The five stole through the shadows toward the battlefield, one of the larger member held two white blankets over his arm, the only light spot in the darkening world around them. Two of them were meant to carry the bodies back to the Life Factory while the others guarded against stray enemies. Twilight was the safest time for these excursions since that was about when the dragon minions changed shifts as it were. "Who are we looking for?" the Ethian asked, glancing back at the Bahmi who carried the list of names and caricatures of their quarries.
"A Kelari rogue named Jacek Kelvathar and an Ethian cleric called Nashota Sundancer," he replied. Off in the distance was a flash and for the smallest moment, peace hushed the war-torn land of Telara. These flashes of light and peace came only a few times a day, always as the sun was setting and always when the Defiants in groups of five ventured from the life factories to reclaim the dead for Ascension. Some of the remaining March Wardens and other civilians said that these flashes were the angels of the Vigil, coming to Ascend the bodies of lost Guardians. The Defiants scoffed at the idea, but some wished it were true in the very depths of their souls.
When they came across the body of Jacek Kelvathar, it was hard to identify him; the Kelari's dexterous frame was mangled and bloody which hinted at goblin work. All was accounted for except one ear which had probably been taken as a prize (more evidence of goblins). The blanket they wrapped Jaek in was large, meaning the body was not in sight a great deal. When they found the cleric's body she was cleanly dead, it was unclear how it had happened until one of the Bahmi rolled her over. A knife had been driven into her back at three different points, the work of a Mathosian assassin. Nashota's death would have been as painful as Jacek's, though it would have looked better at a funeral.
They carried the bodies back, skirting the emerging horrors of the plane of death; the Ethian preparing to explain to Sylver Valis that they were unable to retrieve the ear of one of his kindred, for the great machinist was also a native of the Fire Islands. They had all seen the name Sundancer twice before as well, all Ethian, all sisters, all dead and all to be raised within the week.
Inside the ancient Life Factory was a manifold group of individuals such as Sylver Valis and his apprentice Stavel, Dacia Ultan, the Ascended Asha Catari and the great Ethian Orphiel Farwind. Of the March Wardens only Warden Denegar remained. Many others stayed there, machinists or simply townsfolk, awaiting their salvation. All bodies had to be checked with Stavel and that was the worst time, it was then you had to look at their faces.
"Group three," the Ethian said and then caught Stavel's arm, "We need to talk to Sylver about one of the bodies we brought in today."
"Why? What's the trouble?" Stavel was kind and inquisitive, but the marks of experience shone on his otherwise young face.
"The Kelari, he appears to have been killed by goblins and you know how they get..." The Ethian couldn't finish, the act was so gruesome and horrifying he didn't want to dwell on it, but Stavel understood.
"I take it someone took a prize." The Ethian nodded. "What a moment." Stavel waved his hand over his head, "Sylver!" The spry Kelari inventor jogged over to them and the apprentice recounted the sad discovery.
"Show him to me," Sylver demanded and the Ethian pulled back the covering entirely. "Well, you're right about goblins, but I think I can complete the Ascension process without the other ear, the regeneration segment should compensate for its absence. A shame Jacek had to be subject to such a thing, he was an honorable warrior and true to his ancestry."
"You knew him?" Stavel inquired, surprised.
"Is it so odd one Kelari should know another?"
"No, I suppose it isn't; my condolences, Sylver."
"Thank you; now move along, we haven't got forever to get these fighters Ascended. How many more have you got on your list, Ethian?"
"Just one, an Alethea Birelwa," he replied.
"Good, you'll go out to get her tomorrow and we'll begin the process that evening. Sleep as well as you can, for it may be our last night alive."
"And you," the Ethian said, leaving to find the rest of his group who had a carefully selected spot near a furnace and close to the place were Sylver, Orphiel, Asha, Dacia and Denegar had the majority of their meetings. The Kelari would usually relay all that was said.
"It's almost over," one of the Bahmi said, an odd tone creeping into her voice. "In a few days time, we'll go to sleep and we won't wake up. We won't exist anymore."
"It is hard to understand," one of the Kelari replied in a low voice, his blue black hair falling over his ever alert eyes, "We will become a paradox, but the Failsafe should hold it in place."
"Spirits, I hope so," the Ethian whispered. No one slept easy that night and many didn't sleep at all. Stavel and Sylver were still trying to perfect their machines before they had to be used.
The Ethian, the two Kelari and the two Bahmi went out the next evening to find the body of Alethea Birelwa, another Kelari. When they returned the whole factory was in a tense quiet, a pin could be heard dropping. The group aided the placing of the dead in the Ascension chambers that the machinists had built, one by one.
"Are we ready, Stavel?" Sylver asked, his voice seeming to echo in the silence.
"Yes, sir," Stavel replied, "You can flip the switch now, or someone can give a speech."
Sylver glanced over at Asha Catari who nodded. He placed a hand on the lever, "Rise, Defiants!" he yelled and he pulled it to the right, joining the circuits for the first and last time.
When Nashota started to breathe she didn't even notice, it was something so ordinary and instinctive she didn't take the sign. It was the pain that told her she was alive and it followed the breathing. A searing pain in her back that made her vision turn red awakened her from her trance-like state of wandering.
Light swirled around Adenessa and she felt as if she was floating above the ground, so comfortable, so sweet was this respite, but not peaceful. Not peaceful because the dead plagued her mind. All the dead, comrades, commanders and enemies, they were all shown to her in her mind's eye, a nightmare from which she could not rouse herself.
She suddenly felt something solid beneath her and was not as comfortable as she had been. Awaken, child of Silverwood,a voice ordered, It is time to save Telara. Adenessa gasped when she opened her eyes, she was looking into the face of a Messenger of the Vigil. She knew she should have risen to bow to the currier of the gods, but she was still weakened from the wounds she had sustained in battle.
"Did I die?" she inquired in a low voice that seemed to encompass all the tones of the forest from the chirping squirrels to the rustling leaves to the babbling brooks.
Yes child, but the gods deemed you a mighty warrior, so you have been Ascended by the grace of the Vigil. Do not squander you time, elf. With that, the messenger rose, to leave, its golden voice still ringing in her ears. Though prayers were meant to be made before alters, Adenessa felt the Vigil shouldn't mind if she thanked them from her place on the floor so she proceeded, giving them their names: Bahralt of our cities, Thedeor of our swords, Mariel-Taun of our hearts, Tavril of our land and Thontic of our seas, I thank thee for the chance I have been afforded to save my home, in the name of the Vigilant Gods, amen.
Adenessa rose to a sitting position and looked at her surroundings, finding herself in the Ardenburgh Cathedral. Around her she saw spirits of those who would never live again and the Messengers carrying more bodies into the room. She saw few she recognized and none she knew well enough to call friends, but her closest ally was a Mathosian she remembered from the Battle for Port Scion, they had fought under Zareph Mathos against Aedraxis. Adenessa owed this human her life in that fight. She pulled herself to her feet, testing her legs for a moment before walking over.
"It seems we are allies once more, Mathosian," she said and the human looked up.
"So it does, perhaps you will finally repay me for the service I rendered you at the port."
"If the opportunity presents itself… it seems as if we were never properly introduced, I am Adenessa Lassdraughtar." The elf offered a hand, which was taken gladly.
Once standing, the human said, "My name is Amberleigh Undovaul and it's a pleasure. I hope." She finished with a smirk. Elves had a habit of being untrustworthy, but this quality was heightened in their island cousins, the Kelari who had joined with the Defiant scum.
"Well, let's finish what we started," Adenessa said and the two proceeded down to the ground level, entirely unaware of what would soon take place.