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Book Two - A Gathering Storm

Written by - Rikshanthas Page 25 Book 2

Sharanya felt as if she were floating, a warm light seeming to some from all around her and within her. She felt calm, at peace ...

"Ow." Consciousness returned with a rush. Groaning, she struggled to sit up, and found herself supported by a strong arm, which belonged to a stern-faced human of about sixty; his shoulder-length hair and full mustache were once a rich chestnut, to judge by the strands that held their color amid the grey. He was a lot like Lienad, she thought. Awkwardly, she began to thank him but he said simply, "you wanted to sit ... Are you ill?" the man asked, noticing her weakness. He adjusted her pillow and added his own from the cot next to hers and gently leaned her back against them.

"Not really," she replied," just ... worn out, but I think I'm okay now." And she explained what had happened, the old knight - Shara noticed the slightly battered but ornate armor lying next to his cot - listening attentively, his expression respectful. "You are a cleric, then?" he asked.

"Well ...I suppose I am, now," she answered. "I am Sharanya of the House Dethelranaen, and I am honoured to make your acquaintance, sir knight." She felt no concern about giving this human her full name; in fact she thought it would have been insulting to deceive the man.

"The honour is mine, Lady Sharanya," the knight replied with a bow that was graceful despite his injuries. "My name is Mathell Stormblade, I am the captain of a small unit here." The two spoke for a fair while, Sharanya enjoying the company of the noble knight who reminded her so much of an older Lienad, until she was interrupted by a Call from Nagarren, urging her toward the roof of the keep. A lump formed in her throat as she guessed the reason she would be needed there.

She rose swiftly to go -- and nearly fainted, dropping weakly back onto the cot. How can I go to him if I cannot stand? she thought angrily, fearfully. She realized Sir Mathell was frowning at her again; blushing at her own rashness, she said despairingly, "Nagarren calls me, but I haven't the strength ..." she trailed off as she saw the knight reaching for his armor. "But - your wounds - " she sputtered as he held up his breastplate, masterfully engraved with a pattern of winding roses; at the center was an odd, crested bird clasping a sword and rose in its claws, with a crown over its head. "Honor demands that I assist you," he said nobly. "Besides, I was getting restless here anyway, my injuries are not severe. Help me on with this would you?" he asked, holding out his splinted left arm. He donned the rest of his armor with the ease of much practice, even one-handed as he was; strapping on his longsword - decorated with that same curious emblem - he held out his good arm to support her, and they made their way towards the keep.

Written by - Tempyst

"So there you have it..." he said calmly, his voice just above a whisper. "All I want... is a place for them... for her... to live in peace - without fear, without want, without pain. If you can give that to them... if you can give them what I can't... then I'll do whatever you want me to..." Leov looked at Lithwyn with a serious and honest stare.

Lithwyn looked steadily at the man before her, though he was indeed a rascal, there was something about him that was compelling, sincere. After all, a man who is so good with children can't be all bad, can he? Lithwyn took a breath then made her proposition. "This is what I can do for you, for now. In exchange for that book, I will grant you safe harbor within our port and city. I would ask that you not leave our waters until I have time to speak with you in a few days time, for I do have other important business to attend to. In the meanwhile, you anre your crew are welcomed within the city. There is a war going on, so if any wish to settle here, their help in any way would be appreciated. Now, take this," Lithwyn handed Leov a small token. "Should you need to reach me before we meet, come to the citadel and show them this token; it will get you access to me immediately. Also, bring all this faire, up to the citadel to Crathose, he will give you a fair price for it and if there be anything else that needs my attention, he will do so." Lithwyn took the book Leov was handing to her, and wrapped the blanket back around it, not wanting to touch the vile thing directly. "Now, have a good day Leov, enjoy our city, and please, refrain from 'borrowing" anything." Lithwyn smiled. "And do take that darling neice of yours into the city, she will enjoy the market." Lithwyn then turned and departed from the ship.

Lithwyn hurried back to the citadel. She wanted to get this book back to Resini for study as soon as possible. Once inside, she quickly found him and told him the story of the book, or what she knew of it. Resini assured her he would take great care and report to her as soon as he knew anything more about it. Glad to have the vile thing out of her possession, she headed towards the kitchens; she was in desperate need of juice and some food. Once there, she was surprised to see Aelarra there with an unknown man. But after she was introduced to the new Vhar'Kanix, she siighed and smiled. There will never be a quiet day here will there? She listened to their story of the events in the library, then assued them the damage would be taken care of. But before she had time to say anything else, a messenger came running in, telling her the ranger Fiernum had arrived and was waiting to see her. Lithwy excused herself, grabbing an apple to take with her, and made her way back to her office, but only after she sent the messenger to Crathose, telling him to expect Leov and his findings.

Lithwyn entered her office to fine Fiernum standing by her window, waiting. "So my friend, what news do you have?"

"I have a report from Lord Wilhelm M'lady."

"Then please, let me hear it." Lithwyn listened, feeling her shoulders grow a bit weary at the report. If there was not enough going on, now Mavigan was out adventuring, with Teran of all people and an undead! She shuddered at the thought. But I trust Wilhelm, he knows what he needs to do to keep her safe. "Thank you Fiernum. Please spend a little time here to rest and by early evening, I will have a report to send back to Lord Wilhelm." Fiernum nodded then left.

The rest of the day was spent sorting through delayed messages from scouts and messenger birds about how the battle was going. Every note she read, she dreaded, fearing it would tell her of Ithramir's death. She went about her business, signing orders to resupply the troops and to bring the wounded home. As evening approached, she gave Fiernum a message for Wilhelm, letting him know the news of the battle and that she wished him luck on his endeavor with the Queen.

By the time she made it to her room, she was exhausted. A commander's work is never done. She sat by her window for a while, looking up into the night sky, her thoughts drifting to Ithramir. I pray you are safe. I pray my dream was just old fears coming to the surface, and not a forshadowing of future events. I could not bear to loose another... She stopped that train of thought right there. What was I going to say? Another love? I, I don't love him, I can't, I won't. I won't go through that again. Lithwyn turned and climbed into her bed, wrapping her blankets up tight around her and drifted off into a restless sleep.

The next was more of the same. Reports of battle, signing off requests for new supplies, where to bring the wounded, how many more troops to send out to replace them. But no matter how hard she tried, she kept finding her thoughts drifting to Ithramir, and hoping he would come home to her safe and sound.

Written by - Teran

"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."

Teran shrugs letting an easy smile crease his lips "I don't think you understand our purpose or the purpose of our pursuers. They will stay out of our way but more importantly they will be in a position to help should we meet up with something we cannot handle on our own."

Sabbatine snickers at Keeryn.

"If it were only the Queen's rangers we had to mislead it might have been possible however following our tracks is their most basic form of tracking. How does one hide one's own life aura?" Teran asks aloud.

"I can hide my own, but I fear my methods may be beyond your grasp young one. " he is watching Keeryn cautiously while he speaks "Sabbatine cannot hide her aura... Mavigan? Jasmine? Crystal?"

Sabbatine hisses at Teran, glowering at his "criticism".

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan was annoyed. As their little group shuffled onward, traipsing behind the abomination Teran was using as a tracker, she could feel the stares. Jasmine kept shooting glances her way, and Teran kept looking at Mavigan and Jasmine, his thoughts obvious.

“Really,” she thought to herself, “does he think me so stupid to try and attack her without waiting till he turns his back?” Astride Argent, Mavigan flipped one of her braids out of the way and sighed. “He must think I’m a moron,” she concluded, and the thought made her sad and depressed.

As there was no conversation to speak of as they traveled in the gloom, Mavigan had time to brood and sink further into her discontent. So preoccupied by her own thoughts, she was taken aback when Teran declared that the party would rest.

Dismounting, she followed Teran’s example, and prepared to settle in for the night. It wasn’t long before the argument between Keeryn and Teran broke out.

“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?”

He made the statement so nonchalantly, with even a trace of humor, as if it should have been obvious to even the most blind and stupid. But it hadn’t been obvious to Mavigan, and the knowledge that she was not the free individual she wished to be caused her to pale. A fisted hand rose to sit upon her chest, trying to push her heart back into place as she listened to Teran laugh.

She sat still, in worried silence, waiting for the return of Keeryn. When she came she delivered the news Mavigan both expected and dreaded – they were being followed.

The wheels in Mavigan’s head began churn in quick succession. If they were being followed, then Wilhelm knew of her location. And if Wilhelm knew of her location, but was not tearing down the forest to fetch her back to the Citadel, that could mean only one thing.

She had been allowed to leave.

And everything Teran said in response to Keeryn only confirmed that fact.

“No offense or anything, but you don’t look like you’ve spent much time outdoors.”

Mavigan retorted with an angry snort. “Shows what you know,” she said with vehemence. “Lesson number 1 - Nothing is EVER as it seems,” she added, her voice filled with steel.

Casting a glare at Teran, she adds, “Yes I can hide my aura.” She pauses and fidgets a bit, feeling Teran’s curious gaze settle on her. “Sort of,” she finally adds. “But it doesn't really matter, since you are in cahoots with the very people I was trying to get away from. What was the plan? Turn me over to Wilhelm once the adventure was over and say "Thank you for the loan of your pet?"”

Written by - Rikshanthas

Lienad swung Khelek'urya with all his strength, willing the creature dead despite his better knowledge. He missed the elf, though he was sure he had aimed the swing well, and the demon seemed not to have moved; yet Khelek'urya sailed harmlessly just over her head (though she would probably have an interesting haircut if she survived, Lienad thought absently). The demon's shadowy form, however, seemed to shrivel away from the arcing blade, reforming only when the edge was past, as if Khelek'urya hindered it somehow; Lienad noticed the demon realized this with a sort of condescending annoyance - it knew he couldn't kill it, but the blade was an irritant. Which it removed by delivering a blow Lienad was completely unprepared for; the force of the backhanded punch sent him sailing nearly twenty feet, impacting the wall next to Lucant with a sickening thud. He remained where he lay, his face twisting into a grimace of pain as he fought to stay conscious. "Lucant ..." he managed to say through gritted teeth, his eyes asking the younger man's assistance.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Carnage. Death. Destruction. That was all that awaited the party atop the roof. One by one, they fell: Isuiln was first, the black clad warrior also fell, Kaya had been consumed by Death incarnate, Ithramir was gored through the back on the demon's spear, even a life that had not yet began in earnst - a life very dear to Lucant - was consumed by the evil before him. Now Rikshanthas lay beside him, struggling to stay awake after his encounter with the monstosity.

Lucant cursed himself for allowing this to happen, for being so weak, for not being able to protect Ithramir, for not being able to save his child, for not being able to protect anyone. Tears began to stream down his face as he frantically sought for strength anywhere. His desperate prayer was answered: "My champion, my will... shall you accept me wholely? Shall you become my vessel?" Without hesitation, Lucant responded to his god: "Yes. I beg of you, my lord, grant me the strength the protect them."

The very strength of the gods flowed through Lucant's body. His blue eyes changed to shimmering gold, he grew half again his size as Nyrondis entered his soul. A'lanthear, as well, shone like the golden sun, filled with Nyrondis' power. When the ascension was finished, Lucant looked down at the shattered Rikshanthas, but it was Nyrondis who spoke: "Thank you, child, for coming this far." He bent down and took Khelek'urya from Rikshanthas' grasp. As Lucant's hand coiled around the hilt, the blade's icy aura was dispelled into a cloud of misty blue and replaced with the golden fury of Nyrondis' energy. "Rest now, for you have fulfilled your role."

Lucant then charged forth after Renalis, who had the demon momentarily stunned with a binding spell. "Abomination! Be gone from this plane!" Lucant yelled as he charged the demon. A soul-rending scream pierced the sky as the demon shattered the binding spell and gave a wide swing with its spear to ward off the mage. Raising its spear overhead, the demon struck with unholy strength and speed, only to see its spear shattered on the blade of the golden Khelek'urya. Shocked at the sudden turn of events and weakened by the pure aura of Nyondis, the demon let out another shriek and began clawing at Lucant. Again, the demon's blows were shattered by Khelek'urya. Seeing that the time was right, Nyrondis poured all his power into A'lanthear. Lucant stepped forth with Khelek'urya before him and A'lanthear at his side, forcing the demon back before finally slamming A'lanthear into the demon's shadowy chest. The demon's thought's seeped through into Lucant's consciousness - thoughts of anger and hatred at one man: Beridane, the man who chained the demon to this girl.

A golden light shone from within the howling demon in Kaya's shape before the shadowy demon was destroyed by the holy light. She fell to the ground as Nyrondis spoke to His champion: "You have served us well, my champion. For now, your part is over. Rest now in peace, and know that I shall always be here for you, as the strength of the world is here for you." As Nyrondis left Lucant, he felt the strength and power He had granted leave as well. Overcome by exhaustion from the experience, Lucant dropped the purified Khelek'urya and A'lanthear on the ground at his sides before falling to his knees. "Tempyst...I..." were the only words he said before collapsing.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm was awakened by the arrival of Fiernum, who bore a message from Commander Lithwyn wishing them well and a report on the progress of the battle at Minas Aura. At the time Fiernum had left the Citadel, the second ring of Minas Aure had fallen and the assualt on the third ring would begin at dawn. Fiernum handed Wilhelm the arrow pendant that he had used to find Wilhelm, which Resini had attuned to Wilhelm before they left. Wilhelm carefully packed it away for later use, as it would not do to lose it.

In the morning they would continue to follow behind Mavigan. Wilhelm assumed that by now Mavigan had realized that she had been allowed to leave, and would be irritated by this, but he hoped she would also realize later that given the contraints of Wilhelm's oath to remain close to her and protect her, this actually showed a degree of confidence and respect for Mavigan's ability to survive and to cope away from Wilhelm's immediate protection. This was about as far away as Wilhelm could let her go without violating his divinely witnessed oath, something an Avatar takes very seriously indeed. By simply following along afterwards, Wilhelm was letting Mavigan choose where to go and what to do in the hope that she could work through her troubles in the process.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya watched helplessly as those who entered the rooftop were tossed aside like dolls. Ithramir fell, then the great black warrior, then the others. She screamed inside her prison and pounded mentally upon the walls, searching, searching for any weakness, for any way out, but she was completely entombed. All she could do was watch.

Then she felt the demon blanche at one of the men before tossing him aside as well. Then another charged forward; this one, this one was different. SHe could feel his anger and his rage towards the demon. She could also feel the demon seething at the sight of this man. Then she understood why. She watched as the young human changed and shifted before her eyes, growing into a full fledged avatar! Three avatars this night. May the gods help this one to defeat the monster.

As the fight between demon and avatar unfolded, she could feel the demon weakening. It was then she began her own assault from the inside. YOU BASTARD! HE'S GOT YOU. Kaya shouted gleefully at the demon, hoping she could rattle his focus. You are NOTHING! Do you feel that! YOU are LOSING! Finally you will be destroyed. YOU WILL KILL NO LONGER! YOU will use me NO MORE!

The demon screamed at her, but his thoughts were incoherant. He was being defeated, he was going to die. As the avatar before him struck the final blow, all the demon could think about was his hatred for Beridane, the one who had chained him to this weak elf and his hatred of Tahlon, the wizard who bound him to this world and had given him to Beridane.

Kaya felt the shadow slip away from her, melting into nothing. She gasped as if coming up for air when the sludge fell from her face. Free! I am FREE! Kaya fell to her knees, stunned for the moment, free for the first time in many, many months. But then she saw the avatar before her return to being a normal man and quickly moved forward to catch him as he fell forward. He's still alive, thanks the gods. She thought, tears falling from her eyes. Lord Ithramir! Kaya set the young man down and rushed over to where her hero had fallen, only to be met with a sword to her throat by his second.

Written by - Renalis

Deciding that the demon was too powerful to take on the alone, aiding the demonslayer was the next best idea. "I may not be able to kill you... but have fun with THIS" A bolt of pure white light shot forth from Renalis's hand and encircled the great beast, "A little binding I cooked up for the likes of you..." Renalis could see the spell already begining to give loose but it was too late. As the beast screamed the spell broke but Lucant, the new Avatar of Nyrondis stattered his weapon and then plunged the radiant A'lanthear into its chest, annihilating the demonic presence as the elf Kaya slumped to the ground, Lucant too colapsingto the ground.

Renalis could see the death and carnage about him... he could see the wounded and more importantly heard Tempyst's words, "we have to get Ithramir to Lithwyn, NOW!" Renalis reached deep inside, and knew what had to be done. Turning to those ont he rooftop he shouts out, "I can get us out of here. I can open a portal to the Citadel, but we need to be on the ground and I'm going to need some help. Get the wounded to the ground level, I shall await you there." Renalis's eyes flared brightly with blue flame and the soulstone responded in kind. He lept off the roof and slowly decended to the ground where he prepared to begin his work.

****

"I can hide my own, but I fear my methods may be beyond your grasp young one. " he is watching Keeryn cautiously while he speaks "Sabbatine cannot hide her aura... Mavigan? Jasmine? Crystal?" Teran's words made Crystal chuckle a little on the inside before she let out a calm, "Yes I can actually" The actual main purpose of the soulstone was indeed to hide ones presence from others by absorbing part of it and changing it, surpressing it and masking it with background energies.

As Mavigan said,“But it doesn't really matter, since you are in cahoots with the very people I was trying to get away from. What was the plan? Turn me over to Wilhelm once the adventure was over and say "Thank you for the loan of your pet?"” Crystal began to worry that this journey may come to an end far sooner than she would have liked. Waiting she looks at both Mavigan and Teran to see where this arguement may lead.

Written by - Tempyst

There was a great flash and Tempyst turned to watch the fight between her husband and the demon. The moment he had said yes, Tempyst knew Lucant had become the avatar for their god, Nyrondis. She knew Nyrondis would not let her down and take her husband from her this night, but she also knew that he would injured and worn after it was over. When her husband placed the killing blow, she could feel the darkness, the evil that had permiated the rooftop dissapate with the falling rain. Then she heard another voice.

"I can get us out of here. I can open a portal to the Citadel, but we need to be on the ground and I'm going to need some help. Get the wounded to the ground level, I shall await you there." Tempyst looked at Catherin, then saw her bring her sword up to defend her commander. The elven girl that the demon had been controlling had run over. She could see the hatred and anger in Catherin's eyes.

She placed a hand upon Catherin's and lowered the sword. "Deal with her after you get your commander safely home. Get some men to help take him down to the ground." She could see that Catherin debated her options, but only for a moment; she knew her commander took first priority.

"Do not leave girl. You have much to attone for." Catherin hissed at the elf. The elof looked at Catherin wide eyed and paled, then slumped agaisnt the parapit, not even noticing she was sitting in a pool of Ithramir's blood.

Tempyst stood, then swayed, feeling very light headed and weak. She knew she would collapse soon, but kept pulling en ergy from the earth, knowing her work here was not quite done. Seeing Lucant collapsed upon the ground, she ran to him and checked to see how seriously he was wounded. She brushed the hair from his face and could see, that he did have many wounds, but by looking at his aura, she knew he would survive. Tempyst leaned down and kissed her husband, then felt a pull from behind. She looked and lying there in his own blood, was the black clad warrior, the one she had somewhat met that first day at the citadel. "I will be with you soon my love; you have done your duty and now I must finish mine. I will not let anyone else die this night." Tempyst gently kissed her unconscious husband again, then rushed back to the elf in black.

She gasped when she looked at him, his aura was darkening, almost as badly and as quickly as Ithramir's was. Then she saw Sycon, the young man who she had spoken to earlier, next to the elf. "Please, Sycon, help me remove his armor." Then without any more hesitation, she began to remove the armor from him. She was in shock at what she saw and what she heard. As the armor was being removed, she could hear a soft sucking sound, like a foot being pulled out of the muck. Blood that had pooled within the armor, flowed from the pieces of metal as they were being set aside. As each piece was removed, Tempyst could now see where it looked as if the armor had grown into this elf, holding him together. She shook her head, feeling the weariness creeping up on her, but she pushed forth her roots into the ground and pulled as much energy as she could to keep herself going. I will not let another die Nyrondis. I WILL NOT.

With the armor fully removed, she had Sycon help her roll the elf onto his back. "He is fading fast Sycon, he has lost so much blood." She looked into the young man's face, her own lined with worry and near exhaustion. Then she heard him being called away, to help with the gate that was being created. Suddenly, she knew what she had to do. She took off her cloak of living leaves and placed it over the elf's body. Then, she placed her staff lengthwise upon him. Tempyst closed her eyes and placed her hands upon his chest and began to chant. Her words were soft, unintelligible to anyone but another druid.

As her hands began to glow, the vines and leaves that made up her cloak began to wind around her hands and arms and around her staff, totally covering her hands and stave. Then the vines began to grow downward, enveloping the wounded elf. Tempyst could feel the body beneath her hands, could feel the vines beginning to grow into the flesh, into his veins, connecting torn tissue and weaving together broken bones, of which there were many. As the the soft, green glow around her hands continued, she felt one surge of energy; her staff had been absorbed into the cloak. She continued chanting, her voice growing, the green glow beginning to encompass the wounded elf's entire body. As the glow grew, any around watching could see the cloak disintegrating; no, it was being absorbed into the elf's body. Internal organs were repaired, anything life theatening was not longer a worry.

Finally, Tempyst felt the elf begin to stir, could see that his aura was almost complete. You are not completely healed, but now you too, won't die this night. As the elf opened his eyes and looked at Tempyst, she felt exhaustion finally catching up with her. Sleep now child, you have made me proud. Tempyst reliquished herself to the darkness and fainted once again into the elf's arms.

Written by - Rikshanthas

Shara and Sir Mathell made their way toward the roof of the keep, the soldiers parting to let them though. Judging by the respect the knight was accorded, Sharanya questioned his earlier comment of being "captain of a small unit", but she kept this to herself. She began to regain some of her strength as they went, until she was able to make the final climb to the roof unassisted. When they reached the roof however, she was glad the knight had remained close, for her knees almost gave out beneath her.

"Lienad!" She was unaware she had screamed; unaware of looks she may have been given; unaware of anything but the warrior lying limply against the broken wall, blood trickling from the side of his mouth. Somehow she reached his side, Sir Mathell close behind her; she failed to notice the expression of grave concern the knight's face now bore. At her touch, Lienad's eyes opened, and he looked at her blankly for a moment, before his pain-hazed mind recognized her and he smiled wanly.

"Lienad, stay with me ..." Goddess let him live, I need him to live! she prayed, clasping his hand in both of hers. She heard Sir Mathell say in a gruff voice, "you heard the lady, lad. You need to live so I can cuff you for your carelessness!" Looking up, startled, she was surprised to see tears in the old man's eyes. At the sound of his voice, Lienad's eyes widened, and he looked up, though they could both tell the movement pained him greatly. "Sir?!" he said weakly.

"You'll be alright. Rest easy, son."

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya slumped back against the wall, not even noticing she was sitting in pooled blood. She didn't care. She looked around, looking at the carnage before her. What cost did my freedom come? Was I worth it? She sat there in the rain, for the longest time, not moving. Then she felt a foot nudge her and she looked up to see two guards, swords out, looking at her, obviously very angered.

"Get up. NOW!" One guard barked at her.

"Time to get you someplace where you can't cause any more harm." The other one spat out.

Kaya stood up wearily. She did not resist when the shackles were put upon her. She shuffled along where she was directed, her mind blank, unthinking, shock beginnig to set into her mind and body. She was unaware of time passing and did not even notice when she was once again put into a small barred cell.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Catherin, after leaving two guards to deal with Kaya, barked at four other soldiers to prepare to carry Ithramir's shattered frame from the roof to the ground in preparation for Renalis' spell. Within moments two spears and a banner were hastily taken and made into a makeshift cot. Under Catherin's penetrating gaze, the four picked up Ithramir's body, placed it onto the cot, and began the slow descent to the bottom level of the Keep with her leading the way.

As they made their way down, silence engulfed the camp of the allied army. They had only a partial victory, but at what cost? With the loss of their commander, and the wounded champions behind him, the army paid a terrible price in blood this day. All that was audible throughout the entire keep of Minas Aure was whispers, sobs, raindrops upon the stones, and thunder cracks. There were no happy faces among the crowd this day as the price of victory was carried down from the roof, one by one.

Reaching the ground floor, the procession ends and waits for Renalis to begin his magics. In the few moments they have as they wait, one of the guard soldiers who herded Kaya into a cage, asks,

"Lady Catherin, what shall we do with the prisoner?"

Catherin, full of spite and hate, replies,

"Bring her with us to the Citadel. Let Lithwyn do with her as she pleases. Her fate rests in her hands and is tied to Ithramir's fate. If he dies this day, well, her death will not come quickly..."

The guard bows his head and brings her cage forward awaiting the gate the mage Renalis offered to create for all of them.

Written by - Ardwen

He was descending into absolute nothingness. Falling, falling, and then as suddenly as his descent began it stopped. It was the Age of Twilgiht, the apex of his people’s time, the era in which their glory, wisdom, and power was greatest. It was a time before time, for the movement of the stars and the enumeration of days were not yet devised by the All-Father, all stood in perpetual twilight; it was eternity distilled into a few moments. Ardwen breathed in the air and found it cool and crisp, sharp and potent in its purity.

“Ardwen!” A voice rang out from outside of the crystal chamber, “lle manka*?”

“Sinome.*” Ardwen called out in response.

Ardwen turned around, he did not seem to see Sycon, or if he did he made no reaction. Another Elf entered the chamber; he was dressed in rich robes of deep purple and blue, colors that seemed to match the sky overhead. His long black hair was tied in a long braid that fell down his back. “Are the hosts prepared Irmaelin*?” He said looking at Ardwen.

“As per your orders Thaelostor.” Ardwen responded snapping into a salute. He held the position and then added awkwardly, “This foe Thaelostor* . . .”

The other Elf raised a slender hand, “You know what we face. The Dragon has risen, Gilliandor lies dead in his shattered tower, Pandarrion and Thurin race to combat this new foe. Our people have perished in numbers untold, but are we not Elven? Are we-“

Suddenly the scene shifted and faded, growing rapidly dimmer and smaller as it faded into the obscuring ebony mist of Ardwen’s mind. Another pinpoint of light appeared in the distance, and a new scene unfolded before Sycon’s eyes.

It was winter, or else so far in the north that the bitter cold made it seem an eternal winter. Snow covered the ground and great trees stretched for miles that were bare of leaf, they stood pristine in their naked beauty. But it was a city that caught the eye, a city under siege. A mighty citadel of stone and alabaster, being rent asunder slowly by the methodical work of engineers and siege engines. The image swept rapidly toward the city, the distance speeding by as fast as thought.

The scene centered on a ruined gatehouse, crumbling from the assault, and a stalwart battalion guarding the passes to the upper walls. There, surrounded and beset by a tide of humanity a squad of Elves made their stand.

“Ardwen!” One of the Elves shouted out, “We do not have enough men! We must withdraw! It’s suicide to remain here!”

“Hold the line damnit!” Ardwen shouted back. He was covered in gilded armor, the traditional suit of the Elven Bladeweaver. At his hip rested two curves swords, the twin T’lnarion born by master swordsmen. “We do not need numbers against this lesser filth! Are a few humans enough to unman you? Stay the line gods’ damnit!”

The Elf who had shouted out initially merely nodded and focused on the front again. Humans were charging up the winding stairwell leading to the only stable flat in the gatehouse, the center of the gate had been smashed, but the humans sought to gain access to the rest of the gatehouse to ensure they could easily reach the walled fortifications of the city. Out of one of the numerous passages behind the defensive force of Elves came a legate, dressed in the livery of the Throne of Stars – now sadly vacant with the death of Valdimanthor at Cambruin’s “The Butcher” hands.

The legate said no words, merely shoved a piece of folded parchment into Ardwen’s outstretched hand, bowed shallowly, and ran off through the same passage by which he came. “Wonder what wonderful news we’ve got from the defensive force now?” Ardwen mused as he stared at the letter. Casting a glance at the defensive line at the top of the stairwell he saw that, while the narrow winding staircase prevented too many humans from coming up, they had so far proved willing to spend the lives it took to capture the gatehouse passage.

As he watched a group of five humans charged up the stairs in an armored clump. At first the infantry had all been light, obviously an attempt to wear down the defenders. When the besiegers noticed that they were in danger of actually helping the defenders by choking the stairwell with their own dead. Then the heavies had started coming in – men-at-arms, dismounted knights, if it had armor they were throwing it at them. He saw his Elves engage the five, steel rang off steel. He saw them dance and weave their blades amongst the humans, creating streams of blood that flowed with their strikes. Ardwen looked at one of the Elves fighting and called out, “Aim for the throat Lenthir, the throat man! That one isn’t wearing a gorget!” A few seconds later the human sank to the floor with a slashed gullet.

The mop-up was clean and efficient, there was no dead or wounded on Ardwen’s side . . . this time. Ardwen looked at the note, read it swiftly, and grimaced. He crumpled it up and tossed it out one of the narrow archer slits along the wall. He walked over to the defensive line and drew both his blades, “Alright.” His voice boomed out, “A flask of fine wine to the last Elf standing, and glory to the first Elf to die!”

His soldiers all laughed, one of them clapped Ardwen on the back and said, “You wanting to fight on the line again commander? Didn’t they say the shorthand on officers was already too much?”

Ardwen responded with a laugh, “Dalrim?”

Dalrim spoke up from the ranks, “Yes Irmaelin?”

Ardwen grinned, “You’re whatever the hell they don’t want standing on the front until I’m done.”

Dalrim chuckled and raised an eyebrow, “An officer milord?”

Ardwen shrugged, his armor rasped metallically in response, “This is Kierhaven, the last city. If we fail here, if Cambruin wins in this war of genocide, it won’t matter what our rank is.”

His soldiers at once took his grim meaning and refocused on the stairwell-

All went black, and Ardwen found himself painfully in his body and in the present again. He could not feel the familiar embrace of armor on his flesh anymore. What’s more . . . he felt as if a cadre of knights had decided his body looked like fine ground to canter their steeds on. He opened two bleary eyes, and saw a passed out human laying on him. Ardwen sat up, disturbed and roughly pushed the human female off. She did not stir, but Ardwen saw her breath coming in and out, she was obviously still alive, and apparently not a scratch on her either.

He got to his feet, almost fell down, and rose unsteadily again. He opened his mouth to speak, but his throat felt like a steel clamp, he rubbed his throat and this time turned his head to spit. He noticed the spit was tinged red. He looked down at the human woman again, didn’t he know her? No, that’s not possible, he was just commanding the defense of Kierhaven. The line must have broken! He must be a captive! “What” Ardwen began, his voice steadily returning, “What the hell is going on here? Where’s Dalrim? I told ‘em to hold the line! Son of a bitch humans, you finally caught me I guess.” He fell to one knee and looked around him, his vision alternating between clarity and dimness.

Ardwen clamped his eyes shut and shook his head to help clear it, “What’ll it be barbarians? You won’t stop at Kierhaven? You want the whole damned world? Wha-“

He shook his head again, and opened his eyes. This time he say the human female for what she was, “A Druid? Wait . . . Tempyst I- what’s going on here? We . . . we were just about to breach the outer defense of this keep, how’d I end up on the roof? And where’s my armor and sword! Where’s Ithramir?”

Then Ardwen took stock of the situation on the roof, of the soldiers both Elven and Human moving about, and suddenly the memory of Alaric handing him Turin’s sword at a campfire flared bright in his mind – it seemed a lifetime ago. Ardwen nodded, “Alaric . . . the sword. Turin’s sword . . . wherever you are Alaric, I didn’t call anyone a lesser – hope you’re proud.” Ardwen quipped. He spotting his armor on the ground and limped over to it, and then noticed his swords nearby. He began a thorough inspection of his gear before he started to array the suit for donning.

* lle manka - "Where are you?"

* Sinome - "Here."

* Irmaelin - A rank in the High Court of the Elves from Aerynth, literally means "Ancient Golden One."

*Thaelostor - A rank in the High Court of the Elves from Aerynth, literally means "Eagle Master."

Written by - Teran

Teran waited for Mavigan to finish speaking before he spoke.

"I have barely spoken to Willhelm, hardly the type of man I'd seek out as an ally... always following the divine or something." he almost rolls his eyes as he speaks "If freedom is what you want... what you really want more than anything else I could arrange that but there are risks."

Teran allowed his words to sink in before he spoke again allowing a sly smile to slip onto his face.

"You and I would travel seperately. The rest would continue on their way and we would meet up with them in three days. Willhelm could not track us if we suppress our auras and if the others keep to their path he would have no reason to suspect you were not with the group any longer." Teran naturally left out some of the details, for example the stones he carried with him that could mimic an aura once activated.

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