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Book Two - A Gathering Storm

Written by - Turin Wallace Page 23 Book 2

Looking at Lienad, his responded quickly,

"Yes, let's finish these filthy things."

Within moments, each fighter had shown their worth, and the room lay full of dead Orcs. Their black blood and twisted bodies a testament to the fierceness of the battle. Ithramir was satisfied, but their job undone.

Everyone seemed to move toward the center of the room, it seemed the perfect spot, seeing as their was less blood and body parts there. It was when most had gathered that he saw her. Looking directly at Tempyst, who was again standing at Lucant's side, he says,

"So. It seems you two are inseperable."

Pausing, he then continues,

"She's either the most loyal, or the most foolish, female to walk into a fight like this. I applaud the bravery, but condemn the action."

Pausing in his remarks, Catherin whispers,

"Shall I remove her, commander?"

Ithramir gives her a cross look, and replies,

"No. Let her stay. If I had wanted her to be removed I would have already asked that. If she wishes to share the same fate as her husband, and risk their child, that is her decision. She may stay."

Looking toward the last staircase to the roof, Ithramir says to all,

"There, that is the last challenge. There will be no more orc warriors or shamans, save one."

The reflection of the sky shown dark through the doorway at the top, the open windows on their floor let the wind blow through, a storm was brewing. Listening, all could hear a strong, raspy female voice chanting just above the wind and lightning. Then, after a great crack of thunder, rain began pouring out of the heaven's. It came streaming down the staircase and through the window openings on their floor. Water mixed freely with blood and steel, making the floors slick and wetting everyone down.

It was then that Ithramir's appearance began to change. His eyes turned brilliant white, his hair became as fire, his armor and weapons changed into what seemed to be pure flame. As the rain and water touched him, it hissed and popped into steam.

Looking to those in the room, he speaks in a voice equal part his and that of the divine,

"She is waiting above. I will not keep this battle waiting any longer. Follow, if you must, but do not engage her. Her power is augmented by Foesta, the wife of my enemy, and yours too. You have been warned."

It was too late. Ithramir and Avandor watch as Isuiln charges the steps. Quickly, he, or they, follow behind. It is then they both feel it. Something behind them, something not quite right. Ithramir turns his head and looks behind, all look as they should be. Ithramir begins moving again, this time Avandor speaks in his mind,

"Be wary, Ithramir. I do not think it to be that shamaness who will prove to be your greatest challenge this day. I feel the presence of another, I have felt them for some time, but I cannot place who it is. Heed me, Ithramir, I fear you will be betrayed."

As he almost clears the steps, Ithramir responds with his thoughts,

"I know, something is wrong here. Once the shamaness is gone, I will press these newcomers for more information, some have arrived too conveniently for my liking. Enough, let us conquer the enemy before us."

Reaching the top of the stairs, he see's Isuiln and the Shamaness already fighting...

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst ran into the large room in time to see the last of the standing orcs fall into a bloddy heap upon the floor. She spotted Lucant and rand over to him and threw her arms about him. "I am glad you are safe, but I felt it earlier. The demon is in this city somewhere." Her sky blue eyes looked into his and assured him that all would be alright. Remember, we are a team. She whispered silently, hoping Lucant would hear her. She placed her trembling hand within his and turned towards Ithramir, just in time to hear him speak,

"So. It seems you two are inseperable." Pausing, he then continued, "She's either the most loyal, or the most foolish, female to walk into a fight like this. I applaud the bravery, but condemn the action." Tempyst sighed, getting the feeling that everyone here may think she is nothing but helpless woman, but last words, obviously ment to make her feel foolish did not go unnoticed. "No. Let her stay. If I had wanted her to be removed I would have already asked that. If she wishes to share the same fate as her husband, and risk their child, that is her decision. She may stay." She gave Ithramir a determined look to show that his words would not sway her from her duties. Nyrondis charged us to be here and here we are. Our fate is what it is to be. She listened to the rest of Ithramir's speech, then watched at a young elf dashed forward up the stairs. She could see the concern in Ithramir's face.

She squeezed Lucant's hand, then felt that same twinge of darkness she had felt earlier in the infirmary. She turned and whispered to him, "I have felt it again Lucant, something is going to happen, we must be prepared."

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya stood panting, the elf she had just fought with standing beside her. It had been a while since she felt this alive and it felt good. She saw Commander Ithramir adress a young woman and recognized her as the healer that had attended to her. She shook her head and agreed with his words, that she was in deed foolish but fools can never be controlled. Then Ithramir's words brought her attention back to him.

"There, that is the last challenge. There will be no more orc warriors or shamans, save one." She watched as the storm started, the way Ithramir changed and she watched in awe. Here he was, in his glory. She had heard tales of the avatar in battle, but now, she would get to witness it first hand. Then his voiced boomed throughout the room, "She is waiting above. I will not keep this battle waiting any longer. Follow, if you must, but do not engage her. Her power is augmented by Slaktor, my enemy, and yours. You have been warned."

This is a good day to die She thought to herself. Then she felt him again. Yessss, it isss a good day to die child. Go upstairssss, NOW!" She took in a sharp breath and looked at the stairs, already seeing the elf who had been standing beside her dash up them. Feeling the demon swelling within her, she charges up the stairs with no thought but to fight. As Kaya reached the top, she could see the dark haired elf already engaged with the other avatar. Without thinking she charged forward not wanting to let another elf die this day.

Written by - Sycon

And so it happened. The beast was already fighting with the orcs before Sycon had finished his chant. He did not know if the beast could even hear his words, but perhaps they had enchanted all the same.

It was not long until every orc on the field was slain. Parts of an orc here, blood spattered armor there; it was a truly horrid sight to behold. The saddest thing was that he was not sure if some of the parts were an arm or leg....maybe even the lungs?

There she was...the nurse that he had kissed earlier. She ran up to another man and squarely laid one on him. Well, he had better be more charming next time then. Ithramir spoke to her, almost reprimanding her and saying something about a...a baby! Wow, she looked good for a pregnant woman...maybe it was just the robes hiding it, but Sycon couldn't even tell. And he was good at these types of things. Maybe he had better lay back for a while...A BABY! Sycon, still trying to make it sink in...

Everyone gravitated toward the center of the room. Safety in numbers drove them all to it. Instinct, it was what every good warrior relies on in the end. Ithramir seemed to change all at once, not giving anyone the slightest warning. You could even call the transformation divine of sorts. He announced in a celestial voice mixed with that of his own that there was one more challange up above, another Avatar. The enemy's general and possible queen. She had great power, one that would match even Ithramir's and he forewarned that each, should they follow, to not be involved in this fray.

There was chanting from up above. Crack! Thunder, lightning and gushing rain. It poured down the stairs, almost like the thunder itself raging once again. Sycon braces himself as the water tried to take his feet out from under him as it soaked his boots and the bottoms of his robes quickly.

The beast was still breathing hard from the fight. It looked confused that the fighting was over, but happy still, or so Sycon assumed. He could not completely conclude as to what the beast actually was, but it seemed somewhat familiar. Like he had had a dream of this beast a long time ago only to awaken and lose the memory till now. Sycon knew the battle was going to be rising soon, and he was not going to be the fellow to be first involved with an Avatar, and definitely was not going to miss fighting one.... but this beast in black armor...a beast in armor and sword... was standing before him, and it was understanding, but seeming to only understand what it chose. And right now it chose to slaughter.

Sycon stared intently at the beast. Allowing his mind to almost wander free of his body. He watched an image of himself through his eyes walk towards the beast and almost enter his thoughts through the beast's eyes. It was always easier to enter the minds of those who wore their thoughts on their sleeves. Its mind was black, emptiness Sycon could not find an end to. It seemed cold, but he knew he had no sense of feeling here. Sycon did not know even if he could find his way out of this prison of solitude and blackness. WAIT! A speck of light in the end, someone there, with his head down but Sycon could not see him. He tried to run closer, but the figure only got further away. Sycon yelled, but no answer. Then it seemed almost a scream or a war cry, he was not sure, burst from nowhere and rang louder than anything he had ever known into his ears. Sycon was not even sure if it was heard aloud by anyone or just in his own head, but he heard it the same as he was thrust back into this body and almost fell flat on his arse. He stared at the beast once more, pondering what had just taken place...

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Slamming A'lanthear through the back of an orc who attacking the pair of elves, he saw that they had the situation under control. Nodding towards them, he freed A'lanthear and charged forth into the main room again.

Three orcs stood near the staircase waiting to ambush anyone else that came to aid the raiding party. Without thinking, he ran forth and swung at the orc standing to the right of the staircase. Catching him off guard, Lucant easily sliced off one of the orcs legs, sending him reeling to the floor, screaming in pain. Following through with the momentum of his first strike, Lucant swung towards the surprised orc standing in front of the staircase. The orc's head rolled onto the floor to bear mute witness to the carnage. A powerful downward strike dealt with the final stunned orc.

He was surprised at how much easier it was becoming to take the enemy's life. He reasoned with himself that if he had not killed them, then many more could have died at their hands. Hearing footsteps behind him, he turned around just in time to meet Tempyst's embrace. "I am glad you are safe, but I felt it earlier. The demon is in this city somewhere." Her sky blue eyes looked into his and assured him that all would be alright. Remember, we are a team. She whispered silently, hoping Lucant would hear her. Then let us stand together, my heart. he whispered back. She placed her trembling hand within his and turned towards Ithramir, just in time to hear him speak.

"So. It seems you two are inseperable." Pausing, he then continued, "She's either the most loyal, or the most foolish, female to walk into a fight like this. I applaud the bravery, but condemn the action." Hearing Tempyst sigh in frustration, he squeezed her hand and whispered to her: "I would rather have you at my side than a legion at my back." Ithramir continued his speech, then a young elf stormed up towards the roof to engage the shamaness. A look of grave concern swept across Ithramir's face as Tempyst turned to him: "I have felt it again Lucant, something is going to happen, we must be prepared." Steeling himself for what lay ahead, Lucant prayed silently: "Nyrondis protect me and grant me the strength to protect those I love."

The party charged forth up the stairs toward the roof - Tempyst and Lucant first behind Ithramir and his lieutenant. Emerging onto the roof, Lucant saw the elf who had charged ahead locked in combat with the shamaness, the two silhouetted by a flash of lightening.

Written by - Teran

Teran smiled wickedly at Mavigan rolling her eyes. He swiftly mounted his horse and waited for Jasmine to do the same. He nodded to Sabbatine and she took point heading south. For not having a mount of her own Sabbatine was capable of moving at a surprising pace. They will ride through the rest of the night and all of the next day, resting if anyone needed it.

Teran kept a close eye on Mavigan keeping track of where she was... and an eye on Jasmine. He didn't trust either one of them fully to keep from lashing out at one another. Shortly after dusk the group stopped.

"We will rest here for the night." Teran said softly, slipping off his horse.v

Sabbatine sighed and moaned, annoyed to be stopping so "soon". Never sleeping was a blessing and a curse so far as Sabbatine was concerned.

Teran built a fire, unconcerned with being spotted in the night.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm sent two Queen's Guardsmen off to carry requests to Priestess Alulael and to the newly arrived Father Geoffrey to join him, and a third to carry word to Sir Johann, Deputy Commander of the Queen's Guard, to choose a squad of trackers for an extended mission and have them assemble at the stables. After another pause, he was relieved to see Fiernum, the elven ranger who had been trailing Mavigan out into the woods, approach calmly. Fiernum bowed elegantly and then reported:

"I followed Queen Mavigan and her bodyguard Keeryn through the woods south of the Citadel. They reined in off the path and settled down to wait for someone. They were met there by the healer Crystal, who did not seem to be the one they had been waiting for but was accepted into the group. Close to dawn the Queen became impatient and the three of them rode further south to a clearing where there was a campfire. There they met the man Teran, the assassin Jasmine, and another female who was called Sabbatine. They talked a bit and then rode away to the south. The one true suprise is that Sabbatine is an Undead and yet the others barely paid any heed to this abomination. At this point I returned to report."

"Thank you Fiernum. The Undead is indeed a suprise, but the rest is as expected. Please convey your report and my respects to Commander Lithwyn and inform her that I and a squad of Queen's Guard will follow Queen Mavigan south on this mission and may be gone for an extended period of time. Sir Johann will be in charge of the Queen's remaining forces here at the Citadel in my absence and will follow her wishes. Father Geoffrey will be Acting High Priest of the Temple of the All Father."

Fiernum bowed and left to go in seach of his Commander. Shortly thereafter Sir Johann arrived to report that all was ready and that a messenger bird had arrived from the army reporting that the outer ring of Minas Aure had been taken and that the assault on the second ring would commence at dawn. Then Father Geoffrey and Priestess Alulael arrived. After exchanging morning greetings and passing around the basket of cheese biscuits, Wilhelm first filled them in on the reports and then said,

"I assume that you both have also received a vision this night about Mavigan's training mission."

Geoffrey and Alulael both nodded.

"I recieved my own vision the night we first arrived at the Citadel. The All Father informed me that Nagarren had just about concluded that Mavigan's fierce resistance to acknowledging her link to the Goddess would preclude normal clergy training and that a seemingly solo training mission would be needed to let Mavigan and Nagarren work things out. Final offers of training and assistance would be made, but if those were not accepted the goddess would take over. I therefore arranged as soon as we arrived for the Citadel master crafters to prepare a complete set of travel gear, including armor, weapons, and clothing, to be presented as part of a suprise eighteenth birthday party.

I was most pleased when both Father Agmund and Priestess Alulaeel showed up to help and I hoped that one would get through to her where I could not. However she rejected the offers. Not even a direct appeal by the manifested All Father following the assassination attempt got through to her, although her own partial manifestation confirmed her Avatar potential.

I therefore arranged for Keeryn to become her Royal Bodyguard, so that she would have at least one loyal supporter with her, and left orders allowing her to go where she wished and to leave unchallenged. The night after the assassination attempt I received a second vision of Mavigan riding away from the Citadel with the man Teran and others and the clear directive to follow out of sight and be available in case of need.

I hope that the memory of the offers all three of us made to help her will be in her memory when she finally acknowledges that she does indeed need help. As her personal and Royal Champion it is my duty to follow and protect her. Your own charges, as your inner feelings will confirm, are to remain here as Acting High Priestess and High Priest and establish true Temples of Nagarren and Tinorb in the port now being fortified and to train and organize the novices, initiates, squire, and knights that have arrived and any clergy that arrives later until such time as one superior to you arrives to take over. New Priests, Priestesses, and Paladins will arrive or arise from within our ranks for you to initiate, train and advise. Provide your full support to Lithwyn, as I sense that she will have sore need of that support shortly.

And now I take my leave of you and all here at the Citadel. I will take a squad of trackers from the Queen's Guard with me. Sir Johann here will command the remainder of the Queen's forces and will work with you two to oversee the continued organization and well being of Queen Mavigan's subjects. I will take some messenger birds with me to send reports at need, but these will be few and used sparingly so you are on your own until Ithramir returns to take overall command again. "

With that Wilhelm bowed, exchanged farewells, and walked out of the keep to the stables where his squad waited. Wilhelm greeted Ethan, Gareth, Maeve, and Sandra and thanked the stable workers. Wilhelm mounted on Sable, as the others also mounted. They too were dressed and armored as mercenaries, their Queen's Guard uniforms packed away. The squad of five, each leading a pack horse, rode down out of the Citadel and headed south. Wilhelm pointed out the tracks that Argent's unique horseshoes had left and they followed them to an extinguished campfire in a clearing in the woods. There Wilhelm pulled out a silvery chain with a horse figurine at each end, one black and one white. Saying a Word, he held the chain in the center. The black figuring moved to point at Sable and the white figurine moved to point to the south. Wilhelm nodded and put the chain away.

"We continue south, it seems, at least for now. Remember that our mission is to follow them but not to be seen by them. I will know if we are close or if we are needed. If all goes well this will be a pleasant ride through the countryside. However, knowing Mavigan, I suspect we will indeed be needed. We will spare the horses and change mounts at each stop but we must follow at their pace. Let us be off and know that the All Father is with us."

They rode south all that day, following the tracks and confirming the direction with the chain. At dusk Wilhelm sensed Mavigan's heartfire with his tracking sense and knew that Mavigan's party was in range and had made camp. He noted the heartfires for Mavigan, Keeryn and Crystal and saw that Argent was there along with other horses. There was a faint blur he assumed was Teran and also the uusual Undead aura of Sabbatine, which he studied carefully. Wilhelm set watches and they made their own camp for the night. For once someone else had to deal with Mavigan and Wilhelm suspected that Teran would have his hands full. A deep chuckle from within echoed this feeling. Taking first watch, Wilhelm sat down to rest his body while his tracking sense kept the true watch. Meanwhile the rest lay down to sleep until their own watch.

Written by - Archeantus

Kishkumen stepped forward, eyeing the man’s eyes, deeply, powerfully set. They fumed unspeakable wisdom. The lich glowered at his master, the two beheld and considered each other. It was obvious the Lich had discovered there was something, peculiar, about him. Yet the time of their exchange was not at hand.

He spoke plainly about their intentions, “Limitless One, we have brought you forth in search of knowledge. “

The lich slowly regarded the necromancer once more, finding it hard to break his vast gaze from the human who had called him “servant”.

He was actually grinning…

“Speak quickly mortal” His voice boomed from the darkness. “My knowledge holds no bounds, nor does my power.”

Kishkumen continued expectantly.

“We seek to free you.”

The lich’s grin disappeared, his eyes brightened darkly.

“Free me?”

“Yes.”

Laughter filled the dimly lit corridor.

“The life of your world would die, every living thing, even yourselves.”

“Precisely.” Gadianton whispered calmly.

“You cannot fathom what you are asking mortal.”

“You cannot fathom my desire to make it so.” Gadianton quickly returned without hesitation.

The Lich paused; slowly turning, gazing haphazardly into the human’s piercing eyes once more.

“I will slay you first.”

Gadianton smiled in return.

“I await such a day. Now, do not waste any more of my time Lich. How are you to be freed?”

The lich smiled hungrily in return. They spoke the unthinkable truth.

Suddenly the lich began to speak the very language of death. Screams, howls, whispers, darkness slowly enveloped the figure of the man that stood before them. And within the darkness appeared a vision…

Dark…cavernous…cold…far to the north.

The vision ended as soon as it came. They all knew where they were to go.

“Prepare the Irrithica Vermigard.” Gadianton commanded. “We leave as soon as possible.”

It was then with a wave of the hand of the necromancer, the man that housed the Lich fell to the ground, again, unconscious.

****

Jasmine averted her eyes from the flames to hear figures coming into its light.

There were three. A strange creature. The woman from the cell, and…

Jasmine’s eyes widened.

Her target. Her failure. Her past.

She had not expected the Queen. She very nearly left the fire to run into the night. Her old instincts wanted, demanded that she run. But something inside her kept her right where she stood. Perhaps it was indifference, perhaps curiosity, and perhaps it was fear. Jasmine could not determine which, and so she again looked into the fire, her thoughts racing.

"None more interesting than you M'lady" Teran had said full of charm.

"You already know Jasmine." He continued. She could hear the knowing irony in Teran’s cool voice.

She could feel the Queen stare at her; she could feel her rightful anger. And then the attention shifted to the undead tracker.

Despite herself, Jasmine looked again at the young woman she had meant to kill, regarding her thoughtfully. She looked at her for the first time as a person looks upon a person, not as hunter looks upon prey. She saw her eyes, her hair, her blush, her uneasiness, her youth, her misty breath into the night’s air. Jasmine saw something there by the firelight in the young woman that softened her dark eyes.

“The sooner we get away from HERE, the better.” The Queen had said, looking behind her at the direction of the distant citadel.

It was understanding. She had wanted to run as well.

They all mounted at the Queen’s behest, and soon rode into the night after a brief exchange.

Wincing silently from behind the young woman, Jasmine began to quietly and secretly study her every move, the pain in her wrist slowly increasing every moment.

Written by - Renalis

"There, that is the last challenge. There will be no more orc warriors or shamans, save one."

Ithramir's words seem to call a bolt of lightning. The sky had darkened, only illuminated by the infrequent flash of lightning. The open windows let the wind enter, howling like a banshee - a storm was brewing.

Hearing the shamaness chanting, Renalis could feel the power of the magics she controled. Then, after a great crack of thunder, rain began pouring out of the heaven's. It came streaming down the staircase and through the window openings on their floor.

It was then that Ithramir's appearance began to change. His eyes turned brilliant white, his hair became as fire, his armor and weapons changed into what seemed to be pure flame. As the rain and water touched him, it hissed and popped into steam.

"An Avatar..." Renalis was stunned to the God manifest again in his presence, the power was awe inpiring.

Looking to those in the room, Ithramir spoke in a voice equal part his and that of the divine,

"She is waiting above. I will not keep this battle waiting any longer. Follow, if you must, but do not engage her. Her power is augmented by Foesta, the wife of my enemy, and yours too. You have been warned."

Seeing the brash Elf known to him as Isuiln run up the stairs anyway, Renalis followed quickly behind, possibly aiding any who would do battle with the Avatar of the dark goddess.

Reaching the top of the stairs, he see's Isuiln and the Shamaness already locked in combat.

Written by - Vylia

"We will rest here for the night." Teran said softly, slipping off his horse.

Teran built a fire, unconcerned with being spotted in the night.

Keeryn didn't understand what he was doing. Lighting a fire when they were almost certainly being followed, "We're not even going to scout around to make sure there's nobody following us? There's no way that we got out of the citadel so easily, without encountering a single scout or guard, save the ones at the gates."

"I'm going to go look, you may trust there to be none around that wish to harm or stop Mavigan, but I don't," Keeryn pauses for a moment, "Keep her safe, or I'll drive this spear down your throat." With that Keeryn disappears on foot into the night, heading back the way they came, all the while thinking "Where are you or your people Wilhelm? I know you wouldn't just let her go so easily, not after everything else you've said. You love her like your own daughter, not just as your queen, whether the two of you realize it or not."

Written by - Wilhelm

Finishing a scan around the campsight and along the backtrail, Wilhelm again extended his tracking sense to the south towards Mavigan. He then noticed another heartfire moving north and saw that it was Keeryn. Looking into her heartfire he saw his own image.

"She must be looking for me," he thought. "I wondered if she would notice how easily they got away. I had best go to meet her then and hopefully gain an ally in Mavigan's camp."

Wilhelm awakened Ethan to take second watch and explained that he would be gone for a space to confer with Keeryn and would return. Moving as quietly as his long training allowed, Wilhelm passed like a shadow between the trees a third of the way towards Mavigan's camp, and waited. As Keeryn drew near enough, Wilhelm cupped his hands to his mouth and made the mating call of the green-throated nightbird, a bird call Keeryn has taught him. That bird lived in her home region and Wilhelm was sure she would both recognize it and know that no such bird lived here.

Written by - Teran

"I'm going to go look, you may trust there to be none around that wish to harm or stop Mavigan, but I don't," Keeryn pauses for a moment, "Keep her safe, or I'll drive this spear down your throat."

Teran laughed at Keeryn's statement, and even harder at her threat. It was the loudest anyone had ever heard Teran, so loud that even Sabbatine jumped, peering around to see if they were under attack.

"My dear Keeryn of course we were followed... but surely you don't expect me to go out and kill our Queen's servants to prevent them from discovering our destination do you?" Teran called to her as she retreated into the woods.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn continued backtracking, checking to see where Wilhelm or his men were, leaping lightly from tree to tree with barely a sound, "That Teran is a fool. For someone who knows we're being followed he didn't even make an attempt to stop or lose them. Didn't leave any false trails, and then he goes and lights a fire in the middle of the..." Just then Keeryn hears a sound that is all too familiar to her, a bird from her homeland. If she hadn't remembered that she had taught that to Wilhelm she'd have cried at hearing it.

Her ears twitched as she heard the sound again, and she changed direction toward it, stopping on the lowest branch in the tree above Wilhelm's head, "I thought it was a bit too easy. If you've come to take her back I'll have to stop you, you know."

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln trudged towards the center of the room, where Ithramir stood and everyone was moving to gather. His feet drug on the ground, trailing blood and occasionally just pushing through the smaller body parts on the ground, and his shoulders slumped. He was getting tired. He glanced down at his twin swords, still glowing a fierce red, but somehow the color had dulled. He stopped as he approached Ithramir and closed his eyes, not even wanting to think of the pain and exhaustion that would overcome him once the ritual had turned them blue once again... if he was tired now, he had spent nearly all the energy his body could possibly conjure up. Soon there would be nothing keeping him going, nothing keeping his heart beating. But he didn't care. His supreme hate and lust for vengeance were gone, replaced by utter apathy. Apathy required no energy, which was best, since he had precious little left. He opened his eyes as he heard Ithramir speak.

"There, that is the last challenge. There will be no more orc warriors or shamans, save one." He followed Ithramir's gaze and saw a staircase leading to the roof, where it was dark. He looked out a window, and saw it was not the darkness of night, but a massive storm. The wind was quickly gaining power, and was soon whistling in through the windows. It brought a raspy female voice, chanting words of power, more and more frequently being drowned out by peals of thunder, and yet the thunder seeming part of the chant. Then, after the loudest thundering yet, the heavens opened and rain came pouring down, gallons being driven in through the windows by the unnatural wind. It collected on the floor, mingling with the blood of the fallen, making it seem as if the very keep was bleeding, and flew through the air, soaking everyone within moments, washing away the blood and grime to reveal wounds previously too covered to be noticed. Then Ithramir transformed into his avatar state. His eyes flashed white, his hair and armor becoming pure flame, burning away the water that ventured too near. Then he spoke, and what came out was recognizable as his voice, but at the same time had the power of a roaring inferno, and listening to it nearly caused Isuiln to be blown over.

"She is waiting above. I will not keep this battle waiting any longer. Follow, if you must, but do not engage her. Her power is augmented by Foesta, the wife of my enemy, and yours too. You have been warned."

In his apathy, Isuiln was neither happy nor sad, neither peaceful nor angry. He accepted what Ithramir said, then looked down at the blood and water swirling about his feet. He could see his reflection, ragged and sopping with water. Then, as he watched, his reflection changed. It became Aylan's. Then he could see Aylan's eyes widen in fear as he leaped towards Isuiln, pushing him over. Isuiln watched himself fall, and felt it as it narrowly missed him, and struck Aylan instead; a bolt of lightning. As Aylan stood there, transfixed, another bolt struck him, and he was flung to the ground, landing splayed like a rag doll. Isuiln saw himself trace the bolt back to the source, and there stood a female orc, laughing in the storm that raged immediately around her, yet never touched her. She looked to Isuiln, and gace a mock curtsy, as if he was applauding her show of power. Then she lifted a hand and beckoned him, calling him to her to take his turn. So he did.

Tearing his eyes from the watery floor, tears streaming down his face, he felt his hatred rekindle, and burn hotter than it ever had. His apathy was nothing but fuel that the hatred gobbled hungrily, then turned on any rational thought that would have crossed his mind and burnt it away. He saw no one had moved since he had looked down, so the vision must have taken no more than an instant. Which meant he still had time. Time for revenge. He dashed for the stairs.

"Kuruni!" He screamed as he ran. "Kuruni, agarlle na'umartemple na'amin!*" He took the stair three at a time, and burst out onto the roof. There was the shamaness, still beckoning him, and he went. As he charged towards her, she laughingly threw small bolts of lightning at him, intentionally coming close but missing. As he came near, she tossed one right at his right foot. He pitched forward trying to dodge it, and turned the fall into a roll, coming up into a slash. The shamaness suddenly had a staff of pure lightning in her hands, and parried away the blow. Isuiln began swinging wildly, madly, hatred calling for a blow, his blades thirsting for her blood. His swords were beyond blurs. Between him and the shaman was a solid wall of red light. On the other side of it was a solid wall of white lightning. The shamaness, who was not merely as fast as Isuiln, was blocking most of his blows without really moving. Every opening the swords sought, the staff of living lightning would fling out a tendril and deflect. Shifting to the side, he windmilled his blades, one after the other, bringing him down towards her head. She brought her staff up in both hands to meet his blades, and they came slamming down, the first jarring her arms, the second pushing her staff down so far that it knicked her forehead, making a shallow cut. Exhultant at this spot of blood, Isuiln cried out in victory, and went to strike what would surely be the killing blow.

But his blades would not leave the staff. He pulled, but they were stuck as surely as if he had driven them hilt-deep into steel. Then, as he watched, something far worse began happening. The red of the blades began to lighten. He struggled, desperately trying to yank them free, as they slowly turned orange. His face turned ashenly pale as she drained the cursed energy from him, and in moments the only thing keeping him standing was his grip on his swords. Then the aura around the blades was once again a soft blue, and he felt the staff's grip on them release. His arms fell to his sides, and his swords clattered to the floor of the rooftop. Drained, he sank to his knees, and would have collapsed if the shamaness had not reached out and grasped him by the chin. She pulled his face up, and his brain faintly registered that the cut on her forehead had healed over. She smiled, then withdrew her hand yet he was still held up as surely as if it was still there. She raised her staff above her head, spun it, and brought it whistling towards him. He thought he heard a cry from the direction of the door, but before he could even try to reach into himself and draw any dregs of energy he may have left to look over, the staff crackled into the side of his head, and he embraced the death that was surely to come, embraced the release from the pain of the body and heart.

He opened his eyes into darkness. He was floating in a void, and somehow he knew that he was not dead. But he was not alive either. He reached out, trying to grab the invisible key that must surely be there, that he must find to gain his freedom from living. Feeling nothing, he contented himself to wait. And he floated there, for an instant, for eternity, in the timeless darkness, waiting for death to come and claim him.

****

*Witch! Witch, your cursed blood is mine!

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya flew up the stairs after the one who was just at her side. She could feel the demon inside her seething, anxious, almost giddy with anticipation for what was to come. She reached the roof just in time to see shamaness raised her staff above her head, spun it, and brought it whistling towards the elf's head. The shamaness then with a flick of her wrist, tossed the limp body off to the side, lightning still sparking from her. Kaya let out a scream and ran over to the fallen elf. Please, no, enough have died this day! The shamaness turned to look at the new bug that had crawled up on her roof, but her attention was quickly dwarn away from Kaya and the fallen elf when Ithramir stepped onto the roof.

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