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Book Two - A Gathering Storm

Written by - Wilhelm Page 26 Book 2

The High Druid Ceredan began the noonday Celebration of the Sun, as they would do for the Moon at midnight. The Elder Druids formed the Great Circle around the High Druid and chanted the Hymn of the Sun. Suddenly the High Druid froze in place and his eyes glowed as the deep voice of Nyrandis resounded within him.

"Call together the healers and clergy of all of the gods here at the Citadel to assemble in this Sacred Grove. They will be needed to lend their power to a Great Ritual. The Shamaness has been defeated and Minas Aure is won, but Ithramir and others are sorely wounded and a Gate will be created to link the fortress to this Sacred Grove so that they may be brought here to be healed."

Ceredan ordered Dalomir and the other Elder Druids to carry word at once to all healers and clergy to assemble at the Sacred Grove, in the name of Nylandis. The Sacred Grove was then prepared for the Great Ritual while those called began to arrive and take their places in accordance with the diety they followed. Lithwyn and the other followers of Kaia’hanas stood to the South, then moving sunwise to the left were those for Avandor, Nagarren, Tinorb, Ysesinia, Inveor, Ulfin, and Tiertiala. The High Druid stood in the center, representing Nyrandis, surrounded by eight Elder Druids who would channel power from the eight groups to the High Druid. When the Great Circle was complete, Cerdan lifted his flowering great staff into the air, where it glowed brightly with the focused power and sent out a magical beacon.

Written by - Ariana

"You and I would travel separately. 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.

Mavigan gave a sharp bark of laughter that held no mirth. “Your offer makes no sense. If we meet up with the group Wilhelm is following, then the end result is still the same.” She gave another angry bark of laughter. “I’d have a better shot at freedom alone.”

She was effectively boxed in, and Mavigan wasn’t happy about it. She stared at her wrists for a moment, clearly seeing her shackles for the first time. She could almost feel the smooth metal surrounding her wrists and ankles, and she knew without a doubt who held the other end of her chain. No matter where she went, or what she did, they would always find her. Escaping from Teran would be an exercise in futility, she knew, and there was no doubt that somehow, someway, Wilhelm would always be dogging her steps.

Mavigan felt like a wild horse that had been captured and confined. Her captors were determined – she would never be free. They were determined to break her.

Mavigan’s eyes narrowed in anger for a moment and she returned her gaze to Teran. Determination filled her – she would not be broken. She would simply have to be smarter, faster, stronger, and play the game better than they did. And sitting before her was the key to her success.

And in an instant, her mask descended, and where once her emotions were written clearly upon her face, suddenly it was difficult to read anything at all.

She cocked an eyebrow at Teran. “Unless,” she teased, a smirk no less sly than the one he sported gracing her mouth, “you are trying to find a way to get me alone?”

Written by - Tempyst

Lithwyn saw wearily at her desk. She had not gotten much sleep that night. So many reports, so much to do. She thought. I just wish I knew what was happening there, At Minus Aure, right now. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, feeling the soft pull of sleep tugging at her. Then she heard it, a whisper, soft, distant, but still there.

"Lithwyn..."

"Ithramir!" Her eyes flew open wide; she knew something was terribly wrong. I have to get to him, I have to.

Wait my child, he still lives, though barely. He is being brought to the grove. They are calling for all healers to meet there. Go, you are needed.

Lithwyn stood and rushed out the door, barely taking the time to let one of her people know where she was going. Hold on Ithramir, I am coming.

Written by - Tempyst

Trinni watched as Ithramir called the blessing ov Avandor to be bestowed upon them all. She moved quickly afterwards, making sure any orc that crossed her path was put down quickly. She was first staying close to Renalis, but then she noticed that Isuiln was seeming to fight with a reckless abandon. Something is not quite right with him, I had better watch his back. Trinni fought her way over to Isuiln, but found she could not keep up with him. He was dashing about, killing everything in his path without care or concern for himself.

Then, finally, everything but the roof had been cleared. She watched as Ithramir changed into his full avatar form and listened as he said he needed to fight this battle alone. She turned to look at Isuiln, only to see him already dashing up the stairs, that elf called Kaya close behind him. THen Ithramir charged up, as well as others so she followed suit. Once on the roof she heard Ithramir charge Kaya with dragging Isuiln out of the way then watched in horror as Kaya seemed to shift and change into a large shadowed monster.

Gone was her usual cheerfullness. She charged across the roof, but the demon knocked her aside without even blinking. She landed by Isuiln and decided to stay there; she knew she could do nothing to that thing. She pulled Isuiln further away, craddling his head in her arms. She watched wide eyed as the events unfolded around her. The demon impaling her commander on a dark spear. Ardwen fighting the shamaness like a elf possessed. Watched as Lienad tried to fight the shadow, only to be tossed aside like a doll. Renalis shot some magic at it, blinding it temporarily, helping the young man Lucant, who had suddenly started growing and glowing, just like Ithramir had. She watched the battle between Lucant and the demon and felt such relief when the final blow was struck and the monster was defeated, leaving Lucant in an unconscious heap and that Kaya unmarked.

But at least it was over. Now, now came the time to be concerned about the wounded. She heard Renalis call out, to get all wounded to the courtyard so they could be transported to the citadel. She called out for help and soon there were more soldiers and guards upon the roof, helping to take the wounded down. She kept by Isuiln's side, feeling as if she had let him down, not being there at his side when he needed her. She helped carry Isuiln down to the courtyard, then waited with everyone else for a way to get home.

Written by - Tempyst

Diosr cursed under his breath as he saw Isuiln run up to the roof, not one second after Ithramir had said to stay put. He kept his place, even when that new elf ran up, after Ithramir left, then when others began to follow. WHen he heard the howl of some fowl creature, he decided he should be up there as well. But by the time he got tothe roof, the battle was over and there was blood and carnage everywhere. Then he saw Ithramir. He gave an anquished cry and ran to his commander. Catherin looked at him, face filled with worry and fear. "Diosr, go get some more men, we need to get the commander down to the ground. Hurry!"

Diosr waisted no time and ran as fast as his legs could carry him, grabbing the first soldiers he could find. Once back upon the roof, he helped Catherin make a makeshift cot and he himself, took one corner to help carefully bring his commander down to safety. Once they were on the ground, Diors took it upon himself to supervise the rescue of the others upon the roof, making sure all the heroes were brought down with haste and care.

Written by - Teran

She cocked an eyebrow at Teran. “Unless,” she teased, a smirk no less sly than the one he sported gracing her mouth, “you are trying to find a way to get me alone?”

Teran shrugged at her comment.

"Like it or not Princess, we will likely need Wilhelm's help where we are going. If you want to be free from his grasp you'll have to wait until after we no longer need his men as a distraction... but right now I am offering you three days." His smirk changed to a gentle and knowing smile while he spoke.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan watched his shrug with some degree of puzzlement. It appeared he no longer wanted to play, yet he continued to make his offer.

She mimicked his shrug, her mask shifting to feign nonchalance. “I suppose it doesn’t matter either way.” Turning to him and acting as if the thought had just occurred to her, she countered his knowing smile with a practiced look of disinterested inquiry and asked, “Will you train me along the way?”

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Leov smirked to himself as Lithwyn walked away. Dom came up behind him and greeted him with a heavy slap on the back. "So, how was it?" Turning quickly and sending a fast hook towards Dom's head, Leov responded, disgusted: "You're sick, old man!" As a deep belly-laugh echoed from Dom, he responded "Well at least tell me who she was." He easily batted Leov's fist away with his massive hand. The two started to box as they talked for no other reason than to have something to do. Leov ducked and weaved as easily and gracefully as the wind he so despised, dodging Dom's massive punches. "THAT was the commander of this place - and let me tell you, she's a bigger pigeon than Al." Still laughing, Dom pressed the issue "That's kinda hard to believe. Just how big of a swindle did you pull on her?" Ending their sparring match, Leov responded "All I did was feed her some sob story that would rip your heart out and she gave us free run of the place and the harbor too. I even pawned that book off on her and the rest of that junk in the hold. Speaking of which... let's go get paid."

As the two walked down the gangplank, a strong wind swept forth, seemingly wrapping itself around Leov. "I suppose you're quite pleased with yourself right now... as well you should be. I'll give you this one, but no more." Leov spat into the wind in disdain. He and Dom made their way into the boomtown and "borrowed" an unattended cart, then proceeded to load the crates with a great fanfare of grunts, groans, and swears. When the they where nearly to the citadel, they saw Gilbert and Aloray walking along the road. "Hey morons! Hop on, we're goin' to take the Elves for everything they're worth!" Dom yelled with no regard for who heard. "Where's Sloan," Leov said, uncharacteristicly serious. "Oh, we ran into Glen and Naria in town. Needless to say, she wanted to be with them more than us." Gilbert responded, trying to lay his friend's worries to rest. Upon reaching the main keep of the citadel, the four men found Crathose and got the money promised to them. "Holy hell, boss! It's a king's ransom..." Aloray said, dumbfounded as Crathose brought forth five chests overflowing with silver, gold, and platinum. "I wonder how much I really paid for all this..." Leov thought to himself as he looked at the treasure. After thanking the elf, the four made their way back into town with their new cargo safely hidden under a blanket that been in the cart.

As they rolled slowly down the Avenue of Assembly, they saw a great gathering down the Temple Row. "I wonder what that's all about," Gilbert said casually. "Who cares? It's got nothing to do with us..." Leov said sharply. Refusing to even look at the magnificent temples that had captivated the others, Leov turned his gaze towards the treasure and thought again on what the commander really wanted in return for it.

When they finally reached the boomtown again - Leov noticed a small sign on the outskirts that read "Welcome to Port Ancora" - he saw something that he sorely needed to see: a foaming stein sitting atop an anvil. "C'mon boys! Dwarven beer on me," Leov said, jumping from the cart. Dom and Aloray quickly followed suit. "Fine time to leave, you bunch of drunks," Gilbert yelled back with a smile as he continued on towards the ship. Leov could think of no better hands to leave the treasure in and he knew that Gilbert also had the practical sense to keep the cart and horses as well.

The trio marched into the tavern and proceeded to run up an enormous tab in only an hour's time. When the bill came, Leov looked at it in disbelief. "Oh hell no, I am not paying this!" His breath reeking of Dwarven stout, Aloray protested: "Hey, you said..." Leov cut him off: "I know what I said... but why pay when you don't have to?" Dom laughed again and said "Get ready Al. The kid's about to do something stupid." Leov was already walking towards the bar when Dom had finished. Taking a swig of whiskey, he tapped an elvish man on the shoulder. When turned around, Leov laid him out on the floor with a single punch. A cry came from somewhere in the crowd: "FIGHT!" As he saw Dom and Aloray make their way out in the confusion, Leov took one last swig of whiskey and prepared to enjoy the fight.

Written by - Sycon

Sycon watched the images that passed through Ardwen's mind. It was Ardwen... it had to be. He was merely stunned as Ardwen spoke to him in flashes as if he were of his beloved elves. Were these memories, was this his life previous to the Hands of Providence?

The scene changed and once again Sycon found himself looking at Ardwen. This time it was under more circumstancial of situations. It was Ardwen, the commander of these elves who led them to fierce battle. This was also not the Ardwen that Sycon remembered. A few of his scars he recognized, but something was different.

Still he watched, almost as a spectator and everything he said seemed not to reach the old elf's ears. Then everything went black and Sycon felt himself falling once more. But a warmth came over him, a warmth of the earth and...and Tempyst was there beside him as he let Ardwen down and helped remove his breastplate. He was back in his body he knew. He had held on long enough to Ardwen, or perhaps Ardwen just subconciously wanted someone to share his old life with, so someone would understand. Sycon truely had no idea.

It was then the soldiers, the injured, and the weary were called to the ground. A port was about to be opened. He knew not how long it would be open, or where it would be grounded...but...

Sycon was a traveler by discipline as well as a blademaster and commander. These three things almost defined his character as much as being a warlock did. He was always known for being the jack of all trades... a little of this and a little of that. Perhaps he would be able to help, he was not sure. Then again Sycon knew all too well this realm did not share the same qualities as his home, Aerynth did. He made for the first floor, perhaps once more content to stand back and watch this next work of art unfold before his eyes. It had already been two Avatars today, though these soldiers were speaking of three. Either way, he made it to the second floor, then descended to the first. He was finished levitating for the day, and he would hate to show off in front of these folk who knew him not only to embarass himself when he stumbled upon landing. Walking was good for now.

He reached the ground floor and followed the commotion to where everyone was gathered. Ithramir looked better and had no signs of wear except for the whole in his shirt. Most everyone did the same. He still had not seen Ardwen since he had left him in the care of Tempyst. She would know what to do more than he would and all Sycon would do was get in the way.

It was crowded down here, most everyone was scrambling at the orders of either Ithramir's second in charge or the mage, Renalis. Sycon eyed him over once more, looking at this battlemagus's appearance. He wondered how he would accomplish this gate and where he would find the power to do so. It took emense power to even open a gate already established, but to create one of thin air...that was an achievement yet to see.

Sycon stood in the middle of the crowd gathering to watch or help tend the soldiers. He found a small boulder and climbed to the top to see over the people as he watched the mage do his thing...

Written by - Teran

"We will see what you are capable of learning." he says simply.

Something about his voice however made his statement seem more like a challenge, or perhaps even a taunt.

Written by - Renalis

Renalis decended to the ground outside and began surveying the land. He monitored as the wounded were all brought to the immediate area, but told Cathrine that they needed to stay back a distance to be safe from any errant magics that may be involved in the formation of the portal.

He ordered the mages and clerics present and not required for the care of the critically wounded to gather round and form a circle, joining hands with the two ends joining with Renalis, "I need all the energy I can get for this to work, I thank each of you for your aid in this endevour..." Renalis put his head down as did those present in response. Renalis could feel their individual energy, he could sense the ring they made and how their energies flowed witihin each of them. "I'm sorry..." Renalis muttered softly as he concentrated on the energy as a continual stream. He focused on the one opposite him in the circle and his energy surged into the two beside him. Their energy surged into the ones beside them and so on down the chain. In the briefest of moments their mana surged down and into Renalis, and into the azure Soulstone. Feeling rejuvinated he released the two elves he was holding onto and the circle collapsed to the ground, drained of all but the smallest bit of essence required for life.

Renalis felt within, "Not enough... I still require more..." He surveyed the crowd, looking for the mage he noticed before, the one that had been in his mind, "You!" Renalis called out, pointing at the Warlock, "You know whats at stake here, if you are here to help these people like I am then I require your strength as well to make this work. A quick nod was the response and the Warlock extended his hand. Grabbing the man mid forarm Renalis began to drain the mana out of him. Feeling himself drained and empty Sycon went to release the grasp but Renalis held fast. "I am sorry..." weakened by this draining, the Warlock fell to his knees, and looked up at Renalis. "Whats that?" Renalis wondered to himself as he suddenly felt another source within the man. Tapping that too, Renalis drew out all the energy this vessel carried, and the font it was connected to. Releasing the man after drawing all but what is required to live Renalis looks down as he crumples, helpless "I am truely sorry Sycon, but all is required if this is to work."

****

Approaching the site Renalis deemed appropriate for the portal, doubts began to form in his mind, "It's not enough... there just isn't enough energy here..." as if yelling at himself, "It HAS to be, this has to work... for all our sake..." Renalis was cut off by another voice within his head,

"You may not be of this world and although your soul is changed, your heart remains pure. I shall aid you in this endevour. You are acting in the best interests of the people of this world and without concern for yourself. The Avatar of my Father cannot die but I can only help so much, as I am weakened after destroying the Defiler. Place A'lanthear into the Gate and I shall aid you."

Renalis looked at the wounded and he noticed Lucant amung them. Renalis quickly spotted the blade A'Lanthear and with a flick of his wrist the blade took flight and was suspended but a foot from his head. "All is prepared," Renalis said out loud for the onlookers benefit.

Renalis concentrated on the area, he knew everything was prepared as well as it could be but he would prefer to be working his craft on another world, ANY other world, where the ebb and flow of magic is not as difficult to control, he would prefer himself to be at full power and to not be fatigued beyond words. But this would do. It Had to. With Azurewrath in his right, Renalis extended his left straight out with his palm out.

The clouds overhead began to circle and once more began to thunder and lightning. The winds began to pick up and the rain continued to fall. Everyone present could feel the energy of the area. The could feel it permeating their every being, their very core being touched by its warmth. Those looking closely could see a slight discolouration of the area just in front of Renalis, and it seemed to ripple slightly like a pool of still water.

Drawing Azurewrath back, Renalis concentrated a great deal of his energy into his right and plunged the blade forward, shunting all that energy into it. With a bright flash the blade seemed to disappear up to the hilt, and there was a small ring of briliant energy surrounding it. Pulling the blade back from the fledgling portal, it was clear that he had torn a hole through the fabric of reality. Rotating A'lanthear so it was point forward, with a flick of his left hand sent the blade hilt-deep into the tiny portal. Renalis could feel the energies of Nyrondis pouring into the portal and it began to take form. The circle now a full foot in diameter swirled with a brilliant blue energy. A'lanthear was at the top of the circle, its blade passed through to the opposite side, with the hilt still visable.

"Now the fun part..." Renalis mutters to himself as he begins to channel the rest of his energy into the portal, guiding and shaping it to its final destination and form. He reached out with his mind, searching for the destination, "I know it should be... THERE" He could feel the pull of powerful magic and recognized its location to be close to the Citadel.

"The Conclave assembled there will help to guild the portal to them I have aided all I can, once formed I will sustain and maintain this portal as a Gate for as long as required."

"They are planning to help me form this portal... this Gate? This might just be doable..." Renalis's thoughts trailed off as the Gate required all of his concious effort now. The Gate grew in size, first a few feet in diameter, then a few meters. As the bottom of the Gate began to touch the ground arcs of energy shot between it and the ground, scorching the area until the shimmering circle touched and it began to take root.

But as the Gate was well on its way to looking complete, Renalis realized something terrible, "No... this cannot be happening!" Renalis looked at his soulstone as he realized the azure light within begining to go dark. Groping with his mind for energy, something... anything, Renalis cried out, "This cannot be happening." But as if in answer to some prayer of his, he found what he needed. Sensing the essence of the defilier, Renalis quickly opened up his soulstone and drew in the quickly dissipating energy. The gemstone shone brightly once more, but that brightness was quickly snuffed. The azure stone clouded over and became as onxy. Renalis's eyes too changed, clouding over and becoming spheres of perfect darkness as he shunted the energy directly in its pure, dark form toward portal.

The gate began to take its final shape; A semicircle now, A'Lanthear at the top, the hilt protruding. It was like a pool of blue energy, shimmering ever so slightly. But suddenly a bolt of energy shot out from the Gates surface, harmless striking the ground a decent distance from the onlookers. Renalis again began to show worry on his face. Looking back, "take cover!" he screams to those gathered at the gate. Anther bolt of energy shot out, this one striking a nearby wall, blowing a sizable hole in it and shaking those nearby. "No... no! After all this I will not have this destabalize on me." Renalis began to focus all he had on it to stabalize its energies and form the Gate. A few more bolts of energy shot out, striking the ground if various places, shaking the area and unsettling all those who were watching. "Comon... COMON!" Renalis cried, the winds from the unstable gate blowing his hair back and making his indego mantle flap profusly. Renalis looked at the Gate, and seeing its destruction bringing the destruction of this world...

*FLASH*

Renalis was surrounded by white light, standing on the ground, but seeing nothing but an infinite expanse of white. Hearing footsteps behind him he whirls around to see his wife standing there in the dress he gave her as a gift for their last anniversary. Opening his mouth as if to speak, Crystal quickly brings her finger to his lips "Shhh... Be silent now, it's alright, I know..." They embrace for mear moments but what seems to Renalis as eternity. As her lips leave his, he speaks softly, "I'm sorry my love" As she retreats backward into the white expanse, a single tear can be seen rolling down her cheek as Renalis's thoughts return to the task at hand...

*FLASH*

Renalis's demeanor changed from taxed and stressed to one of perfect calm. Reaching deep within, Renalis pulled what he knows to be the final bit of his energy and blasted it forward through his outstretched left palm toward the Gate. The pool of energy seemed to exploded outward but then collapsing back, the surface becoming as smooth as glass - and as transparent. The view was now of the Sacred grove, visible as if through a large pane of glass almost three meters in radius.

Renalis's eyes returned to their normal colour; white with green centers, his pupils somewhat large. Azurewrath fell from his hand and a large spiderweb like fracture formed in his soulstone. Falling to his knees and then finally to his side, Renalis's eyes closed, his heartfire extinguished to all that could sense it.

****

Elsewhere, in the forest, Crystal turns to face the Keep and a single tear rolls down her cheek.

Written by - Rikshanthas

Sharanya sought, with equal parts faith and desperation, to find the strength to mend Lienad's broken body, and the goddess answered. As the healing energy flowed through her, she was surprised to feel another presence, lending her strength through the hand resting gently on her shoulder; with this assistance she was able to heal the worst of Lienad's injuries. Though he was still badly wounded, he was able to stand, and with the help of two of the soldiers, he reached the ground floor. Shara followed - once she had retrieved Khelek'urya from where it lay, the blade now gleaming golden, without a touch of cold - and was supported by Sir Mathell, who let her down next to Lienad at the exit to the inner keep, to await the gateway to the Citadel they were told would be opened. However, by the time the spell was cast, both had already lapsed into exhausted sleep.

****

There was Power gathering, Vhar'Kanix could feel it.

He and Aelarra had briefly parted ways; after their meeting with Lithwyn she had been called to the mage tower for some unspecific purpose, while he had chosen to simply wander the grounds for a while. Which was how he found himself outside the small building, a sign overhead depicting a foaming mug atop an anvil. Vhar had seen enough taverns in his time, this one likely no different; he was about to continue on his way, when the unmistakeable sound of knuckles impacting a skull at high velocity reached his ears, followed by someone shouting, "FIGHT!"

Sighing and shaking his head at the inevitability of such things, he turned back toward the tavern, as two men, sailors to judge by their appearance, exited the side door, a mug whistling over their heads to shatter on the wall opposite. Stopping them, he asked if they had seen who started the fight; both replied they hadn't, that they had left to avoid getting involved. Their honest and truthful-sounding replies fooled Vhar for less time than it took to speak them; Vhar suspected the fight had been started by their captain, and to admit that would reflect badly on them. His eyes narrowed behind the enchanted glasses, but he let them go, suspecting he would find the culprit still inside, and whichever ship they were with would not leave port without its captain.

Drawing the Peacemaker from the loop on his belt, in case any of the brawlers was particularly stubborn, he opened the front door and entered the tavern. A chair hit the wall not two feet from his head, but he did not even flinch. He simply raised his voice to be heard above the violence, saying, "stop this insanity!" The only answer he received was a punch aimed in his direction, easily dodged. The Peacemaker came up beneath the man's arm, grazing his chest. There was a slight sizzling sound, and the man went stiff, wide-eyed, and collapsed to the floor, muscles twitching oddly. The same happened to three others foolish enough to attack the Loremaster.

"I said, stop this at once!" he shouted, to little effect. The tavern's patrons seemed intent on beating themselves into unconsciousness, so Vhar'Kanix obliged a little more humanely. Within moments the tavern was silent, those who did not cease brawling dispatched quickly by the Peacemaker's stunning effect. As he stood amid the wreckage and unconscious bodies, he said quietly, "people these days, no respect for their elders ..."

Written by - Sycon

Sycon was barely aware of what happened. He had been pointed out from the crowd as a mage that would need to lend his power. Trying not to stand out, he walked forward.

Renalis took hold of his forearm as soon as he was in reach. His touch burned and Sycon instinctively jerked back. It was like fire. Spreading from his forearm first, to his fingertips, then throughout his body. He gritted his teeth, but it was pain none the less. Sycon could ignore pain, but this pain shot straight to his core. Renalis was draining him.

He could feel his mana, almost his soul seep through him into Renalis. Then it happened. It as like lightning to his fire. He was a conduit. She was with him, but then she usually was. But she was not willing, at least not as much as Renalis was. He drained and took greedily, though Sycon knew he needed it. Through the pain he heard her almost growl in anger. This was not his energy but he was a conduit. The pain increased until Sycon could not stand it. He did not know anymore.... he didn't know who he was, he did not know Renalis was even gripping his arm, he didn't even know the world existed. He fell, and not unconscious. Just slumped to the side, his eyes unmoving as he saw through them unable to move. His breath was slow, but steady. All he could do was watch through unblinking eyes and the pain slowly dulled but stung deep into what felt his soul.

Written by - Wilhelm

As the assembled Circle watched Ceredan's glowing staff, they saw and felt a disturance in the air above the staff. Suddenly, with a surge of power, a sword blade appeared through a small hole in the air, a rip in reality. Ceredan recognized it as A'lanthear. Calling out to the Circle to give all they had, he raised his staff and touched it to the blade. Arcs of power leaped from the staff to the blade.

Around the circle the initiated followers prayed to their deities and channeled Their power to the Elder Druid standing before each group, who in turn gathered this power and passed it to the High Druid, who began to glow brilliantly, with waves of color rising up from his feet to his arms to the staff and to the sword.

The fledgling portal grew, flexing and varying as it was manipulated from the other side. It became a circle then a larger circle that reached the ground, sending bolts of energy to anchor it to the ground, then growing to become a semicircle three meters in radius, with the blade of A'lanthear at the top like a keystone. The surface shown blue and rippled. Ceredan strained to maintain the flow of power at his limit, praying it would be enough as an unstable Gate could destroy them all if not stabilized.

The Gate shivered in a final flux of power then stabilized, the interior turning clear and transparent to show the courtyard in Minas Aure and the fallen figure of a mage. Ceredan saluted the mage and bowed his head, and then spoke the words to release the Circle. The flow of power ceased and all could see that the Gate stood solid and stable, wide enough for mounted soldiers to ride through. The blade of A'lanthear still glowed at the top, showing that Nyrandis maintained the Gate.

"It is done!" he cried. "Prepare to receive the wounded and lay them within the Circle. Stabilize them if needed and prepare yourselves for the Great Ritual. Our work here is not over yet."

Written by - Ardwen

“Feel like I’ve been drug through a fuc-“ Ardwen stopped mid-sentence as he finished strapping on the gauntlet to his right hand. He gritted his teeth at the mere action of moving his right arm sent ripples of pain rolling up and down the contrary appendage. He had been able to piece together some of what happened, and he was not at all pleased.

He’d lost himself to the armor, Ithramir was badly wounded, and worst of all Ardwen had apparently been there for the battle in which Ithramir was hurt, and he’d gone after the wrong foe. And here he was, strapping on the same armor that had made him do it. He thought he could control it, he should have been able to. But the armor, it was clever, it used his own emotions and memories against him. How could he fight himself and win? “Victory needs no excuse, defeat allows none.” Ardwen exhaled after sucking in a sharp breath as he finished donning the last of the berserker armor.

Ardwen picked up his greatsword and strapped it onto his back, he’d barely found enough time to give the blade a decent cleaning, already people were clamor and jostling to make it downstairs for this “portal” opening. Ardwen took one final glance at the Druid Tempyst and said to the air, “Bah, you mended me didn’t you? Damn fool girl. Should’ve just let me die, you’d have done the world a favor I’d wager. You’ve drained yourself for no good cause, so I’m left wondering why? No matter . . . lessers are tools, to be used and disposed of when no longer needed. I just find it odd you disposed of yourself without me even asking . . .” He let out something between a scoff and a chuckle and started down the stairs.

He saw something, no someone, rounding a corner just as he got near the ground level. He could only catch their backside for the briefest instance but he could’ve sworn he saw a longblade. Ardwen stood there for a minute and shook his head slightly as if it would make him think he saw something different. “Not a chance.” Ardwen muttered, “Well, then again, there are cheesebiscuits here, hell even Turin came to this world. How hard could it be for a single longblade to make it here? Or maybe it was a style native to this world that merely looks like a longblade. I’m worrying over ghosts now.” He shook his head, this time in disgust, and continued his walk down the stairs.

But at the threshold to the exit of the keep, Ardwen paused once more. It might, or it might not have been, a longblade. But . . . wasn’t their cloth around it? Like mage robes, only cut for fighting, just like Syc- Ardwen cut off that thought. “They’re dead Ard, and no amount of wishing is going to bring them back. If I didn’t hate all the gods they alone could tell me how long it’s been since I’ve seen him. The only place I’ll find him is wherever the rest are buried. Damn shame that, he was a fine warlock, and knew how to turn a pretty coin in profit. Bit too fond of the ladies though, not that I could hold that against a man.”

Ardwen stopped suddenly and realized he was speaking out loud to nothing. He glanced around and screwed up his face in a showing of contempt and walked outside with his eyes intently studying the ground. He only looked up when Renalis began his incantation to form the portal. Ardwen displayed mild interest at best, magic was an artform to his people, but he’d failed at it completely. Even when he was at the zenith of his faith in the All-Father, he was never able to do more than channel a little divine energy. When he’d first entered the Empire’s ranks they had tested him extensively to find out why, the answer was simple – he had a block against channeling magical energies that’d make Mavigan blush most likely. And he liked it that way, let the magelings do their fancy finger-dancing and mumbling, give him a good sword any day.

Renalis was doing some weird stuff though, an entire circle of people passed out around him, and he seemed to be having enormous difficulty in getting the portal to open. Perhaps in a moment of either desperation or inspiration Renalis pointed toward a man and called him out, “You! You know what’s at stake here, if you are here to help these people like I am then I require your strength as well to make this work.” The mage stopped forward at Renalis beckon and as the mage strode forward Ardwen felt as if the breath had been knocked out of him.

“Son of an Irekei!” Ardwen hissed through gritted teeth. “That mage looks just like a dead man!” Renalis grasped the other mages arm, and he seemed to draining the Sycon-lookalike of his essence. Ardwen tried to appear nonchalant, but the man did look like Sycon, right down to the longblade and cropped warlock robes. Renalis started speaking, but his low voice and Ardwen’s unwillingness to listen let him only catch fragments, “Am sorry . . . what? Truly sorry Sycon . . . required . . . work.” The one Renalis had addressed as Sycon collapsed to the ground, seemingly spent.

Renalis stepped toward a different site, presumably to begin opening the portal with his siphoned energies. Ardwen had stood by long enough. “I lost them once because all I did was stand around, it was my fault . . . my fault!” His face was a dark mask of anger, his right hand curled into a fist and shook with rage, sending jolts of anguish that only made him madder. He ran over to the prostrate form of the warlock. He grasped the mage by his shoulders and gently shook him, “Sycon?” Ardwen said finally, his voice charged with grief and worry, “Sycon? What in the Ellestor’s name did Renalis do to you?” Sycon did not respond, and Ardwen’s anxiety only grew as he blurted out, “By all that is holy in the heavens above and all that is profane in the hells below answer me damnit! Are you Sycon of Ancora? Are you the Sycon that fought alongside me, bled with me, died with me?”

Nothing. Ardwen released his grip and an eerie calm descended on him, “You are he, aren’t you? I’m too late, too late again. If you can hear anything Sycon, hear this: if that mageling hurt you, I’ll give him a red grin that will reach ear to ear, I swear it!” Ardwen released his grip on Sycon to look up at Renalis who was just then finishing the portal incantation. Ardwen could not believe that Renalis would actually do something vicious to intentionally harm anyone, “But then again,” Ardwen said darkly, “He is a human. I bet his nice-guy act was just a clever ploy.” Before any action could be taken, Renalis collapsed on the ground too, he had a look of utter calm on his face, but he looked even worse off than Sycon.

Ardwen stood and looked at the comatose forms of both Renalis and Sycon, looking from one and then to the other again and again and again. Finally he looked up at the sky, shook one black-clad fist at the heavens and said, “Oh you’re just having a field day aren’t you? I bet this was all your doing All-Fool, well laugh it up while you can.”

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