Sunday, August 31, 2014

[Special Feature] VIII: Alsbeth Rothmann

     After doing some research into the notorious villain Alsbeth, I realized that she didn't exactly have the best childhood ever. But does that justify her treachery and betrayal of Telara and all living beings on it? I hardly think so!

     Alsbeth Rothmann was born to a fairly minor nobles' family and lived in the countryside of the Mathosian Kingdom. Her ancient ancestor, Phynnious Rothmann, was the first pyromancer mage and helped bring down the Age of Dragons. The family line went steadily downhill since that glorious time, ending in shame and dishonor when Alsbeth's father murdered her mother in front of her for adultery. Her father was then executed for murder and young Alsbeth, little more than a child, was left without a home or family when her uncle inherited the estate and promptly kicked her out of the household.
     When Queen Lenia Mathos, husband of Jostir Mathos, learned of the girl's fate, she took Alsbeth in out of pity, ensuring she was cared for and received the best education at court as a state ward. Alsbeth was quiet at court, pale-skinned, dark haired, and shy. She spent her time reading books of magic and enchantment in the library or walking through the castle gardens. After the queen died of an incurable disease, Alsbeth lost her only advocate in court and fell into the shadows, since the king hardly had time for a homeless orphan.

     When she was old enough, Alsbeth and the other children at court were sent to the esteemed Quicksilver College in Silverwood, home of the Elves. There, she quickly won popularity with the professors and other students with her skill at magic and her ability to learn anything put to her. Her accomplishments at school earned her as much a place in everyone's eyes as Asha's behavior, albeit for different reasons. Alsbeth grew slightly resentful of Asha, who never took her studies seriously despite her intelligence and quick mind. Asha rebelled against the rules constantly. Once Asha was expelled, Alsbeth took full reign over the school, rising to the top of the ranks as best student. She returned to the court of Mathos a powerful and skillful mage.
    After conflict arose between Jostir's two sons over the throne, Alsbeth found herself having to choose a side. Everyone was certain she would side with King Aedraxis since Asha immediately sided with her secret crush, Zareph, but Zareph appeared to have won her over and she rode to Thedeor Field in his honor guard. Alsbeth fought bravely and valiantly in Zareph's army and her name, along with Shyla, Borrin, Carwin and Cyril, became songs and legend among the rebel forces. When the rifts swallowed the battlefield, Alsbeth died with everyone else. None were surprised when the Messengers of the Vigil raised her as Ascended with the rest of the heroes of Thedeor Field. Along with other Ascended, Alsbeth helped Zareph lead refugees to Port Scion for safety. There she spent years as a seemingly loyal and steadfast friend and advocate of Zareph's rule, and a defender of the city.

     So it came as the greatest shock when she betrayed them all to Regulos. The stories of Alsbeth Rothmann as the greatest and bravest mage of this age stopped. Instead, she gained the reputation and title of Alsbeth the Discordant. She tricked both the Guardians and the Defiant, setting up such a masterful turn of events that the city fell in but one day. To this day, her treacherous taking of the city is one of the most horrendous deeds done by a Telaran. If not for the heroic sacrifice of Zareph Mathos, the taint of the largest death rift seen yet would have consumed the entirety Silverwood and Freemarch both in a matter of days. After the city fell, the Guardians blamed the Defiants' magitech abominations for the loss of their beloved prince and the Defiant blamed the Guardians for ignorantly or perhaps even purposely harboring such a treacherous snake as Alsbeth. What use were the gods to them if they couldn't even tell the difference between a loyal follower and a hidden cultist? If not for Alsbeth's horrendous betrayal, the two factions could have found common ground and launched an effective joint assault on the planar threat.

     Now Alsbeth is a formidable necromancer of untold power, allied with Regulos and leading his forces on Telara. She is still Ascended and manipulates events from the shadows, making multiple attempts across Mathosia to disrupt the Defiant and Guardian forces and bring her dark master back to the material plane.
     Alsbeth is seen multiple times throughout the Ascended's journey to protect Telara, unleashing death rifts, horrifying hoards of undead and planar monster monsters, as well as powerful and sinister demons from the Plane of Death.

     Alsbeth was finally dealt with by the Ascended when Regulos tasked her with creating a device that would locate and take souls with untold power out of the Soulstream to serve him on Telara. Specifically, he was looking for strong, powerful souls to head his army of undead invaders. After his physical form was shattered, he lost the ability to do it himself and so enlisted Alsbeth's aid, although it's implied by him that her near success at this task surprised even Regulos. Working with Plutonus, the architect of the device, Alsbeth was able to summon a powerful being called Gaurath. Seeking petty revenge against her nemesis Asha, she also summoned Zareph Mathos's soul, binding his will to her. To her surprise though, Zareph's love and loyalty allowed him to fight off her control. Alsbeth then begged her master to grant her the power to destroy the Ascended that had journeyed to the River of Souls themselves to stop her, but he denied her, having grown tired of her failures on Telara and empty promises. After her ultimate defeat at the hands of the Ascended and Zareph, Regulos snatched up her soul before it could enter the Soulstream, promising eternal torment as her "reward".

     Why did she suddenly betray the Guardians in the first place, you wonder? Alsbeth is ambitious, selfish, and narcissistic. She thinks only of herself and her own benefit, believing she deserves what she can get her hands on because of her incredible magical abilities. She enjoys causing trouble for others and winning competitions and it drove her mad that Asha was more skilled and advanced at college although Asha didn't even need to apply herself to study-her abilities came naturally to her. Anytime the two of them teamed up in college, Alsbeth would set the blame for any wrongdoing on Asha. It frustrated her no end that Asha didn't even seem to mind. When it had become known that Asha had been plucked from the Soulstream by their old court tutor Orphiel Farwind, the hatred grew uncontrollable. Seeking plans to topple Asha's new perch, Alsbeth unknowingly opened herself up to the lure of power that Regulos offered and embraced him wholeheartedly. Later, she saw her chance to strike and toppled two birds with the price of one stone, forever causing a rift between the two factions and denying Asha her love of Zareph as the summoning of the rift in Port Scion ended with his death.


References: So, Alsbeth is a rather interesting character, and while it's hard to pin down her true motives, I'm pretty confident I've got her pegged. I was able to gain clues of her early history by reading the books in game on both her and Asha, as well as completing quests in the early zones and by doing a run through of the River of Souls Chronicle. In a way, I kind of feel bad for her. She had a rough life, and it made her into a sour and bitter person. It didn't help that Asha seemed so perfect and yet blew off every effort to actually learn anything. I can't help but wonder what would be different if Alsbeth had actually had a real friend while in court and later in college, instead of just underlings who she impressed with her magical ability. Maybe if she had someone to talk to...? Oh well I guess it's too late now. I think at some point I'd like to write a fanfiction story about that what if though. Could be fun!
     Anyway, you can find information on Alsbeth by reading the Alsbeth book and Asha Catari book, as well as talking to NPC's relevant to her storyline, and of course the raid and the chronicle River of Souls.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

[Karazhan's Story] 2.16: The Burning City

      "Hey there pretty lady. Name's Tremaine and I'm a Knight Marshal. Anything I can...help you with?" The man who stepped in front of me when I made to enter the command tent was powerfully built and had a voice that demanded you pay attention. I stared at him levelly as he gave me a flirtatious grin. It was flattering to be called pretty in a way, but I also knew he'd deliberately prevented my forward progress. I suppose it was smart to make sure that not just anyone could walk in and kill their leader if they had a mind to it. I stepped back a pace so that I wasn't so close to "Tremaine". He was actually pretty big for an Eth, tall and heavily muscled, wearing heavy armor that was the norm for warriors and paladins. I put on my best "I'm in this war too and I mean business" expression.

     "Hello yourself. I've news for your leader, as well as an offering of aid and I heard he resides in this tent. I wish no one harm and I'm a member of the Defiants." I tilted my head slightly and made a casual motion toward the Defiants insignia on the lapel of my new robes. The red and gold rising phoenix glimmered in the afternoon sun. Tremaine raised one eyebrow and looked me over with a new eye, as if appraising whether I was telling the truth or not. Not that he'd actually be able to, since he wasn't a caster or someone who'd spent years studying the arts like I had. He grunted.
     "As you wish then." He finally said, drawing the words out. He swept aside the tent flap and called out a warning ahead of me before grandly bowing with one hand. "After you, pretty lady." He finished with a grin, waggling his eyebrows. I rolled my eyes. Warriors.
    
     Inside the tent, the air was slightly cooler and seemed free of smoke. A tiny glowing talisman on a central table was the answer for that. I could sense the magical power emanating from the device and had to stop myself from picking it up and poking at it magically. I was here for something more pressing. The man perusing a scroll to the left of the table had to be March Warden Denegar. He wore several medals and insignias of office and station and his clothing was more ceremonial. He carried a large two-handed sword across his back and looked exhausted. I felt a surge of sympathy for the March Wardens, who were desperately trying to protect their home and who were still conflicted on whether it was a good decision to turn their backs on the Vigil they'd long worshiped in favor of the more heretical and scientifically minded Defiants. He placed the scroll on the table with a grimace as I walked up.

     "Ah, a Defiant." He said. He glanced briefly at Tremaine, who gave a short nod. "I'm March Warden Denegar, but than you probably already know that. If you wouldn't mind introducing yourself my lady?" He smiled politely and distantly at me.
     "Oh yes. My name is Karazhan. I was resurrected by Sylver Valis as one of his engineered Ascended and have been helping with the troubles in Freemarch." I paused a moment as Denegar blinked in surprise at the word Ascended. His face went through several emotions; fear, awe, worry, disappointment. I could understand how he felt. It seemed that suddenly history was being made right here and no matter what happened, we, Sylver's creations, would always be remembered, even if our Guardian counterparts would rather we didn't exist. It made me feel giddy and elated and scared all at once to be part of such an important event in history.

     "Karazhan. A Defiant Ascended." The March Warden said slowly, as if he wasn't sure if he liked the sound of that. I gave a slight shrug, trying to appear casual. "I never thought I'd ever see an Ascended." He continued, and stared me in the eyes for several seconds before looking away. I dropped my own eyes to the magical air clearing device, feeling the sudden awkwardness. I stubbornly refused to let myself feel ashamed for existing. For being an affront to the gods. If they hadn't been so unrelenting and unbending in their views of mortal circumstances, we Kelari would never have broken from them. We wouldn't have gone to the Isles. I would never have been reborn as a constructed being made entirely out of magitech and sourcestone. An abomination in the eyes of the Vigil and the Guardians who followed them. But then, I wonder how different the world would have been if that hadn't happened. If Sylver hadn't made his own engineered Ascended replicated from the Vigil's chosen warriors. Well actually I didn't need to wonder, I already knew. The apocalypse I'd avoided by traveling through time was not something I'd ever forget.
     So I lifted my chin higher and steeled my jaw.

     "You know, when the Defiants arrived in Freemarch, they offered their help against the cult." Denegar spoke, filling the strained silence that followed. I quirked an eyebrow. He grimaced and looked older and more exhausted than before and I felt another surge of sympathy despite his almost unfriendly comment. "But I dismissed them. Why would we need help? We rose up against Jakub the Tyrant in the olden times and we retook our lands then. We were strong and we ruled ourselves justly. I was aghast at the Defiant's talk of the gods' failure. Such heresy I thought! And now..." He trailed off and gestured helplessly around him. He didn't have to say anything more. I knew what Freemarch faced. Of course, how was he to know all this would happen? And how to react to the ever changing circumstances of the world's politics.
     "Freemarch isn't alone anymore." I said in reply when he didn't say anything more. "The Defiant are your allies, and I'm here to help you take back Smith's Haven. So what can I do?" I put the offer out there bluntly, willing him to see the deadly sincerity in my voice and in my eyes. I wanted to protect the people of Freemarch just as much as he did. I couldn't bear to just watch the suffering of so many innocent people when I could do something to help. March Warden Denegar chuckled with grim amusement.
     "What an age this is. The Age of the Ascended." He mused, speaking barely loud enough to be heard. My greater sense of hearing picked out the words clearly though and I rolled the words around in my mind. The Age of Ascended, huh? I liked the sound of that. Indeed it was our age. And we'd show those crazed Blood Storm gods that we wouldn't tolerate their manipulation and wickedness anymore.

     "I thank you for coming to help Smith's Haven, Karazhan. You may not be the Ascended we were foretold would come, but you have stepped in to aid us, where the Guardians and the Vigil did not. While we managed to get many of the city's civilians to safety, others are still trapped inside. My second in command is also in there. We haven't been able to keep in touch with those still trapped behind the enemy lines, but if I know Ted Powell, he'll have holed up in the supply cave we carved into the side of the hill a long time ago. If you could help him get the remaining people back here to safety, we can attack the enemy in the city without concern of hurting our own." I frowned thoughtfully. Denegar stooped down over the map and began pointing out positions on the city map, letting me know where his scouts had reported the heaviest concentration of cultists, where the supply cave was, and what buildings were so damaged that to venture near them was too dangerous. I mapped out a route that would take me to the cave, and a possible escape route back out, but it was hard to predict an accurate escape route when I didn't know how many people were trapped inside and in what condition they were in. Denegar also didn't know if any were injured, or elderly. Apparently the takeover of Smith's Haven was so brutal and fast that the wardens were left scrambling to retreat.

     "Alright. It seems straight forward, and I know what to do. If I see any of those cultists or any undead I'll make sure to say hi for you." I said neutrally. Denegar grinned in approval. "You're alright, for a Defiant." He said finally. I felt my lips stretch into a wide smile. "I'm so glad you approve." I quipped back. I straightened up and stretched, feeling sore muscles loosen up a bit. Even Ascended needed rest now and again apparently, I thought ruefully. Denegar saw my wince. "Rest up a bit first and get something to eat. It wouldn't do to wander into that death trap without being on full alert." I agreed gratefully and wandered back outside. Knight Marshal Tremaine followed me out and took up a stance outside the tent flap again, giving me a jaunty wave as I moved over to a communal soup cauldron in the center of the camp. Since it was mainly a military camp, I wasn't expecting much in the way of nourishment but I vowed I wouldn't be fussy as long as it was hot. After all, they had to feed all these poor refugees from the city as well, and who knows what kind of state their supplies were in and when they would get any relief or aid from neighboring towns or Meridian. I remember vaguely that one of the Unseen had made mention that there were reports of Smith's Haven burning, so they had gotten the news before I left, but it was still a day's travel at least to way out here. I know they have those portal ways that allowed travel in the blink of an eye but I would imagine arriving in the middle of a burning city wasn't ideal so they had to travel the mundane way to reach the city.

     "A bowl of the soup please." I requested of the middle aged woman pouring bowls of soup for people. There were black smudges on her face and her skirt was half burnt away, but her eyes were fierce and determined. The people of Freemarch were brave and hardy. She handed me a crudely made wooden bowl of some type of vegetable soup. It didn't look like the best meal I'd ever eaten, but it was hot and it smelled good, so I settled down under a patch of shade, resting my staff at my side.

     After I'd eaten my fill--downed too quickly to truly enjoy it since the sight of the burning city instilled haste in my actions--I washed off my utensils with water from my flask and handed it back to the woman at the cauldron with a murmur of thanks. I walked toward the little bridge and destroyed gate that led to Smith's Haven and studied it, considering if it was best to try and dash through the flames licking at the gate, or if I should just climb up the wall. Both prospects seemed like a great deal of effort. The Endless Court sure knew what they were doing by starting the fires closest to the gate to make it nearly impossible for anyone to get in or out.

     "You're not thinking of going in there, are you?" Asked a somewhat disbelieving voice behind me. I turned around and spotted a fairly young Kelari maiden standing a little to my left. She was wearing long red robes like the Meridian scientists but hers had no markings or badges of rank. An apprentice perhaps? I smiled at her.
     "Maybe I am. Someone needs to show the Endless that we're not just going to sit down and take this." I replied. The girl looked gleeful and worried all at once and I felt touched that she was concerned for me.
     "Just don't get in trouble cause we won't even be able to hear you scream for help, k?" The girl said, and a corner of her mouth quirked up. I smiled back. "Oh hey, here take this!" She added on suddenly, and stepped up to me, pressing a large cold canister into my hands. I stared down at it. It was a strangely shaped jar, ice cold to the touch and seemed to be fogged up with condensation.
     "What is it?" I asked the girl after studying the object a moment. She was shorter than me by quite a bit and I ended up looking down at her, which made me uncomfortable. I stepped back a pace.
     "It's a holding canister for water elementals. It's my research project for Meridian. If we could capture the weaker elemental creatures and keep them contained until required for something specific, it would be very beneficial to the war effort." The girl said this in a straight, earnest voice, rattling off the sentence as if she'd practiced it. I studied the jar again. An elemental? "This one is a water elemental. I captured it on the way here when a rift into the plane of water exploded around us. The Wardens are pretty good at fighting off planar foes and while they were busy I scooped this one up and sealed it in that canister. It might be mad when it gets out though, but the opposing elements seem attracted to each other like magnets so if you release it inside the city, the elemental will be drawn to the fires and you can use it to maybe put out some fires if your in trouble, or to help someone who might be trapped by burning debris."
     "Wow. Color me impressed!" I exclaimed after her little explanation. "This'll be very helpful, thank you." I added sincerely. The girl beamed.
     "Good luck! You're going to need it. I hope you can get the rest of them out to safety." She waved at me and walked away from the searing heat coming from the gate.

     I tucked the elemental vial into my belt and scowled at the blazing doors. Being from the hot tropical isles inured me to heat and high temperatures, but this was on another level and already I felt uncomfortable.

    Once I'd gingerly picked my way past the burning wreckage of the town gate, I recalled the map to mind and stayed left, following the main streets as much as possible. The visibility was low due to smoke and flames and there was debris and burning buildings on either side. Every so often I forced myself to stop and stand still despite the oppressive heat and listen for any cries of help or anything suspicious. I dreaded the possibility that there were poor victims still trapped inside any of those buildings, helplessly burning alive when I could have done something. It made me very cold inside down to my toes despite the incredible heat bearing down on me. Despite the heavy smoke, I found that breathing wasn't too difficult as long as I took slow breaths. It must have been something to do with the nature of my new sourcestone body. I didn't complain. Having smoke inhalation problems on top of everything else seemed like a recipe for disaster. And a horrible way to die.

     I passed several tall buildings, one of them looked to be an Inn. The stables for the horses and other mounts was nothing but a towering inferno of yellow hot flames. I really hoped there were no animals inside. Finally I stopped in a relatively clear area, when the main road had gotten smaller and seemed to weave between houses instead of holding a firm straight line. I called up my magic and attuned my senses to my surroundings. Using just the raw essence of the magic, I quested out, searching for signs of life. To my dismay I found plenty of dark dots around the town. They were dark violet at the core, denoting that their souls were tainted by evil. Those must be the damn cultists. Searching further, I widened my inner gaze and brushed up against the rocky mountains that bisected Freemarch here. Aha, Denegar had said the refugees were trapped within a supply cave carved into the side of the hill. I "felt" along the hill with my magic until I finally found a whole mess of life signatures. Most of the dots were in hues of gold and white, denoting good, honest souls. Found them.

     I recalled my magic back to myself and felt a slight twinge in my temples. Using raw magic that way always took a lot out of the caster. I'd learned the trick a long time ago by accident when I'd been part of a search for a lost child in the jungle outside Atia. Since than I'd learned to hone the skill. It made it very handy in finding signs of life in areas, but it was also very strenuous on the mind so I didn't like to use it often. Apparently even being Ascended didn't make me immune to the rigors of magic use. I rubbed my temples to help relieve the ache. At least I knew that the townsfolk still seemed to be alive and ok. Just trapped in the cave since the town was crawling with cultists and ordinary townspeople were trained to fight, let alone fight a bunch of insane Regulos worshippers and their undead pets.

     I don't know how long it actually took me to reach the little cave where the trapped citizens were hiding out. A few times I ran into cultists and had to quickly end them before they could call out and warn others that I was here. It wasn't exactly a pleasant task. They were still people after all, but they had sided with the Destroyer so their fate was sealed. I also quickly threw nets of power and electric magic at the many undead I came across, disabling them and ending their miserable caricature of living. I think of all the vast and evil threats to the world, the undead bothered me the most. They truly were abominations on Telara. Not alive, not truly dead, they had no right to even exist. That the cultists used them like well trained hounds bothered me even more, and I had to hope that their souls weren't somehow buried deep in their rotting flesh, yoked to mindless slavery for their dark cause.

    When I climbed over the makeshift barricade barring entrance into the cave, I found myself face to face with a whole lot of spears and pitchforks. Immediately I put both hands in the air and froze.

    "Who are you, and what are you doing here?" Demanded their leader, a tall dark skinned man in warden colors.

    "Hi, I'm Karazhan, a Defiant. Are you Ted Powell? I was sent in here by March Warden Denegar to help get the rest of the civilians out of Smith's Haven so they can commence their attack. I'm on your side, I swear." I said by way of greeting. I kept my expression open and earnest. The warden peered at me with narrowed eyes, before slowly lowering his beautifully carved spear. Everyone else had rather crude weapons that looked to have been hastily strung together from whatever supplies they could scavenge.

     "The March Warden sent you? Than he got out ok?" Ted exclaimed. His face looked ten times younger when he suddenly grinned in relief. "Boy am I glad to hear that! And thank you for coming to our aid. I was beginning to think we'd been forgotten about. But..." he trailed off and peered behind me a moment, looking perplexed. I chuckled at his confusion.
     "Don't worry, I'm all you need. I can protect us while we escape." I said in a neutral tone of voice. It wasn't boasting after all if it was true. Ted peered at me again, looking wary and suspicious. Then his eyes widened.
     "Oh! You're one of those engineered Ascended?! We'd just gotten word from Meridian of Sylver's success when we were attacked by the Endless Court. Wow, a real life Ascended." He tried to casually dust off his torn and burnt clothes, as if trying to make a good impression on me.
     "Trust me, it's not as glamorous as it seems." I offered wryly. "Now how many people do you have here, and when do you want to leave, cause frankly, I'm sick of this place already." I asked, lifting one eyebrow and gesturing behind me. Ted considered the cave entrance a moment as he mentally counted.
     "We have about fifteen of us. There's a few kids and elderly though and everyone's been effected by the smoke. We need to get them out of here before it gets worse." Ted replied grimly, down to business. I nodded gravely in understanding. He led me to the back of the cave where the rest of them were and I glanced among them. All the civilians seemed to perk up upon spotting me, most of them scrambling to their feet with hope on their dirty faces. I put on a confident smile for them.

     "Hello everyone. I know you've had a hard couple of days, but it isn't over yet. We're going to be leaving now and going to a camp that March Warden Denegar has set up outside Smith's Haven. There you can get fresh food and water as well as have medics tend to your injuries. We just need to get there first. I won't lie, it's going to be risky. There's a lot of cultists between there and here, but if we stick together and protect each other, we should be fine. This is our only chance, so are you ready?" I meant the question rhetorically, because whether they were ready or not, we were leaving, but the roar of approval that greeted me was a bit startling. I felt a tight feeling inside, kind of like pride, and my smile grew wider. I nodded at Ted and went to stand by their little barricade as he organized the group for travel. He knew them better then I did and would be able to better equip them and prepare them for the run through the burning city.

     After some time Ted came up beside me and informed me they were ready. I took a deep breath.
     "Stay close everyone, and look out for each other. Keep an eye on those nearby and make sure they don't get into trouble. If something happens, keep your voice low but try to alert the rest of us as soon as possible. It's going to be dangerous, but you are people of Freemarch and I know you're brave souls. Your ancestors beat Jakub the Tyrant after all. Don't hesitate to use your weapons to defend your friends." I glanced among them, memorizing their dirty uplifted faces, than turned and slipped between the barricade with ease. My strength and agility had definitely increased since being placed in this new body. A lot of it was in fact the body itself, but the addition of the sourcestone matrix and the power of the other souls lent me increased physical attributes that I'd never had before, being a scholarly, indoor mage type.

     The run back through the city became a blur to my memory. It was just one jumbled haze of fire and smoke and worry. At one point, the young Kelari scientists elemental canister saved us when a burning building exploded next to us, showing flames and burning wood down among the group. A young child and a man ended up pinned by flaming beams and half the group was trapped behind a wall of fire. The water elemental, when released, almost attacked me but the pull of fire, it's direct opposite in elemental power, lured it toward the flames and the water elemental smothered the flames, allowing myself and Ted and two others to pull the beam off the injured townsfolk and gather up our scattered group. We couldn't treat the injuries there, not with no supplies and in the open in what was now enemy territory, but none were life threatening so we just continued on. To my great regret, we did lose someone. A young boy who had been struggling to the side of the group, coughing from black smoke. An undead fiend with red eyes leapt out of a shadowy alcove and snatched up the boy, impaling him on a rusted sword before anyone could even realize the attack had happened. Of course all the townsfolk descended upon the fiend, stabbing and slashing, before my pure weather magic ended its abominable existence. We spent a few moments in hushed mourning before the risk of staying grew too great and we were forced to press onward, leaving the tiny mangled body behind. Even though he was the only life lost, I felt such bitter regret when we finally reached the town gate and I could smell the fresh air. Tears prickled my eyelids. That poor innocent little soul. I've never hated anything so much in life as I did the Endless Court right than. Them, Regulos, and that horrid snake Alsbeth. If she had appeared right then in front of me, I would have done my best to rent her limb from limb, no matter what anyone thought or her pleas for mercy.

    "I'm so sorry." I said to Ted as I led him toward Denegar's tent. We'd deposited the citizens in the capable hands of the warden's military healers and they were now being treated for their various injuries. Smoke inhalation seemed to be the most serious, although the man who'd been pinned by the beam ended up with a pretty bad concussion and a broken arm as well as bruised ribs. He was lucky. Again I felt grief well up as I saw the boy in my mind's eye. Ted clapped me on the arm and his face grew serious and grave.
     "Karazhan, don't be. You saved us. If you hadn't gone in there and led us back out, who even knows if any of us would have survived. It wasn't your fault, what happened, and I'm just grateful the rest of us are safe. Thank you." He peered into my dark eyes and I took a deep breath of the clean air. The nearby river, fed by the sea, brought the smell of brine and salt with the breeze, clearing my lungs of the heavy smoke-filled air.
    "Still..." I shook my head. No matter I knew Ted's words were true, I couldn't help the self-disgust I felt. I'd had a job and I felt like I'd failed it, failed them, failed myself. Just the very idea of losing even one person to those accursed cults made hot anger and bitter sorrow well up within me. Warm and comforting touches seemed to press upon my mind and I dropped my mental shields slightly to allow the other souls to comfort me as best they could.

     "March Warden, I've returned." I announced when I entered the tent after winking at Knight Marshal Tremaine outside. He'd gawked at me and Ted, as if shocked to even see me alive, let alone that I'd succeeded. Denegar's head jerked up at my voice and he immediately rounded the table, hugging Ted like they were old comrades. And maybe they were. This town, in fact all of Freemarch, had a history that I hadn't been part of. I shook the thought away before it made me feel even more depressed. Did Ascended have issues with mental health? I wonder if the medics had experience with dealing with mentally scarred, depressed Ascended beings.
    I shook my head again and brought myself firmly back to the present, in time to hear the last of Ted's explanation of what had happened in Smith's Haven. Denegar looked saddened at the loss of the boy, but turned a grateful smile on me.

    "Thank you so very much, Lady Karazhan." March Warden Denegar praised me. He came forward and stuck out his hand in the southern custom. I awkwardly shook it, before inclining my head politely.
     "You're welcome. You're people are very brave, March Warden. You should be proud of them." I offered, surprised that I actually meant it. They had been brave. And loyal. None had run or hid when the building had exploded, or when the fiend had attacked. "But I'm sick of just reacting. I'm sick of those cultists thinking they can just do whatever the hells they please with our land. I won't allow Freemarch to fall to Regulos. It's time I take this fight directly to them. And I know now where they are." I turned my eyes outside the tent flap, where the towering dark spires of the Iron Fortress seemed to loom in sinister silence over the fallen city.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

[Lore] XXX: Gloamwood

     Gloamwood is the sister forest to Silverwood, and once was jus as sacred and shining a wonder of Telara as Silverwood still is. Unfortunately, it had fallen to darkness and evil over time, like a simmering surface beneath the crust waiting for the opportune moment to explode. That opportunity was the weakening of the Ward and the release of the death rifts at Thedeor and Port Scion. After that fateful day, death rifts sprang up all over the old country and the newly created Guardians were hard pressed to defend their own lands, let alone send out reinforcements for the other various regions of Telara. It wasn't until they were able to bring some semblance of order and victory to Silverwood and others that they turned their eyes to the farther reaches of the Mathosian continent. By then it was too late, Gloamwood had already succumbed to the evils of the rifts. The protectors of the wood, Laria and her sister Delilah-daughters of Athana, and from a long line of Druids-stood against the planar abominations for as long as they could until, tragically, Laria was killed by riftspawn. In fury and grief, Delilah struck out at any she thought were to blame for her beloved sister's death. This included the people of Gloamwood, who she felt did nothing to aid the sisters in their quest to protect the wood. She was a mage who dealt in dark magic herself and swore revenge upon the people of Gloamwood in retaliation for her sister's death, not knowing that she herself was falling further into the grasp of Regulos, master of the plane of death. At one point, Delilah fell so far into the clutches of death magic that it twisted her features into that of an old crone to reflect the evil of her spirit. And thus she became known as the Hag to the people of the wood, and her curses and hexes became well known afflictions. The people of Gloamwood Pines, fearing further retribution from the powerful sorceress, refused aid from the Guardians and the Sanctuary Guard sent from Sanctum to secure the forest. They believed that outside interference would only make their own situation worse, and they refused to co operate. As well, they hid the dark secret of one curse in particular, the curse of lycanthropy, which turned the innocent citizens of Gloamwood into mindless, ravening werewolves if triggered.
     Another such curse is the one that haunts the Solemn family and their estate. Their once proud line can be easily traced back to the founding fathers of Gloamwood Pines. Yet what is not clear is how their family became cursed with undeath. Whenever one of the Solemn family dies, their spirit does not pass into the Soulstream like all other souls in Telara, but instead becomes bound to the Solemn family estate. As time passes, they degenerate into mindless spirits that wander those hills for eternity. Yet others of the clan have returned as vengeful specters, exacting their hatred on any who trespass on family land.

      Furtho Dragomir warns any Ascended who venture into Gloamwood "Lately I've had my hands full trying to quell disturbances that outsiders such as you have brought to my fair town. So this is a fair warning: Tread carefully in these woods, for they have a way of dealing with troublesome folk."
     Gloamwood Pines was once the jewel of the wood, but now it serves as a lone refuge from the horrors that assault it each day. The small military presense in Gloamwood has been relegated to a spot far outside of town, as the townfolk refuse to allow Sanctum so much sway over their home. They believe it will incite the goblins into a full scale attack on the town.

     Sun dappled Silverwood can lure newly returned Ascended into a false confidence that while creatures of the rifts are fearsome, they can be stopped before they wreak havoc on Telara. But na├»ve heroes see the havoc first hand when their quests lead them deep into Gloamwood. For this is a deeper, darker forest, where corruption from the planes rises from deep underground to poison trees and communities at the root. Guardians traveling to Gloamwood find themselves surrounded by lank trees, white of root with pale green trunks and mostly bare of leaves. The Shade still lingers here and the sun rarely peeks into the misted sky which is jaundiced yellow by day and bruised red by night, an endless twilight that gives Gloamwood its name. The soil here is wet and black, and sometimes bears the footprints of sinister creatures that creep beneath the foliage. The proud and ancient forest that stood against the ravages of time with its loving protectors has at last fallen to the evils of the planes and their ilk.
     The Grove of the Ancients was once a beautiful section of the forest, old and forgiving. Now it is a place of great evil, filled with goblins that rend flesh from bone and treants that choke the very essence out of unsuspecting victims. The treants no longer come to the grove to die peacefully, they come to deal out vengeance for the wrongs they feel have been struck against their forest.
  
     Gnarlwood Post is the first small camp one will encounter when entering past the gates that lead into the dark wood. Waykeeper Rastin stands by the road in the darkness of the path, dealing out warnings to unwary travelers trying to prove themselves brave adventurers. The post is a small trader's camp constructed by what scraps of canvas and supplies they can scavenge.

     If one can make it through the trials of this part of the forest and wishes to go deeper, they must first contend with the spiders of Silkweb Pass, where limbs can become tangled in sticky webbing faster than you could say "Ascended". Giant spiders skitter along the webbing, pouncing on travelers in venomous packs. Tales tell the story of the legendary broodmother, an old, hideously bloated spider matriarch who has been so twisted by the energies of the Shade that she has grown to twice the size of any spider in Gloamwood. A traveler might catch a glimpse of shine off her enormous carapace before a stinger as long as a sword spears through his back.

     Perhaps the most unfriendly of all the places in Gloamwood is its only town, Gloamwood Pines, slouched in the heart of the wood and full of several generations of Mathosian peoples who settled in the wood long ago. They are so terrified of what lies outside the edges of the town that they are immediately suspicious of any newcomers to the village and will gladly try to run any unwary adventurer out of town. Grisly murders have long plagued Gloamwood Pines, and though all evidence points to some huge and powerful beast in the gloom, no amount of culling of the local predators has stopped the killer. Villagers also spread horrified whispers of a Hag who lives in Deepwood Cottage. She was old when the toothless grandfathers were but boys, toiling over her curses or peering out at the woods with milky eyes visible through a slit in the curtains. Some say the Hag and Gloamwood are one and you might be tempted to believe it when you see the knotted shadows grasp at the trees. Granitewood Crossing holds only a few tattered remains as evidence that it was once home to a once vibrant and lively community.

     Civilized folk work hard to keep the goblins in check but the vicious little creatures have recently grown bold, spreading through the wood and attacking even armed patrols. The goblins are sometimes bigger and stronger then usual and mad with bloodlust, goaded by their Gedlo leaders into greater ferocity.

     Unmarked gray stones as high as men stand in the forest, arranged into impossible formation. They have lurked in their clearing for centuries, radiating a forgotten, sinister purpose. The goblins have infested these standing stones, lashing out at anyone who comes to close. The goblins built their city in the drainage system of Shadefallen Keep, expanding it with their own crude tunnels and gauging ever deeper into the ground. Adventurers bold and foolish enough to invade these Darkening Deeps might find the source of the goblins' newfound aggression, rescue villagers from Gloamwood Pines, or meet their end in a storm of fire and claw. A stately mill once funneled resources from Gloamwood to Mathosian markets in Port Scion long ago, until it too fell to the corruption of the Shade. Arisen from their graves or shambling from death rifts, the undead horrors overrun the mill and slaughtered its workers. Brave entrepreneurs talk about mounting an expedition to reclaim the precious mill but until then, only the rattle of bone and the creak of a disused millwheel can be heard from the old Mathosian Mill. Shadefallen Keep has changed hands repeatedly during the Shade War.

Some Quotes from the people of Gloamwood:
  1. Waykeeper Freden says "I am one of the watchers of the road in Gloamwood. The Waykeepers must make sure the horrors of the gloam stay in the shadows. It is my honor to defend the people of Gloamwood Pines, but I'm not about to go running off the path into the forest to save some inept foolish outsider who steps into a barghest den."
  2. Marshal Oakheart of the Sanctuary Guard says "I am Johan Oakheart, paladin of the Vigil, reborn to serve their will just as you were. I command the Sanctum's military force in this region, the 8th Sanctuary Guards. One does not need to be reborn by the gods to serve the glory of their will. The Sanctuary Guards are ordinary men and women who have chosen to defend the will of the gods with force of arms, placing their mortal lives on the line.
  3. Sergeant Faid says" Are you here to talk or help? Gloamwood is in need of order. We've established our main camp here in Silkwood Pass because the Burgher of Gloamwood Pines, Furtho Dragomir, doesn't want a military presense close to his town. You'll find the people of the wood superstitious lot, untrusting of outsiders. It's made it difficult to render them aid. Right now, the war with the goblins to the north is hindered by the lack of support from the Gloamwood Pines council. The sooner people realize we're here to help, the sooner we can win this fight."

References: Well some parts of this post were taken directly from Trion's lore page on Gloamwood that they used to have set up on their website. I have no idea where it is now. Much more of this information was gleaned from doing quests. I just wrote down notes as I went along to later re-write into an actual summary. Some questions I have about the lore though are: How long ago did Laria and Delilah live before Laria's death? Was it recent, during the Shade War 20 years ago, or did it happen long ago during the Bloodstorm War? It says that Gwyddon Duskenleaf is Laria's descendant. That implies that she is indeed ancient. It also hints at her having had a child. Interesting! I would also love to learn more about Shadefallen Keep and who built it.

Friday, August 08, 2014

[Off Topic] Patch 2.8: Madness Wakes

     The exciting new chapter in the sprawling saga that is Rift! I'm so excited! There's some new content coming this patch, which seems to be the prelude to the new Nightmare Tide Expansion! I always love the new content that comes right before the expansion as well as the lead in pre launch events! I think I enjoy it because this is the point where lore takes a leap forward past the stagnant ever present state of just existing in limbo once you read the end point. It's so awesome seeing it move forward! Here's some stuff to look forward to this patch!

  • Nightmare Tide (3.0) Pre-launch Story Quests and Event
    • "Cyril Kalmar and Kira Thanos have been dreaming darkly in the city of Tempest Bay. Help them put the dark nightmares to rest.
      • "Dreaming Darkly"(Guardian) and "The Dark Dream" (Defiant) start off this awesome quest chain in Tempest bay by talking to your respective faction representative. After that, continue with the questline.
  • New Dungeon: Nightmare Coast
    • The lore of this dungeon starts off right after you complete the prelude quests mentioned above. The last of those quests takes you to talk to the Faceless Man in Shimmersand and from there, it's a hop and a skip to the Nightmare Coast dungeon entrance.
    • 5 man dungeon for lvl 60 players
    • It resolves the mystery of the Sinister Presence and details the story of how and why the Infinity Gate has wandered around the world to rest over Fortune's Shore. You battle a new group of fanatics calling themselves the Dream Coven as they work to open a new portal into the world and unleash a whole new mess of bad guys. Telara just can't catch a break eh?
  • Soul Updates
    • The Pyromancer soul received huge changes to abilities and how they work. Like, huge.
    • Sentinals also got some pretty big changes.
    • Stormcaller has a depressingly long list of changes (Kara is a Stormcaller)
  • Updates to the Ah-This doesn't impact me since I don't use it.
  • New Inspect Character changes-cool!
  • Now we have the ability to dive underwater. Just hit X.
  • Other changes
    • Summoning a friend will now let them know who's summoning them.
    • Rift store changes
    • UI and settings changes
    • Changes to older boss encounters for a more streamlined and sensible fight.
    • Fixed some pvp issues (personally, pvp needs a loooooot of work.)
     And that's all folks! Now get out there and enjoy the new story, the new dungeon, and get ready for the next expansion cause it looks like it's going to be EPIC!!!!!!!!!!!!

   ~Dark out

Monday, August 04, 2014

[Raeslyn's Story] 3.11: She's Lived Long Enough

      So here I sat, crouched in the bushes just out of sight of the occupants of Tearfall Run camp, watching through strange new eyes as the Waykeepers and Guardian soldiers went about their usual business. Why was I sitting out here in the woods spying on them, you ask? Well, I wasn't exactly sure what the reception would be to a large, shaggy, sharp clawed werewolf suddenly strolling in. I could easily conjure up images of what said reception would be though. Images of swords and arrows and magic missiles. I'd rather avoid being impaled by my so called allies. Brother Jebiah would have a field day with this. Accursed bloody witch. How dare she do this to me, an Ascended! I had been feeling kind of bad for the Hag after Laria's story, but now I couldn't wait to tell her all about how I feel now. Preferably with a few well placed daggers. I realized I'd clenched my powerful fists when I felt little pinpricks of pain in my palms. Curses, I'd stabbed myself with my own claws again. I took a few deep breaths to settle the simmering rage inside. All my emotions were now super heightened due to this cursed transformation, and I had to be careful I didn't let them out of control. That would be disasterous for everyone.

     After some effort, I was able to still use my ability to cloak myself in planar shadows and turn invisible to the naked eye. I quickly made my way to Laria's altar and placed my furry palm on the old wood, hoping it would still work with my new...transformation. I shuddered. I really didn't want to spend the rest of my days as a werewolf. Then I considered a moment. What if I died? Would the curse dissipate, or would it still cling to my spiritual form and follow my soul when I re entered my body? I shook the idea off. First I'll see if Laria can help me, since it's apparently her sister that cursed me. Darn Hag.

     Laria took one look at me and her expression became grave. "That is a terrible curse to bear." She spoke in her ethereal voice. I nodded. I already knew that. "I'm terribly sorry that my sister did this to you. I didn't know she'd grown so powerful. How is she getting such power? But fear not, young Ascended. After she cursed you, she has turned her attention elsewhere." I snorted. That wasn't exactly a good thing.
     "She has teamed up with the Endless Court and she plans to awaken a darkness in Shadefallen Keep that not only threatens our wood, but all of Telara. I'm afraid the curse she placed on you is beyond my magic, but slaying my sister, while regretful, will remove all the evil she has done, including this curse." She looked saddened at the idea of her sister dying, which of course I could understand because no matter what, they were still family. But her sister was out of control and clearly her mind has been twisted to darkness for so long that she's not able to be redeemed. Not that I'd even want to try. I really wanted this curse off me so I could go back to being me again, without all the urges to kill and maim and howl at the moon. Speaking of...I glanced upward uneasily, but as always, the canopy of the dark wood blocked out any light, even moonlight.

     "Okay, do you know where she is now? I will stop her." I stated, hating the growly sound of my new voice. Laria tilted her head to the side and stared off into the wood as if trying to pinpoint the Hag's position.
     "I can sense the power of nature beginning to twist under her spell, although I can't stop the dark tide of magic. It seems to be coming from the courtyard of the Shadefallen Keep. But be careful, Raeslyn. Her power is strong and in your altered shape, yours is diminished."
    I nodded at her and thanked her. You don't need to tell me that for me to know, sadly. I could feel how different I felt. Disconnected from reality, from my Ascended powers. Like a web was placed between me and my new power. For the first time since Ascension, I felt like a mortal being. And I did not like it. Add to that the fact that I had grown fur and felt itchy all over, and my temper was quite short. I hesitated a moment, glancing back at the Tearfall Run camp. I could see Fiona and Jebiah and a few of the others all talking amongst themselves and performing the daily tasks that kept the camp going. Oh how quickly the simple things like being able to walk into town unmolested were taken away. Hopefully Laria was correct and the curse would fade once I'd killed her horrid sister.

     Shadefallen Keep wasn't hard to find. After all it was the tallest and largest fixture in the forest, as well as one of the oldest castle in these parts. The Gloamwood had definitely taken it over, with trees and roots growing out of the walls, and vines pushing between stones to force their way up. Access to the keep, however, was another matter. The uneven, erratic path that led to its gates was so convoluted that I nearly got lost just trying to find the thing. Not to mention I had to cross the world's most ancient bridge, that gave me a splendid view of a very long drop if I missed a step. Did I mention how much I enjoyed heights? Thankfully, being some bestial creature lent me far better agility and balance and I easily crossed the rickety old bridge. To my horror, within the shallow alcove provided by the front gate, I found piles of bodies. They all wore the garb of the town, and the bodies looked freshly slain. The smell was horrid, although I was equally horrified to find that the lycanthrope virus was struggling in my mind to make me enjoy the sight of all those poor slain citizens. I wrenched my eyes away from the sight and uneasily ran past the gate, holding my breath from the smell. By the gods, the atrocities commited here alone was enough to gain the Hag a one way ticket to the Soulstream.

     To my disgust, the keep was crawling with abominable undead minions, no doubt summoned by the Hag in whatever mad scheme she was thinking up now. I let my new transformed reflexes take over and cut a violent trail through the masses. There was just way too many to try and sneakily make my way across the keep's grounds. I could only hope that when I killed her, the undead too would cease to exist and whatever dark magic animated them would die. From the center courtyard of the keep, I paused in massacring undead minions to glance around. Laria had told me to go to the courtyard, but I haven't seen any indication of that wretched witch yet. Just scads of undead. One such zombie shuffled into my view and I quickly pounced on it, ripping its head off with incredibly long claws. A part of me was thoroughly disgusted and horrified at the carnage I was doing, but that part was becoming quieter by the minute. I should probably be alarmed by that...

     Finally I spotted what looked like an ancient set of stone steps hidden by a low wall that led upward to the ramparts. Aha, I bet she's up there. If I was an evil conniving heartless hag, I'd definitely want a nice view of Gloamwood while I destroyed it. Not that I was going to do that, I hastily assured myself. Ugh, I was getting a headache. It's bad enough carrying the weight of all the knowledge of ancient heroes and power that the Vigil saw fit to bestow upon me, but now I have to deal with the effects of this blasted curse. I was not having a good day. 'Not much longer, Rae!' I comforted myself as I bounded up the steps.

     I froze so abruptly at the top step that I nearly tumbled back down when I saw the Hag, and who she was talking to. Raw fury coursed through me. Alsbeth! That traitorous rat who betrayed us all for power to Regulos. Our beloved Zareph, gone because of her. Pinpricks of pain in my palm made me realize I was clenching my fists so hard that my long claws were digging into my flesh. I hated her so much. I wanted to sink my teeth into her neck and crunch down until she stopped moving! I shook my head and tried to get a grip on the rising animalistic rage coursing through me. The two women were speaking and I wanted to hear. It took several moments to calm down enough that I could hear anything over my pounding heartbeat.

     "Regulos commends your faithfulness, Delilah. He has decided to bestow upon you one of his dark gifts." Alsbeth was saying, her high, cold voice causing another wave of anger to wash over me. I hated that woman. To my dismay, a dark mist seemed to waft upward from a brazier by their feet, bathing the Hag in its power. She rolled her head back and looked ecstatic. I felt uncomfortable watching her expression. Eww.
     "The might of Regulos flows through me!" The Hag cried out, lifting her arms. Her grotesque face and figure seemed to pulse, and she grew taller. Her skin sloughed off her arms like melting wax, leaving a disgusting grey sludge behind. I was revolted. What on Telara did she think was worth that kind of trade off? How could either of them have turned their back on the Vigil so thoroughly?

     "Be warned, Delilah." Alsbeth said sharply, pointing a finger at the newly remade woman. "All power has its price." To my horror, she turned her lithe body and pointed directly at my crouched form. "You seem to have an admirer. I see you, Ascended scum of the Vigil. Delilah, kill this being, and your position among Regulos's ranks will be complete." I scrambled to my back paws and jumped onto the ramparts as Alsbeth turned her back on me, as if dismissing a petty threat. I snarled, no longer held back, and charged at her. To my chagrin, I passed right through her figure, right as it disappeared, and barreled into the Hag instead. She hissed like escaping steam and shoved an arm at me. To my astonishment, I went flying, impacting against the low wall surrounding the roof. The Hag stood up and dusted off her tattered black robes.
     "Fool! Laria has sent you to your doom. You would have done better to cower in the forest with the rest of your ilk." She sneered at my new form, and I was acutely aware of my monstrous new looks. I roared.

     A burst of golden light to my right revealed the form of Laria and I flinched in surprise as she appeared. I had no idea she was powerful enough to will herself into existence without the altars. Laria gazed at me with proud eyes and I straightened up under her soft gaze. I was Ascended, and I should never have forgotten that! Laria then turned her gaze upon her sister, and her eyes glistened with disappointment and sorrow.

    "I'm so sorry, sister, that you've come to this. But you're wrong! Your reign of terror must come to an end." The Hag cackled loudly and shook her head, wisps of long dry hair falling to the stone around her feet. Disgusting.
     "You worms can't destroy me! The power of the death plane is within my grasp. I think my pets would like to feast on your bones." Uhh, that didn't sound good. I shifted slightly away and glanced at Laria, who seemed to be concentrating on something. She lifted her glowing arms up and a golden light grew around her, reaching outward toward the Hag's darkness.

    The Hag uttered the words to a spell and to my horror, the immediate area grew darker. It instantly became harder to breath and a quick glance off to the side proved that it was only right here where we were that was affected. The rest of the keep seemed to still look normal. Lucky me. From the unnatural darkness in the sky, large ropey tentacles thrust downward and dug into the stone of the parapets. I gasped. By the gods! Images of that horrifying day on Thedeor Field came back to me, where I confronted Aedraxis and helped to stop him from becoming the next Avatar of Regulos. Oh gods, is that what was going on here? But not....only a specific being could become the Avatar, and I doubt it was the Hag. But something incredibly wrong was happening.
     As if to accentuate my thoughts, Laria shouted above the sudden wind, "We have to close this death rift as quickly as possible! She is trying to harness it's power! I will aid you if I can, but this death energy weakens my grasp on the material plane." By this point, I could barely make out the golden glow that indicated Laria's position. The whole roof was so dark, all I could make out was the pulsing, glowing tentacles that connected the rift to our plane. But I couldn't let that prevent me from doing what I'd been created to do. That's what we Ascended were made for. We had the unique ability to see the rifts in a light that no one else could. We could see their root in Telara, and we could force that root out of our plane. Narrowing my eyes, I looked for that particular root that would allow me to unravel this rift. It was proving impossible with my altered state, and I snarled.

    The Hag shouted several more words, and I caught the word "vampirica". Just great. Sure enough, out of the rift stepped tall, slender, monstrous fiends with glowing red eyes and pale skin. Mindless undead husks were an easy task, but vampires were a bit harder to take down, since they retained some measure of intelligence and cunning, and were motivated by the smell of blood to fight as viciously as possible. Thankfully, I was pretty confident that being bitten by one wouldn't cause any lasting effects since I was already a cursed monster thanks to the witch. The vampires immediately spotted my large shaggy form standing out against the swirling darkness of the void and hissed, showing mouths full of teeth like jagged glass. My fur was thick and created a strong barrier against their nails and teeth, and my own fangs and claws made such great weapons that I didn't even need my daggers this time. I wasn't even sure if I'd even have the kind of co ordination to pull off the moves and abilities I'd been trained for anyway. I met the vampires halfway, and we became a blur of snarling fangs and claws. I felt a hank of fur being forcefully ripped out of my shoulder and the pain momentarily took over my rational mind. I reacted blindly, throwing my arm around in a wild swing that met air as the vampire quickly darted out of reach. I felt like a big lumbering beast and was growing so frustrated. I vowed after this that I was going to learn what I could about magic curses so I could avoid this problem. I may even, grudgingly, force myself to learn a few tricks myself if it could compliment my own arsenal of dagger moves.

    One unlucky vampire couldn't avoid my claws and I ripped into his chest, sending black blood flying. I pressed the advantage, leaping on the cold creature and continuing to claw at its flesh until the red eyes dimmed and grew dull. Satisfied, I turned to the other, which eyed my warily. Somewhere in the background, I heard Laria speaking to the Hag and I knew I was running out of time. I had to stop the witch before she unleashed more monstrosities on unsuspecting Gloamwood. I may not be impressed with the people who lived here, but I didn't wish this horrible fate on them either. The remaining vampire hissed challengingly at me, but it kept giving worried glances to its dead companion at my feet. I grinned, and I'm pretty sure it didn't look inviting on my furry snout. I was beginning to think that the raw power provided by this werewolf form was a fair advantage despite the side effects. The sheer raw power flowing through my veins made me feel invincible like nothing before. I wondered if this was how warriors felt, with their giant shields and their larger-than-life swords. I stepped around the discarded corpse of the vampire body and caught the other one in my long claws at it made to flee. Not so fast, bloodsucker.

     I think my mind blocked out what happened next, because after that, things became kind of a blur. I should probably be grateful for that, because when I saw the carnage after, I was pretty shocked. I remember that I finally found the hole in reality that the Rift was creating and had used my Ascended abilities to close the rift in the planes, cutting off access from the dark plane. The tentacles flopped to the roof like cut strings and I remember the Hag wailing in fury and agony. I guess she had been caught mid ritual when I performed the deed and with her mind so connected to the rift, when I closed it, she died as well. At least, that's the theory I'm going with. I'm pretty sure I didn't eat her. Like...reasonably sure.

     Suddenly I found myself standing in the middle of the roof that was mostly empty except for the scattered gruesome remains of what may have been some vampires. I didn't look too close. I was so overjoyed to look down and see my own delicate fingers that I spent several moments flexing my hands in disbelief. It felt so incredibly strange to be me again. I felt shorter, and lighter, and....I can't even explain it. It's like a great weight had been lifted off my mind. I actually could think again. Although some part of me missed the raw physical power and savage yet simple thoughts that the werewolf gave me. To the side, Laria's golden form lay sprawled. I quickly darted over to her, marveling again at my lightness and quickness. It was so good to be me again! I sent a quick thanks to the Vigil for looking out for me. I knelt by Laria and reached out a hand.

     "Laria? Are you alright? It's done now right, we stopped her?" Laria stirred under my hand. She looked confused for a moment, before her eyes widened and she beamed at me with love and pride. "Raeslyn! You are yourself again! Thank the Vigil you were able to stop her in time. Well done!" I grinned and gave her a wink as I helped her to her feet. The spirit glanced around, and her smile grew bittersweet.
     "I mourn for my sister, but now I can start lifting the dark curse that stains this forest. Every living thing in Gloamwood is in your debt, Ascended. You truly are chosen by the gods." She gave me another radiant smile and I felt a surge of pride and happiness at her praise. I didn't usually like compliments or excessive praises and all that, but after the trials I'd gone through, I'll take it. A great weariness descended on me as Laria minced over to inspect the vampire bodies. I felt so tired, in mind and body, that I just wanted to collapse right here and sleep for a year. It felt like ages ago that I'd come to Gloamwood, when in reality it can't have been more then a week.

     I couldn't even bring myself to show surprise when a Messenger of the Vigil appeared a moment later, hovering several feet off the ground as its great snowy wings beat the air. The sheer majesty and beauty of the creature brought tears to my eyes and my exhausted mind was so overcome with emotion at the sight. Ugh, I'll just blame my sentimental mushy moment on the day I just had.

     "Protecting Gloamwood need no longer be your burden, dear Laria." The Messenger said, with the strange double voice I'd come to expect from them. Laria froze in shock at the sight and fell to her knees, hands pressed together in supplication. I guess to others, seeing one of the holy messengers of the gods was a shock. I'd been seeing them every since my Ascension so I'd gotten better at my reaction. Or so I'd thought...I secretly wiped a tear out of my own eye. The radiant being smiled gently at Laria. "Your descendant, Gwyddon Duskenleaf, is ready to take on mantle of forest protector. The Vigil honors its debt to you. Rest now, Laria." I blinked, absorbing that. Wait, what? That annoying apothecary was Laria's descendant?! And she didn't tell me? If I'd had more energy, I'd have gotten offended. As it was, I grunted to show my annoyance at being left out of that loop. The Messsenger turned to me, as if reminded of my presence. "You have done well, Raeslyn of the Ascended. You honor us with your bravery and loyalty. A great victory was struck here. The Hag has ever been a dark spot on our wood, and you have ultimately thwarted the plans of Alsbeth as well. You have affirmed the Vigil's wisdom in calling you to the ranks of the Ascended." I shrugged, feeling uncomfortable with all this praise.

    "I'm honored myself, Messenger." I replied, and bowed low. "Thank you for the gifts I've been given."
     "None of us can stand alone against the might of Regulos. Remember that, Ascended. You must work together to save Telara." The Messenger continued. "As a gift for your deeds this day, I can teleport you out of this unclean place if you so desire?" I nodded eagerly, then turned and inclined my head to Laria.
     "I wish you well on wherever your journey takes you next, Laria." I called to her. She smiled warmly at me and waved. I had a feeling I wouldn't be seeing her again, but I knew she would happier where she was going. I stepped up next to the angelic creature of the Vigil. The Messenger's form was so bright and holy that it almost hurt my eyes, even as a devout follower of the Vigil. The snowy wings beat down and seemed to cover my eyes, and before I knew it, I felt a strange weightless sensation. I felt like I was being whisked rapidly through time and space, and suddenly, before I could even process this feeling, I found myself on solid ground again. I blinked my eyes a few times and beheld the sight of everyone in middle of Gloamwood Pines town square gawking at me in shock. I grinned and waved, inwardly cringing. Way to make a scene.

     A woman detached herself from the shell-shocked crowd and ran toward me. I stiffened, and then recognized her. It was Fiona Leone. I was kind of shocked myself to see her, since last I'd known, she'd been holed up at Tearfall Run, trying to create some kind of device to repel death magic or something. Fiona was flushed and smiling, looking excited and proud. Without waiting to see what I'd say, she thrust something into my hands. I stared down at it a moment, then gave her a quizzical look.
     "Oh hi Fiona. Thanks for the present...but what is it?" Fiona laughed.

     "I fixed it! It works!" She exclaimed, and snatched the device back. She held it up, and beamed at it like a proud parent. "I was able to modify the calibration of the death array, and by adding and changing some of the runes, as well as balancing out the energy with water planar energy of all things, I was able to actually create a successful purification device! This spell will do much to protect the citizens of Gloamwood!" I glanced over the device. Color me impressed. I wasn't sure if she'd actually be able to create a working prototype of her invention.

    "That's amazing Fiona. Good job. You better get to work making a lot more of those things though, cause last I saw, it didn't cover much ground." I chuckled as her face fell and she frowned at the device. She waved at me and began wandering off, muttering calculations to herself. I stood there a moment, considering what I'd like to do now. With a tired sigh, I made my way to the Inn. I would really just like a bath and a nice long nap. That sounds heavenly. I smirked.

     I got maybe two feet when I accosted by someone else. This time to my surprise, it was the mayor himself. How honorable, he came down from his tree fort just to see little old me.

    "Hello Dragomir." I greeted in a neutral voice, remembering our last encounter. Hopefully I wasn't about to be arrested. That would end badly. For him. I just wanted some sleep, I felt like whining. To my surprise, he stuck out a hand to shake.

     "The reports are true then? You defeated the monster that has been terrorizing our poor town? I don't know how you did it, but it feels as if a great weight has been lifted off the wood. The people of Gloamwood are in your debt! The name of Raeslyn the Ascended shall not be forgotten in these parts!" He exclaimed this quite loudly, as if making sure everyone in the town square witnessed as he praised their savior. No doubt for his own benefit rather then mine or theirs. I yawned and waved a hand at him.

     "It was no trouble. Just doing my duty to the Vigil and to the Guardians. Maybe next time they send infantry to aid you, don't kick them out of town and hinder their every movement." I suggested mildly, thinking of Marshal Oakheart and his men, banished to the outskirts of town because the townsfolk didn't like outsiders messing in their business. The mayor had the good grace to look abashed. He rubbed the back of his head awkwardly, sticking up his short dark hair. "But hey, it all ended alright so no hard feelings I'm sure." I finished. "Just glad that your town is safe and I didn't have to kill you all for being deranged werewolves." Dragomir looked suitably horrified as I sauntered away toward the Inn, daggers clanging against my hips. I smirked. I was definitely glad I was me again, and that I was successful in my first official mission given by the Guardians. All in all, a job well done. I couldn't wait to get some sleep.

    "A room please, for two nights." I told the Innkeeper, who knew me by sight at this point. He nodded at me. "Sure thing, miss Raeslyn. Oh by the way, ye got some mail." I lifted one eyebrow. Mail? Me? Way out here? The Innkeep turned around, grabbed a scroll off the grimy counter, and plopped it down in front of me. It rolled to a rest by my hand, seal up, and the crest of the Guardians and Sanctum stared innocently up at me from the wax. I groaned out loud. Now what? Well, whatever disaster they need me to fix, I'm doing it tomorrow. I've earned some sleep, I should think! I snatched up the scroll in one hand, swiped a mug of wine from a table, and headed up the stairs for a good night's sleep, hopefully without any strange dreams. Gloamwood was safe, at least for now, and the threat of the Hag had been successfully neutralized. The werewolves had all either been cured or killed, and the people of the wood were now as safe as anyone else in this crazy new age. I'd even heard a few amusing whispers around town of the kids calling me "Raeslyn the Wolfbane". The Wolfbane. I kind of liked my new title.
     I fell asleep with a smirk on my face, the empty wineglass perched precariously on the edge of the nightstand.