We returned to the Dark Wood, the site of the epic battle between man and brute. The memories were still fresh in my mind. The fear, the panic, and the taste of our deaths. I had no idea what we were becoming, but, it seemed to me that we were no longer seperate people. Somehow, we were merging. More and more, we knew what to do with out ever saying a word. Our thoughts became a single action.
Looking back, I had no idea what was happening then. I do now, but, that will be explained later. For now, and so that you, whomever might read this testament, will know the events that led up to these changes.
Following the old path, we soon found the old marsh. A foul muddy place with a stench that made Talltree smell like roses. Peat bogs were abundant, and a single misstep meant certian doom. Kashya told me that some of those bogs have no bottom, and you would sink forever. As a child, I believed her. Now, as an adult, I still believed her. A sense of gloom and dispair hung heavy in the air.
As we started to enter the swamp, I saw something that, to this day, still fills me with horror. Ahead of us, tied to three stakes, were three of my dear sisters. I choked, anger and hate rising in my throat, and rushed forward.
They had not been dead long. They had been tied here, and left to feed the foul crows that are so common in these parts. A rush of emotions over came me as I hurried forward, and I tripped. I tumbled to the ground, hitting my chin, and it was not the pain of falling, but, rather, the pain of what I saw, I felt tears coming. My face was hot and flustered.
When I was little, Kashya would give me such a flogging if one single tear rolled out. The Sisterhood had no place for crybabies and weaklings. To show weakness was the one unforgiveable sin. The punishment for such was harsh. All that training melted away at the sight of my dear sisters left to rot, tied to posts, no honor in their deaths.
And Talltree scrooped me off the ground. I could look at my sisters no longer. I buried my face in Talltree's stomach, and wept for what felt like hours.
"It was a message left to us." I was drained. Inside, I felt dead. There was no anger, no pain, no nothing. I just felt empty. "Andarial is letting me know that she is now the Master of the Monastary. She took it from us. I still..... I still remember the night it happened. So many of us died. We fought bravely. Kashya told me later that I had done well in my first real trial by fire, better than most. But, we still lost. She knows we are coming Talltree. Ahead, I only see death for us. We have no chance you know. She is a great and powerful demoness. Our entire order battled her, and her minions, and we lost. What chance do we have with just the two of us?"
Talltree looked at me for a moment, his eyes sad, always so sad looking. "I don't know what chance I have. I am probably going to die. I do not fear it. It is a part of the natural order. However, I will not die an old man, and I will not die a slave to the darkness, and I will not die in vain. If I am going to die, then so help me, I am going to die for a purpose. I would rather die fighting."
His words were not words of bravado. He was not trying to be the most manly of men. His words were the simple words of a simple man. There was an honesty in the plain way he spoke.
"Then we shall die together," I said in a quiet whisper.
The marsh's local population was not happy to see us. More of my fallen cursed sisters, goat men, and the stranged winged creatures known as foul crows, that were not really birds at all. We found the way point, the ancient magical highway, and continued. No sense going back to camp. We walked, always in a hurry, Talltree leading the way. We fought mindlessly. Killing had become a second nature to me. In all my training, I never had reached this point. I could fire off arrows with an almost careless aim. The very act of aiming was no longer needed. I had become like Kashya and Blood Raven. My hands were at one with my mind. Sight was no longer needed. I had become.... Sightless.
And then we stopped. Ahead of us loomed what remained of an ancient tower. It had been burned, and then, over time, crumbled down.
"I feel a great evil coming from that place" Talltree peered at the rotten old fortifications and scratched his chin.
"Death has taken residence in that old tower" I told him. "Some say the old Countess still lives down there. She was a very wicked woman. At one time, she was to be a Sister, but, she was exiled. She was power hungry and cruel. Kashya told me she remembers her from when she was a little girl."
With out a word, Talltree entered into the remains of the tower. I started to say something, and then, with out a word, followed him into the dark gloomy tomb.
Inside were more demons. Goat men. Fallen. And ghosts. Real ghosts. They resisted club and arrow, but, my icy enchantments were their undoing. The catacombs under the tower were endless, always going deeper and deeper into the earth. The smell, the horrible smell of death and decay, filled our noses and made us ill. And then finally, we reached the very bottom. There was a sense of powerfull evil. And Talltree rushed right for it.
"Here for a blood bath?" The voice was hollow and echoing. It sent chills down my spine, and the undead form of the old Countess raised her hand in a gesture. Her vile minions attacked. Talltree dispactched them easily, and them moved in to engage the Countess. She hissed.
In moments, it was over. My arrows had struck true, and her old weakened form exploded into dust. Talltree took injury from the explosion, but, was not seriously hurt.
And that was when it happened. An old chest in the room, it's echantments broken with the death of the Countess, also exploded. Gold flew everywhere. For a brief moment, my grief, my anger, and the pain I felt vanished. I felt like a little carefree girl again. Gold spilled everywhere. Hundreds of gold coins. Talltree even seemed delighted, and stood there dumbfounded.
"Well don't just stand there you silly woman, start scooping this up and stuff it in your pack!" I stood for a moment longer, and then, started snatching up gold by the handful. As I scooped, my fingers ran acrossed a piece of wood. Brushing the gold aside, I saw the most beautiful bow I had ever seen. A fine composite bow, covered in tiny runes and inscribed with woodland animals. It was a rare piece of work, probably made long ago in a time long forgotten. It took several trips to town through portals, but, we finally cleaned the tower of all things that glittered.
Between Cain and Talltree, they had made the ancient bow give up it's secrets. All the rogues in the camp were impressed with the workmanship, even Kashya stroking it longingly. She looked at me.
"It always comes down to the bow." Kashya's voice was somber. "Our Sisterhood's hardest test is to find a bow worthy to be worshipped. Many of us seek old tombs, and hidden caves, and forgotten stashes, always hoping to find the bows made long ago during the wars. These old dusty relics long fogotten. This is an amazing bow Gaile. It fires arrows that will stike with the power of storms, the burning of fire, and the chill of winter. It's enchantments will speed your attacks. The runes that give it damage will make your arrows strike your foes like a thrown brick." She handed the bow to me. "A worthy bow, for a worthy warrior. Gaile, when, or if," Kashya paused, closing her eyes at the words. "When you come back to us, you will be Field Captian. Since we have lost Raven, I need an able bodied and sound minded soul to assist me in the battlefield. I want you to be that person. When all this is over, and we have our monastary back, I want you by my side at all times."
I nodded, unable to say anything. This was an honor, but, it felt so hollow. I knew, and Kashya knew, that I would not be coming back. Even if by some odd chance that Talltree and I defeated Andarial, There were bigger fish to fry. I held my bow, and stood tall.
In the morning, we departed camp through the old way point and continued. In a short hike, the Tamoe Highlands, the farmland for the monastary, were in view.
As we walked, a stray whirlwind blew towards Talltree. The little dust devil flew around him. paused, then swallowed him. He stood in the center, rubbing his eyes and cursing, begging the wind to go away. It would not. I giggled, feeling lighthearted for the first time in a long time. Finally, Talltree lost his temper, and begin cursing the wind, waving his arms wildly, and trying to shoo it away. Tears streamed from his eyes, dust and bits of debris flying in his face. "Go away!" Talltree bellowed angrily. The wind blew out the dust, and little bits of what ever, and became a clear, but, somewhat visable wind. Talltree still cursed at the annoying wind, as it whipped his hair and tattered armor around. Try as he might, the wind would not go away. Resigned, and with a sour look on his face, Talltree accepted the wind's company. With the ever present vine, the tree's spirit, and now the wind it self, we were slowly building an army.
Off in the distance, I could see the spires of the monastary.
I detest being left hanging. Although the suspense is marvelous.