"It appears the Vigil has chosen wisely with you, Ascended. This journey is over, but a new one must begin, in order to ensure that Telara remains safe. Farewell, child of the Vigil." The voice sounded like that of the Spirit Guide.
With that thought, I woke up. At first, I couldn't understand what had happened. I was laying flat on my back on what appeared to be a soft bed of grass. The fragrant, fresh scent of nature seemed to almost sting my nose with its sharpness. I wrinkled my face up and blinked my heavy eyelids open. It took a few seconds for my eyes to become accustomed to the level of light they were afflicted with, and I was further confused to see a face looming over me, close enough to kiss. Alarmed, I tried to move away, but found that my limbs were like lead. I felt so heavy and sleepy and a part of my mind wondered if I'd been drugged. I hadn't felt this icky since before my Ascension. What happened? The face retreated from view, and hands helped me sit up, where I blinked rather stupidly around the courtyard. Courtyard...right! Hylas! Kongeegon! I gasped, leaping to my feet suddenly. The woman who'd been tending me stepped back slightly but didn't appear too surprised by my reaction. She appeared relieved and smiled at me. She was a dwarf. A child like, round faced little dwarf cleric. I even knew her. From the Guardian's encampment.
"What happened?" I asked roughly, then coughed in irritation. That was embarrassing. My throat felt like I'd swallowed ten potions in one go. The rest of Loras Tivan's company strode into the courtyard at that moment, most with swords in hand and blood all over their clothing. "I killed Kongeegon. I think." I said, rather smugly, and smirked. My muscles felt stiff and sore, and I knew, deep down, that I must have died. I'd felt myself slipping, before everything had gone dark. I glanced at the dwarf cleric and raised a brow silently. She nodded and smiled at me. That left me feeling unsettled. I didn't like the idea that I'd died, and then been revived just like that, piece of cake. A twinge of unease ate at my insides as I stared at the ground. Further proof that I was changed, not a normal being of Telara anymore. I could almost see the Aelfwar's side of things now. Almost. We were so different than the regular folk, us Ascended. Immortal, unstoppable. What would happen when we had subdued the dragons? Put an end to the threat? We were created for a specific purpose, to fight evil. If there wasn't anymore evil to fight, what would happen to us? To me? Something I really didn't want to think about. I thrust myself out of the little group of healers that had no doubt surrounded my downed body and walked forward to greet Loras. Across the courtyard, Kongeegon's grossly mishappen body lay like a giant log, larger than life evidence of my status as the Vigil's chosen. Loras looked deeply impressed and in awe of me as he approached, and his eyes kept bouncing between my form and the body of the demonic treant from the Plane of Life. I grinned cheekily.
"See? Told you could I do it." I said, somewhat breezily. I didn't mention that I'd died doing it, seeing as how I'd come back to life in apparent good order. Loras quietly gazed at me, than turned and surveyed his men. They looked weary and saddened and I remembered that the Aelfwar was once a mighty group of elves who stood for all that was holy among us. I felt a seriousness fall over me and I nodded grimly.
"By slaying Kongeegon, Raeslyn, you have saved the forest and its people, but above all, you have restored balance to Silverwood. I can feel the forest creatures emerging from their dens and the very air feels brighter, cleaner, whole. With Hylas driven back, the forest is free of the clutches of the Plane of Life. Well done, Raeslyn the Ascended." He sketched a formal bow and I felt myself grow irritated at the flowery praise. I made a motion of acknowledgement with my fingers.
"Although...where has Hylas gone, do you know?" Loras looked around worriedly, as if expecting to find Hylas eavesdropping in some far flung corner. I glanced around reflexively as well, then shrugged. "I don't know." I replied honestly. "Last I saw, he'd magically vanished after I killed Kongeegon. Wherever he is, rest assured that he isn't through with us yet. He'll find some way to get revenge for this, and cause more mischief for Telara. Who knows where he'll strike next." I said. I sighed, suddenly feeling weary myself. No doubt it would be my duty to again try to stop my former prince.
Loras walked over and inspected the wooden body of the mighty Kongeegon. I followed, although at a slower pace. The creature still made me nervous, despite being dead. He'd been a formidable foe and had I been any less then what I was, I'm sure a different outcome would have resulted. Best not to think about it actually. Loras stooped down and scooped something off the ground in the center of the courtyard and brought it back to me, where I'd stopped a few paces away. I glared sharply at the treant's body and Loras had to clear his throat to grab my attention again. I scowled at him and he held out a large black seed pod, about the size of a child's fist. It was blackened and enshrouded in a powerful elemental aura that reeked of the Plane of Life. I eyed the pod warily before glancing at Loras.
"What?" I asked, finally. Loras held out the pod and I reluctantly opened my fist to accept it. The second the seed touched my hand, I felt like dropping it. Threads of planar energy wormed their way across my hand. I really don't like magic.
"Thanks to you, Prince Hylas can't hurt us anymore. But this seed must be cleansed and guarded to prevent others from using its powers. The potential to summon another great elemental being is locked within this seed, I can feel it. I entrust it's safekeeping to you, Ascended, until it can be given to Brougan Grote in Argent Glade. Will you do us the honor of escorting it there?" He looked expectantly between my eyes and my palm and I sighed inwardly. Even though I wanted to refuse, I knew that I wouldn't rest properly unless I knew that this malignant thing had been dealt with properly and I didn't trust anyone else with that task but myself. So instead, I closed my fingers over the pod and shoved it into my belt pouch, resisting the urge to wipe my hands when I let go of it.
"Yes, I'll run this little errand." I agreed, albeit reluctantly. Oh well, I had to go back to Argent Glade anyway. I still had to resolve the issue of why and how the goblins were getting into Silverwood to begin with, not to mention that I'd been hearing rumors of dark happenings up north, at the border of Silverwood and Gloamwood. No doubt, they needed the expertise of an Ascended to help with the problem.
After saying my farewells to Loras and the rest of his men, including the two powerful Ascended who'd pretty much done that end of the mission solo, I finally left Overwatch Keep behind. A part of me itched to stay and reminisce in the Keep. To wander it's fine hallways and archways, to follow old memories through stone towers and across the many courtyards of the fortress, but at the moment the emotions were too high and I felt too raw from all that had occurred. Maybe some other time I'd come back here and investigate my old home. Here there, pockets of Aelfwar resistance fought back against the Guardians and I considered pitching in to give the Guardians aid, but then I snorted. Meh, let them earn their keep. If they can't hold back an attack by the Aelfwar they'd never be any good against the actual dragons, or a more serious threat.
I took my time making my way back to Argent Glade, despite the feeling of the seed and it's dark energy at my side. What Loras had said was evident all around me. The forest seemed to teem with new life and vitality. A feeling of happiness and satisfaction came over me as I walked the lesser known paths toward Argent Glade. The sun seemed brighter, the leaves seemed greener, and the air seemed cleaner. Or maybe that was just my good mood projecting upon the wilderness around me. Whatever the cause, I felt the best I'd felt since my entire ordeal started in the Sanctuary of Rebirth. I almost felt like I could sing. Except I never sang. Not even in private. I felt too self conscious doing it. I know, silly when I was alone, but it just felt uncomfortable. But my step did feel lighter and I felt almost like my heels had wings as I veritably flew through the forest. Because of my increased stamina and power, I had no problem keeping up a fast clip through the forest and arrived in Argent Glade without even breaking a sweat from the trip. As soon as I entered the town, I felt the air was different. All the civilians were smiling and happy and they all bobbed their heads at me like I was a well known neighbor. Maybe I was by this point. News in Telara tended to travel quickly, especially among the High Elves.
Brougan Grote was signing some papers for one of his men when I approached. I waited patiently to the side of the table as he finished. He glanced up, noticed me, and his face lit up with happy recognition and pride.
"Raeslyn!" He boomed in his loud voice. I winced internally. He'd never survive using the skills of a rogue, I thought sourly as I walked up. Brougan reached out and shook my hand, oblivious to the feeling of irritation rising off me.
"Word of your victory over Kongeegon has spread across Silverwood Raeslyn! Hylas won't recover from this for some time, ha! We won't let him gain that kind of power in Silverwood again, don't worry. His reign as prince of the High Elves is over." He looked quite proud of this and I barely repressed the urge to glare. No matter what Hylas was now, he had once been our greatest and most revered leader and he deserved respect for that at the very least. But again I held my tongue and merely nodded.
"I have something for you. We found it near Kongeegon's body. It's what Hylas used to summon him into our world. Loras suggested that maybe you would know how to keep it safe." I said, and withdrew the seed pod from it's place in my belt pouch. Idly, I wondered if maybe I should burn that pouch and get a new one in case the seed had tainted my pack. Brougan turned the seed over curiously. I'd noticed over time that normal citizens and Guardians couldn't sense planar energy to the extent that I could. They could tell it was there, from some kind of sixth sense, and if they studied and trained, they could learn to shape it, but they couldn't innately look at an object and tell what it was like I could. As Brougan roughly handled the seed in his curiosity, I felt like scolding him for treating it so carelessly. Here was a powerful planar artifact that we needed to secrete away somewhere so that no other aspiring warlords used it.
"Very well." Brougan finally said, and placed the seed carefully on the table. "I'll take this seed and ensure that no one abuses this terrible weapon again." He turned serious and looked me straight in the eye, making me feel slightly uneasy.
"Know this. Wherever your travels take you Raeslyn, you will always have a home here among the grateful citizens of Argent Glade and in Sanctum. You've saved us all from a terrible fate and you have our eternal gratitude." He sketched a low, formal bow. To my mortification, everyone else present did likewise, murmuring words of praise for the Ascended and the Vigil. Eventually Brougan returned to his seat at his table and I gave a half lopsided smile.
"Thank you, your words mean a lot to me." I said carefully. "However, I feel more comfortable out and about in the wide world rather than being tied to one place in particular. But I'll definitely come visit often." I suddenly grinned. "After all, I've got to make sure yall don't forget me!" Brougan chuckled.
I turned to go, then remembered the goblins and turned back, tapping the hilt of my dagger. "It's true the Aelfwar threat is contained, but the goblins are another matter." I said. Brougan stroked his chin thoughtfully and shuffled through his papers.
"Yes, that's true. I've gotten some worrisome reports from up north about goblins actually. Their defeat in Silverwood will only stoke their aggression, if I know anything about goblins. They seem to be currently plaguing Gloamwood something fierce. They may very well meddle in powers best left alone in that dark forest in order to wake their dragon master."
"Maelforge." I spat the name. I loathed those dragon gods. Not gods at all actually, just powerful entities that represented their primal element. I nodded as Brougan handed me one of the reports of goblin uprisings in Gloamwood. The report was pretty serious and again I felt I needed to go to Gloamwood and see what was going on with the goblin situation. It ranked at me to leave a task unfinished and the situation with the goblins was unfinished, that was for sure.
"The people of Gloamwood could use your help, Ascended." Brougan said softly as I read. I hummed noncommittally. "If you are willing to travel there, I have a contact, Laenaya Niro, who is stationed at Gnarlwood Post just inside the Gloamwood border." I raised an eyebrow, and tapped the paper against the table. Finally, I knew I couldn't avoid it, and nodded.
"Yes, I think I should go investigate this goblin matter. It seems that things in Silverwood are settling down, and the gift of Ascension has given me an edge that others don't have. And it's not like I have anything better to do." I added the last part just to see what he'd say. Brougan looked amused.
"Thank you, Ascended. I will send a missive to inform her of your coming. Just follow the path into Gloamwood. Her latest report about the goblin threat deeply worries me. May the Vigil guide your way." He inclined his head and I knew I'd been dismissed. I gave a jaunty half salute and sauntered out, daggers swaying at my hips and along my back.
Before heading to Gloamwood, I wanted to get some supplies, have a few good nights rest, and fetch Naesa, my mare. The journey will no doubt be faster if I had her with me instead of going by foot. Marginally less dangerous as well, as goblins were always reluctant to attack a fast paced horse. I paused by the large shimmering curtain of planar power that made up the Porticum in Argent Glade, gazing at it. Should I use it to get from Argent Glade to Sanctum, pick up Naesa, and then portal back here to Argent Glade? Unquestionably, the time it would cut was amazing. I could be in Sanctum in moments. But the very idea raised hairs on my neck. I wasn't afraid of magic, per se, but it made me nervous. As a trained warrior of the shadows, I used daggers and other weapons of deadly stealth. I was a physical fighter and didn't really see much use for magic. Of course it came in handy in some situations, such as my resurrection. I grinned to myself. But I didn't like relying on it too heavily. If I did that, who knows what else I'd be using it for? Before too long, I might be using more magic than physical skill in my attacks and abilities. While not necessarily a bad thing, I didn't want to become that kind of person. I liked my method of fighting just fine and it worked quite well for me and I didn't want to wake up one day to find that I preferred weapons lit with magic, or that I liked using sourcestone magic to augment my abilities. I stood there for so long that the Porticum master asked me to step up and not be shy.
I debated a few more moments, before I finally gave in to the lure of the convenience of being able to instantly teleport halfway across the forest to Sanctum rather then spend half the day by foot getting there. The woman standing by the arch that heralded those to and from its borders beamed at me like I'd just made her day. I stepped up to the shimmering green curtain, admiring it's ethereal, alien beauty. The gods approved of this, I reminded myself as the woman manipulated a series of strange dials on the side of the strange metal arch. A waterfall of bright light rippled through the curtain of green, then she nodded in satisfaction at me. Taking that as my cue, I stepped forward into the green magic and was swept away to another place.
The actual experience of traveling through the arch was hard to explain. I had the sense that time stood still and at the same time seemed to stretch onward to eternity. I felt all my senses explode outward at the same time as being compressed down so tightly that I felt like I would burst from the pressure. I couldn't see anything, and yet my mind insisted that I could feel the breeze on my face as I whipped past the land between Argent Glade and Sanctum in mere seconds. Finally, I was disgorged onto unsteady feet into the dim interior of the Sanctum of the Vigil, Sanctum. Thankfully I was able to quickly step forward a few paces to save myself tripping flat on my face from the momentum of being thrust out of the Porticum. A woman standing nearby gave me a casual, half interested glance, before going back to filing her nails. Apparently she was used to seeing people pop out of the green curtain. Striving to look as natural as I could, I adjusted my daggers and strode for the exit of the cathedral.
Outside in the bright sunlight that was midday in Silverwood, I glanced around. These Porticums were indeed quite handy for fast travel. The only downside was how rare they were and how they required you to have visited the town or outpost they were located at in order to activate that particular one. So currently, I had only the ability to travel between Sanctum and Argent Glade. Oh well, that bothered me not at all since I loved traveling and exploring the wild spaces of Telara. Grinning eagerly, I stepped down off the steps of the cathedral, and was immediately assaulted by an eager pilgrim who bowed before me.
"Ascended! Only someone who is touched by the gods could have done what you did at Point Solitude and Overwatch Keep! The Guardians thank you, mighty Ascended." The man bowed again, and cheered, drawing the attention of a few nearby Guardians who had been praying to the statue located between the cathedral and the bridge. I rolled my eyes in aggravation.
"Yes, thank you. That was nice." I said dryly. The man beamed at me. Time to walk away before this became a crowd. I slipped over the side of the marble steps and made my escape among the busy confusion that was city life, easily blending in among the exotic, bright, and loud peoples that made Sanctum home. My senses were constantly prickling as I walked Sanctum's streets, letting me know that quite a few of my fellow Ascended were here in the city, and where once I'd been filled with such awe and pride at even the idea of more of my Ascended brethren, it had become such a commonplace thing that I just took the shivery feeling in stride and continued on my way.
After securing new packs and saddlebags, I found a merchant selling trail food at a good price, bought a few other supplies, and made my way to an Inn. I spent the rest of the evening lazing in the shaded grass by the Inn, idly watching some poor crazy man named "Poor Tom" wailing in the street about how everything had changed for the worst. Eventually the poor crazy fool wandered off down the road as I busied myself cleaning my daggers and the sun slowly sank behind the trees, sparkling on the sea behind Sanctum like jewels in a bed of blue silver.