Jan 16, 2012

Tales of Tyria - Chapter 9: Gladium

If you missed it, here's a link to the previous Chapter.
"I am Ash Legion, and I am a Gladium."
"What's that mean?" Naimh asked innocently.
Before Karthis could answer, Skoldur blurted out "It means he's the sole surviving member of his warband.  Charr  custom says he should have died with his brothers-in-arms."
"Yes, you are correct.  But know that I am not without honor -- I would have perished with them if I'd had the choice."  Karthis paused for a moment as he relived past events and prepared to share them with these two strangers.
"As I said, we were Ash Legion.  We specialized in long range, behind enemy lines reconnaissance.  We had just returned from a successful mission into Kryta when we heard about the ceasefire with the Humans.  There were many who grumbled and didn't like it, but we were re-assigned before the news had a chance to sink in.  The Flame Legion had changed tactics recently and were diverting resources to this area of Ascalon.  We didn't know why, but given the scale, we couldn't ignore it.  It was just the kind of mission that my warband excelled at."
Karthis paused to take a draw on another waterskin and then continued.
"Getting here was the easy part.  Once here we did what we were trained to do -- watch troop movements, study caravan patterns,  learn the patrol routes -- you get the idea.  We noticed a large number of slaves being taken to an area just north of here.  We debated whether we should report what we knew, or to try and get a first-hand look."
Karthis sighed.  Naimh and Skoldur couldn't tell if it was because he felt responsible for pushing the decision, or guilty for not fighting harder against it.  Either way, they knew that Karthis felt the loss of his warband was his own personal failure.  They could see it in his eyes and expression.  After another drink, Karthis continued his tale.
"We approached at night.  We knew there were guards, but not how many or their disposition.  We didn't even know what we were looking for."
Karthis made a sound that Naimh took to be a scoff, directed at himself.
"We got close enough to see a large ramp that had been carved into a massive pit.  Slaves, some human, but a lot of Skrrt, were pulling wagons of dirt up from the bottom.  There were three towers spaced around the pit with one at the top of the ramp and the other two positioned on the edge to make a nice triangle.  The dirt from the excavation was being used to make an earthworks around the tent encampment at the top of the ramp.  We also noticed a wooden platform at the end opposite the ramp, but it's purpose wasn't immediately known."
Karthis sighed before he continued.
"We must have tripped a magical ward or some kind of alarm because the next thing we knew, we were surrounded by two dozen heavily armed Charr.  Before we could say or do anything a shaman stepped forth and ordered us to drop our weapons and surrender or they'd kill us on the spot.  Knowing that we needed to get our information back to the Legion, we surrendered in the hope that at least one of us would get free."
Another swig from the waterskin and another pause to collect himself. Naimh had the impression that Karthis had been reliving these memories for a while and that they hurt him more and more with each retelling.
"They took us to their camp and split us up.  There are some prison cells along the top of the rim although most of the slave quarters are in the bottom of the pit.  They locked us up, one to a cell, except for Trix, who was the only female in our warband.  You may not know this, but the Flame legion holds female Charr in very low regard.  I'm not sure what the shaman said to her -- if he gave her any choice or what.  But the next morning her head was on a spike on that platform overlooking the pit -- a symbol to strike fear into the slaves."
Karthis had to pause at this point as he choked back a lifetime of memories for, like all Charr, he had been raised since birth with his warband.  Trix, and the other three had been with him almost every single day of his life.  After a moment, he continued.
"They put us to work in the excavation.  We were never allowed to talk to each other and rarely even saw each other.  After a week, I saw Bronx's head on a spike up where Trix's had been.  I suppose this set Brenk off -- he always had a temper -- because his head joined them the next day.  That left just Gren and me."
"They had me working with some humans and I had been cautiously talking to them while we worked.  I'd let them know about the ceasefire, although it did them little good as the Flame legion wasn't about to honor it.  At any rate, they eventually moved me in with the humans at the bottom of the pit.  I guess they felt that after a couple months, I'd been sufficiently broken.  That was their first mistake."
At this point, Karthis actually managed a smile.
"One human in particular, a veteran named Taylor befriended me.  We swapped war stories.  He told me about their hero, Logan Thackeray.  Taylor had served with and trained under him.  He told me how Logan taught them to use their inner strength and their emotions -- their sense of Justice, their Courage and their Resolve to see things right -- to aid them in combat.  I realized that these were things I'd always known intuitively, I'd just never thought about them the way in which Taylor did.  He taught me that I had reserves of inner magic like an Elementalist, but that my path to unlocking that power was different."
Naimh realized that she was nodding in agreement.  She knew from personal experience that magic was something that flowed through her and it was through concentration and focus that she was able to harness it.  She knew that Necromancers and Mesmers tapped into the same inner power, but with much different results, so it was no great surprise that there was a martial equivalent for harnessing magic.
"Taylor and I continued to discuss things and even teach each other some new ways to manifest our magic."
"Then, about a month ago I was walking out of our holding cell and I noticed that Gren's head was on a spike on that dread platform."
There was a solemn pause while Karthis again fought his emotions as he re-lived the memory.
"I lost it."
Karthis hung his head at the admission, but then raised it to continue.
"I bellowed out a challenge to the shaman to face me in single combat.  I didn't know what the others had done to warrant their fate, but if I was going to go, I was going to go down fighting."
"But I hadn't noticed the archers behind me.  Unfortunately for Taylor, he had.  He threw himself in front of the arrows meant for my back.  He didn't live long enough to hear me thank him."
Naimh tried to fill the silence that followed by offering Karthis another chunk of Cracktooth, but he just shook his head.  After a moment, he continued.
"I killed the closest two guards before they knew what was happening.  I again bellowed a challenge to the shaman.  This time he appeared and ordered his guards to stand down.  He bid me climb the ramp and he said he would face me, claiming that he wasn't afraid of 'Ash trash'.  I should have expected some form of treachery.  When I got to the top of the ramp I was hit by a net that had been fired from a rifle. Three Charr then descended on me and immobilized me, hog-tying me.  They dulled my claws and horns and only then did the shaman step forth."
Karthis paused to involuntarily examine his claws.  He was pleased to see that they had grown back into lethal weapons.
"The shaman spit on me and said 'So you wish to die with honor by fighting?  You shall have no quick or honorable death.' And so it was that they brought me here and staked me to the ground; to die slowly from exposure or from some hungry animal.  They grossly underestimated my will to live and my desire for revenge.  That was their second mistake."
At this point, Karthis' face cracked into the most wickedly awful grin that Naimh had ever seen, which was saying a lot since she had been living with the Asura and their shark-like grins for several years.  Even Skoldur was glad that the Charr in front of him, naked and malnourished as he was, felt a debt of gratitude towards them.
Naimh spoke first, asking "So, do you want help getting back to your legion to report what you know?"
Karthis glared at her, then softened his expression and said "No.  I can not return to the legion until I have avenged their deaths.  Shaman Fiendstone -- for that is the villian's name -- must pay for what he did.  For the memory of Trix, Bronx, Brenk and Gren.  For my human friend Taylor.  Fiendstone must die.  As many Flame Legion followers as come within my reach must die.  Only when they are all dead, only then can I return.  It was that thought, that promise, which gave me the resolve I needed to stay alive these past weeks.  Justice must be done!"
Naimh was a little unsettled by this last declaration.  She had never encountered such rawly fierce determination.  She tried to settle things down.
"You mentioned an Asura at the camp?"
"Aye.  I never learned his name, but I'm sure he was just as much a prisoner as I was.  The Shaman was using him as some sort of advisor.  The Asura went along with it to preserve his hide."
Naimh offered, "Unless I'm mistaken, the Asura you saw is named Grokk, and he is the reason I'm here.  I was sent to find, but now that I'm here, it looks like I'm going to have to rescue him."
Suddenly, Skoldur pointed up the clearing to the edge of the forest that he and Naimh had entered from. "Guys" is all he said.  Naimh and Karthis suddenly realized that they had been sitting out in the open for over an hour.  They hadn't been found by Charr though.  Instead, they were staring at a very dark, nasty-looking spider that had to be at least half the height of a man.
The story continues in Chapter 10

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