Wednesday, October 17, 2012

[Raeslyn's Story] 2.2: The Holy Forest

Location: Divine Landing, Silverwood
Time: Late evening to early night
Date: Year 1509, 6th Moon
     After running that little mission to inspire sentries, Orin Bancroft kept me busy running tasks for him and other officers stationed at Divine Landing. One man, Sir Andrin Kain of the Sanctuary Guard--whoever they were--had an interesting and yet risky venture for me to complete. That's what I'm up to now. According to his scouts, the dastardly minions of Maelforge were up to no good again.

     After they'd slain the Guardian soldiers unwary enough to get caught, they had used the bodies to light some kind of unholy magical fire, mounting their heads on pikes and using them as kindling. Creepy, right? My job? Tear down the pyres and put and end to the creatures doing it. Piece of chocolate cake right? Riiiight.

     I dodged one heavy-handed swipe from the flaming demon, ducking and rolling to the side quickly. That was a close one. From my position a few feet away from my foe, I studied him silently, immediately studying his form for weakness. As I'd gone to put an end to the latest pyre, this hulking demon had attacked me. He'd literally appeared out of nowhere in a burst of red-hot flames. The Planar creature, because where else could he have come from but the Plane of Fire, was absurdly tall, with flaming orange skin, a horned skull, and wicked long claws.
     Oh, did I mention the cloven hooves for feet? There wasn't much for weakness there. Although he was an abysmally poor swordsman. I smirked at that. My master would have been disappointed. I readied my daggers as I saw an opening and darted in under his sloppy strike, scoring a slash right along the ribs. The creature gave a roar of frustration and swiped at me with his weaponless hand. Thankfully I wasn't there anymore, having already danced back out of reach.

     I'm not stupid enough to stand around and see what those claws would do to my fair elven skin. I chuckled again. This seemed to frustrate the destroyer more, for he rushed me. I shifted footwork at the last second, turning his sword aside and scoring another long gash on the tender underside of his knee. Well, it looked like a knee. The Planar demon stumbled forward and I took a chance, leaping upon his back.
     He straightened up abruptly but I was ready and clung like one of those vampire bats I hear tell live in Gloamwood. Using my free hand, I plunged my dagger into his back, than again. The demon shrieked and flame lit up along his skin. I couldn't help the yelp of surprise and pain that escaped me when my hands were seared. I half tumbled, half leaped off the flailing creature's back and backed away hastily, cradling my injured hands to my chest. The demon whirled and looked at me, flame-red eyes mad with hate and I eyed my daggers, lying innocently on the ground at his feet.

     The demon glanced down, grinned maliciously when he saw my daggers, and moved toward me. Oh, I was so dead. After taking a step, the demon pitched forward onto his horned face. I blinked, than grinned. That's right nasties, Raeslyn the Rogue at your service!

     Remembering my duty, I quickly sidestepped the demon, grabbed up my daggers, and approached the pyre cautiously. After what had just happened, I wasn't too keen on concentrating so fully on putting out the fire. Thankfully no other Planar creatures decided to assault me while I was working and had the pyre dismantled in no time.
     I kicked over a few more I found in the clearing, trying to destroy as many as I could before the demons rallied and became too much for me to handle. After one particular pyre, I blinked and glanced around. I hadn't even realized it but the forest had grown noticeably darker.

     Looking up at the sky I was startled to see that it was indeed encroaching upon night in Silverwood. I'd spent the whole day helping out the Guardians. And I felt it too. My body ached from all the activity and I was hungry again. I never used to eat this much before. Before my rebirth. Maybe it's all the energy I spend on my increased strength and dexterity. As well, my eyes felt sharper and clearer.

     To me, the clearing and surrounding forest didn't seem all that different visually, just darker. Like looking through smoke-colored glass. I stomped on a burning skull for good measure, sent a prayer for the lost soul that belonged to it, and headed back across the well worn path to Divine Landing.
     I suddenly felt tired and wanted sleep and something to eat. I stumbled into camp and sat down under a tent at random. A young looking elf noticed me and seemed to sense my desires, for she quickly walked over to the center of camp, spoke to another woman, and walked back with a armful of wrapped items. She tapped me on the shoulder and I gave her a blurry questioning look.

"Here dear, you look like you could use a good meal." She placed the wrapped items in my un-protesting arms and stood back up. I smiled at her gratefully, reaching for my pouch of coins. The woman quickly shook her head and gave me a bright, awe-filled look. I rolled my eyes tiredly but stopped the motion.

"None of that now dear, you don't need to pay for it. You're Ascended after all! What you do for us common folk and non fighters, keeping the forests and other places safe, is good enough for us." I blinked. She sounded sincere, not like the others who just liked being in the same general area as me.

"Well, thank you." I said, mustering a tired but warm smile. "It means a lot to me, your kind words and food. We heroes can't go around saving people without good food." I grinned. The woman gave me a last, approving look, before moving back to a wooden table laden with odds and ends.
     Ah, a travelling merchant of some sort. The woman she'd gotten the food from whispered something to her and the woman nodded and smiled. I turned my attention to the items in my lap, eager to see what it was. Unwrapping the first item revealed a roasted red apple, still warm.

     My mouth watered just looking at it. The second wrapped item was a chunk of charred meat that smelled delicious. And the third item was actually a small leather skin of berry wine. She wasn't looking in my direction but I still lifted the leather skin and saluted the kind woman with it before taking a long pull.

     The taste was crisp and sweet, yet tangy at the same time. Perfect elven wine. After eating my fill I carefully wrapped the items back up and stored them in my pouch. They'd make a good meal later. Now that I'd eaten I felt quite sleepy. My eyelids appeared to be growing heavier by the second, in fact.

     I glanced around, only half aware, and figured under this tent seemed to be as good a place as any to sleep for the night. I stretched out on my back, placing my pack under my pet for a makeshift pillow. I've slept like this plenty of times in the past while touring and exploring Silverwood.
     I remember the one time, I'd taken a hike up to the secret magical portal into the Realm of the Fae, where all the Faeborn beings resided. I was curious and wanted to get a look at it, since I'd heard so much about the place. The Fae had been quite nice but silly, always giggling and running about. Very whimsical. I'd brought nothing but a pack with provisions and a blanket and had bedded down under a big sycamore tree.

     Looking up through the branches I'd fallen asleep to the sparkling stars winking at me. Now, I glanced up and could make out the cold lights of the stars far above the forest ceiling. The sky wasn't exactly black, but more of a vivid blue. Like the deep parts of the ocean, I mused sleepily. Like Akylios's eyes. Or so the books said.

     The longer I stared at the sky, the more I became convinced that they reflected alien beings, looking down upon our tiny and fragile world. If a being from the cosmos came to our world, what would they think? What did the Blood Storm think when they first arrived? I snorted. Everyone knows what they thought, silly me. Destruction, chaos, subversion, enslavement. I rolled over and shut my eyes.
I woke feeling content and relaxed. A part of me just wanted to roll over and go right back to sleep, but a bigger part of me knew I needed to get up. The day, and my role in future events, wasn't just going to disappear by my pretending it would. Sadly. So I quickly jumped up and ran through a few stretches. I always like to perform some simple maneuvers and exercises right after waking because I've noticed that that's when I'm most limber. I performed a few experimental thrusts of my dagger for good measure, than gathered up my belongings and left the tent I'd slept under last night. The sun was just coming up over the horizon and it nearly blinded me when I glanced in that direction.

     Now that I'd had some proper rest, a good meal, and some time to think through things, I glanced around the camp with fresh eyes. Everything seemed quiet this morning. A few of the women were setting up a cooking pot and some soldiers were sharpening their swords under a different tent. Orin Bancroft had an unrolled scroll and was looking over a display of various types of weapons. Probably inventory, I thought wryly. Glad I don't have that job at least.

     Keeping my ears sharp, I caught strains of conversation from various members of the camp. One tall elf with long pointed ears was speaking to a Mathosian. "This forest is my home. We must find a way to save it from Maelforge's destruction!" the Elf said vehemently. A Guardian was busy telling an officer that the Defiant had burned the catapults but we were holding them off for now. Good news there I suppose. About Maelforge and his demonic spawn though...that could be a problem. Those Planar creatures seem to be causing a lot more trouble than I had originally thought. I grinned. I'll just have to strike the fear of Guardians into them.

     I spotted a young looking Mathosian merchant that happened to be selling what looked to be good strong weapons and went over to inspect the bunch. I found a set of balanced daggers I rather liked and haggled out a price. I finally settled on a price that I liked, along with bartering off a few items I'd scavenged from the Planar creatures I'd killed yesterday, and was quite satisfied with what I came away with. I stood near the merchant's table and counted my coin when I spotted the shimmery green curtain of magic I'd first noticed when I came to Divine Landing. I remember seeing the odd looking device before, but I couldn't remember where. It was incredibly tall, at least three times my height. It was a metallic archway with strange runes written on the pillars. the architecture was something I've never seen before. It was situated on a raised platform that had to have been there for quite some time since it had grass growing on it already. Huh, I don't remember seeing something like that before in Silverwood. Or did I?

     My past was becoming quite spotty, unfortunately. Probably for the best, I suppose. It's not like I can go back to who I was and what I was doing. I have an entirely different existence now, and a serious task. The longer I stared at the shimmering doorway, the more it became familiar to me. Perhaps I've seen it in a city before? Or at the College? Curious, I walked up to the gate and stared at it. A gruff looking Mathosian with a receding hairline and a bushy mustache eyed me with interest.

     "Are you that new Ascended I hear tell about?" the man asked suddenly, startling me. I focused on the man and nodded reluctantly. Not like I wanted to be Ascended. The man gave me an assessing look, than turned to look behind him at the large shimmering portal. He gestured me closer and with some trepidation I mounted the dais and walked over to him.

     "Have you not seen a Porticum before girl?" the man asked after introducing himself as Ethan Melankis. He gestured behind him at the gate for emphasis. "I'm a Porticum Master". I flicked my eyes from the shimmering green curtain to him again. Staring too long at the obviously magical portal made my eyes hurt. I hesitated in responding to the man. He seemed nice enough, but I didn't want to look like a complete fool by admitting I wasn't sure what a 'Porticum' was. I still wasn't sure if I'd even seen one before. Before my death, I'd spent more time deep in the wilds of the wood than in any of the towns or cities. To me, civilization was just an invitation to laziness and blackening of the spirit.

     "The name of the device is unfamiliar to me, I'll admit, but it looks familiar." I finally said. My voice sounded loud in the quiet of the morning and I twitched my ears irritably.

     The man nodded thoughtfully and than settled back, a gleam in his eye. For some odd reason he brought to mind one of my professors at the College, right before he imparted something interesting and not well known to us students. I couldn't help relaxing as well and giving a slight smile. I loved learning new things.

     "Not everything from the Planes is evil, as you should know Elf, or corrupt. Before the Dragons despoiled the Planar realms, there existed pathways through the elements that were blessed by the Gods." I couldn't help my eyes from widening at that. Really? I had no idea about that. Sounds like a fun way to travel. I continued listening. "See here one of the last remaining pathways to us: The Planar Porticum. To use it though, you need to attune your soul to say, this one, and then find another in a different location and attune yourself to that one too. Than you can travel instantly between the two points. My friend Annette Kostral in Argent Glade is also a Porticum Master, like myself. Tell her I sent you if you happen over that way and she'll attune to her Porticum. That way, you can travel quickly from one place to another and lend your aid where it's most needed. It's the least we mere mortals can do for you powerful Ascended that fight the Dragons for us."

     I listened quietly to his explanation, eyeing the Porticum curiously out of the corner of my eye. Aha, there was one in Argent Glade, that's why it seemed familiar. I remember seeing it in the Glade actually, now that I thought about it. I had no idea that it was an elemental pathway through the Planes though! There's so much I don't even know I guess. Than the last bit occurred to me. Heh...fight the Dragons? Me? Yeah right. I have a hard enough time fighting these weak demonic fire spirits that find ways through the cracks in the Planes. I'd never be able to face off against one of the Blood Storm gods. That would be pure insanity.

     Well, maybe I'd do it if there was a lot of money involved....a lot of money. And a lot of backup. Like, legions of Ascended for backup. I shook my head at my thoughts. Let's not dwell on that.

     "So, how do I "attune" myself to this Porticum than?" I asked this Ethan Melankis, somewhat sarcastically. Just because it was blessed by the gods doesn't mean I would be comfortable making use of it. Although I have to admit that the ability to travel from one distant location to another in the blink of an eye would have its advantages.

     The man, Ethan, explained to me the steps to attuning myself to the Porticum. Once I'd finished, a green flash fell over me from head to toe. I felt a rushing in my ears, like a wave on the ocean, or the wind in the trees. For a moment, I felt connected to...everything. I felt such a connection I'd never felt before. It brought tears to my eyes and made me ache for the return of the feeling moments later when it was gone. The man patted me on the back and assured me that that reaction happens to everyone who attunes themselves. How comforting. I snorted and moved away from him to compose myself.

     Of course, I was eager to try it out right away, but like Ethan said, it wouldn't let me go anywhere if I had no attuned destination to fixate onto. When I placed my hand on the panel like he asked, nothing happened but the same rushing sound in my ears I'd heard earlier. Maybe it didn't even work and I was wasting my time. Not to mention looking silly I'm sure. So I gave the Porticum one last curious glance and moved away. I'm sure I had tasks from Orin to complete anyway.

     When I confronted Orin with directions, he suggested that I see what some of the other officers of the Guardians wanted. So I wandered around camp, grabbing a quick breakfast.
I spied an officious looking man in blue and silver armor standing by a small tent off to one side and looking over a book anxiously. Maybe I can help this bloke out? I walked up to him and waited till he acknowledged me. Finally the man glanced up at me and blinked. His eyes widened as he recognized me, although don't tell me how people keep figuring out I'm an Ascended. Am I wearing a magical brand or something?

     Before the man could spout something about how amazing I was or how grateful he was that I was here saving his butt, I said "Orin says I should help you Sanctuary Guards out. So here I am." I said it in a casual, bored voice. The man frowned, thoughts obviously diverted, and looked me over. Now he looked dubious, as if doubting the fact that a slender elf girl could of any help to a company of strong warrior types. I rolled my eyes and resisted the urge to tap my foot.

     "Well, there is one thing..." the man said slowly, as if reluctant to admit he needed help. Or maybe he didn't want to bother a great and mighty Ascended. I think I'll go with the first thought. I waited expectantly, barely keeping myself from saying something out of impatience.

     "Those Planar creatures that appeared in the forest threaten to destroy our holy relics on the Sanguine Shores. There's three relics, each in a special location dedicated to the gods, and we can't get to them because the Planar demons are crawling all over. They are in danger of burning the relics up with their foul fire. I have yet to find a way to get them out safely. If you can do that, all we Guardians would be eternally grateful. To lose those relics would surely be to invite the disfavor of the gods." I blinked. Disfavor with the gods? For something you can't help? Over material objects? Either the gods are more unforgiving and unwelcoming than I remember or these Guardians take themselves just a little too seriously. I agreed to accomplish his task anyway.

     I set off out of Divine Landing, heading for the Sanguine Shores, Sir Andrin Kahn's directions to the relics in my mind. The first relic wasn't that hard to find, or reach. The Reliquary of Thontic, as the relic was called, was located on a wooden pedestal on a tiny strip of land off the shore. The relic itself was relatively small and fit in my bag easily. I sent a silent prayer to the gods as I picked up the relic, to reassure them that the relic would be safe. I gave one last glance at the pedestal, now looking quite lonely without the relic sitting on top in all it's glory. Glancing around, I watched the fire demons pacing back and forth and setting things on fire. It angered me to see such wanton destruction for no reason at all. I took a deep breath, than coughed before I could stop myself. Oh yes, I forgot. All the magical and spontaneous fires springing up all over the forest was causing a thick pall of black smoke to hang over the forest. What we needed was a nice stiff breeze off the sea to clear the air.

     I splashed back ashore and headed in the direction of the next nearest relic. This one, the Reliquary of Tavril, was situated in the middle of the clearing. It was situated atop a pedestal similar to the Thontic one. Tavril's carving was that of a small deer, dainty and innocent. I picked up the relic and stared at it. The tiny stone deer seemed to stare straight into my soul, and I felt a warmth in my mind that brought a smile to my lips. No matter their decision to unite as the Vigil, Tavril was still my patron goddess and I will forever hold a special place in my heart just for her. Placing the relic in my pouch, I ducked behind a boulder so I wouldn't be spotted by a fire demon walking nearby. As I crouched there I spotted something odd amid the smaller rocks beside me. A book? How odd. I reached out gingerly, keeping my eyes open for enemies, and snagged the book from its haphazard location amid the scattered stones. It looked a little worse for wear, singed on the edges and covered in dirt and soot. I blew on the cover, and used my leather gloves to swipe off some of the grime. Opening up the front cover, I inspected the book curiously. The first page was yellowed and blank but for large intricate letters, in a shimmery green ink that I suspected was mixed with a spell of some sort. The writing said "Nathan Green". The author perhaps? I stared at the book thoughtfully, than glanced back at Divine Landing. Maybe the author of the book survived. I bet he'd be happy to have it back. I know I would if it were my journal.

     I placed the journal between my belts for safekeeping as there wasn't any room in my bag for it and all the relics at the same time and I'd rather lose the book than the relics. That settled, I poked my head around the boulder, looking around cautiously to be sure there weren't any of those Planar creatures of Maelforge's hanging around. Silently I slipped away, heading in the direction of the last relic. This one was a bit of a distance from the others, and Divine Landing. Being so far from protection gave me a prickling feeling, like I was being watched, that I didn't like one bit. I remember before how the forest had comforted me, kept me safe, made me feel safe. Now it just felt unfamiliar and threatening. This is what the Dragons have done to my world.

     I shook my head in determination, trying not to think about it overmuch, and snuck around to where Andrin Kahn had said the third relic was. Of course. Bahralt's relic was in a small way station, a little hut built to keep travelers safe. It was usually stocked with provisions and medical supplies. Inside was the pedestal like the others. This pedestal was carved like a stool and the relic, ironically, was a small stone mug. I grinned as I slipped it off its perch and settled it into my pouch. I bid a soft good bye to Bahralt, gave a jaunty salute just for fun, and headed out of the little stone hut.

     I almost ran into one of the elemental fire demons on my way back down the hill but I managed to avoid it by the luck of Tavril. I skirted around to the road and followed that all the way back to Divine Landing. I was actually surprised by how far I'd strayed from the camp and groused to myself good naturedly about how Andrin Kahn better be grateful for this.

     Sir Andrin was shocked that I'd succeeded, and with such little difficulty. He gave an ample supply of coin as well as some nice leather bracers that actually fit me quite nicely. After I'd settled the relics in with him and made sure he was going to treat them properly (after all they were the relics of the gods) I went in search of the owner of the journal. It didn't take long. I asked a guard where I could find a "Nathan Green" He said ask the elves, so I walked up to an elf standing under a broadleaf tree and lo and behold, he was the one I wanted. I fished out the journal and held it up.

     "This yours?" I asked bluntly, waggling the book where he could see it clearly. The tall pale elf gawked at the book, than at me.
     "My journal! You found it? Thank the gods! I was on the shore, notating my thoughts on great spiritual matters when those creatures spilled from a fire Rift. I barely escaped with my life! Thanks for returning it!" I shrugged and flipped the book at him casually.

     "It wasn't that big a deal. I just saw it wedged in some rocks while I was out on a mission. I'm glad I found who it belonged to." Nathan insisted on giving me something in return for his beloved journal, even though I said he needn't have bothered. Although it turns out that he had an extensive supply of apothecary items on him. I was happy to see he had a vial of red liquid that I knew to help heal wounds. So he gave me the vial and I tucked it away in my belt.

     I spent the remainder of the morning and early afternoon performing all missions and tasks for the various members of the Sanctuary Guard and the Guardians. It wasn't bad work, but it wasn't exactly what I had in mind for what an Ascended would do. I kinda figured I'd be...well I don't know. Sent on dangerous spy missions, or quests to rescue captured Guardians or something. Silly I know. But perhaps once I'd proven myself competent, my tasks would gain in difficulty as well.
     In late afternoon, I got news from a messenger that Orin wanted to speak to me. I finished collecting tinder from the burned pyres and dropped them off at the tent where the Guard wanted me to and set off to go talk to Orin.

     "You wanted to see me?" I asked without preamble once I'd gotten Orin alone for a moment. He studied me quietly, pride in his eyes that had me fidgeting.

     "Thanks to you Raeslyn, Divine Landing will now be able to hold fast. One of our scouts, however, reported that Maelforge's Goblin hoards are descending from the North. The Goblins will raze the town of Argent Glade if we don't intervene. Please go lend your considerable strength to Rudi Tanlop, in charge of a small encampment of Guardians up the road. He could surely use your aid my Ascended friend." I wrinkled my nose. Being passed off to the next people who needed me or had a crisis. I see how it is. I shrugged and agreed to go. I was getting restless staying in one place anyway. As a High Elf, I was used to wandering the world where I wanted.

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