Wednesday, June 26, 2013

[Raeslyn's Story] 2.18: Kongeegon, Harbinger of Greenscale

Location: Guardian Foothold south of Overwatch Keep
Time: Early afternoon
Date: Year 1509, 7th Moon
     The Guardian foothold, the base of operations and spies against Hylas and his Aelfwar, wasn't exactly what I had in mind. For one thing, they were all just casually hanging around as if waiting for something exciting to happen. For another thing, it was smaller then I expected. Somehow I imagined an entire army ready and willing to launch themselves at the Keeps front gate, armed to the teeth and ready to slaughter. It made me rather short tempered, which I suppose might be considered unfair, but I was too anxious to get this over with to bother with niceties.
  "Who's in charge here?" I demanded the second I'd caught my breath upon entering the camp. I didn't have to worry about introducing myself or explaining myself to the sentries, as they'd taken one look at me and just let me waltz into camp. My reputation in Silverwood must be growing. While it was nice to finally be so widely respected, I didn't like that I was recognizable on sight, but what could I do about it? Several heads turned at my curt tone and one older woman in red leathers nodded her head at an elven male leaning over some parchment on a table set up under a canopy. The man was dressed in standard military uniform with short cut blonde hair and a long sword at his hip. As my shadow fell over him, the man looked up and gave me a calm once over.

    "Ah, Raeslyn, I take it? Brougan had mentioned your plan of infiltration. I find it a rather risky, but potentially rewarding idea, if you can pull it off." I grit my teeth to avoid saying something nasty, instead crossing my arms. My new leather outfit creaked as I did so and his smile slowly melted as he got the full "Ascended stare of doom" as I was fond of calling it.

     "Don't worry about my part, I can pull it off." I said after a few moments, irritably tossing a few strands of shell pink hair over my shoulder. Not for the first time I considered just cutting it to keep it out of the way. I didn't have the time to keep brushing and sweeping it up out of the way every day. Alas, the trials of being someone needed. I gazed over the encampment. "Where's the other Ascended that Brougan was going to send?" With a Wardstone being so close by, it was throwing off my innate ability to sense another Ascended.

     Loras pointed to the woman in red leather who'd pointed to Loras earlier. Seeming to sense the attention, she gave us a cool look. Not easily ruffled, was that one. She'd be good in a fight, I thought proudly. So far, all those that had been Ascended had been promising fighters. Still watching us, the woman made an eerie whistling noise and a large grey wolf melted out of the shadows, resting it's head on her lap like a friendly pet. Ah, a ranger then. Only a few ever had the dedication and the mindset to complete their ranger training and successfully bond with one of the wild creatures of the wood. I grinned and the woman quirked an eyebrow, allowing the corners of her lips to lift.

     "That's Cansa." Loras said by way of introduction. He then swung around and pointed to a man practicing battle forms a few paces away from the established line of the camp. "And that's Markus." The man, a Mathosian, had fair skin and dark hair common to the Mathosians. He had a strong, muscular body and good footwork. A warrior, I'd guess. I admired his form a few moments, before nodding. "And that is Madelyn." He finished, pointing to a tiny little woman wedged in between two boisterous young Guardians. I blinked and stared harder. I hadn't even noticed her before, she'd been nearly squashed by the men on either side. She was wearing a heavy robe of some silvery material and a thick book rested in her lap, forgotten as she laughed along with her much larger companions. A female dwarf, huh what do ya know. Of course I hadn't believed the standing joke that there were no female dwarves, but I'd known that they rarely left the delves. Of course, in these times of unrest, and being Ascended, it would make sense she'd want to help out where she could. From her garments I'd say she was a Cleric.

     "Sounds like a good mix." I said finally to break the silence. Loras nodded. He placed his fingers on the parchment on the table and I leaned down to study it. It was old smudged blueprints of Overwatch Keep. "Where'd you find this!" I blurted in surprise. Loras smiled at me.

     "Perhaps later I'll regale you with tales of my exploits," Loras said with a hand flourish, and I wondered if he was the flirty type. "For now though, we need to focus on disabling this threat." He finished and I sobered. "We have a lot to do and a little time to do it." Loras said.

     "We must stop Prince Hylas any way we can. If you are confident in your ability to enter the Keep undetected, then by all means, we will leave the disarming of the ritual to you. Do us proud Ascended and put an end to the Fae threat in Silverwood." He offered his hand and I felt like cringing from it. But in an effort of goodwill, I grasped his wrist lightly and gave a weak shake. I really didn't like being touched. After he'd let go, I mightily resisted the urge to wipe my hand on my jerkin. Not very polite, I reminded myself. I needed these men to be my distraction while I snuck inside. A woman walked up and saluted Loras and he gestured her over.

     "This is Cailin Amora. She's my second in command, and a finer officer you'll not find anywhere. She'll lead the Ascended." He winked at the taller woman and she blushed, her fine elven features turning pink. I rolled my eyes. Yep, definitely a flirt.

     Cailin gave me a firm nod. "We thank you for volunteering for this dangerous task, Ascended. Our hopes go with you." She said formally. I nodded, even though it wasn't so much volunteering as knowing it was the best and most time efficient. "The sooner that we extinguish the Aelfwar threat the better, so that we can finally remove the tarnish that House Aelfwar has brought to the High Elves." Cailin continued, lifting her head high. I raised an eyebrow. I hadn't thought of it in terms of reputation and all that nonsense. I just wanted Silverwood safe from Hylas's actions.

     Loras gave everyone in camp the announcement that in two hours they'd assault the Keep and suddenly the camp was a blur of activity, everyone rushing about to get supplies ready. The shring of whetstones against blades, the whirr of arrows being settled into quivers, the creak of leather and clank of plate. All the noise eventually began to give me a headache and I told Loras I was setting off to assess the layout of the Keep. I already knew my way in, but I wanted an excuse to get away from the din. Besides, I wanted to be in position for when the siege started to take maximum advantage of the initial chaos. Licking my lips, I realized I actually found myself looking forward to this fight. Despite the fact that I would no doubt meet up with former friends and acquaintances, I was glad that it was all coming to a head. Well maybe glad wasn't the word. I couldn't describe it, but I was glad. The main gate to Overwatch was heavily guarded by alert Aelfwar soldiers with hard eyes who scanned all the nearby land as if waiting for something to jump out and attack them. Which it would, in a few hours. I skirted around many patrols that roamed the areas, easily able to avoid the Aelfwar with my concealing abilities. If I wasn't Ascended this would probably be a nearly impossible feat. I found myself wondering if I'd be able to do it before, idly musing over what I'd do differently before my rebirth, as I came upon the back path that led a meandering, lazy path up to the fortress. This was usually where the more unsavory actions happened. Spies and suchlike. As much as the High Elves liked to think themselves refined and above the petty problems of the rest of civilization, we had always had occasion to eliminate threats to the wild places of Telara. Pruning among the forest as well as among the towns. At least, that was how it was ages past, when we Elves were the wandering guardians of the forest of Tavra, when the humans had been nothing but violent, heretical savages. Here's hoping that the path, so old, had been forgotten, or wasn't worth the effort of guarding, as it was a rather steep and difficult path and ended at a stone wall. The thing not many knew was that there were hand holds in the stone and if you were careful you could sneak up and over without anyone finding out.

     Just as I approached the wall, a great commotion caused me to grin triumphantly. Just in time. A shudder went through the ground as the Guardian forces assaulted the Keep. Screams and shouts grew fainter as they moved toward the front of the Keep and I quickly hoisted myself in to the first foothold.

     Once over the wall, I crept along it on the inside, alert to any danger. The Keep layout just as I remembered, and I easily avoided the myriad soldiers and spellcasters who rushed toward the sounds of battle. From the amount of Aelfwar scrambling for the gate, I suspected that the Guardians were giving them quite a run for their money. The work of the Ascended no doubt. I mentally cheered my fellows on. When one elf in high ranking armor stopped in the courtyard and bowed formally to someone I couldn't see nearby, I ventured around the corner and gasped. There was Hylas! Right there, pretty much in my face! I hardly dared breath, alternating between relief that I'd found him and panic that yes...I'd found him. Now what? He was sitting on a balcony about shoulder height in a strange, twisted caricature of a throne. A dark viridian aura of planar magic pulsed around him, the magic so powerful and ugly that I had a hard time believing that this was indeed Prince Hylas, beloved leader of the High Elves for centuries. The first oathtakers of the Covenant would surely be rolling in their proverbial graves to see how far our prince had fallen.

     "I will not stand idly by while Maelforge and his goblin minions lay waste to my beloved wild forest!" Hylas suddenly snapped and for a frozen, horrified moment, I thought he was talking to me. But movement on the balcony evidenced another spectator, a strange looking Cleric. I frowned, he looked somewhat familiar, but I couldn't place his name. The Cleric nodded, a dark ugly look on his face that I didn't like.

     "Yes my prince. These Guardians do nothing. They sit safe in their holy city of Sanctum and abandon this fight while you stand your ground against the onslaught of goblins! They ran off to help a foreign land while you stayed loyal to the forest." The man was nearly dripping with excess fawning and I felt unclean just watching him.

     "This is the only way. The only way to save Silverwood is to give in to the wilderness. Let nature consume the world and all that harms it. They will see the inevitable futility of civilization soon enough. " Hylas's voice sounded confident, fervent, but the look in his eyes was one of hesitance, like he was looking for approval that this was the right choice. I stared, suddenly considering this new tidbit. Maybe Hylas had been tricked into the whole thing? This shady cleric surely looked like the epitome of evil advisor. Maybe he had been poisoning Hylas against Tavril, against the Vigil, since the beginning. Hylas abruptly stood up and I fell back a step, lest he discover me. I may be able to conceal myself in shadows, but if someone got too close, I could be discovered. Especially if they were already on the alert.

     "These Guardians seek to dethrone me. They lay siege to my very door. The fools. This ends today." Hylas growled, the words an ominous foreshadowing. Feeling like I'd somehow missed my cue, I followed as Hylas stepped down from the balcony to the courtyard floor and for the first time I noticed the courtyard. Or rather, what was left of it. The space had been almost entirely taken over by the plane of life. Strangling mottled green vines snaked up the walls, shooting into every crack and crevice they could find and bursting through statues that dotted the area. Strange, glowing orange flowers dotted the shadowy corners and I could make out slithery movement among them to my horror. By the gods...

     This was a wake up call, a splash of cold water on the face. Whether Hylas had been swayed by trickery or not, he'd still allowed this to happen and he must be stopped before he unleashed the treant demon on the unsuspecting citizens of Silverwood. The center of the courtyard seethed with planar malevolence, tall blade like grass swaying to a wind I couldn't feel. A strange purple seed pod the size of a small child nestled among the grass tenderly. Splashes of red gave it a strange spotted look and I suspected it was sacrificial blood to feed the unnatural seedling.

     Without being aware of it, I walked up to the seed as Hylas paused at the last step. It was like there was something guiding me, a light, divine presence in my mind. It whispered that I needed to destroy the seedling. The seed pod was the connection between the plane of life and Telara. Through it, Kongeegon would be able to manifest in Silverwood, something I needed to prevent at all cost. I unsheathed my daggers.

     "What is this! Who are you? You think you can simply invoke the Vigil's name and halt my dominion over this forest? You will not defeat Kongeegon that easily! Taste the power of Greenscale!" Hylas.

     I felt a crushing humiliation. I'd let my concealment slip, allowing the Vigil to so distract me that I'd forgotten my surroundings. And I'd been chanting hymns of the Vigil. Oh gods. I was so reckless and stupid and foolish! I'd ruined the one chance we had of resolving this, I just knew it. I turned around slowly, clutching my daggers so tight I imagine my knuckles were white. I didn't want to turn my back on the malignant seedling, but Hylas was the greater threat here. Or so I thought. Hylas waved his hands in the air as he finished speaking and a jet of bright green shot from his fingers. I braced myself, expecting some kind of magical assault, but the green bolt shot right by me. The ground shook and I planted my feet apart to stay upright. Hylas laughed and laughed as the sky darkened and I heard something I'll hear for the rest of my days. It sounded like nothing I've ever heard of before, and yet it wasn't a sound at all. It was the sound of the fabric of reality splitting. On instinct I dove to the side as an enormous foot made up of thousands of roots and branches smashed down where I'd been standing. I thanked my god given reflexes for the fact that I wasn't a pancake right now, but the thought soon fled, along with any other, as Kongeegon stepped into our world, the rift closing with a thunderous snap that was silent at the same time. Invisible, hot, wild wind lashed my face.

     "Fool! You may be Ascended, saved by your precious false gods, but you will never stand up to myself and Kongeegon!" Hylas looked like a mad god standing at the last step, the wind whipping his long fair locks around his face, expression twisted into one of exultant triumph. My heart leaped into my mouth and I suddenly lamented the fact that I hadn't insisted on taking a partner. Or staying with the siege group. Or staying in Argent Glade and letting some other fool do this...

     I'm dead, I'm dead, I'm dead! Was wailing around in my mind uselessly. Kongeegon, the terrible harbinger of Greenscale, towered over me, so tall it was redundant. He squinted down at my suddenly tiny and helpless form and a rumble came forth. It took me a moment to realize it was his version of laughter. Booming, wicked laughter that conjured pictures of animals tearing each other apart and wild vines that strangled the sun.

     "Ascended! You can destroy that creature! You must! Destroy him and I shall distract the prince!" The melodic, soothing voice interrupted my mantra and I saw the Spirit Guide nimbly frolic across the tangle of wild grasses toward the balcony, the sight so incongruous with the rest of the scene that all of us stared, looking rather dumbfounded. I didn't question her sudden appearance, or her ability to take on Hylas despite her delicate, fragile mien. Her words snapped me out of the daze I'd sat in and I was immediately furious for just standing there and letting the monster slay me. I was Ascended for Vigil's safe! I was an assassin of exceptional skill of ability. And most importantly, I was Raeslyn! I never gave up, and I never surrendered, despite the odds. It was just part of who I was and I silently thanked the Spirit Guide for reminding me of that. Without thinking, I flipped forward as Kongeegon rent the ground where I'd been. I felt the passing of his fist as it crashed down and cursed. That was way too close.

     How to kill what was essentially a giant tree soaked in the strongest of planar magics? Such were the dilemmas that plagued my existence, I mused darkly as I avoided another fist. Kongeegon roared with rage. Giant, unstoppable creature he may be, but being a tiny ant had its advantages. Although I knew I'd eventually tire, and than the inevitable would happen. I needed to find his weakness and kill him quickly. And it hit me. Of course. He was a planar creature, but he was still an elemental. A treant. And treants were particularly vulnerable to fire. I could have kicked myself for forgetting that. Of course, I could be forgiven for that oversight while watching that horror step onto Telara. The blight of his presence in Telara assaulted my senses. Everyone has their frozen moments, except with the powerful threats I faced, that could prove deadly. As I rolled away from a crushing foot again, I sheathed my main daggers and yanked out the smaller ones that I'd placed the hellfire spell on, in what seemed another age. The daggers still glowed with their unearthly wreath of flame. They were tiny, even compared to my main daggers. I had a moment of doubt, but I didn't have time to cast the spell on different ones, so I had to work with that I had.

     This time, when Kongeegon crashed down, I leaped at his foot, stabbing the tiny dagger into a root. It was laughably ineffective as a physical weapon, but instantly the flames engulfed the root and all those surrounding it, blackening and charring the surrounding area. Kongeegon roared with shocked pain, shaking his foot furiously. I tried as best I could to stay on his foot and stab as many individual roots as I could but my grip slipped and I found myself blurring through the air. I cracked up against the courtyard wall with a bone breaking thud and slid to the ground. If the vines weren't covering the walls in a blanket of green, I'd no doubt be dead, I thought dazedly, coughing up blood. As it was, I think I'd definitely broken something major inside. Praying that my accelerated healing abilities were able to fix this, I climbed to my feet. Or rather, tried to. Instead, the world tilted sideways and I fought not to throw up breakfast as black spots danced in front of my eyes.

     Far away, I heard Hylas's furious howl and I grinned in bloody satisfaction at the damage I'd wrought to Kongeegon.

     "You're stronger than I thought, Ascended! But no matter, Kongeegon will smother you in the end and you will serve Greenscale. They--" He was abruptly cut off, presumably by the Spirit Guide. I sent a silent blessing to the Vigil for her aid.

     "'Bout time you shut up," I whispered, spitting blood to the side. The ground shuddered under my hand, letting me know that Kongeegon was coming to finish the job. Mustering my failing strength, I yanked myself to my feet by sheer willpower. A draining sensation caused my vision to nearly fade to white and I had the uncomfortable feeling that world was falling away. Oh, this was so not good. Grimly, I bit my lip to help focus and held up my daggers in trembling, clammy hands. I needed to finish this, one way or another. There was no failing. I felt a displacement of air, my only warning that Kongeegon was reaching for me, and I reacted blindly, slashing out viciously with both daggers. Burning wood never smelled better. But I knew, somehow, that this wasn't enough. I was just causing small injuries. Painful and possibly serious, yes, but not life ending. I needed more...

     I needed to get the fire at his heart. Or where a heart would be in a mortal. Somehow, I just knew that. But how on Telara was I going to do that? I could barely stand, for Vigil's sake. Pressing back until I could feel the prick of thorns and leaves in the small of my back, I reached blindly behind me with one hand and twined around one of the rope like vines. I kept brandishing the flaming dagger with the other and thankfully Kongeegon was somewhat wary of the fire, tiny a vessel it may be.

     With agility and strength I didn't even know I had left, I twisted my body, ignoring my laboring heart as it tried to keep my conscious. Up the wall I flung myself, half climbing, half using momentum to swing myself forward. Bracing my feet, I kicked off, praying to all the gods that I struck my target since my vision had narrowed to a point and all I could see was a large greenish brown shadow. The second I impacted with Kongeegon, I thrust both daggers into whatever root like flesh I could reach. I stabbed and stabbed, relentless in my assault, even as Kongeegon flailed and bellowed and shook. I stabbed and stabbed.

     The great body I clung to staggered, and with a mighty crash that rattled my teeth in my skull, fell to the vine covered courtyard floor. I heard a loud wail of despair and vaguely understood that it was Hylas. Had I killed the demon? I attempted to get up, but my limbs wouldn't obey me. So I just lay there. This seems nice. A bright flash of green lit up the back of my eyes and I attempted to focus, but it was too much effort. A sense of danger. Hylas had defeated the Spirit Guide. I knew it. I wondered blurrily if I was next. Than I wondered why I cared. Obviously I was dying anyway. Stubbornly, I clung to consciousness. I refused to give in. They say we are immortal. I didn't want to find out. Not because I was afraid of death, or because I didn't know what would happen, but because I was afraid that death wasn't permanent. Solid proof that I was permanently altered by the gods. Their divine hand of justice. A toy to be repeatedly brought back to fight for their cause. I wanted to be more than that. Didn't I?

     Hylas stopped and stared down at my form, looking hateful and wrathful. I smiled up at him with blood covered lips.

     "This can't be. Unbelievable." Hylas whispered in a confused, agonized voice. If I had the strength, I'd have comforted him. Wait, no I wouldn't. He was a bad guy now, remember? And his giant pet had done this to me. I tried to say as much, but nothing but bubbles of blood emerged. I whimpered. "Lord Twyl promised that Kongeegon couldn't be stopped! You may have foiled my plans for Silverwood, but when Greenscale is released, all of Telara will be entwined in House Aelfwar's wild grip! Until we meet again, Guardian." Oh, he was leaving? Why wasn't he just going to finish me? A hand on my arm seconds later answered that question.

     "We need a healer!" Came Loras's high, panicked voice. I lacked the energy to even raise my hand, so I just stared up at his blurry face. There was a flurry of movement, but I'd stopped caring. In fact, I'd stopped everything.

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