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Thursday, 16 February 2012

Mark's Journal #8: Attack from all sides, in which many things are revealed...

Mark’s Journal 11/21/09
Considering the events of which I last wrote, it is no wonder that I had been feeling both restless and apprehensive. Being ambushed isn’t something that I want to repeat, and giant drake statues flinging my friend across a room leaving him only to mumble don’t make me feel much better.

That being said, when Leviss considered going to his aunt Marlys, an archeologist and geomancer, I was up and ready before he was finished proposing the idea.

Arriving at the Geomancy tower, we noticed a building meant to be one of splendor. I say meant to be because currently it was as old, grey, and worn down as the rest of the city. It was very tall, made of stone, like the rest, but seemed to be crafted more with care, which makes sense considering who made it. It had one redeeming aesthetic feature: a strip of beautiful crystal green rock spiraling its way up the tower. Leviss informed me upon reading this that the rock is known as a geode. Once in the tower, we found out which floor Marlys was on, and were fortunate enough to find an elevator. Making our way to the appropriate floor, we found that each of the four rooms took up a quarter of the circular tower, with the elevator in the middle. In one of the rooms, which appeared to be an office of some kind, we asked for Marlys and were informed that she was teaching a class and that it would take 3-4 hours. Leviss, being bored, and I, being restless, made our way to the museum, promising to be back later.

At least that was our intention. We ended up accidently going to the top floor of the tower, which turned out to be just the roof. Beyond the fact that this appeared to be a base of defense for the Geomancers, it was also the highest I had ever been. From there I could see all of Aristaal and the wilderness beyond. Even though the city wasn’t white, it was still something to behold. Walls lining the limits of civilization, housing the library, museum, and the other towers, it was the very definition of what could be done when people united for the common good. I was mesmerized by the sight, and considering what was to come, it was an image that engraved itself unto my heart, forever to be remembered, and continues to inspire me to this day.

Once at the museum, Leviss and I split up to look at things that interested us. I examined a tapestry which appeared to be a pictographic history of Ori. Following the original landing upon Ori, the settlers began colonizing the rest of the savage land. Working to bring supplies to the Old World, and to bring settlers to this New World, Ori developed over time into what we knew today. One particularly interesting note was of a man named Avanmar. During the war against the kobolds, the original inhabitants of Ori, Avanmar was captured. Living amongst the lizard people, he learned their ways and customs and realized that kobolds were not much different than man. They had a similar taste for knowledge, curiosity, and adventure, and once Avanmar convinced both sides of this, peace talks were made and a rough truce began. I personally liked this tale, as it displays how, with some effort, savagery can be controlled, and peace can be obtained. I may be a fighter, but in my heart, I appreciate peace as much as anyone. Also, if not for Avanmar, Leviss and I would not be friends.

Marlys, besides being a teacher, also seemed to be a caring aunt with a lot on her mind. Saying she hadn’t heard of the “First Ones”, she promised to go through her work and the older works in order to find out what she could.

Back at the Warmhearth Inn, I continued my quest for knowledge. Seeking out older, battle-hardened patrons, I came to join some men at the far end of the bar. Asking to join them, I soon found that my original assumption was correct: they had experienced battle. Buying them a round and regaling them with tales of our own adventures, I endeavored to find out more about Aristaal. More specifically, I wanted to know when and why this “White City” was no longer white. What had happened that sent this “united” city into the caste-like system that existed now? They told us that the main problem was the Tournament. It split the different wizarding factions like never before and left all sides working against each other instead of working together.

Finally, it all made sense. We’ve seen what happens to a city once its people lose all hope. The storms of doubt move in, the people become prone to despair and before you know it the whitest of cities become like Portsmouth once was, dark and foreboding.

The next day, Avaron, Leviss and I made our way out to an archeological site outside of the city, there to meet Leviss’ parents, Ven and Eris. Tori was not feeling well, and so, stayed behind at the Warmhearth Inn. It was supposed to be fun; we were not expecting any trouble and were riding out to learn more about Leviss and his family. On rereading these journals, I see that my writings at times come across as hopeful to the point of naïve. But, that is not really true. I have always been the worrier in our party. I have always planned ahead, considered different outcomes, strategized and tried my best not to be caught unaware. Keep that in mind when I tell you that our group ran into some seriously dangerous and unpredictable stuff.

Shortly before arriving at the camp, we noticed a great fire looming ahead; rather, we noticed a huge plume of smoke. Sensing danger, we kicked our horses to a gallop and arrived to see ruin. Not an ancient ruin ready for excavation, but a camp of disaster. People were scattered, tents were torn, and most of the camp was smoldering. You could see the fear in the eyes of those that were willing to look up at our approach. Two of them, acting as guards, looked more scared than ready to defend these people. It was obvious that something happened here, it happened fast and it happened recently. Dismounting and showing them that I meant them no harm, I started issuing orders. I am not normally one to act as leader. Most of the time, I hang back, observe the situation, and yes, at times, make a final decisive decision, but that day I took command, and thank the gods, my judgment was sound, and my comrades and I worked as the soundest of teams. I started a triage, assessing the situation by the severity of their wounds. Avaron acted as my right hand, gathering people together, administering first aid, and later, acting as a border patrol. Leviss acted as well, but focusing more on spiritual aid. Leviss, upon finding his parents, sat down and was less than active at first, not that I could blame him. Finally, after resolving that they were alright, began to tell stories of the Keepers, one in particular in which his parents had been involved. The only casualty among the academics was caused by my hand. The following is exactly what I wrote toward the end of that day, recalling the event:

Unfortunately, one of the wounded was beyond my efforts. With a spear through his lungs, there was only one thing to do: put him out of his misery. I’ve never had to do anything like that. He lived his life in the pursuit of knowledge, and I had to kill him, an innocent man. His death will weigh heavily on my heart.

I do not regret my actions that day. I have spent my entire life preparing myself and knowing myself to the point that when a situation happens, I can feel safe that whatever way I choose to act, it will be in accordance to everything that I believe. I acted for the greater good, and for that, I am not ashamed.

Getting everyone together, and making make-shift stretchers, we sent half of the camp’s archeologists and academics back straight away to Aristaal, using our horses and what little they had. Once everyone had settled down, we found out that goblins were responsible for the raid and that they had stolen an artifact of great importance. Promising to get it back, we sent the other half of the camp back on foot, with the assurance that they would meet up with the Red Cloaks from Aristaal in a few days time. I wasn’t too worried about this latter half as they had some kobolds that passed as fighters. I believe myself to be a decent judge of character, and from their stance and the look of personal assurance in their eyes, I recognized some of them as one of my own, fighters, sure and true.

Making our way toward the mountains, we found the goblin camp not too long before nightfall. With a wall of hedge surrounding the camp, and a wall of goblins surrounding what seemed to be a hexer with the idol, we made our attack. Coming in from the front, in a gap in the hedge, Leviss and Avaron stayed behind to provide me with some cover fire. It was a quick, but brutal battle, as Avaron lit the surrounding hedge on fire, and Leviss’ arrows saving my hide on more than one occasion. I noticed on the ground, there appeared to be a red stone that when anyone attacked from it, they appeared to deal more damage than usual. Killing all at the camp and retrieving the artifact, Leviss told me that the rock was known as Bloodstone, a substance that does indeed increase the ferocity and damage of a weapon. Collecting some of that, along with the artifact, we made our way back. Looking back upon the devastation we had caused, I noticed a goblin family, mother and child presumably, looking over what we have done. For a moment, I considered how we must look to them: brutal, and without remorse. But, there was nothing else that could be done, someone had to account for the raid on the camp, and those in the goblin camp knew what they were getting into.

Meeting up with the Red Cloaks, we were delighted to hear that all the scholars made it back and were safe and sound. After a short rest, Avaron and Leviss went to the workshop to see what could be done with the Bloodstone. I decided to wander about the city, making my way to the temple and the bizarre. The temper was the same as it ever was, with people reading and worshipping in silence. The bizarre looked to be interesting, with people bargaining and commerce abound. I met a girl at one of the merchant tables. Even from a distance, I could see how striking she was. Tall and brunette, with clear sharp eyes, and wearing a long black dress, here looked a young woman of strength and beauty that came from within. Seeing her interest in the items on the table, I struck up a conversation with her. I should have been nervous, I have little dealings with girls other than my closest friends, but I felt comfortable with her. She told me her name was Nala, and I bought her a charm from the table. I told her my name and that I was staying at the inn. When I left, she took my hand and seemed interested in my ring. Saying it was nice, and going about her own business, it took me a little while to realize how odd that encounter was. While the ring I wear is nice enough to look at, it is not one that anyone would normally claim as pretty. I found out later that its true purpose was to be noticeable only to those that knew its true worth. Lost in the clouds of infatuation, I did not think about this until later that night.

Back at the inn, I found Tori in better spirits, although she refrained from partying with us that night. Avaron and Leviss came back showing off her long-sword, now coated in the Bloodstone. Gailan the Brave and Jim, Leviss’ Illusionist Bard friend rocked out that night, bringing explosions and ballads to the inn.

The next day, tired, but in high spirits, we make our way to Leviss’ family bash. I had been given to understand that the kobold family structure is wide-spread with many ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ for every child. Held at the Illusionist Tower, it too was a fantastic time, full of food, music, and fun. Marlys was there, and she told us that there was no mention of any “first ones” in any of her readings. But, her best guess was that it refers to the first settlers of Ori. Another of Leviss’ aunts was there, bringing gifts. To Leviss, she gave him a helmet made of the skull of a drake. Another gift she had was a cloak, bright red/orange, woven of some kind of yarn with a symbol of fire on the back. Avaron took it, as she was the only one there that it would have fit, and she was told it would help protect her from fire. Spotting Nala at the far side of the party, we made for her when we were intercepted by the Archmage. Without letting me leave, he pointed out my ring, and showed me that he had one of his own. Not really understanding why or how he would a ring identical to the one I wore, we promised to visit early the next day.

Tori, still not in the best spirit of mind, stayed at the inn. I thought to myself that we should get her to a hospital soon, but I wasn’t sure if that would help. I guess I should have known what was to come, but with everything going on, I did not take heed. Tori always did seem to have a perception of events outside of what I would deem noticeable.

Upon visiting the Archmage, I began to grow concerned. He treated me as one of his own, like I was a part of some secret that I did not know about. I couldn’t play along with knowing this, as both curiosity and propriety suggested otherwise. All of a sudden, the Archmage grew worried, moving to the back of the room, and shouting mistrust with his eyes. He asked where I got the ring, and I told him. I told him about Atlas, and our part in his final days. Considering this, the Archmage grew to trust me a little more saying that Atlas knew what he was doing. Apparently the rings we wore were a symbol. Given by the King to men who could be deemed both trustworthy and honourable, the rings symbolized the wearer’s inclusion into a group called the King’s Men. A small elite band of operatives, the King’s Men were at the King’s disposal, working toward His best interest. Finding out that I did not earn the ring in the traditional way was enough to cause the Archmage to distrust me, but considering how Atlas gave it to me, this distrust was reconsidered.

The Archmage told us that the King had been gathering artifacts and that the one that we brought back was one of them. He asked us to guard it for one day saying that some more of the King’s Men would be alone to continue its shipping to the Old World. Promising to do our best, we were led down to where it was kept. Housed in the lowest floor of the Archmage’s building, in a room, seemingly sealed by magic, was the artifact. I stood guard by the door, always willing to act as meat-shield, as I’ve heard it called. I asked Avaron to stay right next to it in case some portal was opened. Erathis knows how many times we’ve had to deal with teleportating foes. Leviss, I had placed on the other side of the room, ready and willing to strike. It was a good plan, but the road to the Underworld is paved with good intentions, or so the saying goes. Nodding off to sleep, I awoke just in time to see the Man in Black creep out of a portal and take the artifact off its stand. “Not this time!” I shouted, waking everyone up and leaping to the portal. Out crawls another tentacle monster, from the already closing portal. I smashed the monster out of the way instructing Leviss and Avaron to keep that portal open. When Leviss had the portal as large as it would go, straining with everything he had, Avaron, Leviss, and I jumped through it. We arrived just in time to see the Man in Black kneeling. There before him, and us, stood a giant drake, just like the statue we found, only larger, and a lot more alive. There above us was the largest, most terrifying, most primal source of power I had ever seen. We knew in our hearts that this was a “first one”, and we knew in our hearts that we were dead. Stunned into submission, it was the Archmage that saved us. Pulling us back through a portal, we arrived in his office, in shock, and surprisingly unharmed. The Archmage rambled about how, “it’s not possible, it can’t be…but it is, they are real,” and told us we did what we could, sending us back to the inn.

Barely able to stand, let alone walk, we supported ourselves back to the inn. Too tired to undress, we fell asleep on our beds, not that we slept very well at all.

A lot happened this week, and Erathis knows that if I had known the importance of that week, I might have acted differently. Not that it matters, the gods have a plan for us all, and I am thankful that I did not in fact know what was to come. Leviss’ skill at foresight might be seen as a blessing, but it could also be a curse, knowing and unable to avoid the future. I leave this journal as is, without further reflection, allowing the truth to speak for itself.

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