Saturday, October 20, 2012

[Raeslyn's Story] 2.3: Carrying the Light

     As I was resting up before leaving Divine Landing behind and continuing on down the road, I happened to notice a strange shimmering form out of the corner of my eye. It was rather annoying. Every time I turned my head to look directly at it, it would disappear. Finally unable to stand it, I jumped up from my place under one of the tents and walked over to investigate. I know what you're thinking. Curiosity killed the Rogue. Well, I can't help my curiosity. The camp of Divine Landing was set up snug against a shallow cliff that overlooked the shoreline. If you stood at the edge of that cliff you could probably make out the opposite shoreline across the bay, to what I hear is now called Freemarch. Dirty Defiant. But anyway, I walked over to the cliff edge, and actually received a pleasant, but sad surprise. It recalled to me my memories of the time I spent in Mathosia, just after my rebirth as an Ascended. By the cliff's edge, around back of the Divine Landing camp, stood a large stone monument carved into the likeness of someone I'd not likely forget anytime soon. Someone had made a statue to honor Carwin Mathos. It was made out of some silvery gray material. A very nice depiction too, if I don't say so myself. He looked noble, and brave, eyes foreword, holding his large shield and sword as if it were nothing. There was a small plaque attached to the block the statue was standing on with some words, along with the date of his death and how he died. Despite myself, I felt tears prickle my eyes.

     And that's when things got odd. A ghost shimmered into view right in front of me, between myself and the statue. The ghost was the same color as the rock of the monument, and to my greater shock, it was the ghost of Carwin Mathos himself! I couldn't help my startled gasp and stumbled back a bit, hand going to my daggers. It's not every day that you see the spirits of the dead after all. Everyone knows that all souls return to the Soulstream after their ties to this plane are cut. Unless they have unfinished business or an important message to impart. The spirit smiled kindly at me and I smiled back instinctively, than tried to wipe my eyes without him noticing, which made me laugh inside. Here I am trying to pretend that I hadn't been upset over a dead friend when said dead friend was standing in front of me. How strange my life has become.

     "I've not seen your face since the war in Mathos, Raenyn! I'm glad you're safe." The voice which issued from the spirit sounded so much like Carwin that I almost broke down in tears again. I sighed mournfully again and looked at him with a hopeful glance. Perhaps it was a mistake and he's not really dead? Or maybe he's one of the Vigil's messengers now? I snorted at my own imaginings.

     Carwin continued speaking, oblivious to my inner thoughts. "Though I am indeed dead, the Vigil has need of my services still. I bring you a warning and a gift, dear Ascended." I paused and frowned at him. A warning? I don't like the sound of that. There's only so much bad news a person can take in one lifetime darn it. And a gift? What kind I wonder. Is it going to be like the gifts the Vigil give, which are more like conditions forced upon you whether you want it or not. I waited silently to see what Carwin had in mind.

     "You have seen the enemy of Silverwood--a dragon of fire so cruel his only desire is to see Telara burn. But there are five other dragons breaching the Ward with Planar Rifts and you must be the one to stop them Ascended. In regards to that, the gods bestow upon you a gift: the Planar Lure. It is a magical talisman that will draw on your Ascended powers to breach Planar tears and seal the resulting rifts on your own terms, on your own ground." I felt my eyes widen at those words. A way to close the rifts at my own command? That sounds a hell of a lot more effective than running around fetching relics for uppity officers or knocking over funeral pyres. I could actually do some good if I could get my hands on those Rifts before they even opened and could tear them up my own way. I nodded thoughtfully as Carwin watched with interest. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I could accept that gift. I didn't like the attached warning about the dragon gods though. I really wish people would stop reminding me about them. What do they expect me to do?

     "Another blessing the Vigil gives you is something called a Planar charge. Each time you do successfully close one of the Rifts in the dimensions, residual Planar energy and excess sourcestone rain down upon our plane, energy from the Rift intruding upon our world. If you pick up these powerful magics and infuse them with your own Vigil-blessed soul magic, you will become more powerful and will be able to make use of your Vigil given powers more readily. I know this is a lot to take in, Raenyn, so for now, take this lure talisman. If you come across a Rift and close it, you'll see what I mean. When this happens, return here to my stone likeness and I will teach you how to align and augment your aura against invaders from the Planes, making you even more powerful. Be careful out there Raenyn, the world is full of dangers--some even strong enough to destroy an Ascended one. Farewell and gods bless."

     I accepted the proffered talisman, a thin, round ring of silver metal and stared at it blankly while trying to keep straight all the information I'd just learned. The more time I spent as an Ascended, the more I realized that being a hero was a lot more work than the stories and legends let on. I'm rather annoyed by that fact. I lifted my head, ready to thank my erstwhile companion of days gone by, only to blink and glance around. He was gone. Only his stone statue remained, hard and cold as marble, staring straight ahead. I almost believed I'd imagined talking to him, except I was still holding the talisman, which I tied to my belt securely with some rawhide rope.

     I didn't waste any more time in Divine Landing, as my Elfish nature was demanding that I get out and roam the wilds and I'd put it off long enough. So I gathered up my supplies, replenished my water and food stores, and set off down the path that led deeper into Silverwood and away from the shore. The farther into the wood I traveled, the happier I became. I'm not totally dense. I could sense the darkness leaking into my beloved wood. I could feel the menace, the heat on the air from Maelforge's trickery. But it was still my beloved home of Silverwood, and being home made me feel instantly better. I kept my eyes out for danger and my hands near my daggers, just in case, but I was enjoying being on my feet. In among the trees I spotted some of the native wildlife to the wood, and noted with dismay that most of them seemed to give off an aura of evil. Using my innate High Elven senses, I tried touching their thoughts, but their minds were consumed with fire and hate. Not a good sign. It seems that Maelforge's minions were everywhere in the forest. How could we have let it get this far? Those cursed Aelfwar, why did they stray from the Vigil's light? After some time of walking, I began to grow hungry so pulled an apple from my pack and munched on it. A lot of the hateful, maddened creatures, what I recall being called "plane-touched", watched me from the shadows of the forest, but until they actually attacked me, I paid them no mind.

     Eventually the path became more winding and carried me over more hills than flat forest land and I knew I had to be in Sterling Hills by now. I slowed my pace and began to glance around. Bancroft had said that this Rudi Tanlop had an encampment around here somewhere. I hope it was along the main road because I really didn't want to go blundering into the forest with all those potentially sinister creatures about, all watching me with deadly intent. As it got on toward evening, small wooden lamp posts that dotted the pathways began to light up, coloring the surrounding forest a warm golden color. I began to wonder if perhaps I should set up camp here and rest a while before continuing on. But since Bancroft's description of their request for aid sounded rather serious, I decided to keep at it. I'd hate to arrive later, only to find the place burnt to the ground.

     To my relief I noticed a space in the tree line up ahead. I could also see little yellow dots that could be an indication of lights or a fire. I felt myself grin and hurried my pace, surprised to find myself happy to spot the camp. Soon I was close enough to tell that it was indeed the Guardian camp I was looking for and not some Aelfwar war party or cultist camp. There were a couple vigilant defenders patrolling the outskirts of the camp and one such man stopped me when I came close enough to be seen. Of course I could have easily snuck past the patrol and strolled into the camp with ease, especially since it was sparsely guarded, but it seemed in better faith to announce myself first. And I was expected after all. I told the guard that Orin Bancroft had sent me to Rudi Tanlop in response to his request for aid.

     The defender didn't believe me at first. I guess I can't blame him. One lone elf girl, what use is she gonna be against the goblin hordes and cultists? After insisting on seeing Rudi Tanlop himself, I was finally allowed into the camp. Which is good because I was starting to get annoyed. I glanced around the tiny camp as I walked up to this Rudi character. There was a curious monument to one side of the camp that kept drawing my eye. It was a large stone object with a three-pronged spike coming up from the center. I stopped to stare at it fully. How interesting. I don't remember seeing an object like that before. But it "felt" familiar, somehow. Like some part of my recognized it. I realized that what I had taken for three spears pointing at the sky were actually small, intricately carved statues of men holding orbs. The men were sitting in crystal chairs and there were blue orbs embedded in the base of the monument as well. I blinked slowly as I studied the object. Impressive craftsmanship there. I bet the Dwarves made it. I wonder what the object represented. It seemed to hum with power.

     Rudi Tanlop was a rough looking Mathosian of average height for their kind. His hair was pulled back in a pony tail and he had a large drooping mustache.

     "An Ascended! I had hoped they would send one of your exalted kind to aid us!" Rudi called in greeting as I walked up, the suspicious soldier at my heels. I turned and gave the defender a cocky grin. "See?" I said triumphantly. The man mumbled something and walked off.
     I stopped next to Rudi and stretched my arms while he chatted. I didn't want to stiffen up from my long walk here. Rudi looked grim as he relayed his problem and it didn't take me long to figure that he was indeed in trouble.

     "We are in dire straits here, Ascended. Though I hear you thwarted the Wanton hordes in Divine Landing, they've now turned their fiery gaze towards the rest of the forest." I nodded quietly as I continued my stretches, urging him to continue.

     "When the Planar invaders take over a strategic position they build one of their profane idols and tend to mass around the area. This can cause quite a problem for even the most dedicated of Ascended souls. This is where you can call on us for aid, Ascended." I frowned and opened my mouth to protest. I did not want help and by the Vigil I did not want someone else's life in my hands. I had enough trouble keeping track of my own skin. Rudi waved my protests down and continued explaining:

     "Trust me, you'll have need of this at some point. Take this flare, Raenyn. I trust you know about all the unique abilities you Ascended have access to? With a charged aura, you can bleed off the excess Planar energy that clings to you like static and you can use it to set off this flare and summon any Guardian force that is nearby to aid you. It's a valuable gift, don't sell it short." I sighed and stopped stretching so I could accept the gift. Jeez, if everyone insists on giving me things I'm going to have to invest in more bags. I'm rapidly running out of room to put all this stuff.

     "And now, to the reason why your here and why we need your aid so badly."

     I glanced to the side as movement caught my eye and couldn't help a slight gasp when I saw the Messenger of the Vigil calmly floating above the three-pronged spire to the left. I realized later that the spire was actually a Wardstone, one of the physical manifestations of the Ward that protected Telara. The Messenger seemed to stare right at me, and was it my imagination, or did the head bob in a slight nod? I blinked and looked again, but the vision was gone. Rudi gave me a concerned look.

     "It's nothing, what were you saying?" I said, a bit quickly. I didn't want him to know I'd seen the Messenger; it seemed to private. Besides, I wanted to get this mission over with quickly so I could finally go visit the Quicksilver College and see if anyone had any news on my mentor.

     "The Wanton cult's infiltration of Sterling Hills is very alarming." Rudi began after one last concerned glance at me. I nodded. I couldn't agree more. I'm sure the Wanton Maw are up to no good if they are in the wood.

     "Maelforge's goblin hordes skulk through the forest, setting vespid hives alight to spread their fire magic. To halt this corruption, I need someone to destroy the hives. That's where you come in, Ascended. I can't spare the men to destroy the vespid hives, as that would leave the road to Argent Glade unguarded, but you are a free agent, acting directly on the wishes of the Vigil. I would ask of you to go forth and destroy the vespid hives that have been tainted. I would be grateful if you could bring me a sample of the hive walls to study."

     Ah, so that's what he wanted. Well, the task seemed easy enough. And sensible. It was true he didn't have the manpower. This camp was vastly smaller than Divine Landing, and there were few defenders here. Knowing my way around these woods as well as I do, I could complete this deed quickly and efficiently. Not to mention, I didn't want the vespids to suffer. They may be corrupted by the Wanton's presence, but that did not warrant their needless destruction. Due to my Ascended skills, I could sense which of the creatures was corrupted and which was pure. We in Silverwood have always found many uses for the creatures of the wood, especially vespids. They provided many essentials to us such as honey, parchment, medicine ingredients, poisons for weapons, pest control, and various other things. A High Elf doesn't needlessly slaughter.

     "I shall do as you ask Rudi Tanlop." I said formally, as I was unsure of his status in the new Guardian order. He nodded at me, looking quit relieved.

     I adjusted my daggers at my hips, checked my provisions as I always did before entering the wood, and made sure there were no cracks in my leather boots. You learn early on to have a healthy respect for creatures that wander the forest floor.

     I headed out of the little camp and ventured to the southwest, where I knew most of the vespid colonies could be found. For some reason they liked to nest up by the mountain edges. Silent as an owl I glided throug the foliage. It was still quite dark out, but I was growing more comfortable with traversing the wood at night and my excellent vision helped to avoid nasty surprises. Still, I was cautious and always on the alert. At one point, upon skirting a large fallen tree, I came face to face with one of the silvertip wolves native to Silverwood.

     The wolf stopped and eyed me with mild curiosity. I held still and sent out the wavelength that I was non-threatening. After a moment, the wolf snorted and turned it's head, black nose having no doubt caught the scent of dinner. With a flash of a silver-tipped tail, the furry predator was gone. I took a deep breath, not realizing how startled I actually was until just then. It wasn't that I was scared of the wolf. It was the fact that it had taken me by surprise that startled me. Usually the forest animals couldn't do that to me. How odd. I stared after the wolf, thoughtful.
     The next creature I came across was a vespid itself. I could tell instantly that the large insect was...wrong in some way. It was bulging and bloated, a strange yellowish color, and it's stinger was pulsing with a strange black substance. It hadn't seen me yet so I ducked behind a large plant and studied it. From the markings and the size, I'd have guessed a hive ward, but I couldn't be too sure because of the distortions to its appearance. Usually the hive wards were the biggest of the colony, as they were the protectors of the nests. But this thing was huge. Its multiple wings beat so quickly that they appeared nothing more than a shimmery blur, and I spent a few moments mesmerized by them. I've always been fascinated by winged creatures. Their appendages that allowed them to fly were so delicate, so fine and beautiful, that it seemed impossible to bear the owner into the air. Yet the wings allowed free movement above the ground. It was one of the many miracles of life that Tavril brought to Telara.

     I shook myself from my thoughts and muttered. The other souls inside me seemed in agreement as they were eager to be doing something. I grinned. Stealthily I darted closer to the hovering vespid, easily able to find suitable cover. The vespid, which seemed quite disoriented as it floated in space, paid no heed to my sneaky advances until I was nearly upon it.

     At the last moment, the creature turned to meet my dagger thrust with its deadly looking stinger. I danced out of the way easily enough. Despite their advantage of flight, vespids were slow, sluggish creatures, easily overcome. The insects never showed a level of intelligence even remotely on par with the other creatures of the forest. Even the squirrels seem to have more sense than a vespid. Which worked to my advantage now. I dodged a swipe by one of its pronged legs and rolled under its bulging belly, scoring my dagger along the soft underside. A strange black liquid leaked out and I grimaced as it coated my hand. The vespid let out an incredibly high pitched singing noise and fluttered to the side.

     Insects are actually harder to kill than given credit for. Their carapace is able to withstand a lot of damage before their system shuts down, and they are able to keep attacking even after sustaining mortal wounds. That was another thing I always admired vespids for. Except for right this moment. My hand was beginning sting from the black liquid and I quickly ripped the edge of my tunic to wipe the stuff off. Underneath, my skin was reddened from contact with the stuff. I tossed the rag to the side, making a mental note to do away with it properly afterward.
     The vespid reeled to the side and nearly touched the forest floor with its legs as it tried to recover from my dagger thrust. It was buzzing angrily now, a loud humming noise. I had to finish it quickly before the singing note it emitted earlier brings more of the creatures down on me. You don't want to know what happens to a victim of multiple vespid stings. Using my connection to the planes, I teleported to directly behind the spinning insect and made a half hearted attempt to slice off the stinger. I knew the creature would protect the stinger so I didn't follow through on the down stroke, instead flipping my dagger so the point faced back toward me. With a flick of my wrist to the side, I slashed along the vespid sides deeply, making sure to keep my movement quick enough to avoid the black liquid.

     This time the vespid careened to the side and crashed to the forest floor. The wings fluttered softly for a few moments more, than were still. I stood over the overlarge creature, breathing hard as I studied it. It was incredibly tainted, as I'd already suspected.

     I walked over to the cloth I'd dropped, gingerly picked it up, and threw it on the dead vespid's corpse. Using a technique I'd been taught by my mentor, I concentrated on my dagger and let my inner Elven magic light the blade with small magical flame. My mentor called it a fiery spike, as his favorite use for this trick was to fling the flames at his enemy. Keeping my concentration on the blade, I lowered the flickering dagger to the cloth, touching the flaming tip to the weave. Instantly the flame happily leapt to the cloth with a small whoosh sound. The fire greedily ate the cloth with more than the usual gusto and I suspected that the black sludge must be highly flammable. Perhaps I could destroy the hive walls that way...? But no, that Tanlop guy wanted a sample. Whatever for, I've no idea. Maybe he could tell how to stop the spread of the corruption by studying it. That would be a good thing.

     I knew that the actual hive couldn't be that far away since the hive wards rarely left the vicinity of the nest. Next to a giant oak tree I found it. It was larger than the nests I remembered from...before, and I assumed that was from the corruption, just like the hive ward. I studied the surrounding forest carefully and noted a few more vespids, shimmery wings giving them away in the gloom. I'd have to take out those vespids to get a clear shot at the nest, I knew, since I didn't want them alerting the nest or possibly attacking me while I was busy destroying it.

     The first vespid, I took by surprise while it was cleaning a wing with one fuzzy feeler. I used one of my longer daggers to slice a chunk out of the wing, which put the vespid off balance. Before it could bring the stinger to bear, I sank the dagger into its midsection, neatly severing the back segment from the front two. I sent a quick prayer to Tavril for the lost souls of the corrupted vespids as I left it behind.

     The other vespid proved even easier. The corruption was so far into this one that it wasn't even aware of its surroundings. It barely put up much of a resistance and I quickly put an end to its unnatural existence. I wondered what the purpose was of corrupting these insects? They seemed to be faring badly with the taint, so why even continue with it. Unless they changed into different creatures when the taint wholly took over. I shuddered at the thought.

     Again I glanced around the immediate area, trying still to get a feel for the location. I couldn't sense any more of the winged insects nearby, so I figured it would be a good time to attack the hive now. The hive was incredibly tall, but I suppose that makes sense since it has to house all those abnormally large vespids. The part was above ground was paper-thin, delicate as a vespid wing, but actually pretty strong. It didn't have to withstand sharp winds or anything as Silverwood hardly ever got harsh weather, but the hive did have to protect against predators. Usually smaller animals after the honeycomb, since an adult vespid wasn't all that appetizing.

     I studied the hive quickly, noting how the top layers were darker and more sinister looking. Most vespid hives were a slate gray or off white color, but this one was a dark grayish brown streaked with other muted colors. I shook my head in disgust. How dare these hideous Wanton Maw cultists corrupt the creatures of my forest.

     I considered the best way to go about bringing down the hive, than shrugged. Hack and slash seems the most fun way. I grinned.

      The hive wall was made of material the vespids gathered around the forest, which they than mulched down and mixed with their saliva to form the papery looking substance they coated their home with. It was a rather strange process, but it seemed to work for them.

     I amused myself slicing off chunks of the resilient, paper-like hive pieces. One particularly large chunk I kept and stuffed into my bag to bring back to Rudi Tanlop. Chunks of the stuff littered the green forest carpeting when I was done and a fine gray dust coated my arms and daggers. Bleh.

     I destroyed a few more vespid hives that I found and put an end to a lot more corrupted vespids. I hate what seems to be happening to the forest. It was a place of purity, sacredness, peace. It seemed it was no longer. Was no place unaffected by the Rifts? I hope that when we finally defeat these Planar foes that Telara will not be so changed that it can't be reversed.

      On my way back to Rudi's camp along the road in Sterling Hills, I stopped and washed in a deep stream. I was delighted to see that the water was not tainted and proceeded to have a quick bath as well, washing the grime and dust out of my hair. The water was cold, but refreshing, and I felt a thrill like I always do be bathing by moonlight in the forest. I scrubbed at the hand that had been coated in that black substance and was pleased to note that my healing abilities had already taken care of the affected area. As for my daggers, two of them seemed ruined by the black sludge, which had eaten into the blade and chipped away at the razor sharpness of my weapons. I sheathed them but made a mental note to search for new daggers when I had a chance. I was planning on taking a few days to rest up in Argent Glade before I went out to fix more of what was wrong in Telara.

     I strode into camp near dawn, feeling my mood much lighter. My hair was just drying into spun silk strands and I felt a fission of satisfaction from the admiring looks I kept receiving from the defenders. Cheerily I handed over the specimen samples of the hive to Rudi, waiting patiently while he studied them with intensity.

     "Well, I'm not scholar, but you'd have to be blind not to recognize the taint of fire magic bursting from these hive wall fragments. The goblins are up to their old tricks again, I fear. We'll all be reduced to cinder if their magic spreads throughout Silverwood."

     I frowned at this news. I had felt the taint in the hives as well of course, probably more so than Rudi here, but I hadn't suspected that the goblins had had such a direct hand in it! Placing their accursed fire magic into the hive walls themselves? No wonder the vespids were tainted!

     Rudi straightened and gave me a proud nod. "Excellent work, Ascended. Guardian travelers will be much safer now, due to your efforts. You were able to slay a few of those monstrous vespids that are threatening the forest as well, I take it?"

     I nodded sharply, feeling saddened by the extensive corruption of the simple insects. This can't be good for the rest of Silverwood.

     "If you have no further instructions, I'll be pressing on to Argent Glade now." I said, glancing at the Wardstone absently as I spoke. It seemed to glow from the inside. "I've a few errands to run there and I need to gather proper supplies before I can further address the danger in Silverwood."

     Rudi seemed delighted by my admission and nodded. "If you could please, I'd like you to take a message for me?" He waited until I'd nodded, a bit cautiously, before continuing.

     "We must inform the Guardian leadership of the goblin threat at once. Colten Feddel stands watch over the southern border of Argent Glade. He's the right hand man of Brougan Grote, the leader of Argent Glade. Colten will know what to do with this information. Can you do that, Ascended?"

     I scoffed. "Of course I can deliver a message." I said, feeling my Elven superiority reassert itself. How insulting, to ask that! I complained to myself and the other souls I hosted as I waited for Rudi. He found some parchment and wrote down a hurried but detailed report on the circumstances in Sterling Hills and his suspicions about the goblins as well as the taint on the vespids. I refrained from pointing out the obvious; I was perfectly capable of delivering the report myself, vocally. But, whatever.
     Having finished writing the report, he sealed it and handed it to me, watching carefully as I placed it in my pouch and tied down the flap. From a different belt pack I fished out a soft fruit and began munching idly to make sure I wouldn't be dizzy from hunger later.

     After saying my good byes to the defenders of the Sterling Hills camp, I proceeded up the road again, heading north toward Argent Glade. I admit, I was incredibly eager to reach Argent Glade. Quicksilver College was located there and I desperately was hoping for news on my mentor. I also wanted to reconnect with a few of my friends and classmates and get some more extensive news on the situation in Silverwood.
      With my heart light and my head full of plans, I veritably bounced down the north road.

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