Tuesday, November 19, 2013

[Karazhan's Story] 2.7: A Change of Calling

     "So, these controlling stones somehow give the Endless Court power over the dead Defiants? That is grim news indeed. I'll send them to Meridian so the mages there can investigate this magic at length. It's wrong of our enemies to control the husks of our former allies. That is our right." I shifted uncomfortably as Dame Sigga spoke, not liking where that last thought was leading us. Of course it was true, I couldn't exactly protest against that kind of experimenting. After all, my resurrection had come about because of the Defiants' meddling in soul magic. Still. When do we say to stop? At what point have we crossed the line and turned into that which we fought against. Not something I wanted to consider, and not something I'd ever thought myself considering. As boring and unenlightening as my past life had been, at least I had that na├»ve sheltered state that protected me from this kind of moral dilemma. Not to mention I wasn't having to fight off crazed husks of men and strange twisted planar creatures every time I turned around either.

     As Dame Sigga handed off the stone to a waiting page that she gestured over, I watched the youth bow and eagerly scurry away to the north and felt a pang of envy. I wonder what it would be like if I was one of those mages up in...Meridian was it? Studying the unique magic imbued in the stone, as well as who knows what other exciting things, learning different magic techniques and even learning more about technomancy. It sounded so thrilling. Of course, most would say what I was doing here was thrilling. Maybe I can do both. After I go visit my Kelari brethren at their little seaside refuge, I think I'll take a trip to Meridian and do some reading up on what all has befallen Telara in the past twenty odd years.

     "As much as I can offer aid to your people at King's Retreat, ma'am, I have somewhere pressing I'd like to be. If you don't mind?" I trailed off, gesturing rather hesitantly in the direction that I'd been told the refuge was located. Dame Sigga gave me a thoughtful frown, looking like she wanted to protest. Then her shoulders slumped and she nodded reluctantly, instantly making me feel guilty. I was a powerful magical entity now and would have no problem cutting large dents into the enemy army. But...I wanted to see my people. I needed to see them! I'd felt so cut off. I've not been around so many strangers, especially those of different races, in years. Not since I'd first been screened for magical potential and been moved to Atia for mage training.

     "Yes of course, Ascended. I'm sure you have a busy time of it, having to keep us Defiant out of trouble." Dame Sigga said with a wry smirk, seeming to recover herself. She cocked her head at me. "You know, I don't envy your position." She said softly after a moment. "Everyone expects so much from you Ascended. All of you. Even those Guardian Ascended that are rumored to be personally blessed by the gods. The whole of Telara is focused on what you'll do next, so sure you'll save them from whatever threatens them. Even the cultists have taken a personal interest, I've heard. We take you for granted, but deep inside, you're just as human as the rest of us, aren't you?" She stared right into my eyes and I flinched, averting my eyes to the side. Ever since I was young I've found it uncomfortable to discuss emotions and feelings. That's not to say I don't have any. Far from it. If asked what my weakness was, I'd no doubt say one of them was my emotions. I'd just had it drilled into me by my family that emotions led to vulnerability, which would then be exploited without remorse. You learn to display a blank mask whenever possible. The problem was that with all my newfound senses and powers, it seemed that everything was heightened, and that went doubly so for my emotions. Rather inconvenient. A prickle at the corner of my eye had me feeling mortified. Oh Spirits, don't let me start bawling like a baby now! Just because this woman had shown me the first bit of kindness I'd had in a long time!

     I cleared my throat and gave the blonde haired woman a sad smile. "In times of war, we don't have time to think about such things." I didn't say anything else and Dame Sigga sighed. "That's true, Ascended. If we require further aid I can send a courier to one of the nearby outposts for more men, or even for the aid of a nearby Ascended. We've survived here this long, I'm sure we can survive without you." She chuckled suddenly and I let a low laugh escape me as well. I rather liked her. She was tough and brave, and had to have a good head on her shoulders to become leader of this outpost. I hope she survives whatever darkness I know is coming.

    "You know, it's kind of funny." I said suddenly, finding myself somewhat hesitant to leave. "Before I'd come to this land, I'd never been so scared in my life. The future...is not a pretty place. I'd gotten the impression that, no matter if I wanted it or not, I was the only thing standing between Telara and certain destruction. It was my most important mission; go back in time and prevent that future from ever coming to pass. Only I arrive here to find that multiple timelines had resulted in the same situation. Now, not only has my purpose been diverted by the aid of dozens of other machineborn....people, but I'm not a unique phenomena anymore. I'm not sure what to think about that." I stared off into the distance thoughtfully. A beautiful pond glistened to the north of the Retreat's walls, the sun reflecting off its surface like corroded glass. Dame Sigga shook her head at me, sobering.
     "No. No matter what it seems to you, know this. We need you. Each and every one of you marvelous creations that Sylver made are needed. I know it in my bones. The prisons won't last forever. And once the dragons are freed, it will be hell on Telara unless they are stopped. With the gods mysteriously absent and the citizens complacent from thousands of years of near peace, the Ascended are our only hope of preventing evil from destroying the world. The dragon cults are bigger and stronger then ever. The planes are more destructive and chaotic then even history mentions. Whatever our future holds, only the Ascended can see to our ultimate survival." I blinked, nodding slowly.

     "Thank you. I needed that." I grinned at her brightly, showing teeth and she looked slightly alarmed. Sheepishly, I let my smile fall some, until it was just a grin. I'd forgotten that the Bahmi were a rather fierce race. I'd imagine my version of a beaming smile looked rather violent. I waved to Dame Sigga and took off down the road toward the Kelari refuge, humming a song I'd learned during my apprenticeship in Atia.

     The pond I'd seen from within the Retreat's barricades was rather large, coming up almost to the highway, and I paused, staring at it wistfully. I remember quite a few times slipping out of the dormitories to go swimming in the one of the many beautiful rivers and ponds that dotted the surroundings. The advantage of living on an island, I suppose. As I stepped closer to the pond, something shining caught my eye. There was something embedded in the turf just a feet offshore. Curious, I ventured as close to the water's edge as I could to catch a glimpse of it. It looked like...some kind of jewelry? Interesting. What was jewelry doing in a pond in the middle of Freemarch? Glancing around, I shrugged. It wouldn't hurt to find out. The Kelari had been there all this time, I'm sure they wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon. Quickly, I took off the beautifully tooled boots and stockings that I'd been reborn in and set them to the side, along with my rucksack, my staff, and the shining strange looking disks that had been strapped to outside of my calves. For protection from physical attack, maybe? I really had no idea of actual battle armor or strategies outside of what I'd learned on the fly as I'd journeyed from the future to Freemarch. Rolling up my trouser cuffs, I ventured into the pond. The water was sharp and cold, but not to an unbearable degree. In fact, it felt kind of nice to feel something so sharply. I was kind of fearing that my magical flesh wouldn't feel water the same way that I'd remembered it.

     I reached an arm in, bending sideways to prevent my entire front from being soaked. The tips of my ponytail dipped into the water as I reached for the shiny object. It took a few minutes, but I managed to grab it as well as a handful of dirt and bring it out of the water. There was actually quite a lot of jewelry. It was all caked in mud and was nestled in the remains of a wooden chest which had no doubt rotted in its watery grave, allowing the jewelry to peek through. That little glint is what had caught my eye. Along with the jewelry was a tiny glass vial. The kind that usually contained poison or endurance potions. Inside was a rolled up piece of parchment. There was a cork firmly set in the top so no water could damage the note. I waded back to shore and sat down beside my things, letting the sun dry my wet legs as I pried the cork out of the vial and tipped the parchment out. To be honest, this obviously wasn't my business and I should probably just take it to someone. Although who I have no idea. The note was no doubt something private and not meant for me, but hopefully I could find a clue while reading it that could lead me to the jewelry's owner. I eyed the items in question askance as I fiddled with the glass bottle. Yes, it was very expensive and beautifully wrought silverwork. No tarnish or rust on anything, which meant it was highly valuable. Very good quality. Not something I could ever dream of affording. My family had kept a few items like this on the estate, even after we'd fallen on hard times. My mother had always wanted to keep up appearances. Finally, the note fell into my hands, curled up tight. I set the bottle aside, wiped my hands on my vest to make sure no moisture could ruin the letter, and unfurled it.

"The invaders are here! I'm a servant of the
Nicols family and with death upon us, I must confess
my crimes or fear retribution in the afterlife.
I've stolen several items from the Nicols family household.
I thought to escape with them it it's too late so I buried them here instead.
I'm sorry.
signed, Adrianna Weaver
    I stared, unblinking, at the short message written in shaky handwriting. It was clear from the content of the message and the writing itself that whoever had written this was guilt ridden and terrified. The poor girl. I wonder what became of her. I studied the writing more, as if I could divine the fate of Adrianna from the words alone. Wait a minute...Nicols! I knew a Nicols. The old man in King's Retreat said his name was Nicols. Hells spells! I can take this to him and all this beautiful jewelry too. Feeling a lot more relieved then the situation warranted, I quickly struggled back into my clothing and gathered up my staff and bag. I shoved all the things I'd taken from the pond into my bag, uncaring of the mud and grime attached.
     At last I could do some good that didn't involve killing anyone. A burden seemed to lift off my soul and I veritably skipped back to King's Retreat. The sentries at the gate (which I noted that the poor man who's friend had died wasn't there) both gave me odd looks as I walked up grinning like a fool. They seemed hesitant to let me past, even though they must have recognized me from before. I ignored them and walked past before they could form some kind of protest. No way would I let anyone ruin my sudden good mood. I was so happy to do something, no matter how mundane, that was actually good. I mean sure, it was only delivering a message and some shiny metal and gems, but to me it was more significant. I could make someone feel better, or so I hoped. I mean, the letter did say she'd stolen from Nicols. But she obviously felt guilty about it, and wanted to make amends. And I could do more for Telara then just slaughter the bad guys.
     That's what I really wanted, I realized suddenly. I wanted to make a difference by doing good. By helping those in need find the right path again. By finding a cure for some deadly disease. By healing those who were injured and sick. By helping rebuild what had been destroyed by the cults. My stride lessened as I gave it serious thought. Should I? When I'd first been told that I had such magical potential as hadn't been seen in quite some time, my parents had eagerly enrolled me in magical training, happy to have someone who could protect the family interests and who would be strong enough to deter any and all threats. I hadn't really had a say in anything. I'd had a choice between death magic and elemental magic. Instinctively, I'd known that death magic would lead me to trouble, and I'd always had a certain fondness for water and the feel of the wind on my skin, so I'd chosen weather magic. To be a Stormcaller, to be specific. I'd never had a chance to even think of any other option, even though I knew there was dozens of different paths one can follow with their magic. Usually, once you'd chosen your path, that was what you became. You put your whole life into learning that field of magic, building your magical strength, honing your spells and abilities, and gaining in strength and knowledge in your chosen field.
     But...I am Ascended now. I have the souls of many mages inside. And I knew as clear as day, that every single one of them was something different. There were souls of firecasters, death callers, summoners, and yes, even healers. I had all that knowledge, just simmering below the surface of my mind. Of course, realistically, I really could only dedicate myself to one calling and be truly good at it, but...maybe it was high time I changed that calling to something that had more meaning to me. Something I could make a real difference with. Any idiot can wield a sword or cast a spell and kill an enemy. But to have compassion, to mend damage instead of cause it. That was something I'd always wanted, even when I'd been schooled against "thinking so selfishly" by my family.
     With all these thoughts whirling in my mind, as well as the clamoring thoughts of the other souls, I burst into Nicols' tent. The old man turned, hand on his chest, and I took a breath to calm myself.
     "Sorry!" I blurted out. Poor guy looked like he was going to keel over from the shock of my sudden appearance. Oops. "I found something that you might be interested in though. I was on my way to see my kin at the Kelari refuge when I stopped by a pond that was nearby. It reminded me of all the times in my younger days when I'd snuck out to go swimming with the other mage girls and we had such wonderful times..." I trailed off at Nicols' pointed look and cleared my throat, feeling my face turning red. I wondered if it was visible, what with my skin being so dark. "Er...anyway. Here." I reached into my bag, grabbed the jewelry and the note, and spread it out on the table, making sure to move his scrolls and maps out of the way so they wouldn't be damaged by the guck still on the necklaces and things. Lord Nicols blinked, coming around the counter to eye the items with intense curiosity. His eyes widened as he recognized the jewelry and his hand hovered reverently over an especially beautiful necklace set with bright blue gems. A tear gathered at the corner of his eye and trailed down his wrinkled cheek. I must have looked alarmed, for he smiled gently at me.

     "My wife's." He said, by way of explanation, hand settling over the wet chain. I kept silent, just watching. Eventually, Nicols reached out and took ahold of the note. His expression went through several changes as he read it, then reread it. His throat worked as he swallowed, and he looked sad as he set the note down in the center of the table, shaking his head. Nearly brimming with curiosity, I made a noncommittal noise to let him know I was still here. I wouldn't be so disrespectful as to actually ask, but I really wanted to know what this was about.
     "These are my family's things. We had a household not far from here, actually. We weren't rich, per se, but we were well off for folks of Freemarch. Did well for ourselves. Even hired a few servants and workers for the farm....until the Rifts came and ruined everything. The undead swarmed over the land, and we barely got the warning in time. Now they are all gone. All but myself. I'd always suspected Adrianna was stealing from us, but I was never certain. I tried to do right by her, but she seemed so afraid all the time. So withdrawn. Despite her crimes, I hope she made it safety. I lost track of her during the chaos." He sighed, and shook his head. I made a mental note to ask around after Adrianna's fate. It was something I could do to help Lord Nicols.
     Nicols gave me a considering glance, and I quirked an eyebrow. Then he startled me by picking up the jewelry and giving it to me. I held out my hands automatically when he pressed the items at me, and gave him a puzzled look. "For your aid. I thank you for bringing them to me. And for listening to an old man's troubles. Both now and before. In return, you can keep these. Sell them and get yourself some proper battle armor. That doesn't suit you. You're too independant to just blindly follow the edicts of the Defiant." He gruffly waved his hand at me, an unidentifiable look in his eyes and suddenly I felt that prickle in my eyes again. Damn. Apparently being Ascended has turned me into an emotional wet blanket. Let's pray to any gods that will still listen to me that I don't burst out crying the next time someone shows me kindness. I don't think I'd be able to show myself in public again if that happened.
     I hugged Nicols goodbye and once again set off for the Kelari refuge, feeling like my spirit was light as a feather. Oh yes, I was going to make a difference in the world this time around. A difference for the better. And not because I was a stronger fighter. But because I was a stronger person.

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