We traveled through the cool night; the wet ground squished under our boots. Other than that, everything was silent. I hadn’t gained the courage to talk again since we decided to keep traveling through at least part of the night. My eyes watched the area around us. I felt as if we were being watched. There were no candles lit here, no beacon to guide our travels. The small crystal of my wand glowed, showing us the path we were walking, but it virtually blocked out everything beyond it’s light, which wasn’t showing but a few feet around the both of us. We hadn’t prepared for night travel, because we had agreed at the beginning of journey to only travel during the day. Our back-tracking had influenced our will to travel during the night, though. I was happy with my new clothes, though. The ice blue circle skirt just touched my knees with exquisite winter blue drapery down the front as well as embroidered details. The top had a sailor cut collar and long belled sleeves. The Charr hadn’t been able to find the gloves or headpiece to the set, but I managed to walk away with a pair of nice boots to go with my ensemble.
Of course, all of this was paled by the emotions running rampant in my mind. I hadn’t even looked at Ragnvaldr for the past hour or two.
A twig snapped. I wheeled around and showered the area I had heard the snap from with light from the scepter. Nothing was there. I surveyed the area and sighed. I felt a hand rest on my shoulder. After jumping a bit, I realized it was Ragnvaldr’s.
“Perhaps we should rest,” he mentioned in a mere whisper. He kept his hand on my shoulder. I observed how big his hand was and for a moment it seemed foreign.
“No, not here anyway. I just can’t shake this feeling that we’re being watched,” I replied and turned around to continue following our path.
“I know what you mean. I feel it too,” my friend confessed. “But once we find a nice safe rock, I think we should set up camp.”
I nodded in agreement as he began to walk beside me again. I glanced at him, noticing ,as I had when I met him, just how tall he was compared to myself. As I did, I saw something faint beyond the path. It was hard to see through the dim light, but there was certainly something there. I tugged at Ragnvaldr’s duster to grab his attention.
“The scout did mention ghosts,” Ragnvaldr reminded me and a shudder instantly fell through my spine. I could feel the goosebumps on my arms as I looked towards the area I had seen the apparition. Hopefully, it was just a hog or something, but it had already disappeared.
“Can we hurry away from here? I don’t think I can handle ghosts in the dark.” It was the honest truth. I felt as if I could stand up to one during the day, but the dark obscured everything in my vision. My depth perception was terrible during the night and I wouldn’t be able to fight very efficiently in the dark.
“Wait, is that one there?” He asked, pointing towards an old stone building.
“I don’t want to know. Let’s just go.” I stuttered and gripped tightly onto the handle of my weapon. Ragnvaldr took one of my hands from the wand and held it tight.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so frightened,” He teased. “Ghosts are nothing to be afraid of. Instead, I pity a man who can’t reach the mists.”
I wasn’t really listening. Paranoia had rushed over me and I was scanning the area around me for everything. I could see things running, or just out of the corner of my eye. I was positive they weren’t really there, but my mind was tricking my eyes which lead my eyes to trick my mind. Each time I jumped, though, I felt Ragnvaldr’s grip tighten again around my hand. It was comforting.
The path opened up and I could finally see the night sky above our heads. The moon had appeared from the clouds and was casting a small amount of light over the land. It illuminated my first glimpse of the northern wall that night. Though it was in ruin it was still beautiful and breathtaking.
We set up camp on a rocky patch. Since the earth around us was wet from the rain, we had opted to instead place our cots on the rocks and sleep there. Ragnvaldr prepared dinner as I set up the cots. Again, things had become silent. I couldn’t tell if these advances were from him being friendly or if he still wanted something more of our current relationship. After unrolling our bedding, I laid on mine and stared at the sky. Clouds rolled over the moon and then left it again. A cold breeze blew through the autumn leaves. I ducked underneath my blanket to keep warm. The sound of cicadas and crickets echoed around us.
“You’re awfully quiet tonight,” His voice broke through the relative silence of the night. He brought over a plate of steak and bread and set it down in front of me. Ragnvaldr’s portable grill top had proved to be useful once again. He sat beside me on the cot as I sat up to eat. “I hope you like your steak rare,” Ragnvaldr chimed in.
I cut into the steak, and sure enough, there was blood oozing from it.. I took a bite of it; as usual, his cooking was absolutely amazing. The steak was tender and juicy with just the right amount of seasonings on it.
“So, tell me, what’s on your mind that has your tongue-tied,” He requested as he finished chewing his first bite.
“It’s nothing, really,” I lied and took a piece of the bread in my mouth.
“You’ve always been a terrible liar. Spill it,” it was a demand this time. I sighed and pushed the plate away. Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry anymore.
He brushed a few fallen strands of his hair back with his hand in a look of hard contemplation. After a long pause, he responded, “Sleep on it and tell me tomorrow. Obviously it’s eating at you a good bit. You haven’t really been yourself today and I’d really love it if you ate enough to keep yourself going tomorrow.”
I felt terrible for not telling him, but I didn’t know how to even begin to bring it up. I was more worried about making a fool of myself and getting my own feelings hurt. Still, I nodded and stomached the rest of my dinner despite a lost appetite.
Dinner finished without another word. I knew that I had frustrated Ragnvaldr and it really was bothering me to no end. As I lay on my cot, I couldn’t sleep. I stared into the sky again. The stars were more visible here, even through the thin clouds. It seemed that he couldn’t sleep either. Usually, I could hear his light snoring by now, but it was quieter than usual. I couldn’t take the silence anymore.
“How-How do you…” I stuttered and stumbled over my own words. “…feel about me?”
I heard him turn over in his cot. “My feelings haven’t changed at all. If anything, they’re stronger.” I gave it some thought. My heart was torn between being able to give him the life he wanted or the love he wanted from me. He then questioned, “Wait, this isn’t about the family thing, is it? I understand if you don’t want to be related to my sister…” He was obviously joking.
“It isn’t that, really.” I replied with a sigh. He pulled his cot close to mine and lay next to me. His blue eyes studying my face.
“I know it isn’t. I put two and two together through the silence today. I don’t need kids to be happy for the rest of my life. I’m fine with anything life throws at me and I’ll take it all as a blessing or a challenge… That is what you’re worried about, though?”
I nodded, “Yes. I want you to be able to have the life you told me about. I feel like I’ll be hindering you if we were to ever pursue a relationship with each other.”
His eyes were now piercing through mine, as if he were staring into my very soul, something I would expect from a mesmer rather than a ranger. He brought his hand to my cheek. Though it was a little rough and callous, it was warm and comforting. His face approached my own; I had no idea of what to do in the situation, but I kind of let it all just happen. His lips touched mine for just mere moments before pulling away a little. Ragnvaldr rest his nose on the tip of mine and I stared into his eyes. My heart was pounding, butterflies in my stomach; he hadn’t really even kissed me yet, but I wanted it all to last just a little longer. I could feel my cheeks burning but I ignored it.
“I want to be with you, Claire. I want to come with you on all of your journeys,” he whispered. I was tempted to kiss him myself. He was still so close. He had already wrapped his hands in mine. Just as I was making the decision final, he pressed his lips to mine. It was enchanting; shivers poured through my already shaking body as our lips locked together. Again, it all ended too soon. My lips were tingling at the sensation of our kiss. His nose was touching mine once more.
“I want to be with you as well, Ragnvaldr.” My voice was shaking as much as I was. He pulled me into an embrace, a hug that felt warmer than any before. All doubt had left me for the moment and I only knew that I wanted to share this moment forever.
Morning came with sunshine, and as usual, Ragnvaldr was awake before me. I blinked in the sudden sunlight as I pulled the blanket away from my face. Each ray poured through the autumn colored leaves, distorting it and mostly leaving us in the shade of the trees around us. I sat up and rubbed my the sleep from my eyes and looked to Ragnvaldr, who had already started on breakfast. Either he knew when I woke up each morning, or the smell of food woke me first, but it was always timed so perfectly.
A soft breeze blew through the air, whipping the flames underneath the portable grill. The smell of damp leaves and earth filled my nostrils and I looked around. We weren’t as far from the wall as I had thought the last night. It stood against the backdrop of a bright blue sky; ivory grew around the grey bricks and mortar, winding their way to the spires at the top. Large chunks of the wall had decayed and fallen around it, but it was still mostly in tact. Without the Charr, it would have stood up for several centuries for sure.
“Morning!” Ragnvaldr greeted me from his perch by the fire with a fork, he turned over a couple of pieces of bacon. My mouth watered at the sight of the sizzling pork. I found myself approaching the fire without much thought.
“Good morning.” I replied as I continued to try to fully wake up.
“This is the day. I figured we may as well have a good breakfast for the finale of our journey,” He told me and loaded the bacon onto a plates already filled with scrambled eggs, bread, and sausage. I took my plate and opted to stand and eat by the fire. Every bit of it was delicious, as always.
“I can’t believe I’m so close to home…” I trailed off. Even though I called it home, Divinity’s Reach had been my home for several years now. Recently, it was beginning to feel like it as well. Ascalon was more like a far off place from a dream, but it was exciting none-the-less.
“What will you do when you find out?” He asked.
“I hadn’t even thought of that. I suppose it wouldn’t change very much about me. I may try to find my parent’s grave. At least, I hope they had a proper burial.” I replied. I realized that they, too, could be roaming ghosts. I put it out of my mind, convincing myself they had made it to Kryta and lived to be old and happy with the other refugees. It would be best to be able to find their graves in the Ascalonian Settlement of Gendarran.
Finishing up my breakfast, I handed my plate into Ragnvaldr, who wiped it down with a cloth before packing them in his bag again. I helped to fold up the cots as he extinguished the fire; we were ready to be on our way to Ascalon.
We followed the wall from a safe distance. All morning we had seen harpies flying about and we had no intentions of stirring up trouble with them. I was thankful to see that they mostly stuck to the wall where they had built their nests. I stood in awe momentarily when I saw a statue of Balthazar, only someone had scribbled ‘Badazar’ over the nameplate. What really caught my eye was the large violet crystal resting in the middle of a gorge. The light around it seemed to pulsate. The crystal was absolutely breath-taking, beautiful even. It took my breath away in a different style, though. This very crystal had helped to sear this land many, many years ago. It seemed so harmless now, but I watched them kill my classmates and instructors. I walked to it slowly and placed a hand on it. It was warm, like a body. I thought I would be afraid, but it was surprisingly peaceful. The trees grew around it, possibly even benefiting from its energy and warmth. This, which had killed before, may have helped spring life forth. Regardless, life was present all around it, from the grass and flowers to the trees and insects next to it.
Ragnvaldr didn’t question it, but placed his hand on it as well. I smiled at him. The tenacity of the life around us inspired me. He took my hand in his and we continued to walk across the plains of Ashford. I kept glancing at the wall; the surreal feeling that all of my surroundings brought to my attention overwhelmed me. I felt like I could only satiate it by trying to take in every detail.
We were there.
It didn’t look as if we had made it anywhere, but the feeling was impossible to shake. to our far right, I saw the old academy building. It had barely changed, though the bridge in front was new, definitely a Charr construct. Most of the main city was underwater, which reminded me of the pond that once stayed in the center before the searing. Buildings had disappeared and it was barely recognisable. Still, I was without breath.
As I began to walk forward, Ragnvaldr took me by the shoulder and pointed out a ghost watching us from behind a building. His transparent bow had already been aimed at me, but for now, I was just out of his range.
“Thank you. I didn’t even see that,” I mentioned and then stared around, “It seems like the place is covered. I’m not sure how we can get in to look for anything.”
“Where exactly do we need to go?” He questioned and let up on his grip.
“The academy is where they had my records stored since I applied there. That’s my best bet,” I replied, pointing to the large structure at the edge of the city and wall. Ragnvaldr looked deep in thought for a moment.
“We can avoid conflict by taking that marsh and sneaking into the building from there, or we could fight our way across the bridge.”
I knew he wanted to fight, so I obliged him, “Let’s take the bridge. We can clear it up on the way over so we don’t have to worry about a conflict on the way back.” I studied the bridge carefully before I had made my decision. There were only two ghosts here, one in the middle and one at the end. If we could find everything quickly, getting across the bridge again would be effortless. Of course, if we took too long, the ghosts would always materialize again.
He seemed shocked. “Heading into combat? That’s not like you.”
“I’m just trying new things,” I replied and started towards the metal bridge. It stretched across a large ravine where a small creek ran through underneath. “Besides, I’m feeling a little lucky.”
“Not that I’m complaining,” He added as we walked towards the bridge. “My bow has been hungering for a good battle.”
I watched the movements of the ghost on the bridge. He held a large shield and a small sword. The ghost watched us while he paced. If we weren’t close to them, it seemed as if they would leave us alone. I had to get across that bridge, though.
“He isn’t letting his guard down. We’ll have to rush in.” Ragnvaldr told me as he got his bow ready for battle. I nodded to show that I understood. I focused and called upon the fire storm again, directing it towards the ghost. Fireballs pelted the ground around him, knocking the ghost over.
“Here’s your chance!” I told Ragnvaldr, who sent a plethora of arrows towards his foe. The ghost combated these arrows by holding his shield above him as he attempted to stand back up. He even managed to deflect one of the falling fireballs.
I managed to cast a fireball upon him as he held his shield high. I was only able to hit him once, though. It seemed that even through the now flaming arrows and the fireballs, he could block them all once he learned our attacks. It was time for a different strategy. I began casting at the earth around him instead. Without being able to advance towards us, he wouldn’t be able to get a hit in on us. This would provide us with time to think of a better solution.
We weren’t given that time for a solution though. Through thin air appeared two more ghosts. A ranger and an elementalist to match us. Now we were outnumbered. The situation began to look more and more grim as the Ranger barraged us with arrows and the elementalist cast down blue fire from the sky. I managed to roll to the side, but Ragnvaldr stood and took the brute force of the arrows. He managed to dodge in between the fire, but arrows pelted his armor, occasionally finding their way into his shoulders or arms.
“Go!” Ragnvaldr shouted, “I’ll keep them busy.”
We had encountered an ambush and he was willing to sacrifice his life so I could get away. I wasn’t going to let him do it. I mustered up my strength, stood up, and started towards the battle again. However, a voice stopped me in my tracks.
“Need a hand?” Behind me was Angel and Tobih, running towards our fight. There wasn’t even enough time to sigh in relief. I ran to Ragnvaldr’s aid and stood in front of him. Tobih cast a large barrier around us; I could see its translucent glow engulf us all in a matter of mere seconds, effectively pushing back the warrior ghost who had began to approach Ragnvaldr. This construct shielded Tobih, Ragnvaldr, and I as Angel ran out with her great sword and attacked the enemies head on.
“Are you okay?” I asked Ragnvaldr, as I cast towards the enemy. The barrier lit up with flames. I stood in awe as the dome became flame-covered. If any enemy dared to approach it, they’d be burned for sure.
“Yeah, I’m alright.” He kneeled down and broke off the end of one of the arrows embedded into his flesh.
“I can’t hold this shield for much longer!” Tobih yelled, “Get ready for battle!”
The dome of flames disappeared, leaving us vulnerable to attacks once again. I cast everything I could think of at these guys and kept focused on the battle. I couldn’t afford to be distracted at a time like this. I didn’t have to hold back either, these were ghosts, they were already dead and no one I recognized.
Tobih had the final hit on the ranger. She disappeared in an explosion of blue mist. A few moments later and I cast the last spell against the elementalist. It seemed fitting. The only enemy left was the warrior, who blocked our attacks with precision and skill, however he wasn’t getting an attack in. Angel towered above the shielded ghost and stared down at him. As she raised her sword, he thrust his shield over him. Angel brought down her wrath, breaking the shield into two halves, and continued to bear down her weapon until the warrior disappeared in a puff of blue mist like the others.
I wiped the sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand and wheeled around to face Ragnvaldr again. He was bleeding from several spots and panting from the battle. Tobih approached him and knelt down beside the Norn.
“You did well,” Ragnvaldr told me, his eyes squinted in pain. I put my hand in his; he squeezed it gently.
“It’s not bad. I should be able to heal it up.” Tobih informed us and placed his hand against my partner.
“At least the arrows were ghost arrows. Doesn’t stop them from hurting, but they disappear with the ghost.” Ragnvaldr replied optimistically and rubbed his shoulder. The bleeding was stopping and the wounds were closing up slowly.
“Thank you for coming. I… I don’t know what we would have done.” I expressed my gratitude to the two, “But where are the rest of Ventari’s Refugees?”
“Taking a break from traveling, for now,” Tobih answered. “Angel insisted that we come assist you, though.”
Angel crossed her arms and scowled at her guild leader. It was interesting though; I hadn’t thought that we had made a good impression on her. She certainly had made a terrible one on me.
“The bridge is free. We should get over it before the decide to come back.” Ragnvaldr said and stood up. Tobih had finished up his healing session and patted Ragnvaldr on the back.
“Take it easy,” Tobih warned and walked forward. I followed him as we crossed the bridge and into the academy door. My jaw dropped as I witnessed a crushing blow to my journey. Angel burst out into a roaring laugh.
“Where’s the building? Is it really just the facade?!” I shouted in anger. The entire building had disappeared, aside from the face of it. It wasn’t something I could see from the outside, as the walls seemed to be still intact. But to my dismay, the two walls left standing had completely deceived me.
“There’s a tower there, in that wreckage,” Tobih exclaimed and jumped a short wooden fence built in the middle of where the lobby would have been. I crossed it as well, but stopped progressing when Tobih shook his head, “There’s nothing here. It looks as if it was all burnt at one time. Probably the Foefire.”
Angel was getting a kick from all of this. “You actually expected something to still be here?!”
“I think we should leave here, soon,” Ragnvaldr told us in a worried tone. “This is ogre territory. There are signs everywhere.”
“I can take them on,” Angel boasted. “I must have taken on thousands of them in my lifetime.”
“If you want to fight them, Angel, stay here.” I growled and walked out of the building, Ragnvaldr caught up with me and place his hand on my shoulder. Tobih joined up as well.
“We’ll find something on you, I swear.” My partner told me in hopes of cheering me up.
“What are you looking for? Documents on your ancestors?” Tobih asked. I remembered that I hadn’t even told him what I was actually here for. It was probably for the best that I had left it at this. “Maybe the priory managed to save something.”
“They won’t have what she’s looking for,” Angel sighed and brushed the hair from her face as she stepped out of the building. I doubt she actually knew, how could she? She came and stooped down to eye level with me, “You’re looking for your past, right?”
Her piercing blue eyes felt as if they were reading my every thought as I stared into them. I was astonished to hear that she had figured me out so well.
“Here in Ascalon? I don’t think she’d be looking here if it were for her past,” Tobih suggested in disbelief. He was as baffled as I was, but for different reasons. I felt Ragnvaldr staring towards Angel as well.
“I may know where you can find it,” She whispered with a taunting smile.