Tuesday, December 30, 2014

[Lore] XXXI: The March Wardens

  The March Wardens are an ancient order of protectors that defend Freemarch from tyrants, invaders, riftspawn and cultists. They were created after the fall of the Warlord Jakub, who had ruled the March with a cruel and unjust hand when the Ethian Empire collapsed. Jakub was a wandering marauder who found promise in the peace loving and beautiful land, fertile and ripe for the picking. Eventually, the people of the march grew restless and rebellious under his tyrannical rule and rose up against the Iron Tyrant, bravely fighting off his many followers and knights in a desperate bid to overthrow him. Eventually, Jakub was slain at his keep, the Iron Fortress, by a brave and righteous man named Eliam. After the battle, Freemarch refused to bend to anyone's rule again. Instead, they elected Eliam as their protector and guardian. And thus the March Wardens were created. Eliam, the first March Warden, became a legendary hero for decades to come. To honor him, and future leaders of the Wardens, a tome was carved out of the side of the mountains, a sacred burial site for the protectors of the march.

     The March Wardens protected and cared for Freemarch down through the ages, surviving the rise and fall of the Mathosian Empire as well as the coming of the Shade. It wasn't until Alsbeth, under Regulos's orders, came to Freemarch to wreak havoc and perform profane deeds that the March Wardens reached out for aid. Alsbeth's undead army was swift and brutal, cutting off the Wardens from each other and their base. On top of Alsbeth and her Endless Court, the Abyssal Cult also became more active in the march, stirring up nightmarish trouble to the south by the docks. They were assaulted from all sides and the Guardians were far too busy with drastic matters of their own to lend reinforcements to the suffering Freemarch, so when the Defiants reached out to the March Wardens for an alliance, Warden Denegar, the 43rd elected March Warden of Freemarch, reluctantly allowed the heretics into their borders. The Defiants, in return for a base of operations and a city to perform their magitech, offered all the aid the Wardens required to beat back the cultists and riftspawn. Of course, not everyone was happy with this decision and many citizens of the march criticized, complained, and outright raged against the new Defiant occupation. Even now, years after the Defiant came to Freemarch and ousted the Abyssal from Meridian, the march inhabitants still mutter about them. The March Wardens still maintain independent rule of Freemarch, but now the Defiants have a say in military action, and have their own people stationed at all the March Warden outposts along the march's borders.

March Warden Denegar (follow the link for more info on him!)

March Wardens Rep Vender Items:
  • Quartermaster Fry-located in King's Retreat (6270, 4544)
  • Items:
    • Warden's Justice-lvl 19 2H Sword-Req. Honored Rep- 47 gold
    • Warden's Backsword-lvl 19 1H Sword- Req. Honored Rep- 47 gold
    • Warden's Crozier-lvl 19 Staff-Req. Honored Rep- 32 gold
    • Warden's Skean-lvl 19 Dagger-Req. Honored Rep- 32 gold
    • Freemarch Warden's Badge-Trinket-Req. Friendly Rep-65 gold, 90 silver
    • Freemarch Runes-lvl 16 usable items on Belts-Req. Honored Rep-20 gold
      • Brawler's Rune: +3 strength
      • Acrobat's Rune: +3 Dexterity
      • Vizier's Rune: +3 Intellect
      • Abbot's Rune: +3 Wisdom
  • Recipes:
    • Warden's Dagger-Weaponsmith 60-Req. Honored Rep- 67 gold
    • Quicksilver Bow- Weaponsmith 50-Req. Honored Rep- 60 gold
    • Keys to the Armory- Artificer 50-Necklace item-Req. Honored Rep-60 gold
    • Buckler of the Scholar- Armorsmith 60- Shield-Req. Honored Rep-60 gold

Friday, December 26, 2014

[Karazhan's Story] 2.17: Unholy Alliance

      "I'm taking the fight to Jakub and he will be vanquished once and for all!"

     There was a momentary stunned silence after my declaration, where everyone in the command tent stared at me in varying degrees of amazement. I fidgeted slightly for a few moments.

     "Well..." began March Warden Denegar after an appraising look at me. "If anyone can defeat this undead abomination that Jakub has become, it would be you, Ascended. If Jakub has again seized the Iron Fortress, then he must have corrupted the altars we had set up in the four points of the towers to cleanse the evil from the place. If he was able to tap into the power behind the altars, it would grant Jakub strength beyond our ability to defeat him ourselves. One of my spies reported to me that the reason the flames in Smith's Haven burn so persistently is because they come from a magical object that an Endless Court mage carried. My informant followed this mage to a watch tower up the hill but he wasn't able to retrieve the box safely. To destroy Jakub, you need to destroy those altars first, and if the box contains a magically burning fire that reduces anything it touches to cinders, that might be the key to destroying the altars! Besides, it's probably not a good idea to let the cultists have it." He quirked a smile as he said the last part and I grinned back.

    "Yes, that's true. I would hate for what has befallen Smith's Haven to happen elsewhere." I said, sobering. "Okay, head up the hill to the Iron Fortress, steal a box of magic fire, destroy altars, and kick Jakub's undead tail. Just a day in the life of being me!" The others laughed in a subdued manner. Denegar cocked his head and gave me an admiring glance.
     "You are definitely not like anyone else I've ever met, Karazhan." He admitted, and he looked pleased. "It was an honor to get to meet you. When your exploits and deeds become known throughout Telara, don't forget us March Wardens back home eh?" He reached out a hand and I shook it warmly, then bowed in the custom of the Kelari. "May we meet again." I said seriously, and left the command tent.

     I gazed up the trail that led to the dark and foreboding Iron Fortress. Was I nervous? Yes, I actually felt acutely aware of how alone I was, out here going to face the most infamous despot Freemarch had ever known. I was reasonably confident in my ability as a machineborn Ascended, but I was more acutely aware of what was at stake should I fail. I had been told repeatedly by Sylver and others that my soul was immortal. They hadn't gone into the specifics of it, but in essence, if I was slain, my soul would not be completely severed from my body as in the case of any other Telaran. Instead, I'd have a tether back to my body and to the material plane. The specifics of how I should re enter my body again after that were never really mentioned so I'd have to hope I could figure it out. But if I was indeed slain by Jakub, I had no idea how long it would take for my "resurrection", and in that time frame, who knows what horror that monster could unleash on Freemarch in retaliation for my attack. That's what really worried me. I couldn't mess this up, for the sake of all the innocent people living here in the march. Responsibility was a heavy weight, I was finding. I took a deep breath and headed for the overgrown highway that wound it's way up the mountain. The closer I came to the branching off point leading up, the more I was aware of eyes on my back, following my movement. I wonder what they all thought of me heading up here. That I was crazy? Suicidal? Brave? Probably a combination of all three.

     Despite the somber situation this was, I couldn't help but admire the ancient flagstones under my feet, and the even older stone walls and watch towers that rose up along the path. This was an actual piece of history. My favorite part of my lessons was history, and here I was actually living it. It felt so...I couldn't even describe the emotion I was feeling. The other souls inside gave the impression of warm agreement, and I huddled that feeling close. I wasn't as alone as I'd thought, I guess. There were definite good points to basically being a living container for the souls of others. Every so often, I'd turn and stare at the towering walls that surrounded the top of the mountain, behind which the Iron Fortress itself waited like a sinister black carrion bird. The fortress was in good condition for being so old, and I idly wondered what kind of stone it was, and how they'd built it. No doubt magic was involved, and I'd heard somewhere that the stone had been carried out of mines in Stonefield, the rocky plains up north of Meridian. I would definitely be interested in visiting those mines at some point, just to witness another famous part of history.

     The hill was eerily still, but not silent. What was a gentle breeze down below at the camp became a strong, cold wind up here, whistling between cracks in the mortar and rustling along the knee-length dry grasses that grew between the cracks in the flagstones. If I was more artistic, I'd be tempted to paint a canvas of a scene from the hill overlooking the towers and the town of Smith's Haven. Of course, preferably without depicting the town in flames...

     Now where was that troublesome mage and their magic box? Mages I could definitely handle in battle. A magic user always knows how to handle other magic users in combat. Which reminded me of my extra Ascended senses. I stopped beside a low wall that crumbled slightly when I leaned against it, and closed my eyes. I slowed my breathing and reached deep inside to my inner magic, dipping into the seemingly bottomless well of my magical abilities, augmented by my new unique status. With a firm mental hand, I pushed out my magic, blanketing the area around me with a net, trying to sense any signs of life, or unlife nearby. I found a distressingly large number of signs behind the high walls of the Iron Fortress, but I knew that Jakub would have his army camped out there so I ignored that, moving instead to specific corner towers. Nothing seemed to stand out to indicate another magic user. I moved down the hill more, toward my own position, and got a ping in a small squat tower not far from my own position. Huh, the mage was closer then I had thought. Of course I knew that he or she would sense my magical probe and would probably know I was coming for them, but from what I've seen so far of the rabid followers of the Blood Storm, they were hardly a threat; half trained, mindless, fanatical lordlings and farmers who were tricked or tortured into believing that the dragon god they worshiped was the only way of existence.
     I gathered my magic back up and blinked open my eyes, taking a few moments to clear up the dizziness of using magic in such a specific focal way. The more fine and exact the magic, the harder it is on the mage. Anyone can throw out an explosion of raw magic with the right spells and guidance, but accurate, specific types of magic in specific locations takes a lot more work and effort. Years of study and research has to go into that. Even I still had years left in my training when my mortal death had occurred.

     I unslung my staff from my back and clenched it in a tight fist as I made my way toward the tower that I'd felt the mage in. Of course it was just as easy to fake a magic signature or plant one to trick someone, but I was fairly confident that this mage didn't have the ability. After all, they had to use an artifact to set fire to Smith's Haven instead of their own pyrotechnic abilities.

     As soon as I entered the tower, magic assaulted my senses. It wasn't active magic, but a residue of a strong casting that had taken place here not long ago at all. It was so strong, even now, that instantly alarm bells went off in my mind. A very powerful spell had been cast here. Too powerful for even one such as I to pull off solo. So a coven of mages had done...something...here. And I had to assume that the mage with the twisted fire artifact was one of them. What on Telara had they done? The magic tasted evil, wrong on so many levels. And rotten. Instantly I was on the alert for anything out of the ordinary. The watch tower was actually quite small, as it was designed specifically with practicality in mind, as a look out for scouts to report if there was any enemies coming at the fortress from the one road that led up to it, thus giving the fortress time to scramble a defense. It was a popular form of architecture in the time that this fortress was built. The bottom floor was round like the tower's shape, and contained nothing much of interest. A thick layer of dust coated the entire room and the air was cold and heavy. A few tables were shoved up against the wall, with some dusty scrolls decaying on top. Just from the layer of dust I could tell there wouldn't be anything of important in the scrolls. From the entrance to the winding stone steps that led to the second floor, I could easily see where the dust had been disturbed by many feet coming and going. So whatever had been cast here, it was done up above. Feeling vulnerable, every sense on high alert, I slowly ascended the steps. I wasn't able to contain a shiver as a spiderweb brushed my arm.

     As I came around the final corner, I stuck my staff up high in front of me, in case there was a magical trap or the mage was laying in wait for me. Nothing happened, so I cautiously stepped up into the second floor room. It was round like the first, and empty as well, although there was significant disturbance in the dust on this layer and the taint of rotten magic was much stronger. It was almost like a physical presence assaulting my senses, and I had to actually dampen my own magic senses in order to tolerate it.

     There was a small porcelain altar on this level, but no dust anywhere on it, and a scroll rested on top, completely unfurled and weighted down on the corners. Immediately I knew that whatever spell had been cast, this was where it was written, so I cautiously walked over and peered down at the words, which to my horror were written in blood. Filthy cultists. After reading the entire document, I realized it was a discourse on planar entities and described, in disturbing detail, a ritual to summon a greater demon from the plane of fire. It even mentioned the demon's name-Legul. It didn't take any great leap of the imagination to guess from there that Jakub was planning on either using or allying with this demonic creature to gain more power in Freemarch. If he had a greater demon at his side, especially one from the fire plane, he could cause even greater disaster. Since I had no idea where this demon could have gotten to after being summoned to the material plane-and I have no doubt they'd succeeded in summoning it-I grabbed up the scroll, rolled it back up, and stuffed it in my belt pouch to take back to the Unseen agency in Meridian so they could have one of their agents hunt the creature down and banish it. I had to stay focused on my goal.

     Since the mage was nowhere on this level, I had to assume he or she was up on the roof. So I continued my way up the stone steps, climbing ever higher and acutely aware that I was wasting time hunting down this accursed mage, which gave Jakub more time to put his nightmarish plans into action.

     Again I stuck my staff up first before exiting the hatch onto the roof, not wanting to get my head blown off by some spell, and it was almost torn out of my grasp by a flame blast for my efforts. I jerked the staff back down and eyed it's smoking ends. Thankfully I'd chosen very well for my weapon and it wasn't damaged. The varnish was singed and the crystal embedded in the top to help focus my magic was dulled slightly from the magical attack, but as a lightning rod for my abilities, it was still functioning perfectly.

     I cast a shield of water around myself, taking a brief moment to enjoy the soft rippling feel of the magic as it settled around my form, before stepping up onto the roof. A low parapet lined the round tower roof and several crates of old weaponry stood against the wall. The spellcaster who'd so readily attacked my staff was standing off to one side, glaring aggressively at me. It was a woman, with long lank hair and the crazed empty eyes I'd come to associate with the more fanatical of the cultists. Honestly, it was hard to tell if she was living or undead from the way she looked, and her snarl of fury at seeing me didn't help matters. Her teeth were yellow and crooked and just by looking at her I could tell her magic, though strong, was unfocused and untrained. Likely she hadn't known she had the innate ability to touch and manipulate the natural energies of magic and had been recruited or tricked into the cultist ranks for just that reason. I almost felt sorry for her, lost as she was to the mindless empty promises of power the Endless Court had lured her with. Of course, this didn't prevent me from defending myself when she again shouted words and threw a blast wave of fire at me. I braced my feet and let the fire roll off my water shield, confident it would hold against her magic. It did, but I could feel the protection weaken significantly around the edges. Since she seemed to be only attacking with fire based attacks, I struck with a lethal icicle bolt. Opposite elements always seemed to be more effective against enemies, and I was stronger in weather magic than other forms anyway.
     The icicle sheered off at the last moment and I was impressed that she had the foresight to shield herself. I hadn't even sensed that. I struck out with forks of lightning, intending to wear down her own shield, all the while dodging the flames that she assaulted me with. At one point she nearly got me. I could feel the heat of the spell against my face and smelled burning hair, cursing myself for not moving fast enough away from the path of the fire. Magical fire was far more dangerous than your average, naturally created fire, and I had to waste precious seconds casting a small heal spell to relieve most of the damage. While yes I'd prefer not to have a scar on my face, I did it because the sting of air against the raw burn was incredibly distracting so close to my eye. Thank the spirits I had moved enough to avoid damaging my sight.

     One of my well placed hail bolts slammed into the woman's shoulder and she fell with a cry of fury, throwing another bolt of fire at me as she flailed at the air. I held my breath, horrified, as she tripped over a crate of weapons and toppled over the low parapets surrounding the roof. Even though I'd had every intention of slaying her to get the box, I wouldn't wish her to fall to her death. I dashed over to the parapets myself, thinking maybe I could reach her in time, even though I knew it was a foolish hope and being the enemy, she'd probably refuse my aid anyway. I swallowed bile as I saw her broken body lying at a crooked angle on the side of the hill. I averted my eyes and wished her soul a speedy journey to the Soulstream, though I doubted her afterlife would be peaceful, considering how she'd led her mortal life. I was really hoping she hadn't kept the box on her person since I had no desire to go down there and riffle through her remains, so I was exceedingly grateful when I spotted a small, ornate black box with magical runes carved into the lid sitting on one of the stone crenellations. I strode over and reached for the box, then pulled my hand back and warily cast my magical senses over the box, looking for any traps or hidden springs. Finding none, I scooped the box up and opened it, not knowing what to expect.
     Inside, a tiny red stone was nestled among dark purple silk. The stone seemed to roil and shimmer to the eye, as if something was alive inside, and I shivered at the sheer unnatural evil of the thing. As soon as I used it to destroy the altars and could lock it up, the better.

     I glanced up and to the right. From the top of the watch tower, I could see the Iron Fortress more clearly and made out shambling sentries of undead patrolling the ramparts. The central towers and spire stood out stark and sinister against the ironic blue sky, as if spiting gods and men by standing.

     "I'm coming for you Jakub." I swore in a whisper. "You'll pay for all the lives you've taken, now and in the past. I'll make sure you stay dead for good this time." Even though I knew no one could hear me, least of all Jakub the Tyrant himself, I felt infinitely better just saying the words. Pride in myself and in the Defiants surged through me and I was glad that I had the power and ability to make a difference in Telara.