[center ***This is an original Plot, please do not steal, copy, or use anything from this rp for personal use or your own roleplay.***]
Land of Azera. Four Provinces at war fighting the Rule of one evil man...
Four wandering travelers find themselves in The Central City. It is a bustling and busy place, centered in the middle of the four provinces. It is also where The Self Proclaimed "King" Malik lives. It was once the Holy Land for the Four Provinces, where the fabled Priests and Priestesses of the Old Gods of Azeroth held sanctuary for all. That was… until King Malik. He ran the Holy Ones from their Holy Palace and took over not only the Central City, but the four provinces as well.
Legend has it that the Four Provinces once housed their own spirit guardians. These Guardians were kept in elaborate temples, with their own contingent of temple masters and maids to attend to them. During Malik’s rise to power, he attacked the temples and slaughtered the Temple Hands. It was by the brave sacrifices of Temple Masters and Maidens that they were able to send the Spirits away. For Centuries the Spirits had not claimed a host… but with the rise of Malik, the Guardians searched out their perfect Human Host, marking them and imbuing them with awesome powers to defeat evil and restore the balance.
The Province to the North was guarded by the Spirit of the Forest, and often seen in the shape of a Caribou. Filled with thick dense forests and beautiful mountain passes to the Northern most parts, and gently sloping hills further south where farming is aplenty. Winter, however, is never kind in the North. The summers are kind and fair and allow for the Northmen to travel south and barter their furs and goods for food stuffs they will need in the winter months. This is the Province known as Caledon. The people there are hearty and Strong. Known to produce fine warriors, and are often seen as warmongering, as the Caledon clans tend to fight against Malik’s border agents on a regular basis, and guard the Dark Forest’s creatures from venturing south. Caledon is considered the bread basket of Azera. It is reminiscent to what we would have considered Ancient Germania and Scandinavia.
The Province in the South is guarded by the Fire Spirit often seen as a massive snake. Mostly Desert lands with the occasional watery oasis. Farming takes great engineering feats involving sophisticated irrigation, and travel is usually done on Camel. Most people live nomadic lives, but there are cities where water can be found, usually along the River Nine, named so for the way the main river forks out at nine different locations and leads to nine large grandiose cities of terracotta. All of it built on the back of a lucrative Slave Trade. Most of the people in what is referred to as [i The Wastelands] are considered barbaric by many, with their nomadic lifestyle and their staunch traditions to the Old Gods –namely their patron deity the Fire-Breathing Serpent (Ouk'nu), and ritual sacrifice. Snakes are considered holy and sacred to the Nomadic people of Abdhu’Jai. The Southernmost part is unpassable as the desert goes on for hundreds of miles with no water in sight. It is also rumored that Sand Wyrms live there and those who have tried to trek across it in hopes of exploring have never been heard from again. The Jai's are reminiscent of The Egyptians, & The Byzantine Era.
To the East is where the Mountains climb higher than even those of Caledon. Here it is said the people of Volshiv live among the clouds and are protected by the Flying spirit of Wind often seen in the form of a Dove. On a still quiet day, if you stand on the Eastern border you can hear the whistling winds careen through the highest peaks in all of Azera. Very little is known about the Volshi. They are very reclusive and rarely travel West to the Central City. They are known to be fair of face and hair, willowy and spry and some of the last humans to retain some semblance of magical power. The Volshi were the only ones to escape the mad grip of Malik in the beginning –but it did not stop them from sending their Guardian to find a host as well.
To the West is the Province of Fenlyk. Guarded by the Water Spirit, known to take the form of a massive Koi Fish. The Region is mostly littered with waterways and wet lands, it is the fishing capital of all Azera. More fish is produced in Fenlyk than anywhere else in the Four Provinces. They trade frequently with Caledon and Abdhu’Jai. Aside from fish and watersports Fenlyk is known for its textile and fashion. It is the most modernized Province of the four, the wealthiest and one of the most influential. Their Navy is without rival, as it should be to protect the city from the Ocean's monsters that tend to capture vessels that wander too far from the mainland. They would be reminiscent of Ancient Greeks or Atlantis.
One woman is tasked to find the guardians, teach them and guide them to their glorious destiny. To find them she pulls from the ancient Prophecy, one that even involves her. Her name is Aria, a native of Volshiv who was taken from her home when she was no older than three. She doesn’t remember her home, or her birth parents. Only that she was marked by the Spirit Guardians –slated by the Gods to be their High Priestess. She was destined to be the most holy and powerful figure of her time, but Malik’s invasion from across the open sea and his march across the border lands of Abdhu’Jai and Fenlyk brought him to Central City and the beginning of his reign of terror. Of course when Malik invaded she was but a small child of six, training to be become The High Priestess. She escaped with the help of an Elder Priest who raised her in hiding, and continued her training so she could ensure the Guardians would find their way. A bounty is out for Aria’s head – though Malik has no real idea of who she is, he is aware of the markings that would and do adorn her body. She realizes he will discover her soon enough, and finding the Guardians has become imperative to free the city and provinces of the would-be Tyrant. Destroying Malik and returning peace to the four Provinces is also the only way to restore the Spirit Guardians back to their pantheons and peace to the land.
A traveler from each province finds themselves in Central City. Compelled to travel and see the world, or to simply get away from their old life. For any number of reasons, Fate brings them to the Central City. What they don’t realize is: they are chosen and marked as the host of their region’s Spirit Guardian. It lives within them and gives them power. It is a comforting, and yet frightening source for the four individuals -it just needs to be awakened in them, and that is where Aria comes in.
Aria feels it in her bones that the time has come. She’s been gifted visions of the travelers to come. She only sees them as their spirit so their faces remain shrouded in mystery. The Gods guide her to come out of hiding after hiding away for nearly twenty years. The raids took place when she was only six, and now she is twenty-seven. Time has passed and the people grow deeper into oppression. Most of the Tyranny is evident in the Central City. The outlying villages and townships of the Provinces are routinely raided, and it seems Malik is constantly fighting with the Caledons. The Fennish bow down to his reign their pacifism making them complacent and easy to dominate. The Nomads –Jais of the south are raided frequently and without mercy. The Volshi remain for the most part safe, but rumor has it they have amassed a huge army and are prepared to come down from their cities in the clouds to set Malik straight. Aria knows it will be too little too late. Malik has to be cut down at the source… from his False throne: The Holy Alter that should be hers.
Aria must find the Guardians, help them discover their own powers and talents, and if need be –sacrifice herself to help them cleanse the world and usher in a new peaceful Era. She must help the Guardians restore balance, but first… she has to find them and convince them.
Personality:guardian soft hearted, peaceful, adapts to surroundings and situations quickly, reserved
Bio & History:before being chosen, Saraya was a beautiful soul that loved children of her providence. she was married to a knight that protected the temple, and they were expecting their first born... Until the ambush. her husband was taken from her, and after that, her baby didn't surviv. With the passion she felt, she thought she would never survive... Until the spirit chose her.
Personality: quiet, shy, honest.
Bio & History: She was chosen as a guardian from birth, but neither her parents nor herself knew that at all. Her parents were simple fishers, her dad going out to sea for the daily haul and her mom selling whatever fish had been caught in the markets. Everything was pretty peaceful, until Malik took the ruling of everything under his hand. Since the region she lived bowed down peacefully, nothing really bad happened there. But something was up, which came in the form of her house being raided by Malik's forces. She managed to run off, while her parents were nailed to the door of what used to be her house. Now just walks around the provinces, hiding herself from Malik's grasp.
Weakness and limitations to your powers: Manipulating water requires some concentration. No concentration, no hydrokinesis.
Bio & History: Adimar hails from the high peaks of Volshiv. He has traveled the Sky Cities, and down in the Volishi Valleys where most Volshi tend to avoid due to the dense foliage and wild animals that haunt the forest beneath them. He is considered one of the best warriors of Volshi -bested only by the High Lord of Volshi. Having been marked a guardian since the day of his birth, at 32 Adimar is well versed in the landscape of politics and battle. He's had his skirmishes with King Malik's invading soldiers over the years. Adimar has spent his life preparing for battle against Malik -knowing his destiny from the very beginning and in order to save his people, he must go fight.
Adimar travels to the central city in hopes of finding his fellow Volshi, Aria, who was spirited away as a baby to be the next High Priestess. All in Volshiv know the name of Aria, and an army is amassed waiting to help her at the call to battle. Adimar intends to lead that army and reclaim the Holy Throne... but don't confuse his motives as one of honor -Adimar has plans of his own... to be free.
Weapon of Choice: Archer by trade, but also carries a sword of Volshi Steel passed down in his family for generations
Primary Special Power: Weather Manipulation, allows him to create any number of storms for up to eight hours. Lightning, tornado, rain etc...
1. Flight Assist: Allows him to use the wind to propel him upwards into the air for short bursts of time, or to surge him forward quickly.
2. Lashing Tailwind: The name of his attack where he kicks out a devastating blast of cold air to temporarily immobilize opponents.
3. Eagle Eye: Allows him to possess the body of any bird and see through it's eyes. He uses this skill a great deal for scouting.
Weakness and limitations to your powers: As with any magic user Adimar will eventually run out of Mana: or his magical stamina. He is very powerful, but the more power he uses, the more mana he uses. His powers are limited he can only make one storm a day, but can use his three minor attack powers intermittently as long as he has the mana to do so. Also, his other great weakness is a pretty woman. He does not hide his playboy like nature.
Bio & History: Rhuarc is an extremely large man, standing tall at 6ft 10’ and weighing around 19st 12lbs he is an imposing physical specimen. Rhuarc is a muscled figure and very much represents the typical stereotype of a wasteland barbarian. His body is adorned with various, tattoos, brands and scars.
Born into the traditional nomadic life of the Abdhu’Jai people. At ten years old Rhuarc departed on the traditional journey to the sacred temple of Ouk'nu in the deep southern deserts, as all young men do in an effort to prove himself to his tribe and the great fire deity. It wasn't long before Rhuarc and his people grew used to the merciless raids of Malik and his forces, causing a deep distrust of anyone not from within the nomadic Jai. Rhuarc's father and brother were killed in one so called raid while his sister was taken presumably as a slave.
Weapon of Choice: A large, brutal looking great sword with a wicked looking serrated edge
Guardian: Not a Guardian, but the High Priestess of the Guardians. She is their guide and mentor. She is marked with the symbols of every Guardian in a straight line down her spine -each marked in their prospective color.
Personality: Passionate devotion, motherly, calm gentle -but a tempest of fury if invoked. A Natural Born Ruler
Bio & History: Born in Volshiv, Aria was marked from the day of her Birth as the next High Priestess wielding the marks of all four Guardians. Then they were tiny dots of color, now a woman they have taken full shape down her spine weaving one another together. Her arrival was kept as secret as possible but her coming was foreseen by the Holy Ones who came and collected her. They took her still suckling at her mother's breast, taking her into Central City before she ever knew her mother's name.
When she was six the raids of Malik's wrath arrived. He had laid claim to the throne for many years, but upon word that the new High Priestess had been born he ordered the temples and monasteries burned and destroyed. He decreed that the Old Gods, or Guardians, were no more and that he was God. He lived an unnaturally long life -one none of the Holy Scholars could figure out. It was by the handiwork of Elder Rigby that Aria was smuggled out. Since then she was raised in seclusion with nothing but Elder Rigby to teach her, and her many tombs and scrolls from which she studied preparing for the day to take her birth right. The Holy Alter. It would make her more powerful than any king or Lord of the Four Provinces, but it is not for Power she wishes to take the Alter Throne back... it is for the people. She too has suffered by Malik's hand, she wishes it to end.
Weapon of Choice: She is often seen walking with a Staff, this is her bow staff, her weapon of choice. Meant to disarm and injure but not kill
Primary Special Power: Absolute Intuition -she has a knowing about her. It is unexplainable.
1. Ability to enter the spirit realm either while sleeping or through meditation
2. Can whisper thoughts into the minds of men - Persuasion
Weakness/limitations: Aria is not a fighter, that alone makes her weak physically. Mentally she is strong. Her powers of absolute intuition are more like a strong 6th sense -but not always available. When she enters the spirit realm, awake or asleep she is vulnerable to attack and needs to be guarded by someone she trusts. Her powers of persuasion can be ignored by a person with an iron will.
[center *** Side characters who travel with the Guardians are more than welcome to help make up the caravan***]
1. All Standard ES rules apply
2. Have Fun
3. No insta-romance
4. This is a literate RP. I ask for a post on average of 800 words
5. Basic Grammar and Spelling please
6. PM Me with the title of the Rp: Rise of the Guardians, and a basic Character Skeleton.
7. You have ten (10) days to post. Failure to post within ten days forfeits your turn.
Please note: You may play more than one character, but you may only play one Guardian.
Your powers should not be so much that combined you are incredibly powerful and basically unstoppable. Please have ONE main power that does only a small handful of acceptable things, and up to three minor skills. All your power and all your skill -your character is still mortal and MUST HAVE A WEAKNESS. I don't want characters with god-like powers. Our group will face tasks where they are defeated, injured, or captured. No one should be capable of having fail-safes to constantly win.
Water Manipulation: can take water from the ground, the air, or even from a direct water source and create water funnels that attack, or a massive wave, or even turn that water to ice and create a spear with which to throw at enemies.
Healing: you can heal but not raise the dead -that is necromancy and would be considered a Primary power
Air Manipulation: Would be more like controlling the weather. Or maybe you can rush the air at an opponent flinging them back, take the air from them and let them choke.
Earth Manipulation: Use of the ground, make it shake, split open into chasms to swallow whole platoons, or maybe use the plant life around you, grow your own and use it to attack.
If you still have questions regarding your powers, please don't hesitate to PM me. I want these characters to be humble -not all powerful.
You don't have permission to post in this thread.
Malik could feel power coming to life inside Caledon. He felt its ripple across the land and he watched a breeze move outwards as if breathing new life into the world. He did not like the feeling of it. It felt threatening, and he knew it was the Priestess’ work. He wanted to smile, she was getting more powerful. That made things more interesting.
Currently he was more interested in how the Jai Guardian managed to incinerate almost twenty freshly conjured Wraiths. To get his answers he looked into a Crystal that showed him what had happened. The prowess and teamwork of both the Volshi and Jai Guardians was impressive. Even the little Fenlyk upstart had skills; crushing and killing his Wraiths with her water. Then there was the Caledon Guardian who had been evading his Mage all this time. These Guardians were proving to be quite the annoyance…
Malik’s face was still covered by his cowl and he looked over towards the shadows of the forest. His Fade had been unable to penetrate the village, and neither could Malik. It was still protected. Malik could be patient. He had waited this long, what was a little longer? Besides, this was his chance to watch the Guardians in action. He wanted to learn this enemy, so when he crushed them, it would be without mercy. It would be efficient, and it would be done all at once.
Clearly frontal attacks on the Guardians, even with small focused and skilled teams, didn’t work. They were too strong. An Army didn’t stop them when they had the entire Fenlyk Resistance with them… the only thing Malik hadn’t tried yet… was to divide and conquer. They had come close enough to doing it to themselves, but Malik felt that maybe it would take some encouragement… but in order for that plan to work… Malik would have to dispose of a serious problem first, or make that problem work for him.
[+purple “I have a new task for you, Fade… This barrier won't last forever. When it falls, this time the Priestess is not your target. If he will not come speak with me, then kill my brother by any means necessary.”] Malik turned his horse away, his orders given, but his Wraiths remained, and Malik moved to higher ground where he could watch the village and their movements.
[i New life grows from the old…
By your hand…]
Aria heard those words whisper to her as she came too. Groggy from the pollen induced sleep, she found herself where she had fallen, and now she had to not only find a way out of the roots, but to the top of the Sanctuary Tree. She was still a little fuzzy on where to plant it, how to plant the seed… if she could even get it and not kill herself in the process. There was no one here to help her, and so she would have to do it alone.
Rising to all fours, Aria looked up towards the dim grey light above, and reached up for a branch to help her up, when it suddenly jerked and pulled her up. Aria gasped in slight terror as the tree came to life and moved slowly with loud heavy groans, until a type of stairway had been made for Aria to climb easily out from under the tree.
[+pink “Oh, thank you. That’s very kind of you, but please… don’t waste your energy,”] Aria told the tree, but it remained unmoving, having created a path for her, and when she finally ascended out, the tree relaxed back to its natural state with a sigh.
Aria brushed her hands off, but the work was not done. She was quite the sight with her dirty knotted up nightgown, the blood stain against the pale fabric, and the dark dirt that covered her feet to her knees and her hands to her elbows. With hands on her hips she looked upwards to the tops of the tree, trying to determine the safest way up, and how to locate the seedling. Either way she knew she had to start climbing, and so she did. Hands gripping whatever parts of the tree she could, and began to lift herself up, not daring to look down. Weaving her body as carefully as she could through the branches she kept her footing cautious, which was good as several, more brittle, branches during her climb snapped under her weight. If it wasn’t for her having hands on another branch she too might have gone tumbling down with the debris.
Her muscles were strained and shaking by the time Aria reached the top of the tree and as her head rose over the branches she looked about for the single seed, the Sanctuary Tree had mentioned. Her legs shook from exhaustion, and her entire body followed as she was able to see just how high up she was. There was no wind and it remained eerily silent inside the underground cove of decayed fauna. The ceiling of the encasing mountain showed a starry night sky, but Aria was uncertain if it was a true reflection of the time.
Spanning her gaze across the barren tops on the tree, she spied a flutter of something like a feather. She noticed it was attached to a bulb that looked like a large nut. To make it more difficult, it was on the other side of the tree. Aria was more determined than ever, and began her movements around the trunk of the tree, undeterred. When within reach of the seed, she reached up and took it. She was finally able to examine it in her hand. It was the size of a her palm and covered in a hard brown shell covered in rough hair-like fiber. Needing to rest and curious to see what the see was like, she took a seat against the trunk of the tree and let her legs hang over either side of the branch. She took a moment to catch her breath and then looked down to the nut. She wondered what the others were up to. Where was Saraya, and why hadn’t she been here to help with the Sanctuary tree? With no answers to satiate her, Aria continued with the path before her. When she cracked the nut open, she was shocked to find it was lined with strange white and metallic-blue fibers. It seemed alive, glowing gently and pulsing with untapped energy, and laid in the very center of it was the seed. The odd thing about it, Aria noted, was its uncanny resemblance to a pearl. It was beautiful and glittered with an iridescence that made it shimmer under the light like a precious stone, but there was a softness to it that denoted a fragility to it. Aria would not remove it from its cushion until she was ready to plant it.
She closed the protective shell back around the seed and hugged it to her chest. She frowned, wondering how she might get down. She could jump… she’d done that in Volshi and had managed to use some of Volshi’s gifts like Adimar. In Fenlyk she was able to manipulate water like Lara, but this was Caledon’s temple… From what Aria knew of Saraya’s powers she had the ability to scent their enemies before they attacked, erect barriers, and use her summoned bow of shadow… but nothing that connected her to the earth, and nothing that would help her get down from the tops of this ancient and old tree, hundreds of feet up. A fall would equate a most certain demise. If she jumped might she make her own barrier and just… [i bounce] when she hit the ground? No. Stupid… still suicide, and she would certainly slip on the climb down with only one hand. She eyed the seed once more and frowned.
[+pink “I don’t suppose you have any fresh advice?”] Aria asked the tree, but she received nothing more than silence from the withered old tree. She knew she couldn’t stay in the tree either.
Below her came the sudden crack of a twig and Aria looked down to see a massive beast of white fur and blue totem markings along its back and sides. Aria tensed, sucking in a breath and looked on with nervous uncertainty. It was a wolf, a massive wolf. On all fours, it was the size of a large bear standing up. She shivered at what it might do. Caledon’s sigil had always been a Stag… The creature stopped at the base of the tree and looked up at her with eyes full of wisdom, and benign intent. Come to think of it, the wolf was Saraya’s sigil… perhaps this was Caledon, but it was appearing to Aria in its new form under Saraya. Which would explain why Volshi was not a dove when Aria saw it in Kil’heed. The will of the guardians affected the spirits…
The wolf chuffed at her as if asking her to come down. Aria was nervous, that was certain. She feared the wolf wanting to eat her, but instead the animal laid down on its side right under her. Aria contemplated her options a moment longer before she sighed heavily and began the hazardous climb down. She did alright until halfway down, she finally slipped, a branch snapped under her and she went falling. She hit the first branch, then another, the seed flying from her hand, but even though she slipped through the branches, she didn’t hit the hard ground. Instead her body slammed into a more sturdy branch and she was able to catch herself, but she couldn’t breathe. She heaved from the nerves, she heaved for air from the pain to her entire body, and she gasped as she tried not to wail with pain. Her body was trembling from the damage, but she still managed to pick her shivering body up and finished the rest of the descent. The wolf was there to help her down and eased her down to her hands and knees where she patted around the deadened grass to find the seed.
She was frantic, her eyes welling with tears from pain and fear she had lost the seed. She stopped only once to cough, and spat out a mouthful of blood. Her vision was growing fuzzy, double vision settling in and the edges of her sight going dark. She felt the wolf nudge her carefully and it was enough to help her reach forward and grab the seed. She blinked away the haze and intense desire to simply close her eyes and shut down. Opening the shell she was relieved to find the seed was still there.
With that knowledge she was able to steady her nerves and forced a deep breath, though it came with great pain, and managed to look back to the seed in her hand.
[+pink “I need to plant this… need to… dig…”] Aria pitifully pawed her own hand at the dirt, doing nothing but scratching the surface, until the Wolf came closer and wedged its large nose under her hand and forced her to eventually climb on its back. It carried her away from the tree to a clear spot, perfect for a new tree to grow, and right where a moonbeam kissed the earth. The Wolf laid her down, and then began to dig its large paws into the ground. Unable to move from where she laid, Aria watched the wolf tear a hole in the earth. He made quick work of it and came back to her side, nudging her to crawl to the edge and place the pearl like seed in the ground. Before doing so Aria held it before her and glanced over towards the dying Sanctuary tree.
[+pink “New life… you will bring new life. You are our greatest hope, and even should the guardians not survive, you will.. you will and new life will grow regardless. That’s all that matters,”] she breathed and placed a kiss to the pearl and set it cozy in the earth and swept a hand through the dirt over and over until it was covered in enough dirt she could roll back and allow the wolf to kick the rest back into place.
She felt the wolf back at her side when it was finished, and listened to it wine nervously. Aria chuckled, but even in the laughter was the whimpers of pain. [+pink “Don’t worry about me. You’re Caledon, aren’t you?”] The wolf stared back with pale blue eyes that seemed to understand her. [+pink “Makes sense… Saraya’s spirit animal is the wolf… she’s got wolves. They’re big, not like you, but pretty big…”] Aria murmured tiredly. She winced and reached over for her side where the pain was greatest from the first hit when she slipped. She was covered in dirt, scraps, bruises and blood. Her tongue was swollen from where she bit it during the fall and she could still taste the blood in her mouth. Caledon laid his head gingerly over Aria and she moaned partly in pain, and partly from the comforting warmth the wolf put out. [+pink “I just need a moment to rest. These tasks keep getting harder, more dangerous… I’m beginning to get a little nervous about Jai’hash now,”] Aria attempted to joke, and eventually forced herself to sit up and looked over to the pile of dirt. [+pink “You will grow… You have to,”] she murmured to the seedling. [+pink “Grow into a strong and powerful tree. The mother of all life in Azeroth. Bind us and root us together in harmony…Previal where I can not-“]
Aria stopped speaking to the seedling when there came a great shudder, and the Sanctuary tree began to crumble and fall. Aria watched with wide eyes, while Caledon watched on in solemn silence. Branches dropped, roots rotted to dust, and eventually that’s all that was left, dust and dirt. The tree had faded away to nothing, but the seedling began to writhe under the soil. It’s casing cracking where Aria had kissed it, and rapidly roots began to dig deeper into the ground while a bright green stalk began to work its way up. Aria saw a glimmer of light from under the soil before the stalk broke the soil and kept climbing in height. Before Aria knew it the stalk was 1 meter tall and already sprouting branches. One meter quickly became three, which turned to nine and so forth until it slowed it’s growth in height and began to fill out. Wider and wider it grew and Aria knew she was in its path and unable to move very quickly. Thankfully Caledon was there to grab a mouthful of her nightgown and dragged to a safe distance from the tree. As it grew fuller and wiser the sanctuary also seemed to return back to life, water suddenly began to pour in from above them. It restored a once dried up creek until the water disappeared once again into the mountain. The grass grew lush once more and the other flora seemed to shutter its deadened shells and came alive once more. Aria watched with relief and tears in her eyes to see that at least something good had been done. At least in this way the world was saved.
It also reminded her of the very real possible fate they all faced. She was suddenly hunched over sobbing with tears in her eyes. They were not entirely from fear, or from loss, but mostly with relief. The relief at knowing that no matter what happened to the people of Azera, life would continue. For once in her life Aria felt she had completed some of her life’s purpose in that moment. When she finished getting it all out, she sighed and sat back looking up at the glimmering new Sanctuary Tree. Vibrant and full of life. She wondered if the wave of new strength in Azeroth would ring throughout the Four Provinces.[+pink “Volshi’s temple taught me Courage, to no longer fear what may happen. Fenlyk taught me Justice and Fidelity. So what will you teach me, Caledon?”] Aria asked looking to the wolf that now sat on his back haunches beside her, easily dwarfing her. Slowly his head turned towards the pool of water that now occupied where the first Sanctuary Tree once stood.
Aria managed to stand up and limped her way over to the edge of the water and looked down. In the water all she saw was her reflection, distorted by the moving water. Aria instinctively knew what to do and placed her hand to the surface of water and it rippled with a subtle wave of power and stilled to a hard surface like glass. In its depths, Aria could see all the members of her party. She saw Adimar as she had never seen him, relaxed in fine Volshi clothes and with a large smile on his face, juggling what appeared to be magical orbs and all for a bouncing little tot. Aria instantly recognized the child as Aramis. A figure swooped in to pick him up and Aria realized it was Lara, who was suddenly spinning the child around. Scanning the scene further she spotted Saraya seated with Carrick, their heads touching and watching their son. The focal point of the image was Aramis.
[+pink “Life…”] Aria breathed, grasping the concept. [+pink “Life and…”] she stopped seeing the images of Adimar and Lara suddenly standing near and staring at the other with longing. [+pink “love…”]
She removed her hand just before the images could change and looked over to see that Caledon had moved to her side once more. [+pink “I know what life and love are, I don’t need a lesson.”] She watched the wolf lower his head to the water and when his snout touched the water it made the same ripple and stilled once more.
This time the image was of Rhuarc, standing at the precipice of something grand. His burly arms crossed over his tattooed and scarred chest. While his brow furrowed in thought, his eyes on the horizon, dark hair tousled in the breeze. Without warning his face twisted into something different, and Aria watched his hard face soften as she came into the picture. It was odd to see herself depicted in the glass, playing out a scene that had not happened, would never happen, or had yet to happen. She watched with eager apprehension as the figures moved towards the other and into an easy embrace. The image suddenly faded and showed another of Aria with Saraya and Lara, both of them cooing over something swaddled in her arms. Aria felt her mouth go dry.
[+pink “S-stop!”] she demanded and looked away from the water. [+pink “None of it’s real. I don’t want to see a future that might not happen.”] Caledon made a noise of protest and when Aria looked to the wolf she saw it did not look pleased. Aria stared back for a long moment, and in a way she understood what it wanted the longer she held his gaze. Same with the Hawk in Kil’heed.
[+pink “I understand… These are the reasons we fight. Life and Love. Justice and Truth. I will not be afraid, and I will not forget,”] Aria said after a long silence with the Wolf. Tenderly she reached up and touched the wolf’s head. Her fingers threading through the thick soft fur and as he stood she did too on shaky legs. On her back the totem changed again. Where the silhouette of a Stag once marked her flesh, green vines and flowers now made up the sigil of a wolf.
Caledon led her to the edge of the Sanctuary, but the moment Aria crossed the threshold and looked back, she saw it was all gone. There was darkness all around her and she was in the main chamber of the Temple. She was also holding something in her hand, but it was too dark to see what it might be, so she walked over where she saw a sliver of light coming in from an open door. She looked down to see it was a flower, and that a vine had curled around her finger. This was part of the new Sanctuary tree… it had sent her away with [+pink “A cutting?”] The petals were lavender in color and soft as silk, but hardy and strong with pale white fuzz over a green vine. She wasn’t sure how to plant this, if this was even for the sense of propagation or if it was a gift. Either way, she was certain she was meant to keep it close, she she moved it from her finger to her wrist where it quickly wrapped itself up tightly along her forearm, growing until leaves and three more flowers sprouted. For a moment Aria didn’t move, was this plant going to eat her? Cut off circulation to her hand? Sensing her disquiet, a curling tail of the vine gently stroked the top of her hand in comfort. No, this did not mean her harm, it could do no harm, and she suspected this plant was somehow sentient, and now bonded to her. It would need sunlight, so she pushed the door to the temple open and had to raise a hand to shield her eyes.
[#20b2aa “Oh my Gods… Aria!”] Aria blinked blindly and tried to look at the owner of the familiar voice.
[+pink “Adimar? Luther?… Saraya?”] She tried, and felt hands on her, guiding her someplace else. She let them, unable to fight them, and began to feel the exhaustion and pain of her injuries settle in. [+pink “Rhuarc?”] she finally asked for, and she nearly began to cry when she felt his hand and saw him coming into view. [+pink “I did it… I restored the temple, by planting a new Sanctuary Tree… I’m sorry, I fell while climbing down for the old one. I promise I don’t feel as bad as I look. AHH!”] Aria suddenly gasped out in pain during Adimar’s preliminary examination of her body. He had pressed a hand to her side, the same spot Aria had hit in her fall.
[#20b2aa “Does it hurt to breathe?”] Adimar asked, Aria gave a nod of her head and Adimar frowned.
[b “Fractured Rib, we’ll have to set it. Her ankle too, look.”] Max was down at her feet and carefully turned Aria’s blackened foot to show Adimar the bruising.
[#20b2aa “Quite a fall you took. I hope it was worth it,”] Adimar chided. Aria didn’t look at him, she kept her eyes on Rhaurc.
[+pink “It was. It will be. Malik will never truly destroy Azeroth… not after today. I need to know what our situation is. How long I’ve been in the temple and how the mission went. Did you defeat Egos?”] Luther argued that Aria needed to get her rest. That she needed to see a healer, but Aria waved him off with a raise of her dirty hand and pinned her gaze to Saraya.
[+pink “I spoke with Caledon. He did not come to me in the form of a Stag… but as a wolf. You have claimed your place as Guardian, and my totem has changed as well. I too, now bear the mark of a wolf. There is something greater I must tell you. The Sanctuary Tree has died. It was real. Your temple, is a fortress meant to protect a most Holy place, and even should it fall, one can not simply find its treasure. I planted its only seed, and it grew! You have to protect it. It’s not just another tree… it’s [i the] source of all life in Azeroth. This changes the tide of the war in our favor… Caledon is restored. Azeroth still has hope.”]
Adimar tensed his bowstring ready to fire, and Max had his heavy axe in his hands. Both Rhuarc and Max where mountainous men, and with the challenging battlecry of Rhuarc’s, the Wraiths attention was drawn where they wanted it. From his perch, Rupert took the sign to not do his suicidal plan, and Thad jumped from his hiding spot to look around and watch the scene. As Rhuarc engaged their foes, Thad finally reached for the Harbringer and left Lara in her hiding spot. He hurried over to Adimar who fired arrow after arrow towards the wraiths keeping them from swarming Rhuarc and Max. Something was wrong, and even Adimar noticed it. The Wraiths weren’t openly attacking back, but seemed to be drawing Rhuarc in. Adimar was surprised to see Thad coming to his side and carrying the sword Aria had been missing. His heart leapt in fear to see that Lara was not with him.
“She’s safely hidden right now. I hope you’ve got some of those handy potions on you. She used her magic and over extended herself. She’s still alive, but we can’t wake her.” Thad explained and Adimar nodded in understanding. She was likely in a self imposed coma to keep her alive until help.
“Then it’s a good thing I brought a vial with me. For now-“
“Warriors of light, rally to me!” Rhuarc suddenly bellowed interrupting them and Adimar swung his attention back to his comrade.
Adimar could see that they had walked into a trap. Twenty more Wraiths came out from the shadows of the trees causing pure pandemonium in trying to hold off the attack. Adimar swung around to fire a volley of three arrows at once towards a pair of Wraiths moving in from their side. One Wraith fell back with a screech, while the other dodged and moved closer still. The group managed to take a few wraiths out between Rhuarc and Adimar’s enchanted weapons while they regrouped. Thad helped to cut down a path for Adimar towards Rhuarc, while he kept firing his arrows at those who dared too close to Rhuarc’s exposed back. Max had made quick work to meet Rupert and was helping him get back to the group.
Once together, they circled up, backed against the other and guarding themselves from the collection of Wraiths. It was in that tense moment Adimar could feel power pooling in Rhuarc. A raw, untapped sort of power that was beginning to boil over. Nervously Adimar looked to his side towards Rhuarc and frowned.
[#20b2aa “Got a plan? I was thinking fire vortex-“] Rhuarc stopped him with a raise of his blade, and look of determination blazing with blue fire behind his eyes. He watched Rhuarc strike his sword into the ground, and then… nothing. The moment stretched and the Wraiths began to close in.
[#20b2aa “Fuck!”] Adimar spat, and quickly draped his bow across his chest and raised his hands. The wind picked up around them and as Adimar swirled his arms before him, the air began to pick up around them circling for a good moment and finally blasted outwards knocking the Wraiths back, buying them precious seconds. The culmination of power coalescing around Rhuarc had never ceased, and it was all coming to head. It was Adimar sent the Wraiths back that the earth followed with a tremble, and from Rhuarc’s blade the ground splintered open. The air grew warm and eventually the shrill tone of a whistle hit their ears for a brief moment growing louder and louder until boiling hot steam rushed up from the open earth. The air grew higher in heat until it felt almost tropical. That moisture in the air was quickly wicked away as hot raw magma began to seep up from the crack, and Tropical turned into an oven.
Adimar stared in awe for a brief moment, and could see that Rhuarc’s eyes burned blue and gold. He watched the man’s arms raise up in slow motion, and he looked through the shimmering ozone of heat towards the enraged Wraiths who had foolishly began to regroup themselves. Adimar knew better, and he knew the dangers Rhuarc was facing. They had been working on building his mana, Adimar doing all he could to help Rhuarc better understand his ability to tap into his arcane energy, but that it was akin to a muscle, and a muscle overexerted with or without proper training, could be disastrous.
[#20b2aa “RHUARC!”] Adimar shouted, willing to help in any way he could, there were still the Wraiths behind them, and things would be easier if Rhuarc had a more condensed target to hit. Adimar dug deep into his own Mana stores, and conjured a narrow stream of hurricane force winds. It funneled like a spike down from the sky and collided with the wraiths sweeping them over to the others, tumbling them all into a pile as the wave of molten lava fell over them and incinerated their existence to a pile of ash.
Surprisingly Adimar wasn’t overly exhausted from the heat, but Thad, Rupert, and Max were. Still, they were alive, a bit scorched but alive. Still the heat was magnanmous, and Adimar looked to Rhuarc knowing better than to touch him. Rhuarc’s body was putting off intense heat. The air around him waved with thermal radiation, but Adimar got close enough to help coach his friend back from the edge.
[#20b2aa “This is the hardest part, Rhuarc. Draw the wave back in, as you draw air into your lungs… Very good…”] Adimar commented seeing the Magma return back into the ground. The ground also closed itself leaving a nasty scar, and a scorched ground around them. The forest had been reduced to cinder. Rhuarc suddenly wavered and both Max and Adimar were there to catch him.
[b “Easy there, General. Let me help you. This battle isn’t over yet,”] Max offered and led Rhuarc towards the wolf.
Seeing that Max had Rhuarc, Adimar turned then for Thad who was already making his way across the scorched ground towards the ring of trees that managed to survive. Adimar chased after him towards the trees, and stopped when he stopped by a dip in the earth. Thad had hidden her in a natural drainage ditch, dried up due to lack of rain. Adimar heaved a sigh, seeing she was untouched. She was however pale as death with dark purple circles under her eyes.
[#20b2aa “You say she took three Wraiths out by herself?”] Adimar asked, Thad gave a nod of his head and lifted up her legs, while Adimar took her shoulders and together they carried her out of the ditch and laid her out of the ground. Adimar was quick to reach into his breastplate and removed a small leather pouch, from it he shook out a small vial filled with shimmering blue liquid. [#20b2aa “Foolish girl…”] he chided, and lifted Lara’s head until she was cradled in his lap and he forced the potion down her throat. [#20b2aa “Now we just have to wait for her to wake up. This potion will increase her ability to regenerate magika. Just takes a few moments.”] Adimar lifted Lara into his arms and walked back over to the group with Thad to hear Rhuarc from where he was mounted on Sky saying they needed to return to the village. Adimar gave a nod of his head in agreement, and with Thad’s help mounted a horse and took Lara. Thad and Rupert took the other horse, and Max rode with Rhuarc making for quite the spectacle.
They rode into the village, in need of rest, food, and minor medical attention. Two they would receive, the first was a luxury they could not afford. Adimar dismounted with Lara still in his arms at the house they were given, and he carried her inside to lay her down. Since she had no room, he put her in his bed. Once he was sure she was comfortable and tucked in, he grabbed another vial of a mana potion and hurried back out of the house to meet Rhuarc who was being helped by Max who kept close.
[#20b2aa “Rhuarc, drink this… It will help. Give it a moment and when you’re ready we can head back to the temple and see if was can find anyone. No-one was in the house, so I’m assuming The Priestess is still in the temple. Thad, Rupert.. stay with Lara, send word when she wakes. I want to know.”] Thad and Rupert nodded, getting to work making sure that food was ready and that Lara didn’t wake up alone. With them in the house Max patted sky and motioned for the Wolf to lead the way.
[b “Show us the way, my furry friend.”] And so they followed Sky towards Saraya and Carrick’s location, which seemed to be back at the Temple. There was a minor commotion and it seemed the temple doors had cracked up, but the Priestess had yet to rise from behind the doors…
Saraya heard the demand. Call upon the warrior women and prepare for battle. She looked to Owl and Crow. [i “Call on Hanti. Sound the call. I will need to have them here. Mogar, be sure your father is still tied. I want him to believe the enemy will still save him. Once he is secured, return here with as many men able to wield a sword. Aria’s men will be sure the doors are guarded. Teypion, please take Aramis and go to the cottage on the hill. It is the furthest from battle, and closest to the mountain. There, they will not pillage”]
Ruscal could almost smile. Saraya was becoming the Leader, the General and voice she once was. Her eyes had changed. Her demeanor had changed. She looked to Ruscal after watching Teypion depart, and Owl and Crow ran towards the training grounds. Mogar made haste towards his father. All the while, Saraya had Carrick and Ruscal help her to the hill again, where Ruscal went right to work. [u “Carrick, you must help her heal. She must awaken her powers completely.”] She said as she helped her lay back against the grass. Carrick had grabbed her hand. [b [i “What must I do?”]]
[u “You must make her remember. She has forgotten how it feels to be loved… To be desired… To be needed. As Blood Leader, she needs her greatest strength to keep her from falling.”] Carrick looked to Ruscal. She smiled. [u “You need to remind her of how much you love her... how much we all love her.”]
Carrick looked down to Saraya, who seemed to be in a daze, looking up to the sky. [i “The war… It will take this beauty away. The trees will die, the earth will weep, soak in the ocean of blood that will poison it… There is no way to avoid the evil that is coming. There is no way to avoid bloodshed. The earth will have its final moments swimming in the blood of innocence and the guilty… What will save this world?”] she whispered as a gentle wind graced her cheek. Carrick could see her line of thinking. It did seem dire… But…
[i “I know of your past… The family that you have lost… The people that were closest to you taken by the hand of the enemy. You hadn’t a choice but to be under the rule of his fist, to agree to the beast for a shred of the life you once had… Yet, you didn’t betray us when you had the chance…”]
Carrick knew what she meant. The Forge. When they were sought out by the minions, one of which was Egos. [i “Malik had did an evil thing to you, forcing you to be a traitor to seek retribution and repentance of their deaths… I am sorry you had to suffer that. If I had known, i…”]
Carrick bowed his head over her. [b [i “Saraya, i…”]]
[i “I have already forgiven you… There is no need to apologize. I am sure… Aria and the others will, too. “] She sighed as she looked to the clouds again. [i “I fear that… There may be a chance… I may end up like Malik with this power. It has proven to be difficult to control when Aramis was inside me… I know not the boundary without him there…”]
[b [i “You can’t think this way, Saraya… This is why you were chosen. This was why everyone are banding together. There is a common purpose, a common goal to save Azeroth from the grip that evil has.”]] Saraya finally looked to him. He could finally see her weariness. She was worn, but, she was very much trying to hold strong. Carrick looked to Ruscal, who nodded to him in acknowledgment. Carrick then looked down to her before curling closer, gripping her hand gently, yet firmly. [b [i “Saraya… Do you remember when we first met? In my forge?”]] Saraya looked to him, and a soft smile took her delicate lips. [b [i “You couldn’t speak much English when I met you… But, I could see the anguish and hope in your eyes. With your dress torn, I could see that you’ve traveled many miles, and you hadn’t given in until you’ve made it to where Aria was. The bravery in that made me feel attracted to you. You had given me the courage to defy Malik and his goons”]]
Saraya looked to him a moment. Saraya smiled a bit as he put his forehead onto hers. [b [i “When we had escaped Central City, to Tanaka, I couldn’t help but see your true strength. Your bravery and heart knew no bounds. And when you asked me to be yours, I couldn’t deny it. I had to say yes. You could have chosen any Guardian, any other man to share your love. You have chosen me”]] She smiled a little brighter then. Carrick looked to her beautiful face and let his hand that gripped hers trace her jawline. [b [i “I couldn’t restrain myself when I had reunited with you in the trees, either. Though your father gave us that fit of desire for that fleeting moment, I didn’t resist. My love, I wanted to give you a child; my own selfish desire that I had hidden for fear it was not the time. I didn’t resist because it was you I wanted. If I was given the choice again, I would allow it to happen again, too.”]]
Saraya blushed. [i “Carrick-“]
[b [i “I am not ashamed, Saraya. I am in love with you. I do not want anyone else to believe I am unable to protect you. You deserve that much. You have so much to fight for… To live for. And now, so do I”]] He smiled as tears welled in his eyes. [b [i “You have given me my retribution, my repentance. You gave me a second chance before Aria could even give me her blessing as a Holy Knight. You forgave me when others would condemn me. You have even went so far as to give me a son. You are a Guardian, the most powerful and the most loving. Aria is very fortunate to have you with her.”]]
Saraya couldn’t even speak. She was at a loss for words. Carrick stared down to her as tears fell to her cheek. [b [i “Saraya, you’re strong enough to master the skills you bear. I may be a man, but even I know this. I am your sword and shield, remember? I cannot lie to the one I love”]] Saraya smiled as tears threatened to fall from her lashes. [i “Carrick…”]
Ruscal began to chant, allowing Carrick to silence a moment. [b [i “I love you, Saraya… We all do… You are Aria’s secret weapon. You have always been. And you now must heal. You need to unlock your full potential. Awaken, and be one of the saviors of Azera…”]]
With that, he placed his lips on hers. Ruscal saw an aura about them, and it began to intensify as she finished her chanting. The powerful aura of her father had shaken the earth, and the earth was listening. The wind had engulfed them, and the skies brightened about them. When they released the kiss, it was all that could be done. Ruscal could see and feel that her body was healing, and that she was now growing stronger. She was accepting the triangle she was sitting between. Higasca… Prya… Blood Leader…. She was finally making them one.
Once the wind subsided, Carrick sighed as he allowed her to finally sleep. She had done the same thing she did when she shared her power of Caledon. She had given him some of the power of her father, to share in her aura… And he accepted it, happily. Saraya had finally accepted her purpose; had accepted who she was. It was a good thing, too… Because war was afoot, and they would need her at least at her quarter strength.
Carrick had allowed Ruscal to finish her healing as he trailed downhill, and spotted Owl in the distance. Mogar was surrounded by a good handful of men, while Crow and Owl had the women warriors. Mogar looked to Carrick. [b “Is the Blood Leader alright?”] he asked. Carrick nodded to him, smiling as he looked back to her on the hill. [b “Then, My Lord… What will you have us do while she heals?”]
[b [i “My Lord?”]] he asked, tilting his head. Mogar smiled and nodded. [b “Yes. She has given you an aura. It is simple that she has chosen you to be at her side. You are her King, so you are our Lord”] he bowed his head. [b “What you command, I will execute”]
Carrick looked to him, and sighed as he pulled Mogar up. [b [i “Now isn’t the time for formalities… Adimar is right. We must prepare for war. If Malik made it this close, we must now prepare for the worst. For now, we still have a few days more to prepare for the inevitable. Mogar, you are appointed General and trusted Guard of The Blood Leaders. May you succeed in your strife”]] Mogar was honored. [b [i “Gather the warriors. Owl and Crow, too. We will need a plan, and we need to train. We will not go down without a fight”]]
Mogar bowed lower. [b “As you wish, My Lord. I am truly honored.”] As Mogar departed, he sighed a bit. They weren’t officially leaders yet, but they didn’t have any time to be inaugurated as such. Now, time was of the essence. And, it was now or never that they have a plan to conquer. He will do this, for all their sakes. And just as the plan was beginning to unravel, the temple doors opened.
Rhuarc saw what Adimar did and if it wouldn't have gotten him killed he would have shouted a curse at Rupert for being such a fool, attacking the wraiths single handedly was suicide and while it might buy Lara and Thad a chance at escape it also might just serve to flush them out and once again become easy pray for the foul creatures. With the support from Rhuarc and Max, Rhuarc took point, striding proudly down the middle of the road and into clear view of the wraiths, their horrible screeching sound greeting him. With his heavy blade of midnight steel in hand Rhuarc issued his own bellow in challenge to the wraiths, while their warcry was the sound of rusted metal scraping against itself Rhuarc's was the roar of a fearsome beast that prowled the desert sands of the Wastelands, it was a cry of challenge and he would meet it head on. Sprinting towards the wraith immediately infront of him Rhuarc closed the distance as quickly as he could, he needed to keep them occupied, to keep them focused on him, Adiamr and Max and away from Lara. Rhuarc swung his blade witha frightening amount of powe and cut the wraith from shoulder to hip, causing it to fall apart and hit the ground before he turned his attention to the other wraiths. Curiously they were not swarmming him, fighting with the reckless abandon he had come to associate with the undead creatures, they were making halfhearted lunges and and drawing back, attacks that never really tested Rhuarc. He was able to parry most of the attacks. The Jai's instincts were going wild telling him something wasn't right...but it wqas too late the trap had already been sprung. In his zeal to protect Thad, Rupert and Lara, he had engaged the wraiths as quickly as possible, driving deep into the territory they controlled, Max and Adimar had backed him, up and they had left the road that they had travelled down unprotected. A cruel high pitched laugh peierced the air as one of the wraiths, raised its skeletal hand. From amongst the darkness of the trees, more wraiths poured out, almost twenty of them, more than enough to kill them all and still have strength to take the village, the temple, Saraya and Aria.
He had failed, Rhuarc had walked right into their trap. It was reckless, something he had always been so hard on others for, but there was no time for self pity now, he needed to act quickly and find a way ou tof this. He could see the others fighting their own battles as the wraiths now attacked in earnest, trying to claw them apart. Rhuarc's mind went once again to that faint familiar presence that he had felt travelling on sky down towards the village, he didn't have time to meditate and find his calm again now, he needed to trust in himself, in Caledon and Jai'hash that he was right. Rhuarc surveyed the fractured battlefield, his friends were far too spread out, and if they didn't move then what Rhuarc planned would kill them...in fairness the stress of what he was about to do might kill him as well but that was his risk to take. [b "Rally! To me, Warriors of the Light!"] Rhuarc bellowed the call, cutting down a wraith to his left, he needed to unify their force or else what he had planned would never work. One by one they all fough their way to his position, Max joined him first then, Adimar, followed closely by Thad and Rupert. Lara was thankfully still safe in her hidden position. Rhuarc had pivoted from his original position slightly, he could see the wraiths infront of him but he could also feel the wraiths behind him, just reaching the unguarded path towards the villiage. It was now or never, he needed to make his move now or those wraiths would escape and decimate the village. [b "Mighty Caledon, Lend me your aid! Mighty Jai'hash grant me your blessing!"] Rhuarc offered up his preayer to the two entities before taking his blade of midnight steel and thrusting it into the ground. The blade split the earth and was buried halfway up the blade. The wraiths seemed to pause, anticipating something to happen but nothing did, for a few horrible, agonizingly long seconds it felt as if Rhuarc had doomed them all to death... Until his prayers were answered.
Rhuarc could feel the effect of what he had done before he could see it, the ground trembled ever so slightly before cracking open before him, leaving a chasm that split the earth that could one or two wraiths in it beut the majority simply stepped back avoiding the gaping scare in the earth. Caledon had done his part by splitting the earth but the real cause for Rhuarc's actions were evident. Jai'hash was showing his power. The temperature in the forest began to rise astronomically, it had been a pleasant morning, perhaps even a little cold but no more, the Jai could see beads of sweat on Adimar's face and Max's face flushing due to the rising heat. Fire filled the chasm before them, molten, red hot liquid fire, stored deep under the earth until Rhuarc had called it forth. It was hotter than anything that Rhuarc had ever felt before, it would melt right through his bones if it touched him but he was in control now. Fire was Jai'hash's domain, and Rhuarc was its keeper. Rhuarc sent the lava outwards encircling them, keeping them safe from the wraiths while also blocking off the path to the village, his own brow beginning to bead with sweat, not from the heat but from the effort of controlling such raw power, and from protecting his companions from the heat of the lava, none of them had Rhuarc's immuniy to fire, by all rights they should have been roasting in their armour! He now truly knew what Adimar felt when he had summoned the great maelstrom at Astoria, while the Jai had channeled the power he had not been producing the strength for the storm, he now had an even greater understanding of how close he had come to killing Adimar on that day by drawing power through him.
This was different, this time Rhuarc was perfectly in control.
Rhuarc raised his arms and the lava followed his movemets, raising out of the ground before being sent forward, incinerating the wraiths before them. It was the one flaw that Rhuarc had identified with those undead warriors, they had no instinct to protect themselves, they would stand against any odds and fight until they were ripped apart, but there was no fighting the torrent of molten fire that swept over them, they were destroyed utterly, and not one of them attempted to flee their peril. He almost wished the Mage or Malik were here to see how utterly their plan had been undone but Rhuarc's task wasn't over just yet, he drew deep from his reserves of strength one last time and forced the liquid fire to once again retreat into the bowels of the earth before wrenching his blade from the ground. Caledon's blessing must still have been with him because the great chasm sealed itself, not neatly or completely but enough do that there was no longer a pit into the centre of the earth any longer. Rhuarc looked around at the devestation he had wrought, the ground was scarred from where he had opened the pit, and the ground was blackened, charred, burnt and utterly destroyed from where the lava had touched it. He had turned this lush patch of forest into a blight, nothing would ever grow again where the lava had touched the land. He had destroyed the peaceful, scenic landscaped and replaced it with death. That was the nature of fire, to destroy and that was what this war and forced him to do...yet Rhuarc felt no regrets. He did what needed to be done in order to save Lara, to keep his companions alive, to give them a chance at winning this fight. At that moment a wave of nausea washed over him and Rhuarc struggled to stay on his feet, he had expended more energy than was safe, his limbs felt heavy and it would eb unlikely that he would be able to wirld his heavy blade of midnight black steel if called upon. Rhuarc very well might have removed himself from the battle at the temple should there be one, but that could wait. [b "We need to return to the village, Saraya and teh Priestess will need us there."] Rhuarc struggled to mount Sky but managed it with a little help from Max, Thad passed Lara onto the wolf with Adimar he and Rupert then mounted their horses to follow the great wolf back to whatever awaited them at the village.
It was obvious Adimar was eager to go and greet Thad and Rupert to escort Lara back to the group. The party hadn’t felt the same without her youthful hijinks and sassy attitude. He had a hard time describing it, and in the beginning he and Aria had shared their words on Lara’s separation from the group, but he was still unable to answer Aria’s question. Why was it so important to him? He’d had time to think about it without her around, but it hadn’t made coming to the answer any easier. The only consolation he had at the moment was Aria safety within the Temple.
“If this Lara is a Guardian, then that does not sound like much of a reunion,” Mogar said catching Adimar’s attention. He looked up to see Crow, Owl and Ruscal also looking to him. He glared at the statement, of course it would not be ‘much of a reunion’, there was a dangerous risk of them being caught, and as far as Mogar seemed to be concerned it was bound to happen.
[i “I will go,”] Saraya suddenly said and everyone, even Adimar included protested the notion. Despite how she fought she relented and sent one of her wolfs to scout ahead. [i “He will return and tell us the best one to take.”] Adimar frowned at Saraya, but it was out of anxiousness and eagerness to move, that had him uneasy.
Adimar was happy to have Max coming with him, and that relief doubled when Rhuarc did the unexpected and agreed to go as well. Adimar smiled then and reached out to clasp arms with the man.
[+20b2aa “Thank you friend, it will be good to have our team reunited once more. With you at my side, I feel confident we will be victorious.”]
As they waited for the wolf to return, Adimar paced the top steps of the temple, glancing back to the doors as if Aria might arise, and to the trails hoping against all hope that somehow Thad and Rupert made it past the wraiths and were already returning. Saraya and Carrick moved away from the temple to share a moment, and it was then Adimar felt eyes on him, and he looked up to see Luther studying him.
[#00ffff “Your mind is clouded. If you don’t bring clarity to your thoughts you will founder in battle. You have battled the wraiths before, yes?”] Luther asked and Adimar frowned with a shrug.
[#20b2aa “Only the one time, Rhuarc has faced them more than I. He has been with her Holiness since the beginning, like Saraya and Lara. Besides his blade can cut through them without fail.”] That seemed to intrigue Luther who’s brow arched and he looked over to study the towering Jai and his blade of black steel.
[#00ffff “Then it must be an enchanted blade, your arrows of Volshi are also enchanted, they will pierce the Wraiths if you strike true.”] Adimar gave a nod of his head in thanks for the information, but only gave it half of his faith. He’d try it at the very least, if only he was a better shot. He had always favored his sword.
It was then Saraya and Carrick returned back to the temple steps, with Aria still sealed inside, and the wolf bounding back to them.
[i “I cannot leave the temple… I am not leaving Aria until she leaves the temple”] Sky barked loudly catching everyone’s attention including Adimar who began to descend the steps to hear if a safe path was found what Saraya had to say was worse. A path had been found, but they had been spotted! Adimar felt his body grow cold, while his teeth grit together and his body charged with mana.
[#20b2aa “Then there is no time to waste, Sky will lead us to our companions and we will dispatch of Malik’s wraiths on the southern road. While we rescue the others, Saraya and Carrick, it would be wise to gather the villagers and warriors just in case,”] Adimar advised, hurrying towards the wolf with Max and Rhuarc. [#20b2aa “We shall return!”] Adimar shouted and took off running with the others towards the southern road.
THEY were approaching the south edge of Caledon’s oldest village when Rupert smelled something on the wind. Lara was still unconscious, draped across Thad’s lap when they halted their horses and sat in silence on the road, waiting for a sound. It was the lack of noise that unsettled Rupert and he quickly advised Thad to get off the main road with Lara and to hide. Something was amiss, and it became all to clear what that was when they passed by. Per Rupert’s orders, Thad was hidden well off the trail in the dense foliage of the Caldonian forest and watched with bated breath as the rotting and blackened figures of the wraiths approached and passed on their patrol of the road. Thad cursed under his breath, Rupert was across the road hiding on the other side with their horses. Getting back into the village was going to be damn difficult.
The Wraiths seemed to sense their presence as they lingered in the area. They did not speak to one another, but at times would turn on the other with a vicious shriek, and another sound like metal grating against metal. It was a most uncomfortable sound to experience, and Thad was developing a serious dislike for these creatures. They were damn near impossible to kill without a Guardian, and as it stood the only one nearby was dead asleep at his side. He had hidden Lara in the underbrush of a large fern against an old tree, and he sat nearby, hoping and praying to all the gods that the wraiths moved on.
Still they lingered, pacing the area like dogs searching for a lead. The seconds dragged into minutes, and matters became worse as two more wraiths joined the two currently inspecting their area. Thad desperately tried to push himself deeper against the tree and brush, and glanced to check on Lara. Knowing he shouldn’t, but did anyway, he reached for the sword Lara had brought with her. Thad and Rupert had found it among her things, though had yet to ask how she’d come by it, when it was thought to have been stolen… The Blessed Harbinger was there for the taking, and he felt the moment was coming where he would need it.
SKY led Adimar, Max and Rhurac towards the outskirts of the village and around to a point on the southern road. The Wraiths had collected on the road a league out and seemed to be in search of something. Good… that meant so far his comrades had evaded capture and were hiding somewhere nearby. Adimar spied the scene from their hiding place with Max and Rhuarc at his side.
[#20b2aa “Four Wraiths against two guardians and a Holy Captain… doesn’t seem a fair fight, does it?”] Adimar joked, but this was no laughing matter, even one Wraith was difficult enough to take out, but to take two? Good thing he had Rhuarc with him. They fought well together, and their magics were surprisingly compatible.
[b “They’re here,”] Max’s gruff voice interrupted the trio as they scoped out the area. Adimar looked to where Max was looking, in a tree off on the opposite side of the road, was Rupert. Almost unseen, and moving through the tree with the grace of a seasoned acrobat. He was positioning himself over the Wraiths. Adimar tensed realizing that Rupert was potentially planning to play bait, so Thad and Lara could get away. Adimar couldn’t let that happen, he looked to Rhuarc with a look of determination.
[#20b2aa “Let’s dispatch of these monsters and get our people back. Will you take point?”]
[b “I’ll have your flank,”] Max offered Rhuarc, and Adimar pulled his Volshi Bow and took a heavy breath.
[#20b2aa “I will cover you.”] And Adimar meant with more than just arrows, he meant with his gifts from Volshi.
Saraya, upon seeing Sky, was relieved to see everyone had returned safely… But, the look on Carrick’s face spelled what she had known would happen… The Mage was going to be a part of the battle of Caledon. She let out a sigh as he dismounted Sky, and allowed him to reunite with Star. As they nuzzled, Carrick had hurried to Saraya, happy and concerned about her moving around so soon after giving birth to Aramis.
[b “Was this your doing?”] Carrick asked. Saraya stared at him, nodding before looking down to Aramis. Carrick sighed as he took her in his arms, careful not to harm their son. [b “I was unable to-“]
[i “I know…”] she said softly. Carrick had looked down to her, sort of perplexed by the calmness… In fact, to him, something had changed. It was like she was far away, almost not the same woman. [b “Did you… Did you go into the temple?”]
Carefully looking at his love, he observed her soft eyes as she looked back into his. [i “Yes…”] a soft voice so gentle, yet so loud. There was something odd, he could feel it… Like she was growing stronger… The woman that was bedridden just hours before and had successfully gotten Aria to the temple against it all… was no longer weak.
[b “What did you see?”] he asked. She stared at him before smiling. [i “Something that would shake this village of its hopelessness”] He sighed in relief before bending down and kissing her. After which, he bent lower to kiss Aramis’ crown. [b “I’m glad everyone is safe”] he said before looking back to the temple in the mountain.
[u [i “I think Rupert and Thad are returning with Lara... I don’t suspect Aria will rise from the temple soon, but if it’s them... they’re riding right for the Wraiths on the Southern road. They’ll need our help to get past them.”]]
Crow, Owl, Ruscal and Mogar looked at Adimar. [u “If this Lara is a Guardian, then that does not sound like much of a reunion”] he said, looking to Saraya. She was looking more and more concerned. She looked into the trees. [u “They will not make it if that is the case. With the two teams where they are, they will surely be noticed”] she looked to Adimar. [i “I will go.”] She said, giving Aramis to Carrick as he started to fuss.
Everyone sternly advised against it. Saraya growled begrudgingly before looking to everyone. [i “Only I and the Wolcateres know these surroundings. It is either I go or Sky guide you with his nose.”]
Sky stood and went to her, nudging her arm gently, as if to say that he thought that to be a better idea. He whined, Star approaching the two of them, as if to tell her that she would be fine if she stayed with the group. Saraya sighed a moment before nodding to Sky. [i “Sky will scout to see the safest route. He will return and tell us the best one to take.”
She nodded to Sky as he had advanced and disappeared into the trees. Carrick stared at Saraya as she took claim of Aramis again. Carrick had taken special care as he swept her off her feet, and found a hill just right to allow her no pain as she sat. She smiled as she looked to Carrick, before he sat down beside her.
[b “How do you fare? Are you alright?”] he asked as he looked her over. She nodded as she looked at Aramis. [i “I am alright…”] she said softly. Carrick wanted to chastise her for being out so soon after giving birth, but he couldn’t find it in his heart to. Making it to the temple had to be a terrible feat. She managed to push through her own pain and get her to the temple.
As Carrick stared at Saraya, he could see a new fire from within her beginning to ignite. Saraya had been standing aside as he was fighting in Aria’s name as Holy Knight. She defended her when he was incapable, and made sure that The Mage was unsuccessful in his attempts, though it meant the put herself in harm’s way. She endured so much, all the way down to the second death of her son… And she still managed to get Aria, weak and all, to the temple.
[i “I sensed him, too…”] she said, looking to Carrick. Carrick looked to her, a bit astonished of her words. [i “Malik was prowling, observing, waiting… I had to act before he would make a move… In that… The loss of Egos has not been in vain…”] she looked to Aramis as he slept. [i “… He has full intention to kill me in this war… And I will invite him to try.”]
Carrick was shocked by her words… She would allow him to try?! He growled. [b “Not if I can help it”] he said. Saraya looked to him. [b “Egos will not lay a hand on you, Saraya! I had to watch you fall from the sky, having to suffer him throw you off a ship after stabbing you with our son in your belly! I’m not allowing that vile mage to touch you again!”] Saraya could see the rage building in his features. She could understand it, his rage. He watched helplessly as The Mage attacked her time and time again. She sighed as she looked ahead. [i “You cannot stop the rain from falling, therefore you cannot stop the evil from coming.”] She said as she looked to the distant gate. “What lies beyond that gate is evil that holds no respect to the chivalry and honor of these lands. Out there, there are no rules.” She looked up to Carrick. [i “You know this too well, Carrick. We must think realistically. They have no honor. There is no doubt that Egos will strike while you and the others are preoccupied”] she looked out to the temple again. [i “I will not allow him to take Aramis from me… I will not allow him to take you away from me… Therefore, I will invite him to come at me… And I will kill him once and for all”]
Carrick was taken aback. Saraya had a look of resolution. She had a look of a beast, a mother wolf willing to attack anything that meant harm to her pack in the den. Be damned that she had just given birth. Danger still lurked beyond those gates. And she will do anything to kill the threat and keep them safe.
Ruscal had approached, nodding to her. “I shall take Aramis to Teypion. Afterwhich, I can help you with your wounds.” She said. Saraya nodded as she given Aramis to her, and Ruscal gave Aramis to Teypion.
[i “I cannot leave the temple… I am not leaving Aria until she leaves the temple”] Carrick could tell… She was unmoved. She growled as Star growled, as if they were bonded like she was bonded to Carrick. He was left to smile a moment. This side of her he had seen before was intriguing. She was becoming the Guardian… She was becoming stronger than ever before. In fact, he had decided to accompany them when Ruscal was ready to treat Saraya.
Crow and Owl looked to see Sky running back. He barked loudly catching everyone’s attention. Saraya nodded. [i “He has found a route… But you must hurry… The enemy has spotted them”]
Rhuarc followed Carrick's lead in attacking the fort, instead of drawing his heavy black blade of midnight steel he instead relied on his belt knife, it was much easier to wield in the knife in the relative confines of the fortress, plus it lent itself to stealth far more than the great sword ever could. As Carrick slit the throat of one of the possessed guards Rhuarc simply snapped the neck of the guard in front of him, before lowering the body to the ground quietly before taking his belt knife and thrusting it into the kidney of another guard, also removing him from the fight. Just as rhuarc punched a third unaware guard in the throat, crushing his windpipe and leaving him to suffocate the Mage made his appearance. Egos was just as vile as ever but he seemed increasingly unhinged since the last time that Rhuarc had seen Malik's servant but almost as soon as the Mage had materialised it seemed that he dissipated just as suddenly, leaving with taunting words about Saraya and the village. The former blackmsith let out a curse before mounting the great wolf and urging Adimar and Rhuarc to do the same, Rhuarc looked sceptical that a wolf could carry all three of them given that most horses struggled to take Rhuarc's great weight but he decided to trust Caledon and Carrick. Along with Adimar he joined Carrick on the wolf as they sped towards the village, the Mage, Aria and potentially Malik.
As they thundered down the mountain, Rhuarc could not believe the pace that the wolf covered the ground, the journey had taken them several days on foot and even a beast as powerful as the wolf should have taken them more time than they had in order to descend the mountain and reach the village in time. Rhuarc closed his eyes and focused his mind, not quite in meditation but more like what he did for when he searched for the presence of serpents, like he did when he had stolen Adimar's power and he could feel another presence with them. It was faint but unmistakable. He felt the influence of Saraya with them, or rather the imprint of Caledon's strength. Sky was a blessing of Caledon, a boon for Saraya to aid her on her journey as Caledon's guardian and it seemed that the original guardian of this land was aiding them in whatever way that he could. It was difficult to describe with each bound that the great wolf made they covered more ground than should have been possible, the scenery did not warp of fly by but every time Rhuarc looked for a landmark that he had made a note of on the journey up he found that when he spotted one he recognised they had passed two or three that should have come before. He could feel the power of Caledon, willing them forward giving them every chance to reach the village and defend the his lands, his temple, his daughter and his people. Rhuarc closed his mind and focused himself back on the here and now, he would have to be ready fro what awaited them in the village, no matter what it was. As it turned out they did not have to face the False King this day, not yet at least, thank the gods, and the wolf carrying the trio managed to return once more to the grounds of the temple where they could see Saraya and the Holy guard waiting, but there was no sign of the High Priestess. While Carrick went to his wife and Adimar went towards the temple doors, stopping jsut shy of actually toughing them, Rhuarc turned his attention elsewhere, he was scanning the surroundings looking for any sign of the Mage, the Wraiths of the False King himself, thankfully for the time being he saw nothing. Hermes broke the calm of the moment by crying out and Adimar used his magical abilities to see through the animal's eyes and declaring that Thad and Rupert were riding towards them with Lara but on their current course they were heading straight towards the Wraiths. They needed support and quickly.
Max quickly volunteered to go with Adimar to help Lara, Thad and Rupert while leaving Luther to protect Aria with the rest of the Holy Guard. In some ways it made sense, Luther's skills far outmatched Max's own and Thad and Rupert were Max's longtime companions, naturally he would care about their welfare. Even so...Max was captain of the Holy Guard, his place was with the High Priestess regardless of anything else. Rhuarc thought about staying behind with Luther, being as close to Aria as he could. he could protect him better than Max could and he could not deny that he would much rather be as close to her as possible, especially with so many threats about...but that was not his place. His duty was to make sure that they could win this war and one thing was certain, they could only do that with all of the Guardians. Aria had told him in Kil'heed that if she were to fall then he had to carry on and keep fighting. That meant that they had to be able to win without her, however small that chance may be but without the Guardians...they couldn't possibly win. Once again despite his own wishes, Rhuarc would do his duty. [b "Adimar, Captain Max I will join you. I think Thad and Rupert are going to need all the help that they can get."] Wraiths are notoriously hard to kill but Rhuarc knew that his blade and the fires of Jai'hash were more than enough to dispatch such creatures, and if by keeping the wraiths occupied he could by the others back at the village even a little bit more time then it would be worth it...besides when he had sensed the presence of Caledon coming down the mountain he had felt something else, it was faint, barely an echo of a whisper but Rhurac was sure he had felt a familiar comforting presence. If need be, if he was right, he could use that to their advantage and slow the wraiths down if things went wrong. Adimar, Max and Rhuarc were moving quickly following the road away from the village, the same road that Rupert, Thad and Lara would be on, the same road that the Wraiths would be waiting on, they needed to be there when Lara and the others ran into the waiting wraiths otherwise they wouldn't stand a chance. It would only be a matter of time before the battle for Caledon would start and if the three of them weren't there when it did then it could be over before Aria even left the temple doors. [b "Strength be with you Priestess."] Rhuarc muttered under his breath, she would need it if she was going to survive what was to come, her inevitable trial in the temple and whatever followed would not be easy. Rhuarc would also need to be prepared for what was to come, he would need to be strong in order to save Lara, Rupert and Thad from the waiting ambush, wraiths on their own would be a challenge but Shadestealer himself...that was altogether another prospect. Nevertheless Rhuarc needed to do his duty, guide Lara to the village safely to reunite her with the others, then Rhuarc could worry about Aria. Until then Lara was his focus.
Herme’s timely arrival was welcomed by Adimar, who watched with baited breath as the hawk dodged arrows and came to land in to tops of a tree before fluttering down further to perch himself on Adimar’s outstretched arm. The hawk welcomed the affection under it’s beak and Adimar retrieved the bit of scrap attached to its leg. He quickly relayed the message, and frowned at the lack of mention on Lara’s whereabouts, but if Hermes had returned, then he must have carried a letter from Thad and Rupert, but it would have to wait. It was that moment Carrick made his move and gave Adimar his orders. The others moved towards the withered fortress with Carrick while Max staying behind to keep watch over Adimar.
Ordered to follow at a distance, Adimar called on his Volshi gift and let his mind meld with Hermes’. What Hermès saw, Adimar did too. His eagle eye magic was dangerous as it left him vulnerable, but with Max close by there was nothing to fear. So while Carrick battled with Rhuarc, Luther and the others, Adimar kept an eye on Malik’s movements. The entirety of Adimar’s eyes were milky white and swirling with the enigmatic power of Volshi. Hermes took off from his shoulder and soared upwards to the clouds and down the mountain.
Malik and his team of Wraiths charged down the mountain side. The brackish hooves of their decrepit horses tore the ground asunder beneath them, and behind them their dark robes billowed. Adimar watched them for as long as Carrick fought with Egos the Mage. Adimar disliked being left out of the fighting, but keeping track of Malik was just as prominent. His anxiety spiking as he witnessed the group split. Malik and three wraiths took a fork in the path towards the main road north of the temple village, while five wraiths took the forked path towards the south side of the temple village.
Adimar quickly called Hermes back and broke the connection just as Carrick had returned with the others and urged them to return to the village on the back of the wolf. By the look of Carrick, he had failed to stop the Mage, and again the bastard had assumed the upper hand. Adimar was hesitant about boarding the wolf but sighed and joined the others regardless of his reservations. [#20b2aa “They are moving in on the village. A team took the south and the other the North. Malik has taken the north road near the temple, I suspect Egos will try the south road.”]
They tore down the mountain side as fast as they could, but Malik and his wraiths were ahead of them, and Adimar was forced once more to send Hermes back out in search of Malik, and him to slump against the strength of Rhuarc who kept him on the bounding wolf. In a distracted voice he confirmed to them that Malik and his wraiths had in fact done as Adimar predicted they would, and a cold feeling of dread unfolded at the realization they had walked into a trap. Adimar noted that Malik and his wraiths ceased their movements, just outside the village, not entering it, and seemingly unable. Adimar was left to wonder what could cause them to stop so close to their goal, and unaware that it was due to Aria’s presence already inside the temple.
Aria was as fast asleep as one could be with the knowledge Malik was so close, but they had given her tea with lanolin which put her to sleep, and she was trapped in a state of sleeping and awake. She welcomed Saraya’s awakening, as it saved her from the nightmarish images plaguing her. Fears of failure and the destruction of the world. Bleary-eyed and confused Aria pulled tightly her warm night robe and followed behind Saraya. Her own concerns rising as she was simply hurried across the large village towards the temple, surrounded by her knights, but given no answer. When they finally stopped at the temple, Saraya would only say that another battle in the war would be at their gate in a few days time. Aria looked behind the group to the doors of the temple and walked towards them. Despite the destruction around the structure, it was built into the side of the mountain and therefore a steadfast hold against attack. It stood sturdy and tall, as Caledon once had, and the trees that sprouted from the tops of the stone building resembled the antlers of a stag -Caledon’s steed. With a glance to the wolf that stood near Saraya, she supposed that Saraya’s banner would have a wolf instead of the traditional Stag. That was fine with Aria, it was time for a new world. There was no going back to the old ways, but they could not continue under Malik’s regime.
Saraya approached then and informed Aria that they had to enter together. Aria gave a determined nod of her head and followed in, but the moment the doors closed behind her, Aria lost sight of Saraya and was left in the pitch blackness of the temple. She looked up and blanched to see nothing but an endless void filled with stars, before her a wisp of blue smoke appeared, glowing faintly in the dark space and leading the way for Aria to follow. The moment Aria got close enough to try and reach out for the wisp, it vanished and reappeared further along the path she had to take. After trying to catch the wisp twice, Aria relented to simply follow. She did not walk on a marbled floor of mist as she had in Volshi, nor a surface of water and stone as in Fenlyk. Here in Caledon she walked on moss and dirt, while above her the stars shined.
Saraya was gone from her sight, and Aria had not bothered to call for her, knowing better now than to expect a companion inside such sacred halls. As she descended further into the darkness, she heard the whispers of death. An eerie silence that hung heavy and stagnant in the air. For how long Aria walked further and further into the earth, she did not know, but the wisp eventually came to a stop between two towering trees... long since dead. Everything was barren and ash, and though Aria could not see it, she felt it and knew it was so.
She came to stop between the lifeless husks of the trees and the wisp vanished for a final time. Above her the dim illumination of the stars above gave sight to a barren underground grove of trees and deadened grass. Centered in the middle of it all stood a mountainous tree, centuries old, and its powers long since quiet. Though its boughs lay bare, and its trunk pale, the ground beneath it lifeless... Aria knew exactly what this was from her lessons as a child. The Sanctuary Tree. The source of life in all Azeroth. To see it this way made the loss of life in other places of the provinces understandable. No wonder Azeroth was struggling to fight against Malik... the Sanctuary Tree was dead. This tree was not of Caledon’s work, but that of the world, before there was sentience, before the first creature, before the first guardian fell from the heavens... there was The Sanctuary Tree.
Without this tree all life in Azeroth would eventually die... even if they did defeat Malik. Aria knew then why she was here. To return life to the tree -to restore another temple. [+pink [i ‘Perhaps Ursula was right. I didn’t want to believe all the temples had fallen...’]] She thought to herself as she approached the tree and stared. It stood like a monolith before her. As wide across as a house, and just as thick. Its roots knotted and curled over and throughout the area, making reaching the trunk of the tree, quite the climb for Aria in her bed slippers. She quickly shed them, and climbed barefoot, shedding herself of her robe and knotting her skirt at her knees.
It was a field of rooted knots and weaving patterns of thick roots that made gripping to climb quiet dangerous for Aria. At one point she slipped in her climb, falling until she caught and held on with both hands to a knot on a hardened root. She looked about her, frantic for a way to climb out of this predicament, while roughly ten feet below her curled a root, but beneath that was the dark underbelly of The Sanctuary Tree. A darkness that surely might rival that of the caves of Jai’hash greeted her within that crevice in the roots. She noticed if she could land on the root she could finish her climb to the trunk. She had no choice but to let go and hope for the best, her hands could no longer hold on, and she was slipping.
She landed with a gasp, but it was a weak landing and she slipped into the darkness despite her best efforts and landed with a hard thud on the ground below and yelped with pain from the landing and the tearing of her stitches. She felt the blood begin to stain her night shift, but as she pressed she was pleased to find that the would was mostly already healed and was not bleeding in a way that warranted concern. A wisp suddenly appeared before her with a soft ‘cooing’ sound and hovered towards the trunk nearby and covered in soft packed dirt for Aria to lay in.
With a bit of pain she crawled her way over until she could finally lay a hand to the trunk and frowned feeling next to nothing, only the faintest flicker of life inside, but it was something, even if it was fading fast.
[+pink “Please do not go,”] Aria begged of the tree. [+pink “If you are to perish... everything I hope to do will be for naught. Is this why I dream of failure? Has Malik’s corruption destroyed you as well? The darkness goes so deep within Azeroth now... too much corruption. Please! How can I help you?”] Aria asked, her hand curling tightly into the smooth bark of the bone white tree. Near her was a patch of moss, and it suddenly plumed liked dust when a breeze cut into the crevice Aria was in, and she unwittingly breathed in the pollen. She suddenly wobbled on her knees, unable to keep her eyes open and slumped to the dirt.
When Aria opened her eyes again, it was not her current surroundings. Instead she finally stood on top of the roots and under the boughs of the tree. The lines in the darkness of the Astral Plane painted the scene in lines of aura and energy. The tree was faint, and while only a faded gray flickered over it’s presence, at it’s very core , in the very crevice Aria’s body had fallen in, there was a faint purple flicker of energy, and beside it was Aria’s corporeal body unconscious beside it. Suddenly a great moan and sigh wrought the air and Aria, sensing it’s origin looked back to the boughs.
[+green [i ‘It has been many moons, since we last heard the voice of The Fifth Guardian, but fear not smallish one... death is but the next step. I like all things... cannot live forever... but there is hope. New life that grows... from the old.”]]. It’s words dripped like heavy molasses, taking up time, and hovering over syllables as the tree spoke its words, in the tired, sleepy manner of trees. Aria was intrigued by its titled to her as a Fifth Guardian, but Aria let it go in way of its speech on death.
[+pink “What do you mean new life grows from the old? Will you truly die?”]
[+green [i “I die, even now...”]] it mused slowly. [+green [i “There is a seed, at the top of my branches. If you would go and get it. If you might plant it... it might grow by your hand and Azeroth will have a chance to grow anew...”]] it groaned drowsily. Aria looked up to the top of the tree and then down to herself sleeping below.
[+pink “Will planting this seed allow Caledon to be returned to this temple as well?”]
For a moment the tree was quiet, as usual before it mused over what it would say, and then Aria waited patiently for it to sound out every word it wished to, so slowly, speak.
[+green [i “He, like all the Guardians, will once again have safe harbor here. For all are welcomed under and in my branches.”]] Aria smiled and nodded. She wondered how long she’d been on this adventure? Fenlyk had only been a day, but Volshi had been a solid month hidden within temple walls. This was something Aria could not afford... but to save Azeroth...she would do what she must.
Thanks to the wolf’s knowledge of the mountain and the forest, they were able to sneak back into the village without being caught by Malik or his Wraiths, and just after Saraya emerged from the temple. There was a smile on her face, but Aria was nowhere to be seen. Carrick brought the wolf to a stop and they all dismounted, and Adimar hurried up the steps of the temple and reached towards the doors, though he did not touch them.
[#20b2aa “She’s still in there... isn’t she? Malik is out there... waiting... he hasn’t moved yet-“]
Hermes call suddenly rang from a far distance to the south and Adimar quickly resumed his bonded sight to see what Hermes saw. It was faint, but there were two riders on horseback quickly approaching the southern entrance of the village. They were going to walk right into the waiting wraiths! Adimar snapped back to his own body and looked to the others.
[#20b2aa “I think Rupert and Thad are returning with Lara... I don’t suspect Aria will rise from the temple soon, but if it’s them... they’re riding right for the Wraiths on the Southern road. They’ll need our help to get past them.”] Adimar turned to look back at Saraya, just as the rest of their party returned to the village from a hidden path to the east. She looked good with Aramis in her arms and Carrick at her side. He was glad for his friend, but worried as well.. the Mage was still at large... for now. [#20b2aa “Saraya, you should stay here,with Carrick and the Holy Guard while we go and help Lara return. Prepare for battle, and signal us if Aria comes out of the Temple before we return. Thank you, now... who will come with me to help Thad and Rupert?”]
[b “I will go with you, My Lord. Luther, you have command,”] Max said giving Adimar a firm nod, and knowing Aria would have Luther -a far superior warrior to himself. Even Max could admit that. Luther unsheathed his sword and moved to the top of the stairs as the last line of defense, and the holy five took of spaces out around the front courtyard of the temple. Satisfied Max moved to leave with Adimar.
Owl was holding onto Aramis for a while after Saraya had left. After setting down the infant, she looked about the cottage, wandering through her thoughts. Saraya… Has she noticed her yet? Has she even known she existed, aside from her name? Owl had been a shy girl, but it was nothing like her brother. Owl and Crow were orphans… The only person that had ever gave them the strength to move on was Saraya… Before all the hell had happened to their home. Now, she has started a new family… It could mean one thing, but to her... It meant that there wasn’t any room for either of them.
But, she had already bound by a promise. Both she and Crow did… They would lay down their lives for her, for her and her Carrick. They have done nothing but keep them safe, despite the circumstances.
Suddenly, after a little while, she had noticed something strange with the day. For some reason, though the day seemed bright, there was a cascading shade along the view. She quickly made work on making a personal hamper on her person and cradled Aramis into it before looking outside. The temple… That was where she was off to? After affirming that the location was safe, she made quick work on walking on towards the group she spotted at the temple.
Ruscal sighed to herself as time wore on. “I hope they’re okay” she said
Crow nodded. “I’m sure they are okay. It is the temple”
A grunt came from one of the guards sitting on the steps.
Ruscal looked over to Crow. “Is there any way that we can help them? With war coming, we cannot be so narrow minded.”
“What if we tried a series of coded defenses?”
Ruscal looked to him. “Coded defenses?”
“Aye, positions known by sound… If we can stay unified, it could be possible to keep the enemies at bay and minimize casualties.”
Ruscal thought a moment, looking to the temple. “That could work… But what if they cannot hear?” she asked. Crow smirked. “We use birds” he said.
Ruscal looked towards him. “Crows…” she smirked. Crow furrowed his brow. “We use crows. That would be more suffice” she looked to the Temple doors again before looking back. “You have done well, Crow. You have made a formidable plan.”
Crow felt a bit of happiness from the recognition. He was sure that Owl would be happy as well… The problem was that she hadn’t felt as close to Saraya as the rest of them. So, trying to gain favor didn’t seem so important. Crow, on the other hand, always cared for Saraya as if a mother. He wanted nothing more than to be a part of it. Even if it meant being her guard, he was still there with her. That was all that mattered.
Owl hsd approached, holding the little bundle in her arms as she looked to Crow. They both nodded to each other. “Has she been inside long?”
“Not long” Ruscal said. “We must wait…”
Saraya couldn’t see Aria. The light was so blinding, so warm… So peaceful. She hadn’t felt so much peace in all her years. Then, she felt something cascade about her, a seemingly large shadow as if a cloud to the sun. She dared herself to open her eyes, and what she saw was far more magnificent than had ever thought.
A massive sight of a statue, stretching as far as the sky could allow, stood proud, without a scratch from the outside world. It had no face, but the structure was in the shape of a woman. She had robes as if a gypsy, endowed with flowing locks of what she could picture, raven hair. The statue then left her curious. The statue of a woman, but it has no face that she could see clearly, had gave her a sense of being watched, being observed. She sighed to herself.
[b YOU HAVE BEEN JUDGED] said a booming voice. Saraya almost drew her bow and arrow, but resisted the urge.
“With what am I charged?” she bellowed.
[b UPON THE REQUEST OF THE GODS, ARE WE TO JUDGE YOU IN YOUR POSITION AS GUARDIAN, AND DECIDE UPON THE REQUEST TO BE BLOOD LEADER]
“I have made no request” she said. “My people have given me that title.”
[b YOUR PEOPLE ARE YOUR BEACON, GUARDIAN. AND HIGASCA HAD TAKEN IT UPON HIMSELF TO VOUCH FOR YOU. THROUGHOUT THIS VOYAGE, YOU HAVE FOUND YOUR ANCESTRY, DEFENDED THE HELPLESS, PROTECTED THE INNOCENT, CLAIMED THAT WHICH WAS FORBIDDEN—]
“Forbidden? What is forbidden”
The voices of the bellowing above the statue had paused. [b A GUARDIAN IS NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE ANY RELATIONS WITH HUMANS.]
Saraya’s brows furrowed. “That is not true. We were once human, too. You can’t tell me that-“
[b HE IS NAMELESS, GUARDIAN. HE HAS NO TITLE BUT BY THAT OF WHICH WAS GIVEN AND TAKEN AWAY. YOU ASCENDENCE TO BLOOD LEADER WILL BE GRANTED, BUT IN TAKING HIM WITH YOU MUST YOU PROVE HIS WORTH AS KING.]
“I’ve no need to force anyone to believe he will be a good king. He IS a good king. He will be a better King than that of Malik. And I do not need your judgement to know this”
There was a swooping silence. There was a feeling of approval around her, but she still stood firm as the blinding light still persisted. [b YOUR NAMELESS HAS THE APPROVAL OF US TO ASCEND. TAKE CARE IN MAKING SURE WE HAVE NOT MADE A MISTAKE IN TRUSTING YOUR WORDS, GUARDIAN. WE WILL BESTOW UPON YOU THE POWER OF YOUR FATHER, AND WILL AID YOU IN YOUR RESTORATION OF ASTORIA. TAKE CARE]
Before Saraya could respond, she felt as though she was cast out of their sight, and the statue had disappeared. She fell to her knees as she covered her eyes. A river of tears had escaped her as relief washed over her. But, it was not over. Instead of a statue, there was a figure. She looked up to the image, half expecting to see Aria returning to her, when she saw another face… No… There were two. Two figures had stood before her, wearing warrior armor and standing before her with their heads held high. One looked like the statue hidden in the trees… The other, she hadn’t seen before… But for some odd reason it was familiar.
“Cantalia?” She asked. One of the women smiled and nodded once… The other smiled warmly, her white hair hemmed up in rope, and she couldn’t mistake it. “Mother?”
She smiled wider before she inched closer, and hugged her. This was a first that she had seen her mother… The very first time since her vision with her father… “You died… You both did”
The two looked to each other, then to her. [I We are your guides, as well as our loves. We will help you as your flesh and blood, and protect you from the evils that is Malik’s handiwork] Cantalia spoke. Saraya began to tear up. “I will not fail you”
The temple door creaked before Saraya’s image had appeared. She was in a daze, the earth vibrating with each step she took. She looked forward, as if drunk, and sheltered her eyes from the sun.
Ruscal and Crow hurried to her. “Saraya?” they asked. She looked to them, a sort of vibration emanated from her. With each breath she took, she could feel the earth taking one with her. She could feel the footfalls of the others. She could smell the game that had just been killed in the forest, but they were nowhere near it. The sun felt like a power source as she stood there. She was acute. She was alert… She was finally awake.
Owl approached Saraya with her son. Aramis was picked up by his mother before she looked to the gates. "My friends... We shall have victory yet"
[b [size25 END]]
Carrick hadn’t slept that night. His mind had been too preoccupied with the monster that lingered just above the cave. The Mage… After everything he had put his Saraya through, after what he had put them both through… There were no bounds to the extensive list of what to do with him. To restore her honor… He had to make sure he was dealt the pain she had been dealt, purify him with the stain of pure agony as she had to endure.
And as they scaled the side of the mountain… The feeling of retribution and utter servitude to his love had overwhelmed him until it filled into the Nameless’ eyes. He wouldn’t hear anything… That was until a cry of fear and an otherworldly screech had halted his thoughtful rantings. Sky had furrowed his ears and bore his teeth. It was simple enough to know he was smelling something dark… Something that even he couldn’t help avoiding… Wraiths?
The Mage must’ve been—But, hoofprints halted his thoughts… This wasn’t regular hoofprints… He heard it once before. When he was forced to be a messenger… Before he met his fate… Before he even became Holy Guard and a Guardian… Malik… There was no mistaking him.
“On your mark, Carrick” he heard Rhuarc speak behind him in a hurried tone. No doubt the others had caught on to the sound… Wraiths were protecting him as he was descending the mountain... To where, he wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t going to be clueless to a surprise attack.
“Adimar, have your hawk follow at a distance… We will not give chase, but we will not be clueless to his whereabouts.” He said to Adimar quickly. He looked to Rhuarc. “With me” he said, and he allowed the message to trickle down the troupe until everyone gave him a nod.
Once he was sure that the Wraiths and Malik were gone, he climbed up to the fortress. He took the lead, alongside Sky before hurrying to the stone wall of the watchtower that lain in ruin. Sky went ahead, sniffing, scouting, keeping his distance from the window, from any opening that lain a human or otherwise… Once Sky huffed once, looking lack to him, Carrick had signaled the rest to hurry. He scouted ahead, seeing the array of human soldiers, all with blank and sickened faces. Possessed humans… Poor souls. They were far too gone, and they wouldn’t hesitate to kill if commanded. They had no control over themselves. Best to put them put them out of their misery.
Carrick snuck up behind one, before slitting his throat from behind. The next one, he had done the same… Sky barked, however seeing a threat coming before him. Carrick looked into the shadows of the ruins, seeing an image that seemed to struggle to stand slide from his mangled steed. The stench gave him away. “You should not have come… Fool” Egos’ voice sounded labored, but was shrouded by anger and unattended strain of hate. Carrick gripped his sword tight. “I have come to pay you back... For everything you’ve done to my Saraya”
The Mage growled at him. “What makes you believe that the lovely specimen such as her would settle with a Nameless tyrant like you?”
Nameless? Carricke stared into the dark, not being able to see, but could tell where the tyrant was perfectly. “Unlike you… I seek to protect her”
“Yes… You’ve done a wonderful job protecting whom you so called love” Carrick growled before The Mage attacked him. The Mage tried to grab at Carrick’s tunic, but Carrick dodged, before looking to Sky. “Get the others! Now!” he yelled before the Mage stood.
“Besides, your efforts are wasted, Nameless. War is approaching this wretched hell and will raze the rest of this city to the ground. Everything you love, everything you so called protect… It will no longer exist”
Carrick could’ve gotten angry, but he knew the ploy. “As long as Saraya is there… The city will not fall… And nor will I” he growled before the rest of the troupe ran in, attacking the Mage. Unfortunately, the Mage was quick enough to enchant himself and disappear. “War will be on your gates soon, Nameless… Let us see just how loyal you are to the one you say you love”
Carrick roared in frustration. “We had him!" He let out a roar of anger, having the Mage slip from his fingers when he was so close... So close! " He is weak! He is vulnerable… And he still managed to escape… It has to be Malik… Something had to have been done for him not to still bear energy… Which means that Malik’s presence wasn’t not a coincidence…” He looked to Rhuarc and Admiar. “We need to make haste to the city… Aria and Saraya will be in danger if we don’t make it back.” He hurried to Sky who growled. “Hop on!” he yelled to Rhuarc and Admiar. Once they jumped on, Sky had taken off downhill, the others running downhill as fast as they can. “We must make it! We must before something happens!” he yelled behind him.
The Temple… The Temple…
Saraya had awakened with a start. It was as if a loud sound had awakened her, but it was as silent as the grave. Aria had been sleeping, thankfully, and she needed the rest. But, for some odd reason… She felt on edge. She couldn’t sleep entirely due to it. It was as if there was an itch she couldn’t scratch… Not physically at least… She looked up to the gaping window… Dawn. She looked around in the darkness. She needed to get up, stretch her legs, get mobile again… She was already feeling restless. She was already feeling the uneasiness of the approaching war… She was already feeling the unfathomable fear of having her son within the gates and he would be a target for the enemy. The children, the old and weak… She couldn’t leave them defenseless… She made an effort to stand, through her soreness and still unhealed wounds. She couldn’t stand by now… War was drawing near… She could feel it. She couldn’t rest now… Not while danger was afoot. She just had to do something.
She walked into the blinding sun from her cottage. She shielded her eyes, looking at the battle scars the earth sustained. She sighed to herself, pushing away the sadness of Corbin and walked around her cottage, slowly, but surely. The Temple…
She looked across the vast ruin to the temple.
She shivered a bit to the warmth of the sun, but it didn’t mean that the situation was good for a sun soak. She needed to figure something out… And it had something to do with the temple.
[I [u Saraya, what are you planning?]] Sayan had spoken softly. Saraya hadn’t spoken. She only looked ahead to the temple. The Temple…
Sayan had understood then what she was planning. [I [u You think you can make it?]]
“It is not a matter of if I can make it… It’s how soon…” she said slowly. Sayan stayed silent so to hear her piece. “I can feel it… There is not much time… And I must make up for that…”
[I [u The war isn’t for another few days, Saraya… They haven’t even made it past the threshold of countries yet…]] He said, fading rather quickly from the subject.
But… For some odd reason, he fell silent… Dead silent, the kind of silence you could hear a feather collide to earth.
[I [u Saraya, you may be right yet… I can sense him… He is close…]]
“Egos? Has he come to make an attempt?”
[I [u No…]]
He hadn’t said anything else. Saraya wanted to make him speak again, but the feeling in her gut said that she already knew what and WHOM he spoke of… She looked back to her cottage. Aria…
[I [u You need to be with her and hide]] he said.
Saraya shook her head. “I don’t want to take any chances on waiting on the eldars. And now that he’s this close to my land… We must take action now.”
With that, she turned and with a bit more strength in her, had made it back inside the cottage to wake Aria… She only shook her lightly, only to rouse her without alarm. When she did, she asked if they had returned. She shook her head. Aria then asked why she was out of bed. Saraya looked at her. “We need to get to the temple” she said simply, before making an effort to stand again. “We need to go... now”
She had appointed Owl to watch Aramis and keep him safe. Crow, Ruscal and the guard that protected Aria became a herd of hurrying shields, each with their own questions and concerns. Saraya stopped the herd and sighed, quieting them all down. “This is not the time to be making rather foolish request. Much as we need rest, I’m sure, we cannot. War will be here in a few days’ time. The temple must be accessed and quickly before any harm can befall the she-warriors training as we speak. We must be ready.”
Everyone looked amongst each other. “If you wish to hide, go to my cottage and guard my son. I’m sure that is an easier task than that of saving Astoria” she said, building the strength to walk on towards the unguarded temple.
Saraya sighed as she felt a swift breeze come across her face. They had made it. The Temple. It was worn on the outside. The marble along the sides were cracked. She was surprised that the structure was still standing after being hit by all the canons that littered around it. She looked to Aria. “You and I must go together. Everyone else must stay out here.” She said, looking to the rest of the group.
[u “Are you sure you will be alright alone?”] Ruscal asked, Crow bowing before Star had trotted into the group, shaking her fur a moment. Crow petted her as she nodded to Saraya. She returned the nod to her before looking to Ruscal. “All will be fine.” She reassured before looking to Aria. She effortlessly pulled back the door and allowed Aria in before stepping in herself.
It felt as though the weight of a mountain had been lifted off Rhuarc's back as Carrick assured him that arrangements had been made for the infant Aramis. What he said was true, war was no place for a child and this war would be bloodier than any other. This war was for the sake of all creation, as long as any true believer on either side still drew breath then this conflict would not end. This war would require a total victory, anything else would result in failure. The subject of the conversation switched from Carrick's newborn son to Saraya being named Blood Leader of Caledon, Rhuarc was on mixed ground here, he was a simple man and the nature of kings and Blood Leaders was alien ground to him. Honour on the other hand...that he knew. [b "I can not pretend to understand the position that you and Saraya have been put in with her being named Blood Leader. As for restoring her honour that is simple. Do what is right. Do your duty...but more than that, you must remember that you are your own man and no man, no King, no God can take that away from you. A King may move a man...a father may claim a son...a man may move himself...and then the man begins his own game. Remember howsoever you are played, or by whom, that your soul is in your keeping. Even though those who presume to play you be kings. Remember. When you answer to the Gods you cannot say I was told it was thus, or that virtue was not the fashion of my times. Remember."] Rhuarc listened to the words as he spoke them and was surprised at the wisdom that came from his lips, they sounded like something that Elder Mandarb would say, it certainly was not the words one would expect from a simple soldier, which was what Rhuarc considered himself. [i “You have been a true friend, Rhuarc. And thank you for your concerns.”] Rhuarc nodded in thanks to the kind words. They were simple but meaningful and Rhuarc appreciated that. He felt the same about Carrick.
Rhuarc left Carrck to his thoughts as the Jai made his way around the perimeter of the camp, the blizzard was picking up and it was clear that the group was not going to be making any more progress until the storm passed, the only positive was that their quarry would not be moving in this storm either. Rhuarc had never been more grateful for the blessing of Jai'hash as the fire in his blood kept him warm and immune to the freezing cold, the snowflakes of the blizzard melted before they touched his skin, it allowed him to remain focussed in the difficult climate. Rhuarc returned to the campfire in the cave to spend time with the others on the quest who did not have the blessing of the fire god to heat them. That was when Carrick brought something over, a bloody rag that had been ripped off someone and had snagged on an errant tree branch. Carrick proclaimed that they would strike at sunrise. It was the ideal time to attack, just before dawn; that was when the enemy was most tired. Still under the cover of night but when the battle started to properly rage you had the sun at your back and in the eyes of the enemy.
Luckily for them the snowstorm let up during the night so the group managed to get moving again just before sunrise, by the time the sun was rising into the sky they had found where their enemy had scurried off to, the bad news was that it was no cave like they had found last night, it was a fortified tower, made to be defended. This had just gotten a lot more difficult and more dangerous. The element of surprise would be negated by the defensive fortification, if anything the odds had tipped into the Mage's favour. Despite the clearly once grand tower being left to disrepair it was still functional and the presence of the enemy here was evidence of that, Rhuarc could smell the smoke of a fire in there much like the others could...but he could also feel the presence of the fire nearby. It was difficult to explain but he was evidently becoming more in-tune with the innate blessings that Jai'hash had bestowed on him. Rhuarc had not really explored the gifts that Jai'hash had given him besides summoning flames in battle and the occasional attempt at communication with serpents, beyond that...his abilities were a mystery. Luther roused him from his thoughts, trepidation thick in his voice. [i “The Mage is here, but... he’s not alone...”] Rhuarc immediately thought that meant the Fade was here as well, oh how sweet that would be, take down two great foes at once and get revenge for what that abomination did to Ayab but it soon became clear that it was not the Fade that they had to worry about, the truth was much, much worse.
A scream that sounded like panic itself pierced the air, Rhuarc felt as if the fire that coursed through him had frozen and turned to ice, he felt now what Adimar, Carrick and Mogar had likely felt like last night during the blizzard. For the first time since he had been chosen, he felt cold, it was deeply unnerving. His unease was only made worse when what looked like eleven wraiths exited the fortress, Rhuarc was surprised to find that he had drawn his belt knife and held it at the ready but one wraith was not like the others. It seemed altogether more somehow. On the battlefields of the Wastes Rhuarc had seem Malik's sigil displayed proudly on pennants of the advancing army, and that same sigil was embroidered on the clothing of the lead figure that Rhuarc had initially mistaken for a wraith. No man would be mad or brazen enough to wear that insignia if they did not have a right to it. that could only mean one thing. That was Shade-stealer himself. That was the False King.
That was Malik.
Rhuarc wanted to turn and follow the King, to engage the man and end this whole war now. It would be just like Rhuarc saw in Kil'heed during his Trial of Desire but in his heart he knew it was folly. Rhuarc would need to fight through ten wraiths just to cross blades with the False King and by then he would be in no shape to take down a master like Malik undoubtedly was. He had been Azera's right hand, her Captain and her Genaral both... The Jai suspected that Malik had more skill than Rhuarc could even fathom. It would be suicide to attempt to cut down Malik now. As much as it galled him to leave the False King alone it was better to stick with their original plan. Kill the Mage. That was how he would do his duty as General, take out one of Malik's Lieutenants, deplete his forces and once the time was right, then he would take down the king. As The False king rode away on his nightmarish steed, another caw pierced the air, but unlike the previous hellish sound this was the natural sound of a bird. A few defenders of the fortress shot a few arrows halfheartedly at the bird as it soared in the sky but none came near it and they quickly lost interest in the animal. That was a stroke of luck because if the soldiers at the fortress were more diligent they would have made sure to shoot down the bird but because they didn't it meant that Hermes could land upon Adimar's shoulder, a note tied to his leg. The Volshi Mage relayed the short but important message and confirmed Rhuarc's suspicion. That figure that had made Rhuarc's blood run cold was indeed Malik. He was what awaited them at the end of their journey. Perhaps that too was a blessing as based upon the simple act of the king leaving the fortress Rhuarc wasn't sure if they could win against him. Not yet at least. Aria had given them their orders, Malik's retribution would not be immediate, he had left the fortress so their mission was still on. Rhuarc looked to Carrick. [b "On your mark, Carrick."]
Lara stayed barely awake for only a few minutes before head lazily and effortlessly swung down upon whatever covered her body. During that same time, her eyelids snapped closed over her tired eyes and without a break once again plunged into unconsciousness.
A void, a glaring and uncomfortable white void greeted the eyes. An audible gasp, but nobody could hear it. Neither was there an echo, the void seeming to stretch to infinity in every direction. What made it more unsettling had to with sense of direction. Lara could feel herself laying on her back, but a slow expedition by her hands revealed only empty air; If it even was air.
Lara slowly transitioned from her back and onto her feet, standing up even though she stood on nothing. It did not matter where she looked, directions meaningless as nothing could be used as a reference. Had her life ended and she stuck in afterlife? Is this how the afterlife looked?
As Lara looked in the direction of her legs, she spotted a figure who sat near a light blue, thickly flowing line. The figure themselves revealed no identity, an elegant dark blue cloak with various embroidered patterns spread evenly throughout the cloak. They showed no signs of distress, articulated arm movements as they manipulated the water.
Whether Lara floated down to the figure or the figure floated up to her, she found herself standing to the right off the figure. Only after had Lara sat down with her legs criss-cross did the mysterious figure with one smooth motion undid the hood and revealed their identity.
[+purple “Spirit of Fenlcyk”], Lara reverently bowed her head amidst the spirit’s polite chuckle. [+blue “It has been awhile since we lasted talked”]. Lara slowly raised her head, catching as the smile set into a concerned frown. [+blue “What were you thinking? Pulling off a stunt like that without considering the drain? You could’ve killed yourself instead of a rapid descent into your current state. You scared me.”] The spirit’s voice contained not a single drop of anger, instead of that it was a mixture of fear, annoyance, and concern. Lara slowly breathed in, staying calm as she answered, [+purple “Unless there was some other way of making sure the Wraiths stayed dead, that was my only option. Otherwise I would definitely be on my way to Malik to be tortured and turned by one wraith while the other wraith would go after my friends.”] The spirit of Fenlyck breathed in deeply herself, a long sigh following at first, [+blue “ I guess I cannot blame you for everything. Being a godly being, I tend to forget that you can exhaust myself. The blame is on me for not teaching you that part of using magic.”] Lara couldn’t help herself raising both eyebrows slightly from surprise. She had just heard an almighty spirit admit that not everything was her fault. [+purple “Did I...?”], [+blue “Yes, yes you did”].
An awkward pause happened, Lars slowly accepting that she did indeed hear the spirit of Fenlyck admitting to having a lapse in judgement. [+purple “How long will I be in such a state?”]. Another sigh from the Fenlyck spirit, [+blue “Unfortunately there is no possibility of naturally recovering from such a state. Now it rests on your two friends, Thad and Rupert, to get you back and seek treatment. The faster you receive treatment, the smoother and faster your recovery will be.”]
A lengthy bout if silence followed. Lara wanted to speak on another topic that had no relation to the current topic, but how to transition?
[+purple "Fenlyck? There's a subject I am curious about, it's not too big"]. Fenlyck's entire body turned to face Lara with a face written with interest all over it, [+blue "What is this 'not too big' curiousity you wish to speak with me about?"], Fenlyck's well controlled voice expressing the interest written in her face instead of poking fun. [+purple "How close were you and Volshi?"] Lara gazed in confusion as Fenlyck broke out in chuckling, [+blue "I will take a guess and say that you thought I had not considered the possibility of you asking the question?"]. Lara, biting her lower right lip, nodded. [+blue "To answer your curiosity, we were indeed close"], Fenlyck went through all the memories she had had with Volshi, [+blue "Many a thing we did together, we became close enough to fall in love"].
Fenlyck looked back at Lara from her short reverie, noticing a thought going through the mind of her guardian. [+blue "Any reason you ask this question?"] Lara did not answer Fenlyck right away, not out of rudeness but deep in thought. Ever since Balden's ill demise, Lara had been lonely. Balden had been the one with whom she'd developed a sort of relationship, finally getting to feel close to someone. But Balden, at least in Lara's mind, hadn't been the only to give out affections and make her feel more like family. Not Aria, Lara didn't love her in a relationship sense, but Adimar. To Lara there had been moments where he had done more than just protect and/or tutor her, moments where had had genuine feelings for her. And with the reveal of the Volshi and Fenlyck spirits being lovers, was this a natural occurrence?
Adimar remained quiet and contemplative during their hike into the mountains and when they made camp. Sure he spoke with those who spoke with him. The bulk of his conversation shared with Max. Max and Adimar went way back, Max had once been a member of the Royal Guard until disorderly conduct got him thrown out, but Adimar had admired his skill and enjoyed his humor, and so had hired him to serve under him. Max agreed and brought along Rupert, and the two joined Adimar and Thad. Adimar was still a bit saddened to have lost Max, but they had both agreed that serving Aria as a member of the Holy Guard was the highest honor. To see him as Captain, made Adimar very proud of his friend. He spoke little with Rhuarc, but that was the way of him and Adimar would not begrudge the man his silence. With Ayab’s loss still fresh, and leaving Aria with Saraya and Aramis behind, he imagined the man had quite a bit going on in his mind. He looked to Luther and studied the man as they hiked the mountain. Silent, always present, mysterious, with an icy demeanor, and secrets. He was an enigma. Adimar could not get a read on him, which left a distasteful flavor on his tongue. He could not trust him, and yet had thus far given no reason to be mistrusted. Adimar let is slide as he had also thus far served his purpose in protecting the Priestess, but should that begin to waver Adimar would make his move.
Camp was easily prepared by their group, and the fired was a welcome reprieve from the cold winds. A snow storm was coming. and as the group made themselves comfortable, Adimar couldn’t help but over hear Rhuarc and Carrick’s conversation. To be fair Adimar had worried the same thing. War was no place for any child, let alone an infant. He was glad to hear it was something that had already been given much needed thought. For the remainder of the night Adimar sat in a corner with Max and Luther, the group growing restless and eager to finish this task and move the next piece on the board.
Carrick had gone outside, and the snow was an all out blizzard. He carried with him a scrap of paper and all eyes went to the man and the wolf. At the bark, they all knew it was the mage. Adimar tensed and reached for his bow. Since acquiring the Volshi weapon, Adimar had taken to using the bow more often. He was proficient enough, and while he favored his sword, they were also now down an Archer. Rhuarc was a point, he would take the lead. Adimar would be behind with his arcane powers... a bow was the most logical choice.
They would attack at sunrise, and the moment the torrent of snow let up they marched towards their target and took their positions. What they came up to was an old fortress. It looked abandoned and Adimar blanched at it. Luther’s gaze narrowed.
[#00ffff “That is a Watcher tower...”] Adimar looked to Luther. He had to agree, it was a replica of the one back in Kil’heed. There were no grand gates, but rather an overgrown courtyard, and a compound built around it. It too looked like it had been forgotten, but there were signs of life. Horses, the smell of smoke, the faint clink of armor as a patrol walked the perimeter. Whoever they were, they were not Watchers. Adimar rather wished he had Hermès with him. He could have scryed the area with his hawk. He looked above him to Luther, who scanned the ramparts with a steely gaze from the top boughs of a tree. Suddenly the man tensed, obviously seeing something they could not, and quickly jumped down to hide further.
[#20b2aa “What did you see, Luther?”] Adimar demanded in a hushed whisper.
[#00ffff “The Mage is here, but... he’s not alone...”]
Suddenly an inhuman shriek rent the air, and it was followed by more. The haunting cries of Wraiths. At least 10 of them, and as they stormed out from the courtyard and through the crumbling walls, they surrounded an eleventh rider. His cowl drawn up, and face hidden, but his robes rich in rich blacks and burgundy velvet, his mount was a massive beast with fearsome green eyes that glowed, and on the dressings of the beast was the Royal Crest. Adimar’s mouth went dry and they all stayed still... was it possible... had that been, Malik? Whoever it was, they were leaving in a hurry, heading south, and leaving the old fortress behind. Adimar steadied himself and looked to Carrick. They were ready to move when he was.
Aria in no way thought she would be successful in protecting them if they were attacked. Still she held the dagger with a determined hand, eyes filled with reluctant resolve to see this entire thing to the end. The fear she felt wavered the moment Saraya placed her hand over her own on the dagger. Aria looked over towards the raven haired beauty beside her, and her brow furrowed. How was it this woman, could be younger than Aria, and yet be far more worldly and wise?
Saraya was right, of course, if the Mage hadn’t been blinded by his own greed and wants, Aria would have been lost long ago. The thought made her grip the dagger tighter. She hated being so weak, and hated further that she was seen that way by the others. She only managed to flinch and flush with embarrassment when Saraya cautioned her on such a foolish endeavor. Her own hold on the dagger not lessening until Aramis was traded into Owl’s arms and Saraya promised Malik’s defeat - together.
Aria was forced to nod her head and relinquish the dagger to Saraya’s more experienced hands, and stared hard at the wooden floor beneath her feet. Why couldn’t she be more like Azera had been? Azera was a warrior, she could fight alongside her companions... not hide and wait in the background like a helpless whelp. Azera could protect her companions... Aria couldn’t even protect herself. As if to remind herself she reached to her bandaged side, and gently probed the knife wound she’d endured just that morning. There was something she could do... but she’d begun to loose her faith in such things working... prayer was for the helpless, and accomplished nothing. Otherwise Malik would have gone away a long time ago, they would be closer to their goal, and The Mage would have left Saraya well enough alone.
Time moved too slowly for Aria, and she was eager for everyone’s return, so to pass the time, Aria sat with Saraya into the late hours of night. They plotted and discussed Saraya’s move to power as Blood Leader, and what Aria hoped for in the future with such a development. Truth be told, she didn’t even feel up to par to discuss such things as she was now warm with a slight fever, and feeling a touch dizzy, due to not resting properly after her attack. Saraya seeing this showed the sort of mother she would be and forced Aria to lay down on a couch with a blanket. A mother scold on her features, and Aria could only smile back with flushed cheeks.
She fell asleep and Aria was uncertain just how long she had been asleep. Her bandages had been changed, and one of her guards must have moved her to a bed, because the ceiling was unfamiliar, but the scent of the house was. She was still at Saraya’s cottage, and there was light outside... She looked out at the landscape and tried to guess the time of day by the way the shadows marked the ground.
[+pink “It must be mid day...”] she murmured to herself and finally feeling the dull ache in her side. The wound was still raw and would be for a while, but Aria had faith in Caledon’s healers, and she would endure this pain. It would be her third scar. Thinking back to her first, she lifted her arm and looked to the red lines above her wrist. The Talons of the hawk from her Volshi trials. She remembered, and it felt like a lifetime ago, but then she touched her cheek. The arrow in Fenlyk that nearly got her. And finally, her hand moved to her aching side... the knife -Caledon’s corrupted and misguided spirit. She would wear them all with pride! It was then a fleeting thought brought a sudden flush to her cheeks. Would Rhuarc like her scars? Would he see them as more than her being weak? The last thing she wanted from the moment she had met him was to be seen as weak in his eyes.
She managed to reach for the glass at her bedside and after struggling for a bit, sat up and took a much needed sip of water. There nothing for her to do but wait for the others to return, so she figured she might as well take this time to rest and heal, much as she assumed Saraya was with Aramis. Leaning back she tried not to let her thoughts wander too far. It was quiet, save for the sounds of outside filtering through the window, the pacing of boots in the halls letting them know they were still under guard, and the cooing of a baby from another room. Aramis, the thought of him brought a smile to her face a sense of joy for Saraya and Carrick. She stood firm in her belief she had done the right thing in relieving Carrick of his vows. He would make a fine father and lifelong companion to Saraya.
Her thoughts were cut short when she felt a cold chill run down her spine. She felt eyes on her and she tensed, afraid to open her own eyes. Afraid of what she might find. Aria was vaguely aware there were wards set on the cottage to keep such apparitions at bay, and this close to the temple shouldn’t have allowed it anyway. She tensed further, feeling that icy presence come closer, and she knew... He was close by. Her heart plummeted, was Malik with The Mage? Was Adimar, Rhuarc and Carrick walking into a trap? She hoped it was paranoia. She hadn’t been left alone for so long, and now...
She gasped and her eyes shot open at the feeling of a spark on her cheek, and a shadowy image faded away like the lingering tendrils of smoke on a tobacco pipe. No proof, could have been her fever, her brow was layered in a sheen of sweat and her pale cheeks flushed. Frustrated and lavender eyes glimmering like lightning storms, her fisted the bedsheets angrily and grit her teeth. She had no means of warning the others... Malik was close, but was he close enough they risked engagement with an enemy they were not ready for? The prays to ease her fears were suddenly met when she heard the familiar screech of a hawk. Hermès was back!
Aria forced herself from the bed and made her way to the door and down the stairs where she was greeted by a member of her guard, James and the sound of his sword against whetstone. He stammered her title at her appearance, and grimaced at how tired she looked.
[+pink “Hermès, Adimar’s Hawk... outside, quickly.”] He jumped at her command and quickly returned, Hermès on his arm, and handing her a roll of parchment. As she read over the contents, James fed the bird of prey a bit of meat. [+pink “Adimar’s men have found Lara, they encountered wraiths, Lara overused her powers and they’re returning with her. I need parchment, we must send word to Adimar and the others. I... sensed Malik is near. I do not want them to risk engaging him just yet. I will not let them risk a suicide mission.”] James nodded his head and quickly helped Aria to a set where he set her down and placed HErmes on the back of her chair. The hawk looked over her shoulder and clicked his beak at her hair, as James set before her paper and pen.
[i - I sensed Malik, he is close. Complete your mission if you can, but do not engage if his retaliation is immediate.
She sent Hermès away with her note, and could only hope it reached them in time.
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