I awoke that morning to the smell of grilled poultry. The heat from the crackling flames had kept most of the cot warm and I once again found myself not wanting to leave the confines of the blanket I lay under. I sat up and wrapped the blanket around myself. It had to have been late morning and the shadows off the trees confirmed it. The song of birds sounded through the plant life around us as a cool breeze rustled the needles of the pine trees. Sunlight soaked the land while only a few wispy clouds floated delicately through the cool blue sky. As I stretched and rubbed my eyes, I saw Ragnvaldr finishing up what looked to be sandwiches.
I ran my fingers through my hair, realizing quickly how messy it was. I was much to lazy at the moment to walk to my bag and take out a brush. The breeze made it difficult to straighten it out so I gave up and pulled the blanket over my head instead.
“Finally awake?” I heard Ragnvaldr say to me as he walked towards the cot. I nodded and pulled the blanket away from my face. Handed a meaty sandwich, I took it with gratitude. The realization that I had spent the night next to Ragnvaldr in his cot had caught up with me. I knew what I was doing then, but I wasn’t quite sure I knew now. I could feel my cheeks turning red and I tried to hide it as I bit into my breakfast. As I did, I snuck glances at my Norn friend and tried to gauge how he felt about it. He must have seen right through me for he placed his hand on my shoulder when he sat beside me.
“I don’t mind if I wake up to your face everyday.” He assured me. I could tell that he was flustered as well. My stomach was full of butterflies and my cheeks surely grew redder than any apple. I continued to devour my meal, unsure of how to respond to his words.
“There were some bandits on the road last night,” I changed the subject after a few moments of silence.
“Close?” He seemed happy to change the subject away from the silence as well.
“I fought them off, so a little.” I pulled out a small jug and drank from the reserved water to wash the stiff bread down.
“You did? I can assume it went well.” Ragnvaldr sounded a little surprised. He finished his own food.
“I let them go.” I replied, “I don’t think they’ll bother us again, despite the ill words the Charr spoke.”
“You fought off a Charr?”
“I guess I’m a regular Gwen.” I joked and smiled. I then passed him the reserve. “We should be getting into Ascalon today, right?”
He nodded and partook of the water, “It’s not far down this road. We can head towards the Black Citadel and restock. Staying the night there would play to our advantage and then we’ll head down to the Ascalon City Ruins.”
I couldn’t believe I was already this close to finding out who I really was. Two days away from the goal I had set out on. Even if I was just some peasant working the fields, it was better to know who I used to be.
We packed up and continued to our descent across the mountainside. The frost on the ground began to disappear as we progressed and the scenery was beginning to change. The pine trees were replaced with ash, maple, and oak. The leaves were beautiful hues of orange, yellow, red and green. The grass underneath it all was lifeless and yellow, however. Though you couldn’t tell the land had been scorched by looking at it, stepping onto it told another story. The dirt was lose and crunchy beneath the blades of dead grass, but there was hope for the land in nearly every field. Life had returned to the soil and though there were no iris flowers, small flowers had sprouted from the ground here and there.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large construction. We eventually walked towards it and I could get a better look it. The location was made nearly entirely from metal. Steel plates formed a sphere like wall that bounced the sunlight off of it in several directions. Though impressive, it was almost terrifying that someone could build something that looked so unsturdy. It was several stories tall with a blackened metal ramp leading up to an entrance. True to the name, this had to be the Black Citadel, central station of the Charr. It stood where Nolani and Rin once used to, and upon realizing that, I let out a gasp.
Ragnvaldr looked to me and I stopped.
“This was the last hope of our people.” I whispered in awe and in sorrow. My heart felt heavy as I remembered what the once great city had looked like.
“This was Rin?”, Ragnvaldr asked and I nodded quickly, “I’ve heard the stories of it, but I never knew the Black Citadel was built on it.”
“What did you hear of it?” I wondered and looked up to him, keeping the citadel in the corner of my eye.
“A prince once fought for it. There was something about a horn-“
“Stormcaller,” I informed and allowed him to continue.
“Stormcaller.” He corrected, “It put out the Charr fires and weakened their forces. In the end, the prince won with the help of several heroes, but Rin was nothing more than a burnt husk of what it used to be. This is where the prince and the king parted ways. After that, bits of Ascalon kept falling to the Charr.” This is where I was the least informed and only knew of the things I had read in books. “Ascalon City was the final battleground. As the Charr invaded, the king called upon a terrible power. A pillar of light appeared, we call it the Foefire, and destroyed everyone around, turning the humans caught in it into ghosts who could never reach the afterlife.”
“They didn’t want to be ghosts, did they?” I questioned quietly, bowing my head.
“I don’t know.” He responded and place a hand on my shoulder. I knew he understood how I felt. This was the land of my people. Knowing that some of my friends had grown to serve in the king’s guards, I couldn’t help but to wonder if they had met the same fate. Suddenly, I began to dread seeing Ascalon. I didn’t want to find a friend who had to endure such an event.
Ragnvaldr pulled me close, “I wonder what Charr food tastes like.” He had changed the subject again.
I obliged him, “Probably a little charred.” The pun was more of an attempt to cheer myself up. He laughed and we began to proceed to the Citadel. We had suddenly stepped into a Charr metropolis. Almost everything was made entirely of metal, some of it rusted. There stood the large metal sphere in the middle of the city, its black metal gleaming in the sunlight. Both Ragnvaldr and I stared in awe at the metallic structure. Single buildings existed in and out of the large globe as well as several stories that each one could rest on. There were statues erected in the Citadel along each of the ramps and each statue depicted a Charr hero.
“Could we find a bank? After last night, I don’t feel comfortable holding this much money on my person.” I requested and hoped that we could find a map somewhere. As we searched for a bank, there was more for my eyes to see than just buildings. The Charr had built war machines and they were on display throughout the city. Some were like carts, except they had no need for an animal to pull them. On top were large canons and guns, making it obvious that you wouldn’t want to see one in battle. The Charr was an advanced war prone race, and this was absolutely frightening.
“I think I see the bank.” Ranvaldr pulled me from my thoughts just as two Charr cubs cut in front of me. I stopped quickly enough to not tumble over them, luckily. He was pointing at a building with a tent over the front.
We made our way there and I approached the first free teller I saw, “I would like to make a deposit.” I was busy getting my identification papers out when I heard a scruffy voice respond.
“Your papers, human.” The Charr teller’s voice was low and almost like a purr. I finally pulled them out, this time they were neat; the crease had been bent back into place thanks to leaving them in my journal.
“Alucardalina Claire…” He said as he took the papers, “A courier left some mail for you. Said his bird couldn’t track you down.”
“Really? I didn’t imagine it would be too difficult to find me. I’ve been traveling the main roads.” I picked out my gold pieces and put them in a smaller satchel before handing them over. The Charr took the satchel towards the back and returned a few moments later with a rolled letter.
“Thank you, sir.” I gave a slight bow before leaving the bank’s tent.
“A message?” Ragnvaldr asked as I walked to him.
“Yes. It’s printed on Faren’s paper.” I had recognized it as soon as the Charr came out with it. It was a specific kind of paper made from an elder tree.
“Faren?” He questioned and I realized I had never told him about Faren.
“He’s a friend from Divinity’s Reach. He can be a little overbearing at times, but he’s been good to me… I saved his life.” I explained.
“I see.” Was Ragnvaldr’s response. I knew he was trying to size up his competition.
“We’re just friends though, I couldn’t imagine being with a guy who flirts with every girl in town.” I chuckled and unrolled the letter. As I read through it, my heart began to race. “Oh no.”