Friday, February 15, 2013

[Raeslyn's Story] 2.13: Among the hedges

   The next morning the smell of cooking and soft voices woke me up. The chill of early morning was just leaving the air and I shivered as I clawed my way out of my borrowed blankets, making a mental note to add heavier clothing to my list of supplies as I did. Tristan was seated on a tree stump holding a metal dish full of steaming broth. My stomach protested being empty. I may be an immortal Ascended but it seems I could still starve to death. Funny. I allowed myself a moment of indulgence wondering if I could actually starve to death as an Ascended and what would happen after that. Morbid thoughts. I shook them away and stretched, going through my morning ritual of limbering up and getting my blood circulation going good. I stopped as I saw everyone in the camp was staring at me.

     "What?" I asked, somewhat sharply. I really hate being stared at. Tristan chuckled and shook his head. "Nothing, we are just unused to seeing such a powerful being in our midst, and doing something so mundane as stretching!" I scowled at him. I'm just like everyone else, I wanted to argue, feeling my hackles rise. I don't want the attention that my new status gives me, I just want to free Silverwood from the evils plaguing it and go on my merry way. To where, I wasn't sure yet, but somewhere isolated and peaceful sounds awfully tempting right now.

     "Ok Alecourt, tell me what you know about this Lord Twyl and how I can take down that maze up there. The longer we delay, the stronger the hold that the realm of the Fae has over Silverwood." I settled down a few feet from everyone and accepted a dish of broth that a woman named Mila Darina gave me. I nodded at her as she introduced herself, muttering my name in response when she continued to watch me. Tristan nodded, wiping some juice off his chin with one hand.

     "From what we've been able to gather so far, it seems that the Fae here are being led by a powerful and malignant faerie named Makirn. He is a favored minion of Lord Twyl, the leader of the Fae, and he's been suspiciously absent for several days. He has a small patch of the maze to himself at the top of the hill leading into the mountains, and he hasn't left it. Some nights we can see a strange green glow from his position. He's definitely up to something sinister, but we haven't the strength or ability to get to him through the maze and the many Fae roaming it. They steal children and even grown men in the night, torturing them for amusement, but when we venture in to rescue them, the maze just twists and confuses us, forcing us to stay back." Tristan's fingers clenched into fists as he said this, impotent fury in his eyes. I nodded.

     "I'm quite positive that if we were to take out Makirn, it would gain Lord Twyl's attention. From there, we might be able to find out something of their plan here in Highglade and even a hint of their overall reason for being here in Silverwood. It's no doubt something horrifying. An Ascended should have no problem navigating the maze because of your attunement to planar energy and your blessings from the gods." I nodded again, this time more slowly as I turned and studied the maze with new eyes. Yeah, I'm sure I could do it. And I knew in my heart that this is what the Vigil would want me to do, to free Silverwood of the clutches of the Fae. I stood up, checking my knives and various weapons as I did so. Everyone watched me with hopeful, shining eyes, making my skin prickle. Rogues do not like attention. At all. I almost snapped at them to stop gawking at me, but held in my temper. I asked the man who had made the meal to pack me up some of it, then gathered up the rest of my packs. Climbing up a slight hill, I was able to see the maze better. It seemed to breathe, a shimmering energy of planar power expelling with each "breath". The shrubbery and flora shivered in a breeze that I couldn't feel and strange creatures moved among the leaves. Taking a deep breath and praying to the gods that I wouldn't get killed, I moved closer. After walking along the maze wall and studying it closely, I found an opening and slipped into the maze itself.

  To say it was confusing and misleading was an understatement. There seemed to be something in the air that prevented one from thinking clearly and remembering a path. I shook my head in an effort to dispel the feeling, calling up my Ascended gifts to shield me from the planar influence. Concentrating, I blended into the natural shadows and foliage, becoming invisible to the eyes of the Fae crawling all over the maze. There were dozens of the tiny, fragile looking creatures and I wrinkled my nose in disgust. Horrid, evil, disgusting things. They did not belong in Telara and certainly did not belong in my beloved Silverwood. I'd drive out the corrupted beings if it was the last thing I did. But I had a mission to complete. It amused me to stealthily approach and bypass the Fae that roamed the mazes. Some of them, the more powerful ones, seemed to have a suspicion I was there, sniffing the air and scanning the area, but my abilities kept me well hidden from their life-touched sight.

     I heard sobbing eventually as I crept down one long pathway. Tall green walls towered on either side, effectively blocking out any sunlight except a few slivers that leaked through the branches. The longer I was in the maze, the more tense and jumpy I became. Rounding a corner, I saw a small boxed in clearing. In the center was a large green cage. It was made entirely of planar life magic, twisting tendrils of Fae plants woven together to form an intricate, but disturbing bower. Inside, a dirty and grey-faced man knelt, weeping. His clothes were torn and dirty and he looked gaunt, like he'd gone days without food. My mind conjured images of a woman back at camp who'd been wailing about her husband to one of the guards, demanding that they search for him as he'd been missing for days. I wondered if this was him. I glanced around cautiously, before bringing my eyes back to the man, hesitating as I considered. I couldn't just leave the poor man here to be faerie amusement, or worse. But I did need to be quick before I was discovered. Not to mention, I had this feeling that things were moving faster now and I needed to get ahead of the Aelfwar and the Fae before they did something that couldn't be undone. I just knew that something big and disasterous was coming. I crouched, wavering in my decision.

     Finally, with an elven curse, I crept forward and moved around the cage, studying it from all angles. It didn't appear to have a door, so I'd have to just break the twining vines that made up the bars of the prison. They had to be tougher then they appeared though, since the man was trapped in there and wasn't able to get out himself. Then I noticed a small, leaf shaped indent in one of the bars which was wider then the others. I studying the design for a moment, before sweeping my eyes over the faeiries and satyrs that loitered around the cleaning. They didn't seem to be paying attention to the wailing mortal so I surmised that indeed he had been here for a while, enough that the novelty of him had worn off on the Fae. One of the satyrs standing nearby shifted as he whittled away at a strange chunk of wood and I saw a small metal disk attached to his hip by a chain. It was the exact size and dimension of the design on the cage. Aha. Feeling smug, I silently approached the satyr. The creatures made me uneasy. They were among the tallest of the Fae races and were the most unpredictable. They could be almost friendly to the mortal races, and in a blink of an eye go from sharing a drink with you to skewering you through the ribcage, for no reason at all. Or so I've always heard. Careful not to draw attention, I reached out and unhooked the chain, being as slow as I dared so I didn't cause a disturbance. I wasn't sure if my invisibility would hold while interacting with something so this was a bit of a risk. My fingers trembled and I held my breath as the chain came loose. The moment the chain was attached to me fully, it became invisible like everything else about my person and I breathed a sigh of relief. The satyr whipped his head around, eyes darting around sharply, and I skipped back hastily as he swung his chunk of wood in my direction. When he met nothing but air, he continued to look for a moment, before mumbling something I couldn't understand and turning back around. That was close...
   Running quickly back to the cage, I moved to the other side of it so it was between me and the Fae.
     "Psst. Hey, you in the cage. Can you hear me?" I whispered urgently. The man immediately jerked his head up and glanced around wildly. The movement drew the eye of a young, beautiful looking pixie. Her gossamer wings beat the air lazily behind her as she plucked petals off a large flower. "Don't draw attention to yourself, fool!" I whispered harshly at the man, keeping an eye on the pixie. The man looked chagrined and dropped his head again. I thrust the leaf shaped disk through the cage and tossed it at his feet. "That's the key to your cage. When you have the chance, when they aren't paying as much attention, or if they leave, use it and escape! I can't stay and help you, I have something important I need to do." I stayed still a moment as the man reverently snatched up the key and glanced around again, this time less obviously. Fresh tears grew in his eyes as he hugged the key to his chest and whispered a soft, fervent thank you. I nodded, forgetting he couldn't see me, and turned to go. "Just be careful and don't get caught again! If you head due south and keep the light of the sun at that angle, you'll make it to the outer wall of the maze. Get out and get to Tristan Alecourt and his camp. They can help you." I wasn't actually confident in his ability to escape and get free of the maze successfully, but I had given him the means to do it and that was all I had time to do. The feeling that something dark and powerful was coming was pressing down on me.

     The smell of otherworldly creatures and planar energy hung heavy in the air as I moved through the maze. Eventually the strain of holding myself invisible became too much and I hid behind a tall shrub, relaxing my steel grip on the ability. My head began to pound in time with my heartbeat, no doubt a side effect of using my planar Ascended powers. I rested a moment, drank some water from my provisions, and scanned the area again. I knew where I was in the maze and I could pinpoint the way out easily, but it was still frustratingly confusing. I didn't know where exactly Makirn would be, or how to get to him. My gaze wandered over a slight hill to the left and I caught a strange green light flashing from over the top of it. Green light? Didn't Tristan say that Makirn was known to be meddling with something that caused green light after dark? I swiftly jumped up, new determination causing me to forget my exhaustion. The adrenaline allowed me to again cloak myself in shadows and I carefully crept forward, avoiding the Fae as much as possible.
  I did end up having to kill one pixie who saw through my cloak of inivibility when I was too tired to maintain it for a few seconds. As I cut her narrow throat, I avoided looking into the child-like face. The Fae looked too much like innocent children for me to think about. Swallowing any irrational twinge of guilt that wanted to spring up over murdering something so ethereal and tiny, I moved up the path. The path wound around the hill and was nearly overgrown with wild planar magic. Grimly, I avoided touching any of the planar flora. This is what all of Silverwood would look like if they weren't stopped.

     As I'd suspected, I found who I knew had to be Makirn at the top of the hill. His back was to me and he was bent over a strange brazier that fel-green light was emanating from. The brazier seemed to be surrounded by strong fae magic, and Makirn was chanting something as he stirred a cauldron that sat next to it. A few feet away rested the torn up body of a man and I winced, knowing this had to be some poor sod that the fae had gotten their hands on. The fury of seeing the man's needless death overcame my other thoughts and I found myself lunging forward across the distance, crossing it in the blink of an eye. With an expert twist, I planted my dagger in the faerie's back, right at the top of the spinal cord. He stiffened in surprise, before going limp without a sound, effectively dead. I slit his throat as he lay on the ground. A spray of blood coated the brazier and green flames eagerly leapt upward. I stepped back cautiously, not expecting that. The flames rose higher, and wove themselves into the image of a large and beautiful looking male fearie. He looked like no other Fae I'd seen yet, with large, golden colored wings that were twice as large as his lithe frame. A crown of wood and flowers sat on his head and he carried a thick oaken staff. Even though I knew it was just an image, I stepped backward, clutching my daggers and shifting into a defensive stance. The faerie man glanced around, annoyance twisting his fine features.

     "Makirn!" The Faerie growled furiously, tapping his staff. The green flames flared up slightly, distorting the image. "I told you, for the last time, No!" He narrowed his eyes, and seemed to notice Makirn's still body on the ground at his feet. "What's this?" He didn't look particularly concerned over his loyal subject's demise, just irritated and confused. His eyes lifted and bore into mine and I gulped at the planar power swirling in the depths. "Oh, I see now. Makirn was a useless brigand anyway. You're in over your head here, little Ascended. I've made a new friend, and you will not stop our plans for this forest! Hylas and I shall unleash the magic of Greenscale and your last breath will be stifled by the vines of the wilderness!" He glared at me a moment more, before scoffing and waving his hand. "It's a shame I am not actually there. I'd show you a true Fae lord's power. Ta ta for now!" The green flames suddenly flared brighter, growing in height and breadth and I gasped, stepping back further. Suddenly the flames died completely, and the image of the Faerie disppapeared along with it. I shakily picked up a dropped dagger and sheathed all my weapons. I think I'd just met Lord Twyl. Thank the Vigil it wasn't in person. Eventually I was able to shake off the chill that had clutched at me. The heat of the maze pressed in on me, but nevertheless, my arm hairs remained raised and I could still feel chill in my bones.

     Now that I'd found my goal, it was an easy task to get myself out of the maze and back down to Tristan and the others. They smiled at me with radiant, surprised faces, no doubt amazed that I'd survived the evil maze of doom. I marched up to Tristan and explained what had happened. Tristan looked alarmed. "Great sun, you actually saw Lord Twyl? I didn't think it would work." At my glower, he chuckled. "Uh, I mean, you did great, Ascended! We need to inform Cerys about Prince Hylas's alliance with Lord Twyl immediately!" I tilted my head. Cerys? The name sounded image came to me of a woman in Argent Glade who'd helped me with a paper on the Mirror of Ages once when I was still enrollled at Quicksilver.

     "You can find Cerys at the Blunted Quill in Argent Glade. At least, that's where she was at the time of our last correspondence, last week. I doubt she's moved since. She mentioned wanting to be close to the action. For a historian, she likes to live rather dangerously." Tristan shook his head, as if the idea of someone embracing danger for knowledge was foreign to him. No doubt the reason why he was still safe at Highglade and not locked up somewhere in the maze. Or worse. Which reminded me.

     "Hey, did a dirty, skinny guy come out of the maze at all while I was gone?" I asked, glancing around the camp. Tristan raised an eyebrow, his face clearing. "Actually, yes! He wasn't really making much sense. Seemed half mad with starvation and torture. Poor man couldn't even remember his wife. Thank you for rescuing him, Ascended." Tristan smiled at me. I snorted.

     "I didn't really do any rescuing, I just threw the key at him and let him find his own way. I'm actually surprised he made it." Tristan's smile melted somewhat as he searched my eyes for any hint I was jesting. I stared back cooly. "I...see." Tristan finally said. "Well, you'd better hurry and inform Cerys of this. I have a bad feeling." I nodded in agreement.

     Off in a corner I spotted the poor man who'd been a prisoner, sitting vacantly on the grass and staring at nothing. A beautiful elf in blue leathers knelt at his side, petting his hair and crooning to him. The wife, I imagine. I walked over and watched them silently a moment. The woman looked up, tears in her eyes. "Thank you for freeing my husband! I know it was you, Ascended. No other would or could have done it! Now I just need to see if there is a priestess or someone who can clear his mind and help him remember who he was." The woman choked on a sob as she finished, turning to look down at her husband again. I mentioned that perhaps Shyla Starhearth would help and the woman gave me a wide eyed, grateful look.

     I headed back to Argent Glade, thinking over what the Fae Lord had said and considering what move Hylas would make next.

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