Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with another wonderful story from Elgarion, entitled
A Humbling and Hasty Departure
This story continues the adventures of Elbyon, ranger of Kahli, and follows the story ‘Trapped Between Bone and a Hard Place’
Background music by Smartsound.
I awoke from nightmares, immediately fading from memory, my soul still quaking from their mind-spinning ways. However, not being a child, I did not dwell upon them, nor did I bore my hosts with their details, if even I could recount them. As intent as I was before this night’s rest, I resumed my ambitions to escape the predicament I currently faced; this trap I found myself entangled within, I would be free of it.
As such, I initiated my morning routine. To an onlooker, it might appear as if I, a seasoned ranger, had performed these tasks as a daily ritual for many years. Within a matter of minutes, my bedroll was stowed, my body nourished and relieved, my teeth cleaned, my sundries packed, and boots donned. I ignored the merchants rudely that morning, sadly. Something of which I was ashamed. Without glancing to them for as much as a smile, inwardly sneering at their cowardice, I gathered my bow and sword, and strode eastward. But with only ten paces between us, I stopped in my tracks. A small pang of guilt influenced better manners, thankfully, but would only partly diminish my later regret. Turning, I shed my hood to reveal my hardened features and a subtle smile. Bowing to the merchants, I stated, ‘My evening companions, you were most kind to share your fire. I thank you for your generosity. I pray the gods grant you the courage and the fortitude to leave this canyon. However, it may be best to meet a fate with sword in hand, rather than to cower in the shadows. But alas, I am only one man, whose opinion matters little. Fare thee well, traveling merchants.’ Oddly, they gave no reply. Two merely stared westward longingly, dreaming of re-entering the Hidden Vale, no doubt. The other, organized his measly wares as if expecting customers at any moment.
Then, a shiver overtook me like never before. My knees went weak and my balance was lost for a moment. Regaining my composure, I focused upon the cause. A stunning sight that I’d never laid eyes upon before left me completely in awe. An ebony black shard of Daedalus hovered above the campsite. Evidently, the dark monstrosity had floated above me all through the darkness of the night. Wicked chains of enchanted black Obsidian steel restrained the shard from setting adrift. As I gazed into its dull gloss, I could not see yet could sense my darker half glaring back, eyes bent with hate, a visage twisted with absolute anger. This stone meant me harm. Perhaps if I had stared upon it for too long, I would harm myself? Others undeservedly? I am uncertain.
One thing for certain, if I had not lost my balance and fallen to my bottom, dropping my bow, and scraping my wrist against an outcropping of rock, my true awareness of my surroundings might never have returned. Quickly standing again, quivering with uncontrollable fright, my bow now again in hand, I turned away with reckless abandon, the merchants and the wicked stone now thankfully behind me. I was completely unnerved, rattled to the bone. As my distance from that site lengthened, I again took notice of the forgotten and repulsive hum which had been present throughout the eve. A mind numbing buzzing, deep and eternally humbling. With each step away from the campsite, the shard, the sound lessened and my composure increasingly returned. Only then did my night terrors completely drift from memory.
Foul magics were at work, here. I shun them. I despise those who’d weave such spells. Those of the dark robes I suspect, and I pray they are not amidst the dangers ahead. That is not a rallying cry for my intent to destroy them. It is but a wish, a cowardly hope for my own safety. And to think, I just scorned these merchants, hiding in the shadows, as I timidly stumbled away. Shame. Shame upon me, and I wonder to their fate, these Traveling Merchants as I shall always call them. I pray they find escape, for it will not be I that returns to save them. I will never face that vile stone again.
Uneasy, I continued. I made my best attempts to shrug off the affects of the shard, to dismiss my cowardice as humility, for certainly everyone meets their better. To assume one’s superiority over all others is arrogance. I accept that I was afraid for my life. I fled. I met my better, the creation of a foul wizard. It was something I cannot explain or even fully understand. I cannot be to blame for responding in such a way, or at least, that is what I told myself. For the guilt remains to this day, and even now it pains me that I will not return to offer assistance to these canyon dwellers.
With the sun already prominent in the sky, a ranger never dallies if expecting to cover significant ground during the light of day. In fact, the days are short in New Britannia, or so I’ve overheard; oft I endure the whines of Avatars, complaining of such unavoidable absolutes. Perhaps on their world, they are raised to complain about the unavoidable. Or perhaps they are accustomed to having more control of their surroundings, I do not know. But in New Britannia, if one’s adventures take them to the out of doors in the eve, additional dangers may abound. So surely, Kahli is no different, and if these myths are not exaggerated, travel might be doubly perilous at night’s fall.
Therefore, I thought it best that each day, my explorations would be brief and concise. For half the day, I would explore. The other half? I would seek shelter for that night’s safe respite, annotate my findings, and plan my next day’s journey. If I stick to this plan, certainly, it would be only a matter of days, perhaps a week, before I discover a safe exit from these vile lands. And albeit, there is comfort in routine, especially when one seeks to maximize a day’s use, one must also be wary if complacency were to intrude. For if my cautious nature were to wane as my confidence in my surroundings embolden, that is when I would lose my footing, feel a snakes venom within my veins, take a blade to my backside, or fall into a pit of spikes. At times like these, I wish I were not so devoted to my solitary livelihood. Perhaps, sometime in my future, I must seek a traveling companion. Two sets of watchful eyes are better than one. Most assuredly. Usually. Well, perhaps not. But my inclinations for a life in the wilds, alone, is a story for another time.
As the twists and turns of the canyon made for labored progress, I was eventually struck by an apparent oddness. The path ahead was direfully overgrown. Brambles and thorns, aplenty. Being a veteran to the outdoors, my machete was instinctfully and quickly in hand to clear away the brush. But my readiness with the blade did not shed light upon the quandary which rattled my nerve. Adding to the moment’s oddness, I began to speak softly to myself, ‘Why is this path so overgrown? Surely with daily jaunts into Kahli to gather water, the merchants would have worn a way. Surely.’ I shrugged, and attempted to dismiss distracting thoughts of the unordinary, the merchants, the stone, the overgrown path, but to no avail. Perhaps they spoke of another route. The canyon was complex, after all, and I might have missed a possible turn to another source of water. Certainly that must be it. Determined, I continued, hacking at dried brush, just as much to reveal the path as to relieve my frustrations. ‘A ranger, trapped in the wilds. Indeed!’ I spoke again to myself, this time with volume enough to cause echo along the canyon walls. ‘Ahhh, and this be thrice now I’ve spoken with myself today. Is the Madness of Kahli already creeping in? Does the foul stone still pluck at my mind, or does this merely suggest, yet again, that I am in need of company.” In foul mood, I worked my blade dull, but with each swing and strike, my mind relaxed.
Hours of hacking, slashing, and chopping yielded little way forward through the vegetation, but upon a turn and another slice through decaying foliage, a purplish light cast upon me. The light was magical, and likely somewhat illuminating during the night hours, but the luminance was sickly at best during the day. When I cast the last branch aside, a curtain opened before me, revealing a stage set for a horrific scene. If it were not midday, I might have lurched backward, for the direness would certainly have multiplied in the deceitful shadows of the night. But with much light to overpower the violet hues of the Obsidian lamp, still powered by waning, centuries old magic, the scene’s dramatic effect was greatly lessened. I was thankful for this. I stood quietly, captivated for minutes, allowing the dire imagery to consume my soul.
A ruin, ancient indeed, likely remains of Kahli from before the Great Cataclysm. A maze of stone walls, arches, and stairs stood meekly before me, only hinting at the grand shapes they once formed. At one time, I might have been greeted by a fanfare of street performers and barking merchants, but now the rubble was only a sad reminder of man’s mortality. The stones of the walls were crumbling to the ground, rightfully returning to the earth from which they were claimed. And amongst the ruins, were the dead. Not of the walking variety, or so I had hoped. Skeletons lay about, frozen into peculiar positions, as if posed. Five, to be exact. And one, the foremost, was reaching towards me. Or perhaps it was grasping at what it most desired, the canyon to my back, Kahli’s only known exit. I must discover another exit. I simply must.
Taking precaution not to utter these words aloud, as I did not wish to give merit to the rumors of Kahli’s disease-like madness, and certainly a fourth episode of self-conversation might prove just that, I considered, ‘Posed. Posed to ward off trespassers, no doubt. Certainly there can be nothing more to this, such an obvious attempt to frighten travelers. Primitive tribes put the heads of their enemies upon spikes to ward off the unwanted. This is nothing more than that. Nothing more.’ Assuring myself, feeling more confident, I readied my bow and stepped surefooted, ascending the short staircase into the Ruins of Kahli. It was there, that I met Elgarion. And it was there, that my life would take on a new purpose. But alas, the night grows late, and I must rest my hand to write another day.