User:Mediggo/A Bard's Tale
The War in Kryta ended in 1079 AE.
For a moment, it meant a brief respite to humanity. Over the next ten years, the nation of Kryta would reform as a kingdom under Queen Salma, and humans looked forward to brighter times, regardless of losses in Ascalon. Many a child were born, and trade and travel boomed in Kryta during that time. Heroes bent on conquering the untamed north, merchants from Elona looking to expand their business, and Canthan assassins looking for employment arrived in numbers to Tyria and to Kryta. Stories were told, passed on from generation to generation, by traveling Luxon bards and Vabbian court jesters. Occassionally, the norn skaald was also an occupation some adventurers sought to imitate, after returning from the far north. Eventually, this melting of cultures was adopted by the new wealthy and upper class of Kryta. As the tales, and the heroes they told of, became numerous beyond counting, so did the tellers of these stories.
Bards - as they were once called, were singers, performers and musicians. Unlike mesmers - who traditionally relied on illusion of their show and even mind control, bards sought to inspire their fellow people and plant honest motivation in them. Of course, not all shared such haughty intentions. Most bards, on the side of their regular business, settled for the coin that flowed from getting inside nobility's inner circle...Even for a few moments, for certain associations and guilds were more than keen to acclaim any information which could improve their status among the nation's finest. Many rangers and mesmers became bards in those peaceful times, who then passed on their skills to the apprentices they took. Thus did bards become known not only for their entertainment, but also for their martial and magical skills they picked from other professions, as well as their natural ability to motivate and bolster their allies' courage in heat of a battle. They were the lorekeepers, adventurers and spies of then-modern Kryta.
But there was no another golden age in sight for humanity. The charr took over Ascalon, save for Ebonhawke, while the three provinces of Elona fell to Palawa Joko and his undead horde. Cantha still stood strong under Emperor Usoku, but the contact was soon cut by the most threatening enemy - The Elder Dragons. Lion's Arch was washed away by the great flood caused by Zhaitan's awakening. Any attempts to stop its tide of undead forces were in vain, for any who fell in battle against Zhaitan's armies was soon to be found under the influence and control of the dragon. Tyria was scrambling as more dragons stirred. There was no time for merriment or laughter in fallen Kryta, now struggling against not only Elder Dragons but bandits and centaurs as well. Most practicers of entertainment and storytelling fell to poverty and faded from public, and even the memory of their existence would have been forgotten, if it weren't for the tireless scholars of Durmand Priory, and the less known guild - The Archivists' Sanctum. Still, some bard families survived to this day, though far from the respect and admiration they once received...
...This is a tale of one such bard.
- "None too soon, eh Trisha?" shouted the warrior, as he cut down the last centaur.
The final pluck had broken a string from Trisha's lute.
- "I hope that finale was worth it to you, Hod. Now I have to get back to capital and buy a new string... again." Trisha replied.
The warrior's left arm was still bleeding badly, despite heavy bandaging. Greagor sprang to his aid, as Hod was about to fall unconscious.
- "We'll need to head back anyways. Our job here is done, and Hod won't be in fighting shape for a couple of days." said the elementalist. "Gimme a hand, sis, will you?"
Trisha and Greagor helped the big norn back up on his feet.
- "Nonsense! I've been through worse than this, it's just..." Hod's sentence was left unfinished as he fell over onto his cracking knees.
- "We're not getting anywhere like this. His leg's about to fall off!" Trisha cried at the sound of snapping bones, and they quickly laid Hod back down for further inspection.
- "Well, we need to get him to Beetletun, at least. See any intact carts among those wagons?" Greagor asked as he used the last of his bandages to keep Hod's leg in place.
Trisha looked around. They were right on time, as the centaurs hadn't killed all the villagers by the time they had arrived, and some of their property was mostly untouched as well. She approached one of the villagers.
- "Excuse me, but my friend is dying and we're going to need...that..." Trisha pointed at the peasants's handcart, currently transporting vegetables, "...To carry him out of here alive."
The farmer hesitated for a second, but apparently thought it a fitting reward for their saviors. Trisha thanked the poor man, tossing him a coin, and sped back to Greagor and Hod. They lifted Hod on the cart, and tried to support his broken limbs so he would lose as little blood as possible.
- "Alright then... Could use a mule here, but I guess this is the best we have. You take the left handle." Greagor said. He was left-handed.
They picked off, heading down the road to the east, leaving the refugees behind. The farmers couldn't provide shelter nor medical attention that Hod now required. And the refugees weren't exactly the reason why they were in the Freehold anyways, just the blighted centaurs. That particular group had been eluding Seraph patrols, raiding between Beetletun Farms and the Freeholds for days. Trisha's group was able to cut their retreat to Queen's Forest. Their contract had not explicitly mentioned any refugees. Trisha had wanted to stay and help them at first, but after realizing Hod's condition she knew they couldn't spare a moment for peasants. Shire of Beetletun was on a rough-traveled hill, resting on the edge of rugged hillside. If they couldn't make it before nightfall, they'd be easy target for bandits, centaurs, and more.
For the three of them, their return from the centaur-ridden farmholds was the most unusual of all their trips together. Trisha was not singing, but humming quietly, to avoid unnecessary attention. Hod, who could keep on his attitude even in direst of circumstances, was oddly silent as well, which affected Greagor in return. His wounds must be greater than we realize thought Trisha to herself, picking up the pace and telling her elder brother to do the same. They had been working together in the same guild for a couple of years now. Prior to that, Greagor was training to get a position in the Ministry Guard, but he couldn't make it in the competition. Trisha didn't know her brother personally until she came of age and learned of him. Her family considered him to be a black sheep for failing to enter Ministry Guard, and Trisha, another stain on their name for abandoning their family's business and accompanying her mercenary-brother. Together, they had been working with the norn Hod Frostcleaver for several months, and had since then become good friends with Hod, despite racial differences, and the norn's occassional drinking to the point of madness. For anyone who is not a norn themselves, there's enough in regular drinking.
- "Hey, Greags... you still have that flask I wanted you to hold on to?" Hod muttered from behind them.
- "I think you should stay away from alcohol until we get you to a town and healed." Greagor answered.
- "Y'think so? Eh, well... alright. I'm already feeling better, though. Just letting you know..."
- "We know you can take a bleeding, and a blacking out - but not both at the same time." Trisha noted. "Just a little longer and we're there."
The sun was setting as they neared Beetletun.
- "Trisha! A word just arrived that scouts have spotted a whole pride of centaurs in Valley Headland, northeast from here."
- "Are they attacking here? How is Hod?" Trisha asked her brother.
- "They definitely have something in mind. For now, they seemed to be just regrouping. Hod is doing okay, but the priestess told he should take it easy and not lift a weapon 'til tomorrow."
That would be a problem. Hod was the melee and muscle of their small group. And centaurs could, if they were indeed ready and willing for assault, easily cover the hills east of Beetletun overnight. Of course, they were not the only defense of the shire. Many Seraph had been summoned to Beetletun lately, and there were even groups of Ministry Guard standing watch over the shire and the Legate Minister's mansion. Trisha did not know if Minister Caudecus himself was present, but it would be likely considering the amount of guards in the estate courtyard.
- "In other words, if the centaurs are going to attack Beetletun, he'll just get hurt more. Because he isn't going to step back in that case."
- "Indeed, but there is little we can do to avert that. If they're coming here, we must defend ourselves... and the shire." Greagor agreed.
- "Since when you started caring about Beetletun?"
- "I trained and served here under Ministry Guard often. I know these people." Greagor said with honest and almost proud look on his face.
That was fine with Trisha. Greagor wasn't always so eager to help his countrymen.
- "As you say, brother. We should prepare, and discuss with the captain for our position."
With the combined force of them - the Seraph platoons and the Ministry Guard, they should easily be able to hold back an even larger invasion from such a fortified position. But the bitter rivalry between the Seraph and the Ministry Guard was a well known fact, and tensions had been on the rise as of late. The Guard could not be relied upon defending anything but the minister and his mansion, unless he ordered otherwise. The Seraph would probably ignore the Guard and not act in cooperation, which would be sooner or later exploited by centaurs known of their flanking tactics. Neither order would be quick to trust Trisha's group either. The Guard knew Greagor for his attempt to join them, and Hod had been arrested several times by the Seraph already. Looking towards the northern wall, searching for a good archery position, Trisha could see some Seraph and a presenter of the Ministry Guard already at each others' throats, arguing for whatever reason.
Lowering her voice, Trisha spoke to her brother again, "Create a distraction for me. I need to get in the mansion."
- "What?" Greagor twitched at what he heard.
- "I need a distraction to get past the Guard. I'm going to speak to the minister."
- "He won't listen to you, and will have you thrown to dungeon for burglary. He must be aware of the situation, but hasn't ordered his soldiers anywhere useful yet." Greagor objected. He was used to her sister coming up with ideas short of crazyness, but never quick to agree on executing them.
- "I must try. The upcoming battle will be a catastrophe if our side is not united." Trisha said determined.
- "Dwayna be merciful... I'll see what I can do. Wait for my go." Greagor shaked his head, walking away from his sister and off the alley they were talking at.
Trisha followed him for a moment, towards Caudecus' estate, then parted ways to another direction, and hid behind a hedge. Greagor walked past Seraph patrol, up the stairs, where some guards were having a briefing of some kind. Greagor looked back at her sister, and Trisha nodded back at him. Sighing, Greagor attuned to air magic, his hands surrounded by lightning aura. A guardsman paid attention to this, but not quickly enough to warn the others. Greagor clapped his hands together, flashing in to their midst, and blinded each one of them with a flash of light.
- "Gentlemen... it's payback time." he whispered, his hand aura changing in form to dust and pieces of rock as he cast a spell.
A short quake and shockwave followed. The guards were blown away from the epicenter of explosion, most of them knocked unconscious. "Slightly worse for wear, but mostly unharmed," Trisha observed. Greagor was nowhere to be seen. The front door was smashed in, which caused half a dozen guards, more conscious and more surprised than their comrades stationed in the courtyard, to pour out from within. Trisha jumped up to the outer ledge of the mansion, smashed a window after checking there was nobody in the room, and climbed in.
Trisha quickly deduced that the dark room was indeed the mansion kitchen. She looked back out of the window, and saw the guard pulling their friends back on their feet. She still couldn't see Greagor anywhere, but she saw some Seraph running up to the estate and to the courtyard. Trisha knew they wouldn't work together, The Ministry Guard was on their own to find out what happened. There were other mages in Beetletun, and the Seraph would not let the guard mess around in the precipice of centaur assault. "Now to find the minister," she thought. She walked quietly to the larger door of the two that the room held and peaked through the keyhole. It was lighted on the other side, but she couldn't see anyone, only hear distant shouts and heavily armed soldiers trampling in the courtyard and within the mansion. She opened the door just enough to have a better look at the larger room behind it. It was a dining room, as she expected. There were candles lit on the table, and the chandelier and wall torches were also lit. There were some documents and other items on the long table. "They were probably planning how to defend the mansion should the worst happen," Trisha guessed.
She pushed the door more open, and slipped past it into the well-lit hall. Keeping to the walls and curtains, she made her way across the large room. Assured that nobody was laying in wait for her, or otherwise just in case, she approached the long table, headed by a chair which no doubt belonged to the minister, and where the battle plans laid. The maps covered the entire Shire of Beetletun, and the various lines of defense that had been drawn on them, contrary to her expectations, encompassed more than just the mansion. There was also another map drawn which helpfully explained the posts of Ministry Guard at the front gate, facing the opposite direction from where the centaurs were likely to advance from. Another line and arrow showed a possible flanking strategy should the centaurs make it within walls of Beetletun. Trisha knew that only the seal of a minister would authorize these documents as accepted course of action by the Ministry Guard, something all of the plans and maps on the table lacked. Suddenly, she heard a voice coming from the other end of the hall, beyond the double doors. She grabbed a plan which focused in defense of the estate in particular, shoved it in her pocket and hid behind wall curtains as the doors flung open.
In the meantime, Greagor sped back to Beetletun temple, where Hod was resting. He had suppressed the magical aura of an elementalist and kept to the shadows when Seraph rushed past him to find out what had happened in the estate. Then he saw the towering shadow of a norn standing in the doorway of the temple to Dwayna.
- "There you are! I cannot begin to tell how long it took from me to assure that priest of yours that I'm all right. Did the centaurs invade already? I was just going to get my axe."
- "No, it's... It was nothing. The battle is not upon us yet." Greagor answered, hesitating to tell the loud norn what had transpired.
- "What? But what was all that racket about? Surely, if there are no centaurs, there is still a fight to be fought?"
- "No, Hod. There's no fight. Listen, we should go get your axe. It's in the armor cabined outside temple. Trisha should join us soon, so let's just save ourselves for the upcoming battle."
- "Where is Trisha?" Hod asked, albeit rather uninterestedly.
- "She... is doing her job, if you know what I mean. Just bear with me. But if she gets in trouble, we have to rescue her. THEN you will have your battle."
- "Rescue her? Are you sure she is not in danger already? Is she at the estate?"
- "My friend, let us stay back right now. I'd rather not attract attention to myself..." Greagor spoke in low voice.
Hod's eyes widened slightly in mild surprise, then burst to laughter.
- "Quiet! Let's get back to our quarters, now! This is important, Hod!" the elementalist replied angrily.
Hod, barely holding his laugh, and Greagor, peering anxiously around them, headed back towards the inn they were booked in.
Back in the mansion, Trisha saw Legate Minister Caudecus stepping into the dining hall, along with a group of Ministry Guard and Seraph officers. They walked between the tables towards her. One of the officers sped past the minister, and pulled the large chair heading the table for the minister, who sat down.
- "Once your troops have found the mage, detain and question him. For now, we need to assess these plans. Johan, what were you going to say about your suggestion?" spoke the minister to his entourage, while examining the documents.
- "My lord," began the tall soldier, "The people require our aid as well as the Seraph's. We cannot turn them down. Hence I have made changes to the original plan of keeping to the estate: We should focus our capacity on protecting the entire Beetletun and work alongside the Seraph, though not under their command, as the captain suggested." the officer finished, while drawing additional defense lines to cover the other flank of the rear gate, guarded by the Seraph.
- "If the Seraph agree to this plan, we shall execute it. Captain?"
The Seraph captain exchanged a word with his subordinate. "It will be done, my lord," he answered, and saluted the minister. Caudecus nodded to him in response.
- "With all due respect, my lord," another Ministry Guard officer entered into conversation, "We should not waste our resources doing the Seraph's job. We should protect you and the estate in case they fail their duty, and strike from a fortified position, namely the mansion. I have my version of a suitable strategy right here..." the guard continued, searching the papers on the table, but not finding what he was looking for.
- "Enough," Caudecus declared. The officer named Johan offered the minister a piece of sealing wax, which Caudecus heated on a candle, then pressed it on the corner of the map, and finished the seal with his signet ring.
- "...As you wish, my lord," the frustrated officer answered to him.
- "We will proceed with the captain's proposal, effective immediately. You are dismissed. Donnic, you stay for a moment"
All but the minister and the officer who had opposed the plan set off towards exit. Trisha used the ensuing noise as cover as she nimbly unlocked the window locks and exited the mansion behind curtains. She pulled the paper from her pocket, and looked at it. It showed numerous defensive lines around the estate, and arrows pointing out counter-strike and flanking routes. Trisha split the map in half, the crunched each piece into a mess of a ball, and cast them off the outer ledge down to lush hedge which grew against the wall.
The sound of blown war horn ripped through the cool air of morning glow. Men and women, Seraph and Ministry Guard shouted orders as others took their positions on the shire wall, gates and archer towers. An asura engineer finished the final calibrations of his golem before sending it to reinforce the rear gate. A pair of trappers were still examining their devious ambush at main entrance. Trisha, Greagor and Hod had joined the bulk of Seraph vanguard to defend the northern frontline outside Beetletun. The siblings had convinced Hod to stay away from melee as much as possible, supporting the vanguard together from the gate. The centaurs were charging downhill from northeast, as expected, but two more platoons had been spotted circling around the village, attempting to surround them - and stop any reinforcements that were still on their way.
- "Remember that I can't play the finale with my lute broken. Save your transformation for emergency, and don't overextend yourself." Trisha reminded Hod.
- "I hope you have enough stamina to keep going. It looks like a whole horde of them are upon us!" Hod replied, and roared a battle cry as the hostile cavalry charged upon the Seraph.
- "Here they come!" cried Greagor as he conjured several bows of frost for Hod to use.
The norn took the bow, and with it, rained volley of icy arrows over the heads of Seraph, slowing the advance of their enemy. Trisha also raised her own bow, drew the arrow and whispered a grace on top of her exhaled breath. She pulled the arrow back against thin string, aimed high in the air and sung in enchanted voice:
- "Even the wildest foe shall not flee
- This punishment I inflict upon thee
- For invading this realm of ours
- In the darkest of Kryta's hours."
The released arrow launched to skies, exploding, and raining countless magic arrows over their mark. Many a centaur had been felled, but more trampled upon the Seraph from the hills, seemingly from all sides. Hod used two frost bows at once to double his firepower and Greagor rained fire and brimstone on their foes. Trisha did her best keeping the Seraph vanguard together with her mending song as they were pushed back against the gate, though the golem construct could still hold its ground.
- "Oh, my darling, how I miss your face
- But this is a threat we must embrace
- My darling, my love for you knows no end
- Never will I against an enemy bend."
The battle was now all around them. Seemingly endless waves of hoofed opponents poured down on their small vanguard, and though hindered by defenders by the walls, pushed their unit further and further back until they were within Beetletun. Hod had used up all the bows Greagor had conjured, grabbed his battle axe, and charged into melee in terrible fury, before neither of his friends could tell him to stay back. Greagor used his air magic to reach Hod in an instant, and lent him assistance with lightning aura and shocking touch. Trisha focused on using her soul voice to its fullest as she dragged a wounded Seraph soldier out of harm's way. They received more aid from Ministry Guard assigned near their post, but the horde was seemingly endless in number. Soon they found themselves under fire of centaur riflemen.
- "Trisha! Use something to bring them down!" Hod roared from the front. The golem beside him had started overheating and slowing down.
Trisha attuned to a new song, altering her voice from gentle to booming.
- "Beware, fiend! Your time has come
- It is not yet too late to run!
- While my voice lasts, so will I
- And in the end, down you will lie!"
The echoing waves of Trisha's voice physically knocked the attackers back, giving Hod more ground to swing his axe on. Greagor attuned back to water and used healing magic to revigorate their allies. As the tide of battle finally seemed to be turning, the fighters heard another alarm:
- "They are summoning elementals!" shouted one of the archers from the wall.
Hod Frostcleaver was breathing heavily. He could feel his legend coming to an end at the hands of elementals summoned by centaur shamans. As his many wounds were bleeding faster, rest of the world seemed slowing down. His weighting axe made him tighten his grip on it, and the feeling of weapon's mass and shaft's wrapping made him remember how it was like to lift it the first time. His mind raced on to his earliest victories... How he had survived from dozens of desperate battles. How he had survived the Great Hunt years ago, and how he had bested a great wurm with Eadwyn. How he had met Greagor and Trisha during hot summer night in Lion's Arch. And how happy his daughter was when when he bought her an asuran trinket from Tarnished Coast. The Spirits of the Wild had truly favored him in life. Now, he could no longer hear their guidance in his heart.
As his mighty axe finally crushed through the elemental's solid, rocky bulk, dismantling it, Hod knew this was going to be the final chapter of his legend. He closed his eyes in the relief that he might have saved his friends, but when he opened them, the field of battle, the fighters, and all else were gone. He was now in a strange realm, perhaps in some corner of the Mists, and could feel a dark presence reaching for his heart. And the presence had a dark promise...
It whispered of undying power and everlasting legend to the weary warrior.
As the great elemental fell apart, Greagor Gast cast a bolt of lightning to the heart of shaman chief that had summoned them and been in their embracing cover until now. "A mere delay," he thought, as the centaurs kept coming at them. He had suffered a serious spear wound to his left shoulder, and casting stronger spells had become increasingly exhausting to the young elementalist. As the dust and boulders set down, Greagor could see his norn friend overwhelmed by centaur warriors. Enraged and despair, he could feel his very spirit burning of rage, and shouted the words to evoke powerful fire magic.
A moment ago, the weather had been cloudy and just barely rainy. Then Greagor's spell shattered the clouds as sky itself cracked. A mighty stream of fire and brimstone poured down from heavens, burning and flaying Kryta's enemies from battlefield. The whole area was clouded in ash and smoke, and for an hour or so nobody could see the entire Beetletun outside the dark cloud. When the darkness finally dissipated, centaurs had fled the battle, granting victory to united Seraph, Ministry Guard, and all the other fighters of the defending side. Remaining victors started searching through rubble and corpses for remains of their allies - the battle had cost greatly for both sides, and Greagor's heaven-fire had also made it nigh impossible for wounded to get aid in time.
Trisha Gast had joined the Seraph squads in scouring the area. Many soldiers who had been seen fighting before fire and ash poured over them, and although it hadn't directly harmed them, they had mostly been robbed of their senses by chaos, dirt, ash and remains of centaurs that swept over them. They finally found out what seemed to be charred and ripped remains of an elementalist's garb, as well as Greagor's knives he had inherited from their grandparents before he was abandoned by them. And a dozen feet away they could see a mighty, still-burning blade struck deep on earth - the pinnacle of Greagor's destructive incantation, that bore the symbol of Elementalist. However, they couldn't find any remains of the mighty norn warrior from the pile of ashes and charred centaur flesh and bones than covered the area. The embers were still very hot.
Trisha fell on her knees on the warm ground that was seared by his brother's wrath. "If this was what he had to do to save Hod... but he's not here..." she thought, unable to think of anything else or lift her gaze from the smoldering ground. The soldiers left her alone, and went on to search for the few who had been seen going down before flame struck over them. As their footsteps and disdainful mutterings grew distant, Trisha began to weep for her brother and her friend she could have called a father. As such, she didn't hear the other tone of feet walking on softened earth - a pair of heavy and long-stepping boots, and if one were carefully paying attention, also a very quiet sound of a four-legged beast coming closer.
A hand that could only belong to a norn was laid on Trisha's shoulder, and a gentle female voice said to her:
- Do not weep for the fallen. So long as you remember their sacrifice and honor their memory, they will live on in your heart."
Still crying, Trisha rose up and walked past the speaker and her white wolf companion. She walked to what seemed to be Greagor's remains, and kicked them in anger. She then crouched, and took the dagger that had belonged to her brother, and laid down her shattered, soundless lute in its place.