Time: Late Morning
Date: Year 1509, 8th Moon
Several days after my second (and hopefully last) demise at the hands of Kongeegon, I was approached on my way to a merchant's stand by a courier in the colors of Argent Glade's militia. The courier, a man barely old enough to be called that, seemed in complete awe of me. Rather amusing, I dare say. As I quickly read the missive he'd given me, I could see out of the corner of my eye the way the boy kept glancing back at me, mystified, as he made his way back to his sturdy looking pony he'd left by the Vigil statue. Presumably he thought it was bad manners to approach me while still mounted.
I sighed as I read the letter, which asked for my aid in a matter involving the goblins, this time in Gloamwood. Again? Didn't I put an end to their biggest threat already? Couldn't a poor helpless Ascended catch a break? Well okay, so I wasn't that poor or helpless. And I was one of the strongest beings who could stand up against the bad guys now. I and my fellow Ascended were created for this, after all. I suppose. If I had to. Well, no time like the present right?
Since Gloamwood, which had at one point been part of the Forest of Tavra, was a large and dense forest, I opted to leave my mare behind again. It just didn't seem feasible to bring a large animal along into a relatively unknown forest. I had heard stories about Gloamwood for as long as I could remember, none of them good, but I hadn't actually had reason to venture much beyond the surrounding woodland of the college, so this would be new territory for me. I was actually a bit thrilled to explore a new part of the forest, despite the rumors of dark forces at work there. My abilities, and my faith in them, had grown over the past month since my rebirth, and I felt quite confident in my ability to handle any "dark forces" that tried to tangle with me in Gloamwood! In fact, I was rather looking forward to the challenge. Not to mention, I was running low on coin, since I'd never exactly been rich, and having to outfit myself in proper leathers wasn't cheap. They brought me back from the dead and all, couldn't they at least make sure I was well taken care of? Oh well, I'd rather pick out my own livery anyway. I was picky when I came to the kind of leather I wanted. I needed it to be supple but strong, and very breathable. Being trained in the art of subtly and assassination, I demanded a lot of flexibility out of my body, and in turn, my clothing. Dexterity and agility were what kept me alive in my profession.
As I mused over the finer details of how to get the people of the wood to pay me for my services, I wandered toward the entrance of Sanctum. Then I paused. Right, the people of Argent Glade had mentioned the porticulum! That seemed a much faster and convenient method of travel, despite it feeling too much like magic. But the ways had been blessed by Thontic, I even knew that, so it seemed safe enough to use. The porticulums had always been in service since the beginning, a gift to us sentient races, or so I'd always been told. I'd heard that they employed the magic of the other planes in order to function, so I guess that makes sense of why they had only recently been "rediscovered", since before the disaster with Aedraxis (not going to think about that!) no one had ever used or mentioned them except in history lectures at the school. I snorted.
After asking a guard who'd been lounging by the Vigil statue where the porticulum was, I ventured inside the actual Sanctum, the holy temple to the Vigil that the city of Sanctum had been built around. As always when I stepped inside, I could veritably feel
the presence of the gods all around me, like a vast heavenly choir singing music only I could hear. I raised a hand to my left ear, almost absently. The weight and presence of the Vigil nearly brought tears to my eyes the last time I'd entered this building. Taking a deep breath, I down the stone hallway that curved gently toward the central atrium of the temple. The ceiling soared overhead, high and majestic and I found myself drawn to stare upward like it was my very first time here. I just couldn't help it. I always tell myself I'm a practical person. Of course I give my whole heart and soul to the Vigil. How could you deny the sanctity of their vision? But I've always been focused more on a down to earth way of life, where I went about my business, and the holy priests of the order went about theirs. But there were times....meh, enough reminiscing! I shook my head in exasperation with myself. Aha, there was the travel gate. A large archway embedded in the stone against the wall. The beautiful elf standing beside it, humming and reading a book, looked up and beamed at me.
"Hello Ascended! Have you come to use Sanctum's porticulum?" Obviously, I thought to myself. She continued on, oblivious to my inner monologue. "Don't be shy, step up and I will activate the gate. Where do you wish to travel?" She gazed at me in awe and expectation and I huffed, making a show of adjusting the many daggers attached to my slight frame. I was not shy! Or nervous! I just didn't trust magic, especially with my own wellbeing. And rightfully so. Determinedly I stepped forward.
"Argent Glade, please." I said simply, giving the woman a nod. Within moments, I'd been whisked off into the stream of magic that transported people across distance on the physical plane. I found myself plunked down in the green curtain of another gate, in the bright open air of Silverwood. The familiar surroundings of Argent Glade reassured me that I'd arrived in one piece. I stepped down off the platform and glanced around hesitantly. The missive said that a man named Ralph Bonser needed to speak to me urgently about a goblin matter. I wonder how I was supposed to find him. The name was unfamiliar, likely one of the wilderness guides or woodsmen that patrolled the wood. It didn't sound like an official Guardian matter, after all. As I made to walk off, a gruff looking man in muted colors approached me, frowning. I almost rolled my eyes. Now what? If it wasn't broad daylight I'd say he'd want to rob me.
"Hello, are you Raeslyn? The Ascended?" The man eyed me up and down, as if he was doubtful that I was anything more than some random little elf girl who'd gotten lost. I crossed my arms over my breasts and struck my best no nonsense pose.
"Yes. May I help you? Are you Ralph?" I asked the last on a whim, realizing that he might be my contact. The man nodded and I nodded back, relaxing. That solved that problem. Looking around carefully, he drew me off to the side. I raised an eyebrow.
"I've heard of how you took down Kongeegon and saved Silverwood from being overrun by the Plane of Life." Ralph began earnestly. I nodded slowly. Where was he going with this?
"Well, it wasn't just me. There was a small army of Guardian forces, plus a few other Ascended." I replied. Might as well show some modesty. I smirked.
Ralph nodded again, but didn't seem to be really listening. "That's good, we have a bit of a situation. I've been in communication with an old of mine lately, Brion. He's a Waykeeper up in Gloamwood. Patrols the Darkened Trace path and the roads along the border of Silverwood." He paused, looking worried, and I made a noncommittal noise along the lines of 'yes and?'. I could already see where this was going. Ralph was worried for his friend, whatever his name was, and wanted me to go make sure he was alright. Or some variation of that. "He's reported strange things happening in the gloam. Mutated beasts, red eyes in the dark, deadly man sized spiders, and the goblins have become much more brave and vicious. Almost desperate in their attacks. Something's happening up there, I just know it. Something bad. It's always been a bit dark up in the gloam. The people there keep to themselves and solve their own problems, but Brion's messages are beginning to worry me."
"I see." I said softly, thoughtfully. Ralph gazed at me beseechingly. I ignored him as I considered this information. Now that I thought about it, there hadn't been much trade and travel out of Gloamwood before my death and the defection of the Aelfwar. Even in the times of peace that we'd had before the Mathosions had to start their civil war, I'd not met anyone from Gloamwood, or who had traveled there. In fact, I'd always been told that if you entered Gloamwood, you usually didn't come back. I frowned. That sounded ominous. And with the stirring of the dragons in their prisons....it definitely bore investigating, I think.
Misinterpreting my silence, Ralph frowned. "If it's a matter of cost, I can pay you! Or my friend can. He gets quite an allowance from Sanctuary Guard as a Waykeeper. I'm sure he would agree to an allowance for your help." I perked up, giving Ralph my full attention. "Well in that case." I said. "I think it would be a good idea if I did go check up on your friend....." I trailed off as I realized I couldn't remember the guy's name. Honestly, I'd been more focused on the relevant information.
"Brion." Ralph helpfully supplied. "Waykeeper Brion. Oh, thank you very much Ascended. It's much appreciated! When can you leave?" He leaned forward eagerly. I backed up a step and glared at him. "I'm already packed and have my things, I can leave today." I replied slowly, glancing down at myself to make sure. Yep, had my daggers, was wearing my newly outfitted leather armor. My pack was slung across a shoulder, and my pouch of herbs and vials was securely tied at my belt. Again I admired my new armor. It fit like a glove, dyed muted forest colors of browns and greens. I looked quite good, if I don't say so myself. I grinned. Ralph saw me off with plenty more thank you's and promises of payment and I strode down the path leading toward the jagged mountainous border between Gloamwood and Silverwood, a spring in my step. Today was a good day. The promise of earning some coin, exploring a new part of the forest, having a task to focus on. And the day was quite bright and warm for this month.
It took me the better part of the day to reach the border of Silverwood. There wasn't any clear demarcation that said "Gloamwood starts here" or anything, but you could tell the forest was changing. The trees became taller and larger. The shadows seemed to lengthen, a rather odd occurrence actually. The vegetation became darker in color and more spread out, and the path became less well marked and traveled. At last I came upon a stone archway that spanned a pass through the low mountain range that surrounded Silverwood. Standing on either side of the archway were two men, each bearing fiercely burning torches. Nearby, a large bonfire roared cheerily, and a small camp had been set up. The two sentries eyed me warily as I approached.
"This Gloamwood?" I asked unnecessarily, just for something to say, since they were just staring mutely at me. One of them nodded, grudgingly.
"You planning on entering the gloam, stranger?" He asked roughly, peering behind me. I glanced behind me as well, then cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Well yes, actually. I was sent to lend aid to the Waykeepers since there hasn't been any communication from Gloamwood in a while." I kept my tone calm, but I was getting annoyed with their attitude.
The other man held up his torch and squinted at me, as if it was dark out and he couldn't quite see me. Which made me realize that yes, nearly inside the gloamwood itself, it was actually quite dark. Strange, it wasn't even evening yet. "Consider your next steps carefully traveler." The man said in a harsh voice. "The road ahead leads deep into the gloam, where outsiders don't often feel welcome." I blinked, unimpressed.
"Are you threatening me?" I asked sharply, hand going to my dagger. The two men glanced at each other then shrugged. My annoyance went up another level.
"Merely a warning. Gloamwood is not what it seems. Beware the witch of the wood. We keep to the old ways here. The families of the gloam, like the trees, have deep roots. We take care of our own, and the Waykeepers have always taken care of Gloamwood themselves. An outsider from that holy city will be unwelcome." I frowned at this information.
"What do you mean, beware the witch of the wood? Who's that? And I'm not afraid of those living in the wood." I tossed my hair.
Instead of answering my questions, the man said "If you insist on entering Gloamwood, take this road west and you'll find Gnarlwood Post. If you're looking for work or someone in particular, the Waykeepers there should be able to help you."
The men fell silent, not saying anymore on the subject and I shrugged.
"Well, I'll be off then." I said, and strode beneath the stone arch. I didn't look back but I could almost feel the stares of the two sentries boring into my back as I walked. I kept my head high, not wanting them to see my nervousness. Because I was rather....concerned. The minute I actually walked beneath the ancient trees that made up the outskirts of Gloamwood, it was like a heavy blanket of gloom fell across me. My heart felt heavier, and it was almost like it was hard to breath. A very disturbing feeling. As the mountains sharply fell away behind me, rolling hills continued on either side of the tiny meandering cobbled road that led through the forest. The trees loomed on either side, reaching out with skeletal branches like fingers of the dead. Not a warm thought. Suddenly, an unearthly howl pierced the shadows and I froze mid-step. I glanced to my left, daggers in both hands in an eye blink. Despite my superior Ascended eyesight and senses, I couldn't seem to see beyond the shadows at the edge of the path. It seemed to me that something was there, staring out at me, judging and weighing me. I gulped. Come on Rae, keep it together. Nothing there. And even if there was, it couldn't threaten me.
Although I wasn't so sure about that. I had only recently found out that I could, in fact, die. And it had been painful as hell. Not an experience I'd like to repeat. Ever. Being immortal did not make me immune to injury or anything else. Also, I didn't actually know if I was truly immortal, or if my soul was more firmly tethered to my body, and could be quite easily retrieved by a healer. If that was the case, I was kind of screwed if I died out here, because I couldn't see a random traveler coming across my corpse and attempting a resurrection spell.
After several more minutes of watching and listening, I relaxed slightly and kept walking. But I kept my daggers in hand. As the minutes ticked by, I found myself growing ever more antsy and jumpy. The muscles between my shoulder blades began to ache from the strain. This was no pleasant trip. Gloamwood was not at all as I'd imagined it.
I can't say for how long I walked, becoming more tense as time went by. The trees and shadows played havoc with my sense of direction and time, and I couldn't make out the angle of the sun from below the canopy of skeletal branches. Eventually, the road saw more use and then curved to the left. Through the trees I could see flickering flames and if I strained, I could make out voices, strangely muffled for how close they were. Warily, I stepped around the curve, half thinking maybe I should have used my trick with the shadows to shroud myself in invisibility. A small military style camp came in to view in a clearing. A woman carrying a torch stood watch by the perimeter, and several men sat on tree stumps oiling their weapons. A large bonfire burned in the center, around which several more men and women gathered, talking in low voices. Now that I was closer, I could hear and see them clearer. Gloamwood was a strange forest.
"Who goes there?" The woman declared as I walked toward her. She held the torch high and reached for a sword with the other hand. I quickly sheathed my daggers and held up my hands. "Hello to the camp." I said as a general greeting. "My name is Raeslyn. I was sent here from Argent Glade." The woman frowned at me. "Argent Glade? Isn't that in Silverwood?" She eyed me skeptically, as if not able to believe I'd come all the way here from Silverwood. Or maybe, that I'd come all the way here and was still alive. With how I'd felt out in the open on the road, I could believe that. The woman stared me down for a few seconds, then nodded.
"Very well, you don't have the mark on you. This way." I blinked. The mark? What did that mean? Another eerie howl rent the air and I stopped, glancing around. The woman stopped as well and raised the torch a bit. She glanced around warily, then grinned at me. "You get used to it." She said when she saw my tense posture. I gave one more sweep of the surrounding darkness before following her toward the light and warmth of the bonfire. Get used to it? I doubt it. I'd only been in Gloamwood for what felt a few hours and already I was eager to leave.