt that sense of being overwhelmed again, like she had that first day at the Citadel, but then focused herself, and began to think of all the people as she thought of the trees. Entities that were a part of this world, a part of the earth, a part of her. It still did not take away the smell of blood and metal, but it helped her keep her wits about her.

Everyone stopped for a moment when the sound of the cracking gate reached their ears. After the second thunderous crack, everyone began moving again towards the sound. Lucant took Tempyst's hand. "That must be teh gate falling, that is where we will find Ithramir." Tempyst nodded and gripped his hand tightly so they would not be separated in the crowd.

As they made their way forward, Tempyst began looking more intently at the people around them; humans, dwarves, elves. She opened herself up to them, as she opened herself to the woods she had called home, but this time slowly for she did not wish to become overwhelmed and faint as she did that first day. She could feel their excitement, anticipation, some she felt a lust for battle, others she felt their fears and worries. For a moment, her mind drifted to that on black, the one she had fainted at and as she sensed these people she suddenly realized why she had done so. SHe had been so open, so new to that experience, that his saddness anger and grif that overwhelmed him, overwhelmed her. She remembered the wave of dispair wash over her like a black cloud and that is what had drug her down. Well, she knew better this time and would be prepared should she meet him again. Learning now to refocus the whispers, taking them in small doses rather than all at once would prepare her.

"Tempyst? Are you alright love?" Lucant had stopped moving and was looking at her with concern in his eyes.

She smiled softly. "Yes, I am fine, just adjusting to my surroundings." She looked around. "Are we close?"

"I think we are, I was told Ithramir is over this way, towards the front of the charge." Once again, together, they made their way forward through the army, moving closer and closer to their goal. Tempyst began looking around for Ithramir, remmbering him clearly fro their first meeting. As her eyes scanned the army around her, she caught sight of the one in black again. Once again, even from this distance, she could feel his emotions, but this time, she was prepared. As they washed over her, blinding her to the others that surrounded her, she hoped she would heve tim to try and help him too, for she could not stand to see anyone in such pain.

"THERE HE IS!" Lucant shouted and pulled Tempyst along with him. The one in black was left behind, but Tempyst knew she would never forget about him.

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln awoke before dawn the second day of fighting to the gentle urges of Aylan, and immediately wished he could reclaim the black unconsiousness he was fading out of. He felt like an article of laundry one had squeezed to get all the water out, but he was wrung of all his energy. On try to sit up, he did not get far before he started falling back, but Aylan helped him into a sitting position, then handed him some bread, cheese, meat, and a cup of water. Isuiln chewed it all down hungrily. As exhausted as he was, the growling in his gut was great as well.

Feeling a bit strengthened by the food, he managed to stand with only a little help from Aylan, though he had to be caught again to keep from falling when he bent to pick up his swords. He sheathed them, then began to walk from the room to the shop out front, intent on finding Ithramir.

"Sir..." Aylan began, "maybe you should stay and rest. You're in no shape to fight orcs." Isuiln gave him a withering look, and Aylan sighed. "Yes, I know, not one of your men fights without you unless you're barred by death itself. To business, then. Ithramir layed out the battle plan last night. We will accompany his men to breach the second ring, then once we enter the third ring, we are to make haste to take the gatehouse to the mountain pass, and stop all re-inforcements and retreating orcs." Isuiln nodded at the sound plan, and turned again to leave, this time Aylan falling silently into step behind him.

Isuiln mustered at the front with the rest of the Commanders silently, all his effort into staying on his feet, as Aylan informed the men of the battle plan and got them organized. Isuiln often thought what he would do without Aylan, the elf who had been by his side for his entire military career, first as his superior, then as his equal, and finally as his Lieutenant. In the beginning, Aylan had been the embodiment of what Isuiln wanted to be: smart, courageous, well liked by his men. He had taught Isuiln many things, from warfare to life, and had served under him as faithfully as any man could ask for. He was the only person Isuiln had ever really felt was family. Then Isuiln's reminiscing was broken by the call to prepare to attack.

He steeled himself, and the gates flew open. They charged, but Isuiln soon found himself lagging behind as everyone ran full tilt, and he could only manage a jog. But Aylan stayed by him every step of the way. By the time Isuiln had caught up, the fighting had already turned to the houses and alleys. Isuiln called several of his company over to him, ran up to the nearest house, and kicked the door in. It opened much easier than he expected, and he overbalanced. Aylan leapt in and managed to get himself under Isuiln and jerked him upright, but not before a barrage of arrows flew over their heads and clattered on the cobblestone street. That misstep had likely saved both of their lives, but it felt to Isuiln like it cost him the last bit of his energy. He hung uselessly from Aylan's shoulder as his second struggled to fight while carrying him. The others flooded in through the door, and charged into the orcs. As Aylan sloppily parried a blow, Isuiln's drooping head swung to the side, and behind them he saw a pair of feet belonging to an orc that had hid behind the door, and was now creeping behind them. Fear surged through him, and with the rush of adreniline came strength. He yanked himself around and threw his blade out as he fell, the sword slashing across the clearly surprised orc's neck. The blue haze around the blades turned once again orange, and he felt the swords' bloodlust once again granting him stamina beyond his own.

He leapt back to his feet and blocked a thrust from the orc that was fighting Aylan, who had been thrown off balance when Isuiln had launched himself off his shoulder. His other blade came up and buried itself into the orc's chest. He felt another surge as the blades willed him on. And so he went from house to alley, alley to house, deflecting seeking blades and arrows, once again consumed by the blades, moving faster and striking harder than he could ever dream to do on his own.

After they cleared the orcs, they went to join the battering ram and wait to get into the third ring. Isuiln paced at the front, now bursting with energy, waiting for the smallest hint of a gap to squeeze through and start the killing again. Aylan sat near him, allowing another soldier to bandage his arm where an arrow had torn a chunk of flesh away. As the gates began to crack and splinter, Aylan stood, ready to follow Isuiln wherever the battle carried him. Then the gates burst open, and they charged at the forefront. Several arrows whizzed towards Isuiln, and using the flats of his blades he smacked them to the ground. Then he was leaping into the orcs' counter-charge, blades flashing through armor, bone and sinew with equal ease. He and his men cut a swathe through the orcs, making for the gatehouse with relentless speed. The walls were lined with archers, but many died before they could fire a decent shot. In the center of his men, protected from the orcs on every side by a wall of elves, archers were relentleslly pouring arrows at the orcish archers, with speed and skill that far outmatched their counterparts. Finally, they reached the gatehouse, and they continued their furious assault until every orc in the gatehouse was dead. They sealed the gates so that no re-inforcements could arrive, and no retreat would be allowed. Isuiln moved about, having many of his men switch to their bows to cut down the orcs as they came. Too many had been lost today, and he didn't want another orc getting within striking range of any of his men.

He turned to Aylan and smiled grimly. "No orcs shall live to see the sun set this night. We've done it. The cost has been great, but no orcs are going to get to elvish or human lands through here."

Aylan opened his mouth to reply, then his eye grew wide as he looked over his Captain's shoulder. Isuiln began turning to see what Aylan was looking at, when Aylan collided with him and sent him sprawling. As he fell, Isuiln heard it; an arrow whistling through the air, right where he had been a moment before. Then he heard a thunk. Looking up, he saw the arrow protruding from Aylan's chest. He turned to the source and saw the orc releasing a second arrow, which planted itself beside the first. The orc was grinning. It had hidden itself below a body, waiting for the right moment. It reached into it's quiver for another arrow, this time to fire at the elf that had been knocked down. But the arrow never made it to the bow. Isuiln leapt up, and with a roar, launched one of his swords through the air. The orcs eyes widened in surprise just before the sword was buried in it's face. So great was the throw, only the hilt remained sticking out from the orc's head, and the force caused it to nearly do a full backflip. Then Isuiln turned as Aylan slumped to the ground.

He ran over to his friend, but knew there was nothing he could do as the blood began running out of the sides of his mouth. But still, he yelled for a healer, yelled it again and again until Aylan's hand upon his arm stopped them.

Aylan coughed, then mumbled "Mellonamin, stop shouting. My time is past. I am just glad it was me, and not you. Please, tell-" He was interrupted by a bloody coughing fit, then struggled to continue. "Nyar verne'amin... tinuramin... amin mela sen."* Then he closed his eyes, as if he could see his wife and daughters with his mind's eye, then sighed contentedly, and let go of life. Isuiln screamed. He screamed at the injustice of it. It was him the arrow was meant for! It was he that was supposed to die protecting his men! And when he could scream no more, he wept. The tears streamed down his face, washing small tracks of his cheeks clean of the blood and grime. Then he heard the booming of the battering ram upon the doors of the main keep, and the tears stopped. He stood up, then walking over and viciously retrieved his sword from the orc's face. He walked over to the gatehouse, and stopped the first elf he found.

"You're in charge now. Follow the orders, kill any orc that comes near." Then he turned to go.

"But Captain-" the elf started.

Isuiln rounded on him. "I am not a Captain!" He screamed in the elf's face. "I don't deserve to lead a dog, much less men! I can't even correctly die to save my best friend's life! I AM NOT A CAPTAIN ANYMORE!" And he wheeled away, leaving a very flustered elf in his wake, and set out for vengeance, hoping only to find it in that keep, hoping more death could ease the pain.

"Tell my wife... my daughters... I love them."

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya looked over the battlefield, bodies scattered like fall leaves, buildings burning filling the air with thick pungent smoke as it also carried the smell of charred flesh and the wails of the dying filled the air like a celebratory chorus. She put her hands on her hip and inhaled deeply. Smiling, proud of her accomplishment, she began to walk through the waste, an excited chill running up her spine as she heard the crunch of the dead beneath her feet. Then there it was, a soft cry, different from the rest. She focused her attention to that, to get a direction, then followed the soft sound like a bloodhound. There, in the rubble, in the arms of a dead elven woman was a small, perfect little baby. Kaya knelt and picked up the whimpering child, who had to be no more than a few months old. She cradled the child in her arms tenderly, rocking it back and forth, just looking down upon it. The baby's eyes were a bright green, the hair red as fire, and gathering from the dress, was a little girl. "I wonder what your name is little one?" The child only cooed, grateful to be held safely once again. "Well, since the rest of your family is dead, I guess I can can name you." Kaya turned, rocking the child, smiling, deep in thought. The her eyes sparkled and a sly grin spread across her face. "I know the perfect name for you little one, the most perfect name of all." She traced a finger over the little girl's soft skin. "I shall call you Mavigan. Yes, Mavigan it is. The most perfect name for the most perfect child." Kaya brought baby Mavigan up and kisses her delicate little nose. "And do you know what such a perfect little girl is good for Mavigan?" Baby Mavigan cooed and even let out a small baby laugh. "Yes, that's right little one, you do know what your role is don't you?" She pulled the tattered blanket that baby Mavigan was wrapped up in away, then untied the small dress that clothed her, exposing her sweet, soft skin to the air. "Such a sweet child you are Mavigan, no fear, no worries, just laying there accepting your destiny." The baby cooed once more and Kaya smiled. This time, as she smiled, her mouth spread, opening wider revealing rows upon rows of black teeth, gums oozing a foul smelling goo. Kaya laughed, the grotesque, gutteral sound filling the air and drowning out the cries of the dying. A long, forked tongue lashed out and licked up baby Mavigan's chest then whipped back into Kaya's hideous mouth. "Good night sweet Mavigan, good night." Kaya let out a hiss, then lowered her head quickly, chomping into the soft vulnerable chest of baby Mavigan. She almost squealed as she heard the soft bones crunching from her bite and savored the sweet taste of blood and organs that rushed into her mouth. The bite was so immense, it decapitated the child and the baby girl's head fell and rolled upon the ground like a discarded apple. When it stopped, the child's eyes were wide, mouth open in a silent scream, a little splash of blood marred the cheek. Kaya laughed and held her hands to the sky, licking the sweet taste of Mavigan from her lips. The sky clouded over, darkening into a storm, the thunder and lightning dancing across the sky. "NO MORE SHALL THAT BITCH STAND IN MY WAY!" The thunder grew louder and a bolt of lightning struck in front of her shaking the earth she stood upon....

Kaya jerked, screaming as she awoke from the nightmare. The walls around her were shaking, debris was falling from the ceiling. There was practically no light here, only a few slivers that snuck thorugh miniscule cracks where the wall met the ceiling. She stood up, shaken from what she had dreamt, sick to her stomach, almost tasting the blood upon her lips. Stumbling around, she searched the walls for a door. Upon finding it, she tried with all her strength to open it, but it would not budge. Then she heard voices, human, elven voices, not orcs. Not caring about the demon inside her, not caring what he might do to her, she began to scream and bang on the door, hoping she would be heard and released from the darkness.

Written by - Rikshanthas

Aelarra hummed softly to herself as she made use of the fading daylight, returning books to the library shelves. As she tucked the final tome of an armful back in its place, she noticed how far in among the stacks she was and chuckled in sheer amazement. Only 2 days and the Loremaster Vhar'Kanix had gone through every volume she'd been allowed to show him. And then some, she suspected. As he had said a few times, what else was he to do when merely leaning his head out a window inevitably caused some poor soul to faint or shriek in terror? To say nothing of the soldiers - he stayed in the library more to avoid their suspicious gazes than anything else; he'd told her the feeling of dislike and mistrust washing out from most of them physically nauseated him. She'd reassured him, of course, but she did feel sorry for him sometimes; he was a true heart, wise and caring, yet his appearance invariably invoked childhood nightmares in all of them, making it difficult for him. Yet he couldn't leave, he'd said as much. He needed time to properly calibrate his Gatekey to return home; indeed a minor misalignment of the thing was what had brought him to the Citadel in the first place. Aelarra decided she'd have to talk to Lithwyn about him, as he seemed to be getting pretty agitated.

She had started closing shutters for the night when she thought she heard a sound not unlike chanting. She turned towards it, intending to trace the musical sound to its source. She had made no more than two steps when an ear-splitting boom reverberated through the library, shaking the bookshelves and the floor under her feet. She felt the use of power that had caused it, and rushed over to see which of the apprentices had had the brains to be experimenting with sorcery near so many flammables. What she encountered at the other end of the library brought her up so suddenly her momentum nearly sent her sprawling.

There was a nearly 5-foot black crater in the library floor, almost 8 inches deep. At the center of it, a man was curled up in a ball, his naked body covered in soot. Long, curly dark brown hair obscured his downcast face, turned away from Aelarra at the moment. After he did not move for several moments, Aelarra's curiosity overcame her caution. "Hello?" she began tentatively, clutching at a candelabra just in case this mysterious stranger was hostile. The man started, and whirled around to face her in an almost feral crouch.

Anything else Aelarra might have noticed about this human was lost when she saw his eyes - no iris or pupil, and glowing an intense yellow-orange. "Vhar'Kanix!" she gasped. Her mind fought against what she she saw. It couldn't be; no illusion would have had such an effect, and she could see through them anyway. Even the few incidents of shapechange she had read about had never been so ... violent. But it was Vhar'Kanix, she was certain - aside from his eyes, he still wore the Gatekey around his wrist. Yet he seemed to have no more sense of reason than a rabbit; what had happened to him? She pondered this question as she attempted to calm the near-feral Vhar'Kanix, whose fight-or-flight instinct leaned noticeably toward flight.

She had just managed to calm him enough to approach when three armed guards burst into the library, causing him to bolt further in among the library shelves. Aelarra stood and glared at the surprised guards; when they moved to chase the human she cut them off. "Stay here," she said sharply. "The human you saw flee is the Loremaster Vhar'Kanix; don't ask me what's happened to him but he isn't himself - he's operating on pure instinct. This is the only exit, so just stay here and keep him from leaving the library; I'll go after him - I can reassure him. You," and she gestured to one of the three, "find the lady Lithwyn, inform her of this. And get one of the senior adepts, or at least someone with more experience with this kind of thing; I'm at a loss here." The guard exited, his fellows closing the door behind him, and Aelarra slowly ventured out into the library, calling the loremaster's name softly as one would call a pet.

She found him several minutes later, hiding under a desk in a secluded corner of the library. This time, when she called his name there was a spark of intelligence behind the glowing eyes that turned on her. He slowly crawled out from under the desk, eyeing her with a mix of confusion and fear, eventually turning to recognition; with recognition came sudden awareness of himself, and he snatched the robe she held out to him, covering himself quickly. His modesty restored, he sagged back against the desk, shivering slightly, his head shaking violently from side to side as if trying to dislodge some unwanted thought.

"Vhar'Kanix?" Aelarra said simply, and he stopped, turning to scrutinize her for several moments. Finally he spoke, quietly but clearly, in a rich baritone voice that surprised her more than his words. "I know you ... Aelarra?" he said, unsure. "Yes!" she replied, now more worried than she'd been earlier. "I've been your guide the last couple of days, remember? What happened to you Vhar'Kanix? What did you do?" she asked fearfully. He gazed at her a long moment, his expression slowly dissolving into fearful confusion.

"I can't remember!"

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Unable to sleep, Leov sat in his quarters reading a book on the history of the Dwarves by candlelight. He had no idea why such a book was on a trade ship, but that didn't concern him any. He readily lost himself in the stories of the great clans and the deeds of famous thanes. His only company was the cats - the black one sat on the table watching the candle's flame dance about while the white one slept curled up in a nearby chair - until Dom entered. "Sure Dom, come on in," Leov said, a little annoyed, as he looked up from his book. "Yeah, like I was interrupting anything important, o great captain. We're nearly at Lothiel-Gadith, but... we may have a bit of a problem," Dom said, still standing in the doorway. "Is that so? What is it now?" Closing his book, Leov stood up slowly, then stretched his limbs and gave a loud yawn. "A...uh...fortress. It's not finished all the way, but it's still pretty far along. Decent sized Elven fleet sailing around the area, too." With a look of disbelief on his face, Leov made for the door. The black cat turned its attention to its master and proceeded to give chase. Before following Dom, Leov turned his head back towards his room: "Stay here," he said flatly. As he went out onto the deck, a shadow followed him on little cat feet.

Countless torches illuminated the stone fortress as crews of men and elves labored through the night to finish it. "Well don't that beat all... It looks like the people who fled with the Young Lady have been quite busy." Leov remarked as the ship sailed steadily towards the docks of the town that had sprung up outside of Lothiel-Gadith. "Just keep sailing straight for the docks. Just act... you know...normal...like traders or something." Leov said calmly, making no big deal out of a potentially precarious situation. After docking and mooring Tiertiala's Grace the night dockmaster marched up the gankplank towards Leov. "Getting here kind of late aren't you Captain?" "A bit. We were forced to make a course change while fleeing from an Ironskane vessel." Leov said assertively. What he said wasn't a lie, but it wasn't exactly the truth, either. "Well, if you're running from the usurper, then you've come to the right place, brothers. Rest well tonight." The dockmaster bowed, then went about his business. Leov turned to Dom, who now had the little black cat cradled in his massive arms. "You heard the man. Get some rest. We can sort everything out in the morning." Leov walked to the edge of the gangplank, and the little black cat jumped from Dom's arms and followed its reluctant master. Looking at the brightly lit citadel of Lothiel-Gadith, he said to the darkness: "Well, I'm here now. This is what you wanted, isn't it?" A soft wind blew in from the sea towards the towering citadel. "When I'm good and ready. I'll not be moved about like your little pawn." Picking up his little shadow, Leov headed back to his quarters for the night.

Leov awoke to something landing on his chest. Opening his eyes, he found himself face to face with the white cat. "Well good morning to you, too," he said, scratching the cat behind the ears. He sat the cat on the floor then headed out on the deck to find Glen and Dom. After dividing the treasure stolen from the Iron Hand - save the artifacts - among the people who had accompanied him, Leov told them to enjoy themselves then headed out towards Lothiel-Gadith with Glen and Dom in tow. The trio went to one of the many inns and ordered breakfeast, which Leov paid for with his share of the loot. "Well, what do we do now?" Glen asked after they had finished. You two are free to do whatever you feel like. As for me, I'm going pigeon hunting. Someone's bound to want that junk down in the hold" Leov said with his usual non-chalant air about him. Laughing, Dom responded "I think you're taking to piracy a little too well, kid!" "Never let it be said that Little Brother wasn't good at what he did!" Glen responded in kind.

Parting ways, Leov headed off towards the blacksmith's district. He walked slowly, calmly, taking in the sights and sounds of Lothiel-Gadith. "I'll make Kassal greater than this one day." He promised himself, thinking back to the Iron Hand and how that ship had been responsible for all this, in some small way. Continuing his walk, he started to whistle "The Mockingbird's Hymn" again as he headed towards one of the larger shops and he came a with an idea for a commeration and a reminder as well. Once inside, he started to haggle with the Elven smiths: "Alright boys, I need some work done, and I need it done fast. I need these sharpened," he said, setting Sulrista and the dagger on the smiths' counter, "and I need a hauberk. I want it out of mithril, too, none that cheap pig iron you try to pass off as steel." "The Young Master has discerning tastes," the head smith said with a glint of greed in his eyes, "If you've got the money to pay for it all, I'll have it done by this evening. Is there anything else I can do for you, Young Master?" Leov already had the smith pegged and knew exactly how to deal with him: "How long do you think it would take for you do a custom piece?" "Well, Young Master, it depends on the piece and ... the money." "I want two mithril plates - jointed together - the size of my palm and four rings with smaller plates attached the size of my center joints and another for the thumb," he said as he poured a small bag of platinum coins on the counter. The smith's eyes widened and he said with eagerness of a child: "Let me get the measurements Young Master, and I will personally handle your order. It will be ready this evening." Leov thanked the smith, then headed back out onto the streets.

He wandered aimlessly for a while before turning onto the Avenue of Assembly. The wind blew at his back, seemingly moving him towards the citadel. "Well... alright. I suppose I could induldge you for a bit. Besides, I still haven't found my pigeon, and that seems as good a place as any" he said to the breeze. Leov took his time on his way to the citadel; he reveled in the peaceful ambiance of the fortress-city as whistled his favorite song on the way. The image of a mockingbird and a pigeon sitting in a tree, singing their songs to one another entered his mind, and he chuckled to himself and the idea he had as he proceeded up the citadel's ornate central staircase. Approaching the guard, he said: "Hail and well met, good sir. My name is Leov Klein, I am the captain of the vessel that docked on the outskirts last night. I just returned from a treasure hunting expedition to Alyatol, and I would like to propose a trade deal with the commander of this fine fortress. I have many ancient relics on board that I'm sure he would love to add to his collection." Again, it wasn't a flat out lie, but neither was it the whole truth. The guard looked at Leov and sized him up. Leov stood there non-chalantly as his plan began to unfold. "Just a moment... sir." The guard disappeared inside the citadel just before another gust of wind blew through. "What more do you want? I'm here aren't I?" Leov said impatiently. A few minutes passed and the guard reappeared: "Commander Deltheron will see you. Please follow me." Following the guard through the oppulent fortress, Leov felt and looked out of place. He never had been comfortable with keeping wealth and was quick to spread it around when he had it - and even when he didn't. His reputation for being open-handed had garnered him a good deal of support among the commoners of Kassal. "Here you are...sir. Commander Deltheron will be with you shortly." The guard headed off towards the entrance and Leov made his way inside. "As if I don't know when I'm being tested... I may have an easier time with this Deltheron fellow than I thought," Leov thought to himself as sat down in one of the plush chairs in front of the commander's large ornate desk. He said to himself as he propped his feet up on the desk: "What will you do now that I've called your bluff, old man?"

Written by - Trinni Shannon

If it's not one thing it is another. Right in the middle of K'Lain's little catastrophe, someone requested an audience with her. Why not earlier in the morning when she just wandered around, when no one had needed her? Bah. Calming K'Lain took longer than expected, after all they were only eggs and Lithwyn really hadn't expected it to cause so much drama in the kitchens. There is always tomorrow, one day without eggs won't make the citadel collapse. Though she would never say that in front of K'Lain!

The poor young apprentice. How he managed to break every single egg from the morning's gathering was beyond her. Every single one? That must have taken some talent. K'Lain was furious, but Lithwyn's intervention kept the young boy from getting forcefully removed from the kitchen by K'Lain's eager boot. Thankfully, at least, it wasn't Rachael who had made the mess. The poor girl would have sobbed into Lithwyn's shoulder for an hour, getting egg all over her. Such a tender heart she has.

Fairly presentable, she reaches her office door and slowly opens it.

"What will you do now that I've called your bluff, old man?"

Stepping into the room just as he says this, Lithwyn smirks to herself. Indeed. Why is it always assumed that a commander is an old man? Granted, that applies to Ithramir... well... not so much the old part. But nevertheless, she couldn't count the number of times a visitor looked upon her with shock that she wasn't a man, it has happened so often. Hmm... maybe there should be a sign outside her door. "Commander Deltheron is a woman... be warned." The thought made her grin.

The man's back to her, he doesn't hear her enter. When Lithwyn notices his dirty boots on her imaculate, antique desk her grin falls into a frown. Sailors. Do they have no regard for heritage, tradition, beauty? If it's not on a boat it's not important? Realizing she had fallen into the stereotype game, herself, Lithwyn clears her thoughts ruefully. Squaring her shoulders, raising her head, she prepares for what could be an interesting conversation. Walking around his chair, she stops by the side of the desk and rests her fingertips on it, making sure not to take her seat behind it.

"May I help you?" Leaving the question open, she decides to have a bit of fun with him. After all, what is the point in having a position that creates these wonderful opportunities if you can't get amusement out of it?

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Lucant felt a strong divine aura manifest itself towards the head of the army. Looking towards where the feeling had come from, Lucant saw the same shimmering warrior from before - the valorous champion who had led the combined armies of Men, Elves, and Dwarves from Lothiel-Gadith to combat the darkness that threatened the world. He had little time to admire the warrior's strength as it quickly dawned on him who he really was. He remembered that Wilhelm and Nyrondis had spoken of Ithramir - the man who it was his sworn duty to protect - being the Avatar of Avendor. "There he is!" Lucant shouted and pulled Tempyst along with him towards the man he was sure was Ithramir. Before he could reach him, however, the gate let out its final wail and shattered to pieces.

The armies charged forth unto the breach, with a singularly wicked looking man in black armor leading the allied charge. Screams of the wounded and dying, steel upon steel, and the hiss of arrows cutting through the air converged to form the terrible cacophany of war. The blood of four races mingled together in the streets of the devastated city in a final ironic unity. Wave after wave of orcs poured forth into the battlefront attempting to hammer back the allied advance.

As a hail of crude orcish arrows rained down from the battlements, Lucant faced another mace swinging Orc. Remembering what he learned, Lucant ducked under the forceful backhand swing meant to crush his skull then quickly swung A'lanthear at the Orc's exposed stomach, spilling his entrails onto the street. Noticing that the archers had readied their next volley, Lucant quickly made his way to a sheltered spot under a balcony. A strange, base feeling of dread, sorrow, and fear swept over him has he hid from the arrow storm. He looked around for Tempyst, hoping that she had found safety as well, until a scream from inside the building drew his attention.

****

Leov looked at the large desk and wondered what kind of important and historical decisions had been made by the person sitting behind it. He had no doubt that it had seen some of the most important decisions to ever affect the Elvish people. He then turned towards a more pragmatic manner of thought and wondered how much it would sell for, should he ever be able to make his way out with it. A sight infinitely more pleasing to the eye than the ornate desk made her way gracefully before him and rested her fingertips gently on the desk. "May I help you?"

A wolfish smile slid slyly across his face as his eyes rested on young Elf's divinely beautiful features. "You certainly can, my lovely Little Phoenix," he said coyly, referring to her fiery hair. "You can start by gracing me with your name and what time you'll be available for dinner. Then, my Little Phoenix, I beg of you to bless me with your company while I wait for Commander Deltheron to make his appearance."

Written by - Tempyst

The rumbling stopped and her cell ceased to deposit debris upon her. The faint noise faded to silence and Kaya knew she was still alone, trapped. She sat down where she was, her back to the door, tired, hungry, exhausted mentally and physically. Is this what it has come Kaya, you feeling sorry for yourself, alone in the dark waiting to die or worse? Kaya paused in her thinking, waiting for that monster inside of her to start mocking her again. But it remained silent. {i]I wonder if it sleeps, or if it is always listening. But I don't care anymore, YOU HEAR ME![/i] She screamed into her head, but still, no response. She breathed a sigh of relief and concern. There must be a way out of this! Even if there isn't I cannot let it defeat me. I cannot let it turn me into a sobbing coward. When you fight, there are casualties and you learn to go on. There will be time to grieve later, after the battle, not now. You've been a prisoner for who knows how long now and you never let them get the better of you. Now, you are invaded by a Nadorhuan* who can't even FIGHT HIS OWN BATTLES! If you sit and wait Kaya, it wins. Kaya sat in the darkness for a while, her mind going back over her battles in the Naur'Lith, fighting against bandits and the Lith'raug. Thinking of the Lith'raug made her think of her father and his treacherous advisor Tahlon who got her into all of this. She smiled thinking of how she would love to tear that creature limb from limb and she vowed to do it too.

Kaya took a deep breath and felt a renewed sense of self. I don't care if you are in here with me, I will do what I want to do and if you don't like it then you can do it yourself! Detholalle!** There was still no response from the creature inside her. She chuckled to herself "Nadorhuan." She looked about the room, eyes taking in the small slivers of light here and there from the seams of the ceiling. Talking to herself she began formulating an idea. "Now, think Kaya, during battle in the desert, how did you get someone's attention?" She smiled and closed her eyes and began to sing. Her voice was quiet, shaky at first, for she had not sung for quite awhile, but as she kept her cool and focused, her voice grew stronger...

"...Sinners and saints, we all do ride,
all our fears we try to hide,
we are but creatures who live and die,
we love and bleed we laugh and cry.

Take your fears and hold them tight,
use what you feel to do what is right,
together as one we stand and fight,
and to the fallen, we drink tonight."

As the last words of the battle song passed over her lips, Kaya heard and felt the pounding on the door she was leaning against. "HELLO! IS ANYONE IN THERE?" Kaya could hear smooth vocal tones and knew it was no orc on the other side of the door. She quickly stood and pounded back.

"YALLUME! TUA AMIN! ASCA, ASCA!"*** Kaya stepped back not knowing if those on the other side could understand her. But apparantly they did for the whole room shook from the reverberations of the battering on the door. Kaya brought her arm up to protect her face as the splintered and crashed to the ground. The light from the lantern hurt her eyes at first, but then as she regained her focus, she could see a handful of warriors looking in at her, most human, a few elven. The one in front was an elf, from the woodlands by his features, Kaya thought. He held out his sword to her, as right he should, since he did not know if she was friend or foe. His look turned from apprehensive to puzzlement as he got a look at her.

"Amin sinta lle?**** The elf asked, taking a step forward into the room.

"Amin Kaya'Talas. Amin aaye Nen A'Naur mellonamin. Mae govannen, lire lye auta."*****

"Kaya'Talas? Kaya'Talas?" The elf sounded surprised.

"Who is it Nolahni? Is she one of ours?" Kaya looked towards the human who had spoken.

"Yes, I am one of yours. Please, may we leave this place and talk outside?" Kaya voice cracked. The elf that had first spoke turned to the elf behind him and spoke softly. She could see the other elf's eyes widen then he ran out, presumibly back the way they had come. Then the one called Nohlani lowered his sword and steppd forward, taking off his cloak and wrapping it around Kaya's shoulders. It was then she realized how much of a state she must look, bloodied, matted, and barely clothed. "Thank you," She told him as she pulled the cloak around her.

"Come, the commander will want to meet you." Nohlani took her arm and led her out of the dark room that had been her prison. She stumbled a few times, but Nohlani kept her upright and able to keep going. Once out in the sunlight, Kaya squinted, but didn't care how harsh the bright light was, she was just happy to be standing upright and out of the darkness. Nohlani kept his arm around her and helped her along the way, steering her between others who looked to probably have been other prisoners that had been kept down there in the darkness.

As Kaya's eyes adjusted, she could she was being led through a battlefield. The wounded were all around, others who were still mobil were off to one place or another, following orders and doing their duties. As they passed through all the soldiers, Kaya could tell that some of the elves began whispering amongst themselves, pointing at her. She even thought she recognized a few faces, but figured it was her mind playing tricks on her, after all, it had been months since she had seen any other elves, so right now, everyone looked familiar and friendly compared to the orcs that had been her companions.

Kaya did not know how long they walked, but the further they went, the weaker she began to feel. The lack of food and water, and disuse of her muscles were taking a toll on her. She stumbled and almost fell, but Nohlani caught her and picked her up in his arms, holding her carefully, almost reverently, and began walking in the direction they were heading. As she look ahead, she could make out in the distance a open space, a square, with a large wall on the other side. She could hear the yells and battle cries of men, dwarves and elves ring through the air, as well as the clash of steel. She felt the ground quake beneath them, then heard a roar fill the air as a thunderous crack reached everyone's ears. They must have broken through the gate. She thought. Her heard was beginning to swim and she was feeling a little cold, she surmised that she might be going into shock. But she did her best to keep her vision focused on what was ahead. Nohlani finally stopped and sat Kaya down, but as she was being lowered to the ground, she could see down by the gate, one elf, that stood out from the rest. It is a great commander who fights alongside his men. she thought. She then felt cool water trickle over her lips and down her throat and could only concentrate on that.

****

The young elf ran through the crowds of soldiers as fast as he could. He had to let Commander Ithramir know who they found. He zipped back and forth between buildings, avoiding the orcish archers that were still hidden among the rubble. Every once in a while an arrow wizzed past his head, chipping stone as it struck a building, but never truly coming close to him. Daveon had not been appointed runner for nothing. He was one of the fastest there was, even if those above him did not realize it. Just because he was young and new to battle, they figured he would crack under pressure and not be able to do his job. But Daveon would show them and now he was delivering a message to Commander Ithramir himself. How many runners get to speak with the Commander directly?" He thought. He came to the square and could see the dwarves working on the gated wall. He searched the crowds until he found his target, the Commander. Daveon took a deep breath and made the last long dash to where he needed to go. A few more archers did their best to get him, but he ducked and weaved like a pro and dodged every single one of the attempts. He started to get close to the Commander, but was stopped by some higher up. He caught his breath and told the elf he had a message only for the Commander, that s special prisoner had been found. The Elf tried to get more from Daveon but could see that the young one wanted the chance to meet the commander himself, so he smiled and led the boy to Ithramir.

"Commander Ithramir Sir! A runner has just come in with news for you." Ithramir took a step over to Daveon and looked upon the young elf.

"What is your name lad?"

"Daveon, sir!"

"Well Daveon, let's here this news that cannot wait." Daveon stood up straight and began telling the Commander that his unit had been sent to clear out buildings along the left run of the wall and that they had found a basement that contained many cells and many prisoners, all elves. Then he said her name, Kaya'Talas and pointed back towards the way he came. Those that had been listening, including Ithramir could see across the square, Nohlani carefully setting down the woman they had found.

*Cowardly dog

** Your Choice

***At last! Help me! Hurry hurry

****Do I know you?

*****I am Kaya"Talas. I hail from Nen A'Naur my friend. Well met and when do we leave?

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