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The Pointe, Aria quickly learned; was a needle like structure that went up into the clouds and she was dropped on a small platform. It was a good mile up in the air with thousands of feet below her to fall to her most certain death. It was cold, damp, and the small platform was large enough for her to lay down on and spread out, but not much more than that. How ever would she get down? Around her a cloud rolled in like a thick fog, soaking her to the bone with icy water. Aria was tense, and unsure. She was entirely alone.
“Well I was wanting alone time… but this is not what I had in mind…” Aria noted as she looked around the cloud. It seemed to settle right over her and trapped her inside. Aria shivered, pulling her sleeve back up since Ursula had not bothered to retie her dress closed. Aria heard a clacking sound, and she looked around frantically for the source, until she saw a Hawk that was walking on the floor to stop right at her feet. For a moment she stared at the Hawk and it stared back.
“Volshi?” She asked and held her arm out, the knowing telling her exactly what was going on. the Hawk flapped it’s wings and landed on her arm. She winced, he was heavy and his talons cut the sleeve of her dress and her arm. “I have no idea how to get down. I will surely fall to my death.” The hawk tilted its head to the side and finally took off from her arm, the jarring movement and the digging of his talons had Aria gasping out in pain as he sliced her arm wide open. Her blood dripped down onto the platform in thick rivulets. She winced, it was deep and it stung. She whimpered and moved to sit down on the platform and managed to rip a swath of fabric from her dress and wrapped her forearm tightly. Her shoulder was still throbbing too and still stuck out at an odd angle, still dislocated. She took another swath of fabric from her dress and laid it on her lap, and bit her lip as she grabbed her dislocated arm, and forced it back into place for now. She gasped at the pain, and if possible she thought it might hurt more, but for now it was back in the joint and she’d look to get it healed properly later. If she could ever get down from this thing.
She sat there with her arm in a makeshift sling and her other arm throbbing from the hawk’s talons that cut her and looked around. Still trapped in the cloud and feeling worthless and defeated, Aria sighed, and was about to lay down, but she saw the pool of her blood that had fallen onto the platform begin to take shape. It wiggled and moved, before expanding and growing to a full sized human. Aria scooted back as far as she could and watched in horror as her blood solidified and took the shape of her! Aria looked to her clone and slowly stood up. The Clone stood before Aria naked as a babe, and perfect in every way. This was clearly not normal. The clone looked Aria over and her nose wrinkled in disgust.
“What a weakling you are. The Guardians will die trying to save your ass before they ever get a chance to defeat Malik. You’re so pathetic, cowering from yourself…” The clone’s tone was callous and cruel, even her eyes looked darker and meaner. She came face to face with her, and glared. Aria could only blink as she tried to process that she was seeing a copy of herself. “You deserve to have Malik destroy you…. you’ve only had a thousand nightmares of his capture of you, wouldn’t it be fun to live one of them?” She asked reaching out to caress Aria’s cheek. Aria trembled, and then shivered as the air grew colder and she felt a presence behind her. Aria stilled, too scared to look behind her, even as the clone stood up and vanished into the cloud with a wicked smirk on her face.
That was when Aria felt a hand curling around her throat, it dragged her back and clean off the platform, and landed her into a firm bed. She sat up and looked around. She was in a room, dark and cold, and the door opened and closed. Aria looked around for a way to escape, but there were no windows. Boots clacked on the wooden flooring and finally stopped, pulling back the covers of the bed.
“My pretty little prize…” that hauntingly familiar voice crooned. Aria turned and saw herself face to face with Malik and she was frozen solid. “I have waited a long time for this…” Aria’s senses came rushing back to her. Malik was standing over her, dressed in his dark robes, and smiling sadistically.
“This isn’t real…” She breathed. “It can’t be…” Malik chuckled darkly, his greasy black hair hanging around his face as he leaned in to take her jaw in one of his spindly hands. She backed away from him even as he told her it was all real. That she was his prisoner, that he had the guardians and by dawn they would all be dead.
“But not you… no…” He crooned softly. Aria flinched when his hand made contact with her temple and brushed her hair back to tuck behind an ear. “No, I’m going to keep you around for as long as you entertain me,” he chuckled darkly, and Aria began to climb away from the bed to flee. Malik was there to block her a malicious grin on his face, and then Aria felt it. He smacked her with the back of his hand full force, and sent her sprawling to the floor. Could a dream really hurt this way? She kept trying to tell herself this wasn’t real, but it hurt like it was. The blood she tasted in her mouth was real. She tried to sit back up, and instead felt his hand in her hair wrenching her head back. “Want to see something fun?” He asked and dragged her towards a window that had suddenly appeared. Aria knew then, this was all an illusion… this was magic. What sort of magic would put her in this situation. If it was fake why did it feel so real?
He smashed her face up against the glass, causing it to crack. Aria could see a wooden platform down below, but not much else. Standing on the platform and chained up to their own post, broken and defeated stood Adimar and Rhuarc. “I’m going to flay their skin off and let my crows feast on their bodies. But I’m gonna put the big one right outside your room.” His lips came to Aria’s ear and whispered darkly, “I know he’s your favorite,” He sneered taking his tongue and raking it up along her neck and to her ear. Aria felt she was going to vomit.
“This isn’t real… ‘She whispered to herself, eyes shut tight, but she could hear him… could hear Rhuarc calling her name. Her name, not Priestess, but by her name. Adimar began to wail with a blood curling shout, as Aria could practically hear their flesh being peeled off their still living bodies. Her heart began to pound, opening her eyes and seeing they were now as Malik had promised, skinned like animals, with Crows sitting on their bloated corpses and pecking at their eyes. Around them, all of Central City was in ruin and burning to the ground with dying embers. Aria gasped, her eyes filling with tears, and then Malik was dragging her else where. “No,” She breathed, “NO!” She shrieked. This was her nightmare made flesh, and while she didn’t want to leave Rhuarc or Adimar, their images were being consumed in the same fire that destroyed her beloved city. She was dragged across a stone floor, and thrown down with such a force she smacked her head against the stone. When she lifted her head she came face to face with the lifeless eyes of Lara, her throat slit wide open and standing over her was none other than Saraya.
“I had to… he said he could bring my baby back -my husband…”
“But… Lara…” Aria tried, reaching for her lifeless body. She had been so young, with so much life ahead of her. But then the vision of Saraya saw what she had done, and took the knife to cut her own throat too. Aria screamed, reaching out for her too, but she was helpless as Saraya’s blood spurt forth from her jugular and splattered against Aria’s face and body. She fell with a sicking smack to the floor and behind her Malik laughed with glee. She lifted her head, to glare at Malik. He simply smiled and sprang for her.
What happened next to Aria was beyond what words can describe. She bore witness to the loss of her guardians, the destruction and ruin of Central City, and within a pool of the guardian’s mixed blood, Malik forced himself on Aria in a blood magic ritual. She screamed for help, she screamed until her voice was raw… she screamed until she realized no one was coming to save her… no one was left. She couldn’t keep relying on others to save her anymore. From around her she could see the Necromancer, the Mage, The Fade and other glowing vicious eyes waiting for their turn to partake in violating her violently. Something inside her roared to life, and she grabbed a hold of Malik’s face to dig her thumbs into his eyes. She began to fight back. She fought like a hell cat, spitting and hissing and kicking her way out from Malik’s grasp, and right for the knife Saraya had used moments ago. She took it up into her hands and spun around just in time to plunge it in his chest, but as she turned he bore down on top of her and forced the knife from her hands. She cried out as he took it and sunk it down to the hilt into her chest. Blood began to bubble up from her throat and leak from between her lips. “No one will be able to save you all the time,” Aria gasped for breath even as Malik brought his face closer, and stabbed her again. “Death is inevitable…” He whispered. He stabbed her three more times and Aria finally lost consciousness. Failure weighing deep in her soul.
To Be Continued...
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Quiet breath had exhaled from the darkest parts of the room. Saraya felt uneasy. She could see nothing, but she knew something was waiting... Then, an unfamiliar language had spoken from the darkness... [I Hintutah rustal til... Saraya...] She felt like the air from her lungs escape... It was ragged, and as she stared intently into the entryway, she felt an uneasy feeling that something was there and it was waiting for her...
Carrick had grabbed the torch and Lara walked in. Carrick looked back to see Saraya stiff, and it puzzled him. [I "Saraya? "] he asked. She took a slow breath, before looking to him. [I "... There is something... It feels as though its eyes are on me... "]
It had grown dark... But suddenly, Rhuarc and Adimar had appeared. With relief she shook her head before they were covered in fog. She had lost Carrick in the smoke, and suddenly felt like she was falling. She gasped as she retained balance, and felt herself descending. She landed lightly on her feet, but she was surrounded by fog. [i "Carrick!!! "] she yelled... No sound... She stared about, but she wouldn't move. [I "Carrick!! "]
A slow exhale stopped her calls. She slowly turned to see a familiar build... [I It cannot be...]
There Felliope stood, wearing his formal attire he married her in. She felt tears well up and fall as she approached. [I "Felliope? "] she asked as she drew near... Suddenly, Felliope slowly turned, and she saw a blanket... And it was stained with blood. She gasped when she realized what it was... [b "How could you, Saraya..."]
[i "Felliope, i-"]
[b "I told you to run, Saraya! I told you to get somewhere safe! Why would you not listen to me?! "] she was too hurt to speak. All she could do was look at the bloody bundle. [b "This is the price for your arrogance! "] he grabbed their child from within the bundle, and the sight of it broke her heart. Felliope was holding the stillborn by his throat, and it wasn't the half of it. The body was crushed, and it had slice marks left and right on the poor body. She held her hand over her mouth and doubled over, fighting to breathe as tears dropped like rain. She dropped to her knees. [b "THIS IS YOUR FAULT, SARAYA!! YOU MURDERED US!! "] Saraya held onto her head, crying harder from the opened wounds. Slowly... As he ranted on, a shadow shrouded him. Saraya suddenly couldn't hear him. A hand had grabbed to her shoulder. She turned her head to see a dark horseman towering her. She stared upon it, the magnificent steed neighing loud. [I "Hïgasçá... "] she whispered. The horseman had nodded his head and reached out his hand. Hesitant, Saraya stared upon his hand before looking up to him. The horseman had not budged. She sighed to herself as she grabbed onto his hand and stood.
Hïgasçá spoke slowly in his otherworldly tongue, one she wasn't familiar with... But, as she listened, she slowly began to hear her Caledonian language... And he had spoke only two words. [b Your Truth...] Before she could speak, the fog consumed the horseman, and she turned to see Malik. Malik had his hands gripped on the corpse of Felliope and unborn.
[I "... Malik... "] her voice came out as a growl. She looked into scorching eyesight of him, the evil glare with a twisted grin that, in the beginning, had made her skin crawl. The sight of him only enraged her... His smirk mocked her... As though he thought she wasn't capable of attacking. [b How much longer are you going to run, Caledonian? How much longer must I torture their souls to do what I wish... And kill them again, and again? "] he dropped their bodies, and walked over to a bound figure. She felt her heart tense as she saw who it was... She felt her heart stop. [b " Do I have to kill you... And the only person that loves you? "] She wanted to run at him, but her feet was planted. She couldn't let him touch Carrick... She refused it! [I "See, Felliope? I have at least tried to save you... Malik had killed you... And now... "] She felt something dark come across her. She saw it form into a bow in her hand, though it wouldn't completely take form. It was in form of smoke, but in her hands, felt as real as the weapon would. She aimed it at Malik, and as blood tears dropped from her eyes, she felt the darkness of her anger consume her. [I "You shall not claim him, Malik... You shall not use him against me... I will kill you when I find you... "]
Malik smiled and turned to her. [b How can you kill what your father couldn't? "]
Saraya growled, and like a predator, crouched. [i Like this!!! "] she pushed off the ground reaching for him. Malik was ready to make his killing blow while he said [b You disappoint me"] Saraya had ran fast as she could and swept Carrick up into the air with her before Malik could make his weapon true. She had dodged Malik as she flew into the fog, but she hadn't realized that she would collide into the door, slamming it open. She tucked and rolled out of instinct, getting to her feet before turning to the door, and let out a battle cry so strong, it shook the atmosphere. Wind whipped across the room, and she dropped to her knees, screaming over and over in Caledonian [I Deshe pragä änúä] [I I am your Grim reaper "]
She doubled over, hand over her womb as she saw the last image in the doorway... Felliope's standing corpse with the bloody bundle in his hands... She stayed as her head dropped, finally letting the tears go. She felt relief, and though she heard everyone running to her, she still felt it in her ears The Spirit. [I I am proud of you, Saraya]
Saraya nodded before shakingly sitting up, fixated on the now closed door. [I "Felliope... One day, you will forgive me... "]
She let her head drop before looking to everyone else. It seemed she had became fourth to appear... She took in a deep breath, then stood, looking to everyone as the stared worryingly to her. [I "I passed... "] was all she could say. She nodded, her face still wet with tears... But as she stared, her eyes still had a darkness to it. It wasn't a scary darkness, but a vengeful darkness. She finally made peace with the deaths of her past... But there was something in her past she still didn't know... She chose love over tragedy and self pity. She chose her new family over the past... She had passed
Adimar followed into the chamber with the others, but he quickly lost sight of them in the heavy fog. Adimar looked around in the fog, and down to his feet when he heard the sound of familiar footsteps. He turned and was stunned to see the Hand to the King approaching him. Karrot was an older man and had served Adimar's uncle for many years in overseeing the Volshi Empire, and to see him here was not good. Adimar looked around quickly to see where the rest of his group had gone, but it was only the old advisor, Karrot.
"Your Highness," He said with a quick bow, Adimar dared not move and was slowly questioning his sanity. How was it that Karrot was here? The man should have been up in Aero City with his Uncle.
"Karrot, what are you doing here?" Adimar questioned.
"I bring grave news, my lord. Aero City has been attacked. She has begun to sink from the sky and will likely fall upon the earth." Adimar tensed, everyone in the city would likely die, and any ground city below would be crushed.
"My Uncle? My father?"
"Dead your Highness... you are now king." Adimar forced himself to breath, or run the risk of vomiting. He closed his eyes, not wanting to believe a word Karrot had said.
"I can not be king... I am a Guardian-"
"You are King now," Karrot told him again. "It is because you are a Guardian that you were not here to help protect us, and now our most glorious city has fallen. You will sit on the throne and you will rule as is your duty." Adimar was fuming, but it came from a deep seated fear. Fear that he would not be around to protect his people if he left to be a Guardian. Was he a Guardian first, or was he King to his people? Could he ever just be Adimar the man? Did this mentality make him lazy? Dishonorable? Was it really so bad he just wanted to be left to chose for himself what he wanted to be?
"This is all your fault," Karrot spat, and Adimar, feeling a cold dread grip his throat, was finding it hard to breathe. "You left us, and for what? An olde wives tale about monsters and myth?"
"It is not a myth. The Priestess is alive," Karrot scoffed as he usually did, unwilling to believe that such 'lowly creatures' could wield magic, or that the Priestess was even still alive.
"Please! Did you really think you could be a hero? You are not free to make those decisions. The Council demands you return to Aero City before she plummets to the earth." Adimar grit his teeth, a part of him knew this couldn't be truth, and yet another part of him feared that this was a very real threat.
Adimar had been so focused on Karrot he hadn't realized the space around him had begun to solidify into the Sanctum of Kil'heed. It was so visceral and real, Adimar was struggling to understand if he'd been spirited away from the group and back to the sanctum to hear this dreadful news. He turned around and took in the sights again of the sanctum and frowned. Leave behind the Guardians? What would happen to them if he left with Karrot? What would happen if he didn't leave? What would become of his people? Adimar was torn between duty to his people, and his duty to Aria and the others. Adimar was torn.
"If you do not come with me, you will forever be dead to the people of Volshiv, and your sister will sit on the throne." That certainly caught Adimar's attention. His sister? They wouldn't dare put such a timid and sweet innocent thing on that black void of a throne. He grit his teeth -nothing mattered more to Adimar than his sister. It was a choice he wasn't prepared to make. "As it stands your people are dying, you allowed these foreigners to enter our most sacred land. You led them right here! You even showed those lesser fools how to use arcana! You betrayed us all!" Karrot spat, his spittle flying freely and only a small portion of it getting caught in his curled grey beard. The portly old man, never had liked him.
Karrot had always intimidated Adimar, when he was a boy he’d been terrified of the Advisor. Karrot was not known for being a kind man, or even one who laughed or smiled -unless in a mocking and condescending manner. Adimar backed away as the portly old man marched towards him, finger raised and his face turning red with rage.
“The Gods chose for them a fool! All you have ever done is slack off, play games, go through women the way you go through wine! You’re a lazy fool with no heart or care for your people. You’re selfish and only think about yourself! When will you do something worthwhile? When will you stop being a burden on the royal purse?!” He spat. Adimar flinched, actually flinched and raised a hand to stop Karrot from striking him. It shocked Adimar to see… he was a small boy once again, and at the mercy of the vicious Karrot. “Look at what your selfishness has caused!” Karrot pointed behind Adimar, and he turned to see an army of corpses staring at him with dead eyes. They were all people he recognized. His Uncle and father standing at the front, dressed in their elegant robes, now rotted and decayed like their flesh. Slowly, one by one, the Volshi Corpses raised their hands and pointed a finger at Adimar.
“Your fault…” they all grumbled. “Your fault…” the repeated it over and over, until Adimar was holding his head, covering his ears and screaming.
“I can’t save you…” Adimar murmured. “I can’t save you all… I can’t be king…”
“If you are not King… then all of Volshi will fall,”
“I am a Guardian! I can not be King!” Adimar shouted again, desperate for that to ring true.
“Are you a Guardian? Or do you just think you are? You can’t even protect your own people, what makes you think you can protect her?” Karrot asked, and pointed in a new direction and Adimar looked up to see a sight that ripped at his heart.
Aria was laid down, face first on the floor. Her body was twisted strangely, and her clothes nothing but rags. Adimar crawled over, a man once again and touched Aria’s shoulder, rolling her body over, only to find it dead and crawling with maggots. He dropped her corpse and scooted away, only to hit Thad’s dead body. He sucked in a breath. “Your friends will die too, because you are worthless,” Karrot reminded him, and Adimar turned to see that not only was Thad dead, but so was Rupert and Max -his closest mates, his friends that would follow him to their demise. “If you are a Guardian,” Karrot told him, towering tall and formidable over him. “Then you are a piss poor excuse for one. Now come with me, be king… I need a new puppet!” He hissed and reached forward to grab Adimar’s hair and dragged him away from the corpses of his people, and his friends. Aria’s body had a glow to it, before it too was snuffed out and she was left, pale, dull and dark.
Adimar struggled under the weights of his insecurities, with Karrot driving the route to self destruction, before he was thrown into a massive throne, carved from darkly stained wood, capped with silver plates of filigree and jewels and soft sapphire velvet on the seat. The Silver crown was perched on a pillow beside the chair, but it was the most horrifying thing Adimar had ever seen. He’d lose his freedom, no longer be able to be himself. He had no qualms about giving his life in battle, or for the guardians… but he had a problem with wearing that crown. To Adimar it was good as wearing shackles, and being locked in a cage. He couldn’t do it… His days would be scheduled to a full load, his life would be limited, and his freedoms none. The elders would even be in their right to force a bride on Adimar, dress him, puppet him, and turn him into nothing more than a trained monkey. Karrot lifted the crown and came towards him with it and Adimar raised his hand up to stop Karrot.
“You must make a choice… Us… or them?” Adimar swallowed past the lump in his throat, and for a moment almost conceded to Karrot, his people came first… he should take up his birthright, it was his duty… but…
“I chose them.” He managed. “I can not be king. I am The Guardian of Volshi! I can not save my people if I do not accept what I am!”
“A GUARDIAN!” Adimar roared, and from his corse a great burst of air shot away in all directions, sending Karrot and all the others away from him. They all faded and Adimar fell to his knees panting for breath. He saw between his hands was the crown, just glittering before him. He swallowed tensely and reached out to lift it up. He grabbed it and rose back to his feet and with a frown, crushed it into dust. He would be considered dead to his people if he turned down the crown. He’d also be banished from the Aero Cities, and would lose his home. It was a sad fear, the fear of his insecurities. He looked up from where he stood and saw the dim light illuminated a path. He followed it into the next cavern and saw Rhuarc already standing there. He wasn’t surprised to see that Rhuarc had defeated his test so easily, but there was no hiding the haunted expression in his eyes, or Adimar’s either. Adimar looked to Rhuarc and glanced behind him to see the fog came no further towards them, it was as if there was a shield keeping them from being swallowed up again.
Carrick was the next to walk through, looking pale and shaken. Adimar didn’t want to ask what they others had seen, but when Carrick noticed them there, he looked frightened and turned around to look for Saraya, no doubt.
“I saw everyone I ever loved… killed… I saw Malik, he murdered, tortured and raped the people I cared about… and all I could do was watch… before he killed me too,” Carrick admitted. “My cowardice and past came back to haunt me,” He looked to Adimar and Rhuarc and bowed his head. “I made a choice many years ago, after the fall of the Holy Septum… I was supposed to take Aria to Malik, I was supposed to lead Malik to you all… instead I betrayed him. I accept what will happen to those people… for the greater good…” Adimar’s brows furrowed with understanding and he nodded.
“For the greater good we will all have to make sacrifices, and live with the consequences of our actions, or inaction,” Adimar advised.
“I had to choose between my people and you all,” Adimar said darkly. “I had to learn that I can not carry both, but I can save both by fighting with the rest of you…”
Carrick gave a nod of his head in agreement. “Let’s hope the girls make it through alright…”
[b "I have no doubt that we will find her Adimar, whether she is breathing when we do is a far more uncertain matter."] The first trial had almost killed them and their only option was to wait here for the others to make it through their trial, were they too fighting the same monstrous beast or were they facing something worse, Rhuarc doubted whether anyting in this labyrinth was easy, The two men waited there in silence for what seemed like hours for the others to return. Rhuarc was sure that they would he refused to believe that anyone in the group could be defeated by these trials, they would prove to Ursula and the Watchers that they were more than capable of passing their little tests and defeating the False King. Eventually, after Rhuarc knew not how long, Carrick, Lara and Saraya entered from another corridor, a smile crossed the Jai's face and he gave a nod in greeting to his companions, grateful to see that they had survived. Lara's injury from the battle was evident but it did not seem that anyone had picked up any new injury during the course of their trial, it was reassuring to see.
The party decided to advance through the endless labyrinth, not that they had much choice, and Rhuarc was not happy to discover that this corridor was even more cramped than the last! It was fine for Saraya dn Lara, short and lithe as the were, and a little uncomfortable for Adimar and Carrick but for the Jai it was unbearable, he couldn't go two steps without being scraped by the rock or struggling to pass through the corridor, all of which was accompanied by a few choice words in the harsh, guttural language in the Jai tongue. One of his own flames lit the corridor but it was still new to him how to use fire in a non combative role so occasionally the fire spluttered and almost went out with only an immense amount of concentration from Rhuarc keeping it lit. Mercifully the corridor came to an end and opened up into...well Rhuarc couldn't exactly see what was at the end of the corridor as a thick fog masked his view, the flame that was lighting their way was smothered and died out quickly...curiously enough wherever they were was not plunged into darkness but a soft, pale light permeated the fog. The fog was disorientating and despite being just behind Adimar and Carrick as they walked through the labyrinth as a group the massive Jai found himself completely alone inside the oppressive fog. A few experimental shouts for his allies and their lack of response revealed to him that this was not merely the strange workings of Kil'heed and the labyrinth but something else entirely. Rhuarc was certain that this was their second trial.
Pain ignited in Rhuarc's left hand the likes of which he had never felt before, once...twice...thrice the hammer fell imbedding the nail into his flesh deeper every time, the same process was repeated on his other hand and his feet before he heard the heaves of men as the heavy wooden cross that he was nailed to was hoisted up and he could see the worst thing imaginable. Before him lay his homeland, the Wastelands of the Adbhu'Jai but never before had Rhuarc seen them like this, from where he was being crucified he saw the great terracotta cities along the River Nine being overrun and falling to Malik's armies, the sacred lands and hidden temples to Jaihash and Ouk'nu being perverted and turned into shrines to Malik, the ultimate desecration. Blacksmiths were being lined up for execution, the secrets of thrice-forged Jai steel would be lost with their deaths, mounds of bodies wearing white were piled up by the soldiers and left for scavengers to feed on, children in chains being carted away to the Central City...to Malik's domain where they would forget all they had learned and become nothing more than Malik's pawns, puppets to be played with whenever he wanted. Rhuarc tried to blink but found himself unable to do so, it was agony to even try, clearly Malik wanted him to watch the destruction of his people. Again Rhuarc tried to close his eyes and could not, pain shot through him and suddenly with a sick feeling he knew why he couldn't do it. He had no skin. Malik had flayed him completely from head to toe, all of the scars he had earned defending his people were gone...all of the tattoos he had proclaiming glory and honour to the Jai were gone...all of the brand he had burned into his skin to show his devotion to the old ways were gone. He could not blink or look away because he had no eyelids. It was horrifying. It was gone, everything was gone. The Jai people were dead or enslaved, their monuments and cities had been turned to rubble, their very culture had been annihilated. The Jai had been the last of the provinces to keep the Old Ways and they died with the Jai.
This was Rhuarc's greatest fear.
The Old Ways were gone, his people were no more, what was the point of going on...what was the point in fighting Malik any longer. Rhuarc had never feared death, he knew others who did but he never had, he had always wanted to do the honourable thing, to seek a glorious death, to die in service to his people, to keep the Old Ways. To see it all gone, filled him with despair and it made him want to submit, to admit defeat to simply die...and yet he did not. If it really was true that Malik had enslaved his people and destroyed his homeland then he was all that was left. The flesh may have been stripped from his bones and this crucifixion would be a slow and very painful way to die, in fact every breath he took was a painful labour, but he would remain true to himself and to his people. He may be about to die, that was evident and there was nothing he could do to change that outcome but that didn't mean that he had no options left. What he feared most above all else had come to pass, his people and his culture was no more...but as long as he lived Rhuarc was the Jai. He would not submit, he knew who and what he was...he was the Guardian of Jaihash, the embodiment of fire and he was a proud Jai warrior of the Farlan Tribe. He would keep the promise he made to himself as long ago as he could remember, he would have an honourable death and serve his people. The Jai may be abut to die but as long as he could still draw those slow, excritiatingly painful breaths then he would do so with dignity. The Old Ways, the way of [i Ahrak-Toh] of honour and obligation lived in him, he was honour bound to face his death with dignity and he would was obligated to live the way his people always had. He would not submit. Malik was powerful, perhaps even too powerful to be defeated but Rhuarc would stand against him always. He was the Jai and that was what was honourable, that was his obligation. That was what the Old Ways demanded of him. In that final moment of resolve, in defiance of Malik, the False King, Shade-stealer, Rhuarc took one long, slow agonising breath and died.
The thick fog dissipated as Rhuarc drew breath and opened his eyes, he ran a hand over his face, arms, chest just checking that his flesh was indeed still there. It was surreal, he could still feel that lingering pain, he could feel every injury that had befallen him in the fog of nightmares. This labyrinth knew what he feared most and it had almost caused him to falter and fail, he was ready to abandon it all. It was his resolve that gave him the strength to continue, he thought that was what this trial was about at it's heart. In the last trial he had Adimar with him, he needed to rely not on his weapons but on his wits, here he needed to know that he was strong enough to face whatever presented itself, with or without the others. There would be times when Rhuarc and the other Guardians would be alone, he was sure of it but by facing his worst fear alone and finding the resolve to continue, he would be able to conquer whatever Malik could summon against them. Alone the Jai walked in that eerie light that was so like moonlight until he came to a cavern. Here he would wait for the others to conquer their nightmares as he was sure they would. Whether he faced the next trial alone or in the company of the others he knew that he would be able to face whatever came next. Rhuarc was one step closer to finding Aria which also meant that he was one step, however small, closer to bringing down Malik and saving his people. He would ensure that the Old Ways survived.
Carrick, rushed across the tiles clumsily, with Lara in the rear. Saraya had sprinted across them with finesse and ease like a trained dancer. She was the first to cross and the first to see the pattern on the walls. Lara, he noticed was struggling with her wounded leg. He'd offer to carry her if he thought she'd say yes, but she was a stubborn one, and so he did not offer. He didn't think he'd be able to carry her across with as clumsily as he was making it. He finally made it through, but there was only five feet of open pathway and it was closing fast. They turned around and saw that Lara's leg had given out and she tripped, hitting another tile that caused the walls to move even faster.
"LARA!" Carrick shouted ready to jump back in after her, but the light-footed Saraya jumped back in, with a fearless gaze and helped Lara back to her feet. They slipped through the narrow doorway just as the walls slammed into one another and the wall sealed up behind them.
Carrick heaved a heavy breath, with a hand over his rapidly beating heart and grabbed Lara in an uncharacteristic way and gave her a tight hug, then he did the same to Saraya.
"Let's not get caught in one of those again," he said trying to keep the mood light. Lara was having none of that.
"Bunch of bastards, battle happens right in front and they don't give us any rest. On top of that, they decide to kidnap Aria. a bunch of deceitful bastards."
Carrick chuckled, and patted his large hand to her tiny shoulder.
"We will find her, perhaps they have a reason for being so deceitful. You probably do not know this since you are so young, and Malik had taken over well before you were born, but Volshi was always known for his cunning and wit. This temple is an extension of Volshi and in a way, also Adimar. Who clearly has not been entirely honest with us either," Carrick reminded her, and together the trio continued forward.
The tunnel was short, and at the end of it a torch light flickered. Carrick could hear the murmurings of two voices, which caused Carrick to reach forward and grab Saraya from taking a step further. From the light, two shadows emerged to greet them, and Carrick felt relief wash over him at the sight. Adimar and Rhuarc stood at the other side. This urged Carrick, Lara and Saraya to hurry forward and into the small room where the other two were waiting.
"You made it!" Adimar exclaimed happily.
"Aye, that we did," Carrick said coming into the chamber with Lara at his side, who he stayed close to in case her leg gave out again.
"Rhuarc and I have been waiting for what feels like hours-" They all stopped as the runes on the other side of the wall finally gleamed and formed into an opening in the wall. None stepped forward though as a fog began to roll into the room from the dark tunnel. "Ahh, the next trial awaits us..." Adimar murmured and stepped forward to examine it.
"The air is colder in this tunnel," Carrick noted, and looked to the side to remove the torch, but it was bolted to the wall. "Great, how will we find our way?"
"Rhuarc discovered a nifty new trick," Adimar said thumbing over to Rhuarc. "Came in quite handy with his quick thinking to get us through our test."
Rhuarc's rapidly growing ability with fire, became handy once more as he lit their way into the chilly tunnel. Adimar didn't like that it felt they were moving down underground and not up. Adimar had a strong feeling Aria was up somewhere high above ground. That's where he would have put her: somewhere high and out of reach. It was hard to see ahead of them, as the further they went the thicker the fog became and the colder the air went. Soon they were all seeing their breaths plume in the air to mix with the fog, and the tunnel became so narrow, they had to form a single file ling to get through. Lara and Saraya seemed fine traversing the tunnel, but Carrick, Adimar, and especially Rhuarc seemed to be cramped in too small of a space.
When the tunnel ended it was hard to tell where they wound up. Everything was shrouded in fog, and as they all filed in the fog grew so thick, Adimar could not see any other member of his party... worse... he could not hear them. Carrick was in the same situation, he'd entered the vast fog to find himself separated from the others. They all found themselves very much alone in the fog, and no matter how loud they shouted, none could hear them, and none could be heard. Rhuarc's flame had gone from their sight too, and yet a dim glow like under moonlight, still managed to illuminate their space.
Carrick looked around, his brows furrowing as he lost sight of his entire group. “Saraya?!” He called, but there was no answer. He called again for the others with no luck. Finally he stopped walking, refusing to take another step until he knew what was going to happen. He hated not knowing what was going to happen, or what was coming. He couldn’t see a damn thing in this fog! He stood there as seconds turned to minutes, and they rapidly accumulated. It was putting Carrick on edge, until finally he roared. “ARGH! Come out! Show yourself!” He looked around. “I know something is out there,” he added with a dangerous snarl. He hated this. Where were the others?
“You knew what would happen if you betrayed me…” He heard the dark cold voice of Malik croon from behind him. He felt a shadow move past him, Carrick turned to see nothing but more Fog. Suddenly Carrick felt a heavy object hit him from behind. He fell face first into a black tiled floor that shined like glass. He looked up and saw he was thrown at the base of the Holy Septum, where Malik had constructed his throne. Carrick slowly began to lift himself, mouth agape in shock. “Yes, sit there like the worthless shit you are. You had one job… just one,” he said with cool and alarming calmness. Carrick steadied his breath before Malik. Carrick had never seen his face, and even still the False King hid in the shadows. “What… was that job again, Carrick?” Malik asked.
“I-Infiltrate the Resistance and learn where the Priestess was… I… I did that,”
“No, no, no… You’re a smart man, aren’t you? I would not put you on such a simple task. There’s more to your One job, and what was that job?”
“Bring you the Priestess if I found her, AGH!” Carrick felt a dark force push him back to the ground. The pressure hard against his body made it hard to breathe.
“You did find her! And what did you do?” Malik asked, sweeping forward in a wisp of smoke and appearing before him. Carrick stared at the hem of Malik’s robes, unable to move. “You smuggled her out of my City! You could have saved yourself, and you could have saved your family… but what did you do? You followed a pretty face…” Malik sounded disgusted, disappointed maybe. “Now, I will have to kill everyone that matters to you… I’m going to start with the little one.” Carrick finally managed to look up and saw a gleaming handsome smile peeking out from the shadows.
Carrick fought harder than before to free himself of the magic that kept him on the ground, and he watched as a young girl, no older than 8 was brought forward.
“NO! NO!” Carrick pleaded.
“I found this precious little child in a village we raided on the boarders of Caledon… You have family there don’t you?” He asked.
“NOOOOO!” Carrick struggled as Malik gripped the child and brought her forward.
“U-uncle Carrick?” She asked, bright curly red hair and wide blue eyes looked on curiously and frightened from a cherubic face. Malik swept her close to his robes, and curled his spindly fingers around her tiny shoulder.
“You… should not have betrayed me…” Malik warned, and with one sharp claw, slit the throat of Carrick’s niece.
“NOOO!” He screamed and looked beyond her lifeless eyes to see the others, his friends, the rest of his family, and the other Guardians. He watched as one by one they were killed or tortured before his eyes.
The death blow never came, someone had just saved her. Who it was, Saraya atop her steed. If the battle had already been confusing enough, it was much more confusing now. You had people running thither and hither, undead things doing the same thing, occasional bright bursts of light; all in all, one anarchical chaotic mess. But at the same time, that had been the general way the whole journey had been. At least to Lara.
Now it was time to go back, back to the safety that awaited them all inside the gate. Balden had run up to her and yelled about having to hurry, and then he grabbed her hand before dragging her along behind him. The leg through which a spear had gone was a nuisance, no surprise there, made walking not such an easy task when one had two legs which hadn't been pierced by a weapon. But despite undead things, overly bright party lights, fire trying to kill them and the civilians that had been dragged along, everyone that had not been killed made it into the mountain where the entrance doors closed.
But even there, there was no time given to rest. It was a straight march to a big room where the people who had helped them were waiting. And again, saying things but not wanting to explain in more detail. This was infuriating, but Lara kept her mouth shut so as not to piss off the captain of the watch. Saraya had gone off somewhere, but Saraya's presence was required.
It was a bit weird that these folks, even though a chaotic battle had just happened before their very feet, did not want to give them rest. Maybe it wasn't weird for them, maybe it was perfectly normal for them to not give rest right after a battle.
And then Saraya came, but it felt like the tension rose up a bit as this Ursula stared intently at Saraya.
And then a word battle began between the two, not one wanting to back down and show weakness. Honestly, inside Lara felt as if whoever the hell this Ursula person was, Ursula was in the wrong. Not giving them rest, keeping them all in the dark, essentially kidnapping Aria. When the time came to stand, with a bit of difficulty due to the wound in her leg, Lara stood with the rest around Saraya.
It appeared as if one test had been to passed, but that wasn't going to be the end. A new door, and again it was into the unknown. Into some labyrinth, where more tests awaited them all. If that is what got them to Aria, then screw it.
After all of them had entered, they split off into two groups. One group was her, Saraya, and Carryck. The other group, Adimar and Rhuarc.
Lara, along with Carryck and Saraya, found herself in some sort of tiled room. Each tile, on the walls and ceiling had some sort of design. Carryck had started to walk, but then there was a rumbling sound of something large moving in from both sides; walls, which were going to crash all tree of them into a sandwich unless the three of them figured out on which tiles to step on.
Saraya had the tile stepping pattern figured out: serpent, fish, dove, sword, and then repeat. And that was when the jumping from one tile to another began. If walking with a wound in the leg was somewhat difficult, than jumping was even more so. On one of the jumps, the wounded leg refused to budge causing her to misstep on a fish tile. That in turn caused the walls to close in even faster, and that caused Saraya to catch and whip her to safety.
That was close, much too close.
As she ambled further own into the darkness, Lara spoke to herself but loud enough for the others to hear. [+purple "Bunch of bastards, battle happens right in front and they don't give us any rest. On top of that, they decide to kidnap Aria. a bunch of deceitful bastards."]
Ayab was drifting in and out of consciousness throughout the frantic flee from the Fade into the city of Kil'heed, the wound from the whip was like nothing the Jai warrior had ever felt before. A wound from a mere whip shouldn't have caused this much damage but clearly it had, just looking at the wound made him want to vomit, only he didn't ave the strength to do even that. The cut itself was thin and blood oozed from the gash but more than that, it was the surrounding flesh that showed how much danger Ayab was in. The flesh was turning black and necrotic as the flesh around the wound died, a spiderweb of black, rotting veins and shadow spread from the cut; it was not unlike the same rotting spiderweb of shadows surrounding the toothy maw of the Fade's vile, misshapen mouth. He heard in the distance a large explosion and shouts of pain as the ground erupted from underneath them, thankfully the wagon that was carrying the normally strong Jai was surrounded by Adimar's men who leapt into action to defend their incapacitated comrade. The pain of burning ice and freezing fire pulsed from the unnatural wound, sucking his strength, drawing his life steadily and Ayab was unded no illusion that if the wound was not seen to quickly then the Jai would die in the mountains of Volshi.
The familiar noises of the battlefield surrounded Ayab lying uselessly in his wagon and they were so small comfort to the man who yearned to help defend these people and the friends he had made. Out there were carrick and Saraya, Balden and Lara, Adimar and all of his men, Aria, the High Priestess on which all of this rested and of course his dearest friend in the world, Rhuarc. Ayab would die for Rhuarc as he knew Rhuarc would for him, their friendship had been forged years ago in the harsh Wastelands fighting against Shade-stealer's forces. Thinking on his memories distracted him from the pain that threatened to overwhelm and destroy him if he let it. A sudden thunk in the side of the wagon followed by a splintering of wood showed an axe imbedded not that far away from where his head rested. Ayab's normally dexterous fingers seemed to belong to someone else as they floundered about trying to find the axes at his belt but he simply couldn't make himself pick them up or defend himself in anyway...thankfully the men surrounding him sprung into action and a guard that Ayab didn't recognise, although that might be because the pain in his leg was causing his vision to blur, in any case the man with the blurred face decapitated the Scourge with a swing of his blade. A grateful pant escaped Ayab's lips as he struggled to be of use. Fumbling for his bow was much more of an effort than he would like to admit and he did eventually manage to loose an arrow although it veered wildly to the left before a spasm of pain forced him to drop his bow into the dirt on the battlefield. Occasionally a jolt of pain from the wagon hitting a particular bump in the road as the driver speed towards the closing gates of the city. In the second before the gates closed Ayab managed to toss whatever weapons he still had on his person to the side before he crossed into sacred ground. The battle was a blur and he didn't really know what was going on but as soon as he passed into Kil'heed the pain in Ayab's leg diminished somewhat but didn't leave him completely.
As soon as the gates closed Ayab was shifted from the wagon to a blanket on the city floor with many of the other wounded, the dark, stain of rot had spread since the initial gash, which looked even more angry and more worryingly the blood oozing from the wound was also now black. What in the name of Azera was that whip doing to him? The feeling of molten ice and fire as cold as anything a man could ever imagine raged inside the wound on his leg, the pulsing had stopped but it was painfully clear to all that he was dying, and quickly. Carrick stopped by and gave him a drink of cool water from his canteen, he knew it was the blacksmith from his voice as his vision was still a bit blurry, but it was a welcome gesture nonetheless. Ayab could hear healers at work tending to the wounded and the dying and one even came to him, again giving him cool water to drink, which he accepted gladly before inhaling sharply in shock as they saw the wound he had sustained at the hands of the Fade. In a tongue that he did not understand someone called over frantically and several healers came over immediately, muttering in the foreign tongue presumably deliberating on how best to clean the terrible wound. Ayab felt something being applied to his leg, a poultice of sorts but the exclamations of alarm from at least three healers as Ayab knew the herbs that were applied turned black and shrivelled as soon as they touched the his wound. "This is beyond my skill, let me fetch a Watcher. They may be able to do more to this."
The minutes that passed seemed excruciatingly long but sure enough the footsteps returned along with another, Ayab could tell even with his vision fading steadily that this was not a normal person. They seemed to have a bright Aura about them, dazzling white and with a resoluteness about them that could not be adequitely explained. The Watcher, as the other healer had called them placed a hand directly on the wound causing Ayab to let out an involuntary shriek of pain but the Watcher kept their hand where it was. "This is a wound of great evil. I will contain it for now but even I can not completely eradicate such mark. This will require divine healing and even then it is uncertain whether it can be removed." A flood of warmth entered the wound and it seemed to battle with the piercing pain and it was almost as if a barrier went up around the spreading shadow of the wound inflicted by the Fade's hellish weapon. Ayab could still feel it, the fire and ice raging inside the wound but they seemed detached for now, whatever the Watcher had achieved, it was holding for now although Ayab doubted whether it would hold for any great length of time, he could feel it in his bones, this wound was going to kill him...or do something altogether much worse.
The battlefield and Rhuarc’s image was fading rapidly. Aria kept her eyes on Rhuarc for as long as she could. Her eyes burned with tears as the hoard consumed where he’d been left behind. She glared angrily and punched her hand into her captor’s armored chest. It hurt her more than it did him.
“How could you leave him behind?! Where are you taking me?!” Not even a moment later, they landed on the roof of the Watch Tower.
“I had to leave him behind, he is a warrior, you are not,” The Watcher with his piercing inhuman eyes looked at her. “You are too important. So I am taking you, there,” He pointed behind the high gates of Kil’heed to the palace built into the side of the mountain, as well as the rest of the fortress. “Somewhere I can keep you safe,” Aria gasped as he suddenly picked her back up and jumped towards a massive open platform off the highest room of the fortress. She screamed from the speed, the shock, and fear of uncertainty.
When he landed once more outside an obviously opulent room, she shrieked. “Put me down!” Aria shouted, desperate to get away from the strange man.
“As you wish,” The Watcher murmured, and set her down. Wind rustled where she stood. It was open and large, as if meant for something to land and take off. They were in large suite, covered in dust and the ancient furniture was covered with dust cloths. Aria backed away from the Watcher slowly, her eyes riveted on him. He stood tall and strong, with a handsome face, cerulean eyes and golden hair. His hand rested on the pommel of his sword at his hip, and his eyes remained as transfixed on her as hers did on him. He was inhumanly handsome, and Aria was having a hard time getting past that. It was like looking back on an old dream.
“My Friends-“ she tried, but he interrupted her.
“They will be fine,” he told her, his tone as unreadable as his stoic face.
“Who are you?” Aria asked backing away from him and further into the shadows of the room. He looked thoughtful for a moment, even though his eyes continued to penetrate her very soul.
“Stay in the light.” He said stopping her from taking another step back. She looked behind her to see the shadows. “The Fade can find you if you are in darkness…”
“How…” she began, but he cut her off.
“I am a Watcher of Azeroth.”
“Do you know who I am?” Aria attempted at sounding arrogant… and failing splendidly at it. For a brief fleeting moment the Watcher smirked at her.
“I do,” He answered, moving his body into a more relaxed stance, but still remaining at attention.
So he was a Watcher, but that didn’t tell her if [i he] was trustworthy. Aria feeling shaken and riddled with anxiety, began to pace the room -desperate to get out and find the others. His eyes never left her, following her every move and step. It was disconcerting, and was causing her heart to hammer in her chest with uncertainty.
“I have to get out of here, I have to find my friends!” Aria tried turning and making a run to the door. The Watcher caught her before she had a chance to duck him. A strong, muscled arm, looped around her tiny waist and turned her back around to remain in the room. She stumbled forward, barely managing to catch herself against a covered table, her dislocated shoulder throbbing in pain. How frustrating! She turned around and tried again, and again to escape the room and the Watcher keeping guard. Every time he caught her and maneuvered her back into the room. Aria eventually grew winded, struggling with The watcher. She knew he meant her no harm, the way he handled her, even trying to keep her contained, was done with gentle care. If she wasn’t mistaken -he was finding amusement in her.
Aria charged at him, one more time -determined to break past him, but like all the other times before he stopped her. The only thing different, was this time when he picked her up, instead of spinning her right back around, he kept her pinned to his chest and side. Aria’s feet dangled above the floor and she wiggled as best she could.
“Let me go! Let me go!” she demanded, pushing at him with her good arm. He only continued to hold on, and then he spoke.
“Struggle all you like Priestess, you will not leave this room until the others have proven themselves worthy,”
“Worthy? I trust them explicitly! Which is more than I can say for you!” Aria snapped. Unfortunately, Aria frustrated, was only comical and not intimidating in the slightest. Her comment caused her captor to smile, and it caught Aria off guard. She was held aloft in his arms, and nearly nose to nose with him. She felt that hammering in her chest again. That couldn’t be good. “I want to see my friends… RHUARC!” She shouted in the off chance he might hear her. She knew he wouldn’t -but she tried anyway. The Watcher suddenly dropped her and his expression turned solemn. Aria caught herself on the floor and scooted back from the Watcher. He did not advance or move, but remained at his post.
“My name is Luther,” he told her with a gentle voice. Aria sucked in a startled breath at the sudden admission and looked back up to see him standing there in all his glory, and holding a hand out for her. She reluctantly took it and accepted his help in letting her stand up. At least now she knew what to call him.
“Aria, High Priestess of Azeroth. Yes, I know who you are. I-We’ve been keeping an eye on you for some time,” He bowed his head, for the first time looking away from her. Aria was almost thankful, except he still held her hand aloft between them. They both looked at their hands and then to one another. Aria couldn’t understand why a simple touch was affecting her so.
“Can you tell me if my friends made it safely into Kil’heed?” Aria finally dared to ask. Luther seemed startled by her question and quickly dropped her hand.
“Ah,Yes.” He glanced behind him to the open Platform as if looking for something. “The Gates are just now closing. I promise soon you will be reunited with your group. My Commander is very… territorial and protective of all things she deems worthy of protection.”
“She?” Aria asked impressed “Your commander is a woman?”
“A Shield Maiden if you want to be specific… but yes, a Woman.”
“I was afraid you would not accept us into Kil’heed,” Aria told him.
“Why would we not? You are the Priestess. If anyone has a claim to walk the Sacred Ground of Kil’heed it is the High Priestess of Azeroth. Besides… prophecy has foretold us that in the mist of darkness a Priestess will return to all the Ancient Keeps and restore them, Kil’heed is one of those ancient keeps. Come, look upon it,” he said leading her towards the balcony, and exposing the door. Aria stayed rooted, her eyes traveling towards the door. To Freedom. Luther watched her closely, amused and daring her to make a run for it. “Please don’t make me chase you, priestess. I fear if I catch you, I will not wish to release you,” Aria hated that his simple comment made her blush so furiously. Now there was no denying the immediate tension that had been brewing between them since she laid eyes on him on the battlefield. Her mind was preoccupied though. Her friends were still out there… and she needed to know that Rhuarc was alright.
It was because of him, that the other Watchers were forced to intervene in the battle. He had been arguing with Ursula to let him leave and rescue the Guardians and the priestess when he spotted them in the Golden Sea. Then the attack happened, and Ursula gave him a gift.
[i “Go. I can not fight you on this. Secure the Priestess, Luther. We will defend the rest of her people and the guardians. I will grant them one year of refuge in Kil’heed.”]
Luther hadn’t waited after that, he flashed from the tower right into the thick of the battle and whisked Aria away to a Master Suite inside the fortress. She was everything he dreamed she would be, and more. “I can’t let you leave,” he reminded her gently. Her face flushed with indignation. “Come and look, your friends are below.” For a long moment she was quiet as she stared up at him, her eyes swimming with uncertainty, but she slowly nodded her head. Luther felt a wave of relief to see that, he extended his hand to her, and she accepted it. He led her closer to the edge of the platform, and together they looked down. It was then the wind blew their way, and all he could smell at the moment was her. Lavender and sage… Aria looked down to the city beneath her and frowned. The people down below milled about, there were cries of pain, indiscernible shouts, and it seemed almost chaotic. At least they were safe in Kil’heed.
“My group is smaller than before…” Aria noticed sadly.
“People die…” Luther reminded her. “Not all could make it. I’m sorry, we did not foresee Malik’s use of the Necromancer so early on… he must have been terribly desperate to have you…” Aria frowned, her brows furrowed at that comment, but looked over the ledge, her anxiousness giving away to one of masked confidence.
“He has been hunting me since I was a small child.”
“We know. If it makes you feel better, his goal is not to kill you-“
“No, of course not. He just wishes for a wife… one to make his claim legal and binding. The Four Kingdoms are not a Monarchy -and I am not a Queen.”
“But the people will follow you, right into a rebellion, and he knows that… just as they followed you on a dangerous path,” Luther advised showing her again the people that followed her, because they believed in her. They didn’t have to evacuate, the didn’t have to follow her, and yet they had.
When Luther looked back over to the Priestess, he saw her staring at him, with intense eyes.
“Why do I feel I’ve met you before?” Aria suddenly asked him. Luther frowned, almost ashamed.
“In a way you have…” Luther began.
“What does that mean?”Aria dared to ask.
“On a Rare occasion a priestess can be reincarnated. Like you… You’re a reincarnation…” Aria’s browed furrowed at him.
“How could you know something like that?”
Luther shrugged, “I know things,” he said. “I’ve been around for a very long time… Your past self used to come here… before the Central City was established as the hub and Holy Center of the Four Provinces.” He saw a frown cross Aria’s face, mostly out of confusion.
“A Priestess before Central City?” she questioned.
“Yes… the first Priestess… Azera.” Aria laughed then, disbelieving his story. “What? You think I lie because it’s not in the holy books you spent years studying over in that cabin with a lonely elder?” Aria’s laughter stopped on a hiccup and she stared him own in wide eyed shock.
“You have been watching me. You specifically,” Luther looked contrite, but he didn’t deny it. It made Aria’s face twist with anger.
“Ever think the Elders could have been wrong?”
“Impossible!” Aria challenged.
“Is it?” He asked back with an amused expression and arched brow. “I was there, Azeroth was the name Azera used to deflect her enemies. The truth is, the The Dragon Guardian was in fact a woman… and I seem familiar because I was one of her guards, and I loved her with every facet of my soul.” Aria stood shell shocked.
“Azera was the First Priestess?”
“And the Head Guardian of this land… Yes.”
“I… I don’t understand…” Aria whispered. She finally looked out and saw the fires in the Golden Sea… but her people were safe inside the fortress. Everything she was told was a lie?
“somewhere along the passage of time, people began to call the land Azera, and the Guardian Azeroth… when it should be the other way around… Azera was… magnificent.” Luther said, his eyes glassing over as he relived a moment of time.
“Just how old are you?” Aria asked. Luther smiled at nothing in particular and stared down at the small bodies moving about in the courtyard.
“I am as old as this land… I am-“
“An Ancient…” Luther turned his head to pin Aria with a look, her own beautiful eyes wide with wonder. “The Watchers are Ancients…”
“Malik is an Ancient… back when the lines between light and dark were not blurred Grey as they are today… Malik was one of us… Malik was my best friend… but darkness corrupted him and the man he once was is no more… now he is the embodiment of that darkness and everything that made it dangerous…” Aria reached out and grabbed his shoulder then, her eyes pleading.
“Why did Malik succumb to the Darkness? Why is he back now?”
“Because you are back, and because he loved you as much as I…” Aria was quiet for a long moment as she processed the news. She was cautious though, not giving it much validity, but hearing it out all the same.
“Malik was capable of love?”
“At one time he was. He was Azera’s Captain of the Guard.” Luther shook his head. “Azera chose neither of us. I accepted it with grace and humility… Malik… obsessed over his jealousy with who Azera chose in the end. He ended up threatening to do as he has now, and she managed to seal him away, at the cost of her own life…” Aria stared at Luther with uncertainty, fear, and understanding.
“All that you’ve said is quite… controversial. To hear that not only was Malik was once capable of love, but that Azera had a lover,”
“Lovers,” Luther corrected. “Azera had many lovers.” Aria gave him a look, but continued with her point.
“That there was a fifth guardian….” she shook her head. “I’m beginning to wonder how much of what I know is truth, and what is falsehood,”
“Sometimes the truth is relative… it depends on who delivers it, who wrote history… here you will receive nothing but the absolute truth. On that you have my word…” He watched Aria pace the edge of the platform giving him a wary look of distrust, and inside his chest his heart thumped when a small rock crumbled from the stone and fell down. Aria didn’t even flinch, seemingly unafraid of the height.
"Volshi was Azera's lover I'm assuming?"
"No actually, the ancient Volshi built this hold for Voshi, but Azera made frequent use of it before Central City was established. It's the closest hold to the City."
"Of course," Aria said, trying to sound like she'd known that. "So who was it?" she dared to ask. Luther sighed heavily and pinned her with a saddened look.
"The very same Guardian you are falling in love with now..."
“I love all of them,” she admitted as if that should have been obvious. “To which do you refer?” Luther gave her a challenging look, and Aria stared right back.
“One of the Guardians is your kin, the other two are women… that leaves Jai’ash.”
“What makes you think I don’t secretly pine for one of the women?” Aria asked coyly. Luther blinked, caught off guard but realizing she was playing with him now. Aria sighed and turned to face him, standing on the lede of the platform and looking like one stiff wind would send her sailing over the edge. “I do not know you. Why would I divulge my deepest secrets to you?”
They were interrupted by the door to the room opening and in entered a woman and a man. Aria turned to face the other two, clearly Watchers, but the woman’s armor was intricate and lovely.
“Lord Commander,” Luther saluted the woman, and she approached Aria. Aria stared back, and the woman walked around her. “Priestess, this is the Commander of the Watch, Ursula Tijis. This is Sub commander Variys.”
“Priestess,” Varyis bowed to her. Aria glanced to him, and wanted to keep her eyes on the woman who suddenly stopped behind her. Ursula was a good foot taller than Aria, making her nearly the same height as Adimar. she was tall and gorgeous and Aria wondered what she was. She did not look like an Ancient and she didn’t look human either…
“They claim you are the Priestess of Prophecy,” Ursula said and reached out and brushed Aria’s hair off her back and over her shoulders. Aria tried to squirm away, but Ursula gripped her shoulders suddenly halting her.
“No-stop!” Aria tried, but the Shield maiden didn’t listen. She held Aria with one arm and made quick work of the laces on Aria’s dress, she pulled them without an ounce of care and finally exposed Aria’s back. From behind her, she heard the shield maiden take a deep breath.
“So it truly is them…” She murmured.
“Did they made it past the septum?” Luther asked. Ursula nodded her head and released Aria, who quickly put as much space as possible between her and the three Watchers. She held the fabric of her dress up at her shoulders and stopped when her back pressed into a stone pillar that lined the interior wall of the suspended platform.
“I would not be here if they did not. All but one made it through,” Ursula told him. Aria could only tremble where she stood and stared them down.
“What have you done to my friends?” She dared to ask. Ursula turned to face her and used the same vacant expression with Aria as she had used with the other guardians down in the septum.
“I have done nothing, they are on their way to you now. If they pass the set of trials Kil’heed has in place, they will walk right through that door and you will be reunited once more. If they fail… then they will perish.” Aria gasped at the admission and her heart hammered dangerously in her chest. “First things first… you have your own trials to pass…”
“Me?” Aria asked trying to dodge the woman, but she grabbed Aria by the arm and brought her to the edge of the platform. Aria gasped, when the maiden picked her up and held her over the edge. Aria looked down to see nothing under her feet, and the only reason she wasn’t falling through the air was because the Shield Maiden held her with the effort it took a child to hold a baby doll. Aria’s heart raced, if she was dropped she would certainly die after a long fall like this.
“Do you know what this platform is for? Come now, you’re smart… I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now.”
“A-Azera could transform into the Dragon Azeroth!”
“Azera [i was] the Dragon… she alone possessed the special ability to transform.” Aria stilled in the Shield Maiden’s grasp and listened closely. Could this really be true? “She is the only guardian to have that power. Do you think you might have it?” Ursula challenged. For a moment Ursula teased like she might let go and Aria screamed in absolute terror, reaching up to hold onto Ursula’s arms. No, Aria did not think she had that sort of power. “Oh? don’t want me to drop you to see if you can fly?”
“No! Please, no!” Aria cried glancing back down below her and again up to Ursula.
“You really have no idea what you are capable of do you?” Ursula asked. Aria sniffled, her face marred by frightened tears, and stared back at Ursula. “We will have to fix that, if you ever want to defeat Malik,” Ursula told her. Aria suddenly felt her feet back on the platform and she wobbled, collapsing to her knees, and counting her lucky stars she was not dropped from the platform.
No you can't," Ursula said cutting the breathless Aria off. "Not yet at least. Take her to the Pointe…” Ursula said, sounding bored. “She has her own tests to preform…” Aria was rendered immobile when both Luther and Varyis came on either side of her and lifted her up to take her to The Pointe....
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Through it all, he held her hand, stayed close to her, making sure she felt his strength, and through it all, Saraya only listened... The Spirit within began to speak to her. and the Spirit was very entertained by this Elf. In his words... [I [b She had not changed a bit since Azera...]]
Azera? She recognized the name... The first priestess, one who established the Central City before her disappearance... Saraya stared silently to Ursula, as time slowly began to slow down. Saraya knew some history of Azera... The Spirit told him this when she first became a guardian... But, her curiosity peaked once more. [I "Was Malik a Watcher before he was corrupt?]
The Spirit hesitated, but it spoke:
[I [b Yes, my love... He was a Watcher... The greatest Watcher that ever protected Kil'heed. That is until Hígasçä had corrupted his mind and took over.]]
[I "Hígasçä? The Dark Horseman?"] She looked up to Ursula as time froze, then stared somewhat into the distance. [I "Tell me what this Hígasçä had done... "]
[I [b The Dark Horseman was once a beam of light... He cared for the world, his sole duty was to guide souls onto the Gïtál where they were placed in the hands of our heavens... But, the horseman grew greedy... He wanted control of the souls that were corrupt... He wanted to purify those that were not accepted into the heavens... The Great Council denied him... So, he took it upon himself to purify some of his own... And with the Council banishing him from the heavens' grace, he sought to make a kingdom of his own on earth... But he could not do it without a great power to channel his Dark Gift... He found Malik as a guard of Kil'heed, and corrupted him by giving him a power beyond reckoning... The power to manipulate and create an army using souls]]
[I "And did he use this power to claim Felliope's soul? "]
The spirit had not spoken for a moment. Saraya felt that the spirit was not comfortable speaking of this. [I "Spirit, tell me... "]
He still would not speak of it. Frustrated and powerless to make him speak, Saraya sighed. [I "If you do not wish to tell me, then tell me of Azera. You fought aide by side with her, so you must know... "]
[b Azera was my Priestess... The most valued, as Aria is... Perhaps, you and Aria have more in common than realized "]
[b "My love, you are smart. The truth will reveal itself in time...] With that, time had sped up until where Carrick's voice sounded.
Saraya saw everyone defend her, and that alone warmed her heart.. And suddenly... Ursula had changed her demeanor. The gates behind her opened, and Adjmar, though still weak had walked through first after her warning. [b "Guardian of Caledon... "]
Saraya looked to her and Ursula nodded. [b "Inside, you will see the truth... Whatever happens... Do not let it change who you are... You are magnificent... It will show you... "]
Saraya had not completely understood what she meant by that. But, through it, she managed to nod to her and she herself had walked into the gates.
Saraya instantly saw these five doors. Adimar and Rhuarc tried doors that wouldn't open. Saraya became nervous. This was a whole new venture... But, she was really good at solving different situations resourcefully, and it could prove useful.
[I "We must keep going, Guardians. Aria is counting on us... "] she sighed before saying. [I "I will meet you guys on the other side. We will find her... "]
Adimar said something, and it eased her worries before all but darkness took them as they entered the door. Careful, Carrick had led, then she followed, along with Lara. The room was lit dimly, but markings on the ground and on the walls matched. Carrick went first, but fumbled and a shaky feeling came about the room. The walls were slowly but surly coming at them. Lara began to panic. Saraya, on the other hand, managed to look ahead to the markings. They were the markings of the Guardians...
Looking on, she looked to the floor, then to the wall. Serpent first, fish next, then Dove, then a sword. She then looked to the ground. The markings were bot matching on the ground, in fact, it was like a puzzle... They had to jump onto each one in order... Saraya looked up to Carrick before yelling [I "I've found the pattern! Follow me! "]
She searched for the Serpent and jumped on, going on to the fish, then the dove. Once she gotten onto the sword, Carrick jumped onto the Dove while Lara made it to the fish. One by one, Saraya led the two by jumping in order, and the walls were steadily closing in. She jumped onto the surface on the other side, and pushed the door open. [I "Hurry! "]
Carrick had made it, but Lara fumbled and stepped on a Fish instead of a Serpent, and the walls accelerated. Carrick gasped and tried to reach her, but the walls were too close for him to grab her. Saraya thought of nothing, but ran towards her, yanking her out before the walls collided together. She gasped and exhaled as Lara and Carrick panicking breaths slowly stopped. [I "Are you alright? "] she asked them. Carrick nodded, and Lara did after. Carrick stood and looked to the open way. [I "It is dark Saraya..."] He said before looking over to the girls. [I "Our test isn't finished"]
Adimar lingered at the door and watched as Carrick held the door open for Saraya and Lara.
“Hey,” He called, garnering Carrick’s attention. “You all take care of yourselves, and we will meet you on the other side -Gods Willing.” Carrick gave a firm nod of his head and Adimar turned to follow Rhuarc. Behind him the wall sealed shut. “No going back that way,” he murmured. Well this was turning into a fun little adventure..
Adimar met up with Rhuarc inside a large and spacious cavern. The cave floor was separated by a couple hundred feet with a near void of blackness underneath. A Fall that would surely mean their doom if they slipped off the narrow and crumbling bridge that cut over the gourge. It was quiet… too quiet.
"Prince Adimar?" Rhuarc suddenly asked from beside him. Adimar sighed and his shoulders dropped, even if Rhuarc asked purely out of curious jest and not malicious intent.
“Please don’t call me that,” Adimar asked of him, their voices echoing off the walls.
"What do you make of this place?”
“It’s too quiet…” Adimar observed looking around, and lowering his voice.
“Obviously there is more to it than meets the eye, the bridge is the key. Be ready." Adimar nodded as he looked to the bridge with Rhuarc and they both made their way to it. Adimar was looking across the bridge towards the opposite wall and saw the outlines of a door. Rhuarc started across it first, eager to get to the door and through, while Adimar stood at the edge and looked down.
“I wonder how deep this thing goes…” he murmured, and kicked a small rock down into the depths. It clinked and clacked on it’s tumble down, the sound not really stopping just fading away. Adimar’s brows raised, noting that it might not end well if one of them fell. He saw Rhuarc already halfway across before he started making his way across. He honestly wasn’t sure how much the old bridge could take as far as weight was concerned, so it was probably best for them to be spaced out.
Adimar had taken his first steps onto the bridge when the cave started to tremble and the bridge shook. Adimar cringed, this wouldn’t be good. It went from bad to worse when from the dark depths, a massive creature raised its head and body to look at them. Adimar stared in stunned shock, even Rhuarc had stopped to look. It reminded Adimar of an armored sloth… with fangs, and six big yellow eyes. It was huge.
“Hey Rhuarc… you see this right?” Adimar asked, because it was just too fantastic to be real. Rhuarc did see it though, and he shouted to hurry for the door and Adimar hopped-to-it right behind him. “You don’t have to tell me twice,” he’d murmured and hurried after him. “Rhuarc, look out!” Adimar shouted as the creature swung at the man. Rhuarc avoided it, and Adimar used the air to push against Rhuarc and help him balance himself. That was too close. However, his shout had garnered the attention of the beast, and now it was Adimar’s turn to jump and sprint across the bridge. The creature was massive and powerful, but slow. Adimar had dodged the second swing, but nearly not the third. He used his flight assist to shoot him up in the air before the creature took out an entire section of the bridge.
Adimar landed, skidding to his feet on the other side, his brow furrowed as he prepared to be a decoy if Rhuarc needed more time to open the door. The creature was turning around to come at them again. Adimar shouted back to Rhuarc, his hands raise and ready to blast agains the creature if he could, but his Mana was already terribly low. “Have you opened it yet?” Adimar asked, but he caught the Jai’s frustrated look and then saw that the door was just a drawing on the stone wall. Adimar cursed and looked back out at the creature wondering exactly as Rhuarc. They had no weapons, Adimar was already exhausted, and he wasn’t sure how to get through this. Locking eyes with Rhuarc, Adimar gave a nod. A silent agreement that he would follow Rhuarc’s lead and do what was necessary to pass.
Suddenly Rhuarc was charging to the other side a determined look in his eyes and Adimar watched as Rhuarc went to jump the break int he bridge. He’d never make it… not alone at least, and so Adimar sent the wind at his back and helped him make the distance, landing safely on the other side. Adimar jumped to follow right after him, and saw as the beast watched them with an almost curious expression. It was a animalistic look that reminded Adimar of a cat. Rhuarc made a shout to follow his lead, and Adimar watched the man make fire in his hands and begin to weave it. Adimar kept his eyes on the creature, his hands raised and ready, sweat breaking down his forehead and temples. The creatures eyes became alighted on the ball of flame.
“Whatever you are doing my friend, best to make it quick… the creature looks mighty interested and ready to pounce!” As if knowing his words the creature snapped at them, but Adimar shot a gust of air at it, startling it back, while Rhuarc was busy at work creating a dancing weave of fire. It caught the creature’s attention and Adimar sent a current of air around the room. The beast made a strange sound, but turned its back on them in an attempt to catch the dancing fire.
Across the broken bridge, the runes on the door glowed to life, forming in the stone. “Hurry, back across the bridge,” Adimar whispered this time not wanting the creatures attention any longer. Rhuarc and Adimar made quick work getting across the bridge once more, and by the time the reached the door the fire was burning out and his wind dying away. They hurried through the door and into the next room. Adimar slumped over, hands on his knees breathing hard.
“I need to catch my breath, I’ve never used so much magic in one day before,” he admitted. He only took a minute to do as requested and straightened back up. “Good thinking with the distraction, brilliant really,” Adimar complimented. “I just hope the others are doing alright, Carrick will make sure they get through, and look, there’s another door etched in the stone,” Adimar said pointing to the marking and walked over to it. There was nothing in the room, no challenge, but from the marking Adimar was able to make out what it read. “Here you shall remain, until you are complete again…” Adimar sighed and took the moment to sit down with his back to the wall. “I guess we aren’t moving forward until the others meet up with us.” Adimar remained seated and watched Rhuarc closely, the man had nerves of steel, that was for certain -but there it was obvious at the same time how wound up the man was on the inside. “We will find her,” Adimar suddenly said eyes still on the man. “She’s counting on us to get through this…” Adimar looked away then, a frown on his face an a dangerous look in his eyes. “And I don’t know if we can actually trust these Watchers…”
When the others finally came through, a door appeared in the wall then vanished once they were through. Finally the other door came to life, and they could all move forward.
Carrick was the last to enter the passage behind Saraya and Lara, he raised the torch as high as the low ceiling would let him, and lighted their way. The narrow passage led down into a large room. The floor was tiled with several different designs and markings. On the far wall was the door, but it also wasn’t. Torches lit it on either side, and Carrick could make out runic drawings. It would open once they figured out how to open it. The chamber was lengthy and spacious with four handing ornaments on the walls. Each one bore a different symbol. One was a set of lines in the shape of a feather, the next was in the shape of a tear drop, the third looked reminiscent of a lotus bloom or burning flames, and the last was an outline of a stag’s face and its antlers. Carrick stepped forward to stand between Lara and Saraya and looked to the door.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Carrick murmured. “I’ll go first,”
Carrick stepped on one of the tiles and then the next, but the third moved on him, and he looked down to see a symbol on the tile that looked different from the ones on the wall. He removed his foot, back to the tile he was already on, but it was more than that and too late -the walls began to quake as they slowly began to shift towards the center. Carrick blanched, they would be crushed! They had to get across, but it was obvious the floor was booby trapped.
“The floor rigged with pressure plates, the walls will crush us if we don’t move past!” Carrick shouted. A part of him wanted to dodge across and reach the door, but he was fearful of what the other tiles might do. Would they speed up the walls progression? Will flames or arrows be shot at them? Carrick didn’t know, and he didn’t want to know. He looked behind him to Saraya and Lara, and frowned. He had to shout for them to hear him over the rumbling and scraping of the moving walls. “We have to figure out how to cross this floor!”
The atmosphere deep inside the fortress was tense to say the least, Rhuarc may no trust the Shield Maiden but he at least kept his distaste to himself for the most past, unlike Saraya. The CAledon Guardian had a fiery spirit to her and that was something that Rhuarc could respect but there was a time and a place for such words and actions. This women held the Priestess and like it or not without her blessing they would not see her again. Carrick voiced agreement with Saraya, unsurprisingly, but Carrick was an honourable,dependable man and his opinion carried weight with the Jai, even Adimar signalled his agreement by stepping forward, joining his fellow Guardian and the blacksmith that watched over them all. [i “We are in the presence of royalty...Prince Adimar”] That was certainly new information, Rhuarc knew that Adimar was highborn, any fool could see that from the way he carried himself but royalty? It certainly was an interesting development...as was his decision to keep it from his fellow guardians. Ursula's challenge extended to everyone else in the cavern and one by one they all stood by Saraya in solidarity.
Time seemed to drag on as Ursula stood there surveying them all and the Guardians as one matching her gaze before Ursula smiled and informed them that Volshi had allowed them to proceed. This was a test, their first test, Rhuarc was starting to understand Kil'heed a little better evry moment. Everything in this city was a test, a challenge to be overcome, that was why Aria had been separated from them...was she too facing similar challenges? Adimar confirmed his thoughts as he translated that ancient text, and Ursula gave her warnings. It was a curious place indeed. [b "I will do what I must. We all will. This Labyrinth will not, can not, defeat us. We will reach the Priestess. This I vow."] One by one the guardians entered the labyrinth with Adimar entering followed by Saraya, Carrick and Lara until it was Rhuarc's turn to enter, he clutched the handle of his belt knife in his fist as he took a deep breath and entered the labyrinth. The labyrinth was dark and full of cobwebs and the skeletons of small animals, not a good sight but if Rhuarc strained his ears he heard slithering, how he hoped there were snakes here. That small hope of contact and allies here was a small comfort, they reminded him of home if nothing else.
[i “Balden is not a Guardian, perhaps that is why…"] Rhuarc couldn't help but think that Carrick wasn't a guardian either but maybe his bond with Saraya was enough to compensate for that fact. If he truly did hold some kind of Spark of Caledon then perhaps that allowed him to be present in this labyrinth. The Jai was glad for his company anyway. Adimar led the party and Rhuarc brought up the rear, the passage was cramped for Carrick and Adimar so it was nigh unbearable for the much larger Jai, he was hunched uncomfortably and his shoulders often scraped the stone walls leaving shallow cuts and scrapes in his skin. Eventually they came to a larger area and for that alone Rhuarc was grateful, five doors stood before them each a different colour, Rhuarc checked the doors with Rhuarc and they both found that only two doors could be opened. The call was made to split up, Adimar and Rhuarc in one group, Carrick, Saraya and Lara in another. The Jai was initially unsure about the split, surely one of the two warriors should go with the other group but the more he thought it maybe that wasn't the right choice. Carrick was no stranger to battle and steel and there was no way in Azeroth that he would leave Saraya behind and Lara was far from defenceless. With a nod to the others and a few brief words of encouragement the Guardians split themselves and headed through their respective doors.
Stepping through the door with Adimar Rhuarc took in his new surroundings. They appeared to be in a large cavern and the first thought through the Jai's mind was that he was gla that he could finally stand up straight and had enough room instead of being hunched in the passages of the labyrinth. It wasn't easy to see in the darkness of the cave, there were a few clumps of moss or lichen that glowed softly growing sporadically on the walls. Rhuarc could just make out a long stone bridge that crossed a vast cavern that would surely lead to their deaths if they fell and across that there was another door. Tat must be the way out but the Jai was hesitant to move. There was no clear sign of danger but Ursula had warned them and only a fool would disregard that. His hand once again found the hilt of his belt knife, the familiarity was comforting as his eyes searched the cavern for sign of the test they were about to undertake. [b "Prince Adimar?"] Rhuarc said the words questioningly but there was no hint of malice or accusation in his voice, he was merely curious, after all the lands of Adbhu'Jai had no highborn nobles only tribe chieftains and anyone in the tribe could be elevated to that position if they proved themselves worthy. [b "What do you make of this place? Obviously there is more to it than meets the eye, the bridge is the key. Be ready."] Rhuarc tentatively took a few steps forward towards the stone bridge across the cavern and as soon as he did a great bestial squall sounded, the sound reverberating around the cavern and the echo ringing in the Jai's ears. A great hellish beast emerged from the darkness to face the two warriors. Clearly this was the challenge here.
The beast had a thick silvery hide along it's back that would ensure that any attack against it would be no use, even had Rhuarc had his black blade he wasn't sure that it would have made much difference. The beast's armour was the least of their worries, at the end of the quadruped's four legs were feet that ended in sharp claws, at least a foot in length and that looked wicked sharp, the pointed face held six glowing yellow eyes and fangs that also looked as if they could pierce through plate mail. To fight this monster would be certain death. Rhuarc's eyes darted once again to the door and his first instinct was to flee, if you can't win then don't fight at all...all they need to do was get through the door at the other end of that bridge. [b "To the door! Quickly!"] Rhuarc leaped to the side as one razor sharp claw came at him from the left as the beast turned and took a swipe at them. The Jai sprinted towards the stone bridge and caught himself as he misbalanced before he went tumbling into the chasm, it didn't take too long to cross the stone bridge. The monstrosity heaved two great big claws down on the bridge sending a spiderweb of cracks into the masonry , a large chunk of the bridge cracked open and fell into the dark depths below. The two Guardians had reached the door but it was nothing more than a few faint markings on a wall of solid stone. The Jai pounded on the rock two, three, four times to no avail, clearly this test was going to be more than just a simple case of getting to the other side of the stone bridge, the hellish beast needed dealing with. The only question was how the hell were they do defeat that thing without any weapons?
Rhuarc turned to Adimar and looked him in the eyes wondering if he had a solution to their current predicament, he saw no answers but a steely resolve to do what must be done in order to proceed through the labyrinth. Rhuarc exhaled before running back across the bridge, leaping over the break in the bridge Adimar trust his arms forward in Rhuarc's direction providing a gust of wind for the two of them to sail over the chasm and back towards the snarling hellish beast. All six of the glowing yellow eyes were fixed on the two men, an expression that Rhuarc couldn't quite make out in those eyes.[b "Follow my lead, I have an idea."] Rhuarc said a quick prayer to Jaihash and Ouk'nu under his breath before setting his hands alight the same way he usually did to his blade. He expected there to be some sensation with his flesh now aflame but he felt nothing out of the ordinary, the flames did not damage to him, the yellow eyes flicked from Rhuarc's and Adimar's faces to the flickering fire in the Jai's hands and for the briefest of seconds the beast seemed distracted before it snapped its jaws at the men trying to make a meal of of one of them. Rhuarc had an idea, he tried weaving the flames in his hands into something he'd never tried before, he brought the fire together and held the ball of flickering fire. This new weave of flame was serving it's purpose as the beast changed it's focus from the men to the fire, the beast was definitely intrigued by the ball of flames at least. Adimar then added his piece to the scheme by spinning a current of air around the cavern that the flames could dance around the cavern. It worked exactly as Rhuarc had anticipated as the hellish beast completely forgot about the two guardians and instead decided to focus on the swirling ball of flames dancing around the cavern completely enthralled by the distraction. The two men might as well not have been in the cave at all. Adimar nudged him and nodded towards the door. It was no longer a simple stone wall, instead runes flashed brightly for a few seconds before the door swung open allowing the Guardians to continue upon their journey. One obstacle had been conquered but Rhuarc was sure that many more remained.
Family, friendship, loyalty, and love…
This was a basic understanding among the group of Guardians and their young ward. Adimar stood on shaking legs to face the Shield Maiden. She faced off with Saraya in a verbal battle. Adimar did agree that Saraya seemed too quick to sacrifice herself, when the war was just beginning. However, he didn’t like this Shield Maiden’s tone. Prove themselves? Was she mad? Adimar glared to no one in particular as he silently fumed over her argument with Saraya. At Saraya’s proud shout about Family, he could have sworn he saw the Maiden smirk from where she stood. He knew Varyis was smirking. Did they approve? Adimar certainly did, and he felt great pride to have Saraya among them.
“Foolish love guides your strongest Guardian? I am not surprised to hear that from a woman.” Ursula mocked, even as a woman herself… though she certainly wasn’t human like them. From beside him Carrick growled a warning. Ursula looked upon them all with an unreadable if not amused expression. “I see a lot of sour faces, do any of you disagree?”
“Aye,” Carrick said, the first to stand forward and defend Saraya.
“Of course you do…” Ursula mused. Gritting his teeth and tiresome of her irk, Adimar stepped forward and crossed his arms. He said nothing but stared the Maiden down. “Oh… I almost forgot,” Ursula turned back to her men, looking smug, before she faced Adimar. “We are in the presence of royalty!” She jumped back and gave Adimar a quick bow. “[i Prince] Adimar…” Adimar’s face tensed. “Oh that’s right, you didn’t want your friends to know… what a trusting group you are…” She mocked. “Do you also disagree about the foolishness of love?” Ursula asked Lara and Rhuarc, both of which came forward as well as Balden and Ursula was forced to face the truth -they were a united group. “Oh joy, an angsty teen, an overzealous boy, and the dull brute of the group…”
“You know nothing of us!” Adimar proclaimed, and from behind him Saraya spoke.
[i “We all love Aria... And she loves us in return. It is not foolish, Watcher, because you've never experienced such a thing.”]
For a long moment the Watcher was quiet, studying them, and finally looked behind her and the dias. Adimar could feel an odd, yet familiar sensation tingling up his spine, and he knew it was Volshi. From the wall a door formed out of glimmering light. It creaked and groaned as it opened and made way for them to enter deeper into the fortress.
“The Ancient spirit of Volshi has granted you permission to pass,” Ursula said with a smile, and a much kinder disposition. Her expression softened towards them all. “You are right Guardian of Caledon… Love is not foolish, but it can be dangerous. You can not move forward from this room unless you are resolved as a group for a common goal. You all love The Priestess, that much is certain. You are all devoted in protecting her… and in the coming war, she will need it… you pass,” She stepped aside to let them by and to enter. Adimar was the first to step forward. As The guardian of Volshi, it only seemed right he enter the labyrinth first. He stopped just under the door and read the old markings. It was close to Volshiv text, but ancient enough Adimar struggled for a brief moment to read it. The perks of an expensive education.
“What does it say?” Carrick asked.
“Only those who be worthy may enter,” Adimar answered.
“A Word of caution to you all,” Ursula said from where she still stood, her face turning grave and her voice full of warning. Adimar stopped at the door frame and held the stone… his heart was still a flutter with the realization he was within the most holy place in all of Volshi, and he could feel the Guardian advising him to heed Ursula's warning. “Once you enter the labyrinth, you can not come back out… You will either find your way to the Priestess or you will die in there. Just because some of the things you see are culled from your mind -does not make it any less real. You will face your darkest fears, and your deepest desires. You will be tested singularly and as a group. The closer you get to her the harder it will be. This is olde and ancient magic that protects her… good luck Guardians…” Ursula said.
Adimar nodded his head and entered through the doorway, the darkness swallowing him whole, when he turned around all he saw was a wall of shadow, and ahead of him a narrow passage filled with animal skeletons, spiderwebs and hanging moss, mushrooms along the wall, and he was sure he heard the slithering of small creatures. The air was stale and musty. One by one the Guardians entered the narrow passaged behind him… all except Balden.
Outside the room Balden attempted to enter after the others. He had tried to walk in with Rhuarc… but Balden’s face and body slammed into a solid stone wall. He blinked and looked around him to see he hadn’t been granted permission to pass with the others. He felt crestfallen, hurt, and a darker part of him raged with petulance. How dare he be denied! Had he not traveled and tried to protect the priestess?! He turned and saw Ursula and her men had him circled.
“Why can’t I enter?” Balden dared to ask.
‘You are not worthy… “ Ursula stated coldly.
“I’m good!” Balden exclaimed angrily. “I have fought and traveled just like the others!”
“Yes, and you also ran like a coward the night your village was burned to the ground. You ran for the Priestess in hopes of self preservation,” Balden paled at her words. “We see all,” Ursula warned darkly. “ I would have been surprised if Volshi had let you pass, but seeing as he did not… you may not remain in the temple… and so back to the courtyard with you.” Balden didn’t have a chance to protest as he was suddenly lifted up on either side by two of the massive watchers and carried away.
Adimar waited for the last off the guardians to enter. Rhuarc was the last, and Carrick voiced his concern over Balden’s absence.
“Balden is not a Guardian, perhaps that is why… let’s move on…” Adimar advised and reached to the wall and removed a torch to light their way. The passage was narrow and cramped, and Adimar spent a good bit of time clearing away the cobwebs that barred their path. He could tell they were moving up at an incline, when suddenly the passage opened into a large chamber with a set of five doors branching off. Each door was marked differently, leading in a different direction, and all of them sported a different color. Adimar frowned and looked around the room at all the doors. The markings were so faded, Adimar could no longer make them out, so he had no idea what doors led where. There was no way they could turn around, and their only option was to move forward. The group spoke amongst themselves as to what they should do. Some thought it would be best to split up, others felt the best course was to stick together. As they debated Lara checked the doors to see which ones would open and which ones wouldn’t. Out of Five doors, only two opened for her. Even Rhuarc tried the other three and they wouldn’t budge.
“Looks like we only have two options…” Carrick observed from beside Saraya, his hand firmly in her own.
Adimar sighed in slight frustration. “How the hell are we going to find The Priestess in this mess?” He murmured. Saraya made a motivational statement not to give up and Adimar gave her a tired smile. “Always the optimist,” He noted, and turned to Rhuarc. They were both, aside from Carrick the most experienced warriors and strategists in the group. “It looks like we will have to split up,” Adimar said and turned to face the group. “Rhuarc and I will take the door to the left, Carrick, Saraya, and Lara will go to the right. We will travel forward, and meet back here in an hour… “
“If we can come back here,” Carrick reminded. Adimar frowned. “Hate for us to be separated and unable to meet back up.” Adimar frowned and looked to Rhuarc.
“It’s a risk we have to take.” Adimar ventured into the passage with Rhuarc while Carrick took Saraya and Lara with him the other way….
[b Carrick, Saraya, and Lara find themselves trapped in a locked room after traveling the passage. Waiting for them is a puzzle they must solve together to release the locks and be free… before the walls close in on them.]
[b Adimar and Rhuarc awake a hellish beast when they enter a large cave with a suspended bridge of stone crossing a massive chasm towards another door.]
[i -Both Parties will learn they are unable to turn back, they must move forward and hope they can be reunited before they are faced with their next challenge. -]
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Four times she tried to sleep... Four times had she failed on her attempt. Saraya stared at rocks for hours, trying to put herself together... So much of her mind had been strained from the venture that she could take. She had to calm herself enough before she would grant herself the power to stand and face the guardians... If only it were that simple.
Adimar would be the first to chastise her. Her choice in bringing Aria's kin along on their journey brought along casualties, and she couldn't accept him putting her down on her decision. Rhuarc would be no better. Especially when the J'ai had a slight problem with Aria, still holding a grudge because she went to her people alone when in fact Ayab had lost sight, would've directed his anger on her, and that, too, would not be suffice. Lara wouldn't be so angry. She preceded to think as a child... And Balden was no better. His sole purpose was to learn. He hadn't known the danger with being around guardians. But, Carrick... Her loving Carrick would be the worst to take from. He would be furious! He'd be the only one that would protect her from their words, but he would still have a few for her to hear because she chose to sacrifice herself. All of them would have something to say... She wasn't sure if she was able to handle such a dilemma.
She sighed to herself. She couldn't hole herself up, now. She at least got the survivors safe, and it was of good number. She felt a shiver run up and down her spine... There was something that was not right in her heart... But as she slid from her shadow, guards had approached. [I "Caledonian, we seek audience with you and the guardians"]
She felt a surge of urgency. [i "On what grounds? "]
[I "The Shield Maiden requires you be there"]
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Saraya followed the guards, revealing a secluded room deep within the earth surface. The doors opened, and she followed, seeing the Guardians standing on her right..Each with an eye and the balls to give her a piece of their mind. Saraya avoided eye contact with them. The only one she saw was Carrick, and even then, she didn't want to look at him, she felt so ashamed. [I "Ah, now we can begin"] had sounded into the room, Saraya directed her attention to her. The Maiden looked dead at her at this point, and Saraya, feeling no control now, became the blank warrior that stood atop the battlefield.
Immediate jealousy took the Maiden's face. She was fair, beautiful because of her heritage, but in comparison to this Guradian, she could see why the spirit took to her so easily, and her to him. She was beautiful, but beautiful for reason she could never reach for. Saraya was beautiful because of her tragedies and she refused nevertheless to face and conquer.
This Ursula had stared at Saraya a moment too long and Saraya cursed in her language. [b Scongä, tûllit mus çåran] [I "Damn it, I hate this staring... I would prefer you permit it to memory what I look like... It seems to be everyone's favorite treat"] having made Balden chuckle, and the others looked away as soon as her eyes could spot them. Carrick was brave enough to look, and Saraya saw his eyes... But, what he saw in them were not anger... It was relief and resolution. What he saw in her was remorse and sorrow, traits she had never shown after a battle this massive... Perhaps he saw that she was drained of all possible fight that was on that field. There was a reason she was sacrificing herself to save them. He was going to find out why.
Saraya was quiet as the people settled their weapons. A blank expression came across her face as Ursula spoke.
[b "To whom was given the idea to bring Tanaka to my gates? "]
The Guardians looked amongst each other. Saraya had her eyes only on the elven Watcher, building her courage and aired her presence. [I "It was I, Watcher"] her voice rang from the chasm of which they stood. She then stepped forward, unafraid. [I "I had led Tanaka to your gates. "] Ursula stared her down from her massive steed, but Saraya knew better. She kept eye contact, and made sure she was never shook, no matter how intimidating this elf could be.
[i "Do not blame my fellowship, they only sought to get here safely with Aria... I put the burden on their shoulders... "]
Everyone looked to her puzzling face. Why was she taking the wrath for everyone? Rhuarc said his piece and the Shield Maiden raised her hand to his notion, silencing the humble Jai with her eyes still on the beauty.
[b "I see"] she began, a smirk slowly creeping onto her lips. [b "And what is your excuse to make such a foolish errand, Caledonian? "]
Saraya watched as she swayed her horse left and right, further strengthening her fear, but also, her desire to make reason of her fate, and fully submitted to her duty. [I "I bear the gift of foresight. After transcending into my still forming power, it had revealed to me that a dark entity would enslave and manipulate her kin in hopes of snatching her from our clutches. "] she looked to the Guardians as they stared upon her, before turning to the elf. [I "I was attacked before that, by followers of The Mage. I felt that I must do what would save Aria's-"]
[b "You will refer to her as The Priestess in my presence, Caledonian, or have you lost your manners when you ran from battle? "]
Saraya felt a surge of power rush through her. Slowly, wind began to dance in the chasm, and everyone could tell... Saraya would not tolerate being considered insignificant. [I "Watch your tone with me, Watcher. I have not come to be a child or to be treated as such. Aria is more than a priestess to me... "] with the sway of her hands, wind picked up and her eyes glinted something sinister... Something with a fear. [I Aria is my friend... My family, as is everyone that stands in this room. I acted out of Love, a key attribute my Spirit chose me for. And I never ran from battle... I'd a vision... One that would decide if Aria would be taken or otherwise... I chose to buy everyone time by being a diversion."]
[b "A diversion? "] Ursula laughed to this. [b Running towards them in the heat of battle. This sounds very much like a dying declaration"] she looked down on her once more and realized that her expression changed. She shown determination through those eyes. Ursula knew she was not lying at that moment. [I "If it was meant, it shall be. "]
Ursula soon saw her face go blank, with nothing but fire behind them. She would not win this battle with her. Saraya stared upon her... But, wasn't. This was not her, this was... Ursula felt a surge of power from her. [b "Caladonian, you are not ready as a Guardian. Even if you sacrificed yourself for your friends, you would not survive a fortnight in their clutches. They will torture you, beat you, rape your body and your mind and rob you of your humanity... And love? "] she looked to Carrick before looking to her. [b "You should let that dream die. You've already made the mistake of mating with a blacksmith, not a guardian-"]
[I "Do choose your next words wisely, Elf... Do not ever put my Carrick Ill with your remarks. I love him with everything I have "]
[b "... And yet you want to sacrifice yourself? "]
[I "I MUST PROTECT MY FAMILY! "] Saraya's angry yell cut through the air before a rush of wind blew through the chasm. [I "... I must protect my family... They are all I have left... "] As tears fell, the wind slowly surrounded her form, as if personally ending the conversation with the Watcher. Ursula was impressed. She shown determination and was not afraid to fight back. Her priority was more than mere duty... She believes that her family are the Guardians.
Carrick hurried to her side, and began speaking to her... Ursula couldn't tell with the wind whipping about, but whatever her said seemed to calm her... Just enough for the wind to stop. She clearly heard [b "I love you"] escape the blacksmith's lips before attaching them to hers. No shame! She looked away, directing her attention to the others that stood in the room. This time, she shall see who will break.
[b "Foolish love guides your strongest Guardian? I am not surprised to hear that from a woman. "]
Carrick growled under his breath. [b "Oh? Who disagrees? "]
Carrick stood before Saraya. [I "I do"]
One by one, each guardian walked to Saraya, and stood before her, further shielding her form. [I "We all love Aria... And she loves us in return. It is not foolish, Watcher, because you've never experienced such a thing. "]
Rhuarc galloped towards the city of Kil'heed as quickly as the beast would carry them, he wasn't a particularly skilled rider which meant the journey towards the city was probably rougher than the Priestess was used to but it was about to get a whole lot worse. Balls of flame erupted from behind them and all hell broke loose. The very ground in front of him split apart and threw all three of them to the ground as the dead started rising from the dirt to draw weapons and slay anyone in front of them. With the horse on top him Rhuarc was unable to move, unable to protect Aria from the dead that would surely be coming for her, he wasn't too worried about himself it was the Priestess he was concerned for, she was unarmed and even if she had a weapon, her skills left something to be desired. Thankfully the High Priestess of Azeroth had other skills, reaching out a hand to calm the beast atop his chest and thankfully it shifted and allowed Rhuarc to rise to his feet, along with the injured priestess. Rhuarc's blade of heavy black steel had escaped his grasp at some point and all he had on him right now was two spears and his belt knife, not particularly useful for fighting an army of the dead. It looked like a losing battle.
A blinding white figure cut through the Scourge in front of them and continued to speed around the battlefield when another of the glowing figures landed next to Rhuarc, he was even larger than the Jai was. The first glowing figure stared at the Jai and that was when things got even worse. The first glowing Watcher picked up Aria and immediately left the battlefield with the priestess shrieking Rhuarc's name. [b "Priestess, Priestess!! Aria!."] Rhuarc's own voice boomed out after Aria as she was carried away from them. The Scourge were upon them once more, Rhuarc stabbed one through the eye and his spear punctured through the back of his skull, and whipped the weapon around in a wide arcand took out a few more of the Scourge, it was all for nothing though, the Scourge kept coming. [i “Focus your flame, Jai’hash. Your friends need you,”] The giant bear of a Watcher handed Rhuarc his precious blade and given how fireballs were still raining down on the battlefield Rhuarc gave a nod in response. With a great battle cry Rhuarc waded into the fray fully, blade in hand and the power of Jai'hash flowing through him, he was fire and he would make his enemies know it. He cleaved through as many of the Scourge as he could, his black steel blade engulfed in holy flames and anytime a fireball was sent his way or if he saw any fireballs head towards the fleeing civilians he did his best to save them if he could. Doing just as the watcher suggested, he focused his mind and the power of fire inside him he threw up a hand at a ball of flame hurting towards a group of Adimar's men and sent it back to where it had come from.
Swinging his blade and taking the head off one of the Scourge where it had gotten too close, occasionally he caught a glimpse of one of his allies, Adimar looked exhausted and Balden had stuck to the Volshiv Guardian closely, a good strategy. Rhuarc was fighting near to the Gate to the city of Kil'heed, keeping what Scourge at bay as he could, giving as many people as possible the opportunity to enter, the Watchers were doing an excellent job of beating back the Scourge. One of Adimar's men, Max, was fighting side by side with Rhuarc and the large watcher. Rhuarc had used up the last of his spears and the gate was creaking shut slowly, at the very last minute he thrust his sword into Max's hands, a startled look on his face before sending out a torrent of flames towards the Scourge as a last effort before he too entered the gates as they shut behind them and finally they were safe. Max was still holding the heavy blake blade, struggling to hold it along with his own weapons, a questioning look on his face. [b "Jai custom, I can't hold hold a weapon on sacred or consecrated ground. Give it to Carrick or Adimar."] Those were the two men other than Ayab that Rhuarc trusted most. That blade was very precious to the Jai guardian. The voice of one of the watchers boomed out across the courtyard they were in and Rhuarc stepped forward, as did the others...except Saraya. Come to think of it Rhuarc hadn't seen Saraya since before the Fade's attack, he had been too preoccupied getting Aria to Safety and the battle with the dead. [i "You will all follow me."] The woman in charge said and her voice carried, almost without effort, Rhuarc spared a glance at the others and followed, eyes searching for Aria in the city, he was very interested to see what the Watcher who had taken Aria had done with the Priestess. Rhuarc followed the woman in charge his fingers often finding the hilt of his belt knife, the belt knife having a more important place in Jai culture than any other weapon and so exempt from the other laws regarding weapons on sacred ground.
The Guardian followed the Watchers through the mountain and eventually into a large cavern, it likely would have been cold if Rhuarc had not had Jai'hash's flames heating his body, he would never be cold again, but he had other matters on his mind. His eyes caught Carrick's and his mind once again turned to the missing Guardian, where was she? Could she have fallen in the battle to the Scourge? If so what did that mean for the rest of the Guardians? Many questions raced through his mind but he kept silent and he contented himself with studying the surroundings and Adimar's reaction when they were led further inside the septum. Ursula spoke to them and Rhuarc wasn't sure he liked what she had to say. His left hand found the handle of his belt knife as she spoke...they would learn where the Priestess was if they earned her trust? How ridiculous, they had travelled with Aria for months and had done all they could to keep her alive. Rhuarc's brows furrowed and Ursula obviously caught his reaction, it seemed she could sense that their mistrust was mutual. All he wanted was to find Aria and make sure she was all right, she was the key to defeating Malik. [b "What is this place and who are you, you may have given a name but that doesn't answer who, or what you are."] Rhuarc let a little bit of fire into his voice as he spoke, these people might be powerful and had saved them from certain defeat at the hands of the Scourge but Rhuarc and the others were still the Guardians of Azeroth. They deserved respect and it seemed unlikely that Ursula would give it to them. The Jai stared into her shocking blue eyes that seemed to go through him, it was an intimidating sight, yet Rhuarc held his gaze almost defiantly. The doors opened once again and Rhuarc's head whipped around to see Saraya being escorted inside, relief flooded the Jai knowing she was alive. [i “Good, now we can begin…”] The words rang ominously in Rhuarc's ears. What was it they were about to begin?
The battlefield was more than Balden had anticipated. To be fair, the young man thought he’d be battling other men, not a hoard of undead. He was primarily alone, fending for himself, as the wails and terrified shrieks of civilians polluted the air. The stench of death and rot was also permeable around him, but he paid it no mind as he struggled to stay on the living side of the fight. From a ways across the Golden Sea, Balden could see Lara, Saraya and Carrick fighting their own group, but it was the flashing of light that came from the distant tower that had Balden nearly getting his head loped off by being distracted. He clashed swords with other undead, pulling all of what he’d learned from Rhuarc, Ayab, and Carrick; but it was no good. Balden was getting over powered by the sheer numbers of the dead that surrounded him. He thought he was soon to be a goner, because there was no way he could keep this up, when a beam of light landed near him. A Blast of power rocked him back to his feet, while the skeletal soldiers crumpled into heaps of bones within the blast radius. When Balden opened his eyes, standing over him was a gilded woman on a massive white war horse.
“Get up boy,” She commanded him. Balden stared in awe at her, she wore an angled headdress adorned with wings, and golden filigree like the rest of her elegant armor. Whoever she was, she was obviously high ranking, and definitely not human. She had pointed ears, pearlescent skin, hair as white as snow -as white as Aria’s, and petite fangs encased by blood red lips. she had a stern look about her face, and Balden knew not to keep a woman like her waiting. He jumped back to his feet with his sword in hand and began fighting once more, keeping close to this mysterious female watcher.
Adimar was the next person, Balden stumbled upon with the help of the woman.
“Young Balden!” Adimar called over the roar of battle, and rushed towards Balden.
“Master Aethon!” Balden called back. Seeing that Balden was returned to one of his ilk, the maiden suddenly bolted across the battlefield into the thick of the hoard. Adimar stood entranced for a moment, until Balden grabbed his arm. “We must hurry to Kil’heed, look!” Balden pointed across the sea towards the massive gates behind the tower that were slowly creaking open.
“Right! Let’s go! Help me keep the civilians safe!” Balden agreed and hurried after Adimar to protect those who were rushing across the Golden Sea. It was suicide really. Balden was helpless to watch as a boy no older than him was gutted violently and dropped to the ground. Balden wondered if they’d be able to get through this, but Adimar looked confident at his side, if not exhausted and pressed on. Balden had not done any training with Adimar, but the entire battle suddenly became a new training session, Adimar calling out tips to him, and letting him know when to cover his back. Talk about a crash course lesson in surviving a battle against undead…
Balden, Adimar, his men, and a random watcher had cleared their area of Scourge, but there was no rest for them as they pressed further into the battlefield to reach the others. On the way, Balden caught sight of Lara. He couldn’t tell if she was struggling or not, but he knew it wouldn’t hurt to cover her back.
“Lara!” He called, garnering her attention and ran towards her. He slashed down a scourge running at them both before he met up with her. “We have to hurry!” He told her, and grabbed her hand. “where are the others?” he asked. He’d only seen Adimar and Lara now, but he had no idea about where Saraya had run off to, Carrick close on her heels. Not to mention he had no clue where to find Rhuarc or Aria. He had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach about the fact he hadn’t seen Rhuarc or Aria since the Scourge had risen.
“GO!” He suddenly heard Adimar shout to them. The dead they had left behind were starting to rise for a second wave. “It’s a siege!” Adimar bellowed, his voice impressively carrying over the other shouts and screams of battle. Balden blanched, watching the people he’d been traveling with, rise up from where they'd fallen and pick up weapons from the ground to start running for them.
“Where is Aria?!” Balden shouted over the chaos.
“I do not know! Rhuarc had her!” Adimar shouted back. The three of them were huddled together, fighting off the scourge and making their way towards the safety of Kil’heed. Balden instantly felt better knowing Rhuarc was with Aria… that was until he saw Rhuarc on the field fighting side by side with one of the watchers. He was a massive bear of a man, with striking inhuman features and the same gilded armor as the other Watchers.
“Adimar!” Balden pointed towards where he spied Rhuarc and a dark look of fear crossed Adimar’s face. Where was Aria, if not with Rhuarc?
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[b Egos] Looked down among the battlefield, his lip curled in irritation. The Guardians were still pressing towards the Gates of Kil’heed and their window to catch them and destroy them was getting smaller and smaller.
“We are running out of time!” Egos spat at the Necromancer. “Malik will kill us both if we return empty handed!” The Necromancer looked over boredly at him and shrugged.
“He won’t kill us. We might have failed him this time… but he knows we are more valuable to him alive then dead. Loyalty is hard to find these days…” Egos curled his lip in further indignation at the Necromancer’s nonchalance to the situation.
“It will not take away from the truth that the Priestess is no longer down there! I can not see her!” The Necromancer stilled then and looked to Egos with an arched brow.
“Then we have already failed in that regard. If you can no longer see her, she is beyond the Tower,”
“No Shit!” Egos spat at The Necromancer. “Malik is going to be pissed.”
“Then I guess we shall not return until we have them,” The Necromancer said calmly.
“You want to sit here for the next year and wait for them to emerge?!” He shouted angrily.
“My thoughts exactly.”
It was painfully obvious that where Egos the Mage was all temper and and rage, the Necromancer was calmness and logic. Egos thought the Necromancer was insane to think of staying in wait for a year. The only upside to this was if they did return, they knew where the Priestess was and when they could strike again. From the shadows behind Egos, the Fade reemerged and in a rage the Mage turned around with his power, and pinned the Fade against the mountain stone.
“You failed to collect! I should destroy you!”
“Calm, Egos, he is not your creation to destroy -that lies with His Highness.” Egos growled angrily and glared back at the ever calm Necromancer, and released the Fade.
“Then send your abomination down to at least capture the Prya.”
The Necromancer shook his head, a resolute no. “Now is not the time… it will be soon, but not now… I will not spare my Scourge just yet.” Egos scoffed and for good measure threw another onslaught of fire balls down on the crowd. More civilians were killed by the exploding impact, as well as Scourge. Within moments, the vast majority of the battle field was ablaze with fire consuming the Golden Sea, and transforming it into a massive fire pit. Steam rose from the moisture of the recent rain, making visibility difficult as time went on.
Their efforts were wasted when they saw that the last of the caravan and guardians rushed behind the safety of Kil’heed's gates. Watchers guarded the doors from Scourge as they closed. From where they stood Egos could see who was leading the watchers. A Woman on a horse.
“They have a Shield Maiden, a fucking Shield Maiden!” Egos cursed at the sight. He felt the air growing with static and energy. He watched with The Necromancer as she rained down a hell storm of lightning across the battlefield. It was a cyclone of energy, shooting lightning all around and destroying the Scourge Army. Even the Necromancer sighed with annoyance. Neither of them foresaw that happening.
“We are defeated this round… it is best we regroup,” The Necromancer murmured to Egos. Egos stood there fuming, his rage hitting a point of no return, and a scream of rage erupted from him when they both spied the Watcher Commander raise her sword and aim it at them. She knew they were there. “Time to go,” The Necromancer whispered, backing into the shadows towards the Fade.
“Mother fucker…” Egos hissed. He too receded into the shadows, and they all reached out to hold the Fade who took them far away from the Mountains of Volshiv and back to Central City, traveling the very shadows he was made from.
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[b Carrick] rode through the battlefield, still mounted on his horse when he made it past the gates of Kil’heed and they began to close. He quickly sheathed his blade, and led his horse through the crowds that huddled by the fortress walls. Women and children, crying in pain; injured were laid out on blankets and one lonely healer who had managed to survive rushed around trying their best to help those hurt. Carrick spotted Balden with Lara, helping a woozy Adimar sit down. The man was pale and ashen, looking ill, and Carrick knew that Adimar had used all of his energy in this fight. It was a wonder they had survived. Behind him the gates sealed shut. They were safe…. For now. He dismounted his horse and led it to an old post. Kil’heed was an ancient fortress, mostly ruins now, but as he looked around, he saw a safe haven -a new home, one to rebuild.
He stumbled upon Ayab laid in on a blanket and looking ill. Whatever the Fade had lashed him with, it was quickly infecting him and leaving him in pain. Carrick knelt at his friend’s bedside and gripped his shoulder. “I will find the healer for you, friend, and hope he can pull this pain from you,” Carrick told him, and handed the man his canteen of water attached to his hip and helped Ayab drink from it. Carrick was not a healer, he was a brawler and smith, but he could at least try and give his friend some semblance of comfort. As he knelt beside Ayab, Carrick looked around the group for Saraya, but found her no where. He bid Ayab to rest, and he rose to find the healer and hopefully Saraya in the process. The gates did not open, but from the depths of Kil’heed’s main septum, carved into the mountain itself came the very Watchers who had come to their aid. They were lead by the woman on her war horse and she walked right into the center courtyard where the masses had gathered.
“I will speak with the Guardians of Azeroth,” she shouted, her voice a command, full of power and authority.
“Guardians, step forward!” A Large burly bear of a man shouted from beside her where he stood on the ground. Carrick stilled and the crowd followed, everyone and everything going silent. Carrick watched as Rhuarc, Lara and Adimar made their way. Adimar wobbling on his feet, but remaining stoic and strong. Where was Saraya.
“THis is not all of you. Where is the Guardian for Caledon? You,” She turned and pointed at Carrick who blanched. “You carry his power… shared… with another…” Carrick stepped forward cautiously. How in Azeroth did she know that? She eyed him just as strangely and Carrick felt exposed, as if this woman could see into his soul.
“Where is The Priestess?” Adimar suddenly demanded, stepping ahead of them all and using his staff to help him stand upright. The woman looked down on Adimar from her horse, looking like she might strike him, but she simply turned towards her second in command and murmured something they could not hear.
“The priestess is safe, and that is all you need to know for now,” The man’s voice warned. That didn’t seem to sit well with either of the Guardians or Carrick. Even Balden had risen to his feet to approach.
“You all will follow me. Find me the Prya,” The woman commanded her men, and three men marched out from the lineup in search of Saraya. Without another word, the Shield Maiden turned her massive war horse back to the main hall of Kil’heed and disappeared into the shadows, only her second in command moved to follow, after the others did too.
The Shield Maiden led them down the dark corridors, and as they moved deeper and deeper, torches against the wall came alive of their own will, illuminating the way, and extinguishing as they passed. Moisture dripped down the walls, and inside it was cold. The Main Hall eventually opened up within the mountain to expose a massive cavern carved from nature and by hand. Heavy Stalactites hung from the cavern ceiling, and the moisture glittered from the reflected light. It was obvious that the fortress had been abandoned and forgotten for generations, but it did not dim the magnificence of the Mountain Fortress. Carrick looked behind him, curious to know where the hell Saraya was, and hoping she’d come peacefully when the other Watchers found her… where ever she was. He certainly hadn’t been able to find her, then again, he hadn’t the time to do so.
They came to a halt before a large door carved of wood, which opened for the Maiden, and inside a bright light shone. It was the Dias leading into the septum, above was holes cored out from the mountain to let in sunlight, mirrors were positioned, and covered in dust from where they were perched on the walls to reflect light about the room. Carrick was in awe of the sight, and he felt guilty to be here when Saraya was missing. Beside them Adimar stopped and fell to his knees, but it was not out of exhaustion, it was out of humility. He bowed low to the ground, tucking his head and began to chant a prayer in the Volshiv tongue. Before them the Maiden dismounted her horse and the creature moved away, knowing the way back to it’s pen.
“My name is Ursula, I am Captain of this watch, and this is my second, Varyis,” She said and approached Adimar. “Stand up Guardian,” She told him. Adimar looked up at her and nodded, rising to his feet. “You are all here for a reason, and do not ask me where the Priestess is. In due time, when I feel you have gained my trust, I will let her out from where I have her. First we await the last member of your group…” Ursula eyed them, a quick smirk crossed the Captain’s face at the sight of Rhuarc’s angry and frustrated face, it was one of clear approval and she looked ready to mock the massive Jai. “You don’t like me,” She observed easily. “You don’t trust me… good,” She turned then and walked back to the Dias where she stood with her second and they waited, until the doors opened again and they saw Saraya being escorted inside. “Good, now we can begin…”
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