I spent the night at the Inn and woke quite pleased and refreshed early the next morning. The sun shone brilliantly down on the forest and the day looked quite fine. I gathered some supplies and headed out into the leafy foliage in search of mushrooms and spider entrails for Professor Bedstraw.
The capsicum mushrooms proved to be rather tricky to find. They were small, with white stems and bright red tops, which should have made them stand out among all the greenery, but either I wasn't as skilled in the forest as I'd always thought, or the mushrooms were being sought after by others.
Finally, I did spot a mushroom that matched the description that Bedstraw gave me, sitting innocently in the shade of a giant, drooping tree. When I bent down to inspect the mushroom further, I realized that the underside of the fungus actually glowed. A blue glow pulsed in a steady beat inside the cap of the mushroom, almost like a heartbeat.
It was beautiful and I stared for a few moments, entranced, before managing to remember why I needed it. Carefully, with my gauntlets firmly on to avoid the toxins, I plucked the mushroom about an inch above the ground. Leaving the stem of the fungus ensures that there will be a chance for new growth and reproduction of the mushroom species. I placed the mushroom in a sack I'd brought along for just such a purpose and moved on. Once I'd grown accustomed to looking in certain spots for them, the mushrooms became easier to find and I was pleased to find I soon had the sack quite full of the glowing fungus. I knotted the top of the sack and tied it to my belt purse, out of the way, and than scanned the forest thoughtfully. If I was a spider, I'd want a nice, dark, cool place. Remembering a shady glen nearby the college, I headed in that direction, having easily found my way in the forest.
To the east of the college, I was easily able to find spiders. I can see how the professor was alarmed. The forest here was swarming with them and spider webs adorned several trees and cave openings. I leaped into a nearby tree and studied the spiders nearby. They were quite large and grotesque, even for crawler spiders, whom I've heard have been known to reach the height of an Elf's knee. I shuddered. I really, really didn't like spiders! But I gave my word to Bedstraw. Loosening my daggers in their sheaths, I jumped back to the ground. Waiting patiently near the tree, I was rewarded by an unsuspecting spider passing by. Quickly I came up behind it, severing several back legs to impede its ability to fight back. With its back legs damaged, the spider was an easy foe and I was able to slice cleanly through the carapace and leap clear of any toxic fluids.
I spent some more time slaying several more spiders about the glen. Finally, around midmorning, I felt I was satisfied. I stopped for a quick meal by a small brook than headed back to the walls of Argent Glade. Passing through the small town, I got a few waves and awed looks from civilians and travelers. Well used to the attention I drew, I happily waved back.
Professor Bedstraw was incredibly pleased with my catch and exclaimed happily over the mushrooms.
"excellent, Ascended! These capsicums are in perfect condition and....well, we'll just have to handle them with care, won't we?" I sincerely hoped he was being rhetorical on the "we" because nothing was going to get me anywhere near them again. I backed up and watched idly as the professor brought the mushrooms over to his work bench and began mashing and chopping and mixing. My gaze wandered as he worked and I happened to see Scotty and his cousin, still in the hazing yard, talking to Fiona. I wondered what they were on about now. Fiona had a satisfied look on her face when she finally left them and I made a note to stop by and see my new friend Scotty on my back to Colten.
"There, that should be ready!" The professors words drew my eyes back to him and he approached me with a satisfied gleam in his eyes. I stood up and peered at the flask he had in his hands. The color reminded me of some kind of toxic goo from a Life Plane and I hastily backed out of smelling range, having no desire to smell it.
"I used the reagents you brought me to make a neutralizing salve to sterilize the spider egg sacs." I nodded absently, only mildly curious. "I shall have one of the more advanced students spray any spider egg sacs that are found too near the college." He nodded decisively.
"But, we also seem to have a goblin problem," the professor continued, and I raised an eyebrow. I knew that already, but since I felt it wouldn't do anyone any good to be alarmed by the goblin threat, I hadn't told anyone at the college, so I was curious as to how he found out. Apparently he was more aware of what went on around here than I'd initially thought. "Could you also use this salve to put out the goblin embers to the east of here? And hopefully, if there is some left, can you take it to Nora Glen? She lives at the Marsh House and I've been told she's having a bit of a pest problem as well. I'd be grateful if you could do this for me, Ascended. My duties at the college prevent me from helping those in need but--" I cut him off. "Yes, I'll help, jeez." I snatched the flask out of his hand and thrust it in my pack, praying to the Vigil that it wouldn't break, and stomped off.
I cooled off by the time I reached Scotty and his cousin. Scotty looked anxious, but excited, and his cousin only looked concerned and resigned.
"What's up guys? Scotty?" I asked as I walked up. Murbo's eyes lit up as he saw me and he rolled his eyes at his cousin.
", I could use your help, Ascended." He admitted, glancing downward as if ashamed to ask. I softened my expression and nodded. Unlike with Professor Bedstraw, I really wanted to help Scotty and his cousin. They'd really grown on me. "What is it? Sure I'll help." I offered.
"Fiona says that since Scotty's solution to the Trial of the Three Elements was so innovative, she's planned a special ceremony for him. The catch is that it's in the Sunken Marsh. My brother volunteered to help protect Scotty in the Marsh, but can you help out, please? I don't want anything to happen to my little cousin!" I glanced from Murbo to Scotty. Hadn't he learned already not to accept anything Fiona offers or says? The kid had a lot to learn...
I agreed to meet Murbo's brother out in the swamp and help protect Scotty. And it wasn't like it was out of my way. I had to deliver the remaining salve to some Nora woman anyway over in that direction.
I had one last thing to take care of before I set off. I finally sought out Colten again, apologizing for the delay. He was just relieved I came back, and we discussed the situation about the goblins. And he had a task for me as well, a quite upsetting one, actually.
"My scouts bring me sad news, Raeslyn. Goblin leaders seized several innocent citizens from the roads and put them to the flame as sacrifices to Maelforge, their dragon patron. This brazen act must be avenged! If you can, put the victims to rest, and slay those monstrous goblin leaders. My scouts report that their names are Scald, Bite, Seethe, and Welt. Fitting names for such monsters." Of course I agreed to help those poor travelers. I could do no less. Again, though, I was grateful that Colten's directions pinpointed the goblins to the east, which is the direction I needed to go to help Scotty. At least I wasn't running from one end of Silverwood to another!
I moved on through the forest, looking for the goblin embers. Suddenly, I stopped and glanced upward. I don't know how I didn't realize it sooner, but there was Overwatch Keep...home of House Aelfwar, those backstabbing elves who had led to my death. I shook with fury as I gazed up at the forbidding shadow of the Keep. Some day... when I was strong enough, I was going to go up there and put an end to the destruction and evil that House Aelfwar brought to Silverwood. It is because of them that my beloved forest is in the desperate situation it is now. Well, perhaps that isn't completely true, but its true enough for me. I gazed at the keep a few more minutes, feeling such mixed emotions that I couldn't bear to move. Why? Why did they have to do that?! How could they betray my trust! By staying in the forest and helping the Aelfwar, I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought it was a sound decision, to not participate in the Mathosian Civil War. Look at how wrong I was...if only I'd known sooner. I finally sighed and dragged my eyes from the Keep. It's no use dwelling on the what if's now.
It's happened, I just need to help clean up the mess. I feel greatly responsible for the disaster that the Aelfwar brought upon Silverwood. I know realistically, I was but one elf, and a rather unimportant one at that, but I somehow feel like I am responsible for all that they did and continue to do in the name of their false god, Greenscale. I sneered. Someday, somehow, I would deliver my vengeance to the green dragon god!
I forcefully shook off my melancholy thoughts and focused on my mission. I needed to find the goblin embers, put an end to the suffering of those poor souls, and than meet up with Scotty and Murbo's brother to help him get through his second, ridiculous hazing trial. Wait, was I forgetting something? Oh yes... I also had to deliver the remaining neutralizing agent to Nora Glen at Marsh House. I think I remember where that is.
Around the next rolling hill, I found the embers that I was supposed to take care of. They really were embers. Somehow I wasn't expecting that... there were giant burning logs, kept alight with Flametouched magic. Sprinkling the neutralizing salve on them, miraculously, seemed to work. Don't ask me how, I've not a clue. I didn't question it, however, as it made my job easier. Unfortunately, the wood seemed full of these deadly embers. I knew that one stiff breeze could blow the embers into a dry wood and in no time I'd have a raging forest fire on my hands. Silverwood has ever been a wet, humid forest, being so close to the ocean and having plenty of rains, but I wouldn't put it past those goblins to have infused some kind of magic into the embers to make them burn no matter what the condition of the wood.
After I'd finally finished that task, I literally ran into the goblin victims. It was horrible! In one goblin encampment, which looked quite established in the forest, there was a burning pyre in the center. On the pyre, tied in the most horrifying way, was what was once the innocent citizen that Colten mentioned. Now there was nothing but a charred and flaming skeleton, twisted in abject agony. I could only stare in horrified fascination. How any being, even a demi human, could be so cruel and corrupted, defies logic. I knew right away I had to cut that poor soul down. No matter that they were no longer alive. I would never feel right, leaving that body in that position. Drawing my daggers, I crept close through the underbrush, remaining unseen to the camp. I spotted a few goblin sentries. Easy enough to take out for a Rogue. Within the camp, there looked to be a caster type, which might be trouble, and a few more goblins lounging around. First, I need to take care of the sentries.
I crept around behind one unsuspecting sentry and reversed my dagger hilt for ease of use. Than, quick as an eyeblink, I darted out of the shadows and ran my blade along the goblin's neck, killing him before he could even make a sound. As the body hit the ground, I was already gone, heading toward the next sentry. In quick succession, I took out all the remaining sentries, making sure to be careful not to alert the other goblins. It was quite easy for a Rogue of my Ascended status and I was pleased with my work. Than, I moved into the camp itself. The first goblin went down as easily as the sentries, having had no warning of my arrival. Unfortunately, his comrade was too close to not notice my doings and gave a holler, charging me.
I snapped up my daggers to meet his own blade, keeping the thing from reaching my flesh. The goblin was quite sturdy and strong, but I was lean and agile darted around him, reaching in under his guard and jabbing into soft flesh whenever I saw an opening. Eventually, the goblin became too tired to keep his sword up properly and I stuck a dagger in his chest. Sensing movement behind me, I swiftly dodged to the side and flung a fiery spike of fire magic at the goblin that had hoped to catch me unawares. Ha, not this Rogue! My newfound affinity with fire magic allowed me to throw spikes of flames at him without getting close, but compared to my daggers, the flames didn't do nearly as much damage. Closing with the goblin, I parried his sword thrust and jabbed him in the soft spot under his arm. Spinning my dagger the other way, I cut across his arm, causing him to drop the sword in anguished pain. I than dispatched him to the next life with the next stroke. I have no pity or mercy for these fiends, who would string up a poor helpless citizen for no other reason than to please their fiery god.
Once all the goblins in the camp had been neutralized, I turned once more to gaze at the flaming pyre, feeling saddened. That poor soul. This should not have happened. I tried not to dwell on whether they had family and loved ones or not, and instead proceeded with cutting the victim down and dousing them with water from my water skin. The second I'd done, that, I heard a roar from behind me and whirled, dropped the charred corpse and drawing my daggers in one fluid motion. And than stared.
Behind me was the largest troll I'd ever seen. This must be one of the goblin leaders, I knew. He looked royally ticked off and I winced uneasily. He was really big.
"The red dragon will eat you alive!" The goblin roared at me, madness reflected in his beady eyes. I gulped. Still, I stood my ground, confident I could beat him. What was one goblin against an Ascended? Before he could make a move, I paced around to the side, watching him. The goblin leader followed my movement, but not moving. Fine, I'll go first. I came at him, daggers leading, and was rebuffed by the goblin's weapon. Scowling, I tried bringing my other dagger up under the weapon but the goblin anticipated that. No dummy, this one. I disengaged and backed off warily and the goblin leader smirked. Trying a different tact, I moved to the side and drew my dagger in an exaggerated arc to the left. The goblin fell for the trick and brought his weapon up to block my thrust, never once suspecting the other dagger, which I took the opportunity to bury in his belly. The goblin grunted and shoved me back, almost making me lose my balance. Ascended I may be, but I am still just a slight High Elf.
Thankfully I'd kept a hold on both of my daggers and I now displayed the bloodied one before me with a satisfied smirk. Gotcha. The goblin, furious, rushed me, and I casually did a pirouette, ducking under his flailing arms and coming up on his vulnerable back. Which I promptly stuck a dagger in as well. This time, I hit something major, and the goblin pitched forward in a staggering fall. He moaned and made to rise again, but than fell and was still. I nodded, satisfied, and cleaned my daggers on some scrap cloth lying about the camp. Than I returned to my previous task, and took down the poor sacrifice. The skull was twisted into a look of pain and horror, and I felt tears prick my eyelids. I told myself it was just the smoke...
I had to perform this task three more times before I was able to finally be done with my grisly work. All four victims accounted for, I buried them in a shallow grave with rocks piled on top. It was the best I could do on short notice, and truthfully, as depressing as it was, I didn't have the time to perform proper rites.
By the time I was finished with that horrifying mission, it was late afternoon, the sun slowly sinking below the treetops. I sighed and stretched, than found a nice old tree to sit in and eat a quiet meal. I've yet to give the neutralizing salve to Nora Glen, or meet with Scotty. I can only hope that he waited for my aid before braving the Marshes alone. I've always heard scary stories about that Marsh when I was in college.
Marsh House was just where I remembered it being, and I spotted a vaguely familiar Dwarf by the stone wall. I nodded at him, thinking he looked just like his brother. First, I needed to get rid of this neutralizing salve stuff, than I could go tend to this special ceremony in the Marsh...
Nora Glen was a pretty Mathosian in an elaborate blue gown which looked so out of place out here on the edge of the Marsh that I almost laughed in her face.
"Hello there dear! Welcome to Marsh House!" Her voice was soft and pretty, just like her appearance and I wondered how she hadn't gotten eaten by something yet. "Oh, did Professor Bedstraw send you? He did mention something about a salve for my "pest problem" in a letter." I nodded at the woman and happily handed over the remaining goo. As she inspected it, she chatted at me like an old colleague, going on about boglings and research and the Marsh. Fascinating really, but I have other engagements so...
"I may be able to modify this with pheremonic additives to make a spray that will help me in my bogling research." The woman continued on happily, unaware of my sour thoughts. Glancing around, I noticed a man trying to catch my eye. Relieved, I walked over.
"And you are?" I asked saucily. Just because I'm Ascended doesn't mean I'm here to solve everyone's problems.
"Thomas Penthas," The Mathosian said firmly. "If you are heading into the Marsh, I have some grim news. I've been investigating the boglings' presence in the marsh for some time now, and their being here is nothing good, despite Nora's excitement over the research potential. They plan on severing a Spirit Guide's link to this world." I blinked, shocked. I didn't even know one could do that. That is particularly evil. Spirit Guides were nothing but pure and innocent intent incarnate. They were gentle, guiding beings and had ever been helpful for the Elves of Silverwood. Instantly, I knew I would help.
"Spirit Guides always take on the form of a forest animal to guide and distribute the blessings of Tavril and help weary travelers. I noticed earlier a gang of boglings drag a deer into their camp. I can only pray that it isn't the Spirit Guide, but I fear the worst. Please, rescue that poor creature. Spirit Guide or not, it is a child of Tavril and must be saved. I can only hope it isn't too late!" The man's impassioned plea moved me and I was nodding before he finished.
"Of course I'll help. Tavril is close to my heart always and I would never let one of her children be harmed if I could help it." The man looked relieved and thanked me.
I quickly jogged over to the Dwarf, finally ready to head into the Marsh. The Dwarf, whose name was Kelnin Malm, appeared quite young and robust. Apparently he was a sophomore at the college. He quickly explained the situation to me.
"You must be that Rogue that Murbo told me was coming to help. Well thank the Vigil! That dratted Fiona's gone and tricked us again! She's cast a spell on Scotty so now he has to do her bidding. I'm beginning to think the student hazers don't have our best interest at heart!" I covered me face with my palm. No really, genius?
"Where is Scotty now?" I asked the relevant question, gazing anxiously into the Marsh.
Kelnin also looked into the Marsh fearfully. "That witch Fiona is having him collect items from the Marsh, putting poor Scotty in harm's way because she wants revenge for him winning the hazing ritual. We can't let Scotty get hurt because she's a cheat!" I nodded agreement.
"Come on, let's go find him," I said, running into the Marsh. Kelnin was quick on my heels, concerned for his cousin.