Azalea, the sylvari, has finally escaped the terrifying talons of the Nightmare Court, and fled into the jungles of the Caldeon Forest. She stumbled upon a small group of travelers who mercifully took care of her. Hans, a human elementalist, and his companion, Lurk the asuran necromancer, are being escorted by the charrs, Kilgar and Farkuz, to Ascalon. Despite her rescue, Azalea’s body has been deformed by the Nightmare Court’s torture. Feeling insecure about her scared body, she decides against returning to her life in the Grove to journey with the band of travelers to Ascalon. This is where her story continues…
We hastily left the Lionguard Fort, Lurk still grumbling about his unfinished breakfast. Our group walked the narrow dirt path that wound down from the Haven, and along the beautiful bay side. Kilgar and Farkuz padded along a few meters in front of us, their long charr tails swishing, and whipping up the dirt as they conversed in low tones. Stalk bounded around us playfully, shoving his snout into grass patches and barking at crabs who had strayed too far from the shore. Lurk waddled a small distance in front of Hans and I, while his golem lumbered dutifully behind us. Its magical mechanical hum made me uneasy, and brought bad memories. I instinctively clutched the side of my neck where the dark drill scars marred my skin.
‘Its harmless,’ Hans said reassuringly.
I jumped, and nodded slowly. I stole one last glance at the mechanical beast before turning my attention to the bay.
The sun was shining brightly, and the cool bay breeze brushed my face. I bathed in the warm rays, and felt a small twinge of happiness. However, I was painfully aware of the thick forest that lined the dirt road. I felt the darkness festering in it, and the twinge was replaced by a hot hatred as I thought of all the Nightmare Court that slithered and slimed within the forest around me. I imagined momentarily how satisfying burning down the entire forest would be, to see their twisted faces caught off guard as they charred as black as their foul hearts. My own heart summersaulted as I became aware of my thoughts, and I looked away from the forest in shame.
A small group walking in the opposite direction appeared on the horizon. It was a group of sylvari being escorted by a charr in gleaming Lionguard armor. As they approached, Kilgar grunted to Farkuz and they stopped momentarily to talk to the Lionguard, inquiring about the road ahead. The group of sylvari peered at us curiously. I heard the Lionguard say he was escorting these sylvari back home from Marbon market. My eye connected with a doe eyed male sylvari, and my hand went to my face instinctively. I tried to look away, letting my hand shield my face.
‘Stop touching your face, your scars will only get worse,’ Lurk snapped. I reeled on him, hissing angrily. Lurk jumped backward, and even Hans flinched.
My heart clenched with horror as everyone stared at me. My face had been completely bathed in light, and the sylvari in particular looked terrified. I turned away. There was a moment of unbearable silence, until the charr slowly started conversing again. I felt sick with shame, and kept my face low. The group finally moved on, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
We started walking again, and this time Lurk retreated to the back with his golem. The silence felt heavy, and a thick lump had formed in my throat, burning hot with shame.
Hans fidgeted and finally said;
‘Azalea, tell me about yourself.’
I stared blankly at him, and he tried to elaborate.
‘It’s a long trip to Lion’s Arch on foot. I’d like to know more about you. Honestly, I know next to nothing about you.’
My eyebrows furrowed. To tell someone about myself seemed like a strange notion. Couldn’t he tell by looking at me? Hans seemed to sense my confusion.
“What do you? Do you have a profession? Maybe a hobby?’ he suggested.
‘I don’t have a job,’ I said slowly. ‘I mean, before…. when I was living in the Grove, I was being tutored by my mentors.’
‘I heard that sylvari experience a sort of school, despite being born fully grown.’ A realization dawned on his face. ‘You were attending school before you were…’ He trailed off and I nodded. ‘You must have been quite young. How old are you?’
I frowned again, trying to recall my lessons. My mentor had taught me that other races calculate time through calendars. I struggled to remember. A dawn and a dusk were a day, and around 30 dawns and dusks were a month, and how many months made a year? I breathed out in frustration.
‘Less than six months,’ I shrugged my shoulders roughly, too frustrated to give a more precise estimation.
Hans eyebrows rose in surprise.
‘So young,’ he muttered.
I didn’t feel young. I felt coarse, like the flaking bark off a withered tree. Even my scaring creaked when it did not crack. When I was newborn everything felt lighter. Now my soul felt burdened, as though the eternity I had spent in the Nightmare Court prison had somehow saturated my very being.
Stalk whimpered and licked my hand with his sticky tongue, pulling me back from my dark thoughts.
Thankfully, the charr seemed to think any towns or outposts would slow us down, so we avoided them. I was thankful for that. As the sun threatened to dip beyond the watery horizon we were on a path, surrounded by forest, with no outpost in sight, except a small abandoned sylvari village.
‘How odd. I’ve never seen an abandoned sylvari village before.’ Hans said as we approached it.
‘You would think the sylvari race was too young to already have abandoned villages.’ Lurk said inspecting the decayed plant huts. ‘I wonder what happened.’
To me, one look and it was clear what had happened to the village. The scared bark and twisted thorny vines, it was all so familiar. It was the mark of the Nightmare Court. I stopped and stared momentarily. The Nightmare Court had probably slaughtered the entire village, or worse kept them as prisoners.
‘We’ll set up camp here for the night,’ Kilgar growled. I stared at him in shock.
‘You can’t set up camp in an abandoned town!’ Lurk cried. Kilgar looked down at him.
‘Why not?’ he asked.
Lurk spluttered, scrounging around for his words.
‘Because it’s spooky,’ he said finally, his floppy ears curling inwards as he looked around the eery ghost of a town
‘It’s safer than camping in the middle of now where,’ Kilgar said dismissively.
Farkuz was already placing stones in a circle and tossing kindling in the middle.
Hans looked uncomfortable, but he offered no resistance. We all sat around the camp fire, Lurk and Hans were playing an asuran game, while Kilgar and Farkuz feasted on the roasted meats they had hunted. Surprisingly, Farkuz eventually shared the hunted game, while Lurk had grudgingly passed around his soft bread. They both smelled delicious. I started to eat them separately, but as I glanced over at Hans I saw he had placed the meat on top of the bread. I watched him curiously and then imitated him.
‘Taste good?’ Hans asked with a smile. I nodded slowly.
I had never tasted anything like this. I wanted to share it with Stalk but when I passed it to him he simply pushed away the bread and went for the meat.
Everyone settled down after dinner. The two charrs were checking their gear. Farkuz in particular had donned metallic goggles with concave glass that magnified his eyes to comic proportions. His large paw held a small screw driver with delicacy as he tinkered with a mechanical gizmo. Lurk was already laying on his bedroll, his golem powered down next to him, and Hans was writing in his book. I leaned over curiously.
‘Why are you writing everything that happened today?’ I asked. Hans jumped slightly, pulling his book close to his chest.
‘You were reading?’ he asked, and I nodded. ‘You can’t just read things over my shoulder.’ He said sternly. I stared at him.
‘Why not?’ I asked, confused.
‘It’s rude,’ he admonished. ‘You sylvari are like children sometimes. If you’re interested you have to ask. It’s polite.’
I stared at him. It seemed pointless to ask now, I had already read it.
‘I’m sorry if I upset you.’ I said pulling back.
‘It’s fine,’ he said quickly. ‘It’s a journal. I’m a historian, so I need to remember everything that happens.’
‘Historian?’ I asked.
‘I study the past and write it down, I also document the present for people to read.’
I nodded, but kept my confusion about the concept to myself. Why couldn’t they just remember it all? It seemed to me that humans were so scared that they may lose things, even their memory.
Hans shook his head, smiling.
‘In my experience, sylvari rarely understand the concept of time. You’re all so wrapped up in being young, you forget that things are finite.’
‘Wait till a sylvari’s leaves start going grey and they’ll start nattering about the past and condemning younger sylvari as being reckless.’ Lurk said, rolling his eyes.
‘No one knows how long sylvari live for; it may take hundreds of years before they grow old. I’m sure we’ll find out eventually, if we survive the dragons,’ Hans said sighing and leaning back onto a tree trunk. ‘Every day I hear more terrifying stories.’
I had felt the story of the dragon through my dream; the great shadow that enveloped the land in an unholy blackness. Until now it had been pushed into the smallest recess of my mind. With all that had happened I had barely felt their presence, and I was suddenly reminded of their existence in the world.
‘I’ve heard whispers of a new theory that dragons are consuming magic,’ Lurk said shuffling forward. Hans frowned.
‘Eating magic? How can that be?’
‘If the theory is true, even if we survive the dragons, unless we neutralize them they’ll completely eviscerate Tyria’s magic.’
‘Shut up about the dragons,’ Kilgar growled from his bedroll, making us all jump. ‘You need only concern yourself with ghosts, asura,’ he snapped before rolling over.
There was a stunned silence.
‘Well I guess it’s time to sleep,’ Hans sighed.
Lurk and Hans fell asleep on their bedrolls, but I wasn’t sleepy. I took my bow and silently inspected it. I was attached to the last one I had left in the woods when the Nightmare Court had captured me, but now I had to resign myself to getting to know this one. It was a bit dirty, and I set on cleaning it. Stalk curled up next to me, his leaves brushing against my leg.
The darkness started to weigh heavily on my eyes and I was about to set the bow down when I saw a flicker. My eyes snapped upwards, peering into the darkness. Even Stalk’s ears flipped forward, his eyes alert, but we only heard silence. I was ready to shrug it off when I heard a twig snap. Stalk jumped to his feet, as did I, holding my bow at the ready. I looked around. Everyone was still asleep. I moved slowly out of the clearing, stepping over Farkuz’s body silently. As we moved through the forest, Stalk disappeared from my side, slipping into the murk. I kept my bow cocked and ready. I stood as still as possible and heard nothing, only creaking and rustling as the trees swayed in the cool night winds.
I was so sure I heard something. I knew humans were fragile and often imagined noises or figures, but surely sylvari weren’t so susceptible. I felt Stalk slink through the brush around me, and I decided to leave him as I patrolled the area.
Perhaps it had been a bird, or an animal.
I kept a tight grip on my bow just in case. I didn’t wander very far from the camp, but as I turned I saw a figure dart into the brush. I whirled around and held my bow threateningly. The bush rustled as the creature quivered.
At first I thought it was an asura.
‘Foul creature,’ I spat. ‘Why are you sneaking around our camp?’ I hissed. Behind the figure I heard Stalk growl and the creature squealed and threw itself forward, out of the bush.
The mouse like creature looked at me with big shiny eyes, his small furry body and tail curled in fear. I vaguely recognized it. Images from my dream surfaced in my memories. I realized this creature was skritt. It looked like a mouse walking on hind-legs. Its large saucer ears twitched and its big eye darted around nervously. It pulled itself up and I lowered my bow. Despite this, the skritt whimpered.
‘No… no hurt, no hurt,’ it squeaked in it’s high pitch tone. It was shivering profusely.
‘Sprout, what are you doing out here?’ A deep voice came from the darkness. I whirled around, on my guard, but it was only Farkuz. I realized this was the first time I had heard him speak.
‘I heard you wander off,’ he said blankly. He looked past me to the skritt. ‘Well I see you found the mouse that spooked you,’ he said, the edges of his thin lips curled, and I wondered if that was a charr’s equivalent of a smile.
‘Oh no, bad dream plant and big grumpy kitty,’ the skritt squeaked. I frowned. The skritt’s eloquence had increased.
‘Watch it,’ Farkuz snapped at the skritt. ‘I’m charr, not a cat.’ He looked to me. ‘Time to return to camp, Sprout. When people go missing it makes Kilgar edgy. The skritt aren’t a threat, they’re as dumb as a sack of harpies.’’
‘Skritt are not dumb!’ The skritt’s voice squeaked with new found confidence. Farkuz and I blinked at the little creature in surprise. ‘Charr think he smart, but Charr don’t have shinnies no more. Only rust and blood.’
‘Bloody rat!’ Farkuz growled menacingly. ‘You’ve been pilfering my tools!’ Farkuz lunged at the skritt but it moved with lightning speed. It threw leaf litter at Farkuz and he roared, trying to cover his eyes. As I drew my bow it disappeared into the forest.
‘Rats!’ Farkuz growled, pulling leaves and dirt from his leather jacket.
‘It didn’t seem smart enough…’ I said pensively.
‘It’s the bloody hive mind, their intelligence changes on the number of skritt in the area. They’re not as dumb if they’re….’ his words lingered on his lips, as a realization dawned on his furry face. ‘… in a group.’
We whirled around, trying to see the supposed unseen skritt, but there was nothing. Then we heard it, a dull hum.
‘Get back to the camp,’ Farkuz commanded, dragging me by the arm. I wanted to pull away but as he looked down his eyes widened and a ferocious hiss erupted from his lips. I looked down to see cracks forming in the earth beneath our feet. Why would the ground crack like that? Then fear gripped my heart as the earth shook, and the floor crumbled beneath us.
Author’s Note: Azalea will be coming back on a regular schedule now. You can expect updates every Friday from now on! Thank you to everyone for your patience. If you want regular updates you can follow me on twitter. Also I’ve got a surprise coming soon for Azalea fans, so stay tuned!