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Old 03-26-2013, 05:10 PM
Bolvar Bolvar is offline

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The Long Road To Quelthalas

My younger self could hardly sleep during our last night at home. The anxiety was overwhelming, and after a while I mentally shouted to myself, Suck it up, cupcake. It all works out in the end.

Surprisingly, this had a calming effect, and I drifted off to sleep. It was then that Hollus Fenweaver appeared next to me in the astral space I was occupying alongside the subconscious of my past.

Youre not being very careful, he said. He was frowning.

What? All I did was give myself a little pep talk. I was driving myself nuts with worry.

He looked me square in the eye (which he almost never does), and spoke, Listen very carefully: You have just given your past self a more restful nights sleep, something you werent supposed to have heading into tomorrow. An action like this has enormous consequences, no matter how small you think it is. The results could be catastrophic, and if I am forced to intervene, you will not enjoy the outcome.

I threw my hands up. So, I cant help myself sleep, but when I eventually make it to the Sunwell, I can convince myself to commit high crimes and steal a vial from it.

He stared off into space again, at some point over my shoulder that didnt exist. The events you influence to complete your mission can still be safely isolated. But your younger self is supposed to be scared and unsure of himself right now. Making him stronger and more confident now not only changes the events of your next several months here, but also actions you will take after you cross through the time rift and arrive at Northshire.

Hold on first, several months? Are you saying Im stuck in spectator mode for that long here?

I did warn you.

No, you said I would be unconscious in Theramore for a few moments, but it would seem much longer here. You didnt say months.

You are impatient and short-sighted. What you have now is the gift of your own memory, restored with greater clarity than you could possibly appreciate, and all you can do is complain about having to watch quietly.

I waved him off. Impatiently, I might add. And then I asked, Second, I lose my memory before I get to Northshire, so what difference can I make if Im a little more well-rested in this time period?

You are more than your memory. A more confident Simon Moongrasp may lose his memory, but he will still be a more confident Shadrach when he awakens in Northshire.

Oh, sure, we wouldnt want THAT to happen. Light forbid I undergo any positive personal improvement.

Do not be coy. You understand the implications that come with tampering with the timeline. It is a delicate thing.

I also understand that people have died because I wasnt able to do better. Tell me, whats the worst thing that can happen if I come out of this sharper and more confident? Maybe Stovos lives to watch his boy grow up. Maybe Eloona doesnt have to kill herself.

Maybe you end up killing your wife when she attacks you upon your arrival in Gilneas.

Shit. I hate when he has a point. You dont know that.

He shook his head. No, I dont know that. But it is a possibility. The slightest ripple in time can have disastrous effects. You must be very careful. I fear you have already done too much. I may have erred in bringing you here.

I shrugged. Youre the all-knowing reader of every possible reality. You ought to know how this all works out.

It doesnt quite work that way. I see a myriad of possible outcomes. The most likely ones repeat themselves over and over, and become the sharpest in my view. But the unlikely ones remain possible, and can be obscured from my sight. Every action you take changes the picture, and introduces new risks that I must investigate and try to account for. It is exhausting.

I nodded my head. Fine. Ill try to be careful.

***

The next morning, as expected, dozens of young men boarded barges to head across the lake and down the river toward Tarren Mill. There, they would disembark, and caravan over to Strom.

I was not among them. I was to ride on Counselor Winterstorms wagon over to Andorhal.

Why arent we traveling with the rest of the group to Strom? I asked as I boarded the wagon.

The regular conscripts will head there for training and arms, along with most of the students for the arcane studies. King Thoradin is only sending about a quarter of you to Silvermoon.

Why is that? Shouldnt all of the students be going to Quelthalas?

Most of the students have no real aptitude at all. The Elves have sorcerers in Strom already, and theyll teach them some crude basics how to conjure fire and such for use in combat. But I insisted that we get at least a few of our students some real academic study. Ive been able to hand-pick most of them for the trip, although, as youll see, there are a few who had influential families that called in favors in lieu of having any real gifts for the arcane.

So, were meeting of the rest of the group in Andorhal before we head up to Quelthalas together?

No, were splitting up. The territory between here and Quelthalas is crawling with trolls. Some of the students have already departed by ship from Southshore. Youll be assigned to a small group with an Elven guide that will bring you safely to Silvermoon, with any luck. But marching 30 people through leagues of contested forests is an invitation to disaster.

Oh. I sat silently for the remainder of the trip.

When we arrived at the village of Andorhal, there was a group of about fifteen standing outside the inn. There were three High Elves dressed in simple leather clothing, carrying small packs, quivers of arrows, bows, and short swords. They would have been inconspicuous as huntsmen, were it not for their striking features, tall, lean builds, long blonde hair, and, of course, the telltale long ears.

One of them approached the wagon. Greetings, Counselor. Is this the last one then?

Yes, I happened to find him as he was idly igniting your runestone at Caer Darrow. Hes never had a lick of arcane instruction, but he is gifted.

Very well. Hell travel with my group. Were departing to the North within the hour. It should be a quiet journey.

Winterstorm nodded and gestured toward me. Well, you heard the man. Grab your things and get ready to head out. Its a long ride.

***

Apparently, my past self had never spent any time on horseback. After the first hour, I could feel it. When we made camp four hours after that, I could hardly walk.

I was traveling North with four other students and our ranger guide, Vedoran Shadecloak. I had gotten to know them a little during our first days ride.

Celindra Chase was the daughter of a farrier, from Tarren Mill. She could read from an early age, as her mother worked as the town clerk, and had already developed a knack for fire spells. Rinn Aranas was the son of an apothecary, from Strom, and insisted on telling the group the name and medicinal value of every herb they passed along the way. James Braddock was the son of Lord Braddock of Arathor. He was quiet, overweight, and seemed generally uninterested in the pursuit of arcane study. But his father had command of a small army, and this was likely the reason he had been afforded the trip. At last, there was Derek Thornby. He was the son of a career foot soldier from Southshore, he couldnt read, and he was a bit of a bully. But he could conjure snowflakes on a sunny day, and thus he was considered gifted.

And then there was me. The fishmongers kid from Caer Darrow who made a big rock glow. We were hardly the stuff of legend.

We made camp next to a small stream, and were given assignments from Shadecloak before he vanished into the woods to find dinner. Celindra and Rinn were to gather wood and start a fire. James and Derek set to putting up lean-to shelters, and I had volunteered to catch fish.

When Shadecloak returned with three rabbits, I presented him with a basket of about a dozen trout. He laughed. I dont think were quite that hungry. If Id known you were so proficient, I wouldnt have bothered with the rabbits.

I shrugged. Theyll keep until breakfast. As long as were near water in the wilderness, the fish will be plentiful and easy enough to catch.

Rinn cooked the meal, and had even gathered an assortment of wild nuts and berries to go with it. We ate, and spent the evening around the fire asking Shadecloak all sorts of questions about Quelthalas, Silvermoon, and High Elven society.

***

By the third day of the journey, I wondered if I would ever be able to walk straight again. It had begun to rain in the afternoon, but Shadecloak insisted on pressing on.

Were not far from the Eversong Woods now, and it will be much safer to make camp there tonight.

He was clearly worried, and for good reason. He had spotted three signs of recent troll movements in the area during the day, from fresh tracks in the mud to broken saplings to the remains of a deer that had been gruesomely butchered, likely with bare hands and teeth.

Suddenly, he brought his horse to a stop and raised a hand, signaling for us to stop and remain quiet. With uncanny speed, he dismounted and disappeared into the woods, handing the reins to Celindra to hold.

Without warning, the woods erupted in screams as four trolls exploded from the underbrush, wielding spears and axes and charging the five of us and our startled mounts. I couldnt think to do anything but hold on, even as I watched Derek get impaled with a spear.

And then suddenly, it was over. In mere seconds, all four trolls dropped to the ground with arrows in their heads. Shadecloak came charging out of the woods, and immediately helped Derek down from his horse. He was clutching the shaft of a spear in his belly.

He had a look of shock on his face. The rest of us just sat on our horses, not sure what to do. He began to cough blood as Shadecloak laid him on the ground.

I must remove the spear. It is going to hurt. I dont mind if you scream. And with a swift tug, he pulled the spear from him, but Derek didnt scream. He looked dead.

Shadecloak produced a vial of red liquid from a pouch on his belt, and poured about half of it into the wound, and then held Dereks head up and forced him to drink the rest.

It was only then that Derek screamed. AAAAUGH! GODS IT HURTS SO BAD! He clutched his abdomen and rolled over, sobbing and screaming into the dirt.

You are lucky the spear was not poisoned. If that had been the case, no amount of healing draught would have saved you. Shadecloak reassured him. Sort of.

Then he turned and glared at the rest of us. You will be of no use in battle if all you can do is sit and gawk as your comrades are cut down by trolls.

***

Not surprisingly, none of us objected to pressing on late into the evening until we had reached the Eversong Woods. Here, the runes that protected QuelThalas were strongest, and troll incursions were still rare, as their presence was almost immediately detected by the ranger sentinels that patrolled the region.

Tonight is the last night we sleep under the stars. From here on out, we will stop at ranger outposts and inns along the road to Silvermoon. Shadecloak informed us.

We didnt bother cooking for dinner. Cured meat and hard bread were all we took time to eat before bedding down for what was left of the night. There would be better meals in the days ahead.

***
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