"Have you heard 'The Green Hills of Freemarch?'" the Warden asked me mildly. "Perhaps one day I'll sing it to you, but not while I'm on duty." I sighed gustily, trying to keep a polite and respectful smile on my face. I'd walked up to a Warden standing in a bored fashion by the side of the highway to ask if I was going in the right direction to reach Kelari Refuge, but apparently there were so few interesting travelers on the highway that he had to chat with me. At least I knew I was going in the right direction. Kelari Refuge was actually right ahead, just down the bank! I was so excited to see my countrymen. I waved an impatient good bye to the poor Warden and hurriedly made my way down the highway. The long robes that I'd been garbed in when I'd been created slapped around my ankles as I trotted, but I didn't mind. It felt almost like coming home.
I got to the crest of the hill before it tapered downward to the beach and stared. I wasn't sure exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. This was barely a cobbled together wooden dock with a few shanties on it. My people called this place home now? Why didn't they move to that one city all the Defiant live in now? What was it called...Meridian? Why would they willingly reside down here on the beach like forgotten waifs. I suppose they wanted to be near the sea. Living on islands, we were always constantly reminded of the sea and the sounds it made. Maybe also the Kelari were hoping that the other ships would eventually make their way here. But I would think after all this time that there was no hope of that. What a sad sight my people now made. I will do my best to help them! With renewed determination, I strode down the hill and approached the little "village". If you could even call it that.
There were Kelari everywhere. All of them were tending to some task or another. Very few were just lounging about on the wayside. I hadn't realized I'd stopped, until I glanced to the side and saw a man dressed in Warden's colors nearby giving me a compassionate look. I walked over to him, not sure what I should do, now that I was here. A strong feeling inside my chest suggested that I should introduce myself, perhaps try to find some family member, or maybe see what I could do to help out this little community.
"Why hello there, young Bahmi." The Warden said cheerfully when I approached him. I murmured a quiet hello, still so full of sudden feeling that I couldn't even muster up a proper greeting. The Warden didn't seem to mind. "What brings you here to our humble home?" He asked with a quirk of the lips.
"Well," I began, and glanced around again. "I'd heard that the Kelari had left their islands and come ashore here. I admit, I was expecting ...I don't know. More, I guess. More of my people, more of a town and less of....this. More." I shrugged helplessly. The Warden gave me a rather strange look, eyeing me closely, and I realized I'd said "my people" as if I were a Kelari. Which I was, in spirit. But my physical shell didn't exactly reveal that. Finally, he waved me over and began walking up one of the wooden walkways that led out over the water, where the small little huts and shanties of the Kelari were situated. I hesitated, but I had wanted to know, so no time for second guesses now! Squaring my rather impressive shoulders and taking a deep breath, I stepped up onto the planks of yew wood that made up the "streets" of the Kelari refuge. The Warden talked as he gave me his tour.
"Many of the Kelari have left Freemarch, actually and made a life for themselves elsewhere in Telara. The ones you see here are only the select few who fell too much into despair over their broken home to leave here, or those who hope for the rest of the ships to arrive." I drew in a sharp breath. That sounded so...tragic. How sad! Those poor elves, living here while not really living, hoping that the ships will come. After all this time, they must know it's hopeless. But can I blame them? This? This was all that was left of my proud people? Where was the High Priestess though? I asked the Warden that question.
"Oh, High Priestess Anthousa Mona? She's in Meridian, providing council for the Defiant leaders. She helps her people where she can, make no mistake, but she can only do so much when they refuse to move on." He shrugged hopelessly. I mused over the current High Priestess's name. Anthousa Mona. The same woman who I'd met in the future timeline. It seems that some things hadn't changed too much. While alarming on one hand, it was somewhat comforting to realize that those I'd become acquainted with in the future were still here, still who they were, in this timeline.
I could hear seagulls crying out in the distance, the birds swooping and diving over the cliffs that marked the edge of Freemarch where it reached the sea. The smell of ocean water was strong, as well as the scent of dead fish and brine. Not a pleasant odor, but it seemed no one here minded. No doubt they were used to it. Warden Nieman stopped before a group of strong looking Kelari men discussing something in front of a rather large building. Must be the leaders of this little town, I thought.
"This here is Attis Resta." the Warden proclaimed, tilting his head in acknowledgment to the Kelari in ceremonial regalia standing in the center. I hadn't seen such armor in so long....it made me homesick for the Isles. The man, Attis Resta, sized me up, before looking quizzically at the Warden, who shrugged. "She says she's here to offer aid." He said, before waving at me and wandering off, whistling a strange tune. I glanced back at him, before shifting slightly, scuffing the floorboards with my toes. This isn't awkward at all. I cleared my throat.
"Hello sirs. I am Karazhan Anthanos from...well, I don't have a home at the moment actually, but I suppose you could say I'm a representative of the Defiant. I am what they call an Ascended." I bowed low and formally, as I'd been taught by the priestesses in Atia. The man gasped.
"An Ascended! Remarkable!" He stepped forward, hand outstretched as if he'd touch me, then looked sheepish and moved back. "What a wonderful occurrence, to have you visit our humble abode! Be welcome here, and if there be anything you need that we can provide, don't hesitate to ask! Being guests here in Freemarch makes us mindful to treat our own guests as best we can." I smiled, relaxing at his friendly, awe-filled speech.
"You are a Bahmi, are you not?" He continued, looking curious. "Forgive my forwardness, we don't get many Bahmi in our village. They tend to avoid us. Is there anything in particular you were looking for here?" He said the last somewhat more carefully, and I wondered at that.
"Actually, I'm not really a Bahmi. It's uh...a bit of a complicated story. Perhaps another time. What I would like is to offer your people my aid. Is there anything I can do for you instead? I would like to help out where I can here...maybe see if I can change circumstances for the better. We shouldn't be reduced to this, sitting and moping at the water's edge like lovers waiting for our husband's return. That is not who we are. We are strong, we..." I trailed off as the man was giving me the same strange look that the Warden was. I grinned sheepishly and scratched an ear. Way to make myself look even more weird than usual Kara, I chastised myself.
"Well...." Attis was still giving me that odd look, as if trying to unravel a puzzle. I kept silent, not wanting to make the matter even more confusing. 'I need to be careful what I say here in the past!' I scolded myself. Obviously telling just any old person, especially those not directly tied to the Defiant or to their military, about my unique status as a displaced soul, wasn't going to be as easily believed as being Ascended. After all, the stories of the Guardians and their own glorious Ascended have already spread throughout the land, so Defiant Ascended wasn't that far of a stretch further. Besides, in the grand scheme of things, I supposed that knowing about my actual true identity wouldn't really make much of a difference. "As the Kelari archipelago sank, my people fled on a makeshift float of ships. The voyage was dangerous and in fact, the last ship we had in sight crashed just off the coast. Our belongings were scattered around the wreck but the creatures of the water make it to dangerous to retrieve them. The Wardens don't deem the risk great enough just to help us reclaim our treasured belongings, and we are so lost here, that I can't organize enough men to dive down as well as keep the divers safe from the Thrashjaws." As he went on about how dangerous it was, and how sad it was that the Kelari possessions and their keepsakes of a better time were at the bottom of the sea, the only thing going through my mind was shock. A ship crashed?? He didn't mention lost lives, so I assumed that at least most of them made it so shore, but still, that was very disheartening. I wonder how many ships there were.
"What do you mean, a ship crashed? How many ships were there in total? Did all of them make it across the ocean? Did they all land here?" I asked abruptly, interrupting his monologue. Attis frowned and glanced seaward, as if thinking back. His eyes took on a haunted cast and I almost regretted asking. It can't have been pleasant memories.
"Many ships set out. Only a few actually landed here in Freemarch, where we had planned to arrive. Others hope that the rest of the fleet will come, but...I think it is a doomed hope. But I just can't take it away from them. These elves here, that hope is all that is keeping them sane. There are so few of us left now...." He looked so despairing that I nearly reached out to offer comfort. We may be wary of other races, but we are fiercely loyal and compassionate toward each other. An soft feeling of weightlessness overcame me suddenly, and my mind was filled with the feeling of a loving embrace. I realized that the other souls housed within my physical machine body were trying to comfort me as best they could. What a strange feeling, to share my body with several other ...beings was the only word I could use. I must have been staring off into space for some time, because Attis cleared his throat to get my attention and I turned a soft, compassionate look onto him. He nodded at me. One thing that I really wanted to know, that maybe I could finally find the answer to, was how this had happened.
"What I'd like to know, is what happened? How did we-you, how did the Kelari come to this? What drove such a proud, powerful people from their homeland?!" I demanded, rather more sharply then I had intended. But I needed to know the answers. It was a building pressure inside of me. With all my new magical strength, all my potential for literally anything I set my mind to, maybe I could find a way to fix the Kelari's new homeless state. We took those islands as our own, and I'd be damned before I let this be our new future!
Attis gave a forlorn sigh, "Well, the Shade War happened. We didn't know this at the time of course. The Mathosian civil war wasn't something we were aware of, let alone something we'd even bother caring about. But we should have..." He muttered something dark under his breath and I leaned in a little closer, eager for more information. "During the Shade War, something terrible happened. The Mathosian king, he did something to weaken the Ward around Telara that keeps all the planes from interacting with Telara, like how they did a millennia ago....before the dragons. Or so I've heard. When the Ward weakened, the energy from the planes caused a great upheaval along the forest floor. Earthquakes and tidal waves suddenly swamped the islands. It was like the world was ending! The disasters just came coming. But we are indeed, like you mentioned, a proud people. We rallied with our spirit allies and we were able to survive and hold off the elements of water. It seemed that eventually life could continue. But then the spirits became corrupted. We didn't know it at the time, but the dragon of fire also was interested in our island. He was stirring in his prison, and he corrupted our fellow Kelari as well as our spirit patrons. We stood no chance against them combined! It was madness! So many Kelari were slain...." He made a choking noise and stared down at his fists. I wondered what he was seeing. In my mind's eye, I imagined what kind of horrors would be brought about by corrupted spirits and Kelari fighting each other. Not something I would ever want to behold, even in nightmares. Did Ascended dream, I wonder?
"It was Priestess Mona that saved us in the end." Attis continued, trying to keep his voice level. I almost regretting asking now, but I needed to know. I needed to! "She rallied the rest of us, the ones that weren't corrupted, or too embroiled in fighting to get away cleanly. We met on the beaches, where she had spirits and men magically creating a fleet of ships. I'd never seen the like before! It was so beautiful, so powerful. She is a sight to behold." He breathed in, reverently, and I had to agree there. The High Priestess did indeed have an aura around her, that made others gravitate toward her, to bask in her strength. "We sailed from our homeland that very night, amid the turmoil and terror. Our cities were overrun, burning as we fled. So many lost. And those corrupted Kelari, they were so changed...they didn't even count themselves as Kelari anymore. They called themselves something different...Pyrkari. Strange word." He mumbled, and scrubbed his hand over his face. Then he turned back to me and blinked.
There was a brief silence, as I absorbed all of this. By the gods. This was a horrible thing. I cannot even imagine that happening. I had just one more question that I needed answered. I whet my lips, feeling my heart begin to speed up. "I have one more thing, and then I thank you for the information. I need to know...what of the Solanta family? They were a rather high ranking family in Atia, close to the temple priests. Do you know what befell them? Did they make it here?" I peered down into his face anxiously, willing him to answer in the positive. Attis tapped his dark lips as he thought.
"Anthanos? The name rings a bell....they were an influential member of the temple order, were they not?" I nodded eagerly. He paused another moment, then shrugged helplessly. "I'm terribly sorry, but I don't know. I haven't heard anything about any of the Anthanos family. But then again, I haven't really heard anything specific about any of the high ranking families of either city. But why would you....ah, it must be part of that "complicated story" you referenced." He said, the light coming back to his eyes. I smirked sheepishly and nodded. Well, no news was good news, right? Just because he didn't know, didn't mean that others wouldn't. Or that the rest of my family and loved ones weren't out there somewhere. I wouldn't give up hope!
After that rather grim tale, we both just kind of stood there a moment, until Attis noticed his companions, still standing at his side and cleared his throat. "Oh, how rude of me! These are my fellow assistants here at the refuge. They help keep the place in order. Kosmo Balli here, was the one who saved the last few fire squirrels left in our possession. Back on the isles, he was a breeder of them. He helps organize hunts for fresh meat and fruit in the march. And this," He gestured to his other side, where a pretty, willowy looking female elf was idly trimming her nails with a dagger. "this is Acacia Sideris. She has a sharp tongue, but her services are invaluable here! She has taught the others how to survive here on the beach by learning to fish and how to craft basic survival things, back before we set up these buildings." Acacia scoffed, then looked me up and down.
"It irritates me when I hear my people whining for the islands." She said coldly, giving Attis a sharp look. "We have survived and we must adapt to our new home and move on. There's no sense grieving over what is lost." She tossed a long black braid over her shoulder and sheathed her dagger. I could see her view, but at the same time, if we didn't stay true to our past, to our heritage, were we really Kelari? In fact...was I really a Kelari anymore? And a new thought hit me. By the spirits! What if I couldn't interact with and communicate with the spirits myself anymore? What if I was...Nalthema? A shiver of alarm darted down my spine and I staggered back a step. Holy mother of spirits. I'd never thought of this before. Was I truly a Kelari anymore? If I wasn't, what was I? My soul seemed to cry out in anguish and I hunched forward. The soothing feeling of the other souls inside all rose up, surrounding me, comforting me, providing solace. They were all alone too, they whispered. We were a family, we souls sharing this one body. We would always be together, even through death. A new bond forged itself then, between my soul and the other souls. I felt them so strongly, as if with just a simple thought, I could relive any one of their lives, know any one of their collection of spells and skills, gain their knowledge. It was amazing, the feeling of power and invincibility that came to me. What did it matter really, what race I was in the beginning? What race we were. We were Ascended now. I straightened up, feeling a new inner strength of spirit that fanned the flames of my soul. The confliction of who I was verses who I am now, which I hadn't even realized was going on, seemed to just vanish, and I felt so much lighter. So much more full at the same time. I smiled, and I felt like the sun smiled through me. I blinked my eyes, and it seemed I saw so much more than before. The world was so much richer. And...oh dear, they were all staring at me.
"So....I heard you wanted help getting your possessions off the sunken ship?" I finally said, as a way to break the ice, and because I recalled what Attis had first been going on about before I'd asked about the fate of the Kelari. The three glanced at each other, somewhat skeptically, and I crossed our arms, resisting the urge to tap a foot. I was so closely tied to the other souls now, I could feel what they felt as well. It was so strange.
"Ah, yes. If you wouldn't mind? I have heard stories that the Ascended are immortal and are able to shrug off what a normal man would die from. We would be eternally grateful for just a few things from the ship. Perhaps we could describe what to look for?" I waved a hand casually.
"No need, I know what to look for." I said, voice soft and rough at the same time. Interesting, even our voice has changed. And just when I was getting to used to how we sounded, I mused to myself with a grin. A few of the souls chimed in with silent laughter.
I can't say as I was overly fond of water, which is ironic, considering I'd been born a Kelari on an island in the middle of the ocean, but there it was. It took me some time to swim out to where the sunken ship was said to be located. It wasn't far, per se, but the water was indeed quite deep, and cold to boot. I soon learned though, that although the water was icy cold, it didn't actually have any impact on my health. Our body's temperature seemed to rise to counter the cold. The trashjaws that Attis mentioned were large, leathery looking creatures that resembled crocodiles, but were much bigger, and more vicious. They seemed to sense my presence and I had to beat off and even kill quite a few of the pesky beasts before I was able to reach the ship. From there, I dived down into the water, mildly curious as to how long I could hold my breath as an Ascended. I found out it was quite some time, although it wasn't infinite. Eventually my lungs grew so starved for air that I had to surface, gasping for breaths.
I found quite a few interesting Kelari artifacts half buried in the sand at the bottom. The ship itself was staved in at the bow, and I surmised that it must have hit the nearby reef and floundered. It was close enough to shore though, that I was confident most had made it safely to shore without too much trouble, although the presence of the thrashjaws no doubt posed a threat. But it wasn't anything I could help with now, and going about slaying all the creatures I could find seemed rather a silly way to get revenge for their having possibly eaten one of my friends or family members 20 some odd years ago. So I avoided them when I could, and gathered what small trinkets and items that I thought the Kelari would value the most. Perhaps they could even find a way to replicate some of these things, or sell them for tools or materials in Meridian. It would be nice to visit a city again.
Once my arms and my pouches were all full of sunken treasures, I headed back to shore, the journey much more difficult this time around with my burden. When I heaved the lot on the planks by Attis, all three of them looked so impressed that it caused a chuckle.
"I told you I was Ascended." I said simply.
"So you did." Attis replied, and bent to look at the things I'd fetched. Most of them were rusted, or had algae on them, and a few were covered in sand and so roughened that any patterns or likenesses had been rubbed off by the force of the tides on the ocean floor. "Thank you very much, Karazhan Ascended." Attis said, looking up. His face was so full of hope and emotion. It caused a smile to form on my face. I was so glad to be able to help, even over something so little. I wish I had knowledge they did, from being here. They have learned to adapt, even grudgingly, in the years they've been in Freemarch. Even the ones sitting here on the beach and "moping" as Acacia had said, had still found a way to survive. It got me thinking.
"Um, lady Acacia?" I asked, not really knowing how to address her. She cocked her head at me. "Attis mentioned that you taught the others certain skills? Can you teach me too?" I held out my hands in a helpless way. "I may be Ascended and very strong, but I don't know any basic skills or survival techniques. I would like to know what plants and fruits can be eaten and how to cook them, and how to catch fish and cook them. No doubt, I'll need skills like that at some point." In fact, I'd count on it. I had plans to travel this new world, after all. I had a second lease on life, and I was going to explore Telara as far as I could, help those who were in need, and maybe make a difference. I think that would be a wonderful use of my talents. Every little thing we did seemed to do some good, and I could even picture us, down the road, aiding towns and villages, slaying the elemental beasts that spewed forth from those rifts. And maybe along the way I could find a way to keep Regulos from ever entering Telara, as well as making sure the other dragons stayed put in their prisons.
Acacia looked me over with a new eye, as if seeing me for the first time. Or measuring my potential to learn what she had to teach. Well, I had no doubts on that end. If there's one thing I learned from my brief time as an Ascended, it was that I was a fast learner. In fact, fast learner didn't even touch upon the miraculous, lighting fast speed at which I picked up new skills and spells. In fact, I was quite confident now that my earlier conviction in becoming a healer was in fact an easy reality. One of the souls was a Chloromancer, in fact, and was eager to share her knowledge of the healing arts with me. Dealing out death with one hand, and raising up allies with the other. I liked it.
"Sure, I can teach you, if you can learn." Acacia finally responded, sassily. I grinned at her. "Oh, you can be sure I will learn." I promised.