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Book Two - A Gathering Storm

Written by - Rikshanthas Page 19 Book 2

Lienad walked from the infirmary toward the keep gate, where he could hear the rams pounding against the great doors. His mind was racing; what was happening to him? First the dream on the trail, now this ... but the dream had been simple, he saw his own and Sharanya's deaths if they had continued on to Westgale. This ... this vision, was something else, abstract, confusing ... yet as he examined every detail he could recall, referencing what he knew already of the situation, it almost began to make some measure of sense. He had heard the commander of this battalion, Ithramir if he remembered the name right, was an Avatar or some such; Lienad concluded he must have been the shining warrior. The orc, then, was the Avatar of some orcish god or other ... which left the shadow beast. He focused his mind's eye on the nebulous black thing he saw in the vision, and he felt, more than saw, something female, elven? He couldn't be sure, but he thought he could recall a body lying at the heart of the shadow, possibly a poor soul the thing had possessed. The battle he witnessed, he was sure, was a distorted version of the final battle to secure Minas Aure, which would begin in moments once the door was breached. So he didn't have much time, hours at most, to figure out the rest of it, find out how to stop this ... hell-thing, from killing him when he lowers his guard ...

Finally his frustration boiled over and, looking up to the heavens, he shouted, "What do you want from me?! Don't you have enough guinea pigs to play with, that you have to screw my head around?! Find someone else to mess around with! Go fry your Champion's head with these visions and LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!"

Sharanya, who had seen him leave the infirmary and followed him out, witnessed this outburst with genuine puzzlement; hadn't he only had the one dream while they were on the trail? When he didn't move for several moments, save for his fists clenching and unclenching at his sides, she approached and put an arm around his shoulders. "What's wrong?" she asked, though she was beginning to figure out the answer.

He relaxed slightly, leaning against her. "Some god's decided to make me their errand boy," he replied irritatedly. Finally, he shrugged and said flippantly, "I have to find some Champion or other, tell him about an evil fog-bitch that's going to kill an elven nightlamp. Or something like that. Which they probably know already, so I'm not getting the point of using my brain for a flashcard. You coming?" And he turned to leave.

"Oh, I wouldn't miss this for the world," she replied, linking her arm in his as they walked toward the gate, where they found the door nearly battered down and the army making ready to charge. Next to the gate stood a dark-skinned elf in armor, whose face immediately brought to mind the great warrior of his vision, speaking with two men and a woman. Lienad was reluctant to approach, but Sharanya ushered him forward. "Look, even if they do already know, it never hurts to have an extra sword handy, and who knows, you might know something they don't." So the two approached together, Lienad clearing his throat awkwardly in an attempt to find the right words.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

"Lithwyn, you say? A beautiful name... it suits you well. Well, if you don't like being here, let's leave. I'm in no hurry, and, to tell you truly, I'm not really all that comfortable here myself." For once, he was telling the truth.

"Where are my manners? I still haven't intoduced myself. My name is Leov. Leov Klein." He did not bow to her, as most men would - he merely kept walking at his leisurely pace, slowly moving closer to Lithwyn the further they got down the hallway. "Now, what did you have in mind for us to do? For you, Lithwyn, I have all the time in the world."

Walking with him, she vaguely wondered how many women fell for a charmer such as he. Personally, she never could stomach the sort. Men who captured her attention tended to be a bit rougher on the exterior, serious, filled with a sense of urgency and purpose, leader of men, protector of women and children... Ithramir. Snapping back to the conversation, she noted his name and lack of formality. Oddly, that improved her opinion of him. At least he wasn't completely driven to impress or woo.

"Thank you for your kind words, Leov. A pleasure to meet you, I'm sure." Bowing her head to hide the amusement behind her eyes, she realizes she had subconciously tapped into Kaia'hanas. She could feel the warmth of love and power coming through her, affecting Leov in a very primitive way. Not wanting to influence his emotions, she quiets the minor glamor effect ruefully. With no real purpose of tricking him other than amusement, she has no intention of creating a lasting impression on the poor young man.

"Well, we could walk around the gardens while you tell me tales of adventure. I know almost all there is to know about the citadel and am much more interested in what you do." Flashing a smile, she leads their walk outside.

Written by - Turin Wallace

"Now, Sir, where may I be of most help in healing?"

Ithramir unfurled one of his arms and pointed to the wall they had just come through to reach him, saying,

"Back through that wall should be a makeshift infirmary, I am sure our clerics will be more than pleased at having an added hand to take care of the casualties coming in."

As they were standing there, Ithramir see's the young mage Renalis step over and say,

"As you know, I pledged myself to your cause Lord Ithramir, but during my time between worlds I encountered many a demon, both numerous and powerful, perhaps I too may be able to lend my aid. I fight alongside you at the front."

Looking to Renalis, he replies,

"I see. Very well then, as you heard our conversation, the same rules apply to you. If you wish to fight at the front, then by all means, you are more than welcome to do so."

Giving the young mage a slight nod, he then watches as yet another pair of individuals come up to him. Noticing the reluctance, and subsequent pushing of the male by his female companion, he says,

"First off, who are you? You are not in the army. Second, what is it you need of me?"

Ithramir studies the couple as he waits for their response.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

As Leov exited the citadel, he was greeted with a gentle breeze. "Just what are you planning?" He questioned Tiertiala as commonly as he would one of his friends. "Well, we could walk around the gardens while you tell me tales of adventure. I know almost all there is to know about the citadel and am much more interested in what you do." Lithwyn said with a smile. Her words struck a nerve. Leov thought to himself, "Adventure!? If you can call being worked and treated worse than a dog night and day... watching everything you've ever known burn and everyone you love suffer because of your actions adventure, then I've had a hell of an 'adventure'. And there's no need for you know my intentions, little girl." Leov moved away from her in defiance of Tiertiala's will. "And I WILL NOT be your pawn," he said inwardly in anger to Her.

Calming himself, Leov responded to Litwyn's unwelcome prodding: "I've had no adventures to speak of. I'm just a simple trader. As a matter of fact, I just stopped by here on the way back from an expedition to Ayatol where I came into the possession of some Elven relics. I was hoping to make a tidy profit from them here before heading on to Tarka to take care of... more pressing matters. That's why I was looking to meet with the commander." The wind blew again - a gentle, nudging breeze - and Leov whistled "The Mockingbird's Hymn" in continued defiance. Finishing the song, he decided to turn the tables on both his companion and Tiertiala: "What about you Lithwyn? What do you do to make a living?"

Written by - Trinni Shannon

"I've had no adventures to speak of. I'm just a simple trader. As a matter of fact, I just stopped by here on the way back from an expedition to Ayatol where I came into the possession of some Elven relics. I was hoping to make a tidy profit from them here before heading on to Tarka to take care of... more pressing matters. That's why I was looking to meet with the commander."

Raising an eyebrow at his sudden mood swing, she remains silent for a moment, slightly surprised.

"What about you Lithwyn? What do you do to make a living?"

Replying sincerely, if not a bit puzzled, "I am a priestess within the citadel. I try to heal those who need it, I try to help others learn the art. My experience brings with it certain responsibilities, but all in all I enjoy what I do."

Stopping, she turns to him and continues in complete seriousness, "I didn't mean to pry into your life, I simply wondered about what life on a ship was like. Please forgive me if I offended you with my simple question. If you like, I can prattle on about Lothiel-Gadith." Bowing low, frowning a bit, she straightens and then turns away, walking on without awaiting a response.

Written by - Rikshanthas

Lienad sketched a rough bow before replying. "Call me Rikshanthas. And you're right, Shara and I were headed for the Citadel when we saw the troops camped out on the plains; we followed them in last night. At her insistance," he added, giving her a sideways glance. "Once we got the sitch from one of your lieutenants -- you are Commander Ithramir right? -- I figured an extra sword or two would come in handy," he continued, idly placing a hand on Khelek'urya's hilt. "And Shara's been making herself useful in the infirmary," he finished, indicating her bandaged leg and his own expertly-tended injuries.

She smiled, and gesturing to Tempyst, as she had overheard the commander's last comment, added, "I can show you where it is. They are kind of backlogged over there, an extra hand would be welcome." And she gestured an invitation to leave. "Tell them," she whispered in a stern aside to Lienad before moving away. He sighed softly, rolling his eyes. "Fine. Who needs sanity anyway," he muttered.

Turning back to Ithramir, he explained, "A little while ago I had a ... a vision, of the coming battle. At least I think it was this battle, it wasn't clear ..." He met their gazes evenly. "Look, you probably think I'm crazy, hell I'm starting to wonder myself, but I know I saw a massive fight, and you were in the middle of it," he pointed at Ithramir, "yet I know I've never seen you before in my life. And you were glowing like the sun itself, kicking the crap out of one nasty-looking orc." He paused a moment before continuing. "I had trouble making sense of the rest, but there was this ... shadowy thing. When I saw it I felt sheer fury, like it was insulting me personally with its mere presence. I've never felt such black hatred in my life." He shook his head. "Anyway, as I understand it, this shadow thing was hiding in an elf; at least there was something elven about it, and something female - though whether that's the creature itself or its host I couldn't say. It had managed to get close to you in the chaos; you were so focused on the battle with the orc that this thing was going to make a clean strike -- I could feel its gloating, made me want to tear the thing apart, but I couldn't get to it. There is someone who could, though, and defeat it -- a champion of some kind. I just have to find them."

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Replying sincerely, if not a bit puzzled, "I am a priestess within the citadel. I try to heal those who need it, I try to help others learn the art. My experience brings with it certain responsibilities, but all in all I enjoy what I do." Stopping, she turns to him and continues in complete seriousness, "I didn't mean to pry into your life, I simply wondered about what life on a ship was like. Please forgive me if I offended you with my simple question. If you like, I can prattle on about Lothiel-Gadith."

Leov yawned and stretched his arms out towards the sun, vainly attempting to grasp it. He brought his arms down and locked his hands behind his head before continuing on. "No worries. I didn't mean to be so snappish. I've got a hundred other things on my mind right now." One hundred twenty seven other thoughts were heavy on his mind, especially one named Sloan. "A priest, you say... well doesn't that beat all. I'm glad you enjoy what you do, but I've always preferred the Bottle to the Word, myself," he said after a short pause. "Thank you for the tour offer, but I don't intend on staying here long. There's someplace I have get back...to," he said, adding the last word just late enough to make it conspicuous. "And as for life on a ship... it's nothing special. If you're really so interested in it, I'll show you around my ship. It's not much to look at, but it'll get the job done. I'll even show you what I picked up in Ayatol, if you'd like." Leov really didn't care if he had offended the priestess or not, though he hoped his Little Phoenix wouldn't become an Albatross hanging around his neck.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Shrugging, she walks slowly, her face tilted heavenward, enjoying the sunshine. Pausing a moment, she basks in the warmth, letting it fill her before continuing.

"It was just mild curiosity, nothing to cause trouble over. What sorts of relics have you brought? And you mentioned they were elven? Think I can have a look at them before you start bargaining with the commander? I may not have such an open opportunity after you begin negotiations, and I've always had a fondness for artifacts."

Glancing back at him, she smiles to calm his nerves.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

"It was just mild curiosity, nothing to cause trouble over. What sorts of relics have you brought? And you mentioned they were elven? Think I can have a look at them before you start bargaining with the commander? I may not have such an open opportunity after you begin negotiations, and I've always had a fondness for artifacts."

"She doesn't seem the type...but...I wonder if she isn't trying to pull a swindle of her own..." Leov thought as he returned her smile. "Sure, I suppose I could let you take a look at them. It's not much, just a few old weapons - mainly swords and daggers - some statues and stacks upon stacks of books." He led her back to the boomtown where Tiertiala's Grace was docked at his own leisurely pace.

Shortly after setting foot on the main deck a familiar voice greeted him: "Uncle Leov! You're back!" Leov turned quickly and scooped his niece up in his arms as she ran towards him. "And what are doing up here all by yourself? Where's Mommy and Daddy?" Wrapping her arms around Leov's neck, Sloan responded with a child's candor: "Mommy and Daddy are 'out on the town' whatever that means. I'm helping Grandpa Dom play cards with mister Gilbert and mister Aloray." Laughing, Leov sat her down on the deck, "Well I can see they're in good hands! Tell you what..." he reached into one of his pockets and found a platinum coin, he flipped it in the air then handed it to Sloan, "when they finish that hand, tell them to take you to town." Sloan thanked her uncle, then ran off towards the three and immediately began demanding to go to the town. After a good laugh, Leov turned back to Lithwyn, "Just a moment." He quickly went to his quarters and grabbed the book, still wrapped in the captain's pillowcase. The cats were sitting on the table looking at him quizically. "What? Go catch a mouse or something," he said casually. A pair of shadows accompanied him out. "Now then, if you'll follow me."

Leov moved quickly down to the cargo hold, failing to outrun his little shadows, and took the tops off the five enormous crates still down there. "Well, this is it. Not much, but it's in decent condition for the most part. The only pieces missing are a sword and a dagger, which I'm keeping." He hesitated a bit before finally deciding to tell her about the captain's book. "I also found this," he said uneasily as he handed her the book, "but I don't think it's Elven. In fact, I have no idea what it is." He waited, hoping for some light to be shed on the book's dark secret, and perhaps a clue on what to do about it.

****

Turning back to Ithramir, he explained, "A little while ago I had a ... a vision, of the coming battle. At least I think it was this battle, it wasn't clear ..." He met their gazes evenly. "Look, you probably think I'm crazy, hell I'm starting to wonder myself, but I know I saw a massive fight, and you were in the middle of it," he pointed at Ithramir, "yet I know I've never seen you before in my life. And you were glowing like the sun itself, kicking the crap out of one nasty-looking orc." He paused a moment before continuing. "I had trouble making sense of the rest, but there was this ... shadowy thing. When I saw it I felt sheer fury, like it was insulting me personally with its mere presence. I've never felt such black hatred in my life." He shook his head. "Anyway, as I understand it, this shadow thing was hiding in an elf; at least there was something elven about it, and something female - though whether that's the creature itself or its host I couldn't say. It had managed to get close to you in the chaos; you were so focused on the battle with the orc that this thing was going to make a clean strike -- I could feel its gloating, made me want to tear the thing apart, but I couldn't get to it. There is someone who could, though, and defeat it -- a champion of some kind. I just have to find them."

Lucant said with a serious tone, reluctantly becoming used to his own position: "I believe that I am the person you seek. Nyrondis has also spoken to me about this demon and has charged Tempyst and I with safeguarding Lord Ithramir. I must thank you for shedding some light on the situation. If you would protect Lord Ithramir as well, it would be my honor to fight alongside you, Sir Rikshanthas." A'lanthear's words You need stand alone no longer. rung clearly in his mind and in his heart.

Written by - Rikshanthas

Lienad's right eyebrow rose as Lucant explained himself, but when the man called him 'Sir Rikshanthas' he gave a self-deprecating snort. "So you're the one ... well you can drop the 'sir', mate, I'm just a merc trying to make his way in the world," he said with a lopsided grin. More soberly, he continued, "I'll do what I can, but this is uncharted land to me. I've never bothered with the gods and until recently they've never bothered me." Yet even as he said the words they rang oddly false to his ears; he felt he should be remembering something, yet he couldn't understand what. He frowned, and his eyes drifted to the hilt of A'lanthear. Now why does that sword look familiar? He shrugged. "I have to stay for the rest of the siege anyway, if for no other reason than to make sure Sharan -" he caught himself abruptly, "Shara, will be safe." Inwardly he cursed his loose tongue, and he glanced surreptitiously at the elven commander, fervently hoping he had missed that brief slip. He quickly shifted the topic. "I feel bad for the poor soul that creature's hiding in though, it's probably got her twisted worse than a corkscrew. You want to try to save her or is she already a write-off?"

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir listened and the man introduced himself as Riksanthas and proceeded to tell him about his visions. Ithramir says nothing as Lucant and Riksanthas exhange their words, fully aware of his slip at adding a "n" to the woman Shara's name, until finally he has enough,

"Riksanthas, yourself and Shara, are welcome to join us here and to help. Seems we have enough prophets and protectors here, I suppose we can go back to fighting a war. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a siege to finish."

Brushing past the group of folks that has surrounded him, Ithramir makes his way back to the front, checking on the progress of the dwarves battering the gate. With each massive "boom" the gates get weaker, it's only a matter of minutes now before it crumbles, and they all go streaming in.

Ithramir inwardly chuckles to himself that his greatest threat wasn't the Orcs waiting to pounce from inside, but from some dark, shadowy figure that no one can find. Breathing in deeply, he simply dismisses any thought of this demon for now and focuses on the task at hand.

Written by - Tempyst

The demon had been listening to Kaya all this time, listened to her sing, listened to her state her new resolve. He laughed to himself, How arrogant these creatures are, all of them, thinking they can do anything against one from the abyss. But let her believe she cna win this battle, all the more succulent it will be when I bring her tumbling down. He watched silently, but felt a surge of triumph as the other elves broke through and rescued the poor, little prisoner. He thought it was a nice touch when the one in charge carried her through the street for all to see. Yes, she's weak, helpless, at the moment, make everyone aware of who she is and how she is.

He watched through her eyes, the concern of those around her, and it took all his will not to bust out and take control of his pawn and kill them all. His hunger and hatred were great, but his patience was greater. Also, he knew if he did not complete his mission, he would be bound in this realm forever. He opened his senses, taking in the fear, the blood lust, the drive to kill from all the creatures that were fighting this war. He basked in the energy it gave him, soaking it all up like a sponge, storing it for when it was needed. Wait, what is that? The demon shook inside of Kaya, extending it's senses out a bit more, not wanting to reveil anything of itself, but suddenly needing to find something. There it is! There it is. He chuckled and pulled back his senses. Hunters. At least two of them and a slayer. How charming. Well, it seems this won't be as simple as I had thought, but by no means is it impossible. In fact, this should make it all the more deliscious. The demon new he had to be really careful now and not expell any energy if he did not have to. If the hunters did not pick up on it, the slayer would. He was glad that the spell of binding had also been afflicted upon his host, making sure she could not tell anyone, any important information about who sent them.

The game has truly begun, too bad, I already know who wins. But still, it shall be fun to play. The demon settled back into Kaya, watching, waiting.

Written by - Tempyst

The elven woman called Shara smiled and gestured to Tempyst, "I can show you where it is. They are kind of backlogged over there, an extra hand would be welcome." And she gestured an invitation to leave.

"Be safe Lucant, and you too A'lanthear." She gave Lucant a kiss upon the cheek and pushes a small pouch into his hand. "These berries will continue to give you stamina until there is time for us to rest." Then she brushed a hand over the swords hilt. She turned to Shara and smiled back, following. "My name is Tempyst and I wish it could be under better circumstances that we meet." She looked out in front of her, letting out a soft sigh. "It appears we need to cross the square again, I was just over there. Be wary of arrows my friend." With that, Tempyst sprinted to cover along the edge of the square and began to make her way back to safer ground. She looked back and saw Shara following. When they reached the other side, she looked around and could see wounded here, in fact, they were everywhere, but most were still on their way to battle, ignoring their injuries. "So, Shara, is there someplace specific we should go, or shall we start anywhere?" She looked around, her eyes taking in auras, trying to discern who was in greater need, Then her eyes rested upon a haggared looking elven woman. Her aura was darkened, indicating something truly was wrong with her. "Here, this one needs help." Tempyst moved over to the woman and the male elf that was kneeling beside her. "I am Tempyst, a druid, perhaps I can be of help to your friend."

The male elf turned to Tempyst. "I am Nohlani and please, if you can help her you must, she is of great importance. Her name is Kaya'Talas. We found her a short while ago, in a small cell, she has been kept prisoner by the orcs for who knows how long."

Tempyst kneeled beside Kaya and ran a hand over her forhead. "She is dehydrated and weak from lack of food, but I think I have something that can help." She was a prisoner, hmm? That could explain the darkness I see. Who knows what they have done to her and for how long. As Tempyst searched one of her pouches for something, she turned and smiled up to Shara. "So, where do you and your friend hail from? It seems you have been traveling a long ways." As she spoke, she looked to the other side of the square to where her husband was, and felt a tug at her soul. Be well my loves, be well.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

"I feel bad for the poor soul that creature's hiding in though, it's probably got her twisted worse than a corkscrew. You want to try to save her or is she already a write-off?" Lucant was taken aback by how casually the man spoke of the possessed girl. "She is not a..."write-off"... I will save her. I have to save her... if I can't... if I don't... then I'll never be able to forgive myself."

"Riksanthas, yourself and Shara, are welcome to join us here and to help. Seems we have enough prophets and protectors here, I suppose we can go back to fighting a war. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a siege to finish." Brushing past the group of folks that has surrounded him, Ithramir makes his way back to the front, checking on the progress of the dwarves battering the gate. With each massive "boom" the gates get weaker, it's only a matter of minutes now before it crumbles, and they all go streaming in.

Tempyst then approached him as the Elven woman called Shara motioned for them to leave. "Be safe Lucant, and you too A'lanthear." She gave Lucant a kiss upon the cheek and pushes a small pouch into his hand. Lucant hugged her tightly, reluctant to let go for fear that he would never see her again. "Be safe," he whispered.

Turning back to Rikshanthas and noticing him looking at A'lanthear, he said gravely: "I would like to speak more with you about your visions, but it seems we haven't much time left before the Dwarves are through the gate."

Another ear-splitting boom rang out across the devastated city as both armies stood at the razor's edge.

Written by - Rikshanthas

As they exited the square, Sharanya turned to the young woman called Tempyst and said, "you can relax now, this part of the keep's been secured. An orc would have to be a better shot than I am to endanger us here," and her tone firmly discounted that possibility. She had arranged to exit near the ruined complex that housed the battlefield infirmary, which was now only a short walk away; they could see soldiers with minor wounds heading back to the field, while the more severely injured rested on pallets in the various rooms as healers made their way around. Fortunately, she noticed, those leaving the infirmary seemed to outnumber the new arrivals somewhat.

"So, Shara, is there someplace specific we should go, or shall we start anywhere?" Tempyst said, looking around. "Anywhere's fine, just take it by degree of urgency," Sharanya replied absently, moving to assist a human soldier being supported by one of his fellows; the man's right arm had been severed just below the elbow, and he held it tightly in his left hand in an attempt to stanch the blood seeping between his fingers. She sat him down next to an elven woman Tempyst was assisting, moving quickly to stop the bleeding and bandage the stump. With her mind all but focused on healing his wound, she thought of Nagarren for the first time in years; ever since she had walked away from the Temple as a young acolyte.

She was just finishing with the soldier when Tempyst asked her, "So, where do you and your friend hail from? It seems you have been traveling a long ways." The young woman's casual address, oddly enough, touched off a trace of the High Born arrogance she'd thought she had long since buried, and she had to bite back a haughty retort. Instead she replied, "We came from the south; we were at a small outpost called Fort Darkwood, working with the local guard. It turns out we left less than a day before Beridane's hooligans sacked it. I was told they left none alive," she said quietly. "We were going to go to Westgale, but then we ... well, we ran into the army heading from Lothiel-Gadith. He wanted to go on to the Citadel at first, but it didn't take him long to change his mind when I said I wanted to help my people. Personally I think he relishes any excuse to use that dratted sword of his, even if it might kill him," she said, the heat in her voice not quite masking her concern.

****

"She is not a..."write-off"... I will save her. I have to save her... if I can't... if I don't... then I'll never be able to forgive myself," the man called Lucant said fervently, though Lienad was hardly surprised by his vehemence; as he watched the slightly shorter and much younger man he found himself thinking, poor sod. I used to be young like that once. 'Don't think I was ever that idealistic though.

"Rikshanthas, yourself and Shara," Lienad caught the almost imperceptible emphasis and winced inwardly, "are welcome to join us here and to help. Seems we have enough prophets and protectors here, I suppose we can go back to fighting a war. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a siege to finish," Ithramir said, brushing past them and making his way to the front. Lienad watched him go, then smiled slightly in grudging admiration. "Now there's a man I can respect," he said finally, his eyes drifting back to A'lanthear.

"I would like to speak more with you about your visions, but it seems we haven't much time left before the Dwarves are through the gate," Lucant said gravely, his statement punctuated by another ear-splitting boom and the sound of cracking wood. "I hear that," Lienad agreed, loosening Khelek'urya in its sheath with a sigh of resignation. He discovered Sharanya had at some point reattached the Orc Poker to his belt without his noticing, and he looked toward the infirmary, silently thanking her. Turning back to Lucant, he said sympathetically, "Just so we're clear, kid, I do care what happens to the girl. Nobody deserves that kind of torment. I just don't hold any illusions of getting her out in one piece; for all we know, by the time we find her a quick death might be the best thing we could give her." His words were leaden with the weight of far too much experience with similar situations.

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