Author's Notes: Greetings, Ladies and Gentleman. I have returned once more. Actually, I returned several months ago, wrote this massive abomination of a Chapter and then got absorbed by my first semester of College and GW2 release. It was supposed to be an intro into a professional-style group based around the GW2 fandom, but I guess that didn't pan out. That's okay, here it is for your enjoyment. Comments, Critiques, and Reviews are always welcome.
The acrid scent of oily soot filled the air, the fumes of the Great Smelter drifting across the Cantons as they strove to obscure the light of the sun itself. Rhythmic thumping filled the factorium, the sounds of great bellows huffing as hammer found steel, sparks dancing in the morning dust as the Charr forged their destiny, wrought of fire and steel.
Patrols gathered before the Quaestor's office as they did every day, supplies stacked high as each meticulously prepared bundle was checked one final time before being passed onto the soldier's lives who would depend upon it. The Iron Legion was like the machines they crafted: brutal, reliable, efficient. Of course, the most reliable machine can be fouled if abused or exposed to an element it wasn't intended to cope with. The lone ranting lily-skinned sylvari waving requisition orders at the front of the line was one such unforeseen element.
"What do you mean, 'you can't take these'? These are requisition orders, signed, stamped and sealed!", the woman bellowed into the face of the tiger-striped Charr before her, pollen blond hair, the consistency of corn silk, flowing in the morning breeze.
"I said, 'these are Ash Legion requisitions', this is the Black Citadel! This," the Charr tossed his hands into the air, "Is an Iron Legion requisition office! They are no good here! Did the fall off the tree bruise whatever brain is inside that leafy skull of yours?!", the Charr roared back, the shelves shaking as the plant-woman glowered back.
"What is the damn difference?!", the air turned chill on those words and the woman wondered if shouting wasn't the appropriate way ask that question.
A massive paw slammed upon the tiger-patterned male's back, a chill running the length of his spine as he turned towards the massive form of his superior, "S-sir!", the youth stammered as the white furred male scruffed his neck.
"Go sweep my office," the teenager could only nod dumbly before fleeing towards the back of the building, "Requisitions?"
The sylvari sighed in relief, just because wrestling a Charr seemed like fun didn't mean she wanted to do so today of all days, "Finally, here four weeks worth of requisitions, sign and stamped, I've been standing here for five hours."
"Considering we've only been open for past ten minutes that seems like a stupid decision," the Charr snorted, scratching his mane idly as he flicked open each of the orders.
"I figure I would be first in line," the woman shrugged, "I have a question, do Charr get fleas?"
"I'm sorry, I don't think I caught your name...", the leonine man drawled, igniting the requisitions upon an adjacent candle.
"Eithne. So can I have the supplies now, Keir is probably climbing the norn by now...", the woman sighed whimsically, a smile upon her delicate face.
"No, Eithne. Those were forgeries, I would recommend finding the Charr who gave them to you and choking him to death. It'll be better than what will happen to him when I tell the Adamant."
"Oh. Umm, sorry then...?"
"Queastor Falx," the snow colored male laughed, "Now get the shit out of my office."
Eithne starred at the Charr for a moment, a sentiment Falx returned in mild annoyance, "Oh, you're not going to answer my question are you?"
The sylvari nodded, Charr were such interesting people, turning the pale woman pushed her way through the assemblage of soldiery with only one thought on her mind.
"I better warn that Charr that he's giving out the wrong requisitions before someone chokes him to death...", with that the woman disappeared into the city once more, how long could it take to find one Charr in a city? Surely Keir would understand.
Falx burned another set of requisitions with a nod as the last of the patrols left. With an exacerbated sigh the aging Charr snuffed the candle. With a light limp the snow-furred man wandered back towards his office once more.
Bashing the door open with a grunt of effort the Quaestor, glared at the startled youth, "Start preparing tomorrows provisions," the teenaged Charr needed no further encouragement, dropping the broom as he rushed by the aging man, "Dumb fucking cubs," Falx growled, struggling as he bent down to snatch the broom up.
A thump and a string of curses signaled his failure, the massive prostate feline glaring at the polished flagstones before his nose, "Sonvabitch..."
"Wow, you are getting old," a feminine voice mocked as steel rapped against stone, "Maybe they should move you to a paper pushing position...or never mind," Falx craned his head to growl at his intruder, or rather daughter. A tall female bedecked in polished plated-steel, a massive hammer laid across her back as blue eyes shimmered in the low burn of the lanterns.
Falx rolled his eyes, ignoring the bait as he drug himself towards his desk, grasping the lip the leonine Charr hauled himself up ignoring the arthritic cracking as he turned towards his daughter, "Still young enough to put you on the floor, cub."
"Once, maybe. But some of us are actually able to get back up, without furniture," the woman laughed, crossing the room to her sire as she removed an envelope from a belt-pocket, "My orders, sir."
Popping the waxen seal the snow colored man blinked in surprise, "Legionnaire Rhoma, when did that happen?"
"You sound like you're surprised," Rhoma taunted, her tail sweeping the black stone as she grinned,"It was only a matter of time."
Falx laughed, throwing his arms around his daughter, "Damn right it was! I'll get all of this pulled together."
Rhoma struggled to breathe as the man nuzzled her, chortling all the while. Squirming her way free the woman choked and gasped.
"You never did like being held as a kit, you'd rather run in circles chasing bits of string."
"I didn't like being crushed, and I was bored and it happened once!", the female Charr retorted indignantly rough each ragged breath.
"Really, I bet your Dam would disagree...", Falx stuck his tongue out childishly as the woman fumed.
"I-she-shut up!", Rhoma faltered.
"You can try if you'd like," Falx snickered, tossing a dismissive wave towards his kit, "but I assume you would rather be out in the field than bickering with an male well past his prime."
"You're not that old..."
"Nonsense! I'm one late night from being a joke in the infirmary."
"Now you're just complaining, you are not that old. Not even close..."
"I could trip down a flight of stairs or fall over a rail."
"If you want help with either of those, please let me know..." Rhoma sighed slapping a paw over her face as they wandered towards the rear of the supply station.
"My point is, I'm not going to be around forever. So I get to bother you for as long as I like, is that clear, Legionnaire?", Falx spun, leveling an amused glare.
"Sir, yes sir," the Legionnaire spouted reflexively.
"I thought so...did you see where that cub got off to?"
"The one who looked like he wanted to go back to Fahrar and cry? Not since I walked in, why?"
"Never mind, I'll find someone else," Falx growled, making a mental note to find something horrible for the schlep to do. Throwing open the double doors the pair strolled among the rows and rows of stack supply shelves. A heavy, sweaty scent clung to the stale dusty air, the acrid scent of the Smelter's smoke adding to the bitter bite, "Roxx?!", the aging Charr snarled, his voice echoing through the warehouse.
A young, short, black furred Charr slid out the shadows beside the pair, "Yes sir?"
"Special Requisition. Get it done, and if you see Felsic send him to my office..."
Falx nodded, slapping the cub with the order before stalking away once more, a perpetual glower across his face.
Rhoma chuckled, "Reminds me of my days in the Fahrar...good times."
"Not for those of us stuck here forever!", the leonine Charr huffed as irritatedly, "The most interesting thing that has happened all week was the Sylvari this morning."
"With the bad requisitions," the lioness nodded, "I saw that. Are they always so...dense?"
"From what I've met? Seems so."
"I suppose it's a good thing they just fall off the tree then," the pair wandered once more to the front of the depot.
"Done," a low voice drawled, wheeling a dolly of supplies through the hall.
"I love this cub," Falx purred as the heavily armored female seized the dolly.
"Well, I'm off. Try not to turn to dust before I get back," Rhoma smiled cheekily, wheels squeaking as she wandered through the door.
"I thought you said I wasn't that old?!"
Keir was upset. Not outwardly, no that would never do. He always internalized mild discomfort for later encounters that invariably provided cathartic release, preferably with much viscera and surprise. The young archer hated delays, and this was a serious delay. Not the Sylvari, who had seemingly vanished on her way to retrieve the proper requisition paperwork from a local Priory member, but the entire lack of a guide! That was it, Keir resolved, "I'll be writing a strongly worded letter the local chapter house over this travesty."
The Charr addressing the Asura didn't even flinch, "Look, if I had a guide laying around I would send him off with you just so you would shut up. I don't have one. You can berate, insult, and write all the letters you wish that will not change the facts."
"I was promised, Centurion, that there would be a guide. Now I appreciate the fact that you are seemingly understaffed and unable to provide a liaison for this expedition, it does not change the fact that this time sensitive endeavor requires a local guide with experience and that one was promised by the Charr," the auburn haired mouse of a man complained.
The Centurion growled, weighing the likelihood of being able to toss the Asura underneath one of the War Wagons before his Norn companion would do the same, "Just shut up!", the moment of silence proceeded for a brief moment, "Unless you want a cripple, a cub, or an incompetent gladium I have no one I can offer you."
Keir paused, weighing the options for a moment, "How crippled?", the incredulous look the Asura received confirmed he made the correct decision among the presented options.
For a moment, the stunned Centurion's mouth hung ajar, seemingly in awe of the stupidity of the question. Finally an answer formed in the male's mind, "You won't be running anywhere, though if push comes to shove I suspect he could still put down your Norn."
"I'll take him!", the Asura laughed adjusting his glasses idly, as the massive brick of a Norn behind him shifted questioningly. Not that the question ever came; as far as Keir had known the man, he never spoke. Not that that bothered him of course, a quite bookah was a useful bookah after all!
"I'll give him the option, you can make your pitch. Just as long as you get the fuck out of this Citadel," the Charr growled, penning a request to get the damn Asura out of his fur, ramifications be damned. A few brief moments later and it was done.
"Excellent. I will change those letters to reflect your ingenuity in resolving this problem promptly," the tiny man smiled a wild pointy toothed grin and snatched the paper before scurrying away, his Norn following after him briskly.
"I need a drink..."
Keir stared at the rather massive wrought iron door, a frown etched into his features. Yes, it was imposing, the entire building was imposing after all, but did no one ever think of other people? Perhaps shorter, smaller, smarter people? "Typical bookahs, no consideration for anyone else," reclining his comically sized head the Asura glanced at the Norn, "Would you please render assistance?"
The giant glanced down, his eyes like frozen orbs plucked from the heart of winter itself; with a nod a single massive fist pounded the door, a rancorous noise filling the factorium as the entire front wall of the depot shook.
Silently, the door swayed open, a massive snow colored Charr stepping into the breach. His well worn clothes seemingly drowned in soot, their color long since faded beneath the weight of time. An old pair of leather boots were slapped around his furry feet, barely concealing the ugly mess of scar tissue that climbed his legs, "You wouldn't happen to Falx, would you?"
Falx stared at the unmistakable form of a Norn, his massive form wrapped in an abundance of furs and cloth, a single massive battleaxe lashed across his back by some rune-etched chain. His eyes glowed unnaturally, a pale blue light eerily similar to the light that lit the insane ghosts of Ascalon. Thin, shimmering silver tattoos clutched his face, a claw, or talon perhaps.
Shifting his attention to the smaller, less imposing figure at his feet, the Charr surpressed a laugh. A tiny red-haired Asura with emerald eyes and tiny glasses dressed in a well-cut scholarly robe, a strange mechanical bow drawn over his shoulder.
"Yes, Quaestor Falx, Iron Legion. And you are?"
"Krewe Chief Keir, Member, in good standing, of the College Synergetics, Durmand Priory, and The Foundation, I have a letter for you," the Asura reached out, offering a familiar letterhead to the aging Charr.
"And him?", Falx seized the letter, glancing over the contents with an amused and surprised look.
"Don't know. As far as I know he doesn't speak. Hits things though, quite exceptionally. Really, at the time, that was the only quality I was looking for," Keir chuckled at the Charr's face, maybe this expedition could be recovered yet.
"What did you do to my Centurion to get him to write this?", the Charr purred in amusement leaning against the door frame with a smirk.
"I talked at, about, and around him. You'd be surprised at how efficient it is to simply talk to people until they want you to go away, assuming they have no other recourse they tend to give you what you want. Or try to pitch you off the edge of a cliff. It all depends though. So now, assuming you've read the letter in full, I'd like to make my pitch."
Falx stared at the Asura for a moment, glancing back to the note, he'd been trying to get something like this for years and some short, loud, piece of meat managed it by just blabbering on and on. Figures, "Alright, fine," the Charr feigned disinterest with a yawn, an opportunity to go into the fields, even on a relatively tame assignment, rarely fell into one's lap like this.
"Excellent~!", the diminutive man cheered, a sound that was quickly grating on the elderly Charr's nerves, "I'm with the Durmand Priory, as I'm certain you know, we look for various artifacts and pieces of information that may aid against the Elder Dragons...", Keir paused, not entirely sure if the Charr was aware of such things. The Charr and Asura exchanged a long stare before the scholarly figure continued, "Right, Ascalon was once the major power amongst the Humans, fairly ancient one in fact. That lead us to the suspicion that there may be repositories of ancient knowledge lost in the Sundering and subsequent Awakening of the Dragons, in fact our suspicions were confirmed when an oddly convenient map appeared outside the Priory in an old leather bound case. This map revealed to us the location of one such repository we are most certain that is still lost. Judging on current geography at least," Keir watched the Charr's face turn sour.
"A convenient map just happens to appear to confirm the location of something you all have a hunch exists? That doesn't strike you as unusual?", the Charr scratched his ears, cocking an eyebrow towards the eccentric.
"Of course, and I know one such Order that specializes in such unusually convenient acquisition of such information. My point is that we need a guide. You are apparently my only choice in that matter," Keir shrugged, giving a sheepish smile, "Of course, there will be reimbursement for services rendered. To yourself, and your Legion."
Falx starred at the strange pair, a moment of consideration as another question sunk into his mind, "And where is this place that it is not easily accessible but requires a guide with my...uh, expertise?", the Charr groped for the word.
"South of Ashford Plains, South-West of Lake Adorea in particular, we'll have to scale the cliff-face to the plateau, then we have a day or so journey to the site's last known location. Assuming it's not there we'll examine the surrounding area with the intent of finding where it is. Worst case scenario is that it's fallen into the earth during the upheaval, then we wash our hands of it and move on. Ultimately, without results it will become increasingly difficult to justify this pursuit anyway," as the Asura elaborated offhandedly, Falx wondered how much of an Asura's body was lung capacity.
"Right. I'll sleep on the offer," the Charr nodded, the Asura suddenly deflated.
"This is a time sensitive matter!"
"That was what the letter said, but as far as I understand your lost repository isn't going to get anymore lost if I take a night to think about it."
Keir paused, that was technically true, "I may have embellished to stress the importance of the situation, nevertheless it is an extraordinarily important opportunity," the bespectacled man hesitated, it wouldn't do to overplay his hand.
"Then I'm sleeping on it," Falx eyed the Asura, a glint in his eyes, he'd spent enough time around Ash Legion to know when someone wasn't telling the entire truth.
"I suppose I have no choice. I have to go find our fourth, we won't be scaling those cliffs otherwise..."
"Sylvari, amber eyes, blond hair-tendrils-things?"
"Oh, so she did find the supply depot, excellent. You wouldn't happen to know where she went, do you?"
"The requisitions she had were forgeries, Ash Legion ones too. I told her to find the trash who gave them to her and strangle him before the Adamant found him," Falx chuckled as Keir's face shifted uncomfortably.
"Right, well, I should go find my employee before she strangles him with her belt. Thank you for your assistance, Quaestor Falx," with a sweeping bow, the Asura turned and scampered off. The massive Norn lingering, matching eyes with the Charr once more.
"Do you have something to say?", Falx hedged. The massive brute simply shook his head before slowly walking after his 'chief'.
The leonine man tossed the door shut as he mumbled to himself, "Well, I guess that was the most interesting thing to happen all week...", alone with his thoughts, the aging Charr stared around the depot's front desk a sinking ennui creeping into his mind, one he'd hoped had been banished long ago. Phantom pain raked at his legs. The laughter and bite of chains. Agonizingly, the massive feline forced the thoughts away as he thumped his way to his desk. Ripping open the desk drawers with reckless abandon the snow-furred man clutched the bottle of whiskey as a father might clutch his child. With a blur of motion he tossed it back, taking a long draught. A roar of contempt erupted from the man's muzzle, the glass shattering as it met the wall.
Tears licked at the Charr's eyes as he reached for another bottle. His entire career flashed before him, cut short in an agonizing exercise. Falx picked up the tuft of fur hidden in the back of the drawer, sniffing it reassuringly as his daughter's scent drifted through his mind. His only cub; at least she would succeed where he failed.
It wasn't all a failure, not yet. A voice taunted at the back of his mind, this was an opportunity for at least one last hurrah, maybe even a door to more. Falx closed his eyes, clenching the tuft between his fingers as he resolved himself to try, if nothing else.
Ethine skipped through the streets, asking everyone who looked like an member of the Ash Legion if they'd seen the counterfeiter. Mainly that consisted of asking any dark furred Charr if they had seen another leather clad dark furred Charr who made illegal documents, the reactions inevitably varied from confusion too rushing off to report something to someone.
The Sylvari had some understanding of tact and decorum, and by the same measure she decided they weren't worth the effort of getting right, generally. Sylvari were expected to be blunt by the other races, she encouraged that assumption, after all, who would expect the blunt and honest Sylvari to be deceptive or cunning? Not to mention the distraught looks it sometimes created when you popped someone else bubble.
Not that she needed to lie, but having a backup plan was supposedly always a good idea. If Ethine were asked though, most of her backup plans consisted of high explosive yields and shrapnel. Luckily, those rarely needed to be implemented.
Ever persistent, the Sylvari stalked her prey. He couldn't run forever, eventually everyone in the Citadel would be looking for him. Then, then he'd have to flee. Nothing said Spring quite like trap in the Engineer's mind.
"Right, where would I be if I were a strange plant-woman?", Keir glanced at the norn as if expecting his input.
The norn simply grunted.
"Right, but I don't think we're likely to encounter any greenhouses here. Okay, how about, 'I'm a confused, possibly upset plant-woman looking for the Charr who fleeced me, where do I start looking?', that's better, right?", the diminutive man hummed.
"I've got nothing," the asura laughed, running a hand through his hair, "Well, she knows where we sleep, she'll find us, or whoever captures her will at least. We're not going anywhere until the charr says yes anyhow. May as well spend time comparing maps," Keir's face faltered for a moment, "You know the way back to the tavern, right?"
If the question exacerbated the norn it never showed. Turning on heel the silver-tattooed monster of a man thumped his way across the Canton's once more.
"Oh good; I wonder why they named it the Serrated Blade anyway?"
Falx bashed his hands along the desk, the tuft of fur escaping his paws once more; he pounced again an annoyed growl filling the musty air as the it floated away once more, "Get back here dammit!", the charr hissed, his feet flailing as he bounced to the ground from his chair, "Sneaky...", the leonine man laughed, brushing away the half dozen emptied bottles, "Maybe, maybe you're an Ash Legion tail... always running away..."
The charr's tail flicked in front of his nose, a sneeze escaping as the drunken feline dropped his head into his arms, "I can't even catch my tail, I should just tell 'em to get lost themselves. Better off than chasing ghosts," Falx snickered at his own lame joke as he closed his eyes, "Tell em in the morning."
The banging on the warehouse's front door made the charr twitch, "Uh...it can't be that early?", the aging male drug himself from his office, claw after claw, to the front desk. Wrenching himself off he floor for the second time this day with the assistance of the furniture, "Just a moment."
Falx wobbled to the door, carefully avoiding his own feet, "Who is it?"
"I got the right requisitions this time."
"I'm starting to hate that word," Falx purred, leaning against the door, grooming his fingers for the last of the whiskey, "We're closed. I think."
"I know, but you open in another four hours."
"You're just gonna stand their, aren't ya?"
"Yes sir," the cheerful voice forced an exhausted sigh for the charr.
"Never mind, you may as well come in, s'not like it's a breach of protocol or somethin'," Falx turned, jiggling the lock, "Oh, come on," the charr sneered, tossing his body against the wrought door.
Eithne stared as the door thumped and shifted, "It opens inward," the lily-skinned woman chirped delightfully.
"I knew that!", the snow-furred man coughed, wrenching the door inwards at last.
"That does strike me as a design flaw though," the sylvari offered, drawing a tilted head from the feline.
"Well, it means someone can kick the door in; or blow it in. If it opened from the inside out you'd have to deal with the entire door frame," the woman beamed, gesturing inside.
"I'm not sober enough to care," Falx shrugged.
"I've got a cure for that."
"I don't want a cure for it."
"Well, I guess if you like putting up with a loud asura and a chipper sylvari the entire trip..."
"Met up with your boss then?"
"Nope, but I could hear him from across the city," Eithne laughed, unrolling a map case with the supply orders inside, "I got the right ones this time, sorry about being so late."
"And you think I'm going to lead you all over a cliff and into the wilds after some wild human crap that may or may not still exist?"
"Nope, I'm ninety-nine percent sure you will. I asked around about you. You've been trying to get out of this warehouse for nearly a decade. Wait, a decade is ten years, right?"
"Okay, just making sure. Right, oh ya, ever since you got gelded."
A deathly silence filled the room, the drunken charr staring incredulously at the plant-being. Falx's mouth moved in vain, finding no words for the surge of contempt and hate that sprung into his mind.
Eithne's eyes glinted, seeing the struck nerve, "You know, I think Keir said something about the Flame Legion having recovered some bits of information from The Order of Asacalon, I wonder if while we're here if he'll go after that lead."
The bait was obvious, even six sheets to the wind Falx knew that, but old hatred's died hard, "So what, you come in here, drag up old memories and bait me with an opportunity to kill the bastards who put me in an office my entire life?!", the charr bellowed.
With a yawn and a shrug the sylvari ignored the threat, "I'm making you an offer. You don't have to take it, just like you don't have too spend the rest of your life drinking yourself to sleep."
Falx starred, were all sylvari like this? Had he just never noticed, or was this one different, "And what would your employer say if he knew you were pulling your guide's strings?"
"Cheer, offer me double pay, ask me how I did it, then write a letter bragging about it."
"If the...liberty presents itself, I'll hold you to that offer, sylvari."
"Eithne, my name is Eithne, Falx. Now," the silken haired woman laughed, "Can I get these filled, Keir is going to throw a fit that I've been gone all day.
"I don't think he throws fits, unless you count rants."
"He internalizes it, wait until he's out of the city. The wildlife will suffer."
"Then I'll make sure we take a path that leads us into the way of plenty of ghosts, just for him..."
"He'd appreciate that, probably."
Keir sighed, wiping the sleep from his eyes as he stared at the maps, "So, if we're lucky, it'll be in one piece, if we're unlucky it's a complete bust. Realistically it's probably somewhere between the two, at least based on the information of the construction," the asura shuffled another stack of papers as he stared at the corner of the room, a massive ebon feathered moa curled up in the corner of the room, "No opinion at all, Oun?"
The bird warbled softly, preening absentmindedly as the ranger nodded.
"I know, we're never lucky," the asura rustled through his bags, pulling a set of goggles out. Tossing his glasses aside, the tiny man stretched the strap over his massive ears, "I'm going for a walk, maybe I'll find the sylvari."
Oun squawked, feathers fluffing as he rose to his feet.
"No, you have to stay. Keep an eye on the norn, I need to know if I'm right or not."
The bird chirped in empty protest before dropping back onto the floor.
"I'll be safe, just keep an eye open," Keir smiled reassuringly as he ducked through the door, shaking away his worry.
The tavern floor was empty, not a surprise considering the hour, the asura tossed open a window and hopped out, rolling away the excess momentum. The door was barred, of course. Keir reached up, flicking a switch along the goggles. The world exploded and faded, powerstones whining as the lenses shifted his perception.
The College of Synergetics was created with the intent of understanding Eternal Alchemy, well-crafted theory combined with intuition leading to bounding advances. Inevitably the wall would be reached, maybe not today, but someday. One could only extrapolate so far without new ways of identifying, of seeing the bonds that held the world, no, the multiverse together. Keir refused to wait to reach that wall, looking ahead he crafted his goggles. Upon observing the world they rendered reality into a series of alchemagical equations any member of the Colleges would be able to grasp with a little effort. Unfortunately, they didn't quite work, yet. The failure ended at the rendering process, unable to simplify the equations beyond a certain, extremely complicated, point. That lead them to be mostly useless to anyone not quite as enlightened as himself. Though, he would admit it still took him great effort, and a great deal of rote memorization, to understand the babble they produced.
Nevertheless, it was comprehensible! It was a start, proof of concept, that it could be done, that the world, that Tyria could be rendered in a logical way through alchemagical calculations. Of course the Asura as a whole always believed such, but being able to prove it to the bookah would be an incredible achievement, one that Keir jealously coveted.
Keir starred into the night sky as the calculations formed slowly, a problem with the warm-up process likely, the asura felt insignifcant as he stared into the heavens watching the great wheel spin. Maybe one day everyone would be able to see the world as he did, to gaze awestruck into the sky. Keir smiled, drawing his bow as the bats danced and flicked through the evening, drawing an arrow the archer picked a small insect and paused half a breath before letting it fly. A shriek filled the night as the bodkin tattered the giant creature's wings, slipping through both wings as it continued it's midnight course, "I hate bats."
The asura stared as the entire pattern of the plummeting creature shifted and changed, the calculation become stagnant and morose before striking the ground and shattering into a dozen more cavalcades of number and symbols. Taking a dozen quick mental notes Keir continued his walk, someone would wonder why bats were plummeting out to their deaths if he continued.
Oun stared at the norn. The norn stared back. That was all he ever did. He never slept, he never ate, he never drank, he never laughed, Keir had once jest if he was really a norn at all. He never answered. The moa knew that was odd.
The norn showed no emotion, only in the heat of battle did he seem to express any energy. Then he moved as an avalanche of steel and sinew, crushing everything before him with anything available. He'd once lifted an ogre by the leg as a makeshift club to murder a pack of grawl that had accompanied said ogre. Shortly after that he used the bodies of the grawl as projectiles against a band of branded that had heard the commotion. The results were terrifying.
Keir likened him to a self-aware golem. A construct designed to follow orders, that could choose not to if it benefited him.
Eithne thought of him as broken-soul looking for something. Cast adrift amongst the tides of the world like a seed-blossom.
Oun knew better. He was neither. He was a force of nature given mortal form, a self-aware storm of ice and snow. Oun could feel it in his breast when the norn locked eyes with him a calculating ruthlessness devoid of mercy, fear, or pain. Emptied of love, peace, or joy. No hatred, no pleasure, simple unnatural precision.
That was why they respected one another.
Moa were docile creatures. Black Moa were brilliant, brutal killing machines. The norn was a force of nature. Oun was a wild beast. Both clothed by the trappings of civilization, one as a pet, the other as a man.
And they both knew better. The pair sat their, watching each other as the night wore on. Oun never worried about his 'master' he'd find his way back eventually. He always did. No instead he enjoyed one of his few pleasures in life, locking eyes with the demon across from him.
Keir groaned as the dawn piqued over the horizon, suddenly regretting his late night walk the asura grumbled something incoherent as he rolled his way free of the sheets, crawling beneath the bed with a crestfallen sigh.
He knew he had to get up, that was why he picked a room with an eastern facing window after all. The redheaded man paused as he escaped from the dawn a disturbance in the air catching his attention. Poking his head from underneath the box-spring Keir stared bewildered, "What in the Mists are you bookah doing in my room?!"
"Watching you sleep," Eithne smiled, basking in the dawn as the light painted her in an ethereal glow.
"All. Three. Of. You." Keir drawled defensively, staring at the assembled krewe uncomfortably.
"In my defense, I was drunk," Falx grinned, a wicked terrifying thing from any Charr, undoubtedly.
"Yes, well that still does not explain why he," the tiny man waved at the unflinching mass of the norn, "is here!"
"He was here when we got here, just watching you," the sylvari offered.
"Oh, thank you for filling my dreams with that lovely consideration. I will be certain the next time a haunting image presents the opportunity to engrave itself into your mind I take the moment to bash you over the head with it like a naked-drunken-skritt," Keir huffed, pride wounded as he extricated himself, "Seeing as how we're all here I suppose we can leave, right as soon as we confirm that all our supplies are in the proper condition."
"Do you know what a Quaestor's job is, snack-pack?", Falx quipped, scratching his teeth in boredom.
"I assumed it had something to do with picking up and relocating heavy things."
"I'm a Quartermaster. All the supplies are handled, did it myself," Eithne coughed, "With the sylvari."
"Oh. Excellent, maybe we're not all as hopelessly doomed as I suspected we would be!", Keir laughed, pulling a leather jerkin over his scholar's robes, "Well, I suppose we get something to eat and we'll go over just where we're heading."
Falx watched the asura stuff his face with one hand while wrangling the map with the other, "Alright, this is Ashford...", the bite-sized snack, pointed in the general area, "We need to get to what was once Wizard's Folly, here," a stubby finger pointed to a massive structure topping the mountain, "Is the Tower of Wizard's Folly."
"What's in it?" Falx cut the sylvari off as he looked at how different the world was just a few hundred years ago.
"That's what we are going to find out!", Keir cheered happily as the plant-woman slipped the map closer to herself.
"But everything changed, right?", the woman traced the old paths and roads, careful not to smudge the aging piece.
"Right, which is why we are just going to take our absolute best guess and shoot the dice," the emerald-eyed man laughed as he pulled the map back.
"Our best bet is south of Lake Adorea, the mountains have small break there, that could be your old road," Falx yawned, popping another sausage into his mouth as he gripped the decanter of beer next beside him.
Eithne paused, humming for a moment, "Are we sure we have enough pitons?"
"Box of six dozen..." the snow-colored Charr mumbled around the lip of the beer.
"Well, we can always improvise if worse comes to worse," Keir waved dismissively, "Worse comes to worse we make a sled out of the local jotun and ride them back down."
"Does that work?", the amber-eyed sylvari's beamed.
"Yes," Falx answered, drawing stares from both of krewe members.
"I was being facetious."
"I'm not, it works. Once."
"That is going to be a great story for the camp," Eithne cheered as Keir palmed his forehead.
"Somehow I am still befuddled, never mind, are we done here?", a pair of nods and a squawk confirmed all that the asura needed to know, "Right, then let me roll this up and we will divvy up supplies.
"I cannot believe she can carry that," Falx mumbled as the lily-skinned sylvari hefted the lion's share of the equipment.
"Still lighter than my Master's mobile lab!"
"Okay then, now that my perception of heavy has been completely violated by our resident plant, let's go. I can only tolerate so many headaches in one day," Keir snarked, pocketing his glasses for the goggles about his neck.
The krewe passed through the soot stacks of Smokestead unhurriedly, following their guide plotted course, even if it wasn't the most expeditious rout it was, supposedly, safer. No one intended to argue with that. After a while the asura dragged the group to a halt, mounting his moa before waving them on. A general grumble of 'lazy bastard' passed through the quartet. Not that the norn bothered to say anything.
In fact the norn carried nothing beyond his weapons and the same small pack that was seemingly glued to his back. The charr and asura carried fairly light loads compared to the sylvari. Neither could complain. Well, Keir could always complain, he instead opted to ride his companion.
Night arrived suddenly, or the faux-night created by the ghostfire did. The entire sky shifting to a dismal, bitter purplish-gray color. Lightning skittered across them, trails of ghost light following in their wake, eternally echoing the arcs of that evening.
"Oh dear...", Keir whispered, awe-struck as the curse pulsed, spearing the heavens themselves, "That's what you've been fighting, oh dear."
Falx turned following the asura's gaze into the heavens, "What, you have some great insight into it?"
"No. Not in the least. But its beautiful in its own way, a last defiant gesture by a world weary man who'd lost everything in his arrogance."
"What?", Falx bristled, "He damned all his soldiers into waging the same war forever. He lost, and he couldn't take it, like a spoiled cub. Didn't even have the decency to stay dead."
"He never really lost though, you're still fighting him, right?", Eithne tilted her head to the air as well.
"No, he lost. Just not the war," Keir sighed, "I can see it, a letter written in fire and fury, his parchment the very sky. He lost his land, he lost his love, he lost his child, he lost what no other King of Ascalon had lost..."
The group ground to a halt, turning to Keir expectantly, even the norn seemed to be paying attention.
"He lost tomorrow to fight today, forever. He hasn't lost, he can't lose."
"Poetic, but that doesn't explain anything," Eithne accused, forcing the Asura to shrug.
"What, I'm trying to make sense of metaphysics, even if I gave you a full explanation there is no chance you'd be able to understand it."
"He gave up eternity to fight us forever," the Charr rolled his eyes, "It's not that complicated."
"It is, but I digress. That's just the surface, it's a spell woven from pain, suffering, hate, and resentfulness. It feeds on itself, festering like an open wound. Alright, I'm running out of analogies, let's quicken the pace," with a sheepish laugh the asura drove the moa onward, as the trio stared at his back.
"He's hiding something," Falx growled darkly as the man and bird slowed at the front of the pack.
"Keir is always hiding something; the questions are, what is he hiding, why is he hiding, and does it really matter?", Eithne hummed, blinking at the stunned Charr, "What?"
"You are nothing like what you play at, are you?"
"Of course not."
"Mental note," Keir hummed as he waved the krewe on, "Don't stare at nearly incomprehensible things," the asura adjusted his goggles, rubbing his aching eyes, "I like having my brain intact."
"So that's Adorea?", Eithne hummed, staring at the crystal water as the ancient ruins crested above the deep, "What was there before the lake?"
"No clue. Can't say I care. That's your break in the mountains snack-pack, three plateau back to back. Not exactly the most natural looking rock formation, that's for sure," Falx growled rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"So close, and so far. Would you, perhaps, like to tell me who those other Charr are? With the burnt offerings, giant swords, and, you know, angry looks?", the red-haired man dismounted his moa with a sigh.
"Well, that's what I thought. Are they just there by coincidence or should I be looking for spies?"
"You should always keep an eye out for spies," Eithne cheered rifling through the massive pack she carried, "Otherwise they'll get ya when you least expect it!"
"Are you really always this cheery?", the snow-furred man snorted in amusement.
Retrieving a long barreled device the plant-woman simply shrugged, "Why not? I think it's more fun than being sad," dragging a long hose from the pack Eithne smirked, "Plus, no one expects the happy Sylvari to light them on fire."
"That would be quite accurate, if you weren't totting a flamethrower..." Keir laughed, unslinging his bow, "Five Charr, all of them heavily armored, options? Options that have us not wasting time or getting into unnecessary engagements, preferably."
"You want to just leave them here?", Falx grimaced.
"No, I want to avoid confrontation. There is nothing to gain with this engagement."
"They're exposed, unaware, and Flame Legion. And you want us to what, go up to them and exchange pleasantries?"
"Well, I asked for options. That is one I suppose."
Eithne clasped the hosed to the base of the contraption, "We could wait for them to go by."
"Or we could just jump on them and tear them limb from limb...", the Quaestor protested, tapping a steel boot against the dusty ground.
"Both strong options. I suppose if we have to fight this would be the opportune situation. Right, well asking them politely it is," Keir nodded as his krewe stared at him, "What? We don't know who they are. What if they're Ash Legion pretending to be Flame Legion? What if they're defectors? We can't just put holes in everyone we meet. If it makes you feel any better, you can all set up some sort of trap while I walk down there so that if they do try to eat me you can have the satisfaction of smearing them over the cliffs, deal?"
"That's not a terrible plan I guess, it would be sorta hard to explain on your first outing that you whacked a group of Ash Legion infiltrators and all," Eithne nodded sagely, letting the incendiary weapon hang limply, "Plus, traps are fun. I brought mines."
Keir wasted, no time, padding down the side of the hill towards the quintet of soldiers. Falx blinked, pinching the bridge of his nose in agitation.
"Fine. We do it his way," Falx growled, freeing a rune-smothered staff from his back as the twig of a woman dropped a dozen little metal boxes along the side of the lake, little flickering red lights warning their presence, "Where did the moa go? Eithne?"
Eithne looked around in confusion, the large black bird had seemingly vanished. Glancing back towards Keir suspiciously, revealed nothing more than the hopping asura, "I have no idea."
The norn watched, mild interest stirring behind his frozen orbits as the mass of his battleaxe thudded into the ground. Glowing eyes, undaunted by the evening light, watched and waited. Calculating malice burned to the front of his mind, the cold, logical embrace of his spirit melted as the call of war melted his frozen heart, if only for a moment.
"Hiya bookah!", the leather-clad asura chirped, the squad of Charr whirling on him suddenly, "You wouldn't happen to mind if I take a krewe up over your mountain, would you?", Keir bobbed his head, thumbing the series of buttons along his bow anxiously.
"We would mind, yes," the largest of the quintet of red-clad warriors warned, paw resting against the massive, serrated monster of a blade along his back.
"Ah, well. I was hoping we'd be able to resolve this after an amicable fashion. Nevertheless, I appreciate your direct and honest answer. I suspected you would've likely attempted to bait us in and eat us, you've surprised me with your honesty. When I kill you I'll make it quick."
It took a moment for the Charr to process the backhanded compliment, one that Keir took full advantage of. Sprinting away, the asura shouted wildly, waving his hands in the air wildly as he fled. The Flame Legion was not particularly well known for their...discretion, the squad charging after the routing mouse of a man.
Keir laughed, pulling a chorus of arrows from his quiver. In a breathe, a momentary pause, he spun and loosed the hail towards the rushing mass of muscle and fur. They did little but irritate the armored troopers. Exactly what he had expected. Realizing that, realistically, he would never be able to out run the charge with his own stubby legs the asura did what any right thinking asura would do. He cheated.
Leaping over the flickering lights of the mines, Keir plunged into the cool evening waters of the lake. Gripping the bow with his teeth as he swam for his life.
A series of satisfying detonations shattered the relatively quiet evening, a cavalcade of light, shrapnel, and blood filling the air as the tip of the charging tip of the spear found himself granted the posthumous gift of flight. The disorientated group of Charr continued they're suddenly blind charge. Right until it ended against a solid wall of light. Suddenly supine the four bleeding and blind members of the squad had no time to react to the brutal charge of the norn.
A strangled scream filled the air, as the norn's axe folded the first of the Flame Legion soldiers around its head. The suddenly embedded Charr wailed and heaved the bloody remains of his stomach as he was lifted into the air wholesale along the blade.
The others rolled to their feet in shock, their warband brother heaving his death rattle as he suddenly became limp across the breadth of the axe. They never could have suspected that in the shadow of the man dwelt a plant-woman with a penchant and love of the flame that rivaled their own. Not that it would save them, a sigil of burning light erupted beneath the trio as the sylvari peaked between her norn companion's legs. A searing white flame, magnified by the magic rune, danced and screamed. Fire licked fur as the armor blistered and seared flesh, no screams filled the air. For no air was left in their lungs as they threw themselves into the lake. The sweltering heat boiling the water away as the joints of their armor fused.
Sinking to the bottom of the lake the three soldiers bucked and heaved desperately, water filling their lungs painfully as they drifted amongst the forgotten ruins. Keir watched forlornly as they changed and shifted under his alchemagical sight, slowly drowning. Shutting his eyes the asura dove deep, seizing one of their heavily armored foes. Kicking for all his worth the asura beached the water logged Charr before diving once more.
The others were dead by the time he would reach them, he could see it. That didn't mean that he wouldn't drag them out anyway. Logic warred with emotion as they sought compromise, haunting memories filling his mind. The tiny bodies of other asura filling his vision, overlaying his own magical overlays.
Exhausted the asura heaved dryly, the charnel scent stinging his senses.
"Search their bodies for orders...", the emerald-eyed man justified against the inevitable inquiry.
Eithne nodded, turning from her employer as she relayed the order.
"What do we do with him?", the sylvari poked the tip of the flamethrower against the unconscious Flame Legion soldier, water leaking from his soggy armor.
"We interrogate him, then drown him," Falx growled maliciously, wrenching the helmet free of his downed foe.
"Or we could, maybe, not drown him," Eithne's eyes narrowed, "It's not like he's much of a threat, with the joints welded."
"And then what do we do with him? Leave with on a patrol route with a note around his neck?"
"That's a good plan!"
Falx paused, it actually was a decent plan. Any field interrogation would be, at best, unreliable. The promise of escape or freedom would still taint anything he said. At worst he would give them believable lies that lead to traps, at best he'd welch like a scared cub, "We'll leave him on the patrol route just to the north, will that satisfy you?"
Eithne beamed, "Sure. One question though, do Charr always smell like dogs when wet?"
"Only Flame Legion."
"Huh, I expected them to smell more...burn-y."
"Did anyone check their pockets yet?", the krewe-chief qurried, wiping his mouth of the pond scum he'd dove through.
"There were orders, though I doubt they're intelligible any longer," Falx waved the shrapnel riddled piece of paper, of which only a small corner remained, "Someone blew the rest of it too pieces."
"Well, look on the bright side; a little is more than none, imagine if it'd been on the ones I lit on fire!"
"Right, pass that over here, please."
"I didn't know asura could be respectful..." Falx smirked.
"Yes, I can be all kinds of things, thank you," Keir glanced at the note once before palming his massive forehead, "It's encoded, surprise. Fine, we'll have to pass it along him unconscious-cat over there. Let's bind him up under a nice tree with the tattered remains of his friends, pin the note to his shirt and get the hell on with this."
Falx didn't object, searching his pack for a coil of rope to bind the corpses and wounded Charr. Dragging each one towards the mass of an old cedar, the morbid Charr strung the dead from the limbs before wrapping the soldier to the trunk beneath his suspended companions.
"Festive, isn't it?", Eithne quipped sardonically as Keir shrugged.
"Better than jotun, they eat the people they kill...or capture."
"Low standards aren't something to celebrate."
"I suspect you're mistaking acquiescence for approval," the asura stared at the sylvari with sad eyes, "I don't like watching anyone die."
"You murder bats."
"You've obviously never been almost eaten by bats. Besides, bats aren't people
"Bat people would object."
"We will cross that bridge if and when it arrives."
Falx looked like the a cat with a mouse, or a bug, or maybe a chicken, Eithne wasn't really sure. He looked please though, that was certain. The smile on his face was, disconcerting, that was a good word. Eithne considered herself an honest person, generally, and if she were asked she would have told the charr just how much what he had done had disgusted her.
Sylvari were sometimes considered morbid by other races, fascinated with death and the change within. A final winter in the life of a mortal. Nevertheless the Sylvari didn't defile the dead of their foes, outside of the occasional 'turning your dead friends body against you' trick that necromancers practiced. Still, even in that was a respect for the departed, not a mockery.
Instead she kept her mouth shut. One of the many things she'd learned in her tenure amongst the other races over the years. A human sailor in Lion's Arch once phrased it as 'don't rock the boat'. It'd taken her an entire day to grasp the full subtext of the statement, of all the little meanings and possibilities. Eithne didn't like the concept; it was antithetical to the Sylvari nature.
When she met with the man who would later become her employer he had agreed, Asura were widely regarded as the people on the face of Tyria that couldn't keep their opinions to themselves. That wasn't completely true, Keir certainly could when the benefit outweighed the cost. When she asked him why, he smiled a sagely smile and gave her his most confusing answer ever, 'there's a time and place to discuss anything, the greatest challenge in life is finding and knowing the appropriate combination of the two to convince those you care about that they're wrong', in retrospect it made sense from an Asuran perspective.
It still didn't feel right. What right that was, she didn't know; but she knew that she would know when she found it.
"So, has anyone seen Oun?", the corn-silk haired woman asked politely.
Keir stiffened, looking around suspiciously, "Normally, I'd think he was trying to eat the people we killed, but seeing as how they're just a little beyond his reach I would suspect he found something tastier and closer to the ground. Lemmings, mice, rabbits-"
"Bats," Falx drawled as the mass of the moa returned, a trio of dead bats clutched in his beak.
"See, this is why I love Moa!", Keir cheered, rushing to hug the creature's flank, "Bat stew anyone?"
"We have plenty of provisions, perfectly good provisions," Falx rolled his eyes.
"That sounds suspiciously like volunteering to cook dinner," Eithne grinned manically, drawing a huff from the quartermaster.
"Jokes on you, I like cooking," the charr smiled back, "Had to pick up some sort of hobby while I was rotting away in the warehouse."
"I thought your hobby was marinating in whiskey?"
"Right, well I suppose we'll wait till the morning then. I don't suspect rock climbing in the middle of the night will improve our survival odds," interjecting, the asura laughed, diverting sheepishly as he doted on the feathery beast.
The dawn broke with the crack of thunder, rain pelting the hillside in sheets. The clink of steel and stone filled the morning as Eithne pounded the lead pitons into the cliff-face, a bandolier of equipment wrapped around her seemingly frail body as she ascended the face.
A trio of forms followed her slowly behind her ascent, and one severely unhappy flightless bird.
The rain made it far more difficult, something the sylvari relished. Placing another cam the woman wrenched herself over the first ascent, gazing across the plains with a sense of satisfaction, "One hundred percent worth it," she purred as the gray clashed with the unnatural clouds of the Foefire. Lightning glittered and surrendered itself to the magic. Maybe it consumed the power of storms as well, it would be a question to address to Keir later.
Thinking of her employer seemed to lead to his inevitable appearance, a toothy grin along his face as he wiped the rain from his goggles, "I can't say I ever expected to do something like this, it is quite exhilarating!"
"Isn't it?", Eithne replied absentmindedly watching the soot and cinder of the Charr towns be swept away under the weight of the downpour.
"Quite a view too...you don't think they need help do you?"
"Have there been any loud shouts or bones breaking against rock?"
"Well, no, but isn't that generally to late?"
"Nope, that's rock-climbing."
"So, it's like metamagical constructs, the only time you need help is when it's broken loose and trying to strangle you with your possessed shoe-laces."
Eithne looked at the asura and blinked, "I haven't heard that one either. Do you just make these up?"
"I wish I just made these up...", the drenched red head laughed, shaking his head all the while.
The crunch of a soaked, cursing Charr surmounting the first of the leash of cliffs drew their attention once more.
"It had to be raining!"
Eithne shrugged, "You insisted we take the longer, safer route here."
"There were no objections at the time..."
"Just like there was no rain," Keir joined with a chuckle, "What it's not like anyone happened to bring a weather modulator along, let alone calibrate it for this area, it's just a little rain. Okay, its a lot of rain, but my point stands."
"Sure, whatever, you going to start on the next of these damn climbs?"
"When I'm done watching the clouds," the sylvari hushed.
Falx resigned himself to that, turning to watch with the pair, "It's a sight, give it that."
"Alrighty, done," Eithne smiled, before lunging towards the next cliff.
"All my associates are insane," Keir bemoaned, following after lethargically.
"I thought you were enjoying it," the bone ash-colored leonine laughed.
"Momentary thrill of survival after a terrifying event. Not a long lasting high by any stretch of the imagination."
"Ahh, that I can understand. How long has she worked for you anyway?"
"Six months or so, I think."
The rock shifted again as the massive glowing eyed norn breached the summit, hauling the very distraught form of the ebon feathered moa.
A loud whistle drew the krewe's attention, "Are you all coming?!", the lily-skinned woman waved as she began her climb.
"I hate you so much."
"I hate me too."
With the crest of the final plateau the storm broke, petering away over the plains far below. The sun stalked higher, baking the overly humid cliffs as the last of the krewe wrenched themselves to the top.
"We're lucky we didn't get washed out. This looks like it could be a waterfall actually," Eithne paused for a moment, "Why wouldn't it washout?"
"Obviously something upstream is obstructing the flow of water in its severity, a dam, if you will," Keir sighed, dragging himself over the edge of the soggy riverbank.
"That implies something intelligent is restricting water on purpose," Falx added, stumbling through the muddy terrain.
"The Charr don't happen to have any...outposts out this way do they?", the amber-eyed plant-woman questioned as the norn lobbed the moa onto the riverbank unceremoniously before leaping it with a sprint.
Falx shook his head, "If we do, I don't know about them."
"Well considering the most intelligent creature in this expanse otherwise are jotun, and it may be generous to call them intelligent, it's either Charr or Human."
The charr growled, shaking his mane of the collected water. Neither of those options were good. Maybe jotun had become smarter over the years... Falx frowned, Flame Legion or Separatists, or if they were lucky maybe an Ebonhawke forward outpost. His tail twitched at that thought, "We should investigate."
"This is where you tell me we have to examine it because they have information on where we're going while you have an ulterior motive, right?", Keir complained, only to be knocked into the river by an upset moa, "Hey, I didn't suggest dragging you up here in a harness!"
"Ulterior motives, never..." Falx dismissed sarcastically as the asura wormed his way up the side of the riverbed once more, "Hey, high-fiber, you just going to stand there?"
Eithne looked confused for a moment before grasping the backhanded-nickname, "No, I was just wondering how whoever dammed the river did so without anyone noticing, wouldn't patrols notice a sudden disappearance of a, you know, waterfall?", the sylvari reasoned as she too plucked herself free of the mire.
"That's an excellent point, the possibility has to exist that whatever is blocking the flow is old enough for it have existed before regular patrols existed around Adorea," Keir agreed as he pushed the bird down the riverbank in revenge.
"If we're lucky it's your lost tower.", the charr groaned, his hopes dashed.
"Eithne, am I ever lucky?", the diminutive man probed his plant-based companion.
"No. Generally everything explodes, whether on purpose or not."
"See, that means its probably not our tower."
Falx balked, "That's the stupidest reason I've ever heard. That doesn't mean it's not the tower."
"True, but nothing worthwhile in life is easy. In this case, if it is the tower that implies its severely water-logged, and likely pillaged by whatever brigands or jotun found it a convenient squatting place at the time; meaning this entire climb was utterly pointless. In this case I'm actively choosing to believe it is not the tower."
Blinking, the sapphire-eyed charr couldn't find fault with the purposeful denial, "Alright, either way we should give it a look."
"Fine, fine, we'll give it a look. Don't get your mane in a knot."
"Well, I do believe we have successfully ascertained where the river went..." the leather-armored asura drawled as he stared into the valley below, "A rift valley, joy."
"Rift what?", Falx prodded, "How is this different than a normal valley?"
"This was created by a fault-line, the entirety of this place just dropped,"
"Likely due to the Dragons waking up, right?", Eithne cut in as she whistled at the scale of the valley, it had to be dozens of miles long; in the distance the sparkling headwaters bubbled into a rather impressive lake that dominated the breadth of the valley.
"Likely, it's also certainly possible that the Searing could have triggered it. I have no real clue, all I know is our tower is either somewhere in it, or beyond it. Depending on geological shifts."
Falx palmed his face, "Or it's gone entirely. Depending on geological shifts," the Charr parroted, "More climbing then."
"Maybe not, if we can find a stable route on foot I think that would be a better answer," Keir offered helpfully, sun glinting from his goggles.
Eithne smiled, "Telescope time?", the woman didn't wait for an answer as she dropped her pack, nearly crushing the errant foot of one norn. A brief rummage produced the fine silver inlaid leather case, a delicate hand fished the work of art free, glittering steel inlaid with a pattern of ivy burnished in gold. Ever so gently the sylvari raised an amber eye to gaze across the breadth of the valley.
A few moments produced an acceptable option in her mind, "About an hour south-west, broken terrain but it looks like the best option. It's steep, and looks like it's been used."
"Jotun," Falx scratched his chin as the woman nodded, "knew we'd seem them eventually. A tribe probably controls the valley. If there smart they probably trashed the other entrances."
Keir frowned, being boxed in brought back several bad memories, "Let's hope their dumb then."
"Eternal Optimist and Eternal Alchemist, you never cease to amaze," the charr baited sarcastically.
Keir, of course, took the bait, "I've come this far, I can't afford to back down now, monetarily or otherwise. Besides, there's only room for one wise-ass in this krewe, bookah."
"How about I leave you the wise and I just take the ass?"
Eithne laughed rancorously, Keir joining her with a sly smirk, "You said it."
"I don't get it," the snow-colored lion frowned.
"For the best, I'm sure."
Clashing wood thumped against flesh, bellows of pain filling the air as exchanges of crude spears and arrows joined the chorus of pain. The thick-skinned giants laid into one another with a savage brutality, biting, smashing, punching, and kicking wildly; a pair crashed to the ground, the one on top tearing at the others face with crude knife and teeth, a cannibal's feast.
A massive tree trunk found the hungry jotun's skull, a sickening crunch as it's head lolled to the side, blood and brain leaking from the shattered remnants of its skull. There was no moment of triumph for the maimed jotun beneath his voracious foe, a jagged piece of metal, no one could truly call it a sword, found his stomach. Sputtering blood the creature seized the shard, wrenching its owner closer as the blade minced his hand.
With all his strength the downed jotun swung, watching with twisted satisfaction as his assailant's leg snapped like a twig. Tearing the jagged edge from his belly the jotun surged to his feet, suddenly overbearing his unprepared foe.
Manic energy filled his limbs as he stabbed viciously at his opponent's face, returning the favor to his foe's tribe, the creature beneath him screamed and bellowed. Shortly it fell silent, gelatinous matter clinging to the weapon, the remains of a destroyed eye.
The jotun saw the boulder too late, a defiant roar escaping his throat as his chest imploded from the massive impact, the world fading to black as death claimed him.
The offensive crumbled as more boulder's plummeted into the narrow pass, smashing friend and foe alike, roars turning to screams and agony as pinned limbs became liabilities.
Finally, the screams fell silent as the last of the jotun either retreated or found himself crushed beneath the onslaught. A chorus of laughter and victory rising up over the walls of the valley, a single heavily armored jotun blowing a great horn as the others chanted his name.
"Gron! Gron! Gron!", his name resounded as his kinsmen praised his strength and cunning, who else was as great or strong as their chief? Surely no one.
The fleeing tribe fell in on itself, accusations and tempers flaring as another battle began; a one of posturing and treachery as exposed backs ended with shattered spines and fractured skulls. Of the three dozen remaining jotun only ten emerged the victor, the others left for dead amongst the crags; they would either crawl their way back to camp or die, it didn't matter.
Hidden amongst the craggy ground, in one of the deeper fissures that surrounded the valley the krewe sheltered itself as the snarling giants passed over. Eighty jotun was a charge that even the most stalwart Charr would have balked at, Falx had volunteered the hiding place as soon as the full numbers sank through his ears.
"Sounds like they lost, tonight will be our chance," Falx smiled, something truly no Charr should ever do.
"Oh, why's that?", Eithne peaked her head over the edge of the fissure, looking at the mass of giant bodies.
"Jotun will eat anything, even their dead. They're gluttons. They're also as arrogant as an Asura-"
"Guilty," Keir rejoined.
"-and after a great battle, and a great feast, there is always a great nap," Falx chuckled, dragging himself over the lip of the fissure unceremoniously.
The rest of the krewe followed closely, Keir was impressed the grumbling charr had been able to spot a fissure that would hold all of them, even the norn!
Eithne's face scrunched up, a confused look on the lily-like woman. She didn't voice the thought, so Keir dismissed it. If it was important she would say something, that was something he admired about the Sylvari as a whole, they were more honest than even the Asura.
Then again, on some days that wasn't a particularly high bar to measure against.
Oun followed the group silently, each irritated step forcing the bird to consider killing his companions. The lifting and dropping needed to stop. Was going to stop, or someone was going to plummet to their most in opportune death. Probably not Keir though, he did feed him. Oun liked his creature comforts.
The inscrutable gaze of the norn lingered on the smashed corpses of the jotun, the axe wielding man examining each wound as the gears wound in his mind. A mild interest developing as to how these creatures lived and even prospered under such hardships. Their disregard for life an intriguingly different perspective. A voice rebelled in his mind, he crushed it with an infinitesimal bit of his will as he followed the press.
Falx snatched a small mirror from his pack, deftly checking the corner of the narrow, boulder filled pass. It was passable, probably, though it would take time. Movement showed some still living creatures among the pass. A crushed jotun, not quite dead yet, "We wait here till nightfall, take up good cover, create a killzone for our egress."
"You do know some intelligent words after all," Keir smiled as the smile slid off the charr's face.
"How does anyone work with you?"
Keir contemplated it for a moment, before smiling a wide sharp-toothed grin, "Because I have an excellent success rate, pay through the nose, and am still the most tolerable Asura this side of the Shiverpeaks."
Falx just sighed, "We scour the valley over night, if we don't see your tower we pull back out, go around and see if it's past the valley. If we do find it, we gather whatever you want and pull out, hopefully to this point. If we can't do that we need to find some place to hunker down in the valley. Keep an eye out for something like that, good sight lines, resilient cover, out of the way preferably."
"I approve of this plan," Keir chuckled, "But no, in all seriousness that sounds like an excellent plan. I would prefer, if the opportunity presents itself, to find shelter within the valley assuming that is where the tower is located. In all likelihood it will take time to differentiate which files, books, or artifacts are of use to us. Considering it's all in Old Ascalon it will take time to translate as well. I'm hardly a multilingual expert. If it comes down to it we will have to take everything that looks important and simply seek an expert outside of the expedition," the emerald-eyed man hummed idly, hopping onto a rock to sit.
"And what if it is in the valley, and the jotun are occupying it?", Eithne qurried, causing both the asura and charr to blink.
Looking to one another, neither answered.
"No plan then, okay. Well, I'll work on that bit then," the sylvari practically glowed in the light, "I've probably got material to fix it once."
"When you say fixing it, this involves large quantities of explosives, correct?", Falx drawled rhetorically.
"Nope, small quantity of really powerful explosives, powdered powerstone detonation."
Keir slid to the ground with a thump, a shell-shocked look in his eyes, "How much?"
"Ummm, powdered it myself, so whatever cut-rate prices on powerstones in Lion's Arch are in power...and about sixteen pounds of it."
The asura's eyes dilated massively, "You're a walking bomb!", he screamed girlishly as he dove for cover.
Falx stared at the asura's seemingly serious response, "J-just how bad is that?"
"Lion's Arch powerstones are extremely unstable, lots of power, very short duration. Powdering 'stones gives all the energy at once when used. My goggles are powered by three ounces of high-quality powerstone, and they have been for the last year, they have the same yield as Lion's Arch stones do, but are more stable. If I were to rig this to explode I could drop a cliff, she's carrying enough explosives to turn the Black Citadel into a smoldering wreck!"
Eithne blinked, "You gave me two hundred gold, you said, 'get whatever you need here, we'll get everything you can't buy with that in at the Black Citadel', I assumed that meant you could get everything we needed for free so I would just buy what we couldn't get for free when we got there. I spent half of it in powerstone."
"And the other half?", Falx tilted his head.
"Parts for turrets that I thought would be hard to find, various magical gems, fuel for my flamethrower," Eithne smiled.
"Wait, you asked for flamethrower fuel on the requisitions."
"When can you have enough fuel?"
Keir cried behind cover, "She's going to blow us all up!"
"I am not!", Eithne grunted, stamping a boot in irritation, "I'm going to blow them up!"
"And everyone in the Shiverpeaks too," Falx laughed, maybe not quite grasping the magnitude of such an explosion.
"Right, well, if you're both going to complain what solution do you have to an army of jotun charging as us?"
Keir peaked over the boulder, lenses flaring in the light, "Not be in the way of a charging jotun horde. Generally, that is the best plan."
"Okay, how about an encampment of jotun?"
"Lure them out into a well prepared killing field, pick them off while their confused before withdrawing and doing the same thing over a period of time, it's not like they can pick up and walk away," Falx shrugged, adjusting his battered clothing with a yawn.
"Fine, I'll make it by myself, and when I have to blow up a charging horde of jotun I'll be sure you both are caught in the blast zone," huffing, the sylvari plopped down on a nearby rock, dropping the pack to the ground with a thump.
Keir shrieked, expecting to be blown to smithereens. Patting himself, the asura sighed to find everything intact, "I can't believe I'm not dead."
"I can't believe you squeal like a kit with a hang nail," Falx mocked, rubbing the pain from his ears, "You're lucky no one else is nearby, you could wake the dead with that squeal."
"You would be screaming to if you understood just how big an explosion she's making over there is," the asura gestured wildly, "I like having all of my bits intact and attached to my body, don't you."
Falx stiffened, biting his lip, "Ya...ya I would too."
~ End Chapter~
Author's Note: That took about a week to write, 28 pages I think. It was fun, if you guys like it I'll be more than happy to write more, just as soon as I hack some time free from the bonds of school...and gaming.