Friday, July 27, 2012

[Raeslyn's Story] Chapter 1.2: Ardenburgh

Location: Ardenburgh city center
Time: What seems to be late afternoon
Date: Year 1489, 8th moon
     When I got closer to the fountain, I noticed that a few of the defenders were giving me cautious looks, as if wondering what kind of threat I posed, and I realized that of course they weren't expecting reinforcements or aid of any kind so they had to be thinking I was perhaps one of the enemy.

     I smiled as I approached, hoping that would soften my unannounced arrival. However, it seemed it wasn't needed. An older looking dwarf who was hammering something on an anvil happened to turn his head and catch sight of me. His mouth formed an "O" of surprise and he gasped. This caused Lady Shyla to look as well and her look of weary relief caused me to relax my guard.

     "An Ascended! Thank the gods your here, we need your help desperately!" She called. Well nice to know I'm appreciated...I guess.
     "I've been waitin' to crack some skulls in." Said the dwarf as well, nodding at me. I grinned at his friendly tone of voice. Stepping up beside Lady Shyla, I suddenly felt quite awkward. She had to find me at least familiar and I was dreading explaining that I was one of the Aelfwar nobility who had turned away from her offer of aid to Mathosia. I know she must think it a grave betrayal of the Covenant, what we had done.
     But I had thought we Aelfwar were in the right! We've never allied ourselves with the other races before. We've always kept to ourselves, patrolled the byways of the world, and stayed distant from the petty wars of the lesser races. Instead of mentioning it though, Lady Shyla just smiled at me benevolently. Now that I'd found the defenders, I felt much more sure of myself. We needed to push back the tide of undead that had overrun the town and then move out onto Thedeor Field itself. Oh, that reminds me. Quickly I turned to the dwarf and handed him the Sourcestone-imbued sword shards that I'd collected off those knights. "Hey, I found these on knights of Aedraxis who ran across me; figured they'd be of some use to us and I didn't want to leave Sourcestone in their unholy hands." The dwarf fingered the shards.

     "Well well," he muttered thoughtfully. I bit back my impatient first words, and instead tapped my fingers on my sheathed dagger. Finally, he said, "Despite bein' the king of Lord's Hall, I know a thing or two about weapon craftin'. And Sourcestone is somethin' I've studied quite a bit young missy. Here, let's see if I can't work something out eh?" He laid the shards out on an anvil nearby as I blinked in awe. A dwarf king? I'd actually met a dwarf king? I stared openly as he worked over the shards, wondering how best to ask the myriad questions I had about dwarves and their culture. I've always loved learning about different peoples and I'd never had the chance to travel to the far off delves to visit the dwarves. As I stared, one sword fragment got caught in his beard and he started swearing in a thick dwarven dialect. I grinned. I liked this dwarf king. Shyla caught my eye and I pointedly glanced around. 
     "What happened here lady Shyla?" I asked grimly. The dwarf was the one who replied though.

     "Borrin Gammult's me name. When I heard Aedraxis had lifted the ban on the study of technomancy, I was horrified. The fool was going against the Vigil and everything the Mathosian Empire stood for. Than when I heard he had begun weakening the Ward with this technomancy, I knew I had to act, especially when Shyla and the High Elves joined with Prince Zareph to try to stop the mad king. I mobilized my entire dwarven army at Lord's Hall in Scarwood Reach and brought them here to stop the Tyrant." Borrin gave a gusty sigh and although he didn't show any outward sign of it, I heard the deep sorrow and self-blame in his voice when he said, "sadly, my men are all dead now. When Aedraxis summoned that death rift onto our plane over Thedeor Field everyone was slain, including my people. Now they roam these fields as soulless undead. I've had to kill my own people!" He glanced at me with a stricken expression and I felt renewed hatred towards Aedraxis. "But the Vigil brought us Ascended. Aye, I can sense yer one too lass. Now we have a new goal. Stop Aedraxis and end this madness or die tryin'. I'm a king without a people, but my hammer is dedicated to the service of the Ascended. Just the say the word, and I'm your man."

     I nodded because it seemed like the thing to do, although I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to think about a dwarf king seemingly pledging himself to my cause. Wasn't it supposed to be the other way around? I'm just one of many Ascended. No one special, right? Turning to Shyla, I tilted my head to look up at her. She was quite tall, even for an elf.

     "Lady Shyla, what can I do to help get rid of Aedraxis?" I asked politely. Well, politely for me

anyway. She may be the High Priestess of the High Elves, but I had my dignity. Shyla studied me a moment, before nodding. "We need to gain back the sanctified sphered that are being used to power the Ward at this location. Minions of Aedraxis, shadowy fiends, keep stealing them for their own uses. The more we get back, the better our defenses will be." That made sense, although I was looking for something a bit more aggressive. Eager to prove myself, I quickly got a description of the spheres and these so called minions that had them, I went about searching the village for them. Upon leaving the secured area around the fountain, it didn't take long to find the spheres. Of course, retrieving them proved to be another matter. Large shadowy creatures with eldritch-blue eyes were carting around golden objects that glowed with holy power. The creatures flew madly from house to charred house, snatching up spheres from holy altars and placing them on strange mechanical devices.

     The horrifying thing was that these machines were attached to people! Electrodes and wires snaked around the hapless individual. I had no problem with killing these abominations to get back the spheres. Crouched in the shadows unseen, I mentally grinned as I tensed myself. A flutter of anxiety went through me before I was able to fully concentrate on the task at hand. Except for the battle that resulted in my death, I'd not had much experience with actually killing someone. These creatures being abominations of the plane of death helped in that regard. The other souls inside seemed to surge up and surround my mind, honing my intent and thoughts until I was completely focused. When I had a moment to myself, I'd love to study myself and my Ascended souls. I stealthily crept along the building behind the wraith, a dagger in each hand. Earlier I'd coated the blades with a special poison I'd made myself. It felt good to know I was strong, capable; immortal.

     A thrill of anticipation hummed through me as I darted around the corner and leaped at the specter. The glowing sphere rested on a metal pedestal behind me. The creature was nearly transparent, flicking and shifting like oily black smoke. The specter fixed its amorphous eyes on me and suddenly it was right in my face. Reflexively I used the plane shifting trick, blinking through space to appear some distance behind it. It whirled around and I snickered. This was too much fun. I was really starting to enjoy my new role. I flipped a dagger around so I was holding it at a different angle and threw it straight at the specter. As ever, my dagger flew true and sank into the creature's eye. It made a hollow, soundless shriek and rushed at me again. I knew instinctively not to let it touch me and twisted out of the way, just barely missing being grabbed by a shadowy appendage. Turning to face it straight on, I raised an eyebrow in irritation. Just how was I to kill something made of smoke and magic? Perhaps the soul with knowledge of plane shifting could help out here. I searched through the memories and knowledge now available to me and came up with an attack that drew on my Ascended powers: Planar Strike
I just suddenly knew what to do and concentrated on my dagger. It began to glow the telltale color of Sourcestone magic and was only slightly shocked that it worked. I saw the specter warily eyeing my now glowing daggers. Good, it should be worried. I wasn't some poor sod who hadn't ever picked up anything more threatening than a fork. All those poor women and children who were all dead now. It made me furious thinking about it and I gripped my daggers harder. Amazingly they began to glow even brighter. Time to finish this. I darted in toward the specter, my newly enhanced abilities making me faster than normal. My daggers, enchanted with Vigil-given power, sank into the specter as if it was made of real flesh, puncturing deep. I guess the planar strike was actually pretty effective against those creatures. I sent a silent thanks to the gods even as the creature gave an unearthly wail and seemed to vanish into thin air. After I had vanquished the specter, it was quite an easy task to pluck the sphere out of its socket and set it gently in the bottom in my pack. After that, it was only a matter of finding more of those fiends and sending them back to whatever hellspawned plane they came from. I gathered as many spheres as I could carry and brought them back to the fountain.
     As I thought, lady Shyla was pleased with my success and set the spheres out so that they could be linked back up to the Ward with a blessing for the Vigil.
     "In the meantime," Shyla commented, focusing back on me, "We need to sever Regulos's hold on the land. In Silverwood as you know, we High Elves  grew wooden walls to keep the evil at bay." I nodded thoughtfully. Yes I remember that. It was one of out duties to the Covenant we swore a millennia ago. Calling on Tavril's power, we would weave trees together to create and impenetrable glade of magic that would repel whatever evil that happened into our wood. But that was countless years ago and the ability to perform that kind of magic was long lost when Tavril stopped walking among us and the Ward was placed around Telara.

     "There is scant wood in these northern lands, I know," Shyla continued, "but Borrin has forged a magical dagger out of the Sourcestone-imbued steel you recovered. If you can solicit Tavril to bless the dagger, the spirits of the forest will hopefully empower you to cleanse this town of Regulos's evil taint."
I blinked at her. She wanted me to perform such a rite? I felt honored. Shyla gestured behind me and I turned to notice Borrin the dwarf grinning at me and holding out a small, slim blade. It was quite the exquisite little dagger, finely crafted as all dwarven made weapons were. Borrin puffed out his chest proudly and held out the dagger for me to take. I glanced around at the crumbling, ash filled town. At the desperate guards, faces gray with exhaustion as they tried their best to defend this last position by the fountain. I saw Lady Shyla, now an Ascended like me, and Borrin, also Ascended. And I realized of course I had to do this. There were no one else. Borrin and Shyla were leaders, needed to keep the army together. There were no others to be spared. Everyone had a task they were required to do. As a chosen warrior blessed by the gods, I had the gifts do pretty much anything. I found myself shuffling my feet and straightened up, nodding at Shyla. She smiled softly at me, gratefulness shining in her eyes.

     Seeing a few treetops poking out above the burnt roofs of the town, I knew where I needed to go. I needed a place that was sacred to Tavril herself to perform the ritual and pray for her blessing. Tavril was of the land, so I needed a place that was closest to her. Dodging homicidal knights was becoming easier was I swiftly walked in the direction of the small grove and I even killed a few more specters along the way. I kept myself alert and my eyes peeled, not wanting to be ambushed or taken by surprise. Finally, the cobblestones of the town gave way to grass and brush and I felt myself sigh contentment as a sense of peace seemed to settle over me like a familiar cloak. I hadn't felt this kind of peace since my resurrection and I didn't realize how much I was missing the forests of Silverwood until now. Granted this wasn't a forest by any stretch of the word. But it was the closest thing to a copse of wood that I'd seen yet and I'd take it. I felt such a burden magically lift off me that I actually laughed, a musical sound in the quiet somber air. I felt so free! I even took off my leather boots and danced in the grass barefoot, letting the natural music of the earth and trees sing through me. We elves are very tied to nature and in tune with its very spirit. I felt the grove's life-force humming through my body, the sensation heightened by my Ascended powers. The energy renewed me, gave me new hope and purpose. By the will of the Vigil I would see Aedraxis defeated and Telara free of the malignant force choking it. This I vow. Then after I perform the Vigil's tasks in putting an end to Aedraxis and his threat, I will be free to venture wherever I please. I think I shall enjoy my newfound lease on life. 
I approached the small wooden altar respectfully, bowing low. The altar was spear shaped, with a small glowing disc on the front. It was made of cherry wood, ever sacred to the goddess, and had been carved masterfully with ancient runes of worship and faith. The ground around the altar was well trodden, attesting to the villagers' diligence toward the goddess.

     Tavril would be pleased I think. I knelt gracefully in front of the altar and bowed my head, readying myself for prayer. Suddenly before I could blink, I felt a strong, abrupt sensation of violence and evil. Quickly I opened my eyes, flicking strands of hair out of my face irritably.

From behind the altar stepped some sort of undead creature. It looked like it might once have been a citizen of the village, or even a soldier of the army sent to stop Aedraxis. But now it had been twisted and corrupted into something unrecognizable. I shuddered in horror at the sight of the creature. It sneered at me, its gray face and red eyes a testament to the atrocities Aedraxis continues to perform. Without warning, the creature silently charged at me.       I scrambled to my feet and dove out of the way, tucking my legs under me and coming quickly to an upright position not far away. I grabbed my daggers from their sheaths at my side and prepared. The deathbound creature snarled in fury and lunged at me again. It swiped with an old rusty cutlass that seemed to have melded with its hand. I backed out of reach cautiously and searched for a weakness.
      And there were plenty. Clearly lacking the mind and intelligence of a living man, the deathbound creature could not muster anything more than wild swinging of the cutlass, leaving itself wide open to attack. Slipping in under one such wild swing, I slashed the creature's chest open with one dagger, while slicing along the inner arm that held the weapon with the other dagger. The undead shrieked and seemed to turn to ash, collapsing to the ground.
  Taking out the tiny, feather-light dagger, I held it lengthwise in front of me and presented it to the altar, kneeling silently. I bowed my head and whispered words of love and respect to the goddess, asking for her glorious blessing on the humble blade, that I might smite her foes. In answer to my prayer, one of the winged messengers appeared above the altar, snow white wings gracefully holding it aloft. The messenger seemed to peer down at me with approval.
      A blinding white light came from the winged being, engulfing the entire glade. The white light became so bright it was almost hot, and I closed my eyes. I even saw the light behind my eyelids. Slowly, the light faded, leaving spots in front of my eyes when I blinked them open. The messenger was still floating above the altar, but thankfully was no longer glowing. Instead, the dagger I held aloft now had a pure white glow about it.

      Energy seemed to emanate from the blade in waves, washing over my hands and causing vibrations to thrum up my arms. This was real power. I gazed in awe at the dagger, before looking up to thank the Vigil. The messenger nodded at me, as if it understood what was in my heart. I was too choked to answer and felt tears prickle my eyes.

      This was magnificent, to feel the gods' love like this, personally. It wasn't anything I'd ever dreamed of even witnessing, let alone experiencing myself. I trembled with emotion as I clambered to my feet, clumsy for a rogue such as myself. I bowed my head to the messenger respectfully, before turning and leaving the glade, humbled and full of hope. At the edge of the glade I collected my leather boots where I'd left them and after I put them on I headed back into Ardenburgh. Determined, I set off down the street for the main portion of town, where I knew the most fighting had been concentrated.

      Sure enough that entire section of the city was crawling with deathbound thralls. I sneered in disgust, analyzing my options. A blur of motion alerted me to another's presence and I was pleasantly surprised to find someone else here fighting the undead creatures. He was a tall man in gray armor. He carried a large heavy shield with spikes on it and a one handed hammer.

       Every once in a while he would call out for the Vigil's blessing, and white hot light would surround his weapon, striking down his foes in seconds. I watched avidly, envious of his strength and physical power. I was small and slight of frame. Carrying such a heavy shield would break me. He turned to smash another creature in the face and caught sight of me staring. I blushed, feeling heat suffuse my cheeks. The tall man grinned at me.
    "Aha. I'm glad someone's come along! I was worried that I'd have to fight these creatures myself. Lend a hand will you?" His quiet but authoritative voice had me moving toward him without hesitation. I was amused at my own reaction. His tone of voice suggested he was used to leading armies. I wonder who he was? Remembering the elven dagger, I switched my own customary twin blades for its shining length, and readied myself for combat.

      The taller Mathosian eyed the dagger, raised an eyebrow at me, but didn't say anything. No doubt he was skeptical of how much use a small slip of a girl could be with her toy knife. Hmph, men. A deathbound thrall ran at me snarling and I instinctively thrust out my dagger, calling on Tavril. An interesting thing happened.

      A beam of light darted from the tip of the dagger and hit the creature in the chest. An expression of surprised outrage passed across its rotten face. The golden white light bounced off the creature and coalesced into a strange, tall, gangly tree spirit beside the creature.

      Myself, the man, and the creature, all gawked at the tree spirit. It was ghostly, nearly transparent and I had to make myself cross eyed just to see it properly. It was many different colors of green. It reached down and with no effort at all, seized the thrall by the throat and lifted it up. Than it faded. And the thrall faded too. There was a stunned silence. I looked at the Mathosian male and he stared back at me. Than he looked at my dagger.  "Just who are you anyway?" He demanded, sounding rather sulky. I grinned. He was probably offended that I'd done away with the thrall without even lifting a finger. I shrugged and said in an off hand voice,

    "Oh, nobody special. Just your everyday run of the mill Ascended." The man's eyes widened and he kept staring. I batted my eyelashes at him and asked, "And you are..?"

     The man stuttered a bit before saying his name was Carwin. Huh, why does that name sound familiar. I know I've heard it before, but I'm not sure where. Oh well. "Carwin" and I continued taking down the deathbound thralls. He smashed them in the face and I beamed my dagger at them. It worked pretty well. We made a good team.

      The sun began waning finally and the air became cooler. Realizing I'd better get back and report my success to Lady Shyla, I bid the odd man good bye and set off down the many streets. Thankfully Ardenburgh wasn't a big enough village that I was in danger of getting lost on its streets.
    It was now almost pitch black and torches had been lit all along the perimeter of our little defensive line, to keep the undead at bay and to alert us to their movements. I nodded at the guards as I walked past, coming up to stand next to Lady Shyla.

     She seemed as serene and calm as ever and I wondered if anything really bothered her. No that wasn't fair. She'd died, been brought back, and knew now that her beloved Prince Hylas had betrayed her. She was probably putting on a mask to keep up morale. Tiredly, I gave her a return smile and recounted my experience at the altar and the effects of Tavril's blessing on the undead. When I mentioned the man Carwin, she gasped softly in delight.
    "What? Who is he than?" I asked curiously. Her expression hinted that he must be someone well known. Why else would Lady Shyla show such a reaction to an ordinary warrior. Shyla beamed at me happily.
    "That man was Carwin Mathos. He's the youngest son of King Jostir Mathos, may his soul rest in peace. I had thought Carwin lost after the Death Rift formed. It gladdens me to hear that he is still alive and well. And even fighting the undead in his own way. Perhaps there is yet hope to end this madness."

I stared at her, stunned. Carwin Mathos? I had been fighting beside the Carwin Mathos? No wonder the name sounded familiar! By the gods! If only I'd known. I felt like such a fool now. And I had just readily left him out there in the town somewhere. I hope he had a safe place to rest for the night. I should have asked if he wanted to come back to the fountain with me. Shyla placed a hand on my shoulder and nodded at me.
    "You've honored your High Elven ancestors with what you did today, banishing those thralls. I heard the furious voice of the forest calling out across town. It is only a matter of time that the glory of the gods is restored and we expel Regulos's corruption completely. Such is the will of the Vigil."

      After being praised by Shyla and Borrin, I tiredly went to find a place to lay down and rest. I was so tired from the day's events that I only wanted to sleep. Finding a comfortable nook, I placed my pack under my head, kept my daggers in easy reach, and drifted off to sleep.

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