The March of the Rose
Chapter 25

Copyright© 2015 by R22CoolGuy

The siege of the mining town of Dria, Eastern Realm, Andor.

The taking of Dria was over, the dead lay were they were killed and the smoke from burnt out buildings drifted on the breeze. Lord Ragnar walked through the mining town shaking his head. His vanguard warriors had already taken the village by the time that the main body of the army arrived. What followed was little better than total destruction. The Orcs burnt everything that they could and several things that Ragnar did not think could be. There were no prisoners, not many refugees escaped after the invasion began in earnest, and any defenders were cut down regardless of whether or not they surrendered. Ragnar was digging at the ground with the toe of his boot when Tsor approached him.

"You do not approve?" The goblin wizard asked, noticing the look of disdain.

"Waste of resources," Ragnar replied with a shrug. "The mine is producing, why destroy the infrastructure? He will just have to rebuild it later."

"The Orcs were angry that the fighting was over before they got here," Tsor explained. "Typical Orcs, they are taking their frustration out on inanimate objects."

"Captain!?" Ragnar called out into the night.

"Yes, My Lord?" a man stepped out of the shadow of the burning buildings.

"Stand down the men! We move out in four hours. I want to be in Realto by daybreak," Ragnar commanded.

The captain saluted and left to carry out his lord's commands. Ragnar waited for him to get out of hearing range and then turned back to Tsor.

"Where is King Neelam?" the sarcasm in Ragnar's tone caused Tsor to chuckle.

"At the Village Master's home," Tsor replied. "One of the few buildings left standing."

Ragnar nodded, turned, and left, leaving Tsor standing shaking his head. Since Ragnar was standing down his men for the evening Tsor decided to find his sorcerers and do the same thing. Tsor watched Ragnar until he could no longer see him in the darkness and then turned to find his sorcerers.

Ragnar found Neelam and Maoauk right where Tsor said they would be. He told Neelam that the vanguard would be pulling out shortly after midnight and that they were going to travel west to cross the river before turning south toward Realto. He planned to keep the river on his left and approach the city from that side. He told Maoauk that he should take the main army the same way and avoid the King's Highway. Maoauk pointed out that either way they traveled they would have to cross the Realto River and navigate the small woods just north of the city. Ragnar countered that they would not have to cross the small strip of the Thangdaemon Forest if they went his way. More importantly, they would not be bunched up and ripe for an ambush. He then told them to go any way they wanted but the vanguard would be going the way that he had laid out.

"You may command the vanguard, but it is still my army, Lord Ragnar," Neelam pointed out.

"And?" Ragnar replied. "Do you intend to lead the vanguard, oh king?"

"No, I just want it clear as to who is in command," Neelam replied, crossing his arms.

"Do not fret, I know who is in command," Ragnar countered. "Oh, and how about we not burn Realto to the ground. The warehouse district will supply this army all the way to Aithen."

Ragnar turned his back and left, allowing his parting shot to hang there. He had just about had enough of this upstart human, and the orc as well. This relationship had better bear the fruit that Nightbringer had promised. He had damn well better get the chance to go against his adversary and soon!

The vanguard pulled out as planned. The Stag, the larger of the two Andorian moons, was full and the night looked more like the false dawn. The Hunter, the smaller moon, was waning full but provided little extra light. Based on Ragnar's calculations they would be at the fork in the river by sunrise. He had his best scouts out looking for trouble as well as food for his men. They were given plenty of time to rest and eat after the battle in Dria but he wanted them to have a light meal before the attack on Realto. The scouts were ordered to find and mark any likely provisions and his quartermasters would be responsible for picking them up as they passed by. The Orcs of the main army fed a little differently, which was why there were no prisoners, but his unit was made up of humans and they were a little more squeamish about eating the fallen. The vanguard forded the river exactly where Ragnar had stated they would and then turned south toward Realto.

His rear scouts had ridden up and had just informed him that the main army was following about an hour behind. He supposed that Neelam was not as stupid as he had been acting lately, or more likely Tsor had convinced Neelam of the merits of his route. Ragnar had hoped to catch the defenders of Realto by surprise but the area surrounding Realto was home to a Druid conclave with associated Rangers of the Wood. He had personally instructed his scouts to be cautious and to ensure anyone they came across did not live through the meeting.

Ragnar's small army passed several farms on their way to Realto and found no one in any of them. Realto had done a good job of evacuating everyone in advance of the invasion force. Even the livestock had been evacuated and all the sweepers could find was the odd chicken. Ragnar called a halt to the army well before the false dawn and allowed them to stretch their legs and take in field rations and watered down mead. He cautioned them about eating too much and how it would affect their ability to fight. He went over the plan with his captains and lieutenants one more time to ensure everyone knew their assigned tasks and was satisfied that they did.

The vanguard met the first of several pickets about an hour north of the city. The defenders had dug a trench and were intent on firing arrows at the head of the line. Scouts had reported the location and numbers of the defensive line and Ragnar ordered two of his platoons to sweep around and attack the defender's flanks while sending a third into the center of the line.

Third platoon crashed into the line, while first and second platoons drove into the flanks squeezing the defenders until they finally broke and fled the engagement. Ragnar ordered his reserve platoon to run the retreating defenders down and leave none alive. He then had a bugler sound recall for the other three platoons and when they had reorganized, the vanguard continued advancing behind fourth platoon, allowing them to take the lead.

Fourth platoon chased the retreating archers to the next picket and Ragnar followed the same tactic, with the same result. The picket lines were doing their job, dying and making Ragnar lose precious time. He wanted to ford the river before first light and away from the eyes of any watchers on the walls, and more importantly, away from arrows. Now, with the delays mounting he figured they would be lucky to reach the woods by first light.

Ragnar called for a scout to relay information to the main body of the army. The vanguard was turning east toward the forest and would come into the city from the eastern shore of the river. Ragnar suggested that the army turn further west to avoid the woods ahead and cross the river near the King's Highway and come at the city from the western side. That way they could box in the city, cut off any retreat and meet any help from Aithen head on. The vanguard would sweep through the lower city and secure provisions for the army and trap any defenders behind the wall of the upper city. Ragnar, after dispatching the messenger, called for the lead element to angle toward a southwesterly track.

It was an hour later that Ragnar's dispatch rider reached the lead element of the army. A forward scouting party stopped the messenger and then after ascertaining his intentions dispatched an escort to bring him to the king. The messenger delivered the message and the king dismissed him.

"Lord Ragnar has changed the plan, again," King Neelam announced to both Lord Tsor and Chief Maoauk. "He wants us to angle west and cross the river near the Old Kings' Highway while he angles east and approaches the city from the east."

"Something must have caused him to change the plan," Tsor replied. "Does the message say why?"

"No, and I am beginning to get quite tired of the anti-paladin," Neelam replied. "When this is over we will need to rethink his necessity."

"As you desire," Tsor nodded and smiled. "Will you comply with the suggestion?"

"I see no reason not to," Neelam replied and shrugged. "Maoauk, any suggestions?"

"No," Maoauk replied and ordered the army to shift direction.

Ragnar had the vanguard ford back over the river and continue on toward the King's Highway. When the highway came into view he altered course again toward the city, keeping the highway to their left. They skirted the woods to the north of the city and continued to follow the highway on their left. Ragnar finally called a halt when the bridge over the river came into view. He stood at the river's bank, north of the bridge and began drawing power. When he felt as though he had enough to start, he brought his arms up, palms down and began to draw power from the ground, summoning a wide crimson ribbon of Eldritch. He arced his hands up and forward and began to cross the river on the bridge of Eldritch forming in front and at his feet. He stopped at mid-river and turned to beckon the first of his advance force. They started on the bridge as Ragnar turned and continued, forming the bridge as he crossed to the other side. Curiously, he met no resistance on the city side of the river, although he could see a small force securing the bridge further south. He moved out of the way and directed the lead elements to take up defensive positions until the rest of the vanguard crossed. When everyone was on the city side of the river fork, Ragnar approached his makeshift bridge and moved his hands. The bridge dissolved into nothing as the power faded away.

Ragnar ordered scouts forward toward the city and secondary scouts toward the eastern bridge to recon the defenders' strength. He ordered his men to check their weapons and then ordered them forward at half-pace toward the city. When they had the lower city in view he halted their forward progress and ordered them to take up defensive positions.

Maoauk led the army further west and then south keeping the river to their left. When the woods above the city came into view he had the army angle west again, wanting to give the woods a wide berth. The army followed the fork in the river south until the Old Kings' Highway came into view. Maoauk called a halt and sent scouts to check for any presence of opposition to their crossing.

The scouts returned and reported that a small group of men were guarding the bridgehead on the eastern side. Maoauk sent a detachment of Orcs to cross the river to dispatch the bridge guards before securing the bridgehead for the army's crossing. The engagement went as planned and it was not long before the orcs had a morning snack while the army crossed the bridge and fanned out for the assault on Realto.

Castle Daemongurd, later the same day.

Aaron's party appeared on the highway just in front of the arched bridge that led to the gates of Castle Daemongurd. He turned to make sure everyone was all right after the shift and saw Beriwen shiver. He smiled and touched her arm reassuringly before starting across the bridge. He told them to wait while he knocked.

Castle Daemongurd stood on a motte, or mound, some ten to fifteen feet high, and surrounded by a dry ditch, or moat, crossed by an arched bridge. A gatehouse structure protruding from the main walls, with its two flanking towers, providing access to the main gates. The walls around the castle were thirty feet tall, connecting four massive corner towers, as well as the two gatehouse towers, and incorporated the keep and its two towers, in the rear.

The four corner towers as well as the gatehouse towers were flat on top, with a stone parapet and battlements. The keep's towers had crystal-domed tops. A single slab of quartz was cut, fashioned, and polished till it gleamed in the sunlight.

On either side of the front gates were cages hanging from tall curved poles. The cages were not unlike ones made for song birds, except much larger. The cages were empty, the doors open, but one could imagine what they were used for.

The main gates were closed, the portcullis down. The castle loomed imposing and foreboding, not at all welcoming.

Aaron stopped before the closed gates and let loose a blast of Eldritch, hitting the closed gates causing them to ring like bells.

"My Prince! My Prince, there is an armed troop at the gates of the castle!" Thanos called out in warning as he entered Velen's study.

Velen turned to acknowledge Thanos' announcement when a loud ringing caused him to turn toward the sound instead. He stood from his desk smiling and turned back toward his steward.

"Come, we have visitors," Velen announced, leaving his study with Thanos trailing behind.

Aaron watched the gates begin to swing inward while the portcullis slowly rose from its resting place revealing a smiling Velen with a servant standing respectfully behind him.

"Aaron! It is good to see you again," Velen announced, grasping the forearm of Aaron's offered hand. "I had fears that something bad had happened to you."

"I see Anastasia is well," he continued, looking over Aaron's shoulder at the group standing at the far end of the bridge. "I feared for her as well. Please come inside and bring the others."

"I thank you for your offer of hospitality, but events are unfolding at a rapid rate and I need to deal with them," Aaron replied, waving the rest of the group forward. "I am here to see if you are interested in helping to stop an army."

"The Orc army?" Velen asked, continuing when Aaron nodded. "Then I need to tell you that it will not be easy, and you will need more than what you have there."

"Allow me introduce everyone and then you can make your decision," Aaron replied, and waited for the others to arrive.

"You know Anastasia and Rac-Nur, of course," Aaron pointed them out. "And that is Rac-Nur's betrothed, Dae-Re."

"It is good to see you well, Marquise," Velen smiled his charming and disarming smile. "I had feared for your safety."

"Thank you, Prince Velen," Anastasia replied.

"Rac-Nur, stoic as ever, I see," Velen smiled. "Perhaps your betrothed will temper that."

"This is my old apprentice, Tristan," Aaron pointed toward Tristan. "He is an accomplished Swordsman as well as other unique skills."

"Velen, you remember my beloved, Karith?" Aaron asked and stated.

"Hmm, Lady Karith? If my memory serves me right, you went by a different name," Velen stated, nodding his head in greeting.

"You are correct. It was Tanith," Karith replied.

"And this is my other lady-love, Dana Whiterune," Aaron motioned toward Dana.

"Your majesty, an honor," Velen bent his knee slightly and bowed, sweeping his arms behind him.

"Here I have Dunin Brandson and his lady-love, Princess Beriwen Elvenstone," Aaron motioned toward the two. "Dunin is a bearer and I am sure you know who Beriwen is."

"Hail and well met, Bearer," Velen nodded. "Princess, I admit to be surprised to see you, as I am sure you are to see me. I want you to know that a friend of Lord Aaron's is a friend of mine."

"Prince Velen," Beriwen replied with a slight tip of her head. "I share your affinity."

"Master Dunin, if I am not so bold for asking. What sword do you bear?" Velen asked.

"Kalaban," Dunin replied.

"A Protector then? Very good," Velen replied, smiling before turning back to Aaron.

"Where was I? Ah, yes, this is Graydon Kimrilson, of the Stronghammer Clan and his retinue, Brother William, a Paladin of the Light," Aaron motioned toward the two.

"A Paladin of the Light?" Velen replied, eyes opening a little wider. "Then you must be bearing Lightbringer?"

"Yes, yes I do," Graydon replied.

"I know of your adversary," Velen continued. "He is very skilled, you must be very cautious. He is a Thangdaemon Lord."

"Velen, Graydon is a Dvergur," Aaron added.

"A Dvergur, really? How fascinating," Velen replied. "That may just even the odds a little."

"And last but certainly not least, may I present Reginald Ravensblade, Harpist, Bearer, and consort to Mistress Melvina," Aaron announced, while Reg swept his hand behind him.

"The Harpist of Time?" Velen asked, to which Reg nodded. "I am honored."

"Velen, what do you think?" Aaron asked with a smile. "Not your average group of individuals?"

"No, not average at all," Velen replied. "If you will have me I am in. How could I pass up the chance to work with a Tarran Witch, who happens to be Queen of Tarra, and an Elfen Witch, who happens to be the Royal Princess? Not to mention a Wyrm, a Dvergur, the Harpist of Time, a Paladin of the Light, a Protector, and of course you."

"We would be honored to have you," Dana added.

"Should I bring my Knights?" Velen asked.

Aaron turned at Beriwen's sharp intake of breath and saw her visibly stiffen and back up a step.

"No. No, I do not think that is necessary just yet," Aaron replied, turning back around. "You can summon them at any time though, correct?"

"Yes, that is correct," Velen nodded, asking. "What exactly is the plan?"

Reg explained the situation with added input by Aaron, who explained what he wanted accomplished:

It would be a two-pronged attack designed to pull the Orcs away from Realto and into open ground. Aaron knew that Ragnar would not/could not pass up the chance to confront Graydon. He wanted Velen, Dana, and Beriwen to concentrate on the wizards and sorcerers, and especially Lord Tsor. Dunin's job was to find Neelam and dispatch him. Velen interrupted and asked if he could have that honor, to which Aaron agreed. He asked Karith to take Velen's place with Dana and Beriwen. He asked Dunin to find and take out Maoauk instead. The rest where to focus on high-value targets of opportunity, anyone who seemed in charge. Velen asked Aaron what he would be doing.

"Waiting," Aaron replied.

"Waiting?" Velen asked, cocking his head slightly in confusion.

"For what?" Anna added.

"For the true power to reveal itself," Aaron replied vaguely.

"And who is that?" Beriwen asked.

"I am not completely sure, but I will know when it reveals itself," Aaron replied. "Any questions?"

No one did, so Aaron went over everyone's assignments again. He explained that they would appear on the western side of the city and engage there to open an avenue for King Dorian's army. Once they arrived and assessed the situation he would probably have Karith's group shift to the inside of the upper city walls and lend aid there. Everyone else would see to their assignments and when complete could engage the enemy as they saw fit. After going over it one more time he had everyone gather around so Karith could shift them to a small knoll overlooking the west side of the river near the bridge.

The siege of Realto.

Ragnar led the vanguard to the edge of town, where they secured the area and waited to link up with the army. When Maoauk and the army arrived, Ragnar turned over control of his unit to Maoauk and took up position next to Tsor. Maoauk ordered several platoon size units to secure and hold the bridges and then ordered the front units forward. They had to spread out through the many streets of the lower city on the way to their objective. The army met with resistance in the form of strategically placed archers hiding in buildings all along the route to the upper city gates. Maoauk had to pause to dispatch several squads to root out and destroy the ambushing archers. By the time that the lead elements came into view of the gates of the fortified upper city the archers had been dealt with. At this point Neelam nudged his horse forward until he was within earshot of the gates.

"Hello, to the gates!" Neelam called out. "If you lay down your arms and open the gates you will save yourselves a lot of bloodshed. You cannot hope to stand against the might brought against you."

"You can save yourself a lot of bloodshed if you depart," a voice answered from the parapets. "We have no intention of surrendering."

"I am King Neelam, ruler of all the lands east of the forest," Neelam declared, sitting up straighter in his saddle. "To whom am I speaking to?"

"Samuel Greyhawk, Duke of Realto," Duke Samuel replied. "Your actions are an act of war against Realto, Aithen, and the whole of the Eastern Realm!"

"Will you surrender?" Neelam asked.

"No, we will hold until relieved," Duke Samuel replied.

A flight of arrows arced over the wall of the upper city at the rows of Orc attackers. A quick, short bark of command from Maoauk and the Orcs brought their shields up over their heads. Most of the arrows were deflected by the shields but several found their mark by the barks of the injured Orcs.

"My Paladin, the adversary is close," Nightbringer mentally informed its wielder.

"Tsor, I have a pressing matter to attend to," Ragnar announced, turning from the battle. "Where, Nightbringer?"

Karith delivered the companions to a knoll just off the highway. From their height they could see the landscape for miles in all directions. There was a contingent of Orcs holding the far side bridgehead and closer to the city, Orcs had set up a camp. Aaron reminded everyone of their responsibilities and told them he would remain on the knoll and would stay in contact with everyone.

"Tristan, you, Anna, Rac-Nur and Dae-Re, go with Reg and take the bridge. The King will need that bridge when his army gets here. Karith, take Dana and Beriwen to the upper city, and do not scare the defenders."

"What of the advancing army of Orcs from the south?" Graydon asked.

"Reg, how far away are they?" Aaron asked. "And when will Dorian and his army arrive?"

"The Orcs will be here later today, while King Dorian and his army are still a day and a half away."

"Then we will have to deal with the extra Orcs when they get here," Aaron decided. "If things go well we should be finished before Dorian arrives."

"Any further questions or comments?" Aaron added.

No one did so Karith and Dana each kissed Aaron and Beriwen kissed Dunin before Karith shifted them to the upper city. Reg brought TimeKeeper up into a salute and then he and his team vanished, as well.

"Dunin, you, Graydon, Velen, and Brother William are on me," Aaron announced. "We are going to stir up the hornet's nest. Before we do there is something that Graydon and Dunin need to know."

Aaron explained the nature of true names and the power gained from knowing the true names of their swords. This had not been revealed to them before, he went on, because, quite frankly the knowledge had been lost between the ages. It was not uncommon, he continued, for a bearer to never know the true name of his sword but Aaron thought it was necessary for them to know so that they could complete their tasks in the upcoming struggle. He told Graydon that Lightbringer's true name was Unhimith and Dunin's sword Kalaban's true name was Caral.

"I thought you were going to stay up here?" Dunin asked quizzically after thanking him for that bit of information.

"I have rethought that," Aaron replied. "I am thinking that perhaps the best way to draw out whatever is behind all of this is to muck with the plan. If we hit the back of the army we should be able to draw the head away from Realto and engage the individuals you are after. That might just force the hand of my adversary."

Aaron had them gather around and then had Caledor shift them to the other side of the river.

The women's sudden appearance in the center of the compound was met with shock and alarm. It took Karith several minutes to calm down the guards and find someone to take them to the Duke. She finally convinced a sergeant of their sincerity, and authenticity, and he delivered them to where the Duke was conferring with his advisors.

"Your Highness," Karith began, dipping her head ever so slightly. "Lord Blackmoon's compliments. He has sent us to aid you."

"Lord Blackmoon?" Duke Samuel asked. "Aaron is here?"

"Yes, he will be arriving soon," Karith explained. "He sent us on ahead."

"How many are you?" Duke Greyhawk asked, looking around.

"Just the three of us," Karith replied with a smile.

"The women have set up an aid station near the stables, perhaps you can assist over there," Duke Greyhawk suggested, pointing toward where the stables were located.

"You misunderstand, Duke Samuel," Dana interjected. "We are here to help you fight. What is your most pressing need?"

"Where are you the most vulnerable?" Beriwen added.

"Excuse me, My Lord," an advisor interrupted, and turned to Karith. "How exactly can you help us?"

"And you are?" Karith asked.

"Colonel Snyder. I lead the garrison here," he explained.

A concussive blast ended the conversation, as all eyes turned toward its source. A section of the wall had blown in just to the left of the gates. Before the breach could be exploited by the attackers Karith had put up a silver shield of Eldritch in the breach while Beriwen had summoned her stone and staff and began moving the disturbed blocks back into place. Soon the breach in the wall was gone and Dana turned back toward Duke Greyhawk.

"Does that satisfy everyone?" Dana asked, chuckling.

Duke Samuel dispatched the three women to different areas along the wall to assist the defenders in keeping the invaders at bay. Karith had the best line of sight of the sorcerers and began shooting balls of silver Eldritch, scattering the magic users. Dana rained down bolts of blue Eldritch on top of the Orcs, effectively stopping their advance. The lead elements began to turn and retreat right into the ranks behind them, creating chaos everywhere. Beriwen, with staff and stone, conjured vines out of ground, wrapping around the feet of the Orcs, pulling them to the ground where other tendrils quickly covered them. The defenders, emboldened by the actions of the women began launching salvo after salvo of arrows into the confused ranks of Orcs, sending them more into disarray. The first assault on Realto had just been stopped in its tracks!

Reg and his group appeared on the bridge, right in front of the defending force of Orcs and attacked. The five split apart and engaged the surprised enemy. Tristan teamed up with Anastasia, taking on four Orcs to the left, while Rac-Nur and Dae-Re took on the advancing Orcs to the right. Reg looked around and shrugged before splitting the Orc in front of him in two.

It was melee madness instead of orchestrated ballet as swords flashed and Orc bodies fell all around the bridgehead. When it was over there was not a single Orc standing as Reg surveyed the area. Reg ordered his squad forward toward the Orc encampment to engage the enemy there.

Aaron's group appeared on the city side of the river and spread out in an arc with Aaron at the center. Aaron drew Caledor only and the group went through the left flank of Orcs like a scythe through dry stalks of wheat. Swords flashed and power flared as Orc bodies began to drop left and right. There rose a murmur from the ranks that turned into alarm as the heads rippled turning toward the attack, forgetting all about the assault on the walled compound. The Orcs at the point of assault were trying to retreat from the carnage while the ones just a few ranks back were pushing forward trying to get to the attackers. The end result was that the retreating Orcs were either being cut down as they desperately tried to flee, or trampled by the Orcs trying to move forward. The group pushed forward toward the city gates as Orcs fell before them. They entered a square and cleared the area of any stragglers and paused to catch their breaths and wipe their brows.

The assault of the walled compound had come to a screeching halt as Orcs fled the area for the relative safety of the buildings and streets surrounding the upper city. Maoauk was barking orders that were being ignored as his troops fled the area. Their planned assault had crumbled into a disordered retreat. Several Orcs fled by where Neelam was standing with Tsor.

"What is happening?!" Neelam screamed, spittle flying everywhere. "Maoauk! Press the attack! Tsor! Where are your sorcerers?! Ragnar! Get back here and help!"

"I once told you that our goals were not in conflict," Ragnar explained, stopping and addressing Neelam. "They now are."

"And you are just leaving, now?" Neelam asked and then added. "Like a coward?"

"Watch your tongue, mortal," Ragnar replied, stepping toward Neelam before stopping. "No, not leaving. Taking the fight to my adversary. Perhaps, if you are so inclined you will join me. I am sure you will find a worthy opponent to test your skill with a sword."

"My Paladin, our adversary comes," Lightbringer mentally informed Graydon.

"Aaron, they are coming," Graydon relayed the sword's warning as he cut down another Orc.

Aaron looked up and could see movement through the ranks of Orcs. A bubble of sorts, moving through the ranks of Orcs.

"Graydon, Dunin, it is time," Aaron announced and raised Caledor high. "Aroman!"

"Unhimith!" Graydon cried out, raising LightBringer high into the air.

"Caral!" Dunin cried out as well, raising his sword high.

Thunder boomed while lightning crackled all around them as dark clouds began to form a swirling maelstrom above them. The ranks of Orcs parted and Aaron saw Ragnar, High Lord of Thangdaemon, followed by Maoauk and the pretender king, Neelam. His feral smile grew in ferocity as he saw Lord Tsor, his old master, and the one he had stripped of power and banished to the Northern Wastelands. The Orcs continued to give way, stepping back to provide the new comers with room to maneuver. Brother William cut down any brave enough to enter the square.

"Tsor! What a pleasant surprise," Aaron called out mockingly when he saw Lord Tsor step out from within the ranks of Orcs and enter the unoccupied square.

"Lord Tsor, please introduce us," Neelam said with a sneer.

"Oh, there is no need for introductions, pretender king," Aaron replied and struck Tsor with golden lightning. "You are not going to be around long enough."

Graydon felt an immense pull toward the knight in black when he stepped from with the ranks of Orcs. He brought his sword up and saluted the knight and waited for the attack.

Ragnar felt the pull as well when he entered the open area previously vacated by the ranks of Maoauk's Orcs. He saw Prince Velen, his adversary, a human with a Runesword, and another that he realized was a Tarran male. He was solely focused on his adversary and never gave the others a second glance. When he brought his sword up into a salute, Ragnar paused and then reciprocated before advancing.

Graydon easily blocked the first attack by the Anti-Paladin and the two began to circle, feinting and thrusting to test the mettle of the other. Graydon saw an opening and swung LightBringer downward at Ragnar, who barely got Nightbringer into a block position. The crash of Runesword against Runesword and brother against brother was deafening. Showers of sparks fell around them as they continued to crash against each other.

Dunin saw the large Orc step out from the ranks and marked him as his target. The Orc wielded a large club with spikes sticking out of it all over. The Orc scanned the crowed and when Dunin stepped forward and beckoned, smiling widely, and advanced. The Orc swung his war club in an overhead strike, which Dunin easily blocked with Kalaban. The Orc had no finesse, no symmetry of motion, he swung and pressed, and swung and pressed, causing Dunin to give ground. After the third such combination Dunin felt his arm beginning to tingle like he had slept on it all night.

"Caral, give me strength!" he mentally sent to the sword and immediately felt the fatigue drain away and with it the tingling in his arm.

With a renewed feeling of strength, Dunin pressed the attack, getting two good strikes in before Maoauk backpedaled, giving ground. Dunin followed, pressing the advantage and finally pushing inside of the Orc's defenses. A quick plunging strike scored a decisive hit, piercing Maoauk's chest and through his right lung. Frothy blood began to run from the Orc's mouth as he struggled to defend himself. Dunin then cut through the Orc's right hand at the wrist, removing the hand and the club attacked to it. The Orc turned to flee but it was too late, Kalaban bit deep into the left side of Maoauk, plunging through the heart and killing the Orc instantly. Dunin withdrew the sword and the Orc chieftain fell to the ground dead. A murmur of shock rose in level from the surrounding Orcs as they watched their leader die.

Prince Velen quickly closed on Neelam swinging Darksoul at the human. Neelam was not without skill, albeit, skill given by the sword as opposed to skill learned from years of practice. Velen pressed Neelam backwards with the ferocity of his assault. Velen was being a little reckless, a little cavalier in his dealings with Neelam. His disdain for the human caused him to neglect years of training as he fought Neelam. Neelam initially struggled to keep up but soon was meeting Velen's attack with counter attacks, parries, and blocks. Velen had managed to draw first blood, a nick to the inside of Neelam's sword arm which bled down his arm, but other than that the combatants were keeping the other at sword's length. Ultimately, it was the power bestowed by a Runesword that turned the battle.

"Gor, give me strength!" Neelam mentally beseeched his sword.

"Are you sure, My Lord?" the sword mentally replied. "I would not want to be the cause of some permanent malady you have."

"Quit fooling around and do as I command!" Neelam mentally replied hotly.

"As you command, My Lord."

Neelam felt power and energy rush into him, filling him to overflowing proportions. He began to laugh from the giddiness associated with too much energy. The laughter irked Velen who pressed his attack, which Neelam deftly parried, driving Darksoul upwards and back, exposing Velen. The counterattack was shift and sure, Neelam plunged Gor hilt deep into Velen's chest. The Thangdaemon Prince only had a moment to look down in shock as his sword slipped from useless fingers, and his body crumpled to the ground. Prince Velen had died for the second time!

Aaron saw Velen fall and immediately leaped to his defense when a massive tremor in the flow of Eldritch caused him to pause and look around trying to find the source of the disturbance. While he paused to stop, Brother William did not, and leaped forward to engage Neelam.

Plane of Chaos

Lord Timutmaru, attend me!"

"Master, you summoned me?" Lord Timutmaru asked, fading in view in front of a swirling blob of golden light.

"Yes, the Herald is interfering where he is not wanted and I want his attention elsewhere," a voice within the swirling blob of golden light spoke.

"How, Master?" Timutmaru asked.

"The children are the key."

"As you command, My Master," Timutmaru bowed and vanished.

Laughter, wicked laughter emanated from the blob.

Aaron surveyed the battle keeping everyone in his gaze while also trying to see what caused the tremor. He was brought up short when a scream reverberated within him. He quickly touched the link that he had with Karith and felt her discord.

"Aaron, the children!" she screamed through their link.

"You stay here and watch over the others, I will go," he thought back.

"No! It is more important for you to be here, I will go," she replied.

"Keep me informed," he thought to her as he felt her shift.

Aaron turned to engage Neelam but saw that Brother William was already locked in combat with the pretender king. Aaron looked for other targets and zeroed in on several Orcs.

Karith had been raining silver balls of Eldritch, causing further havoc within the ranks of the sorcerers. She had just summoned several more when the flow was interrupted and disappeared! A moment later it was back and she felt immense danger from the children. She cried out in alarm through the link with Aaron, letting him know of her intentions.

"Dana!" she called out through the link she shared with her sister-mate. "The children are in danger!"

"I am coming with you!" Dana sent back.

"No! Go to Sinthar, make sure he is safe!"

"I cannot shift that far!"

"Find Reg, have TimeKeeper open a gate. I must go. Gods' speed!"

"Aaron, please have Reg come find me," Dana sent to her soulmate. "I worry about our son and I cannot get there by myself."

"He is on his way, Dana," Aaron replied. "Be careful and keep me informed!"

Karith's lair, Dragon Tooth Mountains.

Lord Timutmaru, Lord of Chaos, had been tasked by his master to abduct the young Wyrmlings which would force the Herald to turn his attention from the battle. He appeared outside of the Wyrm's lair and began to draw power to circumvent the wards. His master had previously shown him how to defeat them and he was eager to put the knowledge to practice. He also brought with him two other Lords of Chaos, Lords Baeloc and Nordak to ensure that the task would be accomplished with minimum fuss. A fourth Lord of Chaos, Azepeche, had been dispatched to abduct the young Tarran son of the Herald.

Once Lord Timutmaru had defeated the wards he checked that the other two lords were ready and then blew the door open with power. The three gods rushed in and down the passageway, which opened up into a grand cavern of a room. They had not caught their prey by surprise however since Melvina had felt the discharge and was prepared for the attack.

It was three against one and Lord Timutmaru combined with Lord Nordak overcame her defenses and Lord Baeloc bound her. Lord Timutmaru looked around the vast cavern and found the two Wyrmlings backed against a corner, the female shielding the male.

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