- 04 Oct 2005
you remember it being like this? Arty asked in a low voice.
three companions shook their heads. We all left before the Searing,
Jill said, and Ive not returned until now. She shook her head
sadly. I knew things were bad, but how could they be this bad?
four stood at the entrance to the once-proud City of Ascalon. The tree-lined avenues
and marble buildings remembered from their youth were replaced by dust and blasted
rock. The industrious citizens of the graceful city had been replaced by an unsavory
crowd mercenaries mostly, by the look of them.
did SoulFlayer know Ascalon City was like this before he gave us this assignment?
Ember asked. Is he trying to kill us off? Did one of you do something that
I dont know about? She eyed the other three suspiciously.
nothing for it but to report to Warmaster Tydus, like we were ordered to.
Jill boldly strode off in the direction of the city center. The others trailed
they reached the edge of the crowds, the tone of background conversation changed.
Arty found his face flushing as strangers turned toward him, pointing, and laughing
at their lack of attire. He refused to look around, but could see from the corner
of his eye how Embers entire body was turning a brighter shade of pink.
A great wave of mirth followed them to their meeting with Tydus, whom they found
standing next to a ruined fountain.
no time, Jill saluted Warmaster Tydus. Realms Beyond Guild members reporting
for duty as requested, sir.
looked taken aback. Are you aware that youre not wearing proper clothes?
sir, it was our guild leaders wish that we come armed only with our skills,
will you fight like that? Tydus tried, unsuccessfully, to stop looking the
women up and down.
manage, Jill snapped. Tydus eyes reluctantly fastened on her face.
What duties do you have for us?
I cant send you against the Charr like that! Youll be slaughtered
Wait a minute
Ive got it! You can take this message
from the King to the Krytan ambassador. Hes camped just outside of town,
that should be safe enough. Tydus reached into his belt pouch and withdrew
a folded piece of parchment with King Adelberns seal in purple wax.
take that, Sanskirt said primly, taking it from his hand and pirouetting
gracefully. Lets go, guildmates. Lets show him what were
wasnt hard to find Ambassador Zain he was camped less than a quarter
mile outside the city walls. Getting there wasnt particularly difficult
either, although Arty couldnt understand why the Ascalon soldiers allowed
the scorpion-like devourers to roam so close to the city. Why didnt they
just stamp them out? Nonetheless, their spells made short work of the beasts,
and they werent even breathing quickly when they crested the rise on which
the ambassadors tent was pitched.
led them up to the Krytan. We bear a message from the King of Ascalon.
She held out the parchment.
made no move to take it. Do you know youre clad only in your undergarments?
he asked in a bemused tone.
weve been told. Will you take the message
sir? Jills tone
was just short of challenging.
we doomed to be errand-bearers for the duration of our time here? Ember
asked of the heavens, clearly exasperated. Everyone of importance we talk
to, its take this here or go tell this person that
when are we going to see some real fighting?
could understand her impatience. It did seem as though no one took them seriously
as soldiers in Ascalons cause. First Zain had them tote back some supplies
for the orphanage in the city. Then Raistin, one of Zains fellow countrymen,
had them go pick up supplies from an artisan over where the ruined village of
Ashford had been.
had learned a few interesting things, however, from their jaunts back and forth
from the city. The first was that even though Ascalon was teeming with warriors,
little was being done to push back the Charr. It took some time and flirtation,
but Ember was finally able to wheedle the reason for this out of a merchant. Its
gambling, she told them later as they rested to eat a quick meal. Its
just insane the kingdom is crumbling around them, but everyone in power
is caught up in the games in the Arena. Even Adelbern is addicted, they say, so
he keeps commanding Tydus to send the best fighters and spellcasters in there,
rather than against the Charr.
unholy, Sanskirt observed with a sniff.
its why were here Realms Beyond has never been a great player
in the arena, so Tydus figures he can tap our guild to fight the Charr while the
leading gladiatorial guilds keep Adelbern happy. Arty sounded morose as
he reached this conclusion. I dont know whether we should be pleased
or not at our guilds low status, now.
not all, though. Ember leaned forward conspiratorially. They also
say that Prince Rurik is losing patience with his fathers gaming obsession,
and may soon take matters into his own hands.
wasnt all useless message or supply bearing, though. They ran across Elementalist
Azuire, one of their old teachers from happier days, outside of Zains encampment.
She seemed to think more highly of their capabilities, and agreed to teach them
some additional skills in return if they rid the world of some blindly aggressive
stone elementals. (Finally! We get to fight! Ember exclaimed.)
task easily accomplished, rumor of their prowess seemed to spread before them
like wildfire. In the ruins of the old Ashford Abbey, now called the Sardelac
Sanitarium, Arty found one of his other old teachers, Necromancer Munne. She told
him how yet another of his trainers, Oberon, had turned to evil. Munne, not even
batting an eye at Artys purple trimmed undershorts, had charged him to assist
her in recovering a stolen relic, and in defeating Oberons minions. The
rest of the team was enthusiastic to help, so they met Munne outside the Sanitariums
gate. Less than a hundred yards away, the relic lay on the ground, surrounded
by devourers and gargoyles. Oberons followers must have met their match,
exultant yells, Jill and Sanskirt charged into battle behind Munne, blades flashing.
Ember and Arty rained fiery destruction down from above, and sent burning flares
arrowing toward their enemies. Time seemed to lose meaning, and Arty honestly
couldnt say, later, whether the fight had lasted seconds or hours. All he
knew was that Munne had the relic, and the smoking corpses of many monsters surrounded
them. Remember what I taught you, boy! Munne said with a parting wink,
as she strode back toward the Sanitarium. Arty belatedly realized what she meant,
and quickly cast the incantation to raise a bone horror from one of the corpses.
too soon, either. An eerie rattling sound, like bones scraping, came over the
hill to their south. The noise was followed by at least half a dozen undead, all
bearing Oberons mark, and clearly intent on tearing the living adventurers
pointed, and the bone horror obediently scampered off to do battle with one of
the monsters. Jill followed suit, blade in hand. Sanskirt was more circumspect
this time, pausing from time to time to cast healing on her comrades, though still
dealing death with well-placed blows. Ember and Arty again unleashed fire, and
once again the combined efforts of the team won the day.
got to get more warrior training, puffed Sanskirt as she cleaned her weapons.
I think Ill go talk to Warmaster Grast. They had seen the grizzled
old soldier just outside Ascalon Citys walls. Ember said it was rumored
that he stationed himself there out of disgust at the gambling fever that ran
rampant through the city.
are you fools doing strolling around in your underwear?! Grast bellowed
at them. Yes, I can train you, Jill and Sanskirt, but Id not like
to see my time wasted go put on some armor, and then well talk.
are clothed in the armor of our faith, Sanskirt haughtily informed him.
We need no protection other than the divine.
harrumphed gustily. Have it your way. Heres your assignment
go find the Sergeant Clarks patrol in Regent Valley, and escort them back
here. Do that, and Ill teach you to move faster and strike harder.
this sprinting trick is pretty neat! Jill was entertaining them by demonstrating
how fast she could run around the merchants tents. Their adventures had
eaten away the entire day, and the team was relaxing in Ascalon City. With the
coming of evening, the crowds were smaller, but more raucous. Arty noticed that
a knot of male warriors and rangers was swelling, all of its members staring at
Jill, Sanskirt, and Ember.
one of the warriors strode over. He stripped off his upper body armor, leaving
only his gladiators kilt and sandals. He began dancing in front of Jill,
clearly hoping to impress her. She stood before him, looking him up and down,
and then casually kneed him in the groin. The unfortunate fellow doubled over,
and Jill pushed him backwards into the dust. Youre not my type,
she said flatly.
other spectators laughed. Some of them began to flex and preen, perhaps hoping
for better success. Dont you people have jobs?! Sanskirt yelled
had better pay us well for putting up with this, Arty said grimly.
its not so bad, Ember said, looking up at the stars. At least
its exciting. I wonder what our next assignment will be.