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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
A sequel to "The Sand Reavers". This time, our Druchii villains raid the northern Empire and meet some long lost elven relatives. Guest starring a certain pair of Asrai warriors.

The Forest Reavers - Northern Shores

The Soul Reaver carved through the Sea of Claws under a torrent of rain, storm winds lashing against the masts and threatening to tear the sails apart. Dreadlord Virathia the Crypt-Breaker braced herself on the deck, which was already filled with enough water to reach her ankles and above, as Jaylis, captain of the corsair crew, shouted orders to keep the ship under control.
"This is why I hate ships!" Aratheia, a mostly naked, rune-covered and completely enraged Witch Elf, screamed, clinging onto the side of the ship.
"It's your fault for spending all your time with daughters of Karond Kar!" Virathia shouted back.
Aratheia groaned. "Couldn't Talthien have used the Eye of Tahoth to warn us?"
"It's not a toy for careless use, dearest." Katherya, Virathia's sister and sorceress-student of Talthine called only as loud as necessary to be heard from the other side of the ship, where she seemed to have no trouble staying upright.
"If we drown, there won't be much use to it at all," Aratheia complained.
"Stop bickering and let the corsairs concentrate," Sheleden commanded.
Virathia looked shame-facedly at the older warrior, assigned by her parents to protect her and Katherya, and by extension Aartheia. "Yes, my Lord." The wind was still knocking her dark hair everywhere, and she could barely see, but it seemed irrelevant in the face of Sheleden.
"Thanks!" Jaylis shouted. "I can't contrate whilst those three have one of their quarrels. Where's Talthine anyway?"
"Below deck, as usual," Katherya answered sweetly. She held a sorceress' staff, inscribed with runes of Hekarti, which were also drawn on her body, underneath the cloak that now provided no protection at all . Her hair was waist-length, a new style she had tried since the Nehekhara expediiton.
"Khaine take her!" Aratheia muttered, gently rubbing her chest where the Nehekharan khopesh had given her her first scar. Or at least the first one that hadn't been small enough to cover in Khaine runes. Like all Witch Elves, she had been taken as a baby during Death Night and trained as a warrior, a killer. The resultant sinewy strength and refined muscles were at odds with the colours on her face.
Virathia's Dreadlord uniform was sodden through, and her sea dragon cloak was too heavy. But, despite it all, and Aratheia's complaints, she was enjoying herself. She had always liked the sea, Mathlann was her favourite Cytharai. The feel of the wind lashing against her feel good. Her god was testing her resolve before the raiding could begin.

The afternoon sun emerged from the storm, the wind and rain falling off until Virathia no longer felt drops on her head. The corsairs got to work tidying up the Soul Reaver whilst Captain Vedethar, who had been with his cavalry below decks, emerged with a grimace.
"We survived. Some of the beasts didn't." He looked ruefully at the horses and Cold Ones being carried to the sides of the ship and thrown overboard. "They don't like being tossed about."
Virathia laughed dryly, looking at Aratheia, who was now leaning against a mast, with Katherya for extra support. "not all of us do, either." It was strnage how awful a fellow Druchii found sea travel, but there it was.
"Do you still have a sufficient force?" Sheleden asked.
"Yes, my Lord. We always have plenty of spares anyway." Vedethar smiled, but not with his eyes. "I think they'll prefer the Empire to Nehekhara."
"That raid made my sister a Dreadlord, by Hekarti!" Katherya scolded.
"No doubt," Vedethar agreed, before going back below decks with Virathia's permission.
Jaylis and two escorts approached Virathia. "Dreadlord."
"Captain." They didn't get on. But Virathia didn't have the political standing to just remove or kill her, and she was competent. In return, Jaylis had forgotten the loss of much of her crew after Virathia had paid her off with the stolen treasures.
"A few minor injuries, no deaths. Most of the equipment is still onboard, though we're missing some weapons and bolts. The Reapers are having their mechanisms replaced." The Reaper Bolt Throwers, on at the prow, one at the stern, were the Soul Reaver's only weapons, so it was paramount to keep them working. "All in all, we survived."
"You did yourself well again. Thank you."
Jaylis nodded. "Maybe next time your sorceress could warn us about storms."
"What are you complaining about? It just a light shower."
Virathia turned to see Talthine emerge. The sorceress looked about her with an air of superiority, even for a Druchii, her cloak whipping in the wind, her staff decorated, her eyes mysterious. A crystal shone from where it hung from her neck. The Eye of Tahoth, that allowed the wearer to see much.
"Mistress!" Katherya called.
Talthine nodded to ehr. "Student."
Aratheia tried to speak but just coughed.
Katherya stroked her forehead. "It's over now."
TTalthine touched the crystal. "The Norscans are attacking now. If we arrive tommorrow, we should be able to avoid them and move inland."
"Avoid battle?" Aratheia demanded.
"This ship is in no state to take on a Norscan fleet, and you know it," Sheleden said.
"Definitely," Jaylis agreed.
"Besides, don't you want to land as soon as possible?" Virathia asked kindly.
Aratheia nodded. "Yes! Forget battle! I could stand up!"

The headland came into view, past which was a long beach bearing the signs of a Norscan raid. Blood everywhere, and a few corpses still scattered about. Huge, animal-skinned Norscans lay where they had fallen, their smaller Imperial enemies lay nearby. It seemed it had taken several Imperials to kill each Norscan.
The sea was glass smooth now, and Aratheia was feeling better. Better enough that Katherya was having lessons with Talthine and the Witch Elf was left to walk the deck herself.
"Ugh, that was awful," she admitted. "I've never really liked ships, and that storm..."
Virathia smiled. "We'll be ashore soon."
"Khaine's Hand, please!" Aratheia shrugged and looked Virathia in the eye. "I never thought I'd say this, but I've been missing you lately. I think I've spent more time in an arena in the last few months than raiding."
Virathia looked at Mannslieb for a while before answering, drawing strength from the normal moon. "I'm a Dreadlord now. I've got duties. Can't raid all the time."
"Am I still allowed to murder you when Katherya isn't looking?"
Virathia laughed. "Cytharai, it was only sparring. I didn't even injure you."
"You defeated me. In front of everyone." Aratheia glowered. "That demands retribution."
"Some day."

"Come on, Tyrant!" Virathia kicked her Cold One into action, making it run down the boarding ramp to the beach ahead of Vedethar and his scouts. Behind, Katherya and Aratheia walked down, the Witch Elf wanting to secure ehr footing before riding.
Sheleden and Talthien rode beside ehr, while Jaylis remained on the ship to find a more secure anchorage, the direct landing having been taken more because Aratheia needed off now Virathia watched her ship sail away around the headland. Jaylis and a few corsairs would catch up when they were ready.
They explored the beach, looking for any survivors or treasure. There were neither, but Katherya brought Virathia's attention to something both disturbing and exciting.
"Sister, look over here."
Virathia followed her, and dropped off Tyrant onto the soft sand. Her boots sunk in, and she needed a few seconds to stabilise. Aratheia determinedly walked by herself.
"Well? Another dead Norscan. No loot."
"Look at this. It's not an Empire arrow, is it?" Katherya said.
Virathia looked, and saw that no, it wasn't. It was much better made, more refined. Almost... "Vedethar! Get over here!"
The scout captain rode over, and inspected the arrow. He wrinkled his nose. "Asrai."
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Intelligence

With no immediate threats, and Vedethar's cavalry patrolling, the Druchii made camp on the beach. Viratia's instincts urged her to go inland and start burning and pillaging, but she was curious about the Asrai, and why they might be here. It was, her tactical side knew, a fresh consideration that changed things drastically.
The senior officers convened with her in the command tent. As always, Katherya and Aratheia sat to either side of her, the latter playing with her daggers most unsettlingly.
"Talthine," Virathia said. "What is the Eye of Tahoth showing you?"
The senior sorceress glowered at the crystal around her neck. "Not much," she admitted. "There's heavy enchantments on it. I can see that there is a large Asrai presence nearby, and, perhaps from familiarity, I could tell you exactly what is happening onboard the Soul Reaver. But no specifics about the humans or the Asrai, if that's what you're asking."
"My cavalry will be more than happy to cover for any...gaps," Vedethar said.
Talthine bristled. "I'll break this soon."
"Can you see what will happen?" Sheleden asked.
"No. Only the present."
"So what help is it, then?" Aratheia asked, eyebrow raised challengingly.
"Just because it won't show me everything, yet, doesn't make it useless. It does not only show physical objects. I can see great magical power with the Asrai. Some are sorcerers and sorceresses, which I can deduce from the ways they register to my - and its - senses." She paused. "There is, however, something else. Something vastly powerful. A powerful link, of light and dark. I don't know what it is yet."
"We'll find out," Katherya said.
Sheleden looked thoughtful, but said nothing.
Jaylis looked at Sheleden as if she knew he was hiding something.
Talthien smiled.
"What are they doing here?" Virathia asked.
"Helping the locla humans, evidently," Vedethar answered. "Though why, is anyone's guess."
Jaylis spat. "Something about their special tree. I've encountered Asrai before. All they care about is their tree." Her lips twisted into a sinister smile. "They must be here on an important mission. It's the only reason an army of theirs would leave the forest, especially this far from Athel Loren. If we can interrupt this mission, I would be most happy."
"You and I are going to have to stop agreeing on things," Aratheia said.
"I would be happy to disrupt their plans, too," Katherya put in.
"Is it that strange?" Virathia asked. "The Asur would rule the world - to protect it, they say."
Sheleden nodded. "It is different. The Asrai are...not like us. Or the Asur. They do not seek to rule the world, only to guard the Oak of Ages, and its offshoots. If they are here it must be to do witht he Oak. They are shaped by Athel Loren on a fundmanetal level. In battle, they are swift and precise."
"I've never killed Asrai before," Aartheia said.
Katherya smiled. "Always a first time, dearest."
Aratheia gave her a disgustingly sweet smile. "It'll be your first, too, I think."
Virathia coughed. Were they deliberately embarrassing her in front of her officers? "For now, let us raid the nearby villages. See if we can find any Asrai. Or at least some humans who know something."
"My scouts are ready," Vedethar said instantly.
"My corsairs, too." Jaylis.
"Khaine, I need to kill something to get over myself," Aartheia muttered.

And kill she did. The Druchii roved up and down the lands close to the shore, not going to deep in land in case they found the Asrai army, but deep enough to find several human villages. Virathia enjoyed the fear and the screams. This was, by Mathlann, what she was born for. To raid and plunder. There wasn't too much in valuables to take, but a few merchants' houses and larger farmsteads yieleded good amounts of coin and produce. There were plentiful slaves, too. The most fun was when a local militia gathered, and a short battle ensued. Too short, but it was satisfying. Aratheia killed as many as she could, screaming her Lord's name and lost in blood frenzy. Katherya worked her magics.
It was as they were returning to the beach that anything approaching real difficulty appeared. Whilst Virathia led the column with the slaves, through the forest, Talthine rode up to her with a concerned expression.
"Dreadlord, I'm not quite sure, the details are too indistinct. But I think an Asrai force is moving towards us."
"How sure are you?" Virathia asked.
"Asrai!" Aratheia exclaimed. "Are they -?"
An arrow slammed into a nearby tree.
"That sure," Talthine answered.
"Ambush!" Virathia shouted. "Vedethar, drive them off. Jaylis, form a defensive position. Talthine, Katherya, use your magic. Sheleden, do what you think best."
Sheleden decided to stay with Virathia.
"What about me?" Aartheia demanded.
"Look after Katherya," Virathai commanded. "That's an order,. Can't have you running off into the woods and getting killed. Katherya would hate it."
"Yes, I would. So you stay right here."
"You're not my mothers," Aartheia complained.
"I'm your Dreadlord, so deal with it."
Aratheia fell into line and stayed by Katherya.
A volley of arrows emerged from the trees. Virathia raised her shield, and the Cytharai protected Katherya and Aratheia, but other Druchii weren't so lucky. A Cold One knight and some corsairs dropped.
Talthien glared at the Eye of Tahoth. "They're over there!"
Jaylis shouted, and a volley of bolts hurried towards where the sorceress had indicated. A few elven screams filled the air, followed by a second volley.
"We can't fight like this," Sheleden muttered.
"No need," Katherya growled. "Hekarti! Hear me!" She called on Dark Magic, and a purple-tinged storm of blades ripped through the nearby trees, producing more screams.
"Good, my student," Talthine observed, before a huge, glowing bolt of destruction fell from the sky and exploded.
Virathia shielded her eyes from earth and branches sent flying. Tyrant, her Cold One, roared.
"Was a Doombolt necessary?" Sheleden asked.
"They need to know what they're dealing with," Talthine answered.
"I could have helped," Aartheia muttered.
Katherya slapped her shoulder. "I'm sure you could have."
"Agreed," Jaylis said, another volley from her corsairs launching.
This time, there was no return shot.
Vedethar 's cavalry returned, a few less than before, with blood on their swords and spears, and grimly pleased. Two of the riders emerged a little later, prodding a captive elf as they came.
"The best prisoner so far," Sheleden announced. "Dreadlord, shall we return to the camp?"
Virathia grinned at the Asrai. "Yes, we should. I have questions."

Clearly the Asrai were influenced by their tree home in more ways than one, because this prisoner was very tongue-tied when Virathia started asking questions. He wouldn't tell her anything, except that his people would kill them all whether or not they returned him, so they may as well get it over with.
"Let me deal with him," Aartheia begged. "I can hurt people."
Katherya smiled. "I'm sure you can. What do you think, Dreadlord?"
"Sister, please, only call me that in battle. Or in formal situations." It felt wrong.
Katherya blinked, as if realising what she had just said. "Yes, sister. I'm sorry."
"No need. Aartheia, if you would."
Under the (not at all) gentle mercies of a daughter of Khaine, the Asrai talked.
Virathia listened with interest.
The young elf's name was Tulern, an Eternal Guard (which Virathia had earlier learned was the answer to a Dreadspear) of Laurelorn Forest, an offshoot of Athel Loren south of the Imperial province of Nordland. The Spellweavers had been visited in their dreams by Isha, the Queen of the Asrai through her avatar Ariel, and told to expect her Heralds' coming. Shortly afterwards, the Heralds had arrived and, with an army of their own as well as forces, including himself, borrowed from Laurelorn, they had established a presence on the Nordland coast, driving back a wave of Norscan attacks that seemed more directed than usual. Now, the Asrai host were considering how to respond to the Druchii and seeing how many they were. Tulern suggested they flee before their small numbers were discovered. He then admitted her didn't know what was so important/
Aratheia placed a dagger on his neck. "Thank you for your help."
"Most kind," Katherya said.
"Wait," Virathia interjected. "Jaylis, take him to the Soul Reaver. He can be my first Asrai prisoner."
"How sentiemntal," Aartheia said, withdrawing her blade.
"A worthy prize," Katherya observed.
As Tulern was taken away, Sheleden took Virathia, Katherya and Aartheia aside. "He's rigtht about the Norscans. Talthine says a large mass of darkness is forming out to sea. As if these were mere probing attacks. We should find out what the Asrai are doing here as soon as possible, deal with it, then leave before a full invasion traps us."
Katherya frowned. "i'm not scared of Norscans."
"You weren't scared of Nehekharans, either."
Katherya looked at the scar on Aratheia;s chest, and fell silent.
"I should explain about the Heralds of Ariel, too," Sheleden continued. "Naestra and Arahan. No one knows exactly what they are. Apparently, they are children of Ariel herself, symbollising her purity, in Naestra, and her darkness, in Arahan. They are twins, in the most extreme form I know of - they are never, ever separated, and both heal wounds instantly so long as the other lives."
"Kill them both together then," Aratheia determined.
Sheelden laughed. "It's not hat easy. They are immortal, skilled in bow and blade, and ride an eagle or a dragon depending on their mood. They are what Talthien sensed. If they are here, something very important is going on. A scheme of Isha's, of Ariel's, we must stop."
Virathia glanced at Aartheia and Katherya, who shared her gaze. "A true test of my - our - abilities, then. Addaioth burn them all."
"Hekarti show us the way," Katherya said.
"Khaine give us strength," Aratheia finished.
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Visions of Pestilence

"Khaine's Hand!" Aratheia shouted, leaping out of cover and into the Imperial patrol. She lay about her with twin daggers, stabbing abdomens, slicing throats and generally causing as much damage as she could. This was the sort of ambush she liked, the one where she was the ambusher. Talthine had warned that the landing point was compromised, and before finding a new hiding place Virathia had decided to kill some Imperials. Well, she said it was about gathering more intelligence and assessing capability. But Aartheia didn't care about that.
The battle was over quickly, dozens of corsairs and Cold Ones among the enemy. Aratheia herself was almost redundant, but she didn't mind, as long as she got some good kills in. Humans Asrai were misguided, but still elves. Humans were just...something else. Lesser. They deserved whatever the Druchii wanted of them.
When the killing was done, and Aratheia was wiping her blades, the order was given to move.
The new location was a grassy open place on the other side of the thick forest, giving plenty of warning and reducing the chance of Asrai archers sneaking up. A good placement, Aratheia knew. She needed to know she wouldn't get shot in her sleep. That would be embarassing. And if the archer missed they'd probably hit Virathia, which would be satisfying, or Katherya, which would unthinkable.
As the sun wound down the horizon, Aratheia sat on a rock and watched the Cold Ones patrol. She admired the might beasts for their ferocity, but didn't like the idea of having to cover herself in sense-eroding slime to ride them.
Katherya sat beside her.
"Had some fun this afternoon?" the sorceress asked sweettly.
"As much as you, witch. It was clever of Virathia, wasn't it?"
"Yes, our new Dreadlord." Katherya sounded not exactly proud.
"What's wrong? You're the only Druchii I can name who actually likes her sister. Shouldn't you be pleased?"
"I know. I should." Katherya's expression was confused. "She's wanted this all her life. I've wanted it for her just as long. But now, it's as if we're different."
"As if she outranks you on a deeper level than just being older than you?"
"I was always her subordinate, as the younger. But I suppose now she ahs to be everyone's ruler, and I just fall under that."
Aratheia reached out a hand. "You know I'm always your equal."
Katherya took it. "I know."

As had, disturbingly, become usual, that night, after all three had completed watch,, Aratheia slept in between the sisters. She always slept beside Katherya because, well, Katherya, but normally on Virathia's other side. Something really had come between the Dreadlord and the sorceress.
She wouldn't have cared about Virathia's problems, but it was hurting her Katherya.
Thoughts of trouble faded as darkness took her.
Then she woke on the beach, staring out to sea. Not that far, though. The other shore, the south coast of Norsca, was clearly visible. A fleet of rotten longships was docked there.
"Your wishes answered."
Aratheia's blade was at the stranger's throat before she even thought. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
"Think, before you harm your Lord." The voice was deep, in her skull.
Aratheia stared at the hooded form. From where a hand would have emerged from one of the sleeves, blood dripped. Her eyes widened in terror, and she leaped back before kneeling. "Khaine! I did not recognise you."
"Do not fear. I teach my children to kill before thinking. My hand drips because my brother who rules all disapproves." Khaine reached up and lowered his hood to reveal a grinning skull.
Aratheia felt queasy. The Liche Priest shimmered before her.
"Ah, an undesired vision." The Liche Priest vanished, and the skull shimmered, replaced by Aratheia's own form, hand still dripping from within the cloak. "More familiar?"
Aratheia nodded. "How may I serve you, Lord of Murder?"
"Do not trouble yourself with the Heralds of Ariel. The strength to defeat them is not within you."
"My Lord!" Aratheia didn't know whether to be angry or upset.
"They are under the aegis of Ariel, and through her Isha. I do love tormettning Isha." Khaine laughed with Aratheia's voice. "But they are too powerful for you."
"I wouldn't be alone. Katherya and Virathia would -"
Khaine held up the dripping sleeve. The blood took longer to fall. "Yes, yes, I know. But they have other business, which you can help with."
"What business?" Aratheia eyed the longships.
"The Eye of Tahoth is resistant to thieves' use of it. Unless Hekarti deigns to assist. Your sorceress' mistress doesn't know what is on those ships." Khaine burned away Aratheia's form and resumed his skull face, eyes burning purple. "I approve of murder in all its forms, and the destruction of elves is sweetest. But I cannot allow Chaos to despoil an elven home. This is no mere probing incursion. No mere raid. The commander of that fleet is Jorvik the Plague-Chosen. He seeks to spread a great plague throughout the lands of the Empire, and Laurelorn Forest. Do as you will after stopping him, but you must not allow him to infect the Forest."
Aratheia's heart thudded. "A follower of Nurgle? Here? I must warn the crew."
"No, you mustn't."
"What? They need to know."
"Hekarti is delivering an equally important visaon to Katherya. That will take up their attention fully."
Aartheia didn't like the idea of being sent on a mission without Katherya. For her, not for her magic. But she gaze of her Lord stifled protest.
"I will not send you alone. A Chaos Lord is a powerful opponent."
"Who are you sending with me? Not Jaylis, I hope."
Khaine's laughter shook Aratheia to her bones. "You will wish I was sending ehr with you. You will wish it."
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Visions of Earth

Katherya clutched Aratheia tightly as she slept, needing her presence more than ever. She didn't really understand what had changed between her and Virathia. She was the younger sister, yes, but now, apparently she was a mere subordinate to a Dreadlord. Was her sister's new rank getting to her?
Those thoughts faded as she drifted off to sleep.

Moments later, she was standing deep within a forest, surrounded by great trees. She could feel magic everywhere. The magic of the earth, of life and nature.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
Katherya spun around, seeing a shimmering, hazy image of a Druchii she quickly realised was herself. Except the eyes. They were otherworldly in a way even her own sorcerous orbs weren't.
"You're amusing when you're surprised, daughter."
"Lady Hekarti," Katherya murmured. She repeated the words louder.
"Greetings from the Cytharai. I bring word of a most urgent mission. Khaine is even now speaking to Aratheia."
"Is anyone speaking to Virathia? Mathlann perhaps?"
"No. Mathlann does not deign to speak to his followers so directly." Hekarti sounded displeased.
"What is so important, then?"
"You are in Laurelorn Forest. The magic you can feel is the offshoot of Athel Loren, and the Oak of Ages, filling the air, the Winds, with the power of life. The Asrai are most attuned to it."
"My Lady." Katherya wanted to say she didn't need a lecture, but couldn't argue.
Hekarti smiled. "Something threatens this forest. And all the forests. Normally, I would be happy to allow the Asrai to suffer, at leasta a little. But this is beyond a little suffering." Her form solidifed, giving Katherya proper view of herself. "The Norscan host is led by Jorvik the Plague-Chosen, a Chaos Lord dedicated to Nurgle. He intends to spread a plague in Laurelorn Forest. If it gets in, if it overwhelms the magic of Loren, it will - you don't care, do you?" Hekarti laughed bitterly. "You're all elves, underneath. maybe if I explained something to you. Each Asrai forest is connected by the Deeproots. They allow instant travel."
"We should breach them and destroy Athel Loren!" Katherya said excitedly.
"In time, perhaps." Hekarti seemed disappointed. "This Deeproot entrance must be destroyed. Do you know the Witchwood?"
"Yes, I've heard there was some business with Asrai there a while bakc. I didn't know how they got there."
"If the plague spreads through the Deeprooots, it will reach Naggaroth. This cannot be allowed."
Katherya felt very cold. "Let me wake up and warn my sister and Aratheia. Now. Please!"
"In a moment. Khaine is sending Aratheia to kill Jorvik. I need you and your sister to destroy the Deeproot entrance."
"You're sending Aratheia against a Chaos Lord without me?"
Hekarti brushed Katherya's cheek. This close, staring at herself was disturbing. "She will be looked after. You need quality time with Virathia."
"Virathia and I are fine!"
"Oh, please, daughter. I'm the Goddess of Magic. Knowing things is my job."
"At least promise me Aartheia isn't going alone." Katherya didn't like this, but how could she defy her goddess?
"I promise. Help will be sent to her. Help she will hate. This mission requires yours and talthine's magic, and the distraction of the Asrai by the other mission."
"I don't understand, my Lady."
Hekarti smiled, not at all reassuringly. "Do not worry, my daughter."

Katherya woke, skin drenched in cold sweat, at seemingly the same moment Aratheia did. They exchanged shocked glances.

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Into the Woods

"Naggaroth under threat?" Virathia asked. After Katherya and Aratheia had told her of their visions, she had woken everyone and summoned the senior officers.
"This is a serious threat indeed," Sheleden observed. "I don't like what the gods are playing at either. But divine orders are divine orders."
"We can't send Aratheia against a Norscan fleet alone," Virathia protested, unsure why she was defending the Khainite.
Aratheia grinned viciously, touching her daggers. "More for me to kill. Besides, Lord Khaine assured me assistance."
"Not from any of us, and not from the Soul Reaver. Who else is there?" She seized on an idea. "Is a fleet being dispatched from home?"
"Then what would they need us for?" Vedethar asked.
"Exactly," Jaylis agreed, looking up at the sky. "I don't like the idea of leaving the ship in hiding whilst this fleet comes over, but it can't attack them by itself."
"On the other hand, I'm delighted by the prospect of destroying a Worldroot portal," Talthine said, eyes alight with mischief. "I'll happily sever their connection with Athel Loren. Thank you for telling us, student,."
"Yes, my lady," Katherya replied dutifully.
"We'll have to be careful in the forest," Vedethar said. "It's not just elves that are the danger."
"IMy student and I can protect us from the spirits," Talthine said. She inspected the Eye of Tahoth. "Still can't see through the cloud of pestilence. But I can definitely see the Worldroot entrance."
All was not lost, then, Virathia thought. Destroying the portal would teach the Asrai a lesson. And it would be satisfying. Katherya would love usin gher power for such a deed, too. She looked at her sister, who gave her an uncertain gaze. Mathlann! What was going on with her?
"Anything on the Heralds, Arahan and Naestra?" Sheleden asked.
Talthine looked at the Eye again. "I see two elves flying an eagle deep within the forest. A dragon is not too far away."
Aratheia looked disappointed.
Katherya touched her shoulder. "Khaine has sent you a Chaos Lord to kill."
Aratheia snorted.
"Alright, let's move," Virathia said before she could second guess herself. "Vedethar, go ahead. Aratheia, find your fortune and see what help our Bloody-Handed god gives you. Talthine, try to use the eye to help Vedethar pick the best path. Jaylis, we'll move up behind the scouts. Katherya, with me."
Sheleden looked between Aartheia and the sisters, and sighed. "Cytharai, I hate leaving any of you young idiots to gods' whims, but what can I do?" He stepped up beside Virathia. "If i can't help Aratheia, by Anath Raema I'll kill as many as Asrai as I need to get you to the Worldroots."

Vedethar and his Cold Ones went ahead, schecking the forest paths for the best routes to Laurelorn, with the assisatnce of the Eye of Tahoth. The high amount of magic in the area, and the artifact's resistance to Talthine, limited its use, but more than once it allowed her to detect an ambush and move the force.
Jaylis and her corsairs marched warily, constantly looking around for anything the scouts and Eye had missed. Jaylis walked up front, the proper place for a Druchii officer.The armoured ranks of hardened sailor-warriors was quite the sight.
Virathia and Katherya rode together, Virathia on her Cold One Tyrant, Katherya on a horse, Sheleden some distance behind on his own dark steed. There was something between the sisters, a tension Virathia felt thickening in the air. It had been building since they had arrived here. Perhaps before. She noticed Katherya always spoke her title of Dreadlord with an almost mocking tone.
"I imagine you're looking forward to destroying the portal. A true test of your skill." Virathia said affectionately.
"I imagine it will," Katherya replied disinterestedly.
"Come on, sister! This is a blow against traitors." Not wholly traitors, as the Asrai ahd becoem the Asrai by refusing to join the Asur against the Druchii. But still, Druchii or traitor was the Witch King's code.
"Yes, Dreadlord."
"What? You only have to call me that when everyone can hear you."
"No, you're Dreadlord now, so I have to use it all the time."
Virathia laughed awkwardly. "Are you teasing me?"
"Well, you're annoying me."
Katherya's cheeks flushed with guilt. "I'm sorry...sister."
Virathia smiled. "Thank you, sister. Now, what's wrong?"
"Since you've become Dreadlord, you've been more distant. Aratheia doesn't care about you - or says she doesn't, you're practically sisters-in-law."
Virathia gagged. "Don't use that term to refer to that Witch Elf and myself."
Katherya laughed.
Virathia loved to see Katherya laugh. For whatever reason, her sister didn't need to be in battle, or torture chambers, to be at her happiest. She was about to say something when Talthien galloped into view.
"Dreadlord! Asrai ahead. We must divert."
Cursing the Cytharai for breaking the moment, Virathia gave the orders. She then asked, "Sister, can't you use your shroud? That cloaks the Soul Reaver?"
"A cloud at sea is a cloud at sea. A thick cloud of smoke on land is extremely suspiicous."
"Good point."
The force turned and marched away from the ambush. Deeper into the forest.

Laurelorn Forest was huge, and Katherya reported it was filled with vast amounts of ancient magic. She could definitely sense the Worldroot portal once Talthine explained it to her. Everywhere they looked, life blossomed. Tiny insect-sized things that looked like elves buzzed. Trees dominated the sky.
"Welcome to Laurelorn Forest," Sheleden said. "Let's see if we can sneak all the way to the Worldroot portal withotu being seen."
"Have you been here before?" Virathia asked
"No. But I've heard tales." For a moment Sheleden looked awed. "I never imagined it would be like this. I want to destroy it, as a home of traitors to our King. But also..."
"I can sense so much," Katherya said. "It's wonderful. Such beautiful magic."
"I don't need you two turning to mush on a difficult mission from our gods," Virathia reprimanded.
Sheleden looked appropriately ashamed, Katherya looked away.
The deeper they went, the more suspiicous Virathia became. No one stopped their progress, even if sometimes it felt as if the forest itself were redirecting them. But after Talthine broke the Eye of Tahoth to her a little more, and Katherya threatened to burn it, they were undisturbed. Occasionally, they came across an inhabited area, and killed a few Asrai who did not escape.
At some point, Vedethar returned with news of a bridge over a deep chasm. It was narrow, and he recommended finding another path.
"We don't want to be caught in a trap," Shelden agreed. "Dreadlord, I suggest we move around it somehow."
"I can destroy anything that troubles us," Talthine asserted.
Suddenly an arrow was sticking out of the neck of a corsair, who collapsed to the ground.
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Khaine and Loec

Aratheia drove her steed onward, not caring that if she killed it Vedethar would have her skin. He could try. There was a Chaos Lord to slay, and she would have his head as soon as he was kind enough to land. Since receiving the vision, and assuring Virathia and Katherya she could do it, at least with the help Khaine promised, she had borrowed a horse and rushed back to the beach. In the distance, just tiny dots in her vision, was the Norscan fleet. At its heart would be Lord Jorvik Plague-Chosen. Champion of Nurgle. Her target. Maybe Katherya could do with a severed Chaos Lord's headon her wall. Then again, Chaos wasn't to be trifled with.
An Imperial force garrisoned the beach. It seemed well equipped and organised for an inferior kind, as she observed rudimentary defences, the corpses from previous battles cleared away. Among the humans were a small number of elves. Aratheia was angry her people, even traitors like Asrai, considered humans worth helping. She remembered Sheleden telling her they cared only for their forests. Well, if all went well Virathia and Katherya would be destroying the link to this forest soon. She allowed herself a smirk.
If the fleet wouldn't arrive for a while, then it was best for her to find a quiet place to wait and watch. Somewhere no one would notice. Somewhere no Asrai would rustle her up. She searched for a cave in which to bury herself and her steed, to shelter until the time was right. It still left the question of what sort of help she would receive, and what sort of help she would hate.
As she approached a promising-looking cave near the beach, something stirred in her gut. A feeling, just out of reach, that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Maybe she should find somewhere else.
Just as Aratheia processed this, her horse stepping into the darkness of the cave, she heard a shout. Her horse bucked and jerked.
"Stay still, beast!" she snapped, fighting for control.
She heard voices, and as her elven eyes adjusted, she saw she was surrounded by elven women brandishing spears and dual blades, with blue tattoos. She brandished her own weapons, but was then knocked off her steed.
Aratheia landed awkwardly, and as she tried to recover felt a boot on her chest. She looked up and saw an Asrai glaring down at her, spear held against her throat.
Aratheia returned the glare. "Well, forest kin, are you going to kill me, or just glare?" Still holding her weapons, thank Khaine, she tried to work them around to where they could be useful.
"Unfortunately, for both of us, no," the Asrai said. The digust in her eyes was disturbing familiar.
Aratheia didn't have more time to think, feeling something hit ehr head and then losing all knowledge of the world.

Her ears returned before ehr eyes did, snippets of nonsense assaulting her empty mind. Then she let out a groan, Or, at least, she tried to, it came out more as an "mmph-umph!" She felt her back pressed against a hard surface. Her hands felt empty, her wrists bound.
The conversation sharpened.
"Isha bless us, she's waking up."
"I was getting tired of waiting." That was a familiar voice.
"Oh! A Naggarothi! I've never met one before. Are they really all dark and hateful and - ow!" A third voice, suddenly cut off.
"Enough." A firm, strong voice. Clearly the leader, and clearly the one who had stood on her. "We have work to do."
Aratheia blinked, vision returning to her eyes. She shut them tight as a bright torch was held just before her. Her mouth desperately wanted to cough, but she just gagged.
"Welcome back to the land of the living."
"I'll kill you all." That translated to "Erm-pmh!"
"Perfectly understandable. I want to, too. Some of my kin may see the outside world only in terms of its threat to Athel Loren, but I know what you are."
Aratheia opened her eyes again, and focused on the one holding a torch uncomfortably close to her. An Asrai lady of tightly-braided red locks, devotional tattoos and a seasoned countenance. She was accompanied by about a dozen similarly attired Asrai women, all clad in flexible light armour and devotional tattoos.
"Will you behave if I move the torch away? Can't have you dying of smoke inhalation."
Aratheia nodded.
The torch was pulled away, and after a while it was easier to breathe. Not too easy, though, with the gag. The cave, now she could see it clearly, was well stocked with food and weapons, and had a single, narrow entrance.
"You'll have to stay tied up like that until I decide you're worth it," the Asrai leader said.
"What are we going to do with her?" asked the one who had been excited.
"As the Spellweavers requested." The Asrai leader shook her head. "Sometimes I hate my job."
"It is an honour to do the gods' work," Miss Excitable said.
"Hush up. Now, Druchii. My name is Yllathen. I and my fellow ladies are Bladesingers."
The word meant nothing to Aartheia. Her education in Har Ganeth had consisted mostly of how to kill, and how to please arena crowds, and her association with Katherya had done little to change that.
Ylllathen looked disappointed. "Warrior maidens of Loec. We go where we must. Do what we must."
Aratheia nodded as much as she could.
"Our Spellweavers received visions. There is a Chaos Lord coming to these shores. More than the humans can deal with, and more than what our available troops can fight either. Our army is approaching, but it needs a few days, and the fleet is landing tomorrow."
Aratheia bit her gag.
Yllathen snorted. "And it's not just a regular raid. But you know this already, if you're the one promised."
Aratheia had never been promised to anyone. Except maybe when Virathia had promised to kill her if she upset Katherya. Or, mrre directly, when she had been taken as a baby on Death Night and given to Khaine.
"She's definitely the one!" Miss Excited said. "Look at her tattoos to Khaine! And the complete insanity in her eyes."
"If you can't keep quiet during a very delicate moment, Liren, maybe I should have you removed from the sisterhood."
Liren yelped. "Mistress, please no!"
"Then let me deal with this. Druchii, our Spellweavers tell us that as part of his pacts to the Lord of Plague, this champion demanded that he be killed only by summer and winter working together. Ice and earth."
That explained it. Why else would several elf gods force her to work with Asrai?
"And we know all your Druchii friends are trying to destroy the Worldroot portal. That won't happen. The Heralds won't allow it."
Aratheia felt cold. Katherya (and Virathia, her target for murder, by Khaine!) were walking into a trap.
Yllethan laughed. "Didn't think Druchii could care about anyone. I'm sure your friends will find a way to escape, at least. But you...you have to help us now. If the Norscans get past Nordland and into Laurelorn, all the forests will be tainted. Including the Witchwood. And if you don't help, we could always kill you and send as much as we deem worthy to whoever cares about you."
Aratheia, having been quietly working at her cuffs for the last while, now freed her hands and reached for Yllethan.
Yllethan easily avoided her, and placed ehr own vice-like grip about Aratheia's wrists. "Do as I say, Druchii. For your own good."
Aratheia, wrists hurting, glared at the Asrai.
"i think we understand each other now. Liren, untie her."
"Are you sure, Mistress? She wants to kill you."
"If she does, you can send what's left of her to the other Druchii."
Aratheia spat out the gag and launched herself at Yllethan, pinning the Bladesinger to the ground. She didn't care about the threats. A deep, primal fury had arisen in her. She couldn't let the last thing Katehrya ever saw of her be just her head. Unless she upset the sorceress and drove her to murder. But only the girl she loved was allowed to kill her, not some forest elf.
Yllethan fought back, displaying great strength and cunning. They rolled and twisted on the cave floor, trading punches and kicks, until Aratheia found herself pinned again, hands about her neck.
"Enough!" Yllethan snapped. "I understand you wanting to work out your anger with me. But you won't achieve anything by killing me."
Aratheia rolled them both over and pressed down hard, working ehr finegrs up to Yllethan's throat.
"Stop that!" Yllethan demanded. She kicked a knee into Aratheia's chest.
Aratheia staggered upwards with the impact. Before she could recover, Yllethan punched her across the face. She stumbled back, and after another blow her vision wavered. But her Khaine-hoend fury only increased as she felt other hands grab her arms behind her back.
Yllethan climbed to her feet, breathing deeply. "Hold her until she calms down. Knock her out if you have to. It seems what I heard about the Witch Elves of Khaine is true."

Aratheia was, unsurprisingly, not given her daggers back when she woke again, but she was given a substantial meal, along with soem vials her stomach told ehr she shouldn't eat, for the taste if not poison. The Asrai needed her, but it still looked disgusting.
"It's perfectly safe," Liren assured her, blue eyes flashing. "Mistress got these for us from the Spellweavers. They'll make you resistant to most of the effects of the plague Jorvik is bringing."
Aratheia swallowed a vial full before she could think better of it, then glugged down a jarful of water. She wiped her mouth, saying, "She's lucky she's not in here right now, or I'd try to kill her again."
Liren laughed. "Mistress isn't that bad. She just had to know you're a Witch Elf. I think you convinced her." She stood at the entrance to the cave where Aratheia was eating, holding dual blades in a ready but not too threatening position.
Aratheia smiled. "She seems to barely put up with you."
Liren pointed her swords. "Don't ask."
Aratheia held up her hands. "Alright, I won't." It felt odd making conversation with an Asrai, but she was their prisoner, and until the Norscans arrived there was no fighting to be done. Unless... "Listen. I'm a Witch Elf. That means I love to fight. Kill, mainly, but I don't mind sparring. Could I -?"
"You want to train with us? How wonderful! I'll tell Mistress right away."
"You seem awfully excited about me."
"I've never left Laurelorn before." Liren looked like a dragon who had woken up in a Dwarf's treasure stores. "You're the first Druchii I've ever met. Wait, am I allowed to call you that?"
"We wear the insult the Asur gave us with pride."
"What is Naggaroth like? All cold and - Cadai, how do you survive if you insist on wearing...that?"
"Khaine's favour, I suppose."
"have you - have you ever met the Witch King?"
Malekith? Aratheia had no idea what it would be like to meet the immortal ruler of her people. Well, on of the three immortal rulers. But he was the one whose name didn't upset her or Katherya when the other spoke it. "I'm only 90. Can't imagine he'd want to meet someone so young and gullible."
"You're not gullible at all! You're terrifying, and aggressive, but not gullible."
"You're annoying," Aartheia said, not entirely straight-faced. "Now go tell Yllethan I want to show her how the Witch Elves fight."
Liren nodded. "Thank Khaine and Loec I met you."
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Night and Day

Virathia scowled as seevral more corsairs dropped from unseen Asrai archers. It was becoming a real nuisance fighting in this forest. She looked to Talthine, who looked almost excited. The sorceress raised ehr staff and shouted. Moments later a huge ball of destruction appeared from above, crashing down amongst the trees, producing satisfying scr3eams.
Katherya laughed.
Virathia smiled darkly. "Don't celebrate yet, sister. Look!"
A number of large hawks bearing elves flew overhead, raining fire on the corsairs, whose handbows couldn't reach back.
"I'll deal with it," Katherya said. She glared up at the riders and a few moemnts later a few dropped off their mounts, whilst some of the hawks crashed with them. The remainder flew away, confused.
"Soul Stealer? You love that spell."
"So useful.
Another volley fired, and an arrow struck Tyrant. The Cold oNe growled and turned to look for his tormentor. But the Asrai were hidden.
Then another hawk appeared, bearing a robed rider adorned with what Katherya quickly identified as magical aids. Suddenly, the earth shook, and gnarled hands rose from the ground, reaching for Tyrant, Katherya's steed and anything else they could.
Virathia chopped at the nearest ones, whilst Tyrant bit and clawed his way to safety. She looked to Katherya, who was shooting iciiles in every direction, driving away the hands. The corsairs fought them off with a few casualties.
Shekelden fought his way to Virathia. "Dreadlord. You and Katherya need to get to the Worldroot portal and destroy it. Talthine can deal with the Spellweaver. I'll come with you"
"Assuredly!" Talthien agreed, pointing her staff at the Spellweaver. The Asrai mage shuddered, but kept her grip, locked in a battle of wills with the Druchii sorceress.
The corsairs, under Jaylis' steely direction, were returning fire against the archers, and were rewarded with more screams.
Virathia nodded. "Come, sister. We have a task to do."
"Aratheia is going to be most jealous when she hears," Katherya said.
"This isn't a contest!" Jaylis shouted.

They raced across the bridge over the waterfall to find Vedethar and his Knights locked in fierce combat with a most peculiar sight. Giant stags, some of them shining white under the forest sun, bearing archai-looking Asrai clad in skins of exotic forest animals and wielding spears tipped with eagle feathers. Arrows periodically issued from trees beyond.
Vedethar speared an Asrai through the side, then his Cold One ripped out the throat of a stag. But several Druchii and their steeds lay dead.
Katherya smiled. "Don't worry, captain." She spoke an enchantment, and the Asrai and their stags seized up in debiliating pain. The Druchii found it much easier to kill them. The hidden archers seemed to have disappeared, as no more arrows flew out.
"Thank you, Dreadlord. It was a difficult fight. Now, allow us to take you to the Worldroot."
"Virathia prodded Tyrant to fall in line with the cavalry, Katherya beside them.
"Enjoying Laurelorn?" she asked.
Katherya grinned. "Beautiful trees. Lots of enemies to kill. And we'll be punishing these traitors."
"Seeing to the Witch King's justice is always good," Sheleden said.
Virathia laughed. "That's my Katherya."
Passing through the trees with trepidation, Virathia emerged to a small, secluded grove, where two large trees mingled their branches like a gate. A pool sparkled nearby, in which a young Asrai bathed.
"Look, an easy prisoner to take," Katherya said.
"Wait," Sheleden cautioned. "Not everything in an Asrai forest is as it seems."
"It's just a girl taking a bath," Virathia argued.
Vedethar sent Knight ahead. As the Druchii approached, the supposed maiden twisted around - twisted being the right word, as her skin flaked away to reveal hard barck and a viicous sort-of smile beneath. More like her emerged from nearby. The Knight turned his steed and galloped back.
"Dryads," Sheleden said.
Virathia looked at Katherya sternly, forgetting her own attitude. "Don't be careless around Asrai, sister."
Katherya snorted.
Some nearby trees lurched into life as well, and soon Virathia and the others were back into a corner. Katherya's magic was of little use against the more substantial trees, and the swords and spears did practically nothing to begin with.
"Talthine has been teaching you Fire as well, hasn't she?" Sheleden prompted.
Katherya blinked in confusion, then coughed. "Yes, of course she has." She unleashed a burning, vertical tunnel of fire that scorched through the wooden assailants, causing a conflagration great enough to kill most of them and set the others on fire. The survivors retreated.
"Try to stay focused," Sheleden warned unnecessarily.
"Sister, please have him hanged for that tone."
Virathia punched her, gently so as not to cut her with her gauntlet. "Don't forget your lessons. Shall I tell Aratheia about this? Or Talthine?"
Katherya looked horrified.
"Excuse me, Dreadlord, sorceress, shall we destroy the portal now?" Vedethar asked.
Katherya grinned viciously. "Time to destroy this forest's connection to the world."
Or perhaps not, as a veritable hailstorm of arrows slammed down around Virathia and her group. Some landed in Knights or their beasts. Tyrant growled. One arrow grazed Virathia's shoulder, and she felt drowsy. She kept enough wits to deflect an arrow going for Katherys with her shield. Sheleden's Cold One fell under him, and he scrambled up. An arrow whistled over Vedethar's head.
Virathia turned to see two Asrai women seated on the largest eagle she had ever seen, beside which a massive dragon that perfectly resembled that forest flew. The Asrai held bows made of purest black and purest white respectively. Neither wore a harness or rode a saddle. They were almost identical, except one was so blonde as to be almost white-haired, with a look of vicious excitement that would have suited Aratheia, the other with night-dark hair and an expression that somehow managed to both suggest she would much rather be doing something else, and still be terrifying. Both had disturbing eyes. And both had their bows loaded again, somehow with one arrow each despite the earlier onslaught and no sign of other archers.
But the worst was that when they spoke, they did so together. As children Virathia and Katherya had tried speaking together, but it had never produced more than amused laughter. But this was...this was so weird.
"We are the Heralds of Ariel, defenders of Athel Loren and the Weave. We give you one last chance to leave this forest. Chaos threatens us all. The Worldroots must stay open."
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Singing Blades

Aratheia watched with narrowed eyes as Yllethan and a number of her Bladesingers, including Liren, entered the cave. The lead Bladesinger looked at Aratheia, then at the remnants of the meal she had been given, and nodded.
"I'd have hated for you to fight on an empty stomach. You are an honourd guest, after all."
"Your hospitality is nothing short of divine," Aratheia replied with equal irony.
Yllethan's lips curled into what might have been a smile. The moment passed. "Liren tells me you want to fight us. Show us how Witch Elves fight."
"If we are to work together against a Chaos Lord tomorrow, we should understand one another's style. Learn to work together." By Khaine, she'd never expected to say that to an Asrai.
The Bladesingers with her expressed disgust at having to work with a Druchii. She was only there to deliver a finishing blow to satisfy a prophecy, after all.
Liren looked exasperated. "This is our chance to learn the ways of the daughters of Khaine!"
Aratheia smiled, loving the discord her presence was sowing, and loving the scowl developing on Yllethan's face.
"We will fight her. No, I will fight her. Show her the ways of Loec are far superior. But, I admit, there may be some things to learn. I imagine a girl brought up in death arenas knows many ways to kill."
"More than you could possibly dream of."
"We'll see. After I've defeated you again, I think we should work on how we can actually work together."
"Defeated - give me back my weapons, and I'll show you what it takes to defeat a Witch Elf." The smoke she had woken to had cleared from her nose now, and she felt ready for battle. Not that she ever wasn't, but Yher defeat in the impromptu unarmed 'duel' with Yllethan had hardly been her finest moment.
"We will go to the sparring cave. Liren, fetch...Aratheia wasn't it? Yes, fetch Aratheia her weapons. Let Isha and Loec's wills be fulfilled."
"And Khaine's," Aratheia said.

The sparring cave was larger than the others, and filled with sand from the nearby beach. Small openings in the walls provided sufficient light, and a rocky stariway-like structure climbed up and around, while vine ropes hung from above. A collection of weapons were laid out to the side, along with healing herbs and bandages.
"Do your best," Liren said. "Yllethan needs someone to knock her on her ass occasionally." She handed Aratheia her weapons, then joined the ring of Bladesingers surrounding the combatants.
"Hush from the stands," Yllethan admonished gently.
Aratheia gripped her daggers firmly, relieved to have them back. They'd been hers since before she could remember, a gift from the temple to start her blood-soaked journey.
Yllethan levelled a long spear, which was run through with leafy growth. The tip was not so much a spear point as a massive tooth.
Yllethan stroked the spear, running her finger up its length to the tooth. "I dance with the blessing of Loec."
"I kill to please Khaine."
They leaped at one another, and Aratheia lashed out as soon as she was within reach. Yllethan blocked her first dagger, and shifted to block the next. She then turned the deflection into an attack, running her spear up Aratheia's arm towards ehr face. It felt much heavier than it looked in Yllethan's grip.
Aratheia fell back and knocked the spear away. Yllethan kicked for her shin, but Aratheia moved aside easily. Yllethan then swept her spear around from the direction Aratheia was dodging in, making her have to jump backwards. She pulled her daggers close to herself.
Yllethan grinned.
Aratheia leaped forward again, striking in a storm of blades that forced Yllethan back. The circle of Bladesinegrs moved with the duel. Aratheia barely noticed. She was having more fun than she had had in a long time. Her mind was filling with battle rage, and she felt Khaine's gaze upon her. Against Virathia, she always had to hold back, knowing that Katherya would never forgive hurting her sister. But Yllethan was a complete stranger, an an Asrai, so she could just enjoy herself.
Yllethan jumped up onto the lowest part of the surrounding stone, keeping Aartheia at bay with her spear, forcing ehr to jump back with the occasional stab. The Bladesingers stood back as the fight ascended.
Yllethan contineud to slowly move up the stone. Aratheia pursued, and then felt a moment's uncertainty as memories of the Soul Reaver, and the storm that had caused her such discomfort and embarrassment - a lady of war undone by weather? - surfaced. She stumbled, and barely avoided a spear point in her ribs, knocking it away with her daggers. Angry with herself, she jumped forwards again and made Yllethan duck a strike that probably wouldn't have decapitated her.
Yllethan grabbed a vine and swung away on it,, hanging in the middle of the cavern.
Aratheia growled, having to use one hand to hold the vines would deny her a sword, whereas Yllethan seemed perfectly capable of holding her spear one-handed. She jumped and grabbed a vine, pulling herself towards her opponent. They fought, and Yllethan leaped to another vine, twisting around and lunging. Aratheia evaded or blocked as necessary, and tried to strike back. But Yllethan was faster, and could almost predict her moves.
Then a flash of inspiration came and Aartheia sliced at the vine Yllethan was holding, feeling divine power in the blow. Yllethan shouted in surprise and dropped to the ground. She was too good to fall in a heap, though, and was ready when Aratheia landed before her, blocking her attack. She wasn't ready, however, for her second dagger, and Aratheia felt great satisfaction as she cut deep into the Asrai's shoulder. Yllethan didn't even look at the wound, and stabbed again, narrowly missing Aratheia's head.
Drenched in sweat, Aratheia extracted her second dagger from its target and pressed forwards, viisons of madness filling her eyes. She could feel her reflexes improving, her strength returning, her strikes becoming more accurate. Yllethan fell back under the onslaught until she was against the wall.
Aratheia held a dagger against the Asrai's throat, then felt a pressure against her neck. She looked down and saw the spear tip/tooth against her neck.
"Draw?" Yllethan asked, eyes glowing with amusement.
Aratheia wanted to finish it. She wanted to end Yllethan now, as her every muscle demanded. She was a Witch Elf. A daughtetr of Khaine. In the throes of madness. Khaine himself guided her. But a large spear tip was at her neck. And, as she struggled to control herself, she remembered this was training. Or showing off. Or something. And what would Katherya do if her favourite Khaineite got herself killed? The thought of leaving Kahterya (and, surprisingly, Virathia) alone made her mind up for ehr. She stepped back, gasping for breath.
Yllethan withdrew her spear, and at last inspected her wound. "First in a while. Well done."
"That was amazing!" Liren exclaimed. "You really are a deadly fighter of the arena."
The other Bladesigners seemed impressed, too.
A lifetime of pleasing crowds compelled Aratheia to bow to the Asrai. Liren grinned. Yellethan punched her side, almost provoking a vicious response before Aratheia restrained herself.
"See, ladies, this is how the devoted of Khaine fight in Naggaroth. We could learn from them. Their skill, if not their rage."
"The rage is the point," Aratheia said.
"It served you well, at least."
Aratheia opened her mouth to reply when a Bladesinger ran into the cave. "Mistress! The fleet ahs landed! They're here already!" To her credit, she calmed immediately after her excited report.
Yllethan shoved Aratheia aside and strode towards the newcomer. "How far up the beach? How many? Is Jorvik the Plague-Chosen with them?
"Far enough from the caves they wouldn't notice us. A dozen ships. Yes, he is."
"What about the host, and the human army?"
The humans are on the beach fighting bravely." She sounded as if she didn't imagine it would be a long fight. "The host is holding back and providing support."
Aratheia smiled. Humans were lesser, after all.
"We must go, now," Ylllethan said. "Aratheia, we will not have time to acquaint ourselves with our respective styles after all."
"Never mind. We have areal battle to fight."
"This will be fascinating!" Liren exclaimed, unsheathing her swords. "Druchii and Asrai together!"
"Yes, yes," Yllethan muttered. "Now come on!"

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Sisters

Katherya shielded her eyes from the arrows exploding around her, then called the Winds of Magic, smashing currents together to form Soul Stealer. She cast it on the Heralds, and was rewaded with their life pouring into her - a sensation she had missed when casting the spell on statues or undead in Nehekhara. The dragon roared and vomited a green cloud at her, which left her eyes stinging and her skin tingling, Katherya tried to maintain concentration, but all effort at this was broken when the dragon flew directly towards her.
"Sister!" Virathia shouted. "Watch out!"
"I can see it, you idiot." She ended the Soul Stealer, but, she didn't have time to browbeat the Winds into giving her another spell.
Sheleden reached into his armour and pulled out a small dart that he threw at the dragon. It hit the beast's shoulder, and it began flying erratically.
"You hurt my dragon!" the blonde Herald fumed, aiming her bow at Sheleden.
Katherya couldn't let the Heralds kill Sheleden. She didn't think she liked him, surely not, but he was her and Virathia's guardian on expeditions and mentor in general. She summoned forth a Chillwind, and threw shards of ice at the Heralds.
Ice stuck out of the eagle at intervals, making it squawk and twist, and the Heralds' skin briefly turned interesting shades from magically-induced frostbite. The effect Katherya cared about was that it made them unable to fire their bows for a few moments.
"Get my sister to the worldroot portal. Protect her while she destroys it."
"I'll stay here and protect your sister."
"Yes, Deadlord. Lady Katherya, come on!"
Katherya followed the knight captain, driving her steed to run as fast as it could through the twined branches making the natural archway. She heard giant wings beating behind her, but didn't look, knowing what it was.

The worldroot portal was in what felt like a different world. Katherya and the knights passed under the twined branches, Katherya using her magic to push aside resistance from the archway, and emerged into a darker forest, illuminated by the blue-green glows of stones, which on closer examination were carefully placed in a specific pattern. Waystones! Katherya was fascinated to discover the magic-channeling devices of the Asur and Asrai. Talthine would love to hear about them. Assuming she didn't already know.
"Vedethar, I need your knights to set up an ambush. The Heralds can't have been far behind us, and they can't fly anywhere but through the twined branches." The archway looked simialr enough this side.
Vedethar nodded. "We'll stick their eagle as it comes through. Who wants roast tonight?"
A rousing cheer went up from the Druchii.
Katherya smiled.
As the knights took up posiiton, the eagle flew in, bearing the Heralds. Immediately, a dozen spears jabbed into its sides. It shrieked and tumbled from the air. As it did so, the Heralds, already recovered from their impromptu freezing, leaped off, firing in different directions, and landed beside one another, reloading as soon as they were stable.
Red hot arrows exploded amongst the knights, destroying seevral Cold Ones and their riders. Others staggered. Vedethar invoked Khaine and charged.
The blonde Herald jumped towards him, somehow dropping ehr bow and drawing her sword in time to intercept. The sword clanged off Vedethar's helmet, but he visibly shook and didn't get a hit of his own, turning quickly and riding away.
Katherya could sense the forest coming alive around her. But right now she had two powerful Asrai warriors to deal with. She also had a captain who had failed to defend her. But that could wait. And maybe it wasn't his fault. She called for the Winds of magic, and was stunned to find almost nothing. She saw the waystones were drawing magic away. She grit ehr teeth. What was she supposed to do? Aratheia and Virathia were the warriors.
"No magic for you here, sorceress!" the blonde Herald taunted, smirking.
"Surrender," the brunette offered. "You can't do anything here. There are bigger issues "
"Let's just killed her, Naestra."
"Let us not be so rash, Arahan. She can do no harm here, and I hesitate to shed blood, especially elven blood, near the worldroots." She knelt by the eagle and soothed it.
"So we just let ehr leave and try again? They won't like it." Arahan indicated behind Katherya.
Katherya turned and almost jumped off her horse, seeing a mass of trees walking towards her. Smaller Dryads, lumbering Tree Kin, and enormous Treemen. They gazed at her with hot malice.
"Stop!" Naestra shouted. "Let her surrender."
"Trespasser," was the willowy reply.
"Elf," Naestra insisted. "I won't let her hurt you, but I don't want her to die here either."
"She is ancient enemy. Her bones will feed the forest."
Katherya wasn't surprised.
"Oh, please just kill her," Arahan muttered. She aimed her bow. "Or I will."
At that moment, a sword suddenly appeared at Arahan's throat. "Do it, Katherya!" Vedethar hissed.
"Don't!" Naestra pointed her sword at him.
Katherya froze. If she'd been any other Druchii, she'd have accepted Vedethar as a worthy sacrifice. But she didn't want to lose a skilled warrior's service so easily."
"I'll come back in a few minutes, you know that," Arahan said, exasperated..
"I hate seeing you die, even for a moment."
Katherya was reminded of how she would feel if someone held a sword to Virathia's throat. "Call off the trees."
Naestra gestured to the tree spiirts. They grumbled, but she glared at them with such intensity they wilted.
"You're embarrassing us both," Arahan complained. She grabbed Vedethar's hand, and forced him to kill her. Her body dropped to the ground and lay still, but with a satisfied grin.
Katherya only had a second to process what happened next.
Naestra screamed, lunging at Vedethar, who jumped back, his sword stuck in Arahan's throat. The tree spirits surged forward, about to engulf Katherya, when she let out magic she had been carefully hoarding, calling a huge Doombolt down. It plummeted to the earth, and exploded with deadly force. Tree limbs (and other things) flew everywhere. Howls echeod through the magic senses. The waystones seemed to quiver.
Naestra ran at Vedethar and slashed at him ferociously. He dodged every strike, and brought his shield up in time to block. Shield pressed against shield.
Katherya sat in her saddle, frozen, apparently helpless. By the time she could summon another spell, the duel would have ended. She couldn't help Vedethar. Except...she was riding a horse. She kicked it and it galloped towards Naestra. The Asrai lashed out with ehr sword, cutting the horse's enck open. Katherya tumbled into a heap, hitting her head on a waystone.
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Blood on the Sands

Chaos unfolded before Aratheia. In a very literal sense, because the Chaotic Norscan fleet was landing. But also in the more mundane sense of the word. She and the Bladesingers took up hidden positions among the rocks near the beach to watch events.
A number of longships had beached themselves and disgorged their cargo of insane warriors. They were human men and women, but far bigger and stronger than the Imperials Aratheia had recently foguth, and certainly bigger than the Imperial defenders on the beach. They were not equipped to the same high standard, but when you were brought up in a land where your dinner was usually stronger than you and you had to fight for it from another tribe anyway, animal skin cloaks and large axes were perfectly adequate.
Asrai arrows fired from the trees behind the beach, landing in Norscan throats and eyes. The Norscans roared and charged at the Nordlanders, crashing upon the spearwall. The Imperials managed a volley of crossbows, felling some Norscans, but the tide was too much and they were swiftly cut down.
Aartheia's gaze was drawn to the centre of the horde, where a small number of Norscans were even more heavily muscled, clad in almost-adequate amounts of armour and wielding even bigger axes. In the very centre of this group strode what could only be called disease in the form of a man. Pus seeped from pores on his body, dark mockeries of plants sprung up where he trod. A gaseous filfth emanated from his axe, making Aratheia fight the urge to hold her nose.
"Jorvik the Plague-Chosen," Liren whispered. "The leader of the horde. Your target."
Aratheia smiled. A true test of her skill. Her defeat at the hands of the Nehekharan tomb princess still gnawed at her, and this was her chance to redeem herself. But not yet. Not whilst he was surrounded by all those huge axemen.
Liren nudged her. "Well, Aratheia, aren't you going to charge in and kill them all?"
Aratheia stifled aa laugh. "Even I can't fight an entire army."
"Fair enough."
As the Norscans moved up the beach, more Asrai arrows slammed into them. But there were too many for the remaining Nordlanders and when they broke, the Asrai archers disappeared. Aratheia supposed her woodland kindred weren't keen on trying to fight a Chaos army to a standstill at a beach. They would bide their time and pick them off as they could. Besides, Yllethan had told her another Imperial army was coming. Why not let the humans die first?
That wasn't to say, however, the Bladesingers were idle. Another volley of arrows goaded a good number of Norscans into chasing into the trees, leaving a still large but reduced number on the beach.
A joyous scream went up around Aratheia as the Bladesingers leaped from cover and charged at the surprised Norscans.
Liren jumped up beside her. "Come on, Naggarothi. Your turn."
Aratheia licked her lips and drew her daggers. "Khaine guide your blades." She would probably beat herself up later for being so familair with an Asrai, but for nwo, it seemed right.
"And yours."

Aratheia rushed down the beach with the Bladesingers, screaming her own praises to Khaine as she slammed into the first Norscan she found. He raised his axe slowly, and she ducked around it and rammed a dagger into his throat. She quickly moved on to another target.
The next Norscan was better prepared, and Aratheia fought more circumspectly. Although it was hard to do that when blood pounded in ehr ears and she could feel a red tinge at the edge of her vision.
She and the Norscan traded blows, neither able to landed a hit, until Liren appeared behind him and rammed ehr sword all the way through.
Aartheia didn't know whetehr to strangle her or thank her, so she nodded and moved on. The Asrai seemed immensely pleased with herself for having earned the nod.
Aratheia ducked a massive sword, then kicked out behind her, earning a grunt of pain. She spun and unleashed a flurry of blows, most of which clanged off sword and shield, but she found a gap and slashed a deep gash in an arm. Something large, solid, and writhing dropped from the wound, making her gag. She jumped away as the Norscan took advantage to counterattack and then dived to the side, dealing a flurry of blows. Blood - greenish, disgusting blood - spurted, and the man dropped.
Beyond, Yllethan was fighting three Norscans at once, expertly dodging and parrying and jabbing and striking. Aratheia got the impression the Bladesinegr leader had beenn holding back aaginst her. Which, for some reason, annoyed her. She hadn't been.
"Grandfather Nurgle says I can only die when summer and winter fight together." A phlegmatic voice boomed. "So why don't I end you now?"
Aartheia turned to see Jorvik, chis armour covered in even more spikes than most Druchii armour, his helmet grinning, and painful symbols scratched onto it, towering over her.
The red mist thickened, covering more of her vision. She charged at him, and he spat a torrent of poisonous breath at her. She swerved aside, then had to swerve again as his axe struck out in antiicpation.
"My diivne grandfather hates elves. They are so perfect they think they don't need his love." Jorvik laughed. "I'll show them my grandfather cares for all."
Arattheia danced away from swings of his massive axe, but slipped. Staggering, she looked down and saw mounds of pus spreading beneath Jorvik's feet. Cytharai, but why couldn't Katherya have been here? Talthine could destroy the worldroot portal herself, couldn't she?
Aratheia punched her dagger into Jorvik's shield and allowed herself to be driven back. As her momentum built, she bunched up and jumped over his head, his axe thudding into the ground where she had been.
"Nurgle welcomes all to his embrace. Let him love you. Let him cure your ills."
Aratheia spun as soon as she landed and stabbed with both daggers. Jorvik turned quicker than someone his size should have, and knocked the daggers away with his shield.
"Retreat!" Yllethan shouted.
Aratheia cursed. She wasn't done. The red mist had almost completely filled her vision. But as she looked about, the Bladesingers were pulling back. Yllethan had killed ehr three oppoents, and many more Norscans lay dead.
Aratheia noticed only one Bladesinger had fallen, but it was one she, surprisingly, couldn't bear to see dead. "Liren!"
"Ask Nurgle's forgiveness. He can help."
Aratheia spat and lashed out almost aimlessly. Why she cared aboutt he Bladesinegr she didn't understand. Maybe she'd been spending too long around Katherya and Virathia, who had decidedly un-Druchii care for one another as sisters. SHe rushed over and saw the Bladesinger wasn't quite dead, her chest still rising and falling slowly.
"It was an honour," she gasped, before ehr eyes went glassy.
Aratheia glared at Jorvik. "I'll be back. And I'll kill you all next time."
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - The Roots of the World

Virathia watched in dismay as the Heralds followed Katherya and Vedethar's cavalry under the twined branches, then felt her throat catch as all disappeared. Was that supposed to happen? Where had Katherya gone?
Worry for her sister was shoved to a corner from her mind at a roar from the dragon. It bore down on her and Sheleden with renewed fury, spraying them with toxic breath.
Virathia raised her shield, as Sheleden did likewise. The torrent washed over the Druchii and their mounts. Tyrant roared in pain, Sheleden's horse neighed distressingly and staggered. He jumped off before it lost its footing and fell. Tyrant stayed upright, but Virathia slid off him, eyes burning, Her Cold One lashed his tail, steam hissing from all over him.
"Run, you beast," Virathia managed to say before doubling over, coughing.
Tyrant turned and ran.
Sheleden coughed, but kept upright and moved in front of Virathia.
"Dart?" she gasped.
"No time," he muttered.
The dragon flew just overhead, lashing at Virathia and Sheleden with its claws. Sheleden knocked a set of claws away, and Virathia ducked the other. She tried to retaliated, but scored only a flesh would on a rear limb.
This was enough to enrage the dragon further, and it turned around, about to unleash another poisonous breath.
Then a massive storm of sword manifested, cutting and slicing at the dragon. It howled in pain, and turned to face its attacked.
Virathia followed its gaze, seeing Talthine, and Jaylis and a few corsairs. The sorceress grinned at her. "Just in time, I see."
"You could have arrived sooner," Sheleden countered.
"I had Asrai to rip apart. Stop complaining."
The dragon prepared to breathe toxin again, but this time was hit by a storm of crossbow bolts.
"Please don't make my having to rescue you a habit, Dreadlord," Jaylis said.
"I won't."
The dragon screamed, blood dripping from multiple wounds, flapping its near-shredded wings and taking to the distant heavens.
Virathia gasped, her lungs feeling awful.
Sheleden caught her as she collapsed.
Talthine rushed to her side and shoved a vial at her mouth. "Drink this. You'll feel better."
Virathia groaned.
"Not rigth away," Talthine admitted.
Virathia swallowed, feeling as if a miniature Bladestorm was travelling down her throat.
Talthine then administered a vial to Sheleden.
He coughed, then grinned. "maybe I should get breathed on by a forest dragon more often."
Talthine punched him.
Virathia wanted to vomit.
"Excuse me!" Jaylis said commandingly.
Sheleden and Talthine turned to face her, looking a little embarrassed.
"Where are Katherya and Vedethar?"
Virathia pointed to where they had vanished.
When Jaylis frowned, Talthine explained. Her expression clouded over as she did so.
"We have to get in there," Virathia demanded. Not begged. A Dreadlord didn't beg.

Still feeling awful, Virathia emerged into a dark world of silvery forest and glowing stones Talthine immediately identified as waystones. Cold Ones and their riders lay all about. The sorceress scanned the stones, and smiled to herself. "Maybe I was placing too much faith in Katherya." She turned to Virathia. "For that I apologise."
"Don't suggest my sister wasn't up to it!"
"Never mind. I can destroy the portal now. Then we find ehr and burn down this forest."
Virathia turned to see the Heralds of Ariel, their eagle flying above them. The blonde held a struggling Vedethar, The brunette held a limp Katherya. Large bipedal tree like shapes walked behind them.
"Leave the forest now, and you can have your friends," the blonde said with disappointment. "Consider yourselves lucky my sister has convinced me we don't have time for this."
"Katherya!" Virathia exclaimed.
"She's fine," the brunette said reassuringly. "As long as you agree to our terms," she added with steel.
"Another hostage scenario?" Jaylis fumed.
"Calm yourself," Talthine snapped. "We must handle this delicately."
Jaylis snorted.
"The forest feels threatened," the blonde said. "Do not provoke it."
"Let them go, please," Virathia asked. "We'll leave." She needed to help Aratheia, too. Probably. Not that the Witch Elf would admit it.
"Allow us to go, and we will leave the forest in peace," Sheleden said.
"Leave first," the blond esaid.
"My sister," Virathia countered.
Talthine pointed her staff at a waystone. "The girl first."
"Excuse me?" Vedethar asked.
"You're part of the bargain, don't worry," Virathia said distractedly.
The forest spirits made ominous rumbling noises, but didn't advance.
"The girl, now," Jaylis pressed.
The blonde glared at Talthine, then threw Vedethar towards the other Druchii. He picked himself up and dusted himself off.
"now my sister! And gently."
The brunette walked towards the Druchii and placed Katherya on the ground, under cover of her twin's bow. She looked at Virathia. "One sister to another."
"They wouldn't understand -" the blonde argued.
The brunette silenced her with a glance.
Virathia rushed to where Katherya lay and held her. She was breathing, her chest rising and falling, but ehr eyes were closed. Cytharai, but she looked so beautiful like this. So young and defenceless and little-sister-like.
"Thank you."
"Now leave our forest!" the blonde hissed.
"You really trust us/" Talthine asked.
"What?" Sheleden asked.
"You idiot!" Jaylis snapped. "We should just go."
"No!" Virathia shouted.
Talthine began to speak words of power.
"Druchi scum!" the blonde Herald shouted.
The brunette looked at Virathia with a look of betrayal.
"I didn't -"
The eagle swooped at the Druchii, slamming into teh middle, knocking them off their feet. Talthine staggered but stayed on her feet.
The brunette, lightning swift, drew her sword and placed it on Virathia's neck. "Stop! Now!"
The blonde fired, two arrows slamming into the midst of the Druchii and exploding, completing what the eagle ahd begun, as the forest spirits charged.
Talthine fell to the ground, tangled with Jaylis, who immediately pushed ehr away and put her sword to her throat. "We almost escaped, you idiot."
"Don't threaten a sorceress of Ghrond."
"If I live long enough for your sisters to avenge you, I'll be lucky."
Virathia elbowed the brunette Herald, making ehr gasp, then grabbed ehr sword. They wrestled, until Sheleden appeared behind and plunged his sword into the Herald's back, narrowly avoiding running Virathia through as well.
"Naestra!" the other Herald shouted. She reloaded and fired at Virathia and Sheleden. Or, rather, tried to, except a large tree spirit got in the way. The explosive bolts set it alight, and in its pain it lashed out, catching branches and leaves. The grass below smouldered.
"We have to leave, now," Sheleden snapped. "Vedethar, help me get Jaylis and Talthine off each other."
The two warriors broke up the fight between the sorceress and the corsair, assisted by her subordinates, and in the confusion the Druchii began retreating to the twined branches. Virathia dropped Naestra just as the blonde Herald leaped at her, bowling her over and sending them both flying.
They landed next to a waystone, and Virathia attempted to use it to haul herself up. She immediately regretted this, as the world flashed silver, with shapes in teh darkness, and a deep, ancient sounding voice spoke to her.
"Trespasser. Suffer."
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Siege

The Bladesingers gathered around the pyre as Liren's body was consumed, her spirit sent to join Loec. Aratheia felt uncomfortable attending a ritual for the Cadai, having been taught all her life they were too ineffable, too distant, too cowardly to be of real use. But Yllethan had insisted her contribution to the battle, her determined duel with Jorvik, had earned her at least a temporary place.
The senior Bladesinger raised her spear. "Loec, dancing, laughing god. We commend Liren, our fallen sister to you. She performed her duties with honour, and we ask that she be permitted to take her rightful place in your halls."
The young Bladesinger's name became a soft chant, one that Aratheia couldn't resist joining. Afterwards, they drank and sang songs. For a moment, Aratheia felt as if she were among companions she didn't feel the urge to murder, which was at once disturbing and relaxing.
"I'm sorry," she said. For letting Liren die? For not killing Jorvik there and then?
Yllethan nodded to her.

The next few days were the most frustrating in Aratheia's life. Moving from forest to forest, following the Chaos horde but never directly engaging, making small attacks but not going after Jorvik himself. It was all very tedious, not what a Witch Elf was made for. The killing was good, but waiting around was annoying. It felt liek they spent more time in camp sparring than actually fighting. On the other hand, Aratheia won the right to spar with more and more of the Bladesingers as she earend their respect through her martial prowess. She was soon laughing and drinking and genrally enjoying herself every night, before finishing with a duel with Yllethan.
One night they lay together under the stars. The senior Bladesinger pointed out constellations, and Aartheia compared them from the patterns visible from Naggaroth.
"I know what your companions are trying to do is, well - I can't but hate them for it," Yllethan admitted. "But you must miss them. I hear you call out a word every night."
"Katherya. The one person in the world I don't want to murder."
Yllethan laughed. "Strange way of describing a lover, but I suppose that's how Druchii are."
Aratheia smiled. "I suppose."
"Sleep well tonight. Tomorrow we attack a Norscan camp. My women found some foraging on their own and tracked them back to camp. I want the honour of killing these ones. Would you join me?"

Aratheia, Yllethan and a few other Bladesingers crept towards the Norscan foraging camp. Several of the hulking warriors were sitting around drinking and laughing. Aartheia and the Bladesingers killed the watchmen, and moved onto the revelers. As they made their work, a horn sounded and hooves pounded. Aartheia saw cavalry coming towards them.
Yllethan jumped in their way, branding her spear. The Bladesingers with ehr did likewise. Aartheia braced alongside them. The cavalry neared, then the Bladesingers parted, allowing the horses to run between them. What followed was a confused melee. Aratheia couldn't describe it if asked, but she enjoyed it. Afterwards they returned to camp and celebrated.
Then one night, something went very wrong. A messenger arrived from the main Asrai army, and Aratheia, drinking and laughing with some Bladesingers, was seen.
The messenger brought his steed to a halt, and pointed accusingly at Aratheia. "Druchii! They assault our waystones. What peril does this one bring?"
Aartheia's throat clenched.
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - The Hunt

Aratheia glared at the Asrai rider, hersurprise having worn off. "You are aware of the means by which the Chaos lord must be defeated?"
"Fully. But your compatriots' conduct is unacceptable. Yllethan, I must take this one with me and see what to do about her."
"What to do about me?" Aratheia laughed.
Yllethan held ehr hands up. "Calm down, please. I know what her compatriots are doing. Taking her away isn't going to help with that. What we need is to find Jorvik and kill him, scattering the horde, so we can clean it up quickly and then secure the Worldroots. My Bladesingers and I can help her isolate the Lord."
"They threaten our enclaves, and you defend her?"
"We need a Druchii. We have one on hand. Let's not waste her."
A nicely pragmatic approach, Aratheia thought.
The Asrai rider knit his brow. "Good point. I must have a private word with you about the host."
Yllethan nodded. She led the rider away from the rest of the elves.
Shortly afterwards the rider departed and Yllethan returned to Aratheia's side, fire in her eyes.
"Thank you for defending me," Aratheia whispered.
"Don't mention it. Actually, don't thank me at all." Yllethan rammed her spear into the ground. "You're a lot of fun, Naggarothi, but I know what your fellows are doing. When this is over, you'll have to run."
"I know."

The land for miles around was corrupted. That was too mild a word, really. Wherever the Norscans had gone, the grass and plants twisted and decayed into some macabre parody of themselves. Rot covered the ground, and a stench filled the air. So this was what Nurgle did. This couldn't be allowed to spread to Naggroth. Hopefully Virathia and Katherya would do what they needed to.
Fallen Norscans littered the earth at points, and fallen Asrai. The main host had been skirmishing all the way, but not committing anything significant.
Occasionally Aratheia engaged the Norscans, jumping upon isolated groups and cutting them apart. But it wasn't enough. She needed to find Jorvik and kill him, alongside Yllethan. It was her divine mission, and her duty to her homeland.
After many nights they saw the main Norscan host. Aratheia's heart almost stopped, from excitement or fear she didn't know. Hundreds of Norscans and twisted looking monstrosities marched ahead. The earth shook beneath their footsteps.
"How do we get through that?"
Yllethan grinned. "They are being led towards a human castle. It should slow them down and force them to set up a siege. Then we can sneak in and get to Jorvik through the thinned defences."
Aratheia had a few more chances to wet her blades, and after that, the Chaos horde arrived at the castle. As predicted, they fanned out around it, blocking all lines of communication and supply.
The Bladesingers got themselves a good night's rest before the attack. Aratheia sat up for awhile, watching the horde surrounding the castle and wondering if Katherya and Virathia were alright. She liked to think she only really cared for Katherya, but there was something about Virathia too that demanded at least tacit support. Maybe because of their mutual concern for the sorceress. Maybe something else.
Eventually she went to sleep.

The next morning, shortly before dawn, horns echoed through the forest. Aratheia jumped up, daggers ready, half expecting a Norscan to be above her. But then she looked toward the castle and saw Asrai soldeirs attacking. Cavalry. Infantry. Sharp eyed archers. Even what appeared to be walking trees.
"The forest is awake," Yllethan commented with a wry smile.
The Norscans were not idle, rousing themselves and their beasts and facing the attackers. After the initial shock a massive fight developed, and several Asrai cavalry were dragged down by things that looked like they were supposed to be dogs but reality had forgotten the plans.
The humans sallied out from their castle, fighting valiantly against the dark tide. They were cut down in swathes, but they gave a good account of themselves, and the castle bristled with artillery.
One group of Norscans was doing particularly well, led by the largest of them all. There was Jorvik. Aratheia's blood rose. It was time to end this.
Yllethan held Aratheia back. "Calm yourself, Witch Elf. Even with the host, this will be a difficult fight. Stay with my Bladesingers. We'll keep you safe as much as we can."
"I don't need to be kept safe," Aratheia growled.
"I love your attitude. Just remember, don't let the battle madness distract you. Don't get to killing everything you see."
"I can't help my rage."
"You must. Or you'll never see...what was it? You'lll never see Katherya again."
Aratheia blinked. Yllethan was right. If she spent too much time fighting Norscan after Norscan, the Asrai would eventually retreat, and she'd be trapped in the middle of far too many enemies to count.
"Are you ready?"
Yllethan led the charge into the horde, stabbing a surprised Norscan, then whipping the butt of ehr spear into another. Aratheia followed closely, fighting hard but trying to control herself, at least until she reached Jorvik. The huge Chaos Lord was somewhere ahead, shouting praise to the Dark Gods and causing pustules and boils to erupt on elves and humans alike. A green haze filled the air. The stench was becoming overwhelming.
Aratheia felt a tugging, and saw Yllethan pulling her onward. Jorvik's hulk was close by. Some of the Bladesingers were still with them. Others were...behind, whatever that meant.
"Have you come to embrace Nurgle?"
Aratheia screamed and charged at him, followed by Yllethana nd the Bladesingers.
Jorvik's axe lashed out and smashed a Bladesinger to the side, her body crumpling and trampled.
Yllethan growled and thrusted ehr spear.
Jorvik deflected the blow with his shield, and then force dAratheia to duck.
The Bladesingers were engaged with the other Norscans.
Aratheia slipped under the axe swing and slashed upwards. No impact.
"Nurgle gives many gifts. Resistance to harm being the greatest."
Yllethan made another lunge, and this time Jorvik had to move his head aside.
Aartheia pressed her attack, feeling ehr strikes become more precise and her vigour returning. "Yes, well, Lord Khaine provide mastery of murder. which I prefer."
Jorvik fell back under a flurry of blows, each of which drew a little bit of blood. Then he laughed and a tide of vileness escaped his mouth.
Aartheia jumped aside, and the vileness struck a Norscan, making his body steam and hiss. The Bladesinger fighting him finished him off, then found another target.
Jorvik seemed untroubled as he swung his axe towards Yllethan. She dodged by inches and counterattacked.
Aratheia's vision filled with red. She could hear nothing but her heartbeat and the blood rushing through her body. Everything was a blur. Everything, except Jorvik. he stood large and clear, and some instinct drive Aratheia towards a point on his armour. Her blade sank in, and she wriggled them, opening the cut.
Jorvik swung back to her, and she withdrew her daggers just in time to dodge.
Then Yllethan stabbed him in that place,
Aratheia had another moment of instinct, and slashed across Jorvik's neck. She felt faster than she ever had been. Everything else seemed so slow.
Finally, the red mist enveloped her fully.
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Escape

Katherya woke with a weight on her chest. For the briefest of moments she thought she was snug against Virathia or Aratheia, finding comfort from one of the two most important people in her life. Then she opened her eyes and saw a giant eagle standing on her. No, not a comforting hug then.
The eagle sung its massive beak towards her head and squawked.
"Calm down there," Katherya soothed.
The eagle tightened its grip around her chest and beat its wings, driving wind down onto her.
The tree spirits surrounded her, and, barely visible behind the mass of walking vegetation, Naestra was pulling herself to her feet.
"Arahan, I'm back! Arahan - Arahan? Arahan!" Her calls became more desperate as she noticed her twin wasn't there.
Which was when Katherya realised Virathia was missing, too..
Her staff was out of her hand and she could hardly draw any magic, but she wasn't quite helpless. It was a long shot, but her sacrificial dagger didn't just allow her to have visions. Straining with the effort, and trying not to be too obvious about it, Katherya reach for the dagger at her side and, with all the speed of an elf (if one who spent much of her time studying and performing spells) she plunged the dagger into the nearest eagle part she could find. Hekarti, accept this blood.
The eagle shrieked and wrapped its claws tighter, knocking more breath out.
Katherya droved the dagger deeper, and ran it down.
The eagle shrieked louder and let go, flapping its wings in hurried retreat. Blood dripped from a shoulder, the attached wing beating more slowly.
Katherya smiled, feeling magic surge into her. Not that quickly, or that much, but enough to shape a Soul Stealer, drawing upon everything she could and burning ehr last reserves of mental and physical energy. She targeted the eagle, and gasped in relief as its life energy transferred to her. It made angry, scared noises, and tried to dive to attack again. But its slow wing betrayed it and it missed badly, slamming into the ground.
"Gwyndalor!" Naestra called.
The eagle turned over to face her.
Exhausted, phsyical damage recovered but magical and mental energy gone,
Katherya sat up and gave her strongest glare to the Heralds, trying to replicate the way Aratheia regarded everyone except her. Actually, Aratheia's gaze for Virathia was the best.
"You see what I've done to your eagle. Do not make me continue."
Katherya felt a handlike branch wrap itself around her neck.
"Die, trespasser."
"Wait!" Katherya shouted.
"Why not let the spirits kill you?" Naestra asked, eyes blazing, bow nocked and aimed at Katherya.
Katherya dropped her dagger. "All the other Druchii are gone. You don't have to fear for the waystones. But your sister is gone, too. As is mine. I know what you're feeling. Actually, I don't, because you and Arahan are like no sisters I've ever met. But she's gone. Somewhere. Not temporarily dead. Gone. Lost." Katherya guessed her and Naestra's respective sisters were just in another forest, but the Herald looked upset and, without any more magic, emotional manipulation was her last option. She was also relying on the assumption the forest spirits cared about Naestra's orders.
Naestra lowered her bow fractionally. "That was your fault. Your mistress' anyway. My sister knows how to use the waystones to find Laurelorn again. She'll leave yours behind, and return soon."
"But you don't know that, do you? Whilst we're having this conversation, Arahan could be trapped in some lizard camp, or in the Witchwod, or -"
"Stop talking!" Naestra shouted. "Arahan can defend herself, and neither of us can die whilst the other lives."
"You can still be captured. And tortured. Imagine that. Being tortured forever and ever because you. Just. Can't. Die." Katherya's lips curled into a vicious smile as the implication sank in. Naestra's face was delightfully half-outraged, half-terrified.
Gwyndalor crawled over and placed his good wing around Naestra.
"I can't sense her," Naestra admitted, pressing against the wing. "Wherever we are, we can feel one another. A gift of Ariel. But now...maybe something went wrong."
"I can help you get her back. End her suffering. If you let me rescue Virathia and let us leave."
"Trespassers die."
"Stop!" Naestra shouted. "I can't let my sister be trapped somewhere I can't sense. Let the sorceress help. We can kill her later if we must."
Katherya felt the pressure on her shoulder ease.
"Find the Herald. Or we kill you."

Katherya held her staff in both hands and closed her eyes. She looked at the waystones with her magical sight only. The stones glowed with arcane power, and Katherya saw the traces of Virathia and Arahan's passage. They went into the worldroots, but -
"They never left."
"What?" Naestra asked.
"They never left."
"Never left what? Tell me, Druchii!"
Katherya was aware of the sword pressed against the small of her back. "They never left the worldroots. Our sisters are trapped...somewhere. I can't see it. But they never made it to another forest."
Naestra gasped. "Arahan! But why? The waystones send you wherever you want to go."
"Virathia didn't mean to go anywhere. Maybe the waystoens started a journey for her to punish her, trapping her in between. Arahan asked to follow her so now they're both...gods, I have to save them both." She couldn't imagine Virathia trapped somewhere she didn't understand, somewhere not even Katherya understood. And she was only guessing here.
Naestra growled. "Waystones! Leave the trespasser there. But bring my sister back!"
The stones glowed interesting colours, apparently not satisfying Naestra.
"Bring her back!" She pressed her sword a little deeper into Katherya, enough to pierce her skin. "Save them." her next word was quiet as a whisper. "Please."
Katherya was too worried about Virathai to revel in the Herald's distress. "I'll try. But you'll have to stop stabbing me."
Naestra withdrew the sword. "I'm sorry."
"Excellent." Katherya punched a waystone. "Get our sisters back here. Or I'll destroy you."
Cataclysm would occur upon destruction of the stones. Hekarti.
Time seemed to have stopped.
My Goddess! Can you rescue Virathia for me?
I am not doing anything for you, daughter. I will, however, guide you the correct way.
Guide me then. What do I do?
She's right, Naestra I mean. This was all your fault.
We came here on your orders! And Talthine broke the truce.
I mean, you completely failed to destroy the waystones on your own and became a liability. I don't like liabilities. I was willing to forgive you in Nehekhara because it was your first serious attempt at a raid against a powerful enemy. But you must stop coming unprepared to hostile shores.
Please stop lecturing me and help me.
I will help you. But for a price. I trust you would give anything for Virathia?
I would! Please!
First, don't ever require my help through recklessness again. Second, you will not be able to use magic until I see fit.
What? But my Goddess, please!
Then say goodbye to your sister. And your life, when Naestra realises you won't help.

Katherya groaned helplessly. Very well. Now will you help?

After what seemed like forever two blurry figures appeared by the waystone, soon resolving into Virathia and Arahan, their hands wrapped around one another's necks.
Katherya and Naestra immediately pulled them apart.. Within moments, Katherya felt Virathia go almost limp, and look into her eyes with a distatnt expression
"Sister? What just happened?"
"I'm here," Katherya whispered. "You're safe now."
Arahan strained to get at Virathia, but Naestra held her back. After a little, she stop fighting and turned to her twin.
"I'm sorry, truly. I'm the one supposed to protect you. I'm the one always getting myself killed to annoy you. You shouldn't have to die."
Naestra was wordlessly delighted.
Gwyndalor wrapped his wings around them.
"Now trespassers die," the spirits said.
The gathered treemen walked towards the Druchii, the ground shaking beneath them. Virathia looked at them disinterestedly.
Katherya pointed her staff at the spirits. "I thought the creatures of Laurelorn were more honourable than elves."
"Too much pain. Too much war. Elves must die. Dark first."
Katherya shook her head. "I am personally sworn to the Goddess of Magic of the elves. I could destroy this whole forest if I chose."
"Do it, then."
"I will!"
"Stop! All of you!" Naestra shouted. "I let the sorceress rescue her sister in exchange for mine. We can't just kill them now. How would that seem? The forest killing one who rescued a Herald?"
"Dark Elves must die."
"Yes, but later. "
Arahan squeezed Naestra. "You're negotiating with them?"
"hush, sister," Naestra said sternly. "You've spent gods know how long between the worldroots."
"I do feel queasy." Arahan narrowed her eyes. "But we should kill them."
:"Katherya, the sorceress, recused you. We mustn't be ungrateful. Even if it was her fault. I mean, look at them. They pose no threat. And her sister is in no shape to do anything."
"Serve her right." Arahan's laugh would have made Aratheia proud. "Let that be their punishment for now. Spirits! Let them go. They have what they sowed."
The trees rumbled and rustled, but stopped advancing.
"Suffer. Leave. But never return."
Katherya wanted to come back and burn everything down, but was in no condition, so she nodded. "Sister, come on. Let's go and find Aratheia."
"Argh!" Arahan growled. "Come on, Naestra, let's help them find their Witch Elf, finish off the Chaos, then we can all go home."
It sounded good to Katherya.

An Asrai host strode a battlefield of corpses. Mostly Norscan, some Imperial human, a few Asrai. They finished off the wounded, took prisoners and looked forlornly across the battlefield. The Heralds, accompanied by Gwyndalor and a returned dragon (named Cethyn-Har), immediately drew the full attention of everyone on the field. The Chaos glared in utter hate, the Asrai bowed in complete reverence.
"Asrai," they said in unison, the effect no less disturbing than the first time. "Congratulations. You have defeated the Chaos army. With the assistance of a Naggarrothi." Surprise and anger washed across the faces of the host. "With us are her companions, whom we have promised her safe return in exchange for their departure. Allow her to rejoin them, and we can put this behind us."
Arahan turned to Naestra and whispered, "That was so uncomfortable. Ten words maximum next time."
Naestra nodded.
A group of female Asrai warriors came forwards, with Aratheia bound. The anger in her eyes immediately turned to releif.
"Katherya! Virathia! You're - wait..."
"I'll explain everything" Katherya said.
Aratheia was unbound.
She exchanged an amused glance with one warrior. "Don't be angry. Yllethan and her Bladesingers treated me extremely well."
Katherya met the gaze of the Bladesinger Aratheia indicated.
"The Witch Elf is a great fighter. You are lucky to have her." Yllethan smiled fondly.
"Nothing between us! I promise!" Aratheia said quickly.
"I trust you." Katherya placed a gentle kiss on her Witch Elf's lips. "But don't feel bound."
"Enough!" Arahan snapped. "You have your Witch Elf. Now go!"
Katherya nodded. "Thank you both."
Cethyn-Har glared at her.
Virathia moaned.
"Now, we just have to find - oh, look!" Katherya saw the other Druchii appear beyond the Asrai host. Talthine was bound and gagged.

To be without magic was the worst feeling. Ever. Katherya could see the Winds flowing around her, but they refused to bend for her as she and the remaining Druchii departed from the battlefield. She felt empty without her talent. The hidden eyes of the Asrai didn't help either.
"By Khaine, that was foolish of you!" Sheleden scolded. "And her!" He pointed at the struggling Talthine. "We only survived Nehekhara because the Liche Priest saw us as collectibles rather than threats. And now this..." He shook his head. "How did I so offend Khaine to have to mind you idiots? Look what state your sister is in!"
Virathia was walking steadily now, and not looking as if into the far distance.
"Not enough murder, probably," Aratheia suggested, not defending Katherya.
"Most of my knights got killed," Vedethar grumbled, leading Tyrant. "Men and women I've served with for decades. You can't just replace good soldiers."
"I'll compensate you," Katherya said. It was all her fault, really. Even if it wasn't, she had a duty to protect Virathia, and had failed in that.
"I'm sure you'll have interesting tales for us when we get back to the ship," Jaylis mused.
Virathia stopped and turned to face Katherya. "What happened? Where was I?"
"I'll explain later."
Aartheia shrugged. "Would anyoen care to notice I killed a Chaos Lord?"
Katherya's eyes widened. "A Chaos Lord? By yourself?"
"Not exactly. But near enough."
"That's incredible!" Katherya exclaimed. "You must tell me all."

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Sep 29, 2013
New Zealand
The Forest Reavers - Epilogue

Virathia rested against the prow of Soul Reaver as her ship glided through a favourable breeze away from Nordland, away from Laurelorn. The setting sun danced across the sea as the ship's prow gently moved up and down. The Dreadlord sighed, still trying to process what she had experienced in the nothingness between the worldroots. It had been a strange, disturbing place that had left her dazed and confused afterwards. She thanked Mathlann no one hadtaken the opportunity to be done with her.
But the danger wasn't over yet. She'd only survived because of a sublime mix of negotiation and emotional manipulation from Katherya against someone who, in hindsight, should have realised she didn't need Katherya's help anyway. To force the Heralds of Ariel to let them go was impressive. But the disarray the Druchii were in afterwards, not even able to claim treasures as they had from the tomb city, may have done serious damage to her standing. Jaylis and Vedethar had both lost much of their forces, and Sheleden had been quite clear it was her and Katherya's fault for not planning more carefully. It was also Talthine's fault, but not to the extent it could all be blamed on her. At least for those who knew what had happened.
That sorceress! Virathia shook her head. She'd been about to get her sister back. If Talthine had waited a few more seconds, then everything would have worked out. Presently, her sister's teacher was locked away in the brig, Virathia needing to clear her head and return to earth before deciding on a suitable punishment. And what about Katherya? She still needed a teacher, but could Talthine be trusted around her after the punishment?
She felt hands wrap around her chest.
"Sister! Are you feeling better now?"
"Completely." Not quite, but no need to worry Katherya. "How are you?"
"Diminished," Katherya confessed. She stepped beside Virathia, allowing her older sister to extend an arm around her. "Without magic I don't know what I am."
"I can't imagine what it's like." Virathia could still hardly believe what Hekarti had done. It wasn't Katherya's fault she'd been captured.
"It's awful. How can I continue my studies?"
"We'll think of something. Just work on appeasing your goddess."
"That's why I follow Khaine. Plain and simple - kill or be killed. He doesn't mind either way."
"Aratheia!" Katherya exclaimed. "Aren't you sea sick at all?"
Aratheia snorted. "It's a calm day."
"I thought you followed Khaine because you were abducted from your home as a baby and knew nothing else until the second-prettiest girl in Naggaroth met you?" Virathia asked.
"Second?" Katherya challenged, a light in her eyes.
"Clearly I'm the prettiest, being the older sister and everything."
"If I still had my magic I'd turn you into a frog."
"You'd deserve it," Aratheia agreed.
"Last time you tried Beast Magic you became a Cold One until Talthine fixed you," Virathia replied.
"Next time you'll be the Cold One." Katherya's tone was reassuringly playful.
Aratheia slapped both of them on the back. "If you're just going to be all disgustingly sisterly with one another, I'll be in my cabin."
"Good night, Witch Elf," Virathia said. "You're the only one Sheleden hasn't yelled at yet, so congratulations."

A while later, after night fell and the stars were out in full force, Katherya wordlessly slipped away.
Virathia was then joined by Sheleden.
"So it's true she has no magic."
Virathia nodded. "Gods know what she has to do to win Hekarti's forgiveness."
"Are you sure a large sacrifice wouldn't do it?"
"She tried that." Whatever Hekarti thought, the crew of Soul Reaver had enjoyed shark over the previous few nights, the inedible bits burned in offering.
"Cytharai know why I put up with you."
"Because our parents will kill you if we die?"
Sheleden shrugged. "Possibly. Make sure you go to sleep soon, Dreadlord. Whatever you experienced can't have been healthy."
Virathia nodded.

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