Wednesday, July 17, 2013

[Raeslyn's Story]: Aelfwar Saga Part 1

A/N: I wasn't exactly sure where to put in this section of Raeslyn's story, but I knew it was important to her journey through Rift, and to the overall story arc that makes up our beloved world of Telara, so here it is, the details of Raeslyn's discovery of the conspiracy surrounding the Aelfwar and their wayward prince. I'll say this, I feel kind of bad for Hylas and I've sort of found him pretty cool, and I just wish that he and Shyla could have had a happy, resolved ending at the end of the story. It makes my heart ache at what she went through with her true love! Anyway, on to the story!

     I entered the Inner Sanctum of Sanctum, smirking slightly at the unoriginal name given to the seat of Guardian power. I'd been directed by a courier earlier to come straight away and meet with the Tribunal of Sanctum about the weighty matter of Hylas and what exactly we ought to do about him. I felt sort of a strange, anxious stirring in my gut that I didn't like in the slightest. Obviously I'd already set myself against my fellow Aelfwar just by the mere fact of becoming Ascended and being granted the gifts of the gods. Of course, I hadn't volunteered for the job, but that hardly matters in the long scheme, I suppose. I'd aligned myself with the Guardians, I'd actively thwarted Prince Hylas and his forces at every turn, and I'd tried my best to keep him from tearing Silverwood apart with this horrible nightmarish war he'd started against us. I just wish, so hard, that it wasn't me specifically, that had to deal with this now. But since I'd only recently recovered from a direct assault by Hylas, and knew the most about his latest scheme, I can imagine I was the best candidate for the job. Lucky me.

     Up the stairs and down a softly carpeted hallway I plodded, feeling the grim smile pulling at my lips that caused others to flinch and turn away nervously as I passed. That was fine, I wasn't in the mood for more "Hail, Ascended!" nonsense anyway. The courtroom for Sanctum was a large, wide room in the upper levels of the Inner Sanctum. Inside, three pretentious looking officials with stern faces were seated behind a curved table. I studied them silently as I settled in front of them. Two female elves and a male dwarf. I recognized the two women as Cardinal Alwan and Cardinal Fiach, from my time before, but I hadn't laid eyes on the dwarf before. He must have been elected after the Guardians officially took up their mantle, since our dealings with dwarves before the Shade War was very slight. I inclined my head in a respectful manner, which was all they were going to get from me. I wasn't afraid of these people. I was higher up in the pecking order then they were. Everyone knew the Ascended held the real power in Telara.
     The beautiful elven woman with long gold hair cleared her throat after the silence grew heavy and I lifted an eyebrow.

     "Greetings Ascended. Raeslyn Windrose, I believe?" She waited a brief moment and I nodded sharply. "We are the Tribunal of Sanctum. We three sit in judgment of those that would defy the gods. We determine if their offense is mere defiance, selfishness, or true heresy." I nodded again when she paused to give me a swift glance, trying not to look irritable. Of course I knew this, I wasn't a complete moron. She shuffled his papers and continued reading from them. "I am Cardinal Fiach, the Defender of the Covenant, and we've been going over your report of what's been happening in Silverwood as, well as reports from elsewhere on Aelfwar activity." I perked up, looking truly interested. Elsewhere? I wonder what else the Aelfwar was up to, and where? I opened my voice to ask, and the dwarf gave me a qualling glare. I scowled, but kept quiet. Fine.
     "These reports of horrible acts of violence on behalf of Prince Hylas are deeply troubling." Cardinal Fiach continued, after a look at her comrades. "What we want to know is, is this the work of a power-hungry ruler or a dragon cultist? We've had discussions of Hylas's character with various others who knew him before this.....disaster, and what we've learned is very distressing indeed." She pursed her lips and stared blankly at the table for a moment. Her female ally leaned over and placed a hand over hers, and I was struck by the truth that everyone mourned Hylas's actions, not just those of us who were close to the Aelfwar and their prince. All of us Elves were feeling the loss. I sighed, feeling my shoulders slump.

     Cardinal Fiach sighed as well. "The night when Shyla went off to join the Mathosians' civil war, the entire Elven council convened at the Mirror of Ages to discuss it. It wasn't a matter we took lightly." I knew that yes, but leaned forward slightly, feeling my heart pound. Maybe here was answers, finally. "Shyla was so passionate about it. She insisted fighting with the Zareph Mathos was the right call. It was our duty, she said, to fight back against such evil as Aedraxis. I remember never seeing Hylas so angry. He swore that it was our duty to uphold Tavril's will, to stay and protect the sacred forest. He would not listen to any of Shyla's pleas, which I found odd since he would always agree with her on anything. I'd heard that the night before, he'd been deep in council with an unknown druid by the name of Keelaodh, who I've heard was always resentful of Shyla's influence and position with Hylas. Funny though, Keelaodh was absent from the meeting. Now I wonder, was he hiding something?" Something like sorrow passed over her face than. "Brougan Grote, the mayor of Argent Glade, has also sent us a report on what he witnessed before and at the meeting. He was a member of the Aelfwar order, you see." I almost opened my mouth and blurted out that I was too, but I really didn't think it would be a good time to admit to being a former Aelfwar, what with the prejudice and hate and fear against them now. Hylas had dragged that noble court through the mud.
     "Grote says that Prince Hylas had admitted to wavering on his decision. He was torn between his duty to Tavril, and his desire to protect Shyla and help the Mathosian people. After his meeting with this druid, he was sure. He was vehemently against going to their aid. he outright refused to listen to anything Shyla said, and would not even let her speak to him." Fiach finished her report and peered sharply at me over the parchment. I resisted the urge to feel guilty. I hadn't done anything wrong, after all.

     "I have also received details on the vision quest you underwent, and it's results." I crossed my arms, feeling slightly angry that apparently everything I'd been doing had been spied on and relayed to the council. "It seems that Hylas thinks the gods have betrayed him. I cannot for the life of me, understand how he came to think that!" She look anguished for a moment, before composing herself. The dwarf kept a straight face, not being as close to the topic as the elves were. He was our prince after all, not theirs. "I can only hope that this corruption can be healed from him, if we can make him to see reason! We need more information on this druid though." I stiffened, as all three of the council members were suddenly eyeing me with keen intent. Apparently this was where I come in.

     "Yes, I am eager to help." I said, even though they hadn't actually asked me anything yet. But I had the feeling I knew where it was going.

     Cardinal Fiach smiled at me, although it looked strained. "Thank you Raeslyn. You are a truly compassionate soul." I felt my cheeks heat. Oh great, now I felt silly. "We know little about Keelaodh, only that he was a druid of great magical power but questionable theology. Our spies report that he has now been made High Priest of Hylas's corrupted court. Now that Hylas has been dealt a crippling blow, we may have a chance at bringing down this unholy clerical druid. We need to know what influence he has, if any, over Prince Hylas." I reached down and gripped my daggers, sheathed on my belt, feeling a burning desire fill me to pummel this cleric into the ground. If he was the one who'd corrupted my dear prince, that had turned Hylas from the gods down the dark path of corruption, I couldn't wait to get my hands on him. I really couldn't. My emotions must have showed on my face, for the Cardinal narrowed her eyes at me.

     "Remember, Raeslyn, we need him alive for information. Also, vengeance is not a pretty reason for killing." I made a noncommittal noise, not caring what they thought. Dead was dead, no matter your reasons for killing, and besides, I have a deep feeling that this Keelaodh deserved everything he was going to get. I let my lips curve into a vindictive smile.

     "So, where can I find this...cleric?" I asked, placing one hand on a hip and inspecting my nails, appearing nonchalant, as if this was any other errand to fetch something. Already, I was itching to get my fingers around this slimy monster's throat and wring some answers from him.

     Cardinal Fiach informed me of the last known location her spies had seen the cleric, and I was stunned to find that he'd been setting high and mighty at the Mirror of Ages the entire time. I was so angry for a moment, I saw nothing but red in front of my light blue eyes, blinking furiously. How dare he! How dare this man worm his way into the council of my Prince, and then deign to sit in our most sacred site, with his profane priests and clerics, doing who knows what to the holy ground there. How I'd not heard of this earlier, was a miracle, because if I had, you could bet I'd have been murdering the whole lot of them, conflicting emotions be damned. There was no way I was going to let anyone even attempt to defile Tavril's sacred heart. I turned without a word and strode swiftly out of the council room, hearing murmurs of conversation start up behind me. I ignored them and headed straight for the stable, where I took up the reins of my mare and clattered across the bridge, nearly knocking over a traveler who'd no doubt come to the city to see the wondrous Ascended in person. Ha!

     Several hours of hard riding later, I slowed outside of the beautiful and enchanting clearing that held the Mirror of Ages, tying the reins to a nearby tree and patting the mare's sweaty flank. She could rest while I...attended to business. I gathered the shadows and energy of the planes around me, using them to cloak my form in powerful invisibility, creeping out into the clearing. And was instantly assaulted with such evil and corruption that it took all my concentration to hold onto my cloaking ability. The clearing was crawling with Aelfwar elves, and to my horror, there were even some Fae present. Just more proof of Hylas's corruption, and it made my insides tight with despair. The heavy planar energy was thick on the air, but it made it easier to weave my way through the clearing without being detected. I didn't even have to think of where Keelaodh would be. I just knew he'd be in the very heart itself. At the center of the power that flowed through Silverwood. I clenched my jaw in fury as I stepped under the great roots of the giant and ancient tree that grew at the heart of Tavril's sacred wood. The tree had been here for eons, since the time of Legend, and though no one could say for sure, I had no doubt it was the first tree ever on Telara, put here by Tavril to mark the forming of the Covenant.

     Sure enough, a hideous looking elf was kneeling in a parody of divine respect in front of the ancient altar. I was horrified to see that the altar had been defiled. There was blood and bone strewn around the roots of the tree, and the altar had deep gouges in it. Sorrow and anger filled me. The bell that had been used to bring the elves together for vespers still hung to my left, and with a hateful glare at the druid's back, I swiftly stepped to the beneath the bell. I reached out and rang it, once. The clear, clarion sound rang throughout the clearing, and I could hear the sweet, divine sound in my breastbone, echoing through my bones. I felt clear headed and light, as if in the presense of Tavril herself. Apparently it had quite the opposite effect on Keeloadh. He staggered, nearly falling, and whirled around, face white with fear and horror. His eyes immediately landed on my now visible form and his mouth twisted into a truly hideous rictus.

      "Ascended!" He spat hatefully. "That chime is forbidden here! You dare to sound the vespers of Tavril among my court! We follow the old ways now, fool. Greenscale now gives us power that the gods never would. Here, let me demonstrate!" I didn't realize until too late that he'd been making subtle hand motions while talking, and he now flung out both hands. Twisted green magic slammed into me and I went flying, impacting against the roots of the ancient ironwood tree. I tasted blood where I'd bitten my lip and groaned. Nothing was broken, of course. I was Ascended and stronger and more resilient than even the hardiest of soldiers, but it had still hurt, and I could feel needles of corrupted life magic stinging my face and throat. It hurt to breathe. I could hear Keeloadh cackling madly, and rolled swiftly to the side, barely avoiding another wave of uncontrolled planar magic. I needed to get close to him so I could get at him with my daggers. Preferably stab him repeatedly. I considered my options as I dodged his flailing magic. He had incredible power at his disposal, no doubt compliments of the monstrous Greenscale, but it was unrefined, chaotic, and uncontrolled. Obviously he relished great power, but lacked the true knowledge and skill to use it properly. Serves the traitor right. As another bolt of pure life energy missed me by inches and exploded into the ground, instantly causing an explosion of growth, which died moments after, he screamed in frustration at not being able to even hit me. I smirked, which infuriated him more, and I used his rage to blink in behind him while he was distracted.

    "And now, your end." I couldn't help but gloat, as I thrust a dagger into his back, ripping viciously upward and under the ribs. The druid choked and collapsed forward, but I knew that for a cleric who'd studied druidic magic, it wouldn't be a mortal blow. At least, not right away. I stepped around in front of him, grabbing his wrist tightly as he tried casting another spell. "Enough!" I barked, kneeing him in the face as he knelt. He swayed slightly and snarled curses at me. I waited until he was silent, and than crouched. He flinched, spitting blood on the ground, ragged breathing filling the silence. The cleric gave a great shudder.

     "Mercy." He finally whispered, voice thick with agony. He struggled to breathe and coughed. "Spare me, Ascended, and I will willingly make myself your prisoner! I can tell you anything you want to know about the Aelfwar's plans!" I gave him a contemptuous sneer.

     "I want only one thing, cleric." I replied coldly after deliberately waiting several moments to make him sweat. His eyes feverishly sought mine and he bobbed his head eagerly. "Yes, name it!"
     "What have you done to Prince Hylas? What trick or spell did you use to corrupt him against us? Against Tavril! Tell me now, how do we unravel your poisonous influence over him?" I clenched my bloodied dagger and held it over his chest as a promise that if he didn't answer truthfully I'd gut him and leave him here to bleed out. Keelaodh licked his lips, eyes darting around.

     "That night, when Shyla so passionately asked that we aid the Mathosians, I lured the Prince into a private council. I admit to that. I played upon his faith, jealousy and desire for power. It was so piteously easy. I wish I could say it was my idea, but the changeling Caelhaidh told me what to say to Hylas, how to motivate him just the right way, to get him to turn from Shyla. It was oh so easy." He sneered at me, and gave a choked laugh. I smashed my dagger into his face, satisfied at the crunch of his nose breaking, and the druid bellowed in pain. I glanced around, making sure no one was roused by our...discussion, before focusing back on the traitorus elf. He continued haltingly, a look of spiteful glee in his eyes. I was really dreading what he was going to say, I knew it. "You can't save him, Guardian. Killing me or the changeling will not give you back your precious prince. He belongs to Greenscale now. He took to my words so quickly and completely you'd think he'd waiting for this his whole life. You won't be able to free him from it now, elfling. He's beyond your reach!" He broke into a fit of dark giggling, and I stood, stunned as I absorbed this. Was it true? Was Hylas beyond our reach? I felt cold and shocked and saddened and horrified and angry, all at once, and my hand shook on the dagger. I wanted to howl in fury, to force Keelaodh to tell me otherwise, to change fate so that this hadn't happened. Why, Hylas, why!!?? Why would you forsake us for such abominable power! He had to know it was wrong, he had to! And maybe, deep down, he was still thinking that. Maybe we could still reach him. I wouldn't give up just yet! I felt my jaw clench with determination. There was always a second chance for redemption and I wouldn't let this wretch sway me from that task. I owed it to my people, to my family. To myself. I swore I would do whatever I could to free Hylas from Greenscale's clutches.

     Keelaodh took advantage of my inattention and jerked himself loose from my hold. He bolted for the opening between the roots, and I actually growled in anger. I needed to kill something, and he presented such an easy target. Within seconds I'd overtaken the heavily injured cleric. If he pleaded, or made any motion to defend himself, I honestly didn't even notice. With vicious cold blooded intent, I stabbed downward into his soft flesh, again and again, venting all my frustration and betrayal and feelings of helplessness I'd kept pent up. I was breathing hard and finally realized the body was still, nothing but a bloody corpse beneath my knife. Shakily, stumbled backward and dropped my daggers. I'd never done anything like that before. My mentor had always drilled into me the importance of remaining in control, of staying calm and collected at all times. It was the trademark of a proper and proud assassin. You needed to always look at every situation objectively and find the most favorable course of action. And yet, I didn't regret what I'd done. Only the fact that I'd enjoyed it a little too much. I pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind and took several deep, calming breaths to stabilize myself. And than a tiny kernel of dismay filled me as I realized I'd defiled the sacred Mirror of Ages even more with this gruesome and vengeful death. I turned and knelt at the altar, feeling a cold tear make its way down my cheek. I knelt there for several moments as I silently offered apology to Tavril for desecrating her altar, before I gathered up the shadows and was gone, melting into my surroundings as if I'd never been. I knew that it wouldn't be long before the Aelfwar cultists discovered my deed and rushed to secure the site, so I swiftly made my way back to where I'd left my loyal horse, still tethered where I'd left her. She greeted me with a soft whicker and I mounted and headed back to the city.

     "A changeling, you say?" Cardinal Fiach said. I'd washed up at one of the Inn's in the city, before woodenly trudging back and reporting my findings to the tribunal. For all I knew, they'd already been told by their many spies, but I felt it best I get my version to them as soon as possible. I kept my face expressionless as the council members discussed my report. Fiach didn't look happy when I admitted I'd slain Keelaodh, but she didn't look surprised either.

     "It seems the Fae folk had long been planning for a way to uproot our court." Fiach admitted, looking worried. She frowned at her fellows. "Their boldness has finally paid off it seems. What concerns me is the druid's boasting at how easy Hylas was swayed to corruption. We need concrete evidence to prove either way Hylas's true being. Is he really a dupe of the Faery court, or has he truly embraced the worship of that monster Greenscale?" Her companion finally spoke up, admitting, "It's not like Hylas to bend his will to anyone, even such a being as Greenscale. Perhaps...he actually was tricked?" She gave a tentative look of hope to the others. The dwarf gave a grunt, face dubious. Well, now I knew where he stood. He obviously didn't believe that.

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