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Book Two - A Gathering Storm

Written by - Turin Wallace - Page 1 Book 2 posted on Fri Jun 24, 2005

Ithramir's sleep was short on rest and long on unease. After no more than a few hours, he gets up from his bed and walks over to the table holding his armor and weapons. Reaching down, he grabs the special half-plate armor he had commissioned years ago for an Orcish campaign. Like his usual chain armor, this one was constructed of intricately woven mithril chain and plate, light and strong. The extra plates, however, were for protection and not ease of movement. Ithramir had a feeling that it's design was to be once again fully tested.

After donning his armor, he straps an ancient ironwood round shield to his back and slides Urugdanir, his personal longsword, into it's sheath. Lastly, a quiver of full arrows and Throssgurth, his longbow, are put into their respective places.

Picking up his helm, he turns to face the mirror and let's a slight smile cross his face, thinking,

"Not much different than when I first arrived, except now I give, not take, orders."

Turning to the open balcony just off his room, he see's the sky beginning to lighten. Dawn will be upon them soon, which means he must be ready to lead the army once more, for good or ill.

Walking from his chambers, the almost inaudible clinking of chain and plate the only things giving away his movement in the silent halls, he makes his way to the courtyard. As the sky grew lighter, one can see the movements of all preparing to leave the citadel. Horses being barded and saddled, soldiers re-checking supplies and weapons, companies unfurling their banners to let their compatriots find where to assemble, and the silent murmur of men and women busying themselves in their tasks.

It was then he felt a slight tap upon his arm, turning, he see's the human woman Gennah. Bowing her head, she waits for Ithramir to address her, which he does,

"Your up early this morning, Gennah. I heard Lithwyn has given you work with the seamstresses. I take this visit has nothing to do with the cut of my armor or cloak, does it? Come, why are you out here?"

Gennah, looks up and replies,

"Milord, you gave me and my boy freedom, you have given us a home, and we have been treated with nothing but respect. I...well, you know I grew up in the company of soldiers...being with an army is...well...what I do best. I cook, clean, and know a little bit about mending wounds. I suppose, well, I mean to say...I want to go along."

Ithramir studies her, and it's true, it wasn't all that long ago she was nothing more than a slave to a company of soldiers. No doubt her skills would be in demand, not that the small reserve of elven priests, priestesses, and cooks weren't enough. However, he could sense a bit of himself in her, life in the field brings hardships but comfort as well. Perhaps she needed it as well.

Looking at her, he replies,

"Gennah, you may ride with the army, but your son stays here. The good ranger Fiernum will escort you over to the appropriate section."

Calling the ranger over, Ithramir tells him what to do, and also has the ranger inform Lithwyn of Gennah's request.

Returning his mind to the tasks at hand, he strides over to the stables and mounts his horse. Finding another ranger, one who wasn't completely busy this morning, he tells her to go and fetch the fellow commanders who will ride out with the army this morning. He tells her to have them assemble with him at the main gates. With that, he rides over to the appointed spot, wheels around and watches as the minutes pass by until dawn, when they will ride out to war.

Written by - Wilhelm

A rap on the door roused Wilhelm out of his light sleep. The sky though the window to the courtyard showed the pale light of pre-dawn and he heard the sound of larks below in the garden and the distant sounds of an army preparing for march in the outside courtyard. The door opened and the Queen's Guardsman entered and bowed when he saw Wilhelm was awake.

"Thank you, Gareth" said Wilhelm. "Help me get ready to go find the Queen and then see the army off." With Gareth's help Wilhelm attired himself in full battle gear, donning his white plate armor with the interlocking rings, his silk royal tabard, his chain of office and his white fur cloak. He tied Mavigan's faded blue scarf about his belt as the favor of the Queen's Champion and took up his silver faith hammer. While he would remain with the Queen, the full military dress was needed for appearances in the sendoff, and given the assassination attempt last night might be needed in truth.

"How fares the Queen?" He asked Gareth, as he broke his fast with some bread, cheese and wine left there for him.

"The healers have dressed her wounds, but she refused magical healing. She sleeps still in Ardwen's chamber, attended to by a healer and a maid and watched over by four Guardsmen. And by Ardwen still propped against the wall!" Gareth said with a chuckle.

Wilhelm also laughed at the image. "It will be interesting to see her reaction when she wakes up. Let's not miss it."

Wilhelm and Gareth left his chamber, and Wilhelm ordered the remaining guards to maintain their watch over the chambers. He sent Gareth off to the kitchen to request a breakfast suitable for a hangover be sent to Arwen's room for the Queen, and then he made his way toward's Ardwen's chamber where he nodded to the attendants. He saw that the maid had some changes of clothes for Mavigan ready, at which he nodded in approval.

Gareth then arrived with a server carrying a tray with tea, fruit, and the specially requested fresh cheese biscuits. The tray was set on the table inside the chamber. Wilhelm appropriated one, strictly for testing of course. He then leaned against the wall outside the chamber but near the door, munching on the biscuit, to await the rising of the sun and of the Queen as well.

Written by - Agmund

A warm bath, he couldn’t really recall the last one he had. It was a comfort that he just wasn’t accustomed to in his travels, but one that was sorely missed. Perhaps he would have remained in the water longer, but he chuckled several times as he imagined his wrinkly skin shriveling up more than it already was. “Yes, yes, its time to get ready, else everyone will think you’re a giant raisin or an old prune, of course you are an old prune” he murmured to himself as he dried off.

“Now what to wear,” he pondered as he looked over the few garments he had spread over the bed. “Not much to choose from,” a grin stretched across his face, “not that you’d make much of an impression in either regard.”

He settled on the least tattered of his trappings, a simple white robe, not as discolored as the others and trimmed in blue and gold. It was of course hooded, like the others, but the hood was in far better shape.

After getting dressed he stopped for a moment, his eyes falling to the worn saddle bags that sat on a small circular table. Two comfortable chairs rested to either side of the table. It was indeed the first time he had really taken a good look around the room. Last night was merely a blur in his mind. He could only recall letting his saddlebags drop to the floor and climbing into the bed.

The bed took up the majority of the room, its headboard resting against the wall opposite the door. He looked over the headboard for a time, its reddish wood carved in intricate details with patterns of ivy and leaves. A night stand flanked either side of the bed, both in a design similar to the carvings of the headboard. On one nightstand was a small candlestick, and on the other a wash basin, towel and soap.

In one corner of the room was the tub, nearly behind the door, and opposite it was the table and chairs. A painting adorned the wall behind the table. His hands were busy clasping his belt in place as he eyed it.

The colors were vibrant yet dull, the detail fine yet not overly so. It was of the citadel itself, albeit from a great distance, and there standing on a grass covered hill in the forefront was a host of elves riding towards the viewer. They appeared stern as if the task ahead was grim, but the painter had put right into their faces a certain determination, as if they had already succeeded in their task. Vowing to ask someone about the artist and perhaps the details surrounding the painting or the subject at a later time, he headed out of the room in search of Lord Wilhelm.

After stopping more than a few times to get directions he finally managed to find him, propped up against a wall beside a door. A sly grin stretched out across his lips “I expected you would be up early this morn, however, I figured food would be the last thing on your mind.”

“You have the appearance of someone going to a festival of some kind,” his eyes twinkle beneath bushy gray brows. “Is there some sort of dance or ball I am unaware of, or is there a lady of the citadel you’ve taken a fancy to?”

Written by - Kiraida Afirewen

Diosr woke up with a grumble about 'bloody scented candles' as the female ranger softly woke him up. Squinting his eyes he looked out the window of his room at the first rays of light coming through.

“First light already eh lass?,” turning to the ranger he nodded her way, “Go and tell Commander Ithramir I'll be out in a few moments.”

Turning back to his armour on the table across from his bed he nodded and started to put on the chain mail and breastplate. With all the leather straps firmly in place the stout dwarf looked at himself in the mirror as he put his hair and beard in the braids of a warrior. With gold wires running through the tips of the beard.

Finally, when he is ready for battle, he steps out of his room and marches down the corridors of the fortress towards the front gate where Ithramir was. Moving through his men's camp he quickly picks up his horse while giving words of encouregment and greetings to his men before riding it over to Ithramir.

“Good morning Commander Ithramir,” nodding his head to the Commander he nudges his horse up beside Ithramir and looks over the combined elf, human, and dwarf army, “this is quite the impressive sight.” Looking over the crowd he waits for the long march to begin.

****

Though no ranger came to wake her up, Alulael Sadrilil was already wide awake at first dawn and getting dressed to meet a Queen. Putting on an elegent pink and white design open at the sides of the legs with white thigh length socks. The dresses top leaves her shoulders bare but the matching pink cloak helps cover that up. The attached gloves of the dress cover a little bit past her wrists.

Nodding to herself in the small mirror her room has she wraps the belt around her waist and buckles it on. Looking at her staff propped against the wall where her bed is pressed against she shakes her head no.

“I will not need that... and it would be considered threatening most likely.”

With that final touch to her dress she steps out of the room and into the bussling corridors around her. Soldiers and peasents alike swarm through the walled fortress making everything ready.

Wading into the maelstrom, she asks as many people as she can where the Queen is. Hearing many times Ardwen's room she slowly works her way to a reletively quiet corner of the fortress where a number of men waited at the door of a room. Stepping slowly over to the men, wary of their weapons she gracefully walks forward.

“Hello gentlemen.... I am given to know that this is where Queen Mavigan Brelonna of Ancora resides here. I wish an audience with her.” Taking a deep breath she waits for their answer.

Written by - Wilhelm

"Good morning, Father Agmund." replied Wilhelm quietly. "Queen Mavigan is still asleep, recovering from her first Avatar experience. I am waiting here for her to emerge. Nagarren almost broke through in the stress of theassassination attempt. Mavigan's channels were too sore last night for her to accept healing for some minor injuries, so she apparently stumbled into the first room she came to and fell asleep. It was Ardwen's room, and he has rested the night propped against the wall on his great sword. Mavigan will likely be ready for some healing this morning and hopefully for some counsel as well on her experience. What she really needs is a Priestess of Nagarren to help guide her through this initiation process that has begun, but perhaps you can help her. In any event, it should be interesting to see her reaction when she awakes." Wilhelm chuckled.

Wilhelm then saw a serene woman approach, dressed in pink and white, who came up to them and said,

“Hello gentlemen.... I am given to know that this is where Queen Mavigan Brelonna of Ancora resides here. I wish an audience with her.”

Wilhelm bowed to her and replied,

"Good morning. Her Majesty has not yet risen to bid farewell to the army. I am Wilhelm, Queen's Champion and Paladin of the All Father, as you can see. This is Father Agmund, Priest of the All Father. You may wait here with us, if if you like, and tell us your story."

Wilhelm quietly reached into the doorway to the amply filled tray on the table there and then turned back.

"Cheese biscuit, anyone?"

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn wakes up with a loud yawn and stretches her limbs like an oversized cat. Peering down over the ledge she notices the large gathering of soldiers that weren't there when she went to sleep last night. "Hmmm, guess I missed some things while I was napping last night. Maybe I should go find Wilhelm and find out what's going on."

With that she leaps lightly over the ledge to land on an outstretched tree limb, climbing down the tree, and dropping the last few feet continuing into a light jog towards the main hall. On the way there she stops the first person that didn't look too busy, and was directed to where the Queen was sleeping as it was the likeliest spot to find Wilhelm. When she arrived she noticed Wilhelm speaking to a man in white robes, and a woman in a disgustingly pink colored dress, thinking to herself how that much pink should never be in the same place. "Gooood Morning Wilhelm," as she slips right between the paladin and the pink woman to peer into his face. "What's with all the commotion?"

Written by - Rikshanthas

The Loremaster's thoughts kept returning to the human Renalis as he examined the many records kept in pristine condition at the Citadel. With much effort he had managed to convey his wish to see their library, where he would find the information he needed if he was to remain in this world for any length of time. After several hours of poring over the various scrolls and books, with help from an Adept that Vhar'Kanix was beginning to think had been assigned to babysit him (a thought that caused him some annoyance at first, though the time saved by her assistance was a relief), he was able to understand their language well enough, though speaking it was another matter entirely. He was nearly unable to produce the proper sounds, his echo chambers being decidedly different from their vocal cords, to the point where he felt it would be better not to speak aloud at all. Fortunately he did not need to, since his mage companion Aelarra was not averse to the mental contact he had attempted out of sheer exasperation, though she understood his reluctance to communicate that way. So she had agreed to act as an interpreter, relaying his thoughts should he need to speak to others -- like the commander of the outpost, who would no doubt wish some form of formal indroduction now that Vhar'Kanix could properly deliver it.

Through it all, his thoughts were dominated by the puzzle of a human who had somehow come into possession of a kharai and not only survived the contact, but was actually able to tap its power. Vhar'Kanix had never before known a human who could channel the energies of such a stone, though he knew of several who had tried. He made a mental note to discuss it with the man at the earliest opportunity, now that he could properly communicate.

The commotion outside piqued his curiosity. Putting down the book on recent history he had been reading (he had found the elves' amazement at the speed with which he absorbed information amusing), he walked over to a window and watched the soldiers preparing to march, his eyes fading to a deep blue. Must history always be written in blood? he thought sadly. With a resigned sigh he turned to his companion. *I suppose I should speak with Ithramir now; if the army is moving out soon I will not have the chance again for some time, if at all,* he said with forced detachment. Turning toward the stairs, he headed out to the courtyard for a word with the commander, Aelarra following on his heels. He managed to pick Ithramir out from their brief meeting earlier, by the gate at the front of the massed soldiers. Making his way around rather than trying to push through the crowded courtyard, he saw the dwarf sidle over to the elven commander and say something Vhar'Kanix didn't quite catch over all the clanking armor and general chatter. Drawing near to the pair, he made a shallow but respectful bow before turning to Aelarra. The elf stepped forward. "Lord Ithramir, may I formally introduce Loremaster Vhar'Kanix, a scholar of note among his people. With your permission, he would like to remain here at the Citadel to collect information about our culture, history and so on for his people's Great Library. Apparently they're big readers," she said jokingly, smiling at the memory of the fearsome-looking creature bouncing about like a child at a fair when they allowed him run of the library.

Written by - Archeantus

The magical journey had not gone as expected. Vermigard did not have the mental strength to travel through the mystical corridors that the Irrithica demanded from its user. They had found themselves in the forest outside of Ancora, the same place Gadianton had appeared in the night of the royal family’s assassination. It was deep and dark when they appeared though the portal; the mists of the forest were pervasive and held a mystery that seemed strangely apparent to Gadianton. There was something different about the wood. Yet such thoughts were second to securing Vermigard’s life. He had only moments to live; his very soul was hanging to his body by a thread. The bounty hunter’s face was taunt and pale, he had expended everything he had to get them where they stood. Kishkumen’s soul stone blazed in the darkness, and the mage hissed with worry as the emergency of the situation arose again. They held a stranger as well, one that the mage was desperate to secure.

“To Ancora.” Gadianton whispered firmly. “You must carry your prize if you are to keep him. I will not leave the bounty hunter to his death.”

The necromancer looked at him for the briefest of moments as if to remind him of the needlessness of trying to keep him alive. He could easily revive him as an undead, ready to serve.

His master merely looked at him with a wildly calm ferocity that spelled out his meaning quite clearly. Never question him.

They both carried the unconscious upon their shoulders and began to set out for Ancora, when suddenly Gadianton fell to the ground.

He gasped for breath, nearly screaming. The mage managed to hear his master muster a few short words from underneath the black cloak of the bounty hunter. “Not….again….the forest…”

And then Gadianton too, lost consciousness, collapsing under the weight of the bounty hunter. Yet where he lost connection to the outside world, he gained access to a memory that seemed so far away that it spanned past his own waking life…

…yet there was a connection…a connection that was a piece of a puzzle of massive complexity...a puzzle that Gadianton did not want to exist...

Written by - Turin Wallace

Waiting at the gate, it wasn't long before he saw a dwarf riding through the dwarven section shouting and yelling encouragement to his troops. Soon enough, he had rode all the way to the gate and said,

“Good morning Commander Ithramir, this is quite the impressive sight.”

Looking over, Ithramir nods and replies,

"Welcome again, Diosr, and an army always looks impressive enough before a battle. Few things are as awe inspiring as seeing the colored banners, the glinting of armor in the sun, the massed ranks marching in order, and the sounds of an army on the move. It's the rather brutal purpose of it, and the blood stained fields it leaves behind that causes one to pause."

Pausing, he lets a small smile escape him as he says,

"Still, it has been far too long that a combined army has formed in a few lifespans of all our peoples. You have my gratitude, master dwarf, for your aide is greatly appreciated this day."

Nodding to the dwarf, Ithramir then notes the strange beast from the night before making his way to them with a female mage for the citadel's library. Stopping in front of him, he listens to the female mage say,

"Lord Ithramir, may I formally introduce Loremaster Vhar'Kanix, a scholar of note among his people. With your permission, he would like to remain here at the Citadel to collect information about our culture, history and so on for his people's Great Library. Apparently they're big readers."

He listens to her chuckle a bit, then he says,

"Tell Vhar'Kanix that I am pleased to meet him and that he will will be regarded as a guest within our walls. So long as he does not bring trouble or harm to our people, he may use our library at his leisure, but also under escort. I trust, Aelarra, you can find someone suitable for the task."

With a nod, he returns his attention to the tasks at hand and the ever approaching march.

Written by - Archeantus

“…Gnolaum, we came here for a reason.” A tall tanned skinned woman began. The dream vision clouded into view upon a scene of marked familiarity and yet such livid detachment.

“I know young one. I know your story, I have been watching. I watch all the precious lives that move ever forward.” A glowing being interjected smoothly. “You have risked everything for this man. You began your journey not for you but for him. You have continued in your effort, unrelenting and tireless. You have found your brother Kaladin, and have learned the value of family. You have learned the value of upholding the virtues for the remainder of your life because of the example of your friend Tarsis. You have exercised faith in every leg of your journey here. You have fought the darkness in your heart. And now you are willing to risk all that you have fought for, just for the chance to save him.” The being said, looking down at the woman.

There was a slight smile that came across the being’s face, but it quickly shifted for her expression turned grave. She lifted her hand in a wake of silver and blue, and held it out in a closed fist. Slowly, she opened her slender fingers like a flower blooms, and a small glowing Pearl floated up and out of her fingers, held suspended in the air.

The woman locked the image of the pearl in her steel blue eyes and held it there for a long moment. The being’s golden hair shimmered in every direction like the rays of the sun and shone down warmly upon those that were gathered with the woman.

“I must warn you of the danger you are now placing your friend in. His life force is faint and he still exists within the gem, but I cannot offer any wisdom as to what the Pearl may do to him. He is in great pain, more than we can imagine. If the gem decides to seal the powerful magic still residing within it, it shall bring him back to you, but if it decides to unravel the magic, it shall free him forever from its confines.” The being said, her musical voice warned solemnly.

The woman shut her eyes as she heard that He was still alive. For her, that was all she needed to know to make her decision. But she knew she could not go forward without making sure that this was what they wanted to do. She looked back at Tarsis and Kaladin, her eyes searching for the confirmation to everything they had fought for and risked their lives for.

“Ariel.” Tarsis said. “Either we’ll end his pain or we’ve won him back, taking the Pearl is the right thing to do on both counts.”

Tarsis looked so tired; his eyes were suddenly very old. Raising her eyebrow the woman, who was apparently Ariel, looked at her brother.

“He’s right Ari. We’ve come all this way to do this, and you’ve come so far, it wouldn’t be right to turn away now. Raven would have wanted it.” Kaladin said.

Ariel knew they spoke the truth, she felt it in her heart. But the thought that she would never be able to hear his charming voice, to feel his unconquerable strength was so difficult for her to deal with that she considered turning around and facing the final leg of her journey with the knowledge that she had forever let him go. She knew Raven, knew him better than any individual possibly could. And with that knowledge was the temptation. Out of all the people in all the ages of the world, this man was the only one who could have helped her. And at this moment, she had to come to terms with something else. The feelings that coursed through her ran deep for him. Deeper that she ever realized she could feel for another.

Death. Life was far too short. The eternal darkness had nipped at her heels all her life. Were the relationships she had, doomed to end? Was it all worth it? If she turned back now would she be able to face her selfish desires? The uncertainty and the inevitability of it all shook her to the core. The only way to find the answer to her question, a question that everything rested on was to keep the promise she’d made to Gnolaum. She trusted in that. But she knew that once again her decision was to be based in faith. Her head drooped in desperation, and she felt a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

It was Kaladin, her brother.

“You already know what you should do. It’s only a matter doing it now. I don’t want to loose him, but I don’t want him to be in pain anymore either. Please think about what he would have done in this situation.” He said.

Looking back at her brother and then at Tarsis who was slightly hunched over, she nodded her head and turned back toward the waiting Gnolaum.

“The Pearl.” She firmly said her hand held outward.

Gnolaum looked down sadly for a moment and then lowered her hand. The Pearl was freed of its place and slowly made its way to its new owner. As it came nearer, the green gem began to glow, its swirling colors brightening in intensity. There was a tingling sensation that centered in her heart, and it too, intensified. As the Pearl continued to drift down to her, she found herself being pulled up to it. Her feet lifted off the ground and she too hovered in the air.

And then the tingling sensation turned to pain. The Pearl was within reaching distance now, and she forced herself to lift her arm against the weight of her doubts and suspicions.

Down below Kaladin whispered, “Take it Ariel, take it.”

Her trembling hand surrounded the pearl, and she had one last fleeting thought of leaving it…she closed her eyes….. and suddenly gripped it tightly, looking into the tender eyes of Gnolaum.

At that moment Gnolaum vanished.

A blast of power and wind burst outward from her hand and sent Tarsis and Kaladin to the ground. The green gem glowed so brightly that it was difficult to look at her suspended in the air. Currents of lightening flickered and flashed from the Pearl, striking the ground chaotically. An intense heat poured outward, and caused Kaladin and Tarsis to scurry further away. They shielded their eyes, hoping against hope that all would be well.

A resplendent globe abruptly surrounded her, and glimmered with every color imaginable. Bolts of lightening of blues and greens and reds shot out of the aura of power. A deep rumble began to thunder across and within the ground. Kaladin and Tarsis, trying to look at the orb, noticed it throbbed in intensity and beat. It grew deeper in rhythm, flashing ever more quickly, and so did the sound that boomed out of it with each beat.

THUMP ! THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!

Over and over again, faster and faster! Each time a different color burst out in the night illuminating the darkness around them. It flashed with such brilliance and rapidity that it stunned the senses. And then, when it had reached its peak, it began to beat slower and slower. The urgency of the situation died down with the beats of the orb. Gently now, the beats were a few seconds apart and then they were a few moments.

THUMP!.............THUMP!...................THUMP!

THUMP..............THUMP......................

THUMP...........

And then there was no more, and all that was left was perfect silence. The silence was broken when a thud landed down on the ground, and a pained voice called out. The soft blue glow of a giant illuminated tree now lit their way in the darkness as Tarsis and Kaladin hurried toward the figure lying on the ground.

Kneeling beside his sister Kaladin gently picked her up as her eyes fluttered in consciousness. She opened her eyes and Kaladin beheld they held emptiness. Like she had been devoid of everything she was. Staring up blankly she gazed at nothing.

“Ariel?” Kaladin softly asked her, feeling a touch of dread.

She made no response.

“Ariel!” Kaladin then screamed shaking her face.

“Wake up!” He continued. “Wake up!!”

Suddenly a gasp came from his sister, and her eyes flooded with remembered pain. She struggled against understanding her bearings and finally she saw her brother.

“Ariel! You’re safe.” Kaladin said. Tarsis looked over his shoulder.

She just looked at Kaladin for a moment and then her eyes glazed over in sadness, and she began to cry.

“I’ve lost him.” She sobbed. “Raven’s gone.”

Gadianton burst from the dream, heaving, and disoriented. He then heard a familiar voice...

Written by - Ardwen

He opened his eyes. That was the only motion the Elf warrior made to indicate he was awake, he let his eyes trace a route to a nearby window in his room, it was not dawn yet but the greyish tone of the glass and curtains spoke of a rapidly approaching sunrise. Ardwen let his eyes face straight ahead, he saw Mavigan’ sleeping form, she had yet to awaken.

“It would probably be best not to awaken her.” He mused silently. However, this was likely the only free time he had left before the coming march to war, and there was something he had to do first. Shifting his weight from his greatsword Ardwen made his way slowly over to the room’s single window. Grasping the blade with one hand he clawed aside the curtains with the other, the room lightened a fraction with the obscuring cloth brushed aside. The Elf took a few steps back; he heaved the greatsword over his shoulder and lowly slide it down the back of his armor. Like his other suit, the blade caught on a small device that fit with the hilt.

That still puzzled the warrior, and disturbed him. While it was possible that the armor had been forged to hold some manner of blade like his, the fact that it should fit so easily was beyond coincidence. He pushed the thought out of his mind, why should he question such a small parcel of good luck? Besides, he still had a time-honored and very necessary tradition to perform. Slowly lowering himself to the floor, the Elf knelt with his right knee facing forward. He let the greatsword trail to the right, as tradition mandated, with his sable cloak spilling straight down his back.

Ardwen bowed his head and closed his eyes. But this was no prayer he was to offer up to the heavens, nor any words of thanks for seeing another day – such things were weakness – not for the Avari. This was to be an oath, a promise given at every opportunity before the tides of war crashed upon the easily swept shores of peace. Ardwen stilled his thoughts, he cleared his mind, and in a solemn and somber voice he intoned:

“Day shall yield to twilight, as fall to winter. In winter’s heart shall our people know a new spring, one that will be without end. Our enemies will bar our course: they will come with fire and steel to drive back the cold they cannot understand. They will march upon our cities, our lands, and our revered palaces. And we will kill them.

For we are the Refusers: we who are beyond death, beyond life, beyond all weakness. We pledge ourselves to this cause, the cause of the Firstborn. We will not yield, we will not falter, and we will offer no quarter. Let the lessers know they have invoked the wrath of the Throne of Stars itself, let them tremble from the chill of death, and let them curse the encroaching darkness. Gurth Gothrim Avari.”

So saying Ardwen opened his eyes and rose slowly. The pledge had been given, war was formally declared against the enemies of his people. His mind slowly strayed over the events that always followed the oath, the things he had done once giving them. His mind went to so many faces, all dead because of him. Men . . . women . . . and children. The oath made no exceptions, once it was given only death would remember the story of those they killed.

Ardwen turned from the window and faced the chamber’s door, a few silent moments passed. His ears caught the sounds of footsteps in the hallway outside, the door was opened softly, and a man carrying a tray of fresh food entered the room. The paladin known as Wilhelm entered the room them, and snatched a strange variety of biscuit off the tray. He swiftly went outside and passed out of sight beyond the doorframe, Ardwen would’ve placed bets he was waiting just outside though.

Still he did not sit, did not speak as more people began to gather near the entrance. “Typical,” thought Ardwen, “Mavigan may be a half-blood but she has all these people trying to steer her. Do they honestly think they know what is best?” An old man spoke to Wilhelm, questioning him on his formal attire. Ardwen took note of that one, he was no expert on how long humans lived, save that it was a mere breath compared to his people, but this one seemed ancient by their standards. He had the look about him of an old gnarled oak, withered buy steadfast.

Next a woman garbed almost entirely in pink arrived, asking for an audience with the Queen. Ardwen’s back stiffened when he heard Wilhelm announce the man as one Agmund – Priest of the All-Father! Ardwen sneered and gave a noise that was somewhere between a scoff of disdain and a laugh born of malice. The Paladin Wilhelm reached back into the room and procured another strange baked ball of dough. Slowly Ardwen walked over to the tray, he had no mind to eat truly, but he was curious as to what exactly the biscuits were. The steam from the biscuits caught his nose, and he instantly wished he had never approached.

He knew what they were immediately: cheese biscuits. It brought nothing but painful memories to his mind . . . they had loved cheese biscuits. His lips twisted into a pained sneer and laughter practically dripping with venom escaped his mouth, he steeled his voice and spoke, “Of course, of course! Why wouldn’t there be cheese biscuits here? Here, of all places!” His right eye shot up to the ceiling, as if he were trying to bore a hole in it with a glance, he continued, “Do not think that I don’t know what you’re doing All-Fool. Meddler! Do you think these little reminders matter to me? Idiot! I’ll have my vengeance – Deceiver - against all who have wronged me, especially against you . . . especially against you.”

With that he snatched up one of the biscuits and crushed it, the warm biscuits squished in his metal-clad hand. Bits of crumbs fell to the floor and tray, and Ardwen turned his hand over sideways, spilling the scraps off onto the floor and wiping what he could off on the table surface. Without a glance to those outside or a single word, even to the recent arrival of Keeryn, he stormed off down the corridor seeking Ithramir . . . Ithramir and a bloody field to drown his pain.

Written by - Ariana

Awareness came slowly to Mavigan as she lay on the bed. The events from last night had made her tense and hyper aware of her surroundings. The sound of slight shuffling and light murmurs served to slowly bring her to consciousness, and once the brain was active, her body began sending messages of complaint. The aches began in her feet and traveled upward, through her legs, into her back, and finally reaching her head until she could feel her heartbeat throb in time to the pain in her body.

Deciding that she didn’t want to deal with this, Mavigan attempted to relax her muscles and return to the wonderful blackness of slumber. Her attempts, however, were soon thwarted.

Mavigan furrowed her brows in irritation. Someone was spilling invective rather loudly near her warm cozy cocoon of slumber. Idiot. Couldn’t they see someone was trying to sleep?

She shifted her head slightly and popped one dry, bleary, and slightly crusted eye in the direction of the disturbance to see Ardwen, in the black armor he habitually wore crushing what appeared to be a biscuit vehemently in his fist.

Mavigan’s first though was to wonder how the elf managed to pee if he wore his armor all the forsaken time. Her second thought was whether or not she had enough energy to gag him so she could go back to sleep.

Ardwen then took the choice from her as he started stomping out of the room. Not wanting him to escape without some sort of punishment for his rudeness, Mavigan inhaled a great breath and then shouted at his retreating form with a thick and creaky voice, “Moron! If you didn’t like baked goods, all you had to do was say so!” Then to emphasize her point further, she grabbed the nearest item which turned out to be her pillow, and tossed it with all her might in Ardwen’s direction.

The reaction from her ill-timed toss was immediate. Pain ripped through her system, strangling the air from her lungs and causing her to flop back onto the bed panting for breath. “Ow,” she said.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm and the others heard the creak of armor as Ardwen awoke and moved away from the wall inside the room. Then those outside heard him say,

“Of course, of course! Why wouldn’t there be cheese biscuits here? Here, of all places! Do not think that I don’t know what you’re doing All-Fool. Meddler! Do you think these little reminders matter to me? Idiot! I’ll have my vengeance – Deceiver - against all who have wronged me, especially against you . . . especially against you.”

There was the sound of something soft being crushed and a soft pattering on the floor, followed by Ardwen storming out through the doorway and marching down the corridor, scowling fiercely. Wilhelm and Agmund exchanged puzzled looks. Then they hear the voice of Queen Mavigan inside saying,

“Moron! If you didn’t like baked goods, all you had to do was say so!”

A pillow then flew out of the doorway. A groan and a thump was heard within. Wilhelm turned to Agmund and the Queen's maid, smiled and said quietly,

"Father Agmund, it would seem that the Queen is awake and most likely in need of your healing. Clarise, your mistress will need your help and those clothes now."

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln opened his eyes yet again, for what seemed the hundredth time that night, and saw the sky was turning gray. He rolled himself into a sitting position on the side of his bed, wishing his night had been more restful. But, alas, his brain had been churning non-stop since his head had touched the pillow. And how could it not? He had left his homeland, forever banished by his own cousin, and his men had all followed, to the last one, knowing they would share his fate. And now, he was in the presence of not only one avatar, but three! And on top of it all, he was off to face a horde of orcs. Belegra Avandor, mani caelamin uma'lye?*

He couldn't do this... he couldn't condemn his men as he had condemned himself. He rose, put on his armor, then moved to his weapons. He paused a moment as he picked up his swords, then firmly clasped the belt and yanked them out of their sheaths. They were twin rapiers, both glowing a soft blue. If only they could stay this way, he mused. Then he slung his quiver over his back, and paused again as he picked up his bow. It was excellently crafted, a sign of his rank, given to him on his promotion by his cousin, Elborne. That was the only reason he reached any rank of leadership... he was cousin to the leader of the elves. But everyone, even Isuiln, knew that he and his troops were never meant for battle. Sure, they had just as much training, and were more qualified than most of the standing army, but they were merely a decorated honor gaurd. Likely a big reason that many of his men had followed; it would likely be their only chance to be more than shiny trophies patrolling the palace. But I never should have allowed them to follow me, Isuiln thought with regret, knowing how many gave up their families, friends, and entire lives, just because he gave up his nothing of a life. He had to send them back. And so, with determination etched on his face, he strode from his room towards his soldiers' quarters.

As he entered, he saw all of them were already up and about, preparing, and those who looked up and saw him entered broke into smiles, lighting up their faces. It tore into him, knowing all these men had given up for him. Then his second in command, Aylar, came up to him and bowed deeply, one arm across his chest, in a respectful salute.

"Quel amrun, Captain. I trust you slept well? We'll all need it, with the hard ride we have ahead."

"Quel amrun, Aylar. But the ride is just what I came to talk to you about... I want you to take all the men, go back to the ships, sail home and beg for your exile to be pardoned. As long as I'm not with you, Elborne should relent."

"But Captain, we cannot do that. We all knew the penalty for following you, yet we still did of our own accord."

"Yes, follow me you did... for that I am grateful, and undeserving. I am not fit to lead you, or any of these men, or any other elf. The only reason I have any command is because royal blood runs in my veins. Please, return home. It was foolish of me to ask any of you to accompany me. I had nothing to lose... you all lost everything."

"... Sir, may I speak plainly to you?"

"Of course, Aylan, I would never want you to speak any other way."

"We didn't have to come. You asked, but any and all of us could have declined. We could have stayed at home with our families, safe and secure, marching up and down the palace looking pretty as a payerra flower. But that's not what any of us wanted. We became armsmen to defend those of our kin that couldn't defend themselves. There was no need of us in the Homeland, but great need here. And even when you decided to come, you did not order us to accompany you. You asked. Any officer can give an order and have it obeyed, but only a true leader can ask for men to follow him, and have not a one turn his back. There's not an elf I'd rather follow than you Captain."

With that he turned to the rest of the men, unsheathed his sword, lifted it in the air and shouted "Avandorho Hyanda!"* There was a sound of many weapons being drawn and picked up, then they all lifted their weapons and shouted the same back. Aylar turned back to Isuiln with a smile.

"We are with you all the way Captain, mellonamin."

Isuiln smiled broadly. "Thank you, my friend. And I don't have anyone I'd prefer watching my back than you." They clasped eachother by the forearm and brought the flats of their blades up against the other's shoulder, a gesture particular to Isuiln and his men alone. It had always amused him when he had walked through the streets of the capital and seen small children doing the same with their wooden swords, or creating ones of their own.

Confidence restored, Isuiln turned to make his way to the courtyard to inform Ithramir that he and his men were ready.

*Great and Mighty Avandor, what have I done to us?
* Avandor's Blade, which is the name of Isuiln's company.

Written by - Agmund

A pillow then flew out of the doorway. A groan and a thump was heard within. Wilhelm turned to Agmund and the Queen's maid, smiled and said quietly,

"Father Agmund, it would seem that the Queen is awake and most likely in need of your healing. Clarise, your mistress will need your help and those clothes now."

“Father Agmund, PLEASE sit down and relax… pacing about the hallway will do you no good,” the door guard laughed. There he was outside the Queens chambers as the maids and bed nurses aided in delivering the heir to the throne. Would it be a boy or girl? He collapsed onto a bench as he pondered further, his ears scanning, his eyes piercing a hole through the door in wonder.

The hallway faded into obscurity, and he found himself buckling his saddle securely into place. He felt one tug, then a second, and of course he already knew the hand that pulled at his robe. Leaning down he scooped the little girl up into his arms. A smile lit up the girl's face, a smile framed in red hair as bright as the sun, and amidst that sun, two sparkling blue orbs peered into his eyes.

“Father Agmund?” he could hear the words faintly in the back of his mind. “Father Agmund?” and with that he snapped back to reality. He appeared a little more than lost standing there, but he recalled what Lord Wilhelm had said. “Yes of course… Clarise,” he motioned for the lady to enter as he opened the door, and then fell in line behind her.

Written by - Archeantus Page 2 Book 2

“Master.”

It was Kishkumen.

Quickly arising, Gadianton peered upon their surroundings, still slightly disoriented. They were in a jail cell, the cold of the dungeon bit deep, and he shivered. His anger was mounting.

“Do not be alarmed.” Kishkumen calmly said.

“What have you done?” Gadianton fired back, throwing the ragged blanket from his lying form and standing vehemently.

“When you lost consciousness, there were shouts out in the wood, a patrol; they had seen the light of the portal.” Kishkumen explained concisely, eyeing his master as he paced around the jail cell.

“And you…?” Gadianton whispered through his teeth.

“Killed and raised them as my own. They served us well.” The necromancer whispered with a slight smile, his ancient elven eyes remained cool and deadly.

“They carried us.” Gadianton stated referring to the bounty hunter and himself. He was peering through the rusty steel bars of the cell thoughtfully.

Kishkumen said nothing, choosing not to compliment his master’s perception, acknowledging his presumption that he would have quickly understood.

“They did not take too kindly to their patrols being turned into undead minions.” Gadianton continued, and actually chuckled.

He then turned and faced the dark robed mage.

“And the bounty hunter?”

“I do not know what became of him. They took us quickly once we came within the gate. They took him elsewhere. I do know the one we captured is in the cell next to us.” Kishkumen meekly said. “I surmised the best course of action was not to further agitate the bees in the hive.”

Gadianton nodded in thought and quickly turned to the door to the cell.

“Guard!” He called out.

Slowly a guard came, drunkenly.

Gadianton revealed the seal of the kingdom underneath his elven cloak. “Release me at once.” He commanded.

The guard laughed.

Gadianton’s expression shifted, his face cleared of any emotion. His steel grey eyes looked upon the guard as one might look upon an ant.

“Are you ready to rile the hive?” He asked the mage behind him, still staring morbidly at the guard.

“As you wish, master.” Kishkumen said, and quickly began to chant.

The guard had begun to wipe his eyes from his drunken induced laughter, still unaware of what was just about to happen. “That…seal, won’t s-save yoo---“ He stopped mid sentence as he beheld a large bright green circle of light appear just over the two inmate’s heads. One of them continued to look at him strangely; the other looked up to the portal.

Suddenly a large monstrosity fell through the green circle and down with a loud thud.

At one sight of the huge grotesque figure in the darkness, the guard changed his tune and screamed in horror.

He ran as the cell door flew from its rusty hinges.

Out of the cell, they emerged. The summoned brother of the mage, the same that Gadianton and Vermigard had faced high up in the mage’s tower to the north, stood fully erect once he stepped from the cell. He stood nearly twelve feet high. He was bare-chested, half his body seemed to be alive with a sort of pink membrane that pulsed and shifted inwardly. He seemed to be constantly growing, changing, morphing. In his hand he held the massive sword, twice as tall as a normal man. He heaved in breaths as if it gave him strength. Spittle spewed from his teeth clenched mouth.

“Brother, hold a moment.” The mage whispered, placing his hood over his head. “I must check on my captive before we…have a little fun.”

The monstrosity actually smiled.

Turning to Gadianton, upon seeing his captive was still sound asleep, the mage whispered quickly, “I placed a sleeping spell upon him. I do not know when he’ll awake, but I suspect any moment. I was unable to secure the lich within my hold. The key to unlock him involves something beyond my own power. We must discover why he has such a being trapped in his soul. Such a being, coupled with my collection of souls, under my control could lay waste to towns, cities, nations, and this very world.”

Gadianton then understood the man’s, importance. “Is he secure here, if he should come to?”

“I do not know what powers he possesses, or whom is in control of whom.” The mage whispered from the dark recesses of his hood.

“Then you must stay here and make sure he does nothing to free himself.” Gadianton replied, and then added. “Will your brother follow my every command?”

Kishkumen’s brother answered before the mage could speak. His voice seemed to come from the grave.

“I would follow the chosen one to the depths of the abyss.”

Gadianton raising an eyebrow turned and started forward.

“Come then, Beridane will pay for such insolence.”

Watching the two walk down the dimly lit dank corridor, the mage finally turned his attention back to the sleeping man in the cell, and waited . . .

Written by - Pharsalus

THUMP thump...

All is black in the mind of a father whose lost a son. Not just lost him - lost him to darkness.

THUMP thump...

Not to the gods, or to peace, or to some great end and purpose.

THUMP thump...

Only to Nothing.

******

"Dad!"

Where Geirik was once suspended in the dreamless black of slumber, now he stood in a shaded wood, leaves blowing in carefree swirls at his feet.

"Dad? Where are you?"

The old man, still blinking against the onslaught of a mid-day sun, allowed his eyes to scan the surroundings. Trees as tall as they were old stretched thick as far as Geirik's weary eyes could see. He took a step, unsure of where he was or how he got there.

"Dad!," the voice said again. Geirik looked about, more focused at determining the voice's source.

"Dad! Come to me!"

As his foot fell excitedly against the soft forest floor, the scenery swirled and faded away. The light, the tickle of leaves caught in the warm summer wind against his face, the voice - all of it seemed to fade away like the retreating waves of the morning tide. The old bounty hunter found himself once again in blackness...

But now there was another. Standing irradiated before him was a young man, his eyes and face concealed in a shadow cast from his deep forehead and fiery red hair. He stood with his arms loose at his side, almost hunched, like a child disappointed in its parents.

"Dad" the figure echoed. "You have forgotten me."

Geirik tensed, and his mouth shown agape. He fought to keep his composure, to keep his hands steady, but the force of memory was a powerful thing. He took a nervous step forward, outstretching a gloved hand while trying to force an answer to his tongue. None came - he could only stair in wonder through moistened eyes. In the figure's eyes, Geirik saw himself and another, younger man, laughing, talking, fighting, crying, laughing again - then nothing. The blackness around the two figures throbbed with whispers and voices, conversations, beginning first as a distant hum and growing into a dull roar. The nothing.

"Dad," the figure said again. Geirik's eyes began to tear. "You have failed me. You have forgotten me."

Geirik took another step forward, now outstretching his other hand. This couldn't be real. This man before him could not exist. His mind burned with memories - memories he'd not had in so many years, their presence was almost an agony.

He forced a response through a tight throat. "N..no..! Before Geirik could finish, the man's outline disintegrated, becoming vaprous and seeming to grow to inhuman heights. The voice deepened and scraped across the air now seething with black and purple energy. The form now before him was all too familiar - a Liche.

"YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN ME!"

"NO....

..OOOO!!" Geirik sat up, his hands still shaking, his heart still struggling to absorb it all. The emotions, the memories - things he'd worked a lifetime to forget - all still flashed before him. What was this? Some game? Some trick by that damnable being trapped within him? No - it was not the Liche's doing. Geirik fought for control over his mind and tried to calm himself. He hadn't realized it before, but his hands were clenched as upturned fists before him, the leather of his gloves pulled tight over his nuckles. He remembered these gloves now - they were...

He looked away, realising that things were not as they should have been. Memories of the present - of the fortress, his journey north, the strange men in the sewer - came crashing back into the foreground of his mind. He was surrounded by dark, hewn stone - a prison cell - lit faintly by a wall sconce situated across a narrow hallway. The sconce itself was obscured by wide metal bars, and the outline of a man. Geirik fought for focus in his eyes, but it would not come. As he tried to move, his body burned and ached, and the back of his head throbbed. He fell back reclined, unable to will a response out of his racked form. Every fiber of his being ached, as if some sordid hand had torn out his innards and then stuck them back in again...dirty, tangled, torn.

Though he could not see the man's eyes through the darkness now overcoming him, Geirik knew he was being watched. His eyes slowly blurred and faded, his lids falling slowly, heavily, back into place.

And he slept.

Written by - Archeantus

As Gadianton and Kishkumen’s brother reached the end of the corridor, Gadianton turned to the weapon holding cell and regained his elven sword and bow and his blade he’d taken from Teran. By this time the large behemoth beside him began to paw at the ground ready to charge, eyeing the stairs that led upward across from them.

“Follow me; we’re going straight for Beridane.” Gadianton said, his eyes, too were fixed on the darkness of the stairs upward.

Kishkumen’s brother nodded menacingly.

“You’ll head up there first, show them how mean you can be, and I’ll clean up the mess.” Gadianton added.

“Go. Now.”

Without a second thought, the large monstrosity bolted up the stairs with an agonizing cry that reverberated shrilly up to those who obviously were waiting on them. Gadianton was right at his back as they cleared the top of the stairs and plowed right into a legion of guards who carried pikes, all pointed trepidly toward the entrance of the dungeon. The Giant skidded to a halt and swung his mighty sword nearly horizontally across the pikes, crushing a few of them, and knocking a couple out of their master’s trembling hands. Upon seeing the colossal visage of a man, the pulsating membrane, the wild fiery eyes, a few in the back turned and ran for their lives. Once there was an opening, another wide sweeping sword swing cut into the mass of guards. After that, it was a slaughter. Gadianton appeared out of nowhere behind the giant and picked off the last few. The moment the last guard fell, Gadianton continued forward down a long corridor, down a large stairs and through a door. There they met a couple guards who would never be able to explain how they had died. The two then ran through an expansive and decorated room with large stained glass windows that portrayed the royal family. Gadianton noticed their portraits had been marred and desecrated. They burst into another large room, obviously the dining room and to the utter surprise of the drunken guests inside who were celebrating everywhere, on top of the enormous long oak table, dancing off to the sides, pulling down tapestries that had hung there for centuries, suddenly they found themselves in their worst nightmare. Off duty guards, harlots, merchants, all feeding on the spoils of Ancora were cut down in wide mouthed shock.

Gadianton slowed at this point going through the next door carefully. With a quick peek through the other side, they passed into a balcony that led down to the courtyard where many of Ancora’s mixed citizenry spent the day. It was morning and many of the merchants were out setting up shop.

“Keep with me. Don’t attack unless I do.” Gadianton commanded as they passed through the doorway across the balcony.

The two ran down the stairs and straight through the courtyard to the huge royal doors that led to the inner castle, and the throne room. They didn’t harm any down in the courtyard, most simply screamed, or ran, and most had no idea what they had just seen. Yet word had caught with the local guards that there had been a jailbreak. A few up on the battlement armed with bows aimed down on them. Gadianton was quick and dropped one, the other fired at the giant. The arrow bounced off his tough hide. Another arrow from Gadianton sent him to his death down to the courtyard below. By this time they ran past the large double doors and straight into the large doors that led to the royal chamber.

They burst in, swords dripping with blood.

******

The man in the cell suddenly sat upright with a slight cry, his fists rose and held clenched. A wash of fear spread through Kishkumen and he took one step back from the bars, preparing for anything. The sudden movement had actually startled him. He knew, he was intimidated by the liche. No mortal could stand up straight in the presence of one, especially if they knew the power one possessed. The elven necromancer had spent his whole life, thousands of years to prepare to face a being as powerful as the one that was locked deep in the soul of this….man. Yet the fear quickly faded as he saw the man peer around his cell, finally resting his disoriented gaze upon him through the steel bars and then the man’s head drooped, his eyes slowly closed again, and he again rested.

The necromancer’s mind went at ease once more and began to race through the many questions he had. First was he had no idea how to approach discovering the answers. How could a liche be within a simple human? How did such a thing happen? Despite these questions, he knew one thing, no liche would stay within a human; it had to be trapped. The human was it’s prison.

The mage smiled at this thought. And then an idea crossed his mind. Perhaps he could establish communication with the liche through the soul stone; perhaps he could tempt it to reveal how it could be set free. Perhaps if the liche was as desperate to free itself as he assumed he could dive to the bottom of the mystery and lay his trap. It was a dangerous course of action, the necromancer did not know the extent of the powers of the liche, if he established a link, would the liche be able to enter his mind, and take control. Kishkumen closed his eyes suddenly and shook those indecisive thoughts out of his mind. He was incredibly powerful; he commanded hundreds and thousands of spirits. He would discover what he sought, and show the liche he was not to be trifled with.

And so with an air of excitement and apprehension, a moment he’d prepared for, since the moment he’d turned to the dark arts, was upon him. Taking the soul stone in his spidery grasp, he whispered the incantations that would open a magical channel between his mind…and the liche’s…

Written by - Agmund

A hint of trepidation crept into his mind as he approached the bedside. He was fairly sure that she wouldn’t remember him. She was far too young when he had left so many years ago. The fear that hit him was a mixture of uncertainty in his own abilities and to an extent he worried that she would simply reject him. After all why would she want the aid of a man as old and feebleminded as himself, let alone his friendship.

As he came to stand by the bedside, doubts slipped over and over again thru his brain. Standing there, his eyes buried beneath bushy gray brows, he remained motionless, saying nothing, doing nothing. He was awash with internal struggle.

Yet a single clear voice of reason rang true in his thoughts, and its firm tone forced back his age, pushed aside his doubts, and cast out his worry. “This is the same smiling little girl that you once held in your arms, and the same little girl that needed your friendship then needs it more so now,” the voice spoke to him and as it did a smile stretched out across his lips.

“She certainly doesn’t look like the same little girl that I remember from so long ago. The little girl has been replaced with a young woman, but the hair and eyes remain the same,” he said out loud but in near response to his own thoughts. “Queen Mavigan?”

Slowly he looked her over as he waited for her to speak, scanning her for injury. His hand all the while was sorting thru the belt pouch at his side, fingers leathery thick with age pushing thru various portions of root and herb. His massive weathered frame towered over the bed as he noted her condition. Her feet would need attending to, and she would most likely have a pain behind her eyes he thought. Her breathing sounded somewhat ragged to his ears as well. Before she had a chance to speak he smiled over to Clarise “M’lady would you be so kind as to fetch me a luke warm bowl of water and some washcloths, and my thanks to you in advance.” With that he turned back to the Queen and one large hand slowly slipped towards her forehead.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Alulael Sadrilil dodged the thrown pellow in a swirl of skirts and cloak as she looked inside suprise at her first look at the Queen in many years. Not caring over much about the strange cat-like creature that had moved infront of her. She looks so much older, where did that temper come from? Her thoughts began working like a wind mill until a short sharp pain made her muscles tense across her whole body. Turning to Wilhelm she spoke quickly.

“Sir Wilhelm... I am commanded by my Goddess to reveal the truth about why I am here.”

Alulael took a deep breath and continued, “I am a Priestess of Nargarren, I came with the dwarves after I learned of what had happened in Westgale. I can help her, if you will let me.”

She turned back to look at the Queen while she waited for Wilhelm's answer, thinking of how else the Queen has changed in the years she's been gone It really had been a long time.

Written by - Wilhelm

"The Gods provide again! You are the answer to my prayers and a most welcome sight. I am very pleased to see another survivor from Beridane's sack of the temples in Ancora."

Wilhelm bowed formally, and then gazed deeply at her inner heartfire. The silver glow of Nargarren's bond was clear and her name came to him. He vaguely remembered seeing her years ago. He touched the All Father's symbols on his helm and hauberk and then gestured towards her.

"The Blessing of the All Father be upon thee, Alulael, Priestess of Nagarren. Ever has my temple been the shield from harm of your temple, as yours has been the healer of harms for us. In the name of Tinorb be welcome in this place. My shield shall defend you and my hammer shall confront your foes.

"You are most needed. Mavigan has begun to manifest as Avatar of Nagarren without having her channels prepared for it through proper initiation. The Goddess has apparently chosen her as the next High Priestess, succeeding her mother, and is apparently most insistent on completing the unity. Like many who eventually reach the full Avatar unity, Mavigan has unconciously resisted the unity and thus has until now remained a novice. That is now changing, but she desperately needs you to guide her through her initiation ito priestess and then to High Priestess. Her channels are no doubt still sore from the partial manifestation of the Goddess that occurred last night after an attempted assassination. She fortunately suffered only some cuts and bruises from the failed attempt. Father Agmund, itinerant Priest of the All Father, has just gone in to treat those. She was far too sensitive last night to endure magical healing.

Mavigan must soon rise, dress, and go bid formal farewell as Queen to the army Ithramir is leading out to relieve the orcish siege of an elven border fortress. The Grand Alliance of Elves, Dwarves and Humans is beginning to reform, it seems, and she will no doubt need your support to carry that off. After the army leaves you can begin her initiation. I will aid you however I may. You have only to ask. I warn you that she will likely be a difficult patient and student but there is true greatness in her. The Gods of Light have apparently chosen her to play a major role in their future plans.

You may go in and aid Father Agmund in treating Mavigan's hurts, both physical and magical."

Wilhelm gestured towards the door with a bow.

Written by - Ariana

After shouting at Ardwen, Mavigan tried to push herself as far into the bed as she would go. She had a headache that would rival Ithramir’s ego, and she wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep.

Alas, it appeared she would not be granted that luxury. Over the pounding of blood in her ears, she heard the rustling of cloth and then a soft voice inquire “Queen Mavigan?”

“What?” she demanded in a growl, though it was muffled by the fact her face was currently smashed into the blankets. There was little response, but Mavigan did hear the man, for it was a man’s voice, ask for some water and washcloths. Slightly curious, she turned her head and popped one eye open. She was greeted with the sight of a really old and bald man stretching a hand out towards her. Instinctually she moved back away from him on the bed and gave him an evil glare.

Written by - Agmund

Seeing her evil glare and watching her move further away in the confines of the covers, he chuckled slightly. He recognized that glare, he called it her “mean look” when she was little. It was the look she gave when something wasn’t going as she wanted or intended.

“Perhaps introductions of a sort are what is needed, or reintroductions I should say,” he says with a gentle smile drawn in the aged lines of his face. “I am Agmund, some call me Father Agmund, for I am a Priest of the All Father, but there was a time you merely called me Ag. You weren’t very good with my full name so you shortened it… somewhat. I of course already know you, although it has been some years since I have seen you last. When I departed from Ancora you were perhaps three maybe four if my memory serves me correct… which it rarely does,” he adds with the same gentle smile.

His hand slides away and turning somewhat he pulls a chair in behind him from against the wall and sinks down into it. Very tall by the standards of men, his knees end up higher than his backside as he settles in.

“Now… let’s have a look at your head. There is a pain behind your eyes I take it?”

Clarise appears beside him, handing him a small wash basin full of water and then laying in front of him and off to the side of the Queen several wash clothes. Nodding a thank you to her he fumbles about in his belt pouch for the herb he couldn’t seem to find earlier.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn puts on a pouting face as she pokes Wilhelm in the shoulder for ignoring her.

Written by - Wilhelm

Turning towards Keeryn, Wilhelm apologized for being too busy to acknowledge Keeryn.

"Let us go over to this bench and let the Queen;s attendants do their work. You seem to have slept through the events of the night. Let me fill you in."

Sitting down on the bench, Wilhelm then launched into a summary of the eventful night, starting with the arrival at the banquet of Isuiln and his company followed by the arrival of the messenger about the orcish siege and the declaration that Ithramir would lead out a relief force this morning. Then came the attempted assassination, aided by sorcery and necromancy, the unexpected defender, the confrontation of Avatars, Mavigan's collapse in Ardwen's room, and the arrival of Father Agmund, the alien Loremaster, and then Priestess Alulael and Diosr and his Dwarven Company.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn just sits quietly where she is, stunned by everything that happened during her short nap... "I don't really know what to say to all that. I just hope she's doing ok, I know I'd be very confused if all that had happened to me, and probably want to just be left alone to think about it for awhile." Stops to think a bit more before continuing, "I don't know about that lady in the pink dress though... all that bright color has got to hurt someones eyes, I can hardly stand to look at her without wincing." Keeryn makes a scrunched face as she says this last bit.

"Well, I guess I'll just stay here in case anything else happens, or if she decides she wants to talk to someone that isn't concerned about her rank or that goddess mumbo jumbo." Straightens her arms out underneath her as she grasps the end of the bench and just starts swinging her legs back and forth.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Giving a brief nod to Wilhelm, deciding to leave pleasantries for later Alulael swept into the room in a fast pace and swiftly knelt besides Father Agmund and spoke in a whisper.

“Father Agmund... I am Alulael Sadrilil... I am a Priestess of Nargarren, if you would let me move to where you are, I can treat her injuries.”

Alulael took a quick assessment of the injuries on the Queen's body before looking up at the Queen directly in front of her she smiled as unthreatening as she could, trying to emulate her teachers when they took care of other people and put them at ease.

“You will feel much better soon, Your Majesty.”

Focusing her mind she softly spread her thoughts out, searching for the pattern of the Queen. Finding it she attempted to enter her mind and was met by the mental equivalent of a brick wall.

Goddess, such hate... such anger, Alulael gave up trying to read the Queen's mind for now, knowing she would need her full concentration to heal the Queen using her abilities without causing a backlash of energy into herself.

Noticing that Agmund had moved she quickly took his place and moved her hand over the Queen's, gently but firmly keeping hold as she pushed her thoughts beyond her own again. However, unlike the last time she did not try to enter her Queen's mind. Instead she traveled across the Queen's body, speeding up the healing process across her battered body, closing the open woulds and getting rid of the bruised places.

Before finally returning to herself she alleviated the headache Queen Mavigan most definitely had and stood up, looking down at Queen Mavigan.

“Your Majesty... I am done.” Taking one last look she waited for the Queen to respond.

Written by - Archeantus

Clothed and shrouded in deep elven green, Gadianton swooped in behind Kishkumen’s brother who shattered the massive throne room doors open with an ear splitting crack.

There they were met with another stalwart legion of guards who stood with weapons drawn in ready resolve. These were Beridane’s best and they were the last line of defense. Beridane sat upon the throne casually, inquisitively, looking onward through the steel line of his men. He did not recognize the two assailants upon first inspection. Beside him were two figures draped in black, hoods hid their identity.

Three of Beridane’s royal guard charged with a cry, large swords in their hands. Most awaited the outcome of the initial clash. Royal archers stood back from the group and notched arrows of peculiar make.

The three joined the monstrosity with equal ferocity. Beridane’s personal guards were hardened men, life long mercenaries. They had been bought with the spoils of the Ancorian vaults, and they had been promised riches untold.

Gadianton surveyed the situation and drew a quick smile. The group would be a challenge. The two archers fired their arrows at the giant before them who found himself in league with calculating swordsmen. The arrows bounced off his thick hide and they attracted the attention of Gadianton who was biding his time. Appearing into the fray, his curved elven sword flashing smoothly against one of the royal guard, he overtook him quickly, pulling his sword from his gut and swiped one of the fallen arrows from the ground. Another guard fell forcefully to his knees off to the side of Gadianton seeking to block a downward thrust, and found his own sword bit into his neck. He screamed in pain, as the giant finished him off. Gadianton ran across the red carpet to capture the other arrow, narrowly dodging a spear which whizzed past his head. Five more guards rushed the two. Two of them threw spears at the giant, one of which cut into his shoulder, and clung on slightly. The other fell to the ground. Gadianton ran around in an arc to cut across the back of the fight, both of the strange arrows in his hand. Biting part of the back of one of the arrows, he notched them both, holding his bow sideways, and swung around to fire them at the two archers standing on opposite sides of the throne room. Both suddenly fell, one mortally wounded, the other cringed on the ground, the arrow protruding through his side. Then in an instant they burst into flames, quickly turning to ash. Gadianton raised an eyebrow at this, but continued to fight.

Beridane finally knew who had appeared in his throne room again. His eyes narrowed in disbelief. He turned to one of the figures beside him and whispered. The figure whispered back, and suddenly turned and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. The other stood silently and watched the fight unfold.

Gadianton pulled his small blade from his sheath and stabbed one who was preoccupied with the giant in the back. Defending himself from two who appeared behind him with his sword, he retreated around one of the great columns, using it to his advantage. One guard fell, and then another. Kishkumen’s brother brought his massive sword around with a wild cry and impaled one of the guards, and then with great strength he twisted around, pulling the sword free, he hammered it down upon another. Suddenly, there were only four guards left. One of them, who had waited, eyed Gadianton knowingly. He wore a black cloth around his face, only his cold eyes peered through two slits in the material. He wore dark mail, and was clothed in the royal cape; Beridane’s seal was etched upon the chest piece of the armor. Wielding two curved blades, he was about to attack, Gadianton about to face him when Beridane’s voice called above the clashing of steel and cries of pain.

“I’ve seen enough. Seraph stand down.”

The man stopped his advance with great effort. Gadianton stood coolly upright, awaiting him, his dripping sword held down.

“I see I made the wrong decision to imprison you again.” Beridane called out, with more than a tinge of mock in his voice.

Kishkumen’s brother did not stop his onslaught and cut the final guards near him down brutally who had stood down.

Gadianton eyed the self appointed King studiously. There was something different about him. He had a strange gleam in his eyes, a knowing look that held a secret. Taking the hood from his head, Gadianton walked forward never taking his eyes off Beridane.

“Kill him if he moves.” Gadianton said, pointing his sword at the masked man who was seething.

Vermigard’s brother, his membrane pulsating, turned toward Seraph and headed toward him, stopping just behind him, his gigantic sword raised to swing eagerly.

The shrouded black figure watched as Gadianton rose up to the stairs, coming within a few feet of the King. Without a moment’s hesitation, the hooded figure saw the man raise his sword, there was a burst of light and in a quick motion, sever the King’s hand. The figure gasped in apparent disbelief and let out a hiss. Something had happened that was not supposed to happen. Beridane cried out in shocked pain, gripping his arm.

“You were supposed to protect me!”

Gadianton turned toward the robed figure finally, stepping down toward it with an obvious purpose. Pausing a slight moment, suddenly it turned and vanished in a blast of wind and light. Gadianton narrowed his eyes. The figure’s presence was strange. Turning back toward the Beridane once more, who was cowering in front of the throne, his arm seeped in blood, Gadianton stood above him ominously.

“Please, forgive me! I’ll give you anything, just name it!”

“Fool.” Gadianton finally said with disgust. He suddenly reached forward and pulled a medallion from Beridane’s neck. Its make was dark, nearly black, and held within a circular encasing was a bright green shard, with strange markings upon it.

“What is this?” He demanded; his sword rose slightly.

“It …is…none of your concern.” Beridane said through clenched teeth. His face shook with rage.

Gadianton shot a look at his employer considering something and then again looked at the medallion.

“It will be if it becomes a problem.” Gadianton whispered, then turning to look at Beridane again. “Where is Vermigard?”

Beridane heaved in shaky breaths as he spoke. “He is alive; he is housed in the upper tower.”

“You are lucky you did not make the mistake of killing him.”

“What are you planning with those that are called Orcs?” He continued.

Beridane tried to stand, and finally wobbled to his feet, he then sat down on the throne. Beads of sweat poured down his face.

“I have…made a pact with…them. They will be crushing…my enemies…in the outer fronts to prepare for the invasion.” Beridane mustered out, trying to gain his authority back. “What of you? Is she dead?”

“She still lives.” Gadianton answered.

“Then you have failed!” Beridane spat in anger.

A sword point appeared at Beridane’s neck.

“You are not in the position to claim such a thing are you?”

Beridane swallowed bitterly and turned his gaze away.

“I know what I came to know. You face a growing alliance of what you know to be Elves, the remnants of the human kingdom, and a large army of small creatures I have learned to be called Dwarves.” Gadianton added.

At this news Beridane shot a sudden glace back at Gadianton, the sword point was right where he left it.

“You know this for sure?” He asked hesitantly but excitedly.

“Don’t ever question me. You face a war whether you kill the Queen or not. It is the strongest that will survive now. The winner shall sit here.” Gadianton said, shifting the sword’s direction to the throne Beridane sat upon.

“They go to meet your Orcish army as we speak.” Gadianton continued.

Beridane spat.

“They have no idea what they face…”

“They are worthy foes.” Gadianton interrupted. “It is only a matter of time before this world is plunged into war.”

“And what part do you wish to play?” Beridane winced.

“Our contract is ended for now.” Gadianton declared, disregarding the question. “Never cross me again or I’ll take more than your hand. You shall see me again if the war turns in their favor. I have other matters to attend to.” Gadianton said, turning suddenly, the medallion still dangling in his hand. Stopping he turned back around.

“Give me your crown.”

“What? Never!” Beridane cried out.

“Your crown, or your head. Decide now.”

Gadianton was upon him in an instant, sword drawn.

With great reluctance and anger, Beridane took the crown from his head and handed it over. He shook with sheer rage. Gadianton looked at the crown, and then turned again and walked down the white marble steps.

“Seraph?” Gadianton stopped, regarding the masked man. The man turned, his dark eyes waiting.

“You serve a fool. You will see me soon if I find you are worthy.”

With that Gadianton turned and along with Kishkumen’s brother, walked out of the throne room, headed toward the dungeon once more.

Beridane watched him go; his good hand gripped the arm of the throne tighter and tighter.

“He will pay…”

Written by - Agmund

“If’n it’s a fight yer wantin’ then it’s a fight yer going ta’ have!” his fist shook with fury at the barkeep. “Now fetch me another tankard o’ barley manling fore ye really make me angry,” his eyes narrow as he leans forward speaking in an evil snarl.

For a moment the barkeep appeared to hold his ground, but suddenly he relented producing a tall tankard spilling over with barley beer. “Fine have it your way, but mark my words this is the last time you get served here.”

The dwarf seemed to pay him no mind, his eyes fixed upon the tankard as one hand wraps around either side of it, pulling it before him. “I suppose tha’ jus’ dunt matter right now manling… since after all I was barred from yer fine stablahment… err eblament… establement years ago!” he exclaimed with glee.

With that he flung the tankard in the air in a drunken salute and wasting no time he begins to empty it. As the tankard goes ever upward the dwarfs neck tilts further backwards, and a small stream of the beer sets a course into the salt and pepper hair of his beard. “WHAM,” the tankard slams down fast and furious onto the bar sending little droplets every which way into the air.

A grin of pure glee marks the gnarled dwarfs face as he views the look of anger from the barkeep. “Ye know manling, I wouldn’t bother comin’ here and drinkin’ like I do, stirrin’ up trouble and in general being a pain in yer arse, if’n ye didn’t have the finest barley beer in all of Dun-Algur. And did I mention what fine service ye have here as well,” he adds with a loud burp.

“Now be a kind lad and fetch me jus’ one more fer tha,” his words were cut off. “THORGRUM ICEHAMMER?” a voice shouted out from the tavern door. “Ahhh, I should have known you would be in the one tavern you’re not supposed to be in,” the dwarf rolled his head to the side as the voice came into view.

Two heavily armed and armored men appeared beside him. Upon their tunics of black a single mountain spire is outlined in white, at the base a large single stone tower completes the livery of Dun-Algur. The mail that protected both of the men seemed to shimmer with a silvery blue hue in the flickering torches of the tavern.

Each wore a helm of the same silvery blue metal which extended down over their nose, and had rounded circles of metal covering their eyes. Runes of Kazukthul, the ancient mix of runes both dwarvish and human were engraved around the rims of both helms and the same pattern was visible around upon the various plates they wore.

Written by - Wilhelm

"Well, I guess I'll just stay here in case anything else happens, or if she decides she wants to talk to someone that isn't concerned about her rank or that goddess mumbo jumbo." Keeryn straightens her arms out underneath her as she grasps the end of the bench and just starts swinging her legs back and forth.

"I think that is a good idea, Keeryn. Mavigan may well need such a friend to talk to after Father Agmund and Priestess Alulael are done. She will need to get dressed as Queen soon to go bade farewell to the departing army. Her maid has her clothing ready and can handle that, but perhaps you can help and provide some welcome break from duty and responsibility. You might even offer to teach her some of your combat and wilderness skills. I'm going to go see the army form up and make sure Alaric has the Queen's Own Regiment ready. If Mavigan or anyone else needs me I can be found there."

Wilhelm bowed to those in the hallway, exchainging salutes with the Queen's Guards, and then walked down the corridor and eventually out to the martialling area. He saw Ithramir busy with his officers and then located Alaric. Alaric and his deputies seemed to have matters under control, and the newly formed and trained Queen's Own Regiment snapped to attention when he and Alaric held inspection. All looked well, and Wilhelm gave them a short speech telling them so and bading them uphold the honor of Ancora and Queen Mavigan. After discussing the remaining trainee force and the needs of the growing Ancora Quarter with Alaric, Wilhelm left Alaric to handle the final preparations and went in search of Ithramir to discuss security concerns and communications.


Written by - Ezikial Page 3 Book 2

The crafting halls of the mountain home Kazukthul lay dark and still. The lanterns dimmed to stimulate the pale moon lit sky of the outside world, the legendary blacksmiths and jewelers of the great citadel resting, preparing for a new dawn filled with hard work and the discipline needed to work their crafts to perfect weapons and armor of the combined human and dwarven forces of the city below Graedium peak. The halls and shops groan and whisper amongst themselves, cooling off after the blasts of heat and fire needed to work the hardy archanthite metal having finally debated.

The forges are darkened, the fire extinguished or shuttered, save one. From here the silence is interrupted by the rhythmic beating of hammer on anvil, a sound so common to the halls, yet so out of place at this late hour.

Shadows dance wildly across the forge and stocky figure hovering over his work, sparks flying from the red hit iron as the mallet strikes true, forming the metal. Each stoic stroke brings a flash of fleeting light to the forge, glinting off the sweat beading the dwarven blacksmith's face and upper arms. His eyes, however, stay alight on their own, burning with the inner fire of the smith's love for his work. The dwarf is fast approaching his middle years, yet it shows little as he molds the archanthite with reserved and disciplined strokes. He is in little more than breeches and a blacksmith's apron, his powerfully corded muscles thick from crafting and wielding weapons.

Hours pass, little more than moments to an older dwarf lost in his trade. Dawn begins to break night's darkened hold on the peak of Graedium, bringing a crisp light to the chill mountain. Yet, the dwarf works on, his hammer never missing a beat, his eyes burning with determination.

And it is with a striking suddenness that his work finishes, the rhythmic beating ending. The mountain itself holds its breath, not a sound echoing down the halls as it waits for a sign from the master of the forge. And it comes, barely a whisper, yet it hangs in eternity.

"It is done."

The master craftsman emerges from his sweltering forge, shaking visibly from the effort put forth on his creation and the excitement of its completion. With quickening steps he moves through the stirring halls, dwarf and man alike just shaking the last remnants of sleep from their minds as they watch him pass, their eyes alighting on the covered parcel he carries with reverence in front of him. Many wonder what he carries, though none ask it. A dwarf with a want and will to accomplish it is never one to be bothered, and the proud blacksmiths of Kazukthul were no exception.

A cold gust of air tugs at the blacksmith's graying beard as he trots towards a side entrance of his mountain home. The smaller hideaways and escape tunnels were rarely used or visited, but the dwarf preferred to be alone.

His breath erupts into a white cloud as he emerges from the carefully concealed exit, his eyes squinting as he gives a moment to the view around him. The gorgeous snowy peaks rose majestically to his sides, the morning sun glittering on their crowns. A sigh escapes the dwarf as he looks upon his home with love and admiration, a sigh he didn't know he was holding. His calloused hands gingerly move to remove the cloth, slowly revealing the glimmering crescent axe, a vibrant shade of pale blue like a crisp winter morning's sunshine.

With a flick of his wrist the cloth flies to the breeze, as he hefts the axe proudly above his head to rise among the peaks. He stands there, silent and still as the mountains, the chill breeze cutting itself upon the forged blades razor sharp edge. And with an audible hum, he sets to the second part of his training that day. With the grace and power of a tiger he spins and cuts, moving with measured purpose through the dwarven forms of battle as easily as he had worked with measured strokes on the forge.

The day passes slowly around the dwarf, watching with eternal patience as the axe continues to twist and twirl, though he shows no signs of stopping. It is only until the sun retreats behind the mountains that he finally relents in his training, grinning to himself as he marches to the closest tavern for an ale and the chance to show off his newest masterpiece to fellow blacksmiths and warriors alike.

Written by - Ariana

“Ag,” Mavigan thought. For some reason the sound sounded vaguely familiar to her. Ignoring his reach for her, she tried hard to remember why it seemed to pull forth feelings of comfort and home. “Ag,” she said softly to herself, as if voicing the syllable aloud would somehow circumvent her headache and reveal the information she sought.

“Ag,” she said again, just as softly, and then added, “Aggie?” directing confirmation from the old geezer that she had hit upon something true.

Father Agmund did not get the chance to reply before Mavigan was assaulted by a flurry of pink. Without asking for permission, the female in pink, having identified herself as a Priestess of Nagarren, put her hands on Mavigan and tried to probe her mind. Mavigan denied her access with relatively little effort, her mouth turning into a grim line with annoyance at the intrusion. The Priestess then began interjecting power into Mavigan’s form in various places, offering healing where no healing had been asked for.

Finally she stepped back, and Mavigan had to admit, her headache was better, and her feet certainly did not offer any twinges of protest; unfortunately, the same could not be said of her mood. Mavigan could not stand to be manhandled, even if the handling was done by a woman!

Sitting upright and swinging her feet over the side of the bed, she glared at the vision in pink and said through gritted teeth, “The headache is better. Thank you. Now, who the *&^& are you?”

Written by - Archeantus

The room exploded with uproarious laughter.

“You took the ancient crown from him?!”

More laughter belted out.

Vermigard sat upright upon the bed, white linen bandages had been carefully wrapped around his bare chest. In his hand was the ancient crown worn by generations upon generations of Kings and Queens, dating as far back, as it was tenuously whispered, to the High Queen Ariana. It was perhaps the world’s oldest relic.

“I took his hand as well for his insolence.”

Even more laughter.

“You are a piece of work boss.” Vermigard said wiping tears from his eyes.

“I take care of my own is all. I told you I would make it worth it to get us to Ancora.”

Vermigard nodded slowly, gazing at the ancient crown, thinking, He has no idea.

“Get ready; we leave as soon as we can.” Gadianton said.

“Where to?” Vermigard asked as he slipped gingerly out of bed.

“We shall find out momentarily. The mage is attempting to communicate with whatever it is inside the man that attacked you.”

Vermigard narrowed his eyes at the mention of the man that nearly killed him. “Why not kill him?” He asked angrily.

“The man holds great power within him. The moment we can harness it, you can personally pay his gut a visit with that sword of yours.”

“Very well.” Vermigard said with an angry spit to the stone floor.

The bounty hunter was dressed in no time and the two made it down through the bustling streets of Ancora to the dank dungeon, where the elven necromancer Kishkumen stood preparing to breech the man’s psyche.

They watched as a bright illumination flared and swarmed around the mage’s head. It molded and formed into a drab yellow snake-like cloud. Swirled around and around and twisted through the rusty bars of the cell. Once there in the cell, it hovered eagerly around the man’s head.

The man gasped, his eyes opened wide suddenly, and the mage finally smiled….fearfully.

He had broached an audience with the lich.

Written by - Agmund

He had failed to introduce himself to the lady of Nagarren, but he did as he was asked and stepped aside. He wondered why she would think he was uncapable of seeing to the Queens injuries, but considered the fact that the woman was young, and perhaps inpatient.

“Ag,” she said again, just as softly, and then added, “Aggie?” directing confirmation from the old geezer that she had hit upon something true.

He had wanted to respond, but decided there was merely to many people within the room, to many here that wished to see her and speak with her. It was all too much for him, and he knew that it would likely be too much for Mavigan as well. Intrusions, that’s probably what she thought of her visitors this day.

Slowly he moved towards the wall, and then inched his way towards the door. A decision had formed in his mind, and it was presently the only thing he could truly see. The closer he got to the door, the further he wanted to get away. Once to the side of the door he turned into it and stepped into the hall, his eyes looking back towards direction of his room.

Written by - Renalis

Crystal had not slept much that night, slipping in and out of her sleep-like trance for the few hours between the Queen falling alseep and the rise of Ardwen. When he opened his eyes, she too returned to the realm of the concious. Crystal paid careful note to Ardwen has he took a knee, in what seemed to be a prayer...

“Day shall yield to twilight, as fall to winter. In winter’s heart shall our people know a new spring, one that will be without end. Our enemies will bar our course: they will come with fire and steel to drive back the cold they cannot understand. They will march upon our cities, our lands, and our revered palaces. And we will kill them.

For we are the Refusers: we who are beyond death, beyond life, beyond all weakness. We pledge ourselves to this cause, the cause of the Firstborn. We will not yield, we will not falter, and we will offer no quarter. Let the lessers know they have invoked the wrath of the Throne of Stars itself, let them tremble from the chill of death, and let them curse the encroaching darkness. Gurth Gothrim Avari.”

"Such hate and anger rests in his heart..." she thought to herself, feeling the sorrow in his heart, "he seems to live only to kill." Crystal watched as the Warrior approached the table of food brought in. She watched as he grabbed a biscuit.

“Of course, of course! Why wouldn’t there be cheese biscuits here? Here, of all places!” His right eye shot up to the ceiling, as if he were trying to bore a hole in it with a glance, he continued, “Do not think that I don’t know what you’re doing All-Fool. Meddler! Do you think these little reminders matter to me? Idiot! I’ll have my vengeance – Deceiver - against all who have wronged me, especially against you . . . especially against you.”

Crushing the biscuit and leaving the room, Crystal went after him. Catching up to him in the hall, the Elven woman put her hand on his shoulder, and tugged with just enough force to get his attention. As he turned around, she grabbed his hands and put them together, cupped within her slender fingers,

"You do not know me sir, but I know what lies in your heart. I know the hatred, the sorrow, the anger, the loss. I know the feeling that the whole world, nay, the whole universe has plotted against you to take everything. I have felt your loss, and I too became a hollow vessel for death and destruction. I became what you too are on the path to becoming. You cannot let the darkness consume you, you must find yourself again, for no amount of killing will bring back your lost. You cannot let the presence or lack thereof of this "All-Father" govern you," Sighing, and looking downward at the faintly glowing violet crystal within her chest Crystal continues, "I thought I lost Renalis a long time ago and I lost everything that made me me. I went on a rampage and killed every demon remaining on my world and all those corrupted by them and serving them. I entered the Nether Realm in hopes of finding the source of demons but what I found was much better. I found my husband there, in the realm between worlds and everything changed. I realized that all I really wanted was to die and be with him. I took every risk and went after the stongest of evils in hope that I could lose. Live lord Ardwen. Live. Keep on going and defending the friends you have here, pledge yourself to this place and go on, despite all you have lost. It's what they would have wanted."

****

Renalis had found himself some suitable unoccupied quarters and gathered the best sleep he could. His thoughts were occupied with the events surrounding him at this point. He had come to this world only a month ago but he knew that it needed his help like any other he had come too, and he would help them in every way he could. The tides of darkness approached and although not demons, the Orcs were as nasty as them, and bent on the destruction of the Humans, Elves, Dwarves and the rest of Civilization as this world knew it Renalis could not let them go unchallenged.

Renalis arose from his bed and donned his armor, its Indego hue matching the sky. It was just before sunrise and Renalis could already hear the armies preparing for the battle that lay ahead, preparing to march to meet the Orcs. Renalis had thought long and hard on how to approach this situation and he came to a solution that Crystal would not approve of but he knew it had to be done. Surpressing the energies his crystal emmitted and laying a powerful enchantment on a piece of blank parchment he left on the desk Renalis left the quarters and headed to where Ithramir overlooked his troops.

"Lord Ithramir, as I stated last night, I pledge myself to your cause and I shall go with you, I am skilled in the arts of magic, and not just simple scrying..." A sly grin crept onto Renalis's face and the thoughts of what he was able to do at full power sufaced, "While not at my best I can still provide great assistance to your forces," Renalis took a knee, "Let me go with you Lord Ithramir, let me aid you and your people against this coming threat, let me help to save the innocents of this world, let me help" Renalis once again waited in the respectful kneeling position awaiting Lord Ithramir's response.

****

Back in his old chambers Renalis's enchantment went to work just as it was laid. The paper emulated the power of the crystal laying within Renalis's chest. It would fool his wife into believing that he was still in the Cidital while he went out to face the Orcs. Just as Renalis left the room, the paper came to life, and a message began to write itself onto the parchment's surface - the message Renalis wanted to give to his wife as she is no doubt to find the paper soon.

Crystal,

Have no fear.

I knew you would try to stop me from going, but I know what must be done. I know you would have tried to go with me so I tricked your senses into thinking I was still here. The Queen still needs protection. Not just from assassins, but there are those trying to control her life. You must be there for her. She may not know you well, nor trust you yet, but be there for her. There are things divine at work, there are politics, there are people with alterior motives. Be there for her, she could use a friend right now, or at the very least, someone to look up to, because by the Gods, if there is another woman as free-spirited as her, it is you. I must go with Ithramir if there is to be a hope of success. And before you start worrying again, know this; We have faced legions of demons together, and although we have yet to return to full power after traveling to this realm, I will not be alone against these forces.

I will always be with you my love.

Know that I will not be lost to you again.

- Renalis, your faithful

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst felt the chill run through her body once again. the feeling of pain and unbalance. For several days now, as she had been traveling thorugh the immense forest, she had felt what seemed like rips. She had finally found the source of one of these disturbances. To the naked eye, the forest seemed unchanged, undisturbed, but to her keen senses and fine attunement to the elements, she could sense and see the rip before her. She closed her eyes and listened; listened to the whispers of pain from the trees, the stones, even the small animals that had wandered through this place at the wrong time. Something unnatural had made this rip, and through this rip had come those who did not belong to this world.

Tempyst slumped to the ground and sat, overcome by the wrongness she felt, the pain and anger the forest was showing her. She whispered back, comforting the woods that she would do her best to ease their pain. After gathering herself and her energies, Tempyst rooted her self to ground, sending her spirit deep within the earth through her feet to find an anchor so she could do her work. She closed her eyes, tilted her face up to the trees and held her arms out. Her breath deepened and slowed, a wind picked up around her and began rushing about the injured area. Tempyst could smell the earth and the air all about her, felt the rest of the forest that had not been hurt come to her aid to help it's brethren. Roots traveled underground to the spot, sending energy and nourishment, trees stretched out their branches, and all plants sent out seedlings upon the wind so they could be deposited upon the area and spark new life.

Finally the wind dies down and Tempyst could feel the ache of this spot subside. She uprooted her spirit and sat down beside the large tree that had edged over from a few feet away. She let the residual energies seep into her, revitalizing the energy and life she had just given up, giving her strength, slowly, but surely restoring her. Looking about, she smiled sadly, this spot had been healed, but she knew there were many more around her and knew she could do her best, but whatever was making these rips, could not be stopped by just her healing up the mess they made.

Tempyst traveled on for many more days, stopping a few more times to heal a ripped area when she found one. She enjoyed helping the earth, for the earth had given her so much. She was joyed when she went a full day without feeling the pain from one of these areas. But it was on that day she looked from within the edge of the forest and saw the army before her. Never before had she seen so many people in one place. She remembered hearing Corren speak of such gatherings, but never imagined what it truly could be like.

I'm not sure about this. Perhaps this is not my path, perhaps I should turn around and make my way back to the conclave. This is not my world. Look at them, cutting down the forest, trampling the earth and stone; there is so many of them here, I cannot even hear the earth because of their sounds.

A'lanthear The sword whispered it's name in Tempyst's mind once again and showed her the blurred visions of an unknown man. It had not done such for many months now. She sighed, and knew she must go on. Nyrondis had given her this sword to protect until she found the champion and she wasn't going to find the champion by hiding in the forest.

"Alright, alright," she spoke to herself. "I cannot deny my path and I cannot deny the God's will. But that doesn't mean I have to enjoy the journey." Tempyst took a deep breath, adjusted the sword she carried across her back, gripped her staff tightly and stepped out from the forest.

At first she wasn't noticed, everyone seemed very engrossed with their own duties. But it did not take long fomr some shouts to be heard and she could see those before her pointing and yelling, some even charging forth with swords drawn. She was surrounded quickly, and bombarded by questions as to who she was and where did she come from, was she a spy; so many things were being spoken. She tried to recall what Corren had told her of these gatherings and finally was able to blurt out, "I need to speak to your commander."

"Oh, you'll be goin ta see tha commander miss. Now hand over your sword and we'll escort you there right away." The solder reached for the sword upon her back.

"I would not do that..." Before she could finish, the soldier had taken the grip within his hand. But it did not stay there long. He cried out in pain, letting go of the sword and dropping to his knees, holding his hands over his ears. The other soldiers took a step back, the one's who did not have swords dwarn did so now.

"What witchery is this!" The soldier screamed, finally standing and taking his hands from his ears. Tempyst could see the standard small trickle of blood coming from them.

"You did not let me finish. This sword is particular about who handles it. I do not wield it, I am it's keeper. Just take me to someone in charge please." The crowd of soldiers began to grow, causing Tempyst to start getting very unnerved. She was so not used to this much metal and clamor in one place and felt as if her own ears would begin bleeding. Her voice took on a more pleading tone as she spoke now. "Please, please, I am not here for any harm, I only wish to talk to someone about the rips within the forest. Please..." She felt as if she were going to be crushed by the wall or armor around her and she closed her eyes, trying to find a grounding point within the closing chaos.

Just as she felt as if it all was going to close in and drown her in iron and steel around, a commanding voice rose above the others, quieting all the others, shouting something about barbarians.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir stood by Diosr as the time slowly passed. Looking down, they both engaged in conversation as they watched the assembled host prepare themselves. Thinking on the siege, Ithramir's thoughts turned towards the human, barbarian, and dwarven settlements that rim the mountains that seperate Westgale and citadel lands. Turning to Diosr, he asks,

"Master dwarf, what do you know of the westgalian Ironskane mountain range? Or, in the old tongue, the Amlug Anc?"

Before a response could be given, Ithramir here's a commotion near one of the gates. Spying that a few guards were moving quickly to investigate, and with all the recent activity, he decides to ride over and investigate. He arrives just in time to hear the young woman say,

"You did not let me finish. This sword is particular about who handles it. I do not wield it, I am it's keeper. Just take me to someone in charge please. I am not here for any harm, I only wish to talk to someone about the rips within the forest. Please..."

Ithramir watched as the guards closed in on her, her desperation clearly heard in her cry. For a moment, he studies her closely. She seemed like one of the druids that inhabit the forests around this part of the world. Clearly, she had an heirloom of great power in the sword she carried. Other than that, she looked like no threat, and it was quite odd for one of her kind to make an open appearance with so many people about. His curiosity piqued, Ithramir calls out,

"It is enough, leave the forest woman alone. She wishes to speak to someone in charge, well then, come forward woman. Let us talk. The rest of you, get back to your preparations."

The guards at once stop attempting to take the woman, and her sword, and go back to their tasks. After a moment, Ithramir rides up to the woman, dismounts from his steed, and says,

"Well, now, you've caused quite a stir with that thing. Points to her sword. At any rate, I am Ithramir Sil-Galdur, lord of the citadel of Lothiel-Gadith and master of the lands from the ocean to Westgale. I hope I certainly fit the bill for, as you said, someone "in charge.""

With what can only be called a slight grin, he waits for the woman to respond.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst looked up to the elf that approached her, her fear subsiding as the wave of metal parted. Taking a few deep breaths, she stood tall and watched him ride closer. As he dismounted, she heard his words, calling himself master of the lands, and being the one in charge, but his words meant little to her at that moment. She moved towards the one who called himself Ithramir and then stepped passed him, moving towards his steed. She placed a hand upon the soft warm muzzle and closed her eyes. Is he good? Is he kind? Her whispers of emotion poured through to the noble beast, asking how this individual truly was. She knew if he treated his companion well, then he could indeed be trusted. The horse whispered back, neighing softly, trusting this small woman. She could see that this Ithramir was in deed a good friend to his steed. The horse was proud to carry such a man into battle, loyal to his master and no one else, and was always pleased when the elf gave him the occasional carrot or other sweet treat. Tempyst smiled and opened her eyes and scratched the large horse under its jaw before turning towards the elf beside her. His slight grin turned into a bit of a puzzled look, as she was sure no one but he could ever get such a calm response from his horse.

“Your steed thinks highly of you.” She stated matter of factly. “But you certainly are not master of the lands you speak of. No one holds that title but those chosen by Nyrondis.” Tempyst took another step closer to the armored elf and looked up into his eyes, her purpose filling her. “I am Whisperling, servant of Nyrondis, child of the Deepshadow Glen, but you will call me Tempyst. And yes, you will do for someone in charge.” Her stance did not waver as she stood in the elf’s shadow. “This thing,” She gave his a dour look, “is A’lanthear and I am it’s guardian. I come here to seek the champion. No man may touch it without its permission, and your servant there, did not have permission.”

Tempyst took a deep breath, doing her best to keep her wits about her and herself brave among these new surroundings. “As I have traveled here, I have discovered damage done to the forest, wounds ripped through its very soul. Are you and your men here responsible for these unnatural openings? Is that how you all arrived here?” A’lanthear, is this the one? Please, tell it is so, so I may return home. But there was no whisper back from the sword at this time. She could feel a warm breeze pick up around her, giving her strength and comfort and reminded her she was not alone.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm followed the directions he was given and saw Ithramir on horseback, monitoring the elven army's preparation to march. As expected, Ithramir was very busy. Wilhelm gave him a friendly salute and then introduced himself to the dwarven commander Diosr. Then he stood by as the two commanders held a discussion. Wilhem saw Renalis come up and make his offer of service to Ithramir. Just then there was a commotion at the gates and Ithramir rode off to investigate. Wilhelm noticed Renalis was still kneeling on the ground, and said,

"You might as well get up and follow him. Ithramir no doubt heard you, but he is very busy. Follow and stand by and he will reply in time. I expect he will accept your offer. Will your wife be staying behind?"

Written by - Renalis

The loud commotion caught Renalis's attention and he raised his head. He could see many guards swarming an area at the edge of the forest. Ithramir too was enthralled by this sudden bustling of activity at the edge of his camp and rode off to investigate. Somewhat insulted Renalis reminded himself that as a man of command that it was Ithramir's duty to investigate.

"You might as well get up and follow him. Ithramir no doubt heard you, but he is very busy. Follow and stand by and he will reply in time. I expect he will accept your offer. Will your wife be staying behind?"

Renalis immediately recognizes the voice of Wilhelm even with the change of attire and although he had planned to already, follows his advice and rises, sheathing his sword. "Lord Wilhelm, good to see you once more. I hope he does accept my service as I wish to help the people of this land. The subject of my wife on the other hand is... well... touchy to say the least." Renalis takes a deep breath before continueing, "Knowing that I am leaving, you cannot alert her, acts of deception are not to my liking but this one - like the dinner - is necessary. I know what we travel to face and even knowing just how well she can take care of herself I cannot bring myself to have her there." touching the crystal within his chest which was currently not glowing at all, Renalis goes on, "Lord Wilhelm, she will know after we have left that I am gone, I cannot trick her for long, let her know that I did this for her protection and that she is needed here."

With Wilhelm's acknowledgement Renalis bows, "Thank you sir. Until next we meet." then turns and moves to catch up to Ithramir.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Inwardly, Ithramir sighed. Must humans always have some type of attitude when they speak. Chalking it up to racial flaw, Ithramir replies to the young woman,

"Tempyst, is it? Yes, well, I can assure you that I am master of these lands. As were those who were the lords before me. Whose blood do you think was spilled so long ago to protect these lands? Whose blood still pours out onto the ground to give you, and your kind, the ability to nuture and defend her? If it were not for us, and certain others, this land would be barren and charred by the Orcs and other nasty beasts. Nature may be wild and free, but she also requires payment, and so do we. It has been a benifical arrangement so far."

Pausing for a moment, he then adds,

"Now, as for these "rips", I can assure you it is not our doing. As I have said, our people have been here for millenia. As have the humans and the dwarves. I only know of one being who passed through a magical gate and that is an alien being who is now guarded in our library."

Studying the young woman, he says,

"Most of your kind, wild though they may be, knows who their friends are. From your tone, and demeanor, I do not sense this in you. Accusatory and ill-tempered are your words. The druids of these lands have always been welcome here, though their visits have not been often of late. You are more than welcome to stay, even visit the stranger who is in our library, but I would ask that you be at ease. No one wishes to do harm to the lands here."

Just before the woman can reply, Ithramir hears someone calling his name, and after turning around he can see a guard approaching. Pardoning himself a moment, he turns to the guard and asks why he is being disturbed. The guard replies,

"Ahem, yes sir, well...I think you forgot about the young man who pledged to you his service. I don't mean to imply you forgot..*ahem*...but he is still waiting for your reply. In fact, I asked him to follow me here."

Looking back, Ithramir can see the young man approaching. Closing his eyes a moment to hide the look of idiocy that would run over his face, he opens them again and simply motions for the guard to get out of the way. Speaking up, Ithramir says,

"Renalis, yes, you are indeed welcome into our service. We need all that can to fight. If you desire to ride with us, by all means, prepare yourself and your horse. If there is anything you need, do not hesitate to ask a guard."

Turning his attention back to the young woman, Ithramir then says,

"Come Renalis, meet Tempyst, a druid of these lands. We were just getting acquainted a minute ago, as her and her sword seems to have been the cause of such a ruckus."

Letting the two exchange pleasantries, he says,

"What else is it you wish to know, lady druid? Or, perhaps, you have something else in mind? I do not wish to seem completely rude, or rushed, however there seems to be an emergency to these lands and we are riding to meet it."

A serious look flashed across Ithramir's face as he waited for her to speak.

Written by Tempyst

"Greetings Renalis, tis good to meet you." Tempyst gave the man a nod, then turned back to Ithramir, all the while hearing the soft whispers from the sword scolding her. Softening her stance she continued to speak. "Sir, I apologize for my words, I am new, what I mean is, this is my first time away from the conclave and I am still adjusting. Never before had I been around so many men with so much steel." Tempyst then gave a slight bow of respect to the one before her. "I do not mean to make an excuse and I will do my best to be more open as I travel. When I said you were not Master of these lands, I did not mean to imply your kind, only that no one is master of the land, though one can be it's warden and protector. The land does not call anyone master."

Tempyst took a deep breath as the whispers from the sword subsided finally. "Indeed I would like to speak with this stranger and find out what he knows of the openings in the woods. As for anything else, yes, I do have something to ask. Do you perhaps know of a ranger named Corren? He is my uncle."

Tempyst then saw the serious look come across the elf's face, and her tone changed. "An emergency? Is there anything I may do to help this land?"

Written by Renalis

Finally catching up to Ithramir, Renalis can see him motion his guard out of the before speaking, "Renalis, yes, you are indeed welcome into our service. We need all that can to fight. If you desire to ride with us, by all means, prepare yourself and your horse. If there is anything you need, do not hesitate to ask a guard."

Bowing deeply Renalis says with great respect in his voice, "Thank you Sir, I will serve you well. As for supplies, there is little I require and am fit to travel when your forces are ready."

Turning his attention back to the young woman, Ithramir then says, "Come Renalis, meet Tempyst, a druid of these lands. We were just getting acquainted a minute ago, as her and her sword seems to have been the cause of such a ruckus."

"Greetings M'lady," Renalis bows, "A pleasure to meet you."

"Greetings Renalis, tis good to meet you." Tempyst says with a nod. Turning back toward Ithramir, "Sir, I apologize for my words, I am new, what I mean is, this is my first time away from the conclave and I am still adjusting. Never before had I been around so many men with so much steel."

Chuckling just a bit Renalis says, "Reminds me of my brother, Kel'Thalas when he first started interacting with people not of the land."

"I do not wish to seem completely rude, or rushed, however there seems to be an emergency to these lands and we are riding to meet it." Seeing Ithramir's look and posture change to serious and Tempyst's response, Renalis stands by, patiently waiting.

Written by Ardwen

His mood was dour, as black as the armor he wore. Ardwen felt a tug at his shoulder, he turned around, and saw an Elven women standing before him. She took his hands and cupped them and began to speak:

"You do not know me sir, but I know what lies in your heart. I know the hatred, the sorrow, the anger, the loss. I know the feeling that the whole world, nay, the whole universe has plotted against you to take everything. I have felt your loss, and I too became a hollow vessel for death and destruction. I became what you too are on the path to becoming. You cannot let the darkness consume you, you must find yourself again, for no amount of killing will bring back your lost. You cannot let the presence or lack thereof of this "All-Father" govern you," Sighing, and looking downward at the faintly glowing violet crystal within her chest Crystal continues, "I thought I lost Renalis a long time ago and I lost everything that made me me. I went on a rampage and killed every demon remaining on my world and all those corrupted by them and serving them. I entered the Nether Realm in hopes of finding the source of demons but what I found was much better. I found my husband there, in the realm between worlds and everything changed. I realized that all I really wanted was to die and be with him. I took every risk and went after the stongest of evils in hope that I could lose. Live lord Ardwen. Live. Keep on going and defending the friends you have here, pledge yourself to this place and go on, despite all you have lost. It's what they would have wanted."

Throughout it all Ardwen kept his face a steely calm, he did not betray a whit of what he was thinking of feeling. But he thought, he took in every word, measured and weighed it and commented mentally, “Does she think me a fool who does not know the path I am walking? I know what waits for me at the end of my life, I’ll have no friends to mourn my passing, my corpse will be but one of many bloated with death on some unremembered battlefield. The only ones who will note my passing will be the gods, and then just long enough to damn my soul to whatever torture they find pleasurable. But this one is blood, she deserves an answer more than just stomping off.”

Gently Ardwen removed his hands and spoke, his tone was one of patience and explication, “You are blood. By that right alone you could ask of me almost anything, but you cannot ask me to forsake my vows. There are things stronger than blood, stronger than love, and more ancient than time itself. But you insult me my lady, I know no amount of killing will bring my betrayed friends back to me. Even the All-Father refused to hear my prayers when I was faithful. No, I do not kill for their sake, I kill for mine. I kill because that is the way of Avari and the way of the sword.”

Ardwen titled his head to one side and fumbled for words a bit, “Would you have me forsake my vows? I pledged myself to the cause, if I were certain I still had a soul I would have pledged that as well. I am no lord, I gave up any claim of lineage. You confuse me, why do you care? Let me save you the ache and trouble, I am nothing more,” Ardwen took a step back and in a flash he had the longer of the two swords at his side unsheathed, “than this.” Just as quickly he sheathed the blade, spun around, and began to walk briskly away.

He followed the flow of servants and soldiers to the mustering outside the Citadel. By the time Ardwen had located Ithramir his mood had not improved. The lady Elf had confounded him, why did she care? He was startled to see Dwarves in the muster, but past caring – let Ithramir use the lessers if he wanted, it might mean fewer did Elves in the end. “Speaking of Ithramir.” Ardwen muttered as he noted the commander speaking to a strange woman with a blade at her side. Ardwen’s eyes slide into slits as he drew closer, his keen ears starting to pick up the word being spoken between the two.

He heard the women speak first:

“Your steed thinks highly of you. But you certainly are not master of the lands you speak of. No one holds that title but those chosen by Nyrondis. I am Whisperling, servant of Nyrondis, child of the Deepshadow Glen, but you will call me Tempyst. And yes, you will do for someone in charge. This thing,” The female glanced down at the blade Ardwen had noted earlier, “is A’lanthear and I am it’s guardian. I come here to seek the champion. No man may touch it without its permission, and your servant there, did not have permission.”

Ardwen froze, he clenched and relaxed his hands again and again, afraid that if he did not keep them bust he’d put a blade up to this woman’s throat. He muttered darkly speaking to himself, “How dare this girl speak so to a pureblood! Were this my kinsmen’s court her head would be on a pike!” Ardwen stood there, he did not trust her, even if Ithramir seemed as calm as the moon’s reflection on still water. He could not allow his time here to diminish his oath. If the woman made any threats, or if Ithramir ordered it, she would have to be removed. And in his present mood Ardwen would be more than willing to oblige.

Ithramir and the women, Tempyst she had called herself, continued to speak. Ardwen noticed Renalis pledging himself into service, but still he did not stir. He would have ears only for orders right now . . . this war could not begin soon enough.

Written by Renalis

Gently Ardwen removed his hands from Crystals and spoke, his tone was one of patience and explication, “You are blood. By that right alone you could ask of me almost anything, but you cannot ask me to forsake my vows. There are things stronger than blood, stronger than love, and more ancient than time itself. But you insult me my lady, I know no amount of killing will bring my betrayed friends back to me. Even the All-Father refused to hear my prayers when I was faithful. No, I do not kill for their sake, I kill for mine. I kill because that is the way of Avari and the way of the sword.”

Ardwen titled his head to one side and fumbled for words a bit, “Would you have me forsake my vows? I pledged myself to the cause, if I were certain I still had a soul I would have pledged that as well. I am no lord, I gave up any claim of lineage. You confuse me, why do you care? Let me save you the ache and trouble, I am nothing more,” Ardwen took a step back and in a flash he had the longer of the two swords at his side unsheathed, “than this.” Just as quickly he sheathed the blade, spun around, and began to walk briskly away.

"Ardwen!" Crystal called, stopping his quick exit, "I would never ask you to forsake your pledge. I would never ask you to forget a promiss made time immemorial..."

Crystal's thoughts are disrupted as she can feel a wavering in Renalis's energies, She senses the false energy placed on an object in his old room but can still feel his presence leaving the Citidal, "He is going with them... and he doesn't want me there..." Crystal thinks to herself but quickly regains her train of thought,

"You say as "blood" I can ask of you anything? Than I ask of you this; remember why you are fighting, not just as a construct with destruction as your sole purpose, but as the honourable 'Avari' that you are - fight to protect these people and these lands, uphold your oath but do it for something, for someone." Crystal sighed but continued, "You asked why I cared? I care because if you do not, than your passing could mean more pain and suffering for those you leave behind. You are something Ardwen, and you have friends here, whether you see it or not..."

With that Crystal too turned looking up, her hands together as if in prayer, "Be safe my husband, I know you do what is right." Crystal thinks to herself as she steps off down the corridor.


Written by Lucant Dolvan Page 4 Book 2

"Here at last..." The young farrier thought to himself as he approarched the Citadel's gate. His mind raced back over the events that led him to this place.

Three days were all that had passed, though it seemed much longer, since the local magistrate of southern Greyshire had sent his tax man to collect the annual dues.

"Master Dolvan!? Are you present?" the tax collector shouted as he pounded on the workshop's old wooden door. Opening the door, the young man responded "I am Lucant Dolvan. What, may I ask, brings you to my shop this evening, sir." "The payment of your taxes, boy, or rather, the lack there of." the surley tax man said. "Work has been scarce of late, sir, but I am nearly finished with a commission and I will pay my taxes in full the moment I recieve my payment." Lucant said, anxiously trying to buy himself some time. Growing angrier by the moment, the tax man yelled "What do you take me for, boy? A fool? One commission won't be able to pay all your debts, and besides, this isn't the first time you've been late on debt payments! For your current and past failures to pay your taxes on time, this property is hereby seized by order of the magistrate of Greyshire. I shall return tomorrow with surveyors and assessors...I expect you to be gone, boy."

After the tax collector had left, Lucant sat and pondered over how to proceed. After much thought, he decided to travel to the Citadel and offer his services to the armies garrisoned there."After all, a large army is in constant need of new horseshoes." is how he rationalized the decision to himself.

Now after three long days, his future awaited him with open arms.

Written by Turin Wallace

Looking at Tempyst, Ithramir replies,

"That depends, young lady, can you fight? Ever face a bloodthirsty, charging Orc who is demanding your blood? More to the point, have you ever killed? For if you ride with us this day, you must learn to kill or you will be killed, for even those who are healers must learn the arts of war."

Letting his words sink in a moment, he concludes,

"You are welcome to join us, lady druid, if not then you may stay as long as you wish. I must take my place at the head of this army, Renalis may guide you to where you choose to be. Good day, Tempyst."

With a slight bow of the head, Ithramir remounts his steed, and rides back to the gates awaiting the final assembly of troops to finish their preparations. It won't be long and then they will all be thrown into the furnace of war...

Written by Tempyst

Tempyst heard the elf's words, the gravity and purpose in his voice. Though she had never faced war or killed another being, she knew the design of the world, the balance of life and death, the reason for it.

"No Sir, I have not, I have been isolated within the Deepshadows since birth. But I understand your need and perhaps later, I may join, I may not, I go where my path lies, even though I may not see it clearly. I am in search of someone, a champion and I know not where he is, excpet that he is close. Fair thee well in your journies Ithramir, may your sword strike true and may the arms of your men be strong." Tempyst bows before Ithramir and watches as he rides off, not sure if she was glad or not the A'lanthear had passed this man up.

Turning to Renalis, she smiled warmly at the man before her. "Renalis was it, I am again, pleased to meet you. I am afraid I am a bit out of my element at the moment. All these people, all this stone..." Tempyst's eyes looked around and settled back upon the face of Renalis, and she sighed. "I am not sure where I should go or be Sir." All the bravado she had bostered up while speaking to Ithramir washed away from her and she suddenly looked very small, scared and alone.

Written by Renalis

"...you must learn to kill or you will be killed, for even those who are healers must learn the arts of war."

Ithramir's words struck a cord with Renalis, "Crystal..." he thought, "I am sorry you too had to walk this path, how I dragged you from your peaceful home, healing and helping, to a life knowing little else from destruction, true we kill evil wherever it lay, but you should have known a life better..." Renalis sighed inwardly.

Renalis salutes Ithramir as he remounts and rides away. Hearing Tempyst's words, Renalis turns to her.

"Renalis was it, I am again, pleased to meet you. I am afraid I am a bit out of my element at the moment. All these people, all this stone..." Tempyst's eyes looked around and settled back upon the face of Renalis, and she sighed. "I am not sure where I should go or be Sir."

Seeing her feeling somewhat lost and alone Renalis places a comforting hand on her shoulder, "First, let me assure you that you have nothing to fear from these people. I know this may seem like a culture shock, having little exposure to artifical creations of stone and metal like we have here but we mean no harm to those of peaceful nature such as yourself. Second, while I don't mean to sound foolish or arogant, but I do not know what to tell you, I am unsure as to you should go either."

Looking back towards the Citadel and troops Renalis continues, "Think about what Ithramir has told you, decide whether or not you wish to aid this army directly by coming with us or indirectly by remaining here. I know the powers you wield, my Brother Kel'Thalas too is a being of the land but he, like myself uses his abilities to fight the darkness directly. If you feel you wish to walk that road then ride with us. But if you wish to remain safe then remain here, help out where you can, mend the land and aid the wounded, find somewhere to be of help - I am sure you will not have to look far."

Pointing at Lord Wilhelm, Renalis finishes off, "That is Lord Wilhelm, he is the Queen's champion and defender, as he is staying here he would be one of the people you can look to for guidence as I must alas be leaving with this army for my place is in the front." Renalis turns and begins to walk back to where Ithramir is, but stoping after a few paces he turns back and faces Tempyst once more, "Good to have met you M'lady and it is good to know that another person wishes to help, sorry we could not talk further."

Written by Vylia

After the old man walked out of the room and Wilhelm left to go talk to ithramir, Keeryn began to get really bored. Mavigan didn't seem to be coming out of her room, and Keeryn didn't hear anything from inside, so, being the curious person she is, she decided to go take a peak at what was going on. Pushing off the bench she lands lightly on her feet and walks over Mavigan's door, opening it just enough to get her head inside and look around.

Keeryn sees Mavigan staring daggers at the lady in pink, "Ummm... I hope I'm not interrupting, I just wanted to see if you were feeling any better, Mavigan. Thought maybe we could go for a walk after you got dressed, before Wilhelm comes back to bug you about talking to the soldiers."

Written by Wilhelm

Seeing Ithramir ride twards the gate, Wilhelm concluded that the departure time was nearing. He took his leave of Diosr, who left to go to his own troop and turned to a nearby Queen's Guard.

"Sir Johann, please convey my compliments to Her Majesty and inform her that I will arrive presently at the keep's front door with Argent, so that she may ride down to bid farewell to and bless her loyal subjects marching off to war. Please stress to her attendents that time is short. Escort her outside to meet me. If there is a problem come out and tell me."

Sir Johann saluted and ran off to the keep. Wilhelm strode off to the stables, where he had Argent and Sable saddled and decked out with full royal display. He then mounted Sable and rode to the keep's front door, Argent following behind. There he waited for Mavigan to appear, hoping he did not have to go in to fetch her out, as she needed to be there when the army marched out.

Written by Tempyst

"...If you feel you wish to walk that road then ride with us. But if you wish to remain safe then remain here, help out where you can, mend the land and aid the wounded, find somewhere to be of help - I am sure you will not have to look far."

If I wish to remain safe...if I had wanted to remain safe, I would have stayed in the conclave. Tempyst thought to herself. To find a champion, I must be where champions are formed.

She nodded and thanked Renalis for his time, then watched him walk off, his words still in her mind. She turned towards the one he called Lord Wilhelm and made her way over to him. Renalis called him the Queen's champion, could he be the one A'lanthear?" But the sword did not anser, not even the lowest of whispers. Tempyst sighed, wondering why she ever thought this would be easy and quick.

Tempyst began walking to where Lord Wilhelm stood, then watched as he made his way someplace and lost him admist the throngs of people. She looked around, trying to find someone who might be in charge and could give her direction. She noticed the elf in the black armor, and decided he looked to be a man who would know what to do with her.

She walked to the elf, determined to not be pushed aside or intimidated. "Excuse me Sir, perhaps you could help me. I am seeking someone to speak to, to find out where I should go if I am to help out here." As the man turned and looked upon her, a very strong and strange feeling washed over her and for the first time in her life, she fainted.

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Upon seeing the weatherbeaten figure of a young man approaching, the gate guards asserted the full authority of their postion: "Who goes there? Declare yourself sir!" "I am Lucant Dolvan, sir, a humble farrier from Greyshire." Lucant responded, hoping to avoid further trouble.

"A farrier you say? And from Greyshire no less! Do you have any actual proof that you are who say you are? Any travel papers, a journeyman's certificate... or... perhaps a horseshoe?" The guards burst into laughter at the last question as Lucant came to the startling realization that he had no such thing with him, just the clothes on his back, a bit of food and what few tools he could carry. "Well...I... uh... seem to have...misplaced my papers," he said, nervously grasping at straws, "I'm...sure that I can get a...uh...copy of my new business permit...if you will allow me entry, sirs."

"You have no proof of identification, no business permits, not even a friend who will vouch for your identity and you expect us to just let you enter without question? For all we know, you could be a spy for Beridane," the lead guard said. "I assure you, sir, am no spy, merely a craftsman trying to make a living. I mean no harm to the people inside." Lucant pleaded. "Oh, we'll let you in the Citadel, and we'll make sure that you don't harm anyone as well..." Almost on cue, the gate guards converged on Lucant and promptly escorted him to the Citadel's brig.

The old iron cell door slammed shut behind him as Lucant cursed his luck. Lucant sat down on the wooden bench chained to the wall and heard one of the exiting guards speaking to the bailiffs: "I don't care if it's Commander Deltheron, Lord Wilhelm, or one of those priests that have been around lately, just get somebody- anybody- down here to interogate this "farrier". We can't afford to be lax with security while Her Majesty is here, especially after what happened last night." "Yes sir, right away," one of the bailiffs said as he went to fetch a messenger. Lucant leaned back against the cold stone wall of his cell, cursed his luck once more, and wondered to himself what exactly was going on in this Citadel.

Written by Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln rode down the streets of the citadel towards the front gate at a walk; anything faster and his steed would surely step on someone. Finally, as he neared the gate, he spotted Ithramir, and turned to head in that direction. As he was heading that way, he spotted a familiar and unmistakable figure whom he had seen at the banquet the night before. An elf, dressed in full black armor, with a massive sword on his back, and two smaller ones at his side.

Thank Avandor he's on our side, Isuiln mused. When he was near passing the dark-clad elf, he noticed a human woman walking up to him.

"Excuse me Sir, perhaps you could help me. I am seeking someone to speak to, to find out where I should go if I am to help out here," she said to him. But as he turned and looked at her, she went suddenly very pale, and dropped into a dead feint, right into the elf's arms. Isuiln leaped down off his horse, and saw the look of utter shock on the mysterious elf's face as he stared at the comatose woman in his arms.

"By the gods," Isuiln started jokingly. "I do believe you've scared the poor girl to death!"

The other elf just looked up at him in a dark stare.

"Here, let me help you with her. We'd best take her up to Lithwyn. She'll be able to look after her and let her know how she can be of help. Hopefully this human will find her a bit less frightful." They lifted each of her arms across their shoulders, and began walking her back toward the citadel. "By the way, I don't believe we've been introduced. I'm Isuiln Fellblade, Captain of Avandorho Hyanda."

"Ardwen," was the short reply he recieved.

As they were nearing the tower, Isuiln saw Aylan, his second in command, coming from the opposite direction, along with several of his men. He shouted to them, and they hurried over. "Aylan, you and the men take this lady to Lithwyn. I need to get back to my horse and check in with Ithramir." Aylan and the others gently took over the carrying and headed toward the Temple, where Lithwyn would likely be. Isuiln turned back to Ardwen. "I must hurry and report to Ithramir now, but I hope we may speak again before we go to battle. Oh, and until then, try not to sweep any more girls off their feet." With a chuckle, Isuiln hurried back down the street. He found his horse where he had left it, as one of the rangers had seen him help carry the woman, and had grabbed his horse. Isuiln thanked him, and set off once again in search of Ithramir.

Written by Trinni Shannon

Running, the ground a blur at her feet, the furious thump of her heart filling her ears, she races outside of the citadel. "I'm late! Please still be there, I have to... I need to... I haven't ever said... never said nearly enough. Please still be there, Ithramir!" Shoeless, the slapping sounds of her passing echo before her down the hall. Oddly, she passes not a soul as she runs but is so preoccuppied she doesn't notice the lack of people or the red glow of the stone walls or the monstrous red sun high in the sky. She stops suddenly at the sight beyond the walls, her heart stopping, completely crushed. The low growing grasses have been flattened, trampled, and now mock her. "Too late" the small field says to her, joyful in its taunting. She is too late, the troops have already left.

Looking up at the sky, the sun seems to grow larger, brighter. The sky is on fire, the ground, the trees, everything is red.

She blinks, a moment of blackness, and then...

She is running again, but there are people all around. Friends long since dead, yet somehow here fighting. Ehlonna is there! Pausing a moment, she nearly reaches out to touch her. But the pull suddenly grows weaker and she knows she doesn't have time to worry about that, HE needs her now. Turning away from her former teacher, she runs. Reaching the forest line, she dissappears beneath the branches, following the trail her heart beats. The warmth of her heart, her love, fills her. She is very close now, very close.

Turning the corner, she sees him. Slumped against a large tree, his breath in spastic bursts, he slowly lifts his head as she approaches. Falling to her knees, tears running down her cheeks, she reaches her hands out to his chest. Her fingers sliding over the large gaping wound, his warm blood trickles down her arm. Beginning to pray, she looks into his eyes, immediately knowing she has forgiven him. His heart beat is slow and weak, but not too far gone. She has healed worse, saved those closer to the edge. Leaning his head back, his eyes go out of focus. His voice raw with emotion and yearning, he only says "Genna."

Jerking back, her body cold as ice, she stares down at him. Her hands clench to her chest, as she stands completely still, shock taking away even the thought to breathe. Transfixed in horror and sorrow, she can only stare. His heart beating slower and slower, she still does not move. The ties made between them so long ago snap, causing her body to shake. In that instant, there is no love, no hope, no joy, no heart, no soul in the young priestess' body. As a shell she stands over him, the rejection taking away all meaning of life or death.

Slower and slower his heart beats, his eyes are closed now. Blood covers his chest, dripping down into the soft grass, creating a small river of red. Slower and slower it beats.

THUMP thump... thump thump... thump thump... ... thump

She feels his life force rise from his body, leave the wood, she knows it is gone, beyond returning. Finally, she jerks out of the trance at the sudden silence of her heart. Blinking, shaking her head, she looks down again and finally breathes in on a scream.

Blackness. Cold, empty blackness. Sound returns, there is fighting, but this is different somehow. This isn't the sound of the battle from so long ago. Openning her eyes, she walks amongst the fighting. Blue light falls on everything, and she feels as if she is walking through water. Everything is moving slowly, every parry, every shout extended impossibly long. No one sees her, pays her any attention. Not even the monstrous orc standing within a foot of her notices as she glides past him. Dwarves and elves alike are fighting, in no battle she has ever seen before. A break in the fighting draws her attention and she walks towards it.

Stepping over the body of an orc already cooling, she is beyond the battle now. Bodies lie everywhere she turns. The battle shifted from this area, people were fighting here not very long ago. She stops to look around but something pulls her a little further. Stumbling, she looks down at her feet and into the blank stare of an elf. In death, his expression is cold and his eyes are glazed over. It takes her a moment to recognize who it is. Collapsing to her knees, she cries out in anguish and disbelief...

"ITHRAMIR!" Jerking upright in bed, the blanket twisted around her body, sweat pouring down her face and back, Lithwyn looks around frantically. Slowly, the realization of her surroundings brings her back. Her cloak on the floor next to the bed where she left it, her bow and daggers on the chair in the corner, light streaming in the window of her room: it is morning and she slept far too long. Still panting as her heart slows, a soft knock on the door startles her for a moment. Calling out "Enter" she takes a deep breath and swallows hard.

****

"Grrrr... I said cut it OUT!" The elf, purple faced and high on his horse, turns this way and that, searching the ground around him. Soft snickering from behind him and to his right make him turn quickly in his saddle, almost toppling him out of it. Sighing with exhasperation, he leans lightly forward and pats his mare's neck, cursing under his breath. He feels a jab in his ribs. Quickly turning, he swats his arm out only to hit nothing.

"Son-of-an-Orc~! TRIIIIINIIIII if you do that again, I'll... I'll..." another jab on his other side makes him stop. Looking as if he is about to explode with anger he suddenly breaks down into a fit of laughter. A tear sliding down his face, his laughter roars as he slaps his thigh.

A small elf woman, looking mighty pleased with herself, comes out from around the horse and looks up at her friend. "Now, isn't that better? Just because we are about to go kick some orc butt, we don't have to be all serious." Standing with her hands on her hips, her head tilted nearly all the way back, she looks up with a grin. Her white hair pulled back tightly, various leaves and small flowers are intertwined around her head. Wearing basic leather armor, several dagger hilts protrude from around her body. Twin short swords strapped to either side of her waist and an enormous bow against her back make her seem as if she is rather just a little girl playing dress up than the experienced ranger she is.

"Trinni, Trinni, what am I going to do with you?" he says grinning down at her. Trinni merely shrugs with a smirk. Looking around her, she taps her lip as she decides what other form of mischief she can get into while waiting to leave the citadel.

Written by Pharsalus

The wind grew deafening within the confines of Geirik's unconcious mind. The old man stood in a chamber of inpenetrable black next to the very being he'd containned for so long - the being which, until now, was forced to look at him when ordered, talk to him when ordered, and (more recently) lend his power when ordered.

But not now. Geirik had lost control, and ever inch of him knew it. He watched with his mind's eye as the chain that bound the cackling, vaprous form to his thoughts crackled, flickered, and vanished. He stood powerless before it, unable to control it or himself. The liche towered over him, his voice pouring from vile and ancient lips as rain upon the trees.

Poor, poor Geirik! it began mockingly. So much to lose. So much to gain. And now have you none of the power necessary for either!

Geirik fell to his knees. The beast was right. What happened now Geirik could only guess. The Liche was, as far as the old man knew, free to do whatever it wished. He could now only watch and hope the gods would offer him his chance for revenge some other time, as now he lacked the will and strength to contain the being any longer.

Geeeiiiriiikk.. it moaned, like the bellow of a storm. Do not fear...

Geirik looked up - Fear? The expression confused him - why would the Liche care for Geirik's feelings? It was free. Free to move about as it willed in Geirik's mortal shell, free to exact its power on the world any way it chosed. And yet here it stood, almost compassionate for the broken old man.

Remain in silenccccee, and all will go as planned... Geirik knew of no such plan, but he wasn't in a position of negotiation. He went to stand, but the Liche's hand shot outward, and Geirik's mind went dark. He collapsed on the cold floor of his own beatened mind and slept...

****

His eyes opened, but it was not Geirik using them. They burned and seethed with blue light and vapor. A haggered old man stood over him, magic gathered about his head and hands.

You, his voice echoed, addressing the old magician. You seek audience with me, Necromancer? Geirik's body lifted off the ground in a standing position, and the air about him began to chill to deathly temperatures. The breath of the men in the room sooned burst from their mouths in excited puffs.

SPEAK! the Liche exploded suddenly. Why have you awakened me, human?

The Liche stood, arms crossed, suspended in a column of light, a scowl across his borrowed face as he awaited the old man's response.

Written by Trinni Shannon

Sitting in bed, she stares at the door waiting expectantly. "You may enter!" raising her voice, she hopes they heard her this time. After a beat, she gives up and untangles herself from the blanket, climbing off the bed. Scooping up her cloak as she walks she throws it around her shoulders and ties it hurredly. Just before reaching the door she fixes her hair with a flick of her wrist, replacing the stick to hold it all together.

Throwing open the door even as a knock comes again, she smiles amusedly as she catches the man with his arm hanging in the air and a surprised look on his face.

"Yes, yes. Goodmorning. What can I do for you?" still smiling, she looks behind him and sees another man carrying a woman's slack body in his arms. At this, without giving the knocker the opportunity to state his request, she pulls them inside while firing questions at the two men.

"What happened? Who is this woman? Bring her in, please... don't just stand there. Lie her down here, yes, that's it. Thank you. Step back, she's still breathing but looming over her isn't going to help." Pulling the second man out of the way, Lithwyn moves to the woman's side. Reaching to remove the sword from its sheath on the woman's back, one of the men stop her.

"Uh, I wouldn't do that if I were you my lady."

Turning, she looks at him skeptically. "Whatever do you mean? It is just a sword. She can't very well lay on it, can she?"

"Well, the sword sort of... attacked someone outside. A man reached for it and when his fingers touched it he collapsed."

"What?! Are you off your rocker? Inanimate objects cannot attack people on their own. Bah. There may be some sort of spell imbued into it. I'll just have to leave it there for now." Turning back to her charge, Lithwyn looks over the woman with renewed interest.

Her eyes scanning over her face and body, looking for injury, she holds up a hand as she senses the two men retreating. "I don't think so, please wait for a moment. I have no idea who you are or who she is, and until I do I would like everyone to remain here."

"My lady, I am Aylan. I am second in command to Captain Isuiln Fellblade. We only arrived last night and have not had the chance to meet."

Sizing up the man who spoke, she nods curtly before turning back to face the woman. "Just the same, I'd feel much better if you remained here for a moment."

Stretched out on the bed, the human woman lies peacefully. Her hair is fanned out, framing her face in its rich brown softness. Reaching a hand out, Lithwyn moves the hair away from the woman's forehead and gently rests her fingertips against it.

Noticing the pleasing scent carried by the woman, Lithwyn closes her eyes with a smile and calls out to Kaia'hanas for healing. The sudden contact with the Goddess unnerves her for a moment and she almost pulls her hand away from the unconsious woman. Hearing Kaia'hanas speaking in her mind, Lithwyn purses her lips and focuses her energy on healing, trying not to close herself off, fighting old habits.

"She is a good woman with an important purpose, this one. You must see that she does not come to harm. She carries A'lanthear and will no doubt need help, though she is largely on her own in this. You will do what you can, help how you can. Helping her in her charge is to help you in yours."

Grimacing slightly at the stream of dialogue in her mind, she murmurs a prayer as light begins to glow beneath her fingertips. Feeling the woman returning to the realm of conciousness, she withdraws her hand. Openning her eyes to look down at the woman, her gaze is met by twin portals to the sky as the woman's eyes are now open.

Written by Tempyst

...he is here...

The whispers fled from her mind as opened her eyes and saw the beautiful elven woman standing above her, her greens eyes gazing into her soul.

"What happened? Where...where am I?" Tempyst sat up slowly, taking in her surroundings.

The elf smiled, making Tempyst feel warm and welcomed. "I am Lithwyn and you are safe. Apparently you had some sort of a spell." The woman turned to the two men that were standing behind her. "Go and tell your captain that the young woman is awake and no worse for wear." One of the men nodded and the two abruptly turned and left. Lithwyn looked back upon the druid in her bed. "Now, who might you be and what happened that you were brought to me unconscious?"

Tempyst took a few deep breaths, still looking about the room. It had a rish, familiar warmth to it, the colors reminded her of the forest in the fall. She started to speak, but then quickly turned her attention to the sword upon her back. As she unstrapped it, she craddled it in her arms and let out a sigh of relief. "No one tried to remove it from me did they?"

"No, I was warned that it had already caused someone a problem. It seems you have quit a tale to tell. You and your charge are both fine and as I said, safe here. Please, what is your name?"

"I am the druid Whisperling, from the Deepshadows, but you, please call me Tempyst. Whisperling is what I use for formal affairs and great rites." Tempyst relaxed a little, swinging her feet over the side of the bed and setting her self on the edge. "I..." She looked around again, suddenly feeling very lost and alone, the comforting walla around her reminding her so much of the earth she loved. All of the morning's stress and excitement suddenly washed over her. Without realizing it, she lept up and wrapped her arms around Lithwyn and began to cry. Lithwyn, held the girl, letting her get it all out of her system, knowing a good cry often calms the nerves and makes one more reasonable to deal with.

After several minutes of body wracking sobs, Tempyst realized what she had done and stepped back, sniffling some, suddenly embarassed by her actions. "My...my deepest apologies M'lady, I don't know what came over me." Tempyst sat back down on the bed and placed her hand upon the sword that had fallen to the side. "It has indeed been a trying day, I never thought that leaving the conclave, would, would be so hard. I thought I knew my path, A'lanthear wanted me to go, the elders wanted me to go, I was the only one who would have been happy to stay." Tempyst reached out to take the hanky Lithwyn handed to her. After blowing her nose and dabbing her eyes, she smiled her first true smile since reaching this place. "Thank you for your kindness, I do not mean to be a bother, I am but a traveler, searching for someone I do not even know." He smile then turned to a thoughtful look as she continued. "I was trying to find somone to help me; people kept telling me to talk to someone else. Then I saw this elf, tall and bold, dressed all in black armor. He had a presence of being in charge so I went to him to inquire and when he turned to me and looked upon me...it was as if the world fell out from below me and I was engulfed by darkness." Tempyst looked into the woman's eyes. "Then I awoke and found myself here. I truly am sorry for any trouble."

Tempyst stood, and picked up the sword. "I should be on my way."

Written by Turin Wallace

Ithramir stood at the head of this mass of troops. He could see each of his own divisions fully prepared and ready to march out, he could see the sturdy dwarves led by Diosr formed up and ready, lastly he could see the human soldiers standing rank and file, ready to move. Those who weren't ready were hurrying to and fro, finding their regiments, and taking their place.

Spying Ardwen looking about, a bit out of place, Ithramir calls to a guard to have his horse brought up immediately. When the horse arrives, he calls out,

"Ardwen, saddle up and ride with me in the command company. We will be the first into battle when we arrive, someone of your skill should not have to wait in the back. Plus, as often is the case, our people will be bearing the weight of the counter-attack. Our allies will follow and consolidate in our wake. What say you, Ardwen? Ready to ride into our enemies?"

Just then, as Ardwen made his reply, the sun rose over the horizon. Big, blazing orange-yellow, and bathing the entire Avenue of Assembly into it's light. The glinting mail and armor caused him to close his eyes just a little, his thoughts reaching back and wondering how many times has the ancient place seen such a display in it's storied past. For millenia, only elves trod here, but there had been a time in ages past that alliance troops assembled here to do battle against the Orcs. Today, Lothiel-Gadith was blessed, and the sight of such a host raised even Ithramir's spirits.

Raising one hand, he motions for a guard holding a horn to sound the call to ride. As the the guard blows the horn, others stationed around the citadel pick up the call, until the place reverberates with the sound. Looking toward the fortress, his eyes scan it, looking for her. From this distance, he would not be able to see her, but she could see him. For Ithramir, it's all that mattered, for he would never turn his back and ride out without one last goodbye.

After a moment, turning his horse to face the gate, Ithramir waits until the horn's sound to battle slowly fades. At last, the massive doors that guard the causeway over the chasm strain and creek open. Motioning the troops behind him forward, he says to the commanders who are riding with him,

"We ride for three days to relieve the garrison at Minas Aure. May Avandor give us the strength to fight well, friends. We now ride into an unknown future. Let us meet it head on."

Gently nudging the great black steed under him, Ithramir and the other commanders move out of the gates, the army following behind. It would be three hard days of riding before them, a battle at the end, and an outcome that was uncertain. Those who survived the war would remember this day, the day the world changed forever.

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Lucant awoke suddenly, startled by the clarion sound of a warhorn and the creaking of ancient gates.

"I must have dozed off..." he said to himself as he noticed the first rays of sunlight creeping across the cell's floor. Intrigued by the sounds he quickly stood up on the edge of the wooden bench and leaned forward towards the barred window on the opposing wall to see what had disturbed his sleep. He was amazed by the ocean of soldiers that greated his gaze. He could barely make out a gleaming figure atop a large black steed as he gestured for the massive army to move out.

Lucant sat back down on his bench and said aloud to himself "What a lucky man, to have the trust and support of so many..." He leaned back against the wall once more and tried to get back to sleep, despite an un-nerving feeling that was only getting stronger.


Written by Renalis - Page 5 Book 2

Renalis walked up to where Ithramir sat upon his horse. The others in the command company looked as the human walked up near the front. Renalis thought, "Leading from the front, this is where every leader belongs and I respect Ithramir for it. This is where I belong, I should help in the most direct way possible... this isn't going to be easy but I will give it my all, for these lands, for these people..." Renalis's thoughts trailed off as Ithramir calls for the horns to sound. Renalis turns and faces the Citadel, taking one last look, feeling her presence, "I will return my love..." His view returns to face the gates as they begin to open.

Those all around Renalis begin to snicker and talk amungst themselves as the march begins. At first just a trot, and Renalis walks, then as the Horses pick up speed Renalis too picks up speed. One of the commanders leans down as the horses begin to reach speeds that a human could not hope to match, "Are you sure you can keep up?" He says and then begins to laugh. As the distance from the gate approaches what Renalis deems acceptable, his azure mana gem flares up once more. The elven commander quickly withdraws back to his seat, slighty startled. His eyes becoming like saphires Renalis leaps into they air. Flying at the speed of the horses, Renalis turns back to the commander, and with a very serious tone in his voice says, "I think I'll manage."

****

Hearing the horn even from within the walls Crystal puts a hand to her chest, whispering "be safe my love...".

Written by Ariana

Mavigan glared daggers at the woman in pink, silently willing her to answer her question. No response was forthcoming. In fact, the woman appeared to be slightly shell shocked – no doubt taken aback by Mavigan’s mastery of the foulest of language. “Well,” Mavigan mentally shrugged, “I shouldn’t have any problems from her, at least,” and then glared at her a bit more to emphasize the point that she was not to be manhandled without permission.

As she was busy communicating her disdain with her eyes, Keeryn, the strange creature with a tail, walked up to Mavigan.

“Umm… I hope I’m not interrupting, I just wanted to see if you were feeling any better, Mavigan. Thought maybe we could for a walk after you got dressed, before Wilhelm comes back to bug you about talking to the soldiers.”

Mavigan turned her attention to Keeryn, a moment of confusion in her features. “Talking to the solders?” she asked quietly. After a momentary pause, the reference came to her, “Oh! I suppose he wants me to say something inspiring to people about to die. What could possibly be inspiring about war, I have no idea.”

Fumbling around on the bed as she spoke, she located a pile of clothes. Bringing them to her lap for inspection, she frowned. “Of course Wilhelm would expect me to dress like a lady to make this farcical appearance.” She paused for a moment and shot Keeryn a conspiratorial grin. Showing her new compatriot the fabric, she said in a slightly louder voice, “At least it isn’t pink!”

When Keeryn flashed a grin in return, Mavigan was certain she had an ally. Her grin changed from mischievous to a full blown smile, and she hurriedly changed her clothes. The maids thronged upon her, helping her into the blue and white creation Mavigan had not seen before. She had no doubt this was one of those things Wilhelm commissioned for her without asking if she liked that particular shade of blue. He was just lucky that he chose a shade she would not vehemently object to.

Her ablutions took a little longer than usual since it took her a moment to realize that she was not in her room and things were not where she expected them to be. The maids kept trying to help, but Mavigan waved them off. She could plainly see the sky was beginning to lighten and she remembered how her Father had never liked to leave late when riding off to kill people. Personally, she did not understand how it could matter much if you killed someone early instead of later, but chalked it up to an odd quirk of men. Deciding she did not have time for her usual braids, she grabbed a leather tie off the nearest table that surely belonged to someone else and quickly pulled all her hair back into a tail.

“Come on Keeryn,” she said, waving urgently, “I SO don’t want to listen to a lecture today about how bad I am for being late!”

With that, Mavigan rushed out of the room, Keeryn close on her heels. Once in the hallway, however, she found herself with a dilemma. She had no idea where she was or where she was supposed to go. Standing in the hallway, shifting from one foot to another, she fretted slightly trying to pick one direction or the other.

The guards by the door obviously sensed her problem, and one of them made a discreet motion down the proper hallway. Mavigan flashed him a quick nod of thank you, and tore down the hallway, running as fast as she could, brushing by the Elven lady she vaguely remembered from last night. As she continued to run, she flashed another grin at Keeryn who was effortlessly keeping pace with her. Apparently, Mavigan had picked up a security detail, for she could hear the stomp of boots behind her, trying desperately to keep up. This served to make Mavigan run faster, and soon, she and Keeryn had outpaced everyone else.

If Mavigan were to tell the truth, she would admit that she wasn’t quite sure where she was going, but she knew damned sure she wouldn’t ask. As luck would have it, it wasn’t long before they came to rather huge door. Mavigan supposed this door was as good as any other and pulled it open with Keeryn’s help.

Once the door was open, Mavigan charged through and ran smack into the side of Argent.

“Ooof,” she said as she less than gracefully toppled to the ground. As she scrambled to her feet, an amazing feat considering the lengths of fabric she was encased in, Argent turned his head to look at her. Taking offense, she immediately went on the defensive. “I’m sorry! I didn’t know you would be standing right in front of the door!”

Argent appeared to be somewhat mollified since he gave her a huff and then turned his head back to the front. Assuming she now had permission to mount, she grabbed the reins and stuck a foot into the stirrup – only to discover a new problem. The dress she had been stuffed in did not have a divided skirt. How the hell was she supposed to get on the horse? She knew her Mother had been excellent at riding side saddle, but Mavigan had never quite gotten the hang of it. It seemed much to difficult to stay on a horse when both legs were on the same side of it.

Huffing her frustration, and trying to ignore the fact that Wilhelm was openly laughing at her and her growing certainty that Ithramir would never let her live this down, she glanced over at Keeryn and said, “Any ideas?” Unfortunately, Keeryn looked as perplexed as she herself felt, and Mavigan knew she would get no assistance from that quarter.

Turning her attention back to the horse, and absently noting that Argent was again looking at her with a clear question in his eyes about what exactly she was doing, Mavigan began to formulate a plan of attack. After a quiet moment of figuring out the logistics, she put her other foot into the stirrup and pushed herself up. Once seated, it took another few moments for her to settle enough in the saddle to be sure she wouldn’t fall off. Hopefully, there would be no need for Argent to actually move. Her confidence restored, she shot a triumphant look at Wilhelm.

Of course, by this point, her appearance was a bit disheveled. There was a splotch of dirt on the back of her dress from where she had hit the ground and many tell tale strands of hair had escaped their entrapment and were now flapping freely in the breeze. She hardly appeared royal, and the glare Ithramir sent her direction made sure that she knew it.

Just to hammer the point home, he did not ask her to say anything. Instead, he raised his arm calling for the sound of the horn. Mavigan could feel the deep, soulful note ring out clearly. For some reason she did not understand, the sound causes goosebumps to rise along her arms and neck.

Following the dying of the note, Ithramir urged his steed forward signaling the rest of the army to move. He did not cast so much as a glance in her direction. Left without any more options, and not wanting to seem bested, Mavigan did the only thing she could do as she watched people she knew begin to stream through the gate and out of the citadel. She waved them farewell.

Written by Ardwen

Ithramir was riding off, but Ardwen was chewing on the words the Elven woman had shouted to him while he was walking out to the muster. For all his thinking though he was still confused by them. She had made a request by her right as blood, but for the first time in his long years of service Ardwen was faced with an order he could not comply with.

She had asked him to remember why he was fighting, to remember his honor under the order of Avari. “The woman simply did not know,” Ardwen thought, “I fight the way I do because of Avari. The oath I took when I joined bade me obey those of the blood, kill the lesser races, and forsake all lands, titles, and inheritances.” She had said that his death would bring lose and suffering to those he left behind, but who did he leave behind? Behind was the way to the ruined city of Ancora, behind was the way to his friends’ graves, and behind was the way to what he considered his true death as he was caught choking and bleeding inside of the abbey as it burned down around him.

No, there was nothing for him in the past. That way was as dead as his friends, never to return. Ardwen shoved the thoughts aside as the woman called Tempyst walked toward him. Ardwen began clutching and relaxing his sword-arm again as he remembered the girl’s curt attitude with Ithramir. She reeked of god-taint to Ardwen, and she was a lesser – worse still she was hardly cowed if the way she spoke to Ithramir was any indication!

Ardwen could not reach out with his thoughts though like the warlocks and Aracoix of his world though, so the woman kept approaching, oblivious. She walked closer, and closer, and finally stood before him. She opened her mouth, words came out, "Excuse me Sir, perhaps you could help me. I am seeking someone to speak to, to find out where I should go if I am to help out here." Ardwen looked at her, starting straight into her eyes. A sneer was forming on his lips but before he could speak the girl fainted. Fainted!

Ardwen’s quip turned into slack-jawed shock as she fell over onto him. Her slight weight was no problem to bear but still, the indignity! This girl was a human! A man hopped off a nearby horse and strode over to them, "By the gods," he jested "I do believe you've scared the poor girl to death!" The man speaking to him was Elven at least. He saw the man loop one of the human’s arms around his shoulder.

“Here.” the man began, “let me help you with her. We'd best take her up to Lithwyn. She'll be able to look after her and let her know how she can be of help. Hopefully this human will find her a bit less frightful." Ardwen looped the human’s other arm across a black-clad shoulder, it felt undignified and unworthy, but if this Elf could bear the burden so would he. "By the way,” the Elf began, “I don't believe we've been introduced. I'm Isuiln Fellblade, Captain of Avandorho Hyanda."

Ardwen paused shortly and looked once more at this Isuiln. Who was he really – he who cared so much for lessers? Still it would be rude . . . “Ardwen.” Was the reply he gave in kind.

As they were nearing the tower, Ardwen saw another Elf, with several in his entourage, approaching. Isuiln called out to them, and they rushed to his command. "Aylan, you and the men take this lady to Lithwyn. I need to get back to my horse and check in with Ithramir." The one called Aylan and those with him took Tempyst from his shoulder and then hurried off. Ardwen noticed Isuiln looking at him, "I must hurry and report to Ithramir now, but I hope we may speak again before we go to battle. Oh, and until then, try not to sweep any more girls off their feet." Isuiln chuckled and then walked off down the street, leaving Ardwen alone. He sighed wearily and walked quickly back to the rally, he stood there feeling somewhat out of place, “Do they know what to do with me?” He thought.

Finally another Elf approached him holding a mount by the reins, “Here.” He said briskly, “It will be a three day ride to the battle, time is of the essence, we have to put as many of us on horseback as possible.” Ardwen thanked the man and swung into the saddle, the Elf handed him the reins when he was done. Ardwen sucked in a gasp of air as the other soldier who brought him the steed walked back to his own mount. It had, after all, been one hundred years since Ardwen had last ridden. The Turning had seen the end of all cavalry save the Centaur cohorts.

He saw Mavigan, she had Elven blood in her, though how much remained uncertain to Ardwen. Mavigan appeared disheveled as if her journey to see the soldiers off was more eventful than he could have imagined. A clarion horn rang out, as if a challenge to fate itself. Ardwen saw Ithramir looking at Mavigan, his mouth was in a tight line, for her part Mavigan raised a hand to wave as the column of soldiers began to stream out through the Citadel gates. Ardwen shook his head and put his heels to his mount which began to follow the accelerating trickle of warriors.

Written by Rikshanthas

The forests flew by as they ran blindly through the night, branches whipping their thinly-clad bodies as they fled. Yet terror bore them onward, never slowing, despite injury and fatigue threatening to overwhelm them. He could hear their pursuers growing nearer, far closer already than he would have expected, or feared. He grasped her wrist tighter, pulling her on when she faltered.

"We're almost there, we can make it," he said with more confidence than he felt, trying to urge her on. "Ancora will protect us, we will be safe there!"

She managed to pull herself up, and wrapped her arm around him for support. "I'll be alright," she said weakly, and he heard in her voice his own flagging spirit. If they could only reach the castle, the king would surely protect them ... they pressed onward until he could finally see the city just ahead, the safety it promised giving him renewed hope. He threw his arm about her waist, ready to drag her the rest of the way if he had to, but she managed to keep pace as they stumbled toward the fortified gates.

They had nearly reached the castle itself when he stopped abruptly, dragging her to a halt and silencing her protest with a warning gesture. He looked through narrowed eyes at the gate and its guards, then his gaze wandered in a full circle, taking in the city as a whole. Something wasn't right, he could feel it. There seemed to be more guards than he remembered, and they were all armed as if for battle. The banners waving lazily in the predawn breeze bore a different emblem. Had the King died while he was away? That would explain the new coat of arms, but why so many soldiers? Suddenly reluctant to approach the palace, he ushered his companion toward a small, seemingly abandoned hovel instead.

A shout made him turn just in time to avoid an arrow intended for his skull. Throwing his arm about her, he pulled her into the building and barred the door, knowing as he did so that it would not hold for long. With a few broken shelves and other debris, he was able to reinforce the door, buying him time to think, to plan. He could hear them outside, shouting at her, of all the people in the world why did they want her? And then he knew.

She was elven. Pureborn, if a runaway. And the men were human. Bandits apparently operating with the full consent of whoever now ruled, for their shouts would surely have drawn the attention of the guards. Knowing what would happen to her were she captured, he vowed silently that he would kill her himself before he allowed her to be taken, praying to whatever deity might be listening that it would never come to that.

The smell of smoke startled him. So they mean to burn us out, he thought. Glancing quickly around him, he saw there was nowhere to go. As the walls about them burst into flame he realized in his attempt to escape he had doomed them both. He turned to her, his despair mirrored in her deep green eyes. He heard the crack, saw the beam fall toward her, yet he could not move as she was struck down, her unconscious body engulfed by the flames.

"SHARRAAH!"

He was all but oblivious to the heat as the flames swept toward him. He only saw her still form through the haze of smoke, and as the fire hid her from his sight he longed for death to take him ...

A'maelamin ...

"Lienad?"

He started at the sound of her voice. He was in the saddle atop his trusty coal-black mare, the sun just clearing the treetops to the east. Yet it had been pre-dawn ... he chuckled softly to himself, shaking off the last vestiges of slumber. He had fallen asleep in the saddle; it had only been a dream.

He turned in the saddle slightly and raised an eyebrow. "Hm?"

"You were mumbling something ..." She seemed concerned.

"Oh, it was nothing, just a bad dream. I guess I was a little more worn out than I thought," he said with a reassuring laugh that failed to reach his own heart. Why did he feel so uneasy? It was only a dream ...

He abruptly wheeled the mare about, nearly knocking Sharanya from the saddle. "What are you doing?" she asked with some heat, mostly from the sudden change in direction.

"Change of plans. We're going to Lothiel-Gadith."

"But -"

"I have made up my mind. And I have a feeling the Citadel will be much friendlier than Westgale would be." His tone left no room for argument.

Written by Vylia

After the initial confusion and amusement of Mavigan trying to mount the horse Keeryn noticed the large crowd of people just past Argent. It was all she could do not to stare open-mouthed at all of them. She had never seen so many people in one place in her entire life. When she noticed Mavigan waving them off she did the same, but the thought of a battle with so many was even more shocking than just the sight.

"I wonder how big the army is that they'll be fighting that it's necessary to have so many. And if they all go, who is left to protect those that stay behind? Wouldn't that mean we were left open to someone attacking us?" pausing a moment to think, "even if nobody attacks us, I wonder how many will be coming back."

Written by Trinni Shannon

The girl called Tempyst lept up and wrapped her arms around Lithwyn and began to cry. Completely surprised, Lithwyn nevertheless held her tightly and stroked her hair. Murmuring words meant to comfort, she also reached out with the help of her Goddess to soothe her heart. Standing like that for several moments, an odd feeling passed over her. Though many have been in her care before, she never felt such a need to protect and comfort.

Tempyst stepped back suddenly, appearing quite embarassed. "My...my deepest apologies M'lady, I don't know what came over me." Tempyst sat back down on the bed. Shaking her head at the unneeded apology, Lithwyn quietly sits down next to her and lets her get it all out. "It has indeed been a trying day, I never thought that leaving the conclave, would, would be so hard. I thought I knew my path, A'lanthear wanted me to go, the elders wanted me to go, I was the only one who would have been happy to stay." Reaching within the folds of her cloak, Lithwyn pulls out a handkerchief and hands it to the young girl and gently says, "Whisperling, Tempyst, sometimes we all must do things we would rather not do. We don't always know why we are chosen a path, sometimes we never find out, even in the end. Though it may seem hard right now, the Gods have a plan. They help you though you may not see it."

"Thank you for your kindness, I do not mean to be a bother, I am but a traveler, searching for someone I do not even know. I was trying to find somone to help me; people kept telling me to talk to someone else. Then I saw this elf, tall and bold, dressed all in black armor. He had a presence of being in charge so I went to him to inquire and when he turned to me and looked upon me...it was as if the world fell out from below me and I was engulfed by darkness. Then I awoke and found myself here. I truly am sorry for any trouble. I should be on my way."

Rising as Tempyst does, Lithwyn looks deep in thought for a moment, trying to figure something out. "Oh, you must have meant Ardwen. Curious fellow, no doubt he looked quite frightful to you in the berserker suit." Grimacing at the thought of the horrid suit, she looks around her room and notices that the two men had slipped out. Sighing at her own innatentiveness, she turns back to Tempyst and shakes her head.

"You have been no trouble at all, my dear. I'm just glad you are alright and that you had merely fainted. Now, who is this man you are searching for? I will do what I can to help you, as it has been requested of me, as it were. There are many people here, in the citadel, though a large portion are marching off... this... By the Gods! I completely forgot it is this-" her voice is cut off by the loud sound of a horn. Paling, visions from her dream flashing through her mind, she says, more to herself than to Tempyst, "I have to warn him." Apologizing to Tempyst, she then runs from the room.

Nearly colliding with Fiernum, she jumps to the side and begins running anew. The sound of footsteps echo behind her, as she is now being followed. Rounding a corner, she has to stop abruptly to avoid tackling a guard. Recognizing him to be one of those usually stationed in the prisoner holding area, she pushes past the flare of worry and moves around him. Any news of a prisoner escape can wait for just a few more moments...

"My Lady Lithwyn..." the guard calls after her. Motioning he follow, she continues to run. Turning left, she bursts through a doorway to find herself on a balcony. Squinting in the morning light, the front of the march is already a blur. Moaning in despair, she turns on her heel and quickly leaves the balcony, headed down the stairs. As the various people following her try to get her attention, she moves past and shakes her head.

"Not right this minute, I have to get down there." Flying down the stairs, she curses the size of the citadel and the fate that places her quarters so far from the entrance. Running through the courtyard, knowing too much time has passed, she crosses the large threshold and finds herself in the field. Though, gratefully, different from her dream as most of the army still marches past, she realizes Ithramir would be in the front, far ahead. Panting, looking back to the citadel, she knows she cannot leave. By duty she is bound to remain. Wringing her hands, helpless, she watches the sea of faces pass.

It was just a dream, wasn't it? What if it wasn't? I still need to tell him, but I can't go. I need someone to go for me. Who can I tell? Someone who will take it seriously, someone trusted...

Searching those who pass, she bites her lip to keep from crying in frustration and fear.

****

Just as the small ranger was about to sneak up on someone, the large horn rang out and she had to cover her ears. A huge smile spreading across her face, she shouts, "Woohoo!" Forgetting her prey for the moment, she runs over to F'non and jumps onto him, throwing her leg over his back. Hugging her horse with glee, he moves around beneath her, also full of excitement. Leaning back slightly and pulling on the reins a bit, F'non's front legs kick the air. Horse and rider take off, both sorely needing the time out of doors.

Riding near the front, Trinni smirks at the human jogging nearby. Thelis, her commander, leans forward and says to the human, "Are you sure you can keep up?" Grinning, she is looking up at the sky when she hears the human's response. "I think I'll manage." Thinking the poor man daft, she gives a mental shrug. Glancing back, she would have stopped in her tracks if it weren't for the fact that F'non was doing all the running. The man was flying!

"Holy moly!" Her exclamation causes the human to look at her, and she blushes as she realizes she had said it out loud. "I... uh... uhm... good show then! Seems like that'd make travel easier. Just the same, though, I think I'll stick with F'non." Patting her beloved horse, she shakes her head. Chagrined, she thinks that no one is as simple as they seem.

Written by Tempyst

Tempyst took the handkerchief gratefully and listened to the elf's soothing words, that was abrubtly cut off by the loud sound of horns. Watching as the one called Lithwyn paled, hearing her panicked words, then seeing her run from the room, Tempyst gathered thw sword A'lanthear and followed briefly.

Tempyst murmured under her breath as she followed, "Yes, dear lady, I know there are many men here, but it is my charge to find him..." Tempyst closed her eyes and stopped for a moment, the sounds of the sword's whispers louder than ever before in her mind. He is HERE...

Stopping, she watched Lithwyn run off to wherever she had to go. When the elven woman was out of sight, Tempyst looked around, trying to get her bearings in this large, cold building. Where is he A'lanthear? Where in this tower of sleeping stone is he? The sword was silent once again, seemingly satisfied at the nudging it had given its bearer.

Tempyst took a deep breath and turned around and began running down the hallway in the opposite direction Lithwyn had gone, A'lanthear clutched in her arms like a long lost child. She traveled for what seemed like hours (but was only moments), wandering about, going up and down stairs, in and out of corridors. As she approached a seemingly more elaborate corridor, Tempyst heard sounds of many footsteps behind her. She hesitated for a moment, not liking the look of the corridor ahead of her, but not wanting to be confronted by more men in steel, she rushed ahead anyways. But it was not quick enough.

"HALT - You there, what are you doing in the Queen's corridor!" Hard, angry voices welled up behind her, as did the sound of clanking metal and drawn weapons. Tempyst glanced behind her, eyes widening as she was the approaching patrol. She clutched the sword tighter to her body and began to run, the men behind her making much noise as they ran after her.

I must get out of here, I can't let them get me, I have to find the one, I have to join that army... Tempyst turned a corner and saw an open door off to the side. Without giving it much though, Tempyst ducked into the room, hoping it would give her sanctuary. But as she ran through the door, she suddenly found herself on the floor, along with a young woman dressed in pink who was obviously on her way out. A'lanthear flew out of Tempyst's arms and slide under the large, ornate bed. The woman on the floor with Tempyst looked dumbfounded at what had just happened, but before any words could be mustered, the guard patrol burst through the door and grabbed Tempyst by her arms.

"See here missy, what you trying to do? Trying to hide in the Queen's chambers so you can slit her throat during hte night. I don't think so." One of the gaurds sneared.

"No, no, I am not here to..."

"Shut your mouth wench! You can tell your sorry story to the constable!"

Tempystlooked around, eyes pleading, but there was no one there to help her. She felt their grip tighten as they drug her out of the room, then her thoughts suddenly realized A'lanthear was not with her. "NO!" She yelled, "I can't leave it behind, you don't understand...let me GO" With a sudden burst of strength, Tempyst wrenched herself out of the guards grasp and dove under the bed to grab her charge. As her fingers tightened around the sheat she fell herself being pulled back out.

"YOU are NOT going anywhere but to the DUNGEON!" The guard yelled. "Give me that weapon NOW!" This time, Tempyst did not give this man a warning about the swords peculuarities as the man grabbed the sword from her. She smiled slightly when the guard let out a scream and put his hands to his ears, dropping A'lanthear. Tempyst reached out to grab the sword but was yanked back by the other guards.

"What witchery is this!" Another one shouted. "You won't need that where you are going!" The woman in pink attended to the still screaming guard, while the other three escorted Tempyst out the door. Tempyst struggled, she was not going togo without a fight.

They cannot do this to me, I cannot be without A'lanthear. "I'm it's guardian, you can't do this!" Tempyst thrashed her head about, and her mouth found one of the men's hand upon her shoulder, without hesitation she clamped down, her teeth penetrating his skin. The guard let out a yel and let go of her. The other guard, shocked at the yell, loosened his grip, enabling Tempyst to get loose. Tempyst lurched forward, searching for something to help her. I wish I had my staff... She thought, realizing she had forgotten it in Lithwyn's room. But then her eyes and her senses noticed the plants along the balcony of the nearby stairs. Tempyst immediately ran past the greenery and focused her energy, feleing the plants life force mingling with her own. She heard the guards behind her, catching up to her once again and she let forth a burst of energy to the small viney plants. She turned to watch the vines leap out and entangle the guards legs, tripping them up. She could not help but let out a little laugh. But her joy was cut short as she heard the woosh behind her and then the sharp pain in the back of her head. For the second time that day, everything went dark.

The guard look down at the woman he had just knocked out, then over at the guards who were now getting themselves loosed from the attacking ivy. "Git yerselves up and take her down to a cell, she will be dealt with later." The embarrassed guards got themselves up, grabbed Tempyst and took her to a place they knew she could not cause anyone any harm.

"What about her blasted sword?" One ofthe guards said while picking the unconscious Tempyst up off the floor. "It keeps attacking anyone who touches it!" The guard who had taken Tempyst down muttered something, then sighed. "You'll have to leave it where it lies and keep watch, make sure no one touches it and we can get someone up here more qualified to deal with the mess." The guard with Tempyst over his shoulder nodded and headed down the stairs.

Written by Wilhelm

"I'm glad you could make it in time, my Queen. However, you will want to practice a somewhat better approach to mounting your royal steed. Argent is not used to her rider running into her. But rest assured that Argent will not let her rider fall off." Wilhelm smiled at the disheveled Mavigan and turned to also wave farewell to the troops ridding past at a slow walk. It had been rather funny to watch the mounting.

Just then the door opened behind them and a distraught looking Lithwyn dashed out and then sottd, panting, looking franticly towards the distant front and then back at the keep, wringing her hands. Wilhelm could guess that she had some vital message for Ithramir but wasn't sure if she could leave her charge.

"If you are looking for Ithramir he is at the front of the march, but the army will be awhile reaching and passing the outermost of the three gates at this slow walk. Likely it would take too long for you to pass on your message. Your charge extends to the land beyond that gate as well, where Ithramir is likely watching the army emerge. Sable can get you there before the army finishes passing the outermost gate. I will hold the fort for you until you return."

Wilhelm dismounted quickly and lifted Lithwyn effortlessly into the saddle. Sable stood motionless, but signaled his readiness to ride like the wind by lowering his ears and staring ahead.

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Lucant heard the dungeon's door open again and casually opened one eye, expecting a burly constable to present himself shortly and demand a confession. Instead of what he expected, he was greated by the smell of fresh rain and the sight of a guard with a young girl laid over his shoulder.

Lucant slowly rose to his feet and went to the cell door. He watched curiously as the guard carried the girl farther down the long hallway of cells. He stood there in a daze, watching the girl be carried down the hall, as his anxiety faded and was replaced by a feeling of serenity.

The slamming cell door awoke him from his stupor and he went back to his bench. He sat down calmly, tried to clear his mind of the haunting image he had just seen, and resumed his wait for the constable.

Written by Archeantus

The magical link struck true.

The man’s eyes shot open, flaring blue, the air about the dank chamber cell grew intensely chill. Kishkumen channeled his energies, preparing himself for the communion.

You. The deathly whisper sounded in the mage’s focused mind. You seek audience with me, Necromancer?

Kishkumen remained silent, the answer was already obvious.

Then suddenly, dreadfully slow, the man lifted from his cold bed and hovered upright, his eyes continuing to flare, his breaths came in short bursts of vapor and mist. Kishkumen could feel the chill of death spread like wildfire from the man in the cell. It was a feeling he lived for. He closed his eyes in elation, allowing himself to flow with the dark energy. Gadianton standing slightly behind him watched in concentrated interest. Vermigard stood casually, puffing his pipe, eyeing the magical happenings as if he were viewing someone reading.

The Lich’s raspy voice then boomed in sweeping power within the mage.

SPEAK! Why have you awakened me, human?

The elven necromancer smiled inwardly. His illusion had played its part, and he was already at an advantage. In the form of a very old human, dark gnarled skin, wispy wild hair, he responded in a feign of awe and fear,

“I wish to release you, ancient one.”

****

Jasmine awoke alone, chained to the wall, to a loud bang in the opposite cell across the way. When the guards had parted, a small figure of a woman sat huddled on the floor.

Written by Tempyst

Outside, a strong, cold, bitter wind picked up, flowing around the citadel and the army. Strong gusts made the standards whip about and caused those seeing the army off to rush back into their homes, where it was safe and warm. The wind was strong enough to make it difficult for some to walk about, as it overturned baskets and even tore one person's cloak from their body. Murmers were heard about bad omens and put a little fear into the public.

****

Tempyst openend her eyes, the pain in her head almost unbearable. She felt a chill run over her as she realized A'lanthear was no where to be found and she was in the smallest room she had ever seen. Quickly she stood up, panic in her eyes, and tried to push the door open, but she soon found that it was not going to budge.

"Hello? Is anyone out there? You must help me! You must let me get my sword before anyone gets hurt!" But there was no answer. Tempyst shook the door once more, then went back to sit on the straw mat. Her mind raced but she tried to concentrate on the stone that surrounded her. But she heard no whispers, and she knew that the stone here, had been asleep far too long to be responsive, as was the way of most large chunks of stone.

Tempyst sighed and brought her legs up, hugging them tightly and tried to focus on where A'lanthear was and perhaps to even reach out to the sword, to reaasure it that she was okay, and their search was not over.

Written by Agmund

The white robe he was wearing flowed gently behind him, revealing his tall frame against the backdrop of a light blue sky. It was a cool gentle breeze that careened its way thru his long silvery grey beard. A sun of the purest yellow was just beginning to climb its way into the sky above, its rise sending rays of light shining down over the top of his head, escaping the slow sway of the azure cloak adorning his shoulders. The rays pierced the courtyard below sharply, causing spear tips to sparkle, helms of metal to glimmer, and greaves of armor to shine before his eyes.

There too were raised the banners of elves, men and dwarves, decorated in a myriad of designs and colors ranging the entire spectrum, each weaving with the slow movement of a trotting horse. The sound was a crescendo to the ear, filling it with a neigh, a nicker, or a snort from the steeds, only to crash into the shouting of a command and the clash of metal upon metal, and hoof upon stone.

From a battlement Father Agmund watched the situation unfold, a splendid grin stretching wide and unseen across his lips. It wasn’t a grin of contempt, but one of heartfelt joy. She was a fiery terror upon the eye, and yet he still saw the little girl within her. He knew what needed to be done, and for the first time in many years he felt profound happiness at the task ahead.

His aged eyes had spied her pearched upon horseback waving to the army as it advanced into the distance. They could barely make out the dishevelment of her dress. “Wilhelm’s creation,” he said aloud and with a chuckle. “Your going the wrong direction with her my old friend. The challenge will be to channel her molten spirit into something constructive,” with that his mind bursts into activity mirroring the seen before him.

“Yes,” he thinks to himself “she must be taught weapons, she must be able to defend herself very, very well. That is where you should begin, and from there you progress into tactics. She must know how to lead the army, and to do that she must command respect. Not only must the men have respect for her as a queen, but they must respect her ability to take them in battle. Wilhelm will, however, not likely agree with your assessment,” he thought to himself.

“Father Agmund correct?” the guard appeared beside him. His concentration broken but his heart lifted high, he turned to the guard with a sheer smile writtin in the very lines of his face. “Yes? I am Father Agmund and what can I do for you good sir?”

The guard appeared somewhat puzzled at the smile upon the priests face as he replied “Your presence is needed in the dungeon, there is a prisoner we would like you to question… and from my understanding you can discern truth from lies.”

“Ahh well you seem to have me at a slight disadvantage… your name is?” Father Agmund looked somewhat amused as he responded.

The elf smiled as he heard the priests question “I am Audun.”

“Audun, a pleasure to meet you, I am at your service,” and with that the old priest fell into the tow of the young elf. Auduns path meandered thru the corridors of the citadel, which was not an unpleasant walk even with the throng of activity. What seemed like an hour of walking, leaving the old priest somewhat panting for breath finally ended in the dungeon, leaving both the priest and elf looking into the dim light of a prison cell.

“I seem to be going from one extreme to the other this morning,” Father Agmund said with a chuckle as he peered thru bars at the man within. He was about to say something else, namely who he was, but Audun turned to another elven guard who fell in beside him, whispering something into his ear. Audun merely nodded as the guard finished what he had to say and moved back down the hallway. “Father Agmund there is also another prisoner we will need your assistance with after this one is dealt with, if you would be so kind that is.”

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Lucant looked towards the cell door as he heard footsteps approaching. He was a bit confused to see a kindly old man where he had expected a much sterner individual to be.

"Father Agmund there is also another prisoner we will need your assistance with after this one is dealt with, if you would be so kind that is." Lucant looked on apprehensively as the old man nodded and the guards went on about their duties. The man called Agmund turned towards Lucant and said in a warm voice "Well my boy, as you already know, I am Agmund, a priest of the All-Father, and your interrogator as well, it seems. If I may trouble you for a bit, please tell me your story."

Lucant responded to the priest "I am Lucant Dolvan, Father. I am, or rather, I was a farrier from the village of Almurad. I have lost my shop, my tools, nearly everything I owned in this world to... financial difficulties. I came to this place hoping to find work and a new life. I was accused of being one of Beridane's spies, but I assure you, I have no love for Beridane and I mean no harm to these people. I seek only a second chance at my life."

Lucant looked onwards as the priest considered his words.

Written by Renalis

"Holy moly!" Trinni's exclamation causes Renalis to look at her, and she blushes, "I... uh... uhm... good show then! Seems like that'd make travel easier. Just the same, though, I think I'll stick with F'non."

"Having a horse makes travel to other realms difficult as the void can be... well, interesting to traverse." Renalis said looking over his shoulder at the woman, "My name is Renalis, and to whom do I have the pleasure of making blush?"

****

Walking away from Renalis's old room with his note in hand, reading it over again she thinks to herself, "You're damn right I would have tried to stop you, but I also know how important this is, this is the fate of this world rolled up into one battle." Crystal folds up the letter and places it in a small belt pouch, "Now to find Mavigan, hopefully she is as willing to learn as Renalis is to want me to teach. I don't know anything about being royalty but I can show her how to handle herself at least. Free-spiritied? Well, I guess I do tend to..." Crystal's thoughts are disrupted as an elven woman runs out of the nearby room in a serious hurry. Continuing down the hall Crystal continues to wonder, "Will she trust me? What if she..." Crystal's thoughts are again scattered as she catches the most curious sight, A human woman with a sword clutched in her hands like a security blanket and wondering about like a child, pass her. "Everyone seems to have to be somewhere to be..."

Crystal continues down the hall and around the corner, "Be safe my love, take few risks, and above all..." Crystal's thoughts are once again muddled as a huge comotion begins on the floor above her.

Being as close to the stairs as she is she can hear the shouting, "HALT - You there, what are you doing in the Queen's corridor!" Crystal spins around, "Blast! Another assassin?"

As she moves toward the stairwell she hears a loud struggle, "YOU are NOT going anywhere but to the DUNGEON!" The guard yelled. "Give me that weapon NOW!", then Crystal could hear screams as she headed to the stairs full sprint.

As she approached the stairs she could hear more struggling and more yelling, "What the hell is going on up there?" Crystal wondered to herself. "What about her blasted sword?" One of the guards said, "It keeps attacking anyone who touches it!" Another guard spoke up, "You'll have to leave it where it lies and keep watch, make sure no one touches it and we can get someone up here more qualified to deal with the mess."

As she got to the top of the stairs she could see a guard walking out with an unconcious woman on his back. "I can sense no ill will from this woman, her heart is pure" Crystal could feel the spirit witihin the unconcious woman, "she was of the land - like Kel'Thalas, and he would never attack unless it was absolutely necessary."

Crystal approached the guard remaining at the room, presumably protecting this "haunted" sword, she recognized him as one of the guards she had seen the night before and was relieved that he would be one of the few that may trust her, "I believe I am qualified enough to deal with this, I am a skilled Sorcerer, and priestess of Elune." Crystal could see the puzzled look on the guard's face as she finished.

"Look lady," The Guard says, "I know you pledged yourself to serve us, but who is this "Elune" you speak of?"

Crystal could only sigh as she thought "I forget that they do not know Elune's love" Crystal continued, "Elune is a Goddess that watches over another world, the world I come from, but that is unimportant, we came here to help and help we shall. My husband and I have been trusted to solve some of the more "magical" mysteries of late and I believe I can help with this one, at the very least with the transport of the weapon to a better location so the Queen can return to a non-hostile environment when she wishes to sleep."

"Well, if you can take care of this, that would be greatly appreciated, the damn thing does nothing but hurt any of us that try to touch it and we just don't know what to do now." The guard moves aside and Crystal aproaches the blade resting on the ground.

She can hear the whispers of the blade within her mind, "My guardian..." Crystal projects back to it, "Worry not, I will return you to your guardian" The whispers in her mind quite and she projects a small force with her magic, causeing the blade to float upright about a foot in front of her.

Rising again, she leaves the room, "I have the situation under control, I'll leave you to guard this room and I shall bring the weapon to the prison to be locked up with the rest of the prisoner's gear."

On the way to the prison, Crystal can feel the weather changing. She can feel the intence magical eminations from the prison linked to nature, the winds reacting to her and picking up. "Such power in one so young," Crystal thinks to herself, "Poor girl is probably just scared."

Approaching the doorway, Crystal can hear voices within and could sense the presence of powerful priest within. Opening the door, Crystal enters the dungeon and is stopped by the guards there. "I have brought the enchanted blade, the one belonging to that girl" Crystal points at the woman in the cell now awake. "Think fast!" Crystal yells causing the woman to look up. Crystal sends the blade flying past the guards, through the bars and into the womans hands.

The guards draw their weapons, "What are you doing!?"

Crystal didn't have a look of worry on her, she calmly responds, "She is harmless, a mere druid out of her element and on a quest to find the champion to that blade, not on a quest to kill the queen." Pointing at the priest, Crystal finishes, "He can tell you that as easily as I can."

Written by Teran

Teran took leave of his cage once he was done considering his next move. The mysterious Gadianton (though teran does not yet know his name) threatened the assassin in a way no one had ever before. He had to be killed Teran knew, there was no other alternative.

When killing a man one had to take many factors into consideration. Location, ability, companions, and of course identity.

Location.... the assassin didn't know Gadianton's current location but he suspected that Jasmine would be able to shed some light on the situation... he would know the stranger's location soon enough.

Ability.... Teran knew the stranger was a capable fighter, perhaps even Teran's equal though the assassin had some trouble accepting that as fact.

Companions.... at least two people travelled with the stranger, one of which was somewhat skilled with necromancy, the other being Vermigard a bounty hunter Teran knew well enough. The companions were but a nuisance to Teran, Vermigard was good at what he did but he was not in the same league as Teran, the necromancer was an unknown but magic (especially necromantic in nature) did little to intimidate the assassin.

Identity.... this was the most troubling aspect of the stranger. Teran had never seen or heard of him before, and surely a man with his skill would have trouble remaining a secret. Even Teran (one of the most secretive people alive) was well known through his alternate identities and various aliases due to his feats. The assassin had asked just about all his information sources for information and they all came back dry... there was only two people left to ask. Beridane and Jasmine though he doubted Jasmine would have any useful information about who the man is.

The assassin chided himself for not recalling Beridane sooner, the evil king could be quite useful with the right motivation. Teran knew he would meet Beridane in the near future, but first there was business to take care of.

Teran found himself in front of Jasmine's cell. He knocked politely (giving her time to compose herself) before he had a guard let him into the room.

"Greetings Jasmine" he says in his smoothest voice "My name is Teran. I trust you have been treated hospitably?"

The door clicked shut behind Teran and they were alone together.

The man Jasmine faces now is kind and gentle, seemingly genuinely concerned for her well being... not at all the cold eyed man she had faced in Mavigan's room.


Written by Agmund - Page 6 Book 2

Lucant responded to the priest "I am Lucant Dolvan, Father. I am, or rather, I was a farrier from the village of Almurad. I have lost my shop, my tools, nearly everything I owned in this world to... financial difficulties. I came to this place hoping to find work and a new life. I was accused of being one of Beridane's spies, but I assure you, I have no love for Beridane and I mean no harm to these people. I seek only a second chance at my life."

The words of the man rang true in the Priests mind, but it was not his words alone that Father Agmund saw the truth in. The young man was after all dressed like a farrier, and Audun had mentioned that he had a pair of tongs with him when he was brought into the dungeon. A soft smile broke his bearded lips as he began to ponder Lucant’s search for a new life. This would certainly be the place for a farrier to find one, a good soul with bad luck, having lost his family and his means.

“I have an offer for you… although it has nothing to do with coin I’m afraid. You will have food and a roof over your head, and the coin you will earn will be the training you receive. Also I’m afraid the roof over your head will be shared with me, and I do snore… rather badly… but in my own defense I have had many years to perfect that art,” his face became an animated grin.

“In either regard,” he turned to Audun “the man can be set free, he speaks the truth and will do no harm here.”

Written by Tempyst

"Think fast!"

Tempyst looked up as she heard the woman's words and saw A'lanthear floating through the bars to her. She stood up quickly and took hold of the sword, a look of relief immediately swept over her face. "Thank you." She mouthed the words, then smiled softly at the woman on the other side of the bars. Tempyst then sat down, cradling the sword in her arms as a woman would hold a newborn babe. I am sorry A'lanthear, I will never fail you again.

The sword responded by sending comforting waves of energy through the young druid as it whispered to her. You did not fail me young one, everything happens as it is supposed to. Tempyst smiled softly as she sat there, waiting.

****

Outside, just as quickly as it had started, the strong bitter wind died. Residents of the citadel pondered the meaning of the wind, many still thinking it was a bad omen.

Written by Lucant Dolvan

“I have an offer for you… although it has nothing to do with coin I’m afraid. You will have food and a roof over your head, and the coin you will earn will be the training you receive. Also I’m afraid the roof over your head will be shared with me, and I do snore… rather badly… but in my own defense I have had many years to perfect that art,” his face became an animated grin.

“In either regard,” he turned to Audun “the man can be set free, he speaks the truth and will do no harm here.”

Upon hearing the priest's words, Lucant immediately realized that this old man was more than what he seemed. There was doubtlessly some wily plan that the old priest was thinking of carefully hidden in the offer. Still, he did seem sincere with the offer, and Lucant really had no other choice but to accept it. Father Agmund surely knew this as well.

"Very well, Father Agmund, I accept your offer and I thank you for taking me under your guidance." Lucant said with a bow. Agmund's grin was now a full-blown smile.

"Very good, my boy, very good," Agmund said with a chuckle, "take a few minutes to gather yourself up while I deal with this other matter and we shall be on our way shortly." Audun unlocked the cell door as Agmund proceeded down the hallway, still smiling.

"Here are your things, sir. I am sorry for any trouble we may have caused you." Audun said as he handed Lucant his satchel that contained his tongs and hammer. "Thank you," Lucant said, accepting the satchel, "and don't worry anything. I do believe you have done me a great service." Audun, puzzled by this strange behaviour, bid Lucant farewell and followed after Father Agmund.

Lucant adjusted his satchel and waited for Father Agmund to return, though he could not help but feel a strong urge to seek out the young woman he had seen earlier.

Written by Agmund

Audun and Father Agmund had not gone far, perhaps a few corridors, before they came to a similar cell, but before they could turn to deal with the prisoner, a sword went floating by. Naturally the two appeared dismayed, with the swords of guards being drawn, and the shouting of elven.

The guards draw their weapons, "What are you doing!?"

Crystal didn't have a look of worry on her, she calmly responds, "She is harmless, a mere druid out of her element and on a quest to find the champion to that blade, not on a quest to kill the queen." Pointing at the priest, Crystal finishes, "He can tell you that as easily as I can."

Father Agmund had a strange look in his eye, I say eye because one appeared sterner than the other, its brow raised so much higher that the other looked nearly closed. He spoke with a gruff tone, one commanding respect from deep within him, his voice nearly echoing against the tunnel wall “NOW see here, you may speak the truth and these guards would never know it, because they do not have your gift… and by giving a prisoner weapons before the guards know the truth for themselves… you risk some ones blood. Tensions are high and you see how a guard will react, by drawing his weapon, which he is right to do!”

“Next time, use a modicum of patience and explain the situation Crystal Dalamar, Priestess of the Moon-Goddess… before you leap into action,” his voice ends as a calm whisper, his eyes revealing a sort of apology for having raised it to begin with.

“And you!” he peers into the cell. “Keep that blade within its scabbard, understood?” Not waiting for a response from either Tempyst or Crystal he continues on “Ladies, remember you are in the hospitality of Ithramir Sil-Galdur…”

Written by Archeantus

Jasmine watched numbly at the increasing activity in the cold dungeon as old priests walked past, men were freed, a woman rushed forward returning a sword to the young woman across the cell from her. Jasmine watched the sudden commotion with vague understanding.

The guards drew their weapons, yelling out "What are you doing!?" The woman calmly stated, "She is harmless, a mere druid out of her element and on a quest to find the champion to that blade, not on a quest to kill the queen."

Kill the queen. She repeated in her mind. She tried to smile, especially given the personal nature of overhearing such a comment, but she no longer took ownership of what she had tried to do. She tried, but it was as if she were trying to hold sand in her hand.

Jasmine wondered if the woman realized the one who had tried to kill the Queen was just behind her. Jasmine blinked in thought, and then lowered her head once more.

She could care less about any of it, however odd it was. Chained, nearly hung from her slender arms to the smooth stone wall, she stood gingerly now, nearly amazed she had managed to sleep at all. All the commotion had woken her just as she had dozed off.

She could barely feel her arms anymore; her weight seemed to have increased moment to moment. She could feel the shackles dig into her wrists, and the pain felt empowering. A cut across her forehead throbbed. She was sore, tired, haggard, yet truthfully, no matter how hard she tried to deny it, she never felt more alive.

Sunlight shone through the small slit of a window just above her dangling head, a ray of light which flickered in the dust of the cell just a head of her, seemed strangely interesting to her. She found herself slowly spacing out in thought as she stared into the shifting light.

"Why do you care..."

Her thought was suddenly interrupted as the man she had faced last night, suddenly appeared into her cell, his face shone of concern and curiosity.

"Greetings Jasmine, my name is Teran. I trust you have been treated hospitably?"

She nearly laughed. This was Teran? It couldn't be the one she had studied, the one that had always stayed a step ahead of her in notoriety and skill, the one who was as famous as he was elusive. She had never understood how he managed to work amidst the light of familiarity and the treasured darkness that an assassin thrives in as well as he did, and does. She had actually faced him? Never, this could not be him. Yet amid her disbelief in the actual identity of the man before her, she managed to flash a slight disarming smile as the cell door clicked home behind him. Her figure plainfully obvious, her long dark hair dangled wildly down across her shoulders. Yet despite her mindless feigned flirtations, she was at a loss, she had no agenda, no plan, nothing she cared about, no allegiance, not even to herself. He may have seen her utter fear in this fact, if he had been able to look into her dark eyes, but she made sure they never met with his.

She did not reply to his warm question, quickly pausing to study his face, holding him in her mysterious dark eyes, weighing his every feature, remembering everything, especially his eyes. Moments passed and then she finally spoke with another perceptively subtle grin.

“Teran? The Teran? Prove it.”

Written by Agmund

A long, deep breath passes thru his bearded lips, and for a moment, though fleeting, weariness can be read upon his face. His eyes seem to re-adjust to the flickering light of the torches as he looks thru the bars at the lady of the wood. “I am Father Agmund, humble servant of Tinorb and the keeper of Truths. Within your words I see honesty and or dishonesty, truth from lie, fact from fiction. Tell me… what is your purpose here?”

Written by Trinni Shannon

"If you are looking for Ithramir he is at the front of the march, but the army will be awhile reaching and passing the outermost of the three gates at this slow walk. Likely it would take too long for you to pass on your message. Your charge extends to the land beyond that gate as well, where Ithramir is likely watching the army emerge. Sable can get you there before the army finishes passing the outermost gate. I will hold the fort for you until you return."

Wilhelm, a man she had only met the previous afternoon, addressed Lithwyn and jumped down off his horse. Grateful for the information regarding Ithramir, she did not have time to thank him as he immediately reached out, grabbed her about the waist, to which she barely managed to stiffle the giggle as his grip tickled her, and placed her unceremoniously upon the eager horse's back. Completely taken aback, she could only look down at him, mouth agape, eyes blinking slowly. Several silent moments passed until the shout from a passing soldier brought her thoughts back to the task at hand. Clearing her throat, she tried to compose herself.

"Th-thank you, Sir Wilhelm. I will return swiftly. I owe you more than you will ever know."

Turning towards the guards who had been her shadow, Lithwyn asks them to wait for her within the citadel grounds.

"Queen Mavigan." Bowing her head at the young queen waving to the passing men, she then faces forward in the saddle. With one kick of her feet, Sable takes off with a sudden speed that nearly knocks Lithwyn off. Grinning hard, she tightens her legs and holds on as she flies past the line of marching elf and human.

Passing the second gate, now grateful she is wearing basic armor instead of more formal attire, her heart pounds in apprehension and... embarrassment? With so much time to think as she rides ever onward, the cruel voice of doubt creeps up in her mind.

Was it a premonition or just a silly dream? The vision did not come during meditation, so how can I know? Others have had such visions, even in the midst of battle, from Ehlonna's own lips have I heard such tales. But... but I am not her. I am not as strong as she was. I have barely even prayed to Kaia'hanas over these many years. What if my concern makes Ithramir doubt himself, thereby causing him to make errors he normally would not have, thereby becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy?!

Frowning, the third and final gate now visible in the distance, Lithwyn unconciously slows Sable as they approach. Now matching pace with the marching rangers to her left, she concentrates heavenward. Silently, Lithwyn calls to her Goddess, though no response was forthcoming. Still able to feel the connection with Her, it was obvious Kaia'hanas had no wish to intervene one way or the other.

Seeing Ithramir standing on the large hill just beyond the last gate, her determination returns and she drives Sable hard once again. Reining the horse just before reaching Ithramir, she slides off in a flurry of robes even as Sable comes to a stop. Slightly out of breath, she half runs the few steps to his side before coming to an abrupt halt.

"Ithramir, I..." pausing, she realizes she has no idea how to tell him about her dream. Where to begin? Ithramir, I had this crazy dream and you were in it? No, no that wouldn't do. Suddenly feeling like an irrational and impulsive youngling, she clasps her hands tightly before her and swallows hard, trying to find the courage to talk to the man before her. Funny, she never had a hard time knowing what to say to a person before. Especially so where men are concerned. So why now?

"I..."

****

"Having a horse makes travel to other realms difficult as the void can be... well, interesting to traverse. My name is Renalis, and to whom do I have the pleasure of making blush?"

Trinni smiled easily as her cheeks returned to their normal hue, relieved she hadn't offended the interesting man.

"Well, my full name is Trinni A'syona Kilya Featherheart D'Thelanis. My friends don't use my full name, though. That'd be a riot! I'd say you're gonna be my friend as you are fighting alongside me!" Tilting her head to the side, she looks at him thoughtfully, though her mouth doesn't stop running. "I don't suspect you should fight with someone if'n you aren't willing to be their friend, ya know? So! Depending on who you ask, I'm called all sorts of things by my friends: Trinni-innie-outie, Trinni-ninni, Shortie, Missy, Great White, and sometimes even Tree. You can take your pick, or call me whatever you like really. I'm not terribly picky. Uhm..." realizing she had been rambling, she smiles again, ducking her head. "O'course, you could just call me Trinni as some are inclined to do."

Looking about, hiding from the amused stares of those around her, she spots someone out of place.

"Hey look! It's Lithwynnie! Hiya Lith-a-wyn!" waving, she frowns when the High-Priestess doesn't even turn her head. Granted, she does look mighty focused on something. When Lithwyn looks up to the sky, Trinni glances up to see what she's looking at. Just a bunch of clouds. Suddenly, Lithwyn takes off in a burst of speed, her cloak protesting as it whips behind her. Shrugging, Trinni turns back to Renalis and grins.

"Ah well. She's pretty busy sometimes. Oh! What did you mean by all that other realm stuff? You mean like Ancora? Why would riding a horse from there to here be difficult?"

Written by Renalis

“Next time, use a modicum of patience and explain the situation Crystal Dalamar, Priestess of the Moon-Goddess… before you leap into action,” his voice ends as a calm whisper, his eyes revealing a sort of apology for having raised it to begin with.

Bowing deeply Crystal says with great respect in her voice, "I am sorry Agmund, but I do not believe in waiting for a situation to diffuse itself... I believe we shape fate and I have done as much. I knew there would be no bloodshed because I would have allowed no further harm to come to her from these guards. There was no need - not even with the heightened state of alert - for that poor girl to have be treated as badly as she was."

Crystal raises herself from the bow, "I know I am in Lord Ithramir's hospitality but I do what is right... regardless."

As Crystal's focus on her previous task fades, she is almost overwhelmed by a feeling of pain, sorrow and suffering. Spinning around she can see within the bars of another cell, a woman chained up, hanging almost lifeless. Hey pain extends beyond the physical, but Crystal can see the wounds that ail her. Just then a man enters the cell and begins to speak with her, Crystal thinking to herself, "Such pain, I must do something..."

****

Trinni turns back to Renalis and grins, "Ah well. She's pretty busy sometimes. Oh! What did you mean by all that other realm stuff? You mean like Ancora? Why would riding a horse from there to here be difficult?"

"Trinni A'syona Kilya Featherheart D'Thelanis?" Renalis chuckles a little, "You're right, that is a mouthful." Renalis mumbles a bit to himself, "Great White?" but continueing, "Trinni, if you don't mind, is easy enough to get off in normal conversation."

"And as for your question," Renalis pauses as he tries to figure out how to explain it ALL in a short time, "I don't just mean beyond these lands, I mean beyond this world. As you are obviously intelligent I will not mock you, there are many worlds out there, all connected through what I have aptly named the "Void" as it is void of anything but the most powerful magical creatures - mostly evil. I come from a world that is not too disimilar to this one but rest assured it is not this one."

Pausing to let what he has said sink in, Renalis continues, "My world was invaded by demons a few years ago, in stopping them I accidently stranded myself in the void and found that from there one can travel to any other world, and so in my cause to destroy demons I found myself on other worlds, aiding the inhabitants."

Realizing he too has talked far too long Renalis decides to wrap it up, "My travels have found me this place, many good people, and a good cause, that is why I will fight alongside you in a few days time, I fight for this world, helping how I can."

Written by Ariana

A strange feeling overcame Mavigan as she watched the army stream through the gate in the budding light of dawn. There was something odd with the scene, even though it was similar to other scenes she had witnessed before. She remembered with a striking clarity each of the times she had been on her balcony with her sister, engulfed in her Mother’s arms as she watched her Father ride off into the morning light, the sun brilliantly reflecting off his polished armor. Such memories were always tinged with the sinking feeling of sadness and apprehension and Mavigan reached for the pendant around her neck with an unconscious gesture.

At a young age, she had learned what it meant when lots of soldiers rode off in tight formation. She knew because Alaric had explained it to her. He had told her that when armies marched people died, and not all that left her would return.

The news was distressing to her young mind and the thought of her Father never returning home filled her with childlike grief. Mavigan had run to the nearest source of comfort – her Mother. And there, she had received reassurances that her Father loved her and would always return. Mavigan had always been a perceptive girl, however, and had not been fooled. She could see the lie clearly in her Mother’s eyes, and as her Father rode off to more battles, small worry lines etched themselves more indelibly into her Mother’s face.

And now, here she was, waving off yet another army, the sun glinting off Ithramir’s armor much as it had her Father’s. Suddenly, the wrongness of the situation hit her full force. If she was supposed to be filling her Father’s shoes, then why was she being left behind?

Mavigan was cognizant of her abilities, and she harbored no illusions that she would be able to command an army. Her early tutoring had leaned more towards languages and music and how to look pretty to attract a worthy husband. She was, after all, a girl and it was not expected that she would actually have to lead anything, much less serve as Queen.

But that did not mean she did not have a right and an obligation to accompany an army headed out to war. Everything she had learned about fighting, she had learned by watching others and practicing out on the streets. It may not be pretty or stylized, but it did get the job done. She knew how to handle herself, and most important, she knew how to stay alive.

So why was she being left behind, locked in a prison of stone and wood? A frown crossed her face and she squirmed her backside further into the saddle. Idly she noticed it felt different from a regular saddle, and welcoming a momentary distraction from her less than pleasant thoughts, she glanced down. The saddle was indeed built differently from a normal one, and it seemed to accommodate her awkward seated position much better than a normal saddle would have. Looking even more closely, she noted the newness of the leather, and her own initials ornately embossed into the pommel.

This must be another maneuver by Wilhelm she decided and cut a quick glance in his direction. He was dismounting and offering Sable to a distraught looking Elf. Deciding to ask Wilhelm about his intentions later, she followed his example and pushed herself off Argent landing heavily on her slippered feet. Giving the horse a quick hug around her neck, she turned to Keeryn and tried to decide what to do next.

As far as Mavigan was concerned, with Ithramir gone, she finally had some freedom. She would be remiss if she did not take advantage of it. First things first, however, she decided, pulling absently at the confining dress.

“Come on Keeryn,” she said, “I have got to get out of this dress!”

Mavigan then turned on her heel and sprinted through the open door headed to her room. Reaching it quickly, she noted that someone had been there straightening. The glass had been swept away, and there were a couple of glaziers standing near the windows, taking measurements. Everyone around here was efficiency incarnate, so Mavigan felt sure her room would be restored and livable again in no time.

She strode to her wardrobe and quickly removed shirt and breeches, then disappeared behind a screen and made the transformation from reluctant royalty to Mavigan Ancora. Reappearing, she strapped on her daggers in their respective places, and shoved her feet into her boots.

Finished with her transformation, and now infinitely more comfortable, she turned to Keeryn with a grin. It was grin that clearly held mischief, for while she had been changing her clothes she had remembered what she most wanted to do. With Ithramir gone, now would be the time to sneak into the dungeons and meet with her hunky savior from the previous night.

“So Keeryn, wanna go sneak into the dungeons with me?”

Written by Tempyst

...He is here! Tempyst winced as the sword practically shouted the words inside her throbbing head. She blinked, then looked up to the man who was speaking.

“I am Father Agmund, humble servant of Tinorb and the keeper of Truths. Within your words I see honesty and or dishonesty, truth from lie, fact from fiction. Tell me… what is your purpose here?” Tempyst looked up into the weary face of the man who spoke to her through the bars. Having A'lanthear back helped her to regain her focus. She stood up, wavering a bit as the pain in her head washed through her entire body, but she did not fall and stood as tall and dignified as she could.

"I am Tempyst Whisperling, druid of the Deepshadows and I am here in search of someone." She heard herself speak and thought how silly she actually sounded, but continued on anyways. "I bear the sword A'lanthear, I am its guardian. The day of my rebirth, I carried the sword in my arms from the depths of the birthing tree, though I know not how i recieved it. I am in search of..."

...he is here...He Is Here... Tempyst stumbled as the sword shouted in her head. A'lanthear began to glow, first softly, then brighter and brighter, encompassing everyone it its warm golden light. Tempyst could hear the man who was talking to her gasp in surprise, along with the others who could see the spectacle. As the light reached it's brightest, causing everyone to sheild their eyes, a hum began that shook everyone to their bones. The hum grew louder until all felt their ears would burst. As the hum grew, the light suddenly pulsed, sending out a shock wave that knocked everyone within its site back onto the ground. Then, all was quiet and the darkness of the dungeon closed back in on the people there. When eyes adjusted once again, there were gasps at what was seen. Out from where Tempyst had stood, a path had been cleared. The bars and stone walls within that path were no longer there, but shattered to dust along the floor.

Tempyst gasped for breath, surprised as everyone else at what had just happened. Then A'lanthear whispered softly, gently in her mind once more. Lucant is here. As the name bore into her very soul, she looked up in the direction the now open dungeon path lay. As the smoke and dust cleared, she saw him. The fog that had clouded her eyes since she was a child lifted and there before her, he stood. Tears filled her eyes as a wave of emotions flooded through her.

He is real, I have found him. Tempyst only had eyes for the startled young man and paid no heed to those around her.

Written by Turin Wallace

On the hill, Ithramir sat on his horse silently. He watches as mounted companies, regiments, battalions all march by him. Elves, dwarves, and humans all marching in time, the thunderous echo of so many soldiers moving bounces around the valley. Off in the rear he can see the healers and supply carts finally moving. He wonders how many will spend their last moments looking into the eyes of a healer asking for a loved one, or begging their god for forgiveness, before they pass on from this life. Alone, on the hill, he feels the chill wind blow across the forests and fields.

He breathes in deeply.

Releasing the inhale, he counts the score, one-hundred and ten thousand against a huge band of orcs. The ranger who arrived to give him the information said there could be near a million orcs besieging the last fort, Minas Aure, at this very moment.

If Minas Aure falls, so does the alliance, and everyone here.

Ithramir will gather the commanders together later this evening and tell them them the news. Until then, he will let the men be content, and let them have peace of mind for the day.

Glancing back on the citadel, Ithramir can't help but wonder if, like so many others here, this will be the last time he will see it in this life. Every soldier feels this as he leaves his home, friends, and loved ones. Ithramir was no exception, and every time he has marched away he still wonders the same thing. Ithramir can feel the chill wind whip past him again, seemingly whispering to him. It is then he notices a rider, at near full gallop, charging towards him at an urgent pace. He ponders what urgent news the rider is bringing.

Looking more keenly, he can tell it is a female rider, one who wears the robes of a priestess. Closing his eyes a moment, he gazes again and confirms the rider...it is Lithwyn.

Just as quickly as he can tell it is her, she dismounts and begins running towards him. Ithramir also dismounts, and is now standing on the hill as she makes it to his side. Turning to her, he watches as she quickly clasps her hands together, and swallows hard. Having his attention, she simply says,

"Ithramir, I...I..."

Filling the pause, Ithramir speaks up,

"Lithwyn, are you alright? You seem shaken, what is wrong?"

Ithramir looks into her eyes, concern flashing across his own face, wondering what could trouble her so. Lithwyn was a strong elf, sometimes even distant from everyone (including him), so he could only imagine what news she was bringing to him...

Written by Teran

"You have heard of me then?" He smiled, blushing a little bit.

The assassin approached her slowly, perhaps wanting a kiss or to take advantage of the gorgeous and helpless prisoner. He stopped moving and peered into her eyes with his soft, silvery gray eyes for a moment, holding her gaze for as long as she was willing to hold his.

Teran was handsome while he was standing across the room, but from this distance, his face and body inches from hers he was captivating. His eyes held endless depth, his features chiseled, and his scent sweet and exotic. After what felt like hours he blinked and stepped back, gently guiding Jasmine's arms down to her sides, no longer were her wrists held by the shackles. Teran took a step back, not wishing to hinder Jasmine if she wished to stretch or find another way to relax her undoubtedly tense muscles.

"I am sorry our second meeting could not have been as grand as our first." His eyes twinkle as though he remembered something in a fond light from years ago... and then the twinkle was gone and he seemed to grow more serious.

"I can't offer you any proof of who I am" He murmured and then paused for a moment perhaps content leaving it at that. "I cannot prove anything at all."

"Fortunately for both of us I did not come here to prove things to you." He stated wryly through an every growing smile "I came to tell you that you may leave with me if you desire... but it will require your cooperation."

The assassin chose every word with practiced caution. There could be no doubt that Teran wanted Jasmine to agree to his terms however it was also apparent that her joining him was more a luxery than a necessity. The assassin had other ways of getting the information he needed.

Written by Trinni Shannon

"Trinni A'syona Kilya Featherheart D'Thelanis? You're right, that is a mouthful." Renalis mumbles to himself as Trinni sticks her tongue out at him. "Trinni, if you don't mind, is easy enough to get off in normal conversation. And as for your question... I don't just mean beyond these lands, I mean beyond this world. As you are obviously intelligent I will not mock you, there are many worlds out there, all connected through what I have aptly named the "Void" as it is void of anything but the most powerful magical creatures - mostly evil. I come from a world that is not too disimilar to this one but rest assured it is not this one."

Frowning a bit, she merely listens. Having no idea what he's talking about, she holds her tongue. After all, he already said she was intelligent and she didn't want to ruin that image so soon in their meeting of each other. Void? Uh... huh. Evil guys, yeah she can understand that.

"My world was invaded by demons a few years ago, in stopping them I accidently stranded myself in the void and found that from there one can travel to any other world, and so in my cause to destroy demons I found myself on other worlds, aiding the inhabitants. My travels have found me this place, many good people, and a good cause, that is why I will fight alongside you in a few days time, I fight for this world, helping how I can."

Pausing a bit, unsure if he is for real or just insane, she measures him out of the corner of her eye while pretending to stroke F'non's neck.

"Well... we sure are glad you are gonna help. I mean, Orc can be pretty nasty and there are a whoooole lot of them attacking Minas Aure. Who knows WHAT'S gonna happen. I don't know how that whole getting trapped on another world thing works, but do you think you'll be here through the whole battle? It could take ages you know. I think I have enough arrows to last me, but I can always make more if I need to in a pinch. O'course they won't be NEAR as good as from the Citadel. I'd offer you some, but I don't suspect you'll need arrows. I mean, if you can fly and all you must be able to do some kinds of magic tricks like Resini or maybe pray like Nysden?" snorting at the thought of Nysden praying in the middle of a battle, she hides her laughter behind her hand.

****

"Lithwyn, are you alright? You seem shaken, what is wrong?"

Fear. Undeniably, she is afraid. Afraid of what he will say, afraid she is wrong, afraid she is RIGHT! She feels the cold wind sting her cheek, wrapping around the hill where they stand, an omen. For a second she contemplates running away, no matter where, just away. Away from him, away from the fear caught in her throat. It's just the fear of losing the Commander of the Citadel. The fear of the subsequent weakness of the army, that's all. It has nothing to do with him, the man. Ithramir is not a man, he is ... just ... Ithramir. Just...

"I..." speachless again, she suddenly becomes angry with herself. Unable to tell him what she rode all the way out here to say. Preposterous. Her face a mixture of pain and anger, she looks into his eyes. Taking a deep breath, she forces it all out.

"Ithramir, last night I had a dream. I dreamed of old battles and of a new battle. I saw you," her voice rising with urgency, she reaches out and grabs his wrist. "I saw you, you were on the ground..." Her voice cracks and her grip tightens on his wrist until his fingers turn light purple. "You were dead and the battle wasn't nearly over yet. I saw you, clear as day! I nearly fell over your body and your face looked up at the sky, but you didn't see. It was you, I'm sure of it. You were gone."

Her eyes watering, from the cold wind and nothing more - or so she told herself, she suddenly jerks her hand back as if burned. Wrapping her arms around her body, she shakes her head, heading off the arguments he is bound to make.

"You can't go. You can't. Lothiel-Gadith needs you. Without a knowledgeable commander we will fall. I am not a warrior. I don't know how to lead an army. And Nysden? Hah! I'm surprised he is out here even now. What would I... I mean... we... the citadel! What would the citadel do without you?!"

Every fiber of her being prays he will agree. Everything that makes her alive begs to the Gods he will return with her and not die in this battle. Her eyes beg and plead with him as she stands before him, yet still she does not say what has been left unsaid. Still she denies to herself what she feels. She doesn't feel. She just worries for the Citadel, after all. There is nothing more to it than that!

Written by Renalis

"Well... we sure are glad you are gonna help. I mean, Orc can be pretty nasty and there are a whoooole lot of them attacking Minas Aure. Who knows WHAT'S gonna happen. I don't know how that whole getting trapped on another world thing works, but do you think you'll be here through the whole battle? It could take ages you know. I think I have enough arrows to last me, but I can always make more if I need to in a pinch. O'course they won't be NEAR as good as from the Citadel. I'd offer you some, but I don't suspect you'll need arrows. I mean, if you can fly and all you must be able to do some kinds of magic tricks like Resini or maybe pray like Nysden?" Trinni finishes with a snicker behind her hand, trying to hide it, but Renalis is aware.

"I do not become "trapped" on the worlds I travel to, although it requires a great amount of power to do so, I can leave this place should I desire to. But rest assured, I shall remain on this world as long as I am needed, and wanted."

Renalis taps his back, the location of his only weapon - the magical sword he enchanted ages ago, "You are right though, I do not need arrows" Renalis then holds out his right hand and a small sphere of energy forms, "And yes, I know many magical "tricks" Renalis chuckles a bit, "And I have found that I am significantly more powerful than your Resini", Renalis remembers fondly being able to find the would-be assassins where the elven Magician failed.

"Trinni, you are the first I would call friend on this world, and I am honoured to fight alongside you." Renalis slows his flight to be right alongside Trinni, and extends his hand.

****

Crystal stands behind Teran, listening to him speak but not really paying much attention to his words. She wants to aid the wounded prisoner but after the man lets her down, she doesn't want to interupt their closeness. It was the one thing that would cause her pause, after nearly losing Renalis, she felt that much closer to him and would never want anyone in love to lose their time together. Realizing she is in rough shape and something must be done - regardless - Crystal steps forward, "Excuse me, but her wounds are severe and I would like to help..." Crystal is cut off as a bright light off to the side grows to some "flashpoint" and explodes, sending off a wave of energy that knocked everyone off their feet. Crystal recovers quickly, a majority of the energy absorbed by the gemstone within her chest.

Quickly rushing over to the fallen woman, Crystal kneels beside her and speaks softly, "Your wounds are serious M'lady, and you require medical attention. I'm not sure what you did to be down here, but no one deserves to be treated this way. You are hurting, and I will try to help."

Jasmine squirms as much as her damaged body will let her, "leave me alone..." she speaks as loudly as possible, but Crystal continues to concentrate on the powers given to her by Elune.

A small silver cresent moon, the symbol of Elune, appears and glows faintly within her gemstone. Her hands begin to also glow faintly as well and she closes her eyes and places her hands on Jasmine. Crystal can feel the anguish beneath the surface and it makes her wince as she begins the healing process. As Jasmine's wounds close Crystal speaks to her, eyes still closed, "You will recover physically, but you have been hurt inside. Something, or someone happened, and has hurt you severly..."

Written by Turin Wallace

Ithramir listens to Lithwyn. His eyes never leave hers as she speaks to him of the dream she had. He can sense the caring behind the facade, her grip on his hands tells more than she is willing to admit. As she pauses, Ithamir opens his mouth to reply, but she is quicker. Shaking her head, she replies,

"You can't go. You can't. Lothiel-Gadith needs you. Without a knowledgeable commander we will fall. I am not a warrior. I don't know how to lead an army. And Nysden? Hah! I'm surprised he is out here even now. What would I... I mean... we... the citadel! What would the citadel do without you?!"

He listens patiently, albeit with a smile, as she asks him to stay. Seeing her wrap her arms around herself, he pulls his cloak off and gives it to her. After doing so, he stands close to her, his eyes still looking down into hers. Gently, he takes both of her hands in his, and says,

"Lithwyn, you know I must go to this fight. The orcs are merciless, and if our last keep on the border falls, then this will be the end for us all. Your dream will become reality if we fail in our mission. But, if I am to never return here again, then let me die in peace knowing I have said all I need to..."

Pausing for a moment, he continues,

"...there's no other way to say this, so forgive my boldness: Amin mela lle, Lithwyn. I have been a fool for pretending not to care, when I really do. Everytime I have marched away, my only thoughts were of returning here to you. Our people need us both, but I only just realized, fool that I am, that I need you."

Reaching up with one hand, Ithramir gently wipes the tears from her eyes, then pulls her close. He can smell the perfume in her hair, the sweet smell of flowers makes him close his eyes and think of better days. Not wasting the moment, Ithramir wraps Lithwyn into his arms and kisses her deeply. If he wasn't coming back, he wanted the taste of her lips before he left. If he does return, he will deal with the repercussions then.

Amin mela lle - "I love you" in elvish


Written by Lucant Dolvan - Page 7 Book 2

"What a fool I am..." Lucant thought to himself as he walked down the long hallway of cells, "why am I looking for this girl? I don't even know who she is or what she's done to be put down here in the first place." Still, he continued onwards.

Agmund's voice rung off the stone walls in the distance. Startled, he began a sprint down the hallway. He knew intrinsicly that something was waiting just down the way, that what he had been waiting for was right before him.

The old priest's figure appeared before him, along with that of an elven woman and the guard, Audun. Lucant could see that they were concerned about who was in the glowing cell. Before he could ask what was the matter, the glowing within the cell burst out and bathed the entire cell block with a warm, radiant light. Lucant quickly shielded his ears when humming from within the cell grew excruciatingly loud. A pulse of light came from within and Lucant clealy heard an alien voice within his head: My master...

When the light had faded, Lucant rushed to the gaping hole in the cell's wall to see what had occured. To his shock, he was greeted by the visage of the girl had seen earlier, as well as the sight of a magnificent sword standing mysteriously on it's point."My master..." he heard the call again. The strange feeling of serenity had returned, also.

Lucant stepped into the shattered cell towards the sword that kept calling him. He reached out for the hilt, but stopped before his fingertips reached it. "Why am I hesitating? This is what I want. This is what I have been waiting for." Spurred on by his conviction, Lucant shut his eyes and decisively grasped the hilt of the mysterious sword. The same voice that had called him "master" again echoed through his mind.

At last my master...at last I am in your hands. I am A'lanthear, and you, my master, are the chosen champion of Nyrondis. "Champion!? I am no champion, I am but a broken fool who must rely on the generosity of others." Lucant thought to himself. To his surprise, A'lanthear responded: You are no fool, my master, and it is from these others that you will come to draw your strength. Fascinated, Lucant posed another question to the sword, "Tell me, A'lanthear, what does Nyrondis want me to do?" The circle has just now been drawn, my master, and it is far from being complete. You must grow stronger, my master, in mind, body, and heart. But chiefly, you must protect this girl," a vision of the young girl he had seen earlier flashed through his mind, "for you are bound as intimately to her as I am to you." "Then so be it, A'lanthear. If this is my destiny, I shall embrace it." Lucant whispered to the sword with decisiveness and clarity. My master, fear not what lies before you, for I am at your side and Nyrondis walks with you.

Opening his eyes, Lucant saw the haunting young girl sitting on the floor in front of him with tears in her eyes. He took A'lanthear up in one hand, and, remembering the sword's wishes, he leaned forward to offer the other to the girl.

Written by Tempyst

Yes, young one, this is he, the champion of Nyrondis. You have found him.

Tempyst watched as the young man hesitated, then grasp ahold of A'lanthear's hilt. As his hand tightened, she saw before her a vision of a warrior, a protector, a humble servant, a hero. Her hand reached out to his and as their fingers touched, Tempyst felt the world shake. Teary eyes gazed up into his, she whispered, almost breathlessly, "You're real. You're real." Her hand shook in his, feeling his warmth, his strength, feeling everything from all her dreams rush through her soul, making her heart pound in her chest. Visions of her dreams raced through her mind; remembering her best friend who ran with her through the forest when she was a child. Remembering the joy of sharing with him new discoveries and ner abilities. Remembering how, during her rebirth, he came to her, his soft words of encouragement helping her find the strength to not give up. Remembering his teasing, his laugh, his arms that held her when nightmares tried to take control. Remembering him asking she wait for him, to be patient for he would find her.

Tempyst looked into Lucant's eyes, already knowing him, her soul aching no longer.

Written by Trinni Shannon

"I do not become "trapped" on the worlds I travel to, although it requires a great amount of power to do so, I can leave this place should I desire to. But rest assured, I shall remain on this world as long as I am needed, and wanted. You are right though, I do not need arrows. And yes, I know many magical "tricks" And I have found that I am significantly more powerful than your Resini."

The glow in Renalis' hand catches Trinni's eye and she smiles at the prettiness of it, fully aware of the damage such a glow can cause, and the healing it can bring. Grinning down at him as he chuckles, she relaxes in her saddle, a little more confident that he isn't insane after all.

"Trinni, you are the first I would call friend on this world, and I am honoured to fight alongside you." Looking down at the outstretched hand, the flying man's eyes glowing bright blue, she tilts her head to the side pretending to consider the offer.

"Hmmm. Weeeeell... if I don't have ANY other choice..." Suddenly she giggles and reaches her hand out. Taking his hand in hers, she smiles warmly and shakes it firmly. "Well, I am much honored to be your first friend. You will make more, don't worry! The people of Lothiel-Gadith are very nice. Well, some are more serious than others." Turning her head to the left, she motions to the tall serious elven in all black armor. "I haven't even spoken with that one yet, but I'm afraid if I get too close he'll bite my hand off or somethin'."

****

Hugging her arms around her body, she is surprised when Ithramir takes off his cloak and wraps it around her. Looking up at him, a curious warmth spreads throughout Lithwyn's body as he slides his hands down her arms to take her hands in his own.

"Lithwyn, you know I must go to this fight. The orcs are merciless, and if our last keep on the border falls, then this will be the end for us all. Your dream will become reality if we fail in our mission. But, if I am to never return here again, then let me die in peace knowing I have said all I need to..."

Her heart leaps in her throat and her lips part on a sigh of barely restrained hope.

"...there's no other way to say this, so forgive my boldness: Amin mela lle, Lithwyn. I have been a fool for pretending not to care, when I really do. Everytime I have marched away, my only thoughts were of returning here to you. Our people need us both, but I only just realized, fool that I am, that I need you."

Her head swiming, she nearly faints and has to rely on Ithramir's strength to keep standing. A tear escapes and trickles down Lithwyn's cheek even as his hand rises to wipe it away. As his hand grazes her face, her eyes close and a soft sound of yearning escapes from her lips. Her heart pounds in her ears and it feels as if her entire body has gone mad. As he pulls her closer, the scent of his skin surrounds her, the warmth of his touch flows through her. So many sensations, building until she opens her eyes to gaze up into face once more.

It was as if she was seeing him for the first time. Lithwyn, about to put up a weak protest about decency, is interrupted as Ithramir leans forward and kisses her deeply. Giving in, forgetting about duty for just a moment, she returns the kiss with like passion. The entire world falls away and it is just Ithramir in that blissful moment. With both hands entwined in his hair, she pulls closer wishing it would never end.

A kiss like this is how it starts. A kiss like this is how it ends, but not with me. Not with me. I can't. Not again!

Breaking the kiss abruptly, her lips still tingling, the taste of him still on her tongue, she withdraws. Taking a step back, her body shaking from the mounting turmoil within her breast and mind, she reaches out with her hand. Trying to find support, from anything or anyone but Ithramir, her fingertips find the low-hanging branch of a tree. Now anchored, her head is bowed and she breathes deeply. Eyes closed, trying to fight off unbidden thoughts, Lithwyn's face is averted in shame. Ithramir's presence is so close to her, if she flinched she would touch him.

Finally, turning her face up, her eyes glistening with promises of a fresh onslaught, she shakes her head. There is no choice for her.

"Ithramir. You don't understand. My heart is gone. I gave it away once, to my melfea. He betrayed that vow and it... nearly... killed me. Do you have any idea what it feels like when your melfea breaks the sacred vow? Do you?!" The force of her words ends on a sigh that escapes her lips and fresh pain at the memory contort her face. Closing her eyes for a moment, she tilts her head down. When they open the vision of the ground is completely obscurred by tears running over her eyelashes. Her voice drops to a whisper as she looks up at him after a pause. "I didn't think so." Shaking her head sadly, her voice is soft with sorrow. There was only one thing left to say.

"I'm sorry. There is no heart left for me to give you, Ithramir."

Releasing her hold on the tree, she turns away from him. Her duty completed by warning him of her dream, she walks towards Sable, determined to ride back to Lothiel-Gadith where she can try to forget his touch, his taste, his smell in her hair.

****

OOC: Definition and description of Melfea. Roughly translated, it means soulmate. However, it means much more than that in context. For elven, there is one person they are meant to be with. Not just this life, but all lives. Where there were two heart beats, there is now one. When one of the pair dies, the other either dies shortly thereafter or isn't the same for the remainder of their life. Rarely, very rarely, the vow of Melfea is broken by one of the pair. The one who brakes the vow has little by way of repercussion, but the one remaining is not a whole person. Crushed, they are very nearly doomed. Sometimes they can find a partner again. Sometimes it is even strong enough to be a bond of melfea. This, of course is very rare. Melfea in itself is not a completely common occurrence as most don't realize their mate when they find them. Finding it twice in one life is rare indeed.

Written by Ariana

When Mavigan saw Keeryn nod her ascent, she nearly gave a cackle of glee. There was nothing quite like the thrill of doing something forbidden, knowing that at any minute you could be caught. Mavigan absolutely loved sneaking and skulking. It was a thrill, she had to admit, being well hidden and knowing that the person you were watching had no idea they were being watched!

It was no boast to say that Mavigan was rather good at hiding and sneaking. As a child, she had always bested Etewen in their games of hide-and-seek. As she grew older, her abilities, though untrained (for such training was not “proper” for a girl of the royal family), had increased. She had even went through a “phase” where she popped out at anyone and everyone, taking delight in their squeals of surprise (even if some of those squeals were faked), and then ran off down the corridor filled with laughter.

Her natural inclination served her well during her time away from home, where the art of stealth became less of a game and more of a necessity for survival. But even such real life testing of her abilities did not dampen her joy of the game, and she rubbed her hands eagerly with anticipation.

Leaning close to Keeryn, she whispered in her ear, “We have to slip the guards outside the door. Follow me!”

The glaziers had apparently finished their measurements and were making their way out of her chambers. Mavigan, being unusually polite due to her anxiousness to get underway, thanked them for their work and ushered them through the door herself. Once they were gone, she told the guards she was going to take a nap, then shut and locked her door.

Crouching down low, she put her ear to the doorway, listening intently. Hearing no signs of concern from the guards outside, she gave Keeryn a “thumbs up” sign and tip-toed to her window, which was nothing more than an open hole in the wall now that the glass was broken. Gazing out, she saw the courtyard from last night. Unlike last night, however, it was not filled with people. Other than the spare guard who could be easily avoided with the right timing, she did not spy any immediate threat to detection.

Motioning to Keeryn with her hand, she stepped out onto her balcony and grabbed hold of the vines she had climbed down last night. Swinging herself over, she quickly shuffled down into the courtyard and moved behind a nearby statue. She was pleased to see Keeryn very agilely following her with even less sound than she herself made. Oh, Keeryn was an excellent sneaker, and Mavigan smiled with delight.

As they huddled behind the rather large stone statue of some Elven somebody, Mavigan peered out looking for the guards she had seen. Once spotted, she then began counting. As predicted, each had a steady pattern of patrol, and there was a space of 10 seconds where they were all out of sight. She and Keeryn would make their move then. Mavigan had briefly considered simply knocking people over the head, but soon discarded the notion realizing that such an act would only compound the trouble she was already in.

Once the moment arrived, both Mavigan and Keeryn took off like a shot, quietly running to the strategically placed hedge that would provide them enough cover to scope out the entrance to the dungeon. Peering past the greenery, Mavigan observed their next obstacle, her brow creased with thought.

Two guards stood alertly by the door to the dungeons, and Mavigan grimly observed that both were Elves belonging to Ithramir. It was unlikely they would let her and her friend pass.

“Hmmm,” Mavigan said quietly to her partner in crime. “What we could really use now is a distraction.” Keeryn sagely nodded in agreement.

Then, as if the gods had suddenly decided to do something nice for Mavigan instead of their current torture, a loud blast resounded from inside the building. The magnitude of the explosion made the ground beneath their feet tremble, and though startled, it was still with great pleasure she saw the two guards turn, open the dungeon door, and bustle through. THIS was their opportunity!

Motioning to Keeryn, the two crossed the last distance and slipped inside the door, the ruckus of the blast and its aftermath serving to hide any sounds they made themselves. Once inside the main chamber, they watched as the guards ran down one passageway, obviously headed for the blast.

Without much thought, Mavigan turned the other way and began heading down the other passage. She knew they would have to be careful since the two passageways likely met somewhere in the middle, but as her old friend Jonan used to tell her, “Never take the front way! Always go in the back!” Of course, Jonan had spent more time in jail than out of it, but it still seemed like good advice to Mavigan. Of course, if her handsome fellow had been the cause of that explosion, then she was heading straight for the guards. No matter, Mavigan decided. If he was attempting a prison break, she would just have to help him.

They hurried down the passage since it did not offer much in the way of concealment, keeping an ear out for the sound of voices, and peering into the cells they passed as they went. To Mavigan’s surprise, most of the cells appeared to be empty. Considering Ithramir’s temperament, she had expected the dungeon to be overflowing with people he was pissed off at, but perhaps Ithramir had been called off to war before he could restock.

It wasn’t long, however, before she was distracted from such thoughts by the murmur of voices. Slowing her pace, she inched along the wall until she could distinguish the voices. One of those voices she recognized immediately. She had found him!

Ducking into the nearest empty cell and pressing herself against the wall, she listened intently to see if she could tell who he was with. After a few moments, another voice rang out, and Mavigan placed it with the face of the Elf who had tried to heal her last night. From the bits of conversation Mavigan could hear, she could tell there was at least one other person in the room, but she didn't know who it was.

Since she wasn’t supposed to be talking to him anyway, having an audience to this clandestine meeting was not an idea she was keen on. Motioning to Keeryn that they were staying where they were for a bit, she shuffled closer to the wall and strained her ears to hear the conversation over the shouts and ruckus farther off.

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm watched Lithwyn ride off towards the gates on Sable, and then noticed Mavigan dismounting.

“Come on Keeryn,” she said, “I have got to get out of this dress!”

Mavigan ran inside followed by Keeryn. Wilhelm handed Argent over to one of the Queen's Guards who had followed Mavigan out, asking him to take Argent back to the stables. Turning to the other two he said,

"See that she gets safely to her suite or the room she was in. Mavigan as Queen may go where she wishes inside the Citadel, but do try to keep an eye on her and keep her safe. I will remain here until Lithwyn returns. Anyone with business for the Citadel Commander can come to me for now. Pass the word."

They saluted and ran off after Mavigan, who seemed to be heading towards her suite. After Mavigan and Keeryn entered the suite, they passed on Wilhelm's orders to the other Queen's Guards and to the Citadel Guards. Meanwhile, Wilhelm remained and watched the army march out of the Citadel, waving and calling out greetings to those he knew. Lithwyn would return in due course, and then he would go see what trouble Mavigan had undoubtedly gotten into with Keeryn.

Written by Archeantus

"You have heard of me then?" He smiled, blushing a little bit.

It was him.

She somehow knew, there was something about his demeanor, the masterful act he was putting on to gain her adherence, his skill last night, his fervent eyes, all echoed the authenticity of who he was. But a barrage of questions began firing at her. What in the name of the Gods was he doing here? Why had he defended the young Queen? Why did he care? What governed his heart? Why had they let him from his cell?

Obviously, she had no idea who he really was. She knew him, yet only from his legend, and in the brief moment she had been thinking, he had suddenly come close. Far too close than she had been prepared for.

His presence swept all around her, his face came within inches of her own, she mindlessly joined in the game of seduction. Her glimmering eyes feigned a perfected apprehensive look of longing as she looked up into his. Moments passed as they stared into one another, racing dangerous thoughts lit in their minds, each knowing the string the other was walking.

Smoothly, deftly, he gently guided her now free arms down to her sides and took a calculated step back. She found she did not like the loss of pain. Her arms however now ached from the loss of pressure and she felt alive again.

"I am sorry our second meeting could not have been as grand as our first." He spoke with an air of remembrance, his eyes drifting off perhaps further than the previous night.

She said nothing. She began to feel more trapped than she had been only moments ago, and the feeling heightened.

"I can't offer you any proof of who I am" He murmured and then paused for a moment perhaps content leaving it at that. "I cannot prove anything at all."

She could care less about her question now. She knew.

"Fortunately for both of us I did not come here to prove things to you." He stated wryly through an every growing smile "I came to tell you that you may leave with me if you desire... but it will require your cooperation."

Her eyes widened ever so slightly, and she found herself backing against the wall.

Freedom.

The thought scared her terribly. She did not know what she would do with it. Even now she contemplated killing the man before her with her bare hands, yet at the same time a completely forgotten feeling began rising in her mind: Guilt. She began to visibly shake as the feeling took hold, and the sweeping thought rose out of her pained consciousness glaring her in the face, it spoke with Godlike air, crushing her passiveness, “Hate......no..... more.......”

And then the memory, buried deep within came back with rushing force, a memory lost forever. She saw in her mind’s eye the days of her youth as a young woman. And to her utter shock, she beheld what she had worn…The robes of a Priestess, her hair of golden yellow, her eyes of pure blue…She nearly gasped at the thought of what she had become…

It was then a woman appeared, behind Teran, a woman dressed in white. Jasmine did not hear her speak, though she knew she had. Jasmine had begun to cry, the world blurred, her shaking hand reached out to stop the woman from coming ever closer; she wanted everything to end, her guilt pounding her again and again, like a smith pounds his work over the hearth. She began to slowly slide helplessly to the cold stone floor. Somewhere within that moment a bright light exploded and a wave of energy shot across her. She kept falling.

She felt the woman touch her, felt the familiar warmth she felt last night from the elven woman; she closed her eyes…all she saw was light.

…A sudden gasp…Her eyes exploded open and in them, the woman saw in the fleeting moment…final desperation.

Jasmine shot up in a flash, forcing the woman to quickly step back from her. Her face contorted in anger, Jasmine struck out and backhanded the woman across the face, sending her flying to the ground.

“Leave…me…alone!” She seethed, and then suddenly screamed in incredible pain. It shot through the dungeon, within all the commotion that was happening there, all heard it and stopped. It was the scream of death, of a lifetime of guilt, of a broken heart. Clutching the hand that had struck the woman, it’s color of deathly grey, it appeared to slowly spread down across her wrist and then it stopped.

The would be assassin rushed backward and slammed against the wall once more, her chest rising and falling heavily, all the while holding her hand, the same hand that her previous master had cut off when she had tried to kill him upon meeting him. The same hand that had been replaced by the mage…

She then looked in stark terror at all those around her and realized she was slowly dying.

Written by Agmund

He wrestled himself to stand, bones aching from the sudden fall, and pain wracking his mind. No thought came to him that defined the purpose or cause of the strange event, he could only surmise that magic of an ancient sort was at work. When the dust had cleared he could see Lucant clearly to his left and a path going thru the bars and cell directly to him from the Lady of the Wood.

“The sword,” his mind sang to life “the sword has a personality of its own, it is imbued with the power of nature to some degree… yes… you can feel its power. Why could you not see it earlier? Why now does it come to its part? Lucant… it was searching for Lucant,” his eyes slowly moved to the sturdy looking young farrier.

The Eleven Guard of the Citadel were coming alive with action, and it wasn’t a slow process, each having regained his senses, began to rise and draw his weapon. He could hear shouting in the distance, as other guards were being roused by the commotion. It would not be long, he thought, till the entire prison was full of elves, and rightfully so.

“Audun,” he reached down and aided the elf to his feet “She is telling the truth, at least what she has said so far is truth, but we still are not aware of her full purpose, nor are we aware of that which she carries.” He looked directly into Audun’s eyes as he continued, “I advise that you make sure the other cells are secure, and see that Lady Lithwyn is informed about what has occurred here, before the whole of the Citadel moves upon us.”

Audun nodded his agreement and quickly passed orders to the two elven guards closest, after which he turned back to the priest and spoke in elvish “and what of these two Father Agmund.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for you there friend Audun, but I suppose my recommendation would be to take them both to a more private place where the two can speak with one another,” Father Agmund replied with a chuckle. He had planned on teaching Lucant the sword along side the Queen, that way both could learn at the same time, Lucant gaining a new life and the Queen a skill she sorely needed. Plans go awry some times, and at the present he wasn’t sure what direction to go with either of them. The strange sword had added a new element, one that he had not foreseen.

“For now Audun, lets give them a moment here to figure things out, that may be best…” his voice trailed off.

Written by Turin Wallace

Ithramir only watched and listened as Lithwyn told him about her melfea. It is their people's way to bind each other’s souls together, but when one dies or breaks that vow, then the consequences can be devastating. Obviously, Lithwyn's mate betrayed her, and now Ithramir can finally see why she hides herself from others...and him especially.

Ithramir says nothing as she starts to walk away, how can he? His heart and soul was bared for all to see and he was turned away. In his mind, Ithramir knows that only she holds the key to letting her soul heal before she can let him in. And that, it seems, she is unwilling to do.

Just before she reaches her mount, Ithramir calls out,

"Lithwyn, stop."

He watches her stop. In a soft voice, he simply says,

"Nothing more needs to be said. I can now sleep both at night, and in death if it is the gods will, knowing I spoke my hearts desire. You are correct, never was I bound to another, I do not know your pain or loss. If I could ride to face that foe, I would. However, I cannot, only you can decide when you are ready to move on. I hope to be here when you are."

Pausing as he mounts his great, black steed, Ithramir then says,

"So, goodbye Lithwyn Deltheron, may Kaia'hanas guide and bless you in your ways, granting you peace and the ability to heal your soul."

With a gentle nudge, Ithramir wheels around on his horse, letting his eyes linger long upon the figure of Lithwyn, his cloak still wrapped around her. Giving her a nod and smile, he then rides off to the head of the army and to whatever fate awaits him on the battlefield.

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Lucant felt a warm rush surge through his body when he touched the young girl's hand. He pulled her to her feet and she rose as gracefully as a feather upon the wind. Still with tears in her eyes, she threw her arms around his neck and whispered "You're real. You're real." Surprised and somewhat embarassed, he responded the only way he could think of.

He wrapped his arms around her and held her close to his heart - held her like his father had held him during raging storms and after nightmares- in a monsterous bear hug that seemed to shut out the rest of the world. A'lanthear seemed to sing with joy at the embrace. The two let go of each other, though they still gazed into the other's eyes. "My lady," Lucant said just barely above a whisper, "A'lanthear wishes me to stay at your side. He said that I am bound to you. However, I do not even know your name." Before the girl could respond, A'lanthear spoke once more. " My master, Nagarren has grown impatient. Already she has set the circle in motion. Her child is already here. Find her, my master. No harm must come to this child, as the path to peace lies with her."

After the pause, he said regretfully to the druidess "I beg for your forgiveness, my lady, but A'lanthear demands my attention already." A look of understanding told him there was no ill will. Turning to Father Agmund, he asked "Father, would you know who A'lanthear means when he refers to 'Nagarren's child'?"

Written by Agmund

After the pause, he said regretfully to the druidess "I beg for your forgiveness, my lady, but A'lanthear demands my attention already." A look of understanding told him there was no ill will. Turning to Father Agmund, he asked "Father, would you know who A'lanthear means when he refers to 'Nagarren's child'?"

Father Agmund’s head swung slowly towards the young farrier, one eyebrow cast towards the ceiling, and his jaw locked into place with the answer of the question. For if the sword was referring to Mavigan, as the child of Ngarren, then it was here ultimately to aid her… or destroy her.

He knew there was no way for him to question the sword directly, and that the ones that could hear it would of course believe what it told them. There in lay the riddle of the faithful priests predicament. The sword could have been sent by the enemy, it could have been crafted years in advance, for things that happen even now, were designed by the gods themselves in a time when only they roamed Aerynth.

“There could still be signs that you have simply not seen yet,” his head lowered as he contemplated. “If indeed the sword was sent by Ngarren, it had to have been put into place ages ago, and if that assumption is correct… then it would mean only one thing.” The grim look upon his face was shrouded by the silvery hair of his beard. “Danger will be around every corner for Mavigan, and Ngarren,” his face rose back towards Lucant, “fears the worst.”

“It would appear then, that the part you would have this young farrier play, was already set into motion,” his thoughts concluded with a tarrying nod, eyes suddenly becoming large as he speaks directly to Lucant “The Queen of Ancora… Lady Mavigan.”

Written by Tempyst

"I beg for your forgiveness, my lady, but A'lanthear demands my attention already." Tempyst smiled softlyu, knowing all to well the demands of the sword she hard born. Turning to Father Agmund, Lucant asked "Father, would you know who A'lanthear means when he refers to 'Nagarren's child'?"

Tempyst finally took a step back from Lucant, as he addressed the older man. She had closed her eyes for a moment, catching her breath, when the sword whispered once again. Your duty is only beginning young one, keep him safe for he has much to do now, you both do. Together you will guard her, together you can keep her safe, Nyrondis wills it so.

She opened her eyes as the the older man spoke. “The Queen of Ancora… Lady Mavigan.”

Tempyst took a step forward, head held high, a new purpose filling her. "Nyrondis is the guardian of the earth, protecting those that are in need, helping those who are worthy, mending that which is hurt." Tempyst took a deep breath and stepped back to Lucant's side. "We are here to carry out Nyrondis's will. Take its meaning as you will."

There was a sudden scream from the cell across the way. Tempyst heard the sound but stepped closer to Lucant. to her, she had more pressing things to deal with.

Written by Renalis

"Hmmm. Weeeeell... if I don't have ANY other choice..." Suddenly she giggles and reaches her hand out. Taking his hand in hers, she smiles warmly and shakes it firmly. "Well, I am much honored to be your first friend. You will make more, don't worry! The people of Lothiel-Gadith are very nice. Well, some are more serious than others." Turning her head to the left, she motions to the tall serious elven in all black armor. "I haven't even spoken with that one yet, but I'm afraid if I get too close he'll bite my hand off or somethin'."

Renalis looks at the tall Elf in the black armor and laughed at her comment. "He does look intimidating doesn't he?" Renalis looked deeply at the man, His armor was as dark as the night itself, but there was something different about him. He was not like the other elves of this world, he seemed different somehow, and not just because of the weight he carried on his shoulders - he looked different and carried himself differently. "I'll have to talk with him before the battle..." Renalis muttered to himself.

****

The woman shot up in a flash, forcing the woman to quickly step back from her. Her face contorted in anger, the woman struck out and backhanded Crystal across the face, sending her flying to the ground.

Rising slowly from the ground rubbing her face, Crystal thinks to herself, "Damn she can hit hard, but why does she fight this so... what is eating her from the inside?"

“Leave…me…alone!” The woman seethed, and then suddenly screamed in incredible pain. Clutching the hand that had struck Crystal, it’s color of deathly grey, it appeared to slowly spread down across her wrist and then it stopped.

"By Elune's grace" Crystal gasped, then thinking to herself, "She was touched by something... dark."

The woman rushed backward and slammed against the wall once more, her chest rising and falling heavily, all the while holding her hand then She then looked in stark terror at all those around her.

"I want to help you, but you have to let me" Crystal spoke softly as she approached the woman slowly. She was given no response as the woman looked just looked around, apparently in shock.

Crystal knelt down beside her once more and closing her eyes, her hands glowing she placed them on the woman once more. She winced again as she felt the darkness within her soul, the heavy burden she carried. The physical wounds were completly healed now, but Crystal could feel something else. She was cursed, touched by death - or death's advocate - this powerful necromancy was beyond Crystal's ability to cure.

Crystal rose to her feet, looking down at the woman she spoke with a very serious tone in her voice, "There is nothing more I can do, if you open up I can attempt to help you with the burden you carry but I can do no more alone. The second problem you have, the far more obvious one, is this. This is a curse of undeath, the end result is unknown to me and I cannot cure it. I think I have slowed it progress but I believe only the one who placed it can remove it... or possibly by removing him from this life, we can end it."

Crystal looked down at the woman, awaiting her response.

Written by Ariana

Crouched in the semi-darkness, pressed hard against the rough stone, Mavigan’s face grows stormy as she listens intently to the words filtering through the commotion towards her. As the seconds tic by, Mavigan’s body tenses in small increments until it is apparent to her companion that she is about to explode.

“THAT BASTARD!” Mavigan exploded, the words seeming to pop out of her like a cork popping out of wine bottle.

In one instant, Mavigan tore herself from the wall, a dagger flying unbidden into each hand, and stepped into the open. Ignoring the guards who seemed distracted, she rigidly moved to stand in the doorway of the neighboring cell. Gripping her daggers so tightly her knuckles turned white, she trembled with the effort of restraint. Every instinct within her screamed that here was the enemy, she should strike now before the bitch got off the floor and attempted to finish what she started.

Instead, Mavigan stood rooted to her spot, casting malevolent glares at each of the occupants in turn her gaze finally settling on her supposed “hero”. The scene she witnessed coupled with the statements she had heard resulted in only one conclusion. Teran was helping the assassin escape and enlisting the priestess to heal her so they could make their getaway.

Despite the rage and hurt that swirled within her, Mavigan’s words were tinged with ice. Directing her statement to Teran, she said plainly, “I do not know what kind of game you are playing, but I do not find it fun.”

Any response Teran might have made was swallowed by the assassins scream and the drama that immediately followed. Mavigan watched, the expression on her face unreadable. She clearly heard the declaration of the priestess that the assassin was dying and discovered some small touch of satisfaction at the knowledge. The woman would not go unpunished for her crimes. Her daggers disappeared as mysteriously as they had appeared as a new idea formed in her mind.

“Well,” Mavigan said, venom dripping from her words, “isn’t this cozy. Since you all enjoy one another’s company so much, why don’t you all rot here?” With that, she grabbed the keys from the belt of the nearest guard, slammed the cell door, and locked it. Tossing the keys far down the corridor, she turned to Keeryn.

“Come on Keeryn, let’s get out of here,” Mavigan said. She cast an unhappy glance at the door she had just locked. “There is nothing for me here.”

Mavigan then started to walk swiftly back the way she came, no longer thrilling in the game, no longer concerned with concealment. She knew they wouldn’t stay locked in there for long – someone would likely retrieve the keys. But at least it gave her the opportunity to walk away before she did something REALLY stupid. Her way was unimpeded, and soon she and Keeryn found themselves once again in daylight.

After a moment of hesitation, Mavigan turned her steps towards to the kitchen. “I’m hungry,” she said. “That moron Ardwen ruined my breakfast.” Secretly, she hoped there would be cake – she wanted to drown her sorrows in sweets.

Written by Ardwen

"The people of Lothiel-Gadith are very nice. Well, some are more serious than others." Trinni turned her head to look right at him, Ardwen tried to pay her no mind. "I haven't even spoken with that one yet," she continued, "but I'm afraid if I get too close he'll bite my hand off or somethin'."

Ardwen made no visible reaction to the girl's words, but he did hear them. Inside he was all frowns and questions. Finally he gave a reaction, a slow deliberate shake of his head as if he were gesturing no. Ardwen took one hand off the reins and looked at it. He could not actually see his hand, covered as it was in sable steel, but he flexed his sword hand anyhow.

Ardwen’s eyes traced a line up the rest of his arm, all covered in the fearsome black berserker armor he had chosen. He shook his head again and frowned, but it was born out of sadness. His own people . . . his wards, his purpose . . . and they thought him a monster. Ardwen opened his mouth to speak in his defense, but what could he say? He [b]was a monster, and if this girl would see how he would fight in the upcoming battle . . . no – best to be honest. “I am not of Lothiel-Gadith, or from anywhere around here. I’m just here for the fights,” Ardwen paused then finished, “you need not worry about this one, you are off the blood at least.” He placed both his hands back on his mount’s reins and stared straight ahead. "Let them talk," Ardwen thought, "Let them speak their fill, just give me a blade in my hands and a foe in front of me."

Written by Tempyst

Kaya awoke, feeling her body shaking and getting tossed around. As her eyes regained focus, she saw she was inside a moving cage. She tried to reach up but found her hands and feet to be chained to the floor. It was just getting light outside, she could see the pink horizon of the morning sky. What the hell happened? She tought, still trying to gain her wits. Kaya closed her eyes, took a couple of deep breaths, then once agian looked about her surroundings. I'm in a cage, on a wagon, I see several other small cages with people in them, but I don't know if they are human or elven. It is morning, who knows how long I have been out, and I am being taken somewhere. Another match maybe? Oh well who cares, another match, another person to kill, another day goes by. She hung her head and closed her eyes, trying to let the rhythm of the wagon put her back to sleep.


Written by Teran - Page 8 Book 2

"What troubles you, My Queen?" A familiar voice asked Mavigan as she stepped into the daylight.

The assassin stood in the sunlight, leaning casually where one of the guards had once stood, twirling the key ring Mavigan had just seconds before thrown down the hall around his index finger.

"I had hoped to speak with you before the task of hunting down your would be assassins pulled me away from this place." He offered her a charming smile.

If Mavigan bothered to turn around and check the cell she had locked in a fury she would find it as she had left it, the healer and Jasmine still trapped inside. Teran stood before Mavigan, his hands held out wide to either side, a sign of submission and perhaps an offer to Mavigan... Teran would be seemingly unable to defend himself if she chose to fire off a punch in her rage.

Written by Aethelwulf

Cinching up the last leather strap for his green plate armor, Alaric turned to his squire. "Roland lad, is my steed at the ready as well?" Roland lowered his eyes and nodded solemnly. "Aye my lord, he is indeed at the ready."

Alaric smiled wanly and lifting the young squires chin up, he spoke in a soft tone to his nephew. "Look lad, I told your mother that I would not run off and get her son killed. Not this year at the least!" Alaric smiled brighter as he saw the fire in the lads eyes. "I know Uncle, and indeed I will apply myself with great dispatch to my weapons training. Its just that," the lads countenance fell once more," I wish I could go with ye and fight by your side."

Alaric nodded his head and clapped the young lad on the shoulder. "I know son, I know. You have come far in the last two years, and I know that your father would be proud of you" Roland's father had been killed three years earlier in a skirmish with orc's, and it was then that Alaric had taken on his sisters son as a squire. "I know I am.."

Alaric roughly took up the lad, and gave him a swift and firm hug. Then holding him at arms length, he charged the lad with a solumn task.

"While I am away lad, I want you to guard your mother well. The times we live in are violent and dire, and she will need a good man at the ready. Now then, I must report to Lord Ithramir, for we soon march. Take care of your self lad! I shall see ye upon my return." And with a swirft movement, Alaric left the tent and strode vigorously to the tent of his Commander.

Written by Ariana

“What troubles you, My Queen?”

The voice surprised her, interrupting her daydream about the endless parade of sweets she intended to consume. She looked at Teran, standing casually in the light of the sun as if he were as comfortable with it as he was with the darkness of night. Her mouth dropped open with surprise. She looked at Teran, then at the keys he held, then behind her into the passageway she had just left, and then at Keeryn – who merely shrugged and looked as confused as Mavigan felt.

Returning her gaze to Teran, her eyes filled with respect and awe, and more than a little longing. “Damn,” she said. After a moments hesitation she burst out with “You SO have to teach me how to DO that!”

A split second after the words left her mouth, she remembered she was mad at him, and her eyes immediately narrowed. She placed one foot behind her, putting herself into a defensive stance – just in case. Although she would personally cut out her own tongue rather than admit such a thing, she was acutely aware that Ithramir had been right – the man standing before her was not all he seemed. She left her daggers sheathed, though, not trusting his apparent submissive gesture, but realizing that had he wished her dead, he could have killed her before she was even aware of his presence.

“Hunting them?” she asked acidly. “Looked more like helping them to me.”

She paused for a moment as the rest of his statement whipped through her brain. “Leaving”, her brain told her. “Not without me, he’s not!” the rest of her replied. She didn’t trust him, but she recognized a golden opportunity when she saw one.

“Besides, why hunt them? They aren’t the problem. We know who sent them. Why don’t we go to Westgale, sneak into the castle, gut my bastard Uncle, and call it day?”

Written by Lucant Dolvan

"My master, fear not for Nagarren's child. She is safe for the moment, but it will not always be so. Still, you two must find her and ensure that no harm befalls her." Where is she, A'lanthear? "All things in time, my master. For now, there is someone else who needs you."

A scream broke his conversation with A'lanthear and Lucant noticed that the young druidess was standing very close to him. As some of the guards rushed down toward the noise he turned his head and found himself looking directly into the young girl's disarming eyes. Feeling the blood rush to his face, he quickly averted his attention to Agmund. "Father Agmund, I assure you that neither we nor Nyrondis mean to harm to Her Majesty. In fact, our intentions are quite the opposite." Agmund looked as if he heard, but he clearly had other things on his mind. Not waiting for the priest to respond, Lucant turned back to the druidess.

"Again I beg your forgiveness, my lady," Lucant said with a bow, still red-faced. He then realized that he still didn't know her name. "My lady, I apologize again, for not introducing myself properly. My name is Lucant Dolvan and I was a farrier before I was fortunate enough to meet you. Might...might I be so bold as to ask your name, my lady?"

Written by Tempyst

Tempyst smiles, taken in by Lucant's deep blue eyes. "I am Tempyst, the druid Whisperling, and it is my greatest pleasure to finally meet you." Tempyst felt her face flush a litte, not sure of what to say to him, now that he was standing here before her. Finally, after an awkward silence, she continued. "I...there is so much to ask you, to tell you; I have been searching for you my whole life and now that you are here..." Her voice trailed off as she realized what had just happened to the jail. He eyes grew wide, surveying the damage. "A'lanthear, what have you done?" She whispered, but the sword did not answer. She placed a hand upon Lucant's arm, and looked back into his, she suddenly realized, handsome face. Her voince once again stuttered as she spoke. "I think the time is not right for our pleasantries. I believe I have some explaining to do." Tempyst looked towards the older man, who was watching her sternly.

Written by Teran

"Yes we do know who sent the assassin who killed your family, however I believe that the man who sent Jasmine after you has his own motivation for wanting you dead. Whether your bastard uncle is dead or alive you will still be in danger." He says softly.

Teran considered his next words very carefully.

"I realize you would very much like Beridane dead, my Queen, and perhaps when your safety is assured I will bring you his head as a gift but there is another option." he stopped and smiled and then continued. "Beridane is a very weak man, perhaps more valuable to you alive than dead, more useful on his throne than in your dungeon."

He broke off that line of conversation, not wishing to make the Queen any more uncomfortable than necessary discussing the murderer of her family. He deftly continued giving her no chance to respond....

"I will hunt Jasmine's Master with her assistance. She knows more about him than I and perhaps she has information on his current destination. It will undoubtedly be a very dangerous trip with a deadly foe at the end of a deadly path." The assassin looks completely solemn but he smiled inwardly baiting the young Queen's interest with the promise of adventure.

"Jasmine and I will be leaving this evening."

Written by Ariana

Mavigan blinked owlishly at Teran. Beridane – not the Big Bad? The thought had not crossed her mind. She has assumed that Beridane was the enemy, and those around her were always quick to reinforce that notion. Mavigan figured the solution was simple – slay Beridane and then she would be free to go home. Apparently, however, there was a whole lot about this situation that she did not know.

Mavigan chewed on her lip as she considered her options. Should she stay here in the clutches of Wilhelm? He and his cronies would no doubt continue to stuff her in dresses, demand public appearances, and generally try to cram her into the mold of a “Queen” that they had created, and that in no way fit. Around here Mavigan often felt like a square peg being roughly shoved into a round hole.

Or, should she ride off with a man she knew nothing about and wasn’t sure she trusted, in the company of a woman who had tried to kill her, and maybe get a shot at the mysterious Big Bad?

Yeah, like that was a tough choice.

The fact that Teran had offered no invitation did not escape her notice. She was fully aware that he could leave her behind with no warning and she would never be able to find him. Or he could take her from the citadel and abandon her somewhere along the way. Or it could all be a trap and he was not hunting them, but was instead planning on delivering her as a gift to her enemies. Or the bitch they would be traveling with could come to her senses and try to kill her again.

Yes, the plan was fraught with danger, and a million things could go wrong along the way. And, he still hadn’t asked her to accompany him.

She wasn’t going to let that stop her.

Beaming a smile at him, she said simply, “Count me in!”

Written by Teran

"I will be leaving tomorrow morning before dawn. We should probably meet outside the walls." He smiled knowingly "We will be moving quickly to the south."

He glanced at Keeryn as if noticing her for the first time.

"Will you be bringing your 'friend' with you?"

The assassin knew he had a busy night ahead of him, no time for sleep. He had seemingly enlisted Mavigan's aid (for better or worse) but he still needed to gain Jasmine's aid though he doubted that would be too difficult. The last thing the assassin needed to do was visit Beridane. If anyone knew anything about the man he was hunting (besides Jasmine) it would be Beridane.

Written by Agmund

“Audun,” Father Agmund said as he turned to the elf, “Perhaps there is a better location for these two too continue their conversation. If you would, please have them escorted to my room for now, and place one guard on the door.” Audun merely nodded as he called out to another guard nearby.

The priest then turned his gaze back to the companions of the sword, pondering a brief moment before he spoke, “You must understand that for now at least, I cannot permit you to see Lady Mavigan. While the two of you are sincere in your thoughts and your words are true, it only convinces me that you believe what the sword whispers to you, not that the sword is here for the good of the Queen. In either regard, the decision is not up to me, Lord Wilhelm will have to make the choice. I pray you both understand why I take such precaution.”

“This guard will show you to my room, and he will remain at the door. This will give the two of you time to speak to one another in private,” his eyes look to the guard that Audun called forth and then back to Audun, “You have but to call upon me friend Audun… Tenna’ san.”

A swirl of white follows his exit from the Prison, that and the sound of his staff thudding against the stone. He wastes no time making his way from the dark depths of the citadel, to emerge once again into the bright sun of the day. There, his frame outlined in the doorway, a long sigh of relief escapes his lips as his eyes adjust to the light.

“You must find Lord Wilhelm and let him speak with these two, although you have ideas, it is Lord Wilhelm that needs to make the decision, you have but to counsel,” he said to himself. As he was making his way into the throng of an inner courtyard his eyes caught sight of a fiery head of hair, he of course knew at an instance who it was. Stopping in his tracks he considered who it was that she spoke with. He had not seen this man before that he could recall, but the two seemed to be in deep discussion, judging from the looks upon Mavigans face at least.

There was something in her eye that struck him strangely… “she is smitten with him,” he chuckled with the thought. His stride picked back up, and he moved right towards them, making sure to come into the Queens view for only a moment, and saying nothing to either her or the man she spoke with as he continued past. Only a soft smile could be read within the lines of his face.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn's face suddenly changes from somewhat confused and curious to very serious, "Where she goes, I go. I couldn't very well let a friend go off in danger by herself, and it's a little hard to trust someone who kills people for a living," turning to Mavigan, "I need to find a staff or spear before we go. I have a whip for a weapon, but it's of little use if something gets close, or if there's more than a few people in our way. We'll need to get a few supplies together, so I hope you travel light, and you don't leave many tracks, or this will be a short trip. You realize that Wilhelm is going to come after you, right?"

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Lucant strolled calmly behind the guard leading him and Tempyst to Agmund's quarters. He was glad to out of the dungeons and to see the beauty of Lothiel-Gadith again. It had been nearly three years since he walked these streets. "I wonder...if she's still here," he mused, gazing at the statues and other architectural feats along the way.

The long walk to Agmund's chambers gave him time to think about what he would say to the druidess who remained close to his side. He still had no idea what to say to her when they reached the doors. Lucant stepped inside nervously, trying to keep his mind off the events of five years past.

Written by Tempyst

Tempyst followed along quietly, thankful for being out of the darkness. She kept glancing over at Lucant, wondering what was going through his mind. She smile to herself when they reached the doorway and he stepped aside to let her go in first. Once in the room, Tempyst felt the tinge of pain in her head and brought her hand up, only to find many sticky strands loosed on her neck.

"Ouch." Tempyst winced and looked about the room, seeing what she had hoped for. "I am sorry for any trouble Lucant, you will find, A'lanthear often has its own ideas about how things should be done." She poured some water into a basin, then took a small towel, wet it, and began to try and clean off her bloodied hair. She turned to Lucant, who seemed to be looking a little lost. Tempyst let her first true smile show through as she sat by the balcony and the plants there. "So, Lucant, how did you happen to be in the dungeon? How did you find your way here? Did you have dreams as well? I know, I am so relieved to finally find you, after all the years you've haunted my dreams and thoughts." She took a deep breath, then realized she was not getting to far with cleaning her hair, so she got up, brought the basin and pitcher over to the bench. "Lucant? Could you pour a little of this water over my hair here, I need to clean this wound and get this blood out of my hair?"

Lucant took up the pitcher and as Tempyst leaned over the basin, slowly poured the water over the back of her neck. As the water trickled througth her hair, the scent of fresh rain wafted up to Lucant's nostrils. The small vines, flowers and leaves entwined in her hair seemed to move and lean towards the flowing water.

"Oh, thank you Lucant, that is so helpful. I think that is enough." Tempyst winced again as she dabbed the wound under her hair, the towel and water a slight pink color now. "Are you hurt? You must have a million questions, I know I have so many. It feels..." She looked up into his young face and smiled thw would melt the coolest of hearts, "...it feels, like I've finally found the missing piece of my soul."

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Lucant stepped towards the ornate doors and opened them for Tempyst. He thanked the guard, took a deep breath, and stepped inside the room. The wonderous beauty of Elven architecture and design was like a breath of fresh air after the utilitarian dank dungeons. Lucant wandered arounded the spacious suite. "It's been so long..." he thought to himself.

"So, Lucant, how did you happen to be in the dungeon? How did you find your way here? Did you have dreams as well? I know, I am so relieved to finally find you, after all the years you've haunted my dreams and thoughts." Lucant walked over to a bench on the balcony, thinking of how to answer the questions, as well as how to react to her last statement. Before he could say anything, Tempyst was at his side again "Lucant? Could you pour a little of this water over my hair here, I need to clean this wound and get this blood out of my hair?" "Of...of course, my lady," he stood up and cleaned the wound as best he could, trying not to be too rough. He was amazed by the vines and flowers in her hair that seemed overjoyed to be near water." "Oh, thank you Lucant, that is so helpful. I think that is enough." Tempyst said as she dabbed her wound. "Are you hurt? You must have a million questions, I know I have so many. It feels..." She looked up into his young face and smiled thw would melt the coolest of hearts, "...it feels, like I've finally found the missing piece of my soul."

Blood rushed to Lucant's face again. "I am glad to have found you as well, my lady. As for your questions: I was a farrier before I found myself in the dungeon. I lost everything I owned due to persistant money troubles. I came here to start again, but Yvesinia led me to you instead of a forge. I had no dreams, but...but I did feel something strange when I saw the guards carry you down the hallway. I pray your dreams are pleasant from here on out."

He stood up and walked to the balcony and looked for the old familiar road. He saw the same massive elm tree the distance from so long ago. "This is what I wanted isn't it? Why do I still feel so empty?" he thought to himself.

Written by Tempyst

Tempyst looked at Lucant, her sense finally calming down, she could see the distant look in his face. She sighed softly, upon hearing his words about her dreams being more pleasent. She continued to watch him, letting her senses take control, focusing and quieting all the questions in her mind. As the wind blew into the room, bringing with it the sweet, sallty tang of the seam she let the wind speak to her, as it swept past Lucant then to her. Her face grew a little sad, as it suddenly dawned on her that this young man here, probably had no idea what she was talking about, that he may be more lost than she was.

Tempyst cleared her throat and spoke quietly. "My apologies for seeming so bold in my questions. I assumed that the one I dreamt about, would also have been having dreams about me. You must think me to be a crazy wild woman of sorts, speaking out such feelings, presenting to you a magic sword..." She could see that he was still a bit lost, his eyes still searching for something in the distance. She walked over and placed the basin and pitcher back on the nightstand, then sat down on the balcony, next to the vines that were growing there. She whispered quietly as she began to tend to the greenery, "The dreams were never unpleasent..." her voice trailing off.

Then, she looked up to him, the vines on the balcony seeming to wrap around her as if caressing her. "Lucant, I will not bother you with any more questions, but will await to answer yours if you have any."

Written by Agmund

“Count me in!” is all that he heard of the conversation between the two, and he could hear the excitement in her voice. He wondered what the two were plotting, but for him it simply wasn’t his business to interfere or interject in whatever the plot was. Indeed, his mind never even considered what the two were planning.

There was a greater picture to be seen than merely this one place and its events. Soon a great battle would be fought, and it would be only the first battle in a grand war, engulfing much of Aerynth. The bodies of the guilty and the innocent shall lie still beside one another; the bodies of good and evil will come to rest upon the ground without ceremony. While Lady Mavigan was an integral part of this war and its result, many would suffer, and many from kingdoms near and far would perish.

Already it has been set into motion, and his thoughts were with the races that had sallied forth from these walls. Ithramir would not relent in the battle ahead, he would not surrender, he would not turn aside, he knew what possibilities were ahead of him, and he went to assure the safety of his people. “There is still time,” Father Agmund thought, “Still time to ride to his aid.”

No, was the first reaction to his own thinking, for in his dreams he had already seen the outcome, and though the losses were terrible in his heart, he could see no other way. Soon the first drops of blood will be spilled, and soon fire and death will travel from border to border in its wake. His feet came to a halt as his head began to spin with the thought of senseless death and destruction, and for what seemed like an eternity his eyes grew large and his body motionless.


Written by Lucant Dolvan - Page 9 Book 2

Lucant stood at the balcony looking out at the bustling streets below. "The past is gone... there is nothing I can do about the choices I made then but live with their consequences. I'll not go about resurrecting the ghosts of the past without due cause," he decided. He remembered an old pearl of wisdom that his father said to him when he was young as a gust of wind blew past him: "Son, looking off into the horizon is good at times, but do it too much and you'll lose sight of what's right in front of you." He laughed inwardly at himself and thought: "What a fool I am not to see what I have in front of me."

He turned back towards the bench where Tempyst was sitting, only to be greeted by a sight he thought more beautiful than anything Lothiel-Gadith could offer - though he would never say so. She looked up to him, the vines on the balcony seeming to wrap around her as if caressing her. "Lucant, I will not bother you with any more questions, but will await to answer yours if you have any." He walked over to her and sat down beside her, allowing his eyes to rest on hers rather than averting them. "Lady Whisperling, it seems that you know a good deal about me. I, on the other hand, know hardly anything about you, save your name. That is something I would like, very much, to remedy."

Written by Ariana

"I will be leaving tomorrow morning before dawn. We should probably meet outside the walls." He smiled knowingly "We will be moving quickly to the south."

Mavigan smiled. “I like South. It’s a good direction. I’ll be there.”

"Will you be bringing your 'friend' with you?"

“That is up to her to decide,” Mavigan replied.

Keeryn then essentially stated with the utmost seriousness that she was stuck to Mavigan with glue.

“I stand corrected,” Mavigan said. “We’ll be there.”

Keeryn started listing the supplies they would need to gather, and Mavigan nodded in agreement.

"You realize that Wilhelm is going to come after you, right?" Keeryn asked.

“Of course!” Mavigan replied. “It wouldn’t be any fun if he didn’t. Come on Keeryn, let’s go get ready.”

As they moved off to prepare, Mavigan tossed Teran a saucy wink. “And don’t forget,” she said, “You HAVE to teach me that trick!”

Written by Agmund

It was his age that caused his mind to spin out of control. Now what lay before him seemed blurred and obscured, as if all paths were twisted and contorted into one. Legs that were ready to carry him onward had faltered, unsure of which way to carry him too, so there they merely shook with an unsure fury. His eyes were like large silver stars, shrouded by a mist of a night sky as he slowly began to spin, looking from one battlement to the other.

His body fell to one knee, his weight resting upon it, and had it not been for a passing boy who stopped and peered into his eyes, he may have remained there for a time. He recognized the boy immediately, it was Tomas the stable hand, and as the two looked almost quizzically at one another he spoke “Father Agmund are you alright?”

A strange smile lit his face up as he replied “I have seen better days, but then, it is possible,” he slowly rose to his feet, “that I have seen worse.” Towering over the boy he chuckled, “I take it you enjoyed the march of the troops as they left this morning young master Tomas?”

“Very much! I’ve never seen such a thing before!” he said excitedly. The boys words drew a broad grin from the old priest. “Well that is good to hear,” he bent over somewhat as he smiled, “now I need you to do me a great service, because… well, I am already behind schedule. Saddle my horse, and make sure she’s ready for the road, because I have a trip of my own to undertake, and be quick!”

“Right away!” the boy turned and ran off leaving a little trail of dust in his wake and laughter from the priest as his head shook. “Now off to find Lord Wilhelm,” he said as his feet began to move once more. They hadn’t carried him far when he spotted the Crusader dismounting from his horse.

“Lord Wihelm,” he paused as he came to stand beside him, “There are two individuals awaiting you in my room, I wasn’t sure where to send them, and the prison seemed to be a poor place for you to speak to them… and well… I don’t believe they really belonged there.”

Written by Tempyst

When Lucant sat down, she felt a shiver go through her body, but she took strength from the vines around her and did her best to remain collected. When he looked into her eyes, it felt like her heart skipped a beat. "Lady Whisperling, it seems that you know a good deal about me. I, on the other hand, know hardly anything about you, save your name. That is something I would like, very much, to remedy."

She blushed at his words, suddenly feeling very shy. Where do I start? What do I say? Then suddenly, the thoughts that ran through her head vanished, seeing only him, feeling caught up in a whirlwind. After a moment, she turned her eyes away, slightly embarrassed at the silence. "Uhm...please, you may call me Tempyst if you like, I usually only use Whisperling when doing druid business." Tempyst looked back up into his kind face and smiled again. I am a druid of Nyrondis, a forest lady as most have been referring to me as. I was raised by the druids of the Deepshadow since I was a baby; I've not known any other life. In fact, this is my first time away from the conclave and I must admit, all this stone, all the steel and people, is beyond anything I could have imagined. I feel so very lost here with all of it, but, it is where fate has brought me and where I must be."

As Tempyst spoke, some of the vines that were wrapping around her, as if pulling Lucant into the conversation while she continued. "As for knowing a great deal about you, I would not say that. Until today, I did not know your name or even what you looked like." He face slushed softly again, the light of the rising sun making playful shadows across is. "Ever since I can remember, my dreams have included someone in them. Same age as myself, growing up with me, playing in my dreams as children, being friends, leaning on each other, never being apart. As I grew older, so did this man, we told each other many secrets, but all the while, he was always turned from me, or his face in shadows, covered by a hood, or just too foggy to see. I cannot imagine growing up without this person. I had always asked the elders about this, but all they could tell me is that I was connected, my soul was connected with this man and my life would never be complete without him." She looked back up into his eyes, soft tears falling once again. "When I saw you today, I..." She looked away, embarrassed now. "...I was brought to my knees; you were real. Not just a figment of a dream."

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm decided that Lithwyn would be awhile returning. Since the marching out was over, he told the door guard to find him when Lithwyn returned, and to have Sable taken to the stables at that time. He then noticed Agmund arrive, who said,

“There are two individuals awaiting you in my room, I wasn’t sure where to send them, and the prison seemed to be a poor place for you to speak to them… and well… I don’t believe they really belonged there."

"Very well, let us go and speak to them." Wilhelm replied. Father Agmund conducted Wilhelm to his room and introduced everyone. "Greetings to both of you. Please tell me how you came to be here in this manner."

Written by Lucant Dolvan

"When I saw you today, I..." She looked away, embarrassed now. "...I was brought to my knees; you were real. Not just a figment of a dream." She looked back up at him now, with a tear running down her face. Lucant reached forward slowly and wiped way the stray tear. "To always have someone there for you, to have your dreams come true...Nyrondis must truly love you...Lady Tempyst," he said still lost in her gaze. He didn't even notice the two men who had entered the room until one of them spoke.

After Father Agmund had introduced everyone, the man he called Wilhelm said in a commanding voice: "Greetings to both of you. Please tell me how you came to be here in this manner."

Lucant returned the greeting and told the crusader the same tale he had told Father Agmund sometime earlier. He also spoke of how he came about meeting Tempyst and finding A'lanthear, as well as how Agmund had arranged for his release. When he had finished, he looked over at Tempyst, partly because he found her presence far more desireable than anyone or anything else in the room, and partly because he was interested in how she came to be in the dungeons.

Written by Tempyst

Tempyst only felt his touch upon her cheek. It wasn't until the two men spoke, that she realized they were not alone. She listened to Lucant tell his tale, then stood, moving over to Lord Wilhelm. She told him her tale, being reborn with A'lanthear in her arms, how she had dreamt of an unknown man all her life, and how the sword had whispered to her, beckoning her to go find him, the one who would weild it and be the champion. She told of her leaving the conclave, traveling alone, her first time in the outside world. She spoke of meeting Lithwyn, then of hearing the sword tell her more emphatically, that the one she was searching for was here. She mentioned that she had wandered about, not truly thinking and described the encounter she had with the guards and how she found herself waking up with a headache in the dungeon. Then she spoke of fiding A'lanthear flying into her cell and with a bit of embarrassment, what happened afterwards to the dungeon when A'lanthear determined his chosen was there.

When she finished, she looked at Lord Wilhelm and moved a bit closer to Lucant. "I will answer any questions you may have Sir. Nyrondis, it seems, has an interest in this child it spoke of and I serve Nyrondis, thus his will is mine."

Written by Archeantus

The woman in white again spoke. Jasmine stared at nothing. Beads of sweat appeared on her forehead as she continued to heave in breaths.

"There is nothing more I can do, if you open up I can........" The words were lost, as Jasmine's head swam, her eyes blurred, and the world came tumbling down all around her into blackness. One word the woman spoke stung her waining consciousness, it was a word that struck her with...she didn't know the emotion...

...Curse...she heard the woman say.

And she audibly asked herself as she slowly slid sideways across the stone wall to the ground, "Have...I been....cursed all....along?

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm looked at Father Agmund, who nodded to indicate that their words were truthful. He turned back to them then and said,

"Queen Mavigan is indeed a Chosen One, chosen by the Gods to play a major role in their Divine Plan. I am not really suprised to hear that Nyrondis is also interested in her welfare. Since Father Agmund vouches for the truth in your words, I accept you both into the service of Queen Mavigan. I would ask that henceforth you remember that we are guests of the Citadel. Please do not destroy any more walls." Wilhelm chuckled.

"I will place you in Father Agmund's charge for now. He will see that you recieve rooms, clothes and meals. Welcome to the Queen's Service. And now I must go find the Queen before she gets into too much trouble."

Wilhelm waved goodbye to the pair and left the room, heading towards Mavigan's heartfire in the direction shown to his Tracking Sense. Stepping out into the courtyard, he saw Mavigan and Keeryn approaching. Mavigan looked smug, so no doubt the two were up to something as expected. Being Mavigan's Champion would never be boring. For now, however, Wilhelm had something to distract her with.

"Good morning ladies. Now that the army has marched away, Mavigan, I have something for you to see. Will you please come with me to the stables?" Mavigan and Keeryn exchanged looks and shrugs then followed Wilhelm towards the stables.

"Rest assured that I do not intend to force you to learn dainty court manners or dry political history. It is clear to me that you are one chosen by the Gods to play a major role in their divine plans. To prepare for such a fate requires a wide variety of training and preparation. You cannot run from such a fate, because Fate and the Gods will always find you. You are like a stone placed on a tightly made bed. Other objects on that bed will slide down to meet you no matter where they are placed or you are moved. I will do my best to protect you, but as you saw last night I cannot always be at your side when danger comes to you, although I pledge to you that I will always come to you as soon as I can when you are in danger. You must prepare yourself as much as possible to handle matters yourself. There are many who would do you harm. In days to come you will lead and command armies, and you must earn their respect. I am hoping that Keeryn here can help teach you some of her survival and weapon skills. She can be with you in places I cannot be. And now I have something for you to see."

They had reached the stables. Wilhelm led them to Argent's stall. Argent stood there, immaculately groomed, caparisoned with the royal arms. A Royal Banner was on the back wall. Two sets of gear lay to one side, the new side saddle with a fancy bridle and the older normal saddle, well oiled, with plain bridle and saddlebags. On the other side hung a full set of llight leather armor, suitable for a horse archer, with a new bow and two quivers of arrows. A shortsword in its sheath and a spear hung next to the bow. A plain cloak, tunic and leggings in camouflage colors, sized to fit over the armor, hung nearby. On a stool in front lay Mavigan's favorite cake.

"Happy 18th Birthday, Mavigan. You have now come of age. May you live to see many more birthdays. Take good care of Argent and she will bear you well. (Remember that she likes her apples.)"

Argent snorted a greeting at Mavigan. Wilhelm waited for Mavigan's response, smiling at the stunned look on her face.

Written by Tempyst

"I would ask that henceforth you remember that we are guests of the Citadel. Please do not destroy any more walls." Wilhelm chuckled. Tempyst blushed at the man's words.

"Let us hope A'lanthear will keeps its cool from now on, but one can never tell." She smiled.

"I will place you in Father Agmund's charge for now. He will see that you recieve rooms, clothes and meals. Welcome to the Queen's Service. And now I must go find the Queen before she gets into too much trouble." Tempyst waved back to Lord Wilhelm, then looked to Father Agmund.

"Thank you for your kindness sir and my apologies to you for any trouble that was caused." Tempyst smiled shyly at the older man. "Also, I have dirtied your water here, cleaning a wound I have."

Agmund replied, "No worries child, I am glad we have this all settled. Now, let me show you two to some rooms where you can rest and clean up. I will also inform the guard that you two are now guests." Agmund motioned for the two to follow him and began to lead them down the hall. He looked into a couple of doors, then shook his head. Then he seemed to find what he ws alooking for, a pair of rooms, side by side. "Here you two go. Now, please behave yourselves and as Lord Wilhelm said, don't blow anything else up."

"Thank you sir for your time and trouble and thank you for the rooms. I promis to be on my best behavior."

Agmund smiled, "That would be much appreciated. Now, if you will excuse this old man, I have some other business to attend to." Father Agmund then turned away and began walking down the long hall.

Tempyst turned to Lucant. "Well, it seems that we are left to our own devices. As for cleaning up, well, I am afraid this is the only clothing I have. How does one get any more here in a city?" She got that lost look on her face again, then she sighed. "I need to gain some focus I think. Perhaps I will be able to find a garden or some trees in order to commune. Care to join me Lucant? We can talk more if you like."

Written by Turin Wallace

Ithramir and the army marched for the rest of the day, stopping sparingly to rest their horses, but the most part kept a quickened pace. Soon enough, they passed through the great forest and into a vast plain. Off in the darkening distance, the great mountains of the Amlug Anc stood white capped against a dark sky, a small plum of smoke just barely visible.

Ithramir's eyes looked at the smoke, and he heard his adjutant quietly say,

"Minas Aure is aflame, lord Ithramir. This bodes not well, I think."

Almost with a growl, he turns to her and replies,

"What bodes not well is to speak like that. We will retake our keeps from the Orcs and secure our flank. If you speak like that again, I assure you, you will find yourself back on guard duty in Thornton."

Immediately straightening in her saddle, she replies,

"Forgive my rudeness, lord Ithramir. Of course we will take back what is ours. I will not speak negatively again."

Ithramir gave her a nod, not one of arrogance, but of a commander who understood what his adjutant was saying was on everyone's mind.

The army rode till nightfall had overtaken them.

Gathered around his campfire, his guests and the commanders of the allied troops stood around waiting to be addressed. Standing up, he greets them all, then says,

"Honored guests and allies, we still have two days of riding ahead of us. As we can all see, the keep of Minas Aure is under full siege and parts of it are already aflame. Whether it is breached or not is no longer a concern. What is our concern is securing these keeps to protect our flanks so we can keep our eyes focused on Beridane, or the Orcs, one at a time. We cannot afford to be assailed on two fronts, I think you will all agree we do not have the soldiers or supplies for such a costly endeavor.

Now, I have sent a scout forward, they will arrive and report back to us tomorrow eve as to Minas Aure's condition. However, know this, we are facing a foe that may outnumber us as much as ten to one. If you wish to tell your men and women the odds, so be it. So far I have kept the oppositions numbers secret to keep what morale these soldiers have intact. They will need every ounce of their morale and strength once they arrive to face the enemy."

Leaning against a nearby tree while pausing, Ithramir looks at those around the campfire and says,

"If any of you have any questions, I will answer as best I can."

Uncorking a bottle, Ithramir takes a long drink while awaiting any questions from those gathered together.

Written by Renalis

The Army rode until nightfall, and Renalis could see smoke in the distance, "The keep is aflame... not good." he quietly thinks to himself, knowing just how important moral is in a fight.

Upon making camp Renalis made the point of going around the camp and talking with the soldiers. Not just the commanders and the officers, but the everyday common soldiers, knowing full well that seeing those of importance amung them raises moral.

Noticing a young a small ways from the camp with a blade in his hand, Renalis goes over to inspect. He can see the boy (for this elf looked little older than a child) with a shakey grip on his blade. "Here, let me show you..."

The boy was surprised at the voice behind him, whirling about he almost lost hold of his blade, "Who are you?" he asked, fear in his voice.

"Renalis Dalamar. Here if you hold the blade like this..." Renalis draws his sword "...you will be much more effective. You want to make sure that you do not over extend yourself when you swing, and make sure your strikes are in a fluid motion, like this..." Renalis takes a few swings in the air, "... now you try."

The boy steadies the grip on his blade and swings as shown, "How do you know the elven style of swordplay? You are human."

"A dear friend of mine showed me how to handle an Elven blade, and to swing it properly..." Renalis looks up at the sky and whispers softly, "I wish you were here my brothers, but alas, I know you protect our home..." Renalis looks back down at the boy, "Do not be afraid, we shall be victorious and your family and friends will remain safe." Renalis sheaths his sword and leaves the boy to go about his buisness.

Renalis caught the eye of the large sable-clad warrior and thought to himself, "I must speak with him... he is unlike the elves I have seen here." Seeing him formed with the commanders around a campfire, Renalis takes an interest and heads over. Renalis bows to Ithramir in respect than takes a position near Ardwen.

"If any of you have any questions, I will answer as best I can." Uncorking a bottle, Ithramir takes a long drink.

"Ten to one," Renalis thinks to himself, "We will lose many..." Renalis touchs the gemstone in his chest, "I will return to you Crystal... Amin mela lle, Melamin" He speaks softly, wishing to be with her again, knowing he cannot until this conflict is over.

****

The woman slowly slides sideways across the stone wall to the ground, "Have...I been....cursed all....along?"

Deciding that she needs time alone, Crystal kneels down to her side once more, "Here, this will take care of the pain, and I have slowed its progress the best I can but there is no telling how much time you have." Crystal concentrates and places her glowing hands on Jasmine once more, she can feel the pain inside but decides that she will only live if she wants to live.

Standing up Crystal looks down at the shattered remains of the woman, "You do not have much time, and if you want to live you are going to have to fight for it."

Turning to the cell door to which she still does not understand how The rogue got through, she points a finger at the arcance lock and begins to channel energy into it. It glows faintly, then brighter and brighter until with a small flash it explodes. Opening the door, Crystal steps out and looks at the guards, once again weapons drawn, "Do not worry, she is no longer a prisoner, she is a guest of an agent of Ithramir." The guards wearily put away their weapons and Crystal proceeds upstairs and outside to see the morning sun.

Seeing the man that was in the cell with her, Crystal approaches him as Mavigan is taken away by Wilhelm.

"You could have left it open..." Crystal says with a smile, but seeing no expression returned she goes on to more serious matters, "The woman in that cell, she is cursed beyond my ability to heal. It is a necromantic curse of undeath, I am unsure as of its source and its end, but I do know if nothing is done it will consume she in short order. I believe that only the originator can remove the curse, either by his choice or his demise." Crystal sighs a bit then continues, "She is an emotional wreck and the only way she is going to survive is if she wants to, I left her in the cell after numbing the pain, it is open now by the way. Maybe you can help your friend."

Walking around to try and shake the pain she felt within the woman in the cell, Crystal sees a small group gathering in the stables and she heads over to see what all the comotion is about.

"Happy 18th Birthday, Mavigan. You have now come of age. May you live to see many more birthdays. Take good care of Argent and she will bear you well. (Remember that she likes her apples.)" Wilhelm then smiles at Mavigan.

Leaning up against the doorway, Crystal smiles, "So young and thrust into this... at least she can still enjoy the simple things."

Written by Trinni Shannon

"Nothing more needs to be said. I can now sleep both at night, and in death if it is the gods will, knowing I spoke my hearts desire. You are correct, never was I bound to another, I do not know your pain or loss. If I could ride to face that foe, I would. However, I cannot, only you can decide when you are ready to move on. I hope to be here when you are. So, goodbye Lithwyn Deltheron, may Kaia'hanas guide and bless you in your ways, granting you peace and the ability to heal your soul."

His words wash over Lithwyn, right to the heart. Glancing back, she sees his smile. Getting Sable ready for the return to Lothiel-Gadith, she does not hear Ithramir leave. Turning around, his figure already diminishing, she frowns in dismay. Leaping onto Sable's back, she head in the direction Ithramir went, intending to say more. After a few paces, she changes her mind and rears Sable and turns around. Her pace slow at first, lost in thought, her grip tightens on the reins and she urges Sable to full speed.

Nearly flying past the marching line, she calls out words of encouragement, determined to not feel sorry for herself. It is only when Lithwyn is nearly home that she realizes the cloak about her shoulders is Ithramir's. Pulling it closer, she whispers "Amin harmuva onalle e' cormamin"*

Returned to the citadel, Wilhelm has since left his post outside the gates, but the guards remain. Listening intently as they quickly tell her what has transpired with the two prisoners, she nods to the stable boy as he takes Sable's reins. Stroking the mare's neck, she whispers her thanks in his ear before leaving. She notices the birthday cake in a nearby stall. Raising an eyebrow, notices the banner, the armor, the weaponry. Coming to a conclusion, she sends a messenger to find Wilhelm. Her request: What is the young Queen's favorite food? The menu will be tailored to her tastes this evening.

Striding across the courtyard, one of the guards still on her heals, he has to half run to keep up with her. Turning the corner, she just misses seeing Crystal and Jasmine leaving. Reaching the ground floor, she takes in the state of the prisons as she enters, she immediately questions the guard on duty. Sighing, overwhelmed by the events that can transpire in a matter of hours of inattention, she merely shakes her head. Giving directions concerning clean up, she then departs, taking the stairs two at a time.

Bursting into the sunlight, she glances about to see what needs her attention, now eager to put the morning's events completely behind her...

****

“I am not of Lothiel-Gadith, or from anywhere around here. I’m just here for the fights, you need not worry about this one, you are off the blood at least.” The man in black armor turned back around.

Trinni, her head tilted to the side as she listened, began to frown a bit and wrinkled her nose. "Well, I like a good fight, too, ya know... but you don't have to be all serious about it. I mean, sure when it's fightin' time ya gotta be focused and stuff, but now? We are just riding along. Enjoy the sun, enjoy what has been provided to us. Silly man. Oh! I'm Trinni! But some people call me Trinni-ninni, or Trin, or..." ducking her head, turning pink, she realizes she just spouted all this off to Renalis not two seconds ago. "Sooo... what is YOUR name, or should I just call you Blackie?"

OOC: As soon as Ard replies (if he does) I'll post another "night time" response.

*Amin harmuva onalle e' cormamin - I shall treasure your gift in my heart (she means his love by the way, not the silly cloak)

Written by Isuiln Fellblade

10 to 1?! Isuiln could see several faces pale. Against an army as ruthless and bloodthirsty as orcs, 10 to 1 was suicide. But faces regained their color, and instead set in resolve; resolve to go down swinging. Hope was all but lost, and if hope was gone, so was all chance of success. Their was only one face that remained unchanged. The tall elf in the jet black armor looked as he had always looked, though now the others faces matched his. That elf always had the look of one ready to die in the next fight, hoping to die in the next fight, but not ready to throw down his weapons and accept it. At this rate, though, he would get his wish, and everyone else would share his fate.

"If any of you have any questions, I will answer as best I can." Ithramir said in closing.

Isuiln smiled. If he was good for nothing else, he could usually raise morale. He wiped the smile off his face and tried to look as serious as possible.

"I have one question, Commander," he began. He indicated Ardwenn. "Can we send him in first? If he can make a woman swoon with but a glance, I bet he could knock half the orc army flat with a glare!"

Aylan, who was to Isuiln's right, had just began taking a drink, and promptly coughed and spit with laughter. Several around the fire smiled in a slightly confused manner, and most others looked at him in outright puzzlement.

"You should have seen it earlier. A poor woman comes up to ask him directions, and he does no more than look at her, and she drops in a dead faint!" This brought on a gale of laughter, and at least a smile could be seen on every face but one... the dark armored elf.

Why can he seemingly not so much as smile? Isuiln wondered to himself. But he continued, trying to see if he could crack the stern mask etched on the elf's face.

"I figure that if he can do that with nought but a glance, what if he tries to look angry? He could very well send the entire orc army home, wetting their loincloths the whole way!" Seeing the elf not so much as bat an eyelash, he kept going. "Look! A glare like that would do the trick!" And with that he pretended to faint, falling backwards into Aylan's arms, but his friend was laughing so hard that he dropped him. By now many were laughing uproarisly, and several had tears streaming down their faces. Isuiln lay in a heap on the ground, laughing too, until he saw the darkly armored elf turn to go, never even so much as cracking a smile. He rose to go after him, smiling, for he was glad to bring at least a little cheer to everyone. Looking further out, he saw many nearby soldiers looking at their commanders and smiling, heartened that in such a dark time, it was not dark enough to take all the joy out of life.

He caught up to the elf on the edge of the camp, and came around in front of him to stop him. "I'm sorry if I offended you, friend Ardwenn, I did not mean to make you the butt end of my jokes. But if I may ask, what's so terrible about life that you never take the time to enjoy it?"

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Tempyst turned to Lucant. "Well, it seems that we are left to our own devices. As for cleaning up, well, I am afraid this is the only clothing I have. How does one get any more here in a city?" She got that lost look on her face again, then she sighed. "I need to gain some focus I think. Perhaps I will be able to find a garden or some trees in order to commune. Care to join me Lucant? We can talk more if you like."

"It would be my pleasure, Lady Tempyst," he said with a smile. "There's a massive old maple tree in a park not far from here. I used to go there often when I had to come here for business." He hestiated a little, then continued, "As for cleaning up...I think you look fine as you are, but if you want, I'll show you around the marketplace. The merchants there have goods from all over, and I'm sure you'll find something that you'll like."

He waited nervously for her response.


Written by Turin Wallace - Page 10 Book 2

Hearing Isuiln's remarks, Ithramir joins in with the rest of the group and laughs heartily, so much so that some even paused to stare at him. They had become so used to seeing their commander serious that this side of him took them by surprise. After watching more of the banter, he composes himself as he watches Ardwen and Isuiln move away a bit.

In a semi-serious tone, he says,

"Well, unless anyone else has something rather wise to say, I suggest we all get a few hours rest. We ride before dawn."

Sitting down on the ground, Ithramir leans against the tree and relaxes, letting the others do with their time as they please.

Written by Tempyst

Before Tempyst could respond, a servant girl came up close. "Excuse me, I could not help but overhear your dilema. I thought I would let you know, all guest rooms are provided with clothing. We have many guests who travel light and are in need of something clean to wear. I will see that some clothes are left on your bed when you return frojm your outing. If nothing fits, please let me know and I will see to it that it gets altered. Now, if you both hungry, there is breakfast still on the long board downstairs. Oh, by the way, my name is Clarise and again, if there is anything you need, please let me know."

Tempyst thanked the girl and smiled, then turned back to Lucant. "Well then, it seems we shall have the means to get cleaned up. And come to mention it, I am rather hungry, perhaps we should get something to eat first, then you can show me this maple tree." She touched his arm gently. "I hope it is easy to find, for the last time I got lost in here, I was sent to the dungeon."

Clarise smiled, "No worries m'lady, I can show you both the way to the dining hall." With that, Clarise began walking down the hall with Lucant and Tempyst in tow.

Tempyst's eyes grew large. SHe had never seen so many different kinds of food in one place. "Wow." Was all she managed to get out before she realised she was staring. "I, uhm, well, I have no clue to what most of this stuff is. Lucant, perhaps you can help me try something new." She watched him tell her what what what, even though he seemed to stumble over some ofthe foods, but she paid it no heed. She just smiled and tried whatever he pointed out to her. After eating and without thinking, Tempyst placed her arm within Lucant's. "Well then, lead the way, I am anxious to meet this tree."

While walking, Tempyst looked around at her surroundings, taking in all the sights and sounds of the city. She closed her eyes a few times, perfectly trusting Lucant to guide her, and listened to the whispers around her. It was sad, for along the busy streets, there was not much to be heard, except for the few dogs, cats and rats that scampered about. Most all they were concerned with was food and finding a cool place to rest.

Lucant took a couple of turns and soon she began to hear the soft, familiar whispers of the earth. She smiled as they entered the small, secluded park and smiled even bigger when she saw the large maple tree in the center. Tempyst let go of Lucant's arm, and ran to the tree and placed her forehead upon it, listening to its whispers. She could tell the tree, though not neglected, had not had anyone to speak to for a long time. Smiling ear to ear, she turned to Lucant and hugged him tighlty. "Thank you so much for bringing me here."

Lucant seemed a little taken aback from the hug and turned away so she would not see him blush. "It was no problem Tempyst, I have always liked this place myself." After a few moments, Lucant turned around, just in time to see Tempyst's dress drop to reveal her naked body and watched as she stepped into the tree and disappeared.

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Lucant stood there, stunned yet again by this woman he found effortlessly enchanting. "Where...where did she go?" he asked A'lanthear, who now hung from Lucant's belt. "All things in time, master. She will return to you."

He sat down by the old maple tree, folded his hands behind his head, and leaned back against the tree. Closing his eyes, he listened to the melodies of the songbirds and waited for Tempyst to come back from wherever she had gone.

His mind began to wander with the wind that blew thru the limbs of the tree. Why had Nyrondis chosen him, of all people, to be His champion? What was he suppossed to do? He thought back to the misfortune he had endured before and just how much he had gained in such a very short time. He was thankful for one thing over all others, but he could not find the strength to tell her so. Lucant sighed calmly and continued his wait.

Written by Tempyst

The wagon finally stopped and Kaya and the other prisoners were taken out of their cages to relieve themselves and to eat. The orc in charge of them, like all the other orcs she had come across, was rough and paid them little mind, except to see that they were bound tight. After eating they were all put back into their cages. Kaya sighed, looking up into the night sky. She had no doubt of where she was now, she was on the front, overseas in the warzone. But not on the side she had always hoped to be on. She watched the masses of orcs walk by and shuddered at their numbers. There are so many of them, many more than anyone back home could ever imagine. If our forces cannot defeat them here and they make it to Alyatol, the elves will be doomed.

She sighed and again tried to wrackher mind for what Beridane had up his sleeve where she was concerned. "Does he plan to kill me in front of the troops as an example? What good would that do?" She thought out loud.

You will me mosssst ussseful child. Never fear, I will take care of everything. Kaya started at the hissing voice inside her head.

"Who are you, where are you, what do you want?" Her voice a bit frantic, not knowing what was happening.

All in due time child, all in due time. The voice trailed off with a sickly laugh and in her mind she was flashed quick visions of death and destruction, all by her own hand, but yet, was not her own.

Kaya shuddered once again, suddenly feeling cold and alone, then she screamed. "I WILL NEVER DO YOUR DIRTY WORK!" An orc guard quickly came up to the cage and struck her on the head. This time, she welcomed the darkness.

Written by Ardwen

"Well, I like a good fight, too, ya know... but you don't have to be all serious about it. I mean, sure when it's fightin' time ya gotta be focused and stuff, but now? We are just riding along. Enjoy the sun, enjoy what has been provided to us. Silly man. Oh! I'm Trinni! But some people call me Trinni-ninni, or Trin, or..." ducking her head, turning pink, she realizes she just spouted all this off to Renalis not two seconds ago. "Sooo... what is YOUR name, or should I just call you Blackie?"

“My name?” Ardwen paused, cleared his throat and said, “My name is Ardwen. My brothers in Avari took to calling me Macilsul for a surname as I lost my family name long ago.” Ardwen shrugged, and his armor made a slight grating noise. Ithramir spoke then, relaying dire news of Minus Aure in flames, and the odds that awaited them. Ardwen kept a stone face, he knew what was expected of him, he had taken his oath this morning and nothing, neither man nor god, would keep him from fulfilling it.

But then something happened that he could never had expected, and it came from the same Elf who had helped him bear Tempyst out of the rally before they had departed from the Citadel.

"I have one question, Commander," Isuiln pointed at Ardwen. "Can we send him in first? If he can make a woman swoon with but a glance, I bet he could knock half the orc army flat with a glare!"

An Elf to the right of Isuiln coughed and spat, the others had looks that ranged from slightly amused to outright confusion.

"You should have seen it earlier., “Isuiln continued, “A poor woman comes up to ask him directions, and he does no more than look at her, and she drops in a dead faint!" Ardwen kept a still face, but he was confused. “What the hell is he doing?” He thought, and then he looked around to see the entire council of commanders and assistants alike bursting into fits of laughter.

"I figure that if he can do that with nought but a glance, what if he tries to look angry? He could very well send the entire orc army home, wetting their loincloths the whole way!" Seeing the elf not so much as bat an eyelash, he kept going. "Look! A glare like that would do the trick!" Isuiln suddenly collapsed into the Elf’s arms that had spat wine earlier, but laughter had caught them all, and Isuiln was promptly dropped to the ground. He lay there in a fit of mirth. Ardwen merely shook his, “I suppose the meetings is over.”

He would have stayed perhaps. But then he saw something he could not bear, Ithramir was laughing. Laughing like the rest. He had not noticed at first, partly because he had expected more from the commander and partly because the general revelry had blocked out any one laugh. “Ithramir.” Ardwen thought sadly, “I would have named him another Galiswyn, a man fit for the Throne of Stars. Are they all like this? So different . . . so alive. They are not like my people, they are not my people.” Ardwen walked away, the only outward indication of his inner turmoil was a slight slump in his shoulders.

He walked toward the edge of the camp, where else did he have to go? “I’m trapped here on another world,” He began softly, “I do not belong here, this is not my place. But why? Why? Why? Why?” His voice rumbled more with anger with every why. “I thought I was here to protect my people, when Ithramir announced the Orc attack on Minas Aure I had no doubts. Surely this, I thought, was the reason? The Elves here were in peril as they were on Aerynth, I was even arrogant enough to think that some god who still cared for our people had pulled me here.” His voice was now tinged with bitterness and sarcasm.

He let out a sigh and continued on, “So what then? What could possibly be here for me?” He stood completely still at the edge of the camp and racked his mind. He had to find it, his reason, his purpose here. There had to be some small hint. Suddenly an old memory wafted up in his mind, one he had repressed for so long. It was the Priest of Battle, Turin Wallace looking at him with a smile. Just the memory of her face caused Ardwen’s to crumple for a brief second in sadness and loss. The memory unfurled like a flag on invisible winds in his mind’s eye. Turin said something, his mouth moving but the memory had no sound, and the words were lost to him.

Then Turin held out his hand, he was smiling still and moving what was in it toward Ardwen, as if he was offering something. Frowning Ardwen focused, trying to get his mind to show what was in Turin’s hand. And suddenly it did, and there it was – a cheese biscuit. All of a sudden it all mad sense. Something snapped him out of his reminiscence; it was the Elf who had begun the jests earlier, he moved in front of him to ensure he did not walk off. "I'm sorry if I offended you,” Isuiln began,” friend Ardwenn, I did not mean to make you the butt end of my jokes. But if I may ask, what's so terrible about life that you never take the time to enjoy it?"

Ardwen forced himself to ignore him for a brief second, he had to finish putting it all together before he took the plunge. The cheese biscuits were one thing, but that was not enough, there was something else. Wilhelm, yes, the name, and he looked like Wilhelm. A descendent perhaps? Or a coincidence? There was one thing else . . . they used His name. The All-Father. Ardwen could very well believe that a biscuit recipe, a name, a face, and a god could all be coincidences – but not at once, and not all together.

He looked at Isuiln who was still awaiting an answer. He had to do it now, before he lost his nerve. “I wonder,” he thought, “what jests he would make if he knew what I was thinking?” He forced himself on, slightly aware that his arms were straight to his side and his teeth were clenched. He opened his mouth, it felt as if his jaw weighed a ton and his tongue was swollen, his throat had turned insufferably dry. “Have you,” there, he had started it, no turning back now . . . and suddenly it all came out. His voice was part rage, part plea, and a sparsest part hope, “Ariana Trueblood, Turin Wallace, Ezikial Stonebrewer, Xanders, Arrak, Kiradia,” This was hell on him, each name hurt like a dagger in his throat, but he strained on, “have you ever heard these names? Ancora, the Hands of Providence . . . these names . . . people, places, anything? Please, you must tell me if you have, you must!” Ardwen’s jaws clamped shut and he looked straight into Isuiln’s eyes. He was not aware of it but sometime during his speaking his voice had risen to something between a shout and a wail. Soldiers were looking at him, and he had the embarrassing sensation that the whole damned camp must have heard him. He didn’t care though, he had to know!

Written by Tempyst

Tempyst closed her eyes, feeling finally at peace for the first time in a few weeks. The healing of the rips in the forest, then all the activity today had drained a lot out of her. As the maple tree embraced her, she embraced the maple tree. Finally focused, she let her mind go and reached out to all the natural spirits she could find, feeling their energies refresh her very soul. After an eternity, she felt heself being lifted into a higher state of awareness, then she heard a familiar whisper.

"Child, it is good to feel you here, but I know you are troubled." Tempyst felt the tears well up as she heard the voice of the protector, Nyrondis in her mind. The only other time she had heard the sweet music was during her rebirth 3 years earlier.

"You know me well father, there is nothing that can be hidden from you." Tempyst let her emotions loose and cried. "I feel so lost, this place, this city, is nothing like home, how can people live here?"

Fear not little one, the world consists of all types of people, who live in all types of terrain. Each place has their own spirit and life, you just have to know how to listen." Nyrondis' words washed over her soothing her.

"Of course father, it is all just so new to me." Tempyst took a deep breath. "And what of Lucant? He does not even know of me, I had thought the one I dreamt of would dream of me also."

The world he lived in was different than yours, he could not, or perhaps would not hear my words. But that does not matter now, for you two have been united and all continues."

"What continues father?"

There are many things going on in this world and the next child, most of which you would not be able to comprehend, but know this, you, Lucant, and others you will meet are all part of something bigger, something good and valiant, something worth fighting for. He may not know you, but you know him. He will be tested many time in the coming days and he will need your strength, your resolve and your love.

"I have loved him all my life father, what if he does not love me back."

"That is something that may or may not come to pass, but it does not matter, your love for him is what will keep him strong to beat the challenges he is to face."

"Yes father, of course you are right. I continue on the path you have sent me on and will keep strong for Lucant."

"There are others who will need your strength, both of them afraid, yet too stubborn to admit it. You have met one already, the other, you will know when you see her. Now be at peace child, do not let the world overwhelm you. You are strong, you are my child, I chose you because I knew you could handle anything life would put in your way. Go, be with him, show him what it means to live."

The voice faded from her mind and Tempyst felt herself being lowered back into the confines of the maple tree. Taking a deep breath, she stepped from the tree and emerged into the sunlight. She looked around and found Lucant leaning up against the tree, asleep. She smiled, then dressed and looked around, seeing that the sun had progressed in the sky and it was probably early afternoon. She sat down beside Lucant and just watched him for a while, looking at the curve of his jaw. She loved him. She always had, and knew, just by looking at him, she always would. She smiled, watching the soft, warm breeze ruffle his hair. She inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of the city around her and closed her eyes once more to listen. This time, she could faintly hear a few whispers, but she knew she would need more practice to be able to make any sense of them.

She looked back to Lucant and saw that a leaf had settled upon his cheek. With a gentle touch, she reached up to brush the leaf away, only to see his eyes flutter open and look back at her.

Written by Lucant Dolvan

A soft, warm caress roused Lucant from his nap. He opened his eyes, and saw Tempyst next to him, with her hand on his cheek. She withdrew it hesitantly as a smile slid across his face. "You're back."

He was painfully aware that he was stating the obvious, but he always seemed to trip over himself whenever he tried to talk to her. He felt foolish around her and wondered if she thought the same. Lucant was glad that she was back and wanted so much to tell her so, but he dared not.

"How was it? Did you find what you where looking for?" Thinking his questions a bit too bold, he said "If...if you'd rather not talk about it, we could go for another walk, or whatever you would like to." He hesitated again before finding a bit of courage, "I...I just...want to spend the rest of this day with you."

Written by Tempyst

"How was it? Did you find what you where looking for? If...if you'd rather not talk about it, we could go for another walk, or whatever you would like to." Tempyst saw his hesitation and remembered the words of the father, He will be tested many time in the coming days and he will need your strength, your resolve and your love. Lucant continued and Tempyst took heart. "I...I just...want to spend the rest of this day with you."

Tempyst smiled brightly and without thinking took his hand in hers. "I would love that very much. And yes, I did find what I was needing. My communion helped rejuvinate me and helped to gain focus for the journey ahead." She glanced down, then looked back up into his wondrous blue eyes. "I know this is a strange and trying time for you, but it is for me as well. The first time A'lanthear whispered to me, well, it was quite a shock. I had never heard any weapon talk to me, only the spirits of the forest. But A'lanthear came from the father, Nyrondis, and he has my unfaltering trust." She took a deep breath and stood up, then pulled Lucant up with her. "Let's walk."

Lucant and Tempyst walked about the city, him showing her sites she had not ever seen before. All the while she took in the sights, scents and sounds of the city, finding it's heartbeat, finding out that it too was alive in it's own way. The whispers were still faint, she doubted she would ever hear them clearly, but it felt more comforting to know she was not surrounded by death. The two of them made small talk and as evening approached, made their way back to the citadel, in comfroting silence.

As Lucant showed her back the way to their rooms, she spoke once again. "Events have been set in motion and we are but players within those events." She turned her head and looked up at Lucant. "We have much to learn of one another if we are to travel upon this path A'lanthear and Nyrondis has set forth for us." She smiled again, having so enjoyed Lucant's company.She felt herself getting up the courage to ask him a question. "How are you feeling about all of this? About me?"

Written by Lucant Dolvan

"We have much to learn of one another if we are to travel upon this path A'lanthear and Nyrondis has set forth for us." She smiled again, having so enjoyed Lucant's company.She felt herself getting up the courage to ask him a question. "How are you feeling about all of this? About me?"

The last question stopped him dead in his tracks. He was amazed at how easily she could turn his world upside down with just a simple touch or a few words. "I am unsure...afraid even...of what Nyrondis intends for me. Just yesterday, I was a broken farrier without a friend or hope in the world. In just one day, I've gained A'lanthear, I found a purpose in Nyrondis' will, and I was accepted into Her Majesty's service. But most of all...," he swallowed hard and started to sweat, "I found you...and that is what I am most thankful for. But, I would give up everything in a heartbeat...if only to keep you...Tempyst."

Written by Isuiln Fellblade

“Have you,” Ardwen started, then stopped, and to Isuiln it seemed he did not want to continue, but needed to. “Ariana Trueblood, Turin Wallace, Ezikial Stonebrewer, Xanders, Arrak, Kiradia, have you ever heard these names? Ancora, the Hands of Providence . . . these names . . . people, places, anything? Please, you must tell me if you have, you must!”

The mere response, not at all an answer to his question, was enough to fluster Isuiln, but the feverish force Ardwen hurled each word out with, coupled with the crescendo of his voice, until he was nearly yelling at him, left Isuiln dumbfounded. After a moment, he shook himself off and tried to think.

"No, most of those names mean nothing to me. Except, if I'm not mistaken, I believe Ariana was the first Queen of Westgale. As a whole, the elven homeland knows little of what occurs over here, save for the status on our brethren stationed here. Though I have made a point to know at least the basics of human history. If you want to know more, you'd have to talk to Ithramir. Can you wait until tomorrow and discuss it with him while riding? Or do you need to talk with him right away? Are you feeling ok?"

Written by Aethelwulf

Dusty from the trail, and with his dark green armor smelling faintly of smoke, Alaric rode up to the command encampment, and brought his black steed Morion to a halt. Ardwen's eager, strident words still floated in the air, as Alaric swung a leg over his saddle and jumped to the ground. Handing the reins to a nearby soldier, Alaric nodded to Isuiln, and with his eyes narrowing he slowly approached the one named Ardwen.

"What is this of which you speak son?," Alaric pretended to flick a mote of dust from Ardwens chest, and in a soft steely whisper he asked, " Where did you learn those names?"

Written by Tempyst

"I found you...and that is what I am most thankful for. But, I would give up everything in a heartbeat...if only to keep you...Tempyst."

Tempyst heard those words and her heart began to flutter and without a thought she leaned forward and kisses him lightly, lips lingering. She shivered when Lucant wrapped his arms around nad responded to her kiss, making it deeper. WHen they finally parted, breathlessly she whispered, "I have loved you all my life. You asked me once to wait for you and I have. Now, we need not wait any longer." Taking his hand, she led him into her room, shutting the door behind them. Trembling slightly, Tempyst undressed then turned and kissed Lucant again. This time, they both fell upon the bed and discovered each other as the world slipped away.

Written by Ardwen

"No, most of those names mean nothing to me.” Isuiln began, “Except, if I'm not mistaken, I believe Ariana was the first Queen of Westgale. As a whole, the elven homeland knows little of what occurs over here, save for the status on our brethren stationed here. Though I have made a point to know at least the basics of human history. If you want to know more, you'd have to talk to Ithramir. Can you wait until tomorrow and discuss it with him while riding? Or do you need to talk with him right away? Are you feeling ok?"

Ardwen merely smiled, at last. But the smile was cold, ruthless, and sinister to a fault. “OK?” He began; a snake would feel shame at the venom Ardwen put in his voice, “You wanted to know why I never smiled? This is the only smile left to me, when I find the trail cold and know my sins stand. If you would kno-“

Ardwen stopped, cut off as his eyes caught movement off to his side. A human was approaching. Not just any human, Ardwen recognized this one, it was Alaric. He was close to the Queen, and had been appointed a high command in the human regiment’s that marched in Mavigan’s name. Alaric was approaching slowly; he was being cautious Ardwen realized. Alaric’s eyes were narrowed into piercing slits by the time he reached Ardwen.

"What is this of which you speak son?,"Ardwen watched the human’s hand come up and brush against the chestplate of his armor. “A bold move,” Ardwen thought, “The next time he attempts that I take his hand.” Alaric continued on, his voice carrying an edge to it, " Where did you learn those names?"

The first thing Ardwen did was let out a scoff; the second was to use the scoff as a screen to shift his feet slightly into a bladeweaving stance. The human wanted to play did it? Very well, he could be game. “Son?” Ardwen began his voiced tinged with incredulity, “I have walked this world for over five-thousand years and then some human. I was there when the Dragon awoke from the Fields of Sorrow. I was there when the Chaos Gates broke open. I was there when Aerynth shattered. And yes, I was there when the Hands of Providence raised their banner on the fragment of Tythrrian Major in defiance of the Age of Strife.”

Ardwen’s voice became as chilled as iced steel as he continued, “I did not learn those names lesser! I lived with them! They were my friends, brothers and sisters, and much more. Turin Wallace was my Priest of Battle and I served under him in the Sect of Battle! I fought in the battles of Cornerstone, Blackwatch, Ahmas Cairne, Xanten, and many more. When Mandemus the Meek presented his council before the Church and begged succor I marched alongside the Hands, as one of them! I was slain three times and still returned to the fray!”

Ardwen’s voiced shifted to a breath above a whisper when he finished, “And I was there when the order left Tythrrian. Or rather, I was not there. I fought against the traitor’s legions, and was killed there the last time wearing the Hands azure coat and blanc candle. To this day lesser it still haunts me that I could have done something to have prevented that, to this day.” Ardwen let a pause separate his statements, “So Alaric,” he began making sure to use the human’s proper name, “I’ve told you a bit about myself, now why don’t you return the favor?”

Written by Aethelwulf

Subtly, instinctively, countering the Elven warrior's stance, Alaric smiles grimly, his lips drawn in a tight thin line.

"Steady there friend, I did not mean to incur your wrath" Stepping back a step, Alaric waved away his guards Koric and Lau who had both dismounted their own steeds and were warily taking up positions on either side of the Elven berserker.

"I only ask because those names are a mystery in my family. There is a tome..", Alaric's eyes seemed to gaze briefly into the distance," an ancient tome that one of my ancestors brought with him, when he came to this land. A tome written by the very hand of one of those that you mentioned."

"I will tell you indeed of myself, elf. I am a warrior of a long line of warriors, direct descendant from the one known as Aethelwulf the Red, first Laird of Aedmon. His grandson was my father's father. And not much is known of him. However, our family has long served the light, and our Queen's family!" Alaric's eyes flashed as he spoke. "Aethelwulf spoke of moving between worlds through the very portal that the first Mavigan traveled through. When he came to this land he brought with him a dairy, written by Turin Lord Wallace. That very diary resides now in the Ancoran Royal Library. The names that you mention are written within that book."

Alaric then leaned in very close to Ardwen, and in a cold whisper as flat as a grey winter sky, he warned the elven warrior. "Know that I am no...LESSER," Alaric spoke the word between clenched teeth, "And tho you may be ancient beyond human understanding, and a beserker at that, if you ever stand up to me like that again, there will be blood spilled and it won't be mine." Alaric then moved to the nearby campfire and began to warm his hands over the flames.

"Now then good warrior, tell us more about these people that you knew."

Written by Ariana

Mavigan was feeling quite pleased with herself as she Keeryn put their heads together and whispered about their plans. When she spied Wilhelm, walking with purpose towards them, however, her stomach clenched with anxiety. “Oh *&^%!” she thought. “Already busted!”

But Wilhelm was not there to bust their plan for escape before it could begin. Instead he asked them to accompany him to the stables, saying he had something for her. Once there he began on a long-winded speech. To give her credit where credit was due, Mavigan tried to pay attention – truly she did – especially when the first part of it started out so interesting. But then Wilhelm compared to her a rock and the speech showed no sign of ending and her mind began to wander.

“I will do my best to protect you,” said he. “Blah Blah Blah,” heard she, and her attention continued to waver until “And now I have something for you to see”, said he.

And then he took her breath away.

"Happy 18th Birthday, Mavigan. You have now come of age. May you live to see many more birthdays. Take good care of Argent and she will bear you well. (Remember that she likes her apples.)"

Her birthday. Her 18th birthday. Today was her 18th birthday and she had completely forgotten. Unbidden, memories of birthdays past flooded through her mind as she stared at the cake Wilhelm had provided. Happy memories, filled with fun and family, the type of memories she would no longer have the opportunity to make. Mavigan struggled to hold her tears at bay as she briefly contemplated the man who had remembered what she had forgotten, and had made an effort to bring her a little happiness in the midst of so much grief. Guilt started to gnaw at her, a sensation she had not felt since she had first runaway from home.

She looked at Wilhelm, his eyes shining with something she could not identify, and suddenly she found a confession of her current devious plan on the tip of her tongue. It took a supreme effort on her part to keep from spilling the beans, but she was afraid that if she told him, he would prevent her journey. No, it was better to commit the error and then ask for forgiveness later.

Instead, she looked up at Wilhelm with tears in her eyes and gave him her most heartfelt “Thank you.” Then leaning up, she landed a big, wet, and noisy kiss right on his cheek.


Written by Wilhelm - Page 11 Book 2

Wilhelm smiled and gave Mavigan a gentle hug. Then he said,

"Always remember Mavigan that I am your friend as well as your Champion. While I may often seem too serious, or harp too much on the duties of the Queen or the fate of the kingdom, I do not forget that you are still Mavigan, and I am very fond of you. Today is your day, and there will be no ceremonies other than the cutting of the cake and your birthday feast. This is a time to set our fears aside and celebrate life and your coming of age."

Wilhelm waved and several elves who had been hiding in other stalls came out bearing dishes and utensils for the cutting of the cake, along with glasses and bottles.

"This is K'lain, Head Chef, and the other Citadel cooks, and they stand ready to take your orders for the birthday feast. They will prepare for you whatever you wish. These gifts were made for you by the Master Crafters here in the Citadel. Argent is my gift to you. May she bear you as well and as faithfully as she has me. I expect we can pursuade Lithwyn to organize some dancing or whatever other activites you would like on your birthday. After the recent events we can all do with a good celebration."

Written by Ardwen

Ardwen saw Alaric move to counter his stance, “So.” He thought, “The human has eyes.”

"Steady there friend, I did not mean to incur your wrath" Alaric stepped back and waved away the two guards who were moving to Ardwen’ flank.

"I only ask because those names are a mystery in my family. There is a tome..", The human’s eyes seemed to grow distant as with long memory," an ancient tome that one of my ancestors brought with him, when he came to this land. A tome written by the very hand of one of those that you mentioned."

“Ancestors?!” Ardwen’s mind roared, “What is this one playing at? It’s not been that long . . .”

"I will tell you indeed of myself, elf. I am a warrior of a long line of warriors, direct descendant from the one known as Aethelwulf the Red, first Laird of Aedmon. His grandson was my father's father. And not much is known of him. However, our family has long served the light, and our Queen's family!" Alaric's eyes seemed to burn with an inner light as he continued. "Aethelwulf spoke of moving between worlds through the very portal that the first Mavigan traveled through. When he came to this land he brought with him a dairy, written by Turin Lord Wallace. That very diary resides now in the Ancoran Royal Library. The names that you mention are written within that book."

Alaric leaned in close then, and there was a hidden and overt threat in his words, "Know that I am no...LESSER," the human seemed to spit the word out, "And tho you may be ancient beyond human understanding, and a beserker at that, if you ever stand up to me like that again, there will be blood spilled and it won't be mine." Alaric moved to a nearby campfire and began to warm his hands. There was a drawn pause before he finished, “Now then good warrior, tell us more about these people that you knew."

Ardwen drank in this human’s words, trying to digest each one and commit them to memory. But there was one crucial detail that didn’t make sense. The berserker moved over to the fire Alaric was at and stood across from the warrior, gazing at him a minute. “Well,” he began after a strained silence, “I would like to dance the swords with you. But you’re far more valuable to me alive then dead. And . . . there’s the chance, a scant chance mind you, that your words are true. Something doesn’t fit, but we’ll get to that in a moment, yes? If, and I say if Alaric, you are not false . . . then I owe you an apology.”

Ardwen cleared his throat and thought carefully about his next words, taking care to pick them with unusual caution, a sword would be of no use in the battle that was to come, “So, what am I to do with what you’ve told me? Shall we clear a little miscommunication between us? You claim to be Aethelwulf’s descendent, which is all fine and well. The problem is though, that you mention you are removed by several generations! You make it sound as if it’s been . . . many years, “Ardwen fumbled over those two words, not wanting to consider what it meant if Alaric was true, “many years since the Hands coming to this place.”

Ardwen let his words settle; gave Alaric the time to consider well before continuing, “I may be Twilight Born, true, but I still know how humans count their years. There is simply no way, as I number the years, that enough time has passed. Why . . . I just came from Aerynth myself, and there the memory of the Hands and the betrayal is still . . . bitterly fresh.” Ardwen gave a nod to Alaric and locked eye contact with him, “I would love to tell you more, mellonamin . . . but first we must . . . resolve this minute detail. So, by all means you tell me how you can be Aethelwulf, they very architect of Ancora’s descendent, if the memory of the Hand’s end is still not cold! If you do, and your words ring true to my ears, you will have all from me, I swear it. Do we have a deal?”

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Lucant awoke from one the most peaceful sleeps he had ever had to the moon shining brightly from the balcony. He found that he was no longer tired, probably from all the naps that day, he thought. Knowing that he wouldn't be sleeping again for a while, he got up silently out of the bed so as not to wake Tempyst. He walked to the balcony, noticing the ivy and vines that seemed to creeping into the room. Looking back at Tempyst, he smiled and thought to himself: "I wonder if she knows how incredible she is?" The wind rushed over him like waves gently laping upon the shoreline.

Lucant allowed his mind to wander back to earlier. "I have loved you all my life. You asked me once to wait for you and I have. Now, we need not wait any longer." Doubt began creeping through his mind just like the ivy upon the wall. "I just met her today...it's not me she loves...it's her dream - her champion that she loves...I just happened to be there when she needed someone. Belyena, you were right...I am and forever will be but a fool." He stood there on the balcony with his peace, focus, and courage swept away by the wind.

Written by Pharsalus

Geirik - or whatever he was called now - stood perfectly erect, arms folded across his chest, floating only inches from the ground in a field of light and vapor. The temperature in the room continued to decline, small crystalline points forming on nearby overhangs. The torches in the hallway struggled to stay alight. Though the illumination of his eyes hid any sign of pupil or target, one could tell the being now examined the wretched magician before him in ways only one of his power would know. There was a long silence before he responded with the voice of a dying gale.

Free me, Necromancer, he began. You assume that I am imprisoned? Trapped in this pathetic mortal's shell...

He paused.

Your subterfuge means little to me, mortal. In a bird's breath I could wipe you from this coil as quickly and as horribly as you entered. Whatever power you think you have is as rain before the stone to me.

Once again the whaling hiss of the Liche's voice fell from the air, and for several tense moments it sat quiet and cold.

But even so, he continued, your daring intrigues me, Necromancer. To tempt commune with one willing to forsake Life itself for a simple taste of true power - you are not as you appear.

Geirik's feet sank to the floor and stabilized, his arms dropping to his side, and the brilliance of his eyes dimming slightly. The air remained a knawing cold immediately around him but warmed again at several paces out. One would dare not touch the "man" that now stood in the cell as it he would certainly die.

I will hear you now, Necromancer. But be quick! My time, though now endless, is more valuable than a hundred lifetimes of your kind.

He took the first moment to look about the cell. There was another being present - a man, mortal, wounded. An insect waiting to be devoured by forces it could not understand.

Let us...leave this place.

He turned and began to leave, the air in his wake pouring eerily cold off his shoulders.

Written by Tempyst

...it is done... Tempyst awoke with A'lanthear whispering in her head. Her eyes fluttered and adjusted to the moonlight. Reaching over, she found the bed empty and immediately sat upright in a panic.

"Lucant?" She called out and looked about the room. Seeing him standing in the window, Tempyst rushed over and held him tight, the feeling of his warm skin against hers soothing the panic away. She layed her head agaisnt his chest and closed her eyes, listening to his heart. "I thought I was dreaming...I don't want to be dreaming anymore."

Written by Archeantus

Gadianton peered at the torch just above him, and watched as the flame began to slowly flicker and die. He then peered back into the darkened cell, with a raised eyebrow. It was deathly silent, and slowly, he could feel his measured breaths come out as mist.

Kishkumen just ahead remained focused.

Free me, Necromancer, The mage finally heard.The very voice seemed to wale, dying from the grave. Forever dying. You assume that I am imprisoned? Trapped in this pathetic mortal's shell...

There was a pause, and the mage allowed the Lich to continue unabated, unhindered, and unknowing of exactly what the mage designed to do.

The lich saw through his physical illusion easily, as expected. His visage shifted and shimmered to his elven form.

He was then admired, if one could call it that, for his willingness to call a being knowingly with such power. And when the lich gave permission to speak, the mage continued smoothly.

“You are trapped endless one. One of insatiable thirst to devour all life cannot willingly exist within a mortal whose heart beat can be heard every moment, whose breath flows in and out, whose soul is still connected to his mortal body. Why do you not rise from his frame and tear his soul from his body? You can do this on but a whim.” Kishkumen paused unabashedly, inching closer to the summoned being as it stood before him outside the cell door.

“Why do you not take me, and command the armies upon armies of captured souls within my stone? You must sense it? Why do you not burst this instant through this human edifice and feed upon this world?” The mage continued, wholeheartedly aware of the starkly blank pupils of the lich’s host which seemed to fire in increasing anger.

“How does it feel to be so close to the living, and not be able to just taste it?” The mage asked in finality.

The mage could almost hear the endless tortured shouts of the other plane being called to be ready to receive him as the lich heard his little speech.

“You are trapped. It is obvious, for even I could not unlock your being from this mortal shell. It is a simple procedure.” The necromancer added, getting to his point.

“I want to know how you came to be in this man. I want you to realize I am in control of your destiny endless one, despite your limitless power, you are in my…pathetic hands.” He said the last with an edge of being a challenge to the insults thrown at him moments before.

“And if your time is so short, be quick, my master is anxious to discover your…talents...”

The lich then turned to look, inches away, into the unshaken, yet livid grey eyes of the man who was refered to as, master.

Written by Renalis

Crystal leaned on the doorway looking in, "So young to be involved in something so big, I hope she can enjoy this little piece of happiness..." Crystal looked down at the note Renalis left, its words still glowing faintly, warmly as if touched by his love for her. "I have to look out for her..." Crystal stepped forward toward Mavigan, and with a bow she asked softly, her thoughts still on Renalis, "M'lady, if you wouldn't mind a guest, I could very much use some comfort food and would like to celebrate this joyous occation."

****

Renalis was snapped out of the dreamlike trance he was in, thinking of Crystal by the loud shouting now going on only a few feet from him.

“Have you ever heard these names? Ancora, the Hands of Providence . . . these names . . . people, places, anything? Please, you must tell me if you have, you must!” Ardwen was shouting now, and drawing the attention of everyone nearby.

"So this is what is buried in that dark, scary exterior, he really did have friends, lost them maybe?" Renalis thought to himself.

Renalis listened intently to the discussion had between Alaric and Ardwen, soaking in all the word and finally coming to a conclusion.

“I may be Twilight Born, true, but I still know how humans count their years. There is simply no way, as I number the years, that enough time has passed. Why . . . I just came from Aerynth myself, and there the memory of the Hands and the betrayal is still . . . bitterly fresh.” Ardwen gave a nod to Alaric and locked eye contact with him, “I would love to tell you more, mellonamin . . . but first we must . . . resolve this minute detail. So, by all means you tell me how you can be Aethelwulf, they very architect of Ancora’s descendent, if the memory of the Hand’s end is still not cold! If you do, and your words ring true to my ears, you will have all from me, I swear it. Do we have a deal?”

"I may have an answer for you Ardwen, if you are open to the possibility." Renalis drew closer to Ardwen, finally deciding to add his piece to this discussion, "If I understand this right, you are not of these lands are you? Indeed you are not even of this world. Like myself you hail from a world not too dissimilar to this one but different in many ways; people, places, cities, countries and the like. And if I understand this right, you used a portal to leave your world and it was linked to the portal found here in this world." Renalis paused to let his words sink in then continued.

Having been only studyed the portal for the month prior to events of late, Renalis didn't have all the answers but he knew how to look like he did, "The problem with that portal - and the very reason why I created my own to come here - is that it is rather unstable." Renalis could see the look on Ardwen's face - this did not answer his question. "What this portal's instability lends to is an unstable connection to a world. I think that you Ardwen, as well as the friends that you spoke of stepped through this unstable portal, but if your timing was not exact you may have landed in very different locations - the same world, but in different places. And I think that it was not just a different location on the map... but in time!"

Written by Tempyst

Kaya awoke, the sky still dark around her, the wagon rocking uncomfortably back and forth as it traveled over the rough terrain. When is this going to stop? Kaya thought.

"No worriesssss child, we have much to do. I am sssso glad you are awake, we have much to talk about."

This time, Kaya new better than to speak aloud and just thought at the voice in her head. "Who are you? What do you want with me?"

"Who I am isss of no matter to you. Assss to what I want, that isss ssssimple. I want you to kill."

"Kill? Kill who? No, I am going going to kill anyone for you. GET OUT OF MY HEAD!" Kaya shouted in her head, her body shaking with anger. What the hell did they... she thought, but was cut off.

"...do to you?" The voice laughed. "I can hear everything you think, you can hide nothing from me. And yesss, you will kill, whoever I ssssay. And if you do not do it willingly, I will make you."

"You are just a voice in my head, you can't make me do anything!"

Again the voice chuckled, but it was a vile sound. Then Kaya heard herself shout out loud in orcish, eyes goind wide at hearing herself tell the driver to stop. The wagon creaked to a halt, as did the wagon behind them. "What are you doing, why are they listening to you, to me?" The voice did not answer her, but made her shout out again in orcish, this time, Kaya did not understand what was being said. But the driver seemed to understand and jumped down from his seat. Several other ocs that were traveling with the two wagons stepped towards Kaya'a cage as well. Her mind raced with questions about what was happening and if the voice heard her, it did not respond. The orc driver opened her cage and two others with spears poked at her to get out. She climbed out weakly, her muscles stiff and sore from the ride and cramped space. They prodded her through the darkness to the back of the other wagon. this wagon carried a larger cage, filled with human children of various ages, all of them sleeping at the moment. An orc openend the cage door and she was motioned to get inside. She hesitated, unsure of what was going on, but the spear in her back made her move forward and climb into the children's cage. The commotion made some of the children awake, their eyes wide and shining in the moonlinght. Some of them began to cry, which woke up the rest. The cage door was shut and locked behind her and the orcs stepped back, watching.

"Kill them." The voice was cold and chilled her very soul.

"What? No! They are babies, I will not..." Kaya's body shook.

"Yesss, you will."

Kaya turned and grabbed the cage door bars, shaking them hard, screaming at the orcs to let her out. But they did nothing but watch, their dark eyes cold and heartless. "I will not kill innocent children. I will not kill just because you say so!"

The laughing in her head turned to rage. "Yessss you will. Watch and ssssee my power." Kaya suddenly felt dizzy and she found herself feeling trapped inside her body, unable to move, unable to speak. Then, it all changed. Her body began to move, turning back to the children.

"What's happening? What are you doing? NO!" Kaya screamed at the voice in her head. But the voice did not listen, instead, she felt her body being controled, like a puppet, and could only watch, horrified as her own hands went around the neck of one little girl and rip out her throat with her bare hands. The children began screaming climbing on top of each other trying to get away from Kaya. Kaya sobbed inside, feeling her stomach turn with what she had just witnessed herself do. She cried out time and time again to the voice, to the one who controlled her to stop, but it paid her no heed, it just continued on its bloody rampage. Kaya did not know how long she was in that cage, she tried to shut out what was happening. Finally, her body stopped and she felt herself regaining control of her faculties. Kaya collapsed in a corner of the cage, one with the least amount of carnage. She looked around, seeing the children's dead eyes gazing up at her, still pleading with her to stop. She sobbed, bringing her hands up to her face, staring at them. She could see they were coated with blood and flesh, in fact, the rampage had been so great, she was totally covered in the blood of the children she had just murdered. "What have you done? What did you make me do?"

The voice laughed gleefully now inside her head. You are no longer in control child, I am the masssster now. And if you do not do what I sssay, then I will make you do it and make you do crimes so horendoussss you will wissssh you were dead.

"I already do." Kaya muttered. Her mind was in a fog, reeling, her world turned upside down. She barely noticed the orcs open up the door and drag her back to her own small cage. The wagons began to move again, but the one behind them turned around and headed back from where they came. "Why?" She whispered, "Why?"

The voice whispered back softly, almost seductively. Becausssse it isss what I do. Now child, do you undersssstand my power?"

"Yes." Kaya's voice was hollow and dry.

"Good. Together we can do great thingsss, your name will be on everyone'ssss lipsss. Kaya felt her hands moving up over her body to her mouth, then felt herself taste the blood and flesh on her hand. She gagged and the voice laughed once again. When I ssssay kill, you will kill who I ssssay. We have but one target child, but I have no qualmsss in killing whoever getss in our way."

Again Kaya whispered out loud, "Who is it you want me to kill?"

"All in good time child, all in good time." The voice trailed off into the night, leaving Kaya to sit there in the moving wagon alone with her thoughts. Kaya sobbed into her blood soaked hands, then, smelling the blood there, turned and vomited at what she had just been made to do. After all she could do was dry heave, she sat back down and cried, until the comforting darkness of sleep took over once again.

Written by Lucant Dolvan

She layed her head agaisnt his chest and closed her eyes, listening to his heart. "I thought I was dreaming...I don't want to be dreaming anymore."

Lucant wraped his arms around her and layed his head upon hers. "It wasn't a dream," he whispered to her. Even with all his doubts, he couldn't bring himself to part from her. After a long pause, he thought to himself "I have to ask her... or else I'll never have another moment's peace."

"Tempyst...have your dreams really come true? Am I really the one who was with you for so long? Am I... who you thought I would be?"

Written by Tempyst

"Tempyst...have your dreams really come true? Am I really the one who was with you for so long? Am I... who you thought I would be?"

Tempyst inhaled deeply, taking in his scent, then looked up into Lucant's eyes and smiled. "You are Lucant Dolvan, the man I have loved all my life. I was so afraid that everything I felt was just a dream, an illusion, but when I saw you, saw your face I knew, I knew who you were. I knew that no matter what you felt for me, I loved you. If you had turned me away, I would still love you." She paused a moment and placed her hands in his. "It is still a bit scary I suppose. I know you, yet, I do not know you, but that is the wonder of this too." She stepped back a few steps, turned and looked up at the moon. She was silent for a moment, then took a deep breath. "I know you do not know me either, but what I feel in my heart, if you feel anything like it, then you know, you know it doesn't matter. Wherever you go, I shall follow. Your path is my path." She turned back to him, the soft afternoon sunlight gleaming off of her naked form. "Have my dreams come true? No." She stepped up close to him again, and caressed his face tenderly. "No dream could ever match up to what I am feeling right here and right now for you Lucant. You are in my soul, my very being."

Written by Lucant Dolvan

Lucant gazed in to Tempyst's eyes, knowing now that her love for him was pure and unconditional. He smiled and whispered to her "It was not Nyrondis or A'lanthear or Yvesinia who led me to you. It was my heart... I will doubt it no more, I will trust it as completely as I trust you." He paused and took her in his arms, "I will always be with you Tempyst. Even after the stars have fallen from the sky and the ground has crumbled to dust."

She kissed him playfully and moved back towards the bed. The rest of the world slipped away once more.

Written by Aethelwulf

Alaric turned as the mage approached and listened intently as Renalis spoke of his theory.

"Wait now lad, if I understand you aright, you are saying that there is something about these portals that bends time? " Alaric paused a moment to collect his thoughts. If this were true, then Ardwen may well have known Aethelwulf. "The tales in the diary of Lord Wallace are bold and noble ones, but they also speak of other mysteries. There is a deity mentioned, one known as the All Father who sounds very much like our own god. And there is another item that Aethelwulf brought back with him that may have import in this time, as we fight our evil foes. An artifact that seems to be imbued with great power. "

Written by Agmund

The old priest sunk deeply into the chair of his chambers, a scowl lurking beneath his beard. In his hand was a quill, and before him upon the table a blank piece of parchment. His mind was just as blank, having looked at possible outcomes and the outcomes of those outcomes until at last he had lost his line of thought.

A cloud of darkness swirled within him, casting doubt upon him, and destroying every effort he made to decide a course of action. Like a great wave crashing upon the rocky shoreline, it crushed all that he attempted. He could see no light, no beacon, in the distance for him to follow, there simply was no path illuminated.

His hand shook, not with fury, nor with anger, but with the confusion of a mind that had lost its way, and the age of a man who should have perished long ago. Deep brown eyes grew misty with fluid, staring ahead at a painting on the wall, yet unable to make it out.

His voice suddenly boomed “I have done all that you have asked, always… do not leave me in this state, I can bear it no longer!” he shouted aloud. “If this is your will! If this is the punishment for my service, then take me now, I care not, cast me down and end my life!” and in one foul swoosh his hand thrust the quill against the wall and grabbed the parchment. In his grasp it was crumbled into shreds and dropped upon the floor.

The long silvery strands of his chin splayed outwards across the table as he collapsed down upon it in a sobbing mass. For a long while he cried, an old man, broken and alone in his sorrow, for few men lived to understand how age could torment a person. How it could in the end, be far worse than the quickness and peace of death.

Hours crept past, with not a movement of his body or a thought in his head. And then at last his face rose from the cold wooden surface of the table, and his eyes began to focus. There before him hung the answer. He had forgotten to ask about the painting, and who in the depiction was leading the host of elves from the citadel.

With a nod of his head he had risen to his feet and gathered his things, stopping only to take one last look at the picture before he departed.

Written by Pharsalus

Geirik's eyes flashed backward, burning with a cold rage that had steeped in captivity for untold centuries.

DO NOT CHALLENGE ME, NECROMANCER!

The shadows around the Necromancer cast by dying torchlight and the dim illumination of the old Bounty Hunter's eyes warped and realed, wrapping themselves like tethers about the Mage's neck and hands. The liche watched and burned as the old Elf was pulled backward and held firm against the damp wall behind him.

Geirik advanced on him slowly, seeming to have regained his cool - his face loosened, and the sudden burst of light from his eyes slipped back to their usualglow.

Do not pretend to know me, Kishkumen, the being continued, the whine and hiss of his voice carried forever down the darkened hallway. The great medallion about the Necromancer's neck slowly lifted - clumsily, as a child would hoist a pale of water - from his neck. It rose close to Geirik's face, the light of his eyes contrasting the pendant's carvings. The shadows about the Elf's neck and hands tightened, causing him to choke and gasp.

You believe yourself greater than me, Necromancer? Because of your... trinket? A sardonic grin splintered across Geirik's face, and he chuckled terribly, as Death might at any man seeking to defy it. Geirik truned his back on the Elf.

You know nothing, Elf. I am bound by no man's flesh or mortal's bars. This man's situation is... he paused, almost sarcastically, complicated. If one weren't pre-occupied at the gnawing cold that had once again fallen across the room, one would almost hear the smile in the being's voice.

No - your trinket means little to me, Necromancer. The old Elf's shackles loosened and evaporated as quickly as they had formed. The Liche continued as he walked away, I know its power - its secrets. You are simply a caretaker, as many have been before you. Cross me again...

He stopped, his head lowered, his voice becoming almost omnipresent.

...and you will know suffering as no mortal ever has.

The thick of the air dissipated, and Geirik continued walking down the narrow hall. Within the walls of his own mind, a desperate man fought the losing end of a battle against the Beyond. He would not surrender himself - the Liche would regret his trespasses, and it would be Geirik landing the final blow.

But, for now, he could only wait.

Written by Teran

Teran nodded to Mavigan's back as she walked away from him.

"You could have left the door open" he heard Crystal state....

It was true, Teran could have left the door open when he slipped out, but that would have cost him time. He simply shrugged at Crystal. After she explained the nature of the curse to him he shrugged again.

"Jasmine knows who cursed her, and perhaps where I might find him."

The assassin disappears into the prison without another word and hands the keys off to a guard... He peers into Jasmine's cell.

"I will find you at midnight this evening." He was gone as soon as he had finished speaking, retreating out of the prison.


Written by Trinni Shannon - Page 12 Book 2

Trinni, sitting just outside the light of the central camp fire, laughed as Isuiln joked with the man called Ardwen. Her peals of laughter rang out in their high pitch. Suddenly concious of her eavesdropping, she clamps a hand over her mouth to quiet the sound. Tears of laughter flow over her fingers as another hand wraps around her belly. The pain in her stomach nearly unbearable, a motion out of the corner of her eye captures her attention.

Oh snap... who was that? I know I've been heard fer sure. Shoot! Where is Catherin?!?!

Glancing around, worriedly, she senses motion just behind her and lurches forward. Looking back, Catherin's hand where her ear had just been, Trinni's eyes widen and all she can say is "Eep" before quickly getting her feet under her and taking off. Blindly running, trying to get away from Catherin's wrath, she darts in between officers and doesn't even realize it as she stumbles past Commander Ithramir Sil-Galdur, nearly colliding with her own captain, Isuiln Fellblade.

Quickly turning to avoid such an accident, trying not to giggle, she changes her path on her escape from incoming torture as Catherin barrels behind her.

****

Standing in the sunlight, surveying the area around her, she watches the back of Tempyst and a young man as they walk towards the gardens. Quite in love, are they, she mused. Turning back to the courtyard, she notices as one of the newly arrived guests heads into the prisons she had just left.

He was the man protecting Mavigan last night, wasn't he? Teran was his name, I think. What could he want with the prisons?

Frowning for a moment, she decides to make sure all is well and follows after him. Reaching the bottom of the stairs as he is on his way back to the entrance, she holds out her hand, pausing him.

"Hello, Teran, wasn't it? I am Lady Lithwyn Deltheron of this citadel, can I help you with something? These are Lothiel-Gadith's prisons, not exactly a suitable place for guests to visit. After all, you might see some of our dirty secrets here." Smiling warmly, she winks to emphasize the joke, and glances past him to see that workers have already begun on the decimated wall.

Written by Teran

"...After all, you might see some of our dirty secrets here."

Teran was stirred from his internal thoughts and schemes by a woman's voice...he glanced up and smiled innocently at the woman.

"I would hate to think there are secrets I do not yet know down there." he half-jokes "Good day Lady Lithwyn, how may I be of service to you?" he asked warmly.

Written by Trinni Shannon

"... how may I be of service to you?"

Pausing a beat, Lithwyn answers him. "Well, I was wondering what was so intriguing down here. Can I answer something for you? Did you need help finding anything? Not that I can imagine what you seek in the prisons of a citadel you only just arrived at. Mostly, the people here are involved in petty crimes of thievery. Why, the only other person..."

Her eyes narrow as she realizes Jasmine is still in a cell.

"Tell me, Teran, you would not be so bold as to try to finish what you began last night? Surely you would not try to kill a prisoner of Lothiel-Gadith, when we may still have use for her?" Tilting her head to the side, she smiles broadly, feigning innocence, watching his reaction.

Written by Teran

"Jasmine is no longer a threat to the Queen and has nothing to fear from me." He almost purrs "I was simply discussing our plans for the coming months."

Teran doesn't explain anymore, perhaps wanting to see if Lithwyn would ask a more in depth question.

Written by Trinni Shannon

"Jasmine is no longer a threat to the Queen and has nothing to fear from me. I was simply discussing our plans for the coming months." His voice, so coated with honey, Lithwyn has to stop herself from checking for a bee hive. Curious. Then, right before dismissing his tone as her own heightened senses playing tricks on her, she realizes what he had said.

Discussing our plans??

Tilting her head to the side, her right arm across her waist with the left elbow resting on her right hand, she taps her lip with her free hand.

"Hmmm. I do have a question for you, Teran, defender of the young and oh so beautiful Queen Mavigan. You see, your statement has given me cause to wonder. What I would like to know," pausing just a moment to make sure she has his full attention, she continues, "is just who do you mean by "our" in this plan formulation discussion of yours?"

Written by Teran

"I mean my plans. And the plans of any of those who choose to follow me." He states flatly.

"Do you have any further questions for me Lady Lithwyn? Perhaps you would like to cast a spell or two to reveal my true loyalties? I will submit to whatever tests you desire to satisfy your suspicions."

Written by Rikshanthas

They had ridden in almost complete silence for hours before her love's reticence drove Sharanya to frustration. Lienad had never been overly talkative by nature, but he had always been able to talk to her about anything. Yet now he was completely clammed up; her attempts to get him to explain his abrupt change of direction had been consistently ignored or rebuffed until she was ready to knock him off the horse. Which she did.

"What the -- " Years of training couldn't prevent him from landing flat on his rear end, leaving him covered in mud. Lienad glared up at the elven woman, who now wore a satisfied smirk. He knew better than to ask why she had done it. He stood up with a loud sigh, spreading his arms in surrender.

"All right, all right, I suppose I do owe you an explanation --"

"Indeed you do, and you'll not be getting back on this horse until I get one," she said, crossing her arms defiantly. The mare knickered and looked at him as if supporting her completely.

"It's just that I don't understand it myself. I've been going over it in my head and it still doesn't make sense. Ok, so I fell asleep in the saddle, guess I've been pushing myself a little too much. I had a strange dream, though it's all a little foggy now. I can't for the life of me remember ever having such a vivid dream. But when I woke up I just felt this ... this sense of danger, that we can't go there, that we must get to the elven Citadel. I don't expect you to understand --"

"That you were given a vision? I'm surprised, but I do believe you. These things happen among my people, but for a human ..." Then she remembered that his mother's father had been an elf; only quarter-blood, but still ... "The gods must indeed want you for something, and I'll not stand in their way," she said quietly, holding out her hand to pull him back into the saddle. To her complete surprise, he gave a sudden yank, hauling her into the dirt next to him. She gave a startled yelp as she hit the muddy ground, then looked up at him with an expression of sheer astonishment that smoldered into anger when she heard him chuckle. Her mouth worked inarticulately, unable to form the thoughts racing through her head. Her hands balled into fists at her sides.

"There, that'll do nicely," he said with some degree of amused satisfaction as he looked over her now-filthy clothing appraisingly. "Won't do to have you all neat and ladylike when we reach the Citadel," he explained more seriously, tugging at a few loose threads and small tears to give her a suitably ragged appearance. "This way, we should get by without too much notice, and if you keep your hood up, and your hair forward," he pulled her riding hood over her head, tugging it down almost to her chin, "and make sure to use that particular drawl of Common I've been teaching you - it covers the elven accent quite nicely - all anyone will see is a poor, travel-weary refugee, possibly even mistaking you for a human girl -- all the more to our advantage when I 'pledge my sword for your protection'," he said, placing a hand on the hilt of Khelek'urya with a dramatic flair.

"My protection?" she began indignantly, but quieted under Lienad's level gaze. "Yes, I know you are quite able to take care of yourself," he said with respect, "and I'm happy for it. But right now we're trying to lay low; a display of your familiarity with elven swordplay would be asking for trouble. For both of us." He held out his hand to help her back into the saddle. "Let's just get going."

They rode on until nightfall, pausing occasionally to rest and water Nightwind yet still keeping to a pace that would have broken a lesser steed. Lienad patted the mare's coal-black neck appreciatively. She had been a miracle, for nondescript sire and dam to produce an animal that was surefooted even in the darkness, fearless and intelligent, with reserves of stamina he had yet to strain. He thought back on the numerous instances he owed his life to the sturdy mare. Once she may have been a pet, a tool; now she was family.

He was fondly recalling the races Nightwind had handily won him a small fortune in (and the looks on his opponent's faces, though he would never admit that) when a gasp from Sharanya brought him sharply back to reality. Gods, demons and minor deities, I'm getting distracted, he swore to himself as he looked around for the cause of his companion's reaction. They had reached the top of a hill, high enough to grant an impressive if night-blurred view of their surroundings. Including the moonlit plume of smoke ahead to their right, rising up from a dull orange glow. "Not good," he said flatly, looking up toward the moon and stars to judge their position. Roughly northeast, and if he guessed their location right ...

"Minas Aure is burning," Sharanya whispered. Lienad nodded slowly, his attention turning northwest to the flickers of many campfires under the moon's glow. He dismounted and led Nightwind to the shade of a few trees. "We'll camp here for now." He gestured toward the campfires. "When they move, we move."

Written by Wilhelm

As Wilhelm and Mavigan exchanged hugs, the others gathered round and expressed their own congratulations and best wishes on her coming of age. The stables began to grow rather crowded. The cake was cut and pieces passed around. Mavigan was introduced to an elven treat, flavored iced cream, to go with the cake. Bottles of elven honeymead were opened and poured and several toasts were made to Mavigan's health and long life and happiness.

Then, to Mavigan's growing delight, each Craftmaster came forward and presented Mavigan with their gift from the display. The Armorer showed off the features of the green leather armor with the leaf-shaped scales, which flexed with almost no sound owing to the special oil that had been applied to it. Mavigan was informed that the scent of pine and flowers it gave off would help mask her own scent in the woods and fields. The Seamstress showed off the green riding outfit that was designed to be worn over the armor, hiding its presence, or under it or alone, with adjustments made by an ingenious series of straps and buckles. The Cloakmaker described how the hooded cloak blended well into natural surroundings and demonstrated how it was waterproof.

The Swordsmith came forward and presented her with the elven short sword, which displayed the waving watermarks of a hundred-folded blade. Mavigan found the balance to be perfect, like an extension of her arm, and the hilt fit snugly in her hand. The Spearsmith presented her with the ironwood-shafted spear with its gleaming mithril spearhead. Keeryn fell into rapture over the spear. The Bowyer presented her with the beautifully laminated composite horse bow, sized to her, along with two quivers of arrows, spare strings, and wristguard. The Apothecary presented her with an engraved box of ointments, including both cosmetics and medicinals. The Leathercrafter presented her with the engraved side saddle, saddle bags, and fancy bridle and armorial bardings. The Flagmaker presented her with the new Royal Ancoran Banner, complete with banner pole. The Jeweler gave her a silver ring with a blue stone and explained that the Citadel Mage Resini had enchanted the stone to turn red if the ring was placed close to any poison.

The Chief Chef and the Chief Musician announced that their gifts would come in the form of a banquet and dance in Mavigan's honor that evening, and Mavigan was encouraged to describe all of her favorite foods, drinks, and dances. Then Willhelm stepped forward and led Argent, decked out in finery, over to Mavigan and handed her the reins and an apple and suggested that she try out her new gifts. A cheer arose from the crowd. As Wilhelm released the reins, he looked meaningfully at Keeryn, still admiring the spear, and then leaned forward and whispered to Mavigan,

"A royal bodyguard is traditionally given a weapon by her liege."

Written by Tempyst

Tempyst stretched, and felt Lucant's warm body next to hers. The sun was beginning to set, the last rays dancing admist the vines that were creeping into the room. She turned to look at Lucant and ran her finger over his back, then noticed something had changed. She sat up, pulling the blanket back from him and saw the mark. That was not there earlier, Nyrondis has truly made his choice. Tempyst's finger traced the image of the oak tree that had grown across Lucant'c back, almost feeling the leaves brushing up against her skin.

They are coming... Alanthear whispered.

"Who is coming?" She questioned aloud.

They, they are coming. Hurry and go meet them. Tempyst stopped, then suddenly her mind exploded with what she had done.

"Lucant! Lucant!" Tempyst shook Lucant's shoulder almost violently. Lucant began to stir and Tempyst jumped out of bed and began searching for her clothing, her voice almost panicked. "Lucant please, wake up now! I can't believe this! How could I forget the protocal?" Lucant sat up and looked quizzically at her as she flew about the room like a mad woman. Tempyst found her clothes and began to dress. "Do you realize what I have done Lucant? No, of course not, but you will. The conclave here, the druids who ward over this area, i forgot to announce my presence and I communed without permission! We must hurry, Alanthear says they are coming. We must hurry and find them before they find us!"

Tempyst grabbed Lucant's shirt and handed it to him. Then rushed forward and kissed him deeply. Finally breaking the kiss she smiled. "Now, hurry up and dress, we need to leave now.!

Written by Lucant Dolvan

An enormous black shadow stood before Lucant, threatening to consume him and all he held dear. As the shadow began to move, Lucant was roused from his sleep by Tempyst shaking his arm in a panic.

Unsettled and still half-asleep, he sat up. "Do you realize what I have done Lucant? No, of course not, but you will. The conclave here, the druids who ward over this area, i forgot to announce my presence and I communed without permission! We must hurry, Alanthear says they are coming. We must hurry and find them before they find us!" He did indeed have no idea what she meant. He was pleasntly surprised by her kiss and more than a little annoyed by A'lanthear's interruption. "Your love for her will only grow, master."

Finally breaking the kiss she smiled. "Now, hurry up and dress, we need to leave now.!" Lucant began to dress as he responded to his intrusive companion: "Beyond all shadow, A'lanthear...beyond all shadow." "We must hurry," came Tempyst's cry from the door. Lucant picked up A'lanthear and hurried to her side, then the two were on their way.

Lucant took her hand in his and began to run. He didn't care what anyone thought about the two of them running throughout the Citadel. He didn't care about the past; he didn't care what future he was running towards. He was with her, and that was the most important thing to him.

Hand in hand, the two moved down the Avenue of Assembly in the slowly setting sun, turning a corner onto the famed Temple Row. A short ways in front of them stood a harsh-looking man - clearly an important druid - flanked on either side by two young initiates.

Written by Tempyst

Tempyst clutched Lucant's hand tightly as they stood before the druids. Immediately she knelt before older man and held out her staff for him to sense. "My sincerest apologies Elder, it was not my intention to be rude, much has happened on this day and there was just not time to find you first." Tempyst paused, letting the Elder Druid learn about her from her staff, an obejct that was more than what it appeared to be to all druids. After a few moments of feeling her heart trying to bust out ofher chest she spoke again. "As you will learn, I was reborn with the sword A'lanthear cradled in my arms. And now, this day, A'lanthear has found its champion."

Written by Turin Wallace

Ithramir closed his eyes and rested himself for the days ride. Before long, he heard one of Isuiln’s aides come running by with his own Catherin in hot pursuit. He studied the distinct footfalls for a moment and then taking a deep breath, he emptied his mind of all thoughts except for her, letting the night take him into her embrace.

A few hours passed.

Rousing himself from his reveries, Ithramir looked up into Menelmîr and gazed upon it’s beauty. Slowly, he moved his eyes downward unto the sight of the great fortress of Minas Aure, still burning, thick clouds of smoke still billowing high into the air.

There was no more time to waste.

Standing up, Ithramir gently nudged Catherin, who had returned some while ago and sat under a tree close to him. Rubbing her emerald eyes awake, Ithramir waits for her to stand up, then quietly says,

“Wake those not already up. We ride, and by Avandor’s might, we reach Minas Aure by sunset.”

Catherin, half-awake, responds,

“We are riding at full gallop, no rests?”

Ithramir responds,

“Yes, the only stop we will have is before we dart across the plains of Vernais and into the city. That is, if our garrison still holds the fortress and opens the gate for us.”

Nodding, Catherin walks off to relay the order he has given.

Left alone, Ithramir kicks dirt upon the fire of the night before and mounts his steed. One by one, those riding with him arrive. Nodding and giving polite greetings, they assemble, and their forces are soon mounted and ready to move.

With a wave of his arm, Ithramir says,

“Forward!”

A horn sounds, and in a flash, they are off.

****

Far off to the north, a man walks the battlements of a small-fortified city. Snow, falling gently, can be heard hitting the cold ground in the silence of the night. As he walks by the guards of the watch, they all snap to attention, saluting back he also clasps each guard on the back as he walks by. The slight clattering of his armor gives his position away as he makes his way to his favorite spot.

There, standing alone in the darkness, the moon so very large in these mountains seems to be looking back at him. Exhaling deeply, his breathe escapes in a cloud from his mouth, releasing himself for the moment. It is his way to take these walks; he has done so ever since he was a little boy in his own father’s castle. The moon and stars, the eternals, are his friends and comforters in times of need.

For many years, he has needed their friendship and twinkling ears as he has bared his soul to them. It wasn’t always so, but then, sometimes fate intervenes and thrusts ordinary people into extraordinary situations. A man, born far from here, who cannot die so long as he remains a champion in an Archons service, who also remains in service to their god. A man who died countless times, on fields far, far from here. A man who has ended the lives of thousands, his hands stained with the blood of both those guilty and those who were innocent. A man who has witnessed and partook in some of the worst fighting imaginable in a land torn apart by strife and abandoned by the gods. A man who has loved and lost, many a time, and yet continues on.

Leaning on the battlement, he relaxes, letting his head hang down in silence. He feels the cool, wet snow dropping onto his head. His hair, peppered black and white, hangs smartly on him. His eyes closed, he let’s go of his thoughts and becomes one with his surroundings. He doesn’t want to think tonight, he just wants to feel, something he has not truly allowed himself since the day his wife and child were killed. Or were they? The elven ranger Corren had told him about a girl he found some nineteen years ago, found on the same field where his Brinna was slaughtered, the field where he found her and saw that the child she bore was no longer there.

He will never forgive the Orcs for what they did to her and their family that day. Until the end of his days, if he should ever see them, Orcs will loathe and whisper his name in hate, for he will never stop seeking vengeance for his loss.

But, the news that this ranger brought, has given him something he lost a long time ago: hope. Something that, at one time, he had given to so many others He had lost his for a time, but it is now rekindled inside him. Like a fire that is rekindled after burning low, so this is how he feels.

In the soft patter of gently falling snowflakes, he can hear his sister’s feet softly tapping upon the stone battlement. Feeling her arm wrap around him, he can feel her lean in to whisper,

“Turin, everything has been made ready. We will leave in the morning, and furthermore, you know I will come with you.”

Smiling, despite himself, he says,

“Of course, dear Nica, how can I refuse my own sister?”

Illuminated by the moon, both can see the small smiles they both wear. Straightening himself up, Turin offers his arm to his sister Nica, and they both walk down from the battlements. Tomorrow will start a journey he doesn’t know how will end, but he is glad he will not be alone for it.

Written by Ardwen

"I may have an answer for you Ardwen, if you are open to the possibility." Renalis moved closer to Ardwen. The Elven berserker moved his head in a small nod, at this point he was open to just about any explanation.

"If I understand this right, you are not of these lands are you? Indeed you are not even of this world. Like myself you hail from a world not too dissimilar to this one but different in many ways; people, places, cities, countries and the like. And if I understand this right, you used a portal to leave your world and it was linked to the portal found here in this world." There was a short pause before Renalis continued.

"The problem with that portal - and the very reason why I created my own to come here - is that it is rather unstable." Ardwen raised an eyebrow in question. While he would not openly admit it, he had failed horribly at magical training when he first tested to enter the Deathless Empire's host. Renalis though, seemed intent on elucidating his point and continued, "What this portal's instability lends to is an unstable connection to a world. I think that you Ardwen, as well as the friends that you spoke of stepped through this unstable portal, but if your timing was not exact you may have landed in very different locations - the same world, but in different places. And I think that it was not just a different location on the map... but in time!"

Ardwen’s face went blank. His mind slowly churned over what Renalis had just said. “Instability?” He pondered slowly, “What in the gods’ damned hells is this man talking about? A different location . . . I can believe that, yes, so a different world obviously.” Ardwen was not totally foreign to the concept of planar travel, after all, had not the Aracoix come to Aerynth by means of the runegate from another world? “But another time? In time? He couldn’t possibly be suggesting that I . . . stepped . . . not only into another world but into the . . . future . . . or present of the world the Hands stepped into?”

Ardwen ticked a few more things off in his head, “Alaric mentioned being of Aethelwulf’s descent? What was it now? He went back quite a bit . . . if the humans here live as long as they do on Aerynth then that means that it’s been perhaps . . . 150 years.” Ardwen felt something then, something strange. “Over one hundred years.” He choked out in a hoarse whisper directed at no one. Ardwen spun around then quickly, putting his back to Alaric and Renalis. He remained erect, motionless, and immovable; he didn’t want them to see his face now.

A single tear traced its way down the Elf’s right cheek. “I thought I was so close,” Ardwen wailed mentally, “I thought the gods might be merciful. But why would they to a monster like me? Perhaps Trinni was right, I am a monster. Aethelwulf, by the Ellestor . . . they’re really all dead.” Ardwen cleared his throat; he wanted no clue of his grief to show on the outside. “Renalis,” He began, and his voice was stilted and rigid, “I thank you for your explanation. I know little of magic and the arcane. Upon examining the . . . facts in conjunction with your theory I do think you hit upon the mark. Well done.”

Ardwen cleared his throat again, his damned voice kept wanting to waver, “Alaric,” another muffled cough escaped the warrior as he again cleared his throat, “I owe you an apology for naming you a lesser. As you are Aethelwulf’s bloodline you indeed owe me whatever recriminations you can conjure. I thank you for helping me in turn shed some light on the enigma of my lost life. You were also right,” Ardwen paused slightly, “I am ancient beyond human reckoning. I am too ancient, I have lived for too long. I have beheld a warrior’s era and a warrior’s world pass me by, and the only thing left to me is a warrior’s death. So be it. But there is one final thing I would know: where are my friends buried? Where did they inter their remains? I want to see them, one last time . . . ere I die.”

Ardwen did not really give them a chance to answer though, almost like a man stricken dumb he stumbled outside the outermost of the campfires. Walking in slow methodical steps Ardwen reached a great tree that reached upward toward the heavens. Wearily the Elf turned his back to the tree, leaned against it . . . and stared upward at the stark night sky. Time passed; how long Ardwen could not tell. Someone shook him; it was a fellow Elf. Ardwen noted the way he stood on the balls of his feet, and stretched out his hand. His own kin were nervous around him. Ardwen walked to his mount, he swung up roughly into the saddle and moved to where he saw Ithramir rallying the host.

“Forward!” Came the commanding sound of Ithramir’s voice, a horn called a clarion note out in the distance. Ardwen spurred his mount to keep match with the company Ithramir was riding in. Inside the Elf was hollow, the coming battle was the only possible release he could foresee.

Written by Archeantus

The lich’s eyes flared in fury. His form swarmed with limitless power, dark light tethered about him, and suddenly the mage was lifted back against the dank wall.

The mage watched in quiet envy, a faint smile played across his pale, wizened, smooth face, a face hidden in the recesses of his hood. His accumulated power, his soul stone was pitied. He was insulted, humbled, knowing full well such things were to be expected when communing with a being whose power reached far into the fell clutches of the very pitch of the abyss.

He again allowed the lich to display the extent, and threat of his power. Kishkumen then knew, yet still doubted, that the lich was not bound by the mortal that stood before him in blazen ferocity. Kishkuman grew puzzled at this, his vast lust for power shuddered in thought. There was still a mystery to be discovered. That much was plainly evident. Yet there was no time for such puzzles, his time was short. He had brought the lich to the surface of the man before him for a purpose. And so he spoke smoothly, smartly, fearlessly, unaffected by the perfect threats of one that held more power than he could ever possess.

“Forgive me Deathless One.” His long spidery hands wrapped around his fallen staff. His veiled face bowed slightly. “I am prone to mortality’s weaknesses.”

The mage followed the lich down the dripping corridor, and then continued in his soft raspy voice, “Do not presume however to think me a fool. And do not let your timeless mind waver on the thought that I do not know whom I speak to. Never has my mind settled on the thought that I could ever compare to one such as yourself. I would welcome the unspeakable torment at your hands, if only for my inherent respect for your every whim.”

The necromancer paused, choosing his words carefully. “However, I did not call you forth to speak adorations. Nor did I call you forth to hear just how insignificant I am compared to your dominion. These are things I know, and know well.” Kishkumen turned slightly, his face lowered even further down into the recesses of his black cloak.

“I have called you forth to ask but a question.”

The lich barely gave the mage his attention, but slowed ever so slightly.

“How might I, if possible, secure your greatest desire?”

The lich turned and beheld the mage a few feet away bathed in darkness, yet, again mere inches away, the human, the one the mage had called master, stood before the lich, his sword drawn, its razor sharp point lifted to the being’s radiant eyes.

“Speak, servant.”

Written by Ariana

Mavigan brushed cake crumbs from her mouth, her new ring glimmering from its new spot on her finger, and happily accepted the apple to feed to Argent. As the horse munched, she heard Wilhelm whisper in her ear…

"A royal bodyguard is traditionally given a weapon by her liege."

Following his gaze, she noticed her friend practically drooling over herself as she eyed the spear the Spearsmith had presented. Immediately taking his meaning, she left Argent with her apple, grabbed the spear and plunked it into Keeryn’s hands.

“Here ya go,” Mavigan said cheerily. “Be sure to poke things with it for me,” she added, and then gave a friendly pat on Keeryn’s shoulder.

At Wilhelm’s suggestion she go try out her new gifts, she said, “I will… but AFTER we party!”

With that declaration she patted Argent, then picked up a goblet and another rather large slice of cake, and proceeded to lead the march towards the kitchens.


Written by - Aethelwulf Page 13 Book 2

Alaric stood silent as he watched the conflicted elf struggle with what ever daemons he carried within. A cloud seemed to cross the beserkers face and tears slowly welled up in his darkened eyes till a lone drop of sorrow made its way down the elf's cheek.

Frowning, Alaric listened as Ardwen spoke his apology with a sudden heat and intensity. The clouds seemed to be lifted from his face, as he spoke, replaced with what Alaric thought was a glint of steely resolve.

Alaric opened his mouth to speak, but before he could utter words of forgiveness and comfort, Ardwen spun off, and marched away.

Motioning to Lao, Alaric whispered to her in quick hushed tones, and then turned to mount his steed. Spurring the mount forward, he moved to catch Ardwen before he joined Lord Ithramir's party.

"Hold friend!" He called out to Ardwen. "I have something for you! HOLD!"

Ardwen pulled in the reins slightly, and brought his mount to a halt. Alaric knew the tension that he sensed in the elf's frame; he had lived long enough around war and warriors to know that this Ardwen was ready to spill blood.

Pulling up beside Ardwen, Alaric did not speak at first, but eyed the tense lines in Ardwens drawn face.

"Know this elf. I have read of your name in Turin Lord Wallace's diary, although, I never made the connection til now that those words spoke of you. Know this as well, Laird Aethlwulf brought with him something else besides the diary. Indeed, a weapon was found, impaling the book against an oak. A mighty weapon" Alaric felt Lao's mount come up beside him, and turning to her, he took a leather wrapped object from her hand. Nodding to her thanks, he then slowly unwrapped the item.

Around them marched past an army, a vast river of steel and leather, but where the three of them paused, time seemed to come to a standstill. Lao's eyes glittered as she watched her Lord unwrap the weapon, for she had not ever seen this relic, but indeed knew of its power.

Slowly removing the last of the leather wrap, Alaric at last held fast in his hand a sword.

Ardwen's eyes took in the ornately sheathed weapon and recognized it as a gothic greatsword, forged not by hands of this world, but by the hands of dwarven smiths in a another world all togather.

Grasping the sheath in one hand, and the sword's gold gilded hilt in his other, Alraic slowly pulled the great sword out, pausing as a tri circle symbol was revealed inlaid into the hilt. Alraic's eyes flashed to Ardewn's face, and smiled slightly at the rapt attention he saw there.

With a swift movement, Alaric pulled the sword out into the light of day, the sun's rays flashing along the runic inlaid blade. Ardwen's eyes gleamed as he beheld the ancient blade of power.

"Ardwen, behold! This is the Blade of Turin, Lord Wallace. The very sword that he carried, and the very sword that Aethelwulf brought with him to this land!" Quickly resheathing it, Alaric handed the sword to Ardwen.

"I believe sir, that Aethelwulf, and dare I say, Lord Wallace, would be honored if you were to carry this weapon into battle this day. And one other thing", Alaric paused, "Aethelwulf journeyed back to your time and land to deliever a message, and indeed has yet to return to THIS time and to THESE lands."

With those words, Alaric then spun around and hurried off to take his place at the head of the Royal Guard, with Lao quickly in tow, leaving Ardwen to ponder the weapon that he held in his hands.

Written by - Wilhelm

The Druid rested his hands upon his staff, which stood taller than Tempyst's and bore oak leaves and blossoms. He gazed intently at Tempyst's staff and then at her. Tempyst felt an alternating series of feeling so warmth and chill, like the seasons of the year cycling very quickly, both in her staff and her body and knew that the Elder was reading both her staff and herself. Then she felt an inner glow and a sense of euphoria as her inner channel to Nyrondis was touched. The Druid nodded and then looked intently at Lucant, who was startled by this series of warmth and chill then a prolonged warmth on his skin where the mark fo the tree had formed, followed by a rush of euphoria seemingly centered inside him that grew stronger. He felt a distinct sence of approval both from within and from without. The feelings faded as the Druid turned his attention to the sword. As the sword grew warm in Lucant's hands, the Druid appeared startled, exclaiming softly,

"Has it truly come to this?"

The Druid regained his composure and nodded first to Lucant and then to the sword. He then said to Tempyst,

"Be welcome to this Conclave, Tempyst Whisperling of the Deepshadow Glen, Forsaken Druidess. I am Dalomir, Elder Druid of this Conclave. The Forsaken are always welcome to return to the Conclave, but I fear your stay here will be brief. Nyrondis still has plans for you before you may rest and sink roots. While I understand the urgency of your mission to deliver A’lanthear, remember that urgency can mean rapidity of action but it does not preclude proper behaviour."

Dalomir then turned to address Lucant.

"Be welcome to this Conclave, Lucant Dolvan of Almurad, Chosen of A’lanthear. And welcome as well to you, A’lanthear, Demonslayer of Nyrondis. It has been over a century since a Demonhunter trod these grounds, and while I welcome you here I fear the cause for your presence. Come with me to the Circle at the Sacred Grove, the High Druid will need to speak to you and your initiation must take place before you leave. Come with me."

Dalomir ordered an initiate to go prepare the Circle, and he ran off towards the grove. Dalomir then turned and walked towards the grove, accompanied by the other initiate who gestured to the started Lucant and Tempyst that they should follow behind.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst listened to Dalomir's words. She knew she could have ruined everything just because she did not keep a clear head about her. As the chill and warmth circulated through her body, she closed her eyes, feeling all the seasons of her past cycle through to the present. When she saw Lucant's face, she knew the same was happening to him and hoped it would not disturb him too much. The first time being read like this could be unsettling.

As the Elder Druid turned to lead them to the circle, one hand claspsed her staff tightly, and the other clasped Lucant's hand once more. Once her skin touched his, all worry went by the wayside. But the word still Demonhunter rang through her head. She smiled warmly at Lucant and pulled him along after Dalomir and the initiate.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm and Mavigan and the rest left the stables, Keeryn still clutching her new spear, and came to the plaza between the keep and the stables where the kitchen staff had already set up tables of party treats and liquid refreshments, with decorations hung from the trees (including parti-colored lanterns). Even now more of the staff were emerging from the kitchen's outside door laden with goodies.

Greetings and well wishes were called out to Mavigan from all and sundry. Musicians began setting up and then began to play and lively dancing music filled the plaza. One of the Citadel Mages cast illusions upon the plaza fountain, causing the stone dolphins to seem to leap and play. A Druid spoke to the bushes and trees and fragrant flowers bloomed everywhere. The Gardener presented Mavigan and the other ladies with flowers for their hair. A pair of jugglers began a complicated series with eight balls between them. A board was set up against a tree and folk began a game of throwing daggers at the board to score points. The head musician came to Mavigan and asked if she had any requests. Wilhelm left her to enjoy herself and went over to sample the goodies himself.

Among the party goers were nearly all of the Queen's Guard, except those on this watch's duty who stood at the edges of the plaza. There was plenty of security in case of trouble. Wilhelm could see a human delegation arriving from the Ancoran Quarter bearing their own presents for their Queen along with Port Westgale style food and ale. After pickup up some pastries, Wilhelm saw that there was even a group of Dwarves with a table of kegs of Dwarven ale. Wilhelm greeted them and received a large mug of the brew to sample.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Overwhelmed by the gravity of what had just happened, Lucant stood lost in thought until Tempyst took his hand. He immediately came to his senses as she pulled is arm in a suggestion to follow. "Lead me true, my heart," he whispered softly.

Upon reaching the sacred grove, A'lanthear spoke to him once more. "The time has finally arrived, master. You need stand alone no longer."

Written by - Wilhelm

The Elder Druid led them into the Sacred Grove of ancient oak trees and the path ended at a circular clearing where twelve large oaks surrounded a massive and ancient oak tree. In front of each oak stood an Initiate holding a robe that appeared to be made of leaves and vines. The party stopped and the Initiiate gestured for Lucant and Tempyst to kneel, wheich they did. The Elder Druid bowed to the central tree and raised his hands. The leaves on the trees rustled, yet there was no wind. The Druid spoke.

"In the name of Nyrondis I bring before the Circle a candidate for initation."

Twenty Elder Druids stepped out from inside their oaks and were garbed by their Initiate. Dalomir's Initiate came to him and garbed him inn his own robe, and then Dalomir took his place in front of his tree. It seemed to Lucant that the trees themselves bent inwards. (Tempyst knew that this was actually the case.) The Eldest Druid stepped forward from the central oak and raised his hands.

"In the name of Nyrondis, I, Ceredan, High Druid of this Conclave, welcome to the Sacred Glade the candidate Lucant Dolvan of Almurad, Chosen of A’lanthear Demonslayer, and soulmate of Tempyst Whisperling of the Deepshadow Glen, Forsaken Druid.

After the battle between Avendor and Slaktor began because of Slaktor’s violation of Kaia’hanas, much healing needed to be done by all. As Kaia’hanas mental and physical wounds healed, she could still see the scars of her attack upon the land that she loved. She could also see the unbalance, the battle between the gods were causing and knew a protector had to be set in place, to keep the world her children so loved safe and protected. She called upon her youngest child, Nyrandis, who had her compassion, but his father’s view of duty. She bestowed upon Nyrandis the duty of watching over the lands of her beloved elves, to keep them in harmony and balance. She knew Foesta’s hatred would push her to do anything to enact revenge, even destroying the land their children all lived upon.

Nyrandis pledged to his mother that he would forever keep the balance of the natural world, making sure the land upon which her children lived would always be able to provide for them and that those who dared to upset the balance would feel his wrath. Nagarren knew that just watching the land would not be enough and bestowed upon Nyrandis the ability to call upon and use the secrets of the land itself to heal.

Nyrandis kissed his mother goodbye and fell to the earth, where he was reborn from a giant oak tree, a tree that had rooted upon the very spot his mother’s first tears fell upon the world. He called upon the winds to carry from this mighty oak the seeds of those that would bring forth others to heed his call and come forth to help him in his crusade to keep the land whole and in balance. These acorns were scattered across the world, and when needed, one of Nyrandis’s children is born to help carry the weight of his task. So was Tempyst born as Nyrandis's child and grew to be reborn as a Druid of Nyrondis.

But Nyrondis had two parents, and his father Avendor bestowed upon Nyrondis a second secret duty of watching for and combatting demons or other unnatural entities that sought to upset the natural balance and harm the land and its peoples. And so Nyrondis asked of Ulfin, the god of smithing, that Ulfin make for him weapons capable of fighting demons. Ulfin labored long and created the Demonslayers, sentient swords capable of detecting and slaying demons when wielded by their chosen swordbearer, who are known as Demonhunters.

At such a time as Nyrondis senses a demonic intrusion onto the land he sends a Demonslayer to a new Druid is is reborn holding the Demonslayer and charged with the mission to delivering the sword to its Chosen swordbearer, and then bonding with and aiding the Demonslayer against the demonic foe. And so was Tempyst reborn with A’lanthear in her arms and she did indeed deliver the sword to Lucant and bond with him."

At this the High Druid smiled at them, as they both blushed.

"Demons are rare in this world and it has been over a century since a Demonhunter trod this ground. But Nyrondis confirms to me that the need is again upon the world. The Demonhunter hunts the demon with the help of the Demonslayer, but the Druid soulmate must also be present to guard the soul of the Demonhunter from demonic possession as well as to aid and heal the Demonhunter. Thus this is a lifelong mission for both of you. Do you, Lucant Dolvan of Almurad, of your own free will, accept the duty of Demonslayer and bearer of A’lanthear and accept as your soulmate Tempyst Whisperling of the Deepshadow Glen?"

Lucant looked at Tempyst, their hands still clasped, and smiled. He turned to ther High Druid and said is a resonant voice "I do!"

The High Druid bowed to Lucant and Lucant felt a growing and approving warmth within. The High Druid turned to Tempyst and said,

"Do you, Tempyst Whisperling of the Deepshadow Glen, of your own free will, accept the duty of aiding this Demonhunter and the Demonslayer A’lanthear and accept as your soulmate Lucant Dolvan of Almurad?"

Tempyst smiled at Lucant through tears of happiness and replied "I do!"

"Then I name you soulmates and charge you, Lucant, with the duty of Demonslayer, to bear A’lanthear and protect the land against deminic intrusion, and you Tempyst with the duty of aiding Lucant and protecting his soul from possession. Look now into each others eyes and reach inside to feel the soulbond between you. each of you now guards the soul of the other through this link. And now, Lucant, with the help of Tempyst and A’lanthear, reach inside for the link to Nyrondis and be initiated as Demonhunter of Nyrondis!"

Lucant and Tempyst looked deeply into each other's eyes and felt the soulbond between them and their hearts beatign in perfect unison. They felt A’lanthear join and strengthen this link and then Lucant felst that inner warmth open to become a channel and through that channel he felt a great rapture of approval and they both heard a deep internal voice say,

"Well done my Demonhunter and my Druid, Forsaken no longer. Lucant now is your Conclave and your charge. I am well pleased with you both and welcome you into my service. You are sorely needed for I have detected a demonic possession that even now approaches with the mission of slaying Ithramir, my father's Avatar. Go now and join the festival now taking place, that you may have a moment of celebration, for tonight you must ride out to reach Ithramir and protect him from this demon. A’lanthear will guide you there and locate the demon. Together you must excorcise that demon if you can, for the possessed woman is innocent, but if need must be you must stop her no matter the cost. Go now with my blessing."

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Just as A'lanthear had said, Lucant stood alone no longer. For the first time in many long years, he was truly happy. He was certain now that , for better or for worse, he would not meet the fate that his parents had; that he had found something greater than himself; that he had found love true and everlasting. Overcome with joy, he took Tempyst in his arms once more. Looking in her eyes, he whispered to her "I just met you today...but it feels like I've known you for ages after one day. I love you, now and forever, my heart." Paying no heed to the druids around them, the two kissed passionately.

The pair rose to their feet and Lucant addressed the Council. "Masters, I am forever in your debt. Fear not for the fate of Lord Ithramir. We shall see that he remains safe and that Nyrondis' will is done." The two bowed before the Council and headed off down Temple Row to find the festival.

Bathed in the warm golden glow of the setting sun, Lucant saw a familiar face exiting the Temple of Avendor. "Master Audun!" he yelled, quickly garnering the elf's attention. "Not you two again..." Audun said, frustrated at his luck. Smiling at the guard, Lucant responded "I do apologize for what happened earlier, but it was beyond our control. I assure you, we will not bother you anymore after this." Audun frowned noticably at Lucant's words. "Master Audun, would you be so kind as to show us to the festival? I give you my word that this is the last request we shall make of you." Audun, wanting to get rid of the two as quickly as possible, responded "You mean Her Majesty's birthday party. I overheard some people talking about it on the way here. If you promise to keep to yourselves I will show you there." Lucant nodded in agreement and took Tempyst's hand as he followed Audun towards the magnificent citadel of Lothiel-Gadith.

After a short walk - Audun took numerous short-cuts - the party arrived at the kitchen's doors. "Now do behaive yourselves." Audun pleaded as he bid them good ridance. "Thank you again, Master Audun." Lucant said as he opened the door for Tempyst. The room was empty at the moment and Lucant was glad to have a moment's peace. It was not to last though, as the kithen door opened once more.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn was still astounded by the gift Mavigan had given her. She could tell as soon as she lifted it off the ground that this was truly a magnificent weapon, not just beautiful, but truly made by a master. The wood was of a type she had never seen before, and the spearhead shone so brilliantly in the available light it would almost be a shame to use it in battle, but Keeryn knew with certainty that it would strike truer than any weapon she had ever used before. She followed the group as they headed to the party in Mavigan's honor, but she couldn't for the life of her think of a gift to give her.

She had heard Wilhelm's words very clearly, calling her a royal bodyguard, and while it wasn't something she had intended, or been seeking, she realized that she was more than willing to protect Mavigan with her life. Not just because she considered her a friend, but for another reason she couldn't explain, something in her soul told her it was her true purpose, perhaps why she alone had been saved.

As the party got started Keeryn quietly grabbed a few things to eat before leaning lazily against the wall behind Mavigan's seat, her new spear held tip to the ground in her right hand as she continued to try to think of a gift to give in return.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst felt as if she were going to burst. She knew of nothing that could make this moment any better. She listened to the story of Nyrondis, then beamed with pride as the High Druid performed the ceremony uniting she and Lucant together forever. She looked over to Lucant and could see the new glow about him, could see that he too now knew the love and joy of life. The two of them listened to the charge Nyrondis himself had now given them and when he said she was Forsaken no longer, she burst into tears and held onto Lucant tightly, knowing her life had truly just begun.

"I just met you today...but it feels like I've known you for ages after one day. I love you, now and forever, my heart." Tempyst kissed her soulmate deeply, letting everything she had ever felt for this man shine through.

When they parted for breath she whispered back, "I would have known you even if I had not dreamt of you and now, dreams will be nothing compared to what we have. You have always been and forever will be in my heart and soul. Know that I love you, my life is yours." Tempyst then turned to the conclave and gave them her thanks, but she and Lucant quickly left, unable to enjoy the celebration here with the other druids. They had to find a few minutes to enjoy each other, for as Nyrondis had said, they had little time before they needed to be off and find Ithramir.

She smiled seeing Audun's exhausted look, but kept quiet, enjoying the touch of Lucant's hand in hers as they were led back to the citadel. SHe could see the look of relief on his face when they parted ways. Tempyst stepped through the door Lucant held open and as soon as they entered, she threw her arms about him once more and kissed him with longing and passion.

Their kiss was interrupted by the sound of a door slamming, then the exasperated voice rang out. "Hey! What do we have here? You two don't belong in here. What are you tyring to do, get some of the goodies before M'Lady Mavigan gets them? I think not. Now Shoo! Get back to the party, the food will get there when it gets there." Tempyst blushed deeply, biting her lower lip. She looked back up at Lucant who was looking a bit flustered.

"Yes ma'am, we will get out of your way." Lucant quipped. Then in one hand he took Tempyst's hand and in the other he swipped a small cake as they wisked out the other door. They were met with laughter and music, a room filled with people neither of them knew. Lucant led Tempyst to a semi-secluded corner and then offered her the small cake. "For you my love."

Tempyst smiled. "For us." She reached out with a finger to take a taste of the shimmering delicacy. She was suddenly pushed forward as a large man crashed into her, forcing the cake up and into Lucant's face. The man apologized then went back to dancing, while Tempyst could hardly contain her laughter seeing her new husband covered with frosting and fruit.

Written by - Archeantus

Jasmine awoke to a slight pain in her hand. She knew she had been healed, but not completely. She felt much better, in fact. The terrible pain of guilt, built up for years felt as if it were unraveling. She could feel the soft warmth of hope. Yet in that moment, she closed her eyes and remembered. She was dying. She rose to sit in her cell, looking out beyond, to freedom. Death did not scare her, freedom terrified her. This small little space, closed off from the world was the only place the legendary assassin had felt at peace in a long time. She was safe in this cell. It protected them, the world, from her, and what she was capable of. Or...was it her being protected from the world...thoughts began to emerge, her mind came into focus...what of Teran...

What did he plan, and why does he need m--

She paused in sudden understanding.

"Him."

He wanted her help to find him. It all made sense. A sense of callousness swept over her. Why the hell did she care what she did? She was dying, cursed, and it--her eyes focused suddenly on the crystal that held the cell shut--was all his doing. A calm anger ran slowly through her viens. He had planned her demise. He had used her. He left without a thought. Ever since the beginning, when he had sliced her hand from her forearm, he had plotted to use her, promising the one thing that would exploit her. But why, and did he know she would fail?

She suddenly stood, hearing voices down the corridor. Both were voices she recognized, the woman, Lithwyn, and Teran. She came to the bars and crained her head toward the conversation. Her keen hearing could not make out what they were saying, but she knew, her fate, her course, for good or ill, was soon to walk down the corridor and look her in the face.

Written by - Teran

"Honestly, do you really think saying 'Oops I meant my plans' is enough to cover up your slip? You've already revealed part of your plot and you cannot take it back. I'm not sure that Jasmine should be released at this time, especially not to, pardon me for saying this, but a complete stranger. She infiltrated this citadel and still may be a threat to those who occupy it. Namely Queen Mavigan."

Glancing around behind him, down the hall of cells, she is satisfied with the view of the raven haired beauty safely locked behind bars. Putting her hands on her hips, she measures him, though not entirely unfriendly.

"Lady Lithwyn, pardon me for being so blunt but I do not believe your suspicions are founded in reason." He smiles easily slipping back into a friendlier attitude "I have done nothing to deserve this hostility."

"Hostility? How so? Surely you realize I am moderately intelligent and can make simple deductions. I simply meant to make sure you and I had an understanding regarding the prisoners of Lothiel-Gadith."

Hmmm... a slippery one, this one. But what is he hidding? Blast it, he hasn't actually said anything for me to determine if he's lying or not. Frowning inwardly, the smile never leaves her lips as she tries to keep him at ease.

Ahh but she is no longer a prisoner." Teran explains "she has been released into my care."

"What?! By whom exactly?" Turning around, she glares at a guard on duty. The guard, dumbfounded, only holds up his hands, shaking his head.

"Ithramir of course!" the assassin replies.

Turning back to look at him, surprised by the answer, she snorts in disbelief. Calling into herself, to her Goddess, she seeks the truth behind his words. Sighing, realizing he, at least, believes what he says, she can only nod wearily. Even as she accepts his word for truth, someone mentions Agmund's approval of her release.

"Well, I suppose Ithramir had other matters on his mind instead of you. And if Agmund thought it wise... " Frowning a bit now, glancing back and forth from Teran to the now approaching Jasmine, she wonders out loud...

"What are your plans? I assume you fight on the side of what is good and right, your actions have shown thus. I also assume your use for Jasmine will involve finding those that hired her. Is there some way I can help you, then?"

Teran shrugs helplessly "I'm not entirely sure what you are able to do for us."

"Well, is there any supplies or equipment you might need? Will you need one of our soldiers or rangers to accompany you on your journey? I'm sure we can provide you with two horses with no trouble."

Motioning up the stairs, she leads the way out of the dark tunnel as they talk.

"I would prefer to keep things light" he murmurs "Though some basic supplies and the horses would be very helpful. I will also need a place to sleep this evening for Jasmine and myself."

The assassin purposefully didn't specify one bedroom or two.

"Certainly, with the recent exodus from the citadel, we have more than enough room. I'm sure we can find suitable rooms... though perhaps a room with two beds? I think I'd be more comfortable if someone had an eye on her the entire evening. At least until she was out of reach of Lady Mavigan."

Glancing back, she continues, "Will you be attending dinner this evening? Of course, I do not think Jasmine should be present, or anywhere near the feast even. I do have a few well trusted female guards who could... erm... watch her."

Teran nods "I'm sure whatever you feel is apropriate will suffice." he says referring to the room(s) "and I'm sure your guards will do a fine job watching her. I will come to dinner if I am invited." he finishes simply.

The assassin seems rather relaxed, willing to do as Lady Lithwyn wishes in matters pertaining to the stronghold so long as she does not attempt to bar his leaving.

"Of course you are invited. It is Queen Mavigan's birthday, and you DID saver her life. I'd imagine she'd like to see you one last time before you left."

Emerging from the stairwell, she makes a request of the guard standing just outside the doorway. Shortly, a pair of patrol-women return and guide Jasmine to the specified room near Lithwyn's own room. About to head toward the dining hall, she glances down and realizes she is still in armor.

"Pardon me, Teran, but I must leave you for now. Duty calls, and its request requires more formal dress." Flashing a smile, she motions in the direction of the hall. "It is just around the corner there, I'm sure you will be able to hear the feasting as you approach. Unless you have any urgent requests, I will see you shortly."

Teran nods "Farewell for now Lady Lithwyn" he smiled warmly.

Pulling her cloak back, she curtsies and returns his smile easily before turning and heading towards her room.

Written by - Renalis

Crystal could see the yound ladies faces light up. They were excited for the moment and right they should be. Keeryn with her new spear was the new royal bodyguard and Mavigan with all her gifts led the way to the kitchen. Still leaning against the door, Crystal straightened out and bowed as Mavigan passed. As the remaining of the entourage left the stables Crystal followed shortly behind.

As they entered the large hall, the place was absolutly alive with activity. It had been a long time since Crystal had been to a party and this was definitly one hell of a party. Mavigan took her place at the head table and Keeryn leaned on the wall beside her. Guards properly placed at all entry points still didn't take away from the party as everyone else in the Citadel must have been here.

Crystal approached the table to finally formally introduce herself to Mavigan. She took a knee and began to speak, "Lady Mavigan, heir to the throne and Queen of Ancora, I am Crystal Dalamar, wife to Renalis Dalamar and foreigner to these lands. Indeed I am a foreigner to this world but my husband and I have come to find ourselves on this world during our travels and in seeing that our services can be of aid to you and your people we seek to lend our support. He rides with the combined armies as we speak. I on the other hand have remained here to give you one final gift for your birthday. I, Crystal Dalamar, priestess of Elune pledge myself to you. I am skilled in many skills you may find useful and I am here to protect you and to help you in any way I can."

Seeing the less than excited look on Mavigan's face in lieu of the seriousness brought upon her birthday party Crystal leans forward to whisper what only Mavigan could hear, "I will teach you all manner of skills to aid you in the coming trials, even if some would rather a lady to not know." Crystal withdrew and assumed an honouring kneeling position, head low but realized all too late that the note Renalis left her had slipped out and landed on Mavigan's foot. Unable to move until commanded to, she could only wait for Mavigan's response.

****

Renalis saw Ardwen withdraw after all was said and done, "He needs time..." Renalis throught to himself before retiring from the meeting and entering one of the unfull tents for as much sleep as possible.

Renalis awoke the next day well before most, unable to rest well he stepped out of the tent and saw Ardwen still where they left him the other night. Renalis came and stood next to Ardwen, staring off into the distance and thought about everything; the coming battle, his love - Crystal, his brothers still on his world, the battle to come. His throughts were occupied until the call to move came. He saw the elf approach and shake rdwen from a distance, as if weary of waking a beast. Ardwen roused, mounted and the army was off.

Renalis took flight and approached the side of Ardwen's mount, no longer seeing him as the berzerker he was labled as, no longer as the monster feared by even his allies but as a man. "I do not seek to profess that I know you sir, but I will tell you this - I too have lost much and know at least in part the pain you feel. You have not lived too long and there is more to your life than to just die in the great battle ahead. Live on. Live in spite of those that tried to take it all from you and help these people, the decendants of your friends. Fight alongside them and protect the kingdom as you once did. Do not go quietly into that good night. You and I sir shall carve a bloody path in these Orcs for daring to attack. We shall help destroy them and save these people. Not because it is the only thing we are long for, but because it is just and right, and because Ancora needs help."

Renalis places his hand on Ardwen's shoulder, "I shall go with you if you would allow me the honour, friend, and we shall see the graves of your friends who would have defended and went on defending Ancora until their last days." Renalis removes his hand from Ardwen's shoulder and goes on flying, thinking that Ardwen is too good a man to have suffered so greatly.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn was nibbling on a nice ripe peach when she dropped it by accident, but when she went down to pick it up her eyes fell on the bracer on her wrist. Suddenly she knew exactly what she could give Mavigan in return. She left the fruit lying there on the floor, leaned her spear against the wall and walked over to where Mavigan was sitting, sliding the bracer off as she went."Excuse me Mavigan... I have a gift for you for your birthing day as well," Keeryn holds the bracer out in front of Mavigan, waiting for her to take it as she continues speaking, "I know it's not much, compared to everything else you've recieved, but it's an heirloom in my family. I suppose it's probably magic of some type, since it comes off whenever I want it to. My grandmother told me that you could cut off the owner's hand and it still won't come off unless they want it to. I'm not sure how true that is, but I do know that it can't be removed without your consent. It will adjust to your wrist size, and it's very strong. It saved my wrist from being crushed by a very large rock once, and didn't even get scratched. It doesn't match your new outfit or anything, so I'll understand if you don't want to wear it..." Keeryn continued to babble on uselessly, waiting for Mavigan to take the bracer. For some reason she was very nervous about giving the girl anything at all.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Alulael, like most of the citadel, was out at the party, drinking and dancing with one man after another until her legs could not support her anymore. Finding herself at the oddest place she could think of, the dwarven table, she sat down next to a very large man with burnished red hair. Alulael recognized him as the Queens Champion. The man who she had met at the front of the Queens bedchamber earlier in the day.

Looking up into his eyes she spoke, “Wilhelm... is it? I am sorry, I've never been perfect with names... I wish to talk with you.”

****

Darkness...... no...... not darkness, a nothingness, a nothingness so complete no light, no thought entered it. But of course... the paradox of nothingness is that the idea of nothingness requires a being to witness it, or even the idea of nothingness would not exist. In this nothingness of thought there was a thought, a being. A cold being who beat with the power of Oblivion. The destruction of all things, including it's self... eventually... inevitably, at the True End.

This being spoke to another being beside it's great form, this being was smaller, weaker, it's beat a faint whisper of a wisp blown by the hurricane beside it in this 'land' of paradox.

“Is the preparation complete?” A voice that was not a voice spoke.

“Yes Master, everything is complete. I will leave this dead world, and follow the...... Hands of Providence. I will follow them and show that Oblivion will always be there... Master.”

“Good... little Prophet... my link to you will be weakened greatly after you enter this new world... your power will be weak. Do not engage anyone, begin by building a cult... there shale be no support for you until you do. If you fail me you know what will await you when you die, now go.”

The wisp gave a slight shiver of fear at the last of her Masters words and walked for steadily. As she stumbled onto a new world she quickly took in her surroundings. Which seemed by inside the cave den of a mother bear and her cubs.

Swiftly ducking a swipe that would have taken off her head she instinctively reached for her power and found it nearly non-existent. Drawing a long dagger from her belt she gave a ear splitting screech making the bear stumble backwards in pain. Driving the dagger upwards she buried it to the hilt under the bears throat. Instantly killing the mother bear as the dagger pierced it's brain. Feeling the bears blood spray down her arm she relished the feeling of it, her body actually absorbing the blood through tattoos winding up and down her arm.

Moments later she exited the cave with 10 vials of red liquid around her waist, inside the cave... four dried husks hanged from the roof of the cave.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Tempyst smiled. "For us." She reached out with a finger to take a taste of the shimmering delicacy. She was suddenly pushed forward as a large man crashed into her, forcing the cake up and into Lucant's face. The man apologized then went back to dancing, while Tempyst could hardly contain her laughter seeing her new husband covered with frosting and fruit.

Wiping the frosting from his eys, he saw Tempyst bursting out with laughter. Ordinarliy, Lucant would have embarassed beyond reason and he would have quickly left the scene to lick his wounded pride. He knew better now; he knew that little moments like this were life's true magic.

A grin slid across his face that spread into smile, then erupted into a resounding laughter. When the two had finally settled down, he spoke, still smiling ear to ear: "I guess we'll just have to eat later on, then. In any case, I can't very well walk around like this all night. Image how fear-inspiring I would look to this demon with frosting all over my face!" After having another laugh at his own expense, Lucant said with a bow "I shall return to you, my heart."

He reluctantly parted from her and began searching for a wash basin, which he spotted near the dwarven table. Lucant walked over slowly, making sure not to bump into any more dancers. After washing his face in the ice cold water, he turned to see a stocky dwarf who had clearly had too much to drink. "Enjoy your cake, son!?" the dwarf said with a chuckle, his breath reaking of honeymeade. "Very much so, master dwarf. You may want to crawl back in your stein, though. You may have missed a drop," Lucant said with a smile. The dwarf looked at him for a moment, then responded "Good idea, lad!" He leaned back and took a drink that would have made any dwarf proud. "You're good people, lad! Come have a drink or twelve with me and my brothers!" Before Lucant could refuse, the dwarf was pulling him along towards the table. "Hey brothers! Look what I found!" The dwarves at the table all raised their steins and have a hearty "Huzzah!".

Lucant noticed Wilhelm and a woman dressed in pink sitting near the middle of the table engaged in a conversation. The link he had formed with Nyrondis allowed him to see a strong divine aura surrounding Wilhelm. "I may as well do it now. I might not get another chance and I'm sure he'd like to know," Lucant thought to himself as he took the stein handed to him. He walked over and sat down across from the pair. "I beg your forgiveness for the interruption my lady, Lord Wilhelm. I again beg your forgiveness for bringing up business at such a joyous occaision, but time is short." He paused and took a drink before starting, as if he needed a bit of liquid courage to face the truth. "Nyrondis Himself has informed Tempyst and I that a demon seeks Lord Ithramir's life. I do not know the name or the man, other than that he is Avendor's avatar, but I assure you, I do not intend to let this demon have its way. We will be leaving this night to seek him out and put an end to him. I thought that you might like to know, sir, as we are in Her Majesty's service now."

He noticed a look of concern spread across Wilhelm's and woman's face.


Written by - Archeantus Page 14 Chapter 2

Her fate came in the form of two elven guards who had apparently been ordered to take her out of her cell.

She appeared slightly apprehensive about them entering. She stood backed up against the cold stone wall. Yet there was a shred of defiance in her eyes. Those darkly set brown eyes, eyes that had charmed and slain countless men, now peered, not at the guards themselves, but at the space just out beyond the cell. She paid no heed as the guards took her by the arms, and hoisted her up and out of the cell.

She was now in the open, free, unavoidably free.

Her head, lowered, her raven black hair hung loosely down as they carried her through the journey back to wherever it was they were taking her. She had heard Teran moments ago, yet had no idea where he was now. They took her up the winding stairs and through corridors, and wide balconies, to a beautifully adorned room. They did not throw her to the floor; they placed her on the soft bed.

When they had done as they were commanded, they asked her if she needed anything. She sat and looked at them in a sort of stunned daze. The pair looked at her, and then at each other confusedly. Shrugging, they each gave her a bow, and left the way they came.

She heard the lock to the door slam home. Moments passed in perfect silence, vast stillness, until she stood and looked quizzically at her surroundings. A ray of afternoon light poured through the balcony window and she found herself gazing into it for a long long time. And then averting her gaze, something else caught her attention.

Walking slowly toward a stand by the bed, she reached out gradually to take a deep red rose from its vase. She brought the flower to her nose, closed her eyes, and remembered...

Written by - Wilhelm

It was evening and the party had moved indoors into the Great Hall. The feasting, dancing, and merriment continued. Wilhelm saw Mavigan dancing and enjoying herself. He had passed the word that today was Mavigan's Birthday and she should be treated as simply Mavigan, not the Queen. It seemed to be working. Wilhelm was enjoying a conversation and ale with some Dwarves when he saw Priestess Alulael approach and say,

“Wilhelm... is it? I am sorry, I've never been perfect with names... I wish to talk with you.”

"Certainly, Priestess Alulael. Have a cup of Dun Dennoch ale and have a seat. I was stationed there for a time as a young knight when I accompanied Mavigan's father there on a diplomatic mission, and their ale is legendary.

I expect you wish to talk about Mavigan and her need for clerical training. I'm afraid you met her at a bad time. She was never much of a morning person anyway, and that night of trials left her in a particularly bad mood. She has always rebelled against anyone trying to force her into anything. Evidently that also applies to Nagarren as well, so you are in good company. I should also mention that unfortunately pink is her least favorite color.

My suggestion is to make use of the birthday celebration and to give her a gift. As you know, she was never able to progress to Initiate because her innate barriers precluded her demonstation of a clear channel to Nagarren. I think we may take that the partial Avatar manifestation in her confrontation with Ithramir as a clear sign of such a channel. Present her with an Initiate ring as a birthday gift in acknowledgement of this achievement and offer in a friendly way to help her avoid such channeling headaches in the future. You can have a quick informal ceremony of initiation and perhaps the Goddess will be able to take advantage of it to let Mavigan feel the inner divine approval."

At this point Wilhelm saw Lucant and Tempyst join the table, looking radiantly happy but at the same time showing a sense of determination. Looking into the Tempyst's heartfire, he noticed a second faint presence and smiled. Some of Tempyst's radiant expression was explained. Shew almost glowed with the joy of life. Wilhelm noticed a medallion she was wearing, quite a unique piece of jewelry, ornate, rather fancy for a druid. Upon the medallion was the Triune ring emblem of the All Father. Perhaps it was a wedding gift from Lucant. Looking into Lucant's heartfire Wilhelm blinked in astonishment at the changes in Lucant, who now had a divine channel of his own of suprising strength, and at the links to Tempyst and the sword as well as the divine.

Lucant then spoke up and said "I beg your forgiveness for the interruption my lady, Lord Wilhelm. I again beg your forgiveness for bringing up business at such a joyous occaision, but time is short." Lucant paused and took a drink before starting, as if he needed a bit of liquid courage to face the truth. "Nyrondis Himself has informed Tempyst and I that a demon seeks Lord Ithramir's life. I do not know the name or the man, other than that he is Avandor's avatar, but I assure you, I do not intend to let this demon have its way. We will be leaving this night to seek him out and put an end to him. I thought that you might like to know, sir, as we are in Her Majesty's service now."

Wilhelm's concern was obvious at this news, which confirmed what he had seen in Lucant and the sword. He pondered the matter and then replied,

"This is grave news indeed. However, let me first congratulate you and Tempyst on your union. A soulbond is a rare and precious thing. And let me also congratulate you on your impending fatherhood. I have to say I did not expect to ever see a living Demonhunter, and while I congratulate and commend you for taking on this duty, and for your service to Nyrondis, the cause is of grave concern. Ithramir is the lord of this citadel and he has just led an army off this morning to relieve the Orcish siege of one of the outlying elven forts.

Hearing that Slaktor's forces are allying with at least one demon is very bad, as it may imply an alliance with other dark powers. We have already had a necromancer involved in the attempted assassination of Mavigan. It appears that was not an isolated event, and may mean that Beridane also is meddling with dark forces. Indeed, they may have talked him into the coup in the first place.

Your service to Her Majesty must yield priority to your service to Nyrondis, but in this case they are in accordance. You and Tempyst must go after Lord Ithramir as fast as possible and attempt to thwart this demonic assassination attempt. Speak to Lithwyn about this and she will provide you with a fast escort and spare horses. You may need to fight your way through to him. Ithramir is a very important ally and it is vital to Her Majesty that your mission succeed in preventing the assassination. Trust in your Demonslayer and Nyrondis and learn from them. Tempyst can also help you learn your new abilities. I know little beyond that about a Demonhunter, except that Nyrondis only creates such a team in times of true need."

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst smiled, watching the new found light within Lucant. His joy was her joy and now they would face the world together. She wandered about for a bit, taking in the sites and sounds of this party, not so unlike the festivals they would have back in the conclave. Today had been a whirlwind, and one she felt would continue to blow for the rest of her life. She watched everyone smiling, laughing, but then a saddness hit her. There was something missing; family. Her thoughts went to her adoptive uncle, Corren, and wondered where he might be in the world. She wished she could let him know that she ha found him and no longer would she be alone. Her fingers ran over the gold medallion she wore, tracing the gems there, the large opal. She wondered if her mother and father would be happy with the way her life had gone. As Tempyst made her way over to Lucant, she felt a sudden ache for that which she had never known, but quickly put it out of her mind. What good does it do to dwell in the past, what is done is done. Everything happens for a reason; we just have to find that reason.

Her eyes caught a glimpse of Lord Wilhelm and noticed Lucant heading over that way as well. She made her way through the crowd and placed her hands upon his shoulders as he sat down at the table. She could see the expression change in Wilhelm's face as he delivered their news. Wilhelm took a breath then spoke. "This is grave news indeed. However, let me first congratulate you and Tempyst on your union. A soulbond is a rare and precious thing. And let me also congratulate you on your impending fatherhood. I have to say I did not expect to ever see a living Demonhunter, and while I congratulate and commend you for taking on this duty, and for your service to Nyrondis, the cause is of grave concern. Ithramir is the lord of this citadel and he has just led an army off this morning to relieve the Orcish siege of one of the outlying elven forts.

Hearing that Slaktor's forces are allying with at least one demon is very bad, as it may imply an alliance with other dark powers. We have already had a necromancer involved in the attempted assassination of Mavigan. It appears that was not an isolated event, and may mean that Beridane also is meddling with dark forces. Indeed, they may have talked him into the coup in the first place.

Your service to Her Majesty must yield priority to your service to Nyrondis, but in this case they are in accordance. You and Tempyst must go after Lord Ithramir as fast as possible and attempt to thwart this demonic assassination attempt. Speak to Lithwyn about this and she will provide you with a fast escort and spare horses. You may need to fight your way through to him. Ithramir is a very important ally and it is vital to Her Majesty that your mission succeed in preventing the assassination. Trust in your Demonslayer and Nyrondis and learn from them. Tempyst can also help you learn your new abilities. I know little beyond that about a Demonhunter, except that Nyrondis only creates such a team in times of true need."

Tempyst blinked. Fatherhood? But how...

Mistress, Nyrondis has great faith in you, please, have the same faith in him. Everything happens for a reason. A'lanthear whispered softly.

Tempyst's hand went to her stomach; closing her eyes, she openend her heart and smiled. Yes, she felt it, nestled safe within her, their child. She wrapped her arms tightly around Lucant's neck and whispered in his ear. "It is true, already I am with child. Our child." She looked back up, tears of joy in her eyes, and smiled brightly at Wilhelm. "Thank you Sir, for all you have done for us this day, thank you. We will go find and speak to the Lady Lithwyn now, so we may make haste." Tempyst bowed, and took Lucant's hand leading him back out into the party searching for Lithwyn.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Emerging from her room, face freshly washed and wearing a freshly pressed robe, Lithwyn strides down the hall towards the party. Sounds of music and laughter reach her ears long before she throws open the doors and steps inside. The room, taken in with a glance, is filled with people laughing, eating, and dancing. So many people, she vaguely wonders if most of the citadel really did march off that same morning. Of course, celebrations have a way of bringing people out of the wood work.

Deftly dodging around people, Lithwyn makes her way to the buffet table, eyes widdening.

They've really outdone themselves tonight. This all looks amazing. I will have to remember to give the kitchen staff a raise or some gifts or something... wow.

Reaching out, she plucks a biscuit off a small tower of steaming goodness and pops half of it into her mouth. It wasn't until that bite that she realized how hungry she was. One hand flashes out, grabbing a plate, the other starts pilling up food.

Some fruit, cheese, cheese is good, oh that roasted turkey looks divine, oh just a bit more then of that, I'll definitely have to take more of that bread, so warm and fresh, don't we have any of those little pastries? You would think... ah there they are.

Taking bites now and again as she adds to her plate, she is oblivious to all around her for the moment as hunger has taken over her every thought.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

She wrapped her arms tightly around Lucant's neck and whispered in his ear. "It is true, already I am with child. Our child." Lucant was overjoyed beyond words. He could only hold his love in arms, though he knew she felt his joy. "Thank you Sir, for all you have done for us this day, thank you. We will go find and speak to the Lady Lithwyn now, so we may make haste." Tempyst bowed, and took Lucant's hand leading him back out into the party searching for Lithwyn.

As he followed Tempyst through the enormous crowd, Lucant questioned A'lanthear: "What have I done to be so blessed? Why was I chosen?" I need not tell you what you already know, my master. You will see in time. "As you say, A'lanthear. Surely, you must have known about the child as well. Why didn't you tell me anything?" "It was not my place to tell you so, master." He tried not to think about the demon or the shadow he had seen earlier in his dream. He knew what A'lanthear would say if he asked about them.

"There she is!" Tempyst exclaimed, pointing towards a elven woman behind a table full of food. She seemed to know Tempyst and motioned for the two to join her. After she and Tempyst had exchanged greatings, Lucant steeled himself and spoke to the woman. "My lady, I am Lucant Dolvan...an Initiate and Demonhunter of Nyrondis." He was rather uncomfortable saying a title after his name, especially one that seemed to have an importance he was not fully aware of. Regardless, he proceeded with the formality that had been drilled into him years ago. "I do apologize for what I am about to say, but it cannot be helped," he said, bowing his head, "Nyrondis Himself has warned us that a demon seeks Lord Ithramir's life. He has also charged us with stopping this demon." He rose his head and continued, "Lord Wilhelm already knows of the situation and directed us to you. He told us that you would be able to help us in this charge."

Seeing the worry on her face, he tried to reassure her. Looking into the woman's eyes he spoke with a confidence he did not know he had. "It is my duty as a servant of both Nyrondis and Her Majesty to safeguard Lord Ithramir. I intend to do so. We both do." he said, taking Tempyst's hand.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst could feel the joy in Lucant's heart when she confirmed the news about the baby. She too was overjoyed and held onto him tightly. But there was more to be done this night and their joy had to be put aside.

After looking around for a bit, Tempyst say Lithwyn. Her heart warmed for this elven lady, for she felt close to her even though they had just met that morning. Tempyst waved and Lithwyn waved back. When they reached her, Tempyst gave the Lady Lithwyn a long, heart felt hug. "So much has happened M'Lady, since we met this morning. I have found him!" She beamed as she introduced Lithwyn to the man of her dreams. Lucant flushed a lttle, but took Tempyst's adolations in stride, she he was fast learning that his new wife was not one to hold back emotions. "Lucant is my soul-bound, my husband, and even though this is ajoyous occasion, we have grave news." Tempyst turned to Lucant.

Lucant steeled himself and spoke to the woman. "My lady, I am Lucant Dolvan...an Initiate and Demonhunter of Nyrondis." He was rather uncomfortable saying a title after his name, especially one that seemed to have an importance he was not fully aware of. Regardless, he proceeded with the formality that had been drilled into him years ago. "I do apologize for what I am about to say, but it cannot be helped," he said, bowing his head, "Nyrondis Himself has warned us that a demon seeks Lord Ithramir's life. He has also charged us with stopping this demon." He rose his head and continued, "Lord Wilhelm already knows of the situation and directed us to you. He told us that you would be able to help us in this charge."

Seeing the worry on her face, he tried to reassure her. Looking into the woman's eyes he spoke with a confidence he did not know he had. "It is my duty as a servant of both Nyrondis and Her Majesty to safeguard Lord Ithramir. I intend to do so. We both do." he said, taking Tempyst's hand.

Tempy squeezed Lucant's hand, letting him know she was there with him. She looked Lithwyn over and sensed her rush of emotions and could see worry, then realized, this Ithramir was to her, as Lucant was to Tempyst. She put an hand on Lithwyn's arm. "As my husband said, we are here to keep Ithramir safe, but we must make haste. Wilhelm said you could provide us with horses and other necesseties."

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Placing down her laden plate for a moment, Lithwyn embraces Tempyst tightly. Ignoring the stabs of hunger pain, she gives the pair her full attention. She can’t quite explain why this young woman would be able to pull at her heart so, but it doesn’t bother her. The Gods have a plan, after all. As the two part, Lithwyn does a double take at Tempyst.

“You… you are pregnant! Tempyst! I just saw you this morning!” Looking at her, Tempyst smiles, overjoyed.

"So much has happened M'Lady, since we met this morning. I have found him! Lucant is my soul-bound, my husband, and even though this is a joyous occasion, we have grave news."

Looking with surprise to the young man next to Tempyst, she finally remembers to close her mouth as a large smile spreads across it. Reaching out, she embraces Lucant in congratulations and joy for her new charge, Tempyst. Remembering protocol, she steps back and picks up her plate again, calming herself as she beams at the two.

"My lady, I am Lucant Dolvan...an Initiate and Demonhunter of Nyrondis." Only moderately surprised by the title, an instant later she puts two and two together. The sword, Tempyst, her soul-bound. Of course. "I do apologize for what I am about to say, but it cannot be helped, Nyrondis Himself has warned us that a demon seeks Lord Ithramir's life. He has also charged us with stopping this demon. Lord Wilhelm already knows of the situation and directed us to you. He told us that you would be able to help us in this charge."

Speechless, she can only stare at him. The color drains from her face and she drops the plate of food, the clanking on the floor only a small sound amidst the roar of music. The sound enough to jar her to her senses, though, if only partially, Lithwyn kneels down to the floor as a member of the kitchen staff is already by her side, helping clean up the newly made mess. Her thoughts erupt into chaos as she tries to just focus on cleaning bits of food off her dress. As Lucant begins again, she looks up at him.

“It is my duty as a servant of both Nyrondis and Her Majesty to safeguard Lord Ithramir. I intend to do so. We both do." Glancing at Tempyst, the druidess eagerly adds, "As my husband said, we are here to keep Ithramir safe, but we must make haste. Wilhelm said you could provide us with horses and other necessities."

Rising to her feet, she swallows hard. It is true. It wasn’t just a dream. It was a vision, a true vision of what is to come. He will die in battle. He will be killed by this… this demon. And. She. Just. Let. Him. Go. Her mind and her mouth begin working together and a torrent of words pour from her.

“I… yes, yes, of course. They will have camped for the night, the journey is too far to make non stop. But they will rise early, perhaps even before the sun breaks. You’ll have to ride hard, but our horses are bred well. What else do you need? If you leave within two hours you should be able to make it there in time. Do you know the way to Minus Aure? No, I don’t suppose you do. I can easily arrange an escort. What do you need? Did I ask that already?”

Wringing her hands subconsciously, she looks around the room for one of the many messengers.

Lucant is a demon killer, a chosen one. He will save Ithramir, surely. Won’t he? That is his purpose, isn’t it? Tempyst came to find him, and we just happened to meet. There can’t be more to it than that. Coincidence.

Her worry numbs her to the gentle nudging she feels within. The touch of Kaia’hanas is lost on her for the moment as she focuses on preparing Lucant and Tempyst’s departure.

Written by - Tempyst

A messenger came over and then dashed off as Lithwyn gave him instructions. Tempyst looked at her new friend and her heart went out to her, sensing her distress. She reached forward and took Lithwyn's hand in hers. Pulling it towards her, Tempyst placed Lithwyn's hand over her heart, where her mark of Nyrondis was. Looking up into Lithwyn's eyes, she spoke softly, barely even a whisper, but Lithwyn could hear it clear as a bell. "It is alright to be frightened, but do not let the worry consume you. We all will arrive and save him." Lithwyn felt a rush of warm air wrap around her and she could have sworn she felt leaves rustling under her palm. Tempyst smiled softly and let go of her hand. In a normal voice, she looked intently at Lithwyn. "Now, what do we need to do to prepare? I only need to go back the room that was given to Lucant and I to retrieve the rest of my belongings then I will be ready. Lucant? What do you need my love?"

Written by - Teran

Teran watched Lady Lithwyn retreat to do her own things in preperation for that evening. Teran had something very important to do before being seen at the feast that evening. He had a meeting with Beridane. He needed someplace quiet, someplace dark, and someplace he would not be interrupted.

He ventured down into the catacombs, finding a forgotten corner. The assassin began his spell. He took deep breaths and slowly fell into a regular breathing pattern. He murmured some shadowy words and went silent. Anyone observing might think he had fallen asleep on his feet or perhaps was simply standing very still watching his prey...

...But the assassin was somewhere else. His avatar crept through the long and narrow passages of Beridane's stronghold. He passed in front of a mirror and took a moment to examine himself. He did not appear completely solid, as though formed out of the darkest shadows. His entire body was wrapped in dark ragged cloth or bandages, almost like he had been mummified. The only break in the wrappings was a strip for his eyes. He looked terrifying, perhaps death incarnate and that satisfied the Assassin.

It did not take him long to find Beridane, though he was a very frightened and paranoid man, he was a creature of habit. Teran found him in one of his many rooms, sharing his bed with three women. The guards posted outside the room did not see the assassin enter for he could slip through walls and doors with a mere thought.

"I'm sorry to interrupt," The Assassin snarled, "but you and I need to speak."

All four people in the bed were stunned into silence seeing Teran's avatar standing over them. He held out his left hand and the three women slumped back down, most certainly dead Beridane suspected.

"W-what do you want, assassin!" he cries out, obviously trying to alert the guards outside his door.

"Tell me who the stranger is." Teran murmured.

Beridane's eyes narrowed. He had no way of knowing who the assassin might be talking about, but he had a very strong and nagging suspicion that it was Gadianton... and at that thought his eyes flickered with recognition.

"I d-don't know who you mean? W-what stranger?"

"If you are trying to test my knowledge you succeed in only testing my patience!" Teran states, his dark voice growing more vicious with every word.

"Gadianton!" Beridane blurts, cowering before the assassin "His name is..." his voice trailed off and he looked around... the assassin's avatar was gone.

Teran inhales suddenly and is back in the catacombs. "Gadianton..." he murmured.

He had never heard the name before but he knew without a doubt that Beridane had not lied to him. He began his short journey out of the catacombs and headed for the feast, wanting to make a quick appearance for Mavigan and anyone else who might be concerned with his whereabouts, no longer than an hour. He had more to discuss with Jasmine before he, or perhaps they left the next morning.

Teran was not hungry but he gathered up a small plate of food and nibbled a bit while he watched everyone else enjoy the feast.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

"Now, what do we need to do to prepare? I only need to go back the room that was given to Lucant and I to retrieve the rest of my belongings then I will be ready. Lucant? What do you need my love?"

Lucant paused for a bit as he quickly formulated a plan. He began to think outloud, hoping that his plan would do something to ease Lithwyn's worry. "The High Druid of the conclave here, Dalomir, said that I was the first Demonhunter in over a century. I would suspect that this demon would not be expecting to have to contend with one. I'm sure the army also has more than enough to worry about without knowing that a demon is after their general's life. As such, I'd like to use this element of surprise to its fullest. If possible Lady Lithwyn, could I be provided with the standard issue equipment of the human division that marched with the army this morning?" He paused again, hoping he sounded like a Demonhunter to his wife and her friend, as he couldn't quite convince himself just yet. "We'll slip in with the human division and lay low until we find the demon. When the time and place is right, we'll spring the trap."

Looking at Lithwyn again, he continued. "I realize that seems a bit of a roundabout way to do things, and that it places everyone in great deal of danger depending on how fast this demon moves. If that plan is too bold for your liking, my lady, I am open to any suggestions, but I give you my word as a husband and as a man that I will not rest until Ithramir is safely in your arms again."

Written by - Turin Wallace

With speed, the combined army moved quickly across the landscape. The land was rich in color and vegetation this time of the year. With the last gasps of summer, and the onset of fall, some of the trees turned color while the others remained in vibrant hues of greens. The fields were filled with flowers of all kinds, a rich tapestry of color and life. It almost saddened Ithramir to look upon the sights before the army, such beauty to be cut short if they failed.

Then, after one last hill, the plains of Vernais stood wide and open before them. In the backdrop, the huge snowcapped mountains of the Amlug Anc, dark and imposing. In the center, with smoke ascending, was the elven fortress of Minas Aure.

“We are almost there!” Ithramir thought, as he pressed his mount to go faster.

****

Inside Minas Aure, the garrison was fighting to the last. Much like the Citadel of Lothiel-Gadith, there were many rings of the city, each then sub-sectioned off incase of such a siege. It was as if the builders had anticipated such an attack and wisely constructed the fortress to withstand an invasion, at least for awhile.

The elven garrison had been pushed back from the outer walls, the second ring, and the inner ring. Their last stand was at the great gatehouse that kept the Orcs from gaining access to the elves homeland behind them.

It was then that an elven sentry saw the large army coming to aide them. She saw the banners of the elves, intermingled with strange human ones, and even a few dwarven banners fluttering in the wind. With a shout, she yells out,

“Ortha lle hun, an lye il-awarth! Hir Ithramir tol-an min nef!”

A cheer went up from the beleaguered troops and they fought all the more harder, knowing that their friends were coming.

****

The army, hard pressed to make it to the fortress before nightfall, rode hard across the plains. Every hoof-beat drew them closer and closer to the large structure looming above the flat land. Finally, they drew close to the gates, and a horn was sounded to let the garrison open the gates.

Swinging the huge gates required time, something they had precious little of. Ithramir’s own heart stopped beating while he dismounted and waited to hear the creaking of the huge metal gates opening up. He could hear the sounds of battle inside, were any alive? Were they too late?

After what seemed an eternity, a second horn sounded from inside, and the huge gears of the gates began to move. As the doors began parting, Ithramir turned and shouted to the dismounted army behind him,

“Fear not the horrors you are about to face! Steady your spirit and your arms! Let us turn back the black tide before us; let us make safe our lands and the lands of our friends! Do not fear death, fear failure in our mission! Let the Orc know no mercy and expect none for yourself, let us kill them all, or let us die trying! Charge!”

By the time Ithramir ordered the charge, the gates had swung wide open, showing the hellish fighting inside. Elven blood and determination had opened the gates, the garrison had given most of their lives in the hopes their countrymen would exact vengeance upon their killers. Ithramir, and the elves in his charge, knew the score. Today elves, men, and dwarves would bleed together against the Orc.

Moving into the main gates, the elves led by Ithramir slammed into the tired Orc invaders. Human infantry followed, with Dwarves joining the fray merrily. The first ring of the fortress became a charnel house. As the sun sank lower, the fires from the burning city provided light to kill by. And kill they did. If there is such a thing as hell, both armies were now in it. Looking about, all one would see is the bodies of the fallen in the furnace-like red-yellow glow of flames, blood flowing in rivers on the white stone streets, and cries of the fighting, the wounded, and the dying.

Shortly after the moon rose into it’s highest arc above the mountains, Ithramir sent the word to all the commanders, via Catherin, that half of the city was taken. Orcs still held the eastern half, but the army should rest and take care of the wounded for the next few hours. Archers should be placed along the walls to continue to harass the enemy and keep watch for raids during the night. Above all, each commander was to meet with Ithramir at his command tent, located at the gatehouse.

Ithramir placed a hand against one of the steps leading up to the battlements. He was covered in blood. Taking a wet cloth given to him by a cleric, he wiped the sweat and blood from his brow. Cleaning himself off enough for the time being, he sits on the steps and begins to get reports of the fallen.

“How bad is it, Nysden?”

The chief cleric looked at the notes in front of him, then replies,

“The garrison of this place numbered twenty-five thousand. Those fit for duty are numbered at around five hundred. Wounded range in the number of two-thousand. Some of those will not survive the night. Lastly, well, we lost over twenty-two thousand, milord.”

The number rang in Ithramir’s head. So many died, how many more will need to? Showing no emotion, he then says,

“The numbers for today, how many fell from the relief column?”

Nysden looked at his notes and replied coolly,

“We fared much better, but some commanders have yet to report, so we are still a bit sketchy on human and dwarven casualties. Still, we estimate we only lost about a thousand of our own this day, with roughly another thousand wounded.

In an annoyed response, Ithramir says,

“Even one more is too many right now, have the commanders get those estimates up to you as quickly as possible.”

With a curt reply, Nysden says.

“Of course, milord.”

As Nysden turns to leave, Ithramir says,

“Nysden, the days events have left me a bit less than courteous, don’t hold it against me…too much.”

Nysden turns around, half-smiling, he replies,

“No, of course not, milord.”

Nodding to Nysden a half-smile, Ithramir leans back against the steps and waits for the other commanders to arrive soon. Catherin beats them to it, and takes a seat next to her commander, letting out a large sigh. Turning to the crimson stained elf beside him, he places a hand on her shoulder, and says,

“Well, I’ll give you credit, your lasting longer than my last adjutant. Of course, we were fighting tired Orcs, not fresh ones. Still, I think tomorrow may go well for you. You showed considerable skill today.”

Catherin turns and says,

“Thank you, milord. I was just following in your wake.”

Nodding, they both sit quietly for awhile until Catherin breaks the silence,

“We took them by surprise today, didn’t we?”

Staring off into the distance, Ithramir says,

“Yes, we did. Tomorrow won’t be as easy. Even now they will be bringing more Orcs, fresh ones, through the mountain pass from Minas Uial. That one we will need to besiege, and compared to that, this will be the easy part.”

Catherin says nothing in response. The silence between the two spoke volumes for the challenges ahead. Hearing footsteps approaching, Ithramir and Catherin stand up, and prepare to meet with the commanders who will be meeting with them about how to proceed tomorrow.

Note: Ortha lle hun, an lye il-awarth! Hir Ithramir tol-an min nef! - Raise your hearts, for we are not abandoned! Lord Ithramir comes to our aide!

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya awoke screaming, not only from the nightmares she had had, but from the buckets of cold water that had been tossed upon her. She sputtered and instinctively tried to get away, but with little avail, since she was still in the small cage. A few more buckets of water were tossed upon her, making the blood on her face and arms streak and turn pink. After getting her breath, she looked around and could see the sun had risen. She could also see that there were now two more orc driven wagons, each on with a larger cage in the back and filled with prisoners. Two orcs came to her cage, opened it, then grunted something at her. She hesitated, not knowing what they wanted and that resulted in getting poked with a sharp spear head, which promted her to move where they directed her to go. One orc opened the door to one of the other larger cages and Kaya shuddered, remembeing what had happened the night before. She backed up and felt the spear head poke into her back, but she did not care. She even felt it slice into her skin, but still did not move. No, not again, they can't make me do this again.

Yesss, I can Kaya. Kaya jumped at the sudden appearance of the voice inside her head. Ah, you thought it a dream did you? Well, it wasss not a dream, but a delissscious nightmare. Did you know that fear tassstes like sssweet wine, while death tasstess like honey. BUt of courssse you know that child; you have killed many in the name of your caussse. But today, if you are good, no killing. But if you are not, then sssweet, sssweet nourssshment. Kaya moved forward, but still not fast enough. The voice screamed. YOU WILL OBEY KAYA'TALASSS OR MORE INNOCCCENTSS WILL DIE AT YOUR HAND. NOW GET IN! Kaya put her hands over her ears and moved forward, stumbling into the cage. The other prisoners did not seem to care about their new companion and kept huddled against the bars.

You said you wnt me to kill someone. Who is it? Is it a prisoner? More children?

The voice purred, almost seductively, While that would be niccce and indeed I may have you engage is sssuch fun, we have one goal that mussst be taken care of, anything elsssse isss pleasssure.

Who? Kaya slumped against the bars, trying to find a comfortable spot while the wagon began moving down the road, hitting every rut.

All in good time child. If I told you too sssoon, it would ssspoil the fun and besssides you may try to get sssome ideasss about how to warn our target and that will never do. Now sssleep child, you mussst save up your ssstrength. Kaya suddenly felt the world spin around her, then was lost in the darkness.

The demon used some of its powers and took control of Kaya. It rendered her unconscious because it was tired of the mortal's prattling. Yes, the fear and anxiety provided nourishment, but even a demon can only stand so much. He looked around his surroundings, smiled wickedly as he looked over the other mortals in the cage. They are all weak, but oh ssso tassty. Their fear will make usss ssstrong. The demon closed Kaya's eyes and drifted off in thought, reserving its own power. Oh how I long for thisss to be over. Beridane, you think you are sssafe becaussse you know my name, but there are othersss who will sssee you tortured at their handsss. All of you mortalsss will be ssscreams at the sssight of the ttrue massster when he appearsss. My imprisssonment isss but a sssmall pricce to pay for the future. But ssssoon, with thisss ssslave, I will onccce again be free. The demon chuckled to himself and then focused on the pain and fear that was emminating from the other prisoners, basking in its warms and collecting their energy, making him stronger and stronger.

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln rode hard at the head of his company, the plains virtually flying by. Like many of his men, he was tiring. They came off a long voyage across the sea and marched to meet Ithramir, only to leave the next day for this hellish ride. But it didn't matter, they were going to do what they had forsaken their homeland to do: fight for a worthy cause.

Finally, they reached the gates, and a horn was sounded for them to open. After several nerve-wracking moments of nothing being heard but the fighting on the other side, the gates began to swing open. Everyone dismounted, and Ithramir turned to address the assembled army.

“Fear not the horrors you are about to face! Steady your spirit and your arms! Let us turn back the black tide before us; let us make safe our lands and the lands of our friends! Do not fear death, fear failure in our mission! Let the Orc know no mercy and expect none for yourself, let us kill them all, or let us die trying! Charge!”

The gates were fully open, revealing the carnage on the other side. Isuiln yanked his twin swords from their sheathes, the faint blue glow emanating from them leaving short tracers in the air behind them. These were powerful swords, enchanted with great magic. And they were about to taste orc blood again, for the first time in many years. Isuiln dashed for the gates, among the forefront of the charge, and he could almost feel Aylan behind him, as he always was. The nearest two orcs had their backs to him, and he ran them both through, pulling his swords free before the orcs even realized they had been hit.

As his swords came out, the glow changed, and became orange. Isuiln moved on, dancing his blades through orc after orc, and each fallen enemy turned the blades more and more red, and Isuiln began moving, faster and faster, until he seemed nearly encased in a red glow as his swords twirled around him, twin blurs that ended the life of every orc that came near. Aylan followed him doggedly, doing his best to keep up and not let Isuiln become overwhelmed.

Isuiln pushed harder, deeper into the orcs, swinging his blades with speed that no orc could match, and accuracy no orc could escape. He was far from invincible though; his leather armor was sliced through in several places, though the wounds across his torso and back were shallow, and a dagger protruded from his left thigh, were a dying orc had placed it as Isuiln had passed. Isuiln had yet to notice it. He felt no pain. No thoughts crossed his mind. All he could do was kill, and to stop killing while any enemies were in sight was to die.

After what seemed like days of fighting, the orcs were pushed out to the Eastern Half of the city, the fighting over for the moment. Isuiln stood hunched, gasping and panting, his eyes darting about, looking for another to kill. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and swung around, almost taking Aylan's head off before he restrained himself.

"Captain, the orcs are beaten back. The fighting is done." Glancing down at Isuiln's swords, thick with blood, which only enchanced the red glow, he shook his head. He also saw the dagger in Isuiln's leg, and pulled it out. His captain didn't even seem to notice. "Ithramir has called for all the commanders to meet, but I'll go in your stead. From the look of your swords, you'll soon be in no shape to do any talking."

Isuiln only nodded, still very tense, his mind now racing, all the thoughts that had been suppressed before now flooding his brain. He cleared his thoughts, and knew what he had to do next. He entered the nearest building, a small shop, stepping over the corpses, and made his way to what must have been the owner's living quarters. Sitting down in a chair, he pulled a pouch from his side that was always with him, and withdrew a small bowl. It was gold, and intricately carved. Any with magic sensitivity would sense the strong enchantments on this bowl, remarkably similar to that of the swords. But this bowl had very pure magic upon it, while the swords had much darker magic.

"Evil to be used against itself, and good to cleanse it's weilder," he muttered to himself. He set the small bowl on the table, and picked up one of his swords. Using the point, he cut a small line diagonally across his hand. Picking up the other sword, he cut another line the other way. Holding his hand over the bowl, he squeezed, letting a droplet fall into the bowl. The instant it hit, he ceased to be himself. In his mind, he was suddenly an orc, the first one he had killed several hours earlier. He saw himself fighting an elf, preparing to hack him down, when suddenly he felt searing pain in his chest. He collapsed to the ground, rapidly bleeding to death, he saw the elf with the glowing orange blades, who had struck him down, then all went black. Isuiln gasped as he came back to himself, still feeling the pain of the orc, grasping at the phantom wound to stem the pain. He spent a few moments collecting himself as the excrutiating pain faded, then moved his hand back over the bowl, and squeezed a second drop out. He experienced the death of his second victim. Then another drop, and his third. He kept doing this, over and over, looking more haggard and pale with each death experience. Over, and over, and over. Until at last, he came to his last kill of the evening. As he came back to himself, all the weariness of the battle came over him, and for the first time, he felt the pain of his own wounds. He opened his mouth to scream as he fell out of the chair, but didn't even have the energy to do that. He hit the floor with a resounding thump!, but he was unconsious before he even hit. He laid there, comatose, the bowl still on the table, yet mysteriously there was no longer a trace of the blood it had held, and his two swords at his sides, once again glowing a faint blue.

Meanwhile, Aylan was with Ithramir, reporting their casualties, which were blessedly low, though many suffered injuries that, while not life threatening, were often dabilitating. He sat through the meeting with the commanders, and after it was through, he headed for the building he had seen his Captain enter. He went to the back and found Isuiln unconsious on the floor, looking as if he had been through hell and back again. He cleaned him off, dressed his wounds, and hauled him bodily into the single bed. He then closed the door, and propped himself against it, so no one could enter without him knowing, and slept, weariness overcoming his worries of the battles to come.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Diosr smiled grimly as the gates opened before him, the carnage of Elves fighting desperately to hold back the Orcs long enough to get the gates open. Despite racial pride, he had to admit the Elves fought with a skill and ferocity that was splendid to behold. Calming his mind, Diosr focused his thoughts so that the connections between body and ax were seamless.

Finding the calmness he knew so well Diosr turned to his Dwarves. Each one of them held their axes ready to chop the Orcs in front of them. One thousand strong Dwarves began pounding their feet as Lord Ithramir gave his speech at the front of the line.

Starting a war chant of his own he felt his blood rise as his men joined the chant.

“When the Dwarves go to war
The mountains hear their call.
The ground shakes and cracks,
Even the mighty fall.

When Dwarves go to battle
Wearing gleaming, Mithral mail,
Ready to face any foe,
Never thinking they may fail.”

Ending in a final crescendo of power Diosr turned back to face the gates and laughed mightily, adding an fierceness to the war mask he wore.

Though the Elves had the honor of being the first to charge, this being their battle above all others, the Dwarves following barely a step behind and beside the Humans. The sound of thousands of pounding feet pounded around Diosr but nothing could shatter his focus now. Before reaching the battle line Diosr took three bounding steps forward, adding enough momentum to his first forward stroke that it cleaved straight through two large Orcs. Stepping in between two elven warriors he stepped in time with them, pushing forward through the mass of black bodies before him.

Diosr knew his objective. He and his men were to take the upper walk ways of the inner rings. He ducked a swipe from a dark great sword which took off the head of the Elven warrior to the left of him. Roaring his rage in counter point to the Orcs bellow he swung his Great Ax upwards, splitting the Orc in half from the groin up in a splash of dark red blood.

He had a long day ahead of him.

****

The day was cold, though the snows were light the cold breeze waifing through the village promised more snow fall to come. Inside a wooden Inn the regulars and guests of the night played their games drank their fill of decent enough beer.

Another soft breeze went through the Inn as a woman stepped through. She wore deep black robes that covered her body quite throughly. Moving her head from side to side she scanned the room before stepping forward to the bartender and sat down, asking for a glass of water.

Most had not taken more than one look at this woman, strangers with strange customs were not entirely rare around here. However, over the next many days in the future, they would begin to wish they hadn't been so open. Lifting a vial from her belt she poured the contents into the water and watched as it bubbled softly.

Letting a small chuckle escape her throat before she gasped in pain and dropped the glass, clutching her hand and watching it fall to the ground in a shatter of broken pieces. Men and women around the bar whipped their heads around and the closest men moved forward, helping the woman back into her chair and asking if she was ok.

Nodding softly the woman smiles and excuses herself to a bed. Once she reaches the newly rented room she laughed greatly, until it hurt, her plan was beginning.

****

Diosr leaned against his Great Ax as he spoke to Lord Ithramir. His breast plate and chain mail dented and splattered with blood of all kinds.

“Lord Ithramir, this day has been a glorious battle, and my men hope for many more like it.”

Taking a deep, needful breath Diosr continued, “I understand you wish to know how many of us died or are on our shields*, well, at last I checked the confirmed deaths was 54 with the seriously wounded numbering 90. Most likely 80 of those will live the night.”

Turning slightly so he could see more of the city around him, he watched as his orderly Crossbowmen sporadically took shots at Orcs along the walls walk ways and in the streets below, waiting for Lord Ithramir's reponse.

****

Nodding to Sir Wilhelm she stepped away from the table and took out a wrapped box. Slowly she made her way to the Queens area of the party. Spinning and twirling around to make her way to Queen Mavigan and softly presented her with the small box in both hands.

“I am sorry for the way we originally met Queen Mavigan .. I humbly request your forgiveness and accept this token of hopefully a future friendship.”

On our shields. On His shield. And other such says involving a man laying on his shield all mean wounded and unable to fight again without healing in Dwarven language. It is the closest translation from actual Dwarven language.

Written by - Ardwen

He held it reverently, not knowing what to think. Here, in his very hands, was the blade his late commander had born into battle so many times. There had never been an occasion when Ardwen did not listen to Turin’s commands, for while the Priest of Battle could be strict, he was a man that one naturally wanted to follow. As befitting his position, Turin had often given rallying speeches on godliness and piety, but after the talks were done those same speeches didn’t stop him from taking up a flagon with his men in the Red Drake Inn.

Turin had turned a collection of men into an army, one that performed great deeds in the service of the city of Ancora as she expanded her influence and grace throughout Aerynth. All the Priest of Battle afterwards maintained his fine tradition, until in the waning years before the betrayal when the office was officially dissolved. And now, so many years later Ardwen had in his grasp the very blade of the first Priest of Battle. The Elf did not know if it qualified as a relic, though he would not speak ill of his commander he wasn’t exactly saint material all the time. Still, the blade was not something to sneer at, even if one were to disregard its past, the Dwarves had inlaid their runes in it, and at the very least it was a consecrated weapon.

“But then,” thought Ardwen, “That’s not the problem. I don’t doubt the authenticity of this sword, so it raises more questions than answers. This blade proves everything: Alaric’s claims, the similarities in names, places, and people; it may even provide a hint to my arrival. So why does it feel like I’m holding a scalding iron in my hands?”

Ardwen looked down at the blade again. He had wrapped it once more in its protective leather and had it cradled in his arms, but even the brief unveiling Alaric had allowed dispelled all of Ardwen’s doubts. But as much as he may love the blade he carried now, it was Alaric’s words he valued more. He had mentioned Aethelwulf, the very architect of Ancora, departing from this realm. More significantly perhaps, the blade meant that the Hands had come here, that some may still remain here, and if they didn’t then either their remains or some further clues did.

“This world, “Ardwen’s mind continued, “has very suddenly become too precious to lose. How many years has it been? I was always content before I joined them to just fight. Let anyone else find a reason for me, so long as I got to swing my sword. It was all I ever had and all I ever needed. I didn’t fight because I had something to commit myself to or for, I fought because I didn’t want to die. They, they were the ones who changed me. I failed them miserably, I’ve become the very thing I hated.”

“I’m so sorry.” Ardwen spoke the words beneath his breath, “I’m just not the man you tried to make me. I’ve failed you Abbess; I’ve failed all of you. But, if this is truly the last place that you came to know . . . then I can do one final thing for you.”

Suddenly Renalis flies next to Ardwen’s mount, the mage looks at him and speaks, "I do not seek to profess that I know you sir, but I will tell you this - I too have lost much and know at least in part the pain you feel. You have not lived too long and there is more to your life than to just die in the great battle ahead. Live on. Live in spite of those that tried to take it all from you and help these people, the descendants of your friends. Fight alongside them and protect the kingdom as you once did. Do not go quietly into that good night. You and I sir shall carve a bloody path in these Orcs for daring to attack. We shall help destroy them and save these people. Not because it is the only thing we are long for, but because it is just and right, and because Ancora needs help."

The mage placed a hand on Ardwen’s shoulder and continued, "I shall go with you if you would allow me the honour, friend, and we shall see the graves of your friends who would have defended and went on defending Ancora until their last days." Renalis removed his hand and kept flying, his face deep and pensive.

“Renalis.” Ardwen began slowly, “I will neither tell you to fight with or apart from me, the choice is entirely yours. But as for me living . . . five thousand years is a long time. Everything has passed me by, empire’s crumble, whole worlds change, and friend’s die. But I won’t die yet, if I can help it. Orcs threaten the blood . . . and there is the matter of my friends’ resting places.”

Ardwen lowered his head, his eyes narrowed, and his voice became iced steel, “That Renalis, that I will die for. Nothing will keep me from paying one last regard to them, nothing. I do not care if every Orc ever spawned stands in my path, if all the nations of the world bar my way, or if the very gods themselves deny it. I will see them . . . before the end, whatever that may be.”

The countryside rolled by as the army made haste to their besieged comrades. Trees splashed with colors contrasted sharply with those of verdant green; small flowers dotted the hills and meadows. Finally, they crested one final hill, and there before Ardwen stood the most beautiful sight of all: a beleaguered fortress set against a backdrop of towering snowcapped mountains. Smoke plumed in billowing sable from the fortress, they’re time was desperately short. Ithramir urged the army on, and man and horse focused their efforts on devouring the distance the plans presented.

The host of Elves, Men, and Dwarves was hard pressed to reach the fortress before nightfall. A horn resounded from Ithramir’s vanguard, and for what seemed an eternity silence followed it. Ardwen took the time to dismount, stretching his legs and reaching one arm back to grasp the grip of the large sword on his back. Of Turin’s sword Ardwen left it tucked safely in a scabbard on his mount – he would not defile the memory of his commander, if he was to die today then so be it, but he would fight and die as an Avari for his people.

At last a second horn reported back, and the distinct sound of metal on metal rang out from the gatehouse as the huge doors began to swing wide. Ithramir spoke again, “Fear not the horrors you are about to face! Steady your spirit and your arms! Let us turn back the black tide before us; let us make safe our lands and the lands of our friends! Do not fear death, fear failure in our mission! Let the Orc know no mercy and expect none for yourself, let us kill them all, or let us die trying! Charge!” Almost unconsciously the berserker had taken a few steps toward the visible slaughter in the first ring of the fortress defenses. When the word to charge finally issued from Ithramir Ardwen ran with all the speed he could muster toward the gatehouse.

Every pounding footstep took him closer to the battle, right before reaching the Orc host Ardwen swept his eyes over the scene, a morbid conglomeration of charnel sights and acrid smells. Ardwen rushed toward the first Orc he could find as Ithramir’s vanguard crashed into the Orcish horde. That first Orc died as Ardwen’s huge blade clove it from naves to chops, Ardwen twisted and the sword swept in a wide arc from right to left. The berserker heard a few Orcs shout out in their strange guttural tongue, and one even managed to put a sword in the way of Ardwen’s blade and his body. It was not enough. Ardwen’s sword split steel and then flesh as the warrior drove the blade on with the momentum of his body and the force of his arms. One, two, and finally a third caught in the back as he tried to scamper away fell to the ground dead.

Snarling Ardwen pressed forward, and three Orcs rushed him. Two of them carried a spear, and the third was using a sword and shield. The ones with the spear thrust forward and made a simultaneous stab toward the Elf, Ardwen twisted and brought his blade down at an angle, snapping the spear shafts like kindling in a diagonal cut. Ardwen snapped his blade forward and used the flat of the sword to smash the closest spearmen in the skull, a booming ”crack” echoed through the air and teeth, blood, and snot shot out from where the Orc’s face used to be. The other spearmen looked down at his broken spear, he looked at the blood-covered berserker, and he ran.

The Orcish swordsman apparently thought better of fighting though, and he quickly closed ranks as Ardwen withdrew his smashing hit. The Orc moved in with a quick overhand chop of his blade, and Ardwen was forced to make an awkward parry by bringing his blade near his shoulder and holding it horizontally. The Orc swordsman hooted in exhilaration as he pressed down with his sword, hoping to drive the Elf off-balance and finish him. Ardwen smiled and pressed back. The Orc grunted and stumbled back a few steps as his blade was tossed up with the pressure the berserker exerted. It was not much of an opening, barely a few seconds and risky, but Ardwen took it.

The Orc was wearing a helm that protected his cheeks and brow, but not his face. Ardwen thrust one black-clad hand into the Orc’s exposed flesh, digging his armored fingers into the Orc’s eyes and skin. The Orc squealed and dropped his sword as both its hands groped for Ardwen’s one. Ardwen moved his right foot back, and flung the Orc to the ground while he stepped back. The Orc lay on the ground bleeding and whimpering; Ardwen brought up his blade and used the flat to crush its head like a rotten melon. Blood, brains, and the gods’ know what else sprayed in all directions.

Ardwen did not revel in the gore though; he swiftly brought his blade back into a consummate guard, and saw the vast host of Orcs that still stood. Another Orc stepped forward, this one using a flail. The Orc twirled the spiked orbs with some skill, but the sectional nature flail would prove his undoing as Ardwen brought his sword out from left to right, snapping the weapon out wide, and using the return blow to eviscerate the beast where he stood. ”Pathetic!” Ardwen roared, “Is this the limit to your strength? Is this all you fetid sons of bitches can muster? Fight me! Fight me damn you!”

And fight they did. Orc after Orc after Orc took up the challenge, and Orc after Orc after Orc was laid low by the Elf. The Elf did not go without wounds though, a gash traced its way across his right cheek, and the Elf was painfully aware that his lack of a helm made his head a tempting target. The fight pressed on, and even Ardwen’s arms started complaining of the effort. But at the end when the Orc host was finally pressed back, most of the blood that coated the Elf was his foes. The fires from the burning city had given enough light to finish the battle, but even then the moon had reached its zenith before the order to halt and consolidate was given.

Ardwen placed the tip of his blade against the ground and leaned on it, his breath came in deep gusting bellows. He looked around him and nodded, they had won for now. The Elf brushed a hand against the wound that cross his cheek, but of course he could not feel it for the metal gauntlets he wore. The Elf worked his mouth, it was a little sore, but nothing serious. There would doubtless be those with far more serious wounds. There was, however, something seriously concerning him.

He looked about for Ithramir, and found him easily enough. Ardwen did not approach him, he merely propped himself against a cool stone wall with his sword. Ithramir was seated on a flight of stairs that lead to a nearby battlement; already he seemed occupied with reports and commands. Ardwen merely glanced at him from time to time, but he was far enough away to not seem like one petitioning to see him, and in truth the Elf did not desire to speak to him. It was strange, but it was in fact the armor that had drawn Ardwen near. “This sable suit is his gift, or curse.” thought Ardwen, “Either way, it distracted me in today’s battle. I could . . . feel it. I couldn’t give myself entirely over to the bloodlust. I was . . . afraid. Afraid of what it might do, afraid of what I might do. Gods, listen to me! Afraid, a warrior of Avari afraid to grasp his own damn weapon! I’m getting soft, I should’ve used it.”

Suddenly that one thought seemed bolded in the warrior’s mind. “Yes,” Ardwen’s thoughts streamed along, “I should have used it! I will use it! I am the master here! It’s not sentient, why was I afraid it could manipulate me? Ha, I’m being a fool. I’ve nothing to fear . . . I am strong enough. Yes . . . soon . . . very soon.” A half-smile crossed the Elf’s face, and he remained propped against the wall thinking of other things. But, he was glad the struggle with the armor was resolved, and he was especially pleased that he was so clearly the victor.


Written by - Tempyst Page 15 Book 2

Kaya awoke to the sounds of orcs. Hundreds, no thousands of them. She looked around stunned at the numbers. She had always heard news of the orcish front, but never thought she would see it. The other prisoners in her cage were looking about too, eyes wide, faces white from terror. Several orcs came over to the cage and openend the door. Kaya began to move forward, thinking the orcs wanted them out, but they pointed their spears and swords at her, keeping her at bay. Then, orcs on the other side began prodding the other prisoners, forcing them out of the cage while she remained. What are they doing? What do they want with me? She paused in her thoughts, waiting for that voice inside to start up again, but to her relief, it was quiet.

She watched as all the other prisoners were forced out, then watched as new prisoners were shoved in. This time, all of them human children. Her heart sank. Ever since the voice took control and made her kill those other children, she had been afraid it would make her do so again and now here, were some easy prey. She could see the fear in their eyes, hear their crying. These innocents did not deserve this, they should be laughing and playing, not fearing for their lives.

Kaya tore her eyes away from the young faces, not wanting to become attached in case she was forced to kill again. She looked out among the throngs of orcs and could see that they had seen battle that day. Battle. That means the elven army is near. I should be there beside them instead of locked in this cage as a pawn. My place is out there!

All in due time. The voice hissed to life again. You will sssee battle child and if you play your cardsss right, we will be gloriousss. Now remember mortal, I am in charge. Sssoon, you will know your duty. And remember, The voice forced her to look over at the huddled children, what will happen if you disssobey. Kaya felt her blood run cold, remembering the sightless eyes of the children she had recently killed.

Who is it you want me to kill?

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Glancing from one to the other, Lithwyn pretends she has no idea what they are talking about. She had no emotional connection to Ithramir, after all. The two love birds must be wanting everyone to be in love too, that's all. The only person she fooled, though, was herself.

"Erunno will escort you on your way, he wanted to go to the battle anyway. Your plan is one I would use, as well, Lucant. If the demon does not know you are there, perhaps they will be more careless. Surprise is always to your advantage. You will need to take care, however, that an Orc does not become your or Tempyst's undoing. Lord Ithramir is not one to sit back while others fight, he'll be right in the fray with everyone else. Please, make haste. Erunno will be at the stables within the hour, waiting on your arrival. He will help you with whatever you may need, should you come up with anything."

Hugging Tempyst tightly, she says goodbye and wishes them both safe journeys. She prays to Kaia'hanas, asking her to bless the both of them and bring them success. The two, standing before her, dimly glow as she prays. The glowing condenses to the area of their tattoos before diming and finally winking out, though the warmth is still there.

Once Tempyst and Lucant hurriedly depart, Lithwyn walks towards the head table in a daze. Sliding into a chair at the end, she stares straight ahead, lost in her thoughts, going over Lucant's plan.

****

The moon high over head, the buildings of Minus Aure are illuminated white and red, moon and fire. Above the line of fighting, moving across the rooftops, a lone ranger peers intently down the line of an arrow, nocked in her longbow. Watching the whirling blades of Commander Isuiln for a moment as he moves away from her, movement behind him catches her eye and her fingers instantly release the string. The arrow finds its home in the spine of an orc, at the base of its skull. Watching it fall, she smirks even as another arrow is moved into place.

She suddenly tilts the bow nearly straight down and releases death in the form of an arrow into an overly curious Orc's eye as he looks up at her, large axe swinging toward her leg. That was close. Moving back from the edge of the building, she runs and leaps to the next one. An arrow flying even as she lands, her arms are nearly a constant motion of set, aim, release.

From her perch along the roofs of the city, many an Orc greet death in surprise, never knowing from whence it was launched.

"Fight me! Fight me damn you!" At the sound of the crazed elven's voice, she squints into the fire light and finds him. Sure enough, such a request brought on quite a few Orc, now encircling him. As Ardwen hacked his way through foes, the ranger picked off those who tried to catch him from behind. After focusing on him for a moment, now confident he can handle his own, the small elf searches the area for who else may need unseen assistance.

A younger lad, fighting an orc twice his size, and winning, is unaware of death's breath as it approaches. Quickly, swinging her bow into place, she releases an arrow, aiming for the attacker at the boy's rear. Too late. The Orc and boy fall together, and the girl cries out in rage and anguish from her place at the skyline.

Arrow after arrow slam into flesh, ripping apart arteries, rupturing lungs. Crouched on a low shed, she continues to unleash death. Hours pass. As the line of orc retreat, she jumps down and goes after them until someone calls after her.

"Trinni! Trinni, stop!"

Her arms shaking, she lowers her bow and just stands there, staring after the enemy. Orc. Dirty, evil, nasty, underhanded Orc. Gasping for breath, she closes her eyes a moment to contain her desire to chase after them and finish what she began.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm saw Priestess Alulael walkm over towads Mavigan, following his advice. He then saw Tempyst and Lucant approaching Lithwyn and walked over to here the discussion, followed by Lithwyn's blessing of the pair. As Lucant and Tempyst left her to head to the door, Wilhelm followed and caught up at the doorway. He handed a folded fabric square to Lucant and said,

"This is a Royal Pass, with the Royal Arms embroidered on it. You will find that Alaric has left 12-man squads with spare horses along the road as messenger relay stations. Show this pass to requisition replacement mounts and you and your escort can continue riding with fresh mounts until the next station. You will likely meet messengers returning here from the army. Show this to them and they will tell you the news. I expect that you will reach the fortress in the middle of a battle, and you may need some informed reinforcements. On my authority, you may requisition all but two of the men at the final station before the fortress to accompany you.

Be sure to brief your escort on the danger and your mission. It is vital to get the news to Ithramir even if somehow you two fall to the orcs. These men will be trustworthy and will follow orders. When you get there, look for Renalis, who has had great experience in combatting demons. Tempyst, if you know any Druidical magic to draw upon the natural lifeforce along the road to enhance the stamina of your party and mounts, this would be a good time to use it. You will all need to ride hard to get there. Lucant, I know little of Demonhunters, except to say trust in your sword, your bondmate, and your god. You are a team now. Do not fear to ask for help or advice, but trust in your feelings and instincts. May the All Father be with you!"

Wilhelm noticed again the Triune medallion that Tempyst wore. An inner thought brought a positive response. Surrendering into trance, Wilhelm reached out and touched the medallion. To Tempyst and Lucant his eyes seemed to glow as he spoke in a soft but resonant Voice.

"May Justice prevail in your mission. Let all who look upon this know that your cause is Just."

With that the medallion glowed for a moment, while the light faded from Wilhelm's eyes, and Tempyst could feel a residual and persistant warmth in the amulet. They exchanged farewells, and as Tempyst and Lucant left the Great Hall Wilhelm walked over towards Mavigan to see how she was doing.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst felt her mother's amulet grow warm and felt an inner strength wash over her. She placed her hand gently upon Wilhelm's and squeezed. "I do know of some magics sir, we are thinking the same. I do wish we had more time to socialize, but perhaps we will one day." Tempyst took Lucant's hand once again and let him lead her to the stables. Once there, she hugged him tightly. "Now my love, you must set about and gather what we need, I need to speak to the horses and with the spirits we travel through." She smiled brightly, kisses him then turned, asking which horses they would be using.

As Lucant went off to gather supplies and men, Tempyst was directed to the horses that were available. She closed her eyes and opened her heart, then began whispering softly to the horses. Her soft words reached their ears, causing them all to perk up and move towards her. After several minutes communing with them, she determined which would be best for their trip. She rubbed their noses, enjoying for a moment her ability to speak with them. It was not as advanced as some druids, but it was enough. Looking around, she found some apples, then sat down and drew from the surrounding area magic. The magic of life, strength and stamina flowed up from the earth into Tempyst, engulfing her with a deep warm glow. Still concentrating, she cut apart the apples, softly chanting, sending into them the magic she was channeling. This took alittle time, for she had to make sure she had enough for the other horses they would need. When she was satisfied, she stood, and fed each horse aslice of apple, imbueing them with the strength of the earth. Giving them each a scritch under the jaw, she let the stableboys gear the horses up.

Tempyst took this time and went outdoors and once again grounded herself into the earth. She reached deep, calling to Nyrondis. Nyrondis, oh great father, hear my call. We are here to follow your path, to go forth and protect and rid your world of these unnatural forces. We will need your strength and your courage to face our fears. Give our steeds light feet and clear paths as we race to protect Ithramir. We follow the path you have set before us and will not rest until our mission is complete. Thank you father, we shall not let you down.

Tempyst stood there, lost in the warmth of her God and waited for the signal that it was time to ride.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Lucant hurried from the Great Hall down to the stables with Tempyst at his side. Once there, she hugged him tightly. "Now my love, you must set about and gather what we need, I need to speak to the horses and with the spirits we travel through." She smiled brightly, kisses him then turned, asking which horses they would be using. Watching her walk away as gracefully as a feather upon the wind, he finally turned and did as she suggested.

Noticing a door ajar, Lucant exited the stables into one of the adjoining yards hoping to find Erunno. He saw a mountain of a man - probably in his mid-thirties with a head of thick black hair and and a bristling beard - leaning against the stable wall drinking a bottle of honeymeade. "Well it's about damned time you two got here! I've been waiting for nearly an hour! C'mon over here and get ready so we can get on the road before dark." The man put his bottle away and moved towards a table under an awning that was arrayed with a finely crafted suit of scale mail. Lucant followed the man uneasily. He was still unacustomed to being in a postion of authority and importance and was unsure of how to act. He went over to Erunno intending to introduce himself, but was cut off before he could. "I s'pose I oughta tell you who I am. The name's Erunno Holgrave. I use'ta be in charge of guarding the Ancoran Quarter, but Commander Deltheron told me that I gotta work with you two for a bit. Pick your arms up." the man said as he strapped the breastplate on Lucant. "She sent me a messenger who talked forever about you two and what you gotta do. Glad I'm not in your shoes, to say the least." He continued to suit Lucant up while talking. "Don't worry about nothin' though. I'll keep you two safe... or die trying," he added with a raucus laugh.

Noticing the Royal Pass Lucant was holding, Erunno said with with the tone of a somber, seasoned commander: "You're much too young to be in a command position, son. You still have too much of a life to live to throw it away on the battlefield. I suppose you have to be, though... considering who you are." Lucant could tell that this man, despite being a bit rough around the edges, was a good man and someone that he could trust. "Look, just trust in the men who follow you and treat 'em decent. Do that, an' they'll follow you to the gates o' the underworld. That means me, too." Erunno placed the helm on Lucant's head and intentially pushed it down over his eyes. "Now you can finish gettin' yourself ready. I still gotta finish up, myself." He sratched his beard and said "Don't forget the most important thing," looking over towards one of the trees. Lucant pulled the helm from his eyes and looked around, seeing Tempyst kneeling under a tree. "Thank you, Erunno." he said as Erunno went into the stables. "If ya wanna thank me, hurry the hell up!" his response boomed from the stables. He quickly strapped A'lanthear around his waist and got the packs that had been supplied for him and Tempyst.

Walking towards his wife, Lucant received encouragement from A'lanthear as well. You are worried, master. Fear not what lies before you, as you do not stand alone. Eleven spirits seemed to step forth from the wind, stopping Lucant in his path. The ghosts of a human, a dwarf, eight elves, and - most surprisingly - an orc spoke in unison: "Our successor, our brother. We shall stand at your side. We shall watch over you. Go with Nyondis, our most honored brother." As quickly as the spirits had appeared, they vanished. A'lanther whispered to him again: "Trust in them, master. Trust in those who will follow you. Trust in your soulmate. Their strength is your strength." Continuing towards Tempyst, he whispered to A'lanthear, "Thank you."

Lucant stood behind Tempyst and put his arms around her, resting his hands on her heart. A calming warmth swept over him as he whispered to her. "It is time, my love."

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst welcomed her husband's embrace and basked in the love and strength she felt. "It is time, my love." Lucant whispered.

She turned and hugged him close, making a face as her cheek touched the cold metal. "Hmm, I suppose this is necessary, but I much rather prefer you without it." She winked and leaned up to kiss him. "Yes, you are right, we must leave, there is no time to waste." Tempyst followed Lucant over to the horses, then smiled as he introduced her to Erunno. She liked the large man instantly and knew they were in good hands. She patted each horse again, then mounted up. "Well, Erunno, let us make haste. And if you need to take shortcuts, fear not of the forest, for a path will be clear for us." With a nod, Erunno charged his steed out into the night, with Lucant and Tempyst close behind.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Finally meeting with all the commanders, Ithramir kneels down, takes a stick, and draws a map of the Minas Aure. Talking to the assembled crew of officers from the various company’s, Ithramir sets out the plan of attack for the morning,

“I’ll be leading the main fight here…”

Ithramir pokes at the center of the map, showing the entrances to the second and third tiers of the city. This is where the fighting will be the hardest and since most of his elves know the city, their knowledge will be in high demand, especially in the twisting and turning alleys and streets leading to the main keep in the center.

Looking over to Aylan, Ithramir circles a spot on the map and says,

“You’ll join us for the main assault, however, after we begin securing the main keep I’ll need Commander Isuiln’s troops to take, and hold, the gatehouse for the mountain pass. We’ll join you as quickly as we can, but rest assured, you’ll be crucial in cutting off the retreat of the Orcs so we can cut them down.”

Seeing Aylan nod, Ithramir turns to Alaric and says,

“Commander Alaric, what I need your troops to do is to fan out, take, and secure the outer rims of the second and third tiers all the way to the mountain gatehouse. From what we can tell, the Orcs have a few defenses setup, but mostly it will be wide open for you and your soldiers. Consolidate quickly and meet us at the mountain gate.”

Watching Alaric nod, Ithramir turns to Diosr and says,

“Commander Diosr, I’ll need you and your dwarves with me as we storm the center of this keep. We’ll need a battering ram for the outer gate leading into the main section, think it can be done by morning?”

Diosr almost looks offended by the statement, but simply nods in agreement and says it can be done. Replying, Ithramir says,

“Trust me, master dwarf, your axes will drink deeply of Orc blood tomorrow. You have my thanks.”

Looking at each commander one last time, Ithramir says,

“Unless there are further questions, that’s our plan of attack for the morning, I wish you all the best and may Avandor guide us in our work. I suggest we, and what troops not on sentry duty, get some rest for the eve.”

Giving a nod, the commanders leave and Ithramir sits down again, resting his head against the cool wall of the battlements. Every so often he can hear the whiz of flying arrows as skirmishes ignite across the walls. Looking up to the moon, he wonders to himself if Lithwyn’s looking at it too, thus sharing something with her…even if she doesn’t know it.

Written by - Pharsalus

Servant?, Geirik blurted in the dark. He did not continue. He only stood, his back toward the strange man holding the sword in the air. He could not see him, but the shadows betrayed the man's every motion, every thought, every memory. After a moment of distant reflection - eyes peering forward in their usual glow as if witness to events unfolding in the blackness before them - he turned slowly. One would almost say he was grinning.

You, he began mischeiviously, You neither what you appear, nor think you appear. And while the old man believes himself cunning enough to challenge me with his simpleton's coaxing, you speak...from something more...

Geirik trailed off, and his eyes visibly locked onto the man - the foreigner - before him. After a moment, with a smirk on his face, Geirik's head tilted slightly to one side as if listening to whispers only he could hear. Another moment passed, and Geirik returned to his full height, shoulders squared, smirk slipping back to an empty resting place.

There are powers at work in this room beyond what you in your physical state could never know. You ask my desires... He paused and turned his look to the old Elf as he continued. And yet, it is you who summoned me? What I wanted in Life I acquired, and what I want in Death you are powerless to deliver. His gaze returned to the Ranger. So, I ask - why have you summoned me? For what purpose would you have sucha dark and terrible power as mine? For what purpose...

For an instant, Geirik's voice became everpresent, while his body into a shadowy plume. For a moment the room sat quiet and dark until the light of two eyes shown through horrible lids immediately over the Ranger's shoulder.

...would you risk your life at the hands of one so horrible?

The Ranger spun on his heals, sword raised to strike an impudent being, to find himself facing only shadow and cold. The light of Geirik's eyes went out again as they had before and the sound of a terrible chuckling became as omnipresent as the dark in which it resounded.

Humor me this, mortal, and your courage - or stupidity - will suffer you my continued cooperation....for now.

All at once, Geirik stood there as if he'd never left, as if nothing were changed. He stood, arms crossed, and awaited the man's answer. For the first time in untold centuries, he stood before a man worth of his presence. All he could do was smirk.

****

[Meanwhile...]

Flavia's eyes opened slowly at first. It was evening.

EVENING!? She sat up quickly, but the panic in her eyes were immediately replaced with confusion and a sharp jolt of pain. She winced, eyes clamping shut, and fell back into place on the cot. It was obvious she was working to control her breathing, for whatever purposes the old Healer would never know - courage, embarassment, stubornness. He simply sat in his chair by a warm fire, peering out from beneath the sahdow of a tattered old hood, hands lost in the heap of robes in his lap.

I see you are awake, he began with a smile in his voice. That is most excellent! Please - do not be startled. Her eyes were a soft blue, like the roses the Healer sometimes picked from the woods around his dwelling. He liked them, but now they were red and flushed and glossed over. The woman fought to sit up, slowly this time, biting her lip as hard as one might think it to bleed. She sat for a moment, catching her breath, peering about the small, fire lit room and the old man who now spoke to her from his decrepit old chair.

Who...who are you? Where ... her voice begain to rise and breathing quicken. Where...! Where are my parents!? Pharsalus had already begun to close the space between them quickly, placing his hands on her shoulders gently.

You must not worry for them, child. You must rest now, regain your strength. Your body is weak and your mind is weary - I needn't be a Healer to know these things. He raised his hand between them and closed his eyes, mumbling something under his breath. Small bits of light and vapor danced curiously around his fist, revealing an old marking of a hammer and anvil upon the palm of his hand, until it suddenly opened. Darkness consumed the girl's concious, but it was warm and peaceful. As her eyes closed and vision blurred, she took a final look at her estranged keeper.

Your face... she began to mumble sleepily. Her head fell back against the pillow. It's...bro..ke..nn..... The old Healer placed her hands comfortably across her chest and smiled as well as his batted old face could.

Do not worry for such things now, young one. You are safe here.

He stood slowly, keeping his hooded gaze upon her only for a moment more before making his way to a cot only several paces away. In it still slept a woman considerably older than the girl, most probably the girl's mother or caretaker. It was hard to know from the chaos in which he'd found them lying lifeless in the road. His eyes peered through the woman as he wondered what color her eyes were. She had not opened them at all since he'd tended her wounds. She would live, though he did not know when she would wake up.

He turned, confident of their stability, and that of the calming crackle of the hearthfire behind him. The deep blue of the Ancient One's eyes cought and scattered the firelight as he gazed into it, losing himself if times long ago, places that no longer were. He looked at his hands, cracked and weathered, ancient beyond understanding. His power of healing had dwindled considerably since happier times. He felt so distant from all he knew, all he loved - even his Father, Shaper of his kind, seemed now only a distant memory. He sighed and lost himself again in thought. He hummed the hymn of his brothers softly, just loud enough to dampen the woody squeak of his chair, and he slowly rocked.

Written by - Renalis

Ardwen lowered his head, his eyes narrowed, and his voice became iced steel, “That Renalis, that I will die for. Nothing will keep me from paying one last regard to them, nothing. I do not care if every Orc ever spawned stands in my path, if all the nations of the world bar my way, or if the very gods themselves deny it. I will see them . . . before the end, whatever that may be.”

"So it shall be." Renalis removed his hand from Ardwen's shoulder and began to look ahead.

"We shall be there soon," Renalis thought, "I need some rest before the confrontation..." Renalis began to look around for a free horse. He attention was grabbed however by a sharp "Yoo Hoo!" and wave from Trinni. "Hop on! F'non here can get us there no problem." Renalis set himself down on the saddle behind Trinni, "Thank you." Renalis's mind was distracted. He was thinking, planning, preparing. He didn't even realize that he set his head on Trinni's shouldblade. The new weight unsettled her at first, but she rode on. Renalis didn't even notice as his mind slowly slipped into slumber...

The green of the Void filled Renalis's view. It was the only name he had for the place. It was devoid of any substance save other beings traversing it so it seemed fitting. Renalis thought he was alone but this was far from true. Drawing his blade, spinning and slashing outward in one fluid motion, the demonic beast was cleaved in two. The beast that looked like a dark violet feline erupted in a green flame and all that remained was a ghostly image of what it used to look which slowly drifted off.

Before he knew it, Renalis was surrounded by the demonic beasts and had to fight for his life. He moved with a terrible fury, his blade cleaving and his magical blasts erupting the beasts that got too close. When at last they were all dispatched, Renalis noted something. The essence of these creatures... their souls - they were the same as the last group that attacked him, and the time before that. Not similar but the same. "Blast! Their souls must be getting reforged by their demon overloards..." Renalis withdrew a small crystal from his belt pouch, and muttering some words of a forgotten tongue the spirits began to swirl around him. They were drawn in like a spiritual drain, sucked into the stone.

Looking down at his his chest, Renalis grew bold, "They can sense me, my soul is different than the evil present here..." Renalis's thoughts trailed off and suddenly he grew bold. Ramming his chest center on, the crystal pierced his flesh and buried itself in his ribcage. Drawing his soul partially in, the gemstone altered it... Renalis could feel the change. The demonic energy tainted him but he was able to rework their souls into a pure energy, it would take time but he could purify the energy.

"Wakey Wakey"

Renalis snapped up with such fury that he nearly fell out of his saddle.

"I thought you would sleep forever." Trinni's innocent voice roused him to the world of the concious.

"Only a dream..." Renalis thought to himself, touching the gemstone "those first encounters nearly killed me..." Dismounting, Renalis took his place amung the vanguard of the army where Ithramir spoke to the troops.

“Fear not the horrors you are about to face! Steady your spirit and your arms! Let us turn back the black tide before us; let us make safe our lands and the lands of our friends! Do not fear death, fear failure in our mission! Let the Orc know no mercy and expect none for yourself, let us kill them all, or let us die trying! Charge!”

With that Renalis took off, blade in his right hand and his left glowing blue.

The first Orcs were caught completely off guard and their deaths were assured. A bolt of white light shot forth, striking the first Orcs and arcing to several others nearby. The bolt left only charred corpses and in the case of the first, a pile of ash. The next group fell to his blade. A quick slice cleaved one in two and in parrying the downword swipe of an Orc axe, his weapon pushed aside, Renalis's blade curving upward taking the beast's head clean off.

Renalis pierced another's chest, blood splatering out of his mouth the beast snarled and Renalis used a blast of energy to finish him. Using the momentum, Renalis spun backward, withdrawning his blade and then slashing downward, his magical blade cutting through helmet and bone like a dragon cuts the air.

Renalis became a fury, cleaving and blasting any Orc that dared to venture too near the Mage. It might have seemed like a maddened rage but to any knowing of elven swordplay, and Renalis's particular variation of it with his spells, it was almost a dance. It's fluid motion never losing momentum, never losing focus.

Renalis spotted an Orc on one of the walls taking aim - an almost level tragectory. Renalis followed the aim to its target... Trinni! Renalis spotted the elf on the rooftops taking aim and firing with deadly precision, but her back was toward this orc. With a sublte wave of his hand, Renalis invoked a small sphere of energy. His mana gem flaring brightly the sphere shot out and enveloped the Orc in a white flame, reducing him to ashes. The scream caught Trinni's attention and she looked for the magic's source, and with an aproving thumbs up thanked its caster.

Renalis stopped for a moment to assess the situation, as no Orcs were in the immediate viscinity. ”Pathetic!” Ardwen roared, “Is this the limit to your strength? Is this all you fetid sons of bitches can muster? Fight me! Fight me damn you!” Renalis turned to see the Elven warrior and caught sight of an Archer above taking aim at the Elf. With a quick chant a bolt of energy was loosed and reduced the unfortunate Orc to ash, but in the process his Arrow was loosed, enough off target that it mearly grazed the cheek of Ardwen. With a gaze that could slay the living, Ardwen shot his eyes upward to see only the smokeing ash, His view shifting to Renalis they connected sight for mearly a second. With a nod the two went back to their respective hordes to deal with.

Piercing, slashing and blasting, Renalis dealt with many more Orcs before the sounding to pull back was giving. The Orcs too were in retreat to a part of the city they more firmly controlled. Renalis caught sight of Trinni hopping off the rooftops that she was skillfully shooting from and give chase.

"Trinni! Trinni, stop!" Renalis approached her and could see her obviously shaking. "So innocent..." Renalis thought to himself, "Come on Trinni, you'll get your chance, we need rest before we can continue the effort though." With that the two headed back to where the Army was making its camp.

Renalis's eyes finally returned to their normal colour and his gem faded to a dim glow. He was exausted from the battle but most of all from the use of magic, "So hard in this place..." His gem still had a great amount remaining, placing his hand on the gem, "I guess with how hard it is from my own essence, I'll be counting on you more than usual... but I'll have to ration..." Renalis's thoughts disperse as he can feel the connection to Crystal's gemstone and her love through it. The warmth embraces him and he slips into as deep a sleep as one can get in the midst of a battle.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Alarin sat calmly at the old pine table, sipping his beer and listening to the tall tales of the other bar patrons. He shivvered subconciously when the door swung open, but paid no heed to the black-robed woman who entered and sat down near at one of the tables near him.

He tried not to think about about having get up before dawn in the morning to go back to the mines. He just wanted to relax for a bit.

A shattering glass roused him from the peaceful numbness the beer had given him. He quickly got up from the table to see if the woman was alright. "Are you okay, miss?" he asked out of politeness. The strangely tatooed woman merely smiled at him. She sat back down and Alarin went back to trying to drown his worries.

An echo of laughter resounded off the walls of the old inn. "Hey Galline! Go see if that girl's okay." Alarin groaned as he got up from the table and swore under his breath as he passed by the bar. He knocked on the door that the laughter was coming from, then slowly opened it and poked his head inside. "Miss... are you sure you're alright? Is there anything I can get you?"

Written by - Ariana

“Thanks, Keeryn!” Mavigan said cheerily, and accepted the gift with a smile. Affixing it to her left wrist, she noted with satisfaction that Keeryn had spoken truth about the family heirloom – it adjusted to her wrist as if it had been made for her, despite the difference in bone structure between Keeryn and herself.

Mavigan had noted Keeryn exhibiting signs of nervousness as she proffered her gift, though Mavigan could not fathom any reason for such anxiety. She hoped that her warm acceptance of the gift would put her friend at ease. Mavigan had never been one to stand on formality, and just because she was a sorta Queen, she wasn’t about to start demanding “proper” protocol now!

Of course, not two minutes after the thought crossed her mind, the priestess from the night before, the same one who had been tending the Bitch, came before her and bowed. Her words were grandiose, and Mavigan only gave her half an ear, managing to capture and remember her name (Crystal), and that she was pledging loyalty and all that other crap to her. She did hear something about being taught skills Wilhelm probably wouldn’t want her to know, and that peaked her interest.

Mavigan gave a critical gaze at the Elf bowing before her. She spoke prettily, and she was priestess – both were strikes against her in Mavigan’s eyes, but if she was true to her word, she might be useful. Nodding once, Mavigan said, “OK.” When no action was taken, Mavigan figured she was expected to say something else, so she tried again. “You should get up off the ground now. You are getting your dress all dirty.”

She heard a gasp from somewhere around her that sounded like someone was trying to hide laughter. Mavigan glanced around, but could not determine the source of the chuckle. It didn’t matter much though since her comment had gotten Crystal off her knees, and Mavigan was quite content to turn her attention back to the party. She had spied Teran across the courtyard, munching lightly on the food and generally skulking in the shadows. She was half tempted to ask him to dance, but soon dismissed the idea. She didn’t need to call attention to him, since he was the instrument of her escape.

Glancing at the moon and judging its position, she realized it was almost time for her and Keeryn to go test out all her new equipment, and she gave Keeryn a surreptitious nudge indicating it was almost time to go. Mid-nudge the priestess in pink wandered up proffering a small box.

“I am sorry for the way we originally met Queen Mavigan.. I humbly request your forgiveness and accept this token of hopefully a future friendship.”

Curious, and never one to turn to presents, Mavigan accepted the box and hastily opened it. Inside rested a silver ring, the symbol of Nagarren clearly embossed into the metal. Anger, hot and irrational, filled Mavigan and her hands began to tremble. She knew what this was for she had seen such a ring adorning Etewen’s hand. It was the mark of an Initiate into the Order of Nagarren. The priestess in pink wore a similar ring, only in gold, not silver – the mark of a full fledged member of Order.

Mavigan continued to tremble with the effort of containing her anger. The last thing she needed at the moment was to call attention to herself and ruin her chances for escape, but the idea of putting on the ring made her nauseous. She already wore the medallion for the sake of her Mother. Was that not enough?

From the corner of her eye, she noticed Wilhelm walking towards her. Whatever she did, she needed to do quickly. Consciously releasing the tension in her shoulders, she adopted a look of neutrality on her face, the same face Jonan had often referred to as her “card face”. Closing the box and slipping it into her pocket, she said mildly, “Thank you for the gift. Perhaps we may be friends one day.”

Turning to Keeryn, she said, “Come on Keeryn. I’m full. Let’s go take Argent for a run!” Without waiting for a response, Mavigan tossed a wave at Wilhelm, grabbed Keeryn by the arm and ran up to her rooms. Nearly ransacking the place, she stuffed all the essentials she would need into her pack, allowing Keeryn to do the same. A quick side trip to the kitchens provided them with rations and canteens full of water. That task completed, they went quickly to the stables.

Mavigan made short work of changing into her new garb, secreting her daggers on her person, and saddling Argent. Once ready, she signaled to Keeryn and they made their way out of the stables, and past the guards. To each challenge issued, Mavigan would state they were taking her new horse for a run, and that Keeryn was her bodyguard. Each time, the guard would accept this explanation and allow them to pass.

Within minutes, Mavigan was free! She urged Argent to go faster, thrilling in the sensation of the wind in hair and the sound of strong hooves thumping into the earth below, enjoying her first taste of freedom since that awful night so long ago. All too soon, they reached the treeline. Dismounting, Mavigan settled down into the base of a tree as Keeryn climbed it and settled on a branch high above. With a smile on her face, Mavigan waited.

Back in the stables, amidst warmth and safety, lies a small box containing a small silver ring, placed carefully upon a mounting stool tucked into the corner of Argent’s stall.

Written by - Wilhelm

As Wilhelm approached he saw Alulael give Mavigan the ring and Mavigan's chill response. Turning to Keeryn, she said,

“Come on Keeryn. I’m full. Let’s go take Argent for a run!”

Without waiting for a response, Mavigan tossed a wave at Wilhelm, grabbed Keeryn by the arm and ran off. Wilhelm returned the wave and then turned to Alulael and said,

"Mavigan is going to need some time alone to work thing out before she is ready to accept the goddess within. When she does, she will remember that gift and your offer. You have done your duty for now, and I suggest getting some rest. Please see me in the morning, as I suspect we will need to talk."

Wilhelm bowed and moved on to pay his compliments to Lithwyn and others. The departure of the Guest of Honor was a signal for the party to wind down. Wilhelm made his farewells and went up to his room, where several messengers were waiting. The Queen's Guards at Mavigan's room informed him that Mavigan and Keeryn had raced into her room, torn the place apart in the usual teenager manner, and left with packed bags. A cook from the kitchen informed him that the pair had visited the kitcheon and packed bags with travel food. (She had made sure to pack some of the cake in the bag.) A ranger from the gate informed him that, as expected, the pair had ridden out, with Mavigan all decked out with her birthday gear and riding Argent. The guards had followed Wilhelm's orders and let her pass unchecked. A ranger was keeping her in his view while remaining hidden himself, and the outer patrols reported nothing dangerous in the area.

Wilhelm left orders to be informed if she returned, or left the area, or was lost to sight, but that no alarm should be raised in any event save an actual attack upon her and her bodyguard. He then went out to the stables and saw that Mavigan had taken the normal tack and left the sidesaddle and ornaments behind, again as expected. Then he noticed the little box on the stool. Opening it he saw the ring inside. He sighed, but remembered the vision he had received after the assassination attempt. He sent a prayer and a thought to the All Father.

"It is hard to let her go on her own, but I understand that this must be done. At least she had her party, and the gifts have ensured that she is properly outfitted, and that she has a royal bodyguard along who is acceptable to her. I suspect Nagarren will have as much trouble making her a High Priestess as I will have making her a Queen. I hope you all know what you are doing."

Wilhelm "heard" a chuckle and a resonant response.

"Yes, my sister Nagarren has Her hands full with Her Chosen, but this is part of the prophesy. As you may recall, the best are the most trouble at first. Take your rest now, and then follow. Remain out of detection but within reach in case of need. I will be with you as always."

Wilhelm placed the ring back in the box, which he placed in his pouch. He left orders for Sable to be saddled and provisioned at dawn. Reaching back into his pouch he took out a silver cord that had metal figurines attached at each end in the shape of horses, one black and one white. Holding the cord in the center he spoke a Word and the figurines moved, the black one moving to point towards Sable and the white one moving to point towards the outer gate. Wilhelm nodded and put the cord back in the pouch. He then returned to his room, packed his gear, and lay down for some rest in a comfortable bed while he had the chance.

Written by - Teran

Teran extracted himself from the party after only 30 minutes of "socializing". He moved to his assigned room expecting to find Jasmine there. He dismisses the guards outside the door and enters the room.

"Will you be joining me, or would you prefer to try your luck here?" he smiled waiting for her response.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Minus Aure, middle of night, the first skirmish done and over with, Renalis speaks behind Trinni, trying to draw her back to the camp.

"Come on Trinni, you'll get your chance, we need rest before we can continue the effort though."

Begrudgingly, she turns around and joins him, knowing he is right. Sighing loudly, she stretches her arms, shoulders, and back as she walks. The last time she was this sore was during The Trials. THAT seemed like ages ago, but it really wasn't all that long ago, was it? Silly drills in the forest, amidst the trees. Shoot this, jump here, make-shift that. Okay, now do it all again silently. Okay, now do it all again in the dead of night during the new moon. Eh, it was tough, but not like this. Not like this.

Sure, she's fought Orc before. Blech. Smelly, huge, nasty Orc. Such meanie-heads, really. Killing innocent people, burning down houses for fun... who needs 'em? All the times she's hunted an Orc, it was just one, or a few at most. Always by surprise, always with other Rangers of Commander Ithramir. A few scouting parties leading to the happy death of groups of particularly vicious Orc. Sometimes they'd have evil dogs with sharp teeth. Trinni's backside tested just how sharp they were once. Bah. Of course Catherin's response was something along the lines of "Now you'll learn to get up that tree quicker, won't you?" Evil woman. Of course, she was usually right. Alright, fine... she was always right. But she's still evil.

How Trinni was placed on the path to become an Adjutant, she'll never know. O'course, there isn't an officer in need of one yet, so for now she's made to do all sorts of things for just about everyone. "For your training." Yeah, right. Most times, it's not a big deal, it's usually fun actually. Then again, just about anything can be turned into something fun. A well placed poke, a hidden shield or sword, a few pine cones that just "happen" to fall from the tree she's hiding in right at the exact opportune moment... well... of course she didn't do it on purpose. hehe.

Right now, though, she doesn't quite feel herself. Oh, its not just the exhaustion. Some of these officers sure know how to work her to the bone. Its something else, but what?

Walking through the camp, her mischievious side screams at her as she passes several golden opportunities. Someone bent over a fire here, someone else fast asleep with their mouth hanging open there, a momentarily forgotten shield propped up against a wall - the owner, which she knew, was usually much more astute about those kind of things, fanatical even. Trudging by, she didn't have the energy or the spirit to carry out such tasks, even though they promised to be quite fun, indeed.

Nodding to Renalis as he walks off, she continues alone, making her way to the wall where she waits her rotation in harassing the Orc via firing arrows galore over the other side.

Leaning against the battlements, she slowly slides down to the ground and tilts her head up to the sky. If it were not for the shouts from the top of the wall, she could almost trick herself into thinking she was at home, that she didn't see many of her friends cut down by ignorant, evil Orc, that in the morning she'd be riding amidst the trees near Lothiel-Gadith, playing a game of "Find me if you can." She always was so good at that game. All you had to do was follow the signs left behind as her friends ran through the forest to hide. Easy, really. How they were so poor at it was beyond her.

Her eyes half-closed, Trinni watches the people of the camp as they whisper to each other, probably sharing stories from the evening's fighting, of an especially good swing or shot they made. This thought reminds her of Veraen, of being too slow to save him. Almost, but she was too late. All that practice, all those drills, and she was still too late. Drawing her legs to her chest, she wraps her arms around them, resting her forehead against her knees, hiding the tears streaming down her cheeks as her mind tortures her with a play-by-play of the day's many horrors.


Written by - Tempyst Page 16 Book 2

Tempyst could barely see anything in the darkness, but as they were still moving fast towards Ithramir, there would not be much to look at anyways. She felt a bit weary, but knew there would be plenty of time to rest after they achieved their goal. She sent out the whispers to the horses, strengthening their tired legs and refreshing their lungs. They had made up some time by taking a shortcut, though it took a little reassurance on her part that the way would be clear. She had noticed something strange then, while talking Erunno, her pendant, the one Wilhelm blessed, grew warm and as soon as its warth could be felt, Erunno seemed more at ease and was ready to give the shortcut a try.

As she looked over at her husband, her heart swelled with love and pride. But she was worried about him too, though they had not been together long, she could sense his doubts and worries. She closed her eyes, giving total trust in her horse, knowing the beast would not falter. She reached out with her heart, her soul, and found Lucant's. The Elder druid said, eventually they would be able to communicate as A'lanthear does with them, and she hoped it would happen soon. She sent to her soul bounded all her strength, all support, whispering to him words of love and encouragement.

He will hear you soon Mistress, keep trying. The task ahead will the most trying of your lives. No matter what happens, never give up.

No matter what happens, A'lanthear what do you know? But the sword was silent. She let out a heavy sigh and as was her nature, put the worry from her mind, trusting in Nyrondis, A'lanthear and her husband that all would turn out as intended.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

The trade winds blew furiously and whipped up the salty sea air as the dockworkers labored in the sweltering heat to unload the ships that docked. "If you all want to see your homes tonight, I'd hurry up!" the overseer barked, "Lord Beridane will not tolerate tardiness in these shipments!" The dockworkers remained at their steady pace under the overseer's oppresive eye.

"Hey Leov? What do you think is in these crates anyways? And why couldn't they just send them straight to Westgale from an overland route? I mean, it's got to be a whole bunch more time-consuming and expensive to ship them all the way out here to little old Kassal from Ironskane and then turn around and ship them to Westgale," a man with short blonde hair rambled. "Glen... shut up. I'd rather not know, and I'm sure they have their reasons." the man called Leov responded as he picked up one end of a massive crate. "Well whatever it is, it sure is heavy," Glen said with a grunt as he and Leov proceeded to load the crates onto the Iron Hand.

After everything had been loaded and the workers dismissed, the pair walked down to the local tavern. Along the way, Leov couldn't help but notice the squalor that consumed the small town. Kassal had been a rather well-to-do town back during Pallanon's rule; it had flourished thanks to the numerous trade routes and a rich fishing industry. Everything changed when Beridane usurped the throne, though. Trade was taxed to the hilt to help support the war machine he was building against his niece and the seas were overfished to feed the ever increasing army. "How could he do that to his own niece?" Leov thought to himself as his mind wandered to thoughts of his own little niece - Glen's daughter.

As the two entered the tavern, they were greated by the sight of all the normal patrons staring at an old, sweaty, fat man standing on a table preaching for a rebellion against Beridane. "By Tinorb, not another one... I suppose the gates'll have a new ornament in the morning." Glen mused out loud. "When are they going to learn that just talking about it gets them nowhere but the chopping block?" Leov couldn't hear his words or what the fat man was saying over the cheering of the drunken masses, though. The two went over to the bar and shared a toast to Pallanon's memory before heading home.

Outside, before the two parted, Glen spoke up: "You oughta come visit us some time, we could go fishing, or something. Naria's worried about you and I'm sure Sloan would happy to see her uncle again." Leov ignored the suggestion: "Give Sloan and big sister my love. I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then." He shook Glen's hand and gave him a half-hearted punch in the shoulder before taking off down the dusty cobblestone street in the setting sun.

When Leov finally reached his hovel on the outskirts of town, he was annoyed to see a pair of cats - one with fur as white as snow and the other as dark as the midnight sky - sitting on his window sill. He picked up a small rock and tossed it towards the cats, who watched it sail effortlessly past them. Getting the message, the cats jumped down and scampered off down the street. Leov entered his poor home and sat down in a driftwood chair as old as he was. He leaned back against the wall, closed his eyes and said to himself: "Just talking about it will get them nowhere..."

Written by - Archeantus

Teran entered the room at the exact time Jasmine placed the rose back in its vase.

Another pain throbbed in her wrist. She could feel it spreading. It was a cankerous venom, and it slowly coursed her veins. Looking up at Teran, not hearing the question she knew he asked, she instead wondered if her life was worth the effort. For that, was truly the question. What did she owe anyone to go and seek out a fool’s justice? Did she want revenge for what they did to her? Why did they do what they did, and plan as they planned? Would she rather die here, or out confronting the twisting visage of the serpent mage who had bitten her? She knew the answer to the last question before she had asked it. The rest remained unanswered.

Teran looked at her perceptively, allowing her the time to respond. She knew he, by virtue of the underground assassination stories she’d heard, had a God’s patience. And so she took her time to answer, coming to terms with the small speck of faith, an ember of hope, in her desire to go down the path he wanted to walk. She looked at the red rose again, turning from him. She knew it’s time was short, it would not last a week, even with help. It would one day wither and die. But such beauty and meaning it held during its small life…she closed her eyes and let out a pained sigh.

“If I live to do it, I will help you find him.”

As the words pressed through her lips, the small ember of hope flared within.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Dawn came soon enough to Minas Aure. All through the night one could hear the whistles of arrows and bolts firing off into the air, then just as suddenly you could hear a grunt or groan, or simply a cracking sound as the missile would splinter against the hard stone street or walls. Orcs were known to be horrid shots, they preferred close quarter fighting, but it only take one shot to fell a person. Ithramir was happy to learn that only a few casualties were sustained during the night skirmishes and that none had died.

Gripping his sword, Urugdanir, and a shield he makes his way to the center gate. Placing his rangers on the walls to give his troops cover as they cross into the second level, he checks his armor and weapons one last time and looks back to those assembled with him. In his mind, he knows the Orc defenders will be doing all they can to repel them. He spots Ardwen walking, or rather pushing his way to the front, his black armor easily noticeable amongst the other soldiers. Once he gets close enough, Ithramir says,

“Ardwen, join us to be the first into the enemy. You fought well yesterday, you have much skill, and a fellow elf is always welcome to fight with me.”

As he waits for Ardwen to move closer, he turns to Isuiln, Diosr, and Alaric saying,

“Remember the plan, and be ready to fight hard today. I wish you both Avandor’s blessings and luck in battle. If all goes well, we shall take the city today and have a place to rest and re-supply for the liberation on Minas Uile.”

Once Ardwen joins them, Ithramir motions for the gates to be opened, and yells,

“Follow me!”

As Ithramir and the rest charge into the second circle of the city, the Orcs hiding inside the buildings and narrow streets come out to meet them. Arrows and bolts begin whizzing by the ears of all those embattled. The streets once again carry the sounds of steel clanking and soldiers shouting.

Fighting swiftly, Ithramir and his troops take the center section of the second level. This allows the dwarves to get their battering ram to the last gate, the gate to the third level. As the sturdy dwarves begin pounding the gate, he looks back to see the humans under Alaric fanning out on both sides, fighting hard to take the entire second circle. Moving to help consolidate, Ithramir and his elves begin making there way through the side alleys to clear any houses or buildings that they may find Orcs in.

Kicking down the door to each building in turn, each group of soldiers find small packs of Orcs who were concealed and waiting to strike in the back of their forces. Opening the door to one building, a defaced shrine to Avandor, Ithramir ducks as an arrow comes flying through. It hits the soldier behind him in the chest. With a leap, he jumps into the building shield first, only to have it bashed away by a large axe wielding Orc. However, the Orc over-extended a little too much, and Ithramir used the seconds the Orc lost by removing its head. Looking forward he watches as the Orc archer releases another shot, barely moving away just in time as the arrow cuts his neck and embeds itself into the wooden wall behind him. With a quick throw of his sword, the archer is pierced through, pinning him to the wall.

Quickly, he grabs the axe of the first axe and joins the fray. The human-made one-hander, while crude, is balanced fairly well. Ithramir uses it to hack away at the slowly dwindling pack of Orcs. With one, he buries the axe into its skull, another he removes an arm, then a leg, then a head. Soon, it is all over. Moving to the barely alive archer he pinned to the wall, he looks at the Orc and hears the message it has to give,

“You will all meet your doom very soon. Pray to whatever weak gods you wish, it will change nothing. A time of darkness has arrived…”

As its words ended, the Orc made an ugly distortion of the face that can only be called a smile. Ithramir’s only response was burying the axe directly into the face of the Orc, and then removing his sword from its quivering body.

Just then a runner comes up with the news,

“Milord, the dwarves are about to breach the third gate!”

Leaving orders for two companies of elves to help the humans secure the rest of the second circle, Ithramir heads off to the third gate, and from there the main keep.

Written by - Teran

Teran shrugged. He didn't seem at all concerned with Jasmine's impending doom... It wasn't that he didn't seem to care but that he had supreme confidence that he could delay whatever doom was coming to Jasmine long enough for them to confront her former master(s).

As soon as she was done speaking, Teran handed her a familiar cloak, the one that had been taken from her when she was imprisoned. He handed her the rest of her items, and silently he hoped that Gadianton's pet mage had some sort of tracking magic in place. Just as Jasmine knew of her impending doom if she could not get it cured, Teran wanted Gadianton to know his doom was getting closer.

"We need to leave." he said quietly and left the room, heading for the stables. He had two horses picked out for Jasmine and himself saddled and ready to go.

Written by - Renalis

Crystal had left her horse a few meters away, hidden from view but close enough that she could still get to it quickly. Crystal leaned against the very same tree Mavigan was now settling down against. She could hear the russling of Keeryn climbing the tree and she decided now was the opertune moment.

"I do not think Wilhelm would approve of you leaving like this, " She said in a calm voice with a coy grin on her lips, "But then again, I do not think that anyone would approve of this."

Crystal came around the tree and found one opposite Mavigan to lean against so that she could see the woman talking to her. Crystal now wore a very different outfit. Her armor guised to look like traveling cloths and with a heavy cloak about her shoulders, Crystal drew back the hood and let her Azure hair hang freely.

"Where are we off to anyway?"

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Rising in the early dawn, Trinni slowly gets to her feet. Every muscle hurting, she slowly stretches them all in a well practiced routine. Gathering up her equipment, her sorrow somewhat mollified by a night filled with firing down upon Orc, she makes her way towards an active campfire. Scrounging around for food, she munches silently while staring at the embers.

Yawning, she blinks slowly and rubs her eye with the back of her hand, crumbs spilling as she momentarily forgets about the biscuit she holds. Crouching down, she uses a stick to poke the fire out of lack of anything better to do. Tossing a crumb into the fire, she watches it burn before doing it again and again and again and again... until she runs out of biscuit and realizes (dangit!) that she is still hungry.

Wandering around, most of the army still asleep, she searches for some of her friends. Finding Renalis still asleep, she leans down and pokes his shoulder.

"Sleeeeeepy head. It's time to get up. Wake up! You said we had to rest, and we did. Can we go back out there now? I'm sick of these Orc already and wanna go home. So... the sooner we begin again, the sooner we get to leave... right?"

Looking hopeful, she watches him as he opens his eyes and looks up at her. Completely awake and nearly bursting out of her skin now, she hops from foot to foot in anticipation, her energy bubbling over and threatening to explode upon all those nearby.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

The small squad quickly approached Minas Aure's first gate. "Damn! They've started already," Erruno yelled as he heard the shouts and clashes of battle. The band stopped near a guard post at the junction between the first and second circles. Lucant showed the guards the Royal Pass that Wilhelm had given him and asked where Alaric and Ithramir were. "Lord Aedmon and his troops are securing the second circle. Lord Ithramir is pressing towards the main keep," the guard said with a bit of curiousity in his words. Erunno placed his hand on Lucant's shoulder and said "You two go do what you have to do. The rest of us will join up with Aedmon and help him out. The young couple thanked him for taking them this far and headed out towards the main keep. Erunno hoped he would not regret his decision as he watched them disappear into the battle.

****

Leov awoke - rather ungraciously - when the chair he fallen asleep in slipped out from under him. He stood up slowly, rubbing his neck, and noticed that the sun was already high in the sky. They were back, too. In no mood to deal with his "pets", Leov pressed his face against the window and said in an annoyed voice "Go. Away." The cats looked at him quizically before going about their ways. Leov quickly changed clothes and headed out to the docks.

In no hurry to face another work day, he took his time on the way down and whistled an old tune that his sister had taught him when he was little called "The Mockingbird's Hymn". When he did finally arrive - quite late - the overseer marched over towards him, fully prepared to give him a punishment greater than his crime. When the overseer reached him, a barrel-chested man with skin that had turned the color and consistency of leather and hair that had been bleached white from the sun who had been watching yelled with a voice louder than thunder, "Boss Klein! Did you get everything taken care of?" "Yeah Dom! Everything's been taken care of!" he yelled back, thankful to have such a friend. "And what, pray tell, where you "taking care of", Klein? the overseer hissed. Leov replied off-handedly as he headed over towards Dom: "Nothing that concerns you."

Dom was smiling ear to ear as Leov said thanked him. "Don't worry about it, kid. After everything you've done for us, it's the least I could do to repay you. Besides, it's like you always say: if we don't look out for each other, who will?" Glen, who had been nearby as well, joined the two and filled Leov in on the situation. "Well, there's not much left to do, which why we're working with a skeleton crew this morning. I checked the manifests and the only thing scheduled in the next few days is that merchant ship that's supposed to leave late tomorrow afternoon." Leov sighed and replied, "Tell them not to worry. I'll see if I can scrounge up some work for everybody. In any case, tell them them that once everthing's finished here there's gonna be a round on me at the tavern, that oughta cheer them up a little." The three went about their business and everything was finished in under an hour.

The small group of dockworkers shambled slowly through Kassal's "market" on the way to the tavern. Noticing a crowd gathered around one of the few stalls left, they all instinctively moved in to see what the matter was. A woman screamed from inside the crowd and without thinking, Leov pushed himself through to the center. He saw a soldier standing over a woman who was protecting her daughter with her own body. A few dirty fish lay on the ground beside her. For a split second, he saw Naria and Sloan in place of the strangers. "What the hell's going on here!?" he said, frustrated by the crowd's lack of action. The soldier looked at him and angrily said "This woman stole from Lord Beridane. She shall be punished accordingly." As the soldier drew his sword, Leov heard Dom's voice boom out again "As if Beridane hasn't stolen everything from us!" Shouts of agreement came from the crowd. The soldier payed them no attention and started to raise his sword. The woman began to cry and and pleaded with him "I was only trying to get something to feed my daughter! We're starving to death! Please, please be merciful!" As the soldier lifted his sword up over his head and prepared to deliver the killing blow, Leov moved in closer and placed a firm grip on the man's elbow, forcing him to stay his blow. "Come now, she was just looking out for her daughter. Surely you wouldn't rob this child of her mother, too. I'm more than happy to pay for what she's taken," he said calmly. "Your head can just as easily be lined up next to hers, dog." the soldier warned. Leov could tell that the man was just a thug hiding behind the authority of the military - if Beridane wasn't in power, he would be doing the same thing, only without the uniform. Leov tightened his grip and calmly replied, "I don't believe that you're in any position to not accept my generous offer, soldier," Several members of the crowd moved in around the soldier. "Now you're going to take this money," Leov continued as he placed his coin pouch in the soldier's free hand, "or else we are going to have a problem." Realizing the position he was in, the soldier wrested himself from Leov's grip and pushed his way through the crowd before turning and yelling "You dogs! You'll get what's coming to you soon!"

Leov helped the two to their feet and handed them the fish. "Thank you so very much. Is there anything I can do to repay you?" the mother said, with tears still in her eyes. "Don't worry about it, miss. Besides, if we don't look out for each other, who will?" After the crowd had dispersed, the dockworkers continued walking towards the tavern. Leov finally spoke up: "Well boys, I know I promised you drinks, but..." Before he could say anything else, someone said what they were all thinking "Aw hell, Boss! That was better than any drink!" Leov smiled as they entered the tavern, anyways.

An offical approached the magistrate in his lavishly furnished office with a report he was afraid to give. "M...my Lord, there have been increasing reports of distrubances in the slums recently. Yesterday, there was another rally of pro-rebellion supporters and just earlier today, a soldier attempting to deal with a thief was accosted by a band of thugs and had his life threatened." The magistrate got up from his plush chair and looked out one of the keep's windows towards the slums. "Yes, those curs are getting bolder by the day. Something must be done about that," he paused for a bit, and formulated a plan that would make Beridane proud. "Send the army to deal with them bright and early in the moring. Bright and early... do you understand?" "Yes my lord, I'll send word to the captains right away." the official said before he left the room.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn was hardly surprised they had been followed, since she had heard the second horse approach. It was the person that showed up that surprised her. "I would be surprised if Wilhelm didn't know, he doesn't strike me as the stupid type. I had actually been expecting the one following us to be him, or someone under his orders. As for approval, I thought Mavigan was the Queen, yes? Whether people approve of her actions or not shouldn't matter. But what about you... what are you doing here exactly?"

Written by - Tempyst

Besides hearing the battle, Tempyst could feel it. She could feel the dying and the pain of all the living creatures. She followed Lucant's, letting him take command and question soldiers about where to find Lord Ithramir. He has to be warned, the monster must be stopped. Her thoughts went back to Lithwyn; she could sens the feelings the elf had for Ithramir, as well as the conflict within her. She hoped for their sake they would not be too late.

She and Lucant rode through streets, she wished she could stop and help all the wounded, but knew her objective was more important. They turned a corner and both horses startled as an orc ran out of a burnt out house. Tempyst's horse reared up as the Orc swung its mace at it, tossing her off onto the street. The orc spun around bringing the mace up to strike at her, but Lucant drew A'lanthear and left from his horse determined to not let his wife be hurt. He slashed at teh orc, cutting a wound deep into his arm, causing the orc to shriek in pain and turn his attention to the bigger threat. The two of them danced in teh street, mace and sword clashing. The orc was bigger than Lucant, but Lucant had more to fight for. Tempyst let out a scream as she saw Lucant stumble and the orc swing the mace down towards his head. But Lucant recovred and swung A'lanthear up and impaled the orc. Blood gushed out of the mortal wound as Lucant removed his sword; the orc fell wide eyes to the ground and let out a final gurgle as he died.

Tempyst rushed to Lucant and held him close, not caring about the blood. Then both of them mounted up again, knowing this day was far from over, they could not let this distract them from their goal. They rode hard, making their way inward, towards the front assault, dodging rubble, and having to stop and fight when needed. Tempyst could see the smoke rising from the fires of the inner city and wondered if the people here would ever be able to get their lives back to normal.

Lucant pulled up and showed his emblem to some guards, then turned and shouted at Tempyst that they were getting closer, but by going in further, they would have to fight their way through. Tempyst nodded, knowing they had no other choice. Together, the two headed into battle.

Written by - Teran

Teran leads Jasmine through the forest towards the spot he had told Mavigan to meet him. As they grew nearer to the spot they could tell someone was already there. The forest seemed to gray and die as they grew nearer, so foul was this beings presence.

It was a humanoid, hunched over a small fire it had made, letting an odd looking spear rest against its shoulder while it warmed itself. Its back was exposed and it wore a loincloth made of some dark gray materials.

"Sabbatine!" Teran calls out sounding happy... the creature turned around and gave Teran a huge smile.

It's obvious now that Sabbatine is some sort of undead creature, though she appears free from decay. Her flesh is pale, blueish even, and her eyes faintly glow yellow in the darkness. Her teeth are pearly white. Her hair hangs down past her shoulders and is a pale blonde. She appears to be 20 years old, but all but the densestof people can sense she is much older after only a moment or two in her presence. She is beautiful if you can get past the whole undead thing.

She surely died at a very young age. She is dressed very scantily (perhaps sylishly for some god-less places), and seems to adore her mysterious spear.

"Teran!" she squeeks, standing up and waving frantically to him "You're late..." she pouts.

"You were early." he retorts "do you have a path for us to follow?"

Sabbatine nodded eagerly and vigorously.

"The artifact... the one that transports people great distances?" she smirked "I thought you said there would be a mage... mages don't need toys like that." she snarles, her eyes gleaming with hatred... she stepped towards Teran menacingly.

"Sabbatine is our mage tracker." Teran said, glancing over at Jasmine.

"I am not a tracker, tracker's find things to find things!" she stabbed at Teran with her wickedly barbed spear, but the assassin did not flinch "I am a hunter, and I eat what find." she offers Teran a perfect smile while eyeing Jasmine.

"Did you bring her... for me?" Sabbatine asked hopefully.

"I think Jasmine here might be too much for you to handle. She is my ally. As are the other two who are on their way." Teran states very clearly for the crazed Sabbatine.

Sabbatine grumbles and goes back to her little fire.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

The sky was still dark when the "army" entered the slum district; only the first hints of a red sunrise were beginning to shine through the darkness. Two of the magistrate's soldiers burst through Leov's door and proceed to drag him from the bed. Even though he was still half-asleep, Leov knew what was going on - retaliation for the events earlier. One of the captains appeared in his doorway and haughtily gave him his sentence. "Leov Klein, for acts of open rebellion against His Majesty, King Beridane, including assaulting a soldier of the crown, aiding a criminal, and high treason, you are hereby sentenced to public execution at sunset by order of the magistrate." Leov remained silent as the soldiers dragged him through the dusty city streets to the stockades at the town square. When the captain had secured his prisoner in the stockades, he knelt down and whispered, "It should be starting soon. See what your boldness gets you, dog." When he saw the fires start in the slum disrict, his heart shattered.

Later on in the morning, the dockworkers staged their own rebellion. The dockworkers crowded around Glen, demanding answers on where their foreman was or if he was even still alive. After calming everyone down, Glen spoke: "I've got a good idea of what they've done with him... whether he's alive or not depends on how fast we are." There was no question with the dockworkers on what their course of action was. As they stormed their way towards the town center, Glen was surprised by the lack of soldiers present. Only when they reached the stockades did they find a small garrison, which was quickly dealt with. After regaining his freedom and thanking his friends, Leov consulted with the men who would face death with him: "Guys... you know that this is it, right? You know that we'll all have prices on our heads now." Dom spoke for everyone when he said: "Boss, we've always trusted you. Whatever you do, wherever you go, you'll never get rid of us." An ear-shattering shout of agreement rang throughout the square. Leov, though still heartbroken over the consequences of his past actions, smiled as pondered on what to do next; it was only a matter of time before the army returned and the seas were blockaded. "We have to leave Kassal," he said at last, " because if we take anymore action here, the people will only suffer greater. I want to free Kassal as much you all do, but it simply cannot be done right now. Those of you with families, get them down to the docks if they wish to come. Everyone else come down to the docks with me and let's get that ship ready to leave." After they had all left, Leov asked himself "Am I doing the right thing?" "You're doing all you can to protect the people you love, kid. I'll leave it at that. Now come on, we've got to get ready," Dom answered.

It was midday before the ship was ready to launch and the shouts and clamor of the magistrate's personal army of brigands had been getting closer all day. At final count, the crew numbered at just over one hundered twenty, including women and children. As Leov watched the final few board, he was thankful that he had yet to see Naria and get the inevitable lecture that he had coming, even though he knew she would find him eventually. Turning up the gangplank and following Dom as the last to board, Leov couldn't help but laugh when he noticed the ship's name: Tiertiala's Grace. When everyone had gotten settled, Leov began barking orders to depart as easily as any other pirate captain. Fully underway, Leov stood at the rear of the ship and watched as his beloved Kassal faded off into the horizon. "I'll be back someday..." he promised himself. He would have stood there and stared off into the distance the remainder of the day had it not been for one little shining ray of light to rouse him from his reverie: "There you are Uncle! Look, I found kitties!"

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya opened her eyes, the pain in the back of her head still making her see stars. The last thing she remembered, she was in the wagon with children, the wagon stopped and an orc came up and smacked her on the head with something heavy. She blinked, the stars slowly fading and looked around. She was no longer in the wagon, in fact, it appeared she was in a holding cell of some sorts. She could hear the sound of battle outside; one could not mistake the sounds of death even through a thick stone wall. Where have they brought me too?

You are where you need to be child. Remember our deal. You are to kill who I ssay. then I will ssset you free from my grasssp.

Why don't you just kill this person yourself? Why do you need me?

Becaussse, thisss way isss much more fun and givesss me much pleasssure and energy. And I need the energy in orger to ssseparate from you.

Why don't you just tell me the name of who you want dead.

Oh, it isss not who I want dead, but who Beridane wantsss dead. But he isss a fool and doesss not know that when I have enough power, I will be able to go back and kill him.

So, by helping you kill who Beridane wants dead, will mean Beridane's own demise?

Yesss.

Kaya sat down upon the straw on the floor. Just tell me who I am to kill.

All in good time child. I mussst have my fun.

Fine, whatever. But whoever it is, I won't be able to kill them while in here.

The voice cackled. Don't worry child, it isss all part of the plan.

Kaya sigh and hugged her knees, bowing her head, knowing it would be useless to go further. All she could do is wait and see what was in store for her.

Written by - Renalis

"I would be surprised if Wilhelm didn't know, he doesn't strike me as the stupid type. I had actually been expecting the one following us to be him, or someone under his orders. As for approval, I thought Mavigan was the Queen, yes? Whether people approve of her actions or not shouldn't matter. But what about you... what are you doing here exactly?" The strange woman Crystal had come to know as Keeryn was still in the tree but Crystal could still make her out.

"Keeryn was it? I didn't say approval was neccessary did I? As for why I am here, I can assure you it is not under orders of Wilhelm, thats for sure."

Crystal once again turned towards Mavigan, "I thought that the best way to teach skills of survival is well, by surviving and this seems like an opportune moment." Crystal pauses a bit, trying not to sound forceful, "That is, if you don't mind, Mavigan."

Written by - Renalis

Renalis emerged through the portal connecting the two distant continents. His new wife followed quickly in tow, but they were unprepared for what they saw. A combined army of Dwarves, Elves, Humans and every other race of the known world had gathered at the remains of Renalis's old home. It had long since been taken by the Lich King and his many, many minions and they sought to be the line in the sand against the tides of darkness that was the undead army.

This army however looked like it had seen better days. Numerous bodies lay on the ground surrounding the troops and there was still a few fights left but it appeared the army had won, at least at first glance it looked like they won. Renalis could see in the distance another army approaching, and then the troops could finally see it. Renalis sent out a series of small blasts to finish off the remaining undead attacking the allied forces, and while a huge cheer went up for the victory of their forces, Renalis pressed forward. He passed his brothers and signaled them to look to the horizon, where now all could see the impending undead army, outnumbering the allied forces almost 10-1...

The troops knew there was little chance for survival and they looked to the heroes for their support. Renalis turned back and looked at his brothers, but something was amis... they were not there. Standing in their place was the heroes of this world, Isuiln, Ithramir, Ardwen, Trinni... all prepared to meet the army of darkness head on. Confident in his new friends Renalis turned around to face his enemy, but again, it was all different. He was now in the city and there he stood surrounded by Orcs, not undead.

Fighting fiercly, we cleaved the Orcs as if they were but air. His magic flew about like the bright displays of celebrations. Death was all that was around him, a field of death and anything caught in it faced the same fate. Every Orc that came close enough felt his blade, and those too far for that felt his magic, and all ended the same - Dead. Renalis turned to his wife who was still here, fighting the same as everyone else but then... NO! Crystal caught sight of Renalis and smiled, stopping for a second, a second too long. The head of the axe buried itself in her back, but she never lost the smile, she just fell to her knees, then as the axe was removed onto her back.

"No!!"

Renalis screamed, shooting up from his sleeping position; his mana gem flaring violently, and his eyes the same azure colour, like two saphires, perfectly smooth and briliant.

It was Trinni's soft touch that woke him and he could see her jump back at his outburst. Seeing her reaction, Renalis quickly realized his state and calmed his mind. Closing his eyes, the gem returned to its faint glow. Renalis finally opened his eyes, which were now back to normal.

"Sleeeeeepy head. It's time to get up. Wake up! You said we had to rest, and we did. Can we go back out there now? I'm sick of these Orc already and wanna go home. So... the sooner we begin again, the sooner we get to leave... right?"

Looking hopeful, she watches him as he looks up at her. Completely awake and nearly bursting out of her skin now, she hops from foot to foot in anticipation, her energy bubbling over and threatening to explode upon all those nearby.

"Another nightmare... she is...ok ... Crystal is... safe..." Renalis thought to himself as he rose up from the slumped position he managed to fall asleep in. "Yes, Let us continue. Let us rid the world of their filth." Renalis touched Trinni on the shoulder, "We can leave here soon enough, once everyone is safe again."

Renalis took his position at the front as Commander Ithramir finally gave the signal to attack. Charging forth he could only think of his wife, and how every Orc would pay for their heartless slaughter of everyone and everything that anyone cared for.

The first Orc fell to an upward slash, and his bretheran did not take kindly to this. Landing in a crouched position, Renalis stabbed forward, piercing the chest of Orc still holding his axe above his head. With a quick wave of his hand, a small force sent the Orc flying back, impacting the wall, he lay slumped over - dead. Another Orc charged forward, but overextending himself on the downward swing, Renalis was able to deflect the axe to the side and bringing the sword forward, he cleaved the Orc in two.

Renalis moved from there into the streets and alleys and joined one of the teams working from one building to another. Each group of Orcs inside each house or building felt the same fate. The first door opened was done so from the inside as an Orc charged blindly out and with a quick stroke, Renalis beheaded the foolish creature. Charging in Renalis waved his hand as the brave archer loosed an arrow for his face, deflecting it away from himself and towards the wall. Too close to get off another shot, the Orc tried to pull his sword but it was too late. Grabbing the Orcs throat, Renalis pierced the Orcs chest and pinned him against the wall. "You will not harm anyone ever again." And with that Renalis sent a small energy blast through his hand that severed the Orcs head. Removing his blade, he moves onto the next house.

As he approaches the next building, a shrine of somekind, he notices Ithramir already opening the door. He watches as the elven commander dodges the arrow sent at his head and then charges into the building. "Truely, he is a great warrior." Renalis's admires Ithramir for but a second then hits the building across the street - a blacksmith.

Renalis opens the door to the building and charges in, a few elves in tow. Seeing an Orc standing in the middle of the large building with some distinct markings on him, Renalis discerns this to be one of some importance. With a wave of his hand, a gust of wind blasts through the building, sending the few other Orcs in the building off their feet. Letting the elves handle those, Renalis charges their leader. The Orc brings up a finely crafted blade to parry Renalis's and during the sword-lock he can see the crest ingraved on the blade, it was that of this city. "You have looted your last city... filth!" And Renalis pushes the Orc up and blasts his chest, sending him staggering back, touching the scorchmark left by the quick fireblast. With a snarl the beast charges forward and slashes upward, but Renalis steps back and parrys the blade upward. With another angry snarl the beast brings the blade back down. "Your last mistake" Renalis utters as he sidesteps and pushes the blade past himself and into the wooden floor. As the floor splinters and the blade is lodged into it, Renalis brings his blade back up and severs the Orcs head. "Bastard..." Renalis mutters as he exits the building and looks toward the dwarven ram about to break through the third gate.


Written by - Ezikial Page 17 Book 2

A gentle wind played across an open plain, dancing with the wild flowers and weeds alike, leaving criss-crossing patterns in its wake. The sun had just begun to rise, alighting atop golden stalks of wild growing wheat. The scene seemed serene, a tranquil pasture that went on like an endless sea. All was in place, save for a figure, which darted across the small hills and creeks. His pace was brisk, and he would disappear among the tall grain only to jump out of it a moment later. Crickets and birds alike stopped their songs abruptly at his approach, enough equipment on his back to field an army jangling along as his deep breathing kept pace with his pounding feet. But it wasn't for the noise he made that the surrounding wildlife quieted; a feeling grew at his passing, spreading like the wind outward along the plain. He was headed for war.

For the past three days, Ezikial Stonebrewer, son of Clan Stonebrewer, had marched at a pace only a dwarf's legendary stamina could endure. He was aided, of course, by the thought of reaching his goal quickly; a war against orcs, a battle that would ring for centuries in legends and myth. No Stonebrewer would miss it for the world.

So it came as a surprise to Ezikial when he found himself summoned before King Trevor IronFist himself, leader of the dwarven clans under Graedium peak. Ezikial would never forget the look that his dwarven king had etched upon his face, worn so often as of late. His face was as carved and set as the magnificent throne room he dwelt in; his grim tone echoed in his grim words. Orcs has once again amassed, and he feared that the inner discussion of the three kings of Kazukthul would muddle supplies and dwarven reinforcements from ever reaching the allied forces assault. Ezikial was to serve as an advance scout and support for the allies, as well as an ambassador of his people. Warriors and supplies alike would follow as they could be pulled from the homeland effort of defending the kingdom against the local orc clans.

Ezikial kneeled before his King as he was given his order. The dwarven warrior lowered his eyes, as much out of respect for his King as to hide the excitement dancing within him. True war had never been seen on such a scale by his homeland, only the constant feints and skirmishes with the local orc tribes. To be allowed the position of the first Stonebrewer, nay, the first warrior from Kazukthul to set foot on this battlefield was an honor he and his clan would treasure for centuries. He listened patiently to his lord, willing himself to be still and stoic as his final orders were handed down. It took all of his will to keep at a steady pace on his way to his small room, where he quickly loaded a light pack. Only a few essential supplies of dried rations, and his emergency flask of ale, tucked safely behind his archanthite breastplate does he take with him. The rest of his armor, as well as his shield and newly forged axe, affectionately dubbed Cutter, are stowed in or on his travel pack. Darkness had fallen when he finally made his way to the snowy slopes that guarded his home. His orders left him little time to say goodbye, and with one long look at his mountain home, glittering in the moonlight, he began his journey.

A doe and her fawn jumped from their bedding, only a few feet from the dwarven warrior. He paid little heed to them a they disappeared through the pasture; his eyes were locked straight ahead, his mind and spirit already at the battle that lay ahead of him.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Morning's first light crept across the captain's quarters. Leov, Glen, and Dom sat slumped over a large circular table going over a chart of the surrounding seas. "Leov... we've been out here for four days... we're low on food, the whiskey's nearly gone, and there's bound to be ships out looking for us. We can't just keep sailing around aimlessly," Glen pleaded as he slammed a fist down on the table. Steadying one the shaken candlesticks, Dom offered what seemed to be the only viable solution: "I've heard that the elves at Lothiel-Gadith took in the survivors after the coup. If we go all-out, we should be able to make it there by late tonight." Yawning, Leov firmly replied "We're going for Shrikefield. At full speed we can make it to Tarka in just three more days. The supplies'll hold that long." Glen, in a fit of rage, stood up from the table and yelled "Damn your iron will Leov! I thought you wanted to save our people!? Would you have them starve to death at sea for your own stubborness!?" Raising his voice in turn, Leov responded gravely: "I AM thinking of our people, you fool! Of course we can get to Lothiel-Gadith sooner, but do you think we'll be safe there with those war-mongering elves? Their fortress are falling one by one to the orcs! It's only a matter of time... I'd rather push the supplies a little and make sure everyone is safe in Shrikefield than damn us all to the fires of war..." his voice trailed off as Glen saw how serious he was.

Tiertiala's Grace continued steadily southward throughout the morning and late into the afternoon. A call came down from the crow's nest that shattered the uneasy peace that had settled over the ship: "'Skane ship on the starboard! It's just sittin' there! It's the Iron Hand! What do we do, Cap'n!?" The wind blew fiercely and Leov looked up towards the sky - almost as if he knew - before taking command, "Move to approach! Get the women and children below deck! Everyone else prepare to board!" After closing the distance and boarding, Dom stated the obvious, "Everyone's gone... what happened here..." Leov, uneasy about the situation, barked out orders like any good captain would: "Everyone spread out and search the ship, see if you can find out what happened. Get the food and whiskey first, after that take whatever weapons and other supplies you can. Someone get that flag down, too, that's sure to come in use."

The ship was deathly quiet and a thick air hung about it. Leov headed down to the holds with Glen and Dom in tow without seeing a single Ironskane soldier - alive or dead. Seeing everyone already underway looting the holds, Leov turned to Glen. "I never did thank you properly for saving my neck Glen. Let's go see what was in those crates you were asking about." As the trio cracked open one of the heavy crates, a cloud of dust exploded into the hold. Amidst coughing and wiping their eyes, they peered in to see a motley collection of tarnished old statues, stacks upon stacks of dusty books, and some old weapons - mainly daggers and a few swords - resting in the crate. Leov picked up one of the daggers and examined it briefly before placing it in his belt, then picked up one of the swords and exclaimed "It's all a bunch of junk!" as he drew the old sword from its sheath. He noticed the intricate engravings that ran the length of the blade and a name that read Sulrista, though he thought nothing of it as he swung the blade down expecting the dull edge to bounce harmlessly off but instead easily lodged it in the wooden crate. "Easy there, kid. This stuff looks pretty old, but it seems like its in good condition. Maybe we can sell it for a high price when we get wherever we're going." Dom said as Leov pulled the sword out of the crate and sheathed it in his belt. "Fine by me. You guys finish up down here. I'm going to check out the captain's quarters."

Upon entering the captain's room, Leov felt an unnatural chill rack his entire body and his eyes were instantly drawn to an old book laying open on the captain's desk with a pitch black ribbon marking the page where the captain had stopped reading. Leov rumaged through the captain's wardrobe and found a red knee-length coat trimmed with gold accents. He muttered to himself about it being bought with Kassal's riches as he put it on to combat the deathly chill. Moving over to the open book, he was horrified by what he saw: it was written in some language he had never seen before in what appeared to be dried blood; several crude drawings depicted some sort of disgusting ritual, and the captain had scrawled several small notes in the margins. His horror grew as he flipped through the heavy pages seeing the same thing. Unable to bear the sight anymore, he slammed the book shut and cut open the captain's pillow with the stolen dagger. Scattering the goose down across the room, he quickly wrapped up the book and hurried out the door, nearly running over Glen in the process. Steadying his shaken brother, Glen said "Leov... this ship hasn't been adrift all that long... it was heading towards Shrikefield, not Westgale." He showed Leov the navigator's charts to prove his point. The wind blew fiercely once more and Leov turned his head skyward. "I know... I know... I'll do as you wish...my goddess" he thought. He turned back to Glen and said with all the seriousness of that morning "Whatever happened on this ship, it wasn't natural... get everyone out of here, NOW!" As Glen hurried to pass the news, Leov caught Dom and yelled "Change the course, we're heading to Lothiel-Gadith! Dom looked confused, but obeyed his orders nevertheless.

After everyone was safely back aboard Tiertiala's Grace Leov ordered the Iron Hand burned and explained the situation to Glen and Dom, he went to his room and sat the book on the table. "I hope I'm doing the right thing..." he said to the cats sitting on his bed.

Sulrista litterally means "Wind Cutter."

Written by - Rikshanthas

Sharanya woke sometime before dawn, roused from a fitful sleep by the sounds carrying from the nearby army's encampment. She sat up in her bedroll and stretched, blinking sleep from her eyes and not quite suppressing a yawn. One hand instinctively moved to comb her once beautiful red-gold hair, now a muddy, matted brown mess. She jerked her hand back in disgust. Folding her bedroll as neatly as possible, she stuffed it in a pack on Nightwind's back and looked around for Lienad, finding him crouched on a rock outcropping observing the campfires intently.

"Have you been watching that camp all night?" she asked testily. The man never did rest when he should. "Most of it," he replied flatly. "Didn't sleep much." He looked toward the brightening horizon that heralded the new dawn, absently fingering the long sheath of daggers across his leather tunic. His gaze flew back to the camp when they heard a horn call ring out, and he saw most of the fires were gone, with those remaining being rapidly extinguished as the army began to move out. Noting the direction they were marching, he rose and walked leisurely back to where Nightwind stood. "Relief army off to break the siege at Minas Aure, coming from the Citadel no doubt," he said, his eyes backtracking the army's course as he tossed the few items they had removed back into the travel packs and adjusted them on the mare's back. "We'll wait for them to get some distance before we head there."

"Hells with that!" she shot back. "Those are my people fighting and dying at Minas Aure, I'll not cower at Lothiel-Gadith like a little girl!" she said, her voice dripping with rancor. Her fists clenched at her sides and she squared her shoulders defiantly. Lienad sighed softly, realizing he'd have to knock her unconscious to get her to the Citadel, and he wanted a fight as much as she did. "Fine," he said after a moment's pause. "But you're not going anywhere near the front lines," he added in stern warning, passing her his shortsword, bow and quiver, and deftly jumping to the saddle, pulling Sharanya up behind him. So much for refugee status, he thought ruefully.

As they cantered down the hill toward the marching army, Lienad realized the troops weren't dallying - he stepped Nightwind up to a full gallop in an attempt to catch up to the mounted force, easing back when he realized it was pointless, and the best he could do without taxing his mount was to keep pace with them. "I'd wager they'll make the fortress by nightfall, at this rate," he said over his shoulder.

They arrived at Minas Aure's gates in full dark, over an hour after the avenging army entered the city. After a brief spat with one of the guards, which Sharanya defused just before Lienad would have punched the fool, they came into Minas Aure itself. The organized chaos typical of a city besieged made it difficult for the pair to find someone who could bring them up to speed on the status of the siege and the effort to retake the city. However, once they learned where they would be useful, Sharanya was quick to take up a position with the archers and let fly a lethal barrage, sometimes shooting up to three arrows simultaneously with the unerring accuracy of one much practiced and naturally gifted.

Lienad, meanwhile, sailed into the orcs like a mad dragon, Khelek'urya shining as it flashed through leather and hide like thin glass, shattered steel and bone, its chill edge making even minor blows often fatal. Blood froze and cracked before it could stain the curved crystalline blade. His own had turned to ice the moment he drew the ancient sword, and he proceeded to coldly cut down all who challenged him, without compassion or fear, stopping only when he stood alone. The sensible orcs had retreated to a safe distance from his position, as had the elves and humans who had observed his rash advance. As soon as he lowered his blade, fatigue and pain set in, and he limped back to the makeshift infirmary, sheathing Khelek'urya only once he was well away from the fighting.

He found Sharanya there tending the wounded; just as he was about to wonder what had brought her away from the archers' positions, he noticed the limp in her step - and the wide bandage around her left thigh that indicated its cause. When she caught sight of him, she swore and rushed over to help treat his numerous injuries, her expression equal parts concern for his welfare and disgust at his recklessness. He stoically endured her ministrations, accepting the draught she passed him in the hope it might warm the chill that always gripped him when he wielded Khelek'urya. Once he was suitably stitched and bandaged, she left him with a firm command to get some rest, since dawn was no more than an hour away - he'd fought the entire night. No sooner had he laid his head down than fatigue overtook him.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen had cleaned his armor and blade, and in fact he had spent most of the night restless . . . constantly passing an oiled cloth over his steel in an effort to settle his nerves. It wasn’t the upcoming battle that had the Elf so anxious, far from it, it was an almost “sixth sense” feeling he’d been getting since he resolved to use the armor in the coming battle.

It was all so much rubbish though. Regardless of what the armor was actually capable of fully utilized Ardwen knew he could handle it. Did he not hail from the Age of Twilight on the world of Aerynth? What horrors could possible exist here that would give him pause? “I’ve been too long amongst the lessers here.” Ardwen murtered under his breath. But the words rang hollow even to the warrior; they lacked his usual conviction and vehemence.

So much had occurred so quickly, events piling on events until it all came to a head on the journey to Minas Aure. The warrior’s resolve had wavered ever since Alaric had handed him Turin’s blade. He’s left the Priest of Battle’s sword on his mount, feeling himself entirely too inadequate to wield such a revered weapon. But if the issue were only a sword, this would all have been much simpler. The real problem was the fact that the blade was hard proof that the Hands had arrived on this world . . . some one hundred and fifty years ago.

That left Ardwen with precious few choices. Likely, most of those who had originally arrived had long since passed away, and all Ardwen would find would be their gravestones. Still, Alaric had mentioned something of Aethelwulf (Ellestor have mercy) leaving. “Turin’s sword . . .” Ardwen said while staring vacantly upward. The Elf merely sighed and began working his way toward a frontal regiment for the coming battle. Though the Elves here were different, they were eager to fight; Ardwen found himself having to push and jostle for position at the front.

The prospect was made much easier though when Ithramir called out to him from the mass of warriors, “Ardwen, join us to be the first into the enemy. You fought well yesterday, you have much skill, and a fellow elf is always welcome to fight with me.”

Ardwen bowed his head in thanks and replied, “May the Ellestor praise you kano Ithramir, you do me a great honor.” The commanders were quick in getting the amassing host into ranks and formation. With a simple motion from Ithramir the gates are thrown wide and Ithramir gives but one initial command: follow.

The fighting on the other side was swift and fierce. The Orcs had positioned the level with archers and packs of soldiers in houses or narrow alleys. Ardwen lost himself in the fighting. There was nothing to him but his sword and the enemy, no sacred blade from a man he believed dead, no guilt for all the innocents he’d killed, only thoughts of how to wield his sword and kill the foe. In what seemed no time the main body of the Orc forces had been routed and the fighting turned to more intimate flushing of any remaining pockets of Orc resistance. The fighting was deadly, but Ardwen joined up with any party of Elves he could find to help systematically flush the Orcs out.

It was outside of a small one-story house that Ardwen would meet one of his greatest challenges yet. “I suppose you want to go in first Ardwen?” One of the Elves in the small band of ten (including Ardwen) said.

Ardwen grinned, he was enjoying himself, “Worried I won’t leave anything for you kinsmen?”

The Elf who had spoken to him the first time merely shook his head, “I told you, call me Elrin. There’s no reason to be so formal. The only thing I’m worried about friend is not getting back to my family . . . I miss my wife already.”

Ardwen nodded slowly, “You let this one go in alone then. I’ve no wife or anyone waiting on me.”

Elrin merely scoffed, “You may be strong but there’s no telling how many are on the other side of that door. You can't protect everyone mellonamin, sometimes you just have to let go.”

It was Ardwen’s turn to scoff now, “Let go? What a particularly un-Elven thing to say. But have it your way, time’s wasting.”

Ardwen took one swing at the wooden door and brought it crashing down, immediately they charged into the room, Ardwen at the fore. They rushed into a room full of Orcs. Ardwen pivoted to his side and brought his greatsword down and across his body, using the flat of the blade to shield himself. It was an instinctual move, for the Orc archers had loosed their arrows when the door crumbled down. Ardwen heard several arrowheads strike his blade, and heard a few more report into the walls with a resounding “thunk”.

The small band of Elves was hard pressed to fight in the cramped quarters, and the Orcs had both the advantages of numbers and preparation. Scanning the Orcish ranks quickly Ardwen found that’d placed about five archers at the rear of the room, the remaining Orcs bared the way to them. In the cramped quarters Ardwen had little room to swing his massive blade unless he wished to kill a fellow Elf, he let the sword fall to the ground and brought out his T’lnarions, the curved swords of a Bladeweaver.

An Orc stepped in front of him, Ardwen shifted his stance, the Orc lunged, and its lunge met with “The Dance of Flames”. The Dance of Flames shifted to The Dance of Water, and another Orc fell. Another five arrows streaked through the room, and Ardwen was forced to snap his cloak in front of him in the vain hope of batting any incoming arrows to the side. By sheer luck his hand caught one as it flew in, but luck wasn’t entirely with him. The sharp arrowhead grazed the warrior’s gauntlet, and Ardwen could feel blood and warmth flowing from his left hand.

Elrin wasn’t so lucky. Not as heavily armored as Ardwen the archers had picked him out, and Ardwen caught the sight of two feathered shafts quivering out of the Elf’s chest before he fell to the ground. Ardwen let out a bestial howl. He had failed to protect the Hands, had failed his friends, and now he was failing his people. He flipped the two T’lnarions in his hands and launched them at the Orc archers in the back, they both found home and a moment later there were three archers. Ardwen dove and snatched up his large blade, and then his thoughts faded.

When he came to, a moment (though in truth it felt like hours) later the room was filled with Orcish dead. Out of the ten Elves who had entered the small house six still stood. Elrin was already dead along with three others, four more were wounded though their injuries did not look severe. That was when Ardwen noticed that the remaining living were staring at him, or rather at a point near him. Ardwen followed their gaze and noticed that he had his blade extended upward, and on the end was an impaled Orc, its dead feet not even touching the ground. Ardwen lowered the blade and kicked it off.

The Elf walked over to Elrin’s corpse and knelt down. He merely looked, and spoke no words. A moment later a thunderous “boom” echoed in the air. One of the Elves looked up at Ardwen, “They’ve reached the gate with a battering ram. We need to tend to the dead and wounded . . . you’d . . . are you alright Ardwen? You fought like hell, you split five – forgive me – you look like hell too.”

“Where is the gate?” Was Ardwen’s reply.

“They’ll be soldiers flooding toward it in preparation of the gate falling. Likely Ithramir himself will lead the van into the fray again. Follow the men and you’ll reach it soon enough. But are you sure you want to go? Gods be good friend you look as if you’ve seen your own grave.”

“I’ve been staring at that for some time, let me go.”

The other Elf merely nodded yes in reply, and Ardwen walked out the door of the slaughterhouse. True to his words, men and equipment were being ferried up to the gate where a Dwarven battering ram was already smashing into it. Ardwen saw Ithramir, he’d received a grazing wound on his neck somehow in the fighting, and Ardwen felt his guilt anew . . . he had said to follow him. But the fighting was so intense, and there were so many that needed help that . . .

“Making excuses again?” Ardwen heard himself thinking.

“No, there were too many that needed my help. I cannot be everywhere at once. This is a war, men die.” Ardwen replied to . . . himself.

“Needed your help? Yes, your aid certainly did Elrin good, did his corpse remember to thank you?”

“Shut up!”

“Did Ariana thank you as well?”

Ardwen’s face contorted into a mask of rage, his breathing came in hisses between clenched jaws, he made replay to himself, “Ariana might have came to this world. I never found her or anyone! I died fighting for them!”

“Once again, a lot of good that did. You’re pathetic. A swordsman who cannot protect even those he loves! Because you’re weak! Weak and you are ashamed to admit it! Release me!”

“Wha . . . ahh . . . hel-.” Ardwen gasped, his throat grew tight and the warrior fell to one knee. The warrior vaguely registered heads turning toward him, and an Elf walked forward and proffered a hand to help him to his feet. Ardwen refused it and choked out, “Stay . . . away. I-.” And the warrior let out an ear-splitting yell as pain washed over his body. The whole of his being felt as if it were aflame, but what unsettled him even more was the erratic movement of the sable cloak that he had donned with the armor. “It came with the armor, it’s part of it.” Ardwen thought dizzily. Some darkness suddenly overlapped the warrior’s field of vision as if he were in the maw of some great beast that was slowly closing its jaws.

But Ardwen remained conscious, painfully so. For a moment his world remained pitch black, but then he saw a single figure step forward from the lightlessness void as if he had coalesced out of the shadows. Ardwen’s eyes widened and his mouth hung as he realized the figure was none other than himself. He watched transfixed as he walked toward himself. Finally this doppelganger spoke, “So you are ready. Power. Power shapes the world. It can slay armies, save lives, and shape the destiny of empires. Power is absolute, with enough of it there is nothing that is beyond your grasp. Mortals and gods alike have long sought absolute power, that state wherein they reign supreme above all others. Ardwen, you have tasted the absolute in your lifetime. Tell me, when you slew the demon in the Abbey at Ancora . . . what did you truly feel?”

Ardwen did not even have to think, was not even conscious he formed the words as his voice rang our against the darkness, “Before my final battle I had felt rage, a burning deep rage. A rage which was more akin to fire than even the flame itself, it burned away all delusions, all weakness, everything.”

The figure nodded and grinned approvingly, “Yes, that is the answer. Those who have known the depths of perfect anger know that in the end even hatred consumes itself. In its wake there is nothing, a perfect state of no feeling. There is only the immediate purpose left by the residue of anger. Such completeness is power incarnate. But your understanding is not total, tell me Ardwen, do you know why you felt such deep hatred?”

Once more Ardwen’s voice replied in answer to himself, “Because they were my friends, my brothers and sisters. How could I not?”

Ardwen’s double titled his head as if in thought and began suddenly, “But you are mistaken. The word friend is a gross understatement. You, and everyone else, hate because they also love. Think! If you loved nothing, what reason would you have for hate? If you had not loved your brothers and sisters as if they were your own blood would you have cared for their demise? Hate and love depend upon one another. They are opposites yet each is used to define the other. How could you know hatred without love? It is impossible. Yet, for one brief instant before your own death you felt an absolute, touched upon a font of power. You felt hatred so deep that there was nothing to define it, and so you lost feeling for anything. Do you understand now?”

Ardwen did not feel his head move but he knew he had given a signal that he did. His other self simply said, “Nothing is given without a price. You have made your sacrifice. Now, I want to help you harness that rage, that berserk fury. Will you accept me?”

Ardwen’s own voice (was it his own) gave a flat reply, “Yes.”

The figure gave a cold smile and simply said, “Then it is done.” Suddenly the figure collapsed, and Ardwen was eerily aware that it was mirroring what was happening to him. Something came up from the cloak behind the figure, who was sucking in air in desperate gasps. Something . . . enveloped the figure’s head. At first, Ardwen could not tell what it was, and then he realized with a horrific awareness what had blocked his vision: it was a helm.

But no typical helm was this, it had come from the cloak like some crocodile breaking through the water. The helm was indeed shaped like some monstrous beast’s maw, with a great gaping jaw line that gave it a feral almost wolfish appearance. Gazing into the beast’s gullet Ardwen could see not but blackness. Then the beast opened its eyes, or what Ardwen assumed they were, white jagged lines that ran down both sides of its drawn visage.

And then Ardwen saw once more. The world was drained of color, he saw only whites and blacks and their mixtures. The movements around him seemed sluggish, as if the world were moving through some viscous fluid. There were people shouting near him, but their words seemed strained and muffled. The Beast that was Ardwen looked down and saw his large blade in one hand, his other not even needed to carry the burden. The Beast looked at the gate; it perceived weakness . . . the gate was about to collapse. It could smell fear and hatred from the other side of the gate, and the Beast hungered.

Written by - Archeantus

“We need to leave” He said.

She was quickly given her traveling supplies. Without further pause, she mindlessly placed the cloak around her, and followed Teran to the stables. Saddling her horse, they road out through the massive gates across the deep chasm to the forest beyond in silence. The elven guards knew Teran was not to be stayed.

The night was chill, and their breaths came out in slight bursts of steam as they made their way deeper into the forest on the fringes of the valley surrounding the majestic elven citadel.

Soon Jasmine spotted a glimmering light far ahead deep in the forest. As they came closer, it appeared Teran knew the strange dark figure that stood before a warm fire.

The two exchanged in conversation, Jasmine listened curiously enough to know the situation.

She was a mage tracker. She then understood. Yet it was also when Jasmine realized the youthful female was an undead. She was not shocked; she’d seen a few, dealt with more than a few, they had a strange way about them, but they could be tolerated. Yet here, she knew she looked on her future. It angered her when she was confronted with the pale blue visage of the undead Sabbatine.

And when she heard the being ask hungrily, "Did you bring her... for me?" Jasmine said nothing. Teran clarified who Jasmine was, and mentioned two others who were to come. At this Jasmine dismounted her horse, and pondered over who else Teran had recruited.

Now standing before the fire, reaching out her hands warming them, she looked at the undead woman again, and slowly turned back, her dark eyes gazing into the dancing flames.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

It was foolish mistake, fit for one so inexperienced to make. Lucant had not been paying attention to his feet and had tripped over a piece of rubble while trying the avoid the orc's mace, landing him flat on his back. Tempyst's scream brought him back to his senses and as he opened his eyes he saw the orc looming over him, ready to deliver the final blow. As the orc swung his mace downward toward Lucant's head, Lucant responded in kind by swinging A'lanthear upwards towards the orc's exposed chest. The orc was already too far into his swing to back out and he impaled himself on A'lanthear. Lucant stared into the orc's eyes, still burning with hate and rage as he died on the blade. Feeling no remorse, Lucant brought his leg up and placed on the orc's stomach; a firm kick dislodged the orc from A'lanthear.

Lucant stood up and looked down at the orc, who had already passed. It was the first life he had ever taken and he knew it would not be the last. He knew that this was the reality of war. Still, he could not help but feel that by killing the orc, he had killed a piece of himself. He wlcomed Tempyst's embrace and the focus and determination it gave him. He was reluctant to let her go, and when he did he saw that her innocent beauty was marred by the orc's blood. He never wanted to see that sight again and swore to himself to keep such a thing from ever happening again. "Come my love, we have much to do," she said as she climbed atop her horse. Lucant sheathed A'lanthear and mounted up once more.

After making their way through the debris littered streets and scattered pockets of fighting, the pair finally arrived near the third gate. A loud sound like thunder rang throughout the shattered city, followed by the sound of cracking timbers. Alarmed, Lucant showed the royal emblem that Wilhelm had given him to a wounded soldier who was sitting with his back against a shattered wall and asked him where Ithramir was. "Lord Ithramir... is just ahead at the third gate. If you... need his attention... it'll have to wait. The dwarves... are nearly... nearly through the gate," the soldier said, gasping for breath. The two dismounted and thanked the dying soldier before heading towards the assembling army. Another thunderous crack rang through the air shortly before they joined the army. Lucant shouted to Tempyst above the din: "We're nearly there! Don't worry when the fighting starts! As long as I draw breath, I swear that no harm will come to you!"

Finally joining the army, Lucant and Tempyst shuffled through the crowd, heading towards the front while desperately looking for Ithramir. Before they could find him, however, another thunderous boom rang out and the massive gate let out the beginnings of its death knell.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir made it to the gate and watched closely as the dwarves continued to batter down the ironwood doors. The doors were strong, but they weren't impervious, and the dwarves knew this. During the early morning hours, they had constructed a battering ram of wood capped with a large piece of stone. Every mighty swing landed with a resounding boom. Between the booms you could hear the dwarves chanting. A soldier nearby says,

"I wonder what they are singing?"

Not knowing who made the comment, Ithramir still replies to those near him, saying.

"It's a dwarven war chant. Be honored, no one other than a dwarf has heard this in hundreds of years. It is sung to honor the fallen and those who are about to fall. They sing of honor to their clan and to themselves. It is a mighty song."

As more troops began arriving at the battered gate, Ithramir got word of new people entering the city and helping. Two sets of men and women, each driving headlong into the city and helping them. It is then that he recognizes one of these couples to be Lucant and Tempyst, whom he met briefly inside the Citadel. It was rumored they were looking for him. With a half-smile, he tells the soldier who told him this,

"Well, if they need to find me, here I am. If they don't arrive soon then I'll be in there. *Points at the gate* I'm sure I won't be too hard to find."

Nodding the soldier goes back to find the two.

Turning back to the gate Ithramir and everyone else finally hear the sound they were waiting for, an earsplitting crack. The doors are falling. With renewed vigor the dwarves began mercilessly pounding the door, some even pulling out hammers and beating on the door while the ram was swung even faster. More cracks, splinters falling all around, the doors are almost breached. Ithramir calls out,

"When the gate falls, we charge through! Commander Isuiln, remember, you must strike the last gate and hold it. We'll join you when we can!"

Swinging his head back around, sword in hand, he finally watches as the great doors give out. The ram goes completely through and following it the dwarves. Raising his own sword, Ithramir charges into the now opened third circle, with it's huge central keep before them.

The orcs had been waiting for them, however. No sooner did they charge in than they were met with a counter-charge from the orc troops. They were going to retreat or go down easily. Orc archers from the keep began taking their toll on the alliance troops, who were hampered by the orc infantry. Still, return fire from their own archers, and the steady progress of their own soldiers made it known that the tide here had shifted. After a long, bloody advance, they reached the doors to the keep.

Calling to Diosr, Ithramir says,

"Break it down."

With a nod, the ram is rolled into position and the booms begin anew. Leaning himself against a wall of the keep, protected from archers by an overhang, Ithramir rests a moment. He can't remember how many orcs died by his hand this day, hacked or slashed into oblivion, nor does he know how many of his own met the same fate. He looks out across the courtyard and it looks more like a morgue, bodies and body parts strewn about and in every which way. Spitting, he can't wait for this to be over.

Then, he feels it.

"Ithramir, you will need my help atop this keep. A servant of my enemy stands there, waiting to do battle. She is powerful, second only to the one who masterminded this. No one must follow you to the top, they cannot stand against her, but you will. Also, know this, there are other forces at work against you. You have caught their attentions, some may seek to aide you, others will want you dead. As always, I will guide and help you, but you must also be aware at all times. Rest now, I shall return once you reach the uppermost level."

Ithramir had wondered how long it would be before Avandor talked to him. Resting himself, he waited to hear the cracking of the keep doors and the mad charge inside the keep, and then to whatever awaited him on the top floor.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst clung to Lucant as he pushed their way through the crowds. For a moment, she felt that sense of being overwhelmed again, like she had that first day at the Citadel, but then focused herself, and began to think of all the people as she thought of the trees. Entities that were a part of this world, a part of the earth, a part of her. It still did not take away the smell of blood and metal, but it helped her keep her wits about her.

Everyone stopped for a moment when the sound of the cracking gate reached their ears. After the second thunderous crack, everyone began moving again towards the sound. Lucant took Tempyst's hand. "That must be teh gate falling, that is where we will find Ithramir." Tempyst nodded and gripped his hand tightly so they would not be separated in the crowd.

As they made their way forward, Tempyst began looking more intently at the people around them; humans, dwarves, elves. She opened herself up to them, as she opened herself to the woods she had called home, but this time slowly for she did not wish to become overwhelmed and faint as she did that first day. She could feel their excitement, anticipation, some she felt a lust for battle, others she felt their fears and worries. For a moment, her mind drifted to that on black, the one she had fainted at and as she sensed these people she suddenly realized why she had done so. SHe had been so open, so new to that experience, that his saddness anger and grif that overwhelmed him, overwhelmed her. She remembered the wave of dispair wash over her like a black cloud and that is what had drug her down. Well, she knew better this time and would be prepared should she meet him again. Learning now to refocus the whispers, taking them in small doses rather than all at once would prepare her.

"Tempyst? Are you alright love?" Lucant had stopped moving and was looking at her with concern in his eyes.

She smiled softly. "Yes, I am fine, just adjusting to my surroundings." She looked around. "Are we close?"

"I think we are, I was told Ithramir is over this way, towards the front of the charge." Once again, together, they made their way forward through the army, moving closer and closer to their goal. Tempyst began looking around for Ithramir, remmbering him clearly fro their first meeting. As her eyes scanned the army around her, she caught sight of the one in black again. Once again, even from this distance, she could feel his emotions, but this time, she was prepared. As they washed over her, blinding her to the others that surrounded her, she hoped she would heve tim to try and help him too, for she could not stand to see anyone in such pain.

"THERE HE IS!" Lucant shouted and pulled Tempyst along with him. The one in black was left behind, but Tempyst knew she would never forget about him.

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln awoke before dawn the second day of fighting to the gentle urges of Aylan, and immediately wished he could reclaim the black unconsiousness he was fading out of. He felt like an article of laundry one had squeezed to get all the water out, but he was wrung of all his energy. On try to sit up, he did not get far before he started falling back, but Aylan helped him into a sitting position, then handed him some bread, cheese, meat, and a cup of water. Isuiln chewed it all down hungrily. As exhausted as he was, the growling in his gut was great as well.

Feeling a bit strengthened by the food, he managed to stand with only a little help from Aylan, though he had to be caught again to keep from falling when he bent to pick up his swords. He sheathed them, then began to walk from the room to the shop out front, intent on finding Ithramir.

"Sir..." Aylan began, "maybe you should stay and rest. You're in no shape to fight orcs." Isuiln gave him a withering look, and Aylan sighed. "Yes, I know, not one of your men fights without you unless you're barred by death itself. To business, then. Ithramir layed out the battle plan last night. We will accompany his men to breach the second ring, then once we enter the third ring, we are to make haste to take the gatehouse to the mountain pass, and stop all re-inforcements and retreating orcs." Isuiln nodded at the sound plan, and turned again to leave, this time Aylan falling silently into step behind him.

Isuiln mustered at the front with the rest of the Commanders silently, all his effort into staying on his feet, as Aylan informed the men of the battle plan and got them organized. Isuiln often thought what he would do without Aylan, the elf who had been by his side for his entire military career, first as his superior, then as his equal, and finally as his Lieutenant. In the beginning, Aylan had been the embodiment of what Isuiln wanted to be: smart, courageous, well liked by his men. He had taught Isuiln many things, from warfare to life, and had served under him as faithfully as any man could ask for. He was the only person Isuiln had ever really felt was family. Then Isuiln's reminiscing was broken by the call to prepare to attack.

He steeled himself, and the gates flew open. They charged, but Isuiln soon found himself lagging behind as everyone ran full tilt, and he could only manage a jog. But Aylan stayed by him every step of the way. By the time Isuiln had caught up, the fighting had already turned to the houses and alleys. Isuiln called several of his company over to him, ran up to the nearest house, and kicked the door in. It opened much easier than he expected, and he overbalanced. Aylan leapt in and managed to get himself under Isuiln and jerked him upright, but not before a barrage of arrows flew over their heads and clattered on the cobblestone street. That misstep had likely saved both of their lives, but it felt to Isuiln like it cost him the last bit of his energy. He hung uselessly from Aylan's shoulder as his second struggled to fight while carrying him. The others flooded in through the door, and charged into the orcs. As Aylan sloppily parried a blow, Isuiln's drooping head swung to the side, and behind them he saw a pair of feet belonging to an orc that had hid behind the door, and was now creeping behind them. Fear surged through him, and with the rush of adreniline came strength. He yanked himself around and threw his blade out as he fell, the sword slashing across the clearly surprised orc's neck. The blue haze around the blades turned once again orange, and he felt the swords' bloodlust once again granting him stamina beyond his own.

He leapt back to his feet and blocked a thrust from the orc that was fighting Aylan, who had been thrown off balance when Isuiln had launched himself off his shoulder. His other blade came up and buried itself into the orc's chest. He felt another surge as the blades willed him on. And so he went from house to alley, alley to house, deflecting seeking blades and arrows, once again consumed by the blades, moving faster and striking harder than he could ever dream to do on his own.

After they cleared the orcs, they went to join the battering ram and wait to get into the third ring. Isuiln paced at the front, now bursting with energy, waiting for the smallest hint of a gap to squeeze through and start the killing again. Aylan sat near him, allowing another soldier to bandage his arm where an arrow had torn a chunk of flesh away. As the gates began to crack and splinter, Aylan stood, ready to follow Isuiln wherever the battle carried him. Then the gates burst open, and they charged at the forefront. Several arrows whizzed towards Isuiln, and using the flats of his blades he smacked them to the ground. Then he was leaping into the orcs' counter-charge, blades flashing through armor, bone and sinew with equal ease. He and his men cut a swathe through the orcs, making for the gatehouse with relentless speed. The walls were lined with archers, but many died before they could fire a decent shot. In the center of his men, protected from the orcs on every side by a wall of elves, archers were relentleslly pouring arrows at the orcish archers, with speed and skill that far outmatched their counterparts. Finally, they reached the gatehouse, and they continued their furious assault until every orc in the gatehouse was dead. They sealed the gates so that no re-inforcements could arrive, and no retreat would be allowed. Isuiln moved about, having many of his men switch to their bows to cut down the orcs as they came. Too many had been lost today, and he didn't want another orc getting within striking range of any of his men.

He turned to Aylan and smiled grimly. "No orcs shall live to see the sun set this night. We've done it. The cost has been great, but no orcs are going to get to elvish or human lands through here."

Aylan opened his mouth to reply, then his eye grew wide as he looked over his Captain's shoulder. Isuiln began turning to see what Aylan was looking at, when Aylan collided with him and sent him sprawling. As he fell, Isuiln heard it; an arrow whistling through the air, right where he had been a moment before. Then he heard a thunk. Looking up, he saw the arrow protruding from Aylan's chest. He turned to the source and saw the orc releasing a second arrow, which planted itself beside the first. The orc was grinning. It had hidden itself below a body, waiting for the right moment. It reached into it's quiver for another arrow, this time to fire at the elf that had been knocked down. But the arrow never made it to the bow. Isuiln leapt up, and with a roar, launched one of his swords through the air. The orcs eyes widened in surprise just before the sword was buried in it's face. So great was the throw, only the hilt remained sticking out from the orc's head, and the force caused it to nearly do a full backflip. Then Isuiln turned as Aylan slumped to the ground.

He ran over to his friend, but knew there was nothing he could do as the blood began running out of the sides of his mouth. But still, he yelled for a healer, yelled it again and again until Aylan's hand upon his arm stopped them.

Aylan coughed, then mumbled "Mellonamin, stop shouting. My time is past. I am just glad it was me, and not you. Please, tell-" He was interrupted by a bloody coughing fit, then struggled to continue. "Nyar verne'amin... tinuramin... amin mela sen."* Then he closed his eyes, as if he could see his wife and daughters with his mind's eye, then sighed contentedly, and let go of life. Isuiln screamed. He screamed at the injustice of it. It was him the arrow was meant for! It was he that was supposed to die protecting his men! And when he could scream no more, he wept. The tears streamed down his face, washing small tracks of his cheeks clean of the blood and grime. Then he heard the booming of the battering ram upon the doors of the main keep, and the tears stopped. He stood up, then walking over and viciously retrieved his sword from the orc's face. He walked over to the gatehouse, and stopped the first elf he found.

"You're in charge now. Follow the orders, kill any orc that comes near." Then he turned to go.

"But Captain-" the elf started.

Isuiln rounded on him. "I am not a Captain!" He screamed in the elf's face. "I don't deserve to lead a dog, much less men! I can't even correctly die to save my best friend's life! I AM NOT A CAPTAIN ANYMORE!" And he wheeled away, leaving a very flustered elf in his wake, and set out for vengeance, hoping only to find it in that keep, hoping more death could ease the pain.

"Tell my wife... my daughters... I love them."

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya looked over the battlefield, bodies scattered like fall leaves, buildings burning filling the air with thick pungent smoke as it also carried the smell of charred flesh and the wails of the dying filled the air like a celebratory chorus. She put her hands on her hip and inhaled deeply. Smiling, proud of her accomplishment, she began to walk through the waste, an excited chill running up her spine as she heard the crunch of the dead beneath her feet. Then there it was, a soft cry, different from the rest. She focused her attention to that, to get a direction, then followed the soft sound like a bloodhound. There, in the rubble, in the arms of a dead elven woman was a small, perfect little baby. Kaya knelt and picked up the whimpering child, who had to be no more than a few months old. She cradled the child in her arms tenderly, rocking it back and forth, just looking down upon it. The baby's eyes were a bright green, the hair red as fire, and gathering from the dress, was a little girl. "I wonder what your name is little one?" The child only cooed, grateful to be held safely once again. "Well, since the rest of your family is dead, I guess I can can name you." Kaya turned, rocking the child, smiling, deep in thought. The her eyes sparkled and a sly grin spread across her face. "I know the perfect name for you little one, the most perfect name of all." She traced a finger over the little girl's soft skin. "I shall call you Mavigan. Yes, Mavigan it is. The most perfect name for the most perfect child." Kaya brought baby Mavigan up and kisses her delicate little nose. "And do you know what such a perfect little girl is good for Mavigan?" Baby Mavigan cooed and even let out a small baby laugh. "Yes, that's right little one, you do know what your role is don't you?" She pulled the tattered blanket that baby Mavigan was wrapped up in away, then untied the small dress that clothed her, exposing her sweet, soft skin to the air. "Such a sweet child you are Mavigan, no fear, no worries, just laying there accepting your destiny." The baby cooed once more and Kaya smiled. This time, as she smiled, her mouth spread, opening wider revealing rows upon rows of black teeth, gums oozing a foul smelling goo. Kaya laughed, the grotesque, gutteral sound filling the air and drowning out the cries of the dying. A long, forked tongue lashed out and licked up baby Mavigan's chest then whipped back into Kaya's hideous mouth. "Good night sweet Mavigan, good night." Kaya let out a hiss, then lowered her head quickly, chomping into the soft vulnerable chest of baby Mavigan. She almost squealed as she heard the soft bones crunching from her bite and savored the sweet taste of blood and organs that rushed into her mouth. The bite was so immense, it decapitated the child and the baby girl's head fell and rolled upon the ground like a discarded apple. When it stopped, the child's eyes were wide, mouth open in a silent scream, a little splash of blood marred the cheek. Kaya laughed and held her hands to the sky, licking the sweet taste of Mavigan from her lips. The sky clouded over, darkening into a storm, the thunder and lightning dancing across the sky. "NO MORE SHALL THAT BITCH STAND IN MY WAY!" The thunder grew louder and a bolt of lightning struck in front of her shaking the earth she stood upon....

Kaya jerked, screaming as she awoke from the nightmare. The walls around her were shaking, debris was falling from the ceiling. There was practically no light here, only a few slivers that snuck thorugh miniscule cracks where the wall met the ceiling. She stood up, shaken from what she had dreamt, sick to her stomach, almost tasting the blood upon her lips. Stumbling around, she searched the walls for a door. Upon finding it, she tried with all her strength to open it, but it would not budge. Then she heard voices, human, elven voices, not orcs. Not caring about the demon inside her, not caring what he might do to her, she began to scream and bang on the door, hoping she would be heard and released from the darkness.

Written by - Rikshanthas

Aelarra hummed softly to herself as she made use of the fading daylight, returning books to the library shelves. As she tucked the final tome of an armful back in its place, she noticed how far in among the stacks she was and chuckled in sheer amazement. Only 2 days and the Loremaster Vhar'Kanix had gone through every volume she'd been allowed to show him. And then some, she suspected. As he had said a few times, what else was he to do when merely leaning his head out a window inevitably caused some poor soul to faint or shriek in terror? To say nothing of the soldiers - he stayed in the library more to avoid their suspicious gazes than anything else; he'd told her the feeling of dislike and mistrust washing out from most of them physically nauseated him. She'd reassured him, of course, but she did feel sorry for him sometimes; he was a true heart, wise and caring, yet his appearance invariably invoked childhood nightmares in all of them, making it difficult for him. Yet he couldn't leave, he'd said as much. He needed time to properly calibrate his Gatekey to return home; indeed a minor misalignment of the thing was what had brought him to the Citadel in the first place. Aelarra decided she'd have to talk to Lithwyn about him, as he seemed to be getting pretty agitated.

She had started closing shutters for the night when she thought she heard a sound not unlike chanting. She turned towards it, intending to trace the musical sound to its source. She had made no more than two steps when an ear-splitting boom reverberated through the library, shaking the bookshelves and the floor under her feet. She felt the use of power that had caused it, and rushed over to see which of the apprentices had had the brains to be experimenting with sorcery near so many flammables. What she encountered at the other end of the library brought her up so suddenly her momentum nearly sent her sprawling.

There was a nearly 5-foot black crater in the library floor, almost 8 inches deep. At the center of it, a man was curled up in a ball, his naked body covered in soot. Long, curly dark brown hair obscured his downcast face, turned away from Aelarra at the moment. After he did not move for several moments, Aelarra's curiosity overcame her caution. "Hello?" she began tentatively, clutching at a candelabra just in case this mysterious stranger was hostile. The man started, and whirled around to face her in an almost feral crouch.

Anything else Aelarra might have noticed about this human was lost when she saw his eyes - no iris or pupil, and glowing an intense yellow-orange. "Vhar'Kanix!" she gasped. Her mind fought against what she she saw. It couldn't be; no illusion would have had such an effect, and she could see through them anyway. Even the few incidents of shapechange she had read about had never been so ... violent. But it was Vhar'Kanix, she was certain - aside from his eyes, he still wore the Gatekey around his wrist. Yet he seemed to have no more sense of reason than a rabbit; what had happened to him? She pondered this question as she attempted to calm the near-feral Vhar'Kanix, whose fight-or-flight instinct leaned noticeably toward flight.

She had just managed to calm him enough to approach when three armed guards burst into the library, causing him to bolt further in among the library shelves. Aelarra stood and glared at the surprised guards; when they moved to chase the human she cut them off. "Stay here," she said sharply. "The human you saw flee is the Loremaster Vhar'Kanix; don't ask me what's happened to him but he isn't himself - he's operating on pure instinct. This is the only exit, so just stay here and keep him from leaving the library; I'll go after him - I can reassure him. You," and she gestured to one of the three, "find the lady Lithwyn, inform her of this. And get one of the senior adepts, or at least someone with more experience with this kind of thing; I'm at a loss here." The guard exited, his fellows closing the door behind him, and Aelarra slowly ventured out into the library, calling the loremaster's name softly as one would call a pet.

She found him several minutes later, hiding under a desk in a secluded corner of the library. This time, when she called his name there was a spark of intelligence behind the glowing eyes that turned on her. He slowly crawled out from under the desk, eyeing her with a mix of confusion and fear, eventually turning to recognition; with recognition came sudden awareness of himself, and he snatched the robe she held out to him, covering himself quickly. His modesty restored, he sagged back against the desk, shivering slightly, his head shaking violently from side to side as if trying to dislodge some unwanted thought.

"Vhar'Kanix?" Aelarra said simply, and he stopped, turning to scrutinize her for several moments. Finally he spoke, quietly but clearly, in a rich baritone voice that surprised her more than his words. "I know you ... Aelarra?" he said, unsure. "Yes!" she replied, now more worried than she'd been earlier. "I've been your guide the last couple of days, remember? What happened to you Vhar'Kanix? What did you do?" she asked fearfully. He gazed at her a long moment, his expression slowly dissolving into fearful confusion.

"I can't remember!"

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Unable to sleep, Leov sat in his quarters reading a book on the history of the Dwarves by candlelight. He had no idea why such a book was on a trade ship, but that didn't concern him any. He readily lost himself in the stories of the great clans and the deeds of famous thanes. His only company was the cats - the black one sat on the table watching the candle's flame dance about while the white one slept curled up in a nearby chair - until Dom entered. "Sure Dom, come on in," Leov said, a little annoyed, as he looked up from his book. "Yeah, like I was interrupting anything important, o great captain. We're nearly at Lothiel-Gadith, but... we may have a bit of a problem," Dom said, still standing in the doorway. "Is that so? What is it now?" Closing his book, Leov stood up slowly, then stretched his limbs and gave a loud yawn. "A...uh...fortress. It's not finished all the way, but it's still pretty far along. Decent sized Elven fleet sailing around the area, too." With a look of disbelief on his face, Leov made for the door. The black cat turned its attention to its master and proceeded to give chase. Before following Dom, Leov turned his head back towards his room: "Stay here," he said flatly. As he went out onto the deck, a shadow followed him on little cat feet.

Countless torches illuminated the stone fortress as crews of men and elves labored through the night to finish it. "Well don't that beat all... It looks like the people who fled with the Young Lady have been quite busy." Leov remarked as the ship sailed steadily towards the docks of the town that had sprung up outside of Lothiel-Gadith. "Just keep sailing straight for the docks. Just act... you know...normal...like traders or something." Leov said calmly, making no big deal out of a potentially precarious situation. After docking and mooring Tiertiala's Grace the night dockmaster marched up the gankplank towards Leov. "Getting here kind of late aren't you Captain?" "A bit. We were forced to make a course change while fleeing from an Ironskane vessel." Leov said assertively. What he said wasn't a lie, but it wasn't exactly the truth, either. "Well, if you're running from the usurper, then you've come to the right place, brothers. Rest well tonight." The dockmaster bowed, then went about his business. Leov turned to Dom, who now had the little black cat cradled in his massive arms. "You heard the man. Get some rest. We can sort everything out in the morning." Leov walked to the edge of the gangplank, and the little black cat jumped from Dom's arms and followed its reluctant master. Looking at the brightly lit citadel of Lothiel-Gadith, he said to the darkness: "Well, I'm here now. This is what you wanted, isn't it?" A soft wind blew in from the sea towards the towering citadel. "When I'm good and ready. I'll not be moved about like your little pawn." Picking up his little shadow, Leov headed back to his quarters for the night.

Leov awoke to something landing on his chest. Opening his eyes, he found himself face to face with the white cat. "Well good morning to you, too," he said, scratching the cat behind the ears. He sat the cat on the floor then headed out on the deck to find Glen and Dom. After dividing the treasure stolen from the Iron Hand - save the artifacts - among the people who had accompanied him, Leov told them to enjoy themselves then headed out towards Lothiel-Gadith with Glen and Dom in tow. The trio went to one of the many inns and ordered breakfeast, which Leov paid for with his share of the loot. "Well, what do we do now?" Glen asked after they had finished. You two are free to do whatever you feel like. As for me, I'm going pigeon hunting. Someone's bound to want that junk down in the hold" Leov said with his usual non-chalant air about him. Laughing, Dom responded "I think you're taking to piracy a little too well, kid!" "Never let it be said that Little Brother wasn't good at what he did!" Glen responded in kind.

Parting ways, Leov headed off towards the blacksmith's district. He walked slowly, calmly, taking in the sights and sounds of Lothiel-Gadith. "I'll make Kassal greater than this one day." He promised himself, thinking back to the Iron Hand and how that ship had been responsible for all this, in some small way. Continuing his walk, he started to whistle "The Mockingbird's Hymn" again as he headed towards one of the larger shops and he came a with an idea for a commeration and a reminder as well. Once inside, he started to haggle with the Elven smiths: "Alright boys, I need some work done, and I need it done fast. I need these sharpened," he said, setting Sulrista and the dagger on the smiths' counter, "and I need a hauberk. I want it out of mithril, too, none that cheap pig iron you try to pass off as steel." "The Young Master has discerning tastes," the head smith said with a glint of greed in his eyes, "If you've got the money to pay for it all, I'll have it done by this evening. Is there anything else I can do for you, Young Master?" Leov already had the smith pegged and knew exactly how to deal with him: "How long do you think it would take for you do a custom piece?" "Well, Young Master, it depends on the piece and ... the money." "I want two mithril plates - jointed together - the size of my palm and four rings with smaller plates attached the size of my center joints and another for the thumb," he said as he poured a small bag of platinum coins on the counter. The smith's eyes widened and he said with eagerness of a child: "Let me get the measurements Young Master, and I will personally handle your order. It will be ready this evening." Leov thanked the smith, then headed back out onto the streets.

He wandered aimlessly for a while before turning onto the Avenue of Assembly. The wind blew at his back, seemingly moving him towards the citadel. "Well... alright. I suppose I could induldge you for a bit. Besides, I still haven't found my pigeon, and that seems as good a place as any" he said to the breeze. Leov took his time on his way to the citadel; he reveled in the peaceful ambiance of the fortress-city as whistled his favorite song on the way. The image of a mockingbird and a pigeon sitting in a tree, singing their songs to one another entered his mind, and he chuckled to himself and the idea he had as he proceeded up the citadel's ornate central staircase. Approaching the guard, he said: "Hail and well met, good sir. My name is Leov Klein, I am the captain of the vessel that docked on the outskirts last night. I just returned from a treasure hunting expedition to Alyatol, and I would like to propose a trade deal with the commander of this fine fortress. I have many ancient relics on board that I'm sure he would love to add to his collection." Again, it wasn't a flat out lie, but neither was it the whole truth. The guard looked at Leov and sized him up. Leov stood there non-chalantly as his plan began to unfold. "Just a moment... sir." The guard disappeared inside the citadel just before another gust of wind blew through. "What more do you want? I'm here aren't I?" Leov said impatiently. A few minutes passed and the guard reappeared: "Commander Deltheron will see you. Please follow me." Following the guard through the oppulent fortress, Leov felt and looked out of place. He never had been comfortable with keeping wealth and was quick to spread it around when he had it - and even when he didn't. His reputation for being open-handed had garnered him a good deal of support among the commoners of Kassal. "Here you are...sir. Commander Deltheron will be with you shortly." The guard headed off towards the entrance and Leov made his way inside. "As if I don't know when I'm being tested... I may have an easier time with this Deltheron fellow than I thought," Leov thought to himself as sat down in one of the plush chairs in front of the commander's large ornate desk. He said to himself as he propped his feet up on the desk: "What will you do now that I've called your bluff, old man?"

Written by - Trinni Shannon

If it's not one thing it is another. Right in the middle of K'Lain's little catastrophe, someone requested an audience with her. Why not earlier in the morning when she just wandered around, when no one had needed her? Bah. Calming K'Lain took longer than expected, after all they were only eggs and Lithwyn really hadn't expected it to cause so much drama in the kitchens. There is always tomorrow, one day without eggs won't make the citadel collapse. Though she would never say that in front of K'Lain!

The poor young apprentice. How he managed to break every single egg from the morning's gathering was beyond her. Every single one? That must have taken some talent. K'Lain was furious, but Lithwyn's intervention kept the young boy from getting forcefully removed from the kitchen by K'Lain's eager boot. Thankfully, at least, it wasn't Rachael who had made the mess. The poor girl would have sobbed into Lithwyn's shoulder for an hour, getting egg all over her. Such a tender heart she has.

Fairly presentable, she reaches her office door and slowly opens it.

"What will you do now that I've called your bluff, old man?"

Stepping into the room just as he says this, Lithwyn smirks to herself. Indeed. Why is it always assumed that a commander is an old man? Granted, that applies to Ithramir... well... not so much the old part. But nevertheless, she couldn't count the number of times a visitor looked upon her with shock that she wasn't a man, it has happened so often. Hmm... maybe there should be a sign outside her door. "Commander Deltheron is a woman... be warned." The thought made her grin.

The man's back to her, he doesn't hear her enter. When Lithwyn notices his dirty boots on her imaculate, antique desk her grin falls into a frown. Sailors. Do they have no regard for heritage, tradition, beauty? If it's not on a boat it's not important? Realizing she had fallen into the stereotype game, herself, Lithwyn clears her thoughts ruefully. Squaring her shoulders, raising her head, she prepares for what could be an interesting conversation. Walking around his chair, she stops by the side of the desk and rests her fingertips on it, making sure not to take her seat behind it.

"May I help you?" Leaving the question open, she decides to have a bit of fun with him. After all, what is the point in having a position that creates these wonderful opportunities if you can't get amusement out of it?

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Lucant felt a strong divine aura manifest itself towards the head of the army. Looking towards where the feeling had come from, Lucant saw the same shimmering warrior from before - the valorous champion who had led the combined armies of Men, Elves, and Dwarves from Lothiel-Gadith to combat the darkness that threatened the world. He had little time to admire the warrior's strength as it quickly dawned on him who he really was. He remembered that Wilhelm and Nyrondis had spoken of Ithramir - the man who it was his sworn duty to protect - being the Avatar of Avendor. "There he is!" Lucant shouted and pulled Tempyst along with him towards the man he was sure was Ithramir. Before he could reach him, however, the gate let out its final wail and shattered to pieces.

The armies charged forth unto the breach, with a singularly wicked looking man in black armor leading the allied charge. Screams of the wounded and dying, steel upon steel, and the hiss of arrows cutting through the air converged to form the terrible cacophany of war. The blood of four races mingled together in the streets of the devastated city in a final ironic unity. Wave after wave of orcs poured forth into the battlefront attempting to hammer back the allied advance.

As a hail of crude orcish arrows rained down from the battlements, Lucant faced another mace swinging Orc. Remembering what he learned, Lucant ducked under the forceful backhand swing meant to crush his skull then quickly swung A'lanthear at the Orc's exposed stomach, spilling his entrails onto the street. Noticing that the archers had readied their next volley, Lucant quickly made his way to a sheltered spot under a balcony. A strange, base feeling of dread, sorrow, and fear swept over him has he hid from the arrow storm. He looked around for Tempyst, hoping that she had found safety as well, until a scream from inside the building drew his attention.

****

Leov looked at the large desk and wondered what kind of important and historical decisions had been made by the person sitting behind it. He had no doubt that it had seen some of the most important decisions to ever affect the Elvish people. He then turned towards a more pragmatic manner of thought and wondered how much it would sell for, should he ever be able to make his way out with it. A sight infinitely more pleasing to the eye than the ornate desk made her way gracefully before him and rested her fingertips gently on the desk. "May I help you?"

A wolfish smile slid slyly across his face as his eyes rested on young Elf's divinely beautiful features. "You certainly can, my lovely Little Phoenix," he said coyly, referring to her fiery hair. "You can start by gracing me with your name and what time you'll be available for dinner. Then, my Little Phoenix, I beg of you to bless me with your company while I wait for Commander Deltheron to make his appearance."

Written by - Tempyst

The rumbling stopped and her cell ceased to deposit debris upon her. The faint noise faded to silence and Kaya knew she was still alone, trapped. She sat down where she was, her back to the door, tired, hungry, exhausted mentally and physically. Is this what it has come Kaya, you feeling sorry for yourself, alone in the dark waiting to die or worse? Kaya paused in her thinking, waiting for that monster inside of her to start mocking her again. But it remained silent. {i]I wonder if it sleeps, or if it is always listening. But I don't care anymore, YOU HEAR ME![/i] She screamed into her head, but still, no response. She breathed a sigh of relief and concern. There must be a way out of this! Even if there isn't I cannot let it defeat me. I cannot let it turn me into a sobbing coward. When you fight, there are casualties and you learn to go on. There will be time to grieve later, after the battle, not now. You've been a prisoner for who knows how long now and you never let them get the better of you. Now, you are invaded by a Nadorhuan* who can't even FIGHT HIS OWN BATTLES! If you sit and wait Kaya, it wins. Kaya sat in the darkness for a while, her mind going back over her battles in the Naur'Lith, fighting against bandits and the Lith'raug. Thinking of the Lith'raug made her think of her father and his treacherous advisor Tahlon who got her into all of this. She smiled thinking of how she would love to tear that creature limb from limb and she vowed to do it too.

Kaya took a deep breath and felt a renewed sense of self. I don't care if you are in here with me, I will do what I want to do and if you don't like it then you can do it yourself! Detholalle!** There was still no response from the creature inside her. She chuckled to herself "Nadorhuan." She looked about the room, eyes taking in the small slivers of light here and there from the seams of the ceiling. Talking to herself she began formulating an idea. "Now, think Kaya, during battle in the desert, how did you get someone's attention?" She smiled and closed her eyes and began to sing. Her voice was quiet, shaky at first, for she had not sung for quite awhile, but as she kept her cool and focused, her voice grew stronger...

"...Sinners and saints, we all do ride,
all our fears we try to hide,
we are but creatures who live and die,
we love and bleed we laugh and cry.

Take your fears and hold them tight,
use what you feel to do what is right,
together as one we stand and fight,
and to the fallen, we drink tonight."

As the last words of the battle song passed over her lips, Kaya heard and felt the pounding on the door she was leaning against. "HELLO! IS ANYONE IN THERE?" Kaya could hear smooth vocal tones and knew it was no orc on the other side of the door. She quickly stood and pounded back.

"YALLUME! TUA AMIN! ASCA, ASCA!"*** Kaya stepped back not knowing if those on the other side could understand her. But apparantly they did for the whole room shook from the reverberations of the battering on the door. Kaya brought her arm up to protect her face as the splintered and crashed to the ground. The light from the lantern hurt her eyes at first, but then as she regained her focus, she could see a handful of warriors looking in at her, most human, a few elven. The one in front was an elf, from the woodlands by his features, Kaya thought. He held out his sword to her, as right he should, since he did not know if she was friend or foe. His look turned from apprehensive to puzzlement as he got a look at her.

"Amin sinta lle?**** The elf asked, taking a step forward into the room.

"Amin Kaya'Talas. Amin aaye Nen A'Naur mellonamin. Mae govannen, lire lye auta."*****

"Kaya'Talas? Kaya'Talas?" The elf sounded surprised.

"Who is it Nolahni? Is she one of ours?" Kaya looked towards the human who had spoken.

"Yes, I am one of yours. Please, may we leave this place and talk outside?" Kaya voice cracked. The elf that had first spoke turned to the elf behind him and spoke softly. She could see the other elf's eyes widen then he ran out, presumibly back the way they had come. Then the one called Nohlani lowered his sword and steppd forward, taking off his cloak and wrapping it around Kaya's shoulders. It was then she realized how much of a state she must look, bloodied, matted, and barely clothed. "Thank you," She told him as she pulled the cloak around her.

"Come, the commander will want to meet you." Nohlani took her arm and led her out of the dark room that had been her prison. She stumbled a few times, but Nohlani kept her upright and able to keep going. Once out in the sunlight, Kaya squinted, but didn't care how harsh the bright light was, she was just happy to be standing upright and out of the darkness. Nohlani kept his arm around her and helped her along the way, steering her between others who looked to probably have been other prisoners that had been kept down there in the darkness.

As Kaya's eyes adjusted, she could she was being led through a battlefield. The wounded were all around, others who were still mobil were off to one place or another, following orders and doing their duties. As they passed through all the soldiers, Kaya could tell that some of the elves began whispering amongst themselves, pointing at her. She even thought she recognized a few faces, but figured it was her mind playing tricks on her, after all, it had been months since she had seen any other elves, so right now, everyone looked familiar and friendly compared to the orcs that had been her companions.

Kaya did not know how long they walked, but the further they went, the weaker she began to feel. The lack of food and water, and disuse of her muscles were taking a toll on her. She stumbled and almost fell, but Nohlani caught her and picked her up in his arms, holding her carefully, almost reverently, and began walking in the direction they were heading. As she look ahead, she could make out in the distance a open space, a square, with a large wall on the other side. She could hear the yells and battle cries of men, dwarves and elves ring through the air, as well as the clash of steel. She felt the ground quake beneath them, then heard a roar fill the air as a thunderous crack reached everyone's ears. They must have broken through the gate. She thought. Her heard was beginning to swim and she was feeling a little cold, she surmised that she might be going into shock. But she did her best to keep her vision focused on what was ahead. Nohlani finally stopped and sat Kaya down, but as she was being lowered to the ground, she could see down by the gate, one elf, that stood out from the rest. It is a great commander who fights alongside his men. she thought. She then felt cool water trickle over her lips and down her throat and could only concentrate on that.

****

The young elf ran through the crowds of soldiers as fast as he could. He had to let Commander Ithramir know who they found. He zipped back and forth between buildings, avoiding the orcish archers that were still hidden among the rubble. Every once in a while an arrow wizzed past his head, chipping stone as it struck a building, but never truly coming close to him. Daveon had not been appointed runner for nothing. He was one of the fastest there was, even if those above him did not realize it. Just because he was young and new to battle, they figured he would crack under pressure and not be able to do his job. But Daveon would show them and now he was delivering a message to Commander Ithramir himself. How many runners get to speak with the Commander directly?" He thought. He came to the square and could see the dwarves working on the gated wall. He searched the crowds until he found his target, the Commander. Daveon took a deep breath and made the last long dash to where he needed to go. A few more archers did their best to get him, but he ducked and weaved like a pro and dodged every single one of the attempts. He started to get close to the Commander, but was stopped by some higher up. He caught his breath and told the elf he had a message only for the Commander, that s special prisoner had been found. The Elf tried to get more from Daveon but could see that the young one wanted the chance to meet the commander himself, so he smiled and led the boy to Ithramir.

"Commander Ithramir Sir! A runner has just come in with news for you." Ithramir took a step over to Daveon and looked upon the young elf.

"What is your name lad?"

"Daveon, sir!"

"Well Daveon, let's here this news that cannot wait." Daveon stood up straight and began telling the Commander that his unit had been sent to clear out buildings along the left run of the wall and that they had found a basement that contained many cells and many prisoners, all elves. Then he said her name, Kaya'Talas and pointed back towards the way he came. Those that had been listening, including Ithramir could see across the square, Nohlani carefully setting down the woman they had found.

*Cowardly dog

** Your Choice

***At last! Help me! Hurry hurry

****Do I know you?

*****I am Kaya"Talas. I hail from Nen A'Naur my friend. Well met and when do we leave?


Written by - Tempyst Page 18 Book 2

Tempyst heard the great gate break, it sounded like a cracks of lighting racing through the sky. "There he is!" Lucant shouted and pulled Tempyst along with him. Tempyst looked to where Lucant had pointed and indeed, there he was, Commander Ithramir. She remember the strong willed elf she had first met those few days ago. She too could see the light about him, the strength of his aura and his link with the divine. She could not help but smile slightly at the irony, thinking of how he told her that he was protector and warden of these lands. Now he would see that it was not only the lands that needed protection.

She saw the armies rush forth, including the elf in black. But then a hail of arrows began to rain down and an orc rushed out of the rubble they were passing by. She let go of Lucant's hand, knowing he needed to focus on his fight and stepped back into a doorway, to protect herself from the rain of arrows. She watched Lucant fight with A'lanthear, looking as if he had wielded the sword all his life. Suddenly, she felt a strong hand grab her from behind and yank her inside the building. She looked up as she was thrown to the floor and saw the large orc hovering over her. He smiled and let out a chuckle as he drew his sword up. He held it there for a moment; a moment was all Tempyst needed. She felt her anger well up and she felt the worked wood around her. But even within worked, cut wood, there were still hints of life. It only took Tempyst that moment that the orc had paused to call upon that life with her anger. The wood in the building creaked and rattled, from chairs, to walls, to tables. Then with what sounded like a scream, the wood erupted, sending splinters into the orc.

The orc let out his own scream as he felt the hundreds of pieces of wood pierce him through armor, into his skin, the pain and surprise in his voice. Then, it was silent and he collapsed on the floor in front of Tempyst. She could see now, running through the doorway, was Lucant, fear in his face. She stood, smiled and stepped over the dead orc. "Lucant, you must be more careful, I was worried about you. Now, lets get going and please, be more careful!" Tempyst stepped past Lucant, looked around and proceeded to head towards Ithramir. Both she and Lucant took more heed this time and dodged through the arrorws and small fights to get closer to the commander. They were almost to him when they were stopped by some elves; Lucant showed him his insignia and they were let pass.

Just as they approached the Commander, another elf approached him and started speaking excitedly. At one point, Ithramir seemed much more interested in what the elf had to say. Then the elf pointed back across the square to where another elf was setting down someone. It was then Ithramir gave some orders and began to make his way back to the square. Tempyst sighed, looked at Lucant, knowing that they had just been there and followed suit, hoping to catch up with this great elf they Nyrondis had told them to warn and protect.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Even in the midst of a siege there were surprises, and not just those devised by an enemy. As he and his men gathered under what protection they could find, as the dwarves relentlessly pounded the keep gate, he can hear a runner approaching. Watching as the young elf deftly avoids the incoming arrows, only to be stopped by one of his officers and then let free to find him, he had a feeling it was going to some word of importance. "Maybe the orcs surrendered?" He chuckled at the thought, but it was brief as he listened to what the elf, named Daveon, told him.

Looking across the courtyard he could see a female elf being cared for, she was in pretty bad condition, no doubt locked away for ritual sacrifice. Speaking up, he says,

"They like to starve them, you know."

Daveon replies,

"Sir?"

Ithramir continues,

"The orcs, they like to starve prisoners, it takes the fight out of them so when they sacrifice them to their god they won't resist. Seems Kaya was found in time, no?"

Daveon's eyes grew a bit wider at the knowledge, and says,

"What should we do with her, sir?"

Letting a small smile escape his normally rigid face, Ithramir replies,

"See that she is cared for, let Nohlani become personally responsible for her, tell him this."

Turning to the newcomers who had just presented themselves, the man and woman he met at the Citadel a few days ago, Daveon prepares to make the run back. Before he dashes off, Ithramir says,

"Oh, and Daveon, good work. Keep safe and you just may find yourself a Ranger soon enough."

Giving him a salute, he watches Daveon bound away, a large smile on his gentle face.

Returning his attention to the two humans in front of him, he says,

"Now, Lucant and Tempyst is it? What brings you hear, amidst all this blood and slaughter? What is so important that you risk the life of both yourselves and your child?"

He watches their eyes grow wide at his last words, the same grin he had earlier returns to his lips as he says,

"Come now, even without my godsight I can tell by the way you shield and walk with her that she carries your child. Even if you did not mentally know this, your souls and bodies knew. Now I say to you both again, why are you here?"

Leaning his back against the stone wall, he waits for them to answer.

Written by - Ardwen

The Orcs were waiting for them on the other side of the gates leading to the keep, the Beast did not care. Ardwen charged, and death flowed from him. His mighty blade was a feather in his hands now, and he often swung it about with one hand, slapping into onto the ground and into the massed Orcish infantry. But for all his strength and brutality, the Beast lacked subtlety. An Orc lunged at him with a spear, and he slapped it aside, then grasped the Orc by the head.

It clawed, bit, and spat, but it made no difference. Ardwen used his strength to force its face into a nearby wall. There was a sickening crunch, and the Orcs snarls turned to blood-vieled gurgles. The Beast did not care. Again and again he slammed the creature’s head into the wall, till there was nothing left but a disfigured mass of blood, brain, and bone. Orcs stepped up to avenge their fallen brethren, those who had died to this demon of the battlefield. A spear caught Ardwen in the thigh, his armor took the blow but the Orc kept the spear there and pressed the strike. The Beast did not care. The Orc found its death waiting in the arc of a sword brought down directly overhead, the Orc gave a whimpered shout before it was half-split and half-crushed into two bloody pieces.

Orcs continued to rush the fallen gate though in a desperate all-or-nothing counter-attack. The Beast charged again, crouched, and whipped his sword along the ground with one arm, the blade cracked into ankles and shins, splitting armor and bones alike. One Orc fell to the ground when Ardwen’s blade took its legs off at the knees, a black-clad boot crushed down on its skull, ending its pained yells. Grudgingly the Orcs gave ground; with every death and with every flight of arrows loosed they yielded a little more – slowly but inexorably.

Finally, there was nothing left to kill no Orcs remained in the area around the keep. The bodies of countless dead littered the battlefield, Elves and Men and Orcs and Dwarves. The Beast looked about, trying desperately to find something to kill or maim. But there was nothing, the Oath demanded the Elves and their tools (for this is what the man inside the armor assured the Beast the Humans and Dwarves were) remain unharmed. The Oath was too mighty for even the Beast to forgo, but the Beast still had to hunt. Walking over to the keep, heedless of who or what he walked over or past, the Beast approached its stout walls. The Beast’s head titled back and it smelled the air, the poignant sent of enemies wafted from the keep.

But there was no way in! The cowards had made the walls to stout to smash through, too tall to climb over, and the only entrance was protected by a sturdy wooden structure that even now had Dwarves and Elves swarming about it. The Beast let out a frustrated snarl and pushed against the wall as if to test its integrity. The Beast snarled again as it brought the large blade to bear against the wall, the sword rang and hummed with the pummeling, and the wall moaned and chipped, but the Beast made no headway. Finally the Beast dropped the blade and clawed at the wall, sable gauntled hands scratching and prodding for any weakness. Still the wall would not yield, would not crack like the egg it was to let the Beast inside. In rage and anxiety the Beast tilted back its head once more and let out a primal shout to the uncaring winds.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

"You certainly can, my lovely Little Phoenix, you can start by gracing me with your name and what time you'll be available for dinner. Then, my Little Phoenix, I beg of you to bless me with your company while I wait for Commander Deltheron to make his appearance."

Laughter barely supressed, Lithwyn leans against the desk and flashes a smile, beginning the game.

"Well, Little Phoenix is a grand description, but I tend to go by Lithwyn in most situations." Winking, she crosses her arms over her chest and continues. "Dinner will be touch-and-go I'm afraid. So many suitors, so little time after all. Perhaps I can check my availability and get back to you?" Laughing now, emphasizing her joke, she then taps her lip with a finger in the illusion of deep thought. "Hmm... well, one of the Commanders, for we have two you know, is off raging a minor skirmish with some pesky Orc. A triffle really." Her offhanded explanation of Commander Ithramir's whereabouts served mostly to stem her own fears with a minor benefit of not giving the human sailors ammunition for story telling regarding the "war-mongering elves." Such an annoying stereotype, that one.

"As for the other Commander, well... I'm sure you will find yourself in their presence shortly. For now, would you care to take a walk? I can show you around Lothiel-Gadith if you wish. I prefer to be in this office as little as possible, it seems whenever I'm in here I am getting into trouble or having to hold my words while I receive a tongue lashing!" Laughing at her duality, she has to admit that her statement is completely true. The only time she is in this office is when there is some problem or other. In which case, the unhappy party invariably rants at her while she tries to remain neutral and calm.

"So, now that you know my name what shall I call you, my charming flatterer?" Standing, she gestures toward the door for him to precede her.

Grateful, for once, that Kenthalas has the rather annoying habit of refering to her as "Commander Deltheron", for it is only he who could have instilled such a thought in this man's head, she carries on the game to learn what a man such as this would want with Lothiel-Gadith, the true reason that is. As no one else refers to her by her surname, well, except for a few of the stable boys and that priestess who left with the march, she is fairly confident her identity will not be revealed until she so wishes.

Written by - Ariana

The night air was crisp and warm, and Mavigan took a grateful breath as she remained seated, propped up against the tree. The only sounds she heard were the soft whisper of tree branches and the gentle whine of insects. The knot of tension between her shoulder blades gradually started to loosen as the calm seeped into her being, and she rolled her shoulders in relief.

Her moment of relief was short lived, however, when she heard a horse approach. Panic made her stomach clench and she rose to her feet ready for a confrontation. The person who appeared, faintly illuminated by the moonlight, was not Wilhelm or a conclave of guards sent to drag her back to the citadel. Instead, once the hood was pulled back, Mavigan realized that this was the priestess she had seen healing the Bitch.

Mavigan released the hold she had on the hilt of a dagger, and resumed her place at the base of the tree. Wary, she listened to the conversation Crystal had with Keeryn, content to let her new bodyguard handle the situation. Obviously she wasn’t here to take her back, (Huff, like she could!), and Mavigan suspected Teran had his own reasons for asking her to come along.

Shrugging her indifference to Crystal’s company on the trip, she said, “I don’t care. Come if you want.” She paused for a moment and then continued, “Of course, our guide neglected to tell us exactly where to meet him, and I, for one, am no longer inclined to wait for him to find us.” She rose to her feet, dusting off the back of her clothes with absent pats. “So let’s go find him!”

Idly wondering if Teran had left her behind, and not liking the possibility at all, she grabbed the reins of horse and started leading him south.

Written by - Wilhelm

In accordance with his instructions, Wilhelm was awakened before dawn at the first sign of light in the upper sky. He was informed that Mavigan had not returned to the Citadel but was still out in the woods, not having left the area either. Wilhelm sat down to the breakfast that then then brought in and listened to the reports.

A courier from the army reported that the assault on Minas Aure had been ordered and that by now at least the outer ring should have been taken. The courier had seen no signs of enemies along the route. A ship had arrived during the night at the port and the captain had come to the Citadel to see Lithwyn, who was already up. Work on the fortifications at the port had continued through the night and was going well. The Sea Elves reported no signs of enemy vessels or enemy movement along the shores. Rangers reported no signs of enemies on land near the Citadel. A Citadel mage reported no unusual magical activity save for an odd event in the Library concerning a shapechanging by the alien loremaster.

Wilhelm thanked the messengers and finished his breakfast. He then dressed in his old bounty hunter guise and finished packing his travel bags. He sent word for Sable to be fed and prepared for a journey, along with a packhorse to be packed with travel gear and rations. Sipping his morning tea, he then settled down to await the report on Mavigan's movements.

Written by - Rikshanthas

He stood in a field of death. The cobblestones ran crimson with the blood of the slain. Steam rose from corpses that lay strewn about where they had fallen, human, elf, dwarf and orc alike; here and there a carrion bird could be seen picking about the remains. Yet the fighting had not ended - no, he could still hear the clatter of steel on steel, the voices raised in battle songs, war cries, battlefield commands, shouts of challenge ... and howls of pain. The whole scene had an air of unreality, as if this is what was happening, but not how.

As he walked through the mist toward the sounds of battle, Khelek'urya glowing in his blood-soaked grip, he was struck by the horror of it all as he had never been before in his life. He was a mercenary, war was his life, death was his business; yet here he stood, shaken to his core by the devastation surrounding him, a strong feeling it was all wrong twisting his gut. He tried to shake it off, but the gnawing feeling of ... imbalance, he realized, finally putting name to it, remained as he continued toward the battle.

The mists parted to reveal a scene of complete chaos: orcs, dwarves, elves, humans blended together in one gigantic melee; in the midst of it all the gods themselves battled, or so he guessed from the sight of a great, brilliantly glowing elven warrior, locked in mortal combat with the most fiendish-looking orc he had ever laid eyes on. As he watched, the Elflord beat the Orc back, yet failed see the shadowy form creeping up behind and beneath him. He couldn't focus on it, he merely caught an impression of nebulous fangs and claws, yet the sight of this shadow beast filled him with such fury and loathing that he gasped. Yet his legs would not carry him into the fray; even as the elven warrior triumphed over the Orc, the shadowy evil crept up on him, preparing to strike. He tried to call out, but his tongue was leaden. He raged at his inability to warn the shining Elf; with the battle on his mind he could not realize his own peril! But something in his heart told him this was a foe Khelek'urya could not slay, a form the crystal blade could not pierce. At the same time he knew there was one who could defeat this creature, one he must find and warn before --

" 'Ave ye gone completely daft, lad?"

Lienad started. He was in the infirmary; a dwarf with a broken leg sat next to him, prodding him in the thigh with the hilt of a dagger.

"What?"

"You tell me," the dwarf continued, putting away his dagger. "We were talkin' aboot that fine blade o' yours when ya jus' give me tha thousand-yard stare like an Orc'd just softened yer scalp wit' 'is mace."

"Oh ... Sorry ... I need to go," Lienad replied absently, turning and walking out of the infirmary like a man in a daze. The dwarf watched him leave with a puzzled expression, scratching his bearded chin. Then he shrugged. "Humans," he said with a quiet chuckle.

*****

Several hours had passed before Vhar'Kanix was more or less himself again; he had started to remember scattered facts, though what had happened in the library was still a blur. Aelarra managed to procure him some decent attire, since his own robes, which had been found balled up under a desk, understandably no longer fit. Whatever the reason for his odd transformation, he still wished to make himself useful for the duration of his stay, which circumstances now rendered indefinite.

"I wonder what's taking that guard so long?" she wondered aloud. "He should have been back by now."

"As I understand it, the lady Lithwyn can be difficult to find unless she has made herself available," Vhar replied, with a cynical edge to his voice that made him pause. While he was glad to be able to speak - he remembered the telepathic ability his own people used, which seemed all but lost to him now, had caused a number of problems - he was unfamiliar with the practice, and things tended to come out quite differently than he intended because of unintentional changes of tone or inflection.

"True," Aelarra conceded. "Well I'm going to go find her. Guard probably didn't think of the most obvious place, so I'm starting at her office. Coming?" she asked, holding out her arm.

"It probably would do me some good," he answered, taking the proffered arm and leaning on her for support, since he was still weak and not quite familiar with the configuration of human legs. The guards, seeing his apparent frailty and thus discounting him as a threat, relaxed somewhat, and held the door for them both as they exited, heading slowly toward Lithwyn's office, most people not giving them a second glance.

Written by - Tempyst

"Come now, even without my godsight I can tell by the way you shield and walk with her that she carries your child. Even if you did not mentally know this, your souls and bodies knew. Now I say to you both again, why are you here?" Ithramir leaned his back against the stone wall, waiting for their answer.

Tempyst was the first to speak. She took a step forward, this time, keeping her stance more respectful than what it was the last time they met face to face. "Good Sir, we have grave news for you; it concerns your safety. Nyrondis has charged us with your protection. So if you please, may we have more than just a moment of your time to tell you what has been reveiled to us." She could see the disbelief and amusement fill the elf's eyes, no doubt wondering what these two mere humans could to to protect him. "Please, Sir Wilhelm felt this important enough to send us to you directly. I assure you, once you hear us out, you will know and understand our duty to you."

Written by - Turin Wallace

Listening to Tempyst, he waits till she is done and then answers, half jokingly,

"My safety? Young one, my safety is always in danger."

Seeing that his humor did not find it's mark and that a true concern marked their faces, he continues,

"Alright, if Wilhelm has sent you, then something worth merit has come up. I shall give you those few mo..."

Just then Ithramir watches as Ardwen runs by. Looking on with a hint of sadness, he watches the warrior begin pounding on the doors with his sword and hands, trying to get inside to the Orcs. Inwardly, he thinks, "I see it has begun, the bloodlust is upon him, perhaps he wasn't as strong as once believed he was. A pity, really, we could use more of his kind." Returning his attention to Lucant and Tempyst, he finishes his sentence,

"...you shall have those few moments. You must be quick, those doors will not last forever, and I will be leading the first wave in."

Stopping a passing elven soldier, Ithramir gives a few quick orders as to what needs to be done while he is indisposed a few moments. After leading the two to a safer spot, he says,

"Alright, tell me the news you bring."

With his arms crossed, he eyes both of them and waits for the news they carry.

Written by - Renalis

Renalis reaches the gates where the dwarven ram continues to batter. He can hear the chanting and decerning its words, Renalis also feels for the fallen, and silently acknowledges their sacrifice and the sacrifice of those who will die in the last hours of this battle.

"When the gate falls, we charge through! Commander Isuiln, remember, you must strike the last gate and hold it. We'll join you when we can!" Lord Ithramir called out to all assembled at the gate.

"We go to meet our enemy, we go to end this, once and for all..." Renalis's thoughts trailed off as he took his place at the front right next to the gate, which was now all but knocked down. Renalis saw Ardwen approach, but he was different. He could feel something different besides the appearance of the beast-shaped helmet he now wore there was something. He could worry about it no longer, the door fell to the might of the dwarven ram and Renalis knew immediatly beyond would be a maelstrom of carnage. As the doors fell Ardwen leap through and into the fray, like some kind of animal he savagely decimated the Orc forces.

"That is what is different... the armor..." Renalis's throughts were distracted as he noticed an Orc sorcerer taking notice in Ardwen. He was the Orc taking aim and chanting, moving his hands in a manner that could not be mistaken for anything but an evocation. "I don't think so..." Renalis quickly sprinted forward, cutting down the few orcs here and there between the Alliance forces that obstructed he path to the Sorcerer. A large bolt of lightning began to leap forth from the Orc's hand and toward Ardwen, but Renalis intercepted it, "Now now," Renalis spoke mockingly, "That isn't very nice." A coy grin crept onto his lips as the lightning was coursing from the Orc and being held by his hand. "But then again, neither is THIS!" Renalis's eyes flared a bright blue - the same as the flaring soulstone - and they were once again like saphire spheres. A burst of energy coursed through his body and out the extended hand. It forced the lightning back along its path and the combined energy entered the Orcs body. As suddenly as the burst appeared, it disappeared within the Orc and only moments later, the Orc burst into azure flames, reducing him to mere ashes.

Along the way to the keep, there were many Orcs making their final stand. Ardwen lead the charge, furiously destroying any Orcs foolish enough to test his mettle. Renalis was content to deal with the remain Orcs with the charging Allied forces. One Orc swung his large axe overhead but he was too slow. Deflecting the axe to the side, it buried itself deep into the ground, "foolish savage." Renalis said calmly as he brought hi sblade back up, cleaving the Orc in twain. He continued to cooly walk forward toward the gate, staying just enough outside of Ardwen's wake to deal with as many Orcs as he had time for. A bolt of lightning leapt from his palm and charred an Orc archer on the walls. Renalis made a quick leap forward just past an Orc who swung wildly at the deft human but missed wildly. Renalis brought his blade back and stabbed the Orc in the chest and sent a manasurge along the blade to free it from the Orc's bones. With the blade still trailing Renalis ran forward, and remembering what his brother taught him, he leapt into the air and spun around, easily cutting two more Orc heads from their bodies as easily as he cut through the air.

Landing crouched, Renalis could no longer see and Orcs moving. He approached the overhang that Ithramir too took cover under and awaited the breaking down of the keep's gates. He noticed Ardwen seeming to lose his mind, bashing at the wall and clawing at it with his armored hand, "The suit has control doesn't it? He seems to be nothing more than an angered beast... poor soul..." Renalis pondered the warrior he had come to know as Ardwen but turned his attention to the commander, awaiting his order to charge after the gate was down.

Many people approached Ithramir and while Renalis was taking this time to rest and regain his energy, he listened to those that spoke to Ithramir and his replies.

"The orcs, they like to starve prisoners, it takes the fight out of them so when they sacrifice them to their god they won't resist. Seems Kaya was found in time, no?" Lord Ithramir notioned to an elven woman in the distance being helped by one of his soldiers.

Renalis looked down at Kaya, and felt that something was wrong... something he couldn't identify but something... shaking his head, "Must be the battle..."

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

"Alright, tell me the news you bring." The imposing Elf crossed his arms and waited for a response. With his duties heavy on his mind, Lucant spoke gravely: "Lord Ithramir, a demon seeks your life. Lord Wilhelm, Lady Lithwyn, even Nyrondis Himself... they have all sent us here to protect you from this demon and to save the one it has possessed. I do not intend to fail them." Cutting straight to the heart of the matter, Lucant waited for a response from the stoic warrior.

****

Still smiling, Leov thought to himself "Maybe I ought to listen to Her more often." Enraptured, he played right into his Phoenix's hand: "Lithwyn, you say? A beautiful name... it suits you well." He stood up from the plush chair and his make-shift footrest slowly. He brushed the dust and small clumps of mud off the desk and onto the carpet, making sure he left no scuff marks - just in case the opportunity ever presented itself. His eyes still locked on the fiery young Elf, he said as non-chalantly as he could: Well, if you don't like being here, let's leave. I'm in no hurry, and, to tell you truly, I'm not really all that comfortable here myself." For once, he was telling the truth.

Taking his cue from Lithwyn, he moved out into the hallway. After she had shut the door behind her, she joined him for a walk. "Where are my manners? I still haven't intoduced myself. My name is Leov. Leov Klein." He did not bow to her, as most men would - he merely kept walking at his leisurely pace, slowly moving closer to Lithwyn the further they got down the hallway. The only person Leov would ever bend his knee to was feeding the worms now. "Now, what did you have in mind for us to do? For you, Lithwyn, I have all the time in the world," he said looking at her with his usual sly grin.

Written by - Turin Wallace

"Lord Ithramir, a demon seeks your life. Lord Wilhelm, Lady Lithwyn, even Nyrondis Himself... they have all sent us here to protect you from this demon and to save the one it has possessed. I do not intend to fail them."

Ithramir listened, unphased by what he was hearing. Did not Lithwyn tell him he would meet his death in the battles ahead? Avandor himself issued a warning to him as well. Fell deeds are beginning to awaken, they want him dead, they want him removed. Ithramir knows he stands on the brink of a terrible chasm, but it is his choice, and he has made it.

Answering the two before him, he says,

"A demon then? Well, let us not keep it waiting! We must take this keep from the Orcs, then march through the mountain pass to Minas Uial, then re-take it from the Orcs. I daresay this demon needs to get in line for my head, for thousands of Orcs are already working on taking it from my shoulders."

The sarcasm bit harder than he has intended, as he saw the look on their faces. With a deep breath, he says,

"I do not mean to belittle your information, or the task you have been given. If you have been sent to protect me, then by all means, you have free access to me. If you prove yourselves up to the challenge, I accept your aide. Just steer clear of me in battle, and if I attain avatarship, do not touch or come close to me. Is this understood?"

As he finishes, he waits to hear their reply before heading back to the front.

Written by - Tempyst

Daveon dashed back through the square, once again dodging arrows with ease. He ran up to where Nohlani was squatted down by the woman they had just rescued. "Captain!" He panted, not from being out of breath, but from the rush the battle. Nohlani stood, and turned towards his runner. "I have reported to Ithramir and he said," Daveon gave a wry smile, "to see that she is cared for and that you are to become personally responsible for her."

Nohlani sighed. "He said that, hmm? Fine, so be it. Daveon, run back to our squad and tell Kolly that he is now in charge of searching the buildings until I return. If he has any questions, he can send you back to me." Nohlani gave Daveon a pat on the shoulder. "Good work. Now, get running!" He smiled and turned back to his charge. Daveon saluted his captain then turned, runnign back into crowds of soldiers and rubble.

Written by - Tempyst

"...Just steer clear of me in battle, and if I attain avatarship, do not touch or come close to me. Is this understood?" Tempyst put a hand on Lucant's arm as Ithramir finished speaking.

"Yes Sir, it is understood." Her voice was calm, but her grip tightened on her husband's arm. "A'Lanthear will be helping as well, it can detect and sense the demon. The only thing we do know for sure, is that the demon possesses a woman. This Nyrondis, himself told us. He would perfer her life be spared, but told us to stop her no matter the cost. Who this woman is, we do not know. But we will perform our duty." Tempyst paused a bit, then continued. "I am not a warrior, but I am not afraid of battle. However, while keeping close, I do think perhaps my healing skills could be put to use while we search and wait for this attempt. With blessings of Nyrondis, Lucant and I can sense each other and let it be known where we are needed." Tempyst did not let on to Ithramir that this ability may take time to manifest. "Lucant, you can stick closer to Ithramir, if nothing else, A'Lanthear can alert me and lead me to you." She gave a small bow of respect to Ithramir, then turned to her beloved and leaned up, kissing him. "Be safe my love, do not worry too much about me, I am not as fragile as one might think." She smiles and caressed his face as she saw the concern run through his eyes. Then she turned back to Ithramir. "Now, Sir, where may I be of most help in healing?"

Written by - Renalis

"Lord Ithramir, a demon seeks your life..." The man's words struck Renalis hard. "For once I was hoping I was wrong... Demons do indeed seek to control this world as well..." Renalis thought hard as he rose to his feet.

"A demon then? Well, let us not keep it waiting! We must take this keep from the Orcs, then march through the mountain pass to Minas Uial, then re-take it from the Orcs. I daresay this demon needs to get in line for my head, for thousands of Orcs are already working on taking it from my shoulders." After hearing Lord Ithramir's words, Renalis couldn't help but laugh a little on the inside, for he too always had these thoughts when demons were concerned... who was it that did NOT want his head?

"If you prove yourselves up to the challenge, I accept your aide. Just steer clear of me in battle, and if I attain avatarship, do not touch or come close to me..." After he and Tempyst finished, Renalis stepped forward, "As you know, I pledged myself to your cause Lord Ithramir, but during my time between worlds I encountered many a demon, both numerous and powerful, perhaps I too may be able to lend my aid. I fight alongside you at the front."


Written by - Rikshanthas Page 19 Book 2

Lienad walked from the infirmary toward the keep gate, where he could hear the rams pounding against the great doors. His mind was racing; what was happening to him? First the dream on the trail, now this ... but the dream had been simple, he saw his own and Sharanya's deaths if they had continued on to Westgale. This ... this vision, was something else, abstract, confusing ... yet as he examined every detail he could recall, referencing what he knew already of the situation, it almost began to make some measure of sense. He had heard the commander of this battalion, Ithramir if he remembered the name right, was an Avatar or some such; Lienad concluded he must have been the shining warrior. The orc, then, was the Avatar of some orcish god or other ... which left the shadow beast. He focused his mind's eye on the nebulous black thing he saw in the vision, and he felt, more than saw, something female, elven? He couldn't be sure, but he thought he could recall a body lying at the heart of the shadow, possibly a poor soul the thing had possessed. The battle he witnessed, he was sure, was a distorted version of the final battle to secure Minas Aure, which would begin in moments once the door was breached. So he didn't have much time, hours at most, to figure out the rest of it, find out how to stop this ... hell-thing, from killing him when he lowers his guard ...

Finally his frustration boiled over and, looking up to the heavens, he shouted, "What do you want from me?! Don't you have enough guinea pigs to play with, that you have to screw my head around?! Find someone else to mess around with! Go fry your Champion's head with these visions and LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!"

Sharanya, who had seen him leave the infirmary and followed him out, witnessed this outburst with genuine puzzlement; hadn't he only had the one dream while they were on the trail? When he didn't move for several moments, save for his fists clenching and unclenching at his sides, she approached and put an arm around his shoulders. "What's wrong?" she asked, though she was beginning to figure out the answer.

He relaxed slightly, leaning against her. "Some god's decided to make me their errand boy," he replied irritatedly. Finally, he shrugged and said flippantly, "I have to find some Champion or other, tell him about an evil fog-bitch that's going to kill an elven nightlamp. Or something like that. Which they probably know already, so I'm not getting the point of using my brain for a flashcard. You coming?" And he turned to leave.

"Oh, I wouldn't miss this for the world," she replied, linking her arm in his as they walked toward the gate, where they found the door nearly battered down and the army making ready to charge. Next to the gate stood a dark-skinned elf in armor, whose face immediately brought to mind the great warrior of his vision, speaking with two men and a woman. Lienad was reluctant to approach, but Sharanya ushered him forward. "Look, even if they do already know, it never hurts to have an extra sword handy, and who knows, you might know something they don't." So the two approached together, Lienad clearing his throat awkwardly in an attempt to find the right words.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

"Lithwyn, you say? A beautiful name... it suits you well. Well, if you don't like being here, let's leave. I'm in no hurry, and, to tell you truly, I'm not really all that comfortable here myself." For once, he was telling the truth.

"Where are my manners? I still haven't intoduced myself. My name is Leov. Leov Klein." He did not bow to her, as most men would - he merely kept walking at his leisurely pace, slowly moving closer to Lithwyn the further they got down the hallway. "Now, what did you have in mind for us to do? For you, Lithwyn, I have all the time in the world."

Walking with him, she vaguely wondered how many women fell for a charmer such as he. Personally, she never could stomach the sort. Men who captured her attention tended to be a bit rougher on the exterior, serious, filled with a sense of urgency and purpose, leader of men, protector of women and children... Ithramir. Snapping back to the conversation, she noted his name and lack of formality. Oddly, that improved her opinion of him. At least he wasn't completely driven to impress or woo.

"Thank you for your kind words, Leov. A pleasure to meet you, I'm sure." Bowing her head to hide the amusement behind her eyes, she realizes she had subconciously tapped into Kaia'hanas. She could feel the warmth of love and power coming through her, affecting Leov in a very primitive way. Not wanting to influence his emotions, she quiets the minor glamor effect ruefully. With no real purpose of tricking him other than amusement, she has no intention of creating a lasting impression on the poor young man.

"Well, we could walk around the gardens while you tell me tales of adventure. I know almost all there is to know about the citadel and am much more interested in what you do." Flashing a smile, she leads their walk outside.

Written by - Turin Wallace

"Now, Sir, where may I be of most help in healing?"

Ithramir unfurled one of his arms and pointed to the wall they had just come through to reach him, saying,

"Back through that wall should be a makeshift infirmary, I am sure our clerics will be more than pleased at having an added hand to take care of the casualties coming in."

As they were standing there, Ithramir see's the young mage Renalis step over and say,

"As you know, I pledged myself to your cause Lord Ithramir, but during my time between worlds I encountered many a demon, both numerous and powerful, perhaps I too may be able to lend my aid. I fight alongside you at the front."

Looking to Renalis, he replies,

"I see. Very well then, as you heard our conversation, the same rules apply to you. If you wish to fight at the front, then by all means, you are more than welcome to do so."

Giving the young mage a slight nod, he then watches as yet another pair of individuals come up to him. Noticing the reluctance, and subsequent pushing of the male by his female companion, he says,

"First off, who are you? You are not in the army. Second, what is it you need of me?"

Ithramir studies the couple as he waits for their response.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

As Leov exited the citadel, he was greeted with a gentle breeze. "Just what are you planning?" He questioned Tiertiala as commonly as he would one of his friends. "Well, we could walk around the gardens while you tell me tales of adventure. I know almost all there is to know about the citadel and am much more interested in what you do." Lithwyn said with a smile. Her words struck a nerve. Leov thought to himself, "Adventure!? If you can call being worked and treated worse than a dog night and day... watching everything you've ever known burn and everyone you love suffer because of your actions adventure, then I've had a hell of an 'adventure'. And there's no need for you know my intentions, little girl." Leov moved away from her in defiance of Tiertiala's will. "And I WILL NOT be your pawn," he said inwardly in anger to Her.

Calming himself, Leov responded to Litwyn's unwelcome prodding: "I've had no adventures to speak of. I'm just a simple trader. As a matter of fact, I just stopped by here on the way back from an expedition to Ayatol where I came into the possession of some Elven relics. I was hoping to make a tidy profit from them here before heading on to Tarka to take care of... more pressing matters. That's why I was looking to meet with the commander." The wind blew again - a gentle, nudging breeze - and Leov whistled "The Mockingbird's Hymn" in continued defiance. Finishing the song, he decided to turn the tables on both his companion and Tiertiala: "What about you Lithwyn? What do you do to make a living?"

Written by - Trinni Shannon

"I've had no adventures to speak of. I'm just a simple trader. As a matter of fact, I just stopped by here on the way back from an expedition to Ayatol where I came into the possession of some Elven relics. I was hoping to make a tidy profit from them here before heading on to Tarka to take care of... more pressing matters. That's why I was looking to meet with the commander."

Raising an eyebrow at his sudden mood swing, she remains silent for a moment, slightly surprised.

"What about you Lithwyn? What do you do to make a living?"

Replying sincerely, if not a bit puzzled, "I am a priestess within the citadel. I try to heal those who need it, I try to help others learn the art. My experience brings with it certain responsibilities, but all in all I enjoy what I do."

Stopping, she turns to him and continues in complete seriousness, "I didn't mean to pry into your life, I simply wondered about what life on a ship was like. Please forgive me if I offended you with my simple question. If you like, I can prattle on about Lothiel-Gadith." Bowing low, frowning a bit, she straightens and then turns away, walking on without awaiting a response.

Written by - Rikshanthas

Lienad sketched a rough bow before replying. "Call me Rikshanthas. And you're right, Shara and I were headed for the Citadel when we saw the troops camped out on the plains; we followed them in last night. At her insistance," he added, giving her a sideways glance. "Once we got the sitch from one of your lieutenants -- you are Commander Ithramir right? -- I figured an extra sword or two would come in handy," he continued, idly placing a hand on Khelek'urya's hilt. "And Shara's been making herself useful in the infirmary," he finished, indicating her bandaged leg and his own expertly-tended injuries.

She smiled, and gesturing to Tempyst, as she had overheard the commander's last comment, added, "I can show you where it is. They are kind of backlogged over there, an extra hand would be welcome." And she gestured an invitation to leave. "Tell them," she whispered in a stern aside to Lienad before moving away. He sighed softly, rolling his eyes. "Fine. Who needs sanity anyway," he muttered.

Turning back to Ithramir, he explained, "A little while ago I had a ... a vision, of the coming battle. At least I think it was this battle, it wasn't clear ..." He met their gazes evenly. "Look, you probably think I'm crazy, hell I'm starting to wonder myself, but I know I saw a massive fight, and you were in the middle of it," he pointed at Ithramir, "yet I know I've never seen you before in my life. And you were glowing like the sun itself, kicking the crap out of one nasty-looking orc." He paused a moment before continuing. "I had trouble making sense of the rest, but there was this ... shadowy thing. When I saw it I felt sheer fury, like it was insulting me personally with its mere presence. I've never felt such black hatred in my life." He shook his head. "Anyway, as I understand it, this shadow thing was hiding in an elf; at least there was something elven about it, and something female - though whether that's the creature itself or its host I couldn't say. It had managed to get close to you in the chaos; you were so focused on the battle with the orc that this thing was going to make a clean strike -- I could feel its gloating, made me want to tear the thing apart, but I couldn't get to it. There is someone who could, though, and defeat it -- a champion of some kind. I just have to find them."

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Replying sincerely, if not a bit puzzled, "I am a priestess within the citadel. I try to heal those who need it, I try to help others learn the art. My experience brings with it certain responsibilities, but all in all I enjoy what I do." Stopping, she turns to him and continues in complete seriousness, "I didn't mean to pry into your life, I simply wondered about what life on a ship was like. Please forgive me if I offended you with my simple question. If you like, I can prattle on about Lothiel-Gadith."

Leov yawned and stretched his arms out towards the sun, vainly attempting to grasp it. He brought his arms down and locked his hands behind his head before continuing on. "No worries. I didn't mean to be so snappish. I've got a hundred other things on my mind right now." One hundred twenty seven other thoughts were heavy on his mind, especially one named Sloan. "A priest, you say... well doesn't that beat all. I'm glad you enjoy what you do, but I've always preferred the Bottle to the Word, myself," he said after a short pause. "Thank you for the tour offer, but I don't intend on staying here long. There's someplace I have get back...to," he said, adding the last word just late enough to make it conspicuous. "And as for life on a ship... it's nothing special. If you're really so interested in it, I'll show you around my ship. It's not much to look at, but it'll get the job done. I'll even show you what I picked up in Ayatol, if you'd like." Leov really didn't care if he had offended the priestess or not, though he hoped his Little Phoenix wouldn't become an Albatross hanging around his neck.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Shrugging, she walks slowly, her face tilted heavenward, enjoying the sunshine. Pausing a moment, she basks in the warmth, letting it fill her before continuing.

"It was just mild curiosity, nothing to cause trouble over. What sorts of relics have you brought? And you mentioned they were elven? Think I can have a look at them before you start bargaining with the commander? I may not have such an open opportunity after you begin negotiations, and I've always had a fondness for artifacts."

Glancing back at him, she smiles to calm his nerves.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

"It was just mild curiosity, nothing to cause trouble over. What sorts of relics have you brought? And you mentioned they were elven? Think I can have a look at them before you start bargaining with the commander? I may not have such an open opportunity after you begin negotiations, and I've always had a fondness for artifacts."

"She doesn't seem the type...but...I wonder if she isn't trying to pull a swindle of her own..." Leov thought as he returned her smile. "Sure, I suppose I could let you take a look at them. It's not much, just a few old weapons - mainly swords and daggers - some statues and stacks upon stacks of books." He led her back to the boomtown where Tiertiala's Grace was docked at his own leisurely pace.

Shortly after setting foot on the main deck a familiar voice greeted him: "Uncle Leov! You're back!" Leov turned quickly and scooped his niece up in his arms as she ran towards him. "And what are doing up here all by yourself? Where's Mommy and Daddy?" Wrapping her arms around Leov's neck, Sloan responded with a child's candor: "Mommy and Daddy are 'out on the town' whatever that means. I'm helping Grandpa Dom play cards with mister Gilbert and mister Aloray." Laughing, Leov sat her down on the deck, "Well I can see they're in good hands! Tell you what..." he reached into one of his pockets and found a platinum coin, he flipped it in the air then handed it to Sloan, "when they finish that hand, tell them to take you to town." Sloan thanked her uncle, then ran off towards the three and immediately began demanding to go to the town. After a good laugh, Leov turned back to Lithwyn, "Just a moment." He quickly went to his quarters and grabbed the book, still wrapped in the captain's pillowcase. The cats were sitting on the table looking at him quizically. "What? Go catch a mouse or something," he said casually. A pair of shadows accompanied him out. "Now then, if you'll follow me."

Leov moved quickly down to the cargo hold, failing to outrun his little shadows, and took the tops off the five enormous crates still down there. "Well, this is it. Not much, but it's in decent condition for the most part. The only pieces missing are a sword and a dagger, which I'm keeping." He hesitated a bit before finally deciding to tell her about the captain's book. "I also found this," he said uneasily as he handed her the book, "but I don't think it's Elven. In fact, I have no idea what it is." He waited, hoping for some light to be shed on the book's dark secret, and perhaps a clue on what to do about it.

****

Turning back to Ithramir, he explained, "A little while ago I had a ... a vision, of the coming battle. At least I think it was this battle, it wasn't clear ..." He met their gazes evenly. "Look, you probably think I'm crazy, hell I'm starting to wonder myself, but I know I saw a massive fight, and you were in the middle of it," he pointed at Ithramir, "yet I know I've never seen you before in my life. And you were glowing like the sun itself, kicking the crap out of one nasty-looking orc." He paused a moment before continuing. "I had trouble making sense of the rest, but there was this ... shadowy thing. When I saw it I felt sheer fury, like it was insulting me personally with its mere presence. I've never felt such black hatred in my life." He shook his head. "Anyway, as I understand it, this shadow thing was hiding in an elf; at least there was something elven about it, and something female - though whether that's the creature itself or its host I couldn't say. It had managed to get close to you in the chaos; you were so focused on the battle with the orc that this thing was going to make a clean strike -- I could feel its gloating, made me want to tear the thing apart, but I couldn't get to it. There is someone who could, though, and defeat it -- a champion of some kind. I just have to find them."

Lucant said with a serious tone, reluctantly becoming used to his own position: "I believe that I am the person you seek. Nyrondis has also spoken to me about this demon and has charged Tempyst and I with safeguarding Lord Ithramir. I must thank you for shedding some light on the situation. If you would protect Lord Ithramir as well, it would be my honor to fight alongside you, Sir Rikshanthas." A'lanthear's words You need stand alone no longer. rung clearly in his mind and in his heart.

Written by - Rikshanthas

Lienad's right eyebrow rose as Lucant explained himself, but when the man called him 'Sir Rikshanthas' he gave a self-deprecating snort. "So you're the one ... well you can drop the 'sir', mate, I'm just a merc trying to make his way in the world," he said with a lopsided grin. More soberly, he continued, "I'll do what I can, but this is uncharted land to me. I've never bothered with the gods and until recently they've never bothered me." Yet even as he said the words they rang oddly false to his ears; he felt he should be remembering something, yet he couldn't understand what. He frowned, and his eyes drifted to the hilt of A'lanthear. Now why does that sword look familiar? He shrugged. "I have to stay for the rest of the siege anyway, if for no other reason than to make sure Sharan -" he caught himself abruptly, "Shara, will be safe." Inwardly he cursed his loose tongue, and he glanced surreptitiously at the elven commander, fervently hoping he had missed that brief slip. He quickly shifted the topic. "I feel bad for the poor soul that creature's hiding in though, it's probably got her twisted worse than a corkscrew. You want to try to save her or is she already a write-off?"

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir listened and the man introduced himself as Riksanthas and proceeded to tell him about his visions. Ithramir says nothing as Lucant and Riksanthas exhange their words, fully aware of his slip at adding a "n" to the woman Shara's name, until finally he has enough,

"Riksanthas, yourself and Shara, are welcome to join us here and to help. Seems we have enough prophets and protectors here, I suppose we can go back to fighting a war. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a siege to finish."

Brushing past the group of folks that has surrounded him, Ithramir makes his way back to the front, checking on the progress of the dwarves battering the gate. With each massive "boom" the gates get weaker, it's only a matter of minutes now before it crumbles, and they all go streaming in.

Ithramir inwardly chuckles to himself that his greatest threat wasn't the Orcs waiting to pounce from inside, but from some dark, shadowy figure that no one can find. Breathing in deeply, he simply dismisses any thought of this demon for now and focuses on the task at hand.

Written by - Tempyst

The demon had been listening to Kaya all this time, listened to her sing, listened to her state her new resolve. He laughed to himself, How arrogant these creatures are, all of them, thinking they can do anything against one from the abyss. But let her believe she cna win this battle, all the more succulent it will be when I bring her tumbling down. He watched silently, but felt a surge of triumph as the other elves broke through and rescued the poor, little prisoner. He thought it was a nice touch when the one in charge carried her through the street for all to see. Yes, she's weak, helpless, at the moment, make everyone aware of who she is and how she is.

He watched through her eyes, the concern of those around her, and it took all his will not to bust out and take control of his pawn and kill them all. His hunger and hatred were great, but his patience was greater. Also, he knew if he did not complete his mission, he would be bound in this realm forever. He opened his senses, taking in the fear, the blood lust, the drive to kill from all the creatures that were fighting this war. He basked in the energy it gave him, soaking it all up like a sponge, storing it for when it was needed. Wait, what is that? The demon shook inside of Kaya, extending it's senses out a bit more, not wanting to reveil anything of itself, but suddenly needing to find something. There it is! There it is. He chuckled and pulled back his senses. Hunters. At least two of them and a slayer. How charming. Well, it seems this won't be as simple as I had thought, but by no means is it impossible. In fact, this should make it all the more deliscious. The demon new he had to be really careful now and not expell any energy if he did not have to. If the hunters did not pick up on it, the slayer would. He was glad that the spell of binding had also been afflicted upon his host, making sure she could not tell anyone, any important information about who sent them.

The game has truly begun, too bad, I already know who wins. But still, it shall be fun to play. The demon settled back into Kaya, watching, waiting.

Written by - Tempyst

The elven woman called Shara smiled and gestured to Tempyst, "I can show you where it is. They are kind of backlogged over there, an extra hand would be welcome." And she gestured an invitation to leave.

"Be safe Lucant, and you too A'lanthear." She gave Lucant a kiss upon the cheek and pushes a small pouch into his hand. "These berries will continue to give you stamina until there is time for us to rest." Then she brushed a hand over the swords hilt. She turned to Shara and smiled back, following. "My name is Tempyst and I wish it could be under better circumstances that we meet." She looked out in front of her, letting out a soft sigh. "It appears we need to cross the square again, I was just over there. Be wary of arrows my friend." With that, Tempyst sprinted to cover along the edge of the square and began to make her way back to safer ground. She looked back and saw Shara following. When they reached the other side, she looked around and could see wounded here, in fact, they were everywhere, but most were still on their way to battle, ignoring their injuries. "So, Shara, is there someplace specific we should go, or shall we start anywhere?" She looked around, her eyes taking in auras, trying to discern who was in greater need, Then her eyes rested upon a haggared looking elven woman. Her aura was darkened, indicating something truly was wrong with her. "Here, this one needs help." Tempyst moved over to the woman and the male elf that was kneeling beside her. "I am Tempyst, a druid, perhaps I can be of help to your friend."

The male elf turned to Tempyst. "I am Nohlani and please, if you can help her you must, she is of great importance. Her name is Kaya'Talas. We found her a short while ago, in a small cell, she has been kept prisoner by the orcs for who knows how long."

Tempyst kneeled beside Kaya and ran a hand over her forhead. "She is dehydrated and weak from lack of food, but I think I have something that can help." She was a prisoner, hmm? That could explain the darkness I see. Who knows what they have done to her and for how long. As Tempyst searched one of her pouches for something, she turned and smiled up to Shara. "So, where do you and your friend hail from? It seems you have been traveling a long ways." As she spoke, she looked to the other side of the square to where her husband was, and felt a tug at her soul. Be well my loves, be well.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

"I feel bad for the poor soul that creature's hiding in though, it's probably got her twisted worse than a corkscrew. You want to try to save her or is she already a write-off?" Lucant was taken aback by how casually the man spoke of the possessed girl. "She is not a..."write-off"... I will save her. I have to save her... if I can't... if I don't... then I'll never be able to forgive myself."

"Riksanthas, yourself and Shara, are welcome to join us here and to help. Seems we have enough prophets and protectors here, I suppose we can go back to fighting a war. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a siege to finish." Brushing past the group of folks that has surrounded him, Ithramir makes his way back to the front, checking on the progress of the dwarves battering the gate. With each massive "boom" the gates get weaker, it's only a matter of minutes now before it crumbles, and they all go streaming in.

Tempyst then approached him as the Elven woman called Shara motioned for them to leave. "Be safe Lucant, and you too A'lanthear." She gave Lucant a kiss upon the cheek and pushes a small pouch into his hand. Lucant hugged her tightly, reluctant to let go for fear that he would never see her again. "Be safe," he whispered.

Turning back to Rikshanthas and noticing him looking at A'lanthear, he said gravely: "I would like to speak more with you about your visions, but it seems we haven't much time left before the Dwarves are through the gate."

Another ear-splitting boom rang out across the devastated city as both armies stood at the razor's edge.

Written by - Rikshanthas

As they exited the square, Sharanya turned to the young woman called Tempyst and said, "you can relax now, this part of the keep's been secured. An orc would have to be a better shot than I am to endanger us here," and her tone firmly discounted that possibility. She had arranged to exit near the ruined complex that housed the battlefield infirmary, which was now only a short walk away; they could see soldiers with minor wounds heading back to the field, while the more severely injured rested on pallets in the various rooms as healers made their way around. Fortunately, she noticed, those leaving the infirmary seemed to outnumber the new arrivals somewhat.

"So, Shara, is there someplace specific we should go, or shall we start anywhere?" Tempyst said, looking around. "Anywhere's fine, just take it by degree of urgency," Sharanya replied absently, moving to assist a human soldier being supported by one of his fellows; the man's right arm had been severed just below the elbow, and he held it tightly in his left hand in an attempt to stanch the blood seeping between his fingers. She sat him down next to an elven woman Tempyst was assisting, moving quickly to stop the bleeding and bandage the stump. With her mind all but focused on healing his wound, she thought of Nagarren for the first time in years; ever since she had walked away from the Temple as a young acolyte.

She was just finishing with the soldier when Tempyst asked her, "So, where do you and your friend hail from? It seems you have been traveling a long ways." The young woman's casual address, oddly enough, touched off a trace of the High Born arrogance she'd thought she had long since buried, and she had to bite back a haughty retort. Instead she replied, "We came from the south; we were at a small outpost called Fort Darkwood, working with the local guard. It turns out we left less than a day before Beridane's hooligans sacked it. I was told they left none alive," she said quietly. "We were going to go to Westgale, but then we ... well, we ran into the army heading from Lothiel-Gadith. He wanted to go on to the Citadel at first, but it didn't take him long to change his mind when I said I wanted to help my people. Personally I think he relishes any excuse to use that dratted sword of his, even if it might kill him," she said, the heat in her voice not quite masking her concern.

****

"She is not a..."write-off"... I will save her. I have to save her... if I can't... if I don't... then I'll never be able to forgive myself," the man called Lucant said fervently, though Lienad was hardly surprised by his vehemence; as he watched the slightly shorter and much younger man he found himself thinking, poor sod. I used to be young like that once. 'Don't think I was ever that idealistic though.

"Rikshanthas, yourself and Shara," Lienad caught the almost imperceptible emphasis and winced inwardly, "are welcome to join us here and to help. Seems we have enough prophets and protectors here, I suppose we can go back to fighting a war. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a siege to finish," Ithramir said, brushing past them and making his way to the front. Lienad watched him go, then smiled slightly in grudging admiration. "Now there's a man I can respect," he said finally, his eyes drifting back to A'lanthear.

"I would like to speak more with you about your visions, but it seems we haven't much time left before the Dwarves are through the gate," Lucant said gravely, his statement punctuated by another ear-splitting boom and the sound of cracking wood. "I hear that," Lienad agreed, loosening Khelek'urya in its sheath with a sigh of resignation. He discovered Sharanya had at some point reattached the Orc Poker to his belt without his noticing, and he looked toward the infirmary, silently thanking her. Turning back to Lucant, he said sympathetically, "Just so we're clear, kid, I do care what happens to the girl. Nobody deserves that kind of torment. I just don't hold any illusions of getting her out in one piece; for all we know, by the time we find her a quick death might be the best thing we could give her." His words were leaden with the weight of far too much experience with similar situations.


Written by - Trinni Shannon Page 20 Book 2

"Sure, I suppose I could let you take a look at them. It's not much, just a few old weapons - mainly swords and daggers - some statues and stacks upon stacks of books."

Making their way slowly, she muses that her game isn't as fun as she'd hoped. His rapid withdrawal when she asked an innocent question took away any chance for laughter in this situation. What could be on his mind to make him so testy? He seemed jovial enough at first glance and able to take a joke... hmm.

"Uncle Leov! You're back!" Leov turned quickly and scooped up the little girl in his arms as she ran towards him. "And what are doing up here all by yourself? Where's Mommy and Daddy?"

Watching the exchange, Lithwyn smiled wistfully. She didn't know what was more cute, the little girl's bouncing curls as she runs, or Leov's obvious affection for her. Her sudden yearning for children brought Ithramir to her mind once again. Wondering if she hadn't made a huge mistake by not telling him her feelings, she stops herself by mentally asking "What feelings?"

The little girl thanked Leov, then ran off towards the three and immediately began demanding to go to the town while Lithwyn watched, laughing.

"She is gorgeous, Leov." Keeping her thoughts to herself, she wonders at why a child is on such a journey.

"Just a moment." Nodding absentmindedly, Lithwyn continues watching the girl as Leov disappears then reappears with a pillow case (?) and two cats in tow. "Now then, if you'll follow me." Realizing only good men are loved by children and animals, she relaxes her earlier skepticism of him. Whatever is bothering him cannot be all that bad, after all.

As he openned crates and showed her the contents, she could tell he was holding something back, that he was feeling unneasy about something. Deciding to leave it alone, Lithwyn looked over the various pieces. Nothing truly exciting, but still worth a fair amount of coin. Though, now and again she wondered at the origins. Obviously elven, many of the pieces had odd elements she hadn't seen before. Designs of the statues, a subtle difference in the curve of various swords, the wrappings of some of the hilts... interesting.

"I also found this," he said uneasily as he handed her the book, "but I don't think it's Elven. In fact, I have no idea what it is."

Glancing up, she reaches out to take the offered book. Just before her fingertips touch it, and odd feeling washes over her and she jerks her hand back a few inches with an overwhelming desire to stay as far away from it as possible. Shaking her head at her own foolishness, she quickly takes the book out of Leov's hand. Heavier than she anticipated, her hand drops for a momet before she reajusts to match the weight.

A frown on her lips, she examines the book. The cover has no title, no markings. Openning the book at a random place, she frowns harder. Blood. She's sure of it. Who would write in blood? The language is unknown to her, but it nonetheless sends chills down her spine. Turning the page, she gasps softly at a crude, gruesome drawing. A man tied down, in the center of a large symbol, diagrams (instructions?) around various places of his body. The inside of a man should never be so visible... Closing her eyes as she shuts the book, the image burns behind her eyes.

Sighing deeply, she opens them again and flips through the pages for several minutes. Noting the script in common here and there, she assumes there are at least two different authors. If not more.

She feels deeply drained as she finally closes the book again. Her face is pale, even her hair and eyes have lost their normal vibrance. This book is anathema to her, it is the opposite of everything she believes in, everything that is true to her. Trying to reach Kaia'hanas, her calls are left unanswered. Placing a hand out, she steadies herself on a beam.

Looking up at Leov for the first time since she openned the book, she asks "Where did you get this?"

Written by - Tempyst

"...Personally I think he relishes any excuse to use that dratted sword of his, even if it might kill him," Shara said. Tempyst noticed the change of tone in her voice and smiled.

"It is very difficult to understand the one you love, but give it time, I am sure you both will learn more of each other. Some men seem to feel they must fight to protect that which they love, and to show how much they love. And as the ones that love them, we must stand strong and never falter." Tempyst turned to Nohlani, taking out of the pouch she found, a few purple berries. "Nohlani, take these. Feed them to her slowly and she will regain her strength quickly. There does not seem to be anything physically wrong with her." Nohlani thanked her and turned back to his charge, feeding her one of the berries. Tempyst stood and looked about the wounded and knew she would need more help than what she currently had. Turning to Shara, she placed a hand on the woman's shoulder. "Excuse me for a moment. If I am to help, then I need to obtain help." Shara looked at her a bit puzzled and watched as Tempyst moved into an emtpy, broken building.

Tempyst stepped into the shadow of the ruined structure, and found a spot to center herself. Setting down, then closing her eyes, Tempyst let her aura loos, letting it flow through the walls intothe earth, into every knook and cranny it could find. She knew she could help those soldiers out there, but also knew, she could do a better job if she asked for help. She opened herself up to Nyrondis and asked him for such help. After a few moments, she felt the warmth of acknowledgement flow through her, though she also noted a hint to make sure she did not forget her true purpose for being here. Within moments, she could hear them, scurrying along the floorboards, slithering from hiding places, crawling into her living cloak and into her hair. She let out a soft giggle, as she felt the tickle of so many legs. She stood up, loaded down with companions, and knew there were many more close by if she needed them.

It must have been at least 5 minutes before Tempyst emerged from the ruins, but when she stepped into the sunlight once again, she looked ready to work. Stepping back over to Shara and the young man who had lost his arm, she placed her hand once again on Shara's shoulder. "Let me help him, I can lessen the pain. Shara looked a bit perturbed, but stepped back. Tempyst placed a hand upon the young man's cheek, and felt the pendent she wore grow warm, as the man relaxed and put his trust in her. She then did something that made Shara and many other gasp. She reached back and into her cloak of leaves and when she brought her hand out, it was covered with at least a half dozen garden spiders. Shara was about ready to protest, but Tempyst shook her head, and placed her hand upon the stump of the man's arm. Immediately the spiders skittered off her hand onto the arm and then over the bleeding stump, began to weave their silk back and forth, creating a tight, form fitting bandage. The young man winced; Tempyst reached up to her hair and drew from it what appeared to be a long vine, but was soon realized to be a small snake. Tempyst whispered to the snake and then held it right above where the spiders were working and with a lightning reflex, the snake bit the young man. Everyone around gasped, but Tempyst smiled as she let the snake back loose into her hair. "It's alright, some poisons acts as a sedative and it will lessen his pain while the spiders work.

It was only a matter of moments before the spiders had weaved a bandage over the young man's arm and then scurried back into the folds of Tempyst's cloak. She turned to Shara and smiled. "There, now that will hold until he can get back home." She could see the stunned look on Shara's face. "One must do what one must do in battle. One must take help wherever they can get it. Now," Tempyst looked around, "let's get to work."

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Leov could see the horror on the priestess' face as she flipped through the book. Leaning against the hull, he closed his eyes and worried quietly to himself: "Damn..." Opening his eyes, he noticed Lithwyn steadying herself and looking noticably drained. "Where did you get this?" she asked. Despite his suspicions of the priestess, Leov was sorry to have caused her such pain.

Feeling the proverbial wall at his back, Leov quickly went over his web of lies and half-truths, trying to figure out something she we would believe as he took the book from her and wrapped it back up. "I'm sorry. I know it's bad, but..." his voice trailed off. Her reaction had confirmed his fears, now he only hoped to get rid of the damned book before the same thing happened to his people. "As for where I got it..." He paused for a moment as he weighed his limited options: "I can't tell her the truth. She's too good-hearted to sell me out, but I can't take that chance. The last thing I need is Deltheron hanging me for piracy. I've got too much left undone." Leov placed the book in one the crates and helped Lithwyn regain her footing. "She deserves more than just a bold-faced lie, though." Leov sighed as he came to a compromise with himself. "I got it from the same guy who left me with this junk."

Leov realized too late that he had told her just moments before that he had found it. He hoped that she didn't realize it as well.

Written by - Rikshanthas

"It is very difficult to understand the one you love ..." Tempyst began, and the rest barely registered as that one word echoed in Sharanya's ears. "I don't- He isn't- we're not-" she sputtered, then clamped her jaw shut, blushing as she was forced to admit the truth. She chuckled ruefully: she, a High Born Lady of the elven people, had given her heart to a bastard, mixed-blood, all-too-human mercenary. Her parents would die of shame if they ever found out; she found that thought oddly comforting. She smiled slightly at Tempyst, who answered with an understanding grin. Then she turned to give something to the elf Nohlani, whose charge Sharanya was able to closely examine for the first time since they had arrived. The older elven woman seemed familiar somehow ... Eru’Erain? she thought, a puzzled frown forming on her face as Tempyst left toward one of the buildings, saying something about obtaining help. We are rather far from the Naur’Llth of our homeland, sister; I wonder, how came you to be here, a prisoner of the orcs ... She tried to place where she knew the woman, and was reminded of Nen A’Naur, the day she had embarked on the fateful journey which had led her to this day. She had managed to evade her "babysitters" -- the term had become her favorite insult for the two swordsingers who had been shadowing her ever since her father had caught her sneaking out of the manor one night -- and was arranging transport with a group of sea elves ...

Her line of thought was interrupted by Tempyst's returning, determination in her step. She turned to the young man Shara had been helping and said to her, "Let me help him, I can lessen the pain." Sharanya felt a slight flush of annoyance at being distracted from something that could have been important, but she stepped back, answering with, "If you can, then go ahead. I'm not very good with this kind of thing," she said, annoyed at her own helplessness. The girl's methods, however, startled her; she opened her mouth to protest, but subsided as the spiders used their sticky webs to form a rather efficient bandage, allowing the wound to heal without risk of infection. Then the young woman drew out of her hair what Sharanya realized, with a little surprise, was a garden snake, one of the more docile breeds if she remembered her lessons correctly; as the snake moved to bite the wounded arm, she remembered a more relevant point - its mild venom acted as an anaesthetic and sedative, easing the man's pain and allowing him to rest and recover from the shock.

"There, now that will hold until he can get back home," Tempyst said, smiling. "One must do what one must do in battle; one must take help wherever they can get it." Sharra was stunned at the degree of familiarity this girl had with natural methods; as a ranger she had learned to appreciate nature, but to have such a deep understanding and connection with it --

Of course, she thought suddenly, mentally slapping her forehead. "Your skills are much needed and welcome here, child of Nyrondis," she said almost formally, then broke into a relieved grin. "I should have recognized your calling; it's been too long since my days in the woodlands of my home," she said, nostalgia touching her voice. "But there is much healing needed; as you said, let's get to work," she finished with a nod. Nagarren guide me, she added privately as she moved to assist the injured coming in, her inability to do more than patch a few cuts and set a broken bone here or there eventually driving her to frustration.

She was unaware of when she had started praying to Nagarren again, but she soon found herself whispering a prayer with each wound she addressed. She thought once more of her days in Nagarren's Temple, when she had been a senior Acolyte, as she moved to catch a human soldier being supported by a tired elven ranger. She had been only a child then; gifted, but shy in the goddess' presence. She had fled the Temple not long afterward. Shaking her head at such idle flights of memory, she turned her attention fully toward helping the young soldier.

The man's left leg seemed to have been given an extra joint between the knee and ankle; his face was grim, convinced he would lose the leg. Sharanya's experience in mending bones allowed her to reassure the young soldier however; though the break looked nasty it was clean, and fairly easily set. She estimated he would be back on his feet in a few days. Goddess let my words be true, she prayed silently. As she set and splinted the broken limb, her mind wandered back to the Temple. She had been afraid, she remembered; afraid to open herself fully to Nagarren's influence, to release herself into the goddess' care. Finally beginning to understand as she never had in her youth, she sought that connection with a need she had never before known she had. As she rested her hands on the man's injured leg, praying for healing, she felt the goddess' presence as on the other side of a rusted door; Nagarren was still there, had never left her side, the door merely needed to be reopened. Sharanya summoned all her inner resources to that task, calling on all she had learned, both in the Temple and since. For a long time she felt her attempts were futile, until finally she knew -- she was the door, her own walls keeping the goddess out; and she tore them down willingly, reaching out to Nagarren in full acceptance of her path. She felt the warmth of Nagarren's healing power, and willingly lost herself in that connection, allowing the goddess to work through her to bring healing to the many injured here. As those around watched, her hands glowed warmly on the broken limb, the soldier's pained features relaxing into the peace of healing rest. The bone knitted together, torn muscles began to regenerate before their eyes. Finally the glow faded, and Sharanya collapsed next to the soldier, a serene expression on her face. The last words spoken before the darkness embraced her were felt in the hearts of those near her:

Welcome back, my child.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

"I got it from the same guy who left me with this junk."

Nodding her head absentmindedly, her nod slows then stops as he can see her mind working around the sentence. Her eyebrows lower in a frown as Lithwyn looks at him quizzically. Rising to her full height, exhaustion diminishing now the accursed book has been put away, she stands in front of Leov.

"Mr. Klein, did you or did you not say that you "found" this? How can it be abandoned if someone gave it to you?"

Watching his expression change to shock and dismay at the realization of his little slip, she grows increasingly angry as she begins to berate him.

"If, by that, you mean you "found" it in someone's storehouse and you felt it perfectly alright to STEAL it because no one was looking, then I'm sorry but Lothiel-Gadith will have nothing to do with you, your ship, or your ill-gotten goods."

Poking his chest to emphasize the stressed words, she all but glares down at him... a seemingly impossible feat as he has at least an inch or two on her.

"I'm sorry, but I do not harbor thieves in my Citadel. Either you explain yourself now or I will have you removed, by force if necessary."

Her hands on her hips, she barely controls the urge to turn and leave. Only her sense of fairness, of needing to hear the other side before casting judgement, keeps her in place.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

"Mr. Klein, did you or did you not say that you "found" this? How can it be abandoned if someone gave it to you?" Lithwyn said with a rising anger. "Oh damn, here it goes..." he thought to himself as Lithwyn began to berate him. "If, by that, you mean you "found" it in someone's storehouse and you felt it perfectly alright to STEAL it because no one was looking, then I'm sorry but Lothiel-Gadith will have nothing to do with you, your ship, or your ill-gotten goods," he stood there unphased as she poked him in the chest. "I'm sorry, but I do not harbor thieves in my Citadel. Either you explain yourself now or I will have you removed, by force if necessary."

A smile slid across Leov's face before he burst into laughter. "So that's your angle, is it Little Phoenix?" Regaining his composure, he began to make the best of what he had to work with:" Well, Lithwyn... the way I see it, you are hardly in a position to be making demands. Look around... you're on my ship, surrounded by my crew." He stepped towards her before continuing, "I may have been a bit forward, but I wasn't this rude to you, now was I?" He paused, then looked her squarely in her eyes: "Now, my Little Phoenix, I suggest you calm yourself down and try to question me in a more civilized manner. Like I said before: for you, I have all the time in the world."

Written by - Trinni Shannon

He stepped towards her and Lithwyn had a moment of panic as she realized her precarious position. She was on a ship outside the citadel, no guards were in ear shot, she did not bring any weapons with her, and Kaia'hanas wasn't answ...

I'm here, do not fear.

Well, okay, Kaia'hanas was still on her side. But why she didn't answer a moment ago...? His continuation interrupted her thoughts.

"I may have been a bit forward, but I wasn't this rude to you, now was I? Now, my Little Phoenix, I suggest you calm yourself down and try to question me in a more civilized manner. Like I said before: for you, I have all the time in the world."

Taking a breath, she narrows her eyes as the pupils dilate, trying to calm her anger even as her cheeks continue to redden with fury. Speaking softly and carefully, she levels her gaze at him, all pretense of humor and cordiality gone.

Turning on forced politeness, she responds, "Mr. Klein... I truly hope your intention was not to threaten the Lady and Commander of Lothiel-Gadith. You speak of rudeness? Let us assume, for the moment, that your alluding to my vulnerability on your ship was purely unintentional and innocent. After all, I am far from vulnerable, regardless of whose ship I am on. Please do not forget you are a guest by my admission only.

To the matter at hand, do not feign hurt feelings in an attempt to guide the conversation away from the topic of your honor. Perhaps my response seemed excessive to you, but I do not take such lawlessness lightly. You would do best to cut the pretenses and explain your position. You may have all day at your disposal, my flatterer, but I do not."

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Leov hid his amusement at Lithwyn's fury. "Please, stop with the 'mister'. My name is Leov, not 'mister'. And I liked you a lot better when you were just Lithwyn." He locked his hands behind his head and leaned back against the hull again. "I'm sorry if I made you feal uncomfortable or threatened. I never intended to do so.

He yawned, then looked at her, smiling, and said "If I understood all that flowery language right, you want me to get to the point and tell you why the hell I'm here. Well, here you go: I used to be the foreman of Kassal's - that island off the coast of Westgale - docks. Anyways, after Beridane took over, everything went to hell. The island's not even a shadow of itself anymore..." His voice trailed off. "The people there... my people... still supported Pallanon. There was frequent talk of rebellion, but nobody ever did anything about it. One day, not too far back, I assualted one of the magistrate's "soldiers" who was about to kill a woman who was just trying to feed her kid. The next day... the bastard burned the entire village and killed Tinorb knows how many. It was all... all because of what I did." Leov paused again to beat back the emotion welling up inside him. "I couldn't... bear to see it. I couldn't let my actions kill more of the people I loved so much. So gathered up the ones who wanted to leave... and I ran... I ran away like a coward."

He leaned over and picked the evil book up out of the crate he had thrown it into, then sat it down beside him. "Originally, we were going to Shrikefield. I figured a neutral nation would be the safest place for them. But on the way, we ran across an Ironskane ship... one that we had loaded up back at Kassal. It was adrift... deserted... I ordered my men to take everything they could from the ship, and that's how I came about these," he said, smacking the crate he was standing next to. "Then I checked out the captain's quarters and found this," he held the book up, then put it back down on the crate. "Later on... we found out that the ship was going to Shrikefield... I was out of options, so I turned the ship around and... I guess Tiertiala brought me here... there's no use denying it anymore." He sighed, reluctantly accepting the truth.

"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..."

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya closed her eyes and relished the sweet water as it washed down her parched throat. She opened them as she felt a hand brush against her forhead and looked to see a young human woman gazing at her with concern. She heard the young lady speak. "Nohlani, take these. Feed them to her slowly and she will regain her strength quickly. There does not seem to be anything physically wrong with her."

"Thank you miss." Nohlani looked to what was in his hands and saw four, plump, purple berries. He smiles as he held one up to Kaya's mouth. "Please Lady Talas, eat this, it will help you regain your strength." Kaya saw the berry and figured it to be something enchanted. the Eru'Erain practiced such tricks, imbuing fruits and nuts with magics to help them survive out in the desert. She opened her mouth and then closed it and slowly chewed the sweet, then tart tasting berry. After a few moments, she could feel a warm rush through her body and felt the life coming back into her.

"I think I am ready for another Nohlani and please, just call me Kaya." She held out her hand and Nohlani places the three remaining berries into her still slighty shaky hand. Kaya looked around as she ate the berries, enjoying their unique flavor and the fact she was feeling sated and content for the first time in months. She could see the young human girl who had helped her, help bandage one who had lost a limb. When she saw the spiders come out and begin to weave the bandage, she smile, recalling such practices from the few druids that had been a part of her guard. She also noticed the young elven ranger beside her, face still fresh even beneath the dirt and grime. That one has not seen much battle I suspect, but that will soon change if she stays here. Kaya continued to observe her surroundings as she became more and more alert and aware. As her body regained strength, she could feel the adrenaline begin to flow as the sounds of battle reached her ears. It was then she felt it stir again. I feel you demon, but as I told you, I am not going to give up, I am not going to just let you walk all over me. She could feel the thing inside her, crawling under her skin, almost laughing as she made her internal statement. Laugh all you want, but I am no longer weak or a prisoner. Kaya looked up to the elf who had rescued her, his eyes still full of concern.

"It is apparrent that you know who I am, now your name again, Nohlani wasn't it?" Nohlani nodded. "Good, I need to give..." her mind thought warning before she said it, but it never left her lips. Instead she felt her throat tighten and her body wrack with a deep choking cough.

"My Lady, I mean Kaya, please do not rush yourself, you have been through a horrible ordeal." Nohlani stepped closer and handed her a cup of water. "Take it slow and easy." Kaya took the cup and drank from it, her throat clearing.

"There is no..." time for slow and easy. Kaya began choking again before the words could be said. DAMN YOU! Kaya screamed inside at the demon. Damn you, what have you done to me now?

Thisss isss not of my doing child, but of the one who put me here. If you keep trying to ssspeak of anything pertaining to your predictament, thisss isss what will happen. The creature inside her gloated as it spoke. But it quickly became quiet when he felt a tingle, letting him know the demon hunters sensed him speak. They can sssense me, it thought, but luckily, that doesss not ussse enough of my power to let them pinpoint me, only worry and sssearch and reveal themssselvesss to me. He felt a small surge of power and saw the druid who had given the berries, look around, concerned, as if searching for something. Ah, ssso it isss a team, wonderful...wonderful. The demon settled back down and began to soak up the chaotic energy all around him.

Kaya felt a chill go up her spine as she took another drink of water. Okay, lets try this again, I can't tell what is going on with me, I wonder if I can at least tell them I want to join in the battle.? Kaya took a deep breath, then slowly rose to her feet. She still felt a little shaky and Nohlani held out a hand for her. But she stood on her own, getting her balance and composure. "I believe I shall be fine Nohlani. I was just trying to say," she paused for a moment, 'is that I would like to speak to whoever is in charge and offer my services as thanks for my rescue. Besides, I have some payback to dish out."

Nohlani smiled, even though his eyes still showed concern. "I am sure Lord Ithramir would welcome your expertise, but still Kaya, you should not push yourself and at least wait until the morrow before you join in."

Lord Ithramir? THEE Lord Ithramir? Kaya could not believe her ears. Ever since she was a child she had heard stories of Ithramir and of his struggles here to keep peace and the orcs at bay; her was her hero. She smiled, realizing she was thinking like a start struck child. She tried to take a step forward, then stumbled, falling into Nohlani's arms. "Perhaps you are right, the berries have helped me throw off the immediate affects of my imprisonment, but I should let my body adjust. But I WILL be ready by tomorrow to join in the battle." Kaya sat back down and layed back under the canvas. She closed her eyes and with the familar sounds of battle in the distance, she fell into her first semi-peaceful sleep in ages.

Written by - Tempyst

"Your skills are much needed and welcome here, child of Nyrondis," Shara said almost formally, then broke into a relieved grin. "I should have recognized your calling; it's been too long since my days in the woodlands of my home," she said, nostalgia touching her voice. "But there is much healing needed; as you said, let's get to work," she finished with a nod. Tempyst nodded back and smiled, then turned and made her way through the wounded. She tried to use as little of her magic as she could, she new if she expended too much on any one injured soldier, she may not be able to help any others. But the creatures of Nyrondis she called upon, helped her with the more severe cases.

There was one young female elven ranger, who had been caught with some shrapnel from a magical explosion. There was much debris in her wounds and Tempyst could not see all of it. She calmed the young woman by handing her a small yellow tubar. "Here, chew this, it is honey root, it will help you relax and ease the pain." The ranger nodded, recognizing the plant name and took the root. After a few moments of chewing, her eyes closed and her breathing relaxed and steadied. Tempyst then held her hand out and whispered a few words into the wind. After a moment, a line of ants marched down her arm and onto the ranger's leg. Tempyst watched the workers do what they did best, find and carry objects bigger than they from one place to another. Within a few minutes, the ants drug out every bit of debris, some of it a hundred times bigger than the ant itself. Once all the ants were out of the wound, Tempyst flushed it with a little water then stitched it up by hand.

Suddenly, she felt a chill run up her spine and a knot clutch in her stomach as if she would suddenly become ill. It is here. She thought, The demon is truly here. She looked around, concern for Lucant and Ithramir filling her. She closed her eyes and reached out her senses, trying to find her husband, seeing if their bond would reach through the crowds yet. Lucant my love, be careful, I felt it. It is here. She hoped he could hear her, or at least sense her concern. Then, as quickly as the sick feeling came over her, it was gone.

She sighed, then stood, looked around and saw Shara collaspe. She moved to elf and could sense that she had just opened herself up to receiving help from a higher power and had already experienced what she, herself was trying to avoid. She made sure Shara was comfortable, then went back to work, healing and calming those who had fought so bravely, her thoughts still on her husband and his safety.

Written by - Sycon

So this is Minas Aure.

It could have possibly been a beautiful place if it wasn’t for the smell of blood. A battlefield was never a place to admire the beauty. Those who truly lived in the heat of battle, and enjoyed it, were nothing but killers.

In Sycon’s mind, those who played with death either despised themselves or had a streak of pure evil running through their veins. You could say he was on the first of the sides. After you took one’s life and felt their soul rip slowly from their bodies, you get a feeling deep inside you that you will never forget. A remorse that is more painful than the sharpest of daggers could ever bring him.

Sycon shook his head. These thoughts would not lead him anywhere in his tasks at hand. He was not here to take life, at least not today. The trees were slightly below his feet, as he levitated above them. The breeze caught across his robes. He had cut the sleeves out of them a few weeks earlier to make a sash around his waist. The bottoms were also split and tucked into his black cuffed boots. Not many mages or healers wore their robes this way, but they did not carry a sword the way he did, or even would. The style was made for quick movements while wearing the robes of a mage, either to dodge an oncoming attack or parry a blow.

The Long Blade and the way of the Jen’e’tai. It was a single blade, longer than most swords and not as thick as you would expect. This blade dealt more towards agility and dexterity rather then sheer strength. By nature Sycon was a mage, but he was by no means helpless without his magics.

Sycon slowly started descending towards the earth. Sinking into the trees below as the shade engulfed his human frame. It had been a while, Sycon had guessed, since this battle had begun. His plan was to sneak into the camp unnoticed and see what was to behold. He was rather curious himself as to who he could meet. Sycon’s feet touched ground and he stumbled slightly. He cursed under his breath. He had never had so much trouble on Aerynth focusing his powers, but this realm seemed quite different. “Just keep placing one foot in front of the other,” his old mentor words reverberated through his mind.

The trees were starting to thin as he walked towards the war camps. It was Ithramir’s camps. He had heard tell of this Ithramir, through rumors and what not, and Sycon was anxious to see if he could perhaps catch a glimpse of him. It would be interesting to see an Avatar…hopefully.

There were guards stationed nearby, he knew. He could feel their presence. Sycon was a warlock, and in his home realm, he could read the thoughts of others and even bend others minds to his will… but here, he was lucky to even get a glimpse of their thoughts. He could always tell when someone was around though, but their intentions weren’t always clear.

The guard was a bit off and seemed anxious to leave, or so it seemed by his posture. He was probably at the end of his watch and another guard must be on his way to relieve him. This was the best chance as ever to go in. Sycon waited for a moment when the guard turned his head to look back into the camp, probably looking for his relief, and levitated slightly off the ground, so not to make any noise running, and swiftly moved towards and into the camp.

It was quite easy. There seemed to be no magical boundaries or wards set up. Then again it was a recent war camp and those important enough to protect were more than likely well protected. Now that he was in, there was no point in hiding himself from everyone. Hiding in plain sight was always one of his favorite strategies. He started strolling around the camp as though he truly belonged there. He watched several others rushing past, with seemingly endless tasks to finish, and started mimicking their actions. But where should he start?

Of course, the medical rooms. It was a genius place to see how the battles had gone. But he would need a symptom. Ah, blinded by some head trauma or perhaps shock from witnessing the blood shed of battle. Sycon searched throughout the camp, quickly going from one area to the next. Some had people conversing, other supplies, and yet others completely empty. And, with his reoccurring luck these days, the last place to check was the one he was looking for, although he now had a good understanding of the camp and its layout though.

Sycon quickly ducked inside and found an empty cot. Laying his sword off to the side, he jumped into it. He looked around him. Soldiers, rangers, and other assorted folk were all gathered in the cots, seemingly oblivious to all else but their own pain. He could say little as he saw some were missing limbs. Ah, and there were the healers, making their way down the rows of beds. They would be to him before too long, or so he guessed. He found a small strip of linen beside his head. He wrapped it around his eyes making a knot in the back and laid down on the cot.

The cot felt good as his muscles relaxed a bit. It had been a while since he had laid down.

Now all he had to do was wait and see who would approach him. Better to let them approach you then go seeking them out. Suspicion and all…

Written by - Rikshanthas

They made slow progress across the Citadel at first, but with time Vhar'Kanix began to accustom himself to one less leg joint, and his balance improved, though to an outside observer he would appear slightly inebriated. Eventually they arrived at Lithwyn's office, and Aelarra knocked. And waited. Then knocked again. Exhaling loudly, she said, "Lady Lithwyn must be making her rounds; oh well, we can wait here, I guess."

"I would much like to accustom myself to this form, before such an important meeting," Vhar replied seriously, waving slightly on his feet. This caused him to chuckle, the sound of which surprised him. Which only made him laugh harder, until he had to steady himself against the wall, shivering slightly with mirth. "Gods, I feel like a child again," he said with an almost embarrassed grin. His humor was infectious, and Aelarra found herself smiling along with him, though she couldn't quite understand his good humor; one would understand if he were upset or confused, but the man seemed positively giddy!

Vhar noticed her puzzled expression, which only set him off into another fit of guffaws, until they started drawing attention from those passing nearby. He finally subsided, wiping tears from his eyes as he waved the curious away. When he had regained enough breath to explain, he said, "I'm sorry, the thought just struck me, I am like a child again. Everything you take for granted, from walking to speaking to the simple act of laughter, is new and strange to me; it is a rather humbling experience. I haven't felt this ... young in over five centuries," he chuckled.

"Five centuries!" Aelarra breathed, stunned at such longevity. "Oh yes," he replied, "my people do live a very long time, and we have very long memories; it is our blessing and our curse, as the world changes around us we remain the same. It would take an age to explain fully why I so enjoy this turn of events, but I would very much like -" and he was startled by a rumble that seemed to emanate from his belly, to his alarm. It was Aelarra's turn to chuckle. "I guess we shall have the time, for I would venture to guess you haven't eaten in those five centuries, have you?"

"Not the way you people do, no," he agreed, and she led him toward the kitchens to see if they could snag something.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst turned around after wrapping up wound on an old dwarve's neck. It had taken her a bit of talking before he even let her near him, seems he was afraid she would shave off his beard. But with a little reassurance, the dwarf let her do her work and even praised her when she did not even remove one hair. Wasn't that cot just empty? I didn't see anyone come by. She thought, seeing a new patient on a cot near the edge of the infirmary. She walked over and took notice of the man, obviously he had seen some battle, but as she looked him over with her senses, she could not find any obvious injuries, though his eyes were bandaged.. She moved close and knelt beside the cot, taking one of the man's hands gently into her own, while with her other, she carefully placed upon the man's forhead to see if there was any sign of fever. "Don't worry friend," she spoke softly, a gentle wind picking up, carrying the smell of fertile earth and new rain throughout the tent. "My name is Tempyst and I am here to help. Have you hurt your eyes? Please, tell me what has happened."

Written by - Sycon

Sycon sensed one of the....how to explain them...nurses nearby. He could feel her eyes moving over him. Probably trying to figure the cause to his illness. Sycon, being the irrational person that he was, starting thinking of exactly what to say only after she had started her question.

She moved close and knelt beside the cot, taking one of the man's hands gently into her own, while with her other, she carefully placed upon the man's forhead to see if there was any sign of fever. "Don't worry friend," she spoke softly, a gentle wind picking up, carrying the smell of fertile earth and new rain throughout the tent. "My name is Tempyst and I am here to help. Have you hurt your eyes? Please, tell me what has happened."

Sycon's brain wracked with thought, he worked better under pressure anyway. He was a good liar and had no problem with doing so, especially when this was sort of a game to him. Words started appearing from no where in his mind as he spoke, "I...I don't really remember. Sort of...I mean I'm not sure. The orcs were everywhere, and I...they..." Sycon paused for a second for dramatics. He thought he was doing rather good.

"I took them head on, cutting them down one by one...but...they came in greater numbers still..." He gained in confidence of his story.

"Then another, and another...I reverted to the arts to repel several as they came at me at once. I knew my mana wouldn't hold long, and I didn't know what to do. They...they closed in to make their final blow on me, I knew it was going..." Sycon stopped not wanted to finish the sentence or else someone think he was lying.

"I found a last reserve of mana, so I nursed it, just like you are helping me now," Sycon took his free hand and put it over her hand that was on top of his and grasped with warmth, "pushing into a smaller and smaller ball. Creating a ball so compressed and full of energy it would just lash out. So I drove it deeper," Sycon's breath picked up, trying to imitate like he was reliving the tale, "and deeper until I could not contain it anymore. But I lost control of it. A blinding flash illuminated the area, and everything went pitch white....then blackness. I was thrown back, injured on the ground. Mostly bruises and scrapes. I crawled around for a while until someone found me and brought me here to you." He let his lips twitch into a small smile as he gave a short grasping pressure with his hand on hers, only letting it settle for a second then relaxing.

"Here, let me know who you are, and thank you, Tempyst." He said her name more lulling than the rest of the sentence. The twitch of a smile slightly broadened, more than likely giving him away. It was Sycon's mistake to begin with and he knew it was going to be. But he didn't care. His hand slowly slid up her arm, running over her skin. He was attempting to pull the blind man trick, needing to feel someone to actually see them. He knew that his story was being recently blind and no actual man, by any means, could pick up that trick so fast...but maybe she didn't care, who knows. She had been working for a while, he could feel she was slightly tired, but to the point of exhaustion. He tried to probe her mind, but this blasted realm would not let him do such a thing, so he just tried to sense any feelings coming off of her. Seeing if she was possibly catching red a face at his...friendliness. He knew he was a bit of a looker, and even with his eyes bandaged, he wondered what he face looked like now. His hands made their way up to her shoulder and up to her neck before Sycon could reach up no further without leaning himself up. If he was right, she might be quite the looker herself, but that might be jumping the hare if with his eyes bandaged. He wanted to reack up though, but that might give away his guise.

Written by - Tempyst

"Here, let me know who you are, and thank you, Tempyst." Tempyst saw the smile the man had, and smiled herself. She sensed something was up, but also knew that this man could just be dealing with his situation with humor, bad humor. But she let his hand wander up her arm and when his hand reached her neck, she spoke.

"Now, you are going to feel a slight sting..." She paused as the garden snake that was in her hair slid out and chomped down on the man's hand between forefinger and thumb. The man let out a surprised yip and drew his hand back quickly. "That will help you relaxe sir, so that I may better assess your situation. Now, let's take a look at those eyes." Tempyst leaned forward and began to unwrap the poor man's eyes. "And, how should I address you sir? Sir sounds so formal and I think we are beyond formalities."


Written by - Turin Wallace Page 21 Book 2

The afternoon gave way to the slow and steady approach of evening. The sky and clouds emitted a strong orange glow, cast by the ever sinking sun. Smoke still billowed from parts of the city, but fireteams were taking them out as fast as they could amid the secured parts of it. Ithramir continued to watch as the dwarves continued pounding, pounding, pounding on the last door.

Not too long ago, a runner had reported Isuiln's and Alaric's troops had taken their objectives and started mopping up scattered pockets of resistance. Isuiln had arrived, his eyes full of rage and hate, and he now awaited the fall of the gate along with Ithramir and his company. The company that seemed to grow more each time he looked around, why they added Lucant, Rikshanthas, and Renalis today. What may take an ordinary elven soldier decades to accomplish, they did so in one day. All over some demonic business, or so they say.

*BOOM*

Hearing a dwarf utter something about "damned elves and their bloody ironwood doors", Ithramir chuckles. These keeps were made millenia ago by elves, dwarves, and humans. It was more likely dwarves secured these doors and had a hand in why it was so tough to breach. Plus, the center keep was the nerve center of the city, as well as a last holdout position, it was meant to be damn tough.

*BOOM*

Ithramir's eyes turn to Ardwen, or whatever he was now, as he continued to pound against the door like an animal. Ithramir knew that feeling all too well, of nothing by tearing into your enemies, releasing everything into the maelstrom of battle. What made them different is that Ithramir did not have a suit to amplify those feelings, nor does he ever want one, for there are other things in life than battle.

*BOOM*

It is now his thoughts finally turn to Lithwyn. If he were a lesser elf he would turn and run back to her, ask forgiveness for his pride, and for leaving her. The thoughts of his own mortality, coupled with so many warnings, even from the gods themselves, cause him to pause. Maybe he won't make it out of here and he'll be another casualty in this war, to only be a footnote in the annals of some history book, or worse, be forgotten entirely. There's one thing he has to do while he has time.

*BOOM*

Quickly, he scribbles a handwritten note to Lithwyn. He tells her he is alright, that he is in the best of company, and that he thinks of her and misses her greatly. He also writes he will return home with the army once they are done with their mission, which they all hope will be mercifully soon. He finishes by telling her he loves her and wants to be with her again, and if he should never return to her, then she would be his last thought and her name the last sound that passes his lips.

*BOOM* *CRACK*

Finally! The doors are beginning to give way! Grabbing a runner, he hands the sealed letter to him and tells him to put it with the reports heading back to the Citadel.

*BOOM* *CRACK* *CREAK*

Not long now! Ithramir shouts,

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

He watches as they all prepare, faces become hardened, knuckles turn white, muscles tense. Yes, they are ready.

*BOOM* *CREAK* *SHATTER*

Leading a blind charge to the gate, he shouts,

"Death to all Orcs!"

Elves, humans, and dwarves all converge on the fallen doorway. The Orcs have been waiting for them all day, but they are not ready for the ferocity of the invaders.

The final stand of the Orcs in Minas Aure begins.

Ithramir, and the rest, show no mercy. All Orcs that are foolish enough to stand in their way are cut down. Some even throw down their weapons in a foolish bid for mercy, but they are hacked into pieces. The center keep itself becomes their last bastion, as the courtyard no longer belongs to them.

Rushing into the doors of the keep, battle is engaged on the first floor. It is a hard fight, Orc archers and fighters working to keep the allies off the stairs, but they begin to fall as elven and human archers pluck them off. Reaching the staircases, the allies quickly move to the second level of the keep. More of the same, the Orcs slowly give ground until they are overwhelmed.

"They die well, I'll give them that," Ithramir thinks.

Reaching another set of stairs, the allies begin the rush to the third level. Here, they encounter tougher seasoned troops and even a cadre of orc shamans. This wasn't what they were expecting, but they press forward onto them.

It is here that the scene becomes horrible, magics flash through the air, huge thuggish orcs swing mercilessly into the troops, rending limbs and life from the attackers, until finally after two unsuccessful attempts Ithramir orders the army to regroup on the second floor.

Opening a link to Avandor, Ithramir speaks,

"I will not waste more lives in this vain attack, but the only way to face the lesser avatar on the roof is to take this third level. Your servant asks for guidance."

In his mind, the answer comes swiftly,

"I have seen your plight and I will assist. Call out for a company of ten soldiers, all volunteers, and I will lend all of you proof against the magics thrown at you, as well as speed to avoid the blows of your attackers. However, I warn you know, be swift! For these blessings will only be a few moments, then they will cease to be."

Shouting out into the mass before him, Ithramir says,

"I need ten volunteers for an assault on the third floor, who will join me? Avandor himself will bless us all and give us our chance at glory. So I ask again, who shall answer this call?"

Ithramir's eyes scan the room as he waits for those to step forward. Almost immediately he see's Catherin step forward, saying,

"By you, live or die, I shall go. You are my commander, I would be shamed if I did not stay with you."

Nodding, Ithramir says,

"Very well, Catherin, stand with me. Now, who else shall go?"

Ithramir listens and waits for others who would join them.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

"Just so we're clear, kid, I do care what happens to the girl. Nobody deserves that kind of torment. I just don't hold any illusions of getting her out in one piece; for all we know, by the time we find her a quick death might be the best thing we could give her." His words were leaden with the weight of far too much experience with similar situations. Before Lucant could respond, the massive gate shattered to pieces with a fitting death groan.

Snapping around to the gate just in time to Ithramir's cry of "Death to all Orcs!", he draws A'lanthear and rushes forth to join the fray. It was first battle, yet he felt as if he had been on the field for years. Losing himself to the warrior aspect, he slaughtered Orcs one after another. As he fought onward towards the keep, Lucant kept telling himself: "I cannot fall here. I have to live. For her."

Busting through into the central keep, the party was greeted by the Shamaness' elite guard. The magnificent foyer of the keep errupted into a killing field as the shamans fired off their spells and Orc warriors hurled themselves against the allied advance in a last effort to thwart the allied advance.

Lucant locked A'lanthear against one of the suicidal warriors' axes and stood resolute as the Orc let out a beastial roar in his face. With a strength clearly not his own, Lucant pushed the Orc away before thrusting A'lanthear through his exposed chest. Wresting A'lanthear from the corpse, Lucant backed into the man who called himself Rikshanthas. Lucant was glad to have such a man at his back, but quickly went back on the offensive, lest the allies be overrun.

After pushing the fight for the keep to a standstill, Ithramir stood before the assembled troops. Lucant felt a stong divine aura surround Ithramir before he spoke: "I need ten volunteers for an assault on the third floor, who will join me? Avandor himself will bless us all and give us our chance at glory. So I ask again, who shall answer this call?" Ithramir's lieutenant, Catherin steps forward and says "By you, live or die, I shall go. You are my commander, I would be shamed if I did not stay with you." With a nod, Ithramir continued: "Very well, Catherin, stand with me. Now, who else shall go?" Emboldened, Lucant thrust A'lanthear into the air and shouted decisively: "I shall stand with you! I shall be your shield, Lord Ithramir!"

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln had made his way blindly to the keep, following the pounding of the battering ram echoing the pounding of his heart, forcing boiling blood through his veins and into his brain, any clear thought burned to cinders and fueling his rage. Wherever he found orcs along the way, death found them. As he crossed a courtyard, main keep within sight, he leaped and dodged several arrows hailing towards him. He turned and sprinted at the orcish archers, barely avoiding a collosion with a message runner who had been weaving through the hail of arrows, and had stopped to stare in wonder, before coming back to his senses and hurrying along as an arrow whizzes past his face. Isuiln continues his mad dash, batting arrows out of the air with inhuman speed. As he gets nearer, the archers fire off a few more desperate arrows as they turn to run, and there was no time for even Isuiln to react. One glanced off his helmet, another burying itself into his upper arm, several others flying uselessly past. But they couldn't match his unnatural speed, and he hacked them down mercilessly, striking in strategic places for the slowest and most painful deaths. As he turned to go back to the keep, he barely brought a sword up in time to deflect a dagger from one archer who had remained hidden. The other sword came in low, sweeping across the orcs knees, leaving him suddenly almost 2 feet shorter. The orc rolled on the ground, clutching his bleeding stumps. Isuiln sheathed his swords and picked up the orcs dropped bow. He kicked the orc over on his stomach, and holding the grip of the bow, placed the string on the front of the orc's neck. Stepping on the back of the orc's head, he pulled. The orc's scream became a gurgle, and Isuiln pulled harder, trying to pass the excruitiating pain in his heart to the orc by inflicting it upon him. Through his tears, he didn't see the orc's body go limp, and he kept pulling for several minutes. Then he dropped the bow, and continued towards the main keep. He didn't feel any better. He must need to kill more.

Shortly after he arrived at the gate, oblivious to anyone he might recognize's presence, the gates ripped asunder. "Death to all orcs!" Ithramir screamed, and Isuiln's mind grasped that thought, echoing over and over, the only piece of reality he could hold on to. And death he dealt. He ripped through orc after orc, climbing through the levels of the keep, rending flesh, using the hilts of his swords as steel boxing gloves when he could, inflicting as much pain as possible. When they reached the third floor, they faced more seasoned gaurds, and magic wielders. They fought to a stalemate, allies dying as fast as the orcs. Ithramir, not wanting to waste any more lives in this bedlam, called for a retreat. But Isuiln couldn't retreat. There were orcs here, orcs that had wrenched his heart out of his chest, and he intended to return the favor. Yet he was being pressed back, nearly overwhelmed, then one of his attackers would make a mistake, slipping a bit on the blood-soaked stone, mistiming a parry, and he would have them, and he killed without mercy, without mistakes. Then he felt a hand on the back of his tunic, at the collar, pulling him back.

"Come on Isuiln! Ithramir called the retreat!" Trinni kept pulling insistantly, and a nearby orc, who had been moving back to regroup with the rest of the orcs, saw oppertunity. He dashed forward with a war call, raised his massive and jagged claymore over his head, and brought it whistling down on the two rather offbalance elves. Isuiln had seen him coming, and positioned his feet to look like he was still slipping and struggling against Trinni, but had full control of his motion. As the sword began it's downward arc, he set his feet and gave Trinni a sudden and tremendous pull, moving in the only direction the orc wasn't expecting: towards it. The claymore hit the ground just behind and to their left, and Isuiln leaned back against Trinny, who had stumbled into him and provided the perfect brace he needed. Placing one foot on the orc's forearm, he got the rest of the leverage he needed, and wrapped both his legs around it's head. As Trinni gave way beneath him, he twisted his body, vicously snapping it's neck and barely avoiding landing on her. But she was up before he'd barely hit the ground, grabbing his armor at the shoulder joint, and physically dragging him back to everyone else. He managed to stand before they reached the rest of the allies, but was still stumbling as she drug him along. She let go, and he stood straight, then rounded on her to yell at her when Ithramir began to speak.

"I need ten volunteers for an assault on the third floor, who will join me? Avandor himself will bless us all and give us our chance at glory. So I ask again, who shall answer this call?" First an elf named Catherin stepped forward and pledged to go, then some human raised his sword and volounteered as well. Isuiln went to step forward, then grabbed Trinni's wrist and jerked her forward beside him.

"I've not had my share of orc blood either. We'll go to."

Written by - Sycon

Sycon felt the bite before he knew what had happened. His immediate reaction was to quickly draw back his hand and let out a slight yip.

A numbing sensation started with his hand and quickly spread through his system. Was she a witch? No, she couldn't be. They did not heal the sick. A priest, perhaps, but they did not use snakes. ...Druid? It had to be. Or at least he hoped. If not, it meant he was on his deathbed from the venom, but she had said something. She had told him to relax, maybe? He had missed it. His nerves calmed a bit.

He had not realized it, but his other hand had wrenched itself out of hers when the first was bitten. Sycon focused some of his mana, trying not to alert anyone of his doing so. It wasn't too hard since he would be keeping it inside his body...and he was a mage. Nothing unusual there. His uninjured hand slid over the one with the bite as he went to lay it on the cot beside him. As the uninjured hand passed over, the small wound closed, unscarred, and was painless. He hoped she would not notice.

Sycon could heal small injuries. It was part of being a warlock, the ability heal one self. While his mana reserves would never last on this realm to heal himself from near death, small bites did not take too much.

The venom in his veins was making him light headed though. Sycon was sure his words would slur if he tried them. Now was not the time to be discovered, being this vulnerable. Quick thinking...well, as quick as the venom would let him...is what he needed.

Sycon concentrated, surpassing his normal limits. This always hurt him in some way, there was always a small trade of health involved when he did this. His body stated to ache, beginning with his fingertips and moving up his arms. When it had stopped, he felt like he had been fighting all day, but his mind was clear and he was back in control of his words and actions. Perhaps he could catch her off guard. She would not expect him to be able to think quickly or charming.

She had started to untie the linen around his eyes. His guess was once she would look at him, she would know there was nothing wrong with him and then it would be the end of his temporary guise.

"Please, Tempyst," as he began, his hand came up to meet hers again, stopping her progress with his bandage, "let the bandages be. While they might not be fastened that neatly or well, they are sufficient for now. Thank you."

Maybe if he tried a more subtle but polite approach. The almost mocking smile disappeared from his face to be replaced with a more compassionate smile.

"Temp...Tempyst. I am ashamed of myself. I...I know you are a healer. I'm guessing a very good one at that..." except for the snake he thought grudgingly, "and I know your time is pressing. But...I need to tell this to someone. I need to relieve myself of this burden, of my pain." He paused to see if she had anything to say. When she did not, he continued. "I don't want to speak of it here, and I cannot see where I am. Can you lead me somewhere where we can talk alone. I do not wish for all these noble soldiers to here my injustice. Just for a minute, I promise. Can you help me? Will you listen? I feel I can trust you... Please?" His words trailed off a bit and became softer as he spoke them. He was getting rather good at this, possibly on the brink of being clever.

Written by - Tempyst

"Can you help me? Will you listen? I feel I can trust you... Please?" His words trailed off a bit and became softer as he spoke them. Tempyst watched his reactions, the way he protested the removal of his bandages and now, this request to speak to her alone. This soldier was scared, the battle, the fighting had been too much for him and he was afraid. And now, it was her duty to make sure the fear did not take control of him. He could truly be hurt under there, but I do suspect the injuries are more emotional and he does not want his condition revealed to the others for fear of ridicule.

Tempyst took the man's hand and placed another on his shoulder, lifting slightly, indicating that she was helping him up. "Alright, let me help you and I can tak eyou inside where there is more privacy. Now, you will be feeling a bit woozy, the bite was to help you relax and take away any pain you may have." Tempyst helped the man stand and placed his arm about her shoulders, pressing close to him, her rich, earthen scent very strong to him now. She walked slowly, making sure they did not bump into any cots or run over any injured. After a minute of maneuvering and walking, the noises from the battle quieted and the shade of a enclosed building could be felt.

"Here, sit down here." Tempyst helped him sit down on a scarred wooden chair, then sat down opposite him, but close, knees almost touching. "Now, we are alone and safe, and you can tell me whatever you need to." She paused, then placed a hand upon his knee. "Though I hope the first thing you'll tell me is your name."

Written by - Rikshanthas

Lucant seemed about to say something when the loud cracking of the breaching keep gates turned all attention to the front. "Prepare yourselves! Charge them when the doors give way!" Lienad heard the commander shout. Instantly he whipped Khelek'urya from its hilt, the sturdy Orc Poker in his off hand, his preferred dual style. He felt the chill of the enchanted blade, steeling himself against it.

The gate fell with a loud cracking groan. Ithramir led the charge, shouting, "Death to all Orcs!" as the combined army of elves, dwarves and humans smashed into the orcs' defensive line like a giant hammer. Lienad quickly was forced to resheath his shortblade, lacking the free space for dual combat and not wishing to injure his allies, and concentrated on beating the orcs back with Khelek'urya. Fortunately this posed little difficulty, as the orcs they were fighting were a far cry from the grizzled veterans he had trained and fought with for nearly two decades - and he hadn't even had Khelek'urya then.

He almost started to feel guilty about cutting them down so easily, as they fought through to the second level of the keep. Then they reached the third level, and his opinion changed. Now they were facing elite, battle-hardened warriors, with weapons whose superior workmanship resisted Khelek'urya's shattering frost. He was forced to fight for his life, spells crackling around him, the dragonblade protecting him from the occasional near-miss though he didn't want to test Khelek'urya's protection against a direct hit.

He was battling a particularly determined mace-wielding orc when someone bumped into him, in effect saving his life as the orc was in the middle of a swing that would have taken his head off otherwise. Instead the orc's mace collided with his collar, the force of impact lessened by Lienad's sideways motion, carrying him to the floor. Khelek'urya came up in a quick jab beneath the orc's chin, and Lienad was able to stumble back at Ithramir's order, pulling off the dented collar which was putting pressure on his windpipe and feeling for injury. Fortunately, other than the mother of a bruise he would have there didn't seem to have been any permanent damage: the mithril-reinforced collar had done its job.

To Lienad's surprise Khelek'urya seemed to hum, its tip lowering to the ground of its own volition as he approached Ithramir. The commander seemed to be speaking to some unseen companion, after which he raised his voice and shouted, "I need ten volunteers for an assault on the third floor, who will join me? Avandor himself will bless us all and give us our chance at glory. So I ask again, who shall answer this call?" An elven woman Lienad vaguely recognized volunteered, followed to Lienad's slight surprise by young Lucant, and another pair of elves. Not willing to be outshone by a kid who's probably never seen a battle in his life, Lienad stepped forward, drawing Khelek'urya's crossguard to his lips and lowering it in an old knights' salute. "Count me in."

Written by - Renalis

*BOOM*

"Doors of Ironwood... damn near impenetrable..." Renalis thinks to himself, finally having a moment to think.

*BOOM*

Looking at Ardwen, Renalis feels what is almost like pity "Has he nothing left?"

*BOOM*

Renalis can see the look of concern in Ithramir's eyes, he is thinking the same thing that Renalis himself is thinking.

*BOOM*

Seeing Ithramir writing a note, Renalis wonders if he should do the same, "No, she knows..." he thinks as he touches the soulstone.

*BOOM* *CRACK*

Renalis leaps to his feet and draws his sword, "We will end this..."

*BOOM* *CRACK* *CREAK*

Ithramir shouts, "Prepare yourselves! Charge them when the doors give way!" Taking a position just to the side of Ithramir, Renalis readies himself.

*BOOM* *CREAK* *SHATTER*

Leading a blind charge to the gate, Ithramir shouts, "Death to all Orcs!" Following close behind, Renalis makes short work of the first Orc to cross his path with a quick upward slash. Rushing through the doors of the keep, Renalis is surprised to see a few of the Orcs actually drop their weapons, in some vain attempt to surrender. "The same mercy you showed the Elves..." Renalis mutters as he cleaves one of them in half, a small bolt of lightning charring another two behind that one.

Taking the second floor was a little harder than the first, "The Orcs seem to want us to pay for every inch of ground... so be it, they will pay for it with their blood, and by the gallon." Renalis continues to carve his way alongside the Elven commander as they make for the staircase to the third level.

Seeing the Orc shamans begin Renalis had little concern for his own life, but he knew what powerful magic could do against the unprepared. He shielded himself and those nearby but that wasn't enough, they were too many and Renalis was just one. To add to the mayhem, the biggest and toughest Orcs seemed to block the way, destroying those that got too close.

After two unsucessful pushes, Ithramir calls for a regrouping on the second level.

"I need ten volunteers for an assault on the third floor, who will join me? Avandor himself will bless us all and give us our chance at glory. So I ask again, who shall answer this call?" Almost immediately Catherin steps forward, saying, "By you, live or die, I shall go. You are my commander, I would be shamed if I did not stay with you." Nodding, Ithramir says, "Very well, Catherin, stand with me. Now, who else shall go?"

Lucant thrust A'lanthear into the air and shouted decisively: "I shall stand with you! I shall be your shield, Lord Ithramir!"

Isuiln went to step forward, then grabbed Trinni's wrist and jerked her forward beside him. "I've not had my share of orc blood either. We'll go to."

Another man stepped forward, drawing his blade's crossguard to his lips and lowering it in an old knights' salute. "Count me in."

"You need not even ask M'lord," Renalis steps forward, "You know my magic and my sword stand with you."

Renalis looks at Trinni and gives her a coy smile, worried for her safety but not showing it, he pats his friend on the back.

Written by - Sycon

Tempyst led them into a more private area where they both could sit.

Tempyst helped him sit down on a scarred wooden chair, then sat down opposite him, but close, knees almost touching. "Now, we are alone and safe, and you can tell me whatever you need to." She paused, then placed a hand upon his knee. "Though I hope the first thing you'll tell me is your name."

"I am sorry. I hadn't realized I did not tell you my name. I am Sycon. Not very well known to this area, but here to lend a hand, none the less. I do my part, though I sometimes feel insignificant." He spoke without inflection. Trying to sound as morbid as he could for the time being.

He had still not seen this woman's face, though she was surely a druid. The earthy smell about her had gotten stronger to where he could easily recognize it. She was probably quite the beauty then. He had always heard the druidesses were.

His thoughts shifted back to his speech, "I came here through a gate a good while ago. Exactly how long I'm not too sure of that myself. I was battered up pretty bad when I came through. But nevermind that...I am here...and I've brought you here to tell you something."

Sycon listened for people, either in the room or close by. This room was empty, and as he would guess, it would stay that way until Tempyst would make it known otherwise. He slowly reached up to his bandage and scrathced it. Feeling truly blind, though he wasn't if he would just take it off.

There was a long pause which Tempyst said nothing. Sycon started again, "I could hear their screams. Their footsteps, their last breathes. Even in the darkness that I've been cast into, I could hear it all. I was all alone in a world of chaos and death, crawling on my hands and knees trying to find a way out. I couldn't even help those who would never take another breath if only I had been able to find them and save them." He was really getting into this story. "We lost so many good men out there," Doh! That was really cliche, "I just couldn't...I just don't...I...i..." He stood up and rushed toward what he thought might be a wall. He stumbled over another chair and fell face first on the floor, blind as a bat.

Written by - Tempyst

"I came here through a gate a good while ago. Exactly how long I'm not too sure of that myself. I was battered up pretty bad when I came through. But nevermind that...I am here...and I've brought you here to tell you something." A gate, that would explain some of the oddness I feel about him and perhaps his reluctance to let others see him. She listened intently as he continued his story.

"I could hear their screams. Their footsteps, their last breathes. Even in the darkness that I've been cast into, I could hear it all. I was all alone in a world of chaos and death, crawling on my hands and knees trying to find a way out. I couldn't even help those who would never take another breath if only I had been able to find them and save them. We lost so many good men out there, I just couldn't...I just don't...I...i..." He stood up and moved quickly, but stumbled over another chair and fell face first on the floor.

Tempyst got up quickly and went over to Sycon. Setting down beside him she pulled him into her arms and held him. Poor thing, to feel so alone and helpless. She rocked him a little, trying to settle him down, letting him know he was no longer alone. "Sycon, Sycon," she almost whispered, "you did what you could. No one person can do everything or save everyone. All we can do, is to live and fight with honor, do our best by our friends and family and keep going, for one day, it will all get better." Tempyst reached up and stroked his hair, then trailed her fingers over to the bandage around his eyes. "Now, let's take this off, we both know you don't need it." Tempyst pulled the cloth off and as she stretched to put the bandage down, she twisted in such a way, her medallion swung and bumped Sycon in the nose. "Oh, I'm so sorry, I usually wear that tucked away." She smiled down at him, eyes filled with genuine concern. "There is no need to hide, there is no one here to judge you."

*BOOM* *CREAK* *SHATTER*

It was then the sound of the splintering gate reached the ears of everyone close by. She turned towards the sound, her thoughts once again going out to her husband and all who would be entering the new stage of battle.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan slowly tromped through the woods in the direction she hoped she would find Teran. In retrospect, she was rather glad she did not meet up with him right away. The brief respite under the trees provided her with an opportunity to determine if an alarm would be raised at her absence and if she would be followed. The relative quiet of the night, with only the sounds of chirping insects and the footfalls of her companions reaching her ears, led her to believe that no alarm would be raised.

Whether or not she was being followed was a different matter entirely.

Mavigan had not detected any presence shadowing her movements, but she was still uneasy, and she continued to send penetrating glances into the dark night surrounding her. She was sure that if Keeryn had detected something, the alert would have been raised. Mavigan held little doubt that if she were caught she would be promptly frog-marched back into the citadel and incarcerated in a jail cell next to Teran’s until Ithramir came home.

The thought hurried her footsteps, and Mavigan soon spotted a glow in the night – the beacon of a campfire – and she found herself drawn to it like a moth to a flame, sure she had found Teran. As she approached the ring of firelight, though, she paused. The scene before was certainly not what she had been expecting. Of course Teran was there, as was the Bitch, but there was a third party and the knot of uneasiness Mavigan had felt earlier bloomed into full alarm.

Crouched in front of the campfire was one of the undead, her skin glinting sickly in the flickering fire, her black aura churning violently around her sucking in every speck of light. Mavigan had never actually seen one of the undead before, though she had heard stories passed around campfires as easily as mead, and read accounts of encounters with such creatures in the dusty tomes in the castle. All of the stories had indicated that the undead should be slain on sight. At the very least, the stories indicated that having conversations with them in the dead of night was a sure-fire way to get yourself consumed, or possessed, or damned for all eternity. Mavigan was pretty sure she wouldn’t like any of those options.

And here was her “Hero”, standing as if he had not a care in the world, holding a good-natured conversation with one.

Mavigan was on unfamiliar territory, and she was acutely aware of that fact. Her fingers tightened on Argent’s reigns as she reached within herself to find something solid to stand on. Reaching deep, she rediscovered her own strength courage and the promise she had made to herself so long ago. Forcing her grip to relax, she held her head high and took that last step into the circle of light.

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

Written by - Renalis

“Of course, our guide neglected to tell us exactly where to meet him, and I, for one, am no longer inclined to wait for him to find us.” Mavigan rose to her feet, dusting off the back of her clothes with absent pats. “So let’s go find him!”

Crystal took this as a good sign and too went to her horse and followed.

Coming upon a campfire, Crystal could see those around it being familiar, all but one. This creature was undead... and this did somewhat worry Crystal. But seeing no look of fear on Teran, not even one of concern, she decided all that was required was to keep an eye on the monster.

“Interesting friends you keep, Teran,” Mavigan said lightly.

"Interesting indeed," Crystal thought to herself, "This is going to get very interesting before this is situation is resolved."

Written by - Sycon

Tempyst had come over to him. She was now cradling him, telling him everything was all right. Sycon felt the warmth of her affection toward him. He was starting to believe the story. She truly cared for him, and he was a nothing but a stranger.

No matter what she looked like, Tempyst was now beautiful no matter what he would see. She reached down and pulled off his bandage, and as she did...a triskillion medallion fell out. His eyes were still closed, but a flash of the symbol crossed his thoughts as it brushed him. It was the same symbol of the All-Father from his realm. Where had she gotten it? He knew she would not steal it. A druid with a triskillion of the All-Father...hmmm.

*BOOM* *CREAK* *SHATTER*

The air was full of thoughts. Rushing from everyone around, fear, confusion, courage, unrestless now come to an end. The doors were open. He did not have to see it to know. He could almost breath in the thoughts that filled everyone's mind. It was one of those rare moments everyone wears what they think on the sleeve of their cuff. The thoughts were almost projected into his mind.

His sword! Back in the room with the cot. There would be death soon, possibly even worse would be the humans, elves, and dwarves would not last. The orcs were still calm, he could not sense any thoughts from them at all, and agression was always easy to read. Something was a bit off...

Tempyst. He had never opened his eyes since she had removed the bandages and she would not know what was wrong with him. Her attention was not with him at this instance. She concentrated on the door just as everyone else's was. He quickly got to this feet. A smile still on his face, but he did not know why.

This quick movement startled Tempyst and she stood up at the same time. Sycon's eyes opened and he took view of her in full. She was a druidess, he was now sure. And she did meet the standards of the druidesses he had heard about. Beauty, he was not sure why, but beautiful for some unexplained reason to him. Before she had time to even respond, or even catch her full balance on her feet from standing so quickly, he stepped in closer to her than he already was.

The image of the snake flashed across his mind. He would soon be in battle anyway. He raised his psychic shield. It did not last very long, as most of his spells did, but it was always a necessary prep for battle. It would only last for a couple of blows, but it would protect him for at least that long. This spell he had to learn a long time ago when he found that mage robes did not protect that well. The snake could bite him now if he wished, but it would not penetrate the skin.

Without pause, he leaned in and kissed her on the lips. Just letting his lips brush past hers before he backed one step and said, "You are radiant, you know that?"

He turned and headed almost ran out the door. He found the cot where his sword lay and picked it up without losing his pace. His pace became faster and faster as he moved. He thought he heard something behind him as he ran out of the tent, but he was not sure if it was directed at him or not.

The direction of the gate was up ahead. Sycon needed to get there quickly or he would miss the most crucial part of the battle. Now was his chance to introduce himself to these people, but did he want to come out of the shadows yet?

He managed to find the gate, it was shattered open and trampled. They had already broken into and fully made their way in. It seemed they were on the second floor. He rushed up, hearing, what had to be Ithramir's words,

"I need ten volunteers for an assault on the third floor, who will join me? Avandor himself will bless us all and give us our chance at glory. So I ask again, who shall answer this call?"

A few answered, but not ten all at once. Sycon stood in the back, hiding himself among the soldiers there. He would join the ten no matter what, whether if they knew it or not. If he had to be the 11th, so be it. He backed up to a darker corner, out of main view and close to the way that led up to the third landing. His sword, already in his hands, he concentrated on preparation for the battle up ahead. He shielded himself as best as possibe, he focused on the speed and accuracy of the sword he would need, and he prepared his mind for a crucial few blasts he would need to knock any orcs away that got too close. He was ready.

Written by - Tempyst

*BOOM* *CREAK* *SHATTER*

The sound of the splintering gate reached her ears and she turned towards the sound. Lucant, I can't let you go in alone. Tempyst felt Sycon's body give a shake, then to her surprise, felt him rise quickly to his feet. Rising to her feet, she reached out to him to make sure he was alright, but before she caught her own balance, he had closed the distance between them. Before she could even say a word, she felt his kiss and heard his words "You are radiant, you know that?" His actions left her speechless and stunned.

"Don't be reckless." She called out after him, watching him run out as she regained her composure and followed. Tempyst gave a wry smile, knowing she had been right, that he had not been truly blind, but was slightly puzzled as to why he seemed in a hurry to rush off to battle. She lost sight of him quickly as he ran towards the sounds of fighting. I should go too, my place is by my husband's side. She moved to get her staff when she felt A'lanthear's familiar whisper inside her mind. You are with him Mistress, in spirit. If you go to him now, you will put the three of you in more danger than is necessary. I am with him and when you are needed, you will be called. Save your energy for after the battle, for it will truly be needed.

Tempyst sighed, You are right A'lanthear, if he knew I was there, he would put himself in danger to protect us. I trust you A'lanthear, bring him back to me. She knew the sword was commited to all of them and that she had nothing to fear, but yet, she still worried. "Well," she said aloud, "where there is battle there are wounded, I will follow behind and do what I can." She went back to the tents and began to gather up supplies for battlefield medicine.

Everytime the battle moved forward, the medics moved as well and the day wore long for them all. There were so many injured from the fighting but most that she knew needed help, would not allow her to touch them and ran off to be at their brethren's side. She could hear the sounds of battle in the distance, but tried to not let it distract her from those that needed her.

"MEDIC! WE NEED HELP HERE!" Tempyst heard the all too familiar call, and turned from the soldier she had just finished caring for. With every cry like that, her stomach tightened, worried that it might be Lucant they were carrying in. But once again, her fear was unfounded and it was not her husband, but someone else. Two older soldiers brought the younger one in, laying him on a cot then turned and ran out, seemingly eager to join the fray again. Tempyst turned and looked at the soldier, seeing a young elf there battered and bleeding. She looked him over well; his aura was grey and fading, his injuries too severe to even attempt to heal. She let out a soft sigh and knelt down beside him. His eyes opened slowly and he reached out a hand. Tempyst took his hand into her own and brought it up to her face, leaning into the touch.

"Sshhh, it's going to be alright, here, this will help with the pain." She reached back and pulled a larger snake from her cloak, whispered to it, and had it bite the elf's arm. The young man was in so much pain, he did not even realize he had been bitten, but within moments, she could see his face relaxe and his eyes focus a little more.

He turned his head slowly, looked at her and smiled. "Thank you ma'am, that does feel better." His breathing was labored and his voice barely above a whisper. "May I know your name?"

She reached up with a wet cloth and wiped some of the blood from his handsome young face. "Tempyst, my name is Tempyst and I am here to do what I can for you."

He coughed, grimaced and spit up some blood. "I may be young, but I am no fool Tempyst, Avandor is calling me home. You know that too." Tempyst nodded, her heart breaking for this brave soul. "It's okay, I'm ready, I've done my duty." He coughed again.

"Shh, there is no need to talk, do not waist your energy." Tempyst caressed the elve's brow. "I'm sorry young one, I wish there was more I could do for you."

His hand gently squeezed hers, "My name is Daveon and please, just be with me, I don't want to die alone." He grimmaced again and let out a soft cry, once again coughing.

"I'm right here Daveon, I won't leave your side." Tempyst reached for a cup of water and holding his head up with one hand, offered him a drink. He drank a little; blood flowed from his lips into the cup, making the water pink.

"Thank you Tempyst. I...don't mean to sound like a coward."

"You are no coward Daveon, you are brave and strong, and have done your duty well, you have nothing to be sorry for." Tempyst could see his aura fading and knew it would not be long before it would go out like a snuffed candle. She knew it was necessary, but never before had she witnessed death like this. It had always been clean, pleasent, even with celebration when an elder passed on, but this was different. There was nothing clean about death here, nothing pleasent, no celebrations of joy at one's passing. Only death was here. She thought about how many soldiers were out there in the battlegrounds, dying alone, scared, not knowing any comfort in their last breaths. Death is death child, it is a part of life. There cannot be one without the other, you know this. You save who you can, the others, help them pass without fear, that is the best gift you can give them. Nyrondis whispered the words of truth to her heart.

Tempyst stood and moved to the head of his cot and lifting him carefully up, sat down so his head would rest in her lap. She fought back the tears as she looked down upon this stranger and opened her heart and soul to him. A soft, warm breeze picked up and washed over them, a soft glow encompassed them both. Daveon opened his eyes again, his face almost serene. She smiled down at him and her tears fell, unable to hold them back any longer. Daveon smiled back, "Thank you for not leaving me Tempyst, having you here, all the pain, it's going away." He took in a deep labored breath; Tempyst could hear the death rattle filling his lungs, but she kept on smiling, caressing Daveon's hair and holding him close. "Tempyst, please, could you deliver a message for me?"

"Of course Daveon, of course I will."

"Tell Commander Ithramir that..." Daveon paused, his chest still, then he gasped another breath of air, "tell him it was my honor to serve under him and give my life for him." Daveon's body convulsed, but Tempyst held on tightly, making sure he knew she was there. then, with no fanfare or great fuss, his aura went out, his body lifeless in her arms. Tempyst just sat there, holding onto him, crying, hopeing she had given him the peace he needed.

She did not know how long she sat there, but was brought back to the moment by a tap on her shoulder. "Miss, we have more wounded coming in, we need your help." Tempyst stood up, laying Daveon's body gently back down upon the cot. She leaned over and kissed his forehead softly, making sure his eyes were closed.

"Sleep well young friend, I hope to see you in the beyond." Tempyst took a deep breath, gathering her composure and went towards the new wounded that had arrived, smiliing and making sure all she came in contact with had hope and someone to lean on.

Finally, the flow of wounded slowed and the sound of battle was diminished. She heard talk that they were at the inner tier of the city, and a new plan had to be made to breach it. She looked towards the center of the city, her heart calling out to Lucant, hoping he would hear her words.

I love you.

Written by - Renalis

Renalis knew he had only a few moments before the next advance... the final advance up the tower would begin. He looked around at those he would fight beside and based on the events of today he could think of no better allies to fight with.

There was Lord Ithramir, commander of the forces here. He had seen few people with the Charisma and Leadership that this man displayed. He had gained great respect for him in the short time here. Knowing full well that the defense of those lands branded him an outcast, he stayed anyway. Then there was the man he had learned to be Isuiln. Also forsaking his homeland to help defend, truely a noble man. Trinni's simple innocence made her a great friend, and although only knowing her a few days, it felt like months. He was proud to fight alongside her. The others Renalis knew the names of, but other than seeing their battle prowess, he knew nothing of them, save that they are willing to fight and die for this cause, and thats all that mattered.

Renalis was concentrating on the task at hand, he knew it would not be easy, but at least with Avandor on their side, it would be easier. It was then that he noticed it. Subtle at first, almost not there at all, but then he recognised it. A powerful magic presence masking itself. He eyed the man for but a moment, but thats all it took. He could see he was like no normal mage (but then Renalis wondered if he was any different himself) Sleeveless and with the bottoms of his robes also split and tucked into his black cuffed boots he was not new to this at all. Renalis could sense that there more than just a small reserve of power there, and by the look on his face and the way he held his sword...

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

Written by - Tempyst

*BOOM* *CREAK* *SHATTER*

The massive sound of shattered wood woke Kaya up abruptly, making her set upright in her cot. Then the roar of soldiers heading into battle made her realize where she was again. She looked around and saw Nohlani setting beside her, looking towards the sound as well. She threw her legs over the side and stood, then smiled. She felt almost like her normal self. She was sore, and knew she would be until her body got used to moving and fighting again, but it would be a good soreness. She felt the demon stir within her, crawling under her skin, but she was determined to do what she wanted to. If you wish to stop me, be my guest, but I am not going to sit around doing nothing! She nudged Nohlani's leg with her foot and elf quickly stood, concern still in his eyes.

She gave him an almost cross look. "I am not some wilted flower that is going to fall apart. I feel fine now. You heard that sound and you know as well as I do that they need every able bodies soldier they can get."

Nohlani nodded. "But Kaya, you are my charge for now, I must make sure you stay safe. Commander's orders."

"Commander's orders huh? Well, then I guess you have two options. You can help me find some gear and follow me into battle, or tie me up like the orcs did and let everyone fight without us." Nohlani winced at the orc comment; she knew that that would get to him. She also could see but his body language, that he wanted to get in there and fight just as much as she did. Nohlani paused, looking at her, then back towards the battle, then back at her. Then a glint came into his eyes and he gave her a wry smile.

"You are indeed the Kaya'Talas I have heard about. It will be an honor to fight along side of you!" Nohlani's voice was filled with excitement. He began to scrounge around the infirmary tent, talking to those he knew would not make it back into battle. When he came back, his arms were full of equipment. Kaya finished tying her dirty hair back, and seached through the gear he had brought. After a few minutes and a few more searches, Kaya outfitted herself to her satisfaction. Not perfect, but this is war and you make due with what you have.

When she finished fastening the armor upon her, she stood andstretched, making sure everything was tight as as fitted as it could be. Then she turned and saw Nohlani standing there, holding out two lond swords. "I know these are not your usual style, but I hope they will make do for now Kaya." Kaya took the two swords, then stepped back and swung them about, getting used to their balance and weight. It was true, they were not the glist'linnon* she was used to, but they would work.

She gave Nohlani a smile of approval. "They are a magnificent pair, thank you Nohlani." She then gave Nohlani a salute; he saluted her in return. "Shall we go join our brothers in battle mellonamin?"

"Follow me, but we will stay in the back, I don't need Commander Ithramir to have my head just yet.!" Nohlani smiled, then turned and started to run towards the sounds of battle. Kaya chuckled and followed the elf, knowing he was right. Until she knew how well she was, there was no reason to die foolishly.

There was enough fighting to go around, even in the back. Orcs who had stayed hidden, jumped out weapons swinging, ambushing any who had lagged behind. The first one that tried to catch Kaya off guard found it's weapon arm severed from his body and then both of her swords plunged between his ribs into his lungs and heart. The orc fell, a surprised loon on his face. But Kaya just put her foot on his belly and pulled the swords from the body. She looked over to Nohlani and saw him expertly disarm then disembowel an orc that was nearly twice his size. She smiled in approval. Very good mellonamin, if all the soldiers fight half as well, the orcs we face will have drawn their last breath today.

The fighting continued throughout the day. Kaya found herself tiring, but not in a bad way. She felt the stiffness in her arms and legs ease out into a well known tingling, her lungs burning, aching for air at times, but never letting giving out. They progressed further inside the city, leaving bodies in their wake. SHe could hear the cries of the dying from both sides and though it pained her to hear it, she knew it was all a part of war. Back in the Naur'Lith, she had faced foes as mighty as these orcs, the Lith'Raug, but never in these numbers. But being outnumbered did not daunt her, the cause kept her going, as did the growing need for more and more death.

Every orc she killed, she felt a release of her anger of being imprissoned all those months. Every orc that fell, had Tahlon's face imprinted upon it. But every time her blade struck true and she heard their last choking breath, she heard every child the demon had her kill screaming for mercy. The pain of those memories made Kaya feel vulnerable, made her feel used and she hated every moment of it. And that made her angry and more determined to kill those that were the enemy.

Kaya heard a startled cry behind her. She turned, only to see an Orc that had been laying they thought dead on teh ground, jump up and cleave it's axe down through Nohlani's shoulder in deep into his torso. She screamed in rage, seeing the light flicker out from his eyes. The orc brought his foot up and pushed the dead elf from his blade, then he looked at her and laughed. He held out a hand and motioned for her to come to him. Kaya decided she was not going to dissapoint him. She brought both blades down, points touching the ground and she crouched. Taking a deep breath she let out a serieis of trill notes, then stood, and sprinted forward, the sword tips shooting up sparks as she ran towards the orc. The orc smiled, letting out a battlecry, gripped his axe tightly and rushed forward to meet her.

As the orc approached her, she stumbled, or so she let the orc think. As she swung to take advantage of what he thought was an opening, she tucked herself up tight and rolled between his legs, just as the massive axe came crushing down, burying in the ground. Kaya heard the grunt of surprise from the orc and rolled to her feet, spinning around, swords swinging. The first blows cunt into the side of the orc's armor, slicing the straps that held his armor on, then she spun around, dancing, swords flashing in the light. The orc jerked, feeling his side become vulnerable, and pulled his axe from the dirt with a heavy grunt. He steadied himself and kept his open side away from the dancing elf. She smiled and began to chant, building up her energy and her determination to avenge her fallen friend. The orc swung, swung well and Kaya had to duck and roll to avoid being struck. The orc pressed his attack upon her, trying to keep her off balance, but with every spin, every wafting breeze from the massive axe, put more power into her form. She knew, if she had her own blades, that by now they would be humming, accompanying her voice, deafenig and confusing the orc, but she had to make do with just her chanting. Several time the orc nearly struck home; Kaya had to bring her swords about to deflict and one time, even catch the axe between them. The orc was strong, but Kaya was not going to fall now. Then she let the orc get in a glancing blow, and she dropped, letting the orc believe he had wounded her severely. When he approached for the final blow, she rolled quickly to the side and with a angry shout, thrust her blades up from under him into his open side, feeling the blades knicking the ribs and sliding through finding the soft organs beneath them.

The Orc stood motionless for a moment, then fell forward. Kaya rose, pulled her swords from the body and sliced the orcs throat, to make sure the beast was truly dead this time. Then she ran over to Nohlani, but she already knew that he was dead. She closed his eyes and said a small prayer to Avendor, asking that he take this brave elf home. Then, the picked up his personal sword and dagger and moved forward. It was not long before she heard a commanding voice rise aboe the crowds of soldiers. "I need ten volunteers for an assault on the third floor, who will join me? Avandor himself will bless us all and give us our chance at glory. So I ask again, who shall answer this call?"

As Kaya moved forward through masses she heard one voice call out. "By you, live or die, I shall go. You are my commander, I would be shamed if I did not stay with you."

The elf who had shouted his need nodded, "Very well, Catherin, stand with me. Now, who else shall go?"

"I shall stand with you! I shall be your shield, Lord Ithramir!"

"I've not had my share of orc blood either. We'll go to."

"Count me in."

"You need not even ask M'lord, you know my magic and my sword stand with you." There was a pause then the same voice shouted out, "That one M'lord, He will aid us, and is more than capable of doing it." She was finally to the front and could that the man who had just spoke was pointing towards a man in the back.

Kaya stepped forward from the crowd and looking up she saw who was asking for volunteers. It was Commander Ithramir, an elf she always dreamt of fighting for. "Amin khiluva lle a' gurtha ar' thar!"** Kaya shouted, holding her sword up high. "If you will have me, my blades are yours."

The demon inside her chuckled, it was hard to contain himself. It had gorged today on the death and anguish of those who were fighting and dying. Kaya's own anger fueled him to a strength he had never known before. She is a strong one, this one is, but not strong enough, when the time is right, I will consume her and all will be mine. He also knew the hunters were about, that the slayer was probably close enough to touch; he was not foolish enough to jepardize his plan yet, though he truly wanted to lash out and destroy all these people here and now. The time will come, their time will come.

*singing blades

**I will follow you to death and beyond


Written by - Ardwen Page 22 Book 2

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

Ithramir shouted to make his voice heard above the din,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Sycon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Rikshanthas

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

****

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

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

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

Written by - Turin Wallace

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

Turning to Lucant, he replies,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Catherin! The shamans, the shamans!"

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

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

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

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

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

"Right behind you, sir!"

Written by - Teran

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

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

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

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

Teran turned and approached Mavigan still on her horse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

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

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

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

Written by - Tempyst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Rikshanthas

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

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

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

Written by - Tempyst

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Renalis

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Tempyst

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

Written by - Sycon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sycon spoke in chant:

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

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

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

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Ardwen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Ariana

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

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

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

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


Written by - Turin Wallace Page 23 Book 2

Looking at Lienad, his responded quickly,

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

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

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

"So. It seems you two are inseperable."

Pausing, he then continues,

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

Pausing in his remarks, Catherin whispers,

"Shall I remove her, commander?"

Ithramir gives her a cross look, and replies,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Tempyst

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

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

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

Written by - Tempyst

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

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

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

Written by - Sycon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Teran

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Wilhelm

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

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

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

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

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

Geoffrey and Alulael both nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Archeantus

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

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

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

He was actually grinning…

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

Kishkumen continued expectantly.

“We seek to free you.”

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

“Free me?”

“Yes.”

Laughter filled the dimly lit corridor.

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

“Precisely.” Gadianton whispered calmly.

“You cannot fathom what you are asking mortal.”

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

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

“I will slay you first.”

Gadianton smiled in return.

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

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

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

Dark…cavernous…cold…far to the north.

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

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

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

****

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

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

Jasmine’s eyes widened.

Her target. Her failure. Her past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Renalis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Vylia

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

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

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

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

Written by - Wilhelm

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

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

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

Written by - Teran

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

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

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

Written by - Vylia

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

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

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

*Witch! Witch, your cursed blood is mine!

Written by - Tempyst

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


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