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.

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