Sunday, April 27, 2014

[Karazhan's Story] 2.13: Something Fishy In Lakeside

      I was in the Meridian library, reading a fascinating book on the Endless Court when a man dashed past me and activated the magitech device in the middle of the room that allowed one access to different floors. Of course I'd already investigated the fascinating piece of technology earlier and had enjoyed myself immensely flitting between different levels of the library until the head librarian had told me to knock it off. So, feeling like I was a novice again, I'd settled down on the second level and decided to dive into reading up on the threats I'd be facing when protecting Telara. I rather fancied the idea of being a hero to the people, and my new body was specifically equipped to handle any situation. I'd even begun mastering other spells that the various other souls housed inside had employed themselves. I'd learned a few healing spells, which would no doubt come in handy for helping out those injured or in need of aid, and I'd also gleefully played with a few new weather and even fire spells. Yes, I was definitely having a good time in Meridian, learning so much about this time period and the goings on of the great world of Telara. It was a larger world than I'd ever dreamed of! But I'd distracted myself again.

     I watched with avid curiosity as the man activated the device for the top floor and quickly blinked out of sight. I pondered the device a moment before getting up from a pile of cushions and setting my novel aside, placing a shred of cloth between the pages to mark my progress. The top floor, I'd learned, belonged to the Unseen, a shadowy, covert part of Meridian's military that was dedicated to espionage, intel, and investigation of suspicious activity. I hadn't even realized I'd been getting restless from all my sitting in Meridian until a flare of excitement had me quickly heading toward the teleportation device as well. If there was some urgent matter that this man was bringing to the Master of the Unseen upstairs, than I definitely wanted to be in on it. I'd learned that these Defiants and their allies were so in awe of me and my kind, and so unsure of what our rank and status was in the war against the planes, that it seemed I'd become a de facto leader. Or maybe just someone of high standing and authority? Whatever it was, it came in quite handy when I wanted information, or when I wanted to be included in some clandestine action. I set the dial on the machine, activated the switch, and felt the tug at my breastbone that signaled travel through space. An entirely different sensation from traveling through time that was for sure! Moments before I disappeared I caught sight of Alyete still reading that Abyssal tome avidly in the corner and I frowned. I didn't think it was healthy to spend such an amount of time poring over such a suspicious book. She'd even confessed to me earlier her obsession to learning the secrets contained within. I'm pretty sure that's what led to many joining the Abyssal cult to begin with, since I'd heard they were big on promising you knowledge and arcane power. I can only hope her road to knowledge doesn't lead to madness.

     I arrived on the top floor with a slight jolt, keeping my feet quite easily. I glanced around and spotted the man talking animatedly to the Faceless Man and Kira Thanos. Yep, the Kira Thanos that everyone at the Kelari refuge down by the ocean had been going about. They called her the Azure Viper and named her a remorseless assassin, but what I saw when I looked at her was someone who had grown cold because she'd had no other defense against the harsh reality of the world. It made me sad, although I would never say that to her. She was Ascended as well and I really have no desire for a knife in the back. The Faceless Man was another interesting enigma that I remember from my "days of future past" as I'd amusedly started calling my time at the end of the world. He was so odd and mysterious that it begged to be asked about, but again, self preservation was a strong motivator for keeping my questions to myself, since he also wasn't the friendliest of men. Well, no matter, I remember seeing a historical scroll on the Abyssal cult down in the library; I'd have to read it sometime. He himself even admitted that he was a former Abyssal cultist after all.

     "Ah, Karazhan, how good to see you." Uriel Chuluun, a beautiful Bahmi woman standing behind Kira said as I walked over. Uriel kind of gave me a strange feeling, like goose bumps along the arm, when I was in her presence. It wasn't exactly a good feeling. She felt like death magic, and that was one type of magic I'd sworn I'd never mess with. Nothing good came from learning the dark arts. I smiled a greeting at everyone and waved at Kira. She gave me cool, assassin eyes back.

     "Sorry if I'm interrupting." I began. "I saw him head up here and thought, if there was something going on, maybe I could offer my aid?" The Faceless Man turned his horn-helmeted head in my direction and I was again thrown by the fact that I couldn't see his expression, or even his eyes very well, to gauge his reaction.

    His voice, when he spoke, echoed oddly inside the mask. "Yes thank you Karazhan. Since you're here, I might as well inform you of what's going on. You could be a valuable asset." I preened, grinning, and Kira rolled her eyes with amusement. "I have ways of keeping track of my old...compatriots in the Abyssal cult, and I believe something is afoot in Lakeside. It's a small village to the east of here. One of my Unseen, Ziara, had been stationed there to keep an eye on the Lakeside docks, since that is a likely route of attack by sea, and she has reported some troubling findings about the villagers acting oddly, and strange attacks in the night, but she doesn't have any concrete proof and she can't blow her cover, so I need someone to go investigate these things and find out what's really going on. Be warned, the villagers aren't a friendly lot and don't agree with Defiant occupation here in Freemarch so they may be hostile and unfriendly to a machineborn such as yourself." He gestured vaguely in my direction and I glanced down at my self. I did rather stand out in my long heavy fabric robes, exotic enchanted gloves and glowing staff.

     I nodded. "Understood. I'll go look into things at Lakeside and see what's going on. Anything I find out, I'll report to Ziara and she can send a letter here to you." The Faceless Man nodded in agreement, and I turned, feeling anticipation surge through me. An actual mission! Finally some action, something positive I can do to help out the Defiants and Telara! And of course a chance to try out my new spells and abilities. I felt a thrum of eagerness from the other souls and grinned.

     I activated the machine and teleported back to the second level, where I quickly picked up my discarded book and tucked it back into its niche in the wall, marking the location in my memory so I could come back and read it later. The head librarian also seemed to frown upon absconding with books to who knows where and I didn't think she'd like it if I took it with me on my adventure. Oh well, it would be here when I returned. Not many of the scholars or the various people who lived in Meridian read in the history section of the library, having already learned most of it as they grew up. I suppose you could call that a failing of the Kelari, in that we/they were quite the xenophobic race and none of the priests and priestesses ever cared to teach world history in their lessons.

     The porticulum system that the Defiants modified for their own use wasn't connected to anywhere near to Lakeside, so I ended up walking to the village. Not that I minded in the slightest since it actually turned out to be a nice day. Outside, the breeze was light, even if it carried it with it the faint hint of planar magic, and the sky was blue and cloudless. The sun shone down brightly onto the vibrant green of Freemarch and I could well believe it had once been known as the Emerald March back when it was in the hands of the Mathosians. I'd definitely learned a lot while reading the history books in Meridian. I took a deep breath at the foot of the stone dais that led to the city proper and noted the well traveled highway that led to the east. It made sense that the road would eventually lead me to Lakeside, since it was a rather prominent village in Freemarch. Not the most populated town of course, that was Smith's Haven, Freemarch's capital, but still, quite a few Freemarch natives lived in Lakeside. Over the years since it had been first claimed, Freemarch had known many masters, and as such, the citizens were quite diverse, sporting Mathosians and Eth working side by side, as well as elves and I'd even heard there were a few Dwarves who had set up craft shops here. I wonder what the more religiously inclined raced thought of us Defiants setting up shop here. Well, too bad.

     Several hours later I slowed as I saw a town ahead. That had to be Lakeside. As I grew nearer, I could feel the wrongness in the air. There was definitely something fishy about the village, Ziara was right. Speaking of the Unseen spy, I wonder where she'd holed up. She'd want a good view of the goings on, but the Faceless Man had said that the villagers were a suspicious and withdrawn lot, so she probably stayed out of the village. I let my eyes wander idly over the landscape, and spotted a high ledge of rock overlooking a crossroads of the highway up ahead. If I were her, I'd camp out there. Perfect spot to keep an eye on both the village and the roads leading up to it. The highway branched off in different directions right below the ledge, and I peered curiously down each fork before shrugging and making my way up to the top of the ledge, huffing slightly at the exertion. I was a mage, not a mountaineer, for spirit's sake. At the top, I got an eyeful of the business end of a magitech gun and blinked, slowly holding up my arms. The short, thin woman at the other end of the gun eyed me with sharp eyes, looking wary.

     "Uh, hi." I said, striving to stay calm and neutral so I didn't end up shot. Not a priority of mine. "Don't worry, I'm not a cultist, or anyone wanting to cause trouble! I was sent here by the Faceless Man in Meridian. Are you Ziara? He said he had a contact out here that I should collaborate with on the investigation of Lakeside." I bit my lip as I waited, hoping I didn't just blurt this all out to a member of Lakeside instead of the spy. The woman eyed me up and down slowly, as if taking my measure, before her gun slowly lowered, and I felt myself relax. Staring down the barrel of such a device was pretty intimidating.

     "Prove you are who you say you are." The woman demanded, backing up a step but still keeping me in sight. I licked my lips and frowned. "Well, my name is Karazhan and I was granted a new body after being raised from the Soulstream by Sylver." The woman didn't look impressed and I realized that didn't exactly prove anything. "Oh and um, Sylver really fancies Asha, even though she's really in love with Zareph Mathos. It's all rather tragic really." I trailed off as I indeed thought it was tragic. Poor Asha. The woman finally relaxed and nodded.
     "I suppose that will work. You said your name was Karazhan? I'm Ziara. And I was indeed set up here to watch Lakeside. I don't really care about whatever special abilities you got from that crazy scientist Sylver, I just want to make sure you can handle yourself in a fight and you won't end up a liability to me." She gave me another once over, and I resisted the urge to fidget.
     "Rest assured, I know my way around a battlefield." I replied, feeling slighted. If she only knew! And Sylver was a brilliant man!

     Ziara smirked, as if she knew how much her words needled me, and set her gun down. She rubbed her chin and turned to gaze down at the village beyond the crossroads. I cautiously came up and stood beside her. From here all I could see here the straw and thatch roofs of the village. Since Freemarch was quite far south, the climate was quite humid and warm and there was no need for fires, so I could see no smoke. I opened my mouth to ask for details about the situation when Ziara started speaking, as if sensing my curiosity.
     "Something strange is certainly going on here. The way the Abyssal works, though, makes it difficult to tell if there are actually cultists stirring up trouble in the village or if it's just the villagers being their usual hostile, mysterious selves. Everything the cult does is hidden beneath layers of secrets and occult mysteries. I've seen...very strange things here of late. I don't even want to understand what I've seen because when I try, it starts nagging at me mercilessly, like a voice in my head that won't go away." As she finished speaking, Ziara began rubbing her temples and wincing, as if just the reminder caused her headaches. I gazed at her curiously. Maybe her solitary position was getting to her?
     "The Faceless Man seems to think the Abyssal is operating here, do you have any proof of that?" I asked finally when she wouldn't say anything else. Her words just sounded confusing, and I wanted to make absolutely sure before I went and confronted and/or possibly maimed someone for being a cultist. Ziara hesitated, and dragged a hand through her hair.
     "It's hard to say. I was definitely skeptical at first, but people seem to be acting really strange in the town lately. And I always feel like I'm being watched by unseen eyes. I need a fresh face to look at the situation and analyze it better. Sorry I can't offer more than that." She did indeed look sorry for not having any concrete information, and I just shrugged.
     "That's fine, it might be better if I went in without any bias coloring my investigation anyway. I'll go talk to some of the villagers and see if I can find anything suspicious or overtly cult-like." She raised an eyebrow at my words and said "Cult-like?" with a chuckle. I grinned. The tension between us seemed to dissipate and I relaxed more. "But hey you know, I haven't had lunch yet. How about we eat and than I'll go snoop around?" I offered, and started to open my pack. "I have quite a few tasty treats packed from the markets in Meridian that I bet you don't get way out here." Ziara's eyes lit up with excitement and she practically started salivating.
     "You bet I don't!" She exclaimed, laughing. "Thank you Karazhan, for sharing."

     We settled down on the ledge and shared a meal of mild cheeses, boar sausages and a chilled berry wine. It was quite satisfying, as was the expression on Ziara's face when she ate. It felt good to help someone out, even if it was something as simple as sharing a meal.

No comments:

Post a Comment