Around midmorning, I stopped along a fast moving brook and settled down on a boulder for a snack. I had some dried meat in my pack, along with a few odd bits of food that I'd saved from my travels and while it wasn't the best laid meal, it did fill my belly, which was all I was looking for. After filling my flask with the cool waters of the stream and drinking my fill as well, I stood and stretched, content.
Hoof beats on the road behind me startled me out of my pensive mood and I immediately ducked behind the boulder, hands on my daggers. I watched, tense, as a bay colored horse trotted into view, coming from the direction of Argent Glade. The man atop the steed was staring straight ahead, back straight in the saddle. He was wearing the telltale armor of the Guardians but he sensed different to me. I can't quite put my finger on what I was sensing...
The realization of who, or rather, what, the man was caused me to gasp, widening my eyes in amazement. Another Ascended, like myself! I couldn't believe it! Here was another Ascended, a mortal who had died and been chosen by the gods. And he was no one I even remotely recognized, which led me to believe he was just a regular soldier following orders, much like myself. I felt a stirring in me as I watched the figure on horseback continue on down the road at an easy pace. I really wasn't alone in this. There were others, with the same status as I, with the same background as I maybe, who were willing to put their lives on the line, their futures, to protect Telara from the Blood Storm and the cults. An undefined emotion welled up inside me and I was startled into a small, choked sob. How silly of me, getting overly emotional over the sight of an Ascended on horseback. I shook my head, pushing the strange emotions down and biting my lip to keep any other embarrassing sobs inside.
The incident with the Ascended traveler left me a bit shocked. I also admit I felt much better and the warmth I'd felt as I watched him ride away hadn't left me yet. In fact, it had spread and I now felt warm, safe, part of something greater.
I continued on down the road until I came to the giant hollowed out log that marked Argent Glade's territorial border. I paused and glanced around cautiously. I didn't want to be ambushed by agents of the Wanton Maw while inside, but I couldn't see anything menacing around. As I had been walking I'd sometimes caught a brief flash of something in the woods that looked suspiciously like a goblin, but all I'd glimpsed was flashes before the creatures were gone and pursuing them into the deeper parts of the forest seemed rather pointless and foolish. I'd hate to end up captured or injured because of my furious need to kill the buggers. Best get to Colten Feddel, deliver my message, and be off to the College. After I was finished there I could see about putting a stop to the blasted goblin infestation.
Silently I entered the gigantic hollow log. It was a felled ancient tree from many centuries before. The tree had been sacred and powerful so to honor its memory, instead of cutting the tree up and removing it from the path, the Elves had instead forged a tunnel through the core of the tree, continuing the path through it rather than around it. I rather liked the idea and walking through the tunnel always gave a secret thrill of excitement that I couldn't explain. The joy of being inside something so big, so strong and powerful. The....well, as I said, I can't explain the feeling properly.
I passed through the hollowed log and exited the other side without incident. On the other side, unlit magical torches lined the path. From experience I knew they would flare to life as the light dimmed, lighting the way for travelers in the dark so they knew where the road led. It was an ingenious idea that that Mathosians had come up with. The Mathosians were quite the quick-witted race, for humans.
I calculated in my head how much longer I had to go till I reached Argent Glade and was satisfied to estimate that I'd probably arrive before noon. At the pace I was going, it shouldn't be too much longer, than I could settle in at the Inn in Argent Glade and get a real meal. Something hot and covered in gravy. I grinned at the thought and quickened my pace, eager to get there. Of all the places I'd explored in Silverwood, I have the greatest fondness for Argent Glade and the Quicksilver College. I'm sure that's mostly because I was born and raised there. But the atmosphere also pleased me. Even though I'd been a horrible student and a disobedient daughter, I still enjoyed my past experiences in the small Elven village.
One of the defenders, a female, nodded at her companion and gestured to me. The man snapped to attention and eyed me with interest. I hesitated a moment more, than squared my shoulders and walked up to them.
"Greetings, traveler. What is your business in Argent Glade?" the man asked in a brisk but polite tone. I smiled in a non-threatening way, keeping my hands loose at my sides. I didn't want to have to defend myself against what was supposed to be considered allies.
"On my way to Argent Glade. To Colten Feddel with a message and status report from Rudi Tanlop of Sterling Hills." I said, in just as brisk of tones.
The man's eyebrows shot up in surprise and he glanced at his companion. The woman smiled in a relieved way and nodded at me.
"Truly, you bring word from Sterling Hills? We haven't had a courier from there in weeks and truth be told we were becoming fairly worried. The goblins keep ambushing travelers and causing all manner of trouble here at the camp. It's all we can do to keep them from overwhelming us. News will be welcome, I only pray that it is good news you bring, messenger."
I opened my mouth to protest their assumption of my being merely a messenger, but then stopped and nodded. Might as well not bother. They were only guards after all and I shouldn't have to explain myself. Besides, if I heard one more "Oh look, an Ascended!" comment, I was going to start sharpening my daggers on some Guardians. Well, not really, but ...ya know.
"Go with the Vigil's blessing, friend." The vigilant defenders intoned. They stepped further to the side as a sign of courtesy, leaving the way free across the log bridge. I shrugged and nodded, murmuring an absent thank you.
I was halfway across when I noticed why there were guards at the log bridge. Just past it, where the bank sloped upward from the stream, a small bustling camp had been set up. I was rather shocked, as there were no way stations or camps on the way to Argent Glade. But I suppose that was before all the upheaval and destruction that Aedraxis and his rifts caused. My mood darkened as I thought of that monster and I shook my head to be rid of the thoughts.
The camp wasn't that large, but it was quite full. There were all manner of people bustling about. I saw Dwarves, Mathosians, Elves. I saw plenty of Guardians, defenders, and even some of the self-trained Argent Glade guards. One of the last I even recognized, hazily, from my time in Argent Glade before Ascension.
She nodded at me and called, "Good morning friend. I hope you didn't have any trouble on the roads. There are all kinds of beasts around-more so than usual it seems." Her friendly but neutral conversation brought a grin to my lips and I stopped.
"Oh, nothing my daggers couldn't handle." I said, patting my dagger sheaths. Seeing the stains of the vespid's black blood on the dagger handles, I grimaced and reminded myself that I needed new daggers fashioned. Perhaps there was even a weaponsmith in this camp. Across the path, the whinny of a horse caught my attention and I turned and stared in admiration. A small group of horses stood, stamping their hooves behind a crudely erected picket fence. The horses were tall, well built and well muscled. Each was clad in light metal armor including a faceplate and hoof protectors. What magnificent beasts. One thing I greatly approved of that the Mathosians had brought to Silverwood long ago.
I was a bit shocked to realize that I actually recognized a few of the faces about the camp. There was Vadivy, Quicksilver College's fish expert, and Kelly, the Master Survivalist, who had taught me how to track. I grinned and waved, but he didn't seem to recognize me back. A Dwarf by the name of Rorth Devalm stopped me and offered me something called a "Planar Essence", which apparently was an augment for Planar power. He said it was very popular with aspiring Ascended and I said I'd think about it.
I approached a Mathosian man who had the look about him of a merchant and waited patiently while he conversed with a young Elf girl who looked barely old enough to be leaving her parent's house. I eyed her curiously while I waited, wondering what she was doing here. When she turned to go, I saw the Quicksilver College insignia on her robes and realized she must be a student of the College. For some odd reason that pleased me. If the College was still accepting students, things couldn't be that bad off, could they?
When the Elf girl had moved off, I stepped up to the merchant's table.
"Hello friend. My name is Sten Fumlen. What can I help you with on this fine day?" He gave me an appraising look. "Perhaps you'd like a new leather sash for that pretty waist of yours?" He suggested, waggling his eyebrows.
I rolled my eyes and chuckled. "Actually, I was hoping to see if you had any daggers available. I seem to have....broken mine." Well, not broken per se, but I couldn't think of what else to say. I pulled out the daggers in question and gently laid them on the table, almost regretfully. I loved my daggers, all of them. The merchant eyed my daggers with curious horror, as if wondering what on earth could have happened to damage them that badly.
As it turned out, he did in fact have a nice pair of matched daggers. I hefted them to check the balance, found them satisfactory, and spent several minutes haggling over a price. Finally I was satisfied.
"Thank you good lady for doing business with old Sten. Anything else I can do ye for?" He idly clinked my coin in his palm and pocketed it.
"Actually, as a matter of fact, do you know where I can find a Colten Feddel? I need to deliver a message." The man darted his eyes to me again with renewed interest.
"Colten? Ya, I know where he is. Right hand man of Brougan, after all, not like he can't easily be found if you want em. He's over yonder." The man gestured behind me to the left and I turned to look. I saw a young Elf male with braids leaning over a flat metal table analyzing some papers. I thanked the merchant and strode across the path to deliver my message.
Colten raised his head as I approached. At first he frowned as he studied me, than his eyes widened and he gave a pleased smile.
"An Ascended! We are truly blessed." He said in greeting when I was closer. I nodded wearily, feeling quite tired of hearing variations of that comment. Wordlessly I handed him the report, which he took and eyed with interest. He gasped, glanced at me again, than reread the letter. I hadn't a clue what it said so I just stood there idly, resting one foot.
"A report from my friend Rudi, I see. This is troubling news." Colten's voice was soft and fluid like all Elves. I nodded, thinking sure, okay, not a clue what it says but I'll go with it. "We've been keeping an eye to the North for so long that we often forget how easy it is to flank Argent Glade." Blinking, I eyed him curiously and he held the letter out for me to read.
I skimmed it quickly than furrowed my brow. Ah. I suppose I hadn't thought of it in that light when I'd been out destroying vespids that the goblins and tainted. That evidence meant that the goblins had managed to skirt Argent Glade and get behind its defenses. Not good news at all. I folded the report and handed it back, nodding.
"We can't allow Maelforge's minions to continue their advance. For the sake of our way of life, we need to defend Argent Glade against the Wanton Invasion." Colten continued firmly. I wholeheartedly agreed. "Maelforge would like nothing more than to see our shrines to the Vigil burned to cinder. His goblins have apparently spread throughout the woods to our south and will set fire to our sacred shrines if we don't stop them."
"I agree." I said in response. Colten opened his mouth and I held up a hand. "However much I would like to help, I have some unfinished business to complete in Quicksilver College and I have been travelling and fighting for some time now without proper rest. When I am rested and have settled my affairs in Quicksilver, I will return here and aid your defenders and the Guardians against the goblin threat. You have my word as an Ascended." I said it as a statement, leaving no room for protest. Colten looked crestfallen that I wasn't immediately offering my aid, but I had told the truth. I was exhausted and emotionally strung out from the past weeks. I needed some time to rest and think and I wanted to search for my mentor.
Fondly I glanced ahead, reminiscing on past events and eager to see my old comrades in the Blunted Quill, Argent Glade's popular Inn.