Chapter One: Queensdale’s Centaur and Bandit Problem
Tyria was a changed land. I remembered when Ascalon was home to the humans and when striders roamed the flower topped hills. Dwarves still dwelled in the underground and shiverpeaks and I was still a young teen. That’s about all I remember though, and not even much of it. Upon the awakening of the elder dragons I had lost most of my memory. I woke up in the home of a kind family in Divinity Reach’s Salma district, no recollection of anything more than the beautiful Ascalon I had grown up in. My body remained youthful and my facade was unchanged. It was as if the past was just a pleasant dream I couldn’t let go of. My new family had me believing it was one as well and told me not to mention these things to to the townsfolk, lest they think my mind had left. Amnesia is a terrible affliction.
The reports of centaur attacks were becoming numerous and the general panic was offset by the year round carnival. It seemed like they were preparing for something big and the excitement had risen in the past week alone. Confetti fell from the sky like snowflakes by the carnival, it was a wonder how they kept the streets from becoming flooded by the colorful precipitation. I suppose this was the kind of happiness people needed in these dark times. The great collapse took a devastating toll on Divinity’s Reach; we lost many of our Canthan friends, and not to mention the number of people and houses we had lost to the centaurs. The Dragons’ rising was the worst news. With the air of the carnival around, it was easier to cope and pretend everything was peachy.
I couldn’t ignore it, though. A flame burned in my heart to get out and avenge my fallen friends. I wanted to join the soldiers in fighting off the centaurs. I finally had my own home, and I could make decisions for myself. Even if my family didn’t approve, I was going out to fight these beasts. When night fell, I changed from my town clothes to my armor. My previous armor had been too destroyed when I was found to wear again, and it was a pity, too, as it was my favorite armor. Elementalist armor wasn’t very protective as it was based more on giving power, so it didn’t look too much different than my town clothing. In the end, it gave me just enough vitality to keep going. As soon as I was dressed, I let my white silver hair from the buns they had previously been in, causing the wavy mass to fall to my shoulders. Grabbing my new wand, I wandered from the tranquil Divinity’s Reach into Queensdale.
Even before I got out of the walls, I heard the raid that was currently happening. Once I got out there, I saw the battle for what it was. Centaur were mercilessly attacking soldiers, townsfolk, and even livestock. Buildings were burning and blood had been spilled everywhere. I asked a nearby soldier where I could help and he quickly told me that I could provide assistance at the garrison. Before I could get to the bridge, a couple of centaurs surrounded me, leaving me no escape. It was time to see how my magic had fared since the amnesia.
I swung my wand around, quickly realizing that I had forgotten everything I knew about wand work and fire magic. The wand sent a flare out, as it would for any Elementalist wielding it. I had to rely on that as I concentrated on remembering anything else. The flares barely hit the centaurs, but even still the smell of burning fur reached my nostrils. It was a familiar smell, reminding me that I had fought centaurs once before. This was no new thing.
Seeing my struggle, a fellow volunteer came to aid me. He was a warrior, and it took no time at all for him to bring one of the centaurs down. I kept my eye on a single centaur at that point. Their blades slashing across my own pale skin. I backed up out of the opening the warrior had created for me and cast my magic away from the blades of our enemy. Together, we cut down the centaurs and made our way into the garrison. The sight of more centaurs on the opposite side of the fort greeted us as the doors behind us closed. It left me with the sense of being trapped. It was time to remember my magic and get through this disaster. I rushed to the door, joining other volunteers and soldiers alike to fend off the beasts. While I threw the flames at the many enemies upon us, an idea came to me. If I couldn’t remember my old spells, I could always try new ones.
I waved my scepter around, concentrating on what I wanted it to do. With the right wand movements, I could conjure something new. I tried several things and nothing seemed to work. Instead of holding up the fight to learn something new, I practiced, for the time being, with what I already knew the wand could do. I helped fight off several centaurs before the answer came to me. As it did, a centaur in the back had managed to conjure something himself. The ground quaked with might and the earth bore two giant stone hands. Everyone began to panic or stayed grounded in awe; I was the first to run forward and attack the hulking earth head on. With a single movement of my scepter, a dragons tooth appeared above the beast and proceeded to crash down into it, creating an explosion and chipping some of the rock from the hands. Everywhere around me, people began joining in to help. The rock showered down on us, leaving us with lashes, cuts, and bruises.
Then I noticed something next to the hands; Logan Thackeray had joined us in battle. He may have been there all along, but with all the excitement and the cacophony of battle had deafened me and kept my attention on the enemy. It wasn’t surprising with him being the commanding officer of the Seraph that he was there. I can’t say I really much cared for him after hearing that he abandoned his friends in the fight against the dragon Kralkatorrik. He chipped away at the elementals the earth produced around us, and I focused still on the hands themselves. They were becoming more violent and began pounding soldiers into the ground and knocking other several feet away. I narrowly missed these attacks, dodging and rolling on the ground to escape each one just in time.
Suddenly, the earth began to shake more furiously. I could hear Logan shouting, but I couldn’t tell exactly what he was saying. Everything seemed garbled and fuzzy. Before I knew what was happening, the hands exploded, the shock wave sending me flying backwards and stones pelted my body. Everything went dark.
I awoke in a warm room basking in the sunlight through the window. The cot was hard and uncomfortable, but my head hurt and I didn’t want to move. I simply lay there with my eyes closed. I could hear coughing and sobs of pain around me. I must have been in the home of a healer. Something must have hit my head when the hands exploded. Eventually I sat up and was immediately greeted by a priestess.
“Ah, you’re awake!” She smiled and exclaimed. She gave me a cold cloth for my head.
“Where am I? What happened?” I asked her, briskly putting the cloth to the large bump on my head.
“You were injured when the elemental exploded. Captain Thackeray brought you here personally. You’ve been unconscious for three days,” the priestess responded in a kind voice, “You had lots of visitors: villagers you rescued, some Seraph, and even nobles from the city.”
“What can I do about this…wound?” I questioned.
“Fresh air and exercise are the best medicine. The goddess Dwayna helped you. Perhaps you could help others?” She retorted with a smile and took the cloth as I handed it to her.
I replied, “Thanks, you know, I think I will. Thank you for taking care of me.”
“Bless you. You’ll find plenty to do out in the valley. May Dwayna protect you.” And with that, she bid me off.
I stood up, though I was a little dizzy, and exited the building into the green fields of Shaemoor. The sun beat down on the cool land, illuminating every detail, from the beautiful daisies to the large dam. This land was nothing like the dreams I had at night, but it was beautiful none-the-less. I longed to find more of my past, and I planned to set out on a journey to travel Tyria to do so. I would return to Ascalon in hopes of triggering anything. The gods have kept me alive for so long. It’s obvious they expect something from me, and perhaps my past will tell me just what that is.
I brushed the dirt from my armor and ran my fingers through my hair to catch any tangles before I approached the doors of Divinity’s Reach. As I approached, the guards opened the massive doors, exposing the festive city I had become used to. I was only here to get the rest of my important belongings, I didn’t want to delay my adventure any longer. Sneaking out of the city before any of my acquaintances saw me was top priority. This adventure was meant for me, and me only. Anyone else joining would just slow me down and I knew I had some rather clingy acquaintances.
I walked cautiously through the city, keeping a close eye on everything that moved. I took a right and joined the dense crowd of the bank. I quickly found an open teller box and stepped in front of it. The Asura behind the box could barely see over the counter, even with a crate under her feet.
“Why are you bothering me?” She lashed at me. I was never really on good terms with any Asura as I didn’t particularly care for their attitudes. On their ranks, I was probably the lowest.
“Erm… Well I needed to withdraw all of my money.” I said, caught a little off guard at that point. I twiddled my thumbs and clarified, “You can find my name under Alucardalina Claire.”
“Identifying papers?” the banker snapped and threw out her sausage like hand. I shuffled through my bag hurriedly to find the small set of papers. I dismayed at the crumpled edges of the paper as I handed them over. She checked the papers and then rechecked the papers again. I impatiently began twiddling my thumbs again. She checked them for a third time, throwing a nasty glance towards me. Finally she handed them back with a “You should take better care of your papers, bookah” and a scoff and headed towards the back. This time I replaced the papers in the bag in between the pages of a book~ A travel diary to be exact. In it, I had recorded every big event that had happened to me since my new life began. My ‘parents’ thought that it may help me remember who I was.
The teller came back with a satchel of money and reluctantly handed it over. I gave a slight bow and walked away quickly, wanting to get away from the rude Asura as quickly as I could. Storing the satchel in my bag, I sneaked to the Salma District, where it would be more difficult to sneak around successfully. Upon entering the doors of the District, I tightened my bag around me and walked close to the buildings, beyond my normal route home. I passed between the orphanage and Cottage Bend and headed towards manor hill. I saw then that my house was blocked off by some rich gent or lady’s party. I sighed in defeat and turned back. It was then that I heard a familiar voice. Lord Faren was calling me. I cringed.
“Oi! Claire! We’ve been looking everywhere for you! You were going to miss your own party?” He called.
“N-No. Not at all. I was just headed over, but I forgot to get something in the market. Er, would you mind if I go back and get it?” I asked, trying to make any excuse to leave.
“Nonsense! I’ll have one of the servants go back and retrieve it for you.”
“Er… It’s personal, Faren, I’d rather get it-”
“It’s not a problem. The servants are very discreet.” He retorted, slapping a hand onto my back.
“When did you tell me about this party again?” I asked, not remembering it at all. I hadn’t even spoken to Faren in weeks.
“At the healer’s! You don’t remember?” He puzzled, obviously in concern.
I sighed, “No, my mind seems to have been gone then. I don’t remember a thing.”
“That amnesia is going to get you killed one day.” Faren warned, “But we should get to the party. Some of the other heroes are there from the Centaur battle, the ones that could make it anyways.”
So I attended the party. There were several nobles there. My manners wouldn’t allow me to stay in the shadows the whole time, and I couldn’t find a chance to sneak away from the party. It seemed like wherever I was, Faren was bound to follow. Everyone was calling me a hero, and it didn’t’ sit well. I had only helped in a small cause. The centaur were bound to be back anytime for another raid. They could even summon something bigger the next time. As the day progressed into evening, I pretended to be too tired to go on. It took several minutes for my act to catch on, other heroes began excusing themselves. Faren finally told me to go home and get some rest, as he was going to go get sleep himself. I finished cramming the deviled moa egg down my throat and turned to head home.
Fate would have it that I would not leave just yet. From behind me, I first thought I was being called again. On second look, I realized that it was someone screaming. Bandits had raided our seemingly peaceful neighborhood. I whipped my scepter out faster than I ever remembered having done. Hitting one of the bandits with a flare seemed to have caught him by surprise. No doubt that they had waited for all the ‘heroes’ to leave the party, leaving the nobles and servants helpless. This moment of surprise gave the rest of crowd to escape the range of the group of bandits, leaving me to deal with them by my lonesome.
“Don’t come any closer!” I shouted to them, more out of fear than courage. I heard a gunshot and the bullet whizzing past my right ear.
“Fine, you asked for it,” I muttered under my breath. I proceeded to cast the same spell I did on the giant earth elemental. A dragon tooth hovered above the group of bandits and it was as if none of them could see it. Bullets continued to fly past me; a bullet grazed my right, stinging as it left. I kept my concentration up long enough to finish the spell. The dragon tooth came crashing down upon them, sending each bandit flying backwards. Some of their trousers on fire.
I approached one of the bandits, who quickly turned submissive.
“Please don’t kill me. I’ll do anything!” He cried as I grabbed his collar.
“Why are you here?” I demanded to know from him.
“We were ordered to take Lord Faren for ransom and rob the rest of the nobles.”
“Where is Faren?!” I shouted, concerned for Faren’s well being.
“He’s-” A bullet landed in left temple. He died instantly. The bullet had come from the pistol of one of his comrades who proceeded to kill herself.
“Faren,” I whispered and gripped my wand. My journey would have to wait just a bit longer. I jumped the fence into the middle of the district and began my search for my noble acquaintance Faron.
My boots shuffled effortlessly through the matte cobbled streets. The last rays of sunlight barely leapt the walls and the elementalist guards were already lighting the street lamps. Most of the civilians had already gone to their homes. It was never very wise to stay out on the streets at night for the very reason I was going out. My silvery hair bounced upon my shoulders, my eyes focused on each place I passed, and my small body running forward. All of these things working seamlessly together in a particular rhythm it had created on its own. My hand clutched my wand and my fear of battle had vanished completely. The only anxiety I felt now was the idea of not being able to bring Faren back.
“Where do you think you’re running off to, missy?” Sneered a bandit who had been fronting as a merchant until this occasion. He drew his two daggers, their blades gleaming in the light of a nearby street light.
Another dagger appeared around my throat the next minute; the thief wielding it spoke softly next to my ear, “Jacques, haven’t you ever learned that the shadows give you the element of surprise? Come join me in them, it’s not like you get that much from that merchant act anyways.” She pulled me in, restricting my arms. My weapon began slipping from my hand. “Drop your weapon,” the thief hummed to me.
Just before my weapon slipped from my hand, I was able to tap into its power enough to send a small spark into her knee. She flinched and as I made my escape, the dagger nicked the skin of my neck. In one fell swoop, I grabbed my wand from the ground and dashed backwards.
“You’ll pay for that,” she sighed. I barely had time to raise my wand before she shadow stepped to the front of me. I darted to the side. Feeling my energy draining, I knew I couldn’t dodge her attacks for much longer; It was time to do something. I raised my wand again and she still managed to appear to close to me for my liking. This time I assaulted her face with the end of my scepter. It bought me some time to take few steps back and scald her with a spell.
I had thoroughly forgotten about the other bandit in my squabble with the thief. He wasn’t hard to take out and it had just taken one flare to scare him off. I pressed my hand to my collar to see how bad the cut was. The knife had only cut through the skin, leaving everything else intact. I pulled my bloody fingers back and wiped them off onto an handkerchief from my pocket. It was time to press onwards. I decided to play it safe since the last few fights I had only made it through on pure luck. I followed the bandits for several hours. It was obvious that they were trying to lead anyone from their true trail. I refused to give up and followed each bandit I saw, who were trademarked by their tattoos and dusty clothing. Eventually someone had lead me exactly where I wanted to be. It was a home not too far from the Orphanage. It seemed to be where the bandits emptied their pockets. Each of them would enter with pockets jingling and come out silent. I hid behind a bridge pylon for a moment when the home seemed to have no bandits within it. When I saw it, I ran in with my wand at the ready.
It was a seemingly normal looking home. There was seating for a family, a kitchen with the table set for four. It was warm, inviting, and oh so misleading. I didn’t see anyone in the downstairs so I progressed upwards. It wasn’t unusual for a home in the Salma district to have three, or even four, stories. If an enemy attacked me from above, they would have the advantage. It was a little distracting, and I kept staring at the next staircase rather than searching the rooms. I progressed up the last flight of stairs and heard the chink of money being poured from a sack and onto a table.
Taking the words, of all people, of the thief as advice, I kept hidden as I sneaked around the doorway. My heart leapt as I saw Faren tied up and tossed into the corner of the room. He was scratched up but didn’t look as if any real harm had befallen him. In the middle of the room sat two bandits counting money on an aspen desk.
I silently attacked the one closest to me with a burst of flame. Fire spread around the room and the bandits stepped out of the way of the flames. For a brief moment I had sent them into a panic. I used this time to cast my flare. The Dragon’s Tooth wouldn’t work here with the low roof, so I had to rely on the fire around them and the flamestrike. I had to finish the battle quickly before Faren’s life became endangered by the growing flames. My flares were battling their daggers and guns.It didn’t seem to be a very fair fight, but bandits never were fair. One of them was right on me, his daggers slashing into my clothing and skin. I learned to dodge his attacks a little better as I drew him into the hallway. As soon as I got the chance, I pushed him down the flight of stairs. I then focused my attention on the other bandit. I wasn’t very good at dodging bullets, but somehow I was lucky enough to move through them. Instead of hitting, they would whiz around and past me as I danced through my spell castings.
I brought him down just before the flames had reached Faren. I rushed to his side and untied him.
“I can’t thank you enough,” He gasped as I took the gag from his mouth.
“No time for that, Faren. Let’s go.” I grabbed his hand and pulled him forward. We sprinted down the first staircase to find that the next one was cut off by scorching flames. I looked around for an escape and found a window. It was just big enough for us to get through. I threw a pot through it, shattering the window entirely. Running forward, I stepped onto the sill.
“We’ll have to jump!” I shouted to Faren. I heard a thud beside me and turned to the room. Faren had just knocked out the bandit I had thrown down the stairs. Faren nodded and was the first to jump from the window. I followed suit and rolled when I hit the street. As we ran towards home, I saw the Elementalist guards had already arrived to put out the now massive fire. Faren and I didn’t stop running until we arrived at my house. I opened the door to find that the bandits had already been through my home. Papers scattered the floor, lamps were broken, drawers taken from their chests and dumped onto the floor.
“They had planned to take you, too.” He looked up to me, “I’m sorry all of this happened.”
“There’s no reason for you to apologize. I have to be honest though,” I said and entered my home to assess the damage, “I was planning on leaving tonight.”
“Leaving?! Why?” Faren questioned, grabbing my shoulders.
“I have to find out what really happened in my past. I’m going to Ascalon to find any clues, to find answers.” I told him with a sigh. I took his hands in mine and looked him dead in the eye, “I have to do this alone though. It’s too dangerous, so don’t even think of following me.”
“Too dangerous for me? Nonsense!” he boasted.
“I just had to rescue you from a group of bandits, I want you to stay home for a while. Ask the Seraph for protection.”
“Oh, that’s right, Logan Thackery wanted to meet with you personally. You weren’t home when he came by so he gave me the message.”
“That will have to wait, Faren. I can’t keep putting this journey off.”
“I see. Will you write me at least? You did save my life and I can’t help but to think that we are connected somehow.”
“Sure thing. I don’t know how much I will be able to or how long it will take to get back to you, but I will write. After all, we are friends right?” I responded. It was the first time I had ever considered someone my friend since my amnesia. His face lit up with a broad smile.
I gathered the rest of my things that night and spent the night in Faren’s home. The next morning, he bid me farewell and I traveled to the upper city. I would use the Asuran gate to enter Lions Arch and sneak through the Black Citadel’s portal into Ascalon. Stepping through the portal in Divinity’s reach was like moving through a wall of water. The smell of sweet grass and daisies left my nostrils only to be replaced with the salty smell of the ocean. I tightened my bag around me and walked through the Grand Piazza towards the portal to the Black Citadel. On arrival though, I saw many tiny bodies working on the portal and even more impatient Charr looking as if they would love to grill the Asura if they had to wait any longer.
My heart sank and I turned around. I could wait at a tavern until the portal was fixed and risk being killed by a Charr on sight, or I could instead travel through Hoelbrak in the Shiverpeak mountains and descend them into Ascalonian territory. I chose the latter and entered the gate to Hoelbrak.
Chapter Two: Snowy Hoelbrak
Shivers tickled my spine and cold air filled my lungs. The Shiverpeaks were home to a snow that never melted. It was odd thinking that I may have stepped on this very same snow over two hundred years ago. Snowflake glittered around me, falling ever so gracefully from the frozen grey sky. The resting snow was painted a pale blue and sparkled in the light of the large lamps. I instantly realized that a coat would have been nice to pack.
I set off in search of a tailor who could make me one. I would rely on the warmth from my wand until then. The buildings towered above me, and the Norn who walked near me dwarfed me. Even the race’s children were a few feet taller than I was.
I continued to walk forward on nothing more than autopilot, my mind was elsewhere. I had just left behind my only friend in years. Faren was rather immature sometimes, but he was kind. The only attention I ever got was from my ‘foster’ family and anyone who was interested in my wealth. My life had been rather lonely as of late and I wondered if it had always been so. Faren, however, had reached out to me, even if only briefly. I had known him for years, but we had never been more than acquaintances.
The snow became more than flurries. Each streetlight became nothing more than fuzzy balls of light to the eye. Snow piled into small clumps in my hair and on my shoulders. The heat from my wand only managed to melt the snow into a watery mess that soaked through my clothes. I was feeling more miserable by the second.
I kept my mind on Faren. I had made a goal that once this journey was through, I would invite him on my next journey. We could go see the Wizards Tower in Kessex and meet the Sylvari in their home of Maguuma. This new connection was exciting. With these goals in mind, I trudged through the snowy Hoelbrak without concern. Other than finding a coat, that is.
“You look like you could use a warm meal,” a hearty Norn boomed.
“Oh…Um…Yes, sure.” I responded and turned to my right to face the man. Like all Norn, he was tall. This Norn was the tallest I had seen. He had long gold hair pulled back into a slick ponytail. His beard was fuzzy and covered the bottom half of his face entirely. He lead me into a large lodge-like building without further conversation. Just before entering I could barely make out the shape of wolves by the entrance. They were incredible in size and looked to be made of ice, though almost everything here did. The inside of the lodge was warm and inviting. The smell of dolyak steak wafted through the air. There were fires lining the walls every several feet. Chairs and tables lay around, some filled with Norn, some vacant. My Norn host lead me to one of these tables. I immediately noticed the biggest problem.
“Perhaps I should have given you a child’s table,” the Norn said, also realizing the problem. The massive table was only a head shorter than me. It was an easily fixed problem, though. The child’s table was nearly the correct size.
“Sorry about that,” I apologized as I sat down.
“It is I who should be apologizing. Now what can I get you?” He took a notebook and quill from the pocket of his apron.
“Can I get a bowl of the Dolyak stew and a stuffed pepper?” I questioned.
He nodded,”You sure you can handle our peppers? Not as spicy as the Charr’s but more so than those grown in Kryta.” he inquired. I nodded in response and he continued, “Will you be having a drink as well?”
“I wish to have one of the sugary blue drinks.” I responded kindly.
“That will be a total of thirty-two copper.” He told me as he finished writing the order down, “but I’ll knock off ten copper just for the lovely lady.”
I raised an eyebrow. I never thought myself to be particularly attractive and this was the first I had heard of it. I waved it off with a smile and drew out my money. I placed thirty-two copper in his hand.
“I’m only asking twenty-two copper, lad.” He insisted.
“Think of it as a tip then. You could have left me out there to wander, but you brought me here and offered me a discount on your food. I appreciate that.” I retorted and closed his fingers around the copper pieces.
My food wasn’t a quick wait, but I really wasn’t in a hurry now. My journey had already begun and I may as well enjoy it. Many noble persons in Divinity’s Reach would never get to explore the depths of the Shiverpeaks and it should be something I take advantage of. In the right conditions, snow was probably one of my more favorite weather conditions. There was nothing like sitting next to a warm fireplace while the cool outside became blanketed by a beautiful white snow. Having a warm meal before going to explore the snow was the best way to spend a day in my opinion. Kryta only received snow one week in the year- the week of Wintersday. Even Ascalon received more snow than we did.
I stared into the fire that lived in the middle of the lodge. It reminded me of how little I remembered about my own magic. I was learning at a snail’s pace. I couldn’t have always been this terrible, not with the caliber wand I had on my person when I was found.
The day I was found was cool and dreary. A rain had just fallen, leaving me a soggy mess as I lay on the ground. I was barely conscious, only remembering bits of this, but my parents filled me in on the rest. I wasn’t far from the wake of monsters the dragon had created upon its awakening. My new parents were only there out of curiosity. They were once adventurers themselves. When they stumbled upon me, I was alone, yet I didn’t have a single cut or bruise upon me. My armor was completely destroyed, however. The rest of the contents of my pack remained untouched. In my pack I had a satchel of over two hundred gold pieces as well as some food rations. There was not only a perfect fire wand on my person, but a really old bow. I may have taken it from someone, but the best answer would have been that my visions were true. In the past, it was popular for a student of the academy in Ascalon to have not only one fighting profession, but two. The couple decided to have me transported back home with them. I wanted to thank them the entire time, but no words would come. I couldn’t even move the entire time. It was as if every inch of my body weighed thousands of pounds. My eyelids were much too heavy to open, even. Everything blurred together. One moment I was in the warm plains of Ascalon, the next I was feeling the bitter sting of the Shiverpeaks. I never even remembered entering Kryta. It was an entire week before I regained total consciousness. I always thought my new parents odd for picking up someone and bringing them back. They told me I muttered in my sleep the last few days of my rest. Something about going back to Ascalon. I knew that it had to be the first place I visited in order to find out my past.
I knew Ascalon was dangerous, but it was home to so many secrets these days. There were ghosts there who I may have known in their living life even. Perhaps my time here in the Shiverpeaks could prove useful to my magic. With enough practice, I could probably learn how to wield my wand perfectly again.
My soup and pepper were placed in front of me, “Here you are. I made sure to give you the child size.” The Norn smiled at me as he said this. He was positively enamored with me. The bowl was a little bigger than a human bowl.
I grinned back at him, “Thank you, sir.”
The bed was warm with the blanket pulled over me. I didn’t even open my eyes when I woke; I enjoyed the lively sounds of a hot fire crackling several feet away from me and the voices of the Norn boasting about a recent accomplishment and the playful melody of the wolves just floors above me. I turned onto my side and hugged the blankets close. Outside of the blanket, it had become rather nippy. If I left the warmth of my blanket, I would regret it instantly. I lay there and pondered what to do. It would have been different if I had warm clothing instead. I opened my eyes and pulled the mass of pale blanket away from my face. It was unusual waking up anywhere but home. I had suffered the same confusion when I spent the night at Faren’s place.
I managed to topple out of the large bed, still dressed in the blanket. I jumped up from the cold floor and stood up. I wrapped the blanket around my body, put my boots on, and walked to the table I had sat at the night before. I settled down into the same chair and waited for someone to come by. It seemed like forever, but my chair slowly warmed up and a Norn woman came by.
“Can I get an Eggs Beetletun?” I questioned. I had paid for my stay and that included breakfast as well. She wrote it down on her notebook without a word, “An apple cider as well?” She walked away quickly after writing it down. I thought maybe she had been in a bad mood. Perhaps it was because I took the blanket…
I yawned and lay my head down on the table. Outside the snow had stopped falling. The snow sparkled in the sunlight and the white evergreen trees glistened. I could make out all of the buildings now that the air was clear. The longhouse like buildings were a warm oak color with icicles hanging from the ridges. In the distance I could even make out the edge of a large stone statue. It was a very odd town in comparison to Divinity’s Reach. It was as if I had stepped back in time. The Norn had barely developed their architectural skills, so their buildings still looked like they did many years ago, at least from what I had read. Hoelbrak was simply beautiful none-the-less. My affinity for historic architecture made it even more difficult for people to believe that I was older than I looked. They could credit it to me wanting to live a fantasy.
My meal came minutes later; It was steaming hot. I blew on it to cool it down before breaking into the egg. The yolk slid down onto my plate. I picked it up on my fork and placed it right back on top. I broke the yolk and sliced off a bite of the concoction and put it into my mouth. The warmth of it instantly warmed me up on the inside. I smiled gleefully and took another bite. I sipped on my apple cider and felt the heat of the warm drink my hands. There could be no better feeling at that moment than this.
After I finished my meal, I walked back to the bed where I gathered my things. Like pulling a bandage off quickly, I threw the blanket back onto the bed. The cool air ravaged my body and I put my arms around myself. It was time to go purchase a coat. I swung around the staircase and closed in on the exit. A large hand landed on my shoulder. I recognized this hand. Peering up, I saw the Norn I had met the night before.
“You said you needed a coat, right?” He questioned and threw a heap of fur to me. Quickly realizing the Norn had bought me a fur coat, I smiled and looked up to him.
“You didn’t have to. You barely know me… Do you even know my name?” I asked him, still with the smile on my face. He scrunched up his face for a moment, probably in thought. “I think it’s about time we introduced ourselves,” I gave a light laugh, “I’m Alucardalina Claire.”
“Ragnvaldr Ragnvaldsson.” He boasted as a smile came to his face, “It’s an honor to meet you.” I held out my hand after a slight bow. He took it in his and we shook. His hand probably could have wrapped around mine twice.
As I put on the beautiful white fur coat Ragnvaldr started laying down questions, “What are you doing all the way out here in Hoelbrak? Some sort of errand or adventure?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I said I was here for the food, eh?”
“Not from a human. What are you really here for?”
“I am on an adventure of sorts. I’m going to Ascalon city.”
Ragnvaldr raised an eyebrow, “A real adventure, I like that. But why Ascalon?”
I tried to think up a lie. None were coming to me quickly enough. “Erm… Well, I… Er… I’m trying to find the grave of one of my ancestors.”
“No, really. No one would risk going to Ascalon just to put flowers on a grave.”
“Believe me, if I didn’t think you’d find me crazy for the truth, I would be all about telling you. It’s personal, though.”
“I understand, lass. Ascalon’s a long journey, you know.”
“I do know. I was hoping to use the Black Citadel gate, but it wasn’t working at the time.” I blushed and muttered, “And I might have been a tasty treat to some Charr.”
The Norn laughed, “You don’t get around much, do you? The Charr have been letting humans in for some time now. They don’t like you much, but you’d be no more than a fly on the wall to them.”
I couldn’t tell him that the only thing I remembered about the Charr came from old Ascalon. I wanted to. I wanted someone to know exactly what I was out to do. It was my terrible affliction that I was told to bear alone.
I wrapped the coat around myself and stepped out into the cool air. It certainly didn’t affect me as much and the coat was very warm and comfortable. The morning sun hit my eyes and I had to blink a couple of times before they adjusted to the new light. I shielded my eyes with my left hand.
“I actually needed to go to Dolyak pass, myself. We could travel together for the time, if you’d like.” He stated as he scratched the tip of his nose. It could be advantageous for me to travel with someone through the treacherous terrain. Being a resident of the area, he may know his way around the area as well as the dangers that dwell within it. With my wand work being next to nothing, it would be great to rely on someone’s help. Probably the most inviting idea about it all was company. I had been craving the company of another since I left Divinity’s Reach. Usually I preferred to be alone; suddenly everything had changed.
“You know, I think that would be a great idea.” I grinned at him; the Norn patted me on the shoulder. I felt my feet sinking into the snow as he did.
“Perhaps you’ll tell me about your adventure sometime.” He chuckled.
“You are persistant.” I replied and gave him a smile. I was giving it serious thought.
I rubbed at the scab on my neck as I waited for Ragnvaldr to come back with his supplies. I stood just inside the busy Great Lodge staring at the large icy fang in the middle of the enormous room The bustling crowd inside had merchants scatter throughout selling wares and food. Ragnvaldr had suggested bringing more supplies than I had. I wasn’t really repaired to supply my own trip, much less a trip for two. He knew just where to find the right bargains, so I waited downstairs.
That fight with the bandits and thieves felt as if it were more than a few nights ago. The transfer in terrain made everything in the Human society seem so far away. It really was as if I had traveled in time. I was hoping that it would be the same when I reached Ascalon, only back in time instead.
The smell of fresh meat filled my nostrils. Ragnvaldr would surely bring some back. My lungs grew cool, but my body stayed warm. I wrapped the white fur coat around tightly, ducking my nose just beneath the collar. There was snow on the floor, tracked in by the Norn that were now just as cozy inside. Above me were several stories in the lodge, each banister covered in warm, glowing candles. I saw Ragnvaldr in the distance, bartering with a merchant. It looked as if I had guessed correctly about the meat. He was charming, Ragnvaldr, kind and sweet. He was still a Norn though; He boasted at each accomplishment. It made me realize that I hadn’t accomplished much. My days before the adventure were mostly spent in my own home. If no one saw me, I wouldn’t be compelled to tell them my ‘story’.
Each of my bruises and cuts had already started to heal up a little, but I still looked a little rough. I had spent part of the morning trying to heal the wounds, but any magic beyond the wand had always been difficult for me. I had recently learned a healing spell before venturing out into Shaemoor from a priestess of Dwayna. It was difficult for me to understand, so I had never gotten it quite right. It didn’t stop me from trying, though. It was exhausting, but I was at least sure that none of the wounds would break open again.
Ragnvaldr approached with a large sack strewn over his broad shoulder. He followed my line of sight to the fang.
“That’s Jormag’s tooth. They say that if you can damage it at all, you are ready to take on the Icebrood.” He explained. The theory interested me, but I wasn’t about to make a fool of myself by attempting to chip it. The fang glistened like satin in the candlelight. It gave me perspective on just how large the dragon must be.
“Interesting,” I replied. Ragnvaldr set his hand on my shoulder, something I was quickly becoming used to. I did not, in fact, mind it at all. The contact and closeness to another person was fascinating, and I openly invited it from my new company.
“I got enough supplies to get us to Dolyak’s Pass and a little more for you trip into Ascalon.” He said, jarring me out of my thoughts, as he patted the bag. I nodded and thanked him.
We proceeded to set out on the journey, barely talking as we passed through Hoelbrak and into the Wayfarer Foothills. Ragnvaldr was humming an unfamiliar tune as we waded through the now thicker snow. The snow rose to just beneath my knees, nearly level with my boots. Luckily, my boots were waterproof. The snow couldn’t soak into them and leave my feet damp. He didn’t seem to have a problem though. The snow was barely touching his lower calf. Seeing my difficult with the snow, my companion picked me up. It was frightening upon the sudden lift; I realized that he was hoisting me up and calmed down. Suddenly, I was in his arms. I hid my blushing face within the confines of my coat.
Ragnvaldr and I continued like this until the snow was shallow enough for me to walk on top of. He gently set me down and I gave a quick nod in thanks. My thoughts were as fuzzy as my coat for a moment. This bliss of being this close to another person had sent my mind into a state of frenzy. Snow fell from a branch just to the right of me and scared me enough to bring me back to Tyria. I jumped and nearly bit my tongue.
“What was that?” Ragnvaldr asked, seemingly referring to the small yelp I had let out.
“The, er, snow fell and scared me.” I sheepishly replied. He laughed.
“Scared of a little snow and you expect me to let you go on adventuring into Ascalon alone?” He voiced.
“I know what I’m doing!” I shot back as well as a glare.
“I trust you on that. You don’t lack that fire in your eyes as far back as it may be. I’m just afraid that naivety of yours will get you in trouble.” Like other times, he placed his hand on my shoulder. “I’m just asking that you let me come with you.”
I thought it over, though I failed to reach a decision. “I thought you needed to be in Dolyak’s.”
“I didn’t lie. My sister lives there and she gave birth to a healthy baby boy just a week ago. I haven’t been to see my nephew yet.” He said as he scratched the tip of his nose with his other hand.
I had no doubts that he was telling the truth, but something in me said that he had planned on following me to Ascalon the entire time. In an attempt to relieve the tension I changed the subject, “How long does it take to reach Dolyak’s?”
“Less than a day if we keep walking.” He replied.
“Then we had better be off.” I replied and stepped forward and waited for him to follow. He walked much further than me, so we had to compromise. He would try to walk slower, and I would try and walk faster. In the end, we could walk at least close to each other. If I lagged behind, I could use his footprints to walk through and keep the snow out of my boots.
The sky had now become a pale grey again. The trees reflected this color as well as the white of the snow. As we crossed a bridge, I strafed to the edge to watch the bluish waters of the brook pass between the blanketed banks. The forest of tree’s soon broke to reveal a flat plain of snow. Norn buildings were scattered throughout the area. We passed through a snowball fight of a few kids next to one longhouse. Just as we had thought we had made it through safely, a snowball hit the back of Ragnvaldr’s head. He turned around as the kids snickered. I didn’t even see him pick up snow, but as soon as he turned around, a snowball soared from his hand and into the chest of one of the kids.
I barely ducked and missed one of the projectiles. I found time to duck and grab a handful of snow and tossed it at the other child. I gasped when it hit his face. He returned fire immediately and hit my left leg. The snow fell into my boot and I cried out as the frozen mess landed around my toes; It soaked through my stockings.
Ragnvaldr landed a hit on the child who had hooked me with the snowball. We all played like this for about a full hour. After this, we went into the nearby longhouse to warm up. The families were happy to allow us into their home. I took off my stockings and boots and dried them by the fire.
“This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I don’t think I’ve had a snowball fight before.” I sighed and sat back in the large chair.
“Really? What kind of life were you living before, then?” Ragnvaldr asked with curiosity in his breath.
“I was a noble,” I answered without delay, “But a loner. My parent’s didn’t like for me to talk to a lot of people. There’s a large personal affair surrounding me and I’m not supposed to tell anyone.” I felt as if I was flaunting it at this point. I regretted those words for a moment before continuing, “I’m going to Ascalon to try and find out the truth.”
I proceeded to tell him how my parents had found me, though I left out the important detail of my visions.
“I see. So you want to go back and see just where you came from.” Ragnvaldr responded.
I nodded and took a sip of the hot cocoa I had been given.
“There’s obviously more, but I can see how personal this is. I understand if you don’t want me to accompany you there.”
“I’ve thought it over… It’s been so nice having someone at my side. I left my friend, Faren, in Divinity’s Reach because I didn’t feel like he could handle it.” I sighed at the thought of Faren finding out that I wasn’t on this adventure alone, “But I also need help. I would love to have you travel with me to Ascalon.”
Ragnvaldr beamed at me and took my hands in his, “You won’t regret it.”
Ragnvaldr finished his oddly scented eggnog moments after I set my empty cup down. I waited for him to stand up first; we really had to be going if we wanted to make it to his sister’s home before nightfall. It wasn’t long before he did rise and I struggled to get out of the large chair. Once on my feet, one of the youths from the snowball fight ran to me.
“Will you come back and play again?” He asked eagerly. I looked from the child to Ragnvaldr and back to the child. I was never any good dealing with the affairs of children, but I smiled.
“After I come back from my adventure, I’ll play snowball again. I will even bring along another friend.” I replied kindly.
“We have to be leaving now,” Ragnvaldr spoke to the elders of the longhouse, “But we thank you for your kindness.”
“Come back anytime.” One of the mothers responded.
I gave a slight bow before exiting behind Ragnvaldr. The grey sky was a lot brighter now, denoting that it was probably past noon. A subtle wind had picked up and blew across the plains. My hair blew around my face; the air stung my cheeks. I looked to my companion and giggled to myself. He threw me a look and I pointed to his hair. His hair had been tied back the entire time so he didn’t need to worry about it flying everywhere.
“I should have warned you about the wind. It’s why I chose to keep my hair tied up.” He replied as we continued forward.
I worked at the ribbon on the top of my head until I could release the knot in the back. I smoothed it out in my hands and pulled my hair back. The ribbon nearly slipped from my hands in a soft breeze; I managed to catch and hold onto the ribbon until my hair was safely tied back. Only my bangs were allowed to move in the wind now. The snow crunched under my feet, allowing me to sink in about an inch each time. We crossed the bridge again, this time not being caught off guard by snowballs. I saw small fish swimming through the stream beneath, darting around playfully above the pebbles on the bottom. Just ahead we stepped into the walls of a haven. Many traveler seemed to have stopped there, specifically merchants. They had set up their carts there and sold right from them. We didn’t stop on our way through and simply left through the opposite entrance.
In front of us now were the dunes of snow, almost like a deserts, and a frozen lake. Many Norn seemed to be fighting off snow wurms only a few feet from the roads. I cringed at the sight of one man’s axe slicing right through the neck of one of the wurms, leaving the snow around it a bloody mess. I found myself wrapped around Ragnvaldr’s arm, hiding my face in his side.
“Sorry, it wasn’t intentional.” I apologized softly and let go of his arm, realizing that he was now staring down at me, “I know I’m a mage, but I have a weak stomach. I would rather burn my opponent than see them sliced open.”
“Really?” He asked, surprised. He hurried me along away from the massacres, “I guess I haven’t really met an adventurer having a weak stomach. I’ll try to keep that in mind.”
The stinging of the wind didn’t bother me as my face had grown hot.
“We’ll be coming to the crossroads soon. I have to warn you that the Sons of Svanir are known to attack the area, so have your wand at the ready.” Ragnvaldr warned.
“Sons of Svanir?”
“Minions of Jormag. Norn who have given their allegiance to the dragon and have in turn become corrupted into Icebrood. Most of the time we can coexist with one another, but there’s always a group out there willing to challenge us.”
“Is that so.” I pondered and tried to imagine what one would look like.
“There’s a shrine they often try and defile there. If you’re anywhere near it, they only see you as an obstacle that must be destroyed.” Even if they aren’t there, it’s better to be on your guard anyway.” I nodded to show I understood this information.
I fumbled with my coat until I found my wand. I had stored it inside my coat to keep it warmer as well as myself. A cold fire wand always took more time to heat up and cast a spell than a warm one.
We approached the crossroads some time later. The wind was now blowing more ferociously than before. It seemed to get worse as we approached the tips of the small but numerous mountains around us. The snow had begun to fall and as we got closer to the crossroads, I could begin to make out a figure.
“We turn right as soon as we’re inside the walls here. Then it’s about the same distance we just traveled to my sister’s home.” Ragnvaldr thought out loud.
“Sounds good. Mind if we stop once we are inside so I can rest my feet?” I wondered.
“We’re making good enough time. I suppose it would be alright.”
The figure ahead was nearly visible enough to make out that it was a very large statue.”Is that the shrine?”
“Yes it is. One of the greatest heroes to live. She defeated the Great Destroyer back in 1078. Every Norn wants to accomplish a feat as great as she has.” He recalled with a large smile on his face.
I just had to see this statue, now. Anyone with a history that heroic was interesting enough for me. I ran forward and climbed the hill, Ragnvaldr racing after me. I was cautious enough to watch for any signs of threat while still bolting towards the monument. As I approached it, something sparked in me. It was as if a hole had formed in the pit of my stomach. My body became numb and I fell to my knees.
“Claire?!” Ragnvaldr called to me, catching up only a few seconds later. There was worry carried in his voice. I couldn’t answer him. He fell to his knees in front of me and took my shoulders in his large hands. “What’s wrong?”
I shook my head.
“You’re crying. What is it?” He pleaded.
I tried my best to open my mouth, hoping words would spill from it. Hot tears drenched my face. Ragnvaldr shook me lightly.
“Ragnvaldr… I know her.” I shook my head, “I knew her.”
“That’s impossible. She perished generations ago.”
‘Her name is Jora, right? She was always bickering with a Dwarf and an Asura. I knew her, really!” I regained my composure and stood up. Snow covered my person now, blending with the light blues of my clothing and the white of the fur.
“Yes, it’s Jora. Anyone could know that.”
I sighed and wiped the tears away, “It’s time I tell you why I’m really going to Ascalon. I just hope you will understand a believe me if I do tell you.”
I now stood eye level with the Norn. He was still on the ground, probably confused. He just stared at me, not giving an answer.
Reluctantly, I began, “I remember a time when Ascalon was untouched my the searing. I can see the clear features of the land. The faces are blurry, but I remember the environment down to the last iris flower. These visions aren’t dreams, they really aren’t. I witnessed the searing and helped to defend the Charr from the walls in battle with many others. I visited the Shiverpeaks when the Dwarves still lived above the earth and when the Norn still lived in the far Shiverpeaks. I know it all sounds crazy, but I think the Human gods kept me alive. I think they wanted me to do something. I can’t remember much from my past self, just the world I lived in. The world has changed but I feel as if I have not. I knew Jora, you’ll just have to trust me, please. I have to go back to Ascalon to find any clues to my past.”
Ragnvaldr sat there seemingly deep in thought, “Those are bold claims.”
My parents were right. I shouldn’t have told anyone. I sat down in the cold snow again and buried my head into my arms.
“But if Tyria has taught us one thing, it’s that we don’t know everything. Your gods may very well have kept you alive, and who am I to try and discredit that?” He moved my hands and raised my chin, “This journey is becoming more interesting by the hour; I’m excited to find out the answer myself. If you really did know Jora, you may be able to recall other grand adventures she had for us. That’s amazing!” His words were reassuring. I managed to smile through my fear and tears.
“Thank you.” I cried and buried myself into his chest.
Chapter Three: Servants of Dragon
In the reflection of Ragnvaldr’s eyes, I saw a group approaching. the closer they became, the bluer they looked. I panicked and snatched my wand from the snow and gripped it. Ragnvaldr peered over my shoulder and drew the bow from his back. He slowly stood; I jumped up instantly.
“You aren’t supposed to be here,” Ragnvaldr growled.
It was obvious they didn’t feel the same way. Without words, every one of them drew their icy weapons. Their bodies looked cold and pale, almost dead. They bore dark armor with gauntlets of piercing blue. Large horns jutted from every helmet.
“If it’s a battle you want, you’ve come to the right place.” He whispered to himself and drew back the bow after loading an arrow. He leveled the arrow with his foe, the Son of Svanir leading the pack. I was prepared to take on the group with him.
They rushed us. Ragnvaldr’s arrow downed his target in an instant. I scalded a warrior closer to me, sending him rolling in the snow. They didn’t look Norn, but it seemed as if the laws of the Norn body still applied for them. After all, they were like any other Norn, only corrupted by a different god.
It didn’t take long for the gang to overrun us. We were surrounded on all sides- We had seemed to of misjudged the numbers due to the visibility presented by the snow. I dodged the attacks of the tall beings for some time. Jumping, rolling, and ducking to escape attacks from warriors and rangers alike. Ragnvaldr had taken to using his ivory colored dagger on these foe. I could barely use my wand at this speed and range. I rarely landed a successful attack, but when I did, it was never powerful enough to do much damage. It managed to distract them enough to allow me time to dodge another attack. I recalled a glimpse of the fight with the assassin from a few days earlier. I ceased casting my spells and took to using the scepter like a club instead, beating the enemies backwards. In this new technique, I was slower. I didn’t manage to avoid their attacks as well, but it was too late to change. I felt a knife plunge into the back of my calf, tearing the muscles inside and throwing blood to the ground. I cried out in agony, but I didn’t stop fighting. I began creating sparks at the end of my wand as I pelted the enemy with it. I was actually creating some ground to actually fight on. The Sons of Svanir had backed up enough for me to cast my spells. I quickly tapped into the wand’s power and sent a flaming tooth shaped rock crashing down on those who came close to me. I tried to stand, but my leg crumbled beneath me. I shot a fireball at the enemy coming closer to me.
I was scooped up. I recognized Ragnvaldr as my captor as he sped along the bloody snow. The adrenaline was beginning to subside and I could feel the agonizing pain in my leg. I allowed myself to slouch over in his arms, keeping my head on his chest. He didn’t stop running until we were well on the other end of the crossroads wall. Ragnvaldr found a crate and laid me on top of it. Rummaging through his bag, he pulled out a long strip of cloth.
“Heh, you really are prepared.” I whispered to him. It would seem as though all of my breath had left me. He began tying the cloth around the wound.
“I will carry you to my sister’s. She can help with the pain and minor healing.” He assured. He sounded much more serious than I had heard him before. I laid back and let him bandage me. I stared into the sky that was spilling snow onto the lands. I gritted my teeth from pain as he tightened the cloth into a knot. He hoisted me into his arms again. I looked down to see his arms and armor covered in blood.
“You didn’t get hurt, did you?” I questioned, staring at the blood and hoped it was only mine. It seemed like a bit much.
“Not at all.” I had to believe his words, “You fought like a true warrior out there.”
“I was fighting for my life.” I corrected, “Sorry for bleeding all over you.”
“Think nothing of it.” He responded as he began to walk the path in front of us.
My mind became hazy. Perhaps it was my brain’s way of coping with the pain. I watched each white flake flutter from the sky and land on us. I couldn’t even remember how cold it had just been. I let my mind take its course. My head rested against his chest again, more comfortably than before. My arms were curled in my lap while my legs lay across the edge of one of his arms. His steady footsteps continued and helped to lull my tired body.
We entered a field of flowers. The sun burned through the clouds, leaving the sky clear. The snow ceased to exist, but so did Ragnvaldr. I was standing on my own two feet. Leaves of beautiful colors danced through the warm air and fell into neat piles on the green grass and cobbled paths. Beside me was a monk. Her head was shaven clean and her clothes perfectly white. At her side was a young girl in a blue dress. Around her dark bob hair was a crown of beautiful iris flowers. I had a single iris flower in my hand.
“So, can I have it? I promised I’d make you a crown, too! Please?!” She begged, rocking on her heels. I handed her the flower with a smile.
“Come on, let’s go find more!” She exclaimed, took my hand, and began running. I shuffled my feet to keep up with her so wouldn’t end up dragging me around.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Gwen! What’s yours?”
“Can I just call you Claire?”
“I do suppose that would be easier.”
“I like you, Claire!”
I smiled and pointed to an iris flower growing next to a theatre. She let go of my hand to pick it. We were promptly off to find another. Gwen stopped in her tracks as a large animal approached us. I remembered it as a Melandru’s Stalker, a large cat usually patrolling the shrine of Melandru in Green Hills.
Gwen was frightened, “Scary! Make it go away!”
I patted her head and walked to the animal. I held out my hand to let it sniff my scent. Giving the signal that I could now pet it, I rubbed the top of its head, just behind the ears. The stalker became putty in my hands in minutes and I invited Gwen to join me. Reluctant but trusting of me, she touched the silky coat of the cat and giggled.
“They aren’t that bad. They may be big, but they don’t want to hurt you.” I explained as I stood up. Gwen took my hand and we walked away. The creature followed us. I looked behind us, wary of its intentions at first. I stopped and it brushed against my hand.
“Fine, fine. You can stay, but you’ll have to work for your spot on this team.” I told the stalker as I pet it.
A snowflake landed on my eyelash. I looked up to the darkening sky. Gwen waved to me and the flowers disappeared. The crunch of snow sounded underneath me, but was not provided by my own foot. Ragnvaldr looked down to me.
“I just had a wonderful dream. I met a little girl who called herself Gwen. We picked iris flowers together and met an animal companion.” I smiled, still a little hazy.
Ragnvaldr smiled back, “We’re almost there. We’ll take a break and let you rest up before we set out again.” His voice was softer now. I liked this soft side. A lot. “I want to hear about all of your dreams from now on.”
The birds chirping outside announced that the sun was shining; The snow had stopped falling. I sipped on the fresh squeezed orange juice as I stared into the fire in the center end of the home. I had decided to sit in a chair rather than at the too large table with Ragnvaldr and his sister, Ylva. Two different families sat at the table, as well as guests that had stayed the night there as well. The boisterous crowded table was less to my liking, anyway, so I had brought my breakfast of banana bread with me in front of the fire. This, of course, meant that Ragnvaldr, himself, carried me to the chair. My injured leg was useless for the time being, though Ylva had helped numb the pain as Ragnvaldr had promised.
Ragnvaldr was calm and tame compared to the other Norn at the table. It had never occurred to me how different Ragnvaldr actually was compared to other Norn. His demeanor was calm, though boastful. He reminded me more of an adventurous Human than a Norn.
Ylva breastfed her child at the table, but still laughed just as hardy as the Norn next to her. She was a little chubby, no doubt to the recent birth of her child, with bags under her eyes. Ylva look strong even through this. Her golden hair was shorter than her brothers, only reaching to her chin in choppy spikes. Long bangs were brushed to the side, barely out of the way of her deep blue eyes. Simply put, she was beautiful.
I found myself admiring this beauty instead of looking into the fireplace. Ragnvaldr called out my name, apparently talking about how I had continued to fight even under the circumstances with the Sons of Svanir. The sudden jolt of shock nearly caused me to spill orange juice all over my clothes. I was lucky enough to have it stay in the cup.
“For a Human, she sees her fight out like a Norn.” Ragnvaldr chuckled and I gave a weak smile. Setting the cup down, I took a bite of the homemade bread. To my surprise, it was really sweet and warm, like cake. When I thought about bread, it was usually dinner rolls or sandwiches that came to mind. Before I knew it, the first slice was gone.
“This is really good!” I turned and complimented Ylva’s cooking. The rest of the Norn had began leaving to start their days.
“Where did you say you met her?” Ylva smiled and asked her brother.
“She was shivering in the snow in Hoelbrak one night. She walked right by the lodge.” He recalled.
“What are you doing here in the Shiverpeaks?” She barked at me. I blinked.
“Erm… Well, it’s a long story. I’m actually heading towards Ascalon… The Black Citadel’s gate was under construction, so I can here instead.” I explained timidly.
“Why is she going to Ascalon?” Ylva asked her brother.
‘Her gods called her there for some personal reasons.”
The child began crying. I didn’t dare cover my ears from the ear-splitting cacophony out of respect. Ylva stood up with the infant and walked to the other side of the longhouse. Ragnvaldr looked at me; He looked as if he, too, wanted cover his ears. We both endured Randolfr’s screams until his mother gave him a pacifier.
“Why don’t you take her down to receive the Wolf’s blessing? She’s in no condition to go to Ascalon yet.” Ylva inquired as she sat back down with the quiet child.
“Do you feel up to it?” He asked me. I thought about riding in his arms again and blushed. In my attempt to hide my face, I began choking on the bread. It wasn’t anything the juice couldn’t fix as I used it to wash down the crumbs lodged in my throat.
I cleared my throat and responded, “Yeah, sure.”
“Ylva’s right, though. We can’t go to Ascalon like this. We’ll head South on the road for the time being and visit Outcast’s Cleft. If we follow the road, there shouldn’t be any attacks.
“South?! Wouldn’t that be regressing? I don’t want you to have to carry me all that way.” I exclaimed. We had sacrificed enough getting this far. I didn’t want to chance anything happening again to delay my journey further.
“It will give you enough time to heal enough to go to Ascalon. The Wolf may even bring us luck in our journey.” Ragnvaldr commented as he moved to the edge of his chair.
I sighed, ” I guess you’ve sold me.” In truth, I only wanted to avoid conflict. He smiled and patted my head. “Is there a place I can bathe?”
“There really isn’t a bath around, but Ylva can help you wash up. On our way south, we can visit Zelechor Hot Springs and take a dip.”
“Hot Springs?” I asked, “I’ve never been to one.”
“Ylva. Can you help her wash up? We’re going to the hot springs before seeing the Wolf.” Ragnvaldr called to his sister.
“Fine, fine, but you’ll have to hold the baby.” She agreed and handed him the child. He stared from his sister to the child and back. “Oh, it won’t bite. Just hold it and make sure he keeps the pacifier in his mouth. It’s not that hard.”
Longhouses didn’t have separate rooms and this began to worry me as Ylva heated some water and rags. The only separate room was a small building outside that served as a restroom. It was made of stone and rather cold. Washing up more than one’s hands there was out of the question.
“Er, where am I washing up?” I questioned, my voice faltering a bit.
“Right here, of course. Where did you want to go? Outside?” She taunted and came to me with a damp cloth. I looked around and blushed.
“Can you turn around?” I asked Ragnvaldr, “And no peeking!”
“Of course.” He replied and turned his chair entirely around. I hesitantly took off my top and skirt, leaving only what I found necessary on, and pressed the rag to my skin. I tried to wash quickly, stealing quick glances of Ragnvaldr to make sure he wasn’t peeking. It was lucky enough that the other Norn had already left. I stopped as soon as I got to the stitched wound on the back of my leg. The skin around the cut was puffy and red with a little purple from bruising. My skin had become a pale white after the blood loss and I was more susceptible to the cold since then. I pondered how to clean it and decided to just let the cloth slide gently over it. The calf was still numb from Ylva’s healing session. It was as if my leg were constantly asleep.
I finished up in a hurry soon after and put my clothing back on. My face was red hot by the time I had finished and wanted to do nothing more than hide in one of the fur blankets I had slept under.
“I’m dressed now.” I called to Ragnvaldr without looking towards him.
There was no response.
“Ragnvaldr?” I called. I whipped around to look and saw only Ylva putting Randolfr to sleep. “Where did he go?”
“He had to wash up as well, but don’t worry, he didn’t look.” She informed me with a smirk. “…Humans.” She told herself in humor.
“He really likes you, you know. ” She notified me as she walked to the front of me. I could feel my heart leap. “But it’s taboo for us to fall in love with a Human. I need you to tone down that damsel in distress routine you’re playing.”
“What? I’m not-” She proceeded to interrupt me before I could explain myself.
“Don’t argue with me. I know your kind. If you think you can manipulate him, you’re going to have to get through me first.” I honestly had no clue why she was calling me out on something I wasn’t even planning to do. I twiddled my thumbs and looked to the floor.
“Look. I had a feeling he liked me, but I never tried to manipulate him. I’m rather fond of your brother, even becoming a little attached. I know it matters not to you but I haven’t been very good at making friends in my life. I was afraid to, but somehow Ragnvaldr has made it easier. I treat your brother with nothing but respect.” I disclosed to her. She was absolutely frightening but I couldn’t allow her to claim I was disrespecting Ragnvaldr.
“What’s going on?” Ragnvaldr asked as he walked in.
“I was just explaining to her the taboos of falling in love with someone not of your own species.” Ylva retorted roughly. Her brother’s face became much more serious and the corners of his mouth twisted into a frown. He looked to me and I stared him in the eyes.
“Are you ready to leave, then?” He asked as he lifted me. I nodded and shot a glare to his sister. The same smirk from before was plastered on her face.
I grabbed my coat on the way out and put it on. When we stepped outside, I saw, for the first time, a creation of the Icebrood. Large topaz and midnight crystals populated an entire hill, jutting from the ground where buildings and monuments lay. It was grotesquely beautiful.
“Don’t listen to my sister. I know you don’t think of me in that way, but she has always been this harsh. It’s why I haven’t been up to see her lately. I made the mistake of telling her my feelings.” He apologized, looking down to me.
“I had the feeling you felt like that, but I never knew what I should do about it.” I stretched and then curled up in his arms. “I was telling your sister that I’m quite attached to you, You’re a really good friend to me; I don’t mind being close to you.”
“You could always reciprocate my feelings. I don’t want to force you into anything though, so make a decision when you’re ready to.” He replied. I admired his courage as well as his respect for my feelings. I wanted to give him an answer, I really did, but I never knew how to interact with people. I didn’t even understand my own feelings. “My sister is half-correct though. Norn, as people, are generally pushed in the direction of not falling in love with Humans. It’s always been that way since we’re encouraged to repopulate the area. Jormag has taken a lot of us and it’s been hard on our kind. But please don’t let that discourage you.”
“I understand. I just need to find myself first.” I replied.
Love at first sight. I never believed in it. The idea that you could fall in love with someone without getting to know them at all was positively foolish, at least to me. A friendship had to be established first and love would proceed that. It takes time to nurture and grow, much like a flower or a sturdy tree. I never believed in love at first sight.
I lay in a nook at the edge of the spring. Reclining in a position where I couldn’t get my sutures wet but still having most of my body in the spring, I could enjoy the sultry water. I leaned back against the wall of the pool and relaxed.
When I had gotten here, it had taken some time for Ragnvaldr to convince me to get in.
Seeing the rest of the people in the spring, I began to ponder something, “What do I wear in? I have nothing.”
“Well, it’s usually your undergarments.” A Norn behind me replied with a chortle. I looked to the man and stepped away. I regarded Ragnvaldr for confirmation. He merely nodded.
So, after some time, I had stripped down to my underclothes and plunged into the steamy waters. I hadn’t regretted it. With so many around enjoying the spring the same way, it wasn’t as embarrassing.
I gazed over to Ragnvaldr, who had also leaned against the wall and seemed to be enjoying himself as well. His eyes were shut and he seemed completely relaxed.
I sank my head into the water, careful enough to not get any on my face. I stared at the cloudy sky and thought about home. Not Ascalon, but Divinity’s Reach. I missed it already. Though it had never felt like home before, I knew now that the city had taken care of me all of these years and it deserved to be called home. Now that I had a friend there, it certainly was a home for me.
Locks of my silver hair swam around my porcelain face. I continued to gaze into the timberwolf sky. It had started snowing again. It was always snowing here. Each flake made it to the steam where it then quickly vaporized into steam itself. I reached up as if to grab a snowflake. Realizing it was futile, I brought my hand back to the water. I held my breath and allowed myself to sink into the water. The sounds underneath were garbled and trance inducing. I rose to the surface just as my breath ran low.
“Relaxing, isn’t it?” Ragnvaldr asked from just a few feet away.
‘Unquestionably.” I responded simply. I sat up and brushed the wet hair from my face. “You know about my life, but I can’t say I know much about yours.”
“There isn’t much to tell. I was named after my father, who was named after his father, and his father before him. My mother perished before I was even old enough to talk. She fought an Icebrood Goliath and it proved to be a great challenge. She died valiantly.
My father’s fate was much worse. He was one of the many who went out to defend Tyria from the Icebrood. He never came back and we assume that he’s now one of them.” Ragnvaldr revealed this as if it were nothing, though the sudden emptiness in his eyes concerned me.
“My sister and I were left to fend on our own since then. I’ve spent a lot of my time working at the Wolf Lodge only biding my time until an adventure presented itself. I fought off the icebroad who dared to enter civilian territory and spent time defending all of Eir’s statues of Jora. When I saw you that night, I knew there was some sort of connection between us. Knowing that wherever you were going was where I needed to be, I quit my job.” He looked to me and saw that I was over-analyzing everything, “I know it was senseless to quit my job on nothing more than a feeling, but that’s how I have lived my entire life. I was drawn to you.”
I nodded and rested my chin on my knee, leaving the other still outside of the water. The numbness had subsided, though the cool air around the pool had numbed it again slightly.
“It wouldn’t bode well for me not to trust you after you’ve stuck with me knowing my story. It really is interesting how fate has brought us together.” I replied, “Though it’s a shame about your parents.”
“There’s no shame in it. They went down fighting and didn’t give up on their goals. I do agree that my Father’s fate is a little less honorable, but there isn’t anything we can do but to protect anyone else from becoming the same fate.” He responded.
At that moment, someone jumped into the spring, splashing Ragnvaldr and me with water. I frowned and glared at the teenage Norn. Ragnvaldr took that chance to splash me again. I yelped out of surprise and wiped the water from my eyes. I sent a bit of water his way, though it was futile; the water never reached him. I scrunched my eyes, embarassed but playing it off as anger. He laughed and for that I began pelting him with the temperate water. He sent a wave crashing my way. We were obviously disturbing most of the others in the pool with our behavior, but I couldn’t care any less at the time.
Knocked off balance, I feel completely into the water. I stood on all fours and moved the hair from my eyes. I leered at Ragnvaldr but I broke that when I remembered my sutures weren’t ready to get wet. I jumped up and my leg crumpled beneath me again. Ragnvaldr managed to catch me this time.
“I’m fine, it’s just that I got the stitching wet and I freaked out a little.” I assured as I used Ragnvaldr’s arms to balance myself. The muscles in my leg still weren’t working as well as I hoped that they would. Ragnvaldr carried me to a rock just by the spring. He drew a cloth from his bag and handed it to me. I proped my leg up and began drying it, patting the area gently.
“It’s about time we leave anyway.” Ragnvaldr informed me and drew another cloth to dry himself. I found myself staring at him for a brief moment. His chest was clean shaven- fit and toned in every muscle. His armor usually covered his body, and I never had the opprotunity to see his body. There wasn’t a single scar on him. It was the first time I could actually see how young he was beyond the long beard that aged his face.
Ragnvaldr caught my glance and I quickly looked away and pretended to have been drying myself off and continued to press the cloth to my body. I peered back and saw a smile, perhaps a smirk, on his face.
After drying off my body and heating my clothing dry with my wand, I put on my armor and coat. I fastened my bag around my shoulders, though unknowingly had it upsidedown. My travel journal spilled out before I caught my mistake. I fastened the bag correctly and grabbed my journal. I wiped the water on the book off on my skirt and stared at the journal.
“What’s that?” Ragnvaldr questioned as he dried the ends of his hair.
“It’s a travel journal. I write down what I’ve done each day in hopes that it will help jog my memory.” I responded. I hadn’t written in it since I had left. I opened to a blank page and stared at it.
“Are you ready to go?” He asked, forcing both mine and his cloths back into the bag. I nodded and held on tight to the book as he lifted me up again.
I never believed in love at first sight. No amount of stories could convince me of this foolishness. I did believe in fate, though. Perhaps Ragnvaldr was right. Perhaps fate really had brought us together. Had the gods planned for me to meet this stranger and journey together to Ascalon?
I didn’t write down the contents of my day. Instead, I used this page for something completely different.
I am writing to you today from Wayfarer Foothills in the Shiverpeaks. I initially wanted to go to Ascalon, but the gate was down for maintainance. I instead ended up in Hoelbrak, where I met a gent Norn. We are now traveling together, and a good thing, too. Just last night I fell prey to some of Jormag’s corrupted and my new friend, Ragnvaldr, carried me away when I could not walk. I am well now, and healing up before I continue my journey.
I write to you to let you know that I am still thinking about you. I’m glad we became friends and I want you to come with me on my next adventure out of the city. Have the bandits given you any trouble since? Write back and let me know that you are okay.
“Today was rather uneventful. My parents left the house to visit the dye vendor’s station to check on business. It’s common that they are out, seeing as they are the head of finance over all of the crafting stations. I stayed inside the house most of the day reading “Flora to Fawn Over”. At one point I found myself staring out of my bedroom window at the children playing in Salma’s cobble roads. In the walls of Divinity’s Reach, it felt safe enough to have fun on the streets.”
I read this journal entry out loud as we passed through the snowy trail. On our way through the Osenfold Shear, we had conveniently ran into a courier. It seemed to be my lucky day. He agreed to pass the letter I had written along to other couriers until it got to Faren.
Ragnvaldr kept his eyes peeled in case of an enemy attack. We had just descended down the soft slope of the side of a mountain to return to the forest we had visited only a day ago. He still listened intently.
“This morning my parents made cinnamon toast. As my mother set the plate down in front of me she commented that it was “Cynnamon” toast. It was a ripe joke considering she had brought me a few new books home from her trip around the city yesterday. Firebrand: Tales of Cynn, Torn Between Two Gods: The Story of Mhenlo, and Eve of Destruction were what I received from her. They were Canthan books, signifying her intention of not allowing me to read anything on Ascalon for fear that I may run back at the mention of a name I might find familiar. Little did she know that I found my way out of house last night to pick up the only copy left of Myths and Legends of Ancient Ascalon. I stayed in again today, reading through Eve of Destruction and awaiting the day when my parents would leave the house again. I could then read the Ascalonian book as I much desired.”
I wedged my thumb between the book to keep my place and looked up to see where we were. The trees were covered in snow, much like everything else. They towered above me, blotching out parts of the sky. I wondered how they thrived in an environment like this, or perhaps every one of them were already dead?
“You aren’t tired of carrying me, are you? I asked Ragnvaldr. He peered down at me long enough to answer.
“Of course not. This is nothing. I’m afraid my bow is heavier than you are.” He responded. I smiled and opened my book again.
“My parents left again today. I of course spent my time inside reading, as per usual. I went through Myths and Legends of Ancient Ascalon, but I didn’t find very much. Most of it predated the time I believe I was alive. There was a name that struck my heart with both pride and sorrow: Prince Rurik. A prince who was disowned from his father for leading refugees from Ascalon to Kryta. He was killed in his valiant effort. A group of heroes led the group on in his name from there on. This keys in on the first act of King Adelbern’s madness from my opinion. We had cheese pizza for dinner and cupcakes for dessert. I baked the cupcakes myself.’
“You are quite the reader.” Ragnvaldr replied soon after I finished this entry.
“It’s the best way to pass words of history down. People tend to exaggerate stories to make them seem better while history books go through revisions to make them more accurate.” I returned, not looking up from my book. I heard an owl call in the distance. The sky was growing darker.
“I see.” he said.
“It’s getting dark. Are we going to camp out?”
“Would you rather hike back to my sister’s? Ragnvaldr jested. I shook my head furiously.
The snow began to clear out. The ground we were on was icy, but the snow had melted here. The evergreen trees were dark against the now pewter sky. The ground was unusually green compared to the frozen landscape we had just stepped through.
“Just a bit further and we’ll be at the Snowlord’s Gate. We can set up camp there where there’s a bit of people around.”
I read two more uneventful journal entries before we arrived. When we did, Ragnvaldr set me down on a log next to a fire. Many people had been gathered her, mostly Norn, and they all bragged about their accomplishments. They spoke of slaying a large snow wurm and I shuddered as I thought back to the beheaded snow wurm from the day before.
“Well, it seems like we’ll have to set up camp out here. I checked to see if there were any beds available for you, but they are taking care of some injured themselves.” Ragnvaldr announced from behind me, “Some of them weren’t quite ready to fight the great wurm, Issomir.”
“I’ve heard.” I replied, “And I really don’t mind camping outside. I expected as much when I left. It’s obviously not going to be all luxury.”
“With your leg in that condition, I just wanted you comfortable.” He explained.
“I can be just as comfortable out here.” I smiled at him and held my hand out to him, “I can unroll my bedding now.” I had been keeping it in his pack since we left Hoelbrak to make more room in my own. His bag was obviously bigger than my own.
“Don’t worry so much!” I laughed and said to him as he stared at my leg, “I’ll heal up soon enough.” I patted my leg gently.
The rest of the night consisted of us roasting dolyak over the open fire and joking with the rest of the Norn, who were getting drunker by the second. It was a cool evening of song and hearty laughs, good stories and getting along with one another. I even partook in a small glass of their best alcohol as did Ragnvaldr. I didn’t care for the taste very much, but I sipped at it slowly in kindness. By the end of the night, it had warmed me up from within my stomach.
Everyone slowly began to leave the ring around the fire, calling it quits for the night. I soon snuggled into my own bedding just feet from the fire. I closed my eyes and tried to get some rest. Eventually I heard Ragnvaldr lay down a couple of meters away from me. With my eyes closed, I expected sleep to overwhelm me soon, but I was wrong. My mind was awake. I waited until I could hear the snoring of Ragnvaldr and sat up. Looking around, I didn’t see that anyone was awake in the area. I crawled to the gazebo gate and used the railing to help stand myself up. Continuing to hold on to the railing, I attempted to stand on my injured leg. It crumpled beneath me, of course. I endured attempt after attempt striving to stand up on both of my legs.
I wobbled as I finally got up. From this moment, I begun to step forward. My pushing motive was to have Ragnvaldr not worry about me. I felt like a toddler taking her first step. My leg wobbled about as I placed it on the ground. My muscles were screaming in pain, but I kept moving forward. With the rail to fall back on in case I lost my footing, it became easier to walk. As I got to the end of the railing I decided to try and walk without it. The first step I took was promising, however the next step with that leg would send me falling. I reached out in front of me, using my hands to cushion my fall. I rolled at the last moment and just laid there on the ground.
A hand shot out in front of me. I expected it to be Ragnvaldr’s, but it was human in size. I took it and pulled myself up. I made it to the railing before getting a good look at my new helper. His jet black hair was pushed back from his face and barely touched his shoulders. These shoulders were covered in silver chainmail and glistening armor and at his side was a shield.
“Need some help?” asked the guardian.
I glanced to Ragnvaldr, who was still sound asleep, as the guardian healed my leg. The leg was subjected to the same numbing sensation I had felt when Ylva worked on it. I focused my line of sight on my new acquaintance. He kept brushing his hair from his face with one hand and gripped my leg with the other. He stood up and dusted his knees off.
“That should do it. You’ll be able to walk again after the numbness subsides.” His armor clanked together as he straightened himself up.
“I can’t thank you enough,” I responded gratefully and ran my hand across the now smooth leg. “You can call me Claire.” I reached my other hand out to him. He took it and shook firmly.
“Tobih.” He replied, “So what are you out here for?”
“Going to Ascalon.” I then quickly added, “For personal reasons. You?”
“My guild is traveling up towards the Northern Shiverpeaks.” Tobih answered, “For personal reasons.”
It was a relief that we didn’t question one another on our motives. I gave a small laugh. He fell back on a log beside me by the fire.
“Is that your friend?” Tobih questioned and nodded to Ragnvaldr.
“Yeah. He’s been really good to me. I wanted to be able to walk for him.”
“Is that right? How’d you get like this anyways? What were you fighting?”
“Well, the leg injury was from a Son of Svanir. My magic isn’t what it used to be, so I’m not very good with close combat. Thank goodness Ragnvaldr was there to get me out… As for the rest of the bruises and cuts, well, I had a fight with some invading centaurs out in Divinity’s Reach. Soon after that I had a run in with some bandits who had kidnapped my friend back at home.” When I put it like that, it made me seem like more of a hero than I was.
“You sound like quite the hero.” I cringed as he said this.
“I”m not, really.”
“Well, it still sounds like it. I can’t say I’ve done anything as brave as that. I’ve always had my guild by my side in battle.” Tabih refuted. He began healing my other scabs and wounds up as we talked.
“Are you from Kyrta?” I questioned him.
“Ebonhawke.” Tobih retorted, “I was born in Ebonhawke. I didn’t belong there, though. I’m a runaway. I didn’t believe in fighting the Charr, not in these times anyway. We have enough to deal with without all these interracial wars on each other. We should be gathering our strength and defeating these dragons before they lay waste to us all.” If only the rest of Tyria thought like he did.
“I need to, uh” I stumbled on my words, “Head to bed now. Long day ahead of us. I would love to introduce you to Ragnvaldr if you’re still here in the morning, though.”
“Ah, okay. Well, let me help you over there,” He acted as my crutch as we made our way to my bedroll. “It was a pleasure talking with you, Claire.”
I grinned, “Same here. I really can’t thank you enough for healing this up for me.”
“It’s what I do.” He put me down gently. “Sleep well.”
“It’s time to wake up.” I heard Ragnvaldr’s voice call to me. I opened my eyes and waited for things to clear up before attempting to sit up. “We’ve gotta get going.”
As soon as I was able to, I stood up and began rolling up my bedding. I felt Ragnvaldr’s eyes upon me and I looked to him in my sleepy stupor.
“You’re standing!” he exclaimed.
“OH! Yes, that’s right, I couldn’t sleep so I stayed up last night. I met a guardian and he healed my wounds. He even got the scab on my neck!” I excitedly pointed at my throat.
“That’s great!” Ragnvaldr said as he stuffed our bedding into his bag. I looked around for Tobih. He was nowhere to be seen.
Instantly that sudden excitement was gone, “I don’t see him. I wanted to introduce you to him.” Ragnvaldr’s hand landed on my shoulder.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure we’ll meet again soon.” He assured me, “For now, let’s get to Wolf’s shrine.” I nodded and picked up my bag and scepter. With one glace behind me as we left, I saw a remarkable sight. Carved out of the mountains themselves were the figures of a wolf, bear, leopard, and raven.
We made our way to Wolf’s shrine. As we passed through icy but green trees, the sky began to clear. I hadn’t seen the blue of sky since I first stepped into Hoelbrak. The road was worn and wildlife surrounded the area. Ahead I saw beautiful white wolf cubs dashing around the grass. The trees around us were bottom bare, but the canopy above us was green with pine needles. The ground crunched beneath my feet; Frozen soil broke under my weight. On the way, I began seeing strange flags staked into the ground. They were frozen, a familiar striking blue.
“What are those?” I asked.
“Those are Dragon flags. The Sons of Svanir put them out to mark ‘their territory’. Of course, they’d like to claim the entire Shiverpeaks. We should take them down.” Ragnvaldr replied with a certain disdain in his voice. I grabbed his hand.
“Can we please not bother with them?” I worried. I remembered the pain and fear I had suffered when we encountered them the last time and honestly, it frightened me.
Ragnvaldr stopped in his tracks and stared down at me, “I won’t let anything happen to you.” He clenched my hand in his as he walked us forward and plucked the flag from the ground. My heart began to race. The only thing I could think to do was destroy it before anyone had seen that we picked it up. I grabbed my wand and set it ablaze. It melted instead of burning, and turned into a puddle on the ground. My Norn friend smiled. “We can do this,” He reassured me.
At that moment, I decided I wanted to be braver. I wanted to be more like Ragnvaldr. There was no way I would last on this journey if I didn’t trust in my abilities.
We walked the road, hand in hand, destroying each flag of Dragon we saw. He would toss them into the air and I would melt them with my magic. We went seemingly unnoticed, though I thought nothing of it at the time. I was caught up in the moment. Ragnvaldr appeared to be as well. It didn’t take long for us to reach the shrine in this folly.
The shrine itself was at the foot of a formation of rocks in the middle of the Borealis forest. There were many people gathered what I picked out to be the Wolf Shaman, who stood in front of a stone carving of a wolf portrait decorated with a single candle. We joined in with the group to listen to what he had to say.
“The Sons of Svanir worship a false idol instead of living their lives by the way of our wild gods. It corrupts them and eventually turns them to less than Norn!” The shaman preached, talking loud enough to allow everyone around hear him. “And now, the Sons of Svanir are angered. They take it out by defacing our shrines and killing our spiritual dieties! We must fight back as they bare down on us again. Fight for us and receive the blessing of Wolf!”
Several Norn around us cheered. Ragnvaldr had joined in. I had suddenly realized that I would again be facing the wrath of the Sons of Svanir. This time was different, though. I was surrounded by more who wished to face them and bring them down. Ragnvaldr looked down to me and grinned. I smiled back at him and we followed the crowd, along with several sacred wolves into the heart of the Sons of Svanir camp in Outcast’s Cleft. They didn’t stand a chance against the fourteen Norn and one human who had raided their homes and left them defenseless. It was over before I could even begin to tell what may have went down. My confidence was boosted. I was ready to take on anything Tyria could throw at me. With Wolf’s Blessing, we continued towards Ascalon.
Chapter Four: Ventari’s Refugees
Snowflakes fell gracefully to the ground, one by one, from the few pearly clouds passing above. A soft wind blew through my hair and kicked white powder up from the ground and the sun glinted off of the blanketed ground, sparkling and glistening were the mountainsides. Trees we had just passed shrugged some snow from their limbs and the fauna had taken to prancing around in the fallen snow. It was mostly silent out, save from the songbirds tweeting their lovely tunes. I tucked a lock of hair behind my ear, smiling from the battle we had just won. In truth, I was probably smiling more from my new revelation. My aspiration to become brave like my dear friend, Ragnvaldr.
In that battle, I had cast a new spell. A spell that summoned the powers of fire from the sky: a fire storm. Flame like rain pelted our enemies while melting their flags and totems. That flame helped kindle the one in my heart. With my leg healed, we could now progress to Ascalon, and with the blessing of Wolf, I felt confident in my adventures.
“Oi! Claire!” Came a shout from around the haven in front of us. In the distance I saw a large wagon being pulled with several people riding in the back. I couldn’t make out their features, but I knew who it had to be.
“Tobih?! Is that you?!” I called back as we progressed towards them. Ragnvaldr merely looked from me to the wagon. We became close enough that I recognized that slicked back hair and shining armor. The people around him must have been in his guild. I counted an Asura, a Sylvari, Tobih, a Charr, and a Tengu. Each had their place in the cart, either on the side on a bench, or like Tobih who sat at the edge with his legs hanging off.
“Claire, I didn’t mean to leave so early, but a certain someone wanted to wake up and leave at the crack of dawn.” Tobih regretted with his teeth bared.
“Apology accepted.” I smiled at him and looked at the group behind him, “This is your Guild?”
“Yep. This is them. Well, Angel and Kau are out trying to find a fix for our wagon wheel.” Tobih nodded to the right front wheel that had been taken off and replaced with a crude stone to keep the cart from falling.
As he told me this, a male centaur and female Norn approached. The Norn held the wheel in one hand as if the giant thing was nothing. She stood out from the group specifically to me. As the Norn picked up the rock and tossed it to the side and began to replace the wheel, I made note of her features. She, like Ragnvaldr, had long golden hair, though half of hers was pulled back into a notched braid. Her piercing blue eyes stared intently on the bolts she was replacing and her skin was just as fair as my own. She barely wore anything at all, just a metal plate that barely covered her chest, kept tight by a number of belts, and a long metal and hide skirt that was open in the front. This revealed the number of belts on her legs and the tall fur cuffed boots she was clothed in. Strapped onto her back was a very large greatsword, which she hadn’t even bothered to sheath.
“It’s done, let’s go.” She growled and vaulted herself over the railing of the cart and sat down.
“That’s Angel, she’s a fiery one.” Tobih whispered to me.
“Who are you calling fiery?!” Angel turned and called Tobih out. He just snickered and continued to talk to me.
“We get along well, but you wouldn’t know it looking at us.”
“Put her on the cart if you want to talk to her!” Angel snapped at him. She pulled out a bottle and drank from it, her eyes now staring right through me.
“Ascalon, right?” Tobih asked quickly, cringing at the sound of Angel’s shouting.
I nodded. He threw out a hand and helped me up and motioned for Ragnvaldr to follow. Ragnvaldr and I sat in the middle of the group, on the floor, and Tobih whipped around to face us.
“Oh, this is Ragnvaldr; Ragnvaldr, this is Tobih- the guardian who healed my leg last night.” I pointed at each of them respectively. As I did, the cart started to roll. I looked to see what was pulling it and saw that it was the Centaur. Ragnvaldr had noticed as well.
“How does a Centaur come to pull a cart?” He asked no one in particular.
“I pull the cart because it contributes to our efforts.” The centaur replied in a monotone. His body was broad and toned and his face was incredibly human like. His fur was dusty brown in color, matching his untamed hair and long beard. Twisted horns protruded from atop his head and across his arms were intricate tribal patterns in a shade of mahogany. He pulled the wagon with a belted contraption that was buckled around his chest and front legs.
I felt the rest of the group staring at me so I decided to focus my attention back to Tobiah.
“This is quite the guild.” I changed the subject while playing with a strand of my hair.
“Well, we almost had a Harpy, but Cinder there kept chasing her around.” He referred to the Charr sitting to the left of me, “But we all believe in the same thing and came together naturally. We’re all outcasts or runaways, not counting Tullia and Angel.” The Norn woman glared at us; The Sylvari waved politely.
“Zen Lightfeather came to us from a Tengu family who was forced out of Cantha many years ago.” The old Tengu nodded to us as Tobih explained, “Cinder didn’t agree with the war on humans and was ejected from his Flame Legion warband. Kau left the Tamini recently and had heard of our guild and our dedication to uniting the races against the dragons. Kiffi was ridiculed in Rata Sum by her peers for her enjoyment in nature rather than machine. Angel came to us on her own; She stated that our cause was worthy and the adventure would be grand. And Tullia joined us purely from curiousity.”
I took this opprotunity to explain what Tobih had told me the night before. I, too, admired their efforts and perhaps I would ask to join after the trip was finished.
“We’ll drop you off at the edge of the Diessa Plateau, it’ll save you some time getting there.” Tobih announced to us.
“Thank you. You are too kind.” I replied gratefully.
“I agree. Thank you for your help.” Ragnvaldr added.
Angel took a swig of her drink again. She propped her feet up on the bench across from her own; Her legs now bridged between Tobih and us. She smirked as Tobih glared at her.
“Have you a problem?” She fussed.
“Come on, can’t you leave anyone alone?” The Asura inquired. Kiffi was small, as Asura were, and had light grey skin. Her eyes were a beautiful lavender. Her red hair was done up in twin buns on each side of her head and her ears were floppy and long. She wore green robes that seemed to be just a tad too big for her body. The sleeves easily slipped past her fingertips.
Angel dropped her feet and took another swig of her drink. She smelled strongly of alcohol.
“What takes you to Ascalon?” Angel asked and looked down at me.
“Destiny.” I responded simply.
“Destiny?!” She laughed loudly, nearly spilling the drink on herself, “You believe in that kind of stuff?!”
“Really, don’t mind her,” Tobih smiled as if nothing was off putting about this Norn.
Tullia had fallen back to sleep and was able to sleep through most of the commotion Angel was causing. The Sylvari stirred only once. “She’s not very talkative.” Tobih explained, “Not since her brother was killed months ago.” I wondered how he had passed, but I didn’t want to be rude in asking. Tullia lay against the railing of the cart, her body a pale green while the leaves that made up her hair were a bluish color. Leaves and petals wrapped her body tightly, a dark green in color with hints of blue. By her side was a wooden bow; she was a ranger.
“I’ve never seen a Sylvari in person before.” I stated innocently as I gazed at the flora that made up her human like body.
“Really?” Ragnvaldr and Tobih responded together.
“I haven’t been around much.” I replied shyly. I felt my face grow hot in embarrassment. I had spent most of my current life reading books and staying inside. This group had seen the world.
Tobih held his chin in his hand as he sat with his legs crossed, “That’s hard to believe, but I can see it. Your skin is as pale as fine paper. It would make sense that you haven’t been out in the sun. But you told me you helped save that village. Do you practice inside a home or academy?”
Something clicked in my brain at that moment. I had been trained in an academy! I could remember it. I remembered it as clear as day.
“Is she okay?” Tobih asked as he leaned over towards me. Ragnvaldr was holding me as I laid my head on his shoulder.
“I had it. I had it and it just… It disappeared.” Tears streaked my cheeks. I had gotten a glimpse into my past, but it disappeared as soon as I had any grasp on it. I came out of it with only the vision of a metal gate surrounded by beautiful white stone.
‘Are you okay?” Ragnvaldr’s voice called.
“Claire?” Tobih placed his cool hand on my cheek. I was okay. I wanted to tell them I was okay, but I kept trying to keep the memory alive, to try and revive those which were lost. I feared that if I opened my mouth, the vision of the gate would disappear as well.
“Oh, come on!” Angel scoffed and stood up. She rolled her eyes and approached me. When she got to me, she moved Tobih’s hand off of my cheek and sat me upright. “I don’t tolerate crybabies on my cart. Get over it or get off.”
Tobih sat back and merely watched.
“Angel, leave her alone. Seriously.” Kiffi demanded and stood up as well. The movement of the cart managed to knock her down.
I sat there and just watched as it all happened.
“Kau, stop the cart.” Angel ordered. Kau obeyed and the cart halted. Kiffi stood back up and dusted herself off..
Angel picked me up. At this point I had already snapped out of my stupor and was fighting her grip. She dumped me off the cart and followed me by jumping to the ground.
“Come on, we’re going to fight it out of your system.” Angel beckoned as she unhooked the sword from her back.. Kiffi hid her face in her hand and shook her head. Tullia had woken up at the moment the cart had stopped and was now staring intently, as were Zen and Cinder. Tobih, smiling, did his best to hold Ragnvaldr back. I merely stood there, bewildered. I didn’t dare draw my wand against this warrior. It wouldn’t be a fair fight. Angel shook her head with a smirk and ran at me with the sword. I barely dodged but I tumbled into the snow.
“No, I’m not going to fight you!” I shouted at her as I rolled to dodge another swing, kicking up snow towards her.
“I suggest you do if you want to keep that pretty head of yours.” She retorted as she shielded herself from the snow.
Ragnvaldr pushed past Tobih and jumped off the cart. I knew he was coming to break up the fight, the look on his face confirmed it. That spark ignited in my heart again. I didn’t want to be a damsel in distress any longer. “I can do this.” I whispered under my breath. I held my hand out to signal Ragnvaldr to stay where he was and gripped my wand. Angel had stopped long enough to watch, a smirk spread across her face. It was obvious that she had realized I would continue the fight with her.
We stood, watching each other for the moment. Her crystal eyes stared right into my, unmoving. I couldn’t say the same for my eyes were scanning her to and fro. She made her move. As she ran forward, I dodged, dragging my wand close to the ground and leaving streaks of flames in a trail that ended at my toes. She ran through them, the tips of the flames hitting close to her knees and singing parts of her garments. Angel rolled into the ground, cooling off the armor in the snow as she did and stood up as quickly as she had fallen.
In the minute moments she spent dodging my attacks, I had already conjured up a phoenix shaped flame. As a Norn warrior, she was slow enough that with a little planning, I could land my fiery attacks on her. Sending the bird off, it flew into her, creating an explosion as it hit. She attempted a retreat, but it was too late. I felt confident.
What I didn’t see was that, at the last second of her roll, she had sent her greatsword flying in my direction. It landed just millimeters from my right side. I stood perfectly still, staring down at the sword and realized that she hadn’t been the slow one in the battle, she was just giving me a chance. I took a deep breath, realizing I had been holding it as soon as I had seen the sword hurtling towards me. It now lay standing in the snow, I could touch it by so much as twitching. Her aim was dead accurate even in the midst of battle.
Angel brushed herself off and walked to the sword. The Norn grabbed it as she passed by me, leaving me standing in awe. Tobih was clapping in the background, laughing and cheering. Turning, I saw that the rest of the group had resumed their activities, save from Kiffi who had her face in her hand.
The battle had only lasted a few minutes, but I was already out of breath. I knew that I needed to train; hesitating in battle would bring a quick end to me, being slow was just as dangerous.
Ragnvaldr met me where I rested, “Are you okay? Need any help getting back?”
“I’m fine.” I sighed and advanced back to the cart. Angel threw out her hand this time from atop the cart. I looked inquisitively at it and then up to her.
“At least you have guts.” She smiled and motioned for me to take her hand. As I did, she lifted me up with great force. She pushed me back into a seat next to her and took out a flask. Ragnvaldr joined up, taking his seat back on the floor and keeping an eye on the Norn warrior.
“Sorry!’ I mouthed to Ragnvaldr, who seemed a little upset that I was so far from him. Honestly, I longed to still sit beside him, though I didn’t want Angel to challenge me again. She was starting to smell strongly of grog; her flask was bigger than my head. No use in offending a drunk Norn like her. I spent what time I could regaining my breath from the duel.
Ragnvaldr faced the end of the cart, staring off at the landscape as Kau resumed carrying the cart. I focused on my friend and realized that he was probably more than that to me. I had grown so accustomed to him being by my side. Earlier, we had held hands and ran through the Borealis. He had carried me when I was unable to walk. It hadn’t been long since I first met him, but our connection had been strong and we had had so much fun together.
Snapping myself out of my stupor, I realized what had happened. I was beginning to fall in love with my Norn friend.
“I assume you came from Kryta.” Cinder spoke up, turning to me. Suddenly, the group had opened up to us. It was as if they had become comfortable when Angel decided to relax. Kiffi had engaged Ragnvaldr in conversation as well.
“Yes. I guess you could say that.” I responded and shifted my eyes.
“She say’s she’s from Divinity’s Reach.” Tobih added, wheeling around to face the both of us.
“Divinity’s Reach, eh? I once tried to climb their wall. Guards got mad and started shooting at me.” Angel chuckled and took another sip of her flask.
“I heard there was a Modniir attack there a few days ago,” Kau said over the ruckus of the cart, ‘Has that been taken care of?”
“Yes, it has. I was there personally. One of the High Sages summoned a giant pair of hands made of stone and earth.” I replied to him, “It was difficult magic to take down.”
“I’m sure they’re right back for another attack in a week’s time,” Kau sighed.
“Are there any Charr in Divinity’s Reach?” Cinder spoke again, brushing her hair from her face with her white paw.
“I’m sure I’ve seen a few, but I don’t get out very much.” I answered. Her tail swished back and forth.
“That’s good to hear. We need to have more peace like that. The recent news of permissions for human entry to the Black Citadel has me excited to see that take place in cities all over Tyria.
Tullia remained asleep, though I had my doubts that she was really sleeping at this point. I could have sworn I saw her eyes open just the slightest every few minutes. Zen also remained rather quiet. He looked old and tired and I really couldn’t blame him.
“So how do you like Ventari’s Refugees?” Tobih asked. He saw my confusion, not familiar with the name and aimed to clear it up with a smile. “Our guild. We named ourselves after the refugees that came to Ventari to live peaceful lives. My dad named it in his prime.”
“What happened to him?” I asked.
“Someone poisoned him. You want to live a life of peace and someone poisons you in hate. Go figure.” He replied and then quickly changed the subject, “Do you belong to a Guild? Either of you?” Tobih also looked to Ragnvaldr as he asked.
“No.” We both responded together. I smiled as I glanced to my friend.
“If you’re interested, we can take you guys in if you believe in the cause, after you finish your journey of course.” Tobih offered.
“Angel will force you to believe in it anyways.” Kiffi remarked with a scoff. Still, she grinned as much as Tobih as she said this.
I nodded, “You know, I would love to.”
“If she’s in, I’m in.” Ragnvaldr responded.
“Then it is settled!” Tobih exclaimed with glee and patted me on the knee. The weather had changed again; it was now throwing flurries at us again. The sky had turned grey again really quickly. Flakes fell slowly and distanced from one another. The horizon became hazy and the visibility was becoming limited. The wind tussled my hair ever so lightly, the cool breeze stole warmth from my face with each gust.
Angel suddenly passed her flask to me. I waved my hands, “No, I don’t want any, but thank you.”
She lowered her eyes at me, “Have some.”
“Really, I’d rather not.”
“It will put some hair onto your chest.”
“No, no, I really don’t want any hair on my chest.” I continued to reason.
“Just take it.” She growled and pushed it into my hands. I proceeded to cap it and drop it back into her lap.
“I don’t really drink.” I responded and cowered in my seat. I looked at Ragnvaldr, hoping he could see my pleas for help.
“She doesn’t drink, Angel.” Kiffi sighed and faced me, “I’m sorry she’s so forceful. No one really challenges her so she’s used to getting her way.”
“Shut up, Kif.” Angel glared and stomped her foot by Kiffi’s. The Asura sat there without flinching.
“You just have to keep persistent in denying her requests.” Kiffi warned me as she folded her arms. The sleeves hid her small, light hands.
Angel forced the flask back onto me and taking Kiffi’s advice, I pushed it right back.
“Ugh, you’re no fun!” She whined and uncapped her flask again. This time she handed it to Ragnvaldr, “Show your friend the Norn’s way of drinking.”
“I don’t drink either.” He told her in a bold voice, “You may be able to swing your sword when you’re drunk, but I can’t aim an arrow when I’m under the influence. If you would have offered me any back in Hoelbrak, I would have taken it, but now I’ve got a friend who needs my help.”
I blushed and drew my attention to the road in front of the cart. The next several minutes were filled with arguing between Angel and Ragnvaldr. My thoughts were drawn to Ragnvaldr again. My heart throbbed violently in my chest and I’m sure my face was more red than a Canthan New Year.
The snow continued to fall in its slow flurry state. By now, the snow had already began sticking to each of our clothing and hair. i attempted to brush it off from the fur coat, but it managed to stick to the ends of the fur. I frowned but dismissed it quickly. Then I heard Kiffi snap at Angel again. I looked to her, “You don’t speak like any Asuran I have met.”
She raised her eyebrows in surprise, “What do you mean?”
“You… Well, frankly, you speak like a human. I mean, I can understand what you’re saying.” I stuttered, hating myself for not thinking it through.
She laughed, slapping her knee as she did, “That’s one of the reasons I didn’t fit in back at Rata Sum. Even I can’t understand them half the time. I don’t think they understand themselves.”
I grinned at the Asura, “I’m glad to see an Asura I can finally understand, maybe even get along with.”
“You may as well be taking away Bear! You are a Norn! You’re born to drink!” I heard Angel yell out very close to my ear. She threw her arms up, splashing us with droplets of her drink. I searched for something to help clean up with. I took my sleeve to the many small droplets, promising myself that I would wash my clothing soon. It soaked right through the frost blue fabric, leaving a dark spot on the sleeve. Pulling the coat sleeve back over it hid the spot from view.
“We can’t be limited to our stereotypes.” Ragnvaldr argued back.
“It isn’t a stereotype, it’s a way of life!” Angel shouted close to his face. Her blonde hair tumbled down her shoulders and I got a good look at how long it actually was. Though strands had obviously been cut through, leaving it quite choppy in some places, the hair was longer than her back was, longer than I was tall.
Kiffi had become as distracted as I was by the shouting; we were both watching the two now.
Zen threw his arms into the air, moving his fingers around as if controlling a puppet on a set of strings. His feathers ruffled and his eyes became a shade more brilliant than Kiffi’s purple.”No more fighting or I’ll turn you into a Moa.” Zen threatened, his voice old and light. Angel appeared to be caught in her current position, unable to move. He slowly dropped his arms; Angel threw herself back against the bench and crossed her arms. She refused to look at anyone. Zen returned to his previous postion and didn’t speak again. The group was more balanced that I had originally thought.
The sun had begun to set around the time we passed through the second haven where Jora’s statue was located. I edged my way to the floor and sat beside Ragnvaldr. One day, the two of us would also be Ventari’s Refugees. We could all fight for peace together.
It was just beyond Dolyaks’ pass that we were preparing to leave the group and continue our journey alone. The sun was low, creating a low light that couldn’t find it’s way through the thick clouds. It had grown dark around us, though the snow seemed to glow just enough to light our way. Flurries continued to fall around us, sticking to our clothing and weapons, even the cart that had been moving. With my wand, I had summoned a small flame that we had all shared together on the ride here. We sat by the small warmth and the guild told stories of their adventures, of how they met. I envied their friendships and their goals the entire time. I had never met a stranger bunch of people though they were generally very friendly. Even Angel had opened up to us and boasted about her adventures. It was a short time that we had spent together, but it was also valuable. I looked forward to joining their guild after completing my journey.
The soft wind blew through my hair; it was a beautiful night. I basked in the cold air, hiding in the shelter of my coat, as I climbed from the cart with everyone else. It was here that we would say our goodbyes and parting for the time being. I felt sad, leaving them. It was as if I had known them for longer than a few hours; they were like friends to me. I first gave Tobih an embracing hug. I was hoping that I would see them again one day. In the back of my mind, I knew there was a chance that we would never cross paths again.
“Thank you for everything. Promise me that we’ll meet again.” I begged of him softly. Though I was smiling I was also fighting tears back.
“Of course. Fate has threaded us all together and there is no way we could miss one another.” He responded as he let me go from his own embrace. I nodded and faced Angel, who I had to nearly break my neck to stare up at.
“Don’t start being a crybaby again.” She scowled and stared away from my eyes. With her arms crossed, she looked uncaring, but deep inside, I knew she was upset. I knew she could see the tears I was holding back, “If we meet again, I’ll challenge you to a real battle, so become stronger.”
“Of course,” I wiped at my eye to ensure no tears had fallen, “I’ll make it a goal to show you up next time.” Chuckling, I hugged at her lower body. Angel picked me up and took me into a crushing bear hug.
Kiffi stood next to her, a grin on her tiny Asuran face. She took my hands as Angel let me go. Her sleeves fell over her hands and covered the tips of my fingers. “Can’t wait to have you back with us. And, ah, could you take some leaves in your journey? I don’t seem to have any from Ascalon yet and we aren’t due there for another few years.”
Looking down at Kiffi, I replied, “If I could, I’d bring you an entire tree back. I’ll get your leaves, just keep Angel in check until I get back.”
She looked as if she were thinking hard about accepting the conditions for a moment. Her gray hand cradled her chin, “…It’s a deal.”
“Help! Somebody, help!” We all heard the frantic cry. Without hesitation, each of us drew our weapons and dashed towards the cry. It was probably the merchant cart we had passed on the road. The snow pelted my face as we ran, the wind stung my cheeks. It didn’t matter now, the cold; What mattered was that we could be there to help someone in need.
I first saw the shadows dancing on the ground behind lamplight. Tall and sharp, the Sons of Svanir had managed to make their way down the hill to pick another fight. The cowards had shown their true face this time; Attacking a single merchant and his ox was pathetic considering the man clearly had nothing in his cart at the time. Fury and rage burst within me and without hesitation I set each and every Son of Svanir in the group on fire. They had to notice us at this point. While some managed to douse the fire on themselves, others completely ignored it and charged forward. I was the first target, being the closest to them. The other members of my party had stood back after seeing me cast an unknown spell.
As the first warrior approached me, I rolled backwards, leaving a trail of fire in my wake as I edged my wand against the ground, but not without the consequence of singing the side of my leg. Tobih surrounded us with a protective shelter as I rolled in, soothing my burn instantly. The sanctuary was much like a large visible bubble and inside it, I felt healthy enough to take all our enemies on. Angel rushed forward and met the warrior’s axe with her own greatsword. As she did, the three rangers, Ragnvaldr, Kiffi, and Tullia loaded their bows, long and short alike. In succession each one fired their first arrow. Ragnvaldr’s came from the back and hit a foe who was previously casting in the distance. The Son of Svanir was down for the count. Tullia, who loomed just over Kiffi, fired a shot that hit the shin of another Son of Svanir, sending him to the ground. He stood, though crippled, and continued to walk forward at a much slower pace. Kiffi’s arrow grazed the side of the same foe’s temple. It tore at the skin, leaving the flesh underneath revealed. He staggered a bit and held his head, completely dazed in the battle.
Kau tapped the butt of his staff to the ground. The effects weren’t immediately noticeable, but at the moment that lightning struck each of our opponents, some began to choke on the air around them, while others backed away in confusion. Angel charged at the rest of them, having cut down her target already.
Zen, on the other hand, had been focusing on aiming his dagger. He threw it with finesse between the group of us and hit one of the Sons of Svanir successfully in the throat. As the enemy collapsed, I saw the tension of a thread I hadn’t seen previously, attached to the dagger, fall tight. Zen used the string, tied around his middle finger, to return the dagger to himself.
As I was able to cast my last fireball, Cinder and Angel made quick work of the rest of the group, including any of my targets. Tobih unshielded us and stood up straight.
“Everyone okay?” He asked. We all spoke up, none of us having any injuries.
“Nice work. Quick battle though.” Angel began tying the massive sword to her back again.
I turned around to face Ragnvaldr. Over his shoulder I saw another Son of Svanir, this time his dagger was ready to plunge into Ragnvaldr’s back. I summoned all of my being into one single attack. I was afraid, mostly. I couldn’t think of losing him. I didn’t even remember moving my wand as it felt like I was watching from above. It started out as a small flame, but it eventually engulfed the entire body of my foe. Everyone turned to watch as the flame grew brighter and brighter. It eventually died down, leaving nothing more than the charred remains of the enemy there.
I could feel the color drain from my face; my mind went absolutely numb. I had killed someone. I had actually killed someone. As I stared down at the body, I felt myself becoming sick. I heard the muffled voices of the group but I couldn’t make sense of them. Nothing made sense at the moment. Before I could stop myself, I let out a piercing scream. I felt a hand cover my mouth and an arm holding my own arms to my side. Everything was sort of fuzzy, out of place. The fact that I was lifted right off the ground didn’t even phase me. All I could think about was the body in front of me. I had never killed someone before, injuring was all I ever did. People were killed everyday, but I wasn’t like them. I never killed anyone. Everyone deserved to live. I couldn’t have killed someone.
“We need to get her to the cart.”
I was being carried, though slowly slipping from their grip.
“What happened? She was fine!”
“She’s just being a baby again. Crying for attention.”
“I don’t think she’s ever killed someone.”
“Never killed? Not likely.”
“What’s important is that we get her to the cart and calm her down.”
The voices were muffled. I couldn’t tell who was who by voice alone. Their words barely reached my ears. They were only half formed into thoughts.
The warm breeze blew across my face as I plunged into a sudden light. The rolling green hills surrounded me were covered in the most dazzling warm shades. These trees shed some of their leaves with each gust of wind. Standing beside me was the stalker from earlier. She was my pet. Everyone else had already gone back into the academy building. I stayed here, eating my lunch- a simple sandwich. With each bite, I felt less and less of the gnawing pain at my stomach. Staring around me, everything was familiar. The trees, the hills, the sky, the creek; all of these surroundings reminded me that I was home.
The cat let out a low growl as she looked up at me with her big golden eyes. I petted her head and tore off a piece of my sandwich. I threw it to her; she caught it in her mouth effortlessly. It was fun so I threw another piece. The stalker caught it just as she had before. Laughing, I continued to pet her head once again. She moved her way around my hand, pressing it to the back of her ears. That was her favorite spot. I scratched behind her ears and she would close her eyes; content. I guess we were both feeling it.
These warm winds blowing through my hair arrived yearly. Up from the Crystal Dessert, which I wished to roam one day. You could almost smell the aroma of sand in these winds; after picking up the moisture from the Ascalonian lakes, it was warm enough to cure any chill without having you break out in a sweat. Since I was a little girl, I always enjoyed these winds. In only a matter of months, snow would grace the green lands of Ascalon. With the predictable weather, the farmers always knew when to plant and when to harvest. The land was the best for growing any crop. I was grateful I could live here in this paradise.
Attacks were at an all time low. With the better guards now healed from old battles, they could stand to protect our land from enemy attacks again. Only a few months ago, there were new graduates from the academy. Top of the class students enlisted, but they no longer seemed to need anyone else at the wall. Peaceful times were truly at hand.
My pet growled at me again, “I’m not giving you anymore, I have to eat, too, you know! You’ll get food when we get back to our room.” She laid down in the grass, crossing one paw over the other and stared at my sandwich as I finished it. My next class wasn’t until another two hours. It would be much longer until I could graduate from the academy as well.
It wasn’t my parents decision to send me here. When I was young I had always dreamed of attending the academy. The elementalists who graduated the school usually became the best in the country; I wanted to be like them and defend our lands. Joining the Ascalonian army would be a great honor and I was ensured a spot upon graduation. Best of all, I was currently top of my class; the best fire elementalist in the school at the moment.
I looked up to the white-gold towers of the academy building from behind the wall. The plaza where we had lunch was close to the training arena just behind the towering wall that lay behind the main building. I could hear the clink of swords; this time of day, the warriors would be training with monks by their sides. In the many voices that called out, I heard one more so than any other, Sir Tydus’. He was in charge of training the warriors and rangers of the academy. His voice was loud and tough, but every warrior looked up to him.
The building glowed in the little sunlight left; the bright ivy covered building stood out against the dark clouds that were rolling in. In the arena, the warrior training had ceased and it all became quiet. It was unusual; The class usually lasted at least an hour on most days. They couldn’t have been there for even half of one today. Perhaps it was the storm coming in. I would stay out here a little longer, though. It would be a while before the clouds even got to the academy.
The stalker became restless. She stood and stretched and began to walk circles around my table. I laid my hand on top her head to calm her down, petting back and forth and scratching behind her ears. Her tail waved behind her as she reluctantly stopped pacing. Two classmates walked at the back of the academy, headed towards the entrance.
“Did you hear? Some of the students found a Charr in a cave behind the academy. Sir Tydus and a few of his students are going out to investigate.” The first female gossiped. That’s why class ended so early. A Charr had made it this far?
“I heard Prince Rurik was going with them.” The other girl replied to her friend. It was nice knowing that we had a Prince who was willing to battle for our lands rather than making decisions behind a castle wall.
“That’s probably just a rumor.” The first friend discredited with a frown, “Could you imagine Prince Rurik to go out and take care of a lone Charr?”
“You’re probably right.” They disappeared into the building.
A warm breeze blew over us again; leaves swirled around our feet. I saw lightening strike in our backdrop and it was soon followed by thunder. I opened the book I had brought out. I kept it in one hand, open and in front of my face while my other hand still rested on the large cat’s head. My class would have a physical quiz on summoning meteors from space to aid in our battles later today. I wanted to make sure I was absolutely studied on it as much as I’ve practiced. Chin up, wand up. Imagine yourself in the vastness of space itself.
A rumbling brought me out of my reading. The sky around me had grown dark very quickly, much more quickly than I originally thought it would. “I guess that means that we should head back inside,” I mentioned to my companion and stood up. The clouds in the distance had lit up. I thought it may have been lightning at first, but the sky had turned, and stayed, an eerie red. My stalker stood in front of me and we watched the sky grow to the color of flames. What could it be? It couldn’t be the storm. No storm I had ever seen acted this way. I came to the realization that it was over Charr territory. I could feel it; fear and dread filled my heart.
All at once the sky rained down on the land. Crystals fell from the sky and pelted the earth and buildings around me. I screamed as the left spire of the academy crumbled and nearly fell on top of me. No place was safe as it all crumbled and burst into flames around us. I crouched and shielded my head and my pet underneath with my hands and body. The country I had grown up in, that I had lived all of my life in was igniting before me. Screams sounded around academy; crying and calling for help filled the air around us but they were barely heard from the pounding on the land and buildings created by the crystals. People were dying around me, crushed and burning to death. I wanted to help them. I stood up, but as I did, a glowing crystal struck the ground before me, sending us flying backwards and into the side of a wrought-iron fence. I looked over to my companion to make sure she was okay. Struggling to stand, I looked her over and despaired at the rock that had landed atop one of her back legs. I grabbed it with more might than I thought I had in me and threw it off from her. As I did, more rocks and dirt pelted us from behind. I crouched again, shielding her with my body once more. There was nothing I could do to help all of them. My friends, my classmates, the elders I had come to know and love- they were all dying around me.
“Please! Please make it stop!” I cried, tears streaming from my face as more debris hit my back. I couldn’t even hear myself through the chaos. Then, the ground was quiet. The crystals stopped falling, but the air was thick with dust and smoke. Screams still echoed around me. I stood up and looked around. Everything, from human made to nature, was in shambles. The very grass was burnt beneath my feet. The only trees still standing were burning around us. The sky around the entire country had been turned the same eerie red as I had seen before and was filled with the smoke and dust created by the devastation.
I sat down beside my companion and watched the world move around me. Monks and guards were now running to and fro, helping who they could. I just sat with my injured stalker and stared in disbelief and sorrow at the state of our once great country.