The Long, Twilight Struggle
By Skybax

Part I: Coming of Shadows

Static filled the air as the rain pounded down with fat drops, lightning flashed and thunder roared from deafening releases of pure energy, two soaked combatants, both from the rain and the blood, danced a deadly dance as old as time. The brown mud caked on them mingled with crimson red and neon green, the battered armour they wore hung on their frames, torn, ripped, marked with indentations from mighty blows, and stained, one scarlet, the other bright emerald, from the ongoing fight. They spoke not a word save for the occasional feral grunt or growl, a moment hesitation or distraction would lead to defeat.

Swords flashed brightly with each lightning bolt that fell from the heavens, and metallic clangs were heard as they clashed in the magical world of the Forumland, both calling upon powers not of this earth in order to tip the balance in their favour.

Be it by luck, or some higher force, the green blooded man/beast slipped on the muddy ground and fell on it's back. The other didn't squander the opportunity, and quickly stood over the prone warrior, raising his Rune sword high over his head, it began to emanate a bright pristine white light of it's own, that quickly became blinding in it's intensity.

"To strive, to seek, to find,and not to yield!" he shouted over the loud din to the thunder storm, and quickly brought down his medieval, enchanted broadsword for a killing blow.

The man/beast's neck was severed with a gush of green blood.

The man stood there, looking at the dead Dark Warrior, as he held his broken ribs. He sheeted his Rune Sword silently in the hard driving rain amidst the booms and crackles of thunder, it's bright glow had begun to fade. Tearing his eyes away from the dead thing that lay at his feet, he looked around until he spotted it, the bright flashes of light from the lightning bouncing off the beautifully carved, tempered, enchanted metal, giving it away in the night. Stepping over the body, he walked across the muddy patch of earth to where the soaked grass started, and painfully bent down to retrieve a medieval battle shield which had rested there.

Seemingly satisfied, he walked away, injured and battered, shield in hand, into the dark, rainy, storm filled night. He never did see the body melt.

The silent Warrior went but a few feet until a familiar shape materialized in front of him like the mist, he did not unsheet his Rune sword or pull up his enchanted shield in defence, and nor did the enchanted, protective crystal medallion that hung on his neck begin to glow as it did in the presence of Dark magic. He had recognised her powerful Mage aura even before she had fully taken shape.

"Allo Mage Cullen." He greeted her with a weak grin, the pain from his fractured ribs increasing as his adrenaline high dissipated. She smiled at seeing him alive and in one piece. She knew of the dead man/beast melting a dozen feet behind him, to her magical senses it was like a black scar on the land scape that would never fade, the spot were a strong evil had perished.

"So Skybax, I assume my spell worked?"

Skybax shot her thankful and wry smile. "When he slipped and fell, that was you?"

She nodded with a proud look about her "Yes, I casted simple, long-distance bad luck Hex on whoever your opponent was, I'm glad to see that one of my spells functioned like it was supposed too!"

He smiled inwardly at this, Cullen had a knack for having spells and enchantments backfire on her, mostly because the ones which did blow up in her face(and everybody else's) were spur of the moment untested incantations, but she was always there to get you out of a though fix, and her necromancy had won the day more than once. So far Skybax had never regretted making her Clan Mage, and he doubted that he ever would.

"I'm glad it worked too!... So, who sent you, Minstrelgirl or Silven?" Those two women, in his opinion, worried too much about him, he had lived most of his life alone and faced more terrible dangers and Evils than he ever hand in Eire's Forumland, so the concept of having someone be even a bit concerned about his well being was foreign to him.

"Silven, she told me just a few minutes ago about how you went out to hunt that Dark Warrior your scrolls had warned you about."

The vast collection of magic scrolls he kept were the chronicles of his life, the adventures and great quests, the voyages to far off lands, the secrets and knowledge he had collected during his escapades across the known world. A scroll had told him that an old enemy was back for revenge, one of the useful features built in them was that they were interactive and had their own inner power. But he also knew that in the wrong hands those historical documents could unlock doors to ancients and terrible magical forces that were best left alone. Silven was the only member of the Stargazer Clan that had full access to them, she had proven herself deserving of such trust and responsibility. And if he should ever perish in battle or met some other fate, Silven was the only one that could unleash the mighty necromancy contained in the scrolls in case it was even needed.

"The Dark Warrior, Ackbar, was hunting *me*, I simply wanted to end it."

Cullen's eyes went wide, "You knew that Evil Knight?"

Skybax turned and walked towards the general direction of Stargazer Keep, their home. Cullen followed at his side as he answered, he noticed that she was not drenched by the rain, her blue Light Mage robes were dry and flowed majestic in the strong wind, as did her hair, an up side of being a Mage he guessed, not having to suffer in the elements like the rest.

"Yes, I knew him, once, long ago, he was one of the Greek Goddess Hera's Demon Champions, but I humiliated him in a battle against her Dark troops. He survived but was disgraced, Hera stripped him of his Demonic powers and left him to live out his life as a mortal. He wanted revenge. Somewhere along the way he became a Dark Warrior, but still, those powers are nothing to those he once wielded as a Demon."

Cullen looked at Skybax, frowning. "But if couldn't beat you as a Demon, how did he expect to vanquish you as just a Dark Warrior?"

He look at her, with a slight smile. "I'm not as powerful as I once was either." He then mentaly registered that the pain in his ribs was gone, with the conversation and all the old memories coming back to him he hadn't noticed Cullen was quietly healing his wounds. He looked at her gratefully "Thanks for healing my wounds, Cullen."

She shrugged and cracked a grin "Something Healer Silven taught me. After all, what are Mages for?"

Suddenly, the world around him seemed to fade and was replace by the inside of Stargazer Clan Hall, he glanced at Cullen who was smiling proudly again "I've been practicing my warp spell, now I can take someone with me when I teleport."

Skybax grinned "Good, that could come in handy."

The large, ancient oak doors that were the main entrance too the Clan Hall burst open, and the pair turned to see Silven rush in "Skybax! Your back!"

"I missed you too, Silven." He jested.

"Now's not a time for witticism. I've just talked with seven different arms merchants, they claim that they just sold their entire stocks to the Longinus and Mistik Minstrels Clans in exchange for hordes of treasure."

Skybax glanced worriedly at Cullen, who wasn't too happy about it either. The Romans had learned some time ago not to mess with the Clans in Forumland, and the only real menace left was the Diona Clan, who vaunted that they were the most evil thing around and were going to conquer the world. Fortunately, they didn't have the numbers or the arms to carry out that threat out, but the Stargazer Clan, as self appointed peacekeepers of Forumland, were watching them all the same and were ready for surprises. But the Longinus and Mistik Minstrels Clans, were another mater, together, they had the numbers, and the Minstrels had hidden treasures that could be used to buy arms. Silven had warned Skybax when she had first joined the Clan that the Mistik Minstrels were jealous of the O'Connor Clan and it's supremacy in Forumland. They wanted to ally themselves with the Longinus Clan and overthrow the O'Connors. It was an old fashioned power grab, and normally Skybax didn't want the Clan he founded embroiled in inter-Clan politics, but Silven had also said the Minstrels wanted to attack the other Clans after they had gained supremacy over Forumland by defeating the O'Connors. A coup was one thing, but a full blown Forumland War was something that the Stargazers had to stop. And now it seemed that Silven's dire warnings were coming true. Skybax felt like kicking himself for not acting sooner.

"Silven, get the Clan on a War footing, send word to Chessie if you can, have the Night Queen fly over to the Mistiks place, there's still a few hours until sunrise and we need hard intelligence. And get me a horse." Silven nodded at the order and rushed out the Hall.

Skybax turned to Cullen. "I want you to send out a messenger to both the Longinus and Mistik Minstrels Clans with a warning, our first, last, and only one. Tell them 'Don't try to disrupt the balance or the peace. If you do, we *will* stop you.', then do what you can to help on the magicalside of things."

Cullen nodded an affirmative and asked "Are you going to warn the O'Connor Clan?"

He nodded back "Yes, hopefully I can get there before the Mistik and Langinus Clans. May the Gods have pity on us if this turns into Armageddon." It was something he had seen to many times in his 16 years of life, and he wasn't about to let War tear apart his new homeland.

She teleported away to do her job with a grim look on her face, and Skybax, Keeper of the Scrolls, founder of his Clan and it's reluctant Leader, walked out of Stargazer Hall, Rune sword at his hip and enchanted battle shield in hand, with the same grim expresion.

Part II: The Catlins Ride In-- By: Janelle, of the Catlins and O'Conors

Allena stood with Dejah and Medellia on a high rock. The rest of their clan; the Catlin Clan, spread out below them, going about their nightly business. Tully, Clan Protector, joined Allena on the bluff.

"They have no idea, do they?" Tully asked, worried.

"No... they have no idea a Forumland War is coming." Allena buried her head in her hands, looking up as the air fizzled in front of her.

"I'm back, Mistress." Janelle floated next to Dejah, her comment directed at Allena. The goddess had been known to run off for long periods of time, but lately she had stayed with her Clan because of the forboding trouble.

"Good. What have you to report, Clan bard?" medellia looked up withinterest, wincing as Janelle took out her harp, ready to sing her news. She was a bard after all.

"Please, Janelle, we have no time for this." Tully hissed. Shrugging, Janelle began.

"My contact, CuChulain of the Diona Clan, hasproposed an alliance between them, ourselves, and our brothers, the O'Conors. I have also inquired to any of our new members who would like to be the Clan healer. Alas, I would have taken the position myself, but my healing powers have faded since I chose to live with mortals."

Allena smoothed her tunic and said thoughtfully, "An allegiance with the O'Conors would be indeed helpful, but what do the Diona's have to offer?"

"Come, come, Allena. Just because a clan is small does not mean it is not great. I have heard the Dionas are masters at battle strategy and such." Dejah answered.

"Hmm, perhaps you are right. Tully, fetch us horses, and Janelle will be riding with us tonight." Allena drew her bow, and with Dejah, medallia, Tully,and Janelle, set out to the O'Conor clan territory.

"Mistress... the Leader of the Stargazer clan will be there as well, for they rally an alliance for peace, not for battle, although I hear that they are not taking chances themselves, andare gearing up for War if it comes to that.." Janelle guided her racing horse next to Allena's.

"The Stargazers? They have been hostile to our O'Conor brothers in the past, Janelle." medellia shouted in the wind.

"Oh, no. Their leader Skybax is a great friend of mine, his clan is very powerful." Janelle replied.

"Well, since the Dionas will also be there, perhaps we are closer to unifying the Forumland Clans." Tully called.

"But what if the Dionas betray us; they have been quite... crude... in the past, and I doubt the Stargazers will takes kindly to an alliance with them." Dejah challenged as they neared the O'Conor area.

"We shall see, Catlins. We shall see..." Allena murmured as they reined in their horses.

No one, not even the goddess Janelle, could have known that the next day they would fighting the Clans they were going to meet tonight...

Part III: Face of the Enemy-- By: Torin, of the Diona Clan

A sword whistled by his head. A spear glanced off his shield. Nothing could deter him from his chosen path. Time seemed to be traveling at half speed and all that mattered was the blood drenched champion of the Cruin, Paldin. Charging trough the turmoil of the battlefield Torin bellowed his mighty war cry and fell into single combat with the opposing champion.

Again Torin felt the thrill of the battle, but this time it was tainted with the sorrow in his soul. Only three days before while he and his war host left to scout the nearby valley, upon their return they found their village in ruins. The activity in the valley was a ruse by the Cruin to lure them away for the raid on the village. The Cruin left nothing. The only remains were the burning houses and bodies.

Rage had fueled him and his host across the land, only revenge mattered to his men. The moment was here for the taking! Revenge for his family and his people would be won. Paldin, although a brave and excellent warrior was no match for Torin, who was consumed by his battle lust. Every thrust of Paldin spear was turned away by shield. Splintering on the rim of the shield Paldin's spear was now nothing more than a useless stick. Seizing the opportunity Torin drove his longsword home into the midsection of his enemy. It was over. The Cruin warriors all lay dead, but Torin's blood debt was not paid. He lead his men into the village were the women and children fell under the swords of he and his men. Alas, filled with the rage and anger of the deaths of his people he fell under the same path of destruction.

Waking as if from a dream Torin viewed the battle field and the charred remains of the village. The realization struck him like a blow. He had tainted his people's position of the pristine defenders of Albion with this slaughter. Falling to his knees a rift opened in the fabric of reality in front of him. Out stepped Myratin, High God of Albion and his people. Tears streamed down Myratin's face as he gazed upon Torin.

"I am sorry my son. The God's have decreed, with my approval, that you can not longer hold the title of Pristine Chieftan. You and your host defied your loyal oaths to Albion with the carnage that i see before me."

Torin groaned with the knowledge of his heinous act. Myratin voice was shaky with the next words.

"As is known the pristine knights can never act in rage. Even after what the Cruin did you can not retaliate in such a way. It grieves me deeply with the sentence that has been passed down upon you and your host. You will be forever sent to the abyss, where you will relive this battle for eternity. Forever you will see the heinous acts of you and your men. Forever to hear the wailing of the children and the last cries of their mothers." With those words he turned and without looking back stepped back into the rift. Torin was dumbstruck by the sentence handed to him and his men. Many of his host started to flee, terrified with the revelation of the horror which they would have to live through for eternity.

They did not run far. The shadows on the land began to take shape. Writhing and twisting the shadows grew to misshapen imitations of men. Shrieking the shadow men flew to subdue the honor tainted warriors. A fizzure erupted in the ground and Abaddon, chuckling to himself strolled out.

"Come Torin. You and your men will forever be guests in my home" With those words time seemed to reverse and Torin and his men were again in the midst of the battle with the Cruin. Each time they would win and the destroy the Cruin village the air would shimmer and again the battle would resume. But each time the battle ensued Torin would see something he had not seen before. A crying child or a mother running with her children only to be cut down. At first he was overcome with grief due to his actions at the end of each battle. But after countless times the scene played out Torin became enraged. Why was he to be tortured with these images for his mistake. A raging fire grew in his soul and he began to revel in the each battle. He enjoyed the carnage before him.

If it was the gods idea to purify him by this imprisonment, then it failed. He and his men began to feed on the violence and death. His men became a terrifying sight. They absorbed the energy of the abyss and grew deformed to match its horrifying nature. Their armour was messed with their skin and ornamental horns on their helms fused with their skulls. Torin gazed at his new war host. He was filled with his own battle lust, bordering on the edge of control. Torin himself had undergone a change. His skin was now his armour. His whole body was deep crimson, rippled with slabs of muscle. Anger his anger at the gods who imprisoned him here would forever fill his soul. The chance for revenge would come. This he knew. The moment would come and he and his host would be ready. They would use their punishment to hone their skills and they became the ultimate force.

His war host achieved the highest level he thought possible. They could win the battle with the Cruin quickly with no complications. Suddenly during one of the battles the enemies disintegrated. Confused Torin scanned the landscape. Why had the battle stopped was his imprisonment finally over and could he finally gain his revenge. Abaddon materialized on the top of a blood stained knoll with a grin.

"My cousins did not know what i had in mind when I recommended this punishment for you. They thought this would make you fully realize your action and repent. I knew this would corrupt you and your men. I now have the army I need. My allies and I are ready to start our takeover of Forumland. With you as the chieftan with this war host we will be unstoppable. As chieftan i present you with your new weapons. This sword was pulled from the deepest shadows of the abyss and forged by my own hand. This shield is the scale of my pet, the dragon of the deep. It will aid you in most battles. Go with these weapons and your new war host and have your revenge upon the land! My allies and I will be there soon to help in the upcoming fight."

A grin spread across Torin fact and a guttural roar erupted from his lips. His men shouted approval and were ready for the upcoming carnage they would spread upon forum land.

Part IV: Patterns of Light and Shadows-- By: Skybax

He rode hard until the great life giving star rose before him from the horizon like a majestic jewel of fire. It's light painted the heavens myriad hues and liberated this mystical land from the darkness of night. As he let his horse rest and graze in a small clearing, he could feel the forest awake, the crisp morning air was filled with the same electricity of life that seemed to come with each dawn. To him, it was the most a glorious part of any day, so he tried to enjoy it whenever he could, even now. He knew that with the dark times ahead, chances of enjoying such moments of perfect beauty would be rare. All the more reason to basque in the resplendent, primal life force of nature while he still could, to Skybax, it was like a religious experience. To feel and listen to the Roar of life itself.

Unfortunately, it was not to be, no sooner had he begun to immerse himself in it, than the primitive little hairs on the back of his neck started standing on end. Skybax suddenly stood silent and unmoving, craning his neck high to one side, listening for what his instincts had already told him. He hadn't survived his most unusual life by ignoring the innate sixth sense that all humans possessed. Failing at the attempt to hear the danger, the Keeper of the Scrolls reached within, then outward using what limited magical powers he had left in him now a days.

As soon as he opened his 'third eye', he saw her. Even if he hadn't been adept at recognizing the subtle nuances in different auras,and then matching them to their owners, Skybax would have been able to identify her immediately. The Wolf that accompanied her, the two enchanted weapons, a bow named Windcaller and her sword Mamutoi which threw off their own powerful magical energy signatures, combined with the fact that he had only spotted this semi-magical pursuer until now, made it quite clear who it was. His very own Clan's enigmatic, introverted, yet almost arcanely charismatic scout, Eryn. She was hidden at the other end of the clearing, he could tell without looking, keeping a stealthily vigilant, watchful gaze on him, a would be bodyguard sent be Silven no doubt, making sure he had good, armed help if he should need it.

Eryn was much like him, a cold, seasoned warrior on the outside, but a poetic dreamer on the inside. The difference being that he did not hide his adventurous, and violent, past. And she guarded hers jealously. He had long suspected that Eryn's life before the Clan beared some similarities to his own, but she had rebuffed him each time he had tried to talk to her about it. It was sad to him, for he had spent little less than his entire life alone in every sense of the word that mattered, those people like him whom he had met on his odysseys came and went like the wind.. And those that didn't, usually lost their lives by his side... And now, when Skybax had finally left that other life behind, and found a real, permanent home, a land and people to call his own, when he had finally found some peace, a real future.. And then met her...

The warrior snapped out of his reverie with alarm, Eryn would never have set off his senses like that, the last time it had happened was a few hours before, as Ackbar and he stalked each other in the black, moonless rain soaked night. No... it was something else.. he scanned the area again with his limited magical senses. Nothing. Something which meant precisely that. His magical senses and abilities were not now what they had once been, and he was taking nothing for granted, he knew of many old foes that would be more than happy to take advantage of his diminished state.

Skybax headed nonchalantly for his horse, intent on getting to his sword and shield which were tied to the horses saddle, on reflection later, he acknowledged that separating himself from his weapons, even for a moment, was a mistake. If Ackbar had been able find him all the way out here, at the edge of the known world, then it stood too reason that others would too. A rookie mistake. Quite possibly his last one. All of this idyllic peace must have been getting to him.

The flash of bright light from his crystal medallion was his only clear cut warning, and his shouted warning was drowned out by angry explosions of fire. It ended quickly, the dark necromancy of the fireballs had vaporized into black ash everything they touched, the only thing left in the clearing scorched earth, one Rune sword, one battle shield, and one very dead, but seemingly untouched horse, laying on the charred ground.

Eryn picked herself up from where the magical shockwave of the fiery blasts had tossed her like a rag doll. As she carefully checked herself over for any injuries, something the amazon had done all to often in the past, she saw that Luna had also been hit by the blast, and seemed to be recovering much faster. The black wolf was already heading for her cautiously, trying to balance stealth and the need to be with Eryn.

A few delicate moments later, and they were both looking again from the edge of the clearing(well hidden of course) at the scene before them. All traces of Skybax were gone, she inwardly feared that her Clan leader had been consumed by the inferno. The air reeked not only of a burnt smell, but also, to her, of black magic. It was a pungent odor that sickened like no other, and a warrior of the Light such as Eryn found it particularly revolting. Dark necromancy, bad voodoo, black sorcery, no mater what you called it, it was still the same thing, Evil.

She reached out with her arcane senses, looking for the diabolic source of the attack.. looking... then suddenly, it appeared, high above, after discarding a now useless concealment hex, it emanating black malevolent energies like a beacon. She could feel the massive power of the Dark Mage, he seemed to radiate evil like no other wizard she had ever encountered before, this was not someone to be trifled with.

Eryn silently pulled at the subtle invisibility spell she had cast last night, wrapping it tighter around her and Luna like a protective cloak. It made her very nervous that someone could kill Skybax so easily, and being in close proximity to such a mighty warlock wasn't helping her tense state of mind.

He descended from the fresh morning sky upon a great, winged, reptilian steed, an ebony Dragon. Which explained the fiery attack. Eryn recognized it's race, Nirnoth, a non sentient cousin of the species. Nirnoth Dragons, she knew from experience, were not terribly bright for their species, they were more like big, reptilian, fire breathing Pegasi, and had no relation, on the intelligence side of things, to the legendary, ancient and wise Tibetan Dragons, and their sentient brothers which populated the far Orient. The point being that this Dragon could possibly be manipulated from afar by mystic means.. but if it's master had put it under a slave spell, then her desperate gambit could turn into a failure that would reveal her presence..

As the Nirnoth landed, surprisingly softly for a four ton reptile, if you didn't happen know that they naturally used magic to fly, Eryn finally saw the orchestrator of the mortal strike, a black cowled figure in ebony robes to match his steed.

She quickly cocked an arrow in her enchanted bow Windcaller, aiming carefully at the Dark Mage of short stature as he disembarked from the Dragon, and made his way to the dead horse, as well as the sword & shield. Eryn was an apparently unseen assassin, just as he had been, and she was prepared to exact revenge for the slaying of her leader.

"Blood for blood, ashes for ashes, death...for death." She whispered the ancient incantation of Revenge, adding the age old spell's power that of the enchanted bow. The bow string sang. The arrow flew with magical might.

And stopped in mid air, barely a foot from the sorcerer's cowled head. Eryn's breath caught in her throat. He stopped, and slowly turned towards her, raising his hands as they began to crackle with dark energy. Luna growled, and grew quickly tense, ready for a fight. She cocked another arrow, muttering every death and battle spell she knew.

The Dragon reared up on it's hind legs, and lunged at the evil wizard, biting down on the shocked magician' torso with it's large teeth, producing a small symphony of gory sounds; audible wet snaps of broken bones, tearing flesh and gargled screams. The ebony Nirnoth quickly dropped it's dead prey, now severed in half at the mid section, and stood on all fours, much like a horse, staying in that position, docile and unmoving.

Eryn, understandably surprised by the turn of events, lowered her enchanted weapon, and stared, slightly slack jawed, at the Dragon. And it's rider.

Skybax, sitting comfortably in the saddle on the Nirnoth's back, smiled at Eryn with a strange little twinkle in his eye and a smart-ass look about him. His shield teleported from the dead horse and into his hand, as did his sword, which he sheated.

"Hey Eryn, you looked like you could have used my help, hope ya don't mind if took your fun."

Astonishment was replaced by outrage as she realized he had been alive all along, letting her think he was dead. She stepped out of the foliage and into the charred clearing, Luna following

"You bastard! If you ever pull a brain dead move like that again, I'll kill you myself!"

Eryn's furious lambasting was cut short by the better-late-than-never appearance of Cullen, the air around her, after she had finished teleporting between them with a bright flash, was filled with electricity and raw power, making her hair and blue robes swirl around her angrily as if caught in a strong wind. Cullen eyes shone ethereally with an inner light, kindled by magic.

All in all, she looked like someone possessed, but Skybax knew that it was all illusions and bluffs meant to intimidate a possible enemy. The Light Mage had obviously come here expecting a fight. Her gaze fell on the dead necromancer, his tattooed face now revealed to be that of a young elven male. At least that would explain his height.

Cullen's magical bluster faded and disappeared. She turned and glanced at Eryn then at Skybax with concern "You two okay.?"

Skybax nodded an affirmative, as did Erym, through gritted teeth as she shot daggers at him.

"So Cullen," the Clan Leader jested mock-seriously "what's a nice girl like you doing all the way out here?"

The Light Mage looked at him and lifted a disapproving eyebrow. "Don't get cocky, kid. This wasn't just some evil wizard with a cute pet." She motioned to the two halves of the dead body.

"Did you know him?"

Skybax dismounted, and walked over to the severed body. A quick glance at the elven face told him all he needed to know.

"You know Cullen, in this line of work, you need to develop a sense of humor. It's either laugh of go nuts." He turned to look at the Mage "And no, I've never seen him before, but I know of his kind. Dark Elves of Argundor, one of Lord Bane's necromancer's by the look of the tatoos."

Eryn pipped up as she walked over, putting the arrow back in it's quiver but keeping her bow ready in hand. Luna followed closely, eyeing the dragon warily.

"Lord Bane? That despot from Illuria?" Skybax smiled bitterly at the his memories of that war kingdom on the Illyricum coast. Illuria, cut off on three sides by impassable mountain ranges with only the sea as a way out, had been in a perpetual state of brutal civil war for years, long before he had set foot there. After some severe internal disputes, culminating to the assassination of the Kingdom's royal family, Illuria had seethed under a sullen, uneasy peace for a decade. But that ended when the truce, and the Arch-Mage who had enforced it, disappeared. And over the following years, the land had run red with blood as no less than eight different factions from the Kingdom's four provinces waged war on each other.

Lord Bane of the Argundor territories was but one of those forces, but by far the most evil. Skybax's run ins with Bane's Dark Legions had all been violent and unpleasant. The Mana Knight clutched at his Rune sword's hilt unconsciously as he remembered one particular encounter with Lord Bane's own Arch-Dark Mage, Mindanium. Skybax had walked away(barely), with the enchanted Lightsword, the other had been left in pieces thanks spell that had backfired on him. He shivered, it was the closest he had even come to imminent death in his life time, not exactly a pleasant memory.

"You've been to that wretched land?" He asked Eryn. Cullen knew of Illuria because of the stories he had recounted to her of his adventures there, but he had never spoken a word of the subject to Eryn before.

She nodded grimly "Unfortunately, yes."

"Then you know then, why this attack doesn't make sense." She nodded again.

"Yes, Illuria is on the other side of Rome from here.." Eryn looked at her Clan Leader playfully. "What in Hades did you do to incur this kind of wrath, anyways?" He half smiled

"Nothing bad enough to send this lad all the way to the edge of the known world after me. But more than distance makes this attack lack sense. Not a week ago I consulted my Scrolls to check up on the conflict over there. It was still going strong, and I find it hard to believe that Bane would waste one of his wizards on me, given their rarity in that Land."

"What then?" Eryn said with a puzzled look on her face. He was right, the attack was implausible, Lord Bane was mad, not stupid. But it *had* happen.

Skybax looked at Cullen, she was silent, waiting for the two to finish their speculations. His eyes narrowed as he remembered what the Clan Mage had said.

"What do you mean 'wasn't just some evil wizard with a cute pet'? Is there something else at play here?"

She nodded knowingly "Yes. I was trying to focus on you moments before I arrived. But something was blocking me from checking up on you two. As soon as the magical interference stopped, I teleported here expecting battle. Sky.. It wasn't the Dark Mage. It was something else. A god."

Sky and Eryn shot each other an alarmed glance. "Which one? Hera? Mars?" He wasn't lacking in divine enemies, but had always thought Eire a safe haven, for in this land the Celtic Gods ruled, and for any uninvited member of the Greek, or heaven forbid, Roman pantheon to trespass here would touch off a new round of War between the Gods. Hera was arrogant enough to try it via a proxy, like that elven magician, and he had humiliated Mars, something that deity wanted his head for... Sky counted his lucky stars that he had allies among Zeus, Athena, and Aphrodite to protect him from Hera's fury, and that Mars wife, Venus, had taken a liking to him. Other wise, he'd be the *late* Mana Knight known as Skybax. But out here in Celtic land, his would-be protectors were out of their jurisdiction..

"No, at least I don't think so, it's just a hunch, he/she/it/*whatever* was hiding from me. It's a God, that's all I really know. One things obvious, someone wants you dead.." Cullen said, distressed. This whole affair was getting serious, as a rule, it was bad news any way you sliced it when Gods interfered with the affairs of mortals.

"Patterns of Light & Shadows..." He whispered, seemingly catching on to some elusive truth..

"What?" Eryn inquired. This was getting too weird for her, mythical monsters, undead spirits, Ogres, Evil Wizards, Dragons, Giants, and Demons she could handle, but gods and their like was way beyond her realm of experience.

"Something a Sage told me in Egypt.. 'To all things there are patterns, life, death, war, peace, nature and the occult, of Light & Shadows.' Never did understand what he meant.. Until now.."

He rushed to the dragon and hoped onto the saddle. He motioned to Eryn to do the same, she hesitated at first, but after intrusting Cullen with Luna, she sat behind Skybax on the back of the great Dragon.

"Has the Night Queen reported back?" Sky called as the Nirnoth stirred and began to flex it's great bat like wings.

"No, she arrived just before dawn. She was resting in the catacombs under Stargazer Keep when I left." The blue robed Mage answered after she and the black wolf had moved to a safe distance.

"Get her to report as soon as possible, and tell Silven to forget the light stuff, open up the Vault and break out the enchanted weaponry. Tell her to find the my Scrolls on fighting Gods and their mortal servants. You'd better dust off your heavy duty battle spells. And get in touch with the Gaylin Clan! All bloody living Hell is about to envelop the Forumland. The last, best hope for peace just died... but like a phoenix, it'll rise from the ashes and become something greater, our last, best hope for victory!" With that, the ebony Nirnoth Dragon launched itself into the air, up towards the heavens, carrying with it two Mana Knights on the War path.

"How did you survive the attack?!" Eryn shouted into his ear over the howl of the wind as they headed eastward, into the rising sun and O'Connor Manor.

"I've gone up against Dragons before! A simple protective spell I learned a while back did the trick! Disappearing was child's play! I was worried about *you* actually!" He yelled back.

She smiled wryly at his armored back. "I can take care of myself, hero!" She hollered, putting sarcastic emphasis on the last word. "..What killed the horse, didn't your shield protect it?!"

"Yeah, but not from heart attacks!"

She howled in laughter, and it echoed over the treetops and across the Forumland. It was the last mirth this fabled realm would hear for some time.