RPG #9 - The Five Dragons

Discussion in 'RPG #9 - The Five Dragons' started by Nienor, Apr 8, 2005.

  1. Senekha

    Senekha <a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank"><

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    Cy’dath glided in his unnatural stride out of the tent, and Casano’or pondered who this new intrusion could be. Curiosity almost overwhelmed her, but as she thought of going out to join Cy’dath, someone rustled through the tent flap. Casano’or spun, and saw a tall woman with black hair and strange tattoos.

    “How dare you come in here?! Get out!” She flung a knife of power at the woman, but it was absorbed in some sort of spellnet, nearly taking Casano’or off balance from surprise. Who was this woman, who could stop a powerful shockwave that no other Casano’or knew of could have withstood?

    Then the woman abruptly grew taller, shapeshifting into the form that was all too familiar to Casano’or.

    “Nairi, I’m here.”

    Casano’or nearly fainted from shock, and a stream of memories flooded through her mind, rendering her as confused as a small child.

    “Mother?” But it was impossible. She had seen her mother die, held her hand while Cléodri took her last breath.

    The figure shook her head. Her eyes were filled with sorrow, and she showed no intent of attack.

    Then suddenly Casano’or knew who this was. She froze, her body rigid with a rush of fury, and though she remained motionless, the wind began to howl, and the air within the tent took on a frigid tone.

    You,” she whispered, her voice as cold and icy as the night she was born. Riahanna didn’t look surprised at her sister’s tone, but a glimmer of hurt shone in her amber eyes.

    “Nairi, I-”

    “Don’t call me that!” Her voice cracked like a whip.

    Riahanna sighed. “What would you have me call you? Casano’or, your father-name, or Trahnye, the Avenger? Perhaps one of your countless aliases?” She shook her head. “No, sister, that’s not what I am here to discuss.”

    “What would give you cause to discuss anything with me?” Casano’or felt Cy’dath’s presence outside the door; he had sensed her anger and returned immediately. Casano’or mindspoke to him to wait.

    “Our very nature, Nairi. Even our gods are at odds with each other, and a battle is imminent.” She paused. “I have come to say goodbye.”

    “You bade me farewell millennia ago, half-sister.” A bitter taste remained from the memories. The child Casano’or had at first been worried and confused about her sister’s absence, but those feelings had soon turned to resentment as the Elves and Humans continued their slaughter.

    Riahanna shook her head, and her eyes glistened. “No,” she said. “No, I did not. You were not the only one who needed me, Nairi. It pained me not to be at your side, with your father, but I had no choice.

    “I wish you would understand that.”

    Casano’or turned and began to pace. Her mind traveled throughout her early years, remembering her honourable father, noble mother, and the sister she had looked up to. But then they came, and all my life was for naught. When she finally stopped, she looked Riahanna in the eye and said, “How do you know if I’d let you leave here alive? I could end that conflict you speak of right now.”

    “Because I remember the little Nairi that I loved.”

    After a moment, Casano’or replied stiffly, “I do not know who it is you speak of.”

    Riahanna looked pained, and turned away.
     
  2. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Ria was, frankly, surprised at her reception. Casano’or hasn’t even tried to kill met yet. And she’s acknowledged me as her blood, which is more than I expected.

    Nairi, don’t fight with your sister Faine, she could hear Cléodri say, and Ismayel, Oh, let them fight. Ria won’t hurt the child anyway.

    But our fight stretches across a world now, Riahanna thought. Poor mother… perhaps it is better that she is not alive to witness this.

    Casano’or’s words echoed in her mind. I do not know who it is you speak of. Without thinking about it, she wove an illusion until there was a small, whitehaired girl running in a flower-strewn meadow, chasing after a taller woman clad in a simple white robe. The woman had nightkissed hair streaming down her back, darkness and silver mixed together. “Ria, Ria, wait for me!” the girl cried in a high, childish voice, and the woman stopped, turned around with a smile, and held out her hands for the child.

    Casano’or’s face tightened, and she made a slashing motion with her hands. The illusion shattered, leaving only sparks of light to dance away. The two sisters held eye-contact, anger gold meeting equally gold but sorrowful eyes. The silence was so thick that Riahanna fancied she could cut it with a knife.

    “Do you know why I left you?” Riahanna asked abruptly, still staring.

    Casano’or was once again caught off-guard with her words. “No. Should I care?”

    Riahanna shrugged. “Your choice or not. As it was my choice to leave.”

    “You left Mother,” her sister said angrily. “You left her to die when you could have done something to help her. Anísedran – Spellweaver – that is what they called you. And you weren’t there when Mother died.”

    Oh, Cléodri, forgive me…

    “And you promised you would be there for me when I needed you. You promised, Ria. “Will you be here for me in the night when I need you? And you would say, Of course, my Nairi, my dearest, my sweet sister. I will always be here for you.. And you weren’t there for me when I needed you.”

    “Nairi – ”

    “You’re just jealous of my power,” Casano’or snarled. “You hoped that I would die, leaving you to be the most powerful mage in Liandrah.”

    Don’t say that,” Riahanna said, her face white. “Don’t you ever dare say that. Someone else needed me, Nairi – my father. He was near death, thanks to Cy’dath, and when he called for me, I went.”

    “You should have been there for me!”

    “And left my own father to die?”

    “No, you left me to die instead!”

    Riahanna turned away, breaking eye-contact at last. Her hands were clenched into fists, bunching up her ash-grey robe. “Ria, Ria, wait for me,” she said, her voice an uncanny imitation of Nairi as a child.

    “I’m still waiting for you,” she whispered in her own voice. “Walk in my dreams if you must, but call for me if you want to talk to me, or if you need me.”

    “So you can betray me again?”

    The words twisted into her like a knife, but Riahanna did not allow herself to show how much that had hurt.

    “I should have killed you before you could gave me so much pain,” Casano’or was saying, and her accusation flew out before she could stop it.

    “So you murdered my daughter instead.”

    “Murdered your daughter?”

    Riahanna could not stop the tear from trickling down her cheeks. “Your own sister’s daughter, related by blood, blood that is on your hands. Saryn, daughter of Riahanna, daughter of Cléodri. Who you murdered as surely as you murdered ‘hope.’ ”
     
  3. Senekha

    Senekha <a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank"><

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    I did not murder her,” Casano’or growled under her breath. “She asked for death. I left her in a condition from which she could have recovered, had she so wished.”

    Riahanna shook her head, but Casano’or continued, “Your daughter destroyed herself.”

    “Why should I believe that? You have killed thousands without remorse, so why do you make excuses fro Saryn?”

    “Do not lecture me about warfare, Riahanna.” Casano’or shot an accusatory glance at her half-sister. “You, of anyone, cannot judge me for my deeds of war.

    “I do not regret fighting Saryn.” Casano’or did not flinch at the falseness of those words. I will not give in to this woman.

    “In any case, Saryn is gone, and you still remain the cause of her demise. Don’t you think we’re even?”

    Casano’or’s eyes became the deepest of blacks, depthless and menacing. They were a black so absolute that they seemed to suck the light from their surroundings. The air around her crackled, and she spoke in soft, even words.

    “We shall never be even.”

    She spun, walked two paces, then stopped. Her black cloak swirled around her feet, shimmering and seemingly liquid.

    As if continuing her previous thoughts, she added in a whisper, “Not until this is finished, and you reunite with your daughter.”

    Casano’or turned her head slightly, regarding her half-sister from the corner of her now obsidian eyes.

    “Leave me.” When Riahanna did not move, she flung a knife of power that bit into Riahanna’s side. The priestess winced, but did nothing in response.

    “Now.”

    Riahanna’s robes swished softly as she left the tent.


    Cy’dath reentered the tent and wrapped his powerful arms protectively around Casano’or. They stood so for longs minutes. He murmured softly, soothing her, and wiped the single tear that coursed down her cheek. Slowly Casano’or relaxed, and her mind turned to the plans she must lay out.
     
  4. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    “First Priestess?”

    Riahanna turned towards Giara’s voice, her heart grieving within her. “She would not forgive me,” she said dully. “Both Nairi and Saryn are dead to me, and neither forgave me.”

    “You should go from here,” Giara said at last. “Go to Saryn’s granddaughter, Irawyn.” Underneath her words, she could sense the unspoken ones. Leave here, and compose yourself that we may begin the slaughter.

    “Perhaps you are right.” And then she wove a spell-matrix and pulled herself to Saile Hasrin.

    There were only three people whose faces she picked out from the crowds, and all three of them, she recognized. Irawyn. The girl bore a strong resemblance to her grandmother, and even to Riahanna herself. And there was another, the Lodiath Ayakier. She dismissed the Lodiath as unimportant for now, and turned her attention to the next.

    Rho’stri. Riahanna knew her, of course, as she knew all the Maradi who still lived. She wondered if Rho’stri knew that she had been intended to play the Game with the elf Sharana. But that was before I took her form and took the amulet for my own. To wield the Game… Even working with a Sentinel would be worth it.

    As of yet, the three seemed unaware of her presence in the shadows behind them, and Riahanna extended thin probes of magic towards Rho’stri’s mind.

    The next instant, she wove magical bonds around Rho’stri and stepped out from the shadows.





    Two people at once, one who I definitely don’t trust. Ayakier is a Seer whose abilities at least equal mine, and are probably superior, and I hope I can trust her. And as for Rho’stri… Irawyn resisted the urge to massage her temples. Now there’s a dilemma to give anyone a headache.

    “Seer Ayakier,” she greeted in the same dialect. Evidently, Rho’stri understood her, for her eyebrows rose at Irawyn’s proficiency. “I would be honored if you spoke with me in a few moments. Allow me to speak first with Rho’stri, and – ”

    Before she could complete the sentence, the Maradi stiffened and flung her head back as if to scream, feet rising in the air. She flailed in invisible bonds that must have been magical in nature, and yet Irawyn could not even sense them. Rho’stri opened her mouth, but no sound came out.

    Who….?

    On an instinct, she spun around, and the answer to her unspoken question stepped from the shadows.

    The woman who faced them stood taller than the three of them, and Irawyn instantly sensed that this woman was not one to cross. Crescent moon and leaf ornaments were worked into blue-black hair, and a necklace of intertwined crescent moons at her throat, while deep violet markings like vertical spread wings covered glinting silver-blue eyes and the outer halves of both cheeks. White teeth were bared in an unfriendly smile. Irawyn was struck with the revelation that she looked very, very similar to Saryn, save for the strange tattoos.

    Rho’stri had ceased her frantic struggles, perhaps realizing that they were useless. “Who are you?” Irawyn demanded, gathering her own magic. “How dare you attack a guest of mine in my home?”

    The woman’s eyes traveled to her crown. “I suppose that you’re a queen now,” she said, “but crowns never mean much to one who has killed gods. No one bothers me, and no one speaks to me in that fashion. I am Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman, and you will have some respect to soften your tongue or I will pull it out.”

    Irawyn snorted in disbelief. “You’re lying, a madwoman, or both. Everyone knows that Riahanna died in the Chaos War.”

    Riahanna, if that was who she was, nodded towards Rho’stri. “Ask her. She was alive during that time.”

    Rho’stri’s mouth opened and closed again without making a sound, and Irawyn snapped, “Release her.”

    “Oh, I have my reasons, girl, reasons that I think you’ll agree with.” But Rho’stri began speaking almost at once, though her arms and legs were still held at an unnatural angle.

    “You!” she exclaimed. “Casano’or will rip out your heart in an instant if she knew you were here.”

    “Oh, she knows,” Riahanna said, ignoring the fact that one of the most dangerous women in the world wanted to kill her. “My sweet sister and I just talked a few moments ago, after all. But do confirm for our young friend that I am who I say I am.”

    “She is,” Rho’stri said with venom, “the cowardly, perverse half-sister to Casano’or. You do not deserve to bear her blood, trai tor.”

    Irawyn looked at one to the other in confusion. Riahanna was actually alive, and she was Casano’or’s sister? And at odds with Casano’or’s friend? Whatever the situation had been, it had surely gotten worse.





    Riahanna was more than slightly annoyed at Rho’stri’s accusations. You know only the lies and half-truths Casano’or fed you. “The crow calls the raven black, and you dare speak of treachery,” she snarled. “Or do you intend to deny that you came here to spy on my great-granddaughter to aid Casano’or and Cy’dath?” There, the words were out now, and nothing could take them back.

    Both Rho’stri and Irawyn were reeling back in shock. “I am not your great-granddaughter!” Irawyn shouted, beautiful face contorted with rage. “How – how dare you…!” Her hands were literally shaking with rage, and Riahanna braced herself for an attack.

    Rho’stri seemed more resigned than angry when the priestess walked over to her. “I suppose that it was inevitable, but this is an unpleasant surprise. Casano’or never warned me that you were Saryn’s mother.” The hatred had drained from her voice now, and only weariness remained.

    Irawyn was spitting foul curses on them, but both of the Maradi ignored her. “She never knew,” Riahanna replied in the same tone of voice. She half-glanced at the furious Azah queen. “For your safety, I think that it’s best you come with me.”

    Rho’stri also looked at Irawyn and sighed. “I suppose that I have no choice.”

    “No. You do not.” Riahanna waited until Irawyn was done with her tirade. “I’ll be leaving soon, and I’m taking Rho’stri with me.”

    That fast, she was every inch a queen again, and Riahanna sensed that Irawyn was usually calm and composed. My appearance must have shocked her to the core. “You said that she came to spy on me. By rights, her life is mine.”

    “By rights, her life is yours,” Riahanna agreed pleasantly. “By my power, she is mine. Don’t contend with me, great-granddaughter. You’ll lose.”

    “Don’t call me that.” Iron and winter, that was her, all right. You’ll need all of that when you face my sister.

    “Now, winter’s song and winter’s heart must each face the other,” she said under her breath. Only Rho’stri caught the words, but she showed no sign of hearing. “I’ll be back, great-granddaughter,” she said, trying to provoke another reaction. “I’ll be back soon, when your rage has cooled.”

    “Do, and I’ll kill you.” Riahanna could feel the power coming, and she caught it another spellnet, similar to the one she had used against Casano’or.

    “I am the Spellweaver,” she reminded the girl, who seemed to have expected her to deflect the blow. “My aid could be invaluable, and I think that you’ll find that my allegiances have changed.” And with that, Riahanna, Rho’stri in tow, left the Azah queen to go to a woman whose power she could sense. The conduit.
     
  5. Morgan_of_Salerone

    Morgan_of_Salerone New Member

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    Arikha sat in the shade of a tall tree, the grass curling about her slim figure and the wind gently tousling her red-gold hair. She was weakened from her giving of strength to Ki’dasva, but through that same bond, she leeched magical power from the goddess. Tired as her body was, it was refreshing.

    For several years Arikha had watched and worried as magic seeped from the land. She had grown more careful with its use, fearing she would draw too much of her own strength away or deplete the stocks of remaining magic the land held. She fell from the lofty position of powerful dark sorceress to feeble magician, and with great disdain took up the sword and the bow to better defend herself on her travels.

    Arikha chuckled to herself, leaning her head back against the tree. What would her father think of her now? He and his court had left the lands of the Forest Elves many, many years ago, when Arikha had been a small child. How he would scold her when she would play hide-and-seek with the servants there, or wrestle and play swords with the stable boys. She could always delight those simple people with her little magic tricks, her fountains of coloured sparks and flashes of light. But her father, oh how her father hated it. For a forest elf however, her paid much attention to her, a daughter, schooling her and scolding her and taking a small interest in her adventures. At least, until her mother died. It was then that Arikha had begun to hate him, and it had only worsened after he took a new wife. When their son was born he ignored her completely, treating her like one of his servants as he paid every attention to his son, his “true heir” as he called him. It only drove Arikha into greater hatred, for without her mother’s dowry of land (which had been a large portion of Avaennon, in fact) and jewels, he would still be nothing more than a lowly knight at the King’s court. What would he think of his daughter now, the first female ruler in forest elf history, a sorceress who wielded a bow and sword, travelled the lands without escort, and aligned herself with the gods? Arikha chuckled to herself again, closing her eyes and hearing the hum of the earth around her, the hum of the earth and the hum of magic.

    It was good to feel it again, even better to know the hum was of her magic, her power. Arikha opened her eyes and stood, feeling the warm sun on her face. She laughed out loud, her voice like the tinkling of silver bells.

    “Come, my demons! Come to your mistress! Come to your demon queen!”

    Through the portals Cy’dath himself created and using the spells set by Arikha, demons appeared and flocked beside the dark sorceress, their twisted eyes watching her hungrily. Arikha smiled back at them, quiet laughter rising in her throat. Ah, Ki’dasva, if you knew what power you gave me, she thought.
    Her time with Cy’dath had not been wasted. She had observed many things from him, and used them many times to her advantage. One was the control of demons. While she could not create the portals that linked their world to hers, she could summon them once they entered it and compel them to do her bidding. It was risky at times, as the demons were not entirely faithful to her, but with enough power about her they would dare not defy her.

    “Go now,” she said to them. “Go now and find our beloved Casano’or. Harry her, distract her, terrorize her troops. Do what you must to destroy their moral, and put our good friend’s nerves on edge.” The demons dispersed, leaving her alone under the tree. “Now,” she whispered to the gentle wind. “we go to meet our allies, and after, we go to destroy our enemies.”

    Pulling her magic about her, Arikha closed her eyes and began to form a spell-jump. It would be good to see Sharana again, and meet once and for all this “priestess” of Ki’dasva’s.
     
  6. Senekha

    Senekha <a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank"><

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    Rho’stri’s eyes flared wide in rage as she sensed the invisible bonds tighten around her body. She stiffened and began to shapeshift, but found that her magical abilities were hampered as well by this trap. She immediately recognized the signature of the power, and would have screamed in fury had her bonds permitted it.

    Rho’stri soon knew that any resistance was futile. She was not strong in her natural power, and only with the power of her patron could she hope to face one such as Riahanna. And that when she had sufficient warning.

    “Who are you? How dare you attack a guest of mine in my home?”

    “I suppose that you’re a queen now,” she said, “but crowns never mean much to one who has killed gods. No one bothers me, and no one speaks to me in that fashion. I am Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman, and you will have some respect to soften your tongue or I will pull it out.”

    Irawyn snorted in disbelief. “You’re lying, a madwoman, or both. Everyone knows that Riahanna died in the Chaos War.”

    Riahanna nodded towards Rho’stri. “Ask her. She was alive during that time.”

    You have no idea what I did in that time, Rho’stri thought. Though she had refrained from directly going against Casano’or during the Wars, she had hindered many a plan of Riahanna’s.

    Rho’stri tried to snap out some retort, but her voice wouldn’t come.

    Irawyn snapped, “Release her.”

    “Oh, I have my reasons, girl, reasons that I think you’ll agree with.”

    “You!” Rho’stri exclaimed. “Casano’or would rip out your heart in an instant if she knew you were here.” And she would certainly have much pleasure in doing so. Rho’stri knew how deep Casano’or’s hatred for her half-sister ran.

    “Oh, she knows. My sweet sister and I just talked a few moments ago, after all. But do confirm for our young friend that I am who I say I am.”

    “She is,” Rho’stri said with venom, “the cowardly, perverse half-sister to Casano’or. You do not deserve to bear her blood, trai tor.”

    “The crow calls the raven black, and you dare speak of treachery,” Riahanna snarled. “Or do you intend to deny that you came here to spy on my great-granddaughter to aid Casano’or and Cy’dath?”

    Great-granddaugher? But that would mean…

    “I am not your great-granddaughter!” Irawyn shouted, beautiful face contorted with rage. “How – how dare you…!”

    Rho’stri ignored that thousands of implications this would have, instead saying simply, “I suppose that it was inevitable, but this is an unpleasant surprise. Casano’or never warned me that you were Saryn’s mother.” The hatred had drained from her voice now, and only weariness remained.

    Irawyn was spitting foul curses on them, but both of the Maradi ignored her. “She never knew,” Riahanna replied in the same tone of voice. She half-glanced at the furious Azah queen. “For your safety, I think that it’s best you come with me.”

    Rho’stri also looked at Irawyn and sighed. “I suppose that I have no choice.” At the least, I can give a detailed report on Riahanna when Casano’or gets me out of this mess.

    “No. You do not.” Riahanna waited until Irawyn was done with her tirade. “I’ll be leaving soon, and I’m taking Rho’stri with me.”

    “You said that she came to spy on me. By rights, her life is mine.” If only I could stay, Rho’stri thought with a malicious streak that was completely out of character. She half surprised herself at her desire to destroy the Azah’s balance and plans.

    “By rights, her life is yours,” Riahanna agreed pleasantly. “By my power, she is mine. Don’t contend with me, great-granddaughter. You’ll lose.”

    “Don’t call me that.”

    “Now, winter’s song and winter’s heart must each face the other,” she said under her breath. Only Rho’stri caught the words. And the song shall sing the heart from existence.

    “I’ll be back, great-granddaughter,” Riahanna said. “I’ll be back soon, when your rage has cooled.”

    “Do, and I’ll kill you.” Riahanna caught a fist of power in a simple spellnet, leaving the Azah in surprise.

    “I am the Spellweaver,” she reminded the girl, who seemed to have expected her to deflect the blow. “My aid could be invaluable, and I think that you’ll find that my allegiances have changed.”




    Riahanna brought her to a temple of sorts, dedicated, without doubt, to Ki’dasva. As soon as the invisible chains began to lift, Rho’stri called out to Zahramael and struck at the remaining bonds, sending the unseen chains shattering. She sent a swift cry for help to Casano’or, and was in the form of the giant eagle and rushing at the high priestess with outstretched talons when Riahanna threw her crashing to the ground with a ball of power drawn from Ki’dasva. The eagle’s piercing cry turned to that of a woman’s gasp of pain as Rho’stri was forced back into her natural form.

    After a moment, Rho’stri lifted her small frame, wracked with pain, and stood facing Riahanna. She was much shorter and of slighter build than her fellow Maradi, and was forced to look up into Riahanna’s eyes.

    “Zahramael?” Riahanna said with an inquisitive look.

    Rho’stri said nothing, only staring in contempt at Riahanna. She would not divulge her secrets, especially to one against whom the Dragons worked. Her mind whirled again in the anxiety she felt with her whole situation, for the Dragons worked also against Cy’dath. She had resolved that she could merely not use the powers bestowed upon her by the Lord of Storms, Healing, and Death to Cy’dath’s ends, though it nevertheless left her uncomfortable.

    It was not until long moments had passed and when Riahanna’s annoyance increased that Rho’stri broke the tense silence.

    She spoke in her soft voice, barely audible, as was her manner. “Whatever shall you do with me, Ria?” She hadn’t the slightest idea what Riahanna could use with her, save to hold her ransom. Rho’stri was older than Casano’or, born a mere year before Riahanna. She had known the sisters since early childhood, but had not befriended either until she met Casano’or years later, in her travels with Cy’dath. Her attitude towards Riahanna had always been indifferent.

    Ki’dasva’s priestess looked down at Rho’stri with what could only be described as disdain.

    “Fear not, loremistress; I have plans in plenty for you.”



    The morning after the assault in Alena, Casano’or’s troops returned. The commanding officers reported to her, and their news was grim, despite the very obvious victory.

    “We had not yet begun our return march when the demons attacked.”

    This key phrase stuck in Casano’or’s mind and would not leave. She made of show of listening to the reports, but in truth her mind wandered over the possibilities and the meanings of this new discovery.

    “…when the demons attacked.”

    There was something vastly wrong about the whole scene, though Casano’or could not put her finger on it. Obviously, someone had gained control over the demons roaming Liandrah, and very possibly the rifts between the Void and Liandrah themselves. This in itself was a troubling thought, but when concerned Casano’or was the matter of who had released the demons, and how. Cy’dath had created those rifts in the Chaos Wars, and had not yet brought them back into use.

    Only Ki’dasva could hope to attempt to reopen the rifts, and only she could send the demons against Cy’dath.

    All this seemed obvious, and entirely plausible, but there was something else…

    Shrugging the matter off, and returning her attention to the officers standing in uneasy attention before her, Casano’or thanked them for their prompt reports, gave them instructions as to the necessary steps now needing to be taken in defense of demons and whatever else Ki’dasva might throw at them, and dismissed them.

    She was inspecting the camp when she heard Rho’stri’s voice resonate through her head.

    “Casano’or!” Her voice seemed to linger, but the urgency in her friend’s voice froze Casano’or in her steps. She mindspoke swiftly with Cy’dath.

    “Cy’dath!”

    “Yes, I head her also. What will you do?”


    Casano’or replied without pause.

    ”I must find her. I must go to her.”

    With that, Casano’or transported her self instantly to the city of the Azah. She appeared quite suddenly in the midst of the bustling community, and ignored the gasps of surprise and fear that ripples about her. She made no effort to mask her identity.

    Irawyn was not difficult to find. Around her were several familiar figure, but Casano’or ignored them once she discerned that Rho’stri was nowhere near. She strode purposefully up to Irawyn, who could scarcely mask her surprise.

    She addressed the Azah queen directly. “Where is Rho’stri?” She projected her mind to the surrounding area, but could detect no traces of her friend’s presence. Casano’or’s body radiated a sizzling aura that crackled with dark power. Her anger was unmasked, and thus very unnerving.

    Irawyn looked shocked, as if unable to get over the thought of Casano’or’s appearance and perhaps over the fact alone that Casano’or had not yet attempted to attack her. She looked drained, though that was no wonder, after the healing power she would have been forced to recuperate her body after their very recent battle.

    The Azah’s mouth worked soundlessly, and she finally said, “Your sister came.”

    “What?” Casano’or could scarcely keep herself from roaring.

    Irawyn’s surprise seemed to fade, yet she still seemed unsettled, and Casano’or suspected that it was for something other than her mere presence. She was studying Casano’or in the strangest way, as if through new eyes.

    “Riahanna…my great-grandmother…” she almost winced as she said that, “appeared and took your spy.”

    Casano’or sighed. “She is no end for trouble, is she not?” Irawyn arched an almost inquisitive eyebrow. It occurred to Casano’or then that she was related by blood to this Azah queen. How odd. It seemed that everyone she fought recently was in some way related to her by blood. How simple and time-saving it would have been to do away with Riahanna when they were children!

    “How long was she spying for you? Since I met her, I presume.”

    “Quite the opposite, actually,” Casano’or replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. “She was not even in agreement with us at the time.” Then her voice hardened. “But I digress. Where is she?”

    “You should know better than I.” The Azah queen was still on edge, expecting an attack at any moment, though Casano’or had nothing of the sort in mind. Not yet, anyhow.

    Casano’or brought her gaze up to encompass the Azah dwellings. She began to walk about, intrigued with this society she had never before had the chance to study, but Irawyn called out sharply, “Leave now. You have no place here, and I do not wish to battle before my people.”

    Casano’or turned to the Azah and turned up a corner of her mouth in a mocking grin. “I must attend to more pressing matters. Be relieved that it is too early in the day for kinslaying, niece.”
     
  7. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    It hurt everywhere, and he couldnt see much, dimly he tried recall what happened last, he remembered the scuffle with guards and then being knocked over vision going black, he remembered the bloody face of a man with missing teeth and kicking and.... thats was it, the guard mustnt have been happy with Jak reworking his jawline which would explain the bruises up and down his ribs, bastard he thought as he slid himself up and leaned on the dusty wall. There was little enough light coming from a grate on the roof, but jack managed to find the sturdy iron-barred door and begun to hammer on it with his fist, still a little slow from the knock on his head.

    After a minute or two a brute in leather came to see the racket, and Jak smiled at him. "You must be the ugliest serving wench I've ever seen" He stepped back from the gloved fist that shot through the bars. "Still, I am very thirsty, with the shill in here I think a hot cup of mulled wine would be best, thanks" The gaoler growled and the fist shot back in, Jak took hold of the thick wrost and yanked, one foot bracing on the iron bars. The man yelped as he shoulder twisted against the metal, eventually another gaoler came and stuck a spear through the bars forcing Jak to dive back or get a new hole where his neck was. forgettign that guards usually never went alone was proving to be his undoing, vowing never to make the mistake again he sat back down and rested, feeling a bit lightheaded from jumping around too soon after a head injury.

    The shaft of light from the roof-grating had slowly marched across the floor and up the wall untill it had escaped, and what little light left came from a torch somewhere down the hallway beyong his sight. No food or water had been brought so Jak was intrigued when he heard a rattle and a creak of hinges and muttering. Shortly followed by the goaler at the door to his cell flanked by a man in black robes. When they had told the black robed man jak was 'troublesome' he frowned and they opened the cell door. Jak remained seated as he was.

    "You are Cheerful Jak?" He said in a solemn tone, more of a statement than a question, Jak was bored already.

    "No good sir, I'm Casano'o, scourge of the sentinels and queen of the damned" he said in a more than mocking tone. The man was less than pleased, and with a flick of his head one of the guards whacked Jak round the jaw with the butt of his spear, which hurt more than a little. After another nod the guard raised his spear but Jak put his hand up "Yes, Cheerful Jak's the name, if you want I'll sign an autograph.

    The man shook his head and ignored the comment. "By the ruling of the magistrates of Lohridea, fellons of other lands found in this humble city are to be sold for rewards in the lands of their crimes, tomorrow you will be taken back to Liandrah to be brought to justice for your crimes."

    "Good luck with that, Never heard of a fair trial in this hellhole? the worst ive done here is bloody up a guarsman, and thats a victimless crime."

    The man furrowed his brow and shuffled under his robes. "It is the right of every prisoner to recieve fair trial" Jak smiled "But it had been more fruitful to trade valuable prisoners in the westlands and so those on the watchwall are not given that choice. Though you would likely only be hanged, and what good would that do you." Jak nodded, if they had to drag him back to liandrah he would have more time to escape, which the thought about how he woudl do that the man and the guard left and eventually he went to sleep on the dirty cell floor. Tomorrow was another day and he decided the best way to start it was breaking free and getting away from this dingy city as soon as possible.
     
  8. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Riahanna was more than curious about Rho’stri. You dare to claim to serve Zahramael, and here you stand aiding Casano’or. But she did not say what she thought, and instead, she shielded her mind completely to throw out an order to Giara. Rho’stri had never been as strong as her in magic, and there would be no way she could eavesdrop on her, unless she served Zahndariel as well. The dragon goddess of the mind might be able to give her the ability to read Riahanna’s thoughts, but she doubted it.

    Rho’stri seemed to be in some pain, but it would serve as a lesson that the Maradi could not escape her. Loremistress though she was, she was no match for a Spellweaver. You are a puppet, she thought with contempt. You believe all the lies that Caano’or feeds you. Then she banished her annoyance and reached to Giara. First, though, she drew on the mantle of her authority again, and cast away her grief.

    Giara, the plans have changed. I don’t care how you do this, but inform all the priestesses that they’re to target Casano’or’s commanders immediately. Have them work with assassination spells, rather than moving in physically the way we originally planned.

    Casano’or may be able to block our attacks if we do it through magic.

    Then have them work in conjunct. If everyone links together in a circle, there’s no way she’ll be able to stop several hundred mages. Don’t bother with the rank-and-file soldiers.

    Done, Eldest. There was a short pause. It’s good to have you back as the First again, Ria. By that, Giara meant unflinching at the thought of murder, and over her grief at Saryn’s death.

    I have no choice, Giara, if our people are to survive. There was nothing her friend could say to that, and after a short, uncomfortable silence, Ria spoke again. I’m moving out of here immediately. The Lady asked me to keep an eye on the conduit, and frankly, if the conduit and I work together against Casano’or, there’s no way our new prisoner can escape. She quickly related the tale of how she had captured Rho’stri.

    Interesting. Very interesting. And your plans for the Game?

    I’m not intending to tell the Maradi that I impersonated her, if that’s what you’re asking. If I keep jumping around and concealing my tracks, Casano’or won’t know where I’m going. Back to Irawyn first, I think. After that, the conduit.

    Ria felt Giara’s assent. Ki’dasva walk with you, sister.

    And with you.

    Riahanna broke the link, and then turned to Rho’stri.

    “Who were you talking to?” The blunt question took Riahanna by surprise, and she burst into laughter.

    “Little sister, try to assume that I am a fairly intelligent adult. Why would I give any information to Casano’or’s spy?” Rho’stri flushed, but kept her challenging eyes on Riahanna. “As it is, though, there isn’t any harm telling you. I was speaking with Giara, yet another of the last survivors of the Chaos War.”

    “Oh, do you mean the other kinslayer?”

    Riahanna sighed. “There’s several ways we can do this, Rho’stri. You can cooperate with me, to a certain extent. Don’t resist when I start jumping us around, and don’t try to kill me. And try to soften your tongue a little.”

    Rho’stri spat on her.

    Riahanna didn’t even bother to wipe away the spit, and no expression of anger or disgust crossed her face. Calmly, she sent the Maradi sprawling with a blow of power, and wrapped shields around her magical abilities. She also wove a “knife” of power, such as it was, and held it over the areas in her mind that allowed Rho’stri to do magic. “Give me one more reason to, and I’ll do it.” If Riahanna cut down, Rho’stri would not be able to cast magic ever again. The quiet threat evidently persuaded Rho’stri to cooperate, but Riahanna shielded the woman, just to be sure. As an afterthought, she shielded Rho’stri’s mind as well, to prevent her from calling for help again.

    “That’s all I ask,” she said, continuing as if nothing had happened. “I’m not expecting you to betray my sweet sister, or to betray Zahramael. Although I do wonder what your god has to say about being so closely associated with his bitterest enemy.” Her eyebrows arched upwards.

    “How dare you speak of what you do not understand! You are outcast, in service to Ki’dasva, and – ”

    “And I, at least, am not foresworn.” Those soft words hung in the air, taunting, tantalizing.

    “You betrayed your sister.”

    Those words had hurt, coming from Casano’or. From Rho’stri, they were an irritation. She said dryly, “You are as quick as my sister to judge people without understanding their history or reasons behind their actions.”

    “Casano’or has every right to judge you.”

    Nairi, come back to me…

    “Yes. She does.” The quiet acknowledgement was tinged with sorrow. “As you do not.” Riahanna fell silent then, willing Rho’stri to be quiet, though she did not gag her with magic. In spite of all her threats, she was somewhat reluctant to use unnecessary force against the other Maradi. But one attack, and I swear to Ki’dasva that I’ll kill her. “Be silent, and do not speak of what you do not understand.”

    “Sensitive, are you? You cannot call me foresworn; you broke all the laws of kinship, of –”

    Riahanna briefly contemplated silencing the annoying woman, then decided against it. “There was once a god named Aldrien,” she said, cutting her off. “The son of a brief, passionate liaison between Dalin and Ki’dasva.”

    Rho’stri frowned. “Everyone knows that tale, and normal-minded people abhor the god. Aldrien should never have existed. Are your wits wandering, or do you intend to blame all of your sins upon Aldrien?” The last was said with a sneer.

    Riahanna ignored her. “Aldrien met a Maradi woman one day, and fathered a child upon her. Her name was Cléodri, and when her child was born, she named her Faine. The old tongue word for ‘peace’ and ‘serenity.’

    “Then there came a day when Cy’dath attacked Aldrien and left him for dead. Helpless, the god called to his daughter, and the daughter came. The same day Faine left, the younger races attacked the Kortiri. At the instigation of Cy’dath.”





    No sooner had Casano’or left then her sister came back. Irawyn was tired of them all, by that time. “Go away,” she said. Why must I put up with these two sisters? At least Riahanna hasn’t tried to kill me yet.

    “Have some respect for your elders,” Riahanna drawled, leaning against a nearby wall. Unlike Casano’or, who prowled about and never stopped moving, she lounged rather like an indolent cat. And though Riahanna seemed harmless, or at least less menacing than her sister, Irawyn could sense the predatory hunter underneath that innocuous disguise. Rho’stri stood several feet behind, scowling angrily. Both Riahanna and Irawyn ignored her.

    “Or else you’ll pull my tongue out?” Irawyn snorted. “You have such a way of getting along with family.”

    “I pride myself in my talented skills with children.” That last word was exquisitely emphasized, but Irawyn refused to allow it to bait her. Nor did she show any of the fear she felt in the presence of the Spellweaver, but Riahanna did not seem to care. Casano’or is ill content unless her opponents show fear, Irawyn noted. Her sister seems a little different.

    Rho’stri spoke up. “Your sister would say differently.”

    Riahanna rolled her eyes. “Please. I know very well what my sister would say, Rho’stri. I half-raised her, after all.”

    “Speaking of your sister, she came here a while ago,” Irawyn said. “Looking for her spy.”

    “Unsurprising, and rather predictable. Casano’or never learned the benefits of trying something new. Did she harm you in any way?” she asked almost fiercely.

    “Why should you care?”

    Riahanna didn’t answer verbally, so Irawyn extended a tiny probe towards her and caught only one thought. …all I have left of her… The anguished thought carried grief even heavier than hers, but not a single tear betrayed Riahanna. Instead, she was glaring.

    “The next time you eavesdrop on my thoughts, great-granddaughter, I’ll turn the probe back on you and read your mind.”

    Irawyn felt a brief flickering of pity and compassion. If I can feel pity for Casano’or, who killed my grandmother, then it is not unexpected that I feel pity for Saryn’s mother. She nodded in reply to Riahanna. “As you will, great-grandmother.”

    “See to it that you remember. I’ll visit again.” Then Riahanna and Rho’stri’s forms wavered and disappeared.





    Sharana was descending towards the ground, her wing muscles tired from all the flying she had done this morning. I’ll walk for a bit, then fly some more, she decided, when she felt a mass pouring of power around her. She unslung the Starwolf from her back and strung it quickly, then nocked an arrow to the string and waited.

    The sight that greeted her was an odd one. Several feet away from her, the air began shimmering, then cleared once more to reveal two women. Sharana knew without a doubt which one was Riahanna.

    The tall woman had crescent moon and leaf ornaments in her blue-black hair, about her throat, and on her ears. Deep violet markings like vertical spread wings covered glinting silver-blue eyes and the outer halves of both cheeks, and white teeth were bared in an unfriendly smile. Yet for all her strangeness, Sharana felt that she half-recognized her.

    Then she remembered what Ki’dasva had told her. Saryn’s mother, she reminded herself. Riahanna was taller, and she had those odd markings, but the resemblance was unmistakable.

    Her shorter companion was odd-looking indeed, with her dead-white hair and skin, and eyes paler than Sharana’s. She also had esoteric tattoos covering her everywhere, far more numerous than Riahanna’s, but she refrained from ornaments. What Sharana found most curious were her fingernails, black like Lendoril’s.

    “Riahanna,” she greeted, turning first to the dark-haired priestess. “And who is your companion?”

    “Rho’stri of the Maradi,” Rho’stri answered. “I can speak for myself.”

    “She’s also Casano’or’s spy, but we’ll ignore that for now. You’re the conduit, I assume.”

    “Sharana Wingheart.” Sharana cautiously extended a hand, and Riahanna took it with a firm grip. If we must be allies, then I will be a courteous one.

    “We’ll talk later, I think, when I’ve made sure that Rho’stri can’t hear certain things that we discuss. But for now…” Riahanna pulled a dagger from the sleeves of her ash-grey robe, and Sharana tensed. As it turned out, though, her fear was groundless. Riahanna merely cut her palm lightly, then offered the blade to Sharana, who did the same. Their hands met once more, and two pairs of silver-blue eyes, one dark and the other filled with dancing stars, remained in contact with one another.

    “By this blood shared, I, Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman and First Priestess of Ki’dasva, agree to the conditions of the alliance set by Ki’dasva and Sharana Wingheart, and bind myself as blood-sister to Sharana Wingheart, to protect her, to serve her, to guard her.”

    Sharana recognized the words of the blood oath, but she was hesitant about naming herself as blood-sister to Riahanna.

    Do it. The whisper sounded strained, but Sharana knew who it was.

    The Well! Sharana no longer wasted time in questions, but repeated the words as well. “By this blood shared, I, Sentinel Sharana Wingheart Starflight of House Ylavra and conduit of the Well of Stars, agree to the conditions of the alliance set by Ki’dasva and myself, and bind myself as blood-sister to Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman, to protect her, to serve her, to guard her.”

    She expected Riahanna to release her hand, but instead, the priestess leaned forward. “Say the words of the blood oath once more, but this time, name me as Faine Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman, and add the title of ‘Player of the Game’ to yourself,” she said so softly that Sharana had to strain to hear her. “Make certain that Rho’stri does not hear.” Then she, too, repeated the oath, adding Faine to her name – and calling herself ‘Player of the Game’ as well.

    Nonplussed, Sharana obeyed. But her thoughts were racing. What has become of Lendoril? Why is Riahanna my partner now, and Player of the Game?

    “We are bound by blood now,” Riahanna said, “to our cause.”

    Although those words were only the closing part of the blood oath, Sharana still felt a shiver rack her body at those words.
     
  9. Senekha

    Senekha <a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank"><

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    In the following sennight, Casano’or’s army captured three more human countries. If they kept up this pace, she would soon control all of the human countries. Next would come the elves, but she spared no thought for them, content to cross each bridge as she reached it. The demons also continued their erratic harrying, but her soldiers were able to fight and destroy them, although they suffered some losses. Such losses were not even a dint in the strength of Casano’or’s army, which had climbed to numbers upwards of 300,000 soldiers, not to mention the thousands of mercenaries flocking to her call.

    The day after Rho’stri’s capture, many of Casano’or’s officers were attacked by magical means, destroyed on the spot. It was not difficult to appoint new and adept officers – there were certainly no lack in soldiers – but it did make the others afraid. They now fought a battle of both steel and magic, yet against magic they had no defense save that which Casano’or chose to give them.

    Accordingly, Casano’or placed powerful wards on each of her officers, knowing that Riahanna – for it could be no other than her who instigated the attacks – would continue such assaults if she had her way.

    Casano’or stood at the peak of the nearest mountain, the buffeting winds swirling around yet never touching her. It was just after dark, and the sky was clear of any trace of clouds, as it had been for the past fortnight. The moon and the stars shed a warming glow over the world, and Casano’or’s eyes pierced the darkness like those of no mortal. She looked far into the distance, to the place Cy’dath had shown her the night of Rho’stri’s abduction.

    She did not know the place, nor did she have any traces of magic which she could follow there, so she knew she must reach the place by other means besides transporting. With a grim set of mind, she lifted herself from the mountain peak and began her swift and wingless flight to her destination.

    Her power was returning swiftly now, as was Cy’dath’s, and their combined power was like none other in existence. Not even Ki’dasva could create such an alliance of power with any or all of her priestesses.

    She dared not send Rho’stri warning, for she knew Riahanna could easily intercept the mindspeak. She sped through the darkness in utter silence and gave no evidence of her passing. She wore an invisibility cloak which would protect her from eyesight and magicsight. No one would detect her presence without her assent.

    It was not long before her destination was in sight. She slowed her progress, then hovered above the great temple dedicated to Ki’dasva. It radiated power, and Casano’or could sense many sorceresses, or priestesses, within the building. Her sister’s power signature was clear, and close to her was Rho’stri.

    She knew that the grounds would be protected by some sort of ward, and thus had prepared yet another spell to counteract them, one that none could possibly imagine, even her twisted sister.

    For she had once again invoked the magic of the Ancients, though this time in a form that did not tax nature. It was a spell that only she could invoke, one passed down through her father’s family, created by one of her ancestors against a day such as this.

    It had taken her a full five days of preparation, but now the motions were complete and the power of the Song breathed within her breast.

    Rather than chant, she began to sing, a soft and haunting song that grew in power and intensity until it rose to a level that soared above the sounds of nature and penetrated all thought and spell. Words of an all but forgotten language now soared with the wings of an eagle. Her voice took on different levels of sound, seeming as if a choir sang and echoed through the still night. The Song was filled with emotion, and she knew that many who heard it might weep from the beauty. It was not arrogance, but a simple acknowledgment that she had always had an unnaturally brilliant singing voice. The priestesses must know of her presence now, but she did not care, for nothing could stop the Song. Nothing could defend itself against the power of the Song.

    The Song was created to break through all barriers of magic. It could break down the strongest of shields and wards, and capture the magic of the wards for its own use.

    At the climax of the Song, Casano’or cast the magic of the Song down to the temple, and the night shone with a white light as it clove through the shields and laid bare the magical coverings.

    Casano’or threw down an assault which tore the rooftops from the structure of the temple, exposing all within. Shocked priestesses ran for cover and prepared their defense. Some began to chant, while others simple gathered their power about themselves. Casano’or felt one send out a link, urging the others to join and let loose a concerted assault.

    Before they could attempt such a feat, Casano’or struck down half a dozen down with a mindspell, killing them instantly from within their own mind. A wave of power surged toward her, but with shields enforced by Cy’dath himself, Casano’or’ easily dispersed them.

    But then came a shock of power that threw Casano’or back several paces from her place above the scene, and threatened to weaken her shields. Only power directly routed from Ki’dasva could have affected such a shield as Casano’or used, and she knew that Riahanna had begun her assault.

    Sister, Nairi, leave now. Casano’or could clearly hear Riahanna’s mindtalk.

    Why wait, sweet sister? she replied, sending a ball of green fire at a trio of priestesses who were in the process of linking. Two managed to deflect the brunt of it at the last second, escaping with minor wounds, but the third dissolved in a rush of flame.

    Leave now, or I kill your friend.

    Casano’or looked at the place where Riahanna stood, Rho’stri before her in a bond of sorts, straining to get free.

    You wouldn’t.

    Wouldn’t I? Rho’stri suddenly doubled over in pain as Riahanna made her threat more than clear.

    Casano’or fumed, but unable to further risk Rho’stri’s safety, she transported herself immediately back to Cy’dath.
     
  10. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    “So what’s this you’re making?” Sharana asked.

    “It doesn’t really have a name, but you could call it a bridge, I suppose. You know that Liandrah has magic ingrained in the land itself, right?” At Sharana’s nod, Riahanna continued, “Well, what I’m doing is linking together two pieces of land and magic with more magic. Then I use the ‘rope’ of magic that I used to connect the land, and cross the distance with it. It’s a great deal like crossing an abyss with a rope, hand over hand. If you fall, you die, and if you have passengers, it’s much harder, like having someone hanging onto your shoulders.”

    “No one I’ve ever heard of uses magic that way.”

    “Only spellweavers do, and only a few have the power to Gate that way.”

    “And you?” she asked, when Riahanna showed no sign of expounding further.

    “And I… I was the greatest of them all.” To Sharana’s surprise, there was no pride in that simple statement, only regret.

    It was clear that Riahanna did not want to speak of this, at least in Rho’stri’s presence. The captive Maradi had been singularly – well, Sharana couldn’t precisely call her sulky, but she came close. “And what if I didn’t hang onto your shoulders but crossed the abyss myself?”

    Riahanna frowned a little. “You could, I think. Spellweaving’s not precisely a talent, not as such, but more a way of doing magic. It’s not an inborn talent, like Maradi magic. Why do you want to know?”

    “We’re in a war here, First Priestess, and I, at least, have slightly different goals then you do.”

    “Oh?”

    “You want to kill – or at least defeat – your sister.”

    “Do I, now,” Riahanna said under her breath.

    What? Sharana promised to herself that she would ask Riahanna that question later, but not when Rho’stri was around. “My purpose is to defend the Well. If I can learn this… Gating, I will no longer have to rely on you.”

    “Ki’dasva’s told me to follow you, to make sure that you came to no harm or committed no treachery. Although,” and here she gave Sharana a lopsided grin, “I think that the latter is very unlikely. Bloodsworn sister.”

    Not for the first time, Sharana wondered why had possessed her to swear blood-oath with Riahanna, of all people. But she had done it, and it was too late to turn back. She had passed that point long ago.

    “But you have a point,” Riahanna said. “There may be a time when we need to split up. Watch what I’m doing with mage-sight.”

    Sharana didn’t need to be told twice. Invoking mage-sight, she watched as Riahanna carefully gathered magic from the land and her own considerable reserves, braiding a rope with it, then bound two areas together.

    “Now!” Riahanna “grabbed” the rope of magic and pulled herself towards it, Rho’stri in tow, and Sharana caught at it herself. A moment later, she stood within a dusty city – if it could even be called that.

    The place was tiny. Sharana had seen larger towns, but according to Saryn’s memories, this was the only city the Azah had. She identified the council hall – also from Saryn’s memories, but she had to swallow a lump in her throat when she saw Saryn’s home of millennia, now without an inhabitant.

    “I’m going to leave you now, but I’ll be back soon,” Riahanna murmured. “Can I trust you to keep an eye on Rho’stri?”

    “Of course. Where are you going?”

    The renegade priestess hesitated, then said mind-to-mind, I go to Lendoril, that he may teach me the Game.

    What? You’ve seen Lendoril? And what does he have to do with the Game?

    I don’t have time to explain right now, Riahanna answered, especially with Rho’stri there. We’ll have to talk later.

    Was he all right? she persisted.

    Yes. But tell me, when did he become a Sentinel?

    That staggered her. He dared to name himself Sentinel without taking the tests?

    Little sister, he is a Sentinel. He reached to the Well – and the Well answered.

    That was an interesting revelation, but one best pursued later, for Sharana had recognized two of the women standing in the city. Go well, then, she said, and Riahanna disappeared.

    With a brief glance at Rho’stri, she considered what to do with the spy. Opting for simplicity, she wrought a sleep-spell so that the Maradi slumped over on the ground, held in enchanted sleep.

    The women were waiting for her, so she drew a deep breath and walked to them. “Ayakier?” Sharana asked incredulously, unable to believe her eyes.

    The seer inclined her head towards Sharana. “Well met, Sentinel,” she greeted.

    The other knew her as well. “Conduit,” Irawyn said in a cool, musical voice. Irawyn bore more than a passing resemblance to Saryn, and again Sharana felt the grief. “I bid you welcome to my land.”

    She must lead, the younger, the stronger… She heard Saryn’s voice echoing in her memories. “Queen Irawyn,” she said with a slight bow, but no more than that. It was an acknowledgement of equals, for Sentinels were not required to bow to royalty. “I am Sentinel Sharana Wingheart, Conduit of the Well of Stars.”

    “Well met, Sentinel Sharana.” We must talk later, you and I, in private. I do not know this Ayakier, and I will not speak in front of Rho’stri.

    Ayakier is trustworthy, I swear it, Sharana said. Rho’stri is a different matter, I’m afraid.

    “Sentinel Sharana,” Irawyn said aloud, “there is news that another must give you. Jhaherys!”

    Sharana stiffened at the name, for she knew it. Jhaherys had been the one to pick her out as a Sentinel, and he was also the Star Dancer. That he had left Starhaven and was here instead bode ill.

    Jhaherys walked over to them, wings held stiffly behind him, and Sharana noticed something she had never noticed before. Color-changing eyes…

    “Jhaherys is an Azah,” Irawyn was saying. “He is also the Star Dancer of the Sentinels, but you would know that.”

    Sharana knelt on one knee before the Star Dancer as she had not for Irawyn. “My lord Jhaherys.”

    “Up, child, up,” Jhaherys said. “But… I have bad news. Star Singer Marwyn lies dead.”

    That was an unexpected blow, and Sharana’s eyes filled with tears. Although Sharana had not been a close friend of Marwyn’s – the age difference was too great – she had admired and respected her captain. She glanced away from Jhaherys, unable to look at him in the eye any longer.

    “We also lost a hundred Sentinels in Lohridea, due to an attack of Casano’or’s.”

    Sharana’s gaze snapped back to Jhaherys. “My lord, I had a report concerning her, but I see that I have come far too late.”

    “Aye. We had others who told us of her return, but…”

    “But I do have firsthand knowledge of her.”

    “Very well. You’ll report to me later of that.”

    But Sharana was appalled. A hundred Sentinels lost? That was a fifth of all the Sentinels living! She said as much to Jhaherys, who smiled at her sadly.

    “Marwyn saw that a need might come for more, later. A hundred years ago, she sent out the long-lived Sentinels – Elves, Azah, and other such folk – to live in disguise, abandoning Starhaven and living as simple folk.”

    Marwyn had reigned long, she knew, but a hundred years ago? That was another surprise. “Marwyn knew of the Azah?” she asked instead.

    “Marwyn was an Azah.”

    Sharana didn’t know what to say to that, but fortunately, keeping up the conversation was not up to her.

    “Sharana. Kneel.”

    Surprised, she obeyed out of reflex, but cried out with she felt the world spinning away from her, the dust and sun replaced with cool silver-blue light of the stars and the darkness of the night sky.

    In the world of the Well, she was still kneeling, and Jhaherys held a crown of stars in both hands. “Sharana Wingheart, you stand in the world of the Well. So I ask you, will you serve the Well and its Sentinels?”

    Sharana was confused, but she answered truthfully. “I will serve, as best I can, to the best of my abilities.”

    “Will you protect the Well and its Sentinels?”

    “I will protect the Well and its Sentinels to the death, should my death serve purpose, and serve all of my life.”

    “Will you wait, watch, and answer the call of the Well?” Jhaherys asked, and this, at least, she recognized. It was the oath that each Sentinel took, when initiated as a full Sentinel.

    “I will, as I have ever done as a Sentinel.”

    “Then I consecrate you as Star Singer, Sharana Wingheart Starflight, Captain of the Sentinels, Protector of the Well, and Conduit of the Well.”

    Sharana did not protest that this could not, should not be. She knew with every fiber of her soul that this had always been intended, that this was what should happen. That this was what she had wanted to happen, though not at the cost of Marwyn’s life.

    And it explained all of her visions, where she had stood in the world of the Well, crowned with light.

    Standing, she said, “I name myself Sharana Wingheart Starflight, three hundred and sixty-ninth Star Singer of the Sentinels, Conduit of the Well, accepting all responsibilities and costs of my own free will, that I may better serve the Sentinels.”

    She felt the Well’s approval, and then Jhaherys was kneeling to offer his oath of fealty. She accepted it, and then he disappeared from the world of the Well, but Sharana stayed a few moments longer.

    Now, Sentinel Sharana Wingheart ends, and the Star Singer Starflight begins. Here, at last, let all the sorrow end, and let me leave my past behind.

    Without a backward glance, Star Singer Sharana Wingheart Starflight disappeared from the world of the Well.





    Lendoril was easy to find. His soul burned like a beacon, and Riahanna pulled herself to him with ease, this time in her natural form.

    “Who are you?” he asked warily.

    “Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman, First Priestess of Ki’dasva – ” That was all she had time to get out as Lendoril’s sword flashed from its sheath.

    “ – and blood-sworn sister to Sharana Wingheart!” she yelled before he could attack her. That gave him pause, and he stared at her.

    “How do I know that you tell me true?” he demanded.

    “Ask her. Or the Well.”

    Lendoril watched her with suspicious eyes, but he did as she suggested and reached towards the Well. In a few moments, his eyes focused again on her.

    “The Well says that you speak true. But it also says that you are the second player of the Game, but I have already given the amulet to Rho’stri.”

    “No,” she said, shaking her head. “You never met Rho’stri. It was I you met, when I changed my form to resemble her that I might steal the secrets of the Game. It never occurred to me,” and here she smiled, “that I would be partnered with a Sentinel – and that Sentinel would become my blood-sworn sister.”

    Lendoril did not question her; he could read the truth in her eyes. “I see.”

    “As for Rho’stri… don’t trust her. She’s Casano’or’s spy.”

    He wore an impassive mask, and try as she might, she couldn’t read his face. That left eavesdropping by magic, but before she could do that, something very definitely else whispered in her ear.

    Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman, is it? I haven’t seen you for a long, long while in the flesh.

    Her skin crawled as she recognized that voice. “You’re dead,” she blurted out.

    Yes. I am. Ghostly laughter. Don’t worry, my old adversary, I’ve forgiven you. We’ve watched you and your sister about the land, and we’ve decided that Casano’or poses a greater threat. You have a softer side than any of us suspected, Liliana said wryly. We think that you are… more reasonable than Casano’or. And kinder.

    Somehow, she wasn’t surprised to learn that there were more of these ghosts. Thousands, Liliana said, reading the unspoken thought.

    As long as you don’t get the impression that I’m a sweet little cleric, panting to do good and set everything to rights in this sorry world, Riahanna replied in response to Liliana’s last statement.

    Liliana laughed again. There’s little chance of that, Riahanna. You’re reasonable, and kind enough in your own way, but you’ve got a ruthless streak in you. We knew that from the Chaos War, but we never bothered to find out more. We should have, I think.

    Yes. You should have. And you shouldn’t have judged me.

    Yes. We are sorry, and we apologize for the error.

    And I, too, apologize for what I did to you and yours. With that admission, Riahanna felt… cleansed, and almost carefree. I am at peace, serene.

    Faine, Liliana whispered, and Riahanna stiffened.

    But she admitted that too. Faine, she whispered back.

    “Are you done talking yet?” Lendoril asked. “Both of you blocked off the conversation, so…”

    Before she could answer, she felt a surge of power towards the south. Sharana’s raw emotions flowed between the link. Sorrow. Understanding. Acceptance… of what? More power? And the image: a crown of silver light upon Sharana’s head in the world of the Well.

    That was all she could get, but it was enough. Liliana plucked the thought from her mind as well.

    All hail the new Star Singer, Liliana intoned gravely, Sharana Wingheart Starflight, three hundred and sixty-ninth to take the title of Star Singer, and Conduit of the Well.

    Lendoril looked, Riahanna decided, as confused as she felt.
     
  11. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Irawyn leaned forward eagerly, all of her entire attention fixed upon Lendoril. Three days had passed since she had spoken with the Lodiath Ayakier, and now another ally had come to her.

    “Selavan is quite willing to welcome anyone into the Alliance of the Stars,” the elf Lendoril was saying with careful courtesy. “If you so desire, two Sentinels can create a link between them so that you may pass information to Selavan through them. The Sentinel posted at Selavan’s court is Damion Brightstar.”

    Jhaherys stood at her elbow, awaiting orders, and Irawyn gave them. “Jhaherys, can you form a link with this Damion Brightstar?”

    Jhaherys nodded, and within a few moments, Irawyn could feel the mind-link between them, similar to the one she had formed with Jhaherys before. Damion Brightstar, alert the king that Queen Irawyn of the Azah desires to speak with him, she heard the Star Dancer say.

    Damion didn’t bother replying, and after a few minutes, she heard him on the other side of the link. King Selavan asks who this Queen Irawyn of the Azah is, and what her intentions are.

    Jhaherys, knowing that Irawyn was eavesdropping on the link, didn’t repeat Damion’s words to her. “I and my people desire to join the Alliance of the Stars,” Irawyn said, pausing so that Jhaherys could repeat her words to Damion Brightstar. “As for who we are, the Azah are the enemies of all who serve Cy’dath and his ilk. Seven thousand years ago, we were once called the people of the Laughing Kingdom, before Casano’or’s magic swept over our land and changed humans into Azah.”

    The reply was swift. Then, Lady Irawyn, I and mine will welcome you into the Alliance of the Stars, for Jhaherys and Damion assure me that you speak true.

    “Then let the stars themselves witness the alliance of Azah, Elves, and humans against the demons of darkness.” Fleetingly, she wondered what Selavan’s reaction would be if she told him that Riahanna desired to join that alliance as well. “I can bring but four thousand soldiers to your side, though we are skilled warriors and shape-shifters. I bring also one thousand Guardians, the mages of the Azah. What is more, I can bring them within a fortnight’s time to your lands.”

    Jhaherys stirred uneasily, perhaps remembering the last drain of her Gating. Well, this time, Irawyn would have all the Guardians to aid her.

    That is wondrous news, Lady Irawyn.

    “Could you perhaps give me a count of how many our side has – and how many Casano’or has?”

    The Forest Elves have twenty-five thousand swords, and the Sky Elves combined bring forty-five thousand warriors. The few humans who have chosen to join our side – Kedra, Hestan, Gorumma, and Falise – bring but fifteen thousand swords, for the others remain in their homelands. Avaenonn has not yet answered our call, but they will not bring in many. Yet I fear that the final push will come to the Elves, for we were the greatest enemies of Cy’dath in the Chaos War… and at last count, Casano’or’s army outnumbered us more than three to one.

    Not bad odds, Irawyn found herself thinking, especially when you consider that we have eight hundred Sentinels – seven hundred, now – with a Conduit at their head. And two players of the Game. Lendoril had told her of that as well. Perhaps the Blessed, the Lodiath, and the dragons will also join us. Ayakier had not been able to guarantee much, but she had promised to try her best. Irawyn would accept that.

    And their final ally – the Priestesses of Ki’dasva, all trained in magic and weaponry. Riahanna, as Casano’or’s sister, would be able to predict some of Casano’or’s attacks, and history held that Riahanna had been powerful as well.

    Before she had left, Riahanna had promised Irawyn a curious thing. I go to seek old races, she had confided. Not all are like Rho’stri. Some are like me. There are plenty of the old races left living in hiding. Casano’or had Maradi and Kortiri blood, but I’ve met members of other races. There are Maradi who oppose Casano’or, and might join me if I ask. Eluasha, Namazai, Kishandai… I will ask.

    She told none of this to Selavan – it would be cruel to unduly raise his hopes, but she did add, “But one of my kin is seeking for more allies. She may or may not be successful, so do not hope for much.”

    Selavan understood what she was trying to say. In any case, Lady Irawyn, I offer you my heartfelt thanks. Stars and gods watch over you.

    And you.

    Jhaherys broke the connection, and Irawyn filled Lendoril in. “Jhaherys, find me the Senior Guardian and the clan-leaders. We have a war to plan.”





    Riahanna took Sharana and Rho’stri to Ki’dasva’s temple on the borders of Dhorin. Although she disliked doing so, she wove a spell onto Rho’stri that bound her to the temple grounds –if she tried to leave, she would be warned with excruciating pain. If Rho’stri continued in her plans to escape, the spell would kill her.

    She told all this to Rho’stri in a cool voice, measuring the effect it had on the other Maradi. Rho’stri seemed more than a little wilted by what she had told her before, and she meekly promised to behave. With a sense of satisfaction, she left Sharana and Rho’stri to seek old races.

    Riahanna was humble enough to admit when she needed help. Although Sharana was her bloodsworn sister and companion Player in the Game, there were some things she could not do. Riahanna went instead to another Maradi she had met before the Chaos War and befriended, one who might be willing to help. Even during the next seven thousand years, they had maintained contact, even if it was sporadic. That wasn’t what she dreaded, however.

    She figured that she would have four to five days before Casano’or would come seeking her spy, and planned accordingly. She would have to spend two or three days tracking him down, spend another talking with him, and hopefully, she would be back at Dhorin before Casano’or came. Although she would regret losing Rho’stri as a source of information, Riahanna knew that enlisting the old races as her allies was far more important.

    Which brought her mind back to the problem.

    Riahanna was not looking forward to telling Sariev that their daughter had died at Riahanna’s sister’s hand.

    For the next few days, Riahanna searched. She went first to the Maradi Hyamin, who had kept the same job for the last five hundred years – serving as a Sentinel of the Stars. Although Hyamin had no great affection for Riahanna, she thought that her hatred for Casano’or was greater.

    Hyamin was glad enough to hear of a chance to avenge her parents’ death on Casano’or’s body, and promised to recruit whatever Maradi she could. She also told Riahanna that Sariev had last been seen in the human kingdom of Rasvasdes four or five years ago.

    Three days passed without any success, and Riahanna returned to Dhorin. As she had expected, Casano’or returned – but armed with another Work of the Ancients.

    Sharana, warned that Casano’or would come calling, had shielded herself so that Casano’or would not know of their new alliance. Riahanna had also told her priestesses to expect an attack. Even so, the Song killed six Priestesses where they stood, and eventually, Ki’dasva lent Riahanna some of her own power to repel Casano’or’s assault.

    Sister, Nairi, leave now, she said after her first blast, hoping that Casano’or would see reason and leave. No longer Nairi, but only Casano’or, she grieved.

    Why wait, sweet sister? Casano’or answered, sending a ball of green fire at a trio of priestesses who were in the process of linking. Two managed to deflect the brunt of it at the last second, escaping with minor wounds, but the third dissolved in a rush of flame.

    Leave now, or I kill your friend. Riahanna had spellwoven Rho’stri’s bonds herself so that Casano’or would not find it easy to undo them or blast them into nothingness. It didn’t stop Rho’stri from throwing herself against the magical chains, panting and snarling curses under her breath.

    You wouldn’t. Casano’or seemed shocked, and Riahanna smiled sourly. Why would I hesitate to kill one who has no meaning to me? she wanted to ask, but didn’t.

    Wouldn’t I? she said instead, activating the spellmatrix of pain that had been placed on Rho’stri earlier. The Maradi doubled over in agony, and Riahanna hid a wince. She knew exactly what Rho’stri was feeling, and it wasn’t pretty.

    Casano’or’s curled her lip in anger, but she left, presumably returning to Cy’dath’s side. When she was gone, she made the spellmatrix lie dormant again, and instead sent a brief shocking of power into Rho’stri. She passed out, falling to the ground, and Riahanna healed the damage the weaving had caused. Then she reinforced Rho’stri’s urge to sleep.

    Sharana unshielded herself and with Giara, crossed the temple grounds to report to Riahanna.

    “Seven Priestesses,” Giara said, and Riahanna closed her eyes in grief. Seven more deaths to lay at Casano’or’s door, she thought to herself.

    “Can you guard her?” she asked Sharana.

    “I can for a time, although I’ll have to leave eventually. Irawyn tells me that I’ll be needed soon to lead the Sentinels. Selavan of the Forest Elves thinks that the final battle will be in the Elflands, and I think that I agree. The Sentinels have been sent word to gather in Idaryn, and I’ll have to join them soon.”

    “Two weeks, then?”

    Sharana shrugged. “At least that long.”

    “Good.” Riahanna wove another spell-matrix, her mind on where Sariev might be. She had used the Gate spell for so long that she no longer needed to think about it, and Sharana had to repeat herself several times before the priestess heard what she was asking.

    “I said, where are you going and why?”

    “I’m travelling the entirety of Liandrah, to seek new races.”

    Then she flickered out and disappeared into the frozen northlands, hundreds of leagues beyond the land of Zasalyn.



    Casano’or’s attack had only reminded her of the urgent need for her and Sharana to begin the Game so they could counter Casano’or’s Kortiri magic. I can’t spend much longer doing this, Riahanna thought in despair four days later. I need to find Eluasha, Namazai, Kishandai, and the others, not just Sariev. And I have to begin training with Sharana for the Game soon.

    She swore as she tripped on a rock and fell facedown into the ice and snow. The blood on her cheek, courtesy of an earlier stumble, had frozen to her face. Casano’or would be right at home here. Winter’s song in winter’s hell.

    Riahanna was currently in the middle of a howling blizzard, and she didn’t like it. She had used just enough of her magic to keep her alive, but not much else. There were strange creatures here in the North that none knew of, and she might need every bit of magic she could spare to deal with them. This meant that she retained all of her body heat, but she still had to struggle through three handspans of snow.

    Trying to regain her feet was proving to be difficult, and Riahanna nearly used her magic to melt all the snow around her – a useless effort, for the falling snow would just replace it – when a male voice came from behind her.

    “Summer doesn’t belong in the north,” he said as he pulled her back up, blue eyes dancing with laughter. “What business does Faine Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman have in winter’s lands?”

    “Winter’s hell,” she answered sourly. “I assure you, it wasn’t my idea.”

    Riahanna had never been able to tell whether his good looks had come about naturally or as a result of Maradi magic, but either way, Sariev was as handsome as ever. He was taller than she was, and though his lean form seemed almost fragile, she knew the strength that lay beneath it.

    Wolf, she found herself thinking – as she always did, whenever she saw him move. Sariev had all the deadly grace of a hunting wolf.

    Shaking blue-black hair from his forehead, he released her hand to give her a quick embrace. The simple act of friendship touched her heart, and Riahanna wiped away a tear from the corner of her eye.

    “I wouldn’t think so. I’d expect Casano’or to come here before you did.”

    Sariev must have seen some of the bleakness that filled her soul, for he stopped grinning. “I need help,” she said. “I come seeking vengeance.”

    “Vengeance for what?”

    Holding blue eyes with her own silver-blue, she told him.
     
  12. Senekha

    Senekha <a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank"><

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    The evening after her foray against Ki’dasva’s temple, Casano’or again visited one of Riahanna’s allies. Now that she knew the exact location of the Azah’s dwelling, she teleported herself to the outskirts of the small city. Rather than float just above the ground, as was her custom, she walked slowly into the crumbling city and made her way to where she felt Irawyn’s presence. Several Azah recognized her as she glided past them, and backed away, leaving a clear path before her.

    Irawyn was in a modest building of no special differentiation from the rest. As Casano’or stopped in the doorway, Irawyn was sitting at a desk with two others, her back to Casano’or. Casano’or recognized one as Jhaherys, but the other she did not know. When Jhaherys stiffened at the sight of Casano’or, Irawyn noticed and slowly turned her head and stood in one graceful motion. Jhaherys and the other man rose, on edge and prepared to attack.

    Ignoring Irawyn, Casano’or nodded to Jhaherys. “Jhaherys.” After acknowledging Jhaherys, she turned to Irawyn.

    Casano’or called no power forth, and laid her hands open in a calming gesture. Irawyn visibly bristled, and Casano’or said softly, “Ready no power, Irawyn, for you shall need none.”

    “Why have you come again?”

    Casano’or glanced at the officers, and said to them, “Can we have a little privacy?” They looked questioningly at Irawyn, but after a curt nod, then edged their way from the room. Jhaherys’s eyes did not leave Casano’or until he was out the door.

    “What could you possibly want to talk about?”

    “You’d be surprised.” Casano’or strode up to Irawyn, who tensed, but did nothing.

    “Try me.”

    “Then answer me a question. What is your foremost reason for taking up the fight against me?”

    “I have many.”

    “List them.”

    Irawyn gave Casano’or an exasperated look, but continued. “You are the blood enemy of the Azah. If that were not reason enough, we would like to preserve the Well and the world we live in. And you killed my grandmother.”

    “Firstly, I did not kill her. She asked me too, and I obliged, partially, but she died of her own accord.” Pausing to give her statement emphasis, she then added, “Also, if I were the monster the Azah think me, do you not think I would have destroyed you from the first, if that had been my intention?” She arched an eyebrow at Irawyn.

    The Azah queen did not respond immediately. “But you did destroy many of us, when you made us what we are.”

    “I killed thousands of humans, and you were no different, at the time. I wiped out entire kingdoms – you should be thankful.”

    Thankful?”

    Casano’or’s tone took on the sound of her annoyance. “Did I not bless you with the gift of longevity? You Azah are now a powerful race, with more abilities in some areas than even the Maradi. If I had not made you what you are, none of you would be alive today.” Again no answer. “I made you the child race of the Maradi, and you are my errant children.”

    Irawyn strode angrily to the door, paused, then turned, her eyes blazing and her cloak shifting with the feathers of a raven. She took a deep breath, then glided back to face Casano’or. “Is there a point to this ridiculous discussion?”

    “Why do you fight for Riahanna?”

    “To oppose you.”

    Casano’or roller her eyes. “Have you even had a dream, a dream of a better place, a place of happiness?”

    “More questions. Get to the point.”

    “Just answer them,” Casano’or snapped.

    “Of course I’ve dreamt. Everyone does.”

    “And is it a crime to strive to achieve that dream?”

    “It is if it’s as twisted a dream as only you could think up.”

    Casano’or backhanded Irawyn across the face, but not hard.

    “Do you think I came here to trade insults with you?” she hissed. “I came for intelligent conversation, not the prattle of a child, though that’s all I’ve found here so far.”

    Jhaherys looked through the doorway, but when Irawyn motioned for him to leave, Casano’or turned and said, “No, Jhaherys, you should hear this as well.” He walked forward, and stood by Irawyn’s side.

    “I suppose you’ve listened to everything so far.” Jhaherys bowed his head in confirmation. “Good. Then I shall continue. I shall tell you a little story.

    “There was once a small girl, sometimes called Nairi, who would have nothing more from the world than to have her family by her side and the beauty of the arts at her fingers. Her home was peaceful, and her parents loving. She sang, she danced, and she laughed as only a child can laugh. No better life could a child have that what Nairi had.

    “Then, when the girl was but seven years of age, a fierce plague struck all the people of the north. Her mother was among the first to perish, and it was a lingering, painful death. Before long, the people realized that this was no natural plague, but one wrought of science and bred for war. After only two years only a third of the population of the north remained. During those years, the days of bliss that Nairi had once known became a distant memory and dream, and she soon thought only of surviving the plague and rebuilding her once-perfect life, which of course could never be perfect without her mother.

    “But it was not only her mother who was lost – Nairi’s sister too disappeared at the beginning of the plague, she who could have saved many, could have saved her mother…

    “Then the Invaders came. These humans and elves did not wage war upon an open battlefront, but attacked at night and harried without quarter. They had but one goal in mind, and it was to exterminate the Firstborn. The Firstborn resisted, uniting under Nairi’s father and began to give the attackers some grief of their own. But the Firstborn were now too few, and it was not long before only a small band remained of a once thriving race.

    “In the middle of the darkest of nights, one last attack came. They came in force, and murdered each and every child, father, and mother. Nairi and her father were the last standing, and she saw her own father driven into the ground by an elven spear.

    “Then Cy’dath appeared, and whisked little Nairi to a safe place. Though the child survived, Nairi died with her father. She took on the name her father had given her, and never forgot the genocide of her childhood.

    “Irawyn, if you dig deep enough into the memory that Saryn gave you, you will see that what I say is true, for I gave you grandmother visions of my past.”

    The Azah closed her eyes briefly, and when they opened, they were clouded with the memory.

    Amidst the screams and shouts the Kortiri leader waved twin scimitars, the girl standing at his side, a sword far too large for her held in her tiny hands. Both wore identical masks of hate and fear.

    Five riders surrounded the man, obviously knowing that he was the leader. They circled, slashing at the Kortiri as he tried to shelter his daughter. His garb was in tatters, his body covered in blood, but still he stood, wavering, yet unwilling to fall. Beneath him, the girl slashed at the soldiers, hate shining in her golden eyes.

    A human threw a spear at the Kortiri, knocking him off his feet and pinning him to the ground. The girl screamed, and the humans covered their ears in pain, for it sounded as if the wind and rain itself was giving voice to that scream.


    Irawyn said nothing, and finally Jhaherys broke the silence.

    “It is a tragic tale, but it changes nothing.”

    “Nor did I expect it to. I only wished for you to have some background on what I shall tell you now.

    “I go back now to the topic of dreams. My dream is to have kingdom where the Ancients shall live once more – though now only the Maradi survive, as my Kortiri were entirely wiped out – and where no one dares declare war upon another. With the power of the Well, none shall oppose us. We can live in peace…the Azah shall no longer live in seclusion, as well as the Maradi. I created them for a reason, and that reason was to chance to take back a long-lost way of life. The Maradi, though only numbering less than one hundred at present, shall increase in numbers, and perhaps the world might have a glimpse of what it once was.

    “Will you not join me, Irawyn of the Azah? I do not ask for you to fight your great-grandmother, but I do not wish to fight that which I created.” Casano’or’s voice was pleading, and she herself could scarcely believe how desperate her voice sounded.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2006
  13. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    "are we there yet?" He asked and the guardsman grunted. "are we there yet?" no reply. "are we there yet?" Jak said for the fiftieth time since he was but in the rickety wooden cage with wheels.

    "NO! you swine! now shut your trap or I'll stick you good and proper!" The vein on his head was bulging with annoyance and it was patantly obvious that Jak was getting to him, he knew full well the man would be in trouble if he killed Jak before they'd sold him off, so he was being bold.

    "Are we there ye..." He rolled across the short space he had away from the guardsmans dirk and sat solemn untill he turned back away. Not much had happened since his sentencing, he slept, they gave him soem gruel for breakfast which he threw at the guard and then he was bustled into this small cart and driven off into the city, there we a couple of guards driving the cart and guarding with bows, and a few more mounted infront and behind making a small convoy. all this for me. he thought. how touching

    they had left near sunrise and the golden ball wasnt even halfway showing above the ridgeline to the east, but the heavy rays of light and heat were making sitting in a wooden cart a chore, Jak decided to hurry up his escape. He thought about Maesa, and wondered if she would bother to spring him, according to her she probably had enough strength to do it. But in a tight spot the only person Jak had to rely on was himself. Rum was a coward, and stabled somewhere back in the city, Maesa annoyed him, and anyone else he knew was back in liandrah, and considering the people he did know, that was a good thing. So it was just ole Jak, the most hunted man in all the lands of liandrah, the peril of the roads, he'd jumped a dozen cells before morning and run off with the sherif's daughter more than once. He was a legend to the smallfolk, and he could get out of this easy.

    Checking over his body he searched for any of the secret wepons he kept on him, all of his big knives were gone, even the needle like blade he kept at the small of his back, his garrotte wire was gone from his wrist, the picks from his other and even the thin blade he kept in the sole of his shoe. how in hells did they find that one? that casano'or missed that when she disarmed me, damn them! He looked over once more and found nothing again, one of the guard noticed but just said "Fleas" and edged away. It was obvious he would need to draw on all of his cunning and guile to escape this one, already a plan formed in his head like lightning, intricate and subtle, the work of a genius.

    He bent over and began unlacing his left boot, once done he took the knee high leather boot and looked around. the guard at the back of the cart was watching him curious, the driver was intent on the road and the other duard was sat beside the driver. the rest were off on horse and to be considered later. Quickly he pounced, boot in hand he swung unpward and the heavy leather whacked the man beside the driver in the back of the head, the one behind muttered a curse and reashed for his spear, but by then Jak had already grabbed the dirk from his booting victim while he was disorientated and slipped it back through the wide bars and worked it round, holding it to the man's throat.

    "Keys" he said, sharply and pressed the point of the long dirk deeper into the blubbery guards neck. "Now" By then the cart had stopped and the mounted guards had reigned in beside it, all their eyed were on jak, as well as a few bows and spears. Jak only realised then he hadnt worked out the end of his plan, he held the dirk where it was, unsure what to do.

    "Who goes there!" he heard a cry from ahead where the forward guards had stopped, Jak spotted movement on the ridge and smiled. Maesa. he thought and smiled, the fool woman had come through afterall, this was his lucky day. The amn who cried out narrowed hsi eyes and then almost jumped from his saddle in shock. "DEMONS!!" he screamed." DEMONS COMING!" he kicked and swung the horse and spurred back towards the city.

    The others began to bolt. The cart driver attempted to turn the cart, whipping vainly with the reins, but he realised the folly and hacked one carthorse free with his sword and rode barbacked away. By then Jak could make out the bestial forms coming down the ridge, he almost couldnt believe his eyes, there were thousands! it couldnt be! He paniced and pressed the dirk deeper. "Keys! NOW!!! or we die here together." The man fumbled in his pocked and Jak praised his luck, he hadnt noted the guard who carried them and so blind guessed at this plan, but for once luck was on his side.

    When the man thrust the metal ring at his hi pleaded to be let free to escape. Jak looked around, the other guard on the cart had bolted on foot at first alarm, and there was only one horse left tied to the cart, the demons were too close to outrun, and if he let the guard go he could be off before the cage was unlocked. Jak thrust the dirk deep, the steel paralysing the man's voice, when the blade came free his lifeblood ran to the ground and the dry sand drank it deeply. Jak wasted no time, the corpse might hold up a few of the monsters, but the smell of blood would spurr them, they were close now, there wasnt much time.

    Jak tried the first key, which failed, the second gave a loud clang and the door swung loosely. Jak barreled out and jumped ahorse, the beast was wild fromt he smell of blood and demons. Quickly Jak slashed the bindings and wheeled away from the demons which urged him back to the city and sped as fast as he could, beding him was dust and the sound of tearing flesh.

    He didnt know what to do, with the deserts and the demons he had no choice but to speed back to lohridea and he did so without fail, as he raced through the same he noted other ridges to his left and right some seemd to bristle, others spilled more demons down, they were all coming behind him, a great host of them, it was impossible, among them were larger beasts, like their smaller kind but capable of more brute strength, here and there they carried cruel weapons, clubs and torces, even a few pieces of old steel, unlike normal demons, this was strange but it was no time to comtemplate it he put his boots to the mares flanks once more and sped along making fro lohridea with all the speed he could muster.
     
  14. Morgan_of_Salerone

    Morgan_of_Salerone New Member

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    Arikha groaned with frustration. It seemed her magic was unable to take her near Sharana. Every time she searched for the Sentinel her magic would twist away and leave her standing exactly where she had been before. It was probably the priestess’ doing. Arikha ground her teeth in annoyance.

    “Ki’dasva, I think you should tell your priestess that I think she should drop her shields.” The sorceress mumbled as she flopped on her back. The goddess chose to ignore her comment, or perhaps didn’t hear it, however unlikely. Ki’dasva hadn’t contacted her in any way since she had given her enough power to take mortal form, and it irked Arikha beyond belief. She had liked to believe she had actually been worth something to one of the gods. Apparently, they felt she was a very good stepping-stone on the way to what they wanted, but like a stepping-stone, something to forget once you have used it.

    Arikha sighed and sat up.

    “Well damn you all to the Void!” she shouted to the empty air, and prepared herself for a hasty spell-jump.

    She appeared in the corner of a medium-sized room, her chin cupped in her hand and her elbow resting on her knee, a bored expression on her face as she sat on the edge of a small table.

    “We can be moving by this afternoon if we really wish it.” Her son was saying. “If we march quickly we can catch up with my mother.”

    “Oh, I think you have no fear of that.” She mumbled from her corner. The entire council gathered in the room jumped, several of the officers drawing their swords.

    “Lower your steel. T’is not fitting for a queen to be threatened by her subjects.”

    “Your Majesty!” cried Nohdirahn, dropping to his knee.

    “Oh, get up!” sighed Arikha, hopping from her seat and rolling her eyes. “We have darker things to worry about.” The queen crossed to the table where a map was set, looking at the markings displayed upon its weathered surface.

    “How is it you return to us so soon?” Arion asked, his face questioning as he gazed at his mother.

    “The Sentinels are not in Lohridea, nor is Casano’or to be found in that region. I have brought new information that may change our plans – the Sentinels have moved to the kingdom of the Azah, and Ki’dasva and her priestess, Riahanna, have returned to the land.”

    “So we have more enemies now,” he muttered darkly.

    “Not quite,” replied Arikha. “Ki’dasva and her followers have joined with us in the battle against Cy’dath and his.”

    “A trick.” Nohdirahn scoffed.

    “No trick. I have her word.”

    Arion shook his head, giving a small laugh under his breath.

    “Still dealing with the gods, mother? I would have thought you would have learned.”

    “You will be silent, Arion,” the slender elven queen snapped. “You know not of what you speak. I have made no binding oath to her. My will is still my own.”

    “But for how long?” he whispered, his eyes gazing challengingly into her own. Arikha glared back for a moment, but broke her gaze to look back at the map.

    “We received a message from the kingdom of the Forest Elves, asking for our help not a day ago.” Nohdirahn said quietly. “It appears the messenger became lost once he entered our lands.”

    “So the old defences still work. That is one thing that has survived the scourging of Casano'or,” the sorceress chuckled. “And now the Forest Elves, only when they desperately need us, offer their hand in friendship after a hundred years of hostility.” Arikha shook her head, laughing. “It seems all the world thinks little of us, does it not? Fine then. Tell them we will bear their alliance if we must, and tell them we have at least fifty thousand swords at our command. Also, tell them they are welcome to use our lands, for we have defences that will protect us from Casano'or's armies.”

    Nohdirahn looked up at her with confusion.

    “But milady, how are we to keep that promise? It is uncertain that the defences will hold against one as powerful as Casano'or, and there is simply no way for us to recruit that many soldiers.”

    “If the defences survived her first onslaught they will survive her again. And trust me,” said Arikha with a devilish grin. “I can easily have more than fifty thousands swords at my command.”
    ------------
    It was several days later when Arikha felt a shudder in the web of magic that lay over her land. Somewhere outside of Avaenonn, powerful magic was being used. Arikha tensed, closing her eyes and focusing her mind. She sent her mage-sight out across the lands, searching for the origins of the tremor. After a moment of searching, she felt Casano’or’s magical signature radiating strongly from a point near the border of Dhorin. A

    Arikha wove herself a spell and prepared to transport to where Casano’or was, but as before when she had tried to spell-jump to Sharana, her magic twisted away and left her precisely where she had been before. The sorceress stomped her foot and growled in aggravation. Was there something wrong with her magic? Just when she had found that twice cursed Casano’or too! Frustrated and angry, Arikha cast a spell and jumped to the edges of her land. The cool night air was refreshing, and it also heralded the knowledge that there was nothing wrong with her, but that there must be powerful wards in place wherever Casano’or was. Returning to her room, the sorceress returned to her planning, thoroughly annoyed by the whole episode.
    --------
    She was tired and dusty as she returned to her desert home after days of inspecting and fortifying her country’s powerful defences. They were composed of old magic, dark magic, that she had cast over her land in the time before her father had died, and before Avaenonn had become that barren place it now was. They were defences she herself had created, her greatest work. Made through the mingling of her own magic and blood and the magic abiding in the soil of Avaenonn, the defences would confuse any humanoid being that entered the kingdom that she deemed an enemy. This worked without fail unless the being had strong magical powers and strong purpose for entering the country. Apparently, the defences were even stronger than she realized, for they had stood up under the wrath of Casano’or in the Chaos War, and had continued to work even when she had forgotten and neglected them.

    With a heavy sigh, the elven queen trudged up to her room, allowed her servants to attend to her, then collapsed into her bed and fell heavily asleep. When she awoke, she bathed, ate, and sat at her desk and began to study the documents her general and son had drawn up. After a few moments, Arikha leaned her head back and sighed. Had the wards protecting Sharana had finally worn off? Could she be contacted? It was worth a try. The sorceress quieted her busy mind, and reached out for Sharana’s.

    Sharana! She called silently. Sharana! Can you hear me?

    Yes, came Sharana's mind voice. I hear you.

    "Thank the gods..." Arikha whispered, only realizing afterwards the irony of the comment.

    Where have you been? Have you been well? she asked the Sentinel, trying to pinpoint where her "voice" was coming from.

    I’ve been travelling, was the reply. I’ve been…well enough. Arikha snorted with disbelief. Travelling with wards powerful enough to stop her magic? Unlikely. But then again...she was the conduit.

    Where are you now? the sorceress enquired, waiting patiently for a reply.

    I'm in Idaryn, Sharana answered.

    Ah, said Arikha with a smile. Have they received my message?

    The Forest Elves? Yes, they have. A messenger was sent not too long ago with a reply. But… what defences do you have in Avaenonn that they don’t have here, and where did you find all those soldiers? Surely you didn’t hire them all?

    No, not hired. Arikha laughed. But you will come, will you not? I assure you, Avaenonn’s defences are strong, and the soldiers I command not easily defeated.

    A knock at Arikha’s door caused her to break contact for a moment. Arion’s voice sounded, calling her to her duties at home. Arikha opened her mind again, making a temporary link with Sharana.

    I have some things I must attend to, but please, put your word in for me. I promise you, Avaenonn will be one of the safest places in this coming war. Breaking the link, Arikha stood and went to see what was needed.
     
  15. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Will you not join me, Irawyn of the Azah?

    Irawyn thought that those words would haunt her nightmares forever.

    I do not ask for you to fight your great-grandmother, but I do not wish to fight that which I created.

    What should I do, grandmother? What would you have done? I remained linked with you until your death, and I knew everything you thought and felt… and I knew that you felt only hatred and contempt for Casano’or. Yet is her dream so unreasonable? A dream where we can all live in peace, Azah and Maradi, without having to hide…

    Confused, she took refuge in sarcasm. “With the power of the Well, none shall oppose us. We can live in peace,” she mimicked cruelly. “That’s always assuming that the Well agrees to work with you, which I can’t see it doing, and as for living in peace, you’ve started in a great fashion, haven’t you? Killing humans and Elves alike without any compunction for the lives you were stealing. Perhaps they attacked you first, but it’s no reason for a massacre.”

    Casano’or raised her hand to slap her again, and Irawyn held her amber gaze with eyes suddenly gone a cold ice-blue. “I wouldn’t,” she said, and her great-grandmother’s sister’s mouth twisted into a sneer.

    “So you refuse, and damn your race, my errant children, in the doing of it?”

    “I do not refuse,” Irawyn replied quietly. “I need time to think about this, and time alone.” I need to talk to Sharana again… and much as I hate to admit this, Riahanna as well.

    “I will give you five days. Give me your answer then.” Casano’or left, her white hair flowing behind her.

    “Irawyn, you must not do this,” Jhaherys pleaded as soon as the door shut.

    “Do not presume to tell me what I may or may not do,” she snapped. “You crowned me as queen, so you will treat me as one!”

    She killed your grandmother,” Jhaherys hissed. “And she seeks to kill only more.”

    “Jhaherys, you will be quiet.”

    Jhaherys stiffened, his hands clenching into fists. “I can no longer serve you if you even consider allying with Casano’or.”

    “Then leave.”

    Giving her an angry jerk of his head, he strode out the door. When he had left, she buried her head in her hands. Gods, why did I do that? Jhaherys was one of the few people I could trust, and now I have sent him away.

    She sank her teeth into her lower lip, hoping that the pain would force away the tears.

    Grandmother?

    But no one answered.



    “Lendoril!” He turned around to see Jhaherys approaching him. Although the Star Dancer had confirmed his as a Sentinel earlier, there was such naked fury painted on his face that Lendoril was apprehensive. As it turned out, though, his worry was needless – at least for himself. He dared not contemplate what it might mean for the rest of the world.

    “Irawyn,” Jhaherys snarled as soon as Lendoril was in hearing distance, “is considering allying with Casano’or.” Shocked, Lendoril scanned the area for any people, but they appeared to be alone. “The Guardians sent the Sentinels to Idaryn earlier, which is a small mercy, and I’ve sent out the call for the hidden Sentinels to emerge. If Irawyn does lose her wits and joins Casano’or, at least the Sentinels won’t be bunched in one place. Only the rest of my Azah brethren are here, and we’re leaving. Did you want to come?”

    Do I? I guess I do. There’s nothing left for me here. I made the offer from the Alliance of the Stars, and Irawyn accepted it – or so I thought. Better to be gone, I think.

    “I’ll go,” he said aloud. “Can you take me to the city of Dhorin?” That was where Sharana was, or so Riahanna had said. It’ll be good to see her again.

    “Of course. We’ll come with you.”

    I’m not sure if that’s a great idea… didn’t Riahanna mention that there was a temple of Ki’dasva’s Priestesses there? Then he shrugged. Protesting too vehemently would bring suspicion down on him, and the Sentinels were distrustful of him as it was. The Azah were even worse, looking down their nose in disdain whenever they saw him. If Sharana ordered them to make peace, they would.

    The other Azah Sentinels came as a group, bowing to Jhaherys and sniffing as they saw Lendoril. Then they began making a Gate to Dhorin, all of them working in conjunct to create the magical construction.

    She told me once that I would have to obey her orders, and now, she is the Star Singer, the most respected leader in all Liandrah, he mused. Everyone around me climbs to ascendancy – Sharana, Irawyn, even Riahanna and Casano’or. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jak turned out to be some lost heir to a throne.

    And what am I? Former Royal Guard, former demon-hunter, and now a Sentinel… but who am I in truth?

    The question disturbed him more than he wanted it to. Just then, the Sentinels said that they had finished, and he stepped through the Gate across hundreds of leagues and breathed the fresh air of his homeland.



    Sharana had been half-asleep when a familiar mind brushed against hers. Sharana! Sharana! Can you hear me?

    Arikha? She smiled a little. It was good to hear from her again; she had wondered where the sorceress was. Yes, I hear you.

    Where have you been? Have you been well?

    I’ve been travelling, she answered. I’ve been…well enough.

    Where are you now?

    I'm in Idaryn, she said, while thinking, I guess there’s no need to tell her that I’m in Ki’dasva’s temple.

    Ah. Have they received my message?

    The Forest Elves? Yes, they have. A messenger was sent not too long ago with a reply. But… what defences do you have in Avaenonn that they don’t have here, and where did you find all those soldiers? Surely you didn’t hire them all?

    No, not hired.

    Then where did you get them? she almost asked, but managed to resist. She wasn’t quite sure if she wanted to know.

    But you will come, will you not? Arikha was asking. I assure you, Avaenonn’s defences are strong, and the soldiers I command not easily defeated.

    Before she could reply, the link shattered, but in a moment, it was back again. I have some things I must attend to, but please, put your word in for me. I promise you, Avaenonn will be one of the safest places in this coming war. Arikha broke the link, leaving her with more questions. When Celise arrived, Sharana was still staring at the ground as if they contained answers.

    “Sharana! There’s some Sentinels outside waiting for you.” Celise had been one of the Priestesses who had befriended Sharana, and her demeanor was relaxed. “Giara’s waiting for you there.”

    All thoughts of a dignified entrance fled when she caught sight of Lendoril. “Lendoril!” she exclaimed in delight. “I haven’t seen you for a long time. And Jhaherys!”

    Lendoril smiled back, but Jhaherys’ face seemed to be carved of stone. Catching some of the grimness in the air, her grin faded. “Jhaherys, what’s wrong?”

    When Jhaherys told her, she wished that she could kill Irawyn.

    Saryn sacrificed herself for your sake so that you could become queen of the Azah, she seethed. I only knew her for a few moments, but those few moments were enough. She gave me her memories as well, and this is how you betray her?

    But murdering her would do little good. Much as she hated to admit it, she was going to have to ask Riahanna for help. Perhaps Irawyn’s great-grandmother could influence the Azah queen.

    When she tried to reach out through the link, though, she got no reply, only a sense of freezing blizzards. An image of a young man’s face floated in Riahanna’s thoughts, as did some strange animal she had never seen before. Riahanna! she tried to say, but her words went unheard.

    After several frustrating attempts, she gave up. I guess we’re on our own, she thought. And we still have time – Jhaherys said that we have five days.

    “Any luck?” Giara asked under her breath. “I tried, and I’m not getting anything.”

    “No,” Sharana replied. “But there were two images.” She showed them to Giara in her mind.

    Sariev? And the Godless ones? This explains a lot.” What it explained, Giara refused to say. “Welcome to the temple of Ki’dasva,” Giara said to the rest of the Sentinels. “As Sharana may have told you, we’re allies.”

    The Sentinels did not move their hands to their weapons, but Sharana could see how tense they were, even Jhaherys. Only Lendoril seemed unsurprised.

    “I hadn’t actually,” she admitted. “But Ki’dasva’s priestesses are among our allies now. I’ll explain to you later.”

    Jhaherys seemed to be biting his tongue. Then he burst out, “Am I to be betrayed at every turn? First Irawyn, and then you? Who next?”

    Oh damn, he’s not taking this very well. “Jhaherys – ”

    Before she could say anything more, Lendoril interrupted her. “I, Sentinel Lendoril and instructor of the Game, acknowledge Sentinel Sharana Wingheart Starflight of House Ylavra, Conduit of the Well of Stars and three hundred sixty-ninth Star Singer, and Faine Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman, descended from gods’ blood and First Priestess of Ki’dasva, to be the Players of the Game. Who will witness?”

    The Sentinels were gaping when Giara’a clear voice rang out.

    “I, Giara, formerly of the Pelerin and now a Priestess of Ki’dasva, witness.”

    I, Ki’dasva, the Lady of Unbroken Night, witness. Sharana recognized both Ki’dasva’s smoky voice and the muttered oaths as the Sentinels heard the goddess.

    I, the Well of Stars and arbiter of the Twelfth Game to be played since the Chaos War, witness.

    “Three have witnessed,” Lendoril intoned formally as if it were a ritual – which it probably was. “It has been confirmed.” Then he dropped out of his archaic way of speaking and smiled wryly. “Is that enough for you, my lord Jhaherys? I assure you, whatever strange alliances Sharana may make, she is utterly devoted to the Well. I swear to you on my life that she is trustworthy.”

    “Witnessed,” Jhaherys said automatically. “Then, Star Singer, we will trust in what you have chosen for us.”

    Sharana nodded. Jhaherys would probably be unhappy about this alliance for a good while, but at least he accepted her authority. Thank you, she said simply to Lendoril, and was rewarded with a more genuine smile. “Star Dancer Jhaherys, this is Priestess Giara.” Giara inclined her head in a cordial fashion, and Jhaherys bowed back. And let’s just hope that the rest of them can be as courteous.

    With a sigh, she turned away to lead them into Ki’dasva’s temple.
     
  16. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    "open the gate!" he cried with vigour, dust trailed behind him, and somewhere past that was the demon horde. "Theyre coming! open up and let me in!" he kept shouting even though he was nowhere near the gates yet, still at a brisk run on the large cart-horse. As he neared the city he could hear the alarm bells going, quick loud gongs spreading panic and fear.

    At last he reached the foot of the gathouse and banged his fist, shouting again hoarsly. "OPEN UP", he banged again and finally a guard rose to peer down, and moment later the sounds of the heavy wooden bar being removed came and the postern door opened.

    "In with you quick, before they get close" The men ahead of him must have alerted the guards, the threat of a demon army seemed to make them forget the unguarded bandit so he made it inside easy enough. The scene within was one of panic, women and children were running here and there, men cradling their possession, all the while the city watch were patrolling the streets and ushering all they found away from their homes.

    The gatekeeper must have seen him standing there watching. "Magistrates have ordered everyone into the inner city, behind the stone walls, this pallisade has held off raids, but whats out there will go right through it, you'd best go too, safest place in the city." Jak nodded and took a step before the guard's hand shot out and caught his arm. "Most of the fighting men are out to the south on patrols and for escort, we need every fighting man we can, head up to the watchbuilding when you get to the inner city and get some weapons, there women and children need protecting." He gave Jak a look in the eye and Jak nodded back before he left towards the inner city, making note not to go near the watchbuilding.

    As he pressed through the throngs of people towards the centre of the city up the gradual incline, he looked back now and again, he was high enough to see just over the top of the wooden pallisade, the dust kicked up by the approaching demons was high in the air, and it wouldnt be long before they were at the gates. Why now? I was so close to escaping!. He was constantly being tormented by this world, and whether it some some comeupance for his crimes or divine intervention he didnt care, he just wanted it to stop.

    He remembered what the guard had said and although he didnt feel like lending a hand in dying for this hellhole, he thought it might be best not to go unarmed with that many enemies about. When he passed under the huge stone arches of the inner wall he looked about. Within the stone ring the landscape shot up in a huge rocky pinacle, with spiraling roads carved into it, rising to its peak, all along theheings palaces and huge buildings were set, watching out over the city, at its base a mass of smaller ones matched them, but sheltered behind the wall as opposed to above it. Jak found the watchbuilding and kept his head low in an effort to avoid notice while grabbing a few swords and leaving.

    he brushed through the crowds of old men and traders with the same idea, towards where the barrels and crates of weapons were places, when a hand grabbed him by the shoulder and yanked him to one side. He writhed and turned and saw a guard looking at him, with what appeared to be a smile, though it was hard to tell from the twisted wreck of his mouth.

    Jak fell as the fist took him full in the jaw, but after years of experience he leaned away from the blow and managed to avoid breaking anything, though he could taste blood. He fell and sprawled oon the floor in a daze.

    Fat fingers grasped the back of his coat and he was dragged away from the crowd, through a few doors and hallways and dropped, still disorientated by the blow he looked around and the up, and the black robed man looked down.

    "Cheerful Jak, you have returned" he said without any incling of emotion.

    His mouth hurt and there was blood in it, but he spoke up nonetheless. "I forgot to kiss you goodbye"

    the man was still unamused by Jak's jibes so he ignored them. "We are in a crisis, and Moleon here appeared to have found you amongst the men willing to fight, is this so?"

    Spitting out a bit of blood he looked back up and nodded "I'd rather have a sword than not when those demons come in here."

    The man nodded. "So be it, we will arm you, but you will be on the walls where you can be watched, and should you think of abandonning your post we can always reconsider the noose."

    "Alright then good sir, but I want my own weapons back, I'm best with those."

    The black robed man turned to the guard. "Moleon, fetch his things from the lock up, and see to it he is well watched" The guardsman left grumpy and kicked Jak once in the ribs, the man in black ignored it and went back to his work without a secodn thought to the bandit on his floor.




    It was not long after Jak stood there on the stone ramparts of the inner wall watching over the dismal city before him, besides him stood cityfolk outfitted in what armour could be spared with swords and spears held tight. Jak had foregone the armour except for his own chainmaille undershirt, mobility was always more important to him, a knight in armour could go fast of a warhorse, but Jak could outrun almost anyone the way he was on Rum, he hoped the cowardly horse wasnt down in the city, no matter how useless, the horse was still his only partner in crime, and he would prefer him alive.

    To the north and west Jak could see the demons massing outside the city, they had stopped just before reaching it so their full force could mass, slowly the city was being surrounded by a wall of cruel twisted flesh. Jak had seen nothing of the kind, demons werent organised, they killed and killed and not much else, an assault like this just hadnt been done since the chaos wars.

    It was a blessing the horde had stopped, only a fraction of the people had gotten into the inner city, more were still being driven from their homes in the streets below, most with heavy possesions slowing them and meanwhile soldiers had to spend time assisting the elderly and infirm. It would be hours before they were all in and Jak doubted they had that much time.

    He bided his time pacing along his appointed length of the wall, about ten feet. He pulled his blade in and out to make sure it was free to use, and put a few bolts in an empty sconce on the wall. He cocked the crossbow itself and kept resetting the bolt. The waiting, the impatience was getting to him.

    It couldnt have been more than a a few minutes later that the guttural cries of the demons raised in a chanting that spread across the city, and as they had all feared the mass began to move forward at lightning speed. After moments it crashed against the outer wall.

    Only a few men had been left there, it was no safe defence against anything near this big, it was only there to buy time for the people to get within the inner city, the guards had been given mounts for a final escape. Here and there sharpened wooden stakes bent, the sound of tearing wood could be heard, with their primitive claws the beasts were slashing through quickly, the larger of them smashing beside them. Men on the wall fired arrows and did what they could but there were too many and soon it became a desperate struggle, men holding the breaches as best they could while more sprung up about them.

    Jak watched on at the hopeless fight and wondered how much longer the stone wall would last. He had guessed at a good long time before he turned his attention back to the fight. The demons had breached enough and the guards had broken, making their way to the inner city as fast as they could, some were cut down, but the demons dispersed, and the people who had not fled yet were butchered where they stood. One man still dragging a large iron bound chest dropepd it and ran, but before he got ten feet a dozen demons were upon him tearing him to shreds. It was too far for Jak to see but where they left there was little left but chunks and blood.

    The wave of destruction spread, people were butchered on the outskirts of the city and the throng was slowly pressing inwards, foregoing their attack and gorging on human flesh instead. Jak turned away and sat down below the crenelations to rest. A little further up one man retched over the wall, other handled their weapons gingerly, fearing what was coming, Jak pitied them all before remembering he was stuck there among them, with no help, no aid.

    As he sat feeling sorry for himself a horn blew in the distance, loud and shrill. He saw a few men point and look and he got up himself to see, and when he did he didnt know what it was. The demons has surrounded the city, and begun swarming through the streets, but back in the distance, a mile or so beyond the walls atop the ridgeline were mroe silhouettes against the sky, and it was only moments before they were speeding down towards the walls. Before long he could make out the shapes as riders in rough armour, with spears and lances, some with swords and bows. There were hundred of them, piling down towards the city in an arrow formation.

    The new host of hrosemen crashed against the outer flanks of the demon horde, hacking and slashed, the battle going on was bloody and horrible but soon the men ad cut their way through the demons and rode through the streets doing the same, the vast host of the demons still remained but they were kept occupied and the women and children and city folk still left ran for the gates to the inner city. Soon after the horsemen had drawn a ring around the last of the refugees, keeping the demons at bay, but they were pressed close and losing men quickly. They fought on untill every last person was past the gates and rode through themselves.

    The mighty thud of the great gates closing was echoed by half the city letting out their breath at once. The horsemen had cut up some of the demons and saved half the city, but they were all still behind the walls and soon the demons closed around them.

    Priveliged as he was to be recruited by the watch he had been placed on the walls beside the main gate the riders had come through, and he saw them file up in ranks, the leader was riding back and forth in armour with spear and shield bright and glowing in the golden sun, cheers went up from the commonere and he took his helm off.

    "Maesa?" Jak said in disbelief "Maesa!" he shouted and laughed, who else! cheers were still going up from the people, but the city watch came in and the man in black went to speak to her. Jak wasnt near enough to hear, and he'd get an arrow in the back if he tried leaving his post.

    He asked the man beside him what was going on, and the local man smiled. "Thats Maesadria sandspear, she used to be one of them magistrates, but got exiled for shunning the gold trade, she's a local hero for fighting outlaws and protecting people against demons raids when they dont got enough coin to hire guards. Half the food in the city is brought in by her folk. The watch doesnt like her one bit and old grim down there put a bounty on her head, but he cant do nuthin after she saved all them people just now."

    Jak listened on intently, and it all fit, he had thought the woman was just some smuggler, and in essence she was, but her righteous self assurance that he hated so much had revealed its nature. Jak had to laugh when the man had called the man in black old grim, it fit him to a tee as well. Jak was finally beginning to understand this damn city, right on the brink of its destruction.

    Below the demons pressed close against the wall, some tried to climb and failed, but the main force began pounding and clawing at the main gate. Men dumped boiling oil down but it only kept them off for a while. The sun had begun to set and the western horizon was bloody red. Jak sat back down against the wall and relaxed, he might not get another chance.
     
  17. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    When Riahanna had finished relating all the events in the past year or so – a feat that took several hours – the two of them sat in silence. She held nothing back, relating all the details of Saryn’s grisly death, and Casano’or’s continuing hatred for Riahanna. She even told him of how she had sworn blood-oath with Sharana, her partner in the Game.

    As she had feared, Sariev had not taken the news of their daughter’s murder well. Rather than cursing, his face had gone as still and hard as stone, but Riahanna still dreaded to see what he was going to try to avenge Saryn.

    “You seek the cousin races?” Sariev asked at last. “The godless folk?”

    Riahanna nodded. “Eluasha, Namazai, Kishandai… we will need them all, in the end.”

    “You know that most of them are in the north, and the rest near the western sea. Why come to me?”

    “Because I can’t do everything at once,” she replied. Because I need someone I can trust, and only Giara is left to me. Yet she cannot understand why I pity – and still love – Nairi. Perhaps you can. She said aloud, “I need to learn the Game, and to play it. I also need to keep an eye on Rho’stri.”

    “They will respond better if you speak to them. The Godless will remember who protected them in their time of need, and even offered them a god.”

    Riahanna knew that as well as Sariev did. By the time she had been born, the Godless ones had been in the twilight of their races. Although the Maradi and Kortiri had been distantly friendly towards them, the Elves and humans, fearing their strange looks, began their attempt to exterminate them. Eventually, the Maradi and Kortiri had joined them, although they regretted their actions when the Elves and humans turned on them later.

    But it had been Riahanna, already in Ki’dasva’s service, who had offered them sanctuary. The Namazai had been the first to accept her aid, and the Priestesses of Ki’dasva had taken them under their wing into the Temple before helping them relocate to the wilds.

    “I’ll be here for the next two weeks,” she promised, “unless something comes up. Come visit me once you’re done.”

    “Ah, only the gods know how I missed you, Ria,” he said, his voice rough. “It’s good to have you back again.”

    Riahanna closed her eyes, feeling one tear squeeze out from between her eyelashes. Only Sariev and Irawyn…. All I have left of her.

    Then silver blue eyes turned hard. It’s now up to the three of us to avenge her.



    “Who dares to seek the Godless?” The whisper floated in the air like a ghost, and Riahanna shivered.

    “Faine Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman of Ki’dasva comes to the Godless ones in search of aid,” she answered, also in the old tongue. It was such an ancient dialect that she doubted that few spoke it these days, but the Godless Ones wouldn’t know any other language.

    “Give us proof that you are who you say you are.”

    Fingers made of nothing but wind lifted her mass of hair to examine the crescent moon and leaf ornaments that adorned her ears, neck, and forehead. She knew that they were testing to see whether the ornaments were the originals, made of Old World metal and imbued with the very essence of the moon and leaves.

    When Riahanna had first been given them, she had recognized the Old World metal immediately. Only the First Races knew of its existence, and few possessed the knowledge of its making. The Namazai had been the first to discover how to make it, and also how to imbue the objects with essence so that the moon ornaments shone with the cool light of the moon itself and the leaf earrings whispered as they brushed against her, though they were all made of metal. It was a talent long lost to the New World, which was a pity, for her ornaments possessed a lustrous, lifelike beauty that no precious gems could match.

    The wind trailed cold fingers down her cheeks, examining the mask-like tattoos that covered her face. Those, too, she had received from the Namazai.

    “Welcome, Faine Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman,” the voice said at last, the breeze withdrawing. “We accept that you are who you say you are. Why are you here?”

    “I ask permission to speak to the Three Matriarchs,” she said.

    “They will speak with you. Come.” The wind solidified to show an ethereal woman flickering with faint light. Her feet floated a few feet above the ground, and Riahanna knew her for one of the elementals, the afaryl. Her companion joined them a few minutes afterward. This particular Kishandai was one of the ashalaj, with a lynx’s tail, russet fur covering his body, and in place of a mouth had a bird’s beak.

    It was odd, Riahanna thought, that the Godless Ones either resembled elementals or animals. The afaryl were human-shaped, but could take on the aspect of an element to resemble it, while the ashalaj’s bodies borrowed indiscriminately from humans and animals alike. Yet they married as any people did, ashalaj and afaryl blood mingling together. Riahanna had always thought that their strangeness was the very reason why they had been welcoming to all who sought them.

    Yet the Elves and humans had found them abominations, and they had begun their systematic extermination of them long before the war against the Maradi and the Kortiri. Eventually, of course, the Maradi and Kortiri had joined against them as well… for they, of all the races in Liandrah, had been outcast by all gods. Ki’dasva had offered them her shelter only later, and by then, the Godless Ones had grown to hate all gods. But they remembered Ki’dasva, and while they were not precisely hostile towards her, neither were they warm.

    Riahanna was the only one who was truly welcome among them. The Godless Ones tolerated Sariev and Ki’dasva’s Priestesses, but made it clear that they would sooner be left alone.

    Riahanna followed the afaryl, the ashalaj trudging beside her. After a few moments, the ashalaj made a throat-clearing sound. “Honored One,” the ashalaj Kishandai screeched, “why do you seek the Matriarchs?” It was difficult trying to interpret his speech through the bird’s beak, but Riahanna had learned the peculiar dialect that the ashalaj spoke.

    “Your name is…?”

    “I am Earth-Bound-Moon-Chaser, but if you find it too long, call me Chaser. My companion is Wind Whisper.”

    “Chaser, I’m here to seek aid from the Matriarchs. Liandrah is embroiled in war, and Cy’dath and Casano’or seek to control the Well. I am oath-bound to stop her, and to do so, I need the Eluasha, the Namazai, and the Kishandai.”

    Before Chaser could reply, Wind Whisper said, “Behold the City of the Godless.”

    It was small, barely bigger than the Azah village, but what it lacked in size, it more than made up for it in beauty. Though it was made of stone, some Namazai had imbued it with starlight, for it glowed with a luminescence unfound in common rock. Yet the inhabitants were few; there were less than three hundred.

    The Matriarchs, perhaps forewarned by Wind Whisper, were sitting upon their thrones, ready to receive her. The Matriarch of the Eluasha bore no weapon, and on her brow was a wreath of vines. She sat upon a green throne, and her youthful face bore no wrinkle though she was at least several centuries old. Her skin was covered with amber feathers, and her arms gave the suggestion of wings.

    The Matriarch of the Namazai also bore no weapon, and her eyes were closed. Her crown was made of magelight, burning so brightly that Riahanna had to look away, and her throne was the white of new snow falling. Her pale coloring and bone-white hair, combined with the translucence of her skin, gave her away as an afaryl.

    The Matriarch of the Kishandai held a spear in her hand and a round shield in the other, as befitted the ruler of the warriors. Both crown and throne were colored a red so dark as to be almost black, but whenever light shone upon it, Riahanna could see the scarlet glimmering. Her fur was the grey of ashes, and she had wings sprouting from her back. Yet the wings were too frail to carry her, for they were meant for eagles, not people.

    “Welcome, Faine Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman,” the Eluasha said with no inflection to her voice. “I am Golden-Dreamer-of-the-Sky, but you may call me Sky Dreamer if it is easier for you.” Sky Dreamer was famous for her healing talents, great even among the Eluasha, and though Riahanna knew her of old, Sky Dreamer acted as if they had never met before.

    “And I,” the Kishandai said, “am Challenger-of-the-Gods, but name me as Challenger. My sister Matriarch is Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed.” It was clear that Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed was the eldest, and Challenger the youngest, from the way they deferred to one another.

    “The afaryl bring us news of a war,” Sky Dreamer said. “They say that Cy’dath and Casano’or have returned.”

    “It is true, Matriarch Sky Dreamer,” Riahanna answered. “My sister has come to lay waste to all Liandrah. I have come to ask you to join the fight.”

    There was muttering from behind her, and she realized that all the Godless Ones had come to listen to her. But when Sky Dreamer raised a hand, there was instant silence. “We owe you much, Faine Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman… but this we will not do.”

    “Please, hear me out, Matriarchs. Liandrah needs – ”

    “No,” said Challenger. “We will not march to a war that we did not start. We will not give our lives for a world we do not belong in.”

    “Do you think Casano’or will care?” Riahanna demanded, throwing all formality aside. “She will come to kill you all whether or not you march to war. If you help us, we may win. The Well of Stars has chosen a conduit, and she is my bloodsworn sister. If I ask her, she will make peace with you.” At least she hoped so. Sharana had seemed fairly reasonable, but who knew what she would do if she was faced with creatures out of dreams?

    Before the Matriarchs could say anything, another afaryl came gliding along. “There is another who has entered our lands, Matriarchs. What shall we do with her?”

    Challenger rose to her feet, a grim cast to her features. “Is this how you repay us, Faine Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman? Is this but the first wave of an invasion?”

    “Honored Matriarch, I do not know – ”

    But Challenger was no longer listening. She turned to her own folk, and Sky Dreamer gave her a searing glance before joining her sister Matriarch.

    Was this all for nothing? Riahanna was wondering, when Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed opened her eyes to reveal silver-white cat’s pupils and fixed her to stone with one look. If Sky Dreamer’s eyes had burned, the Namazai’s gaze was like a blizzard.

    Then she turned away, and Riahanna gasped for breath. No matter what her own power was, she sensed that Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed deserved all her respect.

    “Riahanna? Riahanna, is that you?”

    Her mouth dropped open in disbelief as Sharana Wingheart pushed her way through the crowd of the Godless to stand next to her.





    Jhaherys had been upset when she had appointed Lendoril to guide the Sentinels to Avaennon, but she hadn’t particularly cared. Lendoril would obey her orders. What was more, he trusted in her decisions. Jhaherys seemed to alternate between Azah pride – even worse than Elves – and thinking that Sharana was too young to be Star Singer. Finally, frustrated by Jhaherys’ negative comments, she had told Lendoril that he was to lead all the Sentinels to Avennon.

    Then she had left, searching for Riahanna. It had taken her several days, but she had tracked down her blood-sister. By using their mutual bond, she had drawn closer and closer until Riahanna had been less than a mile away.

    Sharana had almost screamed when the ghost-creatures and the animals had leapt out at her and demanded who she was in the old tongue. Is this what Giara meant by the Godless Ones? she had wondered, and answered that she was the Conduit of the Well in search of the First Priestess of Ki’dasva.

    They had taken her to Riahanna, all right, but the Priestess seemed to be in the midst of chaos. Two crowned – people – were shouting at the other ghosts and animals, and while they were doing so, Riahanna explained the history of the Godless Ones and exactly what they were.

    When they had finally calmed down, Challenger pointed her spear at her. “You claim to be the Conduit. Why are you here?”

    “I came in search of Riahanna, but I now offer you the chance to join the Alliance of the Stars. We all stand in an attempt to defeat Casano’or and Cy’dath forever. And as Conduit, I assure you safe passage. Surely you do not enjoy living in this frozen wasteland. Come with me, and I will give you a land for your own.”

    “Your offer is kind, Conduit, especially coming from an Elf who is not sworn to Ki’dasva, but still we answer ‘no,’ ” Sky Dreamer said, while Challenger spat out, her hackles rising, “We will die before we live as lapdogs to the Lastborn races, when Liandrah was ours by right. We gave up all claims to it long ago, and we wish you well of the land, but we will not leave our home to live there on sufferance, however much we miss our ancient land.”

    “We will go.” The whisper was faint, but Challenger and Sky Dreamer immediately closed their mouths.

    Startled, she twisted her head to stare at Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed. “We will go,” the ruler of the mages repeated in a louder voice as she rose from her throne. “We will join the Alliance of the Stars. We will come down to Zasalyn, and from there to Idaryn, for our last war. We will be there.” Then the Matriarch left, all her people trailing her, leaving Sharana and Riahanna alone.

    “That was rather astonishing,” Riahanna said dryly. “But at least they will come. But tell me, did you have a reason to come here?”

    “Yes. And you won’t like it,” Sharana said, blinking several times, for the magelight crown had left afterimages. “Irawyn’s considering allying with Casano’or, and she’s to give her final answer today.”

    What?” Sharana began to repeat herself, but Riahanna waved a hand. “Oh, I heard you all right. It’s just hard to believe.”

    “I’m telling the truth.”

    “Of course you are. I can tell through the blood link. But… allying with Casano’or? Irawyn? Casano’or killed Saryn!”

    “That was pretty much my reaction.”

    Riahanna didn’t say anything for a moment, staring at the empty space where afaryl and ashalaj alike had stood moments before. “All right then. Let’s go.” And she wove her Gate to Saile Hasrin.





    Irawyn had been staring at her hands again, knowing that she must give her final answer today, when there was a flaring of magic nearby. She identified Riahanna’s signature easily, and wondered what had brought her this time.

    When her great-grandmother strode in, her face was cold and hard. Sharana was on her heels, her expression equally harsh. “Before you dare make your choice, great-granddaughter, consider whose memory you are betraying.” There was a sharp crack, and Irawyn rubbed her stinging cheek. “You would ally with your grandmother’s murderer.”

    “I am the Queen of the Azah,” she said angrily, “and I, not you, will decide what is best for my people. Casano’or offers us a chance to rebuild a kingdom where Azah and Maradi will no longer have to hide, where we can have a land for our own.” She hated how she sounded defensive, and her lips thinned. She was not required to answer to either of them!

    “ ‘I am the Queen of the Azah,’ ” Riahanna mimicked, but when she said it, it sounded… childish. Foolish. “Saryn was an Azah, too, or have you forgotten?”

    “Saryn hated you too.” Something in Riahanna’s eyes went very cold, and Irawyn shivered. Once, she had thought herself hard, but she was nothing beside her great-grandmother. Nonetheless, she continued on. “Yet I accepted you. Should I not give the same chance to Casano’or?”

    “Casano’or killed my daughter, which I never did. I am not a kinslayer.”

    “And yet you wish to kill Casano’or in revenge, don’t you?”

    “…No.”

    “Then you will understand if I do not. I am willing to forgive Casano’or even Saryn’s death – ”

    “Saryn sacrificed herself for you, and this is how you repay her.” Sharana’s voice was flat with contempt. “A very poor choice, I think. Saryn shouldn’t have sacrificed herself. She must lead, the younger, the stronger, she said, but Saryn was worth ten of you.”

    “And how would you know that?”

    Sharana lifted her chin. “I was with her when she died, and she gave me her memories. If you may recall, Saryn knew what she was doing – sacrificing herself for the good of Liandrah. Sacrificing herself so that you could become Queen and oppose Casano’or. Not join your grandmother’s murderer.”

    “And yet you could have saved her if you had chosen to do so, Sharana,” Casano’or said as she strode inside. “Saryn’s blood is on your hands as much as mine.”

    Sharana and Riahanna did not react save to move closer together, but Irawyn could see the stars dancing in Sharana’s cold eyes, and Riahanna’s ornaments glowed bright for one moment before fading.

    “I have come, Irawyn,” Casano’or said at last, when it was apparent that she was not going to speak, “to have your answer. Will you join me in my dream to create a kingdom for our own, or will you stand in the way of peace for all your people?”
     
  18. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    There was another twang from next to him. Jak twisted his head slightly to see, Grom was firing arrows into the horde again. “Stop that will you, its keeping me awake” He relaxed again and closed his eyes, but Grom wasn’t satisfied with that.

    “At least I’m doing somethin, yer just lying there” the man was some simple folk from the depths of the city, he could handle a bow but didn’t have the sense to use it properly, He’d been on the wall next to Jak since the beginning and at least remedied some of the boredom.

    “Listen Grom, there about ten, twenty or fifty thousand demons out there too many to count and by all the gods there are too many to shoot, especially when you cant see them through the smoke. Save your arrows for when they get through and maybe we’ll live a little longer”

    Grom put his bow down sullenly and Jak got up long enough to look over the crenelations. It was near impossible to see out. Not long after nightfall the demons had managed to start a fire somehow. With most of the lower city made of wooden shacks with some stone here and there it was a disaster. In a place as dry as this sparks flared in moments and the city had been burning ever since. Fire still blazed setting an orange glow over what streets could be seen, but the dry desert wood had burned reluctantly, huge plumes of smoke rose high into the night sky all about them sometimes it seemed there was nothing beyond the walls but the river of black filth flying into the sky. Blocking out all light of the moon and stars, it made him feel so isolated.

    But amongst the block torrent came the cries of bloody murder, the death rattle of people hiding in cellars, the guttural growls and roar of the demons, and the orange tongs of flame.

    At first all the men on the walls had done as Grom did, loosing into the mass of twisted flesh, even Jak let fly a few bolts, when he felt frustrated, but it stopped little, and nothing they did ceased the attack, at the gate the creatures slashed and tone, half of the iron studs and plates had gone from the heavy wooden door, the weak spots clawed deeply, it wouldn’t be long now.

    Meanwhile the city folk had all been urged up the rock to the peak, where the magistrate’s palace was, nestled in a tight keep. It might keep them safe for a while but there wasn’t much hope, they were an island in a sea of death, and there was nowhere else to go.

    One of the buildings nearby was under construction and rocks and slag had been brought and piled against the gate along with a couple of carts, all to keep it closed longer, the huge doors would not open now, but the demons would tear them apart sooner or later. Jak laughed thinking how funny it would be if they opened it and the cart fell on them.

    He took another look over the wall to see how much time they had, the demons were back at the gate clawing and chunks of wood began to fly, a dozen of the beasts were piling of top of each other to claw away as much as they could. Not long now. Jak got up and paced the wall a little over to Grom and looked down at the inside of the gate, there was at least one claw poking through, but among the carts and the stones it didn’t make much difference. “Do you think they’ll rush out and spread into the city, or spend the time to climb up here and kill us first? The gate that lead up to the wall was in a fold beside the gatehouse, out of sight of entering foes, they only needed to turn twice to find the wooden door but maybe demons were too stupid.

    Grom snorted. “They won’t get in”

    With a slight laugh Jak let off one crossbow bolt at the demons at the gate and sat back down, cocking it again when he was there. Most of his duty was sitting on the wall, but he would start firing if the demons breached, but when that happened there was not much else to do, the exit from the walls was by the gate and with them through the chances of him getting up to the safety of the keep were very small.

    Just then he heard a quiet clop of horse’s hooves coming down the main road from the top. Ten mounted men with Maesa at their head were descending the spiralling road and coming towards the gate. When they were in the men under her command had been set to rest and given guard over the gate and any breaches that came through, while she had been summoned to the keep to speak with the magistrates. It wasn’t all very important but she was back now, and at least there was something to watch while he waited.

    Jak slid his weight forward and put the ends of his legs over the wall, sitting on the edge for a better view, he wondered if he should say something or go down. But one look to the gatehouse and he saw Moleon leaning on the doorframe with a sword in hand, swollen mouth twisted in spite, the man had caught him again and chosen to watch over Jak on the wall himself, the fool really bore a grudge for the punch Jak gave him. It was only a few teeth; he’s still just as ugly without them as he was with.

    Just then there was a ripping sound and a long shard of wood flew forward from the gate, Jak leaned over to see what happened and saw it, The demons must have clawed off half of the iron bracings on the outside as one of the huge wooden boards was loose, it sagged against the cart and a chunk had blown off in the fall. Behind it bestial hands darted through and clawed here and there, a few guards on the road loosed shafts into the hole but more demons replaced them, at this rate they might hold them off, but if they breached in full…….

    Maesa’s group wasted no time, trotting up to the gate, those with bows loosed, and a few dismounted with spears, thrusting them at the mod on the other side. More chunks of wood were kicked through from the other side and a demon grabbed the spear aimed at him. As the man struggled with it a crack was heard and another board of wood came loose and fell, some men bolted but as he wrenched his weapon free the man below looked up just before he was caught under the huge oak board.

    With two fallen the gap was wide enough for the demons to come through, but they were bottlenecked, men had lined up with bows and taking turns to loose, which kept the demons back momentarily, but it could how be kept up, as they came through, the beasts knocked stones away from the gate and clawed at the carts, more tried to scale up the inside of the wall and pull loose the beam that kept it shut.

    There wasn’t much time left and Jak knew it, the men below kept firing into the horde but they had few arrows left, men upon the walls were doing the same but the demons were making progress with the bar and the rocks, the hinges creaked. Sooner or later the whole thing would explode in a torrent of evil, Jak had rested but he still had one regret.

    “Grom” he said quickly. “Do me a favour, keep me covered will you” He didn’t know if the man would help, Grom knew he was an outlaw but it was better than nothing. Jak got to his feet and strode to down the wall, soon enough he found a place where a house stood below and the fall to it was short, he looked back and forth and nodded. A few feet to his right Moleon grunted, frowning at him, Jak smiled back, went over to the edge of the wall and took a torch from the sconce there. With all his might he flung it into Moleon’s face like he had his fist, embers cascaded around as the man screeched and fell. Jak took the advantage of the distraction and jumped down onto the roof.

    Once there he climbed to the edge and jumped to a balcony and then down to the street. Ahead of him the mounted column of Maesa’s soldiers was lining up, her at the head on foot giving orders. The men dispersed into groups around the gate and above the road and she began to mount. Jak got there before she could and shook her shoulder.

    Maesa frowned “I thought they had caught you?”

    “Sort of” he replied. But before she continued he grabbed her by the arms and kissed her once, savouring the moment before letting go. When she frowned quizzically he shrugged “Something I’d regret if I died tonight” He looked to the gate and saw the bar come loose and the cart pushed back, the whole thing begun to swing open. One of the doors that had been smashed heavy fell inwards but did so cleanly forming a ramp over the obstructions. This was it.

    Mounting Maesa donned her helm and looked back at Jak. “A good parting gift for us both” she said, and spurred the horse forward to join her men around the gate, they drummed their shields once and crashed into the demons as they had before sunset. Jak was left standing in the street before the onslaught.

    Damnit, he thought, just as he was getting to enjoy things here.

    The horsemen battled but in the confines of the city they lost the advantage they had before in motion, held at a standstill the small cunning beasts slashed at their mounts, climbing under them and grabbing at riders, it was a bloody mess, the demons weren’t slowing, just making their way in through more bloodshed. Soon after the horsemen broke and fled to a distance, and their reserve spurred in from the main road, with the distance they crashed and pushed the horde back, but there were too many, as the first groups lined up to charge again the second was in the same bloody position they had been in, their charge blunted by the sheer tide of demonic hate coming from the open gate. They broke and the first group changed again.

    It was doing no good, the demons were still making progress inwards, and they still had innumerable hordes behind them. Once again the horsemen at the gates broke, but this time they were given no respite, the demons poured in and closed around them, the other group moved to aid but were drawn in too, soon enough it was a losing battle, and a brutal melee with mounts lost and each man facing more then ten times his number in foes. Jak shot what bolts he had into the fray but quickly emptied his quiver. He unsheathed his sword and men from the fight ran back past him clutching their bloody limbs and screaming, others limping away. Maesa was with them, her shoulder torn apart but a short stabbing sword held in the other arm. She stumbled and grabbed him, and he held her with his free arm. Ahead of them the demons were finishing the last men. Arrows were falling upon them from the walls but there were just too many.

    “Run” he told Maesa, and she did not move. “Run!” he shook her this time. But she shook her head back.

    “No more running” she smiled. “Now it ends.”

    Jak gave her a flat look, there was nowhere to go, even if she had run she couldn’t have made it to the keep ahead of the demons and if she did it would only be the same story over again, even with Jak holding them he’d be overwhelmed in moments. She was right. “Now it ends” he agreed.

    They stood there in he road, ahead of them the demons finished with the bloody rags that were men, around them arrows came down and some bolted to find a way to climb and claw their attackers upon the walls, but those at their head faced down the road at the two there, and the look in their eyes was one of malice. With his sabre clutched in his fist Jak tensed and steeled himself. They came screaming at him.

    He hacked one to his right and nearly took it head clean off, but quickly brought the sword back to the front and stabbed another, by his side Maesa did her best wounded but struggled. Jak took down another two and kicked a third away. The circle drew in tight about them and ahead more poured through the gate. He slashed at one ahead of him and only barely escaped another clawing ah his chest. He swept his sword round to slash as many as he could in a wide arc, but a bony claw shot in and grazed his thigh. Soon he was back to back with Maesa hacking and slashing for his very life.

    He could feel his muscles tiring and his reactions slowing. Cheerful Jak never gets backed into a corner, he thought grimly, and in a spur of the moment he jumped forward blade in hand, bright steel arcing down on his foes.

    But the blade touched nothing but sand, and the night around him was cold and bitter. He got to his feet and looked around, there was a light off to the west, he got up and walked forward, limping from the wound to his leg, before him was a steep drop, a mile ahead he could see flames leaping around lohridea, and the stone wall at its centre like an island in a sea of smoke. He didn’t even think how he got there, all he could think of was Maesa alone and wounded against that onslaught.

    “Almost beautiful is it not?” A voice came beside him.

    He seethed with rage. “Why? Why now, you took me and left her alone to die, you heartless bitch! I thought you were meant to be benevolent but this is despicable” He clutched the sword in his hand, all the anger flowing into his fist.

    The woman in green looked back at him “And what is it to you, the fearsome outlaw? Who cares naught for people or laws. What’s the matter Jak? Have you finally learned to take responsibility? To help others for once before yourself.”

    Jak couldn’t take much more of this, “Yes, I have, I’ve learned my lesson, now do something! Help them, you can’t let them all die because of me” He pleaded this time, for once forgetting his rage.

    But she only shook her head and sighed. “Dear Jak, have you forgotten already, this is your test, your trial, to teach you the importance of responsibility, like that you shunned once, and to teach you the importance of the other things you shunned. The power to save them is in your hands, not mine.”

    He went to his knees then and looked upon Lohridea, the orange of the flamed seemed blood red to his eyes, and he could almost hear the screams of the people dying. “I hate you” he said, and meant every word. For making him do this. He had put his past behind long ago and never looked back, but every day he saw her she clawed him back towards it. He had spent half his life running but she would never let him go. And now she was making him bring up all he had buried deep and tried to forget.

    He felt a tingle, like the wind blowing but there was no wind, he felt a chill in the air when the night was warm. In his head words danced that he had tried to forget. The hair on his skin began to lift and a sensation like the world around him tensing began. The noise of the world shied away until only silence remained, broken by a deep rumbling. The rumbling built up to a deep roaring, louder and louder it came, in the dark of the night it was hard to see but to the south in the valley the mighty Evra began to burst its narrow banks, and a great wave came tumbling down between the ridges, the huge mass of water roaring like some wild beast charging. It crashed forward into the city, the flames hissed and steamed and the remains of the lower city was doused beneath the waters, the wave breaking around the rock pinnacle. Below the demon host was washed away, dashed against the walls around them and drowned, few had paused their slaughter for long enough to reach a safe height.

    It splashed across Lohridea, washing away all the violence and destruction and setting things to right. Jak fell to the floor and blacked out. Now it ends, he heard Maesa’s voice and somewhere deep in his mind he heard her voice laughing at him. No Jak, Now it begins.


    When he woke he was back within the city walls, above the waterline, corpses of men and demons filled the water like driftwood. He looked around to see if he could find Maesa. The inner wall rose just above the water, there he saw Grom with his entrails spilling from his belly against the wall, his quiver was empty, that seemed to mean something. He walked down to where the shallow rise of the road met the water and there he found her, on the paving stones, face pale, eyes closed, there was a bloody red stain on her chest but nothing else. Jak didn’t know what he’d do if he found her in chunks across the floor. He sat down next to her and held his knees. No one else remained there, the demons washed away in the night, the people still hiding in the keep, he was all alone. His eyes stung wet and red as he sat there.

    The woman in green came again, walking silently up beside him. If he had his sword he’d stab her right in the heart, and watch her die slowly.

    “Now you have finally learned Jak, a thousand more like her lie across the land, in danger of the same fate at the hands of the chaos gods, not just women, but children, mothers, fathers, all of them in need. You have learned that a stand must be made, and you have awoken your old strength. It is time.”

    He didn’t move from where he was sat, he just shook his head. “The cost is too high”

    “As it always is” She pulled him to his feet. “But someone must endure it, those with the strength to, those who will take responsibility for the fate of the world, you are one of those Jak, and now at last you are ready. Kneel”

    Jak took one last look at Maesa’s body lying peacefully on the ground and nodded, descending to his knees.

    “Repeat after me, I Jaerik son of Dorian, I do so pledge my sword to Liandrah, my skills to defend its lands, my heart to its shield its people. To watch over them, to guard them against chaos, to defend them from their foes and never cease in my duty.”

    The words tumbled from his lips as he repeated them, all too familiar words “I Jaerik son of Dorian, I do so pledge my sword to Liandrah, my skills to defend its lands, my heart to its shield its people. To watch over them, to guard them against chaos, to defend them from their foes and never cease in my duty.”

    She reached out and placed a hand upon his bowed head. “I, Ysdraíznah, guardian of earth and life, bless you in your service, for your courage and fortitude. Rise Jaerik son of Dorian, Cheerful Jak, of the Dragon-blessed. Rise and fulfil your oath.”
     
  19. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Lendoril paused with his hand on the key, suddenly unsure of what he was doing. Last night, it had seemed so clear, but now… With a sigh, he unlocked the door.

    Rho’stri was inside, chained to the wall. “Hello, Lendoril,” she said, calmer than he would have expected. “I expect that you’ve come to kill me.”

    “Not exactly. Well… some of the others want to, but I…”

    “You what? I doubt that you’ve come to free me.”

    “Not exactly. Rho’stri, did you know that we are leaving for Avaennon?”

    Her faint smile slid off her face. “Avaennon? You must be mad!”

    Lendoril shrugged. “Mad or not, that’s where we’re going. Like I said, some of the others want to kill you and get it over with. You’re Casano’or’s spy, after all.”

    “And you don’t?”

    “No. But it’s not so easy – Giara described the spell-matrix Riahanna used on you to keep you tied to the Temple, and we’re using it on you, with one exception. We won’t be tying you to one of us, but rather to the land of Avaennon.”

    “No,” she whispered, her skin draining of all color. “Please, no.”

    “You don’t have much of a choice,” he said, feeling cruel for reminding her. “It’s either that or death. None of us are willing to risk a spy leaving here alive. And at the first suspicion of Casano’or coming to rescue you, you die. Do you understand?”

    All of us will be changed by this war, he remembered Sharana saying before she had left to look for Riahanna, and some of us more than others. We must all be harder than we would wish, I fear. Rho’stri is your responsibility now, and if you must kill her to save yourself, so be it.

    But – he had tried to say, but she cut him off.

    Swear to me, Lendoril, that if there’s any danger, you’ll kill her. I’d prefer for her to be alive and moved to Avaennon, but if that means losing one of my people, kill her. Do you understand?

    Yes, he had replied, though reluctantly. But I don’t like it.

    No one requires you to like it, but this is war…

    When Rho’stri did not respond, Lendoril drew his katana and held the key to her chains in his left hand. We must all be harder than we would wish, I fear… “Which, Rho’stri? My right hand or my left?”

    He shifted the sword until the point was hovering in front of her heart, ignoring her pale eyes gleaming with hatred. His hand was steady as he touched her vest with the blade. “Which?”

    “The left hand,” she sobbed brokenly, all of her previous equanimity shattered. “I choose to live.”

    Lendoril sheathed the sword and closed his eyes, appalled at what he had become. I’m sorry, he wanted to say, but the words stuck in his throat. “Then live,” he snapped, his voice harsh. “Giara!”

    The Priestess came within moments. “She agrees to the spell-matrix?”

    “Yes.” Rho’stri did not say anything, but her breath came hard and fast.

    Giara put her hands on Rho’stri’s brow, and the Maradi relaxed in slumber. “Wait… Ria already has one set in here… unpicking the weaving’s impossible. Riahanna’s the greatest spellweaver to ever live, and I can’t undo her work. But…”

    “But?”

    Giara chewed her lip for a moment. “I think I can modify the spell so that it doesn’t bind her to the Temple but rather forces her to go to Avaennon. What were our plans for travel, anyway?”

    “Gating to Selavan’s palace to pick up all the Sentinels there, and leaving a few behind to gather up the others and send them on to Avaennon. From there, we’re Gating close to Avaennon, and then we go on foot. Only the Sentinels and your Priestesses are going.”

    “Wouldn’t it just be easier to go directly inside Avaennon?”

    Lendoril shrugged. “The Sentinels say that something interferes with their magic if they even try.”

    “Ah.” Giara’s forehead furrowed in concentration, and he sensed that her attention had turned away from him. “That thread there, another there… what is this obsession she has for making them so complex that you have to unpick a dozen threads just to access the one you want… there!” Giara lifted her hands away and sagged. “I’ll be fine,” she said, waving off Lendoril’s instinctive move towards her. “It’s just that… sweet goddess, Riahanna never stops to consider that other people might have problems if they need to modify something. But if I have trouble doing it, and I’m familiar with Ria’s style, then Casano’or would have serious problems.”

    “Oh?”

    “Spell-matrixes are kind of like tapestries of magic. There’s threads you have to weave to make the spell, and… oh, it’s too complicated to explain in just a few minutes. The gist of it is that spellweavers have their own way of weaving spells, and if you’re not familiar with the spellweaver’s style, it can take days to undo one of their workings. Ria’s worse, though. Most spellweavers just weave the actual spell, but she weaves in trap threads – if someone like Casano’or tried to undo it, she could get caught in a trap spell. She even puts in unnecessary threads of magic to hide what’s really important. So if there’s about fifty threads that’s necessary, five or six of them with be the ‘keystone’ of the spell that you need to access to modify it. Ria weaves in three or four times the necessary number just to confuse people.”

    “It sounds like a lot of work,” he said doubtfully. “Wouldn’t it take a long time to do that?”

    “It would for me, but Ria’s… well, she’s Riahanna Anísedran. She’s the spellweaver.”

    “Wait a second.” Something had just occurred to him. “This spellweaving seems like tying a knot, but what if someone just forms a blade of magic and slices the knot in half?”

    “It would be that easy with most mages, but then again, Ria’s Ria. It’s not quite that straightforward. If you tried, your blade would either get stuck in magic, trigger a trap, or simply not hit.”

    The whole concept gave Lendoril a headache. Swords are easier, he thought… and then remembered that without Giara’s spell, Rho’stri would be dead and her blood would be on his hands. “Well, we’re leaving tomorrow,” he said, to cover his unease.

    “We’ll take care of her.” Giara unlocked the chains. “Celise!”

    The young Forest Elf appeared as if by magic. “Standard healing, I suppose?” she asked.

    “Make sure that the healer’s one of the more moderate ones,” Giara cautioned.

    “Of course.” Rho’stri’s body rose on air, and followed Celise as she walked out.

    “Tomorrow, then, Sentinel Lendoril.” With a small bow, Giara, too, left, leaving Lendoril alone to face what he had done today.





    Lendoril decided that he was very quickly growing tired of Jhaherys’ constant complaints. “Look,” he said at last, “Sharana – the Star Singer – told me take you to Avaennon, which I am going to do, whether you like it or not. If I must, I will have you tied to a horse.”

    There was a soft chuckle from behind him, and he didn’t need to turn around to recognize Giara.

    “As you command, Sentinel Lendoril.” Jhaherys bowed stiffly before stalking off, his wings stiff with affront – wings that he had not been born with. Lendoril was still having trouble accustoming himself to the Azah shape-shifting magic, but if what Riahanna had told him was true, he himself had Maradi blood. And if he did, did that mean that he, too, could shape-shift? Maybe I could ask Rho’stri, he thought… and then remembered what he had done to her.

    “You seem troubled,” Giara said. “I could listen, if you want to talk.”

    Lendoril hesitated, then told her. “And I threatened to kill her if she didn’t do as I wanted,” he finished. “How am I different from Casano’or?”

    “You regretted it, didn’t you?”

    “And how do we know that Casano’or doesn’t?”

    There was a short pause, and then she said, “If you like, we can wipe the memories away. You just won’t remember what happened.”

    For one moment, Lendoril was tempted. But… “No. I need to remember what I did, and regret it. If I don’t remember, who knows what I would do next? This might help to keep me in check.”

    “A wise choice, I think,” Giara replied, and Lendoril thought about telling her everything, not just about Rho’stri. Just then, they heard a Sentinels’ voice being raised in anger, and Celise shouting back. “I should sort this out.”

    “I’ll come with you,” he began, but she shook her head.

    “The Sentinels despise you enough without you getting involved in a simple quarrel. And besides, they’ll listen to me.”

    Lendoril had to grin at that. The Sentinels, no matter how much they despised Ki’dasva’s Priestesses, were to a man – and a woman – frightened of Giara. He didn’t know why; the Priestess seemed to be as soft and innocent as a kitten… at least until she showed her claws.

    Lendoril watched her stride away, wondering what it was about Giara that made him want to trust her. Then he shook off the thought, and went in search of Rho’stri. Rho’stri refused to even look at him, but perhaps that was to be expected. I guess I can talk to Riahanna later instead…

    “I’m sorry, Rho’stri,” he said quietly, and then he left her.

    Three hours later, the Sentinels and Priestesses stood inside Avaennon, waiting for someone to greet them.
     
  20. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    Phellan pointed down on the map. "Here, we have men in Ravesdes and Alenion working up what resistance they can against those left to occupy the cities, as well as recruiting soldiers in the outlands, Her main force we've left untouched for now."

    Furrowing his brow Gorren looked over the area again. "Enough on soldiers, how many sworn members have come?"

    The others round the table kept quiet, Phellan had the duty of keeping the lord informed and they wished not to incurr his wrath at the slightest misdeed, Gorren was not the most sympathetic of leaders. "We have a few hundred here and here" He pointed again to the holds marked on the map. "And maybe a thousand or more with us now, the rest are still coming, but slow with all the secrecy needed."

    "And how long before we have our full strength?"

    Phellan hesitated. "Before the moon's turn, there are many left to come, but if we speed things along we may be noticed by the minions of Chaos, we cannot have them sooner." Gorren grunted at that, folden his arms and frowned at the large papyrus map for a long time. Everyone else kept silent, Phellan at the forefront, Gorren was more sympathetic than patient, and they all knew it.

    There was a large boom which shook Gorren from his concentration and turned every eye from the map or floor and towards the huge oak doors. A silhouette appeared in the light of the doorway, foot in the air from kicking the door open. In the dim torchlit room it was hard to see who it was untill he began to stride forward.

    "What is the meaning of this insolence?" Gorren said, face going red. "Guards seize this fool at once, I said no interruptions!"

    As the figure from the door stode forwards he resolved into a dirty looking man in a long leather coat grinning at them. The meeting hall was long and echoed his footsteps loudly despite the distance. Behind him the two door guards moved to intercept him. With a quick flick of his wrist, the two guards flew sprawling back to the door and did not rise. As the man came forward Phellan noted he has not grinning, the curve of his mouth was twisted up in a gruesome scar making him smile at everyone.

    Gorren took no chances "Servant of the dark gods! kill him!"

    The fighting men around them of high rank went to face the intruder while the others muttered worries on how they had been found, but before they had finished the intruder spoke up.

    "Shut it old man, I never did like the way you talked, and I'm no pawn to your enemies you can rest assured." The men moving on to attack paused but Phellan thought there was something oddly familiar about that voice, but he surely would remember this man's face had he seen it.

    holding his hand up to halt his men gorren addressed the man then. "If you speak true then who are you and why are you here?"

    "I know him" said one man by the side of the table, a loremaster. "That scar, he's some lowlife bandit from the human realms, surely even the chaos gods wouldnt even hire lowly scum like him"

    "How kind" the man said. "But I prefer the term 'outlaw'. Anyway, I'm here to attend this council like the rest of you, though I'm dissapointed you started without me."

    Gorren went red again. "This is the high council of the blessed, we do not let brigands and lawbreakers intrude on our planning."

    "Too bad old man, because I'm not just intruding, I'm taking over. From now on I will command the Blessed in its entirety and you will report to me or get the hell out of my meeting hall" The man did smile then, it twisted his scar and made Phellan wince.

    "I've had enough of this foolery, I'll have you beheaded for trespassing where only sworn members of the blessed can enter."

    The intruder sighed loudly. "You old fool. I am a Blessed."

    It was then that Phellan recognised the voice, but the face had changed so much. "Jaerik? is that you?"

    The intruder smiled further. "Now theres a smart man, always has been, its about tiem someone around here remembered me."

    "You disappeared years ago, we thought you dead...." Phellan began butGorren interrupted before he could finish. "If not dead then a tr****r and a coward! not fit to return"

    Jaerik shook his head at Gorren. "Well too bad for you, one of our snooty benefactors has given me a second chance, and I'm going to start it by getting you fools of your arses and into this damn war for a change. We're meant to be there defending Liandrah and here i find you in some old building in the middle of damn nowhere doing nothing! Unacceptable!"

    "How dare you reprimand us, we have served diligently for all this time while you were doing what? commitiing robbery and murder? I say leave or I'll have your head no matter who you were" Gorren was stubborn as ever, Phellan remembered tutoring young Jaerik all those years ago, but it was true, he had deserted, which was punishable by death.

    "I'd like to see you try old man, I really would, or have you forgotten what I could do after all this time? But you're forgetting, I'm one of their favourites and that means you obey me, and I say I'm taking command whether you like it or not, if i hear one more word about this I'm going to be very cross. Now, back to business, oh yes, what are you bloody still doing here, theres a war raging!"

    Most of them kept quiet, divided by the unacceptance of this newcomer, he was different than he was last they'd met, he had been just a boy then, but never so uncouth. Gorren was fuming beside him but minding of the threats. In the old days no one had shown so much promise in the magical arts as Jaerik, it was a day of woe when he had disappeared without a word, but now he was back it was unsettling. But he was one of the few selected personally, and untill they could confirm otherwise they would have to take his word for it.

    Phellan took a heavy ragged breath then spoke. "We have been marshalling our forces in secret since they day we confirmed Casasno'or reemerged. We thought with her gaze fixed on the sentinels and a slow march through the human realms we could build up our forces untill we had they strength to assault her. in the mean time we've being sowing dissient among her followers and in her captured realms."

    Nodding Jaerik looked over the map on the table with markers for the forces of each side, whiel he looked Phellan continued. "We've noted the other forces in play, the sentinels have had no open battles but have been fighting and moving against Casano'or, the human realms that remain untouched are marshalling but have not the strength to spread past their borders, and the elves are slowly preparing for war."

    The man who had been the boy paused before he spoke. "Not good enough, you've been marshalling but if you take everything you have against them youll be anihilated."

    "And I suppose you have a better plan, bandit?" gorren said.

    Jaerik smiled at him then, "Yes, I think I do."
     
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