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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    Although she could easily have teleported herself to Irawyn, since she had been there once already, Casano’or instead chose to fly. It was a calm, serene evening, and the sunset was astonishing. Almost as beautiful as it was before the Great Rift, when the very face of the world was changed. She did not use Krian to fly anymore, for her powers had returned now in full and there was no need to continue the pretense of mortality.

    Once, as my heart remembers, all the stars were falling embers.

    It seemed as though she was living in her memories now, so frequent were her flashbacks. And the more she tried to banish them, the more they plagued her. Sometimes, they filled her with blends of joy and sorrow, leaving her with a longing, hollow heart. But usually, they left her depressed and heartbroken.

    ”Father, father!” She was breathless as she ran to catch up with the rest of the traveling column. He turned, towering over her before he knelt to embrace her as she flew into his grasp. “Father, have you ever touched the stars?”

    He smiled softly and smoothed back her windblown hair. “No mortal has ever touched the stars, child. They are the home of the gods.”

    She tilted her head back to look at the millions of flickering that lit their path. “I will touch the stars someday, father. I will bring one back for you.”

    He chuckled. “Perhaps you will, little one. Perhaps you will.”

    She skipped away, off the path and into the forest. When she found what seemed to be the largest tree around, she shimmied up the trunk and swung limb to limb until she poked her head out from under the tree’s canopy. She had tried to count the stars, once, but had finally given up when her father admitted that this was impossible. It must be, for her father was never wrong.

    To her surprise, she found that she was not alone. Seated just below her was a creature of strange countenance, and though other children would have been frightened, she was intrigued. He – for it radiated of masculine power – was humanoid, yet in place of the pale skin of the Kortiri he had fur of black. His face was feline, and after she had looked at him more carefully, she noticed a tail that lay curled upon him lap. He was nearly the size of her father, she guessed, and sat much like she would have had she been sitting where it was, legs crossed and relaxed. He must be quick, she thought, for he had definitely not been there as she had climbed the tree.

    “Hello,” she ventured.

    The creature tilted his head, and replied with a strange, lilting accent. “Greetings, youngling.”

    When he said no more, and simply stared at her, she spoke again. “Who are you?”

    “I am Wind Hunter, youngling.” His mouth curled in a smile, baring deadly fangs. His yellow eyes were flecked with brown, and shone fiercely in the moonlight.

    “Do you…do you live here?”

    Wind Hunter chuckled. “I live everywhere, youngling, everywhere and anywhere I choose. But this is one of my favourite trees.”

    “Oh – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you.” She made to begin to climb down, but Wind Hunter held out a hand and grasped her by the shoulder.

    “No, youngling, you have not bothered me.” He glanced groundward, then looked back at her. “Wait here a moment.”

    Without explanation, he disappeared among the branched without a whisper or sound, but before Nairi could think on it he reappeared and grasped her right hand. She felt something hard and warm inside. She looked at Wind Hunter questioningly, but he just smiled and motioned for her to examine his gift.

    When she opened her palm she was astonished to discover a gem-like stone, many-faceted and shimmering. It held a fierce silver light within, which seemed to move with life as she inspected it. Attached to it was a silver chain.

    “Keep it with you always, youngling. As long as you hold that stone I will watch over you.” She noticed he wore an identical stone around his neck.

    “Who are you?” She repeated, slowly.

    “I am Wind Hunter, a lord of my people. Your father once did me a kindness, and for that I will always be at your call. Remember my name, youngling.”

    With that, he disappeared once more, never to be seen again.


    Casanano’or involuntarily touched the gem at her neck, which she had never taken off. She often wondered whether that night visit had been a dream, or the wild imagination of a young child, for she never again saw any evidence, save the stone, that it was not but a dream. She was surprised that she remembered Wind Hunter still. But then, many things she had thought lost to time were returning.

    And the voices, the voices in her head, only seemed to grow. Haunting voices of people long dead…and some other those yet living.

    Nairi, I will never leave you. Not if death itself should claim my soul…

    Casan, no matter what you think, if I should fall, you must run. Run, as the wind itself, until you are grown and strong…

    We’ll be friends forever, the best of friends…

    Casan, help! Please…

    Run, run….


    Casano’or shook her head angrily, pushing the unwanted ghosts away and thinking instead of her destination. She was nearing the Azah village, and could see the flickering lights of the cooking fires. Silhouetted against the red-orange sunset, it made a striking image.

    She alighted softly, and slowly but purposefully walked toward the hut she knew belonged to Irawyn. However, as she neared, she heard the distinct and displeasing sound of heated argument. She recognized the voices immediately, and almost faltered, knowing that the mere presence of these people could disrupt her entire plans, but she continued on.

    “And yet you wish to kill Casano’or in revenge, don’t you?” Irawyn’s clear voice rang.

    “…No.” Riahanna’s faltering response made Casano’or blink back a tear. But she will not stand in the way of my death, either.

    “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.” Casano’or didn’t know whether to bristle in anger or melt in sorrow. So this is how they all see me.

    Casano’or strode in, pulling about her the air of a military general among common soldiers. “And yet you could have saved her if you had chosen to do so, Sharana. Saryn’s blood is on your hands as much as mine.”

    Casano’or froze when she saw Riahanna’s ornaments flash, for among them was a stone nearly identical to the one she wore beneath her cloak. Reaching up to grasp her stone, her star, she said, “I have come, Irawyn, 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?”

    “I…” She was clearly at a loss for words, glancing nervously from Riahanna to Casano’or. Casano’or’s level, but not hostile, gaze never left Irawyn. “I want peace for my people.” Her voice gained some certainty. “Casano’or, would you not consider a peaceful alternative to reach your goals?”

    “Peaceful? Oh, but I am peaceful. It is the world that opposes me.” She snorted. “No, Irawyn, nothing is gained through inaction. I would make peace treaties with the humans and elves only to have them betray me. It has happened once – it can happen again.”

    “You would not even consider it?”

    “Oh, I have considered it,” she said. “What do you suggest, my queen?”

    Irawyn said nothing for a moment, obviously groping for some solution. “You could…seek an alliance with Ki’dasva.”

    Casano’or looked at Irawyn with a sad smile. “If that were possible, where would it leave us? Without the means to create this world of peace.

    “There can be no freedom without sacrifice.”

    “There has been sacrifice, Casano’or, more than you know,” Riahanna broke in softly.

    Casano’or said nothing for a moment. She opened her mind to her surroundings, reading her sister’s thoughts, as well as the thought of the others, without difficulty. They could not sense it, for it was not a mind probe, but rather a deeper level of awareness and listening that Cy’dath had taught her long ago.

    A million thoughts swept through Riahanna, and amongst them, Casano’or caught a vision of something she had never expected. They were creatures…though Casano’or could not see them clearly, for all she saw was really an image projected by what Riahanna was pondering, but something in them unlocked a piece of the puzzle Casano’or had long struggled over. She now had a name for the cat-like creature of her deepest memories…The Godless Ones.

    Irawyn’s thoughts were more concentrated. I wish to join her, to separate my people from this war…but I cannot ignore Riahanna. Casano’or smiled. She might win this round after all. She might be spared from fighting the Azah.

    “Sister, do not presume to force a queen to sacrifice her people in your war.” Her voice was barely audible, and Riahanna stiffened in displeasure.

    My war? Is this not –”

    Casano’or cut her off. “Where did you get that rock?” She pointed to the glowing one around her sister’s neck.

    Riahanna glanced down, then back at Casano’or. Her voice was icy cold. “Where I go and what I do on my spare time are none of your concern. Do not stray from the topic. Why –”

    Where you go?” Casano’or interrogated. “You mean to the Godless Ones?” She was still grasping for straws, trying to discover more about that one memory. Perhaps her recurring memories were a sign…a clue. If only she could unravel it all.

    “The…how do you know about that? How do you even know about the Godless Ones? The went into hiding before you were five years old.”

    “I have my connections.” She continued fingering her stone. There must be some connection. “So where did you get that rock?” She knew that Riahanna didn’t possess it the last time they had talked; she would have noticed it.

    “It is no mere rock, and was a gift. That is all.”

    Irawyn broke in. “Casano’or, I accept your offer.”

    Riahanna and Sharana gaped in open disbelief. Before they could retaliate, Irawyn continued. “The Azah will not fight against you, Casano’or, but neither will they fight for you, against my great-grandmother.”

    Riahanna exploded. “Insolent, ignorant, foolish girl! The Azah will never follow you.”

    Irawyn replied calmly. “They will if I lead them to peace. All we must do is remain outside the fighting. That shouldn’t be too hard, given our track record for participating in the world’s affairs.”

    “Have you considered what will happen should Casano’or fail?” Sharana was barely controlling her rage. “If you’re not helping us defeat her, you’re helping her win.”

    “If Casano’or’s plan fails, we will be where we were before. If she succeeds, we will be in a world where the Azah no longer will hide.” She looked at Riahanna evenly. “Either way, we come out better than if we were to engage in battle.”

    “The girl has her reasons, Riahanna, and they are honourable – let her be.”

    Riahanna rounded on Casano’or. “This does not sway the odds. Yes, I have visited the Godless Ones, and they are marching with us.” Sharana looked at Riahanna incredulously. “She obviously knows some mind-trick, Sharana, to already know anything about the Godless Ones. There was no use in keeping it a secret.”

    Casano’or smiled softly, and on a sudden impulse took the stone from around her neck, held it before her, and spoke a single name.

    “Wind Hunter.”

    Riahanna looked taken aback, but curious. She no more than began to form a question when the air swirled from around the stone, and a specter took form.

    When Casano’or saw him, her mind exploded with a thousand questions. This image looked exactly as she remembered…only not quite as solid. He seemed…a spirit, or ghost. She smiled as she had when she had first beheld him, and he returned it, and placed a furred hand on her shoulder. It felt solid enough, though a strange sensation differentiated it from that of a living being.

    Riahanna gaped. Sharana and Irawyn seemed surprised, but not nearly so much as Riahanna. “Who…Who…are you?”

    “I am Wind Hunter, a Forefather of the Kishandai.”

    Riahanna seemed to have her wits back about her. “And what are you doing with her?”

    “Let me properly introduce myself. I was born a millennia before you were conceived, during the time in which the Kishandai began to emerge as a race. We are not know as the Godless Ones for no reason – but that is another story. When the Elves and Humans finally came to attack us, much as they did your races, we were driven far back, to the land in which the surviving Godless Ones now live. One great part of the Kishandai was at one point cornered, with no hope of escaping, when a host of Kortiri appeared as if by magic to disperse our attackers. We fled north, and survived.

    “The leader of this Kortiri host was none other that the sire of Casano’or, here. I swore to him a blood-debt, which he declined in favour of his daughter. While I lived, I kept a silent vigil over her, and now that I have passed from the mortal life, I reside in a plane of existence close to this one, from which I can transverse with the aid of the Kishandai stone I gave her, long ago.”

    “That explains a lot,” Casano’or muttered. She turned her attention back to Riahanna. “Well, sister, I shall now take my leave of you. Irawyn, will you come with me? We have much to discuss.”
     
  2. Morgan_of_Salerone

    Morgan_of_Salerone New Member

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    Arikha rode across the barren ground on her blood bay mare. She was dressed in her most splendid attire and was surrounded by several officers, each dressed smartly in a new uniform. Beside and a little behind her rode Arion and Tavius. Arion seemed quite happy to be wearing such flamboyant clothing, but Tavius looked slightly uncomfortable in his formal uniform. Behind them cantered two grey horses.

    Arikha pulled her horse up as two figures detached themselves from the army and strode forward. As they neared, she felt her signature smug smile creep onto her face.

    “Welcome to Avaenonn.” she said, her chin rising as she looked down upon the others. There was an elf with dark hair and green eyes, and a human with a strong magical aura.

    “We’re glad to be here.” the elf replied, with a respectful bow of his head to the royals. “I am Sentinel Lendoril, and this is Giara, priestess of Ki’dasva.”

    That explains the aura, Arikha thought. She gave a nod of her head in return, and glanced past to where the army waited.

    “Where is Sharana?” she asked.

    “She was unable to come with us. She had other business to attend to.” Lendoril replied.

    “Hmph…” grumbled Arikha under her breath. Turning, she gestured for the other horses to be brought forward. Passing the reins to the two outsiders, she flashed a small smile. “For the ride.” she said quietly, turning her horse and beginning to ride to the capital.

    “This way,” came Arion’s soft voice. Lendoril motioned for the army to follow as he mounted up. The Sentinel trotted her horse up to Arikha’s, glancing at her. The queen only looked forward.

    “Have you been a Sentinel long?” she asked. Lendoril looked up at her with a slight expression of suspicion.

    “What business is it of yours?”

    The sorceress laughed.

    “I was simply wondering why Sharana chose you to lead the army.” Arikha focused her mind and peered into Lendoril’s thoughts, searching for the information she desired. “The Star Singer…and the Game!” she whispered. “So Sharana seeks Riahanna and the Godless Ones?” Lendoril looked up at her sharply. “Do not give me that look,” the sorceress chuckled. “You are the one who refused to give me information willingly.” Seeing the flash of anger in the elf’s eyes, Arikha sighed. “If you wish it, I will refrain from using my abilities. Look, I’ll even let you ask me something.” Lendoril gave a sigh.

    “Where are your armies? How is it such a small nation can promise so many soldiers? How is it that we were unable to Gate inside your borders? How is this place any safer from Casano’or?”

    “Well,” replied Arikha, looking forward. “My borders are protected by a spell I devised. It confuses any unwanted beings that do not have strong magical abilities as soon as they pass it. It survived Casano’or’s wrath during the Chaos War, and I am sure it will survive her again. As for my soldiers, you will meet them soon enough.” Pulling on a thread of Ki’dasva’s power, Arikha quickly and smoothly transported her company and the army to the gates of her city. She gestured out over the parched, sunburnt land. “I am sure your soldiers will find enough room here, but I would advise them to conserve water at any chance they get. We will bring water at the start and end of each day, but it is up to them to provide for the time in between. Also, tell them they are free to wander where they wish. I will wait for you inside the gates.” Arikha spurred her horse forward and rode under the great stone arches.
     
  3. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    “Well, sister, I shall now take my leave of you. Irawyn, will you come with me? We have much to discuss.”

    How amazing. She’s acknowledging me as her sister again. “Don’t bother,” Riahanna said, her mind still whirling with frantic thoughts. Casano’or has an ally – of sorts – in one of the Godless Ones’ ancestors? “We were leaving anyway.”

    “But – ” Sharana protested, but Riahanna strode out the door without paying any heed to her. After a few moments, Sharana emerged from the dwelling as well.

    “If we’d killed Casano’or right now, the entire war would be over. Your power and the Well’s combined would have been more than enough,” Sharana said, following her as Riahanna lead them towards the outskirts of the village.

    “One, that would be harder than you believe. We have enough power, but we have no practice in linking and using it jointly, and that uncertainty might have been enough for her to kill us.”

    “But we still – ”

    “Two, do you really want Cy’dath to come here right now?” she snapped, overriding Sharana’s protests. “And he will come if we even make a threatening move towards his lover. We need to wait. Yes, the Well is powerful, but even it’s going to have trouble killing him for once and for all instead of banishing him. I was there during the Chaos War, and that was the mistake that your Sentinels made, relying on the Well alone.”

    “If he’s as powerful as you say, then why aren’t we already dead?”

    “Because he fears what we may become. If Irawyn had come to our side, we could kill them all. You have no idea how powerful she is. Count yourself lucky that she’s chosen to merely stand aside, not to join Casano’or. If she’d done that, only the Well could have saved either of us. Her power probably equals Casano’or’s as Avatar.”

    “Then what are we going to do?”

    “We’re going to play the Game, and for that, we need your friend Lendoril… but later. For now, we need to do something else.”

    “Such as?”

    In answer, she wrapped power about them both and pulled them somewhere that was not of this world.





    Dark night speckled with stars surrounded them, and Sharana stepped beside Riahanna as she announced, “I, Faine Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman, daughter of Cléodri and Aldrien, sister to Casano’or, First Priestess of Ki’dasva, descended from gods’ blood, declare myself to be Player of the Game.”

    “I, Sharana Wingheart Starflight of House Ylavra, Star Singer of the Sentinels, conduit of the Well of Stars, channel for the elemental spirits of Liandrah, declare myself to be Player of the Game.”

    “You have been named so already.” Sharana started, for the whisper that had come from everywhere had not come from the Well, and she could hear a faint echo of the sea’s roaring in that voice. “Three have witnessed – Ki’dasva’s Priestess Giara, Ki’dasva herself, and the Well of Stars.”

    “Only the opening ritual remains,” and she could hear the rustling of the wind. “I, Zahndariel, stand today as judge.” A huge winged behemoth appeared before her, but shrank in size until it was no larger than a person. Yet it is no it, Sharana realized, for she could hear the faint feminine tones to the voice.

    Without knowing why, she sank to her knees before the dragon goddess, and a faint breeze ruffled her hair. Be welcome, child of the wind, she heard, and knew that those words were for her alone.

    “I, Yharziev, stand today as judge.”

    “I, Ysdraíznah, stand today as judge.”

    “I, Avzahrael, stand today as judge.”

    “I, Zahramael, stand today as judge.”

    She wondered which god had greeted Riahanna, then recalled that she served Ki’dasva. Surely the Ring of Five Dragons would not be pleased to see the chief priestess of one of their most ancient enemies here.

    What we want is immaterial. Sharana almost jumped as a voice, resonating with power and filled with the sound of thunder and the gentle patter of rain, whispered into her mind. When we were declared the Guardians of the Game – a burden that the Well shared only later – we swore to be impartial, and only to judge. We will witness that you have played the Game, examine your intentions, then watch as you begin the Game. Anyone can play the Game, whether we oppose their goal or not. As it happens, though, it was I who greeted Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman.

    She had to repress a shiver as the voice withdrew again. She was the Conduit of the Well, and presumably it could take over her mind whenever it liked… but the sense of the Well and of the gods were different. The Well, she suspected, damped most of its power and concealed the rest in its song for the comfort of its Sentinels. Most Sentinels enjoyed contact with the Well, for it sang of peace, of hope, of healing. Even Ki’dasva had controlled her mind. But the dragon gods did not bother to do that, it seemed. Zahramael and Zahndariel’s voices had been so utterly alien and inhuman, singing with a siren song of power, that her mind had refrained from mingling with theirs too closely for the sake of her sanity.

    Or perhaps it is only here, in this place, where we begin the Game, that they stand in their full majesty and power…

    “Why come you here, Riahanna of Ki’dasva, Sharana Star Singer?”

    For one moment, Sharana had no idea how to answer. Then words poured through her mind, and she knew that it was she herself, not the Well, that provided this answer. “We stand here together bound by blood and cause to protect the Well and let Liandrah remain free from Cy’dath,” they recited in unison.

    “And so you wage a war, and it is my dominion that shall suffer the most,” Ysdraíznah said, her green scales glittering in the starlight. “On whose behalf do you fight?”

    “I for the Well of Stars and the people of Liandrah,” Sharana replied, expecting Riahanna to say that she was fighting for Ki’dasva.

    But the Priestess did not reply, and the silence stretched on. The dragon gods seemed content to wait, but Sharana nearly screamed in frustration. What is she doing…

    Then she remembered how the book had said that the Players must always be truthful, for their answers would define the form of the Game. It was just as well that Riahanna was taking such care with her responses.

    “I fight for many,” Riahanna said at last. “I fight for Ki’dasva, that my Priestesses might be permitted to live in Liandrah once more. I fight for a world free of Cy’dath’s dominion.”

    “You do not say that you fight for the people of Liandrah,” Zahndariel noted.

    “I will not lie, here in this sacred place. Sharana may know it as the world of the Well, but I know it for the place where gods were conceived… and where gods came to die.”

    What?

    But Riahanna was continuing on. “Yet, in the end, I fight for three things. I fight for promises I have yet to fulfill. I fight because of a broken promise, and another’s promise that I would find Wanderer’s Redemption. And lastly, I fight for the promise of Faine and Nairi.”

    Wait… didn’t Riahanna name herself Faine? Sharana was more confused than ever by Riahanna’s ambiguous answer and constant references to ‘promises,’ but Zahramael seemed to understand exactly what Riahanna meant.

    “Then I, Zahramael, confirm Riahanna of Ki’dasva and Sharana Star Singer to be the Players of the Game.”

    The other four echoed him, and Yharziev said, “The Players had been named and confirmed.”

    “They have stated their answers and we have found them true.” Ysdraíznah’s voice had a chanting quality to it when before it had been merely formal and ritualistic. “They have passed the Test of Truth.”

    “They have received from other hands the Starwolf and the Amulet,” Zahndariel crooned.

    “The Game is ready to be played, but it has yet to begin.”

    “Riahanna of Ki’dasva and Sharana Star Singer must open the Game,” Zahramael finished, “and they must do so, untaught, untried, and unaided, that we may find them worthy.”

    Oh dear gods… what am I supposed to do? None of the books mentioned this…

    Then Riahanna opened her mouth and sang, and Sharana lost awareness of the world.

    Later, she would recall that her heart had ached to hear Riahanna’s pure voice. Her song was more beautiful than any bard’s, her voice more musical than an Azah’s, for Riahanna sang of her life’s joys and sorrows in a way that none other could surpass. Even Saryn had not lived such sorrow, and neither had Casano’or, from what she could gather from the memories that had been forced upon the ancient Azah.

    Riahanna sang of a lost childhood, of a sister she had cherished and loved yet had betrayed, of a beloved daughter who had rejected her mother and died without forgiving her, of the betrayal she herself had experienced… but mostly of promises.

    Yet she sang of joy as well, of redemption and healing, of peace and hope, the sorrow and joy balancing each other perfectly.

    Then Sharana had danced, her feet flickering in the air as she rose up and up and up without the aid of wings, and she knew that her dance was the counterpoint to Riahanna’s song.

    “The Game has begun,” Avzahrael said at last when the song began to fade away into a whisper, his voice an exquisite melding of exultation and regret that she could not tell which was stronger, and the others echoed him.

    Then only the two of them were left within the night sky, Riahanna still singing, she still dancing, and then the starlight faded until she was falling, falling through the darkness…
     
  4. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Giara seemed somewhat unhappy with Arikha’s reception – or perhaps it was just the sorceress herself. That smug smile didn’t really help matters, after all. Lendoril wasn’t sure whether he liked Arikha either, but Sharana had told him to lead them here, and he had.

    “We’d best follow her,” he said, but Giara shook her head.

    “Not without Rho’stri and Celise to watch her. She’s a Maradi, Lendoril, and if we don’t watch her, she’ll manage to slip away somehow.”

    I’d been trying to forget about that. “I’ll go,” he offered. “I’ll stay with Rho’stri and have Celise catch up with you. She seemed a little bored.”

    “I’ll ride on ahead then,” Giara said. “I’ll ask Queen Arikha to send two more horses, all right?”

    “Thank you.” He smiled at her, and waved as she rode away.

    Then he turned his horse around and rode straight to Rho’stri. Celise was standing guard over her, yawning. “Giara wants you and Rho’stri to come with us, and I can relieve your guard while she sends two more horses for us,” he said.

    “Will you? I’ve been so bored here!” Celise seemed to be a little more invigorated by his news, and he dismounted before handing the reigns to the young Priestess. “Rho’stri hasn’t tried to escape at all, but if you need help, just call and one of my sisters will come.” With that, she swung onto the horse and left at a canter.

    Rho’stri was glaring at him with pale eyes blazing with hatred. Although she was not physically bound in any way, the spell matrix still chained her, glowing bright to his mage sight. Neither of them spoke, but instead locked gazes together. Lendoril broke the staring contest first.

    He sent a silent call for aid to the Well to avoid the intensity of her eyes, and a moment later, the spell matrix unravelled as Rho’stri stared at him in disbelief. “Go,” he said quietly. “And I’m sorry.”

    Then he turned around and walked away without looking back.





    Giara herself had ridden back with the two horses, and Lendoril was grateful for that. Only Giara, perhaps, could comprehend his action and his reason for it. Sharana certainly would not. To her, Rho’stri was an enemy, and therefore any measure required to force her cooperation was permissible. And Riahanna was far harder than Sharana was; she would have killed Rho’stri without any regret, only thinking it an act of war.

    But he could not.

    He told all this to Giara, and the Priestess only listened without condemning or praising him. “Although I rather wish that we still had Rho’stri – for she would have been an invaluable source of information – you did what you thought you had to,” she said with a sigh. “And in this case, Rho’stri was not entrusted to me but rather to you, and it was your decision. What’s done is done.”

    He wasn’t really sure if he had done what he had thought he needed to. He only hoped that Sharana would forgive him.

    “You need a story, obviously,” Giara was saying. “Perhaps… oh, this would work. Say that Rho’stri made you fall asleep and when you woke up, she disappeared. We could work something about the spell-matrix too… Oh, it’s better to leave it simple. They’ll just think that Rho’stri’s more powerful than we knew.”

    Lendoril shrugged, and Giara, catching a little of his mood, fell silent.

    They caught up with Celise and Arikha easily enough, as they were waiting beside the gates, and Lendoril told his lies in a convincing manner. Celise swore, then apologized for swearing, but Arikha seemed upset.

    “I would have known if she had worked any powerful magic within my lands,” she insisted, staring at him as if she wanted to bore a hole through his head and find the answer to her questions there. “There must be some other explanation.”

    “I fell asleep, and when I woke up, she was gone,” Lendoril said, hoping that either Giara or the Well was shielding his mind so that Arikha couldn’t read it. I am, he heard the Well whisper.

    “It’s not possible,” she said again, but then shook her head. “Ah, well. In any case, Sentinel Lendoril, Priestess Giara, Priestess Celise, permit me to show you around my city.” She smiled again, a smug cat’s smile that said, I know something you don’t, and she led the way without looking to see if they were following her. Exchanging a meaningful glance with Giara, the three of them rode together behind Arikha, hoping that Sharana indeed had done what was best for all of them.
     
  5. Senekha

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

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    Throughout her inconvenient captivity, Rho’stri had begun to notice a small, though significant, signature in the way the elf Lendoril moved, acted, spoke. She began to feel a deep sense of familiarity with the strange elf, as though she had known him for an age. Most frustrating of all, however, was that she could not all the pieces this strange puzzle.

    She found her captors to be more than irritating. She constantly wondered at the strange command the Dragons had given her, in remaining peaceful with her captors and to make no attempt at escape. But, she thought, the Dragons always had some larger, greater plan, and often one she could not comprehend until it had been fulfilled.

    Rho’stri looked up to see Lendoril cantering up, his face an unreadable mask. Celise, the pathetic Priestess currently assigned to her ‘guarding’, was standing guard over her, yawning.

    “Giara wants you and Rho’stri to come with us, and I can relieve your guard while she sends two more horses for us,” the elf said.

    “Will you? I’ve been so bored here!” How childish, Rho’stri thought. Celise seemed to be a little more invigorated by his news, and Lendoril dismounted before handing the reigns to the young Priestess. “Rho’stri hasn’t tried to escape at all, but if you need help, just call and one of my sisters will come.” Yes, lucky for you. With that, Celise swung onto the horse and left at a canter.

    Rho’stri stared at Lendoril, searching for the piece she was missing. He must be the reason for the Dragons’ strange command, and Rho’stri intended to discover what she needed to be off and continuing the great plan she had worked so hard for throughout the past thousands of years. She knew her irritation of the Priestess must show in her gaze, but she was long past caring. His eyes met hers, and suddenly Rho’stri understood the meaning of it all.

    Carderyn! Her eyes widened, and threatened to tear up. Lendoril broke his gaze and spoke a silent word, and suddenly the spell matrix that Riahanna had woven fell from her as a discarded rag.

    “Go,” he whispered. Now that Rho’stri had made the connection, she could clearly hear the resemblance in his voice. “And I’m sorry.”

    He turned and galloped off, and Rho’stri was still too stunned to react, to call out to him, to tell him to come back.

    Yes… she heard Zahramael whisper in the back of her mind.

    So it begins, Rho’stri thought. It is time.

    With that, she transformed herself into the symbol of the Dragons, the great winged lizard. Golden scales shone next to scales of coal black, and she lifted her head back in a roar of flames. With a powerful stroke of her massive wings, she lifted off and took to the air, waves of exhilaration going through her.

    She flew around the city, and heard with her elevated hearing the shouts of amazement and fear below her. She scanned the crowds, and finally saw those she sought.

    With a rush of air, she swooped down and landed upon the sandy ground with a whoosh of swirling dust. Arikha, Lendoril, Celise and Giara stood spellbound, mouths gaping.

    “Close your mouths, before you ingest all the gritty dust of this accursed land.”

    The group stepped backward, recognizing Rho’stri’s voice. Lendoril looked a little worried, and the women looked enraged.

    “How…how dare you take on the symbol of the Dragons!” This came from Arikha.

    Rho’stri let loose a small stream of fire, and Arikha jumped backwards. Her magic stood ready, and it radiated about her.

    “Apologies would be more in line than accusations, sorceress.”

    Giara spoke up, her voice even. “How did you escape the bonds put on you by Riahanna? No one could possible unravel a matrix woven by Anisedran.”

    Rho’stri grinned, her dragon’s mouth curling up in fierce countenance, and she looked at Lendoril. “It was the Well the freed me, Priestess.”

    Giara looked suspicious. “And why would the Well want to free you? You seek to control it, with your dark god.”

    Rho’stri, growled, smoke issuing from her nostrils. “Because I am the Child of the Dragons.” Giara’s eyes widened, Celise looked faint, and Arikha seemed frightened.

    Silence ensued. Lendoril finally broke the tension, saying “Then you are in truth on our side?”

    “On your side, Lendoril ar’Ashaal.”

    “Ar’Ashaal?” Lendoril’s voice radiated confusion. Giara, however, gasped.

    “Prophecy names you the ar’Ashaal, the One Who Frees.” She paused, looking at all four of her audience, then continued. “Lendoril, you must come with me now.”

    Lendoril stepped forward hesitantly, and Rho’stri turned so that he could climb onto her back. When he stopped, she pushed him forward with a wing, and finally he did as he was bid.

    Arikha and the priestesses stared in wonder as they flew off, disappearing into the blazing sun.




    “Why have you brought me here?” Lendoril looked around the ancient hall. Fiery symbols of the Dragons covered the walls, and the pillars of marble still shone, though it had obviously been deserted thousands of years before.

    Rho’stri had switched back to her previous form, though now her skin was golden and her hair black.

    “To enlighten you of the plan of the Dragons.”

    “You could not have done so in Avaennon?”

    “No. Not within reach of Ki’dasva’s minions.”

    Lendoril shot her a dark look. “Then you really are with Cy’dath, and this is a deception.”

    She laughed, her laugh tinkling with magic. “No, dear Lendoril, I am with the Dragons.”

    He looked at her quizzically. “Who are you, really?”

    “I am Rho’stri, Child of the Dragons and ordained Guide of the ar’Ashaal.”

    “Explain.”

    “The Dragons’ plan is not what you would guess. Yes, they fight against their mortal enemy, Cy’dath, but in this war they also seek to destroy Ki’dasva and all her temple.”

    Lendoril looked at her in disbelief. “But Ki’dasva fights with them, against Cy’dath.”

    “That does not redeem her for her past deeds. Both must be destroyed in order for balance to be regained in the world. If only one is killed, the other gains power. We cannot risk that.”

    Lendoril paced for a minute, then turned back to face Rho’stri. “What of your apparent friendship with Casano’or?”

    Rho’stri bowed her head. “It is not completely a ruse. We once were good friends, before the Chaos Wars. I still love her like the sister I never had, but my supposed allegiance with her and Cy’dath is a deception. It was part of the Dragons’ plan, though I held no joy in it.

    “But she, too, will perish. It is the will of the Dragons.” Rho’stri’s eyes teared, and she angrily blinked them away.

    After a moment of silence, Lendoril asked, “What part must I play? Why was I chosen, and not Sharana, or any other?”

    “Several reasons. Firstly, you have no pact with either Ki’dasva or Cy’dath. Secondly…” Rho’stri paused. “Secondly, you are my direct descendant, of many generations.”

    Lendoril blinked slowly. “And you are the Child of the Dragons…what does that make me?”

    “My creation is a long story. To abbreviate it, I shall say only that I was created by the Dragons, all of them, in the form of a Maradi. In form, in flesh and blood, I am Maradi. But imbued within me is the essence of the Dragons. This essence is not passed down through generations…though you are my direct descendant, only my Maradi blood was passed on.”

    “Oh.”

    “Yes…now, you must return, but know that you must never reveal anything that I have imparted to you. Play along, act as you have been…I shall be near you always, offering any information that you may require, and giving you any charge of the Dragons. Simply call, and I shall answer.”
     
  6. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

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    “What now” they were simple works, deserving of a simple answer, but sadly that hope was lost.

    “You have been told, fulfil your oath, that is all I ask.”

    “But how?” Jak said, nearly a decade he had spent forgetting what he had done before, and he had no idea where to begin, he hadn’t even the slightest clue what was happening in Liandrah since she sent him to this place.

    “You a child no more Jak, you have proven yourself at last, it is time for you to decide here you go and what you do”

    He laughed at that. “You mean after all this time, me running and you hounding me at every turn, and when I give in you decide to leave me alone.” He laughed again, deep and hard until it became a coughing sob.

    “I have other matters to concern myself with, the others need me, you must decide what to do with yourself and let no other stand in your way. Be strong, and do the right thing.”

    Jak had thought on that a moment, but when he turned to speak again she was gone, disappeared in the uncanny way she always came and went. He was left alone with Maesa at the water’s edge, watching the water flow. In time the river would give life back to this dead land, now that it flowed as it once had before the Chaos wars. It was a good thing, and he had done it, yet he could take no pride, when he thought about the lives still there up above him in the safe keep he thought of all the others in danger form war and turmoil at the hands of the Chaos Gods. He didn’t know when he had started caring again, but he couldn’t stop, not until it was done.

    So after some time he had left Lohridea, and left to visit the Golden hold, the hidden mountain fortress he had once spent his youth in. Where he found old faces and new, and where he took his first steps to rejoining the world he left.

    Which brought him to where he was now; on the border of Fehrra, one of the last human kingdoms left since Casano’or brought her armies forth. Crushing through each country and assimilating its strength to add to her own. It sickened him to think how easily they had given in to her strength. They had fallen like dominoes, each land bringing down its neighbours as it fell. But that would change.

    The host the avatar commanded was hundreds of thousands of men with all manner of weapons of war brought from each country they conquered. But nevertheless they were exactly as any other army was and there Jak would strike.

    An army marches on its stomach, and an army with hundred of thousands of stomachs was easier to defeat off the battlefield than on. He looked from his stop in the treetop across the broad road to another group of armed men in another tree, readying bows. Down the road a slow rickety caravan was coming carrying supplies from the conquered realms forward to the army. The carts numbered a few hundred with more guards than wheels. He waited until they came almost up to the foot of the tree he sat in before he gave the signal; a quick shake of his hand, off to the east a few men were watching through the gaps in the trees with a brass looking-glass. When they saw his had a shrill cry went up as one blew the mighty war-horn he had.

    As trained soldiers did the mounted guards around the supply train readied swords and spears and looked towards the east where the sound of the horn had echoed. Most line dup around to protect the caravan of supplies. But their attacks would not come by ground, they were already amongst them in the trees.

    As men looked past the trunks of the forest they sprouted feathered shafts in their back. Nearly two hundred archers were arrayed at the roadside in trees, all of them loosing the contents of their quivers, when the first blanket of arrows was down the second followed before the soldiers could respond, and quickly enough the guards were all down, only the wagon-drivers and simple folk remained. Jak put a hand to the bough of the tree and vaulted down to the ground, a lot of other men did the same but most remained in the trees where they could keep watch.

    He strode over to the driver at the head of the column, raising his crossbow to the man’s chest. “Your money or your life” He said and shook his head. “Sorry, force of habit.” He pulled the trigger and the man slumped down with a quarrel in his heart. Jak pushed away the body and took his seat. He had no mercy for underlings of the chaos. When the leaders of the archers assembled around him he looked them un and down. “Let a few go to tell Cassy what happened, deal with the rest. Take what you need for yourselves and burn everything else, leave nothing for them to take back, nothing” the men nodded and went about their work. Jak had set a dozen other ambushed for outriders, supply lines or anything associated with Casano’or’s host, trying his best to drive them into disarray, to hinder or anger them, it was a perfect way to start off his involvement. While he got the armed men who had pledged themselves to fight for the Blessed to do the dirty work, the real blessed were at work ready for the rest of his plan.

    Jak, looked through the contents of the cart and found himself a juicy green apple. Leaning back in the driver’s seat he ate it happily and listened to the sounds of burning grain and dying animals, like poetry exalting his deeds, the only thought in his mind was what would happen when Casano’or found out about all this. That made him smile.
     
  7. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    One moment, she had been singing to open the Game. The next moment, she had been dragged from the world of the Well into a scene from her worst nightmares.

    The Temple of Ki’dasva lay in smoking ruins, and corpses lay scattered everywhere, broken, bleeding bodies that had been her sisters.

    How could this have happened in the short time I was gone? How, when Lendoril was leading the Sentinels and Priestesses to Avaennon? How?

    And she knew who was responsible for this – Casano’or and Cy’dath.

    Riahanna screamed, and a nearby stone shattered with the force of her grief and power. The shards of the stone flew everywhere, and one caught her on her cheek, slicing it open to the bone as her blood and tears mingled together.

    Celise lay on the ground, her once-vivacious expression contorted into one of unimaginable terror, her mouth still open as if to cry out for help. Riahanna dropped to her knees, cradling the bloodstained body as she wept bloody, painful tears, her wound stinging painfully as the salty water ran down her cheek. Yet it was nothing compared to the anguish she felt in her heart.

    “Ria… Ria… Ria…”

    For one second, she stared blankly at Celise’s body, which was cold. Dead.

    Yet her mouth was forming words.

    “Ria… Ria… Ria…”

    “Oh, sweet gods above, no,” she whispered as she pushed the corpse away in horror and jumped to her feet. “No, no, no – ”

    Celise’s blast of power bounded off her shields as the wight rose to its feet. Legends said that wights were often clumsy… but Celise surely was not.

    “Ria… Ria… Ria…”

    She frantically turned her head this way and that, only now seeing the dozens of wights walking towards her, all of them whispering her name.

    When the next bolt of power came, Riahanna reacted without thinking, weaving dozens of threads together and casting them over five Priestesses who had been breathing but hours ago.

    They burst into flame, and Riahanna clenched her hands into fists. Even if they were no longer living, she had known them – knew them –

    But Celise was attacking her again, and with a shriek of rage, she used the same spellnet over and over and over again until all the wights were burning.

    It was only then that she realized that she was surrounded in a wall of flame. Weaving a spell to protect her against its searing heat, she stumbled into the Temple sanctum itself, her eyes tearing from the smoke.

    “Why did you kill them?”

    The whisper came from within the corner, and Riahanna’s heart lifted a little. Giara, at least, was alive…

    … but then she looked into Giara’s eyes.

    “Why did you kill them?” Giara asked again. “He promised that they could live again if I didn’t oppose him – ”

    Riahanna backed away, her mouth opening and shutting without making a sound. “Sweet gods, what have they done to you?” she whispered.

    “Nothing that can’t be undone if you stop warring against me,” she heard Cy’dath say from Giara’a mouth. Giara’s face was completely blank, devoid of all thought as Cy’dath took over her mind – what little was left of it. “And although it’s true that once I’ve broken into someone’s mind, I can do so forever, I’ll refrain from doing it to Giara if you stop the war. Even though she gave herself to me willingly.”

    What?

    “Oh, don’t you know? Giara betrayed you. I promised that I would let her Priestesses live if she let me inside her mind.” Giara’s shoulders shrugged. “I broke that promise, obviously.”

    “That’s just another reason to keep fighting.”

    “Is it?” Giara’s body flung her head back in paroxysms of pain. It was all the worse for Giara could not scream, her voice controlled by Cy’dath, and Riahanna shouted, “I get your point, now stop it!”

    Her seizures stopped almost immediately, and Cy’dath, in a pleasant tone of voice, continued, “I’m prepared to be magnanimous. I’m not asking you to come over to my side. Take your Priestesses – the ones that are in a condition to follow you, anyway – and leave for the Isles, and we’ll let you live. Casano’or asked that your life be spared, perhaps because she remembered some fond memory of you. In any case, I find myself reluctant to kill you, if only for her sake.”

    Riahanna let the insidious words wash over her, weaving a spellnet and weaving yet another to keep what she did hidden. Fifty-three more threads…

    “Well? I’m waiting for your answer,” Cy’dath said impatiently. “Much longer and I’ll think that you’re trying something against me. Not that you’d succeed.”

    “I… I…” she stuttered, weaving faster than she ever had in her life. “But… I…” Six more…

    And the Temple burst into flame all around them.

    Cy’dath swore, but she was no longer listening. Pulling free the dagger that swung at her waist, she raced towards Giara. Before her sister Priestess could do anything, Riahanna gave her one kiss of benediction on her forehead, similar to the one she had given seven thousand years ago when initiating Giara into Ki’dasva’s service, and buried the knife in Giara’s heart.

    If I kill the host, will he die as well?

    But Cy’dath had dropped his control of Giara’s mind, perhaps fearing that he might be injured if caught within a dying host’s mind.

    Riahanna no longer cared. Better death than this madness, better peace than giving Cy’dath free reign to invade her mind… and she deserves death for this betrayal… doesn’t she?

    “Why?” Giara asked, shock glazing over her once-warm brown eyes, blood bubbling from her mouth. “Why, Ria?”

    “I have no choice!” she screamed, cradling the dying woman – the woman who had been more than a sister for seven thousand years – in her arms as the flames rushed in about them.

    Giara’s lips parted in a silent “oh” of surprise, and then she slumped forward, her blood smeared over Riahanna’s white robe as a mark of the guilt she bore.

    The next moment, the world just… blurred.

    And she was within the Well once more. Before she could feel shock or anger or anything at all, something spoke.

    Well played, Spellweaver, Zahramael said from into her mind, sounding almost amused. She whirled around to face the black dragon god as he scratched at a loose scale. Better than I expected, although Ysdraíznah claimed that you cared more for revenge than for love. It appears that she was right. You would condemn anything and anyone to achieve your goal, wouldn’t you. It was a statement, not a question, and an unfair one at that. Or was it?

    I have no choice! she had screamed at Giara… but was that just a justification for the heinous act she had committed? Was that just an attempt to excuse the inexcusable?

    But Zahramael was continuing on. None of this was real, of course, but nonetheless, well played, if ruthlessly.

    Riahanna didn’t say anything for a while, her feet rooted to the ground, and unable to form a coherent sentence in her rage. “You sick bastard,” she said at last, spitting out the words with more venom than she had thought herself capable of. “You sick, sick, bastard.”

    You would rather have it been real? That amused, gentle, curiosity in his question enraged her even more.

    “Fu – ” Then she remembered who she was speaking to, and modified her words. “Damn you to the gods’ hell,” she snarled.

    Mortals are incredibly odd. You would agree, would you not, that it is better for these… tests… to take place within your mind and not within the world of Liandrah? Or did you really want to be faced with the choice of leaving Cy’dath free to wreak havoc on Liandrah or killing Giara?

    At that point, she threw caution to the winds. So the gods thought they could play games with – in – her mind, did they? “I have named myself Faine Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman… and yet there is another name that you gods call me that you know. Godslayer.

    Is that a threat?

    Before she could reply, there was a sharp, throbbing pain in her side that quickly disappeared, only to be replaced with such horror that Riahanna’s stomach turned over. In an instant, she had woven the threads necessary to transport herself to Sharana’s side.

    But when she tried to cross over, something slammed her back, and she gasped in pain. That is not permitted, Zahramael said. You must each pass your individual tests, and after that, you must pass another test together. That shall be followed by a choice.

    A choice?”

    Three times must you do this, the god said. Three times must you survive…

    His voice echoed into the distance, and Riahanna found herself being drawn into vision.





    You have shown that you can stand physical pain, the goddess said, and her cool power passed into the wound at her side, the wound that Zahndariel had inflicted on her earlier. But can you stand horror so unimaginable such that even Cy’dath would not visit upon Liandrah – but what the demons might?

    Sharana stared in horror as she watched the vision unfolding before her. This is what the world may yet come to, Zahndariel said into her mind.

    No, no, no –

    Yes.

    Zahndariel had pulled some vision from some unknown world, showing the most twisted world she could ever imagine. Four men and one woman, trapped in a world where the gods had gone mad, forced to live so that the gods could torture them, over and over and over again.

    For one hundred and nine years, they had lived in a private hell.

    There were many things that she did not understand – what was a computer? – but one thing she knew was this – if this is what they faced if Cy’dath and the demons took over Liandrah, better, better by far, that they burn the world into ashes.

    The insane god had twisted all five of them into creatures opposite of what they had been before. A man who had always acted now only shrugged when faced with other people’s pain, and another man, who had been a brilliant scholar, was little better than an ape. A third who had loved his fellow men now viewed everyone in a negative way.

    Now, the god promised them food, where before they had only eaten things not even fit for vultures. The food was somehow preserved in something called cans, and for many days and many nights, the five walked towards the food, knowing in their minds that it was just another trick, but in their hearts hoped that perhaps this insane god could now look kindly upon them.

    When they arrived, it was as the gods had promised. A mountain of food in metal containers sealed shut…

    … yet the god had given them no way of opening it.

    The ape-man, tortured beyond all reasoning, began to eat one of his fellow men’s face, and finally, the man who had once loved humankind, acted.

    With ice spears, he killed the ape, and the man whose face had been devoured. The woman understood his intent, and grabbed another ice spear to kill the third man. The god was enraged, and knowing they had little time left, the man murdered the woman as well. There was a strange expression on her face, one that has been contorted by the pain, but yet might have been ‘thank you.’ The man prayed that it was so, but even that could not absolve of him of his murder. Then he waited for the fate that the god was planning for him even now, knowing that the god would not allow him to kill himself as he had killed his companions.

    What the man next went through was unbelievable. For centuries on end, he suffered through the god’s insane rage that he had been deprived of his toys. He no longer resembled anything human, for his limbs had been replaced by some soft, viscous material. Yet, in a way, the man had won, for his four companions were safe at last, saved by his transcendent self-sacrifice and courage.

    But the god had won too. For the man had no mouth, and he must scream.

    Do you understand? Zahndariel whispered to her. Do you truly? You say that you wish to play the Game to save the Well and the world of Liandrah. Yet I ask you, if you must kill all of the people to save them from this fate, down to the last child, can you do it? Do you have the courage?

    Before she could answer, Sharana was pulled back into Liandrah.





    Riahanna watched as Zahndariel forced Sharana to kill everyone she had ever known or loved, strangers she had never met, down to the last newborn child. Even the animals and plants, she killed, until all Liandrah was devoid of life save her. These gods are eviler than Cy’dath ever could be, for even Cy’dath would never force us to go through these trials. He would kill people who oppose him, but not this…

    And yet you wish to use the Game to destroy him, do you not? Zahramael said. Surely it would be better to give Cy’dath and Casano’or what they wish rather than war with them, for they do not ask much: only a land where the ancient races may live once more…

    “The ancient races, as you very well know, were also at fault for the war between them and the Lastborn,” she said quietly. “The Maradi and the Kortiri, at least, helped to fan the flames. Perhaps of them all, only the Godless Ones were blameless, for they welcomed everyone and sheltered them.”

    Yet does that excuse the genocide the Lastborn tried to visit on them?

    “No. But you also know that it does not excuse the genocide that Casano’or wishes to visit on them in turn.”

    Yet you want to kill her in revenge, do you not? Perhaps you understand her feelings.

    “I do not.” Why is it that everyone thinks I wish to kill Casano’or? Why do they not understand the love I had – have – for her?

    She froze as a tendril of song wove inside her. Faine, Riahanna, the Well whispered into her mind, and then it was gone, leaving her in shock. Faine was her name, yes… but it also meant ‘peace’ and ‘serenity’ in the old tongue.

    But Zahramael was continuing on. What other reasons do you have, then, to kill Cy’dath?

    “He seeks to control the Well of Stars… but the Well’s purpose is to be, not to be used for personal dreams, as Casano’or proposes.” She shook her head. “Casano’or knows, but doesn’t accept, that the Well is sentient and has its own agenda.”

    And you accept?

    “Yes.” Always testing, always probing, she seethed. I don’t care who you are, but no one does that to me!

    Zahramael chuckled, and Riahanna wished that she could kill him as well.

    RIA! she heard someone scream, and everything else was lost to her as the bloodbond took over. There was only the sense of anguish so deep that Riahanna could feel her own heart breaking all over again. Why call for me, though? she wondered… and then felt the answer through their bond. Sharana had called for her, not only because there was no one else to call, but because she trusted in her bloodsworn sister to come.

    When she tried to weave another Gate spell, she slammed into the wall again. Damn you! she snarled, and then wove two spells, placing both on Sharana, one to protect her and the other to pull her here.

    It was tortuous. Pitting herself against five gods was not the smartest thing she could have done, but she did it. Help me! she wanted to scream, but no one could help her now.

    So she pulled as hard as she could, making infinitesimal progress. The gods tried to interrupt her concentration by causing pain, or making her relive old memories. But Riahanna hung on, fueled by the desperation she had heard in Sharana’s voice… and fueled by another memory, when another sister had called for her and she had not come.

    And then the wall of resistance broke as Sharana stood at her side. I called, and you came, Sharana whispered into her mind, relief overpowering all else.

    I did. Bloodsworn sister. Both of them had their faces streaked with tears, but they stood tall and defiant, ready to face the wrath of the gods.

    But the gods were clapping their hands together, transformed into their humanoid rather than draconic forms. “Well played,” Yharziev said. “You, Sharana, for putting your trust in Riahanna, and you, Riahanna, for being willing to break the rules to save the bloodsworn sister who called for you. You have passed the First Tests. Now remains the First Choice.”

    At those words, both of them stiffened in rage. “Everything you do is a test, isn’t it,” Sharana snarled. “Test, test, test – is that all you gods ever do? Is there no spark of human kindness in you?”

    But Riahanna thought she saw something else in the constant questions Zahramael had asked her. “They don’t, because they are gods… but there is something else behind this seeming cruelty. Tell me, is this the price you demanded in allowing us to play the Game to kill Cy’dath, hoping that we would fail, or at least consider our actions carefully?”

    Avzahrael confirmed her guess. “Well answered, Riahanna.”

    “You made us go through all that just because you wanted us to think carefully before acting?” Sharana demanded, incensed. “You demanded that of us because you wanted to warn us of the consequences of power? Why not just tell us?”

    It was Riahanna who answered. “They wanted to drive the lesson home. Gods don’t like being reminded that they can be killed too. They don’t want to die, and they are frightened that someday, it might be their turn… not just Cy’dath’s.”

    “Death is something we all go through.”

    “Not for gods.”

    That answer silenced Sharana briefly. “It still doesn’t make it right,” she said at last.

    “No. It doesn’t. But it makes it understandable.”

    Ysdraíznah cleared her throat, making them turn back to her. “They have passed the First Tests,” she intoned. “Now remains only the Choice.”

    So saying, the dragon gods pushed them into another false Liandrah, where they would have to make their Choice.
     
  8. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    First the ghosts, now Rho’stri. Lendoril wanted to sigh. His life was getting filled with people who wanted to guide him, but at least the ghosts were a little less… forceful… than Rho’stri was.

    But it was not in his nature to seethe, no matter how much he wanted to. And her as my ancestor, and I threatened to kill her. Lendoril was appalled… but he would not back down and let her trample him. That he would not do, not when he wasn’t quite sure if he trusted her.

    Not when she openly claimed friendship with Casano’or.

    I need to talk to Liliana, he thought… then realized that he hadn’t seen her for days. I’m surrounded by unreliable people, and only the ghosts seemed to actually care about my wellbeing. I definitely don’t trust Arikha, and while Giara is pleasant enough, she still serves Ki’dasva. How do I know that what Rho’stri says is truth?

    And if the dragons would destroy Ki’dasva and all her Temple, does that mean that Riahanna and Giara and Celise and the rest would all die?

    He felt mixed relief and anger. He had never fully trusted the Priestesses – after all, they had fought with Cy’dath once, hadn’t they? – but Sharana trusted them, and allied with them. And they’re certainly more trustworthy than the Azah, he thought sourly. And even if Riahanna intimidated him, he also liked her.

    If he couldn’t talk to Liliana, then he would talk to the Well, but not right now. Not when Rho’stri might be reading his mind at the moment.

    But if I don’t accept the burden of becoming this… Ar’Ashaal, then what will happen?

    I need to talk to Sharana. Her most of all.

    “I need time to think about this,” he told Rho’stri.

    “But – ”

    “No.” He didn’t care if she was a Maradi or a dragon or whatever, he was tired of having people try to control his destiny. Even the Well and the ghosts tried to do that… but at least they also tried to think about what he might want. “I may or may not be the Ar’Ashaal, but I will accept your word for now. I will tell no living person of what you have told me, and I will listen to any advice you offer. But I will not accept whatever charge the dragons give me, simply because your gods bid me to do it.” Especially, he thought, gods who require that you abandon your friend in her time of greatest need. And I’m not so sure about you, my fine ancestor Rho’stri, not when you abandon your friend simply because your gods require you. If these gods are so cruel to demand this of you, and you obey them, how I can trust either?

    “They are your gods as well – ” Rho’stri was saying.

    “No.” He lifted his chin proudly. “I serve the Well now… and it is the Well I will consult before I give you my final answer.”

    “Insolent and stubborn,” he heard her mutter. “But I cannot change your mind. Just remember that I will be there if you need me.”

    With that, she transformed into a dragon, and in silence, they flew back to Avaennon.

    The others wanted to know what had happened, of course, but Lendoril refused to tell. He had promised not to, he told them, but when they tried to insist, he said, “Ask her if you want to know,” he said, and they turned around to look for Rho’stri.

    But she was already gone.





    Riahanna left almost immediately, leaving Irawyn alone with her great-grandmother’s sister… and the woman who had watched Saryn die.

    Sharana’s silvery-blue eyes, paler than Riahanna’s, were cold as she stalked closer to Irawyn. Before she could say or do anything, the Sentinel had drawn her knife and slashed her on the arm.

    Casano’or did nothing, only watched them, and Irawyn prepared to attack her with a bolt of power even as the blood dripped on the carpets.

    That,” Sharana hissed, “was for the betrayal of your grandmother.” Touching the wound with her fingers, she smeared the blood all over Irawyn’s face, and she was too shocked to protest. “This is the blood of Saryn that was shed for you, and this mask of blood you wear shall stand as remembrance. All of Liandrah shall know that when your grandmother was murdered, you stood by and did nothing to avenge her. Kinslayer.” She said the words with such venom that Irawyn, in spite of herself, shrank back.

    Sharana wiped her fingers and the dagger on Irawyn’s desk and walked out without a backward glance.

    “Let me heal that for you,” was Casano’or’s only comment, but Irawyn shook her head.

    “It’s not serious.” She bound up the wound with a scarf; thankfully, it had been her left arm that Sharana had slashed. All of Liandrah shall know that when your grandmother was murdered, you stood by and did nothing to avenge her.

    Kinslayer.

    The words kept echoing in her mind, and so it was that she did not notice what Casano’or was saying at first. She had to ask Casano’or to repeat herself, which she did.

    “I said, what do you know of the Godless Ones?”

    “Riahanna mentioned something about recruiting them to her cause.”

    Casano’or smiled like a snake. “But when faced with choosing between one of their honored ancestors and a known trai tor, a Priestess of Ki’dasva, which will they choose? Ah well. Even if they’re gone, I’d prefer to conduct this conversation in relative privacy. Will you come?”

    Irawyn nodded silently, wondering what Casano’or was planning, and then power wrapped about them and carried them somewhere Irawyn did not know.





    The two of them watched the boy like ghosts – well, she preferred the term spirits, but…

    At least they had been able to enter Avaennon. It had been difficult, and required all of their power – hers, and the newcomer’s as well. But it had drained them of almost all energy, and it was far too taxing for even her to talk to the boy, let alone manifest in a form that was visible to him.

    It was she who spoke with the newcomer now. Though they knew each other of old, it was nice to be able to renew friendships that had died with her seven thousand years ago.

    Too many things have been happening, one of them said.

    Yes. Even I never guessed that this would happen. A Child of the Dragons guiding a Forest Elf.

    We need to be there as well to guide him. She snorted. Ar’Ashaal indeed. ‘The One Who Frees’! And that arrogant Maradi just assumes that it refers to him freeing her!

    Your ancient prejudices are showing through, my Elven friend, the second one said with a certain amusement. And you very well know that the prophecy’s supposed to refer to the Ar’Ashaal freeing Liandrah of shadow.

    The first one snorted again, and the second one continued on. But I’ll grant you that Maradi were always somewhat… snotty.

    Tch. What would you know? You were born after the Genocide, weren’t you?

    I was around thirteen or fourteen by then. I lived in the Laughing Kingdom with my foster parents, so we didn’t really much discuss things outside, but I knew. I suppose that even then, I instinctively knew who my real parents were.

    I lived through it. I must have had, oh, a century or so behind me.

    And?

    And I never actually agreed with the Genocide itself; it should have never come to war. But the ‘Firstborn’ always acted as if the gods had specifically created them to be our superiors just because they came first.

    You Elves didn’t much help either.

    I note that you are tactfully refraining from pointing out that Elves are incredibly arrogant and think that they, just from walking on it, purify the earth that is defiled by humans. I tried – try – not to be like that. Kynon weeded that out of me quite thoroughly, thank you… though he never really succeeded with Yanae.

    Even as my people are now worse than Elves. The second one sighed. They weren’t, back when we were first made, but now…. They think that they were born to be the lords of magic.

    There was silence for a time as they watched the boy turn over in his sleep, muttering fitfully to himself. But it was a comfortable silence, the kind shared between friends.

    It was the first one who broke the silence. Still. If one prophecy comes true, why not another?

    If the second one had still been alive, she would have sucked in her breath sharply. As it was, though, she still radiated shock. Surely you don’t refer to… them? They haven’t been seen for millennia!

    ‘And shall a descendant of they who were abandoned take up the crown of stars once more, and lead them to war. With him shall fly the Queen of Grief and the Shapechanger, as shall the Wingless. He shall be the beacon of light in the darkness, and all shall follow him: they who were the masters of old, they whose watch shall never end, the lords of the elements, and they who were chosen by gods. Even the dead shall acknowledge his dominion,’ she quoted. Why not? We’ve already seen parts of this come true.

    Notice that they assume that it’s a he, the second one said with a little resentment. Chauvinistic bastards.

    True. But do you know who even came up with these twisted Prophecies? The ironic emphasis on the capital won a snort of laughter from the second.

    Not the gods, that’s for sure. It’d be too… kind… for them to provide us with a map to the future like that. I’d place my bet on the Well, though. Or even the Game.

    And speaking of the Game… did you see?

    Yes. The response was curt.

    It was… interesting to watch.

    Oh, interesting beyond doubt. But sickening.

    They’ve twisted all the tests from when I played. As she said, though, the gods don’t like being reminded that they can be killed too.

    It is, nonetheless, unfair. At least the girl has my memories to guide her, and the other one has good instinct. The admission was grudging. Sad to say, they’ve been making better choices than her. Sweet gods above, I would have stayed alive and strangled her myself if I had known what she was going to decide.

    The first one shrugged as much as she could. I can’t really blame her, though. Faced with a choice like that… she wanted to join them but she didn’t, thank whatever gods might actually exist and care.

    None, the second said with a bitter laugh, but the first one ignored her.

    No doubt she feared becoming a kinslayer… and kinslayer would she be either way.

    Again there was silence, but this time, the second one broke it, sounding a little wistful. Sometimes I wonder why I ever did what I did. To tell the truth, I bred her to combat her.

    Her her, or the other one?

    There was a short pause. Both of them, I suppose, the second one replied. As it turned out, though, I needn’t have bothered. They’ve turned on each other.

    One of them doesn’t want to fight.

    It’s not going to matter. I know both of them all too well, and she’s not going to lie down and let herself be killed like I did. The other one hates her too much to spare her. This confrontation has been pending for seven millennia.

    I know, the first one said a little impatiently. I was there, remember?

    Not like I was. The quiet rebuke silenced the first one. Not like I was.

    I’m sorry, the first one offered at last.

    The second one waved it off, and they sat in silence again, watching the boy upon whom so many responsibilities rested. My choice wasn’t a very good one at all, now that I come to think of it, she said at last. I can’t do anything in this form except advise… and trust in what I left behind.

    Her? she asked in disbelief.

    No, not her. It.

    Ah.

    But it’s still hard, even knowing that it’s there.

    I know. There was a little sympathy in her voice. It took me a while to get use to it too. At least you didn’t try to prey on innocent life.

    I had help. And I came into this more willingly than you did. But still, it’s at times like this that I wonder that perhaps her choice was the better one, she said.

    Do you have regrets?

    Of course I do. I tried the best I could while I lived, and it still wasn’t enough.

    Trying the best while you’re dead probably isn’t going to be enough either.

    What a cheery thought.

    Well, that’s the reason why you joined our company.

    Thanks ever so much.

    You're welcome.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2006
  9. Morgan_of_Salerone

    Morgan_of_Salerone New Member

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    “Because I am the Child of the Dragons.”

    A hollow, cold feeling filled Arikha with fear as the words sunk in. Rho’stri, the Child of the Dragons? Arikha gazed at the black and gold dragon with new respect. There was a small silence broken by Lendoril’s quiet voice.

    “Then you are in truth on our side?”

    Rho’stri smiled. “On your side, Lendoril ar’Ashaal.”

    “Ar’Ashaal?” The Sentinel’s voice radiated confusion, while a quite gasp came from Giara.

    “Prophecy names you the ar’Ashaal, the One Who Frees,” Rho’stri said. She paused, looking at all four of her audience, then continued. “Lendoril, you must come with me now.”

    Arikha watched as Lendoril stepped forward hesitantly, Rho’stri turning so that he could climb onto her back. When he paused, she pushed him forward with a wing, and finally he did as he was bid. The look of confusion, almost fear, on his face did nothing to relieve Arikha’s uneasiness at the situation, but she only watched, silently, as the dragon and her passenger flew off into the blazing sun.

    “Come,” she said to the priestesses as grabbed at the reins of her frightened horse. “We still have much work to do.”

    “Are you going to do anything about Rho’stri and Lendoril?” asked Celise.

    “What could I do?” the sorceress replied as she swung up onto her stallion. “If what Rho’stri says is true, she is the Child of the Dragons, and Lendoril is the ar’Ashaal. What would – could – you do to stop such a power as that?”

    The priestesses said nothing, looking away.

    “Alright then,” said Arikha. “Let us continue on, shall we?”

    Travelling through the city was easy; the haughty queen spent little time exhibiting it to the priestesses. Arion and Tavius rode behind her, Arion doing most of the commentary. Arikha’s thoughts were in a whirl.

    What was all this about? Who side was Rho’stri really on? What exactly was the ar’Ashaal, and what was its purpose? Would that make Lendoril an enemy? Could she even trust these priestesses she harboured in her own land?

    Arikha gave a small sigh as she rode along, wondering if the choices she had made would be the final undoing of her people and herself.
    ----------
    She was alerted to Lendoril’s return by the cries of alarm outside in the courtyard. Rushing out, she just caught a glimpse of Rho’stri’s black and gold tail disappearing past the battlements. Giara and Celise were already interrogating Lendoril. Burning with curiosity and not wanting to miss out, Arikha crossed quickly and caught the tail end of the conversation.
    “Ask her if you want to know,” Lendoril finished, turning to look at Rho’stri. There was a moment of surprise on his face at not seeing her, and then he turned back to face the three of them. He gave a sigh, meeting their eyes with a tired look.

    “Lendoril, will you come with me?” the sorceress asked. “I have already spoken with Giara about how to best use her priestesses; would you not grace me with the same knowledge about your troops?”

    Lendoril glanced at the two priestesses, but nodded his head resignedly. Arikha gave a dismissive nod to the two, than turned to walk back into the keep.

    “Lendoril, what do you see when you look across my land?” the she asked.

    “I see… I see a recovering land worked by a strong people,” he replied. The sorceress laughed, glancing at the Forest Elf.

    “What do you really see?” she asked again. “I know you cannot possibly think that highly of me or my people, especially after we abandoned your kingdom to make our own.”

    Lendoril shrugged.

    “I see a barren wasteland.”

    “Exactly,” said Arikha, looking forward. “And with a powerful barrier protecting it from enemies, it makes the perfect battleground, does it not? That is why my first move will be to try and bring the final battle with Casano’or to my borders. Also,” she said looking away. “Perhaps Avaenonn will be able to redeem itself if it saves other nations from ruin.” Arikha looked up. “So how will your Sentinels help defend us? It has been decided that the priestesses will be our defence against magic. Can your soldiers be our steel?”

    “What about your soldiers?” Lendoril asked. “I will not throw away the lives of my troops while your people stand safe in the background.”

    “Understandable,” Arikha replied. “My people will be in the front lines, if that is what you wish. However, I envisioned them more as a last defence, as with yours. The soldiers I planned to send forward first are more of the expendable type.”

    “And what soldiers are of the expendable type?” Lendoril snapped, the venom in his voice easily apparent. Clearly he did not like the idea of sending soldiers to their deaths, no matter how much they deserved it. The sorceress stopped walking, watching him with a calculating look.

    “This type of soldiers,” she whispered softly.

    Arikha waved her hand a little; the air in front of them shimmered, as if heat waves were dancing over the stone of the castle’s hallways. A shimmering figure began to appear, solidifying bit by bit. In a few moments, a tall demon wielding a heavy club stood in front of them. Lendoril grasped for his sword, his face contorted into a snarl.

    “Wait!” called the sorceress, laying a slender hand on his arm. “It is harmless. It serves only me.” Arikha stepped up to the demon, staring it straight in the eyes. “See?” she said, turning back. “It will only do as I command.”

    She couldn’t quite interpret the look Lendoril was giving her. It seemed a mix of disgust, fear, and hatred, but somewhere deep down there seemed to be acceptance. Or perhaps it was only resignation. Arikha looked away and banished the demon.

    “These are my skills,” she whispered quietly. She hated how she sounded like she was trying to gain his favour, his acceptance, but at the same time, something drove her to try and prove herself to him. “I only want to destroy Cy’dath, and regain the respect me people deserve.” Arikha looked up at the Forest Elf, her eyes pleading. “Am I really that bad? Is it wrong for me to want so much?”

    A sudden ripple in the dome of magic surrounding her land caused the sorceress to pause.

    “Excuse me,” she said swiftly, turning to dash down the hallway. The barrier had been breached. Someone, something, was inside Avaenonn that wasn’t supposed to be.
     
  10. Senekha

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

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    Casano’or wrapped her power around Irawyn, who tensed, and teleported them both to her tent. Cy’dath waited inside, and when Irawyn saw him, she froze. Casano’or cast her a wry glance, and said, “Don’t worry. He doesn’t bite.”

    “Often,” Cy’dath elaborated with a grin. He gestured to a large couch. “Please, sit down.”

    Irawyn complied, but her posture was rigid. “Say what you brought me here to say, so that I might return to my people.”

    Cy’dath tsked. “So impatient!”

    “I brought you here simply to discuss your course of action throughout the next while.”

    “Discuss my course of action?”

    “Yes, of course. Once you have returned to your people, you must construct a shield around your lands, one that I will instruct you in. It must guard against Ki’dasva and her minions, as well as the Sentinels – who knows who will decide to take advantage of your people.”

    “So Riahanna will not be able to pass through this shield?” Irawyn looked a bit brighter at this news.

    “Not if she put her entire strength towards entering. However, you cannot construct this shield alone, for it contains elements of the Ancients, which I will contribute. Cy’dath will lend his power as well – so you see, it shall withstand anything, or anyone.”

    “It sounds like you are contriving to trap my people within.”

    “Nothing of the sort! You and your people will be able to pass through it whenever you should choose. It merely prevents anyone not of your race from crossing.”

    “Uh-hmm.”

    Casano’or walked to Irawyn. “Take my hand.” As the Azah did so, Casano’or closed her eyes and let the knowledge and training of the spell flow into Irawyn. When it was finished, she opened her eyes, and let go of Irawyn’s hand.

    “I do not understand those...symbols,” Irawyn said.

    “They are the elements of the Ancients, which I have added to the spell to help enforce it. It is a spell of my own creation – none other will understand, let alone have a chance to counter, this spell. Riahanna cannot touch it, for she is Maradi, and the Ancient knowledge is of the Kortiri. Even if the spell lacked those elements, it would still be invincible, untouchable.”

    “And Cy’dath…”

    “Will link with you, for added power.” Seeing the wary look on Irawyn’s face, Cy’dath added with a short laugh, “I could link with you even if you did not wish it. Do not fear to accept my aid; it is not oft given.”

    Cy’dath’s eyes suddenly glazed, as if he were gazing at some far-off specter, and when they cleared, he whispered, “Rho’stri-”

    Casano’or interrupted him, her face suddenly anxious. “Is she all right?”

    Cy’dath’s face was a mixture of emotions, which Casano’or could not decipher…or did not want to decipher.

    “Rho’stri has betrayed us.” His voice was haunting, full of melancholy, disbelief, and anger.

    “What?” Casano’or could not believe what she had heard. “How do you know? How can you know?”

    “I…I can see her.” Casano’or knew that Cy’dath could see the happenings of other places at the world wherever and almost whenever he chose. He possessed some strange sight.

    “What is she doing?”

    “She has…changed.” When Casano’or threw him a frustrated look that said, So elaborate!, he said, “She is of the Dragons. She is their child.”

    “Impossible! She could not hide that from us.”

    “She could, and apparently has.” Cy’dath’s face darkened. “Better she had died at the hands of your sister.”

    Half-sister!” Casano’or flared. She whirled, undecided, then flew from the room, leaving the sound of screams of terror from the soldiers as she left.

    Cy’dath turned to Irawyn. “I guess we must wait.”

    “You will not go with her?”

    “It is not my time. But the day will come when we go out together, and all the world shall know it.” It took an effort to take the anger from his face, but finally he gestured in a friendly manner. “Can I offer you anything while you are here? I have these delicate sweatmeats that Casan loves.”



    Casano’or left in a flurry of anger that radiated about her, throwing all who stood in her way to the ground. She took to the air, and flew towards the place where Rho’stri’s power signature radiated from.

    She refused to accept the thought that her only friend, the one friend besides Cy’dath that she had ever had, had deceived her all this time. It simply was not possible.

    She had seemed so genuine when she joined them mere days ago that Casano’or would have wagered anything on her worthiness.

    Within moments Casano’or was within sight of an ancient temple of the Dragons, one long abandoned. It lay deep in the mountains on the western side of Avaenonn, hidden within the encircling walls.
     
  11. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Lendoril stared in bemusement as Arikha left, and returned several moments later. Her face was tight with anger, but she smoothed it as she approached. “Did you find out what it was?” he asked.

    “Not yet. But perhaps you wish to sleep?”

    Lendoril found himself yawning, and he smothered it with one hand as he nodded. “Sleep would be most welcome. I’m rather tired, I’m afraid.”

    “Most would be after being kidnapped by a Maradi.” There it was again, a hint of curiosity, but Lendoril held firm.

    “Indeed,” he replied, feeling a little bit of malicious pleasure as he watched her frustration at his continuing obstinacy. Arikha had been secretive enough – until she had revealed her winning card of her army.

    Demons. He could not stop himself from shivering at the thought, and had to resist the urge to strike off Arikha’s head here and now. Ally she might be, but she was also allied with his enemies, so what did that make her?

    Arikha seemed unaware of the tumult of thoughts in his head, and only looked resigned as she summoned a servant. After exchanging a few pleasantries, he followed the servant and went to sleep.

    Lendoril dreamed of two voices, but he couldn’t tell what they were saying. It was like a low buzz in his head more than anything, and though he strained to hear, he could only catch a few words of the conversation, and the last sentence.

    …You’re welcome.

    Hearing that voice came as a physical shock, and he sat bolt upright in his bed. I know that voice, he thought… but no one was there.

    Lendoril sighed as he lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to remember the little fragments of conversations he had heard. Ar’Ashaal. One who frees. But what am I supposed to free?

    His hand went to the amulet at his neck – or rather, the place it had been. He missed it more than he thought he would have. It had always provided a little security, a little comfort, and he needed both in this land of demons with its demonic queen. If it had been up to him, he would have razed Avaennon to the ground and killed every demon.

    Except she had ordered him to ally with Arikha.

    My life was a lot simpler before I met Sharana.

    Kinslayer…

    Lendoril frowned in thought. Where had he heard that? Who had said it? And why was it that he could remember that one word?

    After spending a few annoying moments trying to recall the rest of the conversation, he went back to sleep and dreamed once more.

    “A second test already?” Riahanna snapped, silver-blue eyes snapping with anger. “You may be gods, but the two of us mere mortals are tired from that first test.”

    “You tired us more than you know,” a man garbed in red said dryly. “The power of the Anísedran is one to be reckoned with. And in any case, you are no mere mortals, with one as the Conduit and the other as the Spellweaver.” Looking around, he saw that there were three men garbed in red, blue, and black, and two women in green and silver-white surrounding Riahanna and Sharana. Riahanna seemed exhausted, and both of them had tears streaking their faces.

    “And in any case, you will want to finish this soon,” the green woman added. “Learning to control and harness the power of the Game will take some time, even in the world of the Well.”

    “That Choice was a cruel one,” Sharana said. Her voice was vibrating with fury and anguish, and Lendoril wished that he could help her. “As cruel as our tests.”

    The people seemed to be unmoved, though. “These are cruel times, if you would forgive me for the cliché,” the one in red said, “but nonetheless, it is true. At least you chose correctly.”

    “A choice between killing Irawyn to save Lendoril or letting Lendoril die? And knowing that killing Irawyn would reduce our chances of defeating Cy’dath to almost zero?
    I’m not sure at all that I chose correctly.”

    Riahanna did not speak of her choice, but he had a feeling that it had been even worse than Sharana’s. She almost emanated a sense of ageless sorrow, and knowing that she had lived over seven thousand years only increased his sympathy for her. But what was this about a choice between Irawyn and himself?

    “Someone is here who isn’t supposed to be,” the woman in white announced, eyes narrowed to tiny slits as she stared directly where he floated. “You do not belong here, boy. Your task is to redeem the Raven.”

    Lendoril tried to speak, but found that he couldn’t. The world of the Well was fading all around him, and he could only hear those last words echoing in his mind:
    redeem the Raven

    And we will be your guides, two voice whispered in unison, and he knew without a doubt that one was Liliana – and that the other was Saryn.
     
  12. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    They’re just… people, Irawyn realized, not the monsters that legend – and history – would have them be.

    Taking one of the – what were they called? – sweetmeats, she nibbled on it and considered everything Casano’or had told her. Linking with Cy’dath was not a prospect that she was particularly looking forward to, but it would save her people, and that was all that mattered. Then she could be safe, and she would not need to become a kinslayer.

    When Cy’dath showed no inclination of beginning a conversation, she asked something that had been intriguing her for a while. “Why does Casano’or hate Riahanna so much?”

    “Quite a few reasons, actually, besides the fact that your great-grandmother is an immoral, perverse, cowardly fool. Not that this reflects upon you or Saryn,” he said with a short laugh in response to her raised eyebrows. “For one, Riahanna wanted to make peace with the Elves and humans, and Casano’or wanted to punish them for the genocide they had visited on the Maradi and Kortiri. For another, she serves Ki’dasva, and she serves me. Also, Riahanna’s always been against using Kortiri magic, claiming that it’s too dangerous, but I’m of the opinion that she dislikes anything with greater power than hers.”

    “This spell is also Kortiri in nature, though, isn’t it? And weren’t those Arahín Symbols also Kortiri?”

    “Yes to both, but this spell is significantly less dangerous.”

    So you say. Wouldn’t you be happy if it just happened to ‘accidentally’ destroy my people…

    “But to answer your question, the whole hatred started when Riahanna broke a promise.” Cy’dath waited, clearly wanting her to ask on, and she obliged him.

    “What promise?”

    “Riahanna promised Casan to be there whenever she needed her, but abandoned her when the plague struck, leaving their mother to die. And when the Elves and humans attacked her father’s host, Riahanna was nowhere to be found.”

    “What a lovely little family tale of loss and betrayal,” Irawyn said, trying to take her mind off the thought that Casano’or, not Riahanna, was the victim.

    “Indeed. Family quarrels seem to have broadened into a war involving the entire land,” Cy’dath replied. “I can’t really blame you for choosing not to take sides, although I would have been pleased if you had joined us.” The god shrugged. “Although Casano’or is powerful and has Kortiri magic – and my own power – to draw on, Riahanna is quite powerful, even without Ki’dasva. Both you and Saryn inherited that from her.”

    She wondered how she could turn Cy’dath and Casano’or from this war and try to resolve everything peacefully. If they did that, she would not need to make the pending choice.

    “On one side, there is you and Casano’or, and on the other, Riahanna and Sharana,” she said aloud. “Only Riahanna’s grievance seems to be personal, and I think that she would be willing to stop this war if you are. Sharana cares nothing except for the protection of the Well. Why can’t you just leave it alone?”

    “But why? The world hasn’t left us alone. Even if Riahanna and Sharana were willing to make peace – which I highly doubt – the rest of the world is not. The Maradi and the Kortiri learned the futility of peaceful protest thousands of years ago. Casano’or and I do not intend to make that mistake. If Liandrah will not give us peace, we will take it. Join with us, Irawyn of the Azah,” the god urged, holding her cat’s eyes with those oddly colored eyes of black, green, grey, gold, and white. She found herself hypnotized as he spoke of a better future in which he and his would not be persecuted, and how she and her people could share in that.

    Irawyn found all her convictions being flooded away before the onslaught of his reasoning. Already weakened by Casano’or’s arguments, she found herself wondering why Sharana and Riahanna were supposed on the “good side”. Who are we to decide what is good and evil? What made Sharana and Riahanna good, and Casano’or and Cy’dath evil? Riahanna herself had murdered dozens during the Chaos War, preferring to kill commanders, while Casano’or had fought battles. Yet what was the difference? Either way, they ended up with blood on their hands. What made Riahanna better than her sister?

    Ah, but the Well was what made the difference, wasn’t it? Riahanna fought to oppose Cy’dath, but because she also happened to be fighting on the Well’s side, that made her “good.” Sharana was fighting for the Well, but had allied with evil – Riahanna and her ilk – for the sole purpose of protecting it. And if Casano’or and Cy’dath did the same…

    She blurted this out to Cy’dath, and added, “Sharana’s the Star Singer. If she proclaimed this, the Sentinels would accept it, and if the Sentinels accept it, everyone will.” Irawyn was not going to underestimate the power and influence that the Sentinels had, and it was more than likely that if the Sentinels said so, the common people would agree – and if the Star Singer said so, the powerful people would as well. The Sentinels were there to combat evil mages, so if they declared them as good, then surely there would be peace. “There could be peace in all Liandrah,” she said, leaning forward in her excitement. “There would no longer be a need for this war.” No longer any need for me to choose sides, and in the doing damn myself, for I will be kinslayer no matter what I choose. “Please, won’t you at least consider it?”
     
  13. Senekha

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

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    Irawyn’s plead should not have surprised Cy’dath, yet it did.

    “It wouldn’t work.”

    “It might if you would give the thought a chance!” Her eyes glimmered. “Or is it that you really do desire bloodshed?”

    Cy’dath resisted the urge to scatter the contents of the table holding the candies. “Even if the world accepted it, Ki’dasva wouldn’t. As soon as she gains enough power, she will strike again.” Seeing the look on Irawyn’s face, he sighed. “But if you think that you can achieve all that you propose, then you will have my participation. If you can regain peace, true peace…” He trailed off, staring pensively into some far off space.

    His voice was a whisper when he said, “A world where all were accepted, none were rejected…” A sudden wave of emotion washed over him, and for the first time in thousands of years, he felt tears threatening to spill from his eternal eyes.

    “I’m sure I can get Sharana to comply, Cy’dath. I just…” She stopped, seeing the look on Cy’dath’s face.

    “Casano’or and I have shown you a side of us that we have not exposed since we met Rho. Don’t make me regret it.” Irawyn gave a small shake of her head. “Surely you know, though, know what it’s like to be spurned for no other reason that who you are, or what you are, or even what you look like. Only Casan has ever truly sympathized with me, and I with her.” When the Azah gave him a confused look, he elaborated. “Do you think that the gods have always been as close siblings? We were once created, too, and as a microcosm of the world you see today; some rejected, some accepted, and some who rose in power from simple strength of will. We were all created with equal powers, though I excelled because I was alone. No other would associate with me, the pariah…save for Ki’dasva. She came, later, when I had surprised them all with my new powers, and pretended to care for me.

    “Phah. I once had a home as well, Irawyn Winterheart. And it was destroyed.”

    Irawyn shifted uncomfortably, and tried to change the subject. “When I speak to Sharana, she will see, and she will proclaim that you desire peace. We can make treaties, and eventually this world will recover from this mess.”
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2006
  14. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    “Thank you,” she said softly. She knew what it had cost the god to give her even that slender hope – gods were supposed to take, not compromise. But if I can get them to agree, then I will not have to make the choice that will damn me.

    Even the Well cannot save me from the crime of being a kinslayer.

    “But I gave you something for nothing,” Cy’dath said, his voice hard. “What do you have to offer me in return?”

    Irawyn licked her lips nervously. All along, she had feared that she would have to make this choice. “I swear this in return – if Riahanna and Sharana will not be reasonable, I will join you and swear my fealty to you, though I cannot say the same for my people. If Riahanna and Sharana are not willing to make peace, we will continue with the plan to protect Saile Hasrin, but I myself will fight with you.”

    Before Cy’dath could reply, she reached out to Riahanna and Sharana, eager to blurt out her proposition. It should have been easy to speak with them, but when she attempted to make contact, she met a wall of sheer power that surpassed even her own. No, a voice that hummed with magic and storms whispered. You are not permitted to do this.

    “Zahramael!” Cy’dath roared. “What treachery have you worked, girl, to bring the dragon god himself into my tent?”

    What? Zahramael? He’s naught but legend, and the god of a legend! Irawyn tried to say that she hadn’t done anything, when the voice spoke again.

    Do not blame the girl, Zahramael said, his voice as fragile as a reed. And truly do I exist, Irawyn – were your people not thought dead for a thousand years? It is not impossible, then, that a legend come to life.

    “Irawyn! What did you do?”

    “I did nothing,” she snapped back. “I merely tried to speak to Sharana and Riahanna, met a wall of power instead, and suddenly he started talking!” She refused to name him as Zahramael; to name him would mean that she acknowledged him as the dragon god.

    Whether or not you acknowledge me, it doesn’t make it any less true, the god said, sounding amused. But as you will.

    “You… you’re the eldest of all gods?” she asked.

    Cy’dath snarled, a sound of animal rage, and Irawyn jumped. “Only the mortals call him that. All remember a time when I was firstborn – when I was Eldest, and the most powerful of them all!” His voice spiraled upwards until he was shouting, and Irawyn blinked in surprise.

    Yes. Zahramael’s tone altered until sorrow mixed with resignation. Elder brother – Eldest – I came here to pass on a warning.

    “Why? To trap me?” he shot back.

    Out of love and respect remembered in the first days, when Liandrah was first created. If Zahramael had been physically present, she thought that he would have been weeping with bowed head. Eldest brother, beware – Riahanna and Sharana play the Game. Then the presence disappeared, leaving Irawyn in shock – and leaving Cy’dath in ancient memory… and for the first time in millennia, fear.
     
  15. Senekha

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

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    Casano’or left in a flurry of anger that radiated about her, throwing all who stood in her way to the ground. She took to the air, and flew towards the place where Rho’stri’s power signature radiated from.

    She refused to accept the thought that her only friend, the one friend besides Cy’dath that she had ever had, had deceived her all this time. It simply was not possible.

    She had seemed so genuine when she joined them mere days ago that Casano’or would have wagered anything on her worthiness.

    Within moments Casano’or was within sight of an ancient temple of the Dragons, one long abandoned. It lay deep in the mountains on the western side of Avaenonn, hidden within the encircling walls.

    Rho’stri stood within the cavernous, many-pillared hall that served as the center of the temple. She regarded Casano’or approach with a calm look, her now black hair swirling, despite the absence of wind.

    Casano’or stopped within paces of Rho’stri. “So it is true,” she said, with a certain depressed finality.

    Rho’stri said nothing for what seemed an age, then said, “It was not all a lie.”

    “But it was a lie. And I fell for it, for all these millennia.” She shook her head, as though trying to chase the thought from her mind, then muttered, “I am a fool.”

    “Casan, I was never…never not on your side. I would have stayed with you always if other things were not required of me.”

    “If you’re on ‘my side’, then how can you possibly work for Zahramael?” Casano’or said bitterly.

    “Being your friend never went directly against any order of the Dragons.”

    “Directly. I see.”

    “Casan, I have never disobeyed the Dragons. But if you would hear me out now, I will surrender something close to treason.”

    Casano’or gave Rho’stri a level look. “You knew I would seek you here.”

    “I knew. I have other abilities than the meager talents of the simple Maradi you thought me.” She stepped closer to Casano’or. “There is much bloodshed before us. The Dragons plan something you or your sister could never suspect.”

    Casano’or looked at Rho’stri suspiciously, but said nothing, letting the Child speak.

    “To escape what is planned for you, you must leave. Flee to the north, to the Kishandai, and they will shelter you. I have made certain of this.”

    “Flee?” Casano’or said incredulously. “Why should I flee what I have worked to bring about?”

    Rho’stri hesitated, then continued. “In the upcoming war, the Dragons will emerge to fight. And they will rally against Ki’dasva. And against Cy’dath…and yourself. They mean to destroy you all.”

    “They…they wouldn’t dare…” she trailed off. Her eyes became vacant for a moment, lost in thought, but she soon shot a cutting glance at Rho’stri. “And what part have they for you in this destruction?”

    “I was to assassinate you, given the chance.”

    Casano’or nodded, for it only confirmed her suspicions. “And to think, all this time…after Cy’dath, you above all were the only one I would trust with my life.

    “Life is an irony in itself.”

    “Cay, you know I could never….never do that. You know?” Rho’stri’s eyes were pleading. “I am but a pawn in a vicious game of power.”

    “Aren’t we all.” She glanced at Rho’stri’s changed appearance. “I don’t know what to think anymore.”

    “Think on my offer. Please, Casan.”

    She shook her head. “No. Let them come. Let them see if they can achieve their goals unscathed.” She said her last sentence in a whisper. “My time has come.”

    She turned and walked away, resisting the urge for one last look at her only friend. She clenched her jaw and bit her lip ‘til blood came, but didn’t look back. A single tear leaked down her hardened face.



    Casano’or had scarcely left when the pain hit her. She doubled over in agony, her small frame shuddering. Rho’stri gave a soundless cry, her mouth working vainly for oxygen.

    How dare you! he thundered. It had been all she could do to block his voice out when she was talking to Casano’or, and her defenses shattered when the first tear came down her face.

    You knew! she cried out in her mind. You knew I could not, after your vicious games! You played with my mind, as you play with the minds of many! Compared to you, even Riahanna is a pathetic liar and deceiver!

    I warned you from the beginning, Child, and you knew from the moment you met her that you must kill her. You failed us in the Chaos Wars, and you have done so again. I had thought you could overcome your feeble, mortal sentiments!

    I loved her! She shrieked as another wave of pain washed over her. But what would you know of love?

    You were made for a higher purpose than simple life on this world. You will complete the tasks we set out for you, or you shall know pain for the rest of eternity. Despite the harsh words, the Dragon sounded almost remorseful.

    Rho’stri was flung thirty feet backward by the last assault, and she felt Zahramael leave. She lay there, on the cold marble, shaking, her face soaked in tears and blood. How she wished she could end it now.



    Cy’dath lashed out at the Dragon, but the presence had already disappeared. He snarled again, and his multi-coloured eyes danced with fury. After moments, he masked his anger and turned to a stunned Irawyn.

    “I am sorry.” She did not look convinced, but held herself rigid. “You must wait here a little longer; I have called Casan, and we help you spin the weaves to protect your people.” When she still remained motionless and cold, he added, “Or you can leave now, if you wish. I do not seek to detain you against your will. But if you leave, you cannot cast the necessary spells we promised you.”

    “I will stay,” she said coldly.

    They had not long to wait, for only minutes later Casano’or appeared before them. Her face was haggard, and Cy’dath saw the remnants of dried tears. His heart went out in sympathy, and she rushed into his open arms. After only a moment she drew back.

    “Zahramael was here?”

    “Yes. He carried a threat.”

    Irawyn broke in. “It did not sound like a threat.”

    “It was. You can believe nothing of the appearance of Zahramael.”

    “What did he say?” Casano’or asked impatiently.

    “Sharana and your sister play the Game.”

    Casano’or’s eyes widened. “And it is blessed?”

    “Apparently.”

    “Of course.” Casano’or paced, and her voice began taut with anger. “Of course it is. That’s their plan. And when they come…” She muttered as she paced, until Cy’dath stopped her.

    “What are you babbling about?”

    “The Dragons will soon become manifest. They will rally together with the other gods. They plan on destroying both Ki’dasva and you. And with this Game, they multiply their own power.” She stopped, then smashed her fist on the small wooden table, shattering it. “The whoresons!”

    Irawyn’s eyes were wide, but whether at the unveiled plans or at Casano’or’s behavior it wasn’t clear. Cy’dath would have grinned had it not been for the dire circumstances.

    Casano’or looked at Irawyn. “You will need this shield not more than ever. Come, take my hand, and Cy’dath’s.”

    Cy’dath held out his hand, and when they were thus linked, Casano’or began the spell. He added his power, but it was Casano’or he wove the spell, for only she could manipulate the Kortiri magic. Irawyn provided the necessary knowledge of the layout of her lands, so that Casano’or could erect the shields there.

    Nearly an hour later, they had finished. “You must want to take your leave now. Go safely.” He bowed, and Irawyn’s eyebrows arched again, but she said nothing but farewell before turning towards the tentflap.
     
  16. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    She knew where she was. She remembered it with a raw intensity that still tore at her heart.

    Saryn.

    Her daughter, blood of her blood.

    She drifted from consciousness and into blessed sleep.

    “You are not my mother.”

    “I bore you in my womb for nine months, bled for you, gave you life – ”

    “You are not my mother.”

    “You’re my daughter – ”

    “You are not my mother.”

    Saryn!”

    She drifted in the dream. Alone. Free.

    Lost. Abandoned.

    Broken. Failed.

    Saryn?

    She drifted between the borders of life and death, and she did not heed the visions of past, present, and futures when they swam before her. She did not notice when the white mist rustled through her existence and enveloped her in its drowsiness.

    She remembered only one memory, far off in the distance of her past, as she heard laughter and the light pattering of a child’s feet. Ria, wait for me! Nairi called.

    I will wait for you forever.

    She only smiled when a voice she had been expecting spoke to her. Take my hand, she heard. No, it was not hearing; her mind merely recognized the words the speaker wished for her to know. There was a hand waiting for her, and a smile of serenity. Take my hand, daughter, and be healed.

    And she did, no longer caring that the hand did not have skin or flesh, only bones, and stank of the grave.



    Mother?

    Riahanna fought past the soft, welcoming – too-welcoming – blanketing tranquility. False tranquility.

    Mother?

    Tears came to eyes that had been too long shut. “Saryn?” she called in a voice so cracked and hoarse that she scarce recognized herself.

    “Mother.”

    Riahanna opened her eyes and stared at the ephemeral vision standing before her in the field of flowers. The sweet scent of lilies wafted in the slight breeze, and she could feel dirt curling underneath her bare toes as the wind rustled the lily stalks together until they whispered a faint melody.

    But as beautiful as the field was, the woman was far more so. Silver hair flowed to the waist of her simple white robe, and she had to banish past ancient memories from when another women had worn that robe.

    Old ghosts, come back to haunt her.

    Blinked and saw herself in green meadows, Nairi trailing behind her. Blinked again and saw Cléodri opening her mouth to form the words, You have done well, Faine. Blinked yet again and saw Saryn wearing an expression of such benevolence and love that Riahanna had to struggle against the urge – the need – to weep and capitulate to that enclosing warmth.

    She called me ‘mother,’ Riahanna thought, but strangely without joy – and only with disquiet. Saryn had been her enemy for seven thousand years, and though she had considered Saryn as her daughter – clung to a lie, some part of her whispered – Saryn had never considered her as her mother. “Why are you here?” she managed to ask.

    Saryn smiled, her face glowing with warmth. “I have come to take you home, Riahanna.”

    “My place is – ” Here, her mouth tried to say, but she forced herself to begin anew. “My place is in Liandrah, beside my sisters.”

    Her daughter frowned, but it was not in anger. “Casano’or does not want you. Giara and your priestesses do not need you. Your place is here amidst the lilies.”

    Casano’or does not want me, but I broke a promise. The debt must be paid. Sharana needs me – wants me – with her. This time I shall not break the promise. “My place is in Liandrah.”

    “You do not need to carry the burden any longer. Others must now save Liandrah. My granddaughter Irawyn, for one. Sharana as well.” Saryn was wreathed in smiles as she mentioned her treacherous granddaughter. “You can stay here forever and rest.”

    “But – ”

    “Stay here with me forever, mother.”

    “My place is in Liandrah.”

    “My mother, blood of her blood. Do not abandon me.”

    “My place is in Liandrah.”

    “You bore me in you womb for nine months, bled for me, gave me life. You are my mother.”

    “My place is in Liandrah. Can you not understand that?”

    “Mother – ”

    “You are not my daughter.” And so saying, Riahanna made a slashing motion with her hands, remembering a time only days ago when Casano’or had shattered the illusion of their past that Riahanna had conjured. And so I must shatter the illusion of my past with Saryn.

    She was never my daughter, and I was never her mother.

    The wondrous illusion shattered into pieces, and pieces of magic fell about her like rain, shimmering with soft light as they tangled in her hair. Tears stung her eyes, and even she was uncertain whether it was for the death of the dream’s peace, or for the death of the illusion she had carried all these years.

    A pretty illusion, but an illusion nevertheless.

    She was never my daughter, and I was never her mother.

    Physically, yes; in all other respects, no.

    And does that mean that Nairi was never my sister?

    No. She knew that to be a lie. Casano’or was a stranger to her, but Nairi had been – was – her sister. Would always be.

    Come back home, Ria, she heard Nairi say in her memories of millennia ago.

    I’m coming home, Nairi.

    “Riahanna.”

    This woman who stood before her had duty engraved upon every aspect of her face, proud and haughty in her strength. Rather than the scent of lilies, smoke rose up in curls about her as she stood in the ancient land that she had helped to found, the desert of Saile Hasrin. Three stone monuments that reared up to the sky towered above them, and she stood in the shadow of one of them.

    Silver hair whipped about her as the wind blew in her face, stirring up the dust. But she did not flinch back from its stinging as it pelted her with grains of sand, for this was her land as it was not Riahanna’s.

    “Saryn.”

    “You passed the test.” Cool, measuring eyes watched her without any expression whatsoever, giving her an aloof air.

    In response, her own eyes narrowed. “You sound surprised.”

    A shrug as she raised and lowered one shoulder. “Liliana and I have been talking lately, and she said that the Game has grown… harder.”

    “Because we seek to kill Cy’dath.”

    Saryn nodded. “And also because the dragon gods do not have a liking for you.”

    “Why are you here?” she asked, her voice a little harsher than it should have been.

    “All my life, Riahanna, you called for your daughter to come back to you. Why question that I do so now?”

    “You were never my daughter, as I was never your mother.” She did not flinch back from the cold truth of it; now that she had confronted it, it was easier to accept, if only a little.

    “No, I suppose not. Nonetheless, I find myself caring for your fate, if only a little. And more than a little for Sharana’s.”

    “You did not when you were alive.”

    “We grow in wisdom when we pass through death.”

    “If that is the case, then perhaps your granddaughter could use a little bit of killing.” It was sharper than she had intended, but Saryn’s cool cracked at that.

    “The worthless fool,” she snarled. “I bred her to combat both of you, and what does she do? Run straight into Casano’or’s arms.”

    “She chose her own path. Let her go, Saryn.”

    “She was bred to destroy your sister – ”

    “Casano’or is not my sister, and in any case, Irawyn is her own woman, and not your cat’s paw. If you wanted to kill Casano’or, you shouldn’t have let her kill you.”

    “I did not have the power; Irawyn does.”

    “Nonetheless, if she chooses to sympathize with Casano’or and Cy’dath, that is her choice.”

    “But I doubt that you know that she has promised to help them, not just merely stand aside.”

    Riahanna did not reply to that.

    Saryn seemed a little uncomfortable as well, and after a pause, she said, “Do you know what these are?” One graceful hand waved at the three monuments.

    “I have seen them.”

    “But not what they truly are.”

    “No. But I felt you working a spell with your heart’s blood that tied your power to them.”

    “Ah, yes. And can you work out what this is?”

    It was odd, this hinting and not-hinting. But Riahanna refused to play Saryn’s game without knowing at least the reason why; she had run to too many games as it was. “If I knew, I would not be standing here,” she said, baring her teeth just a little.

    “Look at them, then.”

    Riahanna studied them, then finally said in a soft voice, “Three stone…” Her mouth refused to shape the word. “I see.”

    “Irawyn could have woken them as I could not.”

    “And I?”

    “Answer your own question, Riahanna Anísedran Tar’kyaman.”

    Another pause. “Yes. I could.”

    “Ah.” It was more a sigh of relief than anything else, and Riahanna examined the face of the woman she had borne. “Then we will be waiting.”

    “We?”

    “Try and guess.”

    She knew instinctively. Tar’kyaman. Anísedran. Dark Huntress. Spellweaver. “You. Dhelian. And Soratha.” Three enemies that she had killed, one indirectly, two directly. Now three allies.

    “Well played, Spellweaver,” Saryn said softly. “And because you pass this round, there is another to come.”

    “Is this a game to you?”

    “Not to me, Riahanna, but I must play a game within the Game. To do anything else is to break the pattern.”

    “I see.”

    “Tell me, do you know what you meddle with, seeking to use the Game to kill a god?”

    “No.”

    “Then you are a fool. To play the Game, one must have balance. In playing the Game, one must have balance. Do you understand now?”

    They did not call her Anísedran – mind’s blade – for nothing. “If Cy’dath is killed, then Ki’dasva must also be killed. And so too will Casano’or.” And with her all remnants of Nairi.

    “Very good. Another round, Spellweaver?”

    “Tell me what I must do.”

    “Even as I speak with you, Liliana tells your partner all I tell you. Sharana was somewhat unhappy; they used Lendoril in place of me for this test. Still, her grief is nothing beside yours.”

    Silver-blue eyes were as cool and measuring as Saryn’s. “No doubt I accepted it better.”

    “You are an adult; Sharana is only a child by our standards.”

    “Tell me what I must do.”

    “I already have.”

    A long moment of thinking. If Ki’dasva will be destroyed along with Cy’dath if I use the Game to kill him, then the Game must not be used to kill him. But the Game cannot be stopped either… and if Sharana is being told the same, then she must feel the same thing I do. The purpose of the Game is balance…

    Balance.

    “Let the Game’s purpose be changed,” she cried, knowing that her blood-bound sister spoke the same words in unison with Riahanna. “Let the Game no longer be used to destroy Cy’dath, but rather to stand for life rather than death. Let the Game restore balance to the world.”

    So be it, Zahramael whispered in her ear. So be it. The choice has been made and cannot now be undone.

    So be it, Riahanna echoed. She had made her choice, and she would live or die by it… but perhaps Nairi could be saved, now. If the Game was not used to kill Cy’dath, Nairi might be spared. I’ll wait for you forever.

    So be it. She could hear Sharana’s smoky voice joining with hers to form a never-ending repetition of so be it so be it so be it.

    I have witnessed, the Well said.

    As do I. Liliana.

    The third should have been surprising – when had she ever done Riahanna a favor? – yet was not. As do I. Saryn.

    Three have witnessed. The choice has been made and cannot be undone.

    The words echoed in her mind as Riahanna wove a spell and pulled herself from the world of the Well. Nairi.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2006
  17. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    Faine Riahanna.

    Riahanna blinked as she opened her eyes to the cool blue light of the Well. You are not permitted to leave, it said. The Game must be played out.

    “But – ”

    You do not understand. The Game is neither good nor evil, and it hungers only to be used, only to have its power unleashed. It will not permit you to leave until you have finished playing.

    “I see.” Her voice was chilly enough to freeze the air; no one had ever dared control her life until these strange powers had begun meddling. And she didn’t much like it now.

    The Well lost none of its serenity as it continued to speak. Neither must you leave it unfinished, for to do that invites outside influences. You must complete the third test, and make the third choice.

    “They have tested me enough,” she replied. “They tested me with trials that could drive others mad, and still I have stood firm. Must they test me more?”

    Faine. Listen well to what I tell you. The Game strikes at the heart, not the body or the mind. It strikes at your soul, and there you have but three weak spots. Two you have already experienced. Only the third remains… and this one is like to tear your heart in two.

    She closed her eyes and swallowed, knowing all too well what the third would be.

    Even I do not know what form this test will take, the Well continued. It is tradition that the dragon gods set the first test, and I the second. For the third… it is the Game’s choice. It may be that the Game will allow you to leave this world of mine, to speak with Nairi in the flesh. But listen, Faine Riahanna. All others may be against you, but know that at least I stand for you. Listen. Watch. Remember.

    Another time that she could still recall replaced the scenery in which she stood, yet in some way, she understood that she had not moved at all from the world of the Well.



    … “Ria.” Huge, solemn eyes moved from her amber-eyed mother to the imposing man beside her. “Ria, my name is Ismayel Arlon’hai. Your mother has agreed to marry me. I understand that you have your own father, but I hope that you can regard me as an uncle, perhaps.”

    She chewed her underlip for a moment. “I don’t know my father.”

    Ismayel smiled at her with such affection that she wanted to smile back, but she kept her expression grave. “Then you don’t mind if I marry your mother?”

    She shook her head. “No, Uncle Ismayel.”

    “Then come with me, and I’ll give your very own room that you’ll never have to share with anyone else. It has a pretty window to look out, too, and…”




    … “So your mother named you Faine Riahanna. An apt name, I think. Do you know what it means?” The man before her was as unsmiling as she was, and his eyes were a deep blue as he studied her. It seemed to her, young as she was, that his appearance mattered little; only the air of power about him did.

    “Faine means peace, Riahanna means summer.”

    “You are not my child, I think… but neither are you Cléodri’s, for all that she raised you. You may bear her look almost to an uncanny degree, but other than that, you are neither her child nor mine.”

    “Cléodri is my mother,” she said, sparked to anger at last.

    “She may be your mother, but you are not her daughter.” Aldrien shook his head then. “Come, child, you will understand later…”




    … “Faine, this is your sister Nairi Casano’or. You must take care of her, do you understand?”

    Already her powers outstripped both of her parents’, but she still nodded.
    I will take care of her forever. “I am your sister Faine Riahanna, and I welcome you, Nairi Casano’or, into the full heritage that was promised you,” she whispered, ignoring her mother’s sharp look. “Welcome into this world of Liandrah as the daughter of Cléodri and Ismayel…”



    … “Faine and Nairi, Riahanna and Casano’or… Ria, are you here yet?”

    “Peace and Hope, Summer and Winter’s Song…”

    A small, whitehaired girl ran 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…




    … A whiterobed woman finished brushing out a girl’s hair, singing to her in a low, crooning voice, and carried the sleepy child to bed. Blowing out the lamp, she tucked her in and turned to leave, but stopped when the girl whispered, “Will you be here for me in the night when I need you?”

    “Of course, my Nairi, my dearest, my sweet sister. I will always be here for you…”




    … “Ria, come see what I found!” Nairi called.

    Cléodri’s voice joined Nairi’s now. “Faine, watch your sister.” And Ismayel: “Come in, Casano’or, Ria, I have something for you…”




    … The man groaned as the woman by his side stopped her healing, a worried frown marring her brow. “Father? Father, are you all right?”

    “The Lastborn have struck,” he said, weeping copious tears, “and they have destroyed the most precious treasure of all. Woe, woe, woe unto those who slew Cléodri…”




    … The high, sweet voice was no longer as high or sweet, mostly sad and upset. “Ria, why didn’t you come in time to save her? Why did you let mother die?”

    “I’m so sorry, Nairi,” she whispered, tears rolling down her cheeks as she hugged her sister. “I am so very sorry…”




    … “Come with us, Riahanna,” Ismayel urged, Nairi beside him trying to hold a sword too large for her. She longed to take it away from her, but Ismayel was Nairi’s father, and she was only a sister. If Cléodri had been here, she would have stopped this madness… “They killed Cléodri. Come and claim your vengeance. We could certainly use a mage of your talents. For all that Nairi is powerful, you are still the most powerful and skilled mage in Liandrah.”

    “No, Ismayel. The time for war is past. Let us try and make peace – ”

    “Peace?” Ismayel’s eyes hardened, and she saw the disgust that he felt for her at that moment. Nonetheless, she did not allow herself to waver. “Peace? We will have
    peace when those who murdered your mother lie dead at my feet.” He turned to his people and gave them the signal to march to war, the signal to march to death and doom, the signal to march to untold sorrow and agony…



    … A girl on the verge of womanhood who could not have been more than fifteen stared back at her with eyes of anguish and rage, eyes that were aged far beyond their years. “Nairi, I had no choice – ”

    “You left my mother to die.”

    The words were no mere blow, but a knife to the heart as Nairi leaned upon and twisted the hilt. “She was my mother too, Nairi.”

    Shockingly, Nairi spat at her. “You lost all claim to name Cléodri as your mother, Riahanna. You are the Anísedran, the Spellweaver, the most powerful mage in all Liandrah. But you weren’t there when Mother died, you who could have saved her.”

    “Nairi – ”

    “You abandoned my father, left him to die as well. If you’d come with us, you could have saved him.”

    She bowed her head, knowing this for a truth that had haunted her dreams for these past six years. But the next question broke her heart into little pieces to fall and shatter upon the coldness of Nairi’s grief. There was no anger this time, only confusion and hurt. “Ria? Why didn’t you come in time me? Why weren’t you here for me the way you promised?…”




    … “And so I accept you as my daughter and priestess. Your courage for my protection, your loyalty for my sanctuary, your love for my love; this I pledge you from this day forth ‘til the destruction of this world. Rise, Riahanna, as my priestess and daughter.”

    She stood, and felt the cool yet burning lips of the goddess impress themselves upon her forehead. “Mother,” she murmured with the profoundest respect and love as she touched her fingers to the spot where Ki’dasva had kissed her.

    “Be blessed, Riahanna.” And the presence was gone.

    She knelt there for some few moments more, basking in the warmth of her goddess’s approval. At length, she felt eyes boring holes into her back, and she rose in one fluid movement before turning around.

    “Nairi.”

    Her sister walked towards her, amber eyes staring at her with implacable hatred.
    But of course – she is Cy’dath’s lover, after all, and I have sworn myself into the service of her greatest enemy. But she did not regret it; Ki’dasva offered a healing that Cy’dath did not.

    “Riahanna.”

    “What brings you here, little sister?” she asked quite calmly, ignoring the fact that Casano’or hated her almost as much as she hated Ki’dasva – and also ignoring the fact that Casano’or was far more powerful than she was. But here, her Maradi blood came into play; Kortiri magic could not affect Maradi.

    Casano’or studied her as dispassionately she would have studied an insect, all traces of the free-spirited girl she had known disappeared. “You are no sister of mine,” she said at last.

    The words, though they were not expected, cut deeply. Yet Riahanna had spent the past few centuries learning to harden her heart and perfecting her mask. No aspect of her expression changed as she met Casano’or’s gaze with cool silver-blue eyes. Neither of them said anything for a good five minutes, trying to imprint each other’s faces into their memories. “Farewell, then, Nairi Casano’or,” she said quietly, eyes softening at last. “Know that I loved you.”

    “Farewell, Faine Riahanna –
    Ria,” Nairi corrected herself fiercely. “Know that I, too, loved you…”



    Shards of my heart too sharp to put back together, shards of my heart too small to matter, but big enough to cut me into so many little pieces, Riahanna thought dully.

    Listen. Watch. Remember, the Well repeated.



    … “Who am I?” Mocking laughter rang out over the land. “Naught but a scion of a dead people, or so you thought, last daughter of the Kortiri. They called my land the kingdom of laughter, and you thought that only I was left of all my people. We call it Saile Hasrin, now, the land of weeping, and we are the Azah. Do you know who I am now, Casano’or, dark witch of Cy’dath?”

    “You are
    dead,” Casano’or said, though it sounded more like a desperate denial than a statement. “Your people are dead.”

    “Who am I?” the woman she had once called “daughter” asked. “Say my name.”

    “Saryn,” her sister whispered. “Saryn, once of the Laughing Kingdom – ”

    “Now of Saile Hasrin and the Azah,” Saryn finished. “We will meet once more, I think, and we will fight again. Will you dance with me?”

    A fight. A vision. And then a death, as Saryn sacrificed her life so that the Azah might rally against her mother’s sister…




    Faine, Saryn, Riahanna whispered as she watched the vision draw to a close, then watched her younger sister push her away once more.



    … “I should have killed you before you could gave me so much pain,” Casano’or said, 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.’ …”




    … Casano’or stopped within paces of Rho’stri. “So it is true,” she said.

    There was silence for a while and then Rho’stri said, “It was not all a lie.”

    “But it was a lie. And I fell for it, for all these millennia.” She shook her head, then muttered, “I am a fool.”

    “Casan, I was never…never
    not on your side. I would have stayed with you always if other things were not required of me…”



    Casano’or. Abandoned and betrayed by her sister and her friend.

    Listen. Watch. Remember.



    … There was no life in this barren Liandrah save two – Cy’dath and Casano’or. All others lay dead, yet the two of them seemed content as Casano’or sang to her god and consort…



    … In this Liandrah, life thrived, but her gaze was drawn to the two figures, both of them tall. Yet one was muscular where the other was willowy, and she saw white hair contrasting sharply with dark. “We are Faine and Nairi,” the willowy one said.



    “And we shall bring both to this world of Liandrah,” the white-haired one finished….




    … And in this Liandrah, the stench of blood pervaded all else, as all around them, men screamed in pain. Yet she saw only one thing clearly – a figure in a bloodstained white robe cradling the broken body of hope in her arms, weeping uncontrollably as she sang of that which would never be again…



    Past, present, future, the Well said. All this you have seen; all this must you remember when the Game puts you to the test. Remember what you fight for – a broken promise, the promise of Faine and Nairi…

    Farewell, Faine Riahanna, the alien being said as some power she did not recognize pulled her from this place and where she had tried to go before. Farewell, and may the stars light your path…



    She took a deep breath, steeling herself to enter the tent where Casano’or waited. To play the Game, one must have balance. In playing the Game, one must have balance. There was an imbalance here, and the third test was to right it. A broken promise, the promise of Faine and Nairi.

    I called, and you came, Sharana had whispered.

    A promise made, a promise kept. The balance is righted a little, but not enough, for the imbalance is between myself and Nairi.

    Then there is another imbalance. I stole all chance of Faine and Nairi – peace and hope – from Nairi Casano’or.

    A third imbalance. Lives lost and not paid.

    Then she knew what she had to do to pass this third test of hers. Strangely, the thought brought her no fear, and for once, she had a smile of true serenity, rather than feigned, upon her lips as she pushed aside the tent flap. “Nairi,” she said, sad silver-blue eyes meeting and acknowledging Cy’dath before returning to her sister. The two of them seemed frozen with shock as she stopped before Nairi, her back straight and tall as she lifted her chin. “The time has come for you to exact your vengeance from me.”
     
  18. Senekha

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

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    Only moments after Irawyn had left they received an unexpected visitor. Casano’or was shocked, not only that Riahanna would appear before he openly but also that she would do so in the presence of Cy’dath. Cy’dath kept his face calm, but Casano’or know with her innate bond that he was as surprised as she.

    “Nairi,” she said, sad silver-blue eyes meeting and acknowledging Cy’dath before returning to her sister. “The time has come for you to exact your vengeance from me.”

    To say that Casano’or was startled would have been a gross understatement. Cy’dath spoke first.

    “What new trick is this, Anísedran? If it really is Anísedran who stands before me.”

    “It is,” she replied, without any scent of trickery in her voice.

    Cy’dath looked doubtful, but Casano’or confirmed it. “It is she. I know her aura, though not her intentions.”

    “I have stated my intentions.”

    After several strained moments of silence, Cy’dath said, “It was rumoured that you play the Game.”

    “The rumour is true.” Casano’or thought she saw a glimmer of moisture in Riahanna’s eyes.
    Casano’or saw a slight change in Cy’dath’s attitude, and he took on a wary air. “And how was it played?” he asked slowly. Casano’or felt Cy’dath gather his power, preparing it to repel any sudden attack. He knew how that Game could be used. As did his consort.

    “It is played. It shall be balanced.”

    Casano’or shivered at her sister’s use of the present tense. “Speak in plain terms, woman.”
    Riahanna’s silver-blue eyes looked straight into her sister’s. Casano’or had never understood why Riahanna did not prefer her natural form.

    “I know you despise me. I cannot deny that I deserve it. If the price of my life be the balance for my wrongs against you, so be it.”

    Casano’or’s eyebrows climbed in further disbelief, then shot downward as she scowled. “So you meekly surrender yourself to me, now, before a battle in which only you can oppose me? Does this not break your vows to Ki’dasva?” She spat the name of the goddess with vicious contempt.

    “I have broken vows before,” she replied with sorrow. Or at least, it sounded like sorrow. Casano’or had long since stopped believing anything her sister said or did.

    Images of the past appeared before her, conjured by Riahanna. Somehow, the voices of long ago rang out with clarity, as though they were only just being spoken.


    “Will you be here for me in the night when I need you?”
    “Of course, my Nairi, my dearest, my sweet sister. I will always be here for you…”…

    “Ria, why didn’t you come in time to save her? Why did you let mother die?”

    “You left my mother to die. And my father.”

    “Ria? Why didn’t you come in time for me? Why weren’t you here for me the way you promised?…”

    An image from her past point of view, watching Riahanna from above as she swore oaths to Ki’dasva.
    “Riahanna.”



    “Stop it,” Casano’or snapped. But the images continued, and the voices only grew in volume. They repeated, and soon a dozen scenes and voiced moved together, becoming
    only flashes of distant pictures.

    “Stop it!” When Riahanna made no move to stop, Casano’or called forth a burst of Cy’dath’s power and shattered the illusions.

    “Will you take your vengeance?” Riahanna said in calm, even tones.

    “What trick have you? What scheme of Ki’dasva is this?” Cy’dath demanded. Seeing Casano’or’s grief and anger resurface, he had become angry and defensive. She had been betrayed by all, save himself. He was her only friend, confidant, and he would not permit Riahanna to hurt Casan any further.

    “It is no trick.”

    “Why this sudden change of heart, then? Have you finally seen through Ki’dasva’s flimsy facades? Can you not simply leave us alone?” His voice did not rise in his anger; rather, is lowered, until he spoke in whispers far more malevolent than any shout.

    “I have played the Game. The Game requires balance, as you should know. I must complete what is required of me, so that the Game can be fulfilled.”

    Casano’or finally spoke, her voice dripping venom. “So if I kill you, your Game will succeed, and we will be destroyed. What the thoughtful sister you are.” She spun and paced to the back of the large tent, her robes swirling. When she turned, she said, “Get out. You cannot win here. If you even try to attack us now, we can repel it without killing you.”

    Riahanna spoke softly. “The purpose of the Game was not to destroy you or Cy’dath. You must believe me in this.”

    “Believe you? You, the mistress of all deception?”
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2006
  19. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

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    She had fed the images to Casano’or in a last, desperate attempt to make her understand… but Casan had never understood how her heart had been torn in two between herself and those she loved, and how eventually, she had chosen to save her own sanity. Ria was no self-sacrificing martyr; her instinct to live was strong. And because of that, Casan had suffered for it.

    “Believe you? You, the mistress of all deception?” Her sister’s angry voice ripped through the tent, filled with scorn and hurt and betrayal. Once, she would have wept at the pain she had caused Casan, but she was done with guilt. The Well had helped her to be at peace, at least a little, she realized.

    “Yes, believe me,” she snapped, shaking her head in frustration. “Because I can save your lives! You don’t understand. This fighting between us is going to make Liandrah a smoking ruin, as bad as when the gods warred.”

    “Why should we care?” her sister asked, proud and haughty in her strength. “If the Ancients cannot enjoy this land, then I will wish the Lastborn well of the ruin we will create. We will find ourselves another place in which to reside.”

    Shocked speechless that her sister was so destruction-bent, she rallied her voice once more. “Faine and Nairi, our parents named us, in a vain hope that we would bring both to the land. I brought only war and you despair. What a magnificent legacy for Cléodri’s children, no?” She laughed bitterly, remembering her mother’s gentle touch. Faine and Nairi, my blessed, blessed children…. Thankfully, Cléodri’s voice receded into the background, letting her concentrate on Casano’or once more. “Your very name means hope, you stupid girl, and you would murder it for petty vengeance?”

    “You murdered hope the day you let my parents die,” Casano’or flared.

    “Which is why I offer you the chance for vengeance exacted from me, I who caused you your pain.”

    “Hah! More like kill us both!”

    “Nairi. I have loved you.” She swallowed a lump in her throat as her sister did not reply, her amber eyes blazing with some undefinable emotion.

    Turning to Cy’dath instead, she said, “Cy’dath.” The god inclined his head to her, his eyebrows arched in a way that she found herself willing to babble if only to break his silence. But she had mastered control of herself long ago.

    “You claim to be her friend and confidante, yes?” she asked. “But I am her sister, brethren and betrayer. Nairi must take her vengeance on me.”

    “So that you can kill us? I think not, Anísedran,” Cy’dath replied, amused.

    She wanted to snarl in frustration. “No, so that Liandrah may move forward.” Where did that come from? she wondered… and then realized that the Well had spoken through her mouth. “Until the deadlock is broken, we are doomed to stay in the same cycle over and over again. The Game is to break the cycle.”

    “And what would you know of the cycle, mortal?” Cy’dath asked softly, his eyes narrowing. “Longlived though you may be, you are still not of the gods.”

    She could not stop herself from giving a smile that was more a grimace. “Am I not?” she asked, blinking back the tear in her left eye. I love you, father. “For seven thousand years, you have known me… and yet there are none so blind as those who will not see. You too, my sweet sister. The truth was in front of you all the time, and you never knew or saw.”

    The two of them waited as she paused to gather her courage and tell her sister what she had never told her.

    “I name myself Faine Riahanna, daughter of Cléodri and Aldrien, who is the son of Ki’dasva and Dalin. Godsdaughter.

    And before the stunned god could reply, she wrapped her power about Casano’or, ignoring her struggles. Casan was powerful, yes, more so than Riahanna… but she had the greater skill and subtlety. And she was Godslayer and Godsdaughter, which Casano’or could not claim. I pitted myself against the Ring for Sharana’s sake, and I won. I can pit myself against Casano’or and win for her sake.

    An instant or an eternity passed, she knew not which, but when her head stopped spinning, she sent a brief inquiry to the Well. Well done, Faine, the Well said to her alone, and she had to force back a memory of Cléodri saying those exact words to her. Here can she take her vengeance, and here she can be healed.

    “Why did you bring me here?” Casan demanded, her voice shaking a little as she recognized the inherent power in this place.

    Welcome, Faine, Nairi, the Well said.

    Who are you?” But the Well did not reply, and Riahanna did so instead.

    “This,” Riahanna said, “is both the world of the Well and the Game.” And before her stunned sister could react, she began to sing a song she had sung to Casan when they had both been children.

    “Beneath the golden balm / Settling on the fields / Evening steals in calm / And farmers count their yields. / The bee is in the lavender / The honey fills the comb / But here a rain falls never-ending / And I am far from home.” **

    As her voice died away, sounding still and lonely in the world of the Well, a breeze blew in their faces, causing her dark hair to obscure her face. But as she glanced at Casano’or through the curtain of her hair, she saw that her sister was weeping.




    ** This poem. The Exile’s Lament, is actually taken from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, written by Theleis de Mornay, a character in the book.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2006
  20. Senekha

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

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    CASANO’OR

    “Why have you brought me here?” Casano’or demanded again, a silent tear cousing down her scarred face. Curse her sister for a manipulating witch!

    “To show you the truth, sister. For in the Well, everything is in balance. You must see this.”

    Casano’or barked a harsh laugh, and looked scornfully at her sister. “What is it that you think that I do not know?

    “This war between our gods, between us…if either of the Pair of Chaos should die, so must the other.” She left unspoken the other implications, and searched her sister’s face for her reaction. “And there is the matter of imbalance between us.”

    Casano’or’s face remained calm, and for a long moment she did not answer. She turned, so that Riahanna could not see the emotions that threatened to breach her façade, then took a deep breath and turned around.

    “Sister, I have long known this.”

    Riahanna’s eyebrows twitched in surprise. “Is your hate, then, for Ki’dasva stronger than your love for Cy’dath?”

    “It is not.”

    “Yet you continue your course for self-destruction?” she asked, taken aback.

    “Cy’dath knows it as well.”

    “Then…why….” Riahanna trailed off, confounded.

    “Everything is for a reason, Faine. I would think that you should know this well.” She glanced around, and before gathering her powers to remove herself from this place, she said, “Sometimes there are designs beyond your knowing, Riahanna. Don’t seem so surprised.”

    As she prepared to try to leave, the voice she associated with the Well whispered, Wait, Nairi. Casano’or froze, and seeing that Riahanna had remained motionless, she ventured a question at the Well with mindspeak.

    What do you want?

    We did not bring you here for you to reprimand your sister. She was right in her reasons for bringing you here, and you must amend your personal balance. If you refuse to take your vengeance even here, you must forgive her, though it is not the answer she expects.

    But…

    You have long forgiven her, I know, and I also know that you fear to show the truth of it, the you think it must be hidden in order for your plans to succeed. Your anger is your shield, but it can serve no longer.

    If you can read my mind, Stargate, then you know our intentions, Cy’dath’s and mine, that concern yourself.

    I see your intentions.
    The Well’s voice was like a thousand chimes.

    Then will you help us?

    The Well remained silent for some immeasurable time.

    I will assist your cause, it breathed, somehow reflecting in it’s strange tone that it felt some sadness for her cause.

    I am sorry that our intentions were not known to you before, Casano’or said. It was too dangerous to voice them to anyone. She made a deep bow, and when she rose, replied, Please accept our deepest gratitude.

    Casano’or willed herself to find the right words to say to Riahanna, but she could not seem to find any sufficient. Riahanna was looking at her strangely, most likely suspecting that some conversation of sorts waged between Casano’or and the Well.
    Finally, she turned and strode until she could feel her sister’s soft breath upon her face.

    “I…I bear you no grudge, Faine Riahanna. Let it be settled.” Riahanna did not look convinced. “Believe me if you will, but if you cannot, I can well understand that.”
    She turned and walked away, and the Well guided her back to the material world, and to Cy’dath. Unknown voices, ghosts perhaps, whispered in a myriad of tones the words nairi…nai-ri…naiiiiiriiii……



    RHO’STRI

    It seemed these days that she could not escape the omnipresent dragon god, that his ever-present force lingered in her every step. She was watched, weighed, and tested, and it would not end before the breaking of the world.

    Lendoril was proving difficult to persuade in the course he must take. She had convinced him to go with her for a while, so that she may begin to teach him what he must know about the ways of the Dragons, and the ways of the ar’Ashaal. She had been in the midst of reciting to him the various prophecies pertaining to himself when she felt Casano’or approach.

    She rose swiftly to her feet, ignoring the curious look on the elf’s face, and Zahramael’s voice resounded through her head.

    Now, now is the time. Kill her, before she gains her bearings.

    Casano’or materialized twenty paces before her, and when Rho’stri paused, Zahramael hissed, and began another mental barrage. Rho’stri tried to will him away, only to have her headache worsen.

    Casano’or was walking toward her, face unreadable, and Rho’stri began to panic. Against her will, Zahramael began to gather her powers for attack, all the time whispering, then shouting, Now! Your only chance! Weak child, do it NOW!
    “Release her!” Casano’or demanded, stunning Rho’stri. Zahramael snarled, and to her alarm materialized. He stood at thrice the height of any mortal man, and his face reflected fury, with a trace of amusement.

    “You challenge me, mortal? You have forced me to take material form, and you will pay.”

    Casano’or smirked. Rho’stri began backing away, and noticed that Lendoril was following suit.

    “You will be only the first to fall, great Dragon God,” she said mockingly. “The rest of your kind will soon follow.”

    “You presume much. You have not the strength to harm me.”

    Casano’or went on, seeming to ignore Zahramael. “Even as I speak, Cy’dath is hunting down the other four. One by one, you will fall.”

    Rho’stri shuddered. She knew the power of the Ring of Dragons. She also knew her old friends’ powers, and she did not think that they matched those of the Dragons. But there was something eerily assured and calm in Casano’or’s voice that unnerved her.

    Come back! Rho’stri froze at the mindspeak, and resisted the pull that the Dragon exerted on her.

    “Release her,” Casano’or repeated. Her hands flew up, and a maelstrom of colours and sounds thundered toward Zahramael. As he erected shields, Rho’stri felt their bond weaken, and with grim resolve, she lashed out at the invisible fetters that chained her to the Dragon God’s every will.

    Pain exploded through her body, and Rho’stri was thrown backwards and crashed into a stunned Lendoril.
     
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