Stand at Amon Sul

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Stand at Amon Sul

Amidst the burning embers of the fire, and the great evil that lurked just outside the safety of the firelight, I remembered Hithlim’s warning…

“Kaleigh, the foes you go to meet are not the sort that fill legions upon the battlefield. They are of the highest Tier one can imagine dwelling in this realm. And with most of us scattered in distant places, you will not likely find any to aid you, nor to run to should things go badly. If you should fall, there is no retreat.”

[While running the ‘gauntlet’, a permanent death rule applies. Any that are forced to ‘retreat’ have instead died and are forever lost from these lands.]

…the gauntlet had begun…

[Stand at Amon Sul. Size: Small Fellowship. Tier: 3]

Candaith’s words brought me back to the present…

“The darkness has encroached far, can you not feel it deadening your limbs?”

Deverell and I looked to each other and nodded, for there was a chill on the air that pierced us to the bone. Every movement took an effort, as if we swam through frigid waters.

“I have added herbs to these campfires. If you light them, it will fight back against the darkness and return some of your battle prowess,” Candaith continued. “Grab a torch and light the fires. Keep them from going out, and we may yet win this battle.”

“I will see to that,” I offered.

“How many are they?” asked Deverell, as she looked about nervously.

Candaith took in a deep breath. “Dozens,” he finally said.

…my heart went cold…

“Dozens! We will be overrun!” I lamented.

“Nay, for the lesser dead are mindless and will not keep to the others without their guidance,” said Candaith. “They will come in small groups. My traps should see to that. Their lieutenants will find themselves… delayed.”

Candaith scanned our perimeter of firelight until his eyes came to me, looking to him with wonder.

He grinned at me. “Do not think you are the first to employ such tricks, nor the best at doing so, Scout Kaleigh. We have not taught you all our secrets just yet.”

I leapt to embrace my wise and noble friend…

“I pray you will, if we are gifted the time,” I whispered, kissing his cheek.

Candaith’s brilliance had given us our chance. It was now upon us to make the most of it…

Candaith spied them first, “Here they come!”

“We fight!” cried Deverell.

I took the Star-glass that I had been saving from my belt, lifting it high into the air.

We are as the stars amongst a stygian sky, fighting to pierce this night of darkness. May the light of the stars shine upon us and others who do battle in their name this night…

I ran to the fire we had raised in the center of the remains of the ruined watchtower and reached for a firebrand…

…but not even the fires would turn away the dead. Battle was upon us…

The dark enchantments that gifted these beings with the mockery of life was very strong…

…turning aside blade and arrow like the strongest of scales, and the finest of mail…

…but pierce them we did, in haste, for fear of being overrun by the next band that gained the hill…

The words of power that the way-watchers taught me I saved for the strongest of the horde, those that had been gifted great and terrible power by the Enemy…

Whether through dark sorcery or great strength they wrought their ruin, my words would bind them for a short while, gifting us the time we needed to break the rest…

The lieutenants of the Enemy possessed strength beyond any one of the three of us…

“Kaleigh! The fires!”

I hurried to fetch another firebrand, as the darkness threatened to overcome us…

Deverell turned her attention toward me while I ran the circle, to be sure I was safe…

“Hurry, Kaleigh!”

As the battle wore on, as wave after wave of the dead threatened to drown us within their turgid tide, I began to realize…

…to understand that we were fighting a battle on two fronts opposed to one another…

We were already beginning to tire…

…and, though we broke many, we would remain outnumbered to the very end…

Yet the effort we expended to bring down our enemies with haste only hastened the moment we would find ourselves all but spent…

Our dance of war was being danced along the edge of a knife, a razor’s edge…

We could afford no movement, nor any action that was not precise and to our best advantage, even as we stared into the heart of an enemy bound by nothing but abandon, and hate, and wanton depravity…

..but we fought on, even as hope dimmed, like the last rays of sunlight one can see at the horizon’s edge before the moment has passed…

I feared our window was that narrow…

…the fires dimmed…

We were losing ground. We were no longer able to clear the battlefield of the living dead before more began to appear…

“Hurry, Kaleigh!”

I made to relight the fires with all the speed I could muster…

“Deverell! Do not lose heart!”

But my words rang hollow when a Gorthorog, clad in steel and armed with mace and hammer, gained the summit…

…we brought him down, but doing so took great effort and far too much time…

The enemy was gaining ground…

Archers began to appear, fighting us from a distance…

…I hurried to meet them as I could, but I knew each extra step came at the cost of time and our resolve…

I made to return to the others, my eyes growing dim from the fatigue of battle…

An apparition began to coalesce from the darkness around me, one that I did not see…

“Kaleigh!”

Candaith swung his blade in a mighty arc before me…

…I had jumped away just in time…

Lightning crashed around us, and the rains grew heavier. It seemed there was no end to the enemy, nor any manner of creature that was beholden to them…

…still, we fought on, even as the fires dimmed…

I hurried to fetch another firebrand to relight the fires…

…but in the darkness, and with my vision dimmed with fatigue, I did not see the grave threat lurking in the shadows…

“Kaleigh!”

I looked up just in time to see the warg pouncing from atop the ruined wall. Its claws brushed my leathers as I dove away….

…I scarcely had time to gain my feet and turn before it was upon me once again, its rider urging the beast forward while readying a strike with its wicked spear…

Candaith lured the other foes to him, leaving me free of them so that I could face the goblin rider alone…

We battled with one another, and we each found our mark more than once. I wearied from the struggle and the pain I bore…

…and I noticed the warg did as well. I saw its rider was losing its hold over the beast, screeching at it with dark words and curses, trying to regain control…

I leaned in toward the warg, baring my shoulder…

…it raised its paw to strike at me, leaving the opening I was hoping for…

As it rose upon its hind legs, I lit out towards it, driving my stickers into its exposed underside. I leaned in with my shoulder and pushed into it with all my might…

…and the creature toppled over, pinning its rider beneath it. I finished them both and went to aid the others…

The fires were burning dangerously low as I returned, yet the advance of the enemy left us no time to see to them…

We quickened our pace, hoping for a moment’s respite to gather ourselves and relight the fires…

I left the others to advance upon an orcish shaman, spewing curses and dark magics upon us…

I spun behind him, finishing him off as the others brought down the rest. For a precious moment, the battlefield was clear…

But it was not to last. In the few moments it took me to reach the fire, another Gorthorog appeared at the edge of the ruined wall…

I spoke a word to bind it as it neared the others, then fetched a firebrand and lit out toward the fires while watching the others do battle…

The binding still held as I finished with the fires and entered the fray…

“We have to bring these others down before it awakens!” I shouted, hoping to be heard over the din of battle…

We fought fiercely…

…furiously…

…but there were too many. The Gorthorog became free of the binding and turned to face me…

He brought mace and hammer down upon me, scarcely missing his mark between the two. The two weapons struck the stone, deafening and dazing me within their clamor…

I staggered, finding my balance by reaching out to steady myself with the enemy’s own weapons…

I knew we could not afford the time to bring this one down as we did the other, felling it through cuts and scratches near to its roots, as one would fell a tree…

I saw the Gorthorog rear back for another strike, and I made myself a ready target…

“Kaleigh!”

…at the last moment I twisted myself sideways, avoiding the massive weapons while covering my ears to keep my wits safe from the clamor. Then, I drove my sticker into the maw of the beast with every last bit of my strength…

I trembled with the closeness of the creature, and the closeness with which I had eluded its ending me…

The Gorthorog roared, rearing back in pain and for another strike. I endeavored to steady myself once again…

My strike buckled the creature, and it fell over on its side. I ran to it and finished him before joining the others to battle the enemy that remained…

“The fires! The fires are low!”

The others met the new enemy while I hurried to relight the fires…

Another wave of the dead washed over us. The night seemed endless, and I began to lose heart…

…but it was then that I heard Candaith cry out in the darkness…

“The shadows grow dark. This will be their final push! To arms!”

Hope… was their yet hope?

Deverell’s cry of anguish roused me from the thought…

All upon the ruined hill turned to her, both living and dead. Sensing weakness, the dead reached for her…

I threw myself between them, swatting away a blade meant for her. But, in my haste, my strike was not true, and the skeleton caught my arm with the crosspiece of its sword…

I cried out in pain, and with despair…

Deverell staggered behind me, clutching her side.

“Oh, Kaleigh. I fear this is a grievous wound…”

I struggled to keep the dead at bay, away from her…

“Do whatever you need to do to bind it! I will keep you safe!”

My shame…

…my shame…

…my shame upon the fields of Archet clutches at me. It has never eased, nor will it likely fade until I make atonement for it…

My life for hers…

…my life before any other…

If I could only go back…

I writhed, and I twisted, like the grip upon the heart beating within my chest, to keep Deverell safe…

She saw to her wounds and then to mine as best she could…

We fought as one…

I dodged an enemy strike and saw an opening…

…I lashed out with my sticker…

I caught the skeleton behind its leg, as it was still unbalanced from its violent swing, and I yanked it toward me forcefully, upending it onto the stone…

…we fought on…

Another wave of the dead gained the hill, led by a shaman of the Palefolk. I bound him and then turned to aid the others in dealing with the rest…

The air grew cold and heavy with the rain and the din of battle. My stickers grew heavy, as though I swung about long-hafted axes, with blades carved from stone…

My thoughts were dark and consuming, and I did not hear it in time…

“Kaleigh!”

I twirled to meet the shaman, now free of the binding and spewing foul and twisted utterances into the air…

…but it was too late…

Aaaaaaaaaah!

My heart was rent by the cries of anguish from my friends, even as I cried out with them. The Darkfire burst within our midst, enveloping us, searing the places where our skin was exposed…

Our weapons burned in our hands, and every breath we took in was a nightmare…

Yet, even so, we had to fight on. The shaman and its minions would not leave the Darkfire, and we were sure more were on their way…

The Darkfire soon consumed itself, but it had taken a heavy toll. We were past the brink of exhaustion, and now every movement we made, and every action we took, was also met with pain. Our eyes still burned with darkflame, and we feared loosening our grip upon the implements we wielded for even a moment, for fear we might have neither the strength, nor the ability, to make firm our grasp once again…

The margin by which the enemies’ swings now missed us thinned to a razor’s edge. We were slipping from the edge of the blade upon which we danced…

It was then that the air grew heavier still, and cold…

And silent…

I struck down the wasted being I was battling with and turned to the others. They were looking about as well…

And then Candaith cried out in a voice shredded by flame and burden, terrible yet strong…

“Let the foulness that leads this assault come forth and meet its end!”

The fires dimmed, nearly consumed by an approaching aura of darkness…

A wraith, cloaked in red, gained the hill and advanced upon us…

Deverell shuddered, sinking to her knees…

Candaith was to her side in a moment. Together, we brought her to her feet, and I held her close while he drew his bow…

He looked to me…

“Kaleigh, see to the fires and then join us.”

He then looked to Deverell, placing his hand upon her shoulder…

“Deverell, you’re with me.”

She looked up at him and nodded wearily, gifting him with a faint smile. Whatever end we met, we would meet it together…

I searched for a firebrand to bring with me, sweeping away burning embers as Deverell kept watch over us both…

“Hurry, Kaleigh!”

I lit out toward the fires with all speed and then rushed back to join the others…

Within the downfall of the rain and the shroud of darkness, we met the wraith in battle. It wielded a blade as tall as a man and half again, and he swung it in a wide arc, with the strength of a cavalry charge…

Advancing upon it would have been folly…

Candaith held up his arm, spinning his hand in a circle…

We made to surround the wraith…

We battled with it for a long while, the one it had engaged merely keeping it at bay, while the other would strike it from behind…

We were holding our own, and we took heart. If we could but keep our strength…

The wraith halted its attacks and began chanting dark words. The earth and stone beneath us began to swell and tremble…

“What is it calling upon us?!” I cried.

“Stop it! Stop its desecration!” shouted Candaith.

We struck at the wraith with all the strength we could muster, but we could not turn it from its incantation…

Beings began to surface from the swelling earth, like worms during a storm…

Candaith looked ashen…

“No…”

The dead of the watchtower of old, men who had long ago lived their lives and rested peacefully since their ending, they now rose to heed their new master’s call, doing battle with us…

Deverell fought to speak her words of lifting for us between her sobs…

Tears streamed from my eyes, blurring a heinous vision…

Alongside Candaith, we turned toward his kin of old, to strike them down while still battling the great evil that meant to see us undone…

The endless night and the endless darkness wore on…

...and we were teetering upon the razor’s edge. At times, we were nearly lost…

…but we found a way to rally ourselves, and we fought on…

The terrible wraith summoned more dead to him, even as we broke the others down…

It swung its blade with a palpable malevolence, which we felt sweep over us even when the blade itself did not find its mark…

It spit dark words and dark magics upon us, visible upon its fetid breath…

…yet we fought on…

The fires began to falter as I was surrounded…

“Kaleigh, see to the fires! I will lure them from you,” Candaith rasped, with the remaining shreds of his voice.

I fought my way over to him, nearer the central fire…

The wraith turned toward me. It reared back and let out a screech that nearly knocked me to the ground…

“Kaleigh, behind you!” Candaith shouted.

I turned in time to meet a skeleton’s axe with my sticker, steering it away. The fires had nearly burnt themselves out in the time it took for me to send the skeleton back to its rest…

I twirled back toward the fire to fetch a firebrand…

“Kaleigh!”

Something grappled me from behind, and I cried out with pain as I felt something rake across my shoulder. I was lifted off my feet and spun back toward the battle…

A hand of bone reached for my face, clawing at the air before me. Another skeleton had kept me from the fire, punching a hole through my tunic in the attempt…

I shook myself free, fending off the skeleton while bunching my torn leathers under my strapping to help bind my shoulder…

But the fires were dying, and I knew there was little chance of us lasting were they to fail. I stole a glance at the others, hoping one of them might intercede for me…

…but they were nearly overrun…

I maneuvered toward the fire, trying to find a firebrand with one hand, while keeping the skeleton at bay…

…but the dead one fought through the will of its master, and it found the firebrand an easy target to knock from my hands…

“Kaleigh! The fires!”

I cried out in despair, for I no longer had the strength to bind it by word. My other tricks were all but gone, spent at desperate times, when our lives hung in the balance…

Our light was fading…

…and the portal loomed before me…

I trembled with fright and with grief, as I endeavored to find a way. But fatigue dulled my thoughts, even as the pain pierced through them. The thought of our ending, and making it count for as much as it possibly could, began to surface. My gaze turned downward in despair…

My eye caught the glimmer of the dying fire reflected by my boot-knife…

…and it was then that an old remembrance returned to me, an off-hand comment during a day of training with the way-watchers, and a desperate ploy that I had rarely found a reason to use…

After dodging the next swing of the skeleton’s axe, I quickly threw my sticker into the earth and drew my boot-knife. I raised myself up as high as I was able, lowering my guard…

At the moment when the skeleton began its upward swing, I threw my other sticker into the earth, taking my boot-knife in both hands. I felt the swing of the skeleton’s axe above me, as I dropped to the ground, aiming for the skeleton’s foot and twisting my knife so that the crosspiece would cover its entire width…

I drove the knife through the bones of its foot and into the earth below with all my strength, hoping to bind it to the spot. I then reached for my stickers and wrapped my arms over my head, flinging myself backwards…

The axe-blade brushed my wristguards as I dove away, landing on my backside. I scrambled to my feet and backed toward the fire…

The skeleton struggled to free its foot from the earth for a few moments, before peering at me with unseeing eyes…

I became lost in its struggle…

“The fires! Kaleigh, the fires!

I turned to find a firebrand from the fire, replacing my boot-knife with one of my stickers…

…and I ran the circle once more, while Candaith saw to the rest, and Deverell kept watch over us both…

We battled on, drawing upon each other for strength. But we were fading. Our time was counted in minutes, by the fingers of one hand, and not every one of them…

…but we were not the only ones…

The darkness had eased, ever so slightly. The wraith had ceased its spewing of curses, nor had it called for more dead in a long while. We sensed its end was near, as it surely did ours…

And now it danced upon the razor’s edge with us. One mistake, one misstep…

The wraith lunged at me…

I ducked away just in time…

…and in that brief moment, while it was open to attack, I pierced its garments with my sticker, driving it into its being as deeply as I was able…

It fell away and, for a moment, all was silent…

Then the air about us rushed past, and into the space where the wraith once stood. Its robes billowed and swelled, the arms flung into the air by the rushing wind, which then exploded like the cracking of a whip…

The robe began to lightly settle, falling to the earth…

“It is slain! It is slain!” cried Deverell with joy.

Candaith spun in place. “The others! See to the others!”

My hand went numb, and my heart raced. I followed Candaith, stumbling toward the remaining dead, and we finished them…

We then fell to the ground, breathless and worn beyond reckoning…

The darkness faded quickly. When we finally had the strength to stand once again, we saw that it was mid-morning of the next day. We had fought through the night.

We three remained, standing, upon the weathered peak.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Spirit Gauntlet Saga

Crossroads (1)

Opportunity (2)

Reflections (3)

Homecoming (4)

Wishes (5)

Mistrals (6)

Promise (7)

Harbinger (8)

Unity (9)

Appreciation (10)

Reticence (11)

Spirits (12)

Acquiescence (13)

Discretion (14)

Stand at Amon Sul (15)

Obstacles (16)

Siege of Gondamon (17)

Passages (18)

Defense of the Prancing Pony (19)

Penumbra (20)

Counsel (21)

Attack at Dawn (22)

Also, the entire saga, with full-sized renderings, can be found here!

The full Spirit Gauntlet Saga with full-sized renderings

(The full renderings make for a completely different experience!)

5 comments

  1. Another great article with wonderful images!

  2. The Nimrodelian Tale-Spinner /

    Repeating what I said on your blog.

    That was some of your best screenshot work yet, a perfect marriage of picture and word, a very exciting and riveting installment. I needed more chairs to be on the edge of for that one. There were points where I was worried that the quest might fail. Well done 🙂

  3. knowfere /

    Kaleigh!!! This is RIVITING!

    *HUGE ROUND OF APPLAUSE*

  4. Lilikate Buggins. /

    I loved this! and I want to buy you a drink and discuss screenshot taking, as I thought your images were just brilliant! I cannot praise them enough. The story telling riviting….

    /standingovation

  5. You have outdone yourself! Brilliant work!

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