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In the Greening of 624, Wildlings infiltrated Fastheld from beyond the Aegis and launched a surprise attack on the township of Hawk's Aerie and the keep of Aerie Heights...

Some time later...

Aerie Heights is under attack, there can be no question about it; the fleeting figures of wildlings populate the shadows, hissing and screeching. In the workshop, three of the beasts lie dead, slain by the joint efforts of Alainne and Jacib; but the latter is paying the price for having been wounded by a wildling's claws, his muscles paralyzed.

The Baron of the Keep now favors his right leg, a steady flow of blood coming from above his left knee. Thick in the haze of battle, he does not feel the pain, rather notices the injury and attempts to compensate for it each swing. There's no going back, no slowing down now.

Alainne slowly opens the door, with nothing having been scratching at it for a while, her eyes narrowed slightly. She tries to look around without letting anyone see her, frowning darkly. "Light protect us all," she whispers, shaking her head.

Like an undulating mass the hunched figures of the wildlings move throughout Aerie Heights. With mocking hisses they circle the wounded Baron, their claws shredding the air as they draw the circle ever tighter and tighter. The workshop seems momentarily forgotten in favour of toying with Warlan, the lone figure amidst the taloned terrors.

Warlan takes the time afforded by the Wildlings' hesitation to catch his breath and pick a new target. With no one Wildling appearing to hold leadership he chooses the one between him and the Workshop wall and door. With a small fient to his left, he quickly reverses the swing of the legendary sword in his hands and levels a great sweeping arc at the midsection of the beast...

Spying Warlan, a torn expression becomes apparent on Alainne's pale face. She looks out at the Baron, gripping the small hammer stained with the blood of a Wildling in one hand tightly, before turning, shifting her body so she can look towards Jacib tenderly. The wildling Warlan singled out for his attack hisses, throwing its claws forward, but it falls for the Baron's feint, and is caught off-balance by the reverse thrust. With a shriek it attempts to dodge the blade, but fails in this as well: the sword cuts deep into flesh and bone, drawing darkly oozing blood from the wildling that expires on its length.

Jacib stirs on the workshop's floor--at least, his right side stirs. His left arm and left leg both seem to be stiffened to the point of paralysis. He looks a little pale.

Once again, Alainne chews on her lip, concern flashing as she looks to Jacib.

"M'Lord? M'Lord, are you alright?" she asks Warlan, stepping back from the door. "What is happening?" she asks, before turning to kneel down near Jacib, adjusting his head so it's in her lap, the hammer still close at hand. "Jace...?"

Warlan pull's Heart's Trust from the belly of the beast and spins to put his back against the door jamb of the Workshop. He has plenty of targets still, and he is grimly aware now of the pain beginning to seep from his left knee. Still, the veteran strikes again, seeking to make a difference before the day is done. A hard thrust now, center mass again at the nearest Wildling chest...

The Baron's cleave may have felled one of the wildlings -- yet, what is one out of more than two dozens? Twenty-eight of the beasts remain, and join in a wild howl as one of their number falls to Warlan's sword. The nearest one is the next goal of the blade, but it is quicker, nimbler than the previous one, escaping the thrust narrowly, but escaping nonetheless, only to launch itself at the Baron with a shriek. Meanwhile, another one of the beasts has taken up scent of Alainne, slinking back towards the workroom.

Jacib shakes his head groggily, looking up at Alainne. "'m fine," he protests, looking around as much as he can. He manages to sit up with what seems like quite an effort. "What's going on, 'nd how long've I been asleep?"

Alainne keeps a tight grip on the hammer, shaking her head, "I don't know... the fighting hasn't stopped... The Baron... he's outside the door," she says softly. Carefully she bends, kissing Jacib's cheek gently, before rising, turning back towards the door.

Warlan growls, feeling the sting of another talon making its through a chink in the bronze armor. He must stand where he is now, the poison in his leg has made moving an unwise effort. He turns the blade about from his missed counter and brings it high before letting the weight of the great blade bring it toward the neck of the beast that has scratched him...

Jacib's eyes settle on his axe and, he takes it in the arm he can still move. He sets the haft of the axe against the floor, and after a few moments props himself up to an unsteady standing position. Supporting himself heavily against the table that remains near the door, he moves for it.

Not only the Baron is outside the door -- so is the Wildling that has separated from the larger group to sneak along the outside wall of the workshop. It is just a leap away from the door when it steps on a large shard of glass left from when the window was shattered earlier, splintering the pane under its foot and hissing softly.

Meanwhile, the Wildling Warlan aimed for with his heave of the sword leaps backwards in a somersault, landing three feet clear away from the Baron, leaving only thin air for the blade to whistle through. It hisses a cackle, mocking the Baron openly while focussing its huge eyes on the wounded, but valorous man. Its claws snik-snak quietly, but still audible even over the background shouts of the citizens of Hawk's Aerie below, and the screeches and hisses of the other two dozen wildlings scattered throughout the approach. They seem to enjoy toying with the humans, wearing them down slowly instead of simply overwhelming them.

Alainne trembles a little bit at the overwelming noises coming from all around the outside of the Workshop. She slides up next to Jacib, helping in keeping him upright, her non-hammer holding hand sliding around him. "Please take it easy, Jace... you'll only get yourself even more hurt."

"I know, 'nd I don't plan on that," the carpenter answers. "I--" he stops himself at the hiss from the nearest Wildling. "What was that? 'nd why 's th' door unblocked?"

Feeling his strength and balance ebbing from him, Warlan takes another swing while he can. Another top-down blow, conserving strength by using the length and weight of Heart's Trust itself...

The approach to the Keep is lit by the fires burning in Hawk's Aerie downhill, livid shadows dancing over the hedges and apple tries. Within the dancing shadows move its spawns: Wildlings, nearly two and a half dozens of the vile creatures, ducking and slinking to and fro. Singled out among them, and kept on his feet only by valour and the grace of the Light, is the badly wounded Baron himself, swinging his sword heavily at the hissing beasts, and just now driving his blade between neck and shoulder of one of the Wildlings that circle him. With the fire in their backs, the group's arrival hardly goes unnoticed, and twenty-six of twenty-eight wildlings screech in unison, hurtling towards them

Alainne makes a small face, before striding towards the table, and door to push it back into place. "I didn't move it that much..." she mutters. "I was worried about the Baron, and wanted to see what was happening, and see if he still lived," she explains, shooting Jacib a slightly annoyed look. "Now's not a good time to start arguing over this though." She pauses, hearing the screech. "What has them so angry, I wonder..."

Jacib moves himself out of the way of the table with effort, now using the wall for support as he hobbles for the window. His mouth works a bit as he looks outside. "'t looks like there're two left out there," he manages at length.

Warlan lacks even the strength to pull Heart's Trust from where it lies buried deep in the Wildling before him. With one last heave he throws himself before the Workshop door and collapses there in a pile of bronze and blood. He breathes still, but just.

Immediately set upon by Wildlings, the Duke of Vozhdya has little chance to call an alarm to the group: "DRAW YOUR SWORDS, WE'RE AMB*!"... is all he manages, before he is set upon by the sea of slobbering, shadow-touched minions. In a moment's notice, he brings Shimmer high above his head and pulls his shield close to his breast - preparing to either save his life, or end it like a man. "Light be with you!"

The approach of the screeching shadow spawned wildlings is met by a cold, calm regard from the professional soldier. As Lucius begins to approach, feet shuffling, he hefts the javelin up and hurls it into the air and in the direction of the creatures. This is quickly followed by him removing his second spear from its shield compartment and placing two fingers through this one's throwing strap. He never speaks a word.

From the relative safety behind the line of melee-fighters, Lotan takes aim upon the hoarde of wildlings before him. Drawing back the long bowstring of his bow, he settles upon one Wildling and lets the wooden missile fly toward it's mark, distance gauged.

Jafron Seamel is swift, there is no doubting that. Even weighted down in armor the man darts like a wildcat through the underbrush. Though he pauses well before cresting the hill leading to the Keep's approach, squatting low to regroup with his companions. At Markus' call to arms, the cavalryman lets loose a battle cry; a rumbling crescendo summoned from deep within which carries above the clamor of battle. For all intent and purposes, the Seamel Lord sounds a gargoyle as much as he looks it. His sabre, the very blade gifted him by Warlan Lomasa, is raised high overhead as he turns to face the encroaching tide of Wildlings.

Tomassa Zahir's iron longsword is already in hand and she leaps at the oncoming horde without an instant of hesitation. Orange light gleams from the razor-honed edges of the blade as it reflects the firelight. No cloak slows Tomassa's rush into the fray. No cloth or chainmail covers her to give poisoned claws an easy chance to gain hold. Steel armor covers her from head to toe and it, too, flashes with the colors of the fire from time to time. She swings her blade in a vicious arc at the oncoming leathery bodies, face lit with unholy glee at the opportunity for battle with the fiends.

"Light!" Demetrius shouts, taking up the Duke's cry, as he -- unarmored as he is, the only of the handful of melee fighters not to wear more than a light leather jerkin -- throws himself with a fearlessness bordering on recklessness at the first Wildling to cross his line of sight.

The first wave of Wildlings slams into the small group of fighters, leaping and lunging at them with claws outstretched. In the lead, the swing of Shimmer slices through the skull of the Wildling attacking the Second Blademaster, spraying dark blood and brain over Markus as the beast goes down with a screech abruptly ending in a gurgle. The spear of Lucius whistles its deadly whine as it flies from the man's hand, and strikes another Wildling in mid-leap and impales it, the creature hurtling past Lucius, carried on by its momentum even in death. Lotan's arrow strikes true as well, thunking solidly into the chest of his chosen target -- the remaining three of the fighters are not so lucky: their opponents dodge, evade or sidestep the blow meant for them, and engage Jafron, Tomassa and Demetrius in close combat, their claws reaching for face and throat.

The clash is quick, and fierce, and comes with a howl from the Wildlings. Jafron neatly averts his opponent's claws, their talons clanging off the blade of his sabre; the Lioness is less lucky in her parry, but her armor halts the claws of her enemy. No such luck for Demetrius: his luck runs thin today. His blade comes up too slow, his leather is too light, to present any obstacle to the claws of the Wildling. They dig deeply into his cheeks and forehead.

Alainne looks out carefully, her eyes widening as she sees the more Wildlings, and then the others that had just arrived. "Light be praised... we are saved," she whispers, looking slightly relieved by the whole scene in frotn of her. She leans back against the wall, "Saved..." she murmurs, looking incredibly worn out, and ready to fall over at any moment as she closes her eyes.

"'t sure seems that way," Jacib says, continuing to watch. "Th' Baron," he says abruptly, after a few moments. "We probably should try 'nd get him in here."

Markus Kahar neatly impales his foe, disregarding the brain-splatter on his obsidian cuirass, only to wheel about and see young Demetrius under attack. The Duke turns a quarter and thrusts his sword at the attacking monster, leaning all his weight into the hilt of the blade - attempting to wedge the point into its back. He calls quickly to Demetrius, "Boy! Watch thy hide!"

Just got off the wall, and yet another falls to the claws of a wretched Wildling. Grimacing, Lucius chucks his second spear directly towards another Wildling, seeing his lord and Duke attacking the one that took Demetrius da Voe down - WOOSH! Once the iron point and oak shaft has left his hand, he draws his shortsword and charges into the melee, shield raised up in front of his body.

Captain Elkhorn, however, decides to stay as an archer in his position behind the melee line. He holds his bow strongly and firmly as he reaches to pluck yet another arrow from his quiver, a soft grin upon his features as he notices the falling of the shadowspawn at his last bolt. One eye squinted, he carefully focuses upon his mark at the wildlings not directly engaged in combat, letting the bowstring go with a soft *twang*, followed by the swift whistle of the wooden arrow to fly at it's mark.

Jafron Seamel's initial spasm of bloodlust fades as steel sings harmlessly through air. He pivots on one foot, deftly checking the Wildling's attack. His sabre is wielding with a certain grace, though Jafron's footwork is sorely lacking. The cavalryman is accustomed to meeting his foes atop the heaving back of his warhorse after all. Just the same, he draws his weapon back with a grunt and slashes violently at his foe's legs.

"Bloody shadow fiends!" Tomassa snarls as the leathery thing goes for her face. She manages to keep the thing's claws from her features, though the Wildling skkkkkritches against the steel. The Contessa is half-aware of the ill luck of the self-proclaimed nobleman da Voe, but Markus' movement toward Demetrius saves her from trying to aid the man. Instead, she shifts closer to Jafron - hoping to protect his back while he protects her own. She stabs the pointed tip of her iron longsword at the nearest Wildling, more sure upon her feet than the Horseman.

Demetrius reels, raising his voice in a scream of utter pain, clutching his face. Blood runs from forehead and cheek, staining brows and goatee with thick red, and obscuring his vision. He swings his rapier aimlessly into the thin air before him, simply trying to keep the Wildling at bay while he attempts to clean his face with his free hand.

The clash is quick, and fierce, and comes with a howl from the Wildlings. Jafron neatly averts his opponent's claws, their talons clanging off the blade of his sabre; the Lioness is less lucky in her parry, but her armor halts the claws of her enemy. No such luck for Demetrius: his luck runs thin today. His blade comes up too slow, his leather is too light, to present any obstacle to the claws of the Wildling. They dig deeply into his cheeks and forehead.

Alainne looks out carefully, her eyes widening as she sees the more Wildlings, and then the others that had just arrived. "Light be praised... we are saved," she whispers, looking slightly relieved by the whole scene in frotn of her. She leans back against the wall, "Saved..." she murmurs, looking incredibly worn out, and ready to fall over at any moment as she closes her eyes.

"'t sure seems that way," Jacib says, continuing to watch. "Th' Baron," he says abruptly, after a few moments. "We probably should try 'nd get him in here."

Markus Kahar neatly impales his foe, disregarding the brain-splatter on his obsidian cuirass, only to wheel about and see young Demetrius under attack. The Duke turns a quarter and thrusts his sword at the attacking monster, leaning all his weight into the hilt of the blade - attempting to wedge the point into its back. He calls quickly to Demetrius, "Boy! Watch thy hide!"

Just got off the wall, and yet another falls to the claws of a wretched Wildling. Grimacing, Lucius chucks his second spear directly towards another Wildling, seeing his lord and Duke attacking the one that took Demetrius da Voe down - WOOSH! Once the iron point and oak shaft has left his hand, he draws his shortsword and charges into the melee, shield raised up in front of his body.

Captain Elkhorn, however, decides to stay as an archer in his position behind the melee line. He holds his bow strongly and firmly as he reaches to pluck yet another arrow from his quiver, a soft grin upon his features as he notices the falling of the shadowspawn at his last bolt. One eye squinted, he carefully focuses upon his mark at the wildlings not directly engaged in combat, letting the bowstring go with a soft *twang*, followed by the swift whistle of the wooden arrow to fly at it's mark.

Jafron Seamel's initial spasm of bloodlust fades as steel sings harmlessly through air. He pivots on one foot, deftly checking the Wildling's attack. His sabre is wielding with a certain grace, though Jafron's footwork is sorely lacking. The cavalryman is accustomed to meeting his foes atop the heaving back of his warhorse after all. Just the same, he draws his weapon back with a grunt and slashes violently at his foe's legs.

"Bloody shadow fiends!" Tomassa snarls as the leathery thing goes for her face. She manages to keep the thing's claws from her features, though the Wildling skkkkkritches against the steel. The Contessa is half-aware of the ill luck of the self-proclaimed nobleman da Voe, but Markus' movement toward Demetrius saves her from trying to aid the man. Instead, she shifts closer to Jafron - hoping to protect his back while he protects her own. She stabs the pointed tip of her iron longsword at the nearest Wildling, more sure upon her feet than the Horseman.

Demetrius reels, raising his voice in a scream of utter pain, clutching his face. Blood runs from forehead and cheek, staining brows and goatee with thick red, and obscuring his vision. He swings his rapier aimlessly into the thin air before him, simply trying to keep the Wildling at bay while he attempts to clean his face with his free hand.

Alainne nods her head to Jacib, "Will you make sure I don't have a Wildling try and rip me to pieces while I get him?" she asks quietly. She peers out the door slowly, surveying the surrounds closely, and the people, before moving.

With ear-piercing shrieks the Wildlings descend upon the fighters, paying no mind to those of their numbers that are cut down. The one furthest of them is the one that just mauled the unlucky da Voe, hissing and ducking the man's blind swings, and only peripherally aware of the Duke's attack. Two more are engaged in melee with Jafron and Tomassa, screeching bloodlusty defiance at the armoured nobles. And more are yet on the way: a group of three circles past the battle, intent to reach the archer in the back, and yet another moves to clash with Lotan.

Once more claws and steel meet, accompanied by the screams of the Wildlings. Again the shadowspawns prove their superiority, evading the attacks meant for them as a man would an ambling drunk. The Duke's attack goes astray as his intended target spins and leaps aside; the Lioness shares the bad luck, her swing fails as well, cutting only air. Only the horseman, least used to combat on foot, scores a sound hit against his opponent, the heavy descent of the sabre taking one of the Wildling's arms clean off. Lucius' spear goes wide off, but Lotan's arrow sings death as it whistles through the nightly sky, cleanly cutting through the throat of one of the group of Wildlings approaching him. And then, it is the Wildling's turn to attack.

"'s much 's I can," Jacib replies to Alainne. "But I'm a bit stiff--I don't know how much I c'n help." He hobbles along after the leatherworker, supporting himself with the workshop's wall.

Markus Kahar watches with some disbelief as his blow is shrugged aside by the ferocious devil. With a murmered, '... Light damn it...' the 2nd Blademaster instinctively draws his shield closer and braces for the inevitable volley of 'ling claws.

Shield clasped firmly in front of his body, Lucius charges towards the frenzied Wildlings, smashing into them with a great amount of momentum, and stabbing forward with his sword towards their solarplexus area.

Lotan grins widely at his success with the targetted Wildling, though quickly notices the ones moving to attack him. He quickly slings the bow back over his shoulder, and draws the sabre which he had hung off his belt at the side toward the Wildling closest to him. He calls, "Breach in the line!" as he moves forth to defend himself by moving at the beast.

A spray of warm, green ichor splashes across Jafron's vambrace as his cavalry sabre cleanly separates flesh from bone. Back to back with the Lioness, the Gargoyle's bloodstained blade whistles once more through the chilly night air, deflecting yet another blow and lashing out in a nimble riposte. "Light take you!!!"

Tomassa Zahir's back leaves Jafron for an instant as she dances away from the claws of her adversary after watching the vile creature have the gall to avoid her blow! By now, the look of glee has faded from the Contessa's face to be replaced with a darkening frown. "I have brooded too much and practiced not enough," she growls to herself in admonition while her iron blade sways in a violent arc at the nearest Wildling. "BE STILL AND DIE, YOU WRETCHED THING!" she barks.

In the meantime, thankfully disregarded in favour of the Duke by the Wildling that mangled his face, Demetrius has managed to clear his eyes of the blood running from forehead and cheeks. It coats his face, already congealing in places to a dark reddish brown. He stumbles, bringing up his rapier to fend off any Wildling coming after him, but makes no attempt to move into the fray.

From Sundust's saddle, The thunder of hoofbeats joins the sounds of battle as a lone dark-cloaked figure approaches behind the warriors fighting through Wildlings. Dismounting, he pulls a longsword from his saddlebag, leaves the horse where it is - relatively safe behind the line - and makes haste toward the fray. "Darkwater stands ready!" Thayndor calls. "My men and boats wait at the wharf, to save those who can make it out!"

The Wildlings pay no attention to Thayndor's arrival -- what is one man more to them? The numbers still are in their favour... But the echo of shouts and heavy boots running hails a change to the advantage of the valorous fighters: uphill, only shortly after the Count, comes a squadron of well forty men in the livery of Bramblestone, shouting their song at the top of their lungs: "We're rowdy men both brave and true! We serve the fierce Contessa who none of you louts would dare pursue! Piss her off and we'll run you through! Irregulars are we..." Steel rings as swords are drawn, and behind the frontline archers move up to take aim.

As one the Wildlings perk. Then they screech out in unison, and disengage the small group to leap and lunge past them, left and right, like shadows given flesh they flit past, too fast for any blade to reach them, and downhill to crash into the Irregulars before the archers can nock their arrows. The brave souls that fought so far find themselves given a rare chance to take a deep breath.

Alainne nods her head to Jacib once more, starting to open the door a bit more, pausing as she peeks outside, studying the fighting, face paling slightly at the sight of all of the blood. She tilts her head to the side as she hears the shouting of the Bramblestone soldiers, eyes lighting up with even more hope.

Jacib waits behind Alainne, shifting his grip on his bloodied woodsman's axe as he waits for her to start outside.

Markus Kahar wheels about, watching the group of Wildlings fly past towards the unforunate irregular guardsmen. Markus whistles shrilly, "... 'tis our luck and their misfortune - now's our chance to break and find the royal family - let us dash for the Keep gate!"

Lucius Nepos is hesitant to leave and abandon the irregulars when he could really be attacking the wildlings from the rear - a usually devistating thing in combat. However, his Duke is his duke. With a knit of the eyebrows, Lucius nods, rips out the javelin that had taken down a Wildling in the beginning and turns to follow his duke.

The archer is - surprised, at the least - as the Wildling decides to flip on by him. He looks as if about to persue with Lucius, but decides instead to run off toward the Keep with the rest of the group, his sabre still drawn as he heads off to aide.

Jafron Seamel draws a ragged breath, his visage grim as death even as the Irregulars arrive in force. "To the Keep!" he calls, slinging blood from his sword as he thrusts it high above. Weary muscles are put to the test as the soldier lurches forward in charge, armor clomping as he races across the corpse-strewn battlefield.

"Irregulars ho!" bellows Tomassa with a wave of her sword when she hears her men arrive. The fierce grin has returned to her features. "Watch their claws, gentlemen! TAKE NO PRISONERS!" It almost seems as if she will be joining her own men until she realizes the people inside might need her help more than her guardsmen. She turns to see Jafron quickly escaping and dashes to follow.

Demetrius is in no condition to hurry. He stands, and only barely so, blinking shallow driplets of blood from his eyes as he watches the Wildling tear into the men of Bramblestone. He turns from that sight, staggering with stiff legs after the group hurrying onwards, but is already falling behind.

Thayndor Zahir cannot even raise his sword in time to slash at the Wildlings as they hurry past him. Fresh upon the field, Thayndor's youthful legs carry him next to Tomassa. He smiles in the moonlight, adrenaline beginning to widen his pupils. "Cousin," he greets. "Never one to miss a battle, are you." With that he hurries after Duke Kahar.

The advantages seems to be on the side of the Irregulars: two men to each Wildling seem good odds. But not all of them have drawn, the archers surprised by the suddenness with which the Wildlings encountered them. Shouts and shrieks of man and shadowspawn mingle as the fighters clash with the beasts, but human cries of pain rise above the battlecries as the deadly creatures rend an opening into the battleline, four Irregulars succumbing to the clawed monstrosities and falling to the ground with messy, mangled faces and throats -- reminders of what might have been Demetrius' fate had it not been for the quick intervention of the Duke.

Alainne's hand hovers in midair for some reason, her eyes widened slightly as she watches the Irregulars begin to be shredded. "Light protect them," she breathes out. She manages to rip her eyes away from the gory scene to look down at Warlan.

Aerie Heights Keep Great Hall


The largest room of the keep, it is big enough to be warmed by two hearths spaced down its length. The raw stone walls of the keep are here covered by large parti-colored fabric hangings with the exception of behind the dais at the far end, there the wall is hung with a large tapestry showing a tournament scene from Fastheld's far past. The ceiling is as high as two men at the sides, sloping up to an apex far above in shadow. The whole of it is held up by large biinwoood beams, dark now with the smoke of many winters.
Along the sides of the hall a few biinwood benches and chairs are arranged for the convenience of members of the court as well as those who seek audience with the Baronial Court. The dais at the high end of the hall is polished wood platform, raised a foot off the floor. Here are two ornate chairs for the Baron and Baroness, and here is where the public business of Barony takes place.

As the Wildlings enter the Keep's main hall, the guards tense up - swords held tightly in hand and grimaces cross their faces. Varal Mikin takes a step forward, "For Light's Reach! For Hawk's Aerie! For the LIGHT! AT THEM!"

The soldiers and Wildlings come together in a cacophanous horror of clanging steel, hissing and whooshing claws. Valiantly, the defenders of Aerie Heights Keep swing their swords at the fast-moving monstrosities terrorizing the castle they've been sworn to protect. But the Wildlings have their own sense of urgency and desperation, driven by something unspeakable to tear into Aerie Heights and rip its occupants apart. In the melee's first wave, three soldiers are felled, their throats slashed or their bellies torn open by Wildling claws. But the soldiers give a good accounting: They take down six of the frenzied Wildlings, reducing by half the first attack sortie.

Varal Mikin's face tightens into a grim rictus. The Mikin throws himself into the fray before him, heavily swinging his longsword at the nearest wildling, or cluster of them if the opportunity arises. All the meanwhile, the blade and hilt his parrying knife flashes here and there to dissuade the 'lings from attempts to claw at him.

Varal goes up against one of the Wildlings, sword and knife flashing in the flickering glow of the dying fire in the doorway. The beast ducks, sidesteps, neatly avoids a jab of the knife, but then falls under the slashing cut of the sword. Down the Wildling goes, twitching in a heap on the floor. But this, of course, draws the attention of the other five surviving first wavers.

The five infuriated Wildlings lunge and leap at Varal, who moves as if to give them no quarter, his mind apparently locked on the defense of those behind the front line. His blades swing and jab, fending off three while gutting one and decapitating another. But just as he victoriously separates the Wildling's head from its body, the other three move in unison, plunging their poisoned claws through gaps under his arms and at his sides.

Varal Mikin's eyes go wide and his mouth opens to scream, but no sound comes out. He struggles to stay up, but his legs are jelly. He collapses to the ground with a meaty thunk and the ring of iron on stone. He twitches once, trying to raise with no luck, before his eyes roll into the sockets. His precious longsword and parrying knife slip from his hands as his life blood pours from his body into the hall of Hawk's Aerie, lungs rising and deflating with a greater and greater struggle.

Arturo Lomasa watches grimly as the two lines meet, eyes scanning the lines as he nods slightly. He turns attention to those near him, giving out quiet orders. To Norran's. "You have your Lord Captain's orders. Remain with the women no matter what." To the three of Dami's still with him, he nods. "The same for you. Get the ladies to the Deep Keep should the battle turn grim." He turns back....just in time to see Varal fall, a groan coming from his lips. "Light preserve us...." But then he straightens, gripping his axe, and pausing to loose the cloak from his throat, letting it flutter to the floor and reveal his full silver armor from head to foot as he commands. "Two men bring the Lord Captain to the healers! Archers, cover the withdrawal! River Turn, on me!" As two men attempt to draw Varal from the fight, one oaken shaft speeds towards each of the three surviving Wildlings, and Arturo and his escorts charge for Varal's position. Those who survive the arrows will meet a bladed welcome.

The arrows bring down two of the three remaining Wildlings in the first wave, but the third is an agile monster with shiny green eyes and sickly yellow-green splotched skin. Its fangs are hideous and yellow, its claws long, sharp and deadly. It swats aside the arrow meant for it, then dives toward the defending axemen. WHOOSH! It ducks the first, spinning past. WHOOSH! It leaps straight up in the air, avoiding the sharp arc of steel from the second axeman. The Wildling bounces off the soldier's helmet, flipping in the air and coming down in front of the third, who starts bringing his axe down in a vertical chop, but the Wildling ducks and dives between the man's legs, coming out into a crouch just in time to see the mirthless face of a grim, pale youth - the youngest of River Turn's axemen. Without a word the boy just clenches his jaw and swings, cutting the monstrous Wildling in half where it lurks.

Norran continues to lay on the cold floor, his breathing remaining slow as cold eyes stare toward the ceiling. He doesn't move much beyond that, his hands curled slightly. His men keep position by the girls, glancing toward their fallen leader every now and then.

Through out the bedlam and pandemonium the Heiress of Light's Reach remains blissfully unconscious. The only movement is the slow rise and fall of her chest indicating her labored breathing. Unfortunately for the fragile Contessa the moment conscious returns from the void of darkness her crystal blue eyes slowly begin to flutter open only to bear witness to Varal's struggle. Sophia helplessly morbidly transfixed as the she loves fall to the ground while the remaining Wilding grab hold of the Lord Captain and Guardian of Light's Reach ready for the kill. An eerie nightmarish moment seems to stop time as a shrieking scream of despair and grief is echoed forth from Sophia's lips even through the shower of arrows. "NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!"

Merielle Mikin's snapped out of her dazing state as Sophia screams, her arms immeadiately tightening around her, the grip tightening even more as she sees Varal. Her face turns ghastly white, tears starting to form in her eyes, before turning her attention to Sophia, hugging her to her, "Hush, shh... it's alright, Sophie..."

The second wave doesn't give the people inside Aerie Heights Keep much time to regroup, repair or mourn. The last eleven Wildlings come loping and bounding through the smoking ruin of the doorway, bent on whatever dark cause is in their minds, closing on the defenders.

Elseve reacts more to the fright of those around her, unable to identify one defender from another hardly. She sinks to the ground in a pouf of skirts, but as two of the guards start to drag the latest casualty their way, pulls out a kerchief from her pocket, as if someone might use it to staunch the incredible amount of bleeding from the guard captain.

A pair of guards attempt to drag Varal back, managing to get him a blood-smeared five feet before the next batch of Wildlings enters. With irritated grunts, the rise up to join their other 17 battle weary comrades in battle against the shadowspawn with war shouts and worried faces.

The second wave collides with the defenders of Aerie Heights, and once again claws clash with steel. The attackers tear through the ranks defending the entrance like so many splotchy green dervishes, with a desperate fervor that may only be enhanced by the fact that the Wildlings are now easily outnumbered by those standing fast in the keep. But the monsters do not relent. As they rend their way through the soldiers, six are gutted or throat-cut or fatally poisoned by thrashing claws. The defenders manage to slay four Wildlings in the course of the melee, however, but the seven survivors use agility and spry leaping skills to break across the bloodied ranks. It now falls to the men of River Turn once more.

Three oaken shafts once again leap forth from Ashwood and his companion, speeding in search of Wildling blood. Five grim swordsmen remain with the archers, three of Dami's and two of Norran's. As the battl lines melee, Arturo lifts Humlek's Hand high, the blade green and thick with dried Wildling blood, and cries once again. "River Turn to me!" Again five axes reform on their Baron, and he leads his horseless cavalry in another counter-charge, Humlek's Hand sweeping down for the neck of another wildling. "For the Light!"

The archers of River Turn loose their arrows once more, but only one of the six remaining Wildlings is felled by a feathered shaft. The other five go threshing into the axemen, gutting one and shredding the head off the neck of another. The decapitated human head goes bouncing along the floor, oozing at Elseve's feet. Breaking past the River Turn warriors, the five Wildlings turn their attention to the rallying Arturo Lomasa, leaping and hissing at him, death on clawed feet.

Arturo plunges into the thick of the oncoming Wildlings, the blade of Humlek's Hand swinging left and right, diagonally, splurting green ichor in all directions as he grimly plows through the monsters, killing two of them in quick succession. But one of the three survivors jabs a poisoned claw into the side of Arturo's neck. Another jabs him in a weak spot under his left arm. And the third finds a crease in the armor above the River Turn master's right knee and impales it with a claw. The Wildlings don't wait to watch him fall. They immediately turn their glittering eyes toward the women huddled near the study. One of them hisses: "Where is *she*?" And then they creep forward, claws flashing, past the fallen Norran and Varal Mikin. Past the unconscious Elias. Creeping ever closer to the women.

"My men!" cries the Baron as the Wildlings plow through his troops, blade going to work. "That's for my men, and this for my sister!" growls the Baron as the first two go down...a yelp of pain following as his neck is cut past the guards, his arm crumpling as the second catches him with a claw. And then the third, the one behind his knee, which draws a pained cry as he crumples to the ground, right hand still gripping Humlek's Hand as he thumps against the flooring with a metallic crump.

Huddled near the study doorway along side her mother and an unconscious Norran is the crumbled form of the Contessa Mikin. Sophia clings desperately to her mother in a state of shocked hysterics while crying uncontrollably in total despair. The white linen nightgown the Contessa wears is now soiled with soot, blood and sweat that clings to her willow thin body. Her crystal blue eyes are rather vacant, swollen and bloodshot from exhaustion and panic. The left side of her face is red and swollen with an ugly crimson burn that puckers into a large welt. Her muted sobs can barely be heard. "Light save us...Oh Varal...Norran...Light save us."

As the bloody severed head of one of the human defenders bounces up to where Elseve has sunk to the floor, oozing lifesblood on her blue skirts, a sickening wave of terror wells up from the chatelaine's belly. The woman lets loose a blood-curdling shriek that devolves into high and hysterical whimpering as the staunch Arturo falls and the wildlings creep forward unchecked. Holding onto a kercheif with white-knuckled tension, the Aerie Heights servant scoots along the floor, placing herself between the green monsters and the two noblewomen. It's all she can bring herself to do though.

Merielle Mikin cradles Sophia tightly, her arms around her daughter protectively, shifting slightly so she's placed between Sophia and the approaching wildlings. "Hush, Sophie..." She murmurs, before looking towards one of hissing ones that spoke. "She...?" The Duchess asks in a trembling voice. Her eyes are then drawn to Elseve, giving a small cry of surprise, and fear, "Do not stand! Run!" she calls, obviously frightened.

Elias remains blissfully oblivious to the continuing battle around him. Well, perhaps not entirely blissful. His breathing is still rapid and shallow and beads of cold sweat are now forming on his forehead. His mouth opens and closes a couple of times as he whispers feverish words heard only by himself, but consciousness continues to elude him.

A swirl of dark sable streams in Jafron's wake, the first of the rescuers to emerge from the raging battle outside. His bracer bespattered in blood - green blood, and his sabre dripping gore, the cavalryman gnashes his teeth and grunts. There is a moment's hesitation, and then he is bolting toward the screams and shouts emanating from the study with an air of calm ferocity.

Emerging shortly after is the young Noble, Thayndor Zahir, the raven and rapier sigil of Darkwater Keep flapping on the cloak at his back as he raises his sword in anticipation of attack. His eyes scan the scene: the corpses, the fallen weapons, the dripped blood and other signs of battle. This evaluation is cut short by the piercing screams of the women, and fresh legs propel him swiftly to the Wildlings menacing the Countess and her friends, his longsword held ready in front of him.

One of the first in from the outside, Lucius' holds his shield up still. Then, dropping it to the ground for the moment as the wildlings seem to be pre-occupied, he wraps his fingers in the throwing strap of his iron spear and tosses it towards the Wildlings.

Jafron's blade flashes as it cuts into the splotchy green flesh of one of the Wildlings, which goes down in a shrieking, hissing pile of limbs, claws and fangs. Lucius Nepos lets loose his spear and it whickers through the air, whooshing over the fallen bodies of Arturo, Norran, Varal and Elias, and impaling a second Wildling, which stumbles forward, green ichor gushing from its mouth as it falls into Sophia's lap. The third Wildling, alerted to the attack, ducks just as Thayndor makes his attack and then spins, lunging at him with poisoned claws.

The Wildling hisses as it sinks its claws into Thayndor's side, demanding in a hissing interrogatory in his ear: "Where is *she*?" The poison works quickly, creeping rapidly through the Zahir nobleman's system.

The tip of the longsword in Thayndor's hand touches the ground as his eyes widen, mouth falling slightly open. His jaw works once or twice as the poison sets in, and he falls to his knees, then slumps to the floor - still breathing, but paralyzed. The longsword clatters down next to him.

The Captain speaks no words as he blazes quickly through the keep toward the charge, his steeled sabre raised high as he begins the charge. Moving fluidly, he isn't exactly focused on Thayndor's need for help, but he barrels toward that direction as he swings the curved blade down upon his foe, seeking a swift strike upon the shadowspawn, having seen such a face often before.

The Wildling is leaning over Thayndor, the hot breath of its fanged mouth huffing on the skin of the paralyzed Zahir nobleman's exposed neck, preparing to chew on fresh meat. But his dinner is abruptly interrupted by Lotan's blade. Instead of chewing, the beast spews sticky green ichor on the wounded Thayndor and goes down, twitching, thrashing and kicking until it finally stops. The last of the Wildlings lies still in a growing pool of verdant gore on the floor of Aerie Heights Keep - mingling with the red blood of fallen humans. The battle is at an end.

Tomassa Zahir bursts into the Keep a little behind the others, the battle cries of her Irregulars drifting in from the approach. She slows when she sees that the ones inside have been defeated and whirls upon her heel to return to the Bramblestone wounded outside.

Aerie Heights Keep Approach


Tucked above the main road and river, on a solid bit of rock, sits Aerie Heights Keep, the traditional home of the Baron and Baroness of Hawk's Aerie.
You approach the keep up a steep but wide and well kept path, lined with the Baroness' herb hedges backed by espaliered apple trees against the sun warmed rock face.
Looking up at the keep proper, one sees a small, well kept stone tower and adjoining hall. The walls are relatively bare of ivy and the ground surrounding sports a clipped lawn cleared of brush. Beautiful, but obviously still quite functional as a defensible house.

Jacib lets his axe fall to the ground, holding Alainne close with the one arm he can move. "'nd I was too," he admits. "But 't didn't, 'nd we're both still here."

Tomassa Zahir emerges from the Keep after only a few minutes, her sword still free of gore. She rushes across the yard to hurry toward her men.

Alainne hugs Jacib a little tighter, "You should rest... and we'll see to getting you a healer tomorrow morning," she says quietly.

The approach to the keep is littered with bodies of Wildlings and men, some entangled even in death. A gruesome sight, those where shadowspawn claws are deeply embedded in a man's throat, his sword in turn thrust through the creature's chest. The remaining Irregulars, just about twenty, are tending to one another's wounds, or stumbling over the battlefield to search for the corpses of friends and comrades-in-arms.

"'m not going t' argue with y' there," the carpenter replies. He tilts his head to his left. "'t's a real pain not being able t' move anything on that side."

Alainne looks a bit worried, but nods her head, "I can imagine... come Jace, we're both exhausted."

Tomassa Zahir jogs to the surviving Irregulars and gives them words of encouragement and thanks as she passes amongst them. She helps to find and separate the dead from the injured, sheathing her sword to free up her hands.

Jacib raises the hand he can. "'m not arguing," he comments. "But I'd like t' see th' inside 'f th' Keep--'nd let th' people inside th't th' Baron's out here."

"Contessa!" A grizzled veteran walks up to Tomassa with heavy, tired steps. "I be glad t' see you be alright." He looks back over his shoulder, and spits. "This night be over at last. Lost many, Contessa. Light rest their souls."

"No. Tomorrow," Alainne says sternly. "You're in no shape to be tramping through the Keep tonight. It'll still be the same tomorrow, and I don't think I can handle seeing what's on the inside... or more of what's on the outside..."

Jacib sighs noisily, but acquiesces. "'f y' insist," he says, keeping most of his weight on his right leg.

"Aye," Tomassa agrees as she looks over the area. "You all served well and without hesitation. My heart leapt with renewed strength when I heard you. Take all of the wounded back to Hawk's Aerie. My sister, Aylora, is there and can help tend the injured. We will try to hire wagons to return everyone to the Keep."

"As you say," the veteran says with a weary bob of his head, and turns on a crunching heel. "Ho! Jeron, Lasro! We be takin the wounded down to the temple! Lady's orders! Be movin about it already!"

Alainne nods her head, helping Jacib towards a door, worry etched in her eyes. She opens the door, before helping Jacib through, closing it behind them.


Return to Season 1 (2003)

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