Monday, January 28, 2013

[Raeslyn's Story] 2.12: Visions of Shyla Danced In My Head

     I headed down the road to the west at a steady jog, able to go long distances even before Ascension without trouble. Now I had no problem. I wasn't even breathing hard when I reached the Wayward Thicket. What a wonderful gift the gods bestowed on me!
     Dalin Erst was an older elf in long green robes who blended in almost perfectly with the greens and mossy colors of the nearby foliage. He was sitting in the grasses under a green canvas with a Guardian defender standing nearby at alert. The woman's eyes immediately zeroed in on me as I approached. She tensed minutely, before relaxing as she noticed the Vigil sigil necklace I had bought in Sanctum and adorned before leaving the city. The older elf reached over and picked up a large oaken staff that had been laying beside him. Using it, he levered himself to his feet and I could just picture the creaks his bones made as he stood and stretched. I shuddered. I wonder if I'd get old, or has Ascension locked my age where it is now?
  "The forest whispered to me that you would be coming, young seeker." Dalin's voice was soft and kind, but his eyes were full of fire and wisdom. I blinked. "You knew I'd come here? The forest whispered to you? But how--" Dalin waved off my words with a hand.
     "That is not important, young elf. Many have sought my council over the years and I shall help you as I helped them, for your task is a noble and righteous one and your heart follows the Vigil." I blushed and glanced down. I never know what to say to compliments. "But be forewarned!" Dalin said, voice sharper, and I instantly jerked my head up, eyeing him questioningly. "This vision quest will be fraught with danger, as all vision quests are. It is the nature of the forest to test those who come seeking. Others have failed, finding death or injury instead of answers. Prepare yourself." I bit my lip. Okay, that didn't sound very pleasant. Death? Well...I was Ascended after all, so I should be immune to death. I wonder if that meant I'd just not die....or if I'd die, and than be resurrected....that sounds painful. Oh gods, should I do this? Dalin stood there patiently, as if he sensed my inner turmoil, while I considered my options. On the one hand, I obviously needed more information on the Aelfwar and the Fae than what I already knew. I knew they were planning something big, but I had no idea what. I could torture it out a prisoner, but that is not Tavril's way, and I felt uncomfortable with deliberately causing cold blooded harm to another being. It was different in the heat of battle and defending one's life. On the other hand, I've been pretty lucky so far in avoiding any serous injury. I reallllllly didn't want to end up dead. Or undead...or whatever it would be for I rolled my eyes at myself. Now you're just being silly, Rae. In the end, I didn't really see that I had much choice, so I sighed and nodded, shoulders slumped in dread. Was it wrong of me to fear death? See, I have all these questions but I'd learned at Quicksilver College long ago that no one appreciates someone who questions the gods' will and vision. So I just wonder to myself.

     Dalin turned and shambled over to a round table he had set up under the canopy without a word or change in expression, as if he knew I'd accept all along. I stuck out my bottom lip for a moment, feeling sulky. I hate being predictable.

     "For this ritual you will undergo, we'll need the unfocused eyes of a Fae-bound creature at the exact moment of death, when the eyes see in to the beyond. We'll also need lockflower sprigs and gritshell pods, to grind up and make into a special potion of insight and induced unconsciousness."
     I wrinkled my nose. "That's disgusting, no way am I drinking anything like that!" I blurted out without thinking. Dalin chuckled in amusement. "Don't worry, you only need to drink the powders and herbs. The eyes you must hold in your palms after you drink." He grinned at me as he said this. Is he serious? He is, isn't he? I scowled. The things I do for my land and people.

     "So, do you have this stuff, or do we need to go hunting for it?" I demanded, irritated. Dalin hummed to himself in response and glanced around his little area.
     "You are in luck, young elf." he finally replied, turning back to me. Somehow I didn't feel very lucky to be experiencing this..."I have everything except the lockflowers. And they should only be a matter of fetching them from my saddlebags. I left my horse at Sanctum Watch though."
     "Let me guess, you want me to go get them for you?" I asked sarcastically, ready to take off. Dalin shook his head. "Oh no, that's quite alright, I'll send Valiora to go get them." I blinked. "Who?" He turned and nodded at the Guardian standing at alert nearby. At the sound of her name, the Guardian woman swiveled and tilted her head, studying us. Dalin shambled over to her and had a quiet conversation. I could tell from here she didn't want to go play fetch, but apparently he was either very charismatic and convincing, or she'd been given orders to obey him, for she trudged off with a glare at me like it was my fault. Hey, if there was any other way to find my answers that didn't involve eyeballs, I'd totally be all for it. Meanwhile, Dalin started pulling jars and flasks out of a bag sitting under the tree, setting them down on the table and mumbling to himself. Feeling ignored, I plopped down on a protruding tree root and set about sharpening my daggers.

     I stopped paying attention completely to what the old elf was doing so when he suddenly exclaimed loudly I nearly sliced my finger open in surprise. Ugh, how embarrassing. I glanced over to see that Dalin's bodyguard was back.

     "Ah! Smell these lockflower sprigs? The more pungent the ingredients, the more effective the brew. This will be one of my strongest meditative potions yet! Come here young elf, I've prepared all the reagents and distilled their essence. Now that the lockflower sprigs have been added, it is ready. This tonic will open your mind to the echoing whispers of the forest. However, I can only provide the means to enter a trance. I've not the preparations required to care for your body while you are in it, or how to deal with issues that might arise. Go back to Maris for that, I don't want blame for your death, young thing." I swear, every single time he said the words 'young elf' I felt like punching him. I'm not that young. I'm of age of maturity, for Vigil's sake! But I held my tongue and simply nodded.

     "Thank you sir, for preparing this for me. I really appreciate what you've done." I said carefully, inclining my head to him. "May the Vigil watch over you." Dalin waved a hand. "You better hope the Vigil watches over you instead, young elf. This isn't some jaunt in the park." I gritted my teeth. It's like he says it on purpose! I turned around, ready to leave, when Dalin cleared his throat and duh, I didn't take the potion. I sighed, turned around again, grabbed the potion from the elf's outstretched hand, murmured a hurried thanks, and dashed out of there. I took a short cut through the woods back to Sanctum Watch, using the physical exercise of climbing over and around trees and avoiding any dangers to help clear my mind on the way.

     Maris was pleased when I handed her the tonic and explained about what it should do. "Ah yes, this tonic is potent indeed. It's certain to open your eyes to the truth of what's going on here in Silverwood. Are you ready?" She gave me a serious, searching look. I hesitated, than shrugged.
     "I guess so. I have no choice after all. I need to know." Maris rubbed the flask between her fingers thoughtfully.
    "Yes." She glanced away into the forest. "You know, for centuries, Prince Hylas led the fight against the Wanton cults. Now it seems he is consumed by the conflict. He claims to protect Silverwood, yet I'm afraid he will end up destroying it instead." Her eyes drifted down to me and she blinked, looked sad and regretful. "Prince Hylas was a great man. Now...? You must be pure of heart and powerful of spirit to withstand the trauma of a vision Raeslyn. But I have faith in you." She handed the tonic to me and I held up, grimacing.

     "Bottoms up." I joked. I uncorked the flask and drank it all before I could think about it. It actually didn't taste that bad. Kind of like flower petals actually. Than it felt like someone kicked me in the stomach and head at the same time. With a groan, I sank to my knees, clutching my head. By the Vigil, that hurts! Vaguely, I heard Maris talking in a hurried tone. I was pushed into a sitting position. Someone placed my hands on my knees, palms up. For every second that passed, I felt like I was drifting farther away from my body and reality. Oh, I am so not doing this again. No way. I fought dizziness and disorientation. Something squishy was placed in my hands, but I had not the presence of mind to understand what it was. With a flash, I was elsewhere. I was standing on a grassy hill overlooking Silverwood. I blinked and glanced around. I felt strange; light and distanced, like I was watching myself through a mirror or something. Beside me stood a beautiful red doe with large shell ears. The Spirit Guide. She turned liquid gold eyes to me, and in the vision quest I saw more than just a deer. I saw a spirit so powerful that looking at it directly would strike you blind.

     "It is time to see what is and what may be. I will guide you along this path, Raeslyn Ascended, but you must have faith and your footsteps must be sure. Protect the Vigil's chosen and you will remerge unscathed" The Spirit Guide seemed to be waiting for something, so I felt myself nodding, although I couldn't feel myself nod....definitely not liking this. The Spirit Guide reached out, and even though she was about as high as my hip, she suddenly seemed much taller. She touched her nose to my forehead, and with a white flash, I was suddenly somewhere else. I stumbled back in shock.

  "Lady Shyla? Wha-?" I was again on a hill, but things looked different. Shyla Starhearth stood before me. She looked older, more careworn. And across from her was Prince Hylas. I stared in confusion. They appeared to be arguing. I stepped closer, wanting to understand.

     "You can't do this, Hylas! All of the Telara will hunt you down!" Shyla pleaded, so much compassion in her voice I wanted to weep for her.

     "It's too late." Hylas scoffed, glaring at her." You and your Guardians have forsaken the forest! Nature is life itself. I made my choice Shyla."

     My eyes darted between the two, feeling like I was eavesdropping on a conversation I had no right to hear. But the vision quest sent me here, so it must be important.

     There were tears in Shyla's eyes. "It's never too late! Rejoin the High Elf Council in Sanctum, Hylas! Welcome the Vigil back into your heart! Please, Hylas!"

     Hylas snorted, shaking his head before she'd even finished speaking. "The gods never lifted a finger to help me or Silverwood! I will defeat my enemies on my own. I have a new ally now. The power of Greenscale, Dragon of the Wilds, has sworn to champion my cause if I prove strong enough." Shyla stumbled back, face paling, and I felt myself mirroring her. By the Vigil, he had actually done it. He'd allied the Aelfwar with Greenscale! Couldn't he see?? The Blood Storm were destruction incarnate. They cared nothing for our world.

     "I'm sorry Shyla, I won't allow you to interfere with my work. This is where you end and my reign begins!" Hylas suddenly shouted, and I focused back on the exchange. That didn't sound good.

     Prince Hylas lifted his arm in the air abruptly, holding out two fingers. Then he dropped it to his side. Two large, heavily armored Aelfwar sprang out of the foliage, heading into the clearing with weapons drawn. Hylas nodded at them, before turning his back on Shyla and walking away. Shyla gazed after him with such a desolate expression. I glanced between her and the two charging Aelfwar.

     "Lady Shyla, look out!" I called, springing forward without thinking. I didn't think I'd be able to do anything, this being a vision and all, but Shyla startled, looking at me with wide eyes. I danced through the shadows to appear in front of her, effectively blocking the first strike.
     "The Vigil has answered my prayers! Thank you!" Shyla exclaimed, wiping quickly at her eyes. I pretended not to notice. Shyla quickly cast a spell of protection and focused her attention on the left attacker, so I shifted my focus to the one on the right. He was an agile one, dodging my dagger thrusts. I'm not as effective in frontal attacks as I am at sneaking through the shadows and stabbing things in the back, but I wasn't a slouch either. I feinted high and when the man fell for it, I twisted my left hand, changing the angle of my dagger mid swing and thrusting up through his ribcage before he could retaliate. The man gave a grunt of surprise as he slid sideways. I glared at his body. "Traitor," I muttered venomously. How dare he attack the High Priestess! My attention was drawn to Shyla finishing off her opponent with a powerful spell. She may look delicate, but she can pack a good punch when threatened. She glanced at me, sorrow and gratitude and hope and despair all reflected in her eyes. I opened my mouth to say something when the world fell away. I felt weightless, and my vision faded to black. Next thing I knew, I was blinking dazedly up at Maris, who's frowning visage was way too close for comfort. I ducked away from her and scrambled to my feet, swaying a moment.

     "That was the most.....never again!" I finally blurted out after the world stopped spinning. When I felt the urge to toss up breakfast subside, I relayed all I'd seen to Maris, who looked grim by the end.

     "That is grim news indeed. To imagine Hylas using the forest in hostility against the Guardians is appalling. If this is true, Telara is indeed in great peril. I cannot believe Hylas would consort with the Plane of Life, and attack his beloved Shyla. I pray to the Vigil that this vision does not come to pass. Tristan Alecourt, a good friend of mine, has experience with visions and prophecies like this. Maybe he can help us find a way to prevent this from happening."

     I nodded. "Good, I don't want to find out what would happen if I hadn't been there to protect Shyla. You should have seen her. I don't know if she would have defended herself without my interference. Where is this Tristan?"

     Maris pointed down the road. "Last I heard, Tristan was studying the Fae up at Highglades Lookout. Just follow the road down to Argent Glade but take the fork that leads north."

     I thanked Maris and headed out immediately, even though the sun was fading. I knew that this needed to be dealt with right away. No more delays. I passed quite a few military patrols on the road to Highglades, which led me to believe that the problems in the wood were escalating. I reached the fork in the road, where the Highglades bypass met the Argent Glade road, and headed up to the Lookout.

     The Lookout was pretty heavily guarded for an out of the way outpost. In the center of the camp was a large stone statue with floating rocks. Strong magic emanated from it. Very strong indeed if even I could sense it. Maybe this one of the Wardstone anchors around Silverwood. Oh and what do you know, there was a large, arched Porticum gate there too. I wasn't too trusting toward something that used the planes for transport, but it would come in handy for getting back quickly. I glanced around at the people performing various tasks about the camp. A few Mathosians stood together, having an animated discussion about something wooden on the ground, while two bored sentries swapped war stories. The only High Elf stood in the back, sporting bright orange hair and carrying a pretty tall staff. He was staring avidly at a tree, as if it held all the secrets in the world.

     I walked over. "Tristan Alecourt?" I asked of the elf  loudly. Who knew how distracted he was.

     "The rifts and tears are getting more numerous by the day. I fear our lovely forest won't even be recognizable in the near future!" Tristan said without turning his eyes from the tree.

     "Tristan Alecourt. Listen, I need your help."

     Tristan continued as if he hadn't heard me. Or maybe he had and just wanted someone to listen to his lecture. "This used to be a tranquil grove. We made offerings to Tavril here. But than those accursed Fae came and corrupted this place with their foul rituals to Greenscale. They grew a terrible hedge maze full of abominable creatures that attack at night! We sent in rangers to investigate, but none have reported back. We must put a stop to these faeries before Greenscale gains further influence in Silverwood, if it's not too late already."

     "That's why I'm here." I said pointedly. Tristan looked at me for the first time, interest shining in his eyes. "Well, not really." I admitted after a pause. I explained my vision and what it could mean.

     "Yes, you're right, your vision quest is related to our Fae infestation. If Hylas is somehow exerting control over the Fae now, that could be why they are suddenly attacking rampantly. We need to uncover the deception that has tempted House Aelfwar and fix the shame that was brought to my bloodline." I blinked, taken aback. He was Aelfwar too? I eyed him more closely, but didn't say anything.

     "Ok, so how do we break the Fae's ties to House Aelfwar?" I asked, a bit impatiently.

     "Well, we need to figure out what hold he has over them. The Fae have always been led by a Lord Twyl. If we can draw his attention, we might be able to discover a clue. But it's too dangerous to venture into the Hedgegrow Court, especially at night. Even for an Ascended." He added the last on as I opened my mouth to object. I frowned, than turned and eyed the towering walls of green that made up this "Hedgrow Court" at the base of the northern mountains. It was a giant, obscene eyesore that seemed to pulse with Planar energy as I looked at it. The walls of green seemed to extend for miles. How had no one discovered this in time? Were we all too busy with our own little problems, with the Defiant, with Aedraxis, that we had just let Hylas have free reign back here in Silverwood? It would seem so...

  "Okay, your logic is sound. May I rest here for the night?" I asked, more calmly. It seemed I wouldn't get any more done tonight anyway. Tristan nodded, than brightened. "I have a few spare supplies; blankets and such. Why don't you get settled and I'll explain to you more about what happened here and about Highglade." I groaned inwardly. Great, a history lesson. So not my thing.

     As I settled in for the night, I couldn't keep my eyes from wandering to that tower of pulsing green foliage. Tomorrow, I would tackle that maze and see if there was some way to tear it down. It had obviously been erected magically. There was no doubt it was a malignant presence in Silverwood and needed to be destroyed.

     I fell asleep soon after and didn't dream.

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