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Book Two - A Gathering Storm

Written by - Wilhelm Page 24 Book 2

Wilhelm looked up at Keeryn and laughed.

"Take her back? After all the work I went through to get her properly outfitted with you as her royal bodyguard and out of the Citadel? If I had wanted to stop you all from leaving the Citadel you could have never made it outside the walls. You were under observation until you left the woods, but the watchers were under my orders to stay out of sight. Taking her back is not an option until she is ready to go back. You are her Royal Bodyguard. She is your responsibility now."

At Keeryn's puzzled look, Wilhelm chuckled again, leaned against the tree, and explained.

"When we first reached the Citadel I received a vision from the All Father passing on a message from Nagarren that Mavigan was destined to become not only Queen but also Nagarren's Avatar and High Priestess. This had been foreseen by an Oracle, with the warning that Mavigan would play a critical role in the War of the Gods. But Nagarren was unable to get through Mavigan's tightly held internal shields to obtain Mavigan's consent or to even discuss the matter. Mavigan's own inner strength was locked into a complete rejection of Nagaren and all dieties, perhaps as a result of too much pressure from her parents as a child.

I was to make all possible attempts to guide Mavigan towards accepting help and training towards her priestly initiation as well as her corOnation, but also to prepare for the possibility that Mavigan would need to make a journey of discovery to work out her issues with Nagarren. Realizing that her 18th birthday was coming up, I made arrangements for a suprise birthday party not only to give her a much needed day of happiness and mark her coming of age, but also to provide an excuse to outfit her for a journey. The master crafters were happy to help adapt items on hand to fit her needs and the Citadel staff were also in need of a festival after the news of Minas Aure.

The assassination attempt the night before the party demonstrated the danger that hangs over Mavigan and the need for her to be trained to survive and overcome it. The confrontation between her and Ithramir proved her Avatar potential and completed her Initiation to Nagarren. In a moment of blind fury she dropped her shields and reached to Nagarren for power, providing the required permission for Nagarren to complete the intiate link. But Mavigan was not properly trained for this and was unaware of what she had done and the power flow through her partially lowered shield left her with a terrible headache from abused channels. When she awoke the next morning her shields were again in place and Nagarren could not reach her.

Father Agmund, a friend from her childhood, tried to reach her, as did Priestess Alulael, a Priestess from Mavigan's own Order. Even the All Father Himself spoke to her through me. But she rejected all efforts, refusing even to accept His divine presence. She also resisted the attempts by Alaric and myself to help ease her into her duties and responsibilities as Queen, which she became when the rest of her family died. I had hoped that she would want to avenge her family and save her people from Beridane, who seems to have allied with the Orcs under Slaktor and is enslaving her people. But she refused to accept this role.

The night after the assassination attempt the All Father came to me again and told me that Mavigan would indeed need to make her Initiation Journey of Discovery, as most Initiates need to do, to come to terms with her Goddess but that I could not be her Companion on this quest, although I remained her Champion. I therefore selected you as the best candidate for her Bodyguard and Companion and I was pleased when she accepted my suggestion and you agreed to the post.

Having done everything possible to provide Mavigan with equipment, a proven mount, and a loyal bodyguard, I then cleared the way for you two to leave with Teran, as I was sure Mavigan would want to do. Although They tell me that this journey must happen, I rely upon you to protect Mavigan in my stead. In accordance with my Champion's Oath, and my own heart, I will follow behind you and will come to her aid if needed. However, in order to work though her situation she must believe she is free of the Citadel. You may tell her in all honesty that you saw no signs of pursuit because we are not in fact pursuing her. I just happen to be leading a training mission for a squad of her Queen's Guardsmen."

Wilhelm smiled again at this, and then reached into his pouch and pulled out a grey wafer with the sign of the All Father imprinted upon it. He handed it to Keeryn and said,

"I had Resini prepare this for you. Break this wafer and say my name and I will know that you need me and where you are. I will come to your aid directly no matter what foes lie between us. You can rely upon me. Know that I rely upon you to guard and protect my Mavigan, since I cannot be there to do so myself until Mavigan is willing to accept my both aid and her destiny."

Written by - Rikshanthas

When the last orc was slain, Lienad resheathed Khelek'urya with more than a little relief, his shoulders sagging visibly. He looked around at the carnage, feeling neither elation nor satisfaction at this victory, merely relief that he had survived. He rubbed and kneaded the muscles of his right arm, trying to restore the circulation that always seemed to suspend whenever he drew the dragonblade; noticing one of his daggers sticking out of the neck of a fallen orc, he walked over to retrieve it, wiping the blood off on the corpse's leather leggings before returning it to the bandolier across his chest.

"There, that is the last challenge," he heard Ithramir saying, and he turned to see the commander pointing toward the small stairway to the roof. "There will be no more orc warriors or shamans, save one," Ithramir continued, and it was then Lienad heard the sound of chanting drifting down the stairwell, and the rumblings of the brewing storm. Then Ithramir seemed to burst into white flame, and Lienad saw with certainty that the elf was the warrior in his vision; seeing him now in full manifestation, Lienad had trouble believing he could be vulnerable to anything. Then the commander continued in a strange voice, not quite his own, "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."

Then to Lienad's surprise the elf he'd heard called Isuiln charged up the stairs. Idiot, Lienad thought, shaking his head slowly. I give him about thirty seconds before she turns him to ash. As the raven-haired beauty and the Avatar himself rushed upt to the roof after the fool, something in Lienad's mind told him to follow them up, but he shrugged it off as pointless, turning and heading back down to the ground level. Yet that something kept nagging at him as he went, until he stopped just outside the keep, trying to think of what possible reason he could have for being up on that roof. Ithramir had gone up alone, other than the fool elf and -

Lienad swore loudly and viciously, startling the guards at the door, and whipped around, charging back toward the roof muttering various inventive curses and roughly shoving the surprised troops out of his way if they would not move fast enough.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn dropped to the ground next to Wilhelm to accept the wafer, sniffing it for a second before she slipped it under her remaining bracer, "Alright, if that's the game you and your gods want to play. I have a feeling she'll need the protection on this trip eventually, though I can't say I like how your gods are going about getting their way. I hope you all realize that if Mavigan figures this out she's going to feel extremely betrayed and not likely to trust anyone again."

With that Keeryn climbs back into the trees and heads back toward the camp. Walking into the clearing she says, "They're back there, about 2 or 3 miles. I caught sight of one but I lost him, false trails, so there is probably more." Turning to Teran, "Do you know any tricks that would let us lose them? If it was just me it wouldn't be an issue, but with Mavigan and the horses I'm out of my league as far as losing pursuers, " looks at Mavigan, "No offense or anything, but you don't look like you've spent much time outdoors."

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm returned to his camp and roused the rest, ordering them to pack up and pull back. They retreated until Keeryn was beyond Wilhelm's tracking range and then made camp again. Keeryn had accepted the wafer and the charge to protect Mavigan. Wilhelm had done all he could do to protect Mavigan while still allowing her to travel away from Wilhelm's protection. Now Wilhelm would have to wait until he was needed, hoping that this would not come to pass but fearing that it would.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir stepped onto the roof and saw about what he expected: Isuiln seriously wounded, or dead. The Shamaness had moved to attack Kaya until she saw him appear. In his dual voice, he says,

"Move back, Kaya, drag Isuiln with you."

Turning to the Shamaness, whose gaze was fixed firmly on his, he says.

"It is enough. Now, face us."

The Shamaness completed her transformation, her robes arced blue and white, the colors of thunderbolts. Her eyes replaced with a brilliant blue, her hair sparkled with electric current, she was now full avatar as Ithramir was and replied,

"And I was having so much fun with your pets, Avandor. You must pass through us to reach my husband and his servant!"

With her words she levelled her staff at Ithramir and flung a fiercesome bolt of sustained lightning at him. Hoisting his shield up, the bolt slams into his shield and is absorbed, though the strain of the defelction could be seen. When she stopped, Ithramir closed the distance, and swung at her with his sword of flame. She was quick, and parried his sword stroke with her staff of lightning. Sparks flew everywhere when the weapons met, and they continued to fly about as the two attacked and parried in close quarters. They moved with a speed no mortal alone could attain and were evenly matched, as all avatars are. Where she landed a blow to Ithramir's arm, he paid her back with a blow to her thigh. So it was that they continued across the rooftop, attack and parry, glancing blows and blocks, totally engulfed in the moment and waiting for the other to make a fatal mistake.

What they did not know was what was transpiring behind them, that was the mistake of both of them.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya watches as Ithramir stepped onto the roof. The Shamaness who was about to attack her saw, felt Thramir appear and turned towards the other avatar. Ithrami's voice rang out above the storm. "Move back, Kaya, drag Isuiln with you." Turning to the Shamaness, whose gaze was fixed firmly on his, he says. "It is enough. Now, face us."

Kaya picked up Isuiln by the shoulders and drug him as far away as she could. SHe looked down at the elf and brushed his wet hair from his face. I'm sorry I wasn't faster my friend; you need to pull through so I can make it up to you. Kaya turned back to watch. The Shamaness had completed her transformation, her robes arced blue and white, the colors of thunderbolts. Her eyes replaced with a brilliant blue, her hair sparkled with electric current, she was now full avatar as Ithramir was and replied,

"And I was having so much fun with your pets, Avandor. You must pass through us to reach my husband and his servant!"

With her words she levelled her staff at Ithramir and flung a fiercesome bolt of sustained lightning at him. Hoisting his shield up, the bolt slams into his shield and is absorbed, though the strain of the defelction could be seen. When she stopped, Ithramir closed the distance, and swung at her with his sword of flame. She was quick, and parried his sword stroke with her staff of lightning. Sparks flew everywhere when the weapons met, and they continued to fly about as the two attacked and parried in close quarters. They moved with a speed no mortal alone could attain and were evenly matched, as all avatars are. Where she landed a blow to Ithramir's arm, he paid her back with a blow to her thigh.

Kaya stood up, amazed at what she was seeing, then she felt it. Get ready child, for the time hasss come, time to fulfill your part of thisss arrangement.

What? now? You don't mean?

Yesss, I do mean, you are to assassinate the avatar.

Kaya's mind raced. Kill the avatar? How does one kill an avatar? Isn't that what Ithramir is doing? He and his god? Kaya watched them continue back and forth on the roof; attack and parry, glancing blows and blocks, totally engulfed in the moment. "Well," she whispered to herself, "if I'm to kill an avatar, I'm glad it's her." Kaya crouched, hands on her weapons and started to move up towards the fighting, feeling the demon inside her, her blood boiling, feeling it stretching out her skin, making her tight and tense as an overstrung bow.

Feel me child, ussse my power, let me flow through you to help your actionsss, let my energy be your weapon. Kaya shuddered, but began to open herself and felt the power of the demon course through her like never before. She felt as if she too was glowing now, but felt it to be a dark energy that sparked from her. She could feel the death all around this place; all the orcs, elves, humans and dwarves that had died upon this day, even those who were still dying. She felt their lives seeping into her skin, into the demon then flowing back out, almost oozing through her pores. She clasped her dagger tightly, feeling it alive with dark energy. She watched the Ithramir and the avatar dance across the rooftop, then saw it, her moment, the shamaness had her back to her, exposed, she was fully concentrating on Ithramir.

Now, this will be over! She screamed inside her head.

I'm afraid not child, ssshe isss not the avatar you are to kill, you are to kill Ithramir. Now, when they turn DO IT! The demon screamed to Kaya DO IT NOW!

Kaya screamed back. NO! NOT HIM! NEVER! As Kaya refused the demon, she could feel him twisting and writhing inside.

KILL HIM! The demon shrieked. This human was defying him. He was not going to let this go. I will not let you ssstop me. I WILL BE FREE! The demon now did not care, did not care who knew where he was, that there were hunters and a demon slayer close by. He was tired of all of this, tired of being bound to this world, to this human. I AM THE ONE TO FEAR!

Kaya could feel the demon start to control her body. NO! I WILL NOT LET YOU! Kaya screamed out loud and with an unexpected move, she plunged the dagger into her stomach. She felt the blade pierce her skin, but felt no pain, only a warmth spread through her. I should have done this sooner. She spat her words at the demon inside her. She fell to her knees, but as she looked around, everything seemed to have stopped. The rain falling down was frozen in mid-air, an arc of lightning was still in the storming sky. Ithramir and the shamaness were almost embraced with each other, their energies frozen about them, framing them in an eirie light within the darkness.

Foolisssh child. Do you think it that eassssy to to rid yourssself of me. Now you ssshall witness my power and glory and watch your pressscious Ithramir perisssh. And all anyone will know isss that it wassss you who remained, you who killed him. The demon screamed once more inside of Kaya, this time, releasing his self imposed bindings and shackles. In the stillness of a few seconds, but what seemed like an eternity to Kaya, he took control and emerged.

Kaya felt the demon pull the dagger out of them, for it truly was them now, not her. They laughed loudly dropping the blades upon the rooftop. standing, she could see that a dark shadow was beginning to pour our from her skin, like sweat, flowing over her, covering her entirely. The shadow filled her wound and closed it, healing her. Then she felt them grow, body stretching, size increasing, even though she could still feel herself, tiny inside this sarcophagus, she could feel the power and feel herself be one with the monster. The monster was huge, over twice the size as the avatars, a huge shadowy beast, it's eyes were purple though, like Kaya's, showing that her pour soul trapped inside. A shadowed fog played about it's feet and as it stretched, as it became semi-solid, it reached to its back and pulled forth a spear. As thick as an orc's arm as long as a banquet table, it was pure death. The demon Let out a soul shattering howl and time began to move once more.

Kaya watched as the two avatar's dance made them turn, Ithramir's back to them, knowing they could now see this monster, as the creature was darkness itself. She tried to scream out a warning, but found she no longer had a voice; once again, she could only watch. The demon watched, then pulled his arm back and then pitched the spear forward. The huge razor tipped pole, an weapon of pure death and darkness, raced across the space between them and the avatars and with a sickening crunch, pierced Ithramir's armor thorugh his back. The demon laughed as the shocked face of the avatar looked to where the pain had come from. The demon laughed even harder when the spear went completely through Ithramir and pierced the shamaness, but growled when the shamaness stepped back from the spear tip, her electricity having made a shield to keep it from piercing her fully. She was injured, but not on death's door as Ithramir was. But the demon did not care, Ithramir was his target, killing him would break his bindings. He raised his hands up and howled again, this time, pulling forth all the death he felt about him, inhaling the sweet energy of lost life and despair, making his form grow larger and begin to solidify.

Kaya sobbed inside, feeling the energy coursing through her, feeling it soak in, making her sick. She watched, helpless, as the dreams of a people came crashing down upon the rooftop. The demon laughed and shouted, NOW I SHALL BE FREE!"

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir and the Shamaness never saw it coming. It was only when they both felt a sickening thud and a hard jerk that they both looked down and saw they had both been pierced. Ithramir was completely pierced, the Shamaness only partly so, but just as grievously wounded. In a moment, Ithramir splintered the tip of the spear, wincing in pain as the spear resisted before breaking. Wheeling about, he looks at Kaya, completely possessed and surrounded by a black mist. Ithramir knew she was to blame, either directly or indirectly, and now a demon stood supreme upon the rooftop. Ithramir's gaze was levelled on her, a look of questioning and a look of pain.

Stumbling backwards, he then feels his link with Avandor slipping. In his mind, he can hear his god talking with him,

"Ithramir, you have been poisoned most foully. This demon has great power, his spear carries the venom and even now begins blocking me from you. I cannot help for much longer, soon you will be beyond my help. You must..."

Nothing. Ithramir is just Ithramir now. Not an avatar, just an elf again. The pain begins coming quickly now, Avandor's healing had kept it from him, but now he must deal with the exhaustion and pain alone. A simple thought crosses his mind,

"I have never been above my soldiers, and now I share one last moment with those that have fallen with no one to help ease their passing."

Falling down, he leans against the low wall surrounding the roof, to much in shock to do anything else. He can feel the blood loss, he can feel the spear shaft embedded in his chest, near his left shoulder. Coughing, he watches as blood leaks from his mouth. His eyes grow heavy, his vision growing murkier. "So, this is how it feels to die? It's not as bad as I thought, rather peaceful actually." HIs mind begins to wander, he see's a green field, a meadow. It is late spring, the grass is green and the flowers are all in bloom. Turning around, he spies a small house, smoke gently wafting into the air. He walks contentedly, but is not alone. He watches her smile at him, her fiery hair all aglow in the sun. He remembers his promise, and musters enough breath to say her name,

"Lithwyn"

Closing his eyes, all goes dark. His head falls to his chest, his body slumps forward. A soft wind blows across the rooftop, his hair gently moving in the wind...

****

Catherin races up the stairs in time to see what has happened. With no regard to her life she darts across the roof and pass the formed demon. She watches as both avatars lose their powers, but Ithramir gravely wounded, falls down. Catherin rushes to his side in time to block a last blow by the Shamaness, her shield catching the full brunt of the blow. She watches as the one called Ardwen deals with her, then turns his attention to the demon before them.

"The demon is their concern," she reasons. She must tend to her commander, who even now lies in a pool of his own blood, pierced through by a vile spear.

He's concious still, but hallucinating from blood loss. She can hear him whisper the name of "Lithwyn", just before he blacks out. Looking to the wound, she decides to not take out the spear, fearing he will bleed to death. Quickly, she leans him back, allowing him to continue breathing. "It's not much, but he's still alive. In life, and death, I must protect him and his body." She positions their backs to the low wall and puts her shield in front of both of them. She will not leave his body, even if it means her life in the process. She watches as the others grapple and engage the demon before them.

All the while, she talks to her commander, telling him to hold on, to not leave them, and that all will be well. An occasional jerk or moan let's her know he is alive, at least for now. All she can do now is hope the others can deal with this demon and somehow get him the healing and treatment he needs.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya saw the pained and betrayed look in Ithramir's face. She tried calling out to him, to say she was sorry, to forgive her, but the demon was in control, she could do nothing but watch the man she had admired and looked up to all her life, die at her hands. Kaya bashes at teh walls of her mental prison, screaming, trying to break free, trying to find any weak spot so she could bring this demon down. She cared not for her own life anymore, her only desire was to put an end to this monster and stop him. TAKE ME! She screamed to whatever powers might be listening. Take me; just don't let him die.

The demon did not even notice her plea, his attention was turned to those that were now coming onto the rooftop.

Written by - Ardwen

The Beast stood perfectly erect, the huge greatsword it favored trailed in front of it carelessly resting lengthwise on the floor. Ithramir spoke, ""There, that is the last challenge. There will be no more orc warriors or shamans, save one." Then the rain came, a gloomy and sudden storm that seemed to have been conjured from nothing. Rain poured in from the open stairwell leading to the roof, rain slanted in from the windows.

In the room the water pooled and swirled, covering everyone with soaking sheets of moisture. The rain began to wash away the blood caked on the berserker, underneath all the blood the armor still shone with a deep sable, as if the armor's dark coloring reflected the light as much as it devoured it. Ithramir began his ascension into his avatar state. Internally, both the Beast and Ardwen reeled from the repulsive sight of so much god-taint, especially through an Elf.

But tainted to Ardwen or no, Ithramir still had an edict to give, "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."

Ithramir was not the first up the stairs, another Elf dashed up beforehand, followed by several others. Ardwen slowly made his way up stairs, the Beast was in no particular hurry to arrive on the roof if he would not be permitted to fight. When he did arrive on the drenched rooftop, the small part that was still Ardwen silently cursed himself.

The Elf who had dashed up the stairwell was either wounded or dead, another Elf had removed him as far as possible from the duel between the two manifested gods. Ardwen stood impassionate, Ithramir's orders still stood to not engage. The match was going evenly between the two avatars, neither seemed able to gain an advantage on the other . . . but that soon changed.

It was a flash, in one moment the female Elf who was tending to the comatose form of Isuiln altered. She swelled and grew dark, a monstrous figure emerging all at once from her frame. The figure stretched and contorted, and a dark spear shot forward, a spear of damnation meant to pierce the side of a god. It struck true, driving through Ithramir and striking the Avatar of Foesta. The other avatar was injured, but not felled, Ithramir seemed transfixed on the spear point. In his avatar state the exact extent of the injury was not certain to Ardwen, but it sure as hell coudn't have helped his battle.

Ithramir's order still stood though, engaging the other avatar would mean disobeying his directive. The struggle between the desire to fight and the obedience toward orders caused the wavering thoughts of Ardwen to drift to the surface of the Beast's dominance:

"He said not to engage."

"He is dying, there is blood to be spilled!"

"The order still stands."

"Do not lie to me Ardwen, you know what Avari would call for. Cease resisting me! I can feel your hatred, your anger, your despair, let it all go."

"The directive of Avari, as writ by the Aglareon of the Order calls for a soldier to, even in spite of contrary orders, engage the threat to the commander. As the commanding officer is absolute for mantaining moral and order, losing him on the field of battle is far more crippling than the cost of a few soldiers."

"Done babbling? You know what to do."

"What of the thing that thrust the spear?"

"Fool, you kill one thing and then the other. Do you know what to do know?"

"Kill."

The Beast locked its gaze on the shamaness. It saw its opening, the avatar was dazed and wounded from the spear strike, now would be the time to attack. Ardwen dashed forward, his raged state granting him speed and fury. The shamaness, while wounded, was far from helpless. In an instant the lightning-staff she had fought Ithramir with leapt into being, though it seemed duller than before.

The Beast's blade came down on top of it, the lightning staff crackled and hissed at the brunt of the force. Electricity traced along Ardwen's blade and into the berserker. If Ardwen felt the jolt he did not show it. Hissing the shamaness twisted her staff to the side, using the force of the blow to deflect it to her left. Twirling she landed a blow against Ardwen's side that sent the warrior skidding along the rooftop.

Ardwen dug his metal-clad fingers into the roof and with a long sonorous screech came to a halt. The Beast's flipped onto its feet, once again showing no ill affect from the punishment. It dashed forward, slowing down only to rectrieve its sword as it moved to engage the shamaness again.

The avatar was tiring, the blow from the demon-spear refused to heal, and the fight with this black-clad beast was further draining her. She knew she had to end the fight quickly if she wanted to end it at all. The beast was strong, yes, but it fought with an animal's savagery and displayed no sign of forethought or strategy. If she played her hand correctly, the fight could be her's yet.

Grinning the avatar seemed to yield ground, she willed the electricity around her to lessen, trying to invite another charge from the beast. While doing so she cautiously circled the warrior, who as hoped spun to put her in a direct line of another rush. Her grin became a grim smile as she maneuvered to just the position she wanted, the small wall that encircled the stairwell was behind her, the beast in front of her.

The beast charged, the avatar stood her ground. The beast drew closer, rapidly eating the ground between them, the avatar stood her ground. The beast began an arcing blow from left to right, and then the avatar acted. She spurred the lightning to life around her once again and sidestepped to just outside of the arc of the massive blade as it started in its course. The feint had worked.

The shamaness put all her will into the next blow, it had to count. Her lightning staff hummed with energy as she hammered the beast with a staggering blow along its right-hand side. The sable monstrosity's feet collapsed from under it as it crumpled from the force, it slid along the rooftop again, but this time the shamaness had something extra in store.

The beast hit the protective walling surrounding the stairwell, the wall crumbled about the berserker, burying it in an avalanche of stone and dust. The shamaness would have laughed, but the pain from the spear wound was almost crippling by now. Still, the fight was over, she could withdraw for now and-

The debris stirred. Something arose from it, dark and terrible. It was the berserker, still clinging onto its sword with its left hand. It's right arm was twisted around at the elbow, clearly broken, and it walked with a distinct limp. The shamaness could barely believe the thing had survived, much less could still walk! Her eyes widened with terror as that damned ebony force of destruction dropped its blade and reached for its right arm. There was a momentary paused and then suddenly the beast retched its arm forward again. There was a terrible noise of grating metal and then from the shattered joint a strange noise, like the sound of metallic spikes penetrating something soft. Fresh blood squirted from the armor, but the beast moved the restored arm as if it had never been injured.

It charged, its limp gone now. The shamaness was out of tricks, out of options. The beast closed, and this time it did something different. The beast leapt an amazing height into the air, its blade clasped in both hands as it made a circle in the heavens. The shamaness sunk to her knees, too weary to even avoid the blow. The beast landed, and such was the fury of that blow that it rent the shamaness in half and sundered the stone beneath. The blood of both beast and shamaness mingled as the roof was coated in bits of bone, blood, and guts. The smell of ozone hung heavy in the air.

The Beast straightened itself from its finishing blow. Slowly the wolfish helm peeled back, revealing the ravaged face of Ardwen underneath. His head was coated in blood, his hair a sticky mat of red and brown, a gash traced itself from the bottom of his chin to his right cheek. He opened his mouth to speak, but only foamy blood came out. He fell to one knee, his sword sliding down with him. He coughed blood again. Then fell face-first onto the uncaring sanguine stone of the rooftop. He did not move.

Written by - Archeantus

Far far away, in a distant land known as Aerynth...

The sun lowered below the eastern sea as they all watched as the Gate swept open amid the vast courtyard of Ancora. Its cool blue aura shone in the faces of the Abbey’s finest. Behind them was the Tree of Life, the world they planned to leave behind. The light was quickly dimming. They had toiled and labored with all their hearts within the chaos and war of the realm. They had been a bastion of faith, a candle in the dark of Aerynth. Many of them had fallen, in mind and body to the vicious cycle of never-ending death and woe. It was a world that seemed to be falling in upon itself. Devoid of hope, of the divine, many of them knew, in their heart of hearts, despite their belief in the return of the All Father that their path led elsewhere. It was not an easy choice to leave the world they had passionately cared about to its own devices, and it was by the sheer faith alone, faith they all possessed in the salvation of Aerynth, in the return of the All-Father, that they had chosen to leave, trusting in something not any of them could explain.

The Naggaren Abbey, built and carved out of work and toil, faith and love stood proudly off to the right of them, bathed in the blue light of the shimmering gate. More than one of them looked at the abbey with tears in their glittering eyes.

It was a time of sadness and hope, as slowly the more brave of them began to walk through the portal, a few whispering the soothing chant of battle and faith as they left their home to go somewhere beyond.

“For the Order of Saint Lorne.”

Archeantus Alyander was among them.

He had grown in every way in Ancora, nestled within the goodness of those he termed his family, he was able to become something that was rare in Aerynth, a man of honor. Blue eyes had grown wizened, yet still young and inquisitive. He was in his prime when the gate opened, a man in the middle of his life. And as he watched with tears in his eyes, detecting the inner feelings of all of them as they passed through the deep blue gate into the void beyond, it nearly broke his heart. He watched as Aethelwulf went through, as Wilhelm, as all of them one by one, each looking back at the Tree, the Abbey one last time, and finally it came to him. There were only a few left, Ariana among them. He looked at them softly, there were no words that could express his feelings, and so there was a calm understanding silence among them all.

That silence was broken when a chilling voice entered the young Warlock’s mind as it had throughout most of his life.

“It was me Archeantus. It was me all along.”

From the dark heavens a slight rain began.

“I am leaving Sinestrus. You will soon occupy my thoughts no longer. Your cause, your pride in your inherent talents, your lack of faith in your God, all of it is in vain. You will never recruit me into your folds; you should have known that by a simple probe within me. The Warlocks that stand with you are following a fool’s cause. The secret society you seek to build, the influence of politics, of warfare, of money, all of it will end when the All-Father returns to this world. Of all your powers, your ability to sway men’s wills to your own, you have not learned what your God has already done. You are no God among men. True power is men’s agency. Your control over men’s wills is an illusion, you have used your talents in vain The All-Father has left us to strengthen us.” Archeantus began, speaking to his lifelong nemesis, his eyes locked on the iridescent Gate before him.

“After all this time, you were never able to unlock the secret I have long held from you. A true Warlock would have discovered it by now. You have wasted the potential of your talents on your faith. For that I am truly sorry. You do not realize just how vast your talents could have reached with my help.” Sinestrus continued within Archeantus’ mind.

“You do not realize how far my potential has been reached because of my faith, because the one thing that all of us cannot probe is the heart’s of men. You are blind--“ Archeantus continued, now walking toward the gate.

“Never call yourself a Warlock; you are not one of us!” Sinestrus screamed.

A thunder clapped. The rain now poured in the slight darkness.

Then there was a slow, mocking laugh that reverbrated through his mind.

“I killed your parents on that dark night! I took them forever away from you!”

Archeantus stopped, his darkened blue eyes widened. And then it was before him. He beheld the face of the one who had changed his life forever, a face that was always draped in darkness. The justice that had never been served was his greatest sadness in leaving Aerynth. He still wore the small necklace his sister had made him. And he suddenly knew the one thing his whole life was built around, ever fiber of his being sought it, all his faith and knowledge he had worked toward rested on finding it.

He turned from the gate, seeing the looks of confusion upon his friend’s faces, especially Ariana’s. His face, wet and haggard, spoke only a faction of his grief and his determination.

“Where are you.” It was not a question, it was a command.

“Upon the battlements. Come my apprentice, come meet your destiny!”

Lightening struck, and he beheld a dark silhouette waiting there.

“No Archeantus, do not go to face him.” Ariana pleaded, following his gaze, understanding perceptively. “The gate will not hold for long.”

“He is the one who killed my parents, I cannot leave this world without bringing justice to their deaths.” Archeantus replied, his face now locked upon the shadow high above.

Ariana paused, her intelligent eyes softened. “Then the All-Father be with you, now and always...”

Without a moments hesitation, his Jen'e'tai flashed out in the deepening rain, a stark contrast to the gray sky. He focused his mind, and lifted from the ground, flying straight for the battlement, there to finish his life’s work.

They fought there in the rain and lightening. And from afar, as Ariana watched, she saw one of the silhouettes go down. She could wait no longer, the gate was quickly weakening. With one last look up above, at the Abbey, the Tree, and on the battlements, her heart bursting with hope and anguish at her long time pupil, her own life’s work, she left the world in heart wrenching sobs.

******

Archeantus slowly lifted himself, it was finished. Sinestrus lay bleeding on the stone, the rain washing his blood down Ancora’s walls. He stood and quickly looked at the gate, it was at that moment failing, slowly refocusing down.

With what little strength he had, all his mental powers nearly taxed, he lifted into the air once more. It took all he had left to fly, the rain slashed into his face, lightening flashed, the gate was nearly gone.

With a rising scream, his strength left him and he fell to the ground before the Tree of Life. His face smashed into the ground, his body nearly broken. A deep wound in his chest, poured blood into the ground, he was dying.

With an arm that outstretched in epic sadness toward the dying gate, he cried out with all his breaking heart, “NOOOOOOOOO!”

It was then a hand appeared around his mouth and pulled his helpless body up viciously.

“Die! Again and again die until you succumb to my will!”

And a dark blade was shoved into his chest, through his heart. A dagger sliced across his eyes blinding him.

With eyes drown in sorrow, blood, and anger, not able to see the last spark of the gate simmer and die, he swept around acting beyond his own soul’s capacity, and smote off the head of Sinestrus with the gleaming white Jen'e'tai.

Alone now, the rain pressing down on him, he knelt down in complete sadness, crying blood, his head lifted toward the Tree of Life, and beyond at the heavens.

He prayed then, feeling his life-force quickly fading.

“Please Father, take care of th--“

His voice left him, and he fell to the earth before the Tree of Life. A guard that had beheld the battle from afar, that was to lock Ancora’s gates, ran down to see what had happened. Running down the stone steps in the rain and thunder, he crossed the courtyard to where he had last seen him fall. To his astonishment, the body of Archeantus was gone.

He was never seen in Aerynth again.

*******

A strange gust of wind lifted over the dying wheat fields of New Ancora, worlds away, and hundreds of years in the future, from the realm known as Aerynth. Again rain fell from the heavens, events unfolding from afar.

A lone heavily cloaked figure stood in the middle of that field. Long graying hair hung down through a tattered hood. A spark of flame seemed to hover about the figure, like a firefly. In the figure’s hand was a long slightly curved walking stick.

A familiar voice whispered, as it had whispered for hundreds of years up until this point in the void,

“Find them, my son.”

And the figure raised its head to the heavens, revealing a large gray cloth wrapped around the figure’s eyes.

“I will, Father. By your blessing, I will.”

With that, the man made his way through the field and into the muddy path that led to a city he would have recognized if he would have been able to see it…

“Come Angellus, there is much to do.” The man whispered mentally to the flying ember that hovered near him.

The rain continued to pour, as the figure disappeared into the mist toward Ancora.

Written by - Rikshanthas

"Move! I said move, dammit!!"

Lienad, running on pure adrenaline, crashed through the startled soldiers who failed to clear the way fast enough, skipped over the corpses and vaulted the steps to the roof five at a time, swearing at his own stupidity. I only hope I'm not too late ...

He grabbed the doorframe as he sped by, swinging around it to slow his momentum, and screeched to a halt as his eyes scanned the scene before him. Ithramir had fallen, his lieutenant cradling him against the battlements; the elf who had blindly charged ahead at first, lay dead or unconscious on the roof stones; the great black beast, whom Lienad now saw to his surprise was an elf, lay in a slowly growing pool of blood; the pulpy mass within a large depression in the stone must once have been the orc Shamaness. But the creature that stood before him immediately drew his attention, for it was as he had feared - the great shadow creature of his vision had succeeded because of his blindness, and now it stood triumphantly, glaring at them - he saw Tempyst and Lucant there as well - as if they were beneath its notice. And then he knew, the moment Ithramir breathed his last that ... thing ... would be unleashed upon the world; no doubt it was already summoning up its power in preparation to lay waste to them all. And the helpless elven woman he could almost make out within its shifting mass, would be its first victim.

Drawing Khelek'urya from its sheath once more, he could see its icy glow reflected in the creature's "face", the feeling of triumph and confidence emanating from it seemed to waver slightly, if only for a moment. He knew he couldn't kill this creature, as he had known in the vision, but maybe he could end the girl's torment, and possibly hurt the creature in the process. "Amin eleuva lle gurtha, Agaryulnaer!"* he shouted, swinging the dragonblade in a wide horizontal arc that would seperate Kaya's head from her shoulders.

****

*I will see your death, bloodsucker

Written by - Tempyst

Both Tempyst and Lucant felt the dark energy burst free and it chilled them to the bone. They raced up the stairs after the great black warrior and stood in momentary horror at the sight before them. Then they felt the presence of others race past them and she watched another man run forth, sword drawn ready to strike the demon. She then felt the pain coming from the roof beside her. She looked, only to see Ithramir laying in a pool of blood craddles in his second's arms.

Tempyst, Ithramir is dying, you must save him. If he dies, the demon will be free upon this world. Do what you must. He cannot die. Tempyst felt the warmth of support from Nyrondis flood through her, but knew she would have to rely mostly upon herself, Nyrondis had other things to worry about.

Tempyst reached out with her mind and heart to her husband. Lucant, do what you must. It has to end. I have my own work to do. I love you Tempyst turned and ran to Ithramir. She gaspsed at what she saw, the dark spear of energy pulsing through Ithramir's chest. The elven woman brought up her sword when Tempyst approached. "Shh, don't worry, I am here to help him. Please, let me help him." She felt her medallion grow warm and then the soldier lowered her weapon and allowed Tempyst to approach.

"Please." The elven woman sobbed, "please." was all she could get out. Tempyst focused, she heard the sound of battle and swordplay behind her, but she could not look, she had to focus on her own task. Every sound of a striking blade made her jump, fearing she would feel her connection with Lucant broken because of his death. She set her staff beside her and removed her cloak, then places a hand upon Ithramir's face. She could feel his skin cooling; she could see his aura spiking, then darkening, fluxuating still with tiny remants of his God's essence. But with every bit of power he lost, the closer to death he sank.

I wish we were on solid ground, this would be so much easier. Tempyst, her hand still upon Ithramir, closed her eyes and began to ground herself. The world around her seemed to cease as she felt tendrils of energy leave her body and search downward for the sacred earth. She felt the tendrils grow into roots as she anchored her self into the ground. As the roots took hold, drawing forth energy and life she felt her aura blossom, flowing through her and all around Ithramir. His superficial wounds healed, the bleeding began to stop. "You," she spoke to the elven woman, "help me pull this out."

I'm Catherin, his second. If we pull it out he will bleed to death." The woman's voice sounded panicked, and Tempyst felt this was the most unsure of herself she had ever been.

"Catherin. Take deep breaths. Please, I need your help now. If I am to save his life, this must be removed." Tempyst took her free hand and grabbed Catherin's hands, one at a time and placed them on the spear shaft. She let some of her energy flow through to the woman, letting it ground her and calm her down and it seemed to work. After only a moment she had stopped shaking and had gripped the spear. "Okay now, when I say so, you must pull it slow and steady, no fast movements. Then we must take this armor off as quickly as possible." Catherin nodded and waited for Tempyst to speak. Tempyst took another deep breath and pulled forth a surge of energy from her roots to the branches of her hands. She removed her hand fro his face then reached placed both hands on the spear as well. She took a deep breath then spoke. "Now." Both Tempyst and Catherin gripped the broken spear and pulled. They could feel the suction of Ithramir's insides trying to keep the spear in, to keep the gap sealed, but they pulled the dark material free and tossed it aside, where it hiss and disolved in the rain. With hastened fingers, Catherin unbuckled his breast plate and pulled it off.

Tempyst could see the wound more clearly now; in fact she could see right through Ithramir's chest. Without pausing, for she knew any hesitation could mean his life, she placed on hand under Ithramir and the other hand on top, sealing the wound from either side. She closed her eyes once more and sank her roots down deeper into the earth. She slowed her breathing and began to focus her energy. She felt the power of Nyrondis flow through her, from the earth into Ithramir. She felt it sooth and calm the torn muscles and organs and excellerated their own healing abilities. The energy flowing through Tempyst into Ithramir reached out and snatched any bit of the avatar's energy that was left, any sliver helping power the bodie's healing capabilities. Moments seemed like hours; Tempyst had no concept of time while she did this. She only knew that she had to heal this elf.

Tempyst felt Ithramir's body respond to her energy, bones mending, muscles growing; all the physical injuries repairing. SHe opened her eyes and looked at his aura and gasped at what she saw. His body was healing, but his aura, his life spark was still fading. NO! NOo this cannot be! Nyrondis what can I do? But there was no response from her god. She knew he was dealing with other matters; Ithramir's life was entirely in her hands. She looked more closely with her druid site and it was then she could the taint, the demon tain that was eating away at his life force, slowly but surely. It was spreading, like a swarm through his system, sucking out any life she put forth into him. What she was doing was just not enough, she needed to give him a burst, something that would keep him whole until a better healer could take over. Then, she felt another energy stir within her.

"It's my turn momma. I want to help." Tempyst felt the life within her stirring, growing, speaking to her. Our daughter, our little girl; Lucant! We have a daughter! Without thinking Tempyst pushed out the information to Lucant, linking them together with their child. Then the little girl spoke again. "It's okay momma, poppa, this is my destiny." Tempyst and Lucant could both hear the small voice inside their hearts and mind. As the little girl spoke, they both felt her presence, her love wash through them, and as it washed through them, they could see her, visualize their child. She was beside them, holding their hands, smiling up at them, then as she spoke, they saw her growing older, into a toddler, then a child, a young lady, then a young woman, then back to a young girl. Don't cry for me.' The young girl spoke, her eyes shining, her smile lighting up their hearts. I am your child, and even though our time was short, you taught me well. I too serve Nyrondis."

Tempyst felt her heart tighten and she spoke aloud. "What do you mean little one?" Tears welling up into her eyes, her throat clutching up, making it hard to talk. "What are you saying? You, you..."

"You understand momma, you know what it happening. But it's okay, it's my choice."

"No," Tempyst cried out, her whole body beginning to shake, feeling her child's life flowing through her, flowing down toward's Ithramir. "Please little one, there has to be another way."

"Shhhh, it's okay momma, it doesn't hurt. Once I help, I will watch over you and poppa and always be there with you. Always. But you know this has to be the way. Life to replace death. Please momma, let me go, I can't do this unless you let me go." Tempyst lurched forward, her body almost wracked with sobs now. She knew what her daughter was saying was true, there was no other way to save Ithramir's life, she did not have the energy to stablize him. But this was her child, how could she let her go?Tempyst and Lucant both felt a gentle hug, then hueard a whisper. "Please let me go momma, poppa, I want to help too, we all have a reason for our life, and this is mine. Let me go." Tempyst felt Lucant's anguish, but together they both knew they had to respect her choice.

Tempyst felt the connection break with Lucant and knew he was charging the demon, determined now to end it. She closed her eyes and whispered, "I love you little one, you will be in my heart always." She let forth another sob and the tears fell as she felt a soft kiss upon her cheek. Then, as she cut the ties to her child, she felt Ithramir's own life force darken. The energy of her child rush forth from her into Ithramir in a burst of golden light, fully bathing all upon the room in the soft, warm light. Then, in a beat of a heart, she was gone. The child's life force surged through Ithramir, instilling new life into the broken body. Tempyst let go of Ithramir and saw his wound healed, his body whole once again. She smiled sadly as she saw the glow of life flowing thorugh him. "No. NO!" Tempyst cried out. the demon taint was still there, weakened, but still there, slowly eating away at Ithramir's soul. More had to be done. Her child may have sacrificed herself to keep him alive, but it would not last through the night. Tempyst looked helplessly at Catherin, her eyes tear filled and searching for reason. "It won't last. It won't last, his soul is infected, we have to do more. Catherin, does he have a..." Tempyst's voice trailed off as she remembered Lithwyn. Of course, a kindred soul, a bonded love, that could save him, that could give him the strength to fight this Tempyst looked about, seeing who was close by. "Catherin," she almost shouted, "we have to get Ithramir to Lithwyn, NOW!"

Written by - Renalis

Renalis watched as the Avatar of Foesta effortlessly cast aside the lifeless body of the brash Elf who charged first. Kaya rushed to his aid at Ithramir's request and dragged him from the battle seen as the two Avatar's began to fight as deities should - fast and furious, speeds and powers that no mortal could match, not even Renalis.

But there was something odd in the air, and Renalis could feel it. He felt a dark presence, like before but now stronger. He could feel it close, too close. He could feel it manifesting, and it was not the dark Avatar, but a demon. He looked over at the elf Kaya, and could feel the dark energy pouring over her and recognized it all to well. Then she plunged a dagger into her own stomach. Before Renalis could even think this was odd, in an instant the Elf swelled and grew dark, a monstrous figure emerging all at once from her frame. A Defiler. No ordinary one either, but an extremely powerful one. The figure stretched and contorted, and a dark spear shot forward piercing both Ithramir and the Shamaness.

Renalis saw Lienad run forward after the demon and Ardwen go after the weakened Avatar of Foesta. Turning to Lucant, "You know only we can deal with the Defiler, but I am too weakened in the place and at this time to do it alone, lets go" Renalis rushed towards the Defiler - no longer the elf that it had possessed - his blade, Azurewrath, glowing bright blue as he ran to flank the great beast.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Kiradia smiled grimly as she watched the fight light of day strike her eyes. She had long ago learned how to stare directly into the sun without losing her sight. Kiradia meditated on the rooftops as she waited for the first effects of her spell to take hold.

The Dragon had always been a paradox to Kiradia, being made of both light and dark. A fire inside and black scales outside. Fitting, most likely for the Dragon to be such as it is. In time she would know peace... as would the rest of existence.

Men and women began to wake up in the town. The men going out in the fields with their oldest sons to begin the day’s work while the mothers began making breakfast. Many caravans were already heading out of town. Some to restock their supplies and others to sell the towns goods to other towns down the road. All of them carried her spell, her... infection.

In the Book of Khanarch'uus the spell Kiradia had created needed blood of a bear and special incantations on the casters part. The physical manifestation of the spell was a small tumor above the head, which secreted a liquid into the brain. This liquid made the mind of the infected susceptible to Kiradia’s commands with the final activation of the spell. The name of the spell was Call of the Dragon. It was highly contagious.

Not everyone who was infected would hear the Call, but those who did would travel to the town where Kiradia was. In this way, Kiradia would build her cult and give her enough time to indoctrinate her followers that by the time the infection wore off they would willingly follow her order’s anyway.

Kiradia smiled as the normal looking town continued it’s day-to-day life. Not knowing that soon their world would become a living hell.

Written by - Sycon

Sycon found his bearings once again. He could see the beast through his own eyes again. It did not move or seem to notice what had just taken place inside its own mind. Instead, it lurched forward and up the stairs. Though the beast seemed a brute without words, it seemed to understand orders quite well.

There was something familiar though. The figure in the beast's mind, it almsot seemed...

But the battle was going to rage upstairs any second. Sycon had missed the two elves who had already gone up. He darted up the stairs, looked this way and the next only to see the body of one elf flung to the side. The second Kaya was being hushed by Ithramir.

The battle soon uncoiled in front of Sycon. He watched as from a stadium, almost ready to cheer, but knew the how solemn the occasion was. He had never seen an Avatar before this day, and now there were two clashing it out in front of him. He knew death and despair were things even he hated, it was an even rarer occasion to see this. He could barely watch, the sparks were so bright.

****

Something else was in the room. Sycon could feel it in his gut. It sounded like a girl screaming. Yelling at a force she was trying to overcome but could not. Her voice kept getting softer and softer, almost being muffled.

He whirled around in the direction he felt this force coming from. The elf woman... Kaya I believe they had called her earlier... was still. She had not even moved or spoken a word, but Sycon could still see her screams. The room was darker around her for some reason. Almost like a thin fog surrounding her. It was what she did next that brought a gasp from Sycon. The dagger she held, she drove it into her stomach. She did not so much as grimace. She did not sway, did not fall over, not even blink.

As she drew the dagger out of her it was fog that seemed to pour out of her wound. A thick black fog that enveloped her, almost sparking with energy. It did not coarse through the room, but instead it started to take shape. A form larger than Kaya that beheld a spear. Before Sycon could think, the spear had leapt from the hands of the shadow and into Ithramir, impaling him through his armor and into the shamaness.

Sycon's sword was already in his hands, though he did not remember putting it there. The woman's voice was so faint, but it was still emitting from somewhere inside the shadow.

You stand in front of a demon, my little hero. What do you think? Her thoughts ran through his head again. How strong was this bond? Did she say this was normal... I can feel you reaching out to me... do not. You do not know enough to use what I have to be rid of this thing. Your magics will not work, and do not try to invade its mind. It will succumb you. "Very well, then what should I do? Cut a shadow with my pointy stick I call a sword here?" Sycon felt a bit insulted by her. No, silly her voice had turned from a serious tone to that of an innocent maiden once again. Stand back for the time being and save yourself. You will know when the time is right. Some of the others standing next to you have the power to deal with this demon, but you are still arrogant to the ways of other planes. She almost gave a little laugh. Focus yourself on the demon. Do not let it leave you sight. Keep your sword in hand if need be, but do not engage. Sycon had never had a full conversation with her before. He wondered why...? Look there, quickly.

Sycon's face turned to see the beast fall from what looked the sky and onto the shamaness. Blood dripped from its armor and its sword. Was it the shamaness's as she was cleanly split in half? The sword lowered and the helmet of the armor retracted. It revealed an elf that fell to the ground.

You know that elf. Go to him if you wish, but keep your eyes on the demon. If you do not want your friend to die, go to him and find him. Enter his mind once more and keep him in this realm, if you wish to see him alive again. This confused Sycon. He had no idea who this elf was. However, he knew better than to ask her again and rushed to his side. He knelt down and saw the blood was indeed his. Sycon knew his healing powers would work no wonders here with him today. He stretched out his thoughts toward the elf, entering his mind once more. It was black as before, but there was no figure. He kept forward, deeper. There, a brilliant white light flashed and he was in a castle of crystal. He could see the sky, it was twilight. Beautiful...

There stood an elf with his back to Sycon. The elf was looking out the window. He was casually dressed with a sword handing from his hip, almost touching the ground. The elf turned, showing his full self to Sycon. ARDWEN!

It was Ardwen! Looking slightly younger than Sycon remembered him, but still! Was this the elf? Was this Ardwen from Aerynth?

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