The next morning saw the guild up before the sun. After eating a quick breakfast in the dark, they grabbed their gear, snuffed out the dying fire, and began their journey. The sun was lighting up the sky with soft pinks and glowing oranges as the guildies reached the outer border of the Pact camp. Heading north, then west, they took the same path they had used for gliding practice. Raven led the way, and when they reached the bridge, she held her hand up for them to stop. “See the path winding up the hill ahead of us?” she asked. Once everyone agreed, she continued, “We can save some time by hopping the updraft here that we practiced with. When you reach the top of the updraft, glide forward towards the path, and land safely there. Then I will show you the next updraft. This one is larger and can lift us high enough to land on the top of the mountain. At the top of it, you’ll need to swing your glider hard to the left to turn and reach where we are going. Any questions?”
Shaking their heads, they lined up behind Raven with their gliders, ready to go. “Ok, then just follow me. We’ll stop on the path, and then again at the top to make sure we have everyone. Be mindful of each other please,” she said before turning and jumping into the updraft. Gliding forward, she landed smoothly on the path and moved a bit up the path to make room for the others to land. One by one, they all jumped off the bridge, hit the updraft and glided towards the path. Once everyone was together again, Raven moved up the path to the next updraft. “Watch,” she said before jumping off and shooting into the air. Reaching the top of the updraft, she turned hard left and glided to the rocks above their head. Leaning over the edge of the rocks, she yelled back down, “Now you guys try! One by one again! Aim for me!” Dam jumped first, followed by Likoi, Ian, Aura, and Vayne. The others followed with Trauma being last. “Great job guys,” Raven said happily. “But we still have a ways to go, so we better keep moving.” Nodding their agreement, the guildies fell in line behind Raven to continue their journey.
Rounding the corner of the path, they came to a large plateau. Raven stopped suddenly, and the others crashed into her. Before them lay the remains of another crumpled Pact ship. The engine lay smashed before them, the gears spinning freely in the wind. After the shock wore off, the group began to move slowly around the wreckage. Large pieces of twisted metal were lying all over the ground, scattered in all directions from the impact. Beyond the engine, the glass of the main body of the airship shone in the sun, glittering, reflecting light in all directions. A bit further, there was a gaping hole in what would have been the cargo hold.
Turning to Daeron, Vayne asked, “Have your scouts been this far? Salvaged supplies from here?”
“Only once,” he replied. “We needed to be heading back and our lead scout stuck his head in there real quick, said he saw nothing, and motioned us on back to camp. I have no idea if there is truly anything there or not.”
Nodding, Vayne turned to Trauma. “I think we should stop here for lunch, and see if we can find anything of value in this wreckage. I know we are limited on what we can carry, but it can’t hurt to look.”
“You heard the lady. Time for a break and some exploring. Eat first, and then we’ll do some searching. We won’t stay long. I don’t think we should make camp for the night in the open like this, so let’s be quick about it. We still have lots of ground to cover,” Trauma ordered.
The group quickly made a circle out of their gear and rummaged around in their packs for food. Chewing silently on meat and cheese, they soon finished eating and paired off into groups to check for supplies. Climbing into the cargo hold, the group was greeted by more broken glass, twisted metal, and large, thick vines that seemed to choke the life out of everything. They soon found two crates of Pact supplies. Prying open the crates, they found some dried food, some cloth, and fire starters. They divided the food up among everyone. Raven took the cloth, and Trauma, Dam, Tarr, Alex, and Vayne divided up the fire starters. “Break the crates apart, please,” Raven asked. “We can use the wood tonight for a fire. Save us some time not having to search for it.” Nodding, the guys went to work breaking and stacking the wood. Using strips of the cloth, Raven tied the bundles together and handed one to Tarr and one to Alex. The strong charrs lifted them easily and headed back out of the wreckage.
Once everyone was back outside, they placed the extra food inside their packs and prepared to leave. Raven stood at the edge of the wreckage waiting for everyone to be ready. Heading through an opening in the rocks, the guild began descending a steep incline. Several guildies began gliding down instead of walking. Soon everyone was gliding, following the path around to the left, through an archway created by more Pact wreckage. Just passed the arch, the guildies landed and looked to Raven. “We go right; going left will only take us back to where we started,” she said in answer to their questioning looks. “The path is narrow here. Mind your step, please.” The group continued along the slope until they reached a small flat area hanging over the ravine. A small stone bridge continued to the right. It was not very long and only wide enough for one person. “We never scouted quite this far before. I’ll test the bridge, and then we can continue on.” Whistling for her pets, Raven stepped onto the bridge. Inching across it slowly, she felt no movement in the stonework. It seemed sturdy enough. “Ok, guys. It seems fine,” she said once she reached the other side. “Just to be safe, though, only come across one at a time. I don’t want to risk it.” They filed across the bridge, one at a time, making sure the person in front of them made it before starting over. Once everyone had crossed the bridge, they continued. Not far beyond the bridge, they came into a large clearing. Trees grew over the area offering shade and cover from prying eyes. Several small plateaus of rock ringed the open area.
“This seems a good place to stop for the night,” Trauma said after a few minutes. “We will have about an hour before dark, so let’s scout around and find a safe, well, relatively safe spot for the night.” The guildies made a pile of their gear and began moving around the clearing to see what they could find. They found more Pact wreckage and a small cave hidden down some stone steps. There was a pool of water at the base of a cliff. It seemed to just appear from nowhere, with no visible source, feeding a small stream that plunged over a sheer cliff face a few hundred meters away. Just before dark, Trauma called everyone back together and asked for options of where to camp for the night.
“There is a cave down some stone steps,” Aura offered. “It would give us cover.”
“This whole clearing is level. We could sleep most anywhere,” Blood said. “Just pick a spot.”
“I saw a small plateau over to the right that I think will work,” Daeron spoke up. “It’s a tight fit, but that would give those on watch less to guard against. There are no clouds in the sky, so I think we will be safe from rain, though there are a couple trees up there for shelter if we need them. Plus, we are close to that fresh water source,” he finished.
“Sounds like a great idea,” Trauma said. “Grab your stuff and let’s get settled in for the night. I’m getting hungry.” Following Daeron to the outcropping of rock, they noticed a couple creatures milling about on top of it. Not sure if they were dangerous, they stopped and watched for a moment. Suddenly, one of the creatures turned and leaped at them. Spraying a smoky cloud at them, the creature leaped from person to person, jaws snapping. The other animal joined in, and soon the guildies were having trouble seeing. Dodging and yelling help to each other, they worked to kill the animals before they were injured. Tarr managed to stab one in the back with his sword, severing its spinal column, killing it instantly. Likoi and Isomeik converged on the last one, daggers drawn. Likoi slid under the beast cutting its throat while Isomeik stabbed it through the eye. The beast gave one last roar of pain before collapsing to the dirt.
“What the hell were those things?” Raven asked when the smoke finally cleared.
“Dunno, but they sure are ugly,” Likoi piped up, standing on the creature’s back.
“I don’t care if it’s ugly, but I do care if I can make it into a steak,” Dam said coming to look at the corpses. “I think it’s edible. Anyone else want a steak?”
The guildies chimed in on whether or not they thought it was edible. Raven set about building a fire for the night while they discussed the fresh kill at her feet. The guys soon sliced thick hunks of meat from the dead creatures. Finding sticks, they hung the meat above the flames to sear it to perfection. Raven munched on her cheese and apples as she watched with disgust as the fellas ate their ‘jungle steaks.’ Once everyone had dinner and sleeping mats were arranged around the fire for the night, Raven spoke up. “I think we are close to the area for the city ruins. According to the information I picked up, the entrance should be over near the waterfall. I tried to look tonight, but the light was no good. We’ll check it in the morning, but I have a good feeling about it.”
The evening was mostly quiet as the guildies sat around the fire chatting about what they thought could be in the abandoned city. Suddenly, Ian could be heard making a low groaning sound. Turning towards him, they waited to see if he would have a stronger reaction this time. “Stop talking to me! I hate you, and I won’t be swayed! Aaaaaah!” Ian cried before slumping over. Reaching over to check him, Alex said, “He still has a pulse…well, if salads can have a pulse.” Relaxing the group slowly began chatting again. Raven caught Mondo’s eye and gave him a knowing look. Shaking his head, Raven relaxed a bit. It is reassuring, and troublesome, that he doesn’t hear the call like Ian does, she thought. Mondo and Alex carried Ian to his sleeping mat. A few of the others began to turn in as well.
“Show yourself,” Aura said suddenly.
“Damn it! Every time, Aura,” came the reply as a figure stepped into the firelight.
“Petter!” Raven exclaimed as she recognized the voice. “What are you doing here?”
“Hey! Well, I couldn’t let you guys have ALL the fun, now could I?” he said as he sat down.
“Good to see ya, Petter!” Trauma said. “We didn’t call for you, so how did you know where to find us?”
“You know me, Trauma. I have my ways,” he said with a wink. “I make it my business to know where you guys are.”
“Fair enough. How long ya staying?” Trauma asked.
“Not sure yet. Depends on what we find in that ruined city tomorrow,” came the answer.
“How do you know…oh, nevermind. I forgot who you work for,” Raven said, answering her own question. “Hungry, Petter? I think there is some left-over jungle critter over there.”
“I’m good. Thanks. I’m just gonna find a place to catch some sleep if you guys don’t mind. I didn’t plan on making myself known until tomorrow, but since someone ruined the surprise, I’ll just get some rest now.”
“You’re welcome,” Aura said with a giggle. “Night, Petter.”
“Good night, all,” he tossed over his shoulder as he weaved his way among the sleeping guildies looking for a spot to call his own.
“That was a nice surprise,” Vayne said once Petter had gone.
“Yup, will be nice to have another friend with us tomorrow,” Trauma replied. “I think we should all get some sleep now. Something tells me tomorrow might be a long day. Dam, you and Raven take first watch. Vayne and Aura can take second watch. Night night.”
After Petter’s arrival, there were no more surprises for the night. It passed quickly and quietly, as the jungle frogs croaked. The bugs chirped a peaceful tune, as birds called to each other from the canopy. Raven hoped this wasn’t the calm before the storm as she woke Aura and Vayne for watch duty. Bidding the ladies good night, Raven went and laid down with her pets, but sleep would not find her. She couldn’t shake the feeling that tomorrow was gonna change things, and she wasn’t sure that it was for the better. As dawn grew near, she gave up out of frustration, and joined the others on watch. The three sat silently staring at the dying fire until the sun came up. Nodding to each other, they moved to wake the others. Time to find out what was passed that waterfall.
Once the group was awake and fed, they turned to Trauma for guidance. “Raven will take the lead with her scout party this morning. When they give us the ok, we’ll follow behind them. We’ll do that for each step of the way. Safety first. I want to run head first in there too, but we can’t risk it. Any questions?” Everyone shook their head, so Trauma continued. “Then grab your things, and let’s get moving.” Raven, Dam and Likoi moved to the front of the group, and led the way down the path that paralleled the stream. Small mushrooms dotted the banks along the stream. Bending down to inspect one, Dam jumped back.
“It moved!” he exclaimed as he turned to the others.
“No way. It’s a ‘shroom. Stop teasing us,” Raven replied, frustrated to get moving.
“I’m serious. It…” Just then the mushroom did move. It sprouted legs and began running circles through the group. Jumping out of its way, everyone began drawing their weapons. Suddenly, Likoi jumped at it, and plunged his dagger in its cap. It instantly fell over dead.
“What the hell was that thing?” everyone asked.
Dam bent down to study the corpse. “No clue. Never seen anything like it, and I’ve seen some crazy shit. I wish I had time to study it. Just be careful from now on. There are probably more.”
Nodding their agreement, the group continued down the path. They didn’t get far before they found the waterfall. Holding up her hand for everyone to stop, Raven looked over the edge. The guildies fanned out around her on the edge of the cliff. Before them was a wide, deep ravine. In the distance, they could see a group of rock spires, resembling mountains, but not quite. Below them, seemingly suspended in midair was a rock, wrapped in more of the vines that were scattered throughout the jungle. Raven squinted in the bright morning light. Suddenly she shouted, “I see it! I see the entrance!” They crowded around for a closer look, and soon everyone was excited.
“I’ll take Dam and Likoi and glide to that rock below us. If it seems steady, and we make it across to the entrance, I’ll send Nevermore back up as a signal that it is safe for everyone, ok? I don’t want to risk tossing all of us into that hole over there.”
“Take your time,” Trauma said as the others backed up from the cliff. “We’ll do this right. No worries.”
Nodding, Raven jumped into the air, and opened her glider. Dam and Likoi followed close behind, and they quickly drifted to the rock below. When they landed, they were surprised to find that the rock didn’t move at all. The vine held it stiff in the air. From here, they had a better view of the entrance. There was a large circular archway flanked by two larger columns. Four smaller columns held up the circular arch. Inside them was a small rectangular opening. Broken steps lay near the entrance and rocks where scattered all over.
“I assume that is our door,” Dam said as the group studied the entrance.
“Let’s get down there and look around. The others are waiting,” Likoi chimed in hurriedly.
“Ok, ok. We’ll go,” Raven agreed.
Jumping together, they opened their gliders, and drifted towards the entrance. Landing in front of the archway, they stowed their gliders and walked forward cautiously. “Whoa,” Raven said as they came to a set of stairs. The stairs, in fact the whole room was tilted. Columns stretching at least ten meters in the air, supported the roof. Heading up the stairs, they found yet another doorway, and beyond it, another room. This room was also tilted. The two rooms appeared to be the remains of a grand entrance way. Aside from being tilted, it was still in very good condition. The third door they came to seemed to hold a magical portal. They couldn’t see anything beyond it, and the center wavered and shimmered.
“We’ve gotta get the others for this,” Dam said,
“Agreed,” Likoi and Raven said together.
“Stay here together. I’ll walk back to the beginning, and send Nevermore for the others. I’ll wait for them there. Do NOT explore without us. Got it?” she said as she gave them a stern look.
“We promise. Scout’s honor,” Dam replied nudging Likoi.
“Yeah, we promise,” he said.
Raising her eyebrows at them, she headed back to the entrance. When she got there, she called Nevermore to perch on her hand. “Nevermore, fly back up to the guildies, and land on Trauma’s left shoulder. Be careful not to peck him, or he may peck you back. He’ll know to come. Understood?” Nevermore seemed to nod his head as he let out a ‘caw’ and flew from Raven’s hand. Soon she could no longer see her bird as she watched the sky. Raven worriedly watch for signs that her friends got the message. It seemed like a long time before she noticed gliders in the air coming closer. Landing on the rock first, they slowly trickled down to the entrance of the ruins. Trauma was the last one to land, followed by Nevermore perching on Raven’s shoulder.
“That bird of yours is lucky to be alive,” Trauma growled to Raven.
“Why? What did you do, Nevermore?” she asked her companion as he sat on her shoulder. Turning his head as if he didn’t know what she was talking about, she turned to Trauma. “What did he do?”
“He pecked my ear!” Trauma exclaimed. “If I could have caught him, I would have eaten him!”
Nevermore seemed to cackle in Raven’s ear. “Nevermore! I told you not too!” Raven chided her pet. “Sorry, Trauma. I told him just to perch on your shoulder.” As Trauma walked off to join the others, Raven couldn’t help but giggle. “Nevermore. You are a bad bird!” Turning to the group, Raven said, “Dam and Likoi are waiting up ahead for us. There are two rooms and what seems to be a magical portal ahead. Let’s go check it out before they grow impatient and go without us.” She led the way up the stairs and through the crooked rooms to where the men were waiting. Gesturing to the portal, she shrugged. “We’re not sure what it is or where it leads. My guess is it hides the ruined city we are looking for. Shall we check it out?”
“Wait a minute,” Vayne said. “Should we all just rush in there not knowing where it leads? Maybe we should send a mesmer with portal to see if it is safe. Aura can check quickly, and then we can all follow.
“I can do it,” Ian said. “I’m a mesmer too.”
“We know you are, but, sorry, we can’t risk it. If Mordemoth gets to you…” Trauma didn’t finish, but let the implication hang in the air. “Nothing personal.”
Nodding his understanding, Ian stepped back between Mondo and Alex. Trauma nodded to Aura who motioned everyone to step back. Waving her hand, she created a portal entrance just before the magical gateway. “Wish me luck,” she said cheerily as she stepped through the gateway and disappeared from sight. A few seconds later, Aura’s portal glowed, and she stepped back through it. “It’s safe. I made it through the gateway, and I was teleported to a sandy area. There is a rock archway, and a path that leads down. I didn’t want to explore further. Portal range and all. Let’s go,” she said excitedly. Trauma nodded his approval and everyone followed Aura through the magical gateway.
Emerging on the other side, the group got their bearings and began to look around. Near the rock archway that Aura had seen was an opening in the rock wall. The guildies stood in awe at what they saw below them. There were platforms of rock connected by bridges. On those platforms sat buildings arranged to form a town. To the right, they saw a circular area that looked like a theater or an arena. In front of them was an airship, still intact, looking as if it had just landed. Walking around the path through the arch, they stopped once again. This time there was a perfect view of the city stretched before them. Stone stairs led down to the buildings. In the distance, they could make out rock cliffs rising behind the town. Bridges spanned large open areas, connecting the buildings and other unseen areas.
“I think we’ve found it,” Daeron said as they stood on the ledge.
“It’s beautiful,” Raven whispered. “But why does it look lived in? I almost expect to see people at any moment.”
“It is strange to be so preserved,” Tarr said. “I’ve never seen one this preserved. Even being protected by these cliffs. There is definitely something going on here.”
Nodding his agreement, Trauma spoke, “Yeah, it’s strange. It’s also quiet here. Too quiet. No animal sounds even. Let’s check it out, but let’s be careful. Do not explore alone. Yell if you need anything.”
The guildies walked down the stairs cautiously. Reaching the bottom, they broke into small groups and began searching the buildings. Most were empty except for a few clay pots scattered here and there. It was as if the town was constructed, but no one ever moved in. A stone bridge on the left connected them to the next platform. Looking below as they stood on the bridge, they saw water all around the stone platforms. One wrong move and they would be swimming. Moving carefully, they crossed the bridge and checked out the next group of buildings. The building to the right had tables and chairs. A rack of kegs stood behind a counter.
“I think I’ve found the tavern,” Aura yelled with glee. The others rushed in to see.
“Wow, I wonder if any of it is drinkable?” Mondo asked. Looking around, he joked. “Not a great establishment though, folks. Not a bucket in sight,” he said with a chuckle.
The others laughed as they once again spread out to explore. Leaving the tavern, Isomeik spotted another stone bridge. “Hey, Rave! Rave! Come look,” she called. Raven walked out of the tavern and over to where Isomeik was pointing. Before her was a stone bridge, a little longer than the first, that led to yet another platform. Squinting, Raven made out some small buildings and a set of stairs. Something appeared to be moving in the distance.
“Do you see that, Isomeik? There. Moving back and forth?” she asked.
Looking where Raven pointed, she nodded her head. “There is something or someone there. Let’s get the others.” Running through the town square, they got the others to meet them at the bridge.
“I didn’t want to yell,” Raven began. “I don’t know who or what it is, so…There is something moving across this bridge.”
“Then let’s go see who or what it is,” Trauma said. Motioning the guildies forward, they crossed the bridge and stopped just before the small stairs. From this position, the group could see that it was people, well plant people, walking back and forth. They were like sylvari, but not. Just then, Ian groaned aloud. Clutching his head, he screamed long and loud. Alerted by the noise, the strange people turned towards the guild.
“Alex, take Ian to one of those buildings back across the bridge. Make sure he can’t move, and then join us when you can,” Trauma ordered. Nodding, Alex grabbed Ian and moved towards the bridge. “The rest of you get ready.”
Alex walked with Ian back to the building across from the tavern. Once inside, he sat Ian down in the corner. “I’m sorry, Ian. It’s for your own good, and ours. I’ll come back, promise,” he said as he waved his scepter. Ghostly chains surrounded Ian, and he could no longer move. Nodding, Alex padded off to join the others.
Alex loped back across the bridge just as the group of plant people reached the guildies. “Mordremoth, guide my hand!” was shouted as they began to attack. Rolling backwards, Raven notched an arrow and fired. It landed in the thigh of a plant person headed for Likoi. Likoi reached up with his dagger and stabbed the other thigh. As the enemy fell backwards, he pulled out another dagger, flipped over the falling body and drove it into its chest. A labored grunt signaled that it was the killing blow. Nodding to Raven, he grabbed both daggers and turned to fight another one. Dam summoned a flesh golem from the fallen plant and ordered it to charge through the group. Trauma took on two at once, his greatsword singing through their flesh easily.
Daeron and Tarr stood back to back slicing enemies as they approached. Aura created a portal below the feet of some of the enemies. She closed the portal on the edge of the cliff and watched happily as the enemies fell to their death. Vayne waded into the middle of the group. With her sword, she hacked her way through, green goo covering her as she took out more enemies. Blood and Raven ran through the crowd to ascend the small stairs. From the top, they saw even more enemies coming for their friends. Raining a barrage of arrows from their sniping spot, they crippled them, slowing them before they could reach the others. They sent their pets to weave in the crowd and take out some of the mobs. Blood’s drake sprayed poison over them as Sparklefly charged and knocked more of them from the platform.
Unknown to the group, Alex’s immobilize spell wore off rather quickly, and Ian was soon in the fight. Using his powers, he created clones to confuse the enemy as he drew his swords from his belt and began hacking away at them. “You WILL NOT take me!” he yelled. “I won’t let you! I can’t!” he cried as he furiously hacked at Mordemoth’s slaves. Isomeik found Ian in the crowd and drew both of her daggers. Yelling as fiercely as Ian, she stood with him and killed plant after plant. Alex stepped over a few dead ones to get to them. Giving Ian a look, he formed a triangle with him and Isomeik. Keeping their backs to one another, they continued fighting. The enemies just seemed to keep coming. Petter joined Trauma and Dam as they killed another group. Some of these looked like people; others resembled wolves. Mordremoth was more powerful than they thought.
“Where the hell are all of these bastards coming from?” Trauma yelled.
“Beats me,” Petter answered as he drove his sword into the stomach of yet another enemy.
“Raven, Blood, can you two see anything?” Dam yelled.
Looking around them, they soon spotted a giant plant. It looked like a huge snake, and it was spewing mouthfuls of the enemy onto the ground. “Found it!” Raven yelled. “Blood and I can take it out from here. We’ll hurry, just keep fighting.” Running to the edge of the platform, Raven and Blood fired arrow after arrow at the mouth of the creature. After unloading nearly a whole quiver of arrows each, the plant began thrashing from side to side before collapsing to the ground. No more enemies appeared. Relieved, Blood gave Raven a high five, and Blood ran back to tell the others.
“We got it, Trauma!” Blood said.
“Great, let’s finish these fuckers off!” he yelled as he cut the arm from another plant.
Blood began firing into the crowd of enemies around the guildies. One by one they began to drop. The mob was getting smaller and smaller. As the others continued to fight, Raven took a moment to look around from her spot up top. She made a mental note of where each guildie was, but she couldn’t find Mondo. Her heart began to pound even faster. Spinning around again, she searched the crowd. There was Ian, Vayne, Aura, Alex, and Tarr. Daeron was just on the other side of them with Likoi beside his leg. Blood was on the platform with her, firing arrows above Trauma, Petter, and Dam. Isomeik was in the center of the group happily hacking enemies with her daggers.
Looking wildly around, Raven finally spotted Mondo near where the snake fell. Running down the stairs, she started towards him. He was surrounded by enemies. Two of them had him by the shoulders dragging him away from the guildies. Their fingers dug into his flesh, and Raven could see that he was injured. “Mondo!!” she yelled to him, notching an arrow to fire on the enemies. Turning towards the sound of her voice, he yelled, “DO IT!” Shaking her head, she continued to fire on the mob that surrounded him. They drug him closer and closer to the edge of the platform. She had to stop them. “DO IT!” he yelled again, this time hoarser. “I can’t!” she said as tears began to well in her eyes. “I can’t!” Mondo looked at her, and his face said it all. He did not want them to take him. His eyes searched her face. She could see the sadness in his eyes, and the grim determination around his mouth. He opened his mouth and wordlessly said, “Please.”
With tears streaming down her face, she yelled, “I’m so sorry!” Notching an arrow, she pulled the bowstring back farther than she ever had. Letting it fly, she struck Mondo in the heart, the force of the arrow knocking him out of the clutches of the mobs and over the cliff. Screaming her agony, she threw down her bow, unsheathed her sword and ran forward killing the remaining enemies. Crying, she continued hacking the bodies long after they were dead. “You killed him!” she screamed over and over. Running to the edge of the platform, she fell to her knees. Seeing Mondo’s broken body at the edge of the cliff, she began sobbing harder. “Noooooo!” she cried in agony as she felt a hand on her back. Pushing away the hand, she stood and stumbled away blindly. Vayne looked at Trauma as Raven shoved her hand away. The rest of the guildies slowly began to gather around. The enemy was killed for now. Watching Raven walk away, they turned to Trauma.
“What happened?” Tarr asked as he glanced around.
“I’m not sure. Is everyone here?” Trauma asked as they looked around and checked to make sure they had everyone.
“Where’s Mondo?” Isomeik piped up. “He’s missing.”
Everyone shrugged. No one had remembered seeing him in the fight. Looking around, they called his name. When they got no answer, they turned towards where Raven stood alone, still sobbing.
Dam called out to Raven. “Have you seen Mondo?”
Not saying a word, she pointed to the edge of the cliff where she had been kneeling. Vayne looked over the edge, and saw Mondo’s broken body. Sniffing, she went to stand beside Aura. They all slowly walked to the edge, and looking down, found their fallen guild member. Turning to Raven, Trauma asked, “Raven, what happened? Do you know?”
Still sobbing, she turned to the group. “I killed him. He made me kill him,” she cried desperately. “He made me kill him…”
Raven finished her lunch and went off in search of Daeron. Finding him cleaning and shining his sword blade, she stood and watched his methodical work. He cleaned the blade slowly, careful not to miss an inch. Once he finished, he looked up, and noticed Raven standing there.
“Well, hello, Miss…uh Raven. Hello, Raven,” he said. “Sorry, I didn’t notice you standing there. Can I help you with something?”
“No need to apologize. I was simply admiring your attention to detail as you worked. Yes, you can help me with something actually,” she began. “Wilton told us that you could come with us when we leave camp. I was wondering if you would like to do that. Would you like to become a member of Cthulhu Dawn, our guild?”
Daeron stared at Raven for a few minutes. “Are you serious? You want me in your guild?” he asked.
“Definitely serious. You are an excellent swordsman. I can handle the scouting duties, so no worries there,” she said with a chuckle, “but I think that Wilton undervalues you, and we could use your help. What do ya say?”
“I’m in!” he exclaimed. “When do we leave? I can pack my gear…”
“Hold up a minute. Wow, you’ll fit in great…impatience and all. We won’t leave until we finish working on these gliders that Wilton mentioned. You obviously know something about the updrafts since you found them, so you can guide us there. Grab your gear. We’ll move you over to our tents, and I’ll introduce you to everyone.”
“Ok,” Daeron agreed as he returned his sword to its sheath. Ducking into a nearby tent, he grabbed a bag of gear and a lute. “I was wondering if one of your, I mean our, guildies would like this lute. I took it out of the wreckage. Not really sure why, and well, I haven’t learned how to play anything on it, but I like it.”
“I’m sure we can prolly find someone who will enjoy it,” Raven said as she led the way back to the tents. “Just ask around. This group is not shy,” she finished with a chuckle.
“Will do,” Daeron replied as he followed Raven to the guild’s tents. Weaving their way through camp, they quickly reached the guild's small section. Everyone was seated around the fire chatting about different things.
Raven cleared her throat and addressed the group. “Guys, I’d like you to welcome Daeron to CD! Wilton has given us a new guildie.”
Greetings came from all the guildies as Daeron blushed slightly at the warm welcome. “Thanks, guys. I…uh, I’m happy to join you guys. Also, I was wondering if any if you play the lute.” Holding up the instrument, he continued. “I found this one in the wreckage, and just couldn’t bear to leave it even though I can’t play anything on it.”
Everyone looked around for a moment before Tarr spoke up. “I’ll take it. I’ve played lute before. I’ll take good care of it. Will be nice to have music again,” he finished.
Smiling, Daeron passed him the lute. “Great! Glad I finally found it a new home.”
Trauma spoke up from the back of the group. “Nice to have you with us, Daeron, but time is wasting, and we need to make some plans. Please sit and join us.” He waited for Raven and Daeron to sit down before continuing. “Raven and I spoke to Wilton this morning. He has done us a favor by allowing us to bring Daeron along. He also shared some information about how they get around out here—gliders.” Trauma paused as murmurs passed through the crowd. “I know that this is something new for us, but Wilton says his men will show us how to construct and use them. So, for the next several days, we will be working hard on crafting gliders for everyone. We need them light-weight, fairly strong and portable. The dolyaks can only carry so much, so let’s see if we can get a design that we can carry like a backpack. Raven is working on getting a feel for the land here. We need to be as prepared as we can be. Once we leave here, we have no idea what we’re facing. I don’t think we will find another encampment like this, so let’s make sure we are ready. Any questions?”
“Trauma, I will work on my glider in the afternoons, but can I have Dam and Likoi to accompany Daeron and I on scouting during the mornings?” Raven asked. “I want to check a couple paths before we all head out.”
“Certainly. Guys, make sure to help out that group with their glider construction. We win together or we fail together…and failure is not an option. Understood?” Trauma asked sternly.
“Yes, Trauma,” came from all over the camp.
“It’s already late afternoon. Let’s get some rest today, and re-sort some gear. We’ll start full steam in the morning. Tarr, maybe you can honor us with a tune,” Trauma finished.
The charr nodded solemnly and began strumming a soft tune. It seemed familiar and exotic all at the same time. Gradually the notes changed, growing louder and stronger. Before long the chords of an epic battle song flowed from the instrument. The charr's fingers moved adeptly on the strings never missing a note. Suddenly, the song changed tones again, and a soft, sad melody weaved its way among the guildies. Raven and Vayne swayed softly to the music, the emotion of it playing across their faces. As Tarr strummed the last few notes, he looked up at his friends. Applause came as the song ended; everyone, even Trauma, was touched by the haunting melody. It seemed to foretell what was to come. The guild sat silent for a few moments before breaking into small groups. There was work to be done.
Following a quiet evening, the guildies awoke early the next morning refreshed and ready to tackle their gliders. Raven took her search party, along with Daeron, out for a morning scout. She was eager to get beyond the point from yesterday. She felt there was something important out there.
Trauma went with the others to find the asura in charge of gliders. After some short introductions, they all sat down and listened for the next couple hours as the Pact men explained the basics of glider construction. The asura had them break into groups of two or three to begin work.
“A good glider can be made in an hour. A great glider will be made in a few hours. Don’t rush the synergy. You don’t want to be dashed out of the sky by insufficient workmanship,” they instructed. “Work smarter.” Mondo laughed at this remark. The asura turned towards him. “Is there something funny about working smart, Mr. Smarty Twig?”
“No, but it just reminded me of what my friend always said. She’s an asura too, and she loved to remind people of her intellect by saying, ‘You’re dumb. You’ll die, and you’ll leave a dumb corpse.’ I just got amused by the memory is all. Sorry,” Mondo finished cheerfully. “So, don’t leave any dumb corpses on the ground with shoddy gliders, boys!”
The others chuckled as they set to work on their gliders. After a couple hours of work, Tarr suggested they take a break for lunch. “I don’t know about you guys, but I am hungry,” he said. Agreement was heard all around. Leaving their materials where they were, the group headed for their tents to make some lunch. Raven and her search party was just coming back into camp as they reached the tents.
“Talk about timing,” Raven said with a grin as they met up. “What’s for lunch?”
“We were hoping you brought us back some nice juicy jungle steak,” Trauma said with a wink.
“Well, not sure about steak, but Dam over there has a jar full of grub worms he’s gonna study. Maybe he’ll share,” Raven teased as she stuck out her tongue at Trauma.
“I’ll eat one,” Isomeik piped up. Grinning, she stepped towards Dam.
“That’s disgusting. Are you mad?” Blood piped up from the group.
“Afraid of a little worm, Blood?” Isomeik teased.
“Afraid? ME? No way! I just find it disgusting to put crawly things in my stomach is all. At least cook it first,” Blood finished.
Dam reached into his bag and pulled out one of the jars. In it was a large, green grub. Unscrewing the lid, Dam pulled out the grub and held it in front of Isomeik. The grub had two sets of eyes. They seemed to glow in the noon day sun. Six small legs on the front of the grub flailed in the air trying to gain traction on anything. The grub looked wet and plump dangling from Dam’s fingers. “Here ya go. It’s all yours. It should slide right down,” he said calmly.
Looking closely at the worm, Isomeik stepped back and asked Dam, “What is that stuff on the bottom of it? Did you put something on it?”
“That milky stuff? No, it came that way. Maybe literally. Not really sure yet. It’s a lubricant of some sort. Prolly adds flavor to it. Eat up,” Dam said barely containing a grin.
“On second thought, I’m not that hungry after all,” Isomeik said as she began to walk away. “I will NOT eat other creatures, well, nevermind. You get the point,” she finished.
Dam chuckled as he stuffed the grub back in the jar. The group spread out and began eating cold smoked meat with cheese, apples, and bread. They chatted over their simple lunch as they filled Raven and the others in on the glider making. Raven shared that they had gone farther than before, and that she felt that they had a solid lead on a way to go. Excited by each groups’ progress, they finished lunch and got back to work on their gliders. The sooner they could get moving, the sooner they could put an end to the dragon.
The next couple days followed the same pattern. Raven’s search party scouting in the morning, and lots of glider work in the afternoon. By lunch on the third day, they were ready to begin trying out their handiwork. After lunch, they all grabbed their gliders and headed out of camp. Raven guided them north and then west along the path until they reached the first updraft. Daeron took out his glider and showed the group how to jump off the bridge to catch the updraft and then glide along the air currents.
“It’s really not that hard to get the basics,” he said slightly out of breath once he had landed. “It’s fun, and scary at the same time. Just be mindful of your surroundings. Let’s start with one or two people at a time. Likoi, you can go first,” Daeron finished.
Likoi’s ears began to dance with excitement as he got his glider ready and stood in position. Jumping into the air current, he shot high into the air. His smaller frame was lifted higher by the updraft. Making slow circles at first, Likoi soon began doing tricks in the air. Laughing, the guildies were eager to get their chance at flying. Once Likoi finally landed, the others took turns gliding. Trauma chased Tarr mid-air. Alex and Ian used their tonics to transform into quaggans before jumping off with their gliders. Aura and Vayne made lazy circles around each other as they glided slow and steady. Isomeik shoved Blood off the cliff, causing alarm as the charr screamed shrilly before opening her glider and soaring high. Each of the guildies took their turn practicing until there was only Raven and Dam left to try. Standing silently on the edge of the bridge, Raven looked at Dam and shook her head. “I…I can’t…” she whispered as he stared back.
“Yes, you can. It’s easy,” Dam said, but he made no move to jump either.
“If it’s so easy, you do it then,” Raven hissed. “I’m afraid of heights, and I can’t feel my legs at the moment.”
“Well, I would, but I’m afraid of heights too. So, I guess we’re gonna have to jump together, Toots,” Dam said with a grin.
“Can we please just not jump at all?” she asked through clenched teeth.
“Are you two gonna jump or just stand there all day?” Trauma asked after a few minutes.
“Well, um…” Raven began before Dam suddenly shoved her off the bridge into the updraft. Jumping immediately behind her, they both shot upwards in the air. Raven could be heard swearing from the ground. Her words were unintelligible, but the meaning was very clear—she was not happy. Landing her glider after a few minutes of experimenting with the updraft, Raven walked to the edge of the cliff away from the bridge to be alone. She wanted to be mad at Dam for shoving her off, but she knew it was for the best, and honestly, gliding was pretty fun. Dam walked over to her and placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Hey, Toots, look…” he started before she held up her hand for him to wait.
“Don’t worry about it. I wanted to smack you at first, but after a few minutes in the air, I realized you were right after all. We’re good,” she said with a grin as she went to join the others. Grinning, Dam shook his head and followed her back to the group.
“Not that I want to stop the fun,” Alex said, “but I think we should start heading back. It seems late.” The others glanced around and noticed the lingering shadows. They had enjoyed the gliding so much that they had lost track of time.
“Thank you, Alex,” Trauma said. “Let’s get going, people. We need to get back to camp soon. Grab your gliders and move.”
Everyone grabbed their gliders and fell in line to walk back to camp. Following the path back was easy, and they wasted no time stopping to look at things. They returned to camp just as the last golden ray of the sun disappeared behind the cliffs surrounding the camp. They returned their gliders to their tents, and headed for the stream near the center of camp. The guys stripped to their briefs and waded in, eager to get cooled off. The girls exchanged a look before stripping to their underclothes as well, and joining the guys. Only Isomeik remained on the bank, fully clothed and refusing to join in. Playful whistles could be heard as the girls entered the water. Those soon turned to gurgles as the girls dunked the guys under the water. The guildies splashed and laughed in the stream. For the first time in a while, they forgot about all the seriousness they were facing. They were simply a group of friends enjoying an evening together.
Later that night, as they sat around drying off and eating dinner, Tarr played his lute once more for the group. The fire crackled in the background as the notes drifted on the cool night air. Tonight, there were no strong, fierce notes. Tarr played a haunting song—a song that brought bumps up on the arms of his friends. Low, sad notes continued to weave a spell around the campfire. A feeling of dread began to come over Raven, and she turned to Vayne next to her. Whispering, she asked, “Do you feel it, Vayne? Something is out there. Something sad.”
Yawning, Vayne replied, “I think it is just Tarr’s song. You’d think charrs would know some happier songs. Don’t worry so much, Raven. We’ll be fine,” she said as she snuggled her head a bit closer on Aura’s shoulder. Raven watched the two for a moment, happy for them, and hoping that Vayne was right. Maybe she was just tired. That’s it, she thought. I’m just tired, and that crazy sylvari has me on edge. She realized that she had been lost in her thoughts because she noticed that the song had stopped, and Tarr has asked Trauma a question.
“…in the morning,” Trauma was saying as Raven came back to reality. Listening closely now, she tried to figure out what she had missed. “That goes for all of you,” Trauma began again. “In the morning, we will have one more practice with the gliders. After lunch, we will check ALL of our gear, and we will make sure we have provisions with us. The following morning, we will be leaving here. We have stayed long enough, and we need to get on with it. Raven, I want to talk to you about the path you found for us. I want to have a heading sorted before we leave.”
“Yessir,” Raven replied.
“Good. Now, I think everyone should get some sleep while they can. It might soon become a luxury,” Trauma finished as the group broke apart and headed for their tents.
“Raven, keep watch with me,” Trauma ordered softly.
“Sure thing,” she answered before moving next to him at the fire. “What’s on your mind?”
“I just wanted you to fill me in on your scouting. Everything has been busy lately, and tomorrow will be too. Figured it would be a good time to hatch a plan,” Trauma answered.
“Oh, yeah. The path is pretty straight forward when we leave camp. Head north and then west like we did when we were gliding. We can take that updraft we practiced on, but not with the dolyaks. I hate to say it, Trauma, but I think tomorrow, we need to divvy up the food and things among everyone and leave the dolyaks here. They’ll only slow us down,” she said as she paused to look at Trauma.
“Mhm,” was his only reply.
“After that, the path isn’t hard, but it is long. Trauma, I don’t know how true it is, but Daeron says there is a lost city near here. Or at least, there are rumors of one. Apparently, all the scouts are talking about it, and Daeron says that even the Itzel, the frogs that Blood ran from, mention a set of ruins north and west of here. I think it is worth exploring. I mean, I know we need to get moving, but I can’t shake this feeling that we should go there. We could ask the others and see what they think,” she offered.
“Sounds good. We’ll discuss this place with the others tomorrow over lunch. Could be nothing or it could hold helpful information. Whatever we do, we do it together. Go wake Vayne and Blood for watch, and let’s turn in. Gonna need our beauty sleep,” Trauma said with a wink.
Nodding, Raven said good night and padded over to the sleeping ladies. Waking them, she gave them the report and headed off to bed. She was just as anxious as the others to get moving.
The morning gliding practice passed quickly. The guildies were getting better with the gliders, and they enjoyed it too. Heading back to camp, they stowed their things and gathered around for lunch. After most were finished, Trauma cleared his throat to speak. “As I said last night, we’ll move out in the morning. However, there are a few things that we need to discuss and settle before we leave. After lunch, I will go tell Wilton that we are leaving, and let him know that we are leaving him a gift of the dolyaks for letting us stay.”
“But who is gonna carry our food?” Tarr asked.
“We are,” Trauma replied. “We can’t glide with the dolyaks. They will only slow us down so we need to reorganize gear this afternoon. Make room in your packs—all of you—for some of the food and supplies. Please leave behind as many unnecessary things as you can. Alex and Aura will sort the supplies and food, Isomeik and Blood will hand it out so that everyone can pack. Any questions?” No one offered a question so Trauma continued. “Raven has brought to my attention some information that she picked up while scouting. She’s gonna share with you what she knows, and then we are gonna make a decision together on how best to proceed. Understood?”
Nodding, the guildies turned to Raven. “Daeron shared with me a rumor that the scouts, and even the Itzel frogs, continue to speak of. There is supposed to be the ruins of an ancient city or settlement north and west of this camp. No one knows much about it, but claim that a great city was once there. It is in the direction that we are headed…just need a little detour, but I think that is it worth checking out. Who knows what information we could possibly find there to help us with this journey. I’m sorry, I can’t provide much more information than that. Apparently, no one has gone searching for it in a long time,” Raven shrugged as she finished.
“I say we go for it,” Tarr immediately spoke up.
“Me too,” Likoi agreed.
Looking around, Trauma and Raven saw that all the guildies were in agreement. Exchanging a look, Raven nodded as Trauma spoke. “I guess that means it is settled then. We will leave in the morning, and head for this settlement. We have no idea what we will find there, if anything, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that there are shinies somewhere in there.”
The guildies laughed, breaking the tension that had silently built around them. Motioning for everyone to get to work, Trauma dismissed the group. Raven quickly moved to re-sort her gear, and make room for the supplies that Blood brought to her. Soon she was weaving in and out of the small groups, helping others with their gear as Trauma went to square things away with Ensign Wilton. The afternoon passed quickly, and night fell silently around the camp. The group was quieter than usual as the reality of it sank in. Tomorrow, there was no turning back. Tomorrow, there may be no coming back. All they knew was that no matter what they faced, they would face it as a guild. Before they turned in for the night, Tarr gathered everyone around the campfire and placed his paw over the fire.
“One of us,” he said.
“One of us,” Likoi echoed as he placed his asuran fingers over Tarr’s paw.
“One of us,” Alex whispered as his paw joined the stack.
“One of us,” came the chant from every person as they, one by one, joined the circle and pledged their loyalty to their guild, their family. Nodding their understanding, they silently headed for bed. The gravity of it was felt in their very souls. No turning back. Only moving forward as one of us.
Blood fell in with the others as they began to leave the clearing and head farther into the jungle. They followed the stream until they reached the edge of a cliff. Stopping, they all looked over the edge, but all they could see was more twisting vines and empty darkness. “Stay away from the edge, and closer to this cliff face,” Trauma instructed as they continued walking. They worked their way along the path, and soon it opened into a larger clearing. They noticed strange beetles, larger than those back home, milling about everywhere.
“Those are huge,” Ian commented as he pointed to some of the insects.
“Too bad we can’t ride one,” Likoi chimed in. “My little asura feet are getting tired trying to keep up with all you BIG people,” he said with a chuckle as he shot Tarr a look.
“Jealous much?” Tarr teased back.
“Umm…hmmm…” was all Likoi could manage as he rushed to keep up.
The sunlight was beginning to fade as the group spotted a pass between two cliffs. At the mouth of the passage, stood what looked like a human. Holding his hand up for them to stop, Trauma called out to the figure, “Who are you?”
“I could ask the same of you stranger,” the person replied. “I am a soldier of the Pact, and I am on guard. What is your business here?”
The group relaxed as Trauma replied, “We are Cthulhu Dawn. We are here investigating the cause of the Fleet’s demise. Do you have a commander that we can speak too? Or are you alone here?”
“No, sir, I am not alone. There is a small group of us here. We have established a base camp. You are welcome to seek shelter for the night. Ensign Wilton is in charge here, sir. You will find him at the center of the camp, near the stream. Dark-haired fella with stern eyes. You can’t miss him,” the soldier said.
“Thank you, soldier,” Trauma said with a nod as he led the guild past the soldier and into the camp. Winding their way to the center of the camp, the guildies took in their surroundings. Numerous campfires were scattered about the area with several tents circling most of them. Between the smaller encampments were stacks of supplies, obviously salvaged from the wreckage of the Pact ships. Soon, they reached the center of the camp, and found Ensign Wilton.
“I assume you are Ensign Wilton,” Trauma spoke as he reached to shake the man’s hand.
With a piercing stare, he ignored Trauma’s hand, and replied, “I am, and just who are you?”
“Trauma Reaper, but everyone just calls me Trauma…for a reason,” came the answer. “I didn’t know the Pact was in the habit of questioning the help sent to save their asses, but if my guild and I are not wanted…” he trailed off as he returned Wilton’s icy gaze.
Wilton’s gaze softened a bit as he considered what Trauma had said. “Now wait just a minute. No one said anything about not wanting help. Hell, I had no way of knowing help was coming. It’s a bit rough out here. Excuse me, please. Have a seat, and we’ll talk,” he said as he gestured around the large campfire at the center of the base. The guild spread out and made themselves comfortable. Mondo and Alex still stuck close to Ian, while Vayne and Aura looked after the dolyaks. Wilton waited for everyone to be settled before speaking again. “I’m sorry for the cold beginning. It’s been a long time out here since we crashed, and well, this is all we have for now. We didn’t know that word had made it back to Tyria.”
Vayne spoke up from across the fire. “I’m Vayne, former commander at Fort Vandal. We knew that the Pact crashed some time ago, but mobilizing forces was not easy. Most of the Pact was wiped out with the crash. I finally called my guild leader, Trauma, to gather the guild and create our own force. We had some survivors come back, but most were too broken up to tell us much,” she finished.
Wilton nodded his understanding as he turned to Trauma. “It was a lucky coincidence that we found your encampment, Wilton. We’ve been searching for clues and survivors most of the day, but all we have found so far was death. We will offer what assistance we can, and we can try to get word back to Tyria that you are alive and here, but I cannot guarantee what will become of it. We started our mission assuming that we are out here until we kill it or it kills us. Either way, we won’t stop until it’s done,” Trauma finished.
“I understand,” Wilton replied. “You are welcome to make a base here for as long as you like. Extra eyes and ears around camp would be nice. There are a couple tents over there that you can use. They normally hold supplies, but luckily we sorted things today, and there is room at the inn,” Wilton finished with a chuckle. “If you need anything, let me know. I assume you are tired, so I will let you turn in.”
“We have everything we need. Thank you for the use of the tents. It is appreciated. I will talk to you in the morning so that you can fill me in on the current state of the jungle, Wilton. I will not go out unprepared if I can help it,” Trauma said as he gave Wilton a stern look.
“Of course not. I would not in your shoes either. Find me in the morning, and I will brief you. Good night,” Wilton said with a nod as he turned from the group and strode off.
“Night night,” the guild chorused at Wilton’s back. Grabbing their things, they headed for the two tents that Wilton had pointed out. Alex, Mondo, Ian, Isomeik, Blood, and Likoi took one tent, while Trauma, Vayne, Aura, Raven, Dam, and Tarr took the other. After much shifting and sorting, the group finally got their things settled in.
“Well, it’s definitely not the Busted Flagon,” Aura said, “but it is better than the jungle. We’ll just have to snuggle up to each other.”
“No one is snuggling up to me,” Trauma said. “Don’t even think about it.”
“Can we snuggle with the flesh wurm, Trauma?” Ian asked with a grin.
“Sure,” Trauma smiled as he summoned the flesh wurm right in Ian’s lap. “There, snuggle away.”
“Oh c’mon, Trauma. I was joking,” Ian said in disgust as he moved away from the flesh wurm.
“But I wasn’t,” Trauma said with a laugh as he put away his wurm.
Once the laughter died away, Trauma assigned watches for the night. “We’re gonna see what information we can get in the morning, and make a new plan from there. Get some sleep. I want to explore soon. Dunno about you guys, but I am ready to kill some shit.”
The guildies murmured their agreement as they all settled into the tents for the night. Alex and Isomeik had the first watch. They made circles around the camp for several hours. Not talking, they used the time to examine how the camp was arranged, and to see if they could pick up any useful information. When their time was up, they woke Dam and Trauma before turning in for a few hours of sleep.
Dam and Trauma passed much of their watch in the same way that Alex and Isomeik did. As it grew close to dawn, they sat together near the dying fire.
“What do you think about all of this, Dam?” Trauma asked as they watched the sun come up.
“Hmmmm. Not sure yet. I feel like we’re just scratching the surface. Not sure this is just a simple ‘find and kill the dragon.’ Guess we’ll see soon enough,” he answered.
“Funny, I said something similar to Raven yesterday. Thought it was just me,” Trauma said staring into the dying coals of the fire. “Let’s wake the others. I want to find out more. This not knowing bugs me.”
“Same,” Dam said as he stood and joined Trauma with waking the others. Time to get some answers.
Once everyone was awake and had their breakfast, Trauma went to find Raven so that they could get some answers from Ensign Wilton. He spotted her near the stream that ran through camp, but saw that she was not alone. Not wanting to intrude, he hung back and waited.
Bending over the stream, Raven began to wash her face. She felt gritty and hoped that at least washing her face would make it feel better. With her eyes closed, she splashed the cool water over her face. Suddenly, she felt water run down the back of her head and neck. Jumping up, she whirled around to see where it was coming from. Standing behind her was Mondo, laughing hysterically, as he held an empty bucket. Scowling at him, she snatched the bucket from his grasp.
“You and your damned buckets,” she growled as she tossed the bucket aside. Leaning over, she began unbraiding her hair so that she could wring the water out of it. Grumbling nasty comments under her breath, she stood on the edge of the stream.
“Oh c’mon. Don’t be like that. Trixie never minded a good bucket,” Mondo said as he began laughing again. “Oh, man…you should see your face…” he continued as he kept laughing.
“Just wait til you see your face, mister,” Raven retorted as she began muttering under her breath again. “Damn sylvari. Fucking water on my hair. Gonna take all day to dry.”
Realizing that she was rather mad, Mondo stopped laughing. “Oh, c’mon Raven, I’m sorry. I was just being playful. Forgive me,” he said with a sheepish grin.
Turning to fuss at him some more, Raven spotted his grin and softened. A smirk twisting her lips, she gave in. “Fine, you’re forgiven. Crazy, bucket-loving sylvari. Now, did you want something other than soaking me this morning?”
Becoming serious, Mondo replied, “Actually, yeah. Is why I came to find ya. I need to ask you a favor.”
“A favor? What kind of favor?” she asked, curious now that the joking had stopped.
“Well, ya see. I was thinking. Ian is having trouble with some kind of voice, right?” he began.
“Yeah, but what does that…” Raven began before the realization struck her.
“Yeah, was the same conclusion I came too,” he continued. “Before you get worried, I haven’t heard anything. Not even a peep. Which kinda makes me nervous, but hey.” He paused and ran his fingers through the leaves of his mohawk. “It’s why I wanted to talk to you. I know that I can trust you to do what is right, so I need you to make me a promise.”
Raven began shaking her head as she frantically thought about what promise he could want her to make. “Ummmm….” She began before he stopped her.
“Just hear me out, please?” he asked.
Raven nodded and sat on a rock beside the stream as she waited for him to continue.
Sitting beside her, he said, “I need you to promise that if things go bad, you won’t hesitate to kill me.”
“WHAT!?!” Raven asked in horror. “Are you nuts? Kill you? What the…”
Holding up his hand for her to listen, he continued. “Look, it’s not what I want to happen. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I spent most of the night thinking, and I just can’t let the dragon take me. I don’t want to hurt you guys, and being a necromancer, I’m not sure if that will make it easier or harder for the dragon, but I don’t want to take any chances. So, please. Please promise me that you will kill me if need be. I wouldn’t ask ya if I didn’t think it was necessary. Please?”
Raven looked down at her hands and tried to gather her thoughts. She was shaking inside and it showed in the slight trembling of her hands. How could he possibly ask her to kill him? How could she kill him? Raising her head to look at him, she said, “I…I don’t want to. I understand why you asked me. I would prolly do the same in your shoes, but I don’t have to like it. I’ll…do it,” she whispered.
Reaching over to hug her tight, he whispered, “I knew I could count on you. I’m sorry, but thank you.”
Pulling away, she nodded her understanding and turned to face the water again. Mondo touched her shoulder before slipping away to join the others at breakfast. A few minutes passed before she felt a hand on her shoulder, and she jumped, turning to face Mondo.
“Oh, it’s you, Trauma,” Raven said, visibly relieved.
“Yeah, it’s just me. Are you ok?” he asked as he searched Raven’s face.
“I’m fine, Trauma. Why wouldn’t I be?” Raven said a bit too cheerily.
“Well, because I know that fake look of yours, and because I saw your interaction with Mondo,” he replied with a pointed look.
“Did you hear it all?” Raven asked.
“I heard nothing, but I saw your faces. I know something is up. What I need to know is if you’re ok, and if it’s gonna affect things around here,” he stated coolly.
“I’m fine…or at least I will be. It won’t affect things around here, Trauma. It’s not what you think it is. No quarrel between Mondo and I. Just a friend asking another friend to make a promise. That is all,” Raven said vaguely. Trauma stared down at Raven but didn’t say anything. “Was there something you needed, Trauma?’” she finally asked.
“I was coming to get you. We need to go talk to this Wilton guy and see what kind of information we can get. I don’t like staying idle when there is trouble,” he said.
“Sure. Give me five minutes, and I’m ready,” she said as she bent to splash water on her face once more. The cool water helped calm her swirling thoughts as she stood back up and nimbly braided her hair.
Walking silently, they made their way to Ensign Wilton. After exchanging morning pleasantries, they sat down in Wilton’s command tent to begin the briefing. Sitting around the table, they looked to Wilton, and waited for him to start.
“I’m not really sure where to begin with you folks. I don’t really know what information you already have, so it might be best if you just ask me questions, and we can go from there,” Wilton said.
“Ok,” Trauma replied. “How far have you explored beyond this camp? Are there a lot of enemies in the area? What is the best way to navigate here? How long will your supplies last?”
“Whoa! You’ve thought this through, haven’t ya?” Wilton replied as he stopped the flow of Trauma’s questions. “Let me answer these first before we get too far ahead of ourselves. First, we’ve explored quite some distance from the camp. I always have my people back here by dark because the jungle is way more alive at night, and we are better off together then. Second, there are ‘enemies’ all over this area. Some of them are simply the wild animals native here, but they still hurt when they decide they want to come after ya. Third, the best way to navigate here is either on foot or with a glider. As for supplies, we have no clue, but we ration them the best we can, and we are beginning to supplement with things that we find in the area.”
“Glider?” Raven piped up when he finished speaking.
“Yeah, this terrain is, in case you didn’t notice, very up and down. There are huge crevasses throughout the area. We haven’t been in them much, and trying to find a path around them can be rather time consuming. One of our scouts soon noticed these strange air currents throughout the area. They give powerful lift into the air over a lot of the terrain. We have a few crafty asura around here that managed to craft a glider with items we had. They work well, so now we send scouts out with a glider to better navigate. We even have training on how to use the gliders for those that aren’t scouts, or, in this case, newcomers like yourselves. We’d be glad to show you how we have made ours and train you guys. If you are not in a huge hurry to leave, that is,” Wilton looked at the pair as he waited for an answer.
“We are in a hurry to leave, but I won’t leave ill-prepared, so we’ll take you up on that offer. No sense rushing out into the area only to have to rush right back in here,” Trauma said as he gave Wilton a knowing look.
“I totally understand. Are there any more questions that I can answer for you now, or are you anxious to get hands on?” Wilton asked.
“I have a question,” Raven said. “Do you have a knowledgeable scout that I can partner with and learn the terrain? I have a small scout party that I command, and I would prefer to check some things out before I take the entire guild out. I can learn while they train.”
Wilton smiled at the request. “As a matter of fact, I do. I have a scout that can be yours full-time. In fact, he can even go with you guys when you leave, if that will be helpful. Private, fetch me Shieldheart, will ya?”
“Yessir,” the private replied with a curt not and went to get the scout.
Raven stared at Wilton as they waited for the scout. Something was off about his offer of the scout. “Are you sure that you want to give us one of your best scouts?” Raven asked innocently as she watched Wilton’s reaction.
“Oh yes. It is ok. He has trained others so we will be fine. Also, we won’t go as far as you are probably heading so we can manage,” he finished with a grin.
Not believing his story, Raven just nodded.
The private returned just then with a dark-haired man of medium build. “Shieldheart is here, sir,” the private said before returning to his post behind Wilton.
“You called for me, sir?” Shieldheart asked Wilton as he stepped up to the table.
“Yes, Shieldheart. I want you to meet our guests. This is Trauma and, I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” he said as he turned to Raven.
“You can call me Raven,” she replied as she studied the scout.
“Raven, Trauma. Nice to meet you,” the scout replied. “I’m Daeron Shieldheart.”
“Shieldheart, I want you to work with these people. They are visiting and will be moving out soon. They need to know the terrain, and I told them that you can give them expert guidance,” Wilton explained.
“Sir, I…uh…I,” Daeron began before Wilton stopped him.
“No worries, Shieldheart. I have even told them that they may take you with them when they go. You will be a valuable asset to them, and I can share. Dismissed,” Wilton growled as he sent Daeron out of the tent. Turning to Raven and Trauma, he said, “Don’t worry, he’s just surprised at his new assignment is all. It will be fine. Good luck getting prepared, and if you need me, I’ll be available to help. Just ask,” he finished as he made himself busy, signaling an end to their meeting. Trauma and Raven rose and left the tent.
Glancing around when they left the tent, Raven spotted Daeron. “I’m gonna go see what is up with this scout Wilton so sweetly gifted us. No one gives up a prized scout that easily,” she said to Trauma.
“Mhm. Something tells me we just got handed trouble. I’m gonna go check on the others and get started with this glider stuff. Don’t feel like hanging around here anymore than we have to,” Trauma said.
“Agreed. I’ll see ya at lunch, and we’ll start making plans,” Raven said as she strode off to assess her new guide.
“Miss, uh, Raven,” Daeron began as she approached him. “I think I need to be honest with you.”
“It’s just Raven. No Miss, and what do you need to be honest about? We just met,” Raven asked as she studied him.
“Well, I heard Ensign Wilton tell you that I could give you expert guidance in navigation. Well, the truth is, ma’am, I am the worst scout here. I constantly get lost, and well, I don’t think that I can help you,” he finished.
“Hmmm,” Raven said. “I don’t think you can be that bad. Let’s go out and do a little scouting, shall we? You know more about this place than I do. Show me around.”
Nodding uneasily, Daeron led the way out of camp. Heading north, they soon came to a fork in the path. Pointing to the left fork, Raven let Daeron lead. Following the path up the rocky terrain, they soon came to a small plateau. A stone bridge led over a deep ravine. Walking to the edge of the bridge and testing it with her foot, Raven turned to Daeron.
“Where does this lead? Is it safe to walk over?” she asked.
“Um, I don’t really remember where it leads. I know it’s safe to walk over because we often come this way. Sorry, I know I am not much help,” he replied.
“No matter. If it’s safe, we’ll just keep exploring,” she said with a grin.
Nodding, Daeron continued to lead the way. Over the bridge, they crossed another small plateau and then came to another bridge. Looking around, Raven became more and more curious. These bridges did not seem new, but who created them? Where did they lead? The questions kept swirling in her brain. Leaning over the edge of the bridge, she felt a strong gust of wind pushing her up and back. Leaning back over, it was still there – a strong current of wind that pushed upward.
“Daeron, is this one of those air currents Wilton was talking about?” she asked.
Nodding, he answered, “It was the first one that I found. I’ve found them all over the place. We have some gliders for riding these air currents now.”
“You found them? You’re the scout? And yet, Wilton wants to get rid of you. Ass,” Raven muttered to herself. “Thanks for the tour, Daeron, but we should really be getting back. I told Trauma that I would meet him for lunch, and judging by the sun, I might be late. Can you show me the way back?”
“Uh, sure,” he replied as he led her back across the bridge. Crossing the plateau, they made good time to the next bridge. Raven paused in the path and studied some prints. Nevermore settled down beside her and pecked at the dirt. Suddenly, Raven heard a noise behind her and turned to see what it was. Before her was a large tiger crouched at the edge of the bushes. Backing up slowly, Raven spoke soothingly to the cat. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty. That’s a good kitty. You really don’t want to eat…” Just as she spoke, the tiger lunged at her. Scrambling for her bow, she fell backwards to the ground. Horrified, she closed her eyes and braced for the attack. She heard a loud thud but felt nothing. Cautiously, she opened her eyes and looked around. The cat lay a couple feet away, headless, and Daeron was standing over it, greatsword drawn.
Getting up, Raven looked at Daeron, and said shakily, “You saved me! Thank you!”
“You’re welcome. I couldn’t let the cat eat you. You’re my way back to the camp,” he said with a wink.
Relaxing, Raven rolled her eyes. “Nice to know you’ll keep me safe,” she chuckled. “Let’s get going. I’ve had enough fun for the morning.”
Nodding his agreement, Daeron wiped the blood from his sword, returned it to its sheath, and followed Raven down the path the rest of the way to the camp. Once there, Raven nodded her thanks to Daeron as he returned to his work, and she went to find Trauma. Finding him among the guildies having lunch, Raven sat beside him. Alex quietly handed her some lunch. She said thanks as he nodded and went back to sit with Tarr and Likoi. After she had eaten some of her lunch, Trauma spoke.
“So how did the scout work out? Figure out what was so special about him?” he asked.
Wiping her mouth, she answered, “Yeah, he is the worst scout ever. Wilton thought he was doing himself a favor,” she replied as Trauma started to speak. “But, he actually screwed himself over.”
“How so? If we are stuck with the shitty scout?” Trauma responded.
“Because, he may be a shitty scout, but he is an excellent swordsman. He beheaded a tiger that was attacking me in one swing of his blade, Trauma. He’s a valuable asset all right, and Wilton is a dumbfuck.”
“Well, then. Does that mean you want to make him one of us?” Trauma asked Raven seriously.
“One of us,” she said.
That evening the members of Cthulhu Dawn gathered together to plan their mission. They had a good core group of people, and enough time had been lost. Dinner was eaten in relative silence, with some whispering here and there. Once Vayne’s staff had cleared away the dishes, and left the tent, Vayne stood to address everyone.
“I want to say thank you to everyone for coming here, and I also want to take this time to step down. I have been coordinating the efforts thus far because I am commander here at Fort Vandal. I worked in my official capacity, but we will be leaving the Fort soon enough, and we will be Cthulhu Dawn only. So, from now on, everything goes through Trauma, not me,” Vayne said. “Tyrian things will no longer matter out there,” she finished with a whisper as she sat back down.
“Thank you, Vayne,” Trauma said from his seat. “I’m not gonna stand up and make speeches. There is no time, or place, for those now. We have work to do, and I want to get to it. Tonight, we plan and strategize enough to get us mobile in the morning. I want to move out. This threat is not waiting, and we shouldn’t either. So, first things first, I want to see if anyone has questions or concerns that must be addressed, then we’ll move on from there.”
“Trauma, will we all be moving out at once, or in groups?” Tarr asked from across the table.
“My plan is to keep us together as much as possible. I know that a larger group attracts more attention, but since we do not know what kind of attention we will attract, I want us together. Also, I am making Raven second in command. If something happens to me, she’s in charge. Raven, pick you one or two people, and form a scout party. If necessary, your group will check things before we all rush in,” Trauma ordered.
“Sure thing. Umm, I’ll announce my scout party in the morning before we head out. I want to best use everyone’s talents,” Raven replied.
“Awesome. Any more questions or concerns we need to address for before making final plans?” Trauma asked of the group.
Softly, Alex spoke from the back of the room, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but no one ever said exactly what we were going to fight, so I am a bit curious, if that’s ok?”
“Damn, in all the commotion, I forgot. You’re right, Alex. What we are going up against is a dragon,” Trauma paused ask the guildies reacted. “A dragon?” could be heard in several places around the room.
“A dragon? You forgot to tell us about a dragon?” Isomeik piped up. “How do you forget a dragon?!”
“Probably because I was busy chasing quaggan in Lion’s Arch,” Trauma replied sarcastically.
“I thought Zhaitan was dead?” Likoi asked.
“Zhaitan is dead,” Trauma replied. “We have a new threat. All we know so far is that Mordremoth became active, and is terrorizing the area beyond Silverwastes. All the survivors that make it back here to the Fort are too upset to give good information. We’re gonna have to get our own information with this one. I suggest that if there are no more questions, we all go gather gear, and turn in for an early night. I want to leave first thing in the morning. We need to cross the Silverwastes before we even get to the land beyond. Any more questions?” Trauma asked. When no one answered, Trauma dismissed the group.
Vayne and Aura walked back together whispering to each other. The rest broke into small groups and chatted about the journey as they walked back to their sleeping quarters. Raven stayed behind to walk back with Trauma.
“Um, thanks for making me second in command,” Raven said as they began the walk back.
“Mhm,” came Trauma’s reply.
“I’m not sure who to use for the scouting party because I can think of pluses for each of the guild members, and I don’t want to handicap the group,” Raven finally admitted.
“I trust your judgement. We’ll adjust where we need to,” Trauma assured her.
They made it back to the sleeping quarters, and Raven turned to Trauma, “Well, if you are sure, then I’ll make it happen. I’ll choose my team by in the morning. For now, I need to check my gear, and my pets. Gonna be a long trip, and I want to be prepared. Night, Trauma,” she said.
“Night night, Raven,” Trauma answered as he turned towards his own cot and gear.
As Raven checked her quiver, Sparklefly snored at her feet, Nevermore perched on his back. Hearing steps behind her, she turned to see Dam next to her cot. Searching his face for clues, she finally said, “Hi.”
“Howdy, Toots. How’s it going?” he replied.
“It’s going. How’s you? Ready for this?” she asked.
“Are any of us really ready?” he asked rhetorically. “I am as ready as I can be. I trust our guild, and I trust myself. Everything else will settle out. Have you chosen a scout team yet?”
“Yes, and no,” she replied. “I want two people. I have one already, but not sure on the other. Everyone has their own strengths that makes them perfect for the job, but I gotta think of the bigger picture and not handicap us.”
“How would that handicap us?” Dam asked. “We’re all on the same team. We just have different jobs. You think too much, toots,” he said with a wink. Standing, he laid a hand on her shoulder. “No matter the choice, we’ll all work together to make it work,” he said. “Night, Raven.”
“Night, Dam,” she whispered as he left. “Maybe he’s right, I think too much. Time to make this decision,” she muttered to herself. Hearing whispers, she turned to see Aura giggling as she showed something to Vayne. Curious, Raven stood and walked over to the other women. “What’s up, ladies?” she said as she stood in front of them.
“Perfect. Raven, will you please tell Vayne that no self-respecting woman leaves home without one of these,” Aura pleaded as she held up an object.
“What is one of these?” Raven asked Aura as she reached for the object.
“Oh c’mon, Raven, it’s a banana of penetration. Don’t you have one?” Aura said innocently.
Hiding a giggle, Raven looked at Vayne. Her face was pale and shocked in the dim light of the room. “Vayne, you don’t have a banana of penetration?” she asked.
“I…I…I can’t say that I do,” Vayne replied.
Giggling, Raven said, “Don’t worry, neither do I. Aura is a special kind of girl.”
Relaxing, Vayne whispered, “You have no idea.” A little louder, she asked Raven, “Are you ready to go yet?”
“Yeah, I have all my gear checked, the boys are sleeping, and I made my decision on the team. Guess we all better get some sleep. Gonna be a long journey ahead. Night, ladies,” Raven replied. Raven made her way back to her cot, looking at her sleeping guild mates before turning in for the night. Vayne whispered a hushed good night as she left for her own quarters. Raven closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. Time was wasting.
The next morning, the guild was up early preparing to leave. Vayne cleared her throat, and asked for everyone’s attention. “Morning, everyone. As my last act as Fort Commander, I have obtained stores of food for us to take with us.” This was met with cheers because the only thing Cthulhu Dawn likes better than fighting is food. “Now, I must go relinquish command of the fort, and I will meet you guys at the beginning of Silverwastes,” she said. As she disappeared from the room, everyone turned to Trauma, anxious for what was next.
“Well, now that we have food, nothing can stop us now,” Trauma said with a chuckle. Laughter filled the room for a minute, before he continued. “Seriously though, it’s time to get started. Raven, did you decide on your scout party?” he asked.
“I did. I’m taking Dam and Likoi. I would have been proud to have you all beside me, but these two are best suited to scouting…especially the little sneak over there,” Raven said with a wink. Likoi gave a mock bow as she mentioned him, his ears pink with excitement.
“Awesome. You two stick close to Raven, and you’ll be sent out as needed. We all have one job out there…no one left behind. Look out for your fellow guildies. We have no clue what we are facing, but we’ll face it together. All in?” Trauma asked as he stretched out his hand. One by one, the rest of the guild placed their hand on top of his. “One of Us!” became a battle cry as each guildie joined the circle. Breaking the circle, Trauma instructed everyone to head out. Meeting Vayne at the beginning of the Silverwastes, they began their journey across the sand.
After walking all morning, the group stopped to have lunch and rest at a small military encampment. Raven turned to Vayne, “How much farther til we reach our destination?”
“We are halfway through the area known as the Silverwastes. Our destination only starts beyond this area. Best guess is that we can make it to the final encampment of Silverwastes by dark. Not really sure what to expect beyond that. We’re heading for new territory,” she finished.
Nodding, Raven replied, “All I hope is that there is less sand where we are going.” Removing her boot and shaking it out, she said, “I have it everywhere...and I mean everywhere.”
“You don’t know what everywhere means, Raven, unless you have fur,” Tarr spoke up. Nodding his agreement, Alex stood nearby, brushing sand from his tail.
“I stand corrected,” Raven giggled. “I don’t envy you boys a bit. Fur coats in the desert.” Looking to Trauma she asked, “Should we get this show on the road?”
“Mhm,” came his reply as everyone stood, grabbed their gear, and headed back out into the heat of the afternoon sun. Trudging quietly through the sand, they reached the final encampment as the sun began to set. Building a fire just outside of the fort, they placed their sleeping mats in a circle around it. Tarr and Likoi volunteered to take first watch for the night as the others laid down to sleep. Raven told them to wake her, and she would take the second watch until morning.
“Wake me as well, Tarr,” Aura chimed in. Raising an eyebrow at her, Tarr nodded his agreement before beginning his watch. Walking around the fire, Tarr sat down beside Likoi and looked out across the desert. The pair sat silent for a time before speaking.
“Tarr, what do you think the dragon will be like?” Likoi asked the charr.
“Big and ugly like Zhaitan, I guess. I hadn’t really thought about it,” he replied.
“Would be funny if he was a giant flower,” Likoi said with a laugh. “Jungle dragon…huh.”
“Yeah, it would,” Tarr muttered before the two fell into silence once more. The night was quiet and slightly cool. The stars shone brightly in the sky, lighting up the desert sand. The time came to wake Raven, and Tarr nudged a snoring Likoi. “Wake up,” he hissed to the asura. “Time’s up. Go wake Aura while I wake Raven.”
“Mmmmm, ok,” Likoi sighed as he rose to find Aura. Shaking her gently awake, he saluted and staggered to his sleeping mat, and fell fast asleep.
“The night’s been quiet, Raven. Nothing to report,” Tarr said when he woke her.
“Thanks a lot, Tarr. Sleep well,” she said as she stood. Rubbing her arms against the chill in the air, Raven walked over to where Aura sat keeping watch. “I was surprised that you volunteered to keep watch with me, Aura. I figured you would want your sleep.”
“Nah, I am a night owl, Raven. I thought it best if you weren’t alone on watch. A lady shouldn’t stand watch alone,” Aura said cryptically.
“Well, I could have handled it, but thank you. Now there are two ladies on watch. Does it still count if there are two instead of one?” she asked.
“There is still only one lady on watch,” Aura answered.
“Aura, I know that your clothing is a bit…tiny, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t a lady,” Raven countered.
Chuckling, Aura turned to Raven and said, “That is not what I meant, but thanks for the compliment. This,” Aura snapped her fingers, “is what I am talking about.” Aura dropped his glamour and looked at Raven.
“Holy shit,” Raven said as she scrambled backwards away from Aura. Hearing a few guildies stir in their sleep reminded Raven that she needed to be quieter. Inching back closer to Aura, she whispered, “What the hell are you?”
“I am a Mesmer, Raven. Do you know what a Mesmer does?” Aura asked.
“Yeah, you create portals,” she answered, still eyeing the man in front of her.
“That is not all a Mesmer can do, Raven. We can also use something called glamour magic to appear different from what we really are,” he said. “I am very experienced with glamour magic, and I use it to fool most everyone around me. Free drinks and food for years now,” he boasted.
“Does anyone else in the guild know about your little parlor trick?” Raven asked, still skeptical of what she saw before her.
“Trauma always knew. I kinda sprung it on Vayne in Divinity’s Reach, and now you know,” he replied. “I don’t plan on making it well-known in the guild, but I know that I may need someone who knows my secret with what lies ahead. You’re second in command, so I didn’t want you surprised.”
“Thanks, I think. So, you really are a guy, and you masquerade as a woman all the time?” Raven asked, still in disbelief.
“Uh huh. I find it easier to get the information I want as a woman, and like I said, I haven’t paid for food or drink in years,” he answered. “Don’t worry, Raven. You don’t have to be scared of me. I won’t bite…unless you want me to,” he teased.
“I’m not…scared…just not trusting, yeah, that’s the word,” Raven said forcefully.
“Ok, if you’re not scared of me, come back over here beside me to finish out our watch,” he taunted.
“Fine,” Raven replied sternly as she returned to her spot beside him. “Is Vayne ok with this…with you?” she asked once seated.
“I hope so,” Aura said with an odd tone to his voice. “I really hope so.” They sat side beside quietly as the night slowly became dawn. The sky grew pink around the edges, and the sun began to peak over the horizon. Exchanging a look, they rose to wake the others.
“Your secret is safe with me,” Raven said as Aura snapped his fingers and once more became the girl everyone knew.
“Thank you,” she replied. Walking among the sleeping mats, they woke the other guildies. It was time for breakfast followed by more adventure.
Raven found Trauma and told him that both night watches passed without incident. Trauma nodded, but stayed silent.
“Soooo, whatcha thinkin’?” Raven asked. Trauma didn’t answer at first, so Raven pushed. “C’mon, Trauma. You’ve been near silent since we left Fort Vandal, and you got that look on your face. What gives?”
“I’m not sure, to be honest. I keep running it through my head, and something seems off,” shaking his head, he looked at Raven. “I think this is not as simple as ‘let’s go kill a dragon,’ but we shall see,” he finished as he moved to get the others ready to head out. “We shall see.”
The guild headed out to follow the only known passage from Silverwastes to the new territory. A few whispers passed among the group, but mostly, they were silent. It wasn’t long before they noticed a shift in the air. It was just as hot as Silverwastes, maybe hotter, but the air felt wetter, stickier somehow. As they pushed through into the sunlight, nothing prepared them for what they saw. Before them was a rock outcropping jutting into the morning sky. Just beyond the rock was a twisted, fiery mess of metal and vines. Exclamations could be heard from every guild member.
“Is that that I think it is?”
“No way…how could…”
They stood in disbelief as they realized that they were looking at the battered remains of the Pact Fleet. No one could have prepared them for this.
“It’s a wonder any of them survived,” Vayne said softly. “No wonder the survivors are so shaken. Who could possibly blame them after this?”
The usually cheerful group nodded their agreement as they stood solemnly, remembering the fallen. After a few more moments, Trauma cleared his throat and said sternly, “It is with heavy hearts that we undertake this mission, but we cannot linger here. We will not become fodder for this beast. We must press on, and avenge those lost.”
Suddenly Ian groaned long and loud. The group turned to look at him, and Isomeik stretched out her hand. “Are you ok, Ian?” she asked. He groaned again and smacked her hand away. “Make it stop! SHUT UP!” he screamed at her. Taken aback, Isomeik withdrew and stood beside Mondo. Ian clasp his hands to his head and groaned once more before standing upright and still. His face relaxed, and he looked at the group questioningly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I…I dunno what happened. I heard this buzzing in my head, and a low growl. I couldn’t understand it, and the pain was unbearable.”
Trauma studied the sylvari before speaking. “We know that Mordremoth is a jungle dragon. Maybe, just maybe, he has an effect on sylvari. Hmmm. Nothing personal Ian, but I will have someone with you at all times until we can figure this out. I can’t let you hurt the team or yourself, even if it’s not your fault. Alex, you, and Mondo will be looking after Ian for now. Feel free to restrain him to keep him from harming himself or others.” They nodded in agreement before moving on either side of Ian. Glancing at either of the men, Ian settled in between them, determined to beat whatever it was.
Since the sun was already high in the sky, the group decided to rest and eat here on the outcropping. It was safe enough, and they could regroup before heading out. Meat and bread was passed among the group as everyone chatted about what they thought was ahead. Raven and Vayne sat quietly together, barely eating their lunch, as they thought about all the lost soldiers. Glancing up at the wreckage and quickly back to their laps, they didn’t speak, but they understood what the other was feeling. Aura and Dam walked up to them, and Aura cheerfully asked, “Why the long faces?”
Looking up at them, they glanced down again. Vayne finally spoke, “How could you not know why? It’s awful, Aura, just awful.” A tear slipped down Vayne’s face as she hastily wiped it away.
Aura sat down beside Vayne and held her hand. “It’s ok, Vayne. I know why. I…I was just trying to lighten the mood,” Aura said.
Dam sat beside Raven and nudged her with his shoulder. “You ladies gotta cheer up a little,” he said. “Your sad faces are scaring the dolyak over there,” he said with a wink. Raven tossed a piece of bread at him, but started to smile. “See? He’s wiggling his tail at ya. He’s happier already,” he chuckled because his trick had worked. “Now, let’s get moving. Trauma is pacing a rut in the dirt over there. We’ll be able to plant potatoes in it before long.” They ladies giggled at the thought and gathered their things to leave.
There were two paths leading away from the outcropping. One lead down to an open area of more rock as far as the eye could see. The other lead the opposite direction through trees and, what they could only assume, was jungle. Once everyone was gathered to leave, Trauma spoke. “Let’s take the path through the trees. I know that it will be a more difficult path, but I don’t like the idea of being out in the open and easy targets for whatever is out here. Might as well even the playing field however we can,” he finished. The group nodded and murmured their agreement as they headed off the rock. The path quickly narrowed, so they were forced to walk single file down the path.
Soon, they were off the slope, and spread out on the flat land below. Strange plants were scattered before them; herbs and trees that they had never encountered before. Dam stopped to pick a sample from a flowering plant. Small beige seeds lay in the palm of his hand as he studied them. “Hmmmm,” he muttered to himself before tucking them away in the pouch he carried at his waist. A little bit further, they came to a small stream that was fed by a waterfall from the rock cliffs above. They stopped to rest and allow the dolyaks to get water from the stream. Milling around the clearing, they examined the plants, rocks, and even small animals that they came across. Everything was strange, but also a bit familiar and it was becoming unnerving.
Suddenly, the quiet of the jungle was broken by a blood-curdling scream. Grabbing their weapons, they stood ready to confront whatever was headed their way. A figure came running towards them from the opposite side of the stream. As it came closer, they realized it was a screaming charr with an animal at her side. Catching sight of the group in front of her, the charr ran straight for the middle of them.
“Help! It’s after me! It’s gonna eat me!” she screamed to the guild.
Tarr growled softly at the charr as he spoke. “Calm down, soldier. You’re embarrassing yourself.”
Stopping she replied, “You calm down. You don’t have a talking frog chasing after you.”
Pointing behind her, he softly said, “And neither do you.”
Looking around, she realized she was safe for the moment. Straightening herself, she spoke to the group. “My apologies. I came across a talking frog. Never saw one of those before, and it made like it would chase me, so I did the only logical thing and ran. I see it is gone now. By the way, name’s Overkill, but everyone just calls me Blood.”
“Is that because your screams chill their blood?” Isomeik asked with a snort.
“No, if you must know, it’s because I am normally covered in blood…my enemies, not mine,” she hastily replied. “You are the first people I have seen in a long time. Well, ‘cept for that frog. What are you doing out here?”
Trauma stepped forward and studied the charr. “We’re after something. Maybe you’re it,” he said with a wicked grin.
“Oh come now. It can’t be me. Be serious. Can I join ya? I think it might be safer with you guys,” she said.
“Sure, why not?” Trauma answered after a moment. “Got one rule though.”
“Which is?” Blood asked cautiously.
“Look out for each other, no matter what. We’re a guild, a family,” Trauma stated.
“I can do that. Easy. Been looking for that anyhow,” Blood replied as she matched Trauma’s gaze.
“In that case, Blood, welcome to Cthulhu Dawn. You are now ONE OF US.”