Wednesday, October 23, 2013

[Karazhan's Story] 2.6: Assault on King's Retreat

    After I'd climbed out of the canyon that the Ark of the Ascended was nestled in, I glanced back, watching the small figures of the Defiant running about, performing their various duties. With the sun in my eyes, I turned and headed for King's Retreat. There were Defiant legionnairs stationed along the road, eyeing me curiously as I walked along. I smiled and waved at a few of them, and they gave me amused glances. Thankfully none of them stopped me or threatened me. No doubt due to the strange, sourcestone-imbued armor I'd been adorned in. It was dyed in the Defiant's colors after all. A sign along the road informed me that this was called the Longshore Highway. Probably because it was long, and parallel to the shore, I mused to the other souls that I shared this body with. I got a warm tingling of amusement for my efforts. As I walked, the later afternoon deepened into evening and a beautiful sunset morphed before my eyes, causing my steps to slow as I admired the new landscape. I was thankful anew of my newfound lease on life and vowed to treasure my new gifts and to protect Telara as best I could. A feeling welled up inside my chest, half painful, half delightful. I had so much potential, so much. Everything lay before me, like the proverbial highway I was walking down. Yes, I definitely think I will take up a crafting profession. I've always enjoyed doing things with my hands. Maybe something to do with magitech even. I do have all the time in the world to learn such things, after all. Maybe I could learn two crafts! Something that was barely unheard of, since learning a craft usually took an entire lifetime...except now I had many lifetimes. It should be easy to convince someone to take me on as an apprentice due to my Ascended status.

     Up ahead, I saw a large, barricaded area. Men stood in front and banners in the Defiant's colors and in the less familiar colors of the March Wardens flew merrily in the air, and feeling light, I skipped up to the entrance. My enhanced hearing caught the conversation going on between the sentries.

     "I hear there's been fighting at Smith's Haven. I hope the town is ok. I wish that the dame would let us go aid the March Warden." They stopped as I approached, suddenly on the alert. I smiled in a friendly manner.

     "Karazhan the Ascended at your service, sirs. I've been sent here by Optia Fairna Oaks to speak to....whoever is in charge so I can offer aid to your fair camp." I said in a mild tone. The two sentries looked at each other, then stared at me with wide eyes.

     " Ascended?!" one of them blurted, sounded awed. I chuckled and nodded. "Yessir, that's me. Fresh from the future." I grinned, relishing their shocked awe. It was entertaining to see someone else in shock for once, instead of myself.

    "Well, of course, go right in!" The other sentry sputtered, making a grand gesture. I thanked them politely and wandered into the military post known as King's Retreat. The place was full of all manner of people. Soldiers, tradesmen, medics, civilians, Defiants, Wardens. I stopped and glanced around, a little overwhelmed. I'd totally forgotten to ask Fairna who I was supposed to talk to once I got here, and now I felt rather silly. Walking up to a young man sitting on a stump sharpening a rather large sword, I cleared my throat and he looked up. I was stunned to note that he was even younger then I'd thought, barely more than a boy. Sobering thought, that.

    "Hello, could you tell me who's in charge here? I've just arrived from the Ark and I have some urgent news to report." Well, that wasn't exactly true, but I'm sure the officer in charge would appreciate any aid I could provide be as quick as possible in coming. The boy, with nary a scruff of a beard, gave me a shy once over, blushing. I kept the amusement off my face as I waited. Yes I realized that a lot of my legs were showing and the silvery cloth that covered my chest dipped rather low. I was of the mind that if you have assets, flaunt them. It mattered naught to a caster of course, because our protections and armors were more than just physical. Not that I, as a Bahmi, looked like a delicate scholar anyway.

     "Well, you'll be wanting to talk to Dame Sigga then...m'lady. She's situated in that main tent there. The one with the red and gold tassles. She's the pretty lady in red with the blond hair. Not that you're not pretty" He stuttered to a stop, turning more red. I held out a hand and waved it, laughing softly.

    "It's ok....ah, what's your name?" I asked mostly to be polite, but I was earnest as well. I'd like to know as many people as I could, commit their names to memory to help remind me of what I was fighting for. All these people who would easily lay down their lives to fight the evil assaulting Telara, makes me all the more aware that I could do that, and more.

    "Private Taversham, m'lady!" The young man said, in such a voice that I could picture him standing in a straight line, saluting his superior officer and barking that back when being asked. "The Endless Court burned down my farm, m'lady! Now the only choice I have is to join the Wardens." He said the last sadly, with a pained look in his eyes. I placed my hand on his shoulder gently.

     "You are a brave man, Private Taversham. Never forget that. The people of Telara thank you for your efforts." He sat a little straighter and grinned at me. "Thank you, m'lady!" He said, and went back to sharpening his sword with renewed effort.

    Now that the private had pointed it out, I could easily spot the main command tent, a large elaborate affair complete with the tassles he'd mentioned. I strode up to the tent. There was a man in Defiant regalia leaning over a table strewn with scrolls and maps, while a woman in red paced behind him and offered up what was no doubt suggestions every once in a while. I cleared my throat and both ceased their activity and turned to me.

     "Hello sir, ma'am. My name is Karazhan, and I was told to come here by Optia Fairna? Something about you might be wanting aid against attack?" As I finished, the woman moved around the table and approached me, open curiosity in her expression. She gazed at me closely, then even pinched my arm. I squirmed uncomfortably, but stayed still. I felt like a specimen at the market being sized for the pot.

     "You look like a regular Bahmi...but. There's something about you. Are you that Ascended?" She raised her eyebrows as she said it, looking stunned and in awe. I nodded simply. "Yes, I am the Ascended sent from the future. Although I've heard that there are more, some from before me, and even some that came after. I guess that means that this isn't even the timeline I came from, in the future, but an alternate timeline....which is kind of depressing because it means the efforts I put forth here won't matter where I came from and that world is indeed doomed and...." I trailed off at the look the woman was giving me and cleared my throat awkwardly. "It's uh...a subject of interest to me." I finished lamely. She nodded.

     "Though we are all fighting for the same thing, you Ascended walk a different path, it seems." She said, somewhat mysteriously. I shifted, restlessly, and she seemed to take the hint.

     "Yes, we have problems cropping up here at the Retreat left and right. The people of Freemarch were suspicious of from the start, and now its worse with degenerated Defiants coming back from the dead and attacking us at every opportunity. The Endless Court is using foul magic to control our fallen comrades, but the locals refuse to see the difference. They just see Defiants suddenly rising up and going crazy. We need to find a way to stop it before things get out of hand!" I almost remarked that it seemed like things were already out of hand, but that seemed inappropriate. Besides, this was bad news indeed. The cultists had somehow gotten ahold of something that could bring dead Defiant back to life? No wonder they were having troubles. The undead were twice as hard to kill as a regular man, and it must be hard for them to face their former comrades and slay them. The poor woman looked exhausted.

    Feeling curious, and wanting to actually find a definite answer, I asked, "What is the Endless Court actually trying to accomplish here? I thought that Regulos was locked beyond the Ward? That hasn't changed, has it?" I have to admit, that made me just a little worried.

    Dame Sigga shook her head. "No, Regulos has not descended upon Telara. Yet. The Endless Court are his loyal servants. They act to weaken the Ward even more. We're striving to do what it takes to hold him off as long as possible and to prepare to defeat him when he finally arrives upon Telara." I must have looked alarmed, because the Dame gave me a concerned look. But my mind had flown to that dread future I'd escaped from. The death, the despair, the finality of it. It seems Dame Sigga, and I'm sure many others, believe that Regulos's appearance on Telara is inevitable. What if I can't change history? Or the future...whatever. What if my actions in this time change nothing and we end up back where I that dead, beaten future that wasn't a future at all. No. I refuse to believe that. I will change the fate of Telara, all by myself if I have to! I have the potential to be one of the strongest creatures on Telara. I will take on the gods if need be! I puffed up, feeling grimly determined, and the Dame gave me a searching look.

     "I'll investigate these degenerate Defiant and see what I can find out about how to stop more from coming." I said solemnly, still feeling the effects of my vow to myself. The Dame nodded, looking relieved.

     "Thank you, Ascended. We owe you a great debt." She gave a slight bow and I waved it away. I am just doing what I'd think any decent being would when their world was threatened. Fighting back. Well, no time like the present to get this done, I suppose. I walked around the outpost first, familiarizing myself with its layout. It's something I'd found myself automatically doing after my resurrection. I'm not sure if it was an effect of my Ascendency, or if it was the remnants of one of the souls that shared my magitech body, but either way, I didn't think it was a bad habit to have. Awareness of your surroundings could be the difference between life and death, after all.

    "Hey!" The voice halted my steps and I turned to see a young man staring at me. I lifted a brow. "Yes?" I asked, in a neutral tone. The man walked up to me. "Are you truly Ascended like they are saying?" I looked down at myself, wondering if I had a sign on my forehead that said "Here is an Ascended". "Yes..." I responded, somewhat more reserved. "I can't believe the Defiant were able to replicate the Vigil's gift." The man continued, in a strange tone. As if he couldn't decide how he should feel about that. This was compounded by his next comment. "I can't decide if this is a miracle or a blasphemy of the worst sort." I snorted. "Well, when you figure out which, let me know." I said, and walked around him. I could feel his eyes on me as I continued on my patrol of the area. Near the very far end of the outpost, almost opposite the Dame's tent, I came across a little brown tent all by itself, shoved up against the barricade that made up the far wall of the Retreat. Ever curious, I poked my head inside and was instantly intrigued by the large table that dominated the tent, piled high with ancient scrolls and parchments, which looked to be filled with scribbles and diagrams. I itched to read them already, and stepped further into the tent.

    An old man in long dusty robes and an even longer beard startled me when he moved, drawing my eyes from the table. "Hello sir." I called politely, and the man jumped. Obviously he hadn't seen me come in.

     "Why hello there young...Bahmi! My goodness, I haven't seen one of your kind before. Interesting." The old man rumbled as he shuffled closer, squinting at me in much the same way as I'd glanced at his scrolls. I smiled politely, enduring the scrutiny. For some reason, the old man seemed entirely harmless, and indeed reminded me of someone I'd thought fondly of back home. "What are you doing way out here in Freemarch, young Bahmi?" The old man asked, sitting himself down at the table with a grunt. I invited myself to sit down opposite him and before I knew it, found myself spilling the entire tale to him. He had a way about him that made me want to tell him my journey. When I'd finished, the old man looked quite astonished.

     "Well, well. That is quite the tale, young Bahmi. Karazhan." He shook his head. "Ascended. Regulos. The end of the world. It's almost too unreal to be true." At my look he waved a hand good-naturedly. "Don't worry, I believe you. We could use a strong force such as yourself out there. I fear that we are losing to the cults and the planar invaders a little more every day. No one mentions this of course, but I can feel it nevertheless. It pains me to see good soldiers injured and killed. I can only hope the bloodshed will help create a more peaceful Freemarch at some point in the future." He looked off into the distance, seemingly distracted, and a thought came to me.

     "So, why is this place called King's Retreat?" I asked, head tilted. It was something that I'd been interested in finding out, but wasn't sure who to ask, or even how to ask. But this kindly old man would know, no doubt. He focused back on me, and the sadness in his eyes made me swallow in empathy. As the night set in outside, the light dimmed and I expended some effort, twisting my fingers and letting a tendril of flame curl inside the little glass lamp sitting on the table. Lord Nicols, as the old man was called, eyed the lamp askance, before giving me a meaningful look. I grinned impishly.

     "These lands belonged to the kings of the Eth, long ago." Nicols began, clearing his throat. "When the Eth Empire fell centuries ago, Warlord Jakub rose to power here in the March. He was a brutal tyrant but was finally overcome long ago by Eliam, our first March Warden." I listened, rapt, to the tale. How fascinating. Already, a dozen more questions formed in my mind, but I kept silent, not wanting to interrupt the narrative.
     "After Jakub, we were done with kings and rulers. Now we choose our leaders. We called them March Wardens, because they would be Wardens over our fair land, rather then rulers, taking on the role of a benevolent guardian instead. Denegar is our current March Warden. Last I heard, he was defending Smith's Haven from some kind of attack. Hopefully once he's done there, he'll come and drive out these infernal cultists that are always plaguing the Retreat." Nicols left off and stared into my conjured flame, and I wondered what it is he was seeing in his mind's eye. I opened my mouth to ask more about Eliam and the March Wardens when a commotion drew my attention. I sprang out of the tent, reflexes as sharp as ever even after relaxing for some time. Even in the darkness of the night, I could easily make out the scuffle that was taking place at the back exit of the outpost. Two sentries were fighting off a third one. Wait, there was something not right about the third one. It came to me immediately. It wasn't a sentry at all, but some kind of undead spawn, with red eyes and sunken skin. But it was dressed in the colors of the Defiant. One of the degenerated! I immediately ran towards the exit, just as the undead creature managed to skewer one of the poor sentries through the gut. The man fell with a moan, and I raised my staff sharply, throwing a magical barrier of fire around the remaining sentry even as I sent a bolt of lightning sheering toward the undead man. He may have been a brave soldier of the Defiant at some point, but this shambling shell was no more a man than I was, in all sense of the word.

     The remaining sentry moved to stand over his fallen comrade, grimly fighting on to protect his friend, and I used my vast collection of storm spells to drive the maddened creature back from them. As I reached their side I concentrated and took the further time to create and cast a fireball. The undead spawn lit up like a torch, and began an unholy wailing that could, pardon the irony, wake the dead. Finally, it sprawled on the ground, an unmoving charred husk. Panting heavily, the sentry leaned down to frantically tend to his poor friend, and since I knew no healing spells, I instead focused on the undead. Walking up to it, I studied the degenerated Defiant's body. Curiously, the body appeared unmarked other then the obvious signs of being dead. A glint in its neck caught my eye and with the end of my staff I jabbed in that location. A small, strange stone fell into the grass and I reached down with a gloved hand to pick it up, finding it strangely cold in my hand despite its owner having died from fire just moments ago. The small gem was dark violet with a twisted, swirling black center. The longer I stared at it, the more effected I became, until I became so lightheaded I nearly staggered. Alright, evil rock. I wrapped it up carefully and gingerly tied it to a thong on my staff. Dame Sigga will no doubt be interested in my results. If I'm right, that rock must be what's controlling the Degenerated Defiants. If we could find some way to modify it, we could maybe take out the entire lot of them! Or least, put them out of commission. I strode back into the outpost.

     Off to one side, the poor surviving sentry was wailing as he cradled the body of his dead companion in his arms, the boy's cries tugging at something deep inside me. Grimly, I strode straight for Dame Sigga's tent. The sooner we put a stop to these degenerated Defiants, the better.

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