Friday, October 12, 2012

[Raeslyn's Story] 2.1: Battle on the Bridge

     Walking up to the base of the bridge, I could see that there was still some fighting going on. Not exactly what I wanted to see after a disaster. It's bad enough we seem to be at war with our fellow Telarans, but we still fight back and forth in the wake of the bridge blowing up? There were survivors down there that could use aid, why are we fooling around trading shots across the missing section of the bridge. Because from what I could see, that is exactly what is happening here. I huffed as I walked down the bridge, making sure to test each step despite all the Guardians further down. I didn't want to assume anything and end up in the water like the rest of those poor sods. I studiously avoided looking over the railing. Heights and being far up on things was never one of the things I enjoyed doing, I'll say that much.

     There were Guardian bodies littering the bridge, all laying in some dramatic position suggesting they had tried to flee the blast but had not gotten far enough. I clenched my fists to keep my fury in check. What I was furious at exactly, I'm not sure. Perhaps everyone? I stopped by an injured Guardian propped up against the mangled railing of Founder's Threshold and asked what was going on, but he just gave me a dazed look. In shock no doubt. I don't blame him, poor guy. I can't imagine this happening to me. There was a rumble below my feet and I felt a section of mortar detach from the bridge and hurl into the cold waters down below and swallowed, suddenly feeling my throat go dry. Have I mentioned that I hate heights?
     At the end of the bridge, where I could see the broken, raw foundation rods sticking out of the bridge's cobbles, I found a whole cluster of Guardians. They all had their weapons drawn and were settled into a combat stance, facing away from me. I blinked. Did they have something cornered? What were they all so diligently staring at? I quietly crept up behind the group of Guardians, but couldn't see over their elaborate winged helmets and bulky armor. A taller man in heavily decorated armor, who looked like a commander, seemed to be standing a bit farther back and to one side, so I decided to approach him instead.

     "Excuse me? What's going on here? There are victims down below and further back along the bridge that could use the kind of assistance this troop can offer! Why aren't you helping them?" I didn't mean to sound accusing and derogatory, but that's how it came out. I winced slightly as I said the words, wondering if perhaps I should have tried for a bit more diplomacy. The commander straightened his posture and cut his eyes in my direction. Than he quickly looked back at me, giving me his full attention. His eyes filled with admiration and shock and I rolled my eyes. Oh boy, he recognizes me. Or at least, what I am.

     "An Ascended! We're glad your here missy. We need you to find a way to get that scum to our side of the bridge so we can give him a taste of cold steel for what he did to our men!" I blinked at the man, not bothering to hide my blank face. Um, what? I just got here so I don't have a clue what's going on, and now I have to apparently make some guy come here? Here from where? I don't know what's going on.

     My expression must have shown quite plainly because the commander frowned but proceeded to explain. "Centurion Osteneer is the one who blew up the bridge. His cowardice is only exceeded by Orphiel the betrayer. he deserves death!" I stepped back a pace in the face of his anger. Ouch, someone has it out for this guy. I almost felt sorry for him, but if he blew up the bridge, I completely agreed, he deserved death for what he did to my people. Huh, my people. I guess I'm finally resigning myself to my task. I shrugged that thought to the back of my mind for now.
     "We don't know how to get to him though. He's on the other side of the sheered off section of the bridge. He is taunting us, Ascended! He keeps launching missiles and magical spells at us, but we are not trained in such things. We need to get him on this side so we can exact our revenge. Can you do this?" He looked at me expectantly. I had the feeling that if I told him I could turn Regulos into my personal slave, he'd believe me. By the gods, what have I gotten myself into?

     I whetted my lips and glanced around for some inspiration. All I had on me was my dagger, and I'm not good at the long distance kind of attacks. I don't know anything about magic, and even if I did, I don't think there's a spell I could use to force him across that divide. Hmm. As I tried to think of something, a slim, armored woman walked up behind me. I turned and lifted an eyebrow. What did she want?

     "Our soldiers carried talismans to purge Defiant atrocities on their person. They always carry these into battle. The dead, back along the bridge, have no need of their talismans anymore." She choked as she said that, than bit her lip and continued. "If you could gather a few of these talismans, perhaps the Vigil power bound within them could be combined into some sort of summoning spell? Or perhaps a way to slay him from here?" She looked so hopeful, so eager to help an Ascended, that I nodded. And I didn't have any ideas of my own anyway. I may be Ascended, but that does not mean that I am all powerful and all knowing. Far from it. I feel like a sailor adrift in a foreign sea. And whenever I think I have a handle on things, the boat spins in a different direction.
     Following the woman soldier's direction, I cautiously walked back down the bridge. Sure enough, I could make out flat disks hanging either from the dead soldier's necks or off belt pouches. I have to say, I think that taking those talismans was one of the hardest things I've had to do yet. Let's hope it stays that way. There were a few soldiers who had died in agony with their eyes open, and I just didn't feel right taking away their talismans. Who knows, they may be comfort to them in the Soulstream. I did shut their stiff eyelids though and murmured a Vigil prayer for the dead. I was on edge and jumpy by the time I had collected five talismans. They glowed in my hands, something they didn't do when on the soldiers. I wonder if it was because I was a live being, or because of my status. I inspected them as I walked back up to "Lord Runeclift", the commander I'd spoken to earlier. Him and the other soldiers all watched me intently as I eyed the talismans.

     Stacking the talismans on top of each other seemed to do the trick. When they touched flat side to flat side, they melted into each other. The glow became brighter, and yet softer. It was like the golden glow of a wax candle. It gave me a warm, safe feeling and I felt myself relaxing despite my intentions. Amazing, the power of the Vigil. The love the Vigil has for us still takes my breath away. Holding the newly created talisman aloft, I saw how it caught the light and seemed to absorb it, and I knew inside what to do. I walked confidently up to the edge of the sheered off section of bridge, no longer worrying about falling. The Vigil's warm presence in my mind assured me that I would be safe. Looking across the way to the opposite section of ruined bridge, I was not surprised to see a similiar gathering of soldiers than that which was at my back. Except these soldiers all wore red and gold and their armor glittered like tiny blue stars. Sourcestone. I wrinkled my nose. To use that sacred stone in that fashion!
     I held the talisman aloft, and the center piece began spinning. Faster and faster it spun. The soldiers across the way all began shuffling uneasily. From this great distance I couldn't see their faces clearly but I could tell they were nervous about this new turn of events. Perhaps they even recognized me as an Ascended. A true Ascended, not one of their abominations born in a factory. A beam of light shot out from the talisman, startling me so badly I almost dropped the bloody thing. I tightened my grip and turned my head away from the brilliance. When I looked back, I gasped, along with the rest of the Guardian soldiers. It worked! The enemy Centurion was struck by the blinding light.

     I could hear him shouting something, and he glared at me threateningly, before he began to glow from within. Suddenly the light exploded outward. It wasn't pretty, let's just say that. I turned away, feeling slightly queasy. It may have been needed, but it didn't make me feel any better about murdering someone. I lowered the talisman, which was now nothing more than cold flat steel, and stared at it silently. Lord Runeclift came up behind me and patted me on the shoulder and I had the urge to shrug him off. The other Guardian soldiers started up cheering, and I silently removed myself from their midst. I just couldn't get that worked up about it. Killing was killing, no matter the reasons. And yes, I may be a rogue, the epitome of deadly assassins, but inside, I'm just a girl with a love of freedom and forests. I wish that I could go back to the simple time before my death. If only I hadn't gotten involved in that Aelfwar plot! If only I hadn't eavesdropped on that secret meeting! If only I hadn't told my master about it. Yeah...if only. Life must be full of "if only's" I stopped at the left side of the bridge, where the railing had been mangled by what looked like a catapult blast.

     I glanced out over the water of Port Scion Bay, and sighed. Well, this was my life now, I'd better make the most of it. I hefted the talisman pieces in one hand and tossed them as far as I could over the bridge. I didn't stay long enough to look where it landed, instead walking back down the bridge. I kind of left Catelyn standing there waiting for me.  
"Oh, there you are Ascended!" That was Catelyn speaking. I slid down the remaining slope that led to the bridge and walked up to her. "You're needed elsewhere, I'm afraid. Silverwood has been plagued by the fire dragon Maelforge recently. We need heroes to defend it. Speak with Orin Bancroft, just up to the hill to join in the fight. Vigil be with you Raenyn!"     I blinked. Orin Bancroft? Why did that name sound familiar? I shrugged. Could be anywhere I suppose. I'll find out when I meet the guy. Catelyn pointed up the hill behind me, where I could see the tips of flying pennants and tent tops from my position further down the slope. I nodded at her and headed in that direction. Upon cresting the hill, I found a small, but busy military encampment, heavily guarded. The sentries eyed me with curiosity, but let me pass. To my left I saw a row of tents and pavilions, erected using ash poles. As my eyes roved over the men stationed underneath, my excellent hearing caught snippets of speech.

     "This tent isn't much protection against the Defiant onslaught." One man remarked, adjusting his gauntlets. I eyed the tent again, and grinned. It was true, the flimsy material is hardly going to stop a missile blast or magical casting. But the idea of security can be almost as powerful as actual security in some instances.
     "You! ...Raenyn?" The shout and subsequent question had me instantly crouched, hands on daggers. What, it's a reflex. I glanced around the camp. No one seemed to be looking at me as if they recognized me. No, wait. The man standing by some kind of mechanical device. He was smiling at me and beckoning me over. I frowned. Did I know him? He did look sort of familiar, now that I thought about it, but I couldn't tell from where. I slowly approached him, keeping an eye out for anything unusual. Hey, I've had my own people betray me, so it's to be expected that I'm a bit distrustful.

     "The Vigil has answered our prayers!" Continued the man when I was in front of him. I crossed my arms and raised an elegant eyebrow. "Cyril and the other heroes from Mathosia thought you were lost when you shattered Aedraxis's body and disappeared. Clearly your role in the salvation of Telara is not yet finished."

     Clearly, I think sarcastically. And who exactly is this, that he knows Cyril? Again, I had this sense that I should know him, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

     "We are blessed to have you with us, Ascended One. You are needed here more than ever." Jeez, what's with the flowery speech, just get to the point, I thought, irritated. I've no patience for long winded explanations and steering around the subject. Plus, he's speaking to me like he knows me, which I don't like since I can't remember him.

     "As if the return of Regulos wasn't enough, the dragon of fire, Maelforge, is using this breach in the Planes to thwart us with his flame-touched minions. Before we can aid the Vigil in the sacred forest, we must put a stop to the influx of fire demons!"

     I nodded. That makes sense. And Maelforge, powerful enough to mess with Telara, despite being imprisoned? The thought sent a frisson of fear down my spine. Oh, he was still speaking. I tuned back into the conversation.

     "We fight a war on two fronts here in Silverwood. The Defiant at our backs and the cultists at our front. The odds are against us, but we were created to protect and overcome such odds. We are the Guardians and we will protect Telara from the Defiant scum and the evil of the dragons, both at once if need be."

     His little impassioned speech made me scowl. It's hardly necessary to fight the Defiant. From what I've seen, both sides want the same thing: peace restored to Telara, the dragons and their cults defeated, a strife-free existence. It is a waste of time and resources to be at each other's throats when we should be united against a common enemy! It was only by the combined efforts of all the mortal races banded together that saved us from total destruction in the Blood Storm Wars. It's written quite clearly in all the history books at the College. And yet here we are, bickering amongst each other like children who can't agree on something and must beat each other up over it instead. I sighed, blowing hair away from my face. They wouldn't listen to me anyway. Ascended I might be, but I hardly have the kind of power to turn an entire civilization's way of thinking around. I'm speaking of the Defiant of course. If they could just learn to accept the Vigil as their guiding light, we could live in peace and fight alongside each other, in unity.

     Instead of saying any of my thoughts out loud, I put my hand on my hip and said, "What task can I do to help with this problem?" This seemed to make Orin Bancroft quite pleased, for he smiled and tapped his chin in thought. He glanced around the camp, at the serious and sometimes disheartened looks the soldiers were giving each other. It was all rather depressing really. They looked so defeated and worn down. I bet this encampment has seen a lot of fighting and horrible things since it was set up, and the poor soldiers haven't had much of a break from the constant defending of their position against both the fire demons and the Defiant on the shoreline.
     "We Ascended know that we do not fight alone." Orin began slowly, as if warming to an idea. I nodded thoughtfully. "We learned this 20 years ago fighting Aedraxis and his Endless Court. But many of the normal soldiers, and other Guardians don't know this yet. To them, the Vigil is just an ideal, a hope, something to look up to, to pray to, like a distant deity that doesn't intervene." I nodded again, this time more slowly. What's the point here? "I'd like you to take this Sigil, Raenyn. Inspire our sentries with the holy light of the Vigil's divinity and love. Show them that they are looked after and protected against the forces of Maelforge. Show them what they are fighting to preserve. Remind them that they are Guardians, the Vigil's chosen warriors to defend Telara against the dragons." Orin held out a small, flat medallion, engraved with the now-common symbol of the Guardians; a silver gauntlet in the form of a fist, on a blue background. A long silver chain coiled around the fist, caught within the net of fingers. I studied the flat disc, keeping my expression blank. There was no doubt that there was power imbued into the Sigil. It hummed beneath my fingers, the tell tale sign of magic. I've never been very comfortable around magic. Most forms of it anyway.

     I tucked the Sigil in my belt, gave Orin a last, searching look--He looked so familiar!--and then wandered off. Surely they won't begrudge me getting something to eat first, right? And changing out of these clothes. They'd mostly dried from my dip in the death-tainted water, but I cringed each time I moved. Having clothes dry on your body is not a pleasant experience, let me tell you.
     After a quick, but tasty meal of roast squirrel and light wine, and a change of clothing from a fellow rogue who had some strong leather armor to spare, I felt much more alive and myself again. Stretching in the new leathers, I tested out their dexterity, and nodded in satisfaction. The boots felt a bit tight, but once I'd gained a bit more coin I could commission my own set of leathers. Until then, these would have to do. I quickly haggled prices with a conveniently handy merchant and sold a few of the items I'd picked up on along my travels, feeling the heft of my coin purse as the newest coins were added. This is definitely an improvement over the chaos and fighting and horror of old Mathosia. I shuddered at the memory. Now, time to become inspiring. I chuckled at my own attempt at a pun. I pulled my pack over my shoulders, sheathed my daggers, and slipped the Sigil into my hand. I wonder how it worked. Did I need to touch the soldiers with it? Point it at them? Perhaps whisper a prayer to it? Or give a speech? I snorted at the last one. Me, give a speech? Ha. Maybe I'll hit them over the head with it.

     As it turned out, I needn't have bothered. Within five feet of the nearest sentry of Divine Landing--the name of the camp--the Sigil began glowing. It also began heating up. I cursed and almost dropped the cursed thing when it became too hot to touch, but right at that instant, it floated up off my palm. A beam of gold light shot from the center of the star painted on the gauntlet symbol and bathed the sentry in soft light. It kind of reminded me of the light that had swept me off to a different plane back in Mathosia, after I'd shattered the body of Aedraxis. Thinking that did not help my nerves any. This whole process lasted maybe 20 seconds. Once finished, the medallion plopped back into my outstretched hand. The sentry I'd just assaulted with divine energy turned and stood straighter. He gave me a look of wonder, but it was like he didn't really see me. Or saw something in me that I couldn't see.

     "Amazing!" He said in an awe-filled voice that was barely above a whisper. Nevertheless, my sharp elven ears picked up the words clearly. "I should never have doubted the wisdom of the Vigil. I shall fight on in their honor!" He drew his sword and stabbed it into the air triumphantly. I blinked at him, a bit startled. Interesting. Approaching a different sentry produced the same effect. The Sigil floated off my palm after becoming hot to the touch. It glowed a soft golden and a beam of light bathed the sentry from head to armored boots. Once it had gone dark again and fallen back into my palm, the sentry turned and regarded me with a star struck expression. Looks like I just renewed his faith too. I grinned. This could be fun. Certainly beats murdering fellow sentient beings and confused humans who were led astray by the promise of power, that's for sure. The man uttered some words along the same vein as the first sentry, and ran off to do light knows what. I chuckled.
     I spent my time inspiring sentries around the camp, along with the occasional soldier and merchant that looked in need of some divine guidance. It never failed to make me feel better, seeing their faces lift with hope and wonder. It made me feel good about being part of the Vigil's plan. Of being an Ascended. I guess it's just like any other aspect of life. There's the downsides, the good sides, and the really horrible nightmare parts that make you want to crawl in a hole and never come out. Again I felt an uplifting of spirit and I felt confident that this was the path for me. Against my will or not, I am proud to have been chosen by the gods.

     I wandered back into camp sometime later. All the sentries inclined their heads to me and gave me respectful looks. I nodded back. I walked back up to Orin Bancroft, who apparently spent most of his time standing around in front of that metal device thing. Oh well, not my problem. I made sure he'd seen me, than flipped the medallion through the air to him. He caught it expertly, than gave me a disgruntled look. I can just hear his scolding words for casually tossing such a sacred artifact around. I grinned impishly. Yep, being back in Silverwood, doing something good, it felt good. I felt good. More relaxed, balanced, sure of myself. Back in Mathosia, I was constantly unsure. Out of my element. Now I felt like the forest itself was happy to see me back. Self-centered thinking, I know, but that's what it felt like to me. I gave Orin a mock salute, than quirked a brow and studied him more closely. Something about him...

     "Do I know you?" I asked out loud, bluntly, after he'd inspected the Sigil and handed it off to an attendant. "You look familiar..." Not to mention he acted like he knew me. Orin raised an eyebrow at me in turn and eyed me curiously.

     "Don't you remember me Raenyn? Of course, it has been 20 years since I seen you smiting the Knights of Aedraxis in Mathosia. You ensured our victory against Regulos that day. I was one of the ones who helped you on your quest to defeat Aedraxis." I nodded slowly, staying quiet. It's actually hard to remember specific faces or locations from than. Almost like it was 20 years ago for me. Except I should remember because it feels like it just happened, despite the time I'd lost in the Vigil's realm. Odd. I shook my head finally, exasperated.

     "Sorry, I know I should remember, but I just can't." I shrugged. Oh well, I can start anew and meet new acquaintances.

     Orin Bancroft nodded. "It's okay Raenyn. You had a lot on your mind than. You probably do now too. I know that you will be a harbinger of vengeance against Regulos and any other threat to Telara, as you were than. We all know it. We believe in you, Raenyn." pressure right?

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