I picked my way through the rubble. Blackened crossbeams lay across my path, and tiles from the roof crunched underfoot. A scarf covered my mouth and nose but still I could smell the smoke, taste the ash that hung in the air. A fat and bloated moon cast everything grey. I was a ghost stalking this ruined hall.
The stairs had collapsed, along with much of the second floor, and one doorway had been filled in with rubble. I took the path of least resistance. My boots left large prints in the dust.
More doors were blocked than not and I twisted through a single passage. The floor above remained for part and I plunged into the darkness, aiming for the square of silver at the other side.
It was a pantry. I trod a blackened bone to nothing, eyed the ancient meat hooks. The far wall had crumbled completely and I could see the wasteland beyond. That and the entrance to a cellar. It might have been a wine cellar, but for the incredibly thick wooden door, broken and blackened from the fire but still clinging to its hinges until I pushed through. The stairs below were shrouded in complete darkness, and I finally relented and lit a candle from my pack.
The dungeon was covered in soot and ash but otherwise untouched by the fire. Blackened chains dangled from the ceiling and loops from the walls, while a variety of sharp instruments littered the unburned tables. There was even an iron maiden in the far corner. That and a book, red leather showing beneath the dirt, and stained parchment within. I picked it up cautiously, pleasantly surprised when no pages fell from the binding.
A sharp breath blew away the soot from the cover. Scratched into the leather was Eilidh’s Diary in large letters. Opening it, the page was completely filled with a small, neat handwriting.
The glow from the candle cast long shadows across the room as I sat down, huddled in the corner among the torture devices. Undeterred, I read the first page.
My name is Eilidh. That’s AY-lee, not Ill-id-uh or eye-lid. Yes, I’m sure I’m spelling it correctly. The Pale Tree told me my name, showed me the letters. I wonder if Niamh ever has this problem. Nia-muh? No, probably not – she’s Firstborn and all sylvari know how to say and write her name. I am not Firstborn. I am just sylvari.
If you have never questioned my name, I’m sorry. Welcome to my diary! If you are reading this, you either stole it and I would very much like it back, or I gave it to you and encourage you to read on. The human who told me about diaries said that she never lets anyone else read it. She said that “it’s private” and that “it’s just to help me remember things”, and also “it helps order my thoughts”. Apparently lots of humans keep diaries, so I guess lots of humans have poor memories and get confused easily. I have only met a few, but I will remember to ask about it when I meet more. Oh, and now I will definitely remember because it is written down! But I think I would have managed anyway.
I am one year, three months and twenty-one days old. Now that the Firstborn are over twenty-five years old, I am really one year, three months and twenty-one days young. But for some reason people are “young” or “old” but never “this many years young”. It’s strange. Not that it really matters, as all sylvari learn so much from the Dream, and do not look any different for being older. Unless a sylvari dies of old age, it is meaningless.
I am assuming that you are not sylvari. Maybe you are, and you know these things, but I hope to leave the Grove soon and travel to places where there are fewer sylvari. I want to see Rata Sum, and watch a norn shapeshift, and see how the charr fight ghosts. I have only met a few charr. One said I was like a “bonsai tree” because I’m short. I have not seen a bonsai tree, but I did not find it offensive. The charr was short too, for a charr, so I said that she looked like a kitten, and she got very angry and I had to hex her and make her forget about it. Maybe she had never seen a kitten before and did not know that it was a compliment.
That’s right, I’m a mesmer. In my Dream, I vividly remember a human banquet in a gleaming white hall with a crystal chandelier. A band played music and everyone was dancing, and they were dressed in vibrant clothes of many colours and the women wore lots of jewellery; gold and silver earrings and necklaces of pearls, or jewelled with emeralds and sapphires. Everyone was happy. I want to go to Divinity’s Reach and see these banquets for myself.
I was born in the spring, and have grown my own dress of pink and white blossoms. Other sylvari say I am pretty, and I hope it makes them happy. I can dance as well, and nothing makes me happier than dancing through the night. My music does not make people happy. I will practice as I travel though, where I won’t disturb anyone, and if Caelan complains I’ll give him nightmares about such discord that he will beg to hear me play! My magic is not for making people happy either.
Caelan is my friend, soon to be my travel companion. He is only a few months old, and a pacifist, and has a lot to learn, but he is determined to leave the Grove. He is good company though, and it will be much better than travelling alone.
Why do we want to go, you ask? Well, let me tell you! Caelan wants to find out about something he saw in his Dream, which is a common motivation for sylvari. Many see things and then venture out to try and understand it and its meaning. Caelan has been talking about some family tree. Not a literal tree, mind – a map of a human family, tracing the lineage through generations. It seems an odd thing to go looking for, but then I heard a rumour about a sylvari who disappeared into Divinity’s Reach to find a very specific dog, so I suppose it could be worse.
For my part, I was born into the Cycle of Day and, like many born into this cycle, joined the Wardens that protect the Grove. By the coast, and with Orr a straight shot across the sea, Zhaitan’s undead minions frequently wash up on the beaches, and there are other dangers in the forests. It is important work, but recently I have found it boring. The undead and wild animals… well, none have minds strong enough to require complex illusions. I am good with magic – as anyone who has duelled with me will tell you – and I feel this must be meant for something more. So, again like many born into the Cycle of Day, I plan to set out and travel the world, learn my craft, find some better use for it than dismembering skeletons. “Where life goes, so too should you”, and only dead things come to our beaches.
I think that will do as an introduction. Perhaps when Caelan reads this he will suggest I add more. Although, I have never heard him criticise anything or anyone, ever. Fallon would be better if I want suggestions, but then this is my diary and I can write what I want. I don’t think I will let anyone read it after all. But then… why did I write it? This has made me more confused, not less! Humans need a better system for ordering their thoughts.
I turned the book over to the back and worked in to find the last entry. There were some blank pages, but most had been filled. The rustling of paper was terrifyingly loud in the gloom. I read quickly.
We were wrong. Not wrong like in Divinity’s Reach, or on our way to the Durmand Priory, but really, really wrong. Even Caelan had a look at the village and said “we should not have come here”, and Caelan has not had a bad feeling about anything since he drank that stagnant water.
But we had come so far, and felt compelled to press on.
In and around Ascalon, the ghosts project the image of their former selves, and you can see their blades cutting flesh while you cut at air and mist. The ghosts here have no image, and so far no blades, but I could feel them pressing, watching. Walking up the main street was like wading through a bog. A spell might have revealed them, but it seemed best not to antagonise them.
The ghosts of Ascalon are mindless things that attack everything. We have not been attacked yet. Caelan thinks that they are protecting us, although from what I dare not ask.
Beyond the village and up the hill was the manor house, hollowed out by time and fire and surrounded by a fence of twisted metal. The pressure of the ghosts around me was making my head spin, and I could not sense the magic ahead. Pixie did though, and she growled and hesitated as we stepped over the threshold. Suddenly the manor stood before us in all its former glory; white walls and green grass all bathed in sunlight.
Caelan was relieved, but I feel more uneasy here than I did in the village. I know this is an illusion, but I cannot dispel it from my mind, or find the source of it in another. It was my idea to come here and seek out this mesmer, but now feel in over my head. We could enter and exit the illusion as we pleased though and, taking comfort in that, set out to explore.
It is strange magic. From outside the illusion, we could clearly see the broken stairs in the entrance hall and the lack of most of the higher storeys. Inside however, I strolled right up the stairs and along the corridors as if they really existed. All of the doors were locked, though.
Downstairs we were able to see more, including a lounge and a great dining hall. Beyond the kitchens was a well-stocked pantry but I remembered Linn’s lesson about illusionary food. Caelan and I were stuck with our stale rations.
We argued for a while about where to sleep. Was the strange illusion safer than the village of ghosts? Caelan thought so, but I did not. In the end he relented, trusting in my judgement of the magic. And I was not wrong. As we crossed the threshold and stepped out through the manor gates, nothing changed. We ran down to the village and found it deserted but still standing. A watermill was turning in a river where none had been before.
The illusion has been feeding off us. Why can’t I sense it? It is not even sapping my energy, so far as I can tell. We have to find the source, and quickly.
No ghosts or illusion lingered in that place, so I had little reason to be concerned. But still my skin bristled and my body was tense as I read the final paragraph, scrawled down in a hurry amongst a splattering of golden sylvari blood.
Four days in the illusion until we found and broke Imogen’s staff. Little food and no water left. Our pursuers were camped in the village below, and we’re hiding now in the manor dungeon. But if they don’t find us, what then? Best to die fighting, Bergen would say. Already took a rifle shot to the shoulder. I still think better not to die at all. I wish I had time to write all that we learned of Imogen, but I can hear them upstairs now. Need to put out the light.