Monday, April 14, 2014

[Karazhan's Story] 2.11: Worth a Thousand Words

   "Ho the camp. I'm a friend." I said as I approached the watchtower where the Defiant men were located. It had taken a bit of effort to get through the sea of undead that milled around the tower, and I was a bit worn out from all the spells I'd used both against them and against Xalos earlier. Two men at the top of the half toppled tower leveled crossbows at me as I approached, suspicion and awe fighting for dominance in their expression. No doubt they couldn't believe I was able to get through the mass of undead unscathed. Well, one of them had managed to slice open my arm with a rusted sword, but that had all but healed by now and nothing but a thin line of blood gave any indication of the wound ever being there.

    "Who are you and what are you doing here?" Demanded one of the crossbowmen, giving me a hard stare. His companion nudged him and added, "And how'd you survive getting here too!" I hesitantly lowered my hands, feeling weary of keeping them in the air but not wanting to become a pincushion by my own allies out of fear.

    "As I said, I'm a friend. Have you a leader or a commanding officer I can speak to?" I offered this in a civil, calm tone, and the men finally lowered their weapons to my relief. They seemed reluctant to do so but when I offered no violence, they took that to mean I wasn't going to cause trouble. The first man nodded down below. "Yea, Optio Kerrick is in charge of our battalion. Or what's left of it anyway." He seemed saddened and bitter. In the shadow of the ruined tower, a few other men watched me curiously. Behind them, a tattered banner waved gently in the wind, proclaiming the colors and insignia of the Defiant legion. I waved a thanks at the lookout men and approached the legionnaires below. I could pick out their leader, Kerrick, easily by the officer's dress and his bearing. I bowed formally before him and he raised a thick eyebrow curiously.

     "My name is Karazhan Anthanos, a machine-born Ascended created by Sylver Valis. I'd like to offer my services here to help you with your....undead problem." I felt my lips quirked as a I said this. Not only was "undead problem" a bit of an understatement, but I had no doubt that being isolated way out here, they hadn't heard about the success at creating all powerful magitech beings yet. I watched as all the men stared at me open-mouthed and I wondered if I should mention that they all look like I'd hit them with a stun spell.

    "Great Sun! An Ascended!" Was the eloquent response my speech. I grinned openly and huffed out a low chuckle. "Yep, that's me." I replied, waving a dark skinned hand casually. They all stared some more. "Soooo, what is going on here? Why are the undead here in such numbers? And what is that?" I pointed at the dark forbidding castle in the backdrop as I said the last. As one, they all swiveled around to look where I pointed. Than Kerrick seemed to pull himself together, shaking off the dazed look. He still looked like a startled deer, but his military training was overriding that now.

     "Right! Am I glad you are here Karazhan. We have some serious and grim news. We've discovered a pretty damn big problem here, but those accursed undead won't let us through to warn General Catari and we've lost good men trying." I frowned. Grim news? I had a sinking feeling that it had something to do with Alsbeth. "Brianna here seems to be on to something for getting rid of those undead monstrosities, but she's also pointed out a few other things that don't bode well for Freemarch. Do you know who Jakub the Tyrant is?" I paused at this. Jakub....

    "Wasn't he the one who ruled over Freemarch unjustly years ago?" I replied slowly as I remembered talking to the gentle old nobleman at King's Retreat about Eliam and Freemarch. Kerrick nodded, looking proud that I knew Freemarch's past. "Yes, that's right. It wasn't until the common folk united under Eliam and attacked the Iron Fortress that Jakub was overthrown." He gestured behind him as he spoke and of course I realized that the giant black castle must be the Iron Fortress then. What a dark and evil name for a dark and evil castle. "The battle was bloody and grim," Kerrick continued, and I felt myself drawn into the story. "I'm ashamed to admit that those who participated on our side seemed to lose all concept of mercy and morality when fighting back against their oppressors, striking down even those who surrendered. The graves and the statue are all that is left to mark the final horrors of that battle. It's all that has remained, until recently..." He trailed off ominously and I felt a prickle of unease in my belly. Not to mention the picture he painted of those long ago people of Freemarch wasn't exactly the honorable, brave, and strong willed people I'd thought them to be. True, in battle one's blood became heated and you became lost to the craze and blood, but to slay even those who surrendered themselves? I could never condone such an action. What would make them do that? Was this Jakub that horrendous that letting even one of his ilk survive was too much to risk? I wish I knew what had happened. That might give us a clue as to why it seemed that this place was an interest to the planar creatures and to Alsbeth. As if reading my mind, Kerrick spoke again.

     "Brianna is our magitech expert." The woman in question blushed at the attention, but nodded. "She's devised some way of being able to see a few specific moments of history. Don't ask me how, I'm not savvy in that sort of thing. It's important that we can find out what happened on the day of the battle so we can see what these undead are looking for around here and maybe be more prepared for what's coming. But we can't get out to the damn field where the tyrant fell because of all these bloody zombies! Seeing as you had no trouble getting to us, do you think you'd be up to a little historical investigation?" He lifted and waggled an eyebrow, as if suggesting I'd like to go play a fun game. I snorted. True, the undead weren't a real threat to me, but it wasn't like I relished the idea of rushing into their midst and fending them off left and right. But on the other hand....I cursed my insatiable curiosity as I turned and regarded Brianna.

     "That actually sounds very tempting. How exactly does it work then? Do I need to do something specific?" I tried to keep the eagerness from my voice, but Brianna grinned at me, as if sensing a fellow scholar and knowledge seeker in me. Her voice, warm with the passion of her trade, drew me in.

     "Moments in time have an energy of their own. Important moments leave strong imprints on their surroundings across time and space. The more important the moment, the stronger the impression. Especially if violence or strong emotion was involved." I nodded when she paused to regard me, as if to make sure I was following. It made sense and followed along some of the same teachings and techniques I'd been taught in the temple. Brianna's smile grew as she finally found someone who actually understood what she said. "Meridian had issued us a special experimental machine called a Chronolink that can view brief, historically potent incidents in this area to  better understand what we are facing. That's the whole reason our battalion was out here in the first place actually. We'd received reports of increased interest in this area by the Endless Court and came to investigate. We were only given the device under the strict assurance that it wouldn't fall into enemy hands and that we'd record all data pertaining to its use so they can analyze it back in the city. Of course, now we're stuck out here and this thing's pretty much useless since we can't even safely use it!" She sighed as she bent and picked up a small circular object with little wires sticking out of it. It had a foldable stand attached to the bottom and a whole slew of lenses on a metal arm that extended out to the side. It was a very strange looking device, but I couldn't wait to try it out. To actually see a part of history, even a violent one? That would be something truly amazing!

    Both Brianna and Kerrick gazed at me hopefully. Well...I did offer to help didn't I? And they did say there working on a way to neutralize the undead so they could get back to their command unit. It wasn't my job to babysit or escort half a dozen grown soldiers, was it? And I felt it was my duty to discover what I could of what Alsbeth's plans were. Who was I kidding, I felt like a kid at Yule. I eagerly reached for the large device and found it much lighter then I expected. Maybe there was a charm on it or something?

    "Thank you...Karazhan was it? As much as I envy what you will see out there, I know I need to focus on getting rid of those undead. I had an idea to engineer a modified defense drone so that it will attack any undead and..." she walked off, muttering to herself and drawing several magitech paraphernalia to herself as she went. As interesting as her new project sounded, I couldn't wait to try out this Chronolink.

     Kerrick placed a hand on my arm and gave me a concerned look. "Just be careful okay?" He said gravely. "No heroics, and don't go getting distracted by this shiny gadget that you let the undead sneak up on you. Who knows what they'll make of you running around in the Mire." I have him a firm head bob, feeling warmed by his obvious concern. "Thanks, I'll be careful." I replied, holding the Chronolink close. "Oh...was there any specific place I should activate this thing, or just at random intervals?" I glanced out at the mire, as if I could find the most potent historical spots just by staring hard enough. Kerrick blinked and cocked his head.

    "Oh, I hadn't thought of that. Hey Brianna!" He yelled loudly and the woman popped her head up from a great pile of glowing sourcestone and magitech. She shielded her eyes against the sun. "Yes sir?" She called back, then walked over when he beckoned.
     "The lady here would like to know if there is any specific spot you want this thing planted." Kerrick said. I felt my eyes crinkle at his address. Lady. I liked it. Brianna frowned thoughtfully, and scratched her nose, leaving a smudge of oil behind. "Well, me and Dell discussed where the focal points of the battle were likely at. Of course, it's hard to say. It was a chaotic time, back than, and no one really kept records of the battle, or where Jakub actually fell. But here." She drew a faded piece of parchment out of a belt pouch and handed it over. I took it and unfolded it, instantly recognizing a detailed, but unprofessional map of the immediate area surrounding the Iron Fortress. Several little red circles stood out starkly against the faded black ink of the rest of the map and I nodded in understanding. Brianna waved again and eagerly jogged back over to her pile of parts. Remembering the orb of charged sourcestone I'd taken from Xalos's body, I walked over and handed the glowing orb to her. Brianna's eyes lit up with awe and she carefully took the tiny powercell from me.

     "Wow! Thanks Karazhan. This has amazing power in it. Where did you get it? Wait never mind, I don't want to know. Knowing you, it was somewhere scary." She laughed, a soft warm sound, and gently placed the plane-touched stone down next to a pile of weaker stones. She treated the sourcestone with the respect it deserved, which was good enough for me. I refolded the Chronolink map and slipped it into a pocket of my Defiant robes, making an absent note to see about finding myself some proper attire while I was out looking for a weapon, and stared thoughtfully into the mire. I wonder what information I'd learn from watching the Chronolink. Would it change how I felt about Freemarch being a new home for me? I hoped not. I also hoped that I could learn something about this Alsbeth that kept popping up everywhere and maybe a way to finally pin her down for some answers on why she betrayed Port Scion and joined Regulos. Oh yeah, and put a stop to her plotting too of course.

      The Scarred Mire definitely lived up to its name. I wrinkled my nose at the dead, lifeless expanse of field before me. What a waste. The grass crunched beneath my feet as if it had been frozen, and the air felt lifeless, like the undead abominations that seemed to infest the mire. As I meandered through the mire, with the occasional glance at my map, I noticed odd little magitech devices cleverly hidden among the rocks and tall grasses. By now I could easily recognize defense mechanisms that had no doubt been placed there by the occupying Defiant forces. But why weren't they firing at the myriad undead that were loitering in the Mire? I stopped to consider one such device and was quite proud when I was able to figure out what was wrong and correct the anomaly. After I'd attuned the device properly, it immediately emitted a bright red beam of light that pierced through the nearby undead shambling creatures. I only hope that their souls have moved on and found peace in the Soulstream and haven't been tethered to this horrible half life.
     I veered to the left where the map indicated, and quickly found the monument that was mentioned. I studied the large stone statue with interest. It was fascinating to actually see a piece of history with your own eyes. I could practically feel the importance of the day it was erected. I couldn't wait to activate the chronolink and actually watch the event happen!

     The statue represented a man in full armor bearing a sword and a large shield full of arrows. Another arrow pierced the stone man's leg. The statue was weathered and pitted, and there was no plaque or identifying feature, but I just knew this was a likeness of Eliam. It was just a bit sad that the statue was way out here in the middle of nowhere, and behind all these lines of undead. I think something should be erected in a more protected and populated area so the citizens of Freemarch could pay their respects. They were a people who valued their freedom after all, and Eliam was literally their savior from oppression. I knelt in polite reverence as I placed the chronolink. I pressed the little silver button to turn it on, and stepped back cautiously. With machinery it never hurt to err on the side of caution. Two metal bands began twirling around the central sourcestone power core and it emitted a gentle hum. I kept my eyes on the device, but also kept my magic senses aware of the area around me, since I wasn't exactly in friendly territory. Thankfully the defensive devices I'd activated were still doing their job shooting down any unwary undead who ventured too closely. Serves them right!

    Transparent shapes slowly came into view, shimmery and wavering, as if unstable. Well that stands to reason, this was a prototype experiment after all. I was just surprised it had worked at all. The shapes became more distinct and I recognized the man wearing the same armor as the statue. Eliam. The other being had to be Jakub in dark, sinister looking armor that obviously portrayed him as the "bad guy" in this scenario. How cliché. I snickered.

     March Warden Eliam pointed his sword at his foe. "You're reign ends here, Jakub!" His voice was tinny, echoing, and....odd, coming from the device. I took a few steps closer to hear properly. I definitely didn't want to miss this. The other figure, Jakub, scoffed. "I should have killed you long ago, Eliam!" Then the two closed in battle, and I watched in fascination as a mini dance of swords and wits played out before me. I felt myself cringe a few times when Jakub landed blows against Eliam and I felt a bit foolish for wanting to help him, even though this battle had taken place long ago. The two began to tire. Eliam thrust his sword at the sky and cried, "Gods grant me the power to defeat this evil!" A bright golden light seemed to bathe his ghostly figure, and Jakub shrank back from it. "What sorcery is this?!" He exclaimed in horror as Eliam's simulacrum struck true, slaying the tyrant. I cringed, and shifted. It just didn't sit right with me to watch someone's death, even a villain who deserved it. Eliam stood over his foe, sword pointed down, and said "At last, the March is truly free." Shortly after, the figures faded from view and I blinked, realizing the vision, or experience, or whatever it was, had ended. That was definitely interesting! But I knew there had to be more to the story. I suppose that explains why they wanted me to witness another vision at a different location. Where was this one, then? I eyed the map, than glanced around. It looked like it a crypt? How pleasant. I'm not overly fond of graveyards. I wonder how well the chronolink took to modifications? Perhaps they would let me tinker with it. Imagine if I could see events surrounding the exodus from the Isles! I might even find out what happened to my family. I shook my head ruefully. Despite my determination to start anew and put the past behind me, it was hard to forget my previous life.

     As I left Eliam's statue behind, I patted the darkened stone and whispered, "May the Spirits watch over you in the afterlife," and it made me feel a little better. The second location was actually a bit out of the way, inside a little niche in the walls surrounding Jakub's old keep. Great, a graveyard for his people. In fact, from what the markings on the map indicate, I was to activate the chronolink at the grave of Jakub himself. I won't lie, I definitely felt a bit uneasy entering such an unhallowed place. The air felt heavy with death magic. Powerful, necromantic death magic. That can't be good. I had a sinking feeling I already knew what had happened here, but I walked up to the large, darkened crypt that was supposed to house Jakub. The grate across the tomb was broken and thrown to one side, and it looked recent. I quested outward with my magic, trying to sense any threat nearby, but it seemed the place was empty now. Uneasily, I set down the chronolink, quickly pressed the silver dial, and stepped back. No lingering here. And I had no desire to show respect for Jakub.
     At first, nothing happened, and I absently rubbed my arms as I waited, wanting to get it over with so I could just leave. The longer I was here, the more jittery I felt. Suddenly, I saw a flash of red and spun around, already calling up a spell of air and water, which died on my tongue when I recognized the shimmery look of the chronolink vision. This was actually a person I recognized instantly, without having to guess. It was that wretched backstabbing woman, Alsbeth! Somehow I couldn't find it in myself to even feel surprised at her appearance. Of course she'd be involved with this. The image of Alsbeth lifted up her staff. Her voice, dark and cold, made me jump when she spoke. "Arise, Jakub the Warlord. Regulos has need of you!" She began chanting a strange spell that I wasn't familiar with but which was definitely dark magic. She sliced her palm and held it out. Blackish mist seeped up from the ground where the blood fell, coalescing into a tall humanoid shape wearing dark, sinister looking armor and carrying a long sword. The same figure I'd seen fighting Eliam in the previous vision. I gaped. She wouldn't....

    "This new life, that I have granted you, has a price, Tyrant. Welcome to your rebirth." Sure enough, the black smoke quickly solidified, taking on the appearance of Jakub the Tyrant, but not as he was. The man was now nothing more than a skeletal remnant of his former glory, looking more like the shambling shells that wandered the Mire than the man he once was. "I live again!" He roared, shaking his sword triumphantly. He shambled up to Alsbeth and I wondered idly if he was going to attack her. Would serve her right, meddling in necromancy. Instead, he swiftly knelt on one knee and offered his sword to the red-robed woman. "I offer my services to the mighty Regulos and to you, Alsbeth!" He then stood and they both walked out of the tiny graveyard. Alsbeth's parting shot left me feeling cold. "Come, we must discuss the future of your realm."
     After the vision faded and the real world intruded in upon me again, I still stood there staring. This was bad news indeed! I snatched up the chronolink, stuffing it in my pack as I ran back through the Mire, barely able to keep my balance on the uneven ground, but knowing I needed to warn the Defiants. The sooner they heard this news, the faster they could track down and stop both Jakub and Alsbeth. The Legionnaires gave me questioning glances as I ran back into the Mire camp, but I ignored them, stopping in front of Brianna. Quickly, once I'd gotten my breath back, I explained everything I'd seen. It took a bit longer then I thought, since I kept getting distracted by the details I'd seen, and by her eager questions. As I spoke, I handed over the chronolink, a bit reluctantly. I would love to have one of my own someday.

     "The scene at Eliam's Monument is one with which most of us in the March are familiar with," Brianna said gravely. "But the other is grave news indeed. Reports have led us to believe that Alsbeth is the mastermind of the invasion of Freemarch. It now seems that she is planning on resurrecting Jakub and his army to further ensure victory." I nodded in agreement.

     "I thought as much myself." I admitted. "We need to let command know as soon as possible. You'll send a courier right? Someone who can make it safely to the Defiant leaders and let them know all that's going on?" I gestured around me as emphasis. It was imperative that the Defiant leaders focus their efforts into locating Alsbeth and Jakub. Legionnair Brianna nodded. "Yes, we do. Unfortunately, we have no one to spare here. We are just a small outpost and we simply cannot afford to lose even one man. If the undead spawn find out we are weakened, they could overwhelm us. I think you should go yourself and alert the Defiant High command in Meridian. You have firsthand knowledge, and of all of us, you would have the best chance of surviving, not to mention with your status as Ascended, you would be admitted to an officer right away, if not Asha Catari herself." Brianna nodded vigorously the longer she spoke, and I nodded as well. It made sense. Besides, this was the opportunity I was waiting for to finally see the famed Meridian. I couldn't help the delighted grin that spread across my face, and Brianna grinned back, knowing what I was excited for.

     "Ask for Asha Catari directly when you arrive. She oversees all of our operations and coordinates efforts of those in the field. She'll be able to make the best use of your information immediately." I nodded. I'd already intended to tell Asha myself. I felt a thrill at finally meeting the famous Defiant general that had defied Regulos twice. She was like a hero to me. So brave and selfless. Definitely someone I could easily admire. Unlike that rat, Alsbeth. Despite the gravity behind my task, I felt almost giddy as I turned and put the Mire behind me. I couldn't wait to visit Meridian for so many reasons! And maybe I could find a good price for the various objects I'd gathered on my travels and have enough coin to buy myself some actual mage-crafted robes. Of course, I'd always preferred stitching and spelling my own vestments, but I wasn't familiar enough with the land, its materials, and its prices. Not to mention I just felt like I haven't had the time to sit down and actually do anything yet, other than that brief and enjoyable time at the Kelari refuge. I was definitely going to have to visit my new friends there again at some point. After I'd helped Asha beat up Alsbeth. Again...

     I kept my eyes glued on the distant spires and rooftops of majestic Meridian as I made my way there. It was actually quite a distance from where I'd been in the Mire, deceiving me into thinking it was closer then it was. I'd been so excited to actually visit the city that I hadn't quite thought about how far away it was. So unfortunately, I found it getting dark before I'd reached the main road that led into the city's outskirts. Reluctantly, I slowed my fast pace and began looking for a spot to safely camp for the night. A large tree backed against a cliff did the trick and I smiled as I used the method I'd been taught at the Kelari refuge to make a fire and heat the leftover smoked fish. That was the last of it though, so I made a mental note to myself to try my luck at catching some more the next time I came across running water. In fact, all my provisions were running low, so it was good I was visiting Meridian tomorrow. Ruefully, I counted out my silver coin, and found it wasn't nearly as much as I hoped. Oh well, couldn't be helped. I could only hope that being Ascended meant something even in such a large city as Meridian and I could get some good deals on supplies and armors. Apparently being Ascended didn't exclude me from the inconveniences of living, including eating, drinking, and doing my "lady's business". 
     The night sounds were still something I wasn't used to, so I slept restlessly, half expecting some nightmarish creature to descend on my unprotected camp and try to eat me alive in the middle of the night. By morning I was stiff and feeling irritable.

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