I walked up to her and waited for her to acknowledge me. She glanced up when a shadow fell over and raised an eyebrow in enquiry.
"Hello, name's Raeslyn. I'm the newest Ascended around here and I've just come from Highglade Lookout. Tristan Alecourt sent me to find you and report what I'd found there." I said by way of greeting, not wanting to waste any time about it. The woman's expression changed as I spoke, finally settling on awed surprise, a facial expression I'd come to know very well lately.
"You! You're an Ascended?" She seemed to hold her breath, sweeping her eyes up and down my body and I resisted the urge to cover my front or fold my arms, instead tapping my foot. Cerys eventually blinked, shaking herself out of her self induced shock at seeing an Ascended up close. Honestly, I'd just like to be treated like everyone else for once, instead of this godlike being. I didn't feel very godlike, just another person doing what they could to protect their homeland who happened to have an edge that others didn't. That's all.
"Wait. Tristan sent you?" The woman finally spoke again. Her elfin features gave her stunning eyes and slender fingers, which she drummed on the table as she watched me. "Please sit down and tell me what's happened." She said politely, indicating the chair opposite hers. I glanced around, then huffed and sprawled out in the chair, deliberately being as opposite her demure behavior as possible. This made her smile, which annoyed me more. This is why I liked working alone. I told her what I'd seen and discovered at the hedgegrow maze up at Highglade and explained my suspicions.
Cerys shook her head sadly. "I'm glad Tristan sent you to me. He must have known I'd need help. News of Hylas's betrayal is shocking, true, but we are also faced with Rifts and the spread of strange planar magic throughout the forest. Now that I know that this planar unrest is the result of the Fae tampering with the natural order of the forest, we need to find a way to stop this." She rubbed her perfectly formed lips thoughtfully, then snapped her fingers.
"I think I know what we need to do! There may be a way to commune with the Vigil directly, to understand Prince Hylas's madness. As an Ascended, you are favored by the gods. Perhaps they will bless you with a vision." I snorted and shook my head. Cerys frowned at me. "What?" She asked sharply.
"No way am I doing another vision quest. Been there, done that, no thanks." I said abruptly, feeling ready to just leave and find my own way. Cerys waved her hand. "Fine then, but we can at least go to the sacred Mirror of Ages. If we meditate at the altar of Tavra, we should receive an answer from the Vigil." I raised an eyebrow skeptically. And what's with all this "we" stuff she kept spouting? If she thought for a second she was coming with me, she'd better forget it. I work alone.
"There's no we. I work alone lady Cerys." I said with finality. The woman opened her mouth as if to argue, then sighed and relented. "Alright." She said finally. "I just feel like I could be contributing more then just relaying information back and forth among the Guardian forces. It's not as exciting as being out in the field, risking life and limb to protect the forest!" I raised both eyebrows at her impassioned speech. Exciting? Obviously she's heard way too many adventure stories. But I ignored this and concentrated on the important thing here.
"So you're sure this is the best idea? Try to contact the Vigil at the Mirror of Ages?" I'd heard of the Mirror of course. Every Elf had. It was the heart of our people. Our most sacred site. It's where the real power of Tavril was concentrated the most. High Elves often completed pilgrimages to the Mirror back before the joining of the Guardians. I'd never gone of course, preferring my interdependence, but I'd had friends who'd gone. All of this "trying to understand Hylas's treachery" stuff was rather aggravating though. Do we really need to know why he did it? He's obviously lost to us, and while that is something we should mourn, for Hylas was our beloved prince, we were wasting valuable time trying to investigate irrelevant issues. It was frustrating that Ascended or not, I was still subject to the laws of the Guardians and the Vigil, having to follow their ways. I would never in a million years break my faith with the Guardians, but at times like this, I felt like there should be allowances for certain measures.
"Yes, I feel that this is the correct path." Cerys replied simply, staring at me steadily. I nodded reluctantly and she gave me a radiant smile. I nearly rolled my eyes.
After leaving Cerys to her own devices, I requested a room at the Blunted Quill and spent the remainder of the night going over the information I'd gathered on the Aelfwar and the Fae so far. As soon as I'd dealt with the threat to Silverwood, I needed to find a way to get into this 'Realm of the Fae' that Tristan had mentioned. I needed to put a stop to the Fae for good so they wouldn't come back and threaten Silverwood again in the future.
Dawn came too quickly and I stumbled out of bed with my eyes feeling gritty. I gulped down a hot breakfast at the Inn and set out on my quest to the Mirror of Ages. Ironic that I'd resisted my own pilgrimage there only to end up going anyway after my resurrection. Life is just full of twists I suppose.
The Mirror of Ages was deep into the forest of Silverwood, away from any towns or villages, because it represented the wild and free spirited love that Tavril had for the land and its protectors. It was a sight that until recently could only be found by those worthy of Tavril's blessings. Now that things had changed and the High Elves had joined with the new Guardians, the Mirror was available to any that swore themselves to the Vigil. I'll admit that made me a little annoyed.
My first look at the Mirror of Ages was shaded with horror. The place was swarming with Aelfwar soldiers and priests. My skin prickled at their presence. How dare these pretenders get anywhere near this sacred site! I hid in the shadows and observed their movements. The Aelfwar were systematically violating the holy space. They were conducting some kind of profane ritual at the altars and butchering the well known sacred rites we usually spoke to the goddess. Anger began to burn hotly inside of me. How dare they. Had they no respect for Tavril? My fingers itched to launch daggers at these sacrilegious pretenders. First things first, I needed to clear a path to the main altar, located inside an ancient and beautiful heartwood tree at the center of the Mirror. The tree was surrounded by pools of beautiful, mirror-smooth water, blessed by Tavril herself. Around the ancient and powerful tree were several lesser altars, all having been built in dedication to Tavril and with her blessing. As I crept past one such altar, I felt heat rush through me at the desecration that had been done to it. Now this fight was beginning to become all too personal. I'd been pushing my personal feelings about the Aelfwar to the side as I fought against them and thwarted their rituals, but this, such deliberate sacrilege against Tavril herself, was the last straw. The Aelfwar could not be redeemed. A small part of me mourned this, mourned what should have been....what could have been, if only circumstances had happened differently. But I couldn't dwell on that now. I needed to find a way to commune with the Vigil here. I knew this was key. I could practically feel the focus of the gods on my back. They knew I was here and they had a message to show me.
When one of the Aelfwar priests ventured too close to my hiding spot I took great satisfaction in slitting her throat. She dropped without a sound and I hid the body in the tall grasses surrounding the mirror pools. It wouldn't stay undiscovered for long, but hopefully long enough to for me to gain access to the central altar and commune with the gods. Although how I was going to do that and keep on the defensive against any other enemy was beyond me.
Two more Aelfwar met their end at my blades before I made it to the central altar itself. It was magnificent. I had no words to describe the majesty and beauty and mystery that seemed to surround the interior of the giant tree. The roots of the tree were so large I didn't think I'd be able to get my arms around the smallest one and they reared up out of the earth like majestic sentinels defending their liege. I felt so small in the sheltering embrace of the giant tree and hardly dared breath loudly. As I moved beneath the sheltering roots of the tree, it was as if the outside world fell away. The sounds of the Aelfwar betrayers as they continued their desecrations seemed to fall away, as well as any worries I'd had. The tension fell off my shoulders and I felt like crying for some reason. Taking soft, quiet breaths, I knelt in front of the beautiful altar and whispered a simple prayer to Tavril.
Slowly, light flared along the edges of the altar and took form in front of me. I backed up a step, hesitant. The light coalesced into the form of the familiar Spirit Guide doe and I blinked at her in shock.
"I'm glad to see you here, Raeslyn." The doe said. Although I didn't actually hear any words. They just seemed to form in my mind. It reminded me somewhat of the way the Messengers of the Vigil communicated. I nodded my head at the doe in return. "I have grave news, I'm afraid." The doe continued and I nodded grimly. "The Aelfwar have turned from the gods. In their fervor, they have allowed a seed of disease to sprout within them, ruining all they touch. My shrines are being corrupted one by one and as Hylas's power grows, my light in these woods fades." I gasped, feeling horror creep into my eyes and the doe stared deep into my soul with liquid anguished eyes. I knew it pained Tavril deeply to lose any of her children and the Aelfwar were those closest to her, the first ones to pledge to her Covenant all those eons ago.
"But never fear, Raeslyn, for as long as their are believers in this world, there is still hope. Prince Hylas, in exchange for the loyalty of the House Aelfwar, received a powerful gift from Fae Lord Twyl. Such a gift was not meant for the fickle hands of that treacherous elf. Take this token, it may reveal the truth of Hylas's fall. Remember child, we are all beloved, even those who have fallen from the path. Deliver this token to the one known as Cerys, she will know what to do." The doe bent her head and grazed the earthen floor that the altar rested on. When she lifted her head, a tiny, vibrant green seedling could be seen. I gawked at it. Wow, a gift from the gods! Well technically, from a Spirit Guide, but they worked for Tavril so in essence...
Reverently, I knelt and cupped the tiny seedling in my palm. I stared up at the doe from my kneeling position. The soft, intelligent eyes stared into mine, filled with the weight and knowledge of the world. I swallowed, suddenly feeling parched. The doe pawed the ground slightly, then tossed her head. And disappeared. My eyes automatically adjusted to the sudden loss of the light and I glanced around, stunned to realize that it was now midday. Had I really spent the better part of the morning inside this sacred tree? I stood and stretched, feeling my muscles protest at the stiffness. I said another simple prayer of thanks towards the altar and ducked out from underneath the roots.
"What? Who are you!" Too late I realized I hadn't cloaked myself in shadows and swore, jerking swiftly to the side as an Aelfwar soldier glared at me suspiciously. I unsheathed my daggers and stuck my tongue out. So it was a bit immature, but it wasn't as if trying to reason with him was going to work, now was it? The man's face turned red in anger and he lunged at me, sword raised. I swiftly sidestepped his obvious lunge, easily avoiding the thrust and slicing along his side just under the arm as I went. I'd learned to exploit any weakness your opponent gave you. The man hissed in pain and anger and I glanced around, hoping we wouldn't catch the attention of anyone else. The man swished his sword in front of him in a fancy pattern but I wasn't that impressed. He obviously knew how to perform the moves, but not how to actually fight. This was further evidenced when he rushed me again, sword leading. He was holding it too high and leaving himself completely open so I leaned into the attack, narrowly avoiding the sword but managing to score several cuts along his chest before darting out of the way. I smirked and the man bellowed in anger, whirling to glare hatefully at me.
"Fool Guardian. You are too late to do anything here! Hylas will have Silverwood and we shall return to the old ways, like we were meant to be." The man taunted me and I glared but kept silent. There wasn't any use arguing, this fanatic obviously wholeheartedly threw his lot in with Hylas.
The prickling sensation on the back of my neck was my only warning before the ground just in front of me violently erupted in a shower of dirt and sparks. I admit I nearly fell over backwards in my scramble to get away from it. One look at the soldier confirmed that he hadn't done that so I scanned the area. There was a robed Aelfwar priest standing on a rock, staff held at a sharp angle and hand still held out in the motions of a spell cast. Uh oh. The cold sneer on the spell caster's face spelled certain disaster and I glanced between the panting soldier and the priest, trying to think of the best strategy. That's when movement alerted me to yet another priest, come up behind the soldier. The woman placed a hand on the soldier's wrist and a green glow surrounded where their flesh joined. Now I was definitely in trouble. Uneasily, I glanced between the three of them. No way would I be able to take out all three without gaining some injuries in return. No doubt severe injuries. Time to make myself scarce. Like a true rogue, I quickly dived behind a nearby outstretched root just as another sizzling bolt of magic struck the spot I'd just been standing in. I felt the leather soles of my shoes melt slightly from the intensity and swore again. I needed to get out of here. A warrior or other risk-taking individual may have stayed and battled it out, but I was just a rogue, Ascended or not, and wasn't used to taking on others head on, especially multiple targets. I was more adept at quiet, shadowy assassinations and daggers in the dark. Keeping low, I skirted the edge of the root and glanced around. A few more Aelfwar were looking this way, obviously curious as to what all the commotion was about. I needed to make my break for it before they all came to realization that there was an enemy in the camp. Throwing caution to the wind, I concentrated on my ability and forced myself to use the unique ability that allowed me to shift through the spaces in the air, teleporting yards away from my current position. In fact, I was now on the outskirts of the small clearing that the Mirror of Ages rested in. Without waiting for anyone to react to my sudden appearance, I ducked my head low and rolled sideways into a nearby bush, hoping it wasn't poisonous or would otherwise adversely affect me. There were lots of such undergrowth in Silverwood if one wasn't wary.
The whole way back to Argent Glade I criticized myself for getting caught in such a situation that almost tested my immortality. That was close and I couldn't believe I'd been stupid enough to let my guard down and forget my surroundings. "Always be aware of where you are!" My mentor's voice came back to me, scolding me in my head. Soothing waves rippled through my mind, no doubt from the other souls that inhabited my body, but I ignored the sensation. I'd rather not have a reminder of my unnatural state just now. It was just another hint that I should have been paying more attention. I was Ascended now and I should have known better. The sacredness of the grove must have gotten to me, was my only consolation. I wouldn't let it happen again.
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