Monday, June 17, 2013

[Raeslyn's Story] 2.17: Assault on Overwatch Keep

   The Palisade loomed over the nearby natural flora, looking just as I remembered it. It had just been completed not long before I and my mentor had found out about the Aelfwar's treachery. In their fight against the Wanton hordes, we'd raised a massive fortress to the north. At the time I hadn't been so concerned, but I did wonder now how I couldn't see that the Palisade was unnatural. It had taken them a quarter of the time to build it then they would normally have, and the whole thing just gave off the feel of otherworldly. Fae. Also at the time, I'd been happy that we had a fortress so close to Quicksilver to help protect the people there from the uprising of Maelforge's followers but now I realize that Hylas had intended the Palisade as an easy position to attack the towns and outposts of Silverwood with. If that was where Marshal Rowen was holed up, that was where I needed go.

     The fortress was nearly impenetrable on a good day, but it obviously hadn't had a good day in some time. From the cover of some rocky outcroppings near the entrance I watched as goblin hordes threw themselves at the walls and door of the Palisade, trying to overcome the Aelfwar station by sheer number and strength. Some carried torches to set fire to anything that wasn't completely green, causing the satyrs and other Fae minions that the Aelfwar employed to leap from place to place to cover the weak spots. Aelfwar archers and rangers rained arrows down on the goblins, but for every one they slew, three more took its place. The goblins were crude and unintelligent, but they had the advantage of numbers and apparently time, as they didn't seem to be alarmed by their lack of real progress on the fortress. They just kept mindlessly attacking. Or maybe that was just it. I'd killed their leader and taken the talon of Maelforge after all. Maybe they really were just mindless, crazed creatures right now, with no driving force behind them to direct their actions anymore. And this was all to our benefit. As long as the Aelfwar was suitably distracted by the goblin pests, they wouldn't be able to concentrate too fully on what the Guardians were doing. Or so I hoped.

     It was actually relatively easy to sneak into the fortress undetected. Everyone was too busy fighting each other to notice little old me. And hey, I look Aelfwar enough from a distance, I could pass as one of them. I did learn the hard way that up close, I gave off some kind of planar aura that let everyone know I was touched with the Vigil's gift. A bit inconvenient, but I could manage.

     A spellcaster ran by, shouting for reinforcements on the north gate, as I crept through the shadows looking for Marshal Rowan. If it was me, I'd take the highest position so I could oversee everything and also to remind the rest of my rank. I'm pretty sure that's a mentality anyone in authority had, so I looked for any high towers or lookout posts along the Palisade. Obviously Prince Hylas knew that he couldn't defeat the goblins by just throwing men and magic at them. They were being directed by the dragon of fire after all, so hopefully the Marshal would have clues as to what Hylas's plan was. Near the back of the Palisade, a short hill protruded out of the wall. A well worn path wound up the side of the hill in a spiral, with crude, wooden huts situated along the path. Satyrs and pixies relaxed in the shade of the huts, polishing their horns or fluttering their wings respectively. I cringed as I crept past the creatures. They had no right in my forest. Warping it and destroying it to suit their own fickle desires. It made me furious. But killing a few Fae wouldn't solve the bigger problem so I focused on my task and soon reached the top of the hill.

     I found Marshal Rowan seated at a desk on a wooden platform. Hylas's most trusted commander. Once someone I admired. In what seems like a different life. I shook my head in dry amusement. Technically it was another life. The old me has gone and left this divine hand of justice behind. Steeling myself, I clambered up on the platform. As I drew closer, hoping to remain undetected as long as possible, I realized that Marshal Rowan looked different from what I remembered. He had grotesque horns growing out of his head and a dark aura of planar magic seemed to pulse around him. I wonder what he'd given up in order to reap the benefits of such potent magics. Have I mentioned before that I hate magic? All it does is corrupt and warp those it comes in contact with. I'm absolutely disgusted that our beloved prince would have ever consorted with beings of planar power.

     I must have made some noise, however small, because Marshal Rowan stiffened and stood up, eyes searching the darkness. Feeling that attempting to remain hidden would be pointless before too long anyway, I revealed myself, stepping out of the shadows. I stiffened my spine and met the man's eyes. I saw nothing there of the kind and intelligent officer I used to know. He gazed at me, not with recognition or realization, but with blind hatred and fanaticism.

     "What? Who are you and what are you doing here!" He cried angrily, striding toward me as if intent on grabbing me and shaking the answers out of me. I easily danced out of reach, my reflexes far superior to the warrior, even before my Ascension.  The marshal narrowed his eyes as he studied me and I resisted the urge to fidget. He used to give that same look to us during training exercises, back when it was my life's dream to become one of Hylas's royal personal guard. Not any more.

    "...Ascended?! Here? How dare you, fool! Prince Hylas will unleash the consuming magic of Greenscale and you can't stop him! So have at it, but know you have already lost!" He cackled, an evil, dark sound, raising the hairs on my neck. He's not the same person anymore, I reminded myself, unsheathing my daggers and preparing for a fight. Obviously he wasn't going to listen to reason or hand over the artifact and I felt a pang of na├»ve regret go through me, surprised to find I'd been hoping for just that.

     He lunged at me, pulling a sword seemingly from thin air that was nearly as long as I was. We clashed and spun in a deadly dance, and if I was still mortal and lacking my abilities I'd have been slain in the first few minutes. But I was not, and was able to trade blow for blow, even scoring several hits with my shorter blades. What I lacked in strength and stamina, I made up with my superior agility, lightning reflexes, and Ascended given abilities of teleporting across spaces and augmenting my blades with flames. Soon Rowan was cursing and being backed into a corner, despite the advantage of his longer blade. He made a wrong move and my foot swept out, knocking him on his back. The sword clattered to the wooden flooring and I stepped on the tang before he could retrieve it. He glared at me from his back, daring me to strike. I hesitated, dagger raised. Should I? Would I? Was I the kind of person who could kill in cold blood and be ok with that? I wasn't sure, and I didn't want to be that person even if I could. With a note of finality, I sheathed my daggers, but kept my guard up, bending down to rifle through his vest in search of the artifact I was sent to retrieve.

     "Big bad Ascended can't even bring herself to kill her enemies?" Rowan sneered nastily as I searched for the token. I wasn't really sure what it looked like, but I thought it might be a talon like Maelforge's token. I couldn't stop my hands from shaking, from what I wasn't going to think about, but I steadfastly ignored Rowan's attempt to get a rise out of me. Eventually I found the artifact, and it wasn't a talon. At least I didn't think it was. It was a strange, leaf shaped crystal with something encased inside. I could feel the strong pulses of chaotic, wild energy pulsing from within it the second I touched the thing, and quickly stepped back away from the marshal, wrapping up the artifact and stowing it in my pack. I turned on my heel, intent on walking away, since my mission was essentially complete, but apparently Marshal Rowan couldn't just let it be. I heard a clatter from behind me, the telltale sound of him retrieving his lost weapon, and my shoulders slumped. Feeling resigned, and with the sound of someone snarling behind me as he lunged for my unprotected back, I drew my dagger, spun, and threw it all in the blink of an eye. The dagger flew true and embedded itself in the marshal's throat. Eyes wide and bulging, he clutched at the wound and toppled to the side, gurgling. I stared, schooling my face into an expression of blankness, until he breathed his last, then turned and silently made my way back down the hill, a heaviness in my heart that I didn't know how to lift.

    I was able to leave the Palisade just as easily as I entered, although there was a flurry of chaotic activity as I exited the gate as someone no doubt discovered Marshal Rowan's lifeless body and the artifact missing. Remembering the artifact, I gingerly pulled it out, making sure not to touch it. I studied the leaf shaped thing and realized the item in the center was actually a ring. Squinting, I could even make out writing with my improved eyesight. What did that say? I tried spelling it out in my head. 'Kon...geeg....on? Kongeegon? What did that mean? I shrugged. Professor Bedstraw was the professor of nature for a reason after all. He should know what it means.

     "Kongeegon? Oh this is terrible Raeslyn!" Bedstraw looked pale as he handed the wrapped artifact to an assistant to be analyzed.

     "Why? What does it mean?" I asked, feeling exhausted from the events of the day. Bedstaw grabbed me about the shoulders, not noticing or not caring how uncomfortable that made me. I really don't like being touched. I jerked away from him and he gazed at me earnestly instead.

     "Kongeegon is a powerful treant demon from the Plane of Life. We don't know much about him since our research into the Plane of Life is rudimentary at best, but we do know that he is known as one of Greenscale's most prominent harbingers of the wild. By the Vigil! We must act quickly! This must be Hylas's end game! He plans to summon Kongeegon and allow the demon to overtake Silverwood with planar life magic." He rubbed at his beard, clearly agitated and yet a dawning understanding overtaking his form.
     "It all makes sense now! The reason for the ritual artifacts, the sense of quiet that has surrounded Overwatch, the lack of any real attack or threat from the Aelfwar. They are preparing even now to unleash Kongeegon! Quickly Raeslyn, we need to let Brougan Groute know of this news so he can mobilize forces against Overwatch! Kongeegon cannot be allowed onto Telara!"

     In his frantic haste, Bedstraw gave me a shove in the direction of the mayor's house and I glared at him. He gave me an apologetic look but still gestured. "Quickly Ascended!" My heart began to pick up its beat as his panic spread to me and I quickly turned and ran in the direction of Mayor Groute's offices as fast as I could. The walls of Quicksilver blurred by, as did the houses and merchants stands in Argent Glade. I darted down the main road through Argent, skillfully avoiding any travelers on the road. An Ascended woman astride a large black horse called something out to me in concern but I paid her no heed, although I briefly considered asking her for help. But so far I'd been successful by myself and I was loathe to drag someone else into my own problems. I considered Silverwood my forest to protect.

     In one breath I explained what we'd learned about Hylas and his plans to Brougan Groute, who looked shocked and dismayed at the news. "Kongeegon you say? I've not heard the name, but I believe you. Prince Hylas must be mad to involve himself with such powerful planar magic, yet it would explain much of the Aelfwar's recent activity." He hesitated, considering the fence lining his office as he thought.

     "We are at a crossroads, Ascended. What we do next could decide Silverwood's fate. Hylas plans to use this treant demon...this Kongeegon, to destroy all civilization in Silverwood. We need to put a stop to this, but I fear that if all our forces are focused on laying siege to Overwatch, we won't be able to enter and stop him in time. Overwatch Keep can withstand any siege. There are several Ascended in Argent who would gladly offer their services to the cause, which will speed up the process, but we still need to find a faster way to get inside and stop Hylas before he can complete the ritual. The second he knows that we are attacking, he will summon the demon."

     Instantly I knew what I had to do. I knew many ways into Overwatch, having lived there for some time before my death, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find a way into the Keep and finding a way to stop the ritual, although the idea made me a bit anxious. I'd no doubt be confronting Hylas himself in this, my prince of a thousand I'd been frustrated at the lack of progress we were making in nullifying the threat to the woods and now things were veritably galloping along and I was hard pressed to keep up. But I hadn't the time to deal with my mixed feelings and dread, we needed to act swiftly indeed to counter Hylas's treachery. Who knows when he will start the ritual? Bedstraw had told me it was an involved ritual and would take some time, but I doubt we had even a day to respond. We needed to act now.

     "I'll infiltrate Overwatch and find a way to stop the ritual while your men and the other Ascended assault the Keep from without and keep the Aelfwar's attention focused there." I said decisively, although I felt a twist in my insides. I can do this. Groute gave me a hard, searching look, frowning. I gave him back my best cool, confident, assassin look, and he blinked.

     "Very well, you have been successful at all your tasks thus far, so it will be the most ideal situation. Go swiftly and may you be successful. Contact the leader of my forces, Loras Tivan, at our Guardian foothold southwest of Overwatch Keep. He's been keeping me abreast of the latest Aelfwar activity and you can co ordinate your efforts with him as he'll be leading the siege against Overwtach." I nodded.

     I sat in the shade of one of the many trees in Argent Glade to eat a light lunch as hunger had been a shadow in the background of my mind that I'd put aside to attend to more pressing matters and I felt much more alert and confident after I'd eaten. Not knowing what I'd need for the infiltration, I purchased quite a few accoutrements from one of the kindly merchants in Argent. He jokingly asked if I was going to war and gave him a cool look, to which he paled. Glancing out over the trees, I could see the spires and towers that made up Overwatch Keep, the most prominent point of pride and strength that the High Elves had in all of Telara, built many, many years ago as a seat of council for us. Oh how far we have surely fallen in the eyes of the gods. I swiveled to glance in the direction of Sanctum and could just make out the shadow of the gates from here, idly wishing I'd kept Naesa with me so it would be a faster journey. Oh well. I gave a few stretched to remove any stiffness and kinks in the muscle, then set out for Overwatch. Brougan had said the Guardian foothold was to the southwest so as I gained distance over the next half hour, I veered in that general direction, knowing I'd see signs of the outpost to give me a better direction as I got closer.

     This was it, the final assault against the Aelfwar and the Fae. Once we nullify Hylas's threat to Silverwood, then what? Well, I still needed to investigate the origins of the goblins and why they had invaded Silverwood to begin with. I don't want them to cause more problems in the future. I wonder what would become of Hylas? Would he surrender? Would we allow him to surrender? I shook my head. Best not to think of such things. Focus on disrupting the ritual and preventing that treant demon from destroying my home.

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