"Heed me well traveler. Beware the shadows in the gloom, or never return home to your cozy little town." She sneered at me. I blinked. Say what? Before I could ask her what she meant, or accuse her of threatening me, Brion walked up. I huffed. Whatever, I wouldn't let her bother me. I was Ascended now, and above such mundane things. Right? Right. I felt a hum of amusement deep inside my chest and ignored it. It was getting much easier to ignore the other souls that I had access to, and concentrate only on the knowledge they could grant me.
Brion was a Mathosian, rather short even for a human. He was dressed in muted grays and browns and carried a torch like everyone else in this bloody forest. "So, Ralph sent you did he?" He mused after I finished relaying my message from Ralph in Quicksilver. "It figures. He never could hack it here in Gloamwood but he always worried about me out here. Well Raeslyn, if you think you're up for it, we could certainly use a hand with the beasts around here." I crossed my arms and frowned. So they just assumed that I'd have no problem hiring myself out like some common mercenary. Nevermind if that's actually what I thought of myself anyway...I had standards! In a way it was nice to earn some coin on the side. I've found my funds dangerously low since I'd been dropped back in Silverwood with nothing but my clothes and daggers. It's not like I was rich to begin with, and I'd rather die...again...before I stooped to begging or using my status to gain coin. I had dignity after all. This seemed like a plausible way to make some gold and also help out the folks of Gloamwood at the same time. It seemed like something bad was going down in the wood, from what I've seen so far and I would be remiss if I didn't lend a hand. Gloamwood was still part of the vast forests that we'd been sworn to protect and watch over. And I'd heard rumors that the goblin troubles in Silverwood stemmed from these dark woods, so I could finish investigating that issue while I was here. So eventually I relaxed my stance and nodded. Brion beamed at me like I'd just made his day. Maybe I had.
"I knew I could rely on you Ascended!" He exclaimed cheerfully, his voice at odds with the dark atmosphere of the camp. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and just nodded sharply. "Yes well, there was the matter of payment...?" I let my voice trail off, glancing at him out of the corner of my eye while I studied my boots. Oh how it galled me to mention it, but I needed the coin. Brion nodded. "Yes, yes. You will gain payment for any aid you provide the Waykeepers here in Gloamwood. I can't say the same for the Pines; the town sort of governs itself, but we Waykeepers will always be grateful. Should you need aid, we will come when you call." I murmured a thank you, forcing a polite smile. "So what did you want me to do exactly? Slay some evil creatures? Ferret out a nest of cultists? Find the source of the strange dark aura in the wood? Something equally as sinister?" I rubbed my hands together. Truthfully, I was looking forward to some danger and bloodshed. Maybe that meant there was something wrong with me, that I found myself at my best in combat, but I figure hey why not? It was how I'd been wired, and I was good at it. Brion looked a little taken aback.
"Actually, we do have a pressing task we need completed if you don't mind. It's messy and it's not that...challenging, but it is important to the war effort and my men have grown a bit hesitant to leave the safety of the fires lately." He shook his head, as if in exasperation, but I could see him shiftily eyeing the darkness himself, as if he knew something was out there. Great, he's probably going to saddle me with some pointless task I'm going to hate, I thought sourly. I tapped my finger against a dagger as I waited.
"There is an Apothecary we make purchases from for our efforts against the Witch. With the dangers of the roads, prices have gone up. We need to gather more reagents for him for his special potions, but the reagents are rather...exotic and hard to get. If you wouldn't mind collecting them for us, we'd be eternally grateful." I scowled and he added, "of course we'd also pay you handsomely for your troubles." I squinted into the distance, then sighed in aggravation. "Sure, whatever. What is it you need?" I asked finally. Brion's face lit up with relief and he smiled. "Should I write down the list or...?" He trailed off at my irritated frown. "I'm Ascended, I don't forget things." I said tightly. The novelty of helping others was already wearing thin. Brion nodded hastily. "Yes, right. Ok. We require Barghest fur and bat wings. The creatures themselves are usually found lurking out in the wood and shouldn't be too hard to find. Despite the time of day, it is always dark in Gloamwood, which gives the creatures of the wood plenty of leeway for their prowls." I nodded. I'd noticed that.
I grabbed a quick bite from one of the Waykeepers tending the fire in the center of the camp. It was some kind of hard nutty bread and a broth, but better then nothing. I found it strange that I was essentially immortal and yet my body still had needs like an ordinary mortal. After asking around and getting a general description of both creatures I'd be hunting, I rolled my shoulders to limber them and performed a few stretches and combat moves. The Waykeepers silently watched me. That wasn't creepy at all or anything. Finally I walked off into the woods, not even bothering with a farewell. I decided this time to leave the main path. I figured if I needed to find some wild critters, it would be easiest if I wasn't in an area regularly traversed by the people of the wood, even if it was perpetually dark here. I could feel the eyes of the Waykeepers boring into my back as I walked, until the camp was finally hidden from view by foliage and trees. The wood grew steadily more silent and still and a sinister, almost deadly aura seemed to press in on me, as if the very forest itself was trying to warn me away. Well too bad, I was here to stay for a while, whether Gloamwood liked it or not. It was time to bring some Guardian order to the wood. I heard a low snarl to the left and immediately crouched down, hands on my daggers as I scanned the dark undergrowth. There, movement. I crept closer and gulped. Some kind of large dark colored beast was busily ripping into a body that looked suspiciously humanoid in shape. Nothing to see here, nope, moving on. I backed away slowly, as the creature had the feel of dark magic and no way did I want to tangle with that if I could help it. It wasn't a Barghest or a bat, so not my problem.
The trees creaked and swayed to a wind I couldn't feel and strange howls and moans echoed through the leaves as I walked, every muscle tense and alert. This was exhausting, but I felt like I had to always be on the alert. The hairs on my neck were stuck on end permanently and I could feel a cold chill on my arms despite the warmth of my clothing and my cloak, which I'd wrapped around my shoulders to prevent it from snagging and making noise. Being an elf and a rogue, I was able to move nearly soundlessly through the wood, thankfully. Eventually, even though I hadn't much of an idea where the road was, I did encounter it again. It forked up ahead, with a large wooden sign planted in the middle of the fork with directions. I considered the aged signs a moment. To the south was Solemn Outlook and Gloamwood Pines, to the left was East Deepwood Trail and Tearfall Run. Not that I knew what any of those places were or how far. Just beyond the sign, more movement drew my eye and I blinked. A large, pale gray creature was flitting about in a small clearing. It was vaguely bat shaped, but not like any bat I'd ever seen. It had teeth that I swear were longer then my daggers and its wings ended in claws that looked sharp as needles even from here. Its eyes were bulbous red beacons of evil. Ha ha. No wonder no one wanted to volunteer for this job. I felt kind of miffed.
The monster bat was just kind of hovering below a large skeletal tree. It looked almost confused, feral. As if it wasn't in complete control of its actions or didn't really have a purpose anymore. I wonder what had happened to mutate the creature, body and soul. Why couldn't this Apothecary guy just use normal potion ingredients like every other sane person? Taking a deep breath, I called up my cloaking skill and blanketed myself in invisibility, bending reality so that no creature could see through my stealth technique. A definite perk for an assassin who's main advantage was surprise. I silently crept toward the bat creature, not appreciating how large the thing actually was until I was nearly on top of it. It was freakin' huge! At least the size of a large dog. Unreal. I shook my head. I'd seen some strange creatures since my Ascension, but most of those were from other Planes of existence so I could readily accept their look. This was a natural born Telaran creature though. Or at least, I assumed it was. Bats were quite common on Telara, I'd just never seen one this color or this size before. There was definitely something wrong in Gloamwood and I was going to find out what and put a stop to it. But one thing at a time. First I needed to prove myself reliable to the people of Gloamwood so they would stop treating me like the dirty family secret. And unfortunately, that required fetching some bat wings. I swore under my breath as I launched myself at the large bat's unprotected back, daggers leading. My daggers easily sank into its lightly furred body, tearing and ripping. One wing was sheared nearly off, causing the bat to make an unholy sound. I knew I'd dealt a fatal blow, simply because I was skilled at what I did, but still the creature had enough strength left to spin and slash me across the face in one motion, the claws on its intact wing catching me just under the eye. The gash began to burn immediately, so painful it felt almost cold. I stumbled back out of reach as it lunged at me, keeping my daggers at the ready. But then it faltered, unable to keep itself aloft with its wings nearly torn off. It crumpled to the ground with a wet sound, still making that awful keening noise. It's glittering red eyes spat hate at me as I moved in for the finishing blow, not wanting it to suffer despite its nature. "Nothing personal." I said as I sliced through its throat, causing blood to spray up.
After I'd cleaned the wings of blood and stowed them in my pack, I pondered where I could find a barghest. From the description I'd been given, they were something like a large, hairless grey dog. That didn't sound very wholesome. Probably another sort of mutation. I was beginning to see a theme here in the wood. It was almost like something, or someone, was making Gloamwood their lab, experimenting to see what they could create. Not a comforting thought.
"Here doggy doggy." I said under my breath as I crept through the undergrowth of the wood, following what had sounded like a promising howl. Aha, I think there's one! Up ahead, pawing at the ground was a large dark grey hound of some undeterminable breed. It looked just as maddened and confounded as the bat, just digging furiously at the ground as if its life depended on it. As with the bat, this thing had incredibly large, red eyes, dagger-like teeth, and claws that a Maelforge would envy. I studied the creature silently, considering how best to kill it quickly. It pained me to kill Tavril's children, but at the same time, this was obviously a mutated, defective thing and should be put out of its misery. That didn't mean it had to suffer. Unfortunately I doubt it was going to sit still and let me skewer it. I considered throwing my dagger, but I wasn't as proficient at ranged combat and I didn't want to miss and just make the thing mad at me. My face still stung from the swipe of the bat, I didn't want to add the hound's claws to that.
Baring my teeth in frustration, I decided on the whole hack and slash approach. It's never failed me before, after all. I snickered to myself. Clasping my familiar, beloved daggers in both hands, I quietly stalked the demonic looking creature. As I concentrated on approaching as silently as I could so I could get close without its keen senses catching wind of me, I considered what I'd seen in Gloamwood. Nothing good, that's for sure. There was definitely something evil and sinister stirring the denizens of the wood, causing darkness to blanket not just the wood, but the minds of the creatures that lived in it. It seems, even that the darkness has somewhat affected the sentient men and women who called the wood home. Those Waykeepers definitely knew something, and weren't telling me, for who knows what kind of reason. Their hard, suspicious glares, their harsh, unwelcome attitudes. I needed to get to the bottom of this and fix it before the repercussions spilled over into a still-healing Silverwood and undid all the good I'd recently worked so hard to achieve. No way was I letting my death be in vain, even if it wasn't permanent and I didn't remember any of it anyway.
"May Tavril protect your soul." I murmured somewhat sadly as I bent to skin the animal. A grisly task, that's for sure. I'm so glad that I'd avoided learning that particular trade skill while learning under my esteemed master. In fact, that had been next on his agenda, along with long range combat, when we'd gotten caught up in the civil dispute between Shyla and Hylas. I still wish with all my heart that we hadn't become involved in that, either way. It had only led to my demise and my master's...disappearance. I still refused to believe he was dead. After all, I wasn't called stubborn for nothing!
I straightened from my task, hearing my back crack. I sighed. Apparently being Ascended didn't make me immune to the aches and pains of a body. My clothes smelled like a slaughterhouse and my daggers needed sharpening. Ugh. Thoughtfully, I rolled up the hank of skin and fur that I'd shaved off the beast and stuck it in my knapsack. That should be enough for this Apothecary guy. What did they say his name was? I couldn't recall, if they'd even told me. They weren't a trusting lot, so it was probably the latter. And where did they say he lived? Gloamwood Pines? Well technically I was already among the Gloamwood Pines. I was in Gloamwood and weren't these pine trees. I gazed upward at the towering tree beside me, bristling with evergreen needles, and snorted. I'm guessing it must be a town or something. Actually, there was a Gloamwood Pines on the sign at the crossroads back behind me, wasn't there? I cleaned my daggers off on the grass around me as I best I could before sheathing them, then turned and headed back to the crossroads. Aha, I was right. I stared off down the silent road that the sign proclaimed led to Gloamwood Pines. The road led away into the gloom, which my eyes couldn't penetrate. I could barely see as it was and I still couldn't shake the feeling that somewhere beyond my immediate vision crouched some powerful evil creature, just waiting for a vulnerable moment to close in for the kill. Alrighty than, enough of that eh? Time to head to town and get some answers about this witch business as well as drop off the nasty potion ingredients. At the moment, I can't say for sure which was more important to me. I wrinkled my nose at the pervasive smell of meat and blood and strode down the path.