Tuesday, July 29, 2014

[Lore] XXIX: The Abyssal Cult

  While most would run or cower in untold fear when confronted with horrendous nightmarish spawn that come crawling up with the tides, or burst forth out of rifts to wash over villages, dragging off innocent villagers without a trace, there are those few who stop and listen. They hear the faint sounds, the soft whispering of an almost heard voice beneath the crashing of the waves, the growls of the profane monsters, the roaring of the riftspawn. They hear a strange, familiar yet unfamiliar song, something they can almost understand, if they but listen a little harder, come a little closer. These are the first of the Abyssal, men and women of Telara who turned from their beliefs and the safety of their homes to dedicate themselves to Akylios, dragon god of the Plane of Water, for the promise of understanding and unlocking the deep mysteries and darkest secrets the world has to offer.

     The Abyssal are the mad followers of the mad Akylios, who was driven insane eons ago. They are the hoarders of all knowledge dark and twisted, always seeking answers to hideous and profane secrets. They form cabals of insane priests and Tidelords, claiming to hold the promise of the world's knowledge if only the unenlightened would look far enough and deep enough into the crushing deep of the Abyss that Akylios represents. They are a tight-knit, extremely secular cult made up of different cabals or 'cells' within the cult. Each cell is headed by a Tidelord, who conducts the business and direction of each cell differently from the others. Even though they are all part of a whole and acting toward an overall common goal, each cabal has it's own separate goals and desires as well, with each Tidelord seeking his or her own knowledge and secrets of the dark. Since each cabal is completely separate and located in different parts of the world, if one falls, it is nearly impossible to trace it to another cabal. And thus the Abyssal are the hardest to discover and unearth among the citizens of Telara, since they are very good at pretending to be ordinary, innocent Telarans. They are adept at infiltrating a village and replacing the villagers with their own followers, converting and killing where it's needed in order to accomplish their goals. They are swift to violence, unpredictable, and are powerful casters. They act more for their own desire for power and profane knowledge rather than because of a sound plan of attack or an organized battle strategy.
     The leader of the Abyssal Cult, Tidelord Jornaru, can be found plotting against the Ascended in Abyssal Precipice and in Hammerknell Fortress, striving always to free his lord and master, the great Akylios.

     Another famous member of the Abyssal is the Faceless Man, who is now the leader of the Unseen, a group of assassins and spies in Meridian who protect the Defiants secrets and work to bring information to and from the Defiant headquarters in order to best deal with the threats to Telara. The Faceless Man was once a Tidelord of an Abyssal cult that controlled areas of Freemarch before he betrayed his dark master to the Defiant.

     The Abyssal Cult are all quite insane, driven mad by their burning desire to unearth the dark secrets of the worlds. To try to understand the innermost workings of the Abyssal is to court madness yourself. No culture or race is exempt from these mad cultists, who come from all manner of place and status. Compared to the other cults and followers of the Blood Storm gods, the Abyssal contain the most scholars, magi, academics, and professors of the arcane arts.
     Rank among the Abyssal is dependent upon one's individual knowledge, power, and level of insanity, rather than status in Telara. The Tidelord leaders are all recognizable by the distinctive horned helmets that cover the face. The helmets hide the disfigurement they voluntarily undergo in order to better 'see' the deeper knowledge that Akylios grants them. The ritual to become a Tidelord is an arduous task that only the most faithful, and the most insane, undergo. They give up their names, their memories, their very identities, to better serve Akylios, who promises greater arcane and eldritch knowledge in return for such devotion. He delights in the madness of others, and the more insane, the better. In return, the Abyssal cultists gain mad genius and knowledge best left forgotten in the depths. The more knowledge they gain, the further they fall into insanity. And thus the Abyssal have the reputation of being the most secretive, but also the most incomprehensible dragon cult. Their tomes and scrolls, if found by an unsuspecting person, can lead to madness and death just as easily as enlightenment or power. Or both.

     They seek neither treasure, wealth, or fame, nor power for its own sake, but wish only to learn. To learn everything that the dark Abyss can teach them and beyond. To gain the secret powers of the hidden arts. The one uniting force that drives the Abyssal other than the desire for knowledge is the desire to free Akylios from his watery prison, where he lays dreaming beneath Hammerknell Fortress. Many nests of the cult have apparently wormed their way into the outskirts of Telaran society, setting up shop in rural villages and disguising themselves as professors of arcane knowledge or traveling scholars. They undermine the efforts of the Ascended, convert others to their cause, and always seek ways of freeing Akylios. They readily interact with and ally with the riftspawn that come through the rifts, summoning Deep Ones, Fathomlords, profane many-eyed monsters and other planar ilk to do their bidding guard their secrets. The Abyssal are the ultimate Lovecraftian model in Rift, with themes of madness, desire, knowledge, unfathomable secrets, insanity, cabals of arcane practitioners and themes of water, nightmares, tides, darkness, and the Abyss. By the time one figures out that the knowledge and answers they sought lead to nothing but darkness and insanity, it is far too late to turn back.

    Despite their evident insanity and warped minds, don't underestimate the Abyssal cult and its insane leaders, because the clarity that madness brings can be just as effective and deadly as a sound battle strategy.

References: Information on the Abyssal is just as mysterious as the cult itself, and hard to verify. A lot of this was learned by talking to the Faceless Man and reading through clues in quests and artifact sets. The names of leaders was found in the Abyssal Precipice dungeon and by combing through the forums! All information is not mine, I'm just writing it for my own purposes since there's so little actual intel on Rift and its lore.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

[Karazhan's Story] 2.15: Running Up That Hill

      When I finally arrived at Gramaton Station, I was quite out of breath. I wasn't exactly sure what I'd find when I arrived, but was relieved to see that the place was still standing, and indeed seemed to have enough manpower to keep it that way. As I watched, a hoard of undead seemed to swarm the far edge of the barracks, only to be repelled by a combined force of wardens and Defiant defense machines. Red lasers shot out and incinerated the zombies while the wardens hacked and slashed their way through the mindless creatures. I grinned, instantly feeling much better. I was half afraid the place would be razed to the ground by the time I arrived. It seems I need to stop underestimating our forces.

    "Halt. This is a Defiant allied station, state your business." Said a no-nonsense voice and a woman in red and silver stepped in front of my view. I stopped and stood up straighter, inclining my head slightly forward in respect.
     "Hello Gramaton Station. My name is Karazhan and I am one of Sylver's Ascended. I've been investigating some unsettling issues down the coast and it came to light that maybe this station might be under siege by the Abyssal. Although it seems that the Endless are also at it." I gave a dry chuckle, and the woman eyed me a moment more before she relaxed and nodded. "Alright then. Hello to you, Karazhan Ascended. We are honored indeed to host such an esteemed person as yourself. Come in to camp." She gestured to a comrade, who removed a piece of the barricade to let me pass. I eyed the tiny metal device embedded in the ground as I walked by, half afraid a laser would shoot out and vaporize me too.

     "So where exactly did you come from? And yes the Endless Court does seem to have sent a sizable force to Freemarch. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing how large their armies in Stillmore actually are. That's where they seem to all be coming from. It all seems to circle back to those damn Mathosians and their traitor king." I blinked at the heat in her words, and remembered reading something about a Shade War and a someone or other named King Aedraxis that had started the whole trouble with the planes.
    "Oh, I'd been sent to investigate some strange circumstances in Lakeside. You wouldn't believe what was going on there." I shuddered at the memory. The woman gave me a curious look. "I think it's the kind of news that I should give to your commander first hand." I said apologetically when I saw her looking. She nodded easily enough, shrugging. As a common soldier I guess she was used to not receiving the full information.

    "Hey Vanthil, what's that you dragged in?" Called another armored man from the side. He was working one a pile of glowing sourcestone and a strange metal gadget. The woman at my side shot him a glare. "Have some respect Erik, she's an Ascended." She yelled back sharply. A few more heads turned at that and sized me up. I felt my face heating from all the sudden attention and pasted a tiny smile on my lips.

    As the woman, Vanthil apparently, led me through the camp toward the large elaborate tent in the center, I pressed her for more information on the Endless attacks.
     "Well, the Endless cultists have been amassing across the road on Savage Hill for quite some time, ever since the Defiant first showed up at the station actually. Lucky for us, they seem rather disorganized and the forces they do send against us are easy enough to deal with. Although I'm not sure if that's just because they truly are mindless and disorganized, or if they want to lure use into a false sense of security so they can catch us by surprise later." She paused, both in speech and in step as her face grew serious with concern. "I really hope that's not the case." She finally said.
     "Yes, me too." I replied. "Have you seen or heard anything relating to the Abyssal, or any planar water creatures?" I asked in the next lull of conversation. Vanthil shrugged noncomitedly. "Not that anyone has outright mentioned. Than again, I'm just your average soldier. You can ask Commander Venden though." I thanked her, assuming this Venden person was the man in charge.

     As it turned out I was right. 
     "Commander Venden sir!" Vanthil barked upon entering the tent. She saluted sharply and turned aside so she was almost facing me. "Lady Karazhan the Ascended is here with news from down the coast, sir." The man behind a worn wooden table looked up in surprise, his face tired. He glanced from Vanthil to me, than back. "Very good private. Dismissed." Vanthil saluted, than turned to leave, but not before giving me a tiny encouraging smile. I smiled back in thanks.

     "An Ascended eh?" The commander stepped around the table and reached out a hand. I shook it carefully, not wanting to let my augmented strength do any harm.
     "Yes that's right." I replied. "Well what can I do for you....Karazhan was it? We're mighty busy here, in case you didn't see the army of undead filth across the road. Damn cultists and their accursed riftspawn allies." He glared at the table, and I looked down as well, curious. There was a detailed map of this side of Freemarch laid out across the table with markers and tiny colored squares dotting its surface. It took me a few swift seconds to recognize where the station was on the map, and I realized that they were indeed outnumbered by the Endless here. Vanthil's comments from earlier came to me and I wondered why indeed the cultists didn't just swarm the station.
     "I know that you have your hands full here and I'm sorry to bring more trouble, but I've recently just come from Lakeside and uncovered some very disturbing information about the Abyssal cult's presence in Freemarch." The commander rubbed at his lip as he thought, than crossed his arms. "The Abyssal? Those crazy clerics are always up to no good. Still...Lakeside is our closest neighbor. What information exactly did you uncover?"
     I took a deep breath, trying to keep the images of all those tortured dead bodies out of my head. "It was quite...horrifying. All of Lakeside seems to be under the sway of the Abyssal. An ally, a spy for the Unsseen order, has sent for reinforcements from Meridian as we speak to help deal with the cultists who have infiltrated the village. I also found deeper motivation behind their occupation there and their goal seems to be to attack this station so they can decimate the forces here and render aid to the rest of Freemarch impossible. Obviously this is just a step in their plan to aggressively take over the march. I've dealt with that cabal's leader, but who knows if there are others lurking around here, not to mention the one I slew was just a Fathomlord, one of the lower ranking riftspawn. We still need to locate and deal with the Tidelord, which I heard runs the cabal. Have you seen any Abyssal activity here?" I almost wanted him to say no, because that would mean my suspicions were correct, but if he did say no, that meant that the Abyssal had a different agenda that I didn't know about. I pushed the worries out of my mind.

     "We've been harassed by Abyssal monsters here off and on for weeks, actually. I never thought anything of it, since the attacks seemed random and unrelated. But if what you say is true...I'm glad you've slain this Fathomlord. Perhaps the beasts will go back to the deeps now that their master is dead and that will be the end of it? Regardless, I have more immediate problems to deal with, with these undead." He waved a hand in emphasis over the map and I frowned, reluctant to dismiss the Abyssal problem so easily. "I know it probably seems more serious to you, but you don't understand the situation we're in. I've received several pleas for help from Smith's Haven, which I can't respond to because those bloody zombies block and harry our every effort to send men to the city. Smith's Haven is our capital, Karazhan, and I will do all in my power to help her." I absorbed this new information. Smith's Haven. I tried recalling in my mind's eye where that would be in Freemarch and vaguely placed the city somewhere off to the northeast of where I was now. So Smith's Haven was under attack as well. It seemed there was no end to the cultists mischief. I wondered how long it took the cults to set this sort of coup up, and why they hadn't been detected before it was too late.

     A harried looking young man dashed into the tent in the ensuing silence and saluted. The commander waved a hand at him. "Yes, what news?" The young man looked overly grave, eyes wide in his young face. "Sir! From what the scouts say, Smith's Haven is burning! It's...sir, permission to send troops!" The young man's face fell into worry and fear, and I wondered if maybe he had family in the city. Commander Venden looked even more tired and worn as he shook his head. "I'm sorry son, we can't risk sending any more troops. If we leave the station vulnerable, the undead will surely overwhelm us. Not to mention they attack and harry any forces I try to send, forcing them to retreat back here. It just doesn't seem possible to send a sizable force until we deal with those damn Endless." He slammed his fist down on the table and a small black square fell over from the impact. The young man looked agonized.

     "I know you said that any force you try to send can't seem to get through." I spoke up, and both men startled, as if forgetting I was there. I felt a moment of affront. I was a tall, sturdily built Bahmi, for spirit's sake. I'm not exactly some tiny mouse off in a corner. "What if you sent me instead?" The young scout's eyes bulged and he gawked at me, eyes flitting over my form as if looking for some hidden bomb or weapon that would indicate that I was able to successfully single-handedly relieve the beleaguered forces at Smith's Haven. The commander on the other hand, looked thoughtful and hopeful. "Can you do that Ascended? Would you do that?" He placed both hands, palms out, on the table on either side of the map, and gazed at it, as if analyzing the battlefield with the new equation of an Ascended in the mix. The young scout, I noticed, had gone rigid with shock at the word Ascended. He couldn't seem to peel his eyes off me. I smiled warmly at him.

     "Of course I'll help." I stated. "I know that most of the Ascended are all off fighting the rifts and the planar assaults, but it's just as important to keep our homes safe from the cultists and the other monsters. And I'm here already. I still want to figure out where this Abyssal cult threat leads, but the situation at Smith's Haven seems pretty serious. What kind of allies would we Defiant be if we let the citizens of Freemarch perish under our noses?" The young man's face transformed into something akin to hero worship and I almost chuckled. Silly impressionable young men. The commander as well was impressed. "Well spoken, Ascended. I'm honored to have met you. Admittedly I've not laid eyes on an Ascended before, only heard of them, but if they are all as noble and brave as you, than Telara is in good hands." His blue eyes sparkled warmly at me. I felt a strong emotion surge through me, exulting and freeing. It was a wonderful feeling. I felt incredibly proud to be Defiant, and that Freemarch was our home.
     "Last I'd heard, March Warden Denegar has his forces stationed outside the gates of Smith's Haven. They're already calling the place Denegar's Stand, for gods sake." The commander looked rueful. "I can only pray that he hasn't been overrun. Denegar is a brave warden, but his stewardship of Freemarch has never been tested before, and I fear he won't be able to hold Smith's Haven for long."
     "Okay, I'll go see what I can do to help. Might have to beat up some cultists." I quipped. The commander chuckled.

      I saluted to Commander Venden, turned and gave a smaller, jaunty salute to the scout, and left the tent. Behind me, I heard the scout's young voice start up immediately with questions about Ascended and grinned. Once outside the tent, I gazed around. If I squinted, I could just make out darkened clouds to the northeast that indicated the black smoke above Smith's Haven. It was indeed burning. A tight knot of worry clenched itself around my insides. A burning city was never good. A clenching of a different sort reminded me that I hadn't eaten in some hours. Not since my impromptu lunch with Ziara. Opening a flap on my pack, I peered inside and wrinkled my nose. Most of what I'd had, I'd shared with Ziara. I'd even left her extra supplies so she wouldn't have to eat just straight military rations. That had left me with a much lighter supply pack and I recalled that I'd been intent on doing some fishing when I had the time, but circumstances being what they were, I'd ended up rushing from place to place with no time to sit down and enjoy a few peaceful hours of fishing. My time at the Kelari refuge came back to me and I longed to just sit on the docks in the sun, idly casting my line and bantering with my fellow Kelari. I shook myself.

    "Excuse me miss?" I glanced up and noticed an older man peering at me. I quirked a dark eyebrow. "Sorry, yes?" I asked neutrally, tying the knot on my pack and slinging it back over my shoulder. The man seemed to shrink a bit under my direct gaze and glanced behind him. I noticed that a few other wardens and soldiers were gathered close by. Apparently they had designated him the spokesperson. "Is it true, you're an Ascended?" The man blurted out. He dropped his eyes.
     "Yes, I am. But you don't have to act like your meeting the queen. I'm just a normal person like you. I feel the same, act the same, have the same hopes and desires. And we are all allied with the Defiant. My name is Karazhan." The man brightened. He looked amazed and relieved. "Thank you Lady Karazhan. You are a blessing to us. We've all heard the stories of the amazing feats the Ascended have accomplished abroad. Closing rifts to the planes and destroying planar creatures! I've even heard rumors that some of the cult leaders were vanquished." I raised an eyebrow. I'd also heard such tales in Meridian from merchants and traveling traders who'd encountered Ascended on the road. It made me somewhat sad that we seemed engineered to be a solitary lot, like some kind of wandering hero. I wonder what we could accomplish if we teamed up. I bet we could even challenge the dragons themselves. I shook my head. No sense thinking of such things now. Perhaps down the road. Hells, I might even be one of those Ascended.
     "Are you here to help?" Asked the man eagerly. "Please, I have a young nephew in Smith's Haven, up the Fortress Road. Please, I beg you, can you go to Smith's Haven? We have orders here and it won't do any good anyway, with those Endless cultists lurking across the road like vultures. But you're an Ascended! I bet you could get to Smith's Haven with no trouble. I just want my family to be safe." As the man said that, the others all suddenly found a voice and added their pleas and concerns to the list. I lifted a hand.
     "Yes, I'm going to see what the situation is at Smith's Haven and see if there's anything I can do to help. No, don't give me individual names or directions to your homes. I'm there strictly to flush out the cultists and help restore order to the city. I don't know how long it will take to secure Smith's Haven, but as soon as the March Wardens have it under control, I'll make sure they send men to aid Gramaton Station and let you all know about your families." The others grumbled, but conceded, knowing that was fair. "Now uh...I'm a bit low on food supplies..." I added, feeling embarrassed, and a few women plied me with some tasty morsels. I was given a small woven basket of stuffed mushrooms, several exotic fruits, and a wrapped package of smoked boar meat which smelled delicious. A rind of fresh cheese topped it off. I offered coin to pay for the meal, but the wardens all insisted it was a gift as thanks for offering to aid Smith's Haven.

     Suddenly another wave of undead Endless swarmed the camp and the wardens sprang into action, grabbing their weapons and hacking at the attackers. One rot-eyed fiend lurched my way and I was so frustrated and sick of the cultists harrying the people of Freemarch that my bolt of lightning burst right through the creature and jumped to a nearby cluster of undead. All sizzled and snapped from the heat of the electricity, their non-lives snuffed out from the sheer power of the bolt. The forks of lightning continued to dance from undead to undead, the power growing weaker as it arced from their blackened flesh. Still, my spell devastated the attack force, doing twice as much damage as the defenders. When the strain of keeping the spell active grew too much and the resulting headache forced me to drop the incantation, I saw that the wardens were all gaping at me in awe and even fear. I forced a casual smile. Even though they all cheered, they kept casting uneasy glances at me, as if I were a wild creature who had, for the time being, followed the same course as them but would turn against them if the winds changed. I should have felt angry and insulted, but I only felt a slight sadness and hurt. No matter my talk about being a normal person like the rest, I couldn't refute the fact that I was different. I had the deadly power and potential to level the whole station if I was inclined to expend so much of my energy. It might leave me unconscious and weak as a kitten for a few weeks, but I could do it.

     Several wardens began dragging the charred undead corpses out of camp to a scorched section of land, where they no doubt burned all the cultists to ash so they wouldn't rise again. That was smart. I stood there in the center of the busy camp, feeling so very isolated and outlandish. Finally I shook myself, firmly telling myself to not let it bother me. The other souls hummed softly, a gentle and reassuring presence at the back of my mind, like having the support of friends. I almost wished they were living beings with their own bodies, instead of impressions of souls woven into the matrix of my own. Surrounded by allies and fellows all reaching toward the same goals, on the same side, I'd never felt so alone.

     I wasn't sure what to expect when I reached the city of Smith's Haven, but the chaos outside its gates definitely surprised me. The smell of burning wood and even bodies was so thick in the air that it hurt my throat and great clouds of blue-black smoke billowed out from behind the thick wall surrounding the town. To my dismay, what buildings I could see over the top of the wall looked sunken and broken; soulless. Across a quaint little wooden bridge, a large makeshift outpost had been set up and I figured this must be the "Denegar's Stand" that Commander Venden mentioned. Several tall leafy trees provided shade from the blistering heat of the sun. Dozens of white cots had been stretched out under the trees, and I was saddened to see that all were occupied by injured men and women. To my further dismay, not all of the injured wore military dress. Several white robed men and women darted between the rows of cots, the gentle wave of green or blue healing magic dancing around their fingers. The entire camp was bristling with color. The gray and white banner of the wardens fluttered in the breeze alongside the red and gold of the Defiants. Several gray and white command tents dominated the sizable camp, and I figured that's where I should go if I wanted information what was going on as well as how best to help out. And they definitely looked like they could use some help.

     Movement from the corner of my eye drew me up short and I noticed a woman in the traditional garb of the scientists of Meridian tinkering with a device on the road. She straightened up, wiped sweat from her brow, and froze when she caught sight of me. She stormed over, hands on her hips.
     "Took you long enough! I've been waiting ages." The woman snapped. I was so startled by her that I didn't resist when she grabbed my arm and dragged me over to the magitech device she was working on. The eldtrich machine hummed and whirred, but a slight hitch in the hum betrayed that it wasn't working properly. The woman arched an eyebrow at me and jutted a finger out at the machine. "It's been giving me trouble all day. Ever since those accursed Abyssal monsters attacked us. I just can't figure out how to recalibrate the focus settings to match up with the array so we...are you even listening to me?" She glared at me suspiciously.

     "Uh." I replied. "I'm sorry, I think you might have me confused with someone else." I finally said awkwardly. The woman narrowed her eyes. "You're not the scientist I sent for from Meridian?" She asked, almost accusingly. I sheepishly shook my head and her face darkened in irritation and disappointment. "Fine. Why were you just standing in the middle of the highway like a witless fool then?" I felt my mouth drop open. Since my rebirth no one had spoken to me with anything short of fawning respect or fearful adoration. I didn't know what to make of this. Somehow it brought to mind one of the priestesses at the temple in Atia, who had such a wicked sharp tongue and mean sarcasm that others went out of their way to avoid her. I'd always enjoyed her no-nonsense way of speaking though and she'd taught me so much that the other priestesses hadn't bothered to.
     "I was just surprised by the state of things." I answered her simply, too amazed to say anything but the truth under her sharp gaze. The scientist gave me one more shrewd glance, then turned and looked around her. She nodded. "Yes, it's not a pretty sight, is it? It all happened...so quickly. I was out here already you see, conducting an experiment with my trusty companion here." She patted the machine as if it was a loyal pet. I nodded, feeling a spark of interest. I'd love some details on what happened. "By the way, name's Nalise," the woman continued. "Anyway, one night my machine went off like crazy. I heard shouting and screams and saw people spilling out of Smith's Haven like ants out of an anthill. Many were bloody, and it was hard to see what was going on, since the moon was behind clouds. When I could see....well. There were undead crawling all over the city. Apparently they crept in when it was dark, using foul dark magic to disable the defenses and kill the sentries. I heard they were betrayed from within. The undead swept through the city, systematically killing everyone they could find. It wasn't until they were nearly done that someone of authority figured out what was happening and roused a defense against them. March Warden Denegar fought back and helped get everyone outside the gate. Well most everyone. I've heard there are still people trapped inside, but it's nearly impossible to get past the burning debris and undead sorcerers inside. That was only the day before yesterday." The woman, Nalise, shivered, as if she could still hear the screams, and I put a sympathetic hand on her arm.
     "That sounds absolutely horrifying." I said sincerely.
     "Yes, it was. So if you're not the assistant I requested, what are you doing here anyway? I'd guess you're here to aid the city except...there's only one of you. Unless your a scout? Or maybe your a spy?" She squinted her almond shaped eyes down the road that I'd walked up, before crossing her arms in a "you better confess right now" stance. It was so reminiscent of my novice days that I nearly laughed. Instead I kept a straight face.
     "No, I'm not a spy, or any threat. And yes I am here to help. My name is Karazhan and I'm an Ascended." The woman looked taken aback. "An Ascended? But...Oh! One of Sylver's creations?" I winced at being called a "creation" like I was one of those constructs the Defiants were always working on. I guess that was better than being called an experiment. "For a moment there, I thought you meant you were one of them." The woman continued. I must have looked as confused as I felt, because she elaborated with "You know, a Guardian."
     "Ah. Yeah, no. I'm Defiant, and proud of it." I grinned, and the woman grinned back. "Darn straight." She replied. She tilted her head to the side, eyes crinkling with humor. "Well, what are you hanging around me for? I thought you were here to help! Go help!" She made shooing motions. I grinned and saluted sarcastically at her. "Yes ma'am!" I shot back and walked over to the camp.

     No one looked at me twice as I maneuvered through the camp, avoiding soldiers, medics, officers and civilians. Time to find March Warden Denegar and figure out how to put an end to the Endless cult problem once and for all. Somehow I knew that the tyrant Jakub was behind this, and Alsbeth's plotting was behind him. Even if I couldn't reach her, I was going to put an end to Jakub and his wretched forces. Nalise had said just days ago. That coincided too closely with the resurrection of Jakub to even be considered a coincidence, and I knew that sacking Smith's Haven was a prime goal for the start of his revenge on the people of Freemarch for defying him all those years ago. Well he'll find that the people of Freemarch have more then just the Wardens protecting them now!

Friday, July 11, 2014

[Telara in the Kitchen] I: Introduction

  So I suggested the idea of making recipes for real life food you can cook and eat in your own kitchen to my friend and she was very excited at the idea. Well, I've finally gotten around to posting a page on the subject! Before I dive into the yummy recipes of Telara and how to bring them to your table at home, I'd first like to write a few beginner's tips, advice, and some suggestions about cooking. Especially if your level in the Survival skill is Novice (1-75)! :) When you see the things others make, or when you see what your parent or spouse has created for you, don't be intimidated by their skill. They've likely been doing it a while and know what's what. Don't be afraid to try new things! Also though, know when you are adding too much of something to a dish. Take it slow and gradual at first, always tasting after each addition to make sure you're not spoiling it. And have patience. Some foods take quite some time to make and if your starving, as I always am, it can be hard to wait for a large, difficult meal to finish.
     Now that that's out of the way, go find yourself some oak logs and make a fire so you can cook something tasty! Oh wait...that's probably frowned upon in your neighborhood isn't it? No matter, I'm sure an oven will do just as well!

     On Telara, the Survival skill is quite the handy skill to have under your belt. You really don't want to be dying of hunger. One, that's a humiliating way to die for an Ascended. Two, it's a rather painful way to die. So it definitely helps to level your Survival skill right alongside your Kitchen Survival skill. One thing that bugs me that I noticed about Survival though is that most of the recipes available to us are based around seafood or pork. Well, sadly I do not eat either of these things, so many of my foods will focus on other meats and vegetable dishes. There will of course be the occasional recipe that features seafood or similar, because seafood is very healthy if done properly, but for the most I prefer salads, casseroles, pasta dishes, stews, soups, sweets, feasts and roasts. And probably a ton more I haven't thought of. I really love food and I sincerely enjoy cooking it! The only thing I don't care for is the dishes I need to wash up afterward haha.

     The pros to making your meals at home with your own ingredients are numerous. For instance, it's definitely healthier to use fresh foods from the market rather than buying something instant or ready made! You can also keep track of what's going into your dishes as well, since your the one who added it. That's a definite plus if you have allergies or a preference in your diet! It also saves a lot on cost! At first it might be costly to add things to your cupboards such as new spices, herbs, and supplies, but if you keep track of what and where your spending is, it becomes obvious rather quickly that your definitely saving money in the long run by not eating take out every night. And lastly, there's definitely a sense of accomplishment for cooking your own meals. Be proud of what you've made, and share it with friends and family. Ask them how they like it!

     And here's a list of tips that I've thought of for you, that help me when cooking! I hope I don't need to mention that you should wash ALL fruit and vegetables before cutting and consuming, as well as cutting these completely separately from meats. And don't forget to always wash your hands before and after the handling! Just imaging all those nasty icky fingerprints all over my food makes me shudder.
  1. Don't be afraid to try something different and exotic! This includes both meats and vegetables as well as spices! There are so many different types and flavors and textures to spices and herbs. And it definitely varies between dried, ground, and fresh! Instead of buying minced or powdered garlic in the shakers, purchase a few cloves of garlic instead! You'd be surprised at the difference! Also, add berries, dried or otherwise, to dishes that you would otherwise never think of doing so. It won't ruin your meal, it might spice it up a bit instead, adding a slightly sweet or tangy taste to it!
  2. When buying ingredients for meals, try low fat, low sugar, non sweetened, and low sodium options instead! The taste might be slightly different and take some getting used to, but this is your body and you only get one (unless you are an Ascended!) so treat it with respect! There are so many different substitutes and options in this day and age that its hard to even keep up with, but a lot of the options available to gluten-free and lactose-free eaters are actually clever and healthy alternatives even for those who don't have this issue.
  3. Don't hesitate to ask a family member who is a good cook for suggestions or their favorite recipe, especially if you enjoy it as well. Sometimes tried and true recipes that have been given from mother to daughter are a great way to connect with a family member as well as give more happy memories to share later.
  4. Try dishes from different cultures, even if it looks weird or different. You'd be surprised. That Dwarf's homemade chili might be tasty!
     So go forth my fellow Telarans and set feasts for your raid to enjoy, both in Rift and in the home! Be proud of all that you create, enjoy the fruits of your labor, and post comments or pictures of what you make so I can ooohhh and ahhhh over it appropriately! :)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

[Off Topic] Warlords of Draenor Beta Invite!

     Woohoo, got invited to the beta for WoD expac! Hehe so happy! It was funny because just the other day I was complaining to my friend online that I've been invited to every single expac beta except Warlords, and I was a little disappointed that I never got this invite. And I was super hyped to try it out too!! Well now I have it, and I logged in to check things out!!! First thing I did was copy over my lil Druid and run to the part of SW harbor that leads to the pre quests. I don't think everything is quite finished and polished yet, it is a beta after all. And the game was super laggy and glitchy too. I ran around, had some fun, did some kind of demonic invasion mission thing with all the leaders of all the factions. That was super duper cool! It was nice to finally see Thrall again and wonder what he's up to! I think the only thing I'm not looking forward to about this expansion is Garrosh. I'm so sick of him already, and I'm so annoyed that not only did he escape justice at the end of MoP, but the morons who sat at his trial (War Crimes novel) just let him waltz through time into the past. I could see something shifty from a mile away, but nope. And they were going to pardon him too!!!! So it's ok for that maniac to go unpunished for what he did to Theramore and to Panderia, but we kill off others like Malygos, who had simply been driven mad by outside influence. *shakes fist*. Ok whatever. I still hate Garrosh and I hope he dies off super early into the story because if he's the end boss I might have to step away from this expac.

     Other than beta invite to WoD, being super busy still with my blog, with work, with cosplay, and with a dozen other things I really don't have time for! The year goes by so darn fast, and I'm just always behind or unprepared for things. At least I'm happy to note that I'm nearly finished my cosplay costume for this year's BlizzCon. I'm going to do Shaman T10, Draenei. The Draenei are so darn cute, I love them! Took me soooo long to decide too on what armor I wanted to do haha.

     Well that's all for this post, just a tiny, simple little update for once, to interrupt all the hard work and text walls haha.

~Dark out.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

[Raeslyn's Story] 3.10: Family Matters

      "Help! Hellllpppppp!" Wailed a voice from up ahead along the path to Tearfall Run, where I would find the altar to summon Laria. I cautiously peered through the gloom, not wanting to get lured into a trap of some sort. Of course, if some poor citizen needed my aid, I couldn't just take my time about it either. Movement drew my eye to the side of the road and I saw a tall Mathosian man, peering up and down the road as he paced, looking anxious and scared. I kept my face neutral as I approached and the man immediately fixated on me, an expression of hope flitting across his features.

    "Oh, please, you have to help me, lady rogue! I'm haunted!" I crossed my arms and raised an eyebrow at the man, who stammered to a halt and seemed to look abashed.

    "I'm a Guardian sent to investigate the curse on Gloamwood. What do you mean, your haunted? Explain from the beginning please. Starting with your name." My sharp voice seemed to give the man a sense of calm, for he straightened up and nodded, taking a deep breath.
     "Thank you m'lady. My name is Ral Teralar. I'm a prospector and a fisher. I spend my time digging up and selling ancient artifacts from around Tearfall Creek. Recently, I found a strange talisman shaped like a teardrop. When I took it back to camp, it seemed that I was suddenly being attacked by ghosts! I don't know what to do!" I gave the man a skeptical glance, pondering the situation. To me, the obvious solution would be to ditch this talisman thing.
     "Where is this teardrop shaped talisman?" I asked. The man hastily scrabbled in a backpack and produced a tiny, mud covered object on a dirty chain. I wrinkled my nose. He didn't even bother to clean the thing? I instructed Ral to set the talisman on a tree stump and I poured water over it, careful not to touch it. I definitely had no desire to end up haunted. The clear water worked wonders for cleaning up the talisman and the man suddenly gave a startled gasp. I looked at him, and his eyes were riveted to the talisman. "What's the problem now?" I asked. Ral reverently reached out and picked up the necklace, drying it on his tunic. He held it in front of him, staring as if he'd seen a ghost (no pun intended ha). I made an impatient motion with my hand and he blinked at me.
    "Oh! Uh, it's just, this looks so familiar..." He trailed off and frowned at the talisman. I peered at it as well. It was actually quite a pretty gemstone when cleaned. A brilliant blue sapphire set in some kind of silver filigree, attached to a silver chain. There were enchantments carved into the silver. I was by no means an expert on spells and enchantments, but it seemed they weren't meant for ill. Whatever the talisman had been used for, it definitely wasn't evil. "I've seen this before!" Ral exclaimed suddenly, and I barely resisted the urge to jump. I glared at him.
     "Well, where's it from? And why was it haunting you?" I asked impatiently after he just stood there like a lump.
     "Oh, right! The images here," he pointed to a tiny image at the corner of the point that the teardrop made at the top. I squinted and shrugged. "Well that icon is my family crest! This was a gift from my great grandfather to his bride!" He looked so full of reverence and wonder, that I couldn't help but get caught up in it as well, peering down at the pendant as if it held answers of times long ago.
     "That doesn't explain why there are ghosts haunting you though." I pointed out after a moment. Ral nodded, as if that made perfect sense.
      "My great grandmother died in these woods, actually. Her body was never found. The spirits could be angered because the talisman has gotten separated from her body. It must be nearby. My great grandfather couldn't find her to give her peace and a final rest, and he spent the rest of his days searching. It's all so tragic!" To my dismay, Ral started sniffling, and wiped at his eyes. I discretely moved a few paces away to let him pull himself together.
     "Are you ok?" I asked after a moment. Ral nodded, still sniffling, and I scoffed. "Well, if you wish, I'll help you find your great grandmother's bones and we can consecrate them so she can finally be put to rest and move on to the afterlife." His face lit up with joy and thankfulness the moment the words were out of my mouth, and he hastily grabbed his backpack, nodding.
     "Oh thank you my lady!" He exclaimed.
     "Ugh, stop that! My name is Raeslyn." I retorted, annoyed.

     We used the talisman as a sort of divining rod and were able to find a small cave across the creek, tucked away in a deep, dark alcove where no one would have thought to look otherwise. After a short eternity of slogging through mud and filth to the cave entrance, I stopped Ral and went in alone. Who knows what creepy crawlies would have made the cave home in the years since this happened? Of course, it appears I needn't have bothered. The cave was dry, and empty, and smelled like death and dust. My perfect Ascended sight could easily make out the twisted, painful looking female skeleton splayed out on the cave floor and I winced. Poor Ral. Speaking of, he shuffled up behind me despite my warning, and gasped at the sight of his great grandmother's bones. Reverently, he knelt and placed the talisman atop one twisted claw of a hand, and whispered a final farewell. He stood and stared at me, as if waiting for direction, and I rolled my eyes, before intoning a short, but heartfelt prayer to the gods to keep her soul safe as she passed from one world to the next. As I finished, a flickering, ghostly woman materialized in front of us, hovering over the bones. Ral gasped.

     "Thank you for freeing me." The spirit of Ral's great grandmother said, voice ethereal and soft. "First the rifts, than the slaughter. The creek ran red with blood...I was lost forever....now at least I have the locket that my husband gave me. Perhaps I shall find him again." Her bowed low, before her spirit disappeared, leaving a preternatural hush in the cave. Without saying a word, we both turned and left, trudging back across the small creek and up to the road again.

     Finally, in a soft voice, Ral said "Thank you for doing that Raeslyn. Knowing that she has found peace brings closure to an old, unfinished chapter in my family history." He sighed and rubbed a hand across his face, looking older than I'd guess him to be. "This proves that my family owns the mill here in Gloamwood. I know the Guardians were sent here to investigate the curse, and I can only hope that once it's all said and done, I'll have a chance to reclaim my family's property. I know that's what they would have wanted." He gazed across the way, back toward the cave, and I nodded.
     "I wish you luck." I said simply, and waved good bye before heading down the road toward my own destination. It felt good to help that man, I thought as I walked. It made me feel good inside, like I'd accomplished something grand. I guess even though people irritated me, it still gave me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment to aid those in need. And that's what the Guardians were all about. Someone had to step up and keep the people of Telara safe, and I wouldn't trust the Defiants to the task, so it had to be us. Me. I smiled to myself.

     My uplifted mood didn't last long, unfortunately. As soon as I entered Tearfall Run, Brother Jebiah accosted me.
     "Ascended! Come here, I have an important task for you!" He cried, dragging me over to his tent. I jerked away from him and scowled. "What do you want now, Jebiah?" I asked. I'd come here to speak to the spirit of the wood, not this fanatic.
     "Don't take that tone of voice with me, missy! You may be Ascended, but I have high rank in the Guardians, so you better watch yourself. The Vigil know their own." I glared at him. Whatever that meant. "We need to figure out what's going on with these werewolves. Why did those mill workers and Waykeepers turn into beasts like that?" He continued in a fervent voice, and I had to admit, that was a good question. I shrugged, and he rubbed his hands together. "To focus the power of the Vigil onto these evil, cursed creatures, we needed a few special ingredients. While you were off gallivanting all over the woodland, I was here creating a holy relic that we can use to destroy the darkness. We can use it to expose who is a werewolf in Gloamwood Pines and remove their taint from this wood finally!"

     "Yes, but they aren't just werewolves you know. They are sentient people! Telaran citizens! Under our protection!" I shot back. I could understand Jebiah's point of view, but how could I, in good conscious, force these people to change into those mindless beasts, and than slay them? That seemed beyond appalling. I don't know what the Vigil thought of that, but I definitely wasn't okay with slaughtering people simply because they'd been unwittingly cursed. "Just....just keep hold of that holy relic ok? I'm not saying I'm refusing to use it, but I would do anything I can to spare these people that fate." I whispered, keeping my voice low so I didn't alarm any of the Waykeepers around the camp. Jebiah stared at me, aghast, as if he couldn't comprehend the concept of finding a cure, or trying to save their souls. I gave him one last warning look before making my way to Laria's altar.

    "Welcome back, Raeslyn. I sensed you coming. I know you seek answers to many questions, and I fear I have them." The spirit of Laria looked grave and sad, her ethereal form wavering as if a strong breeze blew it. I nodded at her to continue.
     "Years ago, my sister and I lived happily in these woods. Then the Ward was breached. I fought the rifts while my sister bent them to her will. Twisted by death energy, she blamed the people of Gloamwood for my death, rather than the true evil, Regulos. This werewolf curse has the feel of her magic, but I don't know how to unravel it. My sister was always clever, creating new and darker spells as the battle went on. She would always write them down in a special diary. If you can find that, you might have a solution to the curse on Gloamwood. When last I was alive, we lived in Deepwood Cottage, to the southwest. She always worked her magics in the basement. I'm sorry, that is all I can give you." She looked genuinely upset and I cleared my throat.

    "No, it's okay Laria. Thank you for the information. I'm sorry to hear about what happened, and that your sister went down a dark path. But...I'm afraid she can't be saved now. I think the darkness has eaten her soul." I felt sad for poor Laria as her ghostly eyes filled with sparkling tears and she faded from sight. I sighed, feeling my spirits dampened. It seems everywhere I turn, Aedraxis has caused heartbreak and misery with his breaking of the Ward. Damn him!

     I told Fiona Leone where I was heading, just in case something happened...which I really hoped it didn't. But I wanted her to be caught up on what was going on. When I told her that the diary could contain a cure to lycanthropy, she looked so darn hopeful that I prayed to the Vigil I was right. I headed southwest as Laria instructed, and the tangle of the dark wood grew thicker and darker as I went. It was as if the very forest knew my goal and was trying to prevent it. Well, that could actually be true, I thought grimly. I'd also come to the realization that Laria's sister was the same "Hag" that the citizens of the Pines were so terrified of. It made sense.
     Eventually, the path became so narrow and convoluted and overgrown that I lost track of time and space. I was following little more than a deer trail, but there was no way I was giving up now, so close to having a real solution. Finally, I had to resort to using my least favorite daggers to cut my way through the undergrowth. Would it kill the witch to mow her lawn once in a while?
     I took a swipe with my dagger and met unresisting air, and was so startled, I tumbled out into a clearing. Looking around, I realized that I'd cut my way through the wood and seemed to have found a small, but well kept pathway. The pathway led up to an old, run down looking cottage, surrounded by what had to be at some point an incredibly beautiful garden. Now though, weeds, strange deadly looking plants, and small creatures made the ancient ruins their home. Even though the area was open to the sky, it still seemed thick and oppressive in the clearing, as if a darkness lay over the cottage that even broad daylight couldn't dispel. Well, this is it. I took a step, and was swept off my feet by a snarling savage animal bigger than I was. Panicked, I instinctively used my abilities and teleported through the planes to several feet away. I spun and saw a large, maddened werewolf with red eyes leering at me. Idiot! I cursed myself. Of course she'd have guards on her dwelling. I felt like an amateur.

     The werewolf stood up on its hind legs and sniffed the air. I eyed the long, five inch claws, and sincerely hoped that the lycanthropy curse couldn't be spread by the infected. My arm was stinging and I glanced down absently, shocked to see large tears in my jerkin. Blood sluggishly seeped through and dripped down my arm. Well, that explained the stinging. Now that I'd noticed it, the wound began throbbing in earnest. Ouch. I gingerly touched it, but then had to roll to the side to avoid another lunge by the werewolf. No time to tend the injury, I'd just have to let my Ascended nature heal it as best it could while I dealt with this threat. I threw aside the dagger I'd used on the forest; it was now dull and useless and sticky with tree sap, and drew my two favorite daggers, both gleaming with a fresh new coat of venom I'd painted on while in town. This werewolf might have once been a loved mother or son, but it wasn't anymore, and I needed to put an end to its misery. This time when it came at me, I spun to the side, daggers leading, and was satisfied when the beast gave a howl of agony. I kicked off it with my feet and landed sure footed higher up the path. Eyeing my dagger, I was quite satisfied to see a generous quantity of blood dripping off the blade. The beast roared in confusion and fury, but didn't lunge at my again, as if sensing the threat. Not as dumb as it looked, than. I feinted right, and the werewolf snarled, rushing at me. At the last moment, I turned left instead, and the creature's momentum ensured my dagger planted itself in its furred chest to the hilt. Still, it snarled and whipped toward me, lightning fast. A clawed arm bashed me across the face and I went flying backwards. My impromptu flight ended when I collided with a low hanging tree. All the air whooshed out of me and I saw stars.
    "Ah gods, that hurt." I moaned, and rolled over onto my side. I spit blood out from where I'd bitten my lip and groaned, blinking rapidly to dispel the dark spots in my vision. A dark growl nearby alerted me to the werewolf and I coughed, hastily scrambling to my feet. My entire body protested this idea, but I bulled through the pain until I was standing. I was relieved to see I was still holding onto my daggers. A lifetime of having it drilled into my head that a rogue without a weapon was a dead rogue ensured that nothing short of death would make me give them up. And even then, it wasn't a sure thing.

     The werewolf was weaving in place, snarling and digging at the wound in its chest, as if not quite understanding why there was pain. I didn't want the creature to suffer any more, but I didn't think I wanted to take another trip through the air, or get within reach of those deadly claws. Suddenly, the beast seized up, claws stiffening and curling inward. It gave a shudder, and collapsed forward. I stood a moment, unsure if it was really dead. The fur shimmered, before melting away, leaving a bloody human in its place. Well, now I know for sure it was dead. They always reverted back upon death. Slowly, achingly, I sheathed my daggers, and bent to pick up the dulled one. My ribs gave a painful twinge as I did so, a reminder that, Ascended I may be, but that didn't make me immune to damage. I peered again at my arm. The bleeding was slowing down to nearly nothing, and the gaping slices seemed to be slowly closing. Thank the Vigil for that. I grabbed a spare piece of linen out of my belt pouch and tied it around my arm to help it along, before approaching the former werewolf. The now woman's lips were tinged a dark purple, as well as the open eyes, a symptom of the particular poison I favor. I squatted down and dropped another piece of linen over her eyes, whispering a prayer to the Vigil. Twisted by the curse she may be, but she was still a child of the gods. Now more than ever, I couldn't wait to get my hands on that diary.

     I managed to avoid gaining the attention of other werewolf sentries, and several traps no doubt set by the Hag to catch unwary visitors, and entered the dark interior of the cottage. The place smelled horrid, like old must and death. Not a pleasant place to live, that's for sure. The cottage was simply designed so it was easy to take a quick glance around to discover the door that led to the basement. It creaked open and I winced. Hopefully no one heard that. As I descended the old stone steps, the temperature seemed to plummet drastically and I half expected to see my breath with each exhalation. On the bottom step, I glanced around. The basement was just a single stone room, very crude. There was a large demonic circle painted into the center of the floor, and a creepy looking altar against one wall. Bookshelves also lined the walls, and bones were strewn across the floor. I didn't look too closely at that last bit. Carefully I walked across to the altar, and spied an ancient, worn looking book sitting on the very edge. Aha! That must be it. I reached for the diary, but hesitated. It seemed so easy suddenly. I stared hard at the diary, the altar, around the room. I tried calling up my Ascended powers to try and find any hidden trap or snare. Nothing. Still, I felt like there was something sinister at work here. Slowly, I grabbed hold of the diary, and than danced away from the altar, as if expecting it to burst into flames, or for the floor to give way. When nothing happened, my rapidly beating heart slowed and I let out the breath I'd been holding. I tucked the diary firmly into the bottom of my belt pouch and raced back up the stairs, suddenly inexplicably eager to be gone from this place. At the top of the basement steps, I crashed to a halt when I realized that there was a fire glowing merrily in the hearth across the way. There hadn't been a fire when I'd first entered the cottage. As if in slow motion, my eyes moved to the left, and dread abruptly washed over me. There was an old woman dressed all in black standing beside the fire.
     "Oh gods." I murmured. I drew my daggers and edged toward the door, keeping my eyes on the figure. The old woman seemed to watch me with amiable disinterest, that is, until I reached the doorway. Her voice rent the still air of the cottage, nearly causing me to yelp.

    "Welcome dearie. You look lost. Why don't you please come closer? My eyes aren't what they used to be, after all." Despite the rather innocent sounding words, a sharp steel seemed to thread through her voice, as if she dared me to make a break for the exit. I hesitated, every instinct screaming to make a run for it. But this ancient woman knew curses and hexes that I'd never even dreamed of, and I really didn't want any aimed at me. Besides, I had to confess to a certain....curiosity. Cursing myself for a fool, I slowly walked across the room to stand on the other side of the fire. The old woman peered at me with eyes that looked as sharp as mine. "There now, isn't that better, young one?" She asked, a mocking edge in her tone. I kept my expression blank and stared back silently. The woman croaked out a laugh and gestured to a table.
     "Can I interest you in a cup of hot gloamseed tea perhaps?" Her eyes glittered with cold malevolence. "That is...if you're brave enough to have a drink with a strange old woman." Her gaze pinned me and I had to wrench my eyes away to look down at the table, where two cups of steaming hot liquid sat innocently. A trap! This was a trap all along. Of course she'd know if someone entered her sacred home. And now she was just toying with me. I swallowed, feeling my mouth go dry. Her dark aura was very strong indeed, making me uneasy. The diary seemed to weigh twice as much in my pack. Feeling like my feet were leaden, I took a step backward. The woman watched me, looking amused. Suddenly, her expression changed to one of wicked intent, a sneer pulling her wrinkled lips upward.

     "Let me commend you for your efforts in the wood, but I'm afraid I can't let you go any further. Oh, don't fret dearie, I have something special planned for you, something that will make those pathetic worms in Gloamwood Pines thankful that the curses they bear are not yours." I felt my eyes go wide and I dredged up the energy to take another step back. Oh gods, oh gods, need to get out of here! I turned and ran for the door, just as a wave of dark magic washed over me. I stumbled out and kept running for the treeline, my mind running through all sorts of horrible scenarios involving dark magic. What had she done to me? I hated magic! And this is why!

     I was deep into the thick woods before I slowed and managed to get a handle on myself. Panting, I glanced behind, and tried my best to listen for any pursuit. Although why would she bother when she'd already attacked. I realized my hands were shaking and I clenched them into fists, smacking a nearby leafy tree. I felt weird. Not like she'd described, but definitely weird. Furious for no real reason. My skin felt prickly. Itchy and superheated. My fingers felt numb. What had that wretched hag done to me?

     'Come on Rae, pull yourself together.' I commanded myself, and rubbed my face, then winced suddenly when I felt my nails drag and catch on the skin of my cheek. Pulling my hand away, I stared in horror. My nails were longer. And pointed. And holy messengers of the Vigil, was that fur on my knuckles?? I lurched forward and fell to my knees. No, no, no! I was not going to turn into one of those mindless werewolves. No! But despite my wishes to the contrary, I watched with fearful fascination as my hands slowly sprouted thick brown fur while my nails lengthened into wicked looking claws. How the hells was I supposed to explain this to the Guardians?