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Reniad en Agarwaen*

Mirelena

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*Journey of the Bloodstained ~ FourthAge


Under the thatched roof of a large and comfortable cottage, an odd-looking assemblage was gathered. Seated here, casually observing the group was a young man with silver hair and dressed in dark clothes. Over there was a burly man with graying hair, draining a keg of ale and slapping the host on the back. The smaller, wiry man gasped and choked on his laughter as the larger, forgetting his own strength, winded him.


A dwarf, dressed in sturdy mail, was leaning his battle-axe on the wall by the door. When he was noticed, a general cry of welcome arose. An elven lady, clothed in a beautiful, blue dress of modest cut, walked over and greeted him, arms outstretched. The dwarf gruffly accepted the gesture, then blushed and muttered something about the strange ways of elves. This drew a laugh from each member of the company.

A melodious cacophony of voices greeted two dark figures that cast their midday shadows through the door shortly thereafter. Over their shoulders were draped the fruits of their separate hunts. One bore fruits and vegetables, the other a deer and wild fowl. The evening feast would be well rounded indeed!

With their arrival, everyone was thrown into a flurry of activity. The dark elves were quickly relieved of their burdens, to be cleaned and prepared. The cooking fire outside was stirred to full life, the carcasses spitted and set out to roast. Berries were washed and placed in wooden bowls with cream and wild honey. Carrots, onions, potatoes and other roots from the garden were placed in a pot and filled with water, flour and herbs. What meal could be better for such a merry group?


When everything was prepared to the satisfaction of even the picky host, the group settled on large logs that surrounded the fire that still burned brightly in the yard. While they were still swallowing the first bite, screams of childish laughter rose on the wind, followed by adult voices halfheartedly chastising them to be quieter.

Soon the sources of the noise could be seen. Small Rohirric children, golden locks flying wildly, rushed into the circle of light and leaped upon the cottage’s owner. As he was tackled, he lost his balance and fell over the back of the log. His laughter rang out through the twilit sky as little hands tried to haul him upright again.

As they did, the smaller ones jumped up and down around him shouting, “Tell us a story, Cair! You promised us you’d tell us a story! Please?”

Still laughing, Cairbrent got up and hushed the group. His voice was low and dramatic. His gray eyes snapped with energy as he captivated his young audience from the first word. They would be asleep before he finished, he knew, but what did it matter?

“Look at the faces around the fire,” he instructed, “Perhaps you will find the hero that belongs to the names you know so well!” At this, a small, audible gasp went up from the small ones.

A little girl who had run to the elven lady suddenly grew shy as she drew near. “Are you Elorendil?” she asked, timidly tracing a circle in the dirt with her toe.

The elven lady was indeed Elorendil, the Valiant. She smiled tenderly at the child, then, drawing her upon her lap, she answered, “I am.” and brushed away a wisp of hair from the young one’s forehead.

“You!” cried a little boy who brandished a wooden sword in front of the dark man, “You’re Sir! The Swordmaster! I challenge you to a duel!”

Sir smiled and patted the boy on the head. “Do you truly believe you have what it takes to challange me?” he chuckled. His smile became deepened when the boy poked him in the stomach. “I believe you do.”


One by one, Helmin, the Dwarf, Kilio the Strong, and even the Dark Elves, Dindae and Moraur, had each collected their devoted following. Cair found it amusing that he had been left with the mischievous jokesters. Opposites attract… Unless you’re a ‘hero.’

While the children made themselves comfortable, Sir began to chant an epic poem in a low voice. He drew his sword and laid it beside the fire; it cast dancing light into the shining eyes of the company. Elorendil produced a unique harp, to the delight of her audience and played a simple melody. Kilio sat staring silently into the flames as Cairbrent stood and threw some sweet smelling herbs upon the fire, speaking amid the cacophony of melodies. The listeners sat, transported.

“Ours is a special tale of friendship, betrayal, revenge and even love,” Elorendil said softly.

“This is our story,” Cair said, “None of us can claim it as our own, yet it belongs to each one here. Through a combination of comedy and feeling the need to belong, we banded together to serve each other and the good of Middle-Earth. All of us are misfits or exiles from our native lands. I have said this tale belongs to no one person, yet without any one of us, it would not be the same. We all had some unique part to play.
“Many years ago, our adventures, and misadventures, began. It was a night not so very different from this…”

And so the yarn began. Every member of the company had something to share and each individual thread was inextricably woven into one fantastic tapestry.
 
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Morohtar

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It was a dark night. The moon was hiding behind the Ephel Duath, the stars dimmed as though by some ethereal evil. The dew on the leaves and ground served only to soften one's footsteps. The whole earth seemed to frightened to make a sound. It was the perfect night for what they were going to do.

Eos sat perched in a tall tree, long dead from the poison that had come out of Mordor during the dark times. He remembered those times well, when Orcs and miscreants were plenty and worth a fair price. Now, they were harder to find, and his band of misfits had to find alternate means of... finance. Assassins of the night? Nay, thieves is more fitting, and cowardly ones at that. He frowned at the sardonic twist his life had taken. How fitting; we have become what we once hunted, and are now hunted by that which we once were.

He shook such thoughts from his mind and concentrated on the task at hand. The campfire had been out for a few hours, which meant that they should all be sleeping, except a sentry or two. Their numbers couldn't number more than ten, or his ears were filled with wax. With any luck, the night could go smoothly, perhaps even bloodlessly. Jewels, weapons and gold; quickly and silently taken. And then they would disappear into the night. Just as the had many times before.

He signalled to the others, and the slowly crept towards their target.
 

Elorendil

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Sitting beside the embers of what had been a blazing campfire sat a single, motionless figure. Beside it, a black shadow sprawled across the ground, whuffing softly in its sleep. A gentle breeze ruffled the unmoving sentry's hair, blowing a dark auburn lock across her face. Distractedly, Elorendil reached up and tucked the stray tress back behind her ear. Her attention and keen, elven eyes were fixed upon some distant point in the darkness as she listened in the stillness. She thought she had heard something; perhaps the wind in the branches, perhaps something else. She strained her ears to catch the sound. All she heard was the gentle breathing of her companions and Kilio's not-so-gentle snoring. It was just the wind blowing through the trees, she assured herself with a shrug of the shoulders. She turned back to the dying campfire, watching the glowing embers as they slowly faded and then died out.

There. There it was again, in the trees in front of her. This time, Dúathmin heard it, too. Two yellow-green eyes winked open and the dark shadow at Elorendil's feet rose and took the shape. The black panther stared out into the forest, sniffing the wind suspiciously. Elorendil followed her feline gaze into the trees. She didn't see anything. Dúathmin tensed as she heard the sound again, the rustle of leaves being disturbed by the footfalls of some creature. It was nearer, this time. Elorendil sat back, waiting to see what animal would appear from the underbrush, but none appeared. Instead, she heard the sound yet again, behind her this time. With a frown, Elorendil half turned on her seat by the fire and listened. That is no deer, she thought. Nor is it another one of the orcs we encountered earlier today. It sounds more like... A feeling of uneasiness gripped her and she moved one hand to rest on the hilt of the longsword girt at her side.

There it was again. There was no mistaking the crunch of dead leaves, this time. Elorendil rose silently and drew her dark cloak around her, melting into the darkness. She moved stealthily towards the source of the sound, hoping to dispel the growing cloud of dread that hung in her mind.

Less than three dozen paces from the camp, she saw it. Elorendil pressed herself against the nearest tree to avoid being seen. She could feel the rough bark, damp with the early morning mist, bite into her hands as she flattened heself against the trunk. Even throught the light fog, she could make out the form of a man creeping slowly towards their camp. A second figure followed behind him. Her breath caught in her throat as she caught the glimmer of dim starlight on a long, wicked-looking blade. The pair continued their slow advance, unaware that they were being watched. Moving as quickly as she dared, Elorendil pushed away from the tree and hurried back to the camp.

As she neared the dying embers of the camp fire, she stooped beside the first sleeping figure she came upon. She shook Danaeth's shoulder urgently, rousing him from his sleep. Sitting up and rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he managed a drowsy, "What?"

"Rise!" she commanded urgently. "Rise and arm yourself; men approach! I know not how many, but their intentions are less than honorable, of this I am sure. Wake the others! Now, lest we all die!" Without waiting for him to reply, she moved off to shake another sleeping form to wakefulness.
 

elfgirl

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Moraur laid down, put his hand on his sword, and eventually, his body relaxed and he drifted into sleep. His breathing leveled off at a relaxed pace. His mind slipped into the half-dreamstate that lingered between memory and fiction.
“Don’t look like that.” The dark elf stood before him, relaxed, calm, but obviously angered. “You’re just like me.” He handed the bartender some coins. “You just won’t accept it.” At that, he turned, with a sly smile, and walked confidently, smoothly out of the inn. Moraur had been watching him the entire night. Watching him cheat at various games, drink a lot of ale, and then seduce a rather good-looking female elf.
The words echoed through his mind again, as his half-conscious brain thought about the implications. “You’re just like me.” Was he? Really? Maybe. He could have so easily been that elf, if he had continued on the path he was on. Perhaps he had never really changed – perhaps he had only eluded so many people into thinking he was good that the illusion became a part of him. His mind relaxed even more, and his memories became twisted. He was back in that bar, but the elf before him was himself. Smiling evilly, smiling out of the pure joy that came from fulfilling his carnal desires. Then he was back when he was younger, back with his brothers. They were laughing, playing, swordfighting. And it was that elf, that elf instead of him. He stepped towards his brothers, anger and resentment lining his face, that sly, evil smile on his face once more. He turned in his sleep, uncomfortably reliving blurred memories.
Meanwhile, Draeki lay there, awake, thinking about what had brought her here. She had followed Moraur, followed him out of the bar where she’d watched him comfort some young floozy. She didn’t know why. At first she’d intended him to be a target, someone who she stole from after she had beaten and humiliated him. But he’d caught her, fought her. She’d cut off some of his hair, most male elf’s pride and joy (it showed status and age). He hadn’t been fazed - he’d even cut the other side, to even it out. They’d fought until they were both completely exhausted, and they could fight no more. They had parted, and then when Moraur had left town, Draeki followed him for some reason. He was a merc, she knew, and she wondered now, why she had gone when she hadn’t been offered the job. I went for the money. She thought.Nothing more.
She heard the alarm being raised. Someone was coming. She jumped up, and grabbed her swords, kicking Moraur in the side. He jumped up with a yelp, the sudden pain waking him easily enough. She told him to get up or die, but for some reason she couldn't quite grasp, he was really angry about a few little broken ribs...
 
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Morohtar

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Danaeth slept soundly, unaware of the danger that slowly approached their camp. In his mind he heard a steady, rhythmic breathing; his own perhaps. Then another sound came, slowly rising and falling. The sea. He had heard it's voice often in his youth, running along the beaches near Dol Amroth. But these waves sounded different; a music seemed to rise from them, a symphony of sound that immersed him, sending a shiver down his spine. He saw a rising sun, gold on the horizon, shimmering off the warm waves in the distance, and ships with tall sails gliding across the fiery surface. Some gulls joined their voices to the music.

Arândil

This new voice came from behind him, and he turned. A woman walked towards him, more beautiful than any he had seen in his life. Golden was her hair, like wheat before the harvest, shining as if the stars themselves had come down to adorn her in there majesty. Her eyes were a shimmering blue, and deep as the sea itself. She was clothed in white, long flowing robes which danced with the wind.

"Ah, my beloved, I did not wish to wake you," Danaeth said, though he did not recognize the voice that ushered from his lips. This new voice was stronger, softer, more soothing than his own.

"If this is indeed our last day together, I do not wish to be apart from you." Her voice seemed calm, but he knew that inside her heart was breaking, though he knew not why.

"You talk as if I go off to my death, as if I will not return." Once again this new voice startled him; the two voices seemed perfectly matched, one deep and strong, the other graceful and melodious. Both voices sounded at once new and ancient.

"I fear for you, I... I fear for us. I fear that you will find your doom in the east and I will be heartbroken." The woman turned away, looking towards the north, where two horses were playing on the beach. She lowered her head and spoke softly, her hand moving to her stomach. "And... I fear that our child may grow up without a father.

He turned her around gently, lifting her head to see the tears flow down her cheeks. He brushed them away and looked into her eyes, then pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. He felt her head on his chest, and sighed deeply. "You know that naught could keep me from you, neither the evil in the east nor the Valar themselves. I love you, with all my heart, and I will return."

She gave no reply, and he held her in his arms for a while, till he heard a loud knocking on the door, and someone call his name. He slowly pulled away till he held only her hands, and then turned towards the house. He found his armour and a pack filled with essentials. He put on the armour and slung the bag onto his back, leaving the house by the front door and stepping out into the busy street. He followed the two soldiers who had knocked on the door, and they made their way towards the docks. He walked slowly, as if wishing with every step to return to his home. But duty held him fast, and he continued on his journey. He saw ships in the distance, and many men, clad in armour similar to his, assembling nearby. After walking some distance he turned and looked back towards his house. High upon a balcony she stood, shimmering radiantly in the light of the new sun. He turned again and looked to the horizon, knowing that there lay his destiny, for good or evil.

He awoke slowly as someone shook his shoulder vigourously. He muttered something and then asked, "what?"

"Rise!" Elorendil said with an urgent tone. "Rise and arm yourself; men approach! I know not how many, but their intentions are less than honorable, of this I am sure. Wake the others! Now, lest we all die!" Danaeth woke as quickly as possible and grabbed his sword.
 

Mirelena

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Cair roused from his light sleep. He took a deep breath and let it out. A long cloud of frozen vapor swirled though the air, then vanished. Though the days were quite warm for early spring, the nights were still cold. He scowled good-naturedly as he propped himself upon his elbow. As he stood up the frigid air made him shiver. Cairbrent wrapped his blood-stained cloak tightly around himself. He and his companions had encountered a group of orcs earlier in the evening and, with little trouble, managed to fight them off.
Soon after, they sought shelter from the chill breeze that swept down from the mountains of Mordor. They set up camp under the eves of Ithilien, hoping the trees would act as a windbreak.
The fire from the night before had burned down and Cair set quietly to work bringing it back to life. Soon it blazed high again, casting shadows upon the sleeping forms around him. He smirked as he thought about some of the tricks he had played on them in the past. It had been weeks before they would let him take the night watch alone.
Finally, he released his cloak with a groan of regret. It hung about his form loosely. He walked the perimeter of the camp making a fair amount of noise. A dark shadow caught his attention as it flitted through the corner of his eye. He stopped in his tracks and attempted to locate it again.
Was it just an animal? But animals were rare in Ithilien. Was it Elor? He hadn't seen her when he woke up. But the shape had been too large. Who was it then? Were there more than one? Where did they come from? Did they mean ill? What should he do? His mind fired off questions rapidly as he attempted to discern a favorable course of action. Quietly, he scampered to rouse his friends.
Meanwhile, Elorendil had slipped back with her usual Elven grace and agility and was waking Danaeth. He caught only a few words, but the urgency in her voice was unmistakable. "...arm...how many...less than...Wake the others!"
Cair needed no more confirmation. He set to work immediately. His face twitched into a smirk as he approached Kilio. Even as adrenaline coursed through his veins, he could not resist pulling a prank on his friend.
"Wake, fool! Lest we all die!" he said harshly and clapped a cold hand upon the shoulder of the large, sleeping form.
 

Morohtar

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Kilio was also sleeping deeply; nescessary, given the volume with which he snored. He had dreamt earlier of his past, and had awoken with a gasp, then settled down realizing that it was only a dream, though still to real for his comfort. With sleep growing on him again, he quickly nibbled at some leftover supper beside his bed, then dozed off again. Perhaps it was the snack, or perhaps not, but his next dream was strange, even for Kilio.

The dream involved pies. Lots of pies. And a variety of pies, quite the plethora to choose from. But when he went to eat one, it cried out, "Nay, devour me not, for I have a family!" At once three small pies and a larger pie came towards him, and the larger of the pies tried to console of one the smallest of the pies, who was crying, though more the sounds of crying than actual tears, for the pies had no eyes, and therefore no means of producing tears. And so, feeling sorry for that particular pie, he set it down and reached for another. It spoke not when handled, and so he thought it safe to eat. Though when about six inches from his mouth, it too cried out, saying "Unhand me you fiendishly fiendish fiend, or thou shalt feel my full wrath!" Being quite startled by this, Kilio dropped the pie, which did make quite the noise and mess, and which did cause a unisonal gasp from the many pies around him. These pies did indeed grow rather irate, and did call out, "Murderer!" and "Scoundrel!" and other unsavoury things. They then surrounded him and pulled him downward. It would seem his life was saved by a hard grasp on his shoulder, which awoke him from his dream. He snorted and cried out, "The pies! The pies!" Cairbrent, who awoke him, made no effort of understanding Kilio's odd statement, nor did Kilio attempt to explain. He simply rose from his bed and, realizing trouble was afoot, made ready for battle.
 
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Elorendil

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The thrill of battle coursed through Elorendil's veins as the feathered shaft of her arrow brushed against her pale fingertips. The reassuring weight of her bow rested in her other hand as she held the weapon loosely, searching the darkness with her keen elven eyes. Dúathmin stood beside her, every muscle in her powerful, black body coiled like a spring, ready to leap upon any adversary that might dare to come near her mistress. Behind her, the rest of their small company made ready for battle. She heard the distinctive ring of metal as Danaeth unsheathed his silvery sword. Cairbrent stood beside him, shifting from foot to foot in uneasy anticipation of what was to come. Sir stood quietly off to the side, one hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword. His expression was nearly unreadable in the half-light of the fire, save for the eager light in his green eyes.

Kilio moved to stand beside her, his long spear held at the ready in one hand. "How many?" their leader asked quietly.

Elorendil barely even glanced at him, still searching the darkness for any sign of their would-be attackers. Perhaps, when they realized they could not take us unaware, the cowards turned back, she speculated. She shrugged off the thought and answered, "There were only two that I saw but I am certain there are more of them." A flicker of movement in the shadows caught her eye. She inclined her head slightly in the direction of their stalker. "Make that at least three." A dark smile tugged at the corners of her shapely mouth. Though she knew the possible severity of their situation, she could not help but ask their leader playfully, "Shall I thin their numbers a little?"
 

Morohtar

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Kilio turned to see a mischevous grin on Elorendil's face. He couldn't help but smile as well. "What, and let you have all the fun?" he said while running his thunb along the tip of his spear. The adrenaline coursing through his veins made him shiver with anticipation. Dephamon and Keros would taste blood tonight it seemed. Though he would try to keep the night from coming to that; he hated death, especially if it might include some of his friends.

"Besides, they might just be other travellers who have come to see whether we are a threat. They might see that we mean them no harm and leave of their own accord." He thought his words unconvincing, and judged by the look on Elorendil's face that they had been. Dùathmin's muscular form remained alert as she searched the dark with her sharp feline eyes.

Kilio, on the other hand, knew that his eyes would never see anything that wished to be hidden, and would trust in his companions and his chainmail. Though he wished that something would happen; he couldn't abide silent and waiting on the edge of action was beyond his patience. He watched his breathe turned to mist and disappear into the night, and then called out, "Who are you, O' assailants of the night? By what name may we call those who would disturb peaceful travellers as they slept?" He waited for a reply, which he hoped would come quickly, lest he run out into the forest, grab them all by their collars (if they had any), and boot them over the Ephel Duath, or possibly the moon if he felt up to it.
 
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Ghorim

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Gavin's small cottage home had an especially cozy appearance about it that evening, its single room lit by a robust blaze in the crude brick fireplace. The beauty lay in the dwelling's simplicity; austerely furnished, it was basic yet inviting. A storm lashed at the home outside, but the tranquility within remained undisturbed. Even the shadows seemed friendly as they flickered and danced on the far wall. But beneath that idyllic image crept the tentacles of dread, wrapping themselves gradually around the man's heart as he sat before his evening meal. They worked on his spirit with a terrible sort of patience, wringing out his pleasure gradually, replacing it with a vague anxiety. It had gotten to the point where he could no longer enjoy his stew, the broth of which he had made himself from his favorite ingredients.

But why should Gavin worry? All was safe here; the cottage could not accuse him, could not do unto him any harm. Here he was welcome, and innocent. Yet from outside the wind seemed to call after him. There yet remained a debt to be paid, and Gavin sought with all of his strength to ignore it, taking another sip from his spoon. But the shrieking gusts outside would not allow the man to block them from his consciousness, and pummeled his sanctuary with a vengeful, redoubled fury. The sounds accumulated into a mass of pure dissonance in Gavin's head. He dropped his spoon, grabbing his hair with both hands and pressing his eyes shut. The cacophony built itself to a peak, and in the very instant that it became unbearable, the door flew open. It struck the wall with a clang and flapped about pathetically in the gale. Gavin clambered to his feet in horror. The winds had come for him!

A heavy footfall came, resounding like a thunderclap in Gavin's tortured mind. A shadow separated itself from the dark of night and emerged into the cottage, a stunted silhouette draped in a hooded travel cloak. It proceeded toward the man as he gawked on, tracking water and mud on the floor with each harsh step. Gavin clung on the precipice just above sheer panic as he addressed the figure.

"Wh- what... what do you want?"

The words came out choked, drowning in their own fear. The intruder seemed to inhale deeply, moving one gloved hand to its throat. The fingers gripped and tugged, and out spilled a beard of impressive length from the folds of the dark brown cloak. The other hand moved to grip the figure's hood, and pulled back sharply, revealing a ruddy and grim-looking face. It was a dwarf, naturally. Gavin should have recognized this fact immediately, but the mists of terror had blurred his sight. The bearded one spoke, with a voice that sounded like the stirring of stones before an avalanche.

"Shelter from the winds and a bit of meat to take with me are all that I desire, my good sir."

The words, though cordial enough, came sounding detached, as if the dwarf were reciting the expressions of another.

The man exhaled slightly and leaned on his chair for support, his fears subsiding for the time being. "Ahh... well, sir dwarf... I am not so well off that I have any meat to offer, but I do have a stew boiling at the moment."

"I smelled as much. May I trouble you for a bowl?"

"Well..." Gavin hesitated for a moment. "Yes, I suppose you could have some."

The dwarf nodded, and without waiting for his host to sit, marched over to the table, taking a seat for himself. "Much obliged."

As Gavin shakily lowered himself into his chair, the dwarf examined him closely.

"All's well?" asked the Khazad.

"Certainly," said Gavin, none too convincingly. "Just a little... tired."

"And what of my bowl of stew?"

Gavin stared at his guest dumbly for a moment, but then quickly snapped back to life. "Oh... of course!" The man rose hurriedly, grabbing a bowl and spoon from one of his shelves. He then went over to the cauldron filled with stew, which sat near the fire, and ladled full the container, returning it to the dwarf.

"There you are."

Gavin sat once more as the dwarf gulped down great spoonfuls of the broth without waiting for it to cool. The man could only take a few feeble, distracted sips from his bowl as the dwarf wolfed down his complimentary meal. Once his bowl was dry, the diminutive traveler shoved it away and stroked his black beard thoughtfully.

"Hmm... a distinctive taste this broth has." The low rumble of his voice reverberated through Gavin's spine. "Was that... pumpkin that I tasted?"

The man nodded just barely enough to be noticed. "Why... why yes. Pumpkin, indeed."

"A rare ingredient in stews, I should think."

Gavin rubbed the back of his neck gently. "Well, certainly not all that common."

The dwarf leaned forward on the wooden table, causing it to creak slightly. "But I liked the taste. The pumpkins you used must have been of considerable quality."

"Ahem... well..."

"Tell me," continued the dwarf. "From where did you purchase these pumpkins?"

"From... where?" Gavin's hand did not leave the nape of his neck, and he began to scratch harder. "Well... let me see... oh yes! I went to the market, in the town square. They sell all manners of goods there, you see."

"Ahh..." the dwarf nodded. "Perhaps you could recall who sold them to you, then? I'd like to buy some for myself, methinks."

Gavin cleared his throat and gave a small bite to his lower lip. "Well... I'm sorry, but I cannot recall the fellow's name. It's not the sort of thing that one remembers, you see. He... well... I'm not sure if he even told me his name. I certainly didn't know him."

"Does the name... Gill sound familiar?"

Gavin's fingernails dug deeply into the flesh on the back of his neck. "G-Gill, you say?"

"He has the finest pumpkins in the region, or so I hear."

"I... I myself hadn't heard..."

"You must have paid a hefty price for those pumpkins, aye?"

The dam of self-control that had held Gavin's fears burst, and he blurted out, "Why are you so damn interested in the confusticated pumpkins?!"

"Oh... let's just say that I have a vested interest in the pumpkins, Master Gavin."

Those words drove the color clear off of Gavin's face, and his muscles all seemed to lock in that moment of total shock. The dwarf's expression remained chiseled from stone, and his unfeeling countenance matched the myths of dwarves that Gavin knew. Following a silence that stretched through the ages, the dwarf spoke again.

"Allow me to be straightforward. Farmer Gill approached me on the matter of his vanishing pumpkin crop. Perhaps you've caught word of the thefts. He had no proof of the criminal's identity, but identified you as a suspect, and asked me to investigate the matter. Now, judging from your meal this evening and the trembling of your lips as I speak these words, I'm inclined to believe that his suspicions were correct."

Gavin could muster only a weak shake of his head as a retort. He wanted to stand and run for the door, but terrible visions of the potential consequences of this course of action fastened him into his chair.

"You have two routes to choose between now," said the dwarf, still with such a frigid and distant tone. "Quick and easy, or the opposite. Do you confess, then?"

Gavin was numb all over now, even to his own fear. His whole figure seemed to deflate all the more under the dwarf's cutting gaze. He could not obscure his debt any longer. "I... I am the thief that you seek."

The dwarf smiled, but it was a hollow expression. "Good... you've made this easier on the both of us."

With the chilling grin from his guest and captor, Gavin's horror returned to him afresh, and he shook all over as he asked meekly, "What then is my punishment?"

The question was so pathetic that a bit of sympathetic warmth appeared on the dwarf's face. He placed his right hand on Gavin's left forearm in what was apparently a sign of reassurance. "You shall pay only a reasonable price for your transgressions," said the dwarf as he looked the petrified man squarely in the eye.

Gavin gazed fixatedly on the dwarf's eyes, hardly even hearing the words that the traveler spoke. Those orbs were shrouded and gray, deadened by years of work in the trenches of human society. But the stillness of the dwarf's gaze was shattered in an instant by a sudden upwelling of rage from somewhere within, and his eyes flashed in a terrible fury that stopped Gavin's heart. Then came the hand axe, drawn from somewhere within the cloak by the dwarf's left hand as his right squeezed Gavin's arm in a vice grip. The weapon was lifted in a compact wind-up, and it hung in the air for only a moment, but its image became scorched upon Gavin's memory for the rest of his days. Down came the blade in a swift chop, its edge driving through the skin and muscle and bone in Gavin's left wrist, making the journey from one end of the joint to the other, and finally embedding itself in the cheap wood of the dinner table. The dark crimson flood came forth, spraying the dwarf upon the brow, staining his cloak and beard. The wrath in his eyes died away, and as the human howled in agony, a familiar dead chill enveloped the dwarf's heart once more.
 
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Ghorim

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Helmin marched the two miles from Gavin's cottage to Gill's farm in the biting wind and rain, humming a half-forgotten marching tune to himself. The night was the dwarf's only companion, and so he was certainly in poor company that evening. His path was an isolated dirt road, fast turning to mud in the drizzle. There were no stars or moon to illuminate the dwarf's way. The heavens had deserted him, withholding all blessings for his despicable task. No creatures stirred in the dead of the night, for no beast would trumpet the miserable journey of a bloodstained dwarf. There was only the road and the rain, an oppressive mist that completely filled the air, a terrible crown on a disgusting and lonely scene.

The dwarf entered Gill's impressive farmhouse through the back door, as per his employer's requests. The farmer didn't want his family to know about the darker aspects of his work, didn't want their innocent eyes to take in the squat and hideous form of his hired help. Helmin stepped into what appeared to be a sitting room of some sort, having wiped off his muddy boots beforehand. A dying lantern poorly illuminated the entire room, and in that dim light the dwarf saw Gill, rocking back and forth in his favorite chair. The farmer's eyes were closed, but his mouth had opened wide in a crooked grin, and the lantern's glow was reflected in the man's pearly teeth.

"How'd the job go?"

"Quick... easy... he confessed, and did nothing to oppose me in my duties. Your thief problem is solved."

"And the proof?" Gill opened his eyes now and leaned forward slightly in his chair.

"Here," Helmin said as he removed a darkly-stained pouch from his belt. He brought it over to Gill slowly, with the reverence of a servant for his master.

The farmer took the pouch from the dwarf's gloved hands and glanced inside briefly. Once he was satisfied that his employee had completed his assigned task, Gill closed the pouch and placed it on a small table beside his rocking chair. He laughed gleefully, in what sounded almost like a childish giggle.

"Well bless my boot heels... you're as effective as they said you'd be! I'll keep your name in mind, Helmin, should I ever encounter any more problems with my business."

"Just hand over the payment."

"Of course," said the farmer with a nod, taking up a pouch of his own from the table and tossing it at the dwarf. It contained only a few coins, a petty sum for a petty thief. Helmin caught the pouch and fastened it to his belt, on a notch between two of his infamous throwing axes.

The smile wouldn't leave Gill's plump face. "Did you enjoy yourself?"

Helmin adopted a scornful look and gripped his leather belt with both hands. "I do not work in this field for pleasure, sir." Was that a lie? "And certainly not for jobs like this one... he was a hapless wretch... fell to pieces right before my eyes. It wasn't even necessary to take his hand... he would have been too shaken to steal again."

"Now, dwarf, I was very specific in my instructions. You surprise me... it's not like a fellow in your line of work to be so distracted by sympathy."

"I fulfilled your orders to the letter, as you can see," said Helmin, his disdainful features locking into place. "And I felt nothing for him in that moment. I leave my weaknesses behind when I embark upon an assignment. But looking back afterwards... there was dishonor in what I did tonight. He showed me more hospitality than you did when I first visited your home."

Gill's smile faded slightly at Helmin's words, but he still maintained an amused look. "Is that so?"

"To you, I am a dirty secret, a dreadful tool to be concealed from your family. Never could I dine at your table. This man treated me like a true guest, and allowed me to sit beside him."

"But you know that he's a dirty thief and a liar."

"We all have our flaws," said Helmin quietly, and turned to walk for the exit. He gripped the door's handle, but then stopped, turning slightly to glance over his shoulder. "What are you going to do with your trophy, then?"

Gill laughed his grating laugh again. "Well, I'm low on hog feed at the moment. Got to keep my prized swine fat somehow, yes?" And with those words he burst out in a fit of howling laughter, swinging wildly back and forth in his chair. Disgusted, Helmin quickly pulled the door open and marched out into the night.

From behind him, the dwarf heard Gill's parting words, choked with laughter. "You come back now, hear?"

Helmin, of course, had no intentions of returning to that farmhouse ever again.

---

The dwarf trudged into a nearby town and spent most of Gill's coins on drink, letting the alcohol blur the memories of what had transpired in Gavin's cottage that evening. The sight of the blood became an ambiguous recollection in the drunken dwarf's head, and he wondered now whether it was a dreamed or actual event. All of his frustration and resentment toward the diseased world of humanity became dulled, and a feeling that could pass for contentment settled over Helmin. But no... he was not content, rather he simply did not care about the state of his life in that inebriated moment.

Now high in spirits, the dwarf stumbled off into the night, marching in a haphazardly chosen direction for the duration of the evening. Despite his fatigue and intoxication, Helmin did not stop to rest, and as dawn approached he found himself confused and exhausted in a strange, wooded region, on a path completely surrounded by suspicious-looking trees.

Suddenly, out of the inscrutable darkness came a shouted challenge that halted the dwarf in his tracks.

"Who are you, O' assailants of the night? By what name may we call those who would disturb peaceful travellers as they slept?"

Helmin's head reeled. He attempted to snap into sobriety in order to analyze the words and their origin. Surely it couldn't have been his imagination. The sound had been too clear and distinctive to be unreal. So where was it coming from, then? The dwarf glanced about wildly, his vision going in and out of focus. He could see no others on the path or in the trees. Even in his drunken confusion, Helmin couldn't help but smile and even chuckle a bit from the sheer exhilaration of the situation.

"Well well... what've I gotten myself into this time?" the dwarf mumbled as he clumsily pulled out two throwing axes from his traveling cloak.
 
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Elorendil

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Evil! *mwhahaha*

In a little shack just inside the rough hewn walls of the small town sat a little old man, the town gatekeeper. Tom sighed wearily. There had been no traffic in or out all evening and the dusk was now turning to inky black darkness. A cloud or two had gathered to obscure the stars, blotting out their silvery light. He leaned back against his chair and folded his hands behind his head. Only a few more hours, then he would be relieved of his post.

Just as the old warden was about to drift off to sleep, the sound of clattering hooves shattered the stillness. Tom hurried to his feet and went to peer out the small window in the gate. Squinting into the darkness, he could just make out the form of a horse and rider bearing down on the gate at an alarming rate, with no sign of slowing. A gasp escaped him as, mere inches from the door, the horse slid to a stop, black hooves sending up a large cloud of dust.

"Good evening, sir," Tom greeted the stranger through the narrow window. "What business have you in our town?"

The rider leaned forward to address the gate warden, one hand resting lightly on his gleaming swordhilt. Tom took in his strange dress and the turquoise stone dangling around his neck in one dubious glance. If he had any doubts that this man came from some distance, they were dispelled the instant the rider opened his mouth. "I've come here on business," he said with a thick, eastern accent. "And perhaps a little... entertainment," he added with a suggestive grin. "Now, let me in, old man."

Slowly, almost reluctantly, Tom opened the door to admit the outlander and his horse. As he rode through, the man turned in the saddle and flipped him a coin. "Thank you, my good man," he said, then turned and continued down the street.

Tom stared at the gold coin in shock. This was more than he earned in a week! "E-enjoy your stay, m'lord," he stammered as the rider disappeared around the corner.

*******

Beril stopped in front of a weathered sign that read, "The Brazen Pint Inn" and slid off his steaming mount. He lead Farkass around to the stable behind the inn and left him in the care of a young stable boy, whose eyes widened to the size of dinner plates at the sight of the coin promised him if he took good care of the stallion. Reassured his mount would be well cared for, he gave the majestic animal a pat on the neck, then returned to the inn. I hope she is here, he thought as he pushed the door open.

A variety of sights, smells, and sounds assaulted his senses as he stepped inside. A large number of patrons were gathered around the bar, participating in some game of chance. Most of them were human, like himself, but there were also a few elves and one of two dwarves in the mix. He dismissed the group almost immediately. She would not be caught up in such a crowd. Beril turned and searched the tables and corners of the room. Finally, he caught sight of her. Sitting at a dimly lit table at the far side of the room, nursing a mug of ale and watching the goings on around her, sat an elf who fit the description given to him.

He approached silently and slid into a chair across from her. "Falathiel?" he asked, putting his empty hands on the table in a gesture of friendship. She watched him detachedly. "That depends," she answered smoothly. "Who wants to know?"

Beril ignored the question. "I have a job for you," he said, producing a large pouch full of coins and setting it on the table. "If you think you're up to it, that is," he added, keeping one hand on the leather pouch as he dangled the bait.
 

Elvenladyfair

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As soon as the man entered, Falathiel knew it was more work. She heard his footsteps clearly above the din of the bar. He was looking for her. She didn't look up, but took a sip of her mug and waited. Like a patient cat. His footsteps drew nearer. Good.

She still kept her eyes lowered, even as he approached the table and sat down.

"Falathiel?"

"That depends. Who wants to know?"

His hands were on the table in a friendship gesture, but she removed herself from it. Clearly, this man had know idea who she was. If he did, he'd know, she had no friends, and did not desire them.

"I have a job for you. If you think you're up to it, that is."

A small grin slid across Falathiel's face. "Have no doubt, my good sir, I am more than up to your request, whatever it may be. My singular talents have been used by many over the years." She thought she'd take the opportunity to brag. "And I have never failed. Well-versed in this art I am." A small chuckle escaped her mouth. It was true, many had asked her services, Men, Orcs, Southrons, all for one thing. . . hate. Something which Falathiel had known well.

She eyed the man silently. From his accent, he was an Easterling, as if his turquoise pendant and slightly darker features didn't give him away. He's come a long way to find me, she thought. He dangled a pouch of money in front of her, which nearly drove her to distraction. Indeed, money, was the only thing that stirred her heart.

"Tell me the price, and the deed, and I will tell you whether or not I accept." She toyed with him as if he was the leather bag he dangled in front of her. It was important that he understand, that though she would be his hired assassin, she would accept or deny any request, and come and go as she pleased.
 

Mirelena

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Evil

The small camp of mercenaries had slept little during the chill night. A sense of foreboding had kept Jakoval awake. He silently cursed the stillness. It was TOO calm. A far cry from the ship he had manned for years until a double-crossing son of a-…

He let out a hiss as his eyes narrowed. It was because of him that The Rat was here now. Far from everything he could ever have claimed as home. The sea was his mother, sister and lover. He couldn’t understand the flatness of the land. His shallow heart was comforted by the sharpness of the mountains that rose from the earth. It reminded him of the wild ways of a stormy ocean.

Once again he cursed aloud, not caring about those around him who were trying to sleep. In his mind’s eye, Jakoval relived the moment he had been driven from the shores of Umbar. He had fled in fear of his life to the place where he had met the dark elves. He had been approached by Eos first.

“It’s rare to find a seaman this far inland. Having troubles are we?” he asked in that damned confident voice of his. Jak remained stubbornly silent.

“I see,” the elf continued undaunted, “Today may be the beginning of good luck for you. It so happens that I’m looking for a sailor. I lead a band of mercenaries. If you will follow orders and ask few questions, I could use you.”

Jakoval pretended not to hear, seemingly engrossed in the study of his mug. The rum here tastes like orc dung. He pretended not to notice when Eos rose and left the room. The feeling of opportunity lost soon came over him. He’s playing mind games with me, the seaman realized, Well, it won’t work.

After a bar fight broke out because of a spilled drink, Eos had returned, with Eona, to rescue the seafarer.

“My offer still stands. I leave now. Will you come?” Eos asked, then blatantly turned and walked towards the town gate. Eona watched him leave.

“Choose wisely,” she said simply. She gave Jakoval a significant look, then followed her brother.

Jakoval looked at the sleeping form of the attractive elven lady. It was mostly for her that The Rat had come along. Was it his fault he had a thing for hard-to-get women? Someday, Eos would be out of the way…

A slight movement caught his eye, though the foliage remained still and silent. The scout had returned sooner than expected. Something was up.
 
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Mirelena

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The morning sun had risen like a crimson tide. It was unlike any sunrise Cair had ever seen. The frosted tree tops seemed to glisten with the very blood they were about to shed. It spoke clearly of the slaying that night and what was destined to happen this day.

"Strong words from the weak have no power. You would be well advised to speak in a more temperate manner to those who could kill you before you take another breath."

Cairbrent's blood ran chill at the sound of the merciless voice that replied to Kilio's hail. Willing himself not to give in to fear, he took a deep breath and held his chin higher while scanning the trees for the assailants.
The voice had sounded elven, but like none he had ever heard before. The cruelty and wickedness that dripped from the few words spoken would have made Cair drop his weapons and flee without even a glance at his friends not even a month ago. So much had happened to bring them together, even in just that short time.
Now he must be brave and protect those who had taken him in, despite his many flaws. Silently, as warmth slowly spread through his veins again, he drew his plain shortsword and held it at the ready. Temperate, was it? I'll show them temperate! Cairbrent thought.
"We do not fear to die!" he shouted at the trees. "We have all treaded the twilit lands where life is hardly distinguishable from death. You would do well to leave a few, poor travelers alone, lest you and those with you be slaughtered in turn, bastard son of a dark Elf!"
Cair added the title at the end as almost an afterthought. He now understood why the men of Gondor and Rohan had so little liking for the Elves.
 

Ghorim

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Helmin's mind found itself trapped in a desperate race to make sense of his current predicament. His ale-soaked thoughts stumbled and floundered about, trying to pull themselves together into a state of relative coherence while simultaneously attempting to plot a course of action. From whence came these threatening words? Who spoke them? A thousand foolish theories rose and fell in Helmin's head as he turned about in staggering circles, his tired and bewildered eyes attempting to glance in every direction at once.

"An ambush... come to get me at last, eh? Think that they can surround me... kill 'em... puncture a hole in their perimeter and then make a run for it..."

Helmin saw himself crashing through the forest, over the blood-spattered bodies of two of his assailants, neatly withdrawing his axes from their throats as he passed. A crack appeared in the dwarf's unflappable facade as the left side of his mouth twitched. He began to lick his chops in anticipation. So degraded was Helmin in that moment, fresh off of the violence of the past night and drunk out of his senses, that he literally hungered for bloodshed. He longed for the fiery thrill and icy tingle that came with the power to take a life, to experience the fulfilling triumph of conquering a foe and obliterating all of his future aspirations with a single flick of the wrist.

What Helmin did not remember was the paralysis that would inevitably set in afterward, the horrific guilt that had held his conscience captive after every victory in combat. But when one's survival is on the line, it is advantageous to forget such things. There is no room for hesitation, and morals become obscured in the solemn shadows of the battlefield. Such was the state of Helmin's mind, ever at war with itself, torn to shreds by the labors which he undertook to keep himself fed.

Another voice came from somewhere within the foreboding woods.

"Strong words from the weak have no power. You would be well advised to speak in a more temperate manner to those who could kill you before you take another breath."

Helmin stopped his aimless spinning and now stared in the direction of this latest threat. Dawn's light began to filter in through the dead trees, weaving in between their vainly grasping arms to gradually illuminate the desolate scene about Helmin. Birds sang in maddening call and response patterns, their simple minds oblivious to the sense of dread that was now beginning to seep into every crevice of the forest. Soon, someone would be lying motionless upon the ground, dead as the leaves beneath him, eyes shrouded by death's veil, no longer a sentient being driven by passions and fears, but merely food for the mold and worms. But no, it would not be Helmin. The dwarf was intent on indefinitely postponing his departure from the world of the living, regardless of what achieving this aim would require him to do.

Besides, the dwarf realized suddenly, none of these verbal jabs had been directed at him. His defensive stance slackened ever so slightly, his grip on the twin throwing axes loosening. No... the voices had originated from two separate parties, at odds with one another and exchanging threats. Neither side had taken note of Helmin as of yet... they were more concerned with posturing toward their adversaries. Here came another declaration:

"We do not fear to die! We have all treaded the twilit lands where life is hardly distinguishable from death. You would do well to leave a few, poor travelers alone, lest you and those with you be slaughtered in turn, bastard son of a dark Elf!"

The smile that had left Helmin's lips returned by degrees.

"So it's not me that they're after," thought the dwarf. "And it sounds like they're just about to start tearing each other asunder!"

Now Helmin's plan became clearly illuminated in his mind. He would approach the field of battle and watch, concealed in the underbrush, as the two factions vied for supremacy. It would quickly become apparent which side had the upper hand, and Helmin would then spring to action, appearing out of nowhere as a heroic savior, helping to crush the losing party for good. The victorious survivors would then be indebted to Helmin, and he could manipulate them as he pleased. A fine strategy it was, certainly quite sound for a fellow battling a nasty hangover. Convinced of the infallibility of his designs, the dwarf crept forward gradually, in the direction of the heated verbal exchange.
 

Mirelena

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Jakoval had listened to the scout's report to Eos with pleasure. Eos had quickly slipped away to investigate further. He gave instructions for his band of cutthroats to follow him, there was business to attend to.
At last! This was what The Rat had come along for. He did well when it came to pillaging and plundering. He simply disliked the celebration that accompanied it aftwerward... Unless some drunken fool had taken a valuable he desired. Then the drunken revelry was advantagious. No one would miss the dead man until the next day, and no one cared anymore. Their headaches made sure of that. Besides, such killings were not at all uncommon.

The hope of booty coursed through his veins as he gathered his belongings into his pack. He would take his favored weapons and leave the rest here. No point in risking loss because of a hasty retreat. Jakoval was a man to cover all bases.

"Quickly!" Eona barked to the stragglers, "Eos awaits. Do not risk his displeasure. He is terrible in wrath." The twisted smile that played about her lips made The Rat quiver with desire- or was it fear?

Soon he was at the dark elf's side. Eos stood behind an outcropping of rocks, the roots of the mountain rising toward the light. From there, they could hear clearly everything that happened in the camp of their prey.

"How many?" Eona asked her brother. Her voice was low and filled with malice. The early morning light glinted off her obsidian hair, which just made her evil beauty even more stunning and enticing.

"Very few," came the disappointed reply, "An elf, I think. Three men. It's hardly worth our time." Cairbrent's insult suddenly sounded harsh upon their ears. "But then, they did just call us bastards, dear sister," Eos concluded.

"That wasn't very civil of them, was it, my brother?" Eona purred.

"No. It wasn't."

Jakoval grew weary of the verbal banter. It was like talking up a bar wench. It was rewarding in the end, but tiresome just the same. The scimitar at his side called to him. It was thirsty. It clamoured for blood.
The seaman stroked the cold, metal hilt lovingly. Soon. Very soon.
 
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Elorendil

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Evil *cue Darth Vader theme song*

"Have no doubt, my good sir, I am more than up to your request, whatever it may be. My singular talents have been used by many over the years. And I have never failed. Well-versed in this art I am." Beril couldn't help but smirk at the elven assassin's bragging. There's always a first time, he thought. We'll soon find out just how good you are.

"Tell me the price, and the deed," she continued, "And I will tell you whether or not I accept."

Ah, yes; Money, the one thing that motivates these hired murderers. In one motion, Beril emptied the contents of the leather pouch onto the table. He watched Falathiel's eyes widen at the sight of the golden coins and the plink of them hitting the table. He sat back for a moment, watching her as she took in the large amount of money he so casually waved before her.
"This is but a taste of what you will be given when you have completed the task." Beril pushed the coins to the edge of the table and let each one fall back into the pouch with a clink. Falathiel's dark green eyes followed the movement until the last coin vanished into the bag and Beril returned it to his belt. Reluctantly, she returned her attention to him.

"The deed is this: to hunt down and kill a certain elven maiden," he continued cooly.
"Her name is Elorendil. She comes from Rivendell, but travels quite a bit, usually riding a white mare she calls 'Nimar'." He produced a small piece of parchment with a written description of Falathiel's prey and slid it across the table to the elf. She picked it up and studied it as Beril continued.
"Her weapons of choice are a longsword and recurved bow, both of which she wields with efficiency." Though he carefully kept his face neutral, he winced inwardly, remembering how deftly she had wielded the weapons against the small hunting party Garmihad, his master, had sent to capture her a few months earlier. A single warrior from the party had returned just over two weeks ago, limping back to his master to lick his wounds and tell the tale of her deadly skills. The red-hot fury that had contorted his master's face at the news of the death of his men was still fresh in Beril's mind. He shook himself free of the memory and went on.
"As much as my master would like her to suffer and die at his own hands, there is too much risk in transporting her back to Rhûn, too many chances for her to be rescued. You may choose the method of her death, as long as it is slow and painful. You will then deliver her body to my master, along wiht a detailed account of her death. He will then reward you as only the High Lord of the Easterlings can." He looked at Falathiel expectantly.
"Do you accept?"
 

Elorendil

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"Strong words from the weak still have no power."

The thinly veiled threat hung menacingly in the dew-laden morning air, sending a shiver ran down Elorendil's back. She flipped her auburn hair over her shoulder, trying to shake off the feeling of dread that held her in its icy grip. She turned her attention to to speaker's voice, trying to identify him.

"You would be well advised," the disembodied voice spoke again, floating out to her from the shadows. There was something about the inflection in that voice- Suddenly, it clicked. Those were the unmistakable vocal mannerisms of a dark elf. "-to speak in a more temperate mannner to those who could kill you before you take another breath."

At these words, her feelings of doubt gave way to anger. The hair at the back of her neck rose as her ire did at this unprovoked threat. How dare this dark elf threaten them? She pivoted on one foot, tracking voice to its source not 30 feet from where she stood. She searched the shadows left by the rising sun, trying to pinpoint the location of their harasser.

Apparently, his words had stoked Cairbrent's anger, also. Before she could summon the words for an adequately cutting reply, Cair's clear voice cut through the early morning chill. "We do not fear to die!" the Rohirric man called angrily into the trees- facing the wrong direction, Elorendil noticed with some amusement. "We have all treaded the twilit lands where life is hardly distinguishable from death. You would do well to leave a few, poor travellers alone, lest you and those with you be slaughtered in turn, bastard son of a dark Elf!"

A grin tugged once more at her lips. Cair certainly did know how to insult another! Judging from the silence that met his outburst, Elorendil wagered his final remark, in particular, had struck home. Her own temper still flaring, she stepped forward and raised her bow, pulling the string taught as she notched an arrow on it. She searched her memory for what little she knew of Avarin, seeking an adequate insult to add to Cair's. Finding it, she stepped out into the red light of the sun and faced their assailant defiantly.

"Weak we are not," she called out in the tongue of the Dark Elves, "O coward who skulks in darkness, and I could kill you before you take another breath just as easily, you who are a disgrace to the elven race!" To prove her point, Elorendil loosed the arrow, sending it whistling through the air not six inches above and to the right of where she judged their assailant to stand. "Now, begone, Elf of Darkness, for that was but a warning and my next arrow shall not miss its mark."
 

Morohtar

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Neither Eonä nor Eos flinched as the arrow whistled by; they had been shot at enough to know which arrows would hit home. Eos smiled at the unmitigated anger and fear that could be heard in their voices. He knew better than to let emotions gain control of his actions; such things often lead to rash decisions, which hardly ever turn out well. He peered into the twilit forest to where his men slowly encircled their prey. Indeed, he thought, this should be easy enough. Though I could use this opportunity get rid of a few, less loyal members of the group. He decided to toy with them for a moment, like a cat batting at an injured mouse, before he dispatched them.

"And what a tribute to the elves you are, trapped like a fox in it's hole. I doubt the skills of one who would allow themself to be trapped so easily, cowering like a caged animal. Weak you are, though you would hide it with brave and foolish words. Take care what you say, for I fire no warning shots."

He turned to look around the side of the rock, his indigo eyes glancing at his prey. They all stared intently into the forest surrounding them, trying to make out their enemies. Their faces held fear, and a stubbornness that amused him. He pulled back behind the rock and spoke aloud.

"And as for your friend, tell him that death is the least of his worries, and he may yet embrace it gladly."
 

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