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Book Two - A Gathering Storm

Written by - Ardwen Page 22 Book 2

The doors of the keep wavered, the Dwarven siege engine finally taking its toll. Ardwen could almost sense the weakness of the door; the helm swiveled to the source and watched it with complete attention. Another boom resounded through the air, the berserker took a few steps to the gate, abandoning his mad assault on the impregnable walls of the keep.

Ithramir shouted to make his voice heard above the din,

"Prepare yourselves! Charge them when the doors give way!"

The door moans, creaks, and then falls to the crafty efforts of the Dwarves. Ardwen rushes toward the now open citadel, the sent of Orc flesh filling his mind. The charge began moments before he arrived, Ithramir giving one final directive, "Death to all Orcs!" Words meant nothing to the Beast, but the emotion was plain Ithramir wished for something to die, and the Beast was eager to comply.

There was a mad rush into the courtyard; arrows rained down on the assaulting force as they attempted to cut a swath through the Orcish ranks. The Orcs had been anticipating their attack, but for all their preparations they were no match for the savage fury that the Elves unleashed upon them. The Orcs knew they were running out of ground to yield, at every turn and counter they made their foes bleed for every foot of ground gained.

The courtyard was secured after a bloody fight, and the forces rushed up the stairs to the first floor of the keep. More Orcs attempted to impede their progress, they were growing desperate by now, fighting with reckless abandon and the zeal that only those who know that there could be no retreat or surrender can muster. They used the contours of the room to their advantage, ducking behind overturned tables and dodging around pillars. But death was amongst them.

Ardwen did not register how many he killed, but his armor ran with rivulets of red. One particularly clever Orc lured the mad warrior to a pillar, and when Ardwen swung his mighty blade the Orc sidestepped to put the pillar between him and the blow. It was a clever ploy, and by all rights it should have worked. This fact, however, was probably of little comfort to the Orc as the berserk’s sword crashed through the pillar and into its chest. The Beast was hungry still, the warriors that stood before him were too weak, to unskilled . . . lessers in every sense of the word.

And the Beast knew from whence their weakness came. Despite losing control of the city, despite the alliance pushing them back to the very core of the city, they still held hope. That was their weakness, the Orcs thought that if they fought well enough, hard enough, they might still win the day and live. But Ardwen knew better, hope is the first step on the road to disappointment. The warriors of Avari were taught from their inception to fight as if they were already dead, retreat was never an option, for an Elf who abandoned his post or ran would be forever dishonored and shamed, his own brothers would lay him low for cowardice. Even though True Death was not possible, Avari kept the practice, it taught new recruits to hold the line.

Another flight of stairs, and more Orcs. But this time, it was different. From the onset it was obvious these were the crack soldiers the Orcs possessed, bolstered by strange figures who stood in the back of the room and waved their hands with strange tones escaping from their throats. But to a Beast, what does it matter if your pray sings or screams? Ardwen charged amongst their numbers, many of the Orc elite were brutes strong enough to cleave a man’s limbs off with one blow, huge thugs that were more muscle than brain. They were good. But then, the Beast preferred pray that squirmed before it was devoured. Three at once charged at Ardwen, and in a barbaric rage the berserker twisted his whole body in his blows, his armor adding to his strength, he spun like a scythe through a wheat field, his massive blade took three at a time through the midsection. One of the Orcish shamans screamed something, and a ball of force hit Ardwen in the chest, rocketing him back into a nearby pillar. He hit the pillar, hit the floor, and sprang right back up – feeling nothing.

And then the retreat was called, and Ardwen was distraught at that retreat –he did not understand it – it took Elven soldiers tugging and gesturing to get him to understand. Were they not the scions of Twilight? To retreat before these scum was worse than death! But, in the end, the oath won out, an order was an order. The second time the retreat was sounded, the Beast made an example. Even the elite troops of this level had been cowed, avoiding him when they could, going after others. Ardwen stopped, the last to depart down the flight of stairs, the white gashes that seemed eyes on his helm stared pure hate at the Orcs. He reached down to one of the Orcish corpses, ripped off an arm with his bare hands, brought it up to the mouth of the helm, and the helm bit down.

With a bestial growl Ardwen advanced down the stairs to the assembly on the flight below. When he arrived his annoyance was at its zenith, there was yet more blood to spill. But then, Ithramir spoke, "I need ten volunteers for an assault on the third floor, who will join me? Avandor himself will bless us all and give us our chance at glory. So I ask again, who shall answer this call?" These were strange words, and the Beast dropped the Orc arm (it was rather stringy anyhow) to focus on them. Words, words had meaning didn’t they? What was the Blood asking?

Look at the man, not the words. Ithramir’s eyes were shifting throughout the room, going from man to man, he was looking? Yes, looking. But for what? And then an Elf stepped forward, spoke, and stopped. And then a human, and then another Elf. What were they doing? Ardwen grunted in frustration, why were they not fighting? Were there not – and then it dawned on the Beast. They were going to fight, they retreated because the fight above was too easy! What good was a bad fight? The recruits learned nothing, and there was no cause for celebration afterward. Ithramir was obviously calling for those who wanted a better fight to step up. Well, in that case . . .

Ardwen stepped forward, the helm’s eyes locked on Ithramir. But he could not speak, for the Beast had no words, had no voice other than its sword. But the Elf inside knew gestures, it could speak with hands and motion, could it not? “Ardwen?” The Beast’s mind called out, “Tell the Elf we wish to kill more. We do don’t we? Yessss, we do.” Ardwen dropped his blade on the floor and his hands came up, covered in gore and blood and black plate. His hands shook like a human’s on its deathbed, so strong was the Beast’s urge to stoop down and pick up the blade again, it took all his focus . . . Ardwen made the sign of Avari, three fingers held diagonally in a sign of respect, he then pointed at Ithramir, then himself, and then he made the sign again. The Beast looked at Ithramir, not sure if he understood, and let out something between a whine and a grunt of frustration.

Written by - Sycon

"That one M'lord," a mage said outloud, singling the strange mage out "He will aid us, and is more than capable of doing it."

Sycon's thoughts were interrupted at these words. Even with his eyes closed, he knew he was being called upon. One can just feel some things like the wind through your hair. His left eye opened first, then his right, slowly. He looked out into the crowd of faces that had just turned in his direction.

This was what he was hoping to aviod. Then again it couldn't be all that bad. He had his chance to fight along with some of the greater warriors here. Might as well play it off as best he can, before he really gets into trouble.

Sycon tipped his blade to the floor, almost as a walking stick with one hand at the top. He looked from the mage who had so rudely pointed him out to Ithramir's face. Sycon suppressed the energies that he had just summoned, not released or diminished, just suppressed for the time being. This would at least lower his awareness once the conversation would take a different route other than this one.

But as long as he was the center of it...he decided to put on a grim face and a monotone voice for this occassion.

"Aye, I will...m'lord." The m'lord was thrown in for good measure and bowed his head slightly toward Ithramir as he spun his sword on the ground with his hand on the top of the hilt and tip of the blade on the floor. He figured it would relax all those who did not know him... and everyone did not know him... and he hoped no one would point out that they didn't know him.

He shot the mage another glance and looked him over. Gave him a slightly benign yet quizzical look. He was stupid to let his energies go like that, especially when he was trying to stay hidden. He would not make the same mistake again of assuming no other mages were here with him.

Renalis...Sycon picked up the name from the mage's mind.

Written by - Rikshanthas

The kitchens were chaotic with the day's cooking when Vhar'Kanix and Aelarra arrived, but she managed to secure a well-balanced meal for the Loremaster as well as a bowl of soup for herself. The meal itself was interesting, but with Aelarra's amused coaxing he succeeded in not overstuffing himself. Their hunger sated, Vhar wished to speak with the senior Adepts at the mages' tower, so they headed over there together. After an hour or so of reseach and discussion they hadn't been able to come to any conclusions about his condition, but they did accept him fully as an ally, pending Lithwyn's approval. Aelarra was surprised at how logical, persuasive, even charming the Loremaster could be; he managed to procure from them a pair of enchanted lenses that would conceal his somewhat unsettling eyes before he left. As they exited the Tower, he turned and, adjusting the frames for effect, said, "Shall we see if we can't find the Lady now?"

****

Lienad examined his comrades-in-arms as they volunteered one by one for Ithramir's strike force, assessing which ones were worth their keep and which he'd have to keep an eye on. Ithramir himself automatically commanded respect; the man had probably been a general before Lienad's grandfather learned to walk. The lieutenant, though much younger, had the air of a veteran, and her sense of honor was admirable. He met Lucant's gaze and smiled almost imperceptibly; he was starting to like the kid. Probably barely grown to manhood, inexperienced, true; but he was blooded now, and he had a real brass pair to volunteer so quickly for such a dangerous task. Lienad would be happy to have him at his back, especially with that sword.

His gaze drifted to the mage, whom he eyed warily a moment, his meaning clear: You want to wiggle your fingers, fine, make it count. I prefer to trust steel. The two elves next to him were a question mark: the man's face was a mask of death, as one who had nothing left to lose -- not something Lienad liked to see, as it meant the elf might become reckless in combat. The girl, meanwhile, seemed rather young, but he guessed she could hold her own. Next was the second mage, the one pointed out by the first. Lienad spared him no more than a glance; he never did like 'casters. Then came a raven-haired elven woman who bore the scars of a long time campaigner; Lienad's elvish was a little rusty but the meaning of her shout couldn't have been clearer. She seemed familiar, somehow ... Lienad put the thought on hold for the time being, for the next volunteer nearly made him scratch the whole deal. What in the nine hells is that thing? He wondered as he gazed at the tall, black-plated figure. His nerve held, though, and he remained where he stood.

Quickly ticking the tally so far off on his fingers, he thought, just one more ... come on people, time's wasting ... he found his thoughts straying to Sharanya, no doubt working her fingers off in the infirmary. For once in his life glad not to have her at his side, content in the knowledge she was safe behind friendly lines, he prayed to whatever gods might be listening that he would be able to return to her.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir was not disappointed, to say the least, at the group who had stepped forward. Even if he had not seen them with his own eyes, he had heard of the skills each had showed so far. Still, he would be even more impressed if they all make it up those stairs.

Turning to Lucant, he replies,

"I have no need of a shield, Lucant, you need that. Your sword will be what we need, and of that, I gladly accept it. Take your place with me."

As Lucant moved, he heard captain Isuiln speak up. Looking to him, he replies,

"There's enough up there to satiate your bloodthirst, Isuiln. I accept the services of yourself and Trinni, now stand with me."

They needed six more, Ithramir thought. Just then, he heard the newcomer Lienad offer his blade and saluted him. In reply, Ithramir says,

"You have fought well and your skills will be tested further, but I think you may be up to the task. Join us."

Five more. The he hears Renalis speak out, to which he responds,

"A good battle mage is always welcome, Renalis. Come, there is much to be done."

Four more. Then he hears a strange voice from among the crowd. Glancing up, he see's the female elf who had been rescued earlier, and while her voice did not register to him, her name did. Staring directly at her, with an almost piercing gaze, he says,

"Kaya'Talas, your name is known to me, and your deeds even more so. They branded you an outlaw at best, traitor at the worst, and now we find you here. Very well then, sister, welcome to your new home where you can be accepted. Your blades are welcome among this group, stand with us."

Three more. Then he hears Renalis point out a mage trying to hide himself. He listens as the mage responds that he can, and will, help. Looking as the figure approaches them, he responds,

"You are unfamiliar to me, mage. I would have you explain youself to me for hiding in the shadows, but that is for another time. You are accepted into this group, do not fail us."

Two more. Hearing grunting noises, Ithramir looks up to see a crimson and black figure before him. With crude hand gestures and animal grunts, he can tell Ardwen is saying he wants to join them. The armor has taken him, for now, and truthfully he would be a worthy addition to the group despite this. Nodding to Ardwen, or rather the black and crimson clad figure before, Ithramir says,

"Yes, Ardwen, your place will not be taken by another. You are most welcome to join us. Your blade will drink more Orc blood before this day is over. Stand over here."

One more. All was quiet a moment until there was a commotion of the stairwell. Finally making it up the stairs it was captain Diosr. With hardly a hesitation, he raises his axe and says,

"You elves an' humans have lost ye bloody minds if'n your thinkin' ye ain't taking me wiff ya's. No more siege'n fir me! It's time fir some Orc killin'."

Ithramir looks at the dirty, yet brave, little dwarf and says,

"Of course, Diosr. We wouldn't have missed the fight without you. Now, stand here so we may begin."

After they were all assembled, Ithramir closed his eyes, and his body and armor began emitting small flames. To each one now assembled with him, they too began to emit a fiery glow, until Ithramir once again opened his eyes, saying.

"Avandor has blessed us with a ward against the Orcs magics, and speed to deflect and turn their blows against them. Hurry! For these blessings will not last long and we have a room to clear!"

Saying no more, Ithramir is the first to head up the stairs, the others following close behind. Once he reaches the top, he can see how potent the blessings were. The Orcs before them seem to move in slow motion, time flowing differently around them. Right in front of the staircase were two fiersome, towering Orc soldiers. In a mere moment, Ithramir had gutted them, allowing those behind a chance to find their own ground and to kill as many as possible.

For Ithramir, his target were the shamans. He utterly despises them, cowardly sitting behind their large soldier companions, hurling spells that cripple, decay, and kill. Remembering Avandor's words, Ithramir bolts through the slowed Orc fighters and reaches the back of the room. Here, he begins carving a bloody swath through the shamans. Two, three, four are down before he notices time speeding up.

Another group of shamans start casting spells at him, each one fizzling, but it won't be this way long. He see's Catherin, and yells,

"Catherin! The shamans, the shamans!"

She nods, finishes removing her sword from the neck of an Orc soldier, and converges on the group with Ithramir. The shamans move quicker now, he knows this isn't a good sign. With every effort he and Catherin strain to reach their targets. Finally, they tear into them just as the spells are released. Both can hear the spells crack and fizzle as they fail around them, their blades adding these the sounds of cut flesh and bone, Orc flesh and bone.

As the last shaman dies, Ithramir ramming it through with his sword and Catherin removing it's head, he turns around and faces the room.

The fight still rages, but the blessings have worked. Each member of the group has cut down five times as many as theirselves. Ithramir says,

"Come Catherin, time to help our friends and finish this mess."

As Ithramir darts off to help Lienad, who seems to have his hands full with three Orc soldiers at the moment, Catherin follows, saying,

"Right behind you, sir!"

Written by - Teran

Sabbatine's eyes widened as Mavigan approached, though she hardly noticed the Queen... her eyes were focused on Keeryn.

"T-teran... iss that thing for mee?" she almost begs while she licks her lips "I bet she tastess goood."

Teran looks Sabbatine squarely in the eyes. "No, everyone here is under my protection." his voice sounding very fatherly.

She looks up at him with wide trembling eyes, as though she'd have a hard time resisting but eventually she nods.

Teran turned and approached Mavigan still on her horse.

“Interesting friends you keep, Teran,” she said, keeping her tone light while resting wary eyes upon the unfamiliar.

Sabbatine squinted at Mavigan as though she were a blinding light that had suddenly been revealed. She hissed and poked her spear at Mavigan as a warning (she was at least twenty feet away and no threat to the queen.).

"None more interesting than you M'lady" he says in a voice that radiated supreme confidence.

He glanced up at Mav, his silvery hair falling away from his soft gray eyes.

"You already know Jasmine." he smiles wryly "The young woman with the spear is Sabbatine, she is our tracker."

Sabbatine giggled like a little girl when Teran called her a "young woman" but her happiness quickly turned to anger and she was hissing and poking her spear at Teran for calling her a tracker.

"Don't mind her" Teran whispered so that only Mavigan could hear "She will not harm you or your friends. She may seem unstable but she is more than she seems to be."

Sabbatine glared at them suspiciously for whispering but soon she was focused on Jasmine again, staring at her, grinning wickedly.

Teran smiled once again as he considered the group he had gathered.

"Shall we depart, or do you need a rest, my queen?"

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

As the squad assembled, Lucant's gaze was suddenly drawn towards the Elven woman - Kaya'Talas, Ithramir had called her. She carried herself with a sort of shattered dignity and her countenance was heavy with sorrow. He wanted to erase that sadness from her soul and show her the joy of life that he had so recently found. "Take heed, my master. Something is amiss. Keep your faculties sharp and show no fear." A'lanthear whispered. "As you say, A'lanthear. I will protect them. Not one shall fall so long as I draw breath," he whispered back with steadfast conviction. "Worry not, my master. We shall all be there for you." At the sword's final words, Lucant wanted nothing more than to be at Tempyst's side.

Before he could wish or worry, the squad charged up the staircase and into the next killing field. The few remaining shamans were easily cut to pieces thanks to Avandor's blessings. Moving out to secure the floor, Lucant found himself facing off against two orcs who wanted nothing more than to see him reduced to a red stain on the floor. Blocking the axe strike of the one in front, Lucant quickly breaks the lock and side-steps behind the stumbling orc. A flashing strike of A'lanthear's blade cut through the orc's back, severing his spine. The second Orc let out a beastial roar then charged Lucant in bloodlust. Seeing an opening that few would chance, Lucant brought A'lanthear up head heighth, as if he were preparing to strike. Lucant thrust forward with all of his strength committed to the blow, which landed true in the charging Orc's shoulder. The sheer momentum of the strike carried them both forward, pinning the orc against a beautiful wooden chair. Another roar bellowed forth from the wounded orc, who was writhing in pain. Half in mercy, half in rage, Lucant pulled A'lanthear from its trappings and crushed the orc's skull with a well-placed killing strike. Turning from the slaughter, disgusted by his own actions, Lucant headed out to help the others.

As he exited the room, he saw the elf that Ithramir had called Isuiln and his lieutenant engaged with a host of orcs. Rembering his vow, he charged forth to honor it.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya did not back down from Ithramir's stare, in fact, it made her feel more whole than she had felt in ages. "Kaya'Talas, your name is known to me, and your deeds even more so. They branded you an outlaw at best, traitor at the worst, and now we find you here. Very well then, sister, welcome to your new home where you can be accepted. Your blades are welcome among this group, stand with us." Kaya saluted Ithramir, her heart racing, anxious to fight along side this great leader.

She listened as the remaining volunteers stepped up, by looking at them, they were al able bodies. The one in the black armor though, seemed almost, possessed. Kaya choked, trying to keep herself from laughing at the insane comment in her head. It's not funny. Poor soul, whatever is afflicting him, I pity him. Then her attention turned back to the commander, watching his body and armor begin emitting small flames. Then she noticed that each one now assembled with him, began to also emit a fiery glow, until Ithramir once again opened his eyes, saying. "Avandor has blessed us with a ward against the Orcs magics, and speed to deflect and turn their blows against them. Hurry! For these blessings will not last long and we have a room to clear!"

Suddenly she felt the demon inside her stir. She let out a shrill scream, that to others must have sounded like a battle cry, but it was one of pain ond shock. It felt as if she was going to jum out of her own skin, then it felt like her skin was actually on fire, burning from the inside out. The demon screamed with her, inside her mind, she could feel his rage and anger swelling inside her. She stood back letting the others rush forward first, needing to regain her composure. After a moment, the demon stopped screaming, but the burning sensation was still there.

I look forward to your death Ithramir, The demon's shielded his thoughts from Kaya, thought it took every ounce of it's being to not lash out and kill everyone within his reach. You have only fueled me more by your falssse god'sss blesssssing and today you shall die knowing that he will not be able to ssssave you. He slipped back some, trying to keep his anger out of Kaya's senses, knowing if he overwhelmed her and caused her to pass out, all would be lost.

Kaya took a deep breath, feeling the demon subside, but her own anger was already fueled. I hate this! She screamed inside her head at the demon. "I HATE THIS!" She screamed and lunged forward to join in the fray.

Her sword and dagger struck true. She used her anger of Nohlani's death, her imprissonment, her absolute ability to loose control at any second to this thing inside her, the betrayal by her father, all of it fueled her, gave her strength and determination to slay as many orcs as she could. Yesss child, go forth and ssslaughter, give me power. After she had felled one orc, she turned and saw another rush forward to meet her. She let out a shout and ran forward to the oncoming orc. She was not in the mood for playing. She took a little hop, then jumped up on a chair, using her speed to help propel her further and higher. As she sailed over the orc's shoulder she brought her dagger down and landed a well placed strike between his neck grieves. The Orc put up a hand to his neck, now choking on his own blood. Kaya landed and tucked, spinning about and brought her sword around and took out his hamstring. As the orc crumpled, she pulled her dagger free, then plunged it down through his eye and into his brain. But yet, her anger was not saited, she wanted to kill more.

Kaya turned and followed the others, killing any along the way, or finishing off those they others left behind. She heard a grunt behind her and spun about and saw an orc swinging a great axe towards the one Ithramir had called Isuiln. The elf was busy with two orcs in front of him and did not see the orc behind. She let out another battle cry and rushed forward, plowing into the orc at the knees, buckling him. That seemed to get Isuiln's attention as she finished off the orcs in front of him just in time to see the one Kaya felled. It was simultaneous as Kaya and Isuiln both raised their swords and plunged them into the orc's chest. Kaya smiled, then kissed Isuiln's cheek as she darted past him to find her next prey.

Written by - Rikshanthas

"Avandor has blessed us with a ward against the Orcs magics, and speed to deflect and turn their blows against them. Hurry! For these blessings will not last long and we have a room to clear!" At Ithramir's shout, Lienad sprang into action, arriving ito the fray shortly behind the commander.

It took him a moment to adjust to the sluggish reactions of the orcs, but he decided to make use of it. As one orc began to lunge toward him, he launched himself into the air, using the off-balance orc as a springboard, and spiraled into the room, launching four of his daggers before landing in a combat crouch, Khelek'urya sweeping off the heads of three more orcs as he whipped it in a full circle. Another dropped as he hauled Orc Poker from his belt, but the remaining orcs seemed to be speeding up, or he was slowing down. He shortly found himself losing ground, and quickly swung his two blades in a whirlwind attack to cover his withdrawal to a more defensible position. He welcomed Ithramir's well-timed assistance in bringing down the three orcs who'd had him flanked, and expended another dagger on an orc coward who'd been about to run young Lucant through the back.

They had certainly made an accounting of themselves in those first few crucial minutes, Lienad noticed; he also noticed their small group had ended up nearly on the opposite side of the floor, with most of the remaining orcs between them and the stairs down. Fighting his way near the commander, he said with a wink and a grin between parries, "Want to do some smithing, mate?"

Written by - Tempyst

"Ithramir called for volunteers and they all have gone into the tower!" Tempyst heard a soldier cry out. She turned and looked to where he had come from and new Lucant had been one of the volunteers. I cannot stay back any longer; this is the final stand, I must stand with him. Tempyst toldthe nearest healer that she was going in, to attend those on the battlefield. The healer looked at her and nodded, but Tempyst had been speaking her concerns for her husband all day and new where she truly was going.

Tempyst gathered a bag of supplies and started running towards the epicenter, having to duck flying arrows and dash between soldiers and bodies on the ground. She stopped at one point, looking around lost, not sure which way to go. Then she felt the tug. She could feel A'lanthear calling to her, to the both of them, helping her find his aura even at a distance. She moved along the invisible rope she felt tied her to Lucant and made her way deeper inside the citadel walls, running growing more and more anxious with each step to get to him.

Finally she reached the inner walls and pushed her way through soldiers that were waiting to see what would happen with the eleven who had gone up the stairs. She could now feel Lucant up there, fighting, she could feel the life ebbing and flowing through the tower. Tempyst started to head to the stairs, but was stopped by a soldier grabbing her arm. "You can't go up there miss, Commander Ithramir only wanted himself and the volunteers to go up, they were blessed by Avandor." His grip tightened on her arm.

"I will go where I please. Now, let me go." Tempyst looked at the young elf and gave a tug, trying to move forward again.

"I'm sorry miss, I cannot let you do that." The elf pulled again at Tempyst's arm. She smiled and moved back towards him, then closed her eyes and whispered to all those she had called upon earlier. Suddenly the elf who had been delaying her progress let out a surprised yelp and let go of her arm. Those that heard him turned to see several snakes, hundres of bugs and spiders and all sorts of insects swarmed from Tempyst's cloak and onto the elf. She chuckled, watching the soldier dance around trying to get the bugs off; she knew they would not hurt him, but his reaction was priceless. Then she turned and hurried up the stairs.

There were bodies of dead orcs everywhere, some she even had to walk on to get through the corridor. She could hear the sounds of battle ahead of her now and her connection with Lucant strengthened. He will know I am close now. Please, A'lanthear, do not let him stray from his course, let him know we will be safe and that we are a team. Where he goes, I go. She turned a corner and found herself looking at the back of a man, wearing indigo armor, moving like he as in a mear robe. In front of him she could see two orcs barreling down upon him, swords ready to strike.

Written by - Renalis

"Avandor has blessed us with a ward against the Orcs magics, and speed to deflect and turn their blows against them. Hurry! For these blessings will not last long and we have a room to clear!"

Renalis could feel the blessing of Avandor wash over him, he could feel the protective magics go to work and he could see the world around him (with the exception of the other nine champions) moving to a creeping halt. Renalis quickly recognised this effect and went to work. He witnessed Commander Ithramir and his 2nd, Catherine charge through the Orcs and headed straight for the Shamans with Lienad following quickly in tow, "They have a handle on the Shamans, then I guess the rest are for us..." Renalis's thoughts trailed off as he bolted forward.

He left the right for the Beast that was once Ardwen to take care of - Renalis did not want to get in his way - so he took to the left side and went to work. Moving to the first Orc who was almost not moving at all, Renalis brought the sword up and removed the Orcs head from his body. Renalis dashed between Orcs, makeing short work of them, beheading and sliting throats with brutal efficiency. "These beasts will get no mercy from me..." Renalis muttered under his breath as we moved from one to another. "They're speeding up," he thought, "these last few won't be nearly as easy." Renalis finished off a rather large one with a quick stab into his forhead, and after seeing the blade exit the back of his skull, he withdrew it, the Orc slowly falling to the ground.

Finally with some room to manuver, Renalis realized the speed granted by Avandor was finally gone, and there were still two more that had Renalis in their sights... Renalis could feel the presence of another behind him, turning his head for a second he caught sight of a woman, "whats she doing here..." then he noticed she had a feeling about her... like Kel'Thalas, his Druid brother... "Gotta finish these two quick." Renalis sprited forward and as the Orcs brought their blades up to strike Renalis, he shunted a burst of energy into his body, speeding up again and using those precious few seconds, he plundged his blade into the right Orc's chest and send two bursts of magic into each hand, his right sending the energy down the sword - blasting the Orc off. As Renalis rolled to the right, the second burst left his palm and impacted the other Orc, sending him flying into the opposite wall - dead.

His eyes like blue saphires, flaring with an azure flame, he looked at the woman, "You shouldn't be here."

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst watched the man fight with both sword and magic and had to admit, she was a little impressed. But when he turned and spoke, and said that she shouldn't be here, she crossed her arms and gave him an 'oh really' type of look. "I shouldn't be here? I have every right to be here at the side of my husband. There is a demon after Ithramir and Lucant and I are a demon hunter team of Nyrondis. I will not stand by and let him fight without me. Besides, you never know, I may be of use." Tempyst turned and started down the hall, determined to find Lucant.

Written by - Sycon

Sycon watched as several others volunteered. Ithramir had pointed him out, not only as a member of the group, but as a person of the shadows. Normally, he was not a shadowy character, but he only wished to observe his surroundings before becoming so fully involved he could not do anything else about it.

The group gathered around Ithramir as it had reached its full number of ten. To Sycon's surprise, the supposed blessing from Ithramir actually came in full...and then some. He now glowed with a fiery light that he could not explain and could feel the lightness of his body and mind. He was not sure if the others had attuned themselves quite to this, but he could feel it before he had even taken a step.

Ithramir announced that the blessing would not last long, and with a shout from several of the others, they bounded up the stairs. Sycon had a plan to be the first into the fray, but that was not the case. Ithramir had beat him, the little devil, into the midst of the fighting. It was as Sycon had anticipated. A walls of orcs, protecting their shamans. They were not normal orcs either. They were larger and looked more ferocious. They wore armor and their weapons sharper.

Sycon locked eyes with one, allowing himself to fall deep into the orcs mind. Torment! Rage! BLOOD! He isolated his mind once more from the orc. These orcs weren't even living, at least by any standards. They were nothing but machines made for one purpose...and they thirsted for it. Sycon would not hold back on these horrid creatures. His mind went black and he felt himself sink into almost a sleep. In his place, stood a shell of Sycon. He was worse than a beast, worse than that thing in the black armor. He was uncaring. He had no mercy, no love, no compassion, no feeling of remorse. A serene state of mind, intended for one purpose.

In the back of Sycon's mind, where his thoughts still dwelt, Sycon saw the woman that haunted his nightmares. She was an amazon and the first actual being Sycon had ever killed. He had been in the jungle with his old mentor. He woke up the next morning to find his mentor gone. The amazon had snuck up on him before he had known what had happened. He still had a scar from the dagger she had come to close to his heart. He had killed her, but her death was not instant. Sycon's mind had mingled with hers during the chaos. He anticipated her every move by inadvertantly probing her mind and now as she lay dying, his mind was still with her. Her soul was slowly being ripped from her body as she died and he was attached to that soul. The tourment she endured, the pain and suffering...and he suffered along with her. Sycon pulled himself out of her mind at the last second as she passed on and since that day, he had found a serene state of mine for battle....or he would have gone insane a decade ago.

In the fore ground, Sycon stood before the orcs with a fiery glow. His eyes were moodless and uncaring. The sword he gripped in his hands tightly as he started down an orc that carried a large axe. There were four orcs standing there. One on the left and two on the right.

Sycon took off at a dead sprint towards the orcs, one hand gripped on the sword, the other helped his run at this side. The tip of his sword dragged along the ground. As he drew closer to the orc his sword raised in a windmill fashion and he brought it down. The orc had wittingly had made an attempt to parry the blow but was unsuccessful. Sycon's blade did not hit the orc, but instead his the ground between the orcs feet making a lound pinging noise. The orc looked down. Sycon jumped as the tip of his sword clanged against the ground. He used his levitation and flipped easily over the heads of the orcs, controlling his motion with his levitation. He quickly decended toward the ground landing on his left foot and right knee. His sword was thrust under his arm and behind him into the orcs hamstring. He had wanted to gut the orc, but he had not landed correctly.

The hamstring would have to do. Sycon made a snapping movement of the sword harshly to the side, completely severing the hamstring and the orc fell letting out a grunt of anguish as it fell. The other three orcs quickly turned towards Sycon, as two of them flanked him out of pure space between their shoulders and swinging room for the large weapons. Sycon could not fend off all three at once. A power built up in him from his stomach. A power he knew all to well. He bellowed a psychic shout that no one could hear or feel. The dust and small pebbles at his feet rose several feet off the ground and his robes looked as it a vent of air had been placed below him. They then were forced outward with an unseen force that also knocked all three orcs onto their backs and away from him. Each had a small indention across this armor where the spell had hit.

They were quick to recover and Sycon built up for another blast, more powerful this time to break through their armor. He built his energy, but no energy came. He tried again, quickly before they regained thier posture. But he could not. A voice spoke to him in the back of his mind. A feminine voice, but it was not the amazon that plagued his thoughts. He knew it to be another. Just because you are with me, does not mean you shall endeavor to deplete me. I am not infinite. ... You have what you need, I have given it to you and I am watching you. You can overcome your foes. Think of it as me giving you a little character. Sycon thought he heard a giggle. Could a thought giggle?

The orcs stood up one by one, the most fatigued up last. Sycon rushed to the slowest one and quickly thrust his sword deep into the orcs helmet. Turning to slash the others leg as he ducked a misfound club. The last hit him squarely in the chest with an axe. His psychic shield held, though it felt as if being his the chest with a tree stump. He flew backward into the air, squaring himself, levitating, and landing behind the beast with the black armor.

"Come beast, lets be done with them," Sycon almost commanded into the beast's mind as more orcs seemed to crawl from the wood work. Sycon spat the the ground. The spit containing an amount of blood that Sycon did not want to think about. He concentratedon healing himself, but he truly did not know how much that would work. He knew it would not be enough. It would take its toll later.

He gave a small chant he had learned a long time ago from the commanders of the human armies, so maybe the beast would hear it and be entrained with its havoc's cry.

Sycon spoke in chant:

The light has fooled
The light has tricked
As you notice as you are randomly picked
From among a crowd of a thousand fold
To raise a horde from among the old

The gods and glory of lost lore
To the shimmering tales of the radiant shores
We must go to the land across the sea
For we do not belong in this place, for woe is me
But the last glory we obtain, a last tempest,
We make in ourselves a true Manifest!

Sycon ended his chant as the voice in his mind spoke again, once again sounding almost critizing and giggling at the same time. "You and your silly songs." The female voice trailed off, but he could tell she was still there watching him.

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

"There's enough up there to satiate your bloodthirst, Isuiln. I accept the services of yourself and Trinni, now stand with me."

Then, one by one, the other six stepped up. Lienid, Renalis, then some elf girl Ithramir called Kaya'Talas. Renalis points out a mage Isuiln had never seen before, then Ardwenn beastially indicates himself as the 5th. Isuiln looked around, seeing no others ready to volounteer, then stepped forward to go about the grim business, with or without Avandor's blessing for 11. Then he heard someone stumping up the steps, and turned to see Diosr marching up to throw in his lot. Then Ithramir closed his eyes in prayer, and small flames began to lick around his body. A similar phenomenon passed to each of the 10 volounteers. Isuiln could have cared less. There was more killing to be done, whether by him or to him. It didn't matter. It just needed to be done.

Finally, Ithramir seemed ready. "Avandor has blessed us with a ward against the Orcs magics, and speed to deflect and turn their blows against them. Hurry! For these blessings will not last long and we have a room to clear!" Without another word, he turned and darted up the steps, with Isuiln hot on his heels. As they climbed, Isuiln wondered why they weren't moving any faster... then they mounted the steps, and he charged the nearest orc, watching it's eyes widen in surprise, but it seemed to take days. Are we moving faster, or time slower? He idly pondered as he sliced off the orc's hand and deposited it's sword, hand still attached, into it's belly. Does it really matter? It's still moving forwards... there is no taking back the past. With that, he took a few seconds to beat an orc's face into an unrecognizable pulp. But as it's body began slumping backwards, he saw the body moving faster the closer it got to the floor. Those few seconds may have cost him several orcs. He dashed about, applying killing blows as fast as he could, but after the first few they began to be awkwardly parried, not quite enough to stop the seeking blades, but costing him precious moments as he had to stab again. Then he approached one, and swung as he past... and the orc moved at normal speed, dodged the blow, and would have taken Isuiln's head off if he hadn't dove forwards. He rolled and came up, recovering more slowly than normal as he had to keep dodging or blocking the orc's blows on the way up. Then a second one approached, and a third. His blades were no longer distinguishable, just red glows that danced around, illuminating him, knocking away every attempt at his life.

Then he saw his chance to go on the offensive. One orc, tired of the deflecting blades knocking away every one of his thrusts with a shortsword, dropped it and picked up a large battleaxe from a nearby corpse, and swung it in a powerful overhead blow, intent on breaking through the elf's defenses. Isuiln leapt back, then kicked his feet out, connecting with the axe haft, misdirecting the axe to come down right on one of the other three's foot, slicing the front half clean off. The wounded orc screamed in pain, and reactionarily punched the axe wielder in the face. Isuiln laughed as he popped up off his back, and dodging a swing from the currently uninjured orc, he ran half-foot through. Axe wielder had stumbled back when half-foot had punched him, but he came after Isuiln with a renewed fury.

Then he heard someone yelling behind him, and a muffled thud. Axe-wielder glanced over Isuiln's shoulder, and Isuiln darted in low, inside of axe reach, and brought a sword up through it's chin. Dropping one sword and releasing the other, which was still embedded in orc skull, he wrenched the axe out of the collapsing orc's hands and spun, whistling it toward's the last of the three. It raised it's mace in a desperate block, but it may have been a feather for all the good it did. Releasing it even as it struck the orc, he kicked up his dropped sword and scatched it out of the air, whirling to see what the noise behind him had been. Some elf was disentagling themself from an orc, who had apparently been trying to sneak up on Isuiln. Simultaneously, they plunged their blades through it's chest. Looking up, he noticed it was Kaya, the mysterious elf who had showed up just in time for the 11 man attack. Make that 9 man, 2 woman, He corrected himself, seeing Trinni's arrows flying from the corner of his eye. She smiled at him, darted a hurried kiss onto his cheek, then dashed off. He stopped a moment to retrieve his other sword, smiling as he did so, albeit much more grimly than his carefree smile usually was, then dashed off after her. Then a thought flashed across his mind, the first one in hours not of grief or hatred: Even with that scar, he mused to himself, she's still kinda cute.

Written by - Ardwen

Somewhere, deep inside the raging berserker what remained of Ardwen understood Ithramir’s command. He moved to where Ithramir indicated. The volunteer company began to prep for battle, muscles tensed and relaxed, eyes opened and closed as if in silent prayer, and Ithramir began to intone the blessings of his god. Small flames enveloped Ithramir and an orange glow spread around the company that was to go to the third story and confront the elite of the Orc forces.

To Ardwen, that was the worst part. When Ithramir intoned the name of his deity he could practically smell the god-taint; it was repulsive. It reeked to the Beast and instinctively Ardwen turned his head to the side when the glow enveloped him. Ithramir dashed up the stairs, and the company followed close behind. When Ardwen reached the battle the Beast took stock of the situation rapidly, the Orcs were moving slowly. Ardwen wasted no time.

With his left hand alone grasping his blade Ardwen snapped his greatsword out from behind him, the steel clanged as it struck the floor and swept into a pair of thick Orc legs. The blow shattered bone and left the Orc a good two feet shorter. The Beast moved on to another Orc that was just now reacting due to the blessings slowing affect on it. Ardwen took his blade, held it vertical, and shoved it into the Orc, using his strength to drive it through then yank it straight up. The Orc exploded, like a bubble pricked with a needle the blade rent the creature from knaves to chops. Ardwen reversed the rising motion into a simple drive of his blade to the floor, by this time the intended Orc could move in response, fast enough at least to get its blade in a desperate parry. It didn’t help. The berserker’s massive sword clove the Orc blade in two, as it did the Orc beneath it.

By then the blessing’s power had waned to uselessness, but something else had happened. A warrior had . . . landed next to the Beast. There were others up here fighting, Ithramir, Renalis, Isuiln, and others the Beast’s host did not have sounds for. But the one that had levitated next to the berserker was different, much different. Somewhere in the dark recesses of an old warrior’s mind, Ardwen stirred again.

He had been alone for some time, caged within his own mind. Ardwen hung limply in infinite darkness, and the only point he could see was a small ball of light against the gloom, like a lone candle in the dead of night. And there, darting amongst the light was the Beast, what he had become. The Beast stopped, and looked at him, and it spoke. It spoke because here, inside Ardwen’s head, the Beast was a reflection of his base side. He knew the terrible price of the armor now: that the thing it had turned him into was in fact something he had been all along. That was the sacrifice, it wasn’t to be his life (though he might very well lose it anyhow) the real struggle was to be the horrible confrontation with this thing, this thing that was he.

So far Ardwen’s progress had not been stellar. Much to the Beast’s surprise the only thing it had to compromise on was to not kill Elves or their allies, anything else was so far fair game. Ardwen, for his part, was more than content to slump like a manacled prisoner in a cell while the Beast raged. But now this warrior had caught both of their attentions. Ardwen could feel the Beast searching, probing for answers to the enigmatic warrior. Should it be killed? If not, why? How does it fight? Should it be killed? If not, why? Was it under the protection of the oaths? Should it be killed? Again, and again, and again the questions tumbled through the Elf’s shattered mind. Until at last Ardwen whispered hoarsely, “It’s a Jen’e’tai, a human Blademaster. One of the followers of the “the path of truth”. Yes, the long blade is unmistakable, as is the style of fighting. No, I wouldn’t kill it. Because it’s helping the Elves. Yes, I know we – I – hate lessers. No, I already said not to kill it!”

Then a sudden thought from outside Ardwen’s self echoed across the caverns of his mind, “Come beast, let’s be done with them.” It wasn’t quite a command, but whatever it was Ardwen could “hear” it beyond mere speech. “A warlock too.” Ardwen frowned.

Even this short burst of cognitive thought cost Ardwen, he felt wearied, his head fell against his chest again and his eyes closed – and he fell back into the Beast, subsumed once more. The Beast turned from the Blademaster and went back into the fray, the whole internal transaction having taken only a fraction of a second. The Beast and Ardwen had made another compromise, let the human prove its worth; there were still Orcs to kill.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan was grateful for the darkness around her that hid the color that rose to her cheeks as Teran leaned in close. As he whispered in her ear, her heart raced, her stomach clenched, and she was hard pressed to keep her knees from giving in to their weakening tremble. He was so handsome, so charming… and so untrustworthy. Damn her luck!

“I do not know his game,” she said silently to herself, the phrase forming a mantra that she repeated to herself over and over again. Mavigan knew she would have remind herself of this many times before this adventure was over, and she found that it helped her control her reactions to him….a little. Yet, the reminder did nothing to cool the blush in her cheeks as he turned his charming smile to the group.

More than irritated with herself for her lack of control, and him for causing such reactions within her, she rolled her eyes at him when he asked his next question.

“No,” she said sharply, “I do NOT need a rest.” To prove her point, she hopped up onto Argent and looked down at him impatiently. “Can we go now?” She cast a glance towards the walls of the Citadel that could still be faintly seen from their vantage point. “The sooner we get away from HERE, the better.”

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