Hunt - Chapter Thirty-Five
~ 35 ~
The first thing that came back to Shayliss was the sensation of rolling back and forth. It was something she had never felt before. Her body was standing still, her feet planted onto some kind of surface. Yet, some kind of force was pushing against her, as if someone was telling her to move to the left. That force then shifted as if someone on her left was telling her to move to the right. Shayliss had a hard time placing what was happening, but then something Valtyra told her resonated in her mind.
Was she on a ship?
She could not see yet. All around her was blackness. It was not like night, as during night she would still be able to see general shapes. This was as if her sight was replaced by the color black. Nothing else was visible. However, she was starting to hear sounds.
Waves. Water crashing against a surface. Men and women calling out orders and confirmations. The creaking of wood from age as well as the pounding of feet both armored and not against said wood. Pattering of rain against cloth and wood, though she was not able to feel the rain.
Slowly but surely, her sight started returning, confirming what she pretty much figured out: she was on a ship. A pirate ship to be precise. While all ships looked alike to her, there were some differences between the ship she stood on versus any other that she learned from Val.
This shipâ€™s wooden deck, and possibly hull though she could not see the hull right then, was worn down. The planks were warped, the rings barely visible from the wear and tear caused from so many feet. Sailors, who were passing back and forth by her, were the definition of ruffians. Muscles bulged from holed clothes or armor and scars were clear on whatever skin was exposed. Some walked the deck, checking for damage. Some climbed up and down the rigging hanging off of the masts and one stood at the crows nest attached to the center, and longest, mast. The sails attached to those masts were arcing toward the front of the ship, being pushed by the wind. The only color the sails had were black. They held no nationâ€™s colors nor crest.
None of that really answered why she stood on the deck of a ship, though. The last thing she remembered was getting a scythe to the gut. Inside of the Grey Garrison. That does not match anything close to a ship currently in a light rainstorm. Not only that, but looking down at her belly and chest, she could see that she no longer had any gaping wound where the scythe slammed into her.
Then, there was a voice that sent pangs of longing shooting through her body, â€œShayliss.â€
Those pangs turned into hooks that latched onto Shaylissâ€™s muscles, locking her body in place. She could not move. If she turned and the voice was not real, then she feared her mind would break down. It would shatter like glass. Yet, she wanted to turn. She wanted to see the half-elf again. She wanted to tackle the woman she had been looking for two years down to the ground. What happened after that would be something she mostly dreamed about. Those warring emotions and urges prevented her from moving.
â€œYou are not going to turn around?â€
Shayliss could imagine the cocky smile on the half-elfâ€™s face, daring her to do something. She focused on that, using the image to make herself turn around. To face that smile and see it for the first time in years.
Valtyra stood there. She was there. It did not look like the woman aged a day since they last saw each other. Long blonde hair pulled back in a tail. Blue eyes that washed over Shayliss like the water below them. Dual rapiers strapped to her sides, the etchings on them pulsing slightly. Armored coat, which Shayliss modeled her own after, swaying slightly in the wind. Her white button down shirt was soaked from the rain and her black leather pants pressed against her legs.
Shayliss did not wait anymore. She could not restrain herself. She ran right for Valtyra, arms wide. Shayliss was going to bear hug the woman. However, she could not touch Valtyra. She just passed right through her, nearly falling from the side of the ship as her momentum carried her too far. Her mind reeled in confusion at the result of her perceived tackle.
â€œI am sorry.â€ Valtyra said.
Shayliss turned again to find Valtyra, or what looked like Valtyra, giving her a sorrowful expression.
â€œI am not Valtyra. I am merely an image of her. I needed something to use to talk to you, and I saw her.â€ Her head turned toward the center of the ship, â€œAnd the desire to be on a ship was great. I have never been on one myself, but I know what it is like.â€
Shayliss narrowed her eyes, a mix of anger and sorrow roiling around her body, â€œWhat are you?â€
â€~Valtyraâ€™ let out a slow breath, â€œI am, in the simplest of terms, the Wardstone. The will and power that it held within it. When you used the Rod of Cancellation, it broke the bonds of the stone, sending the power bursting out like water from a dam. I do not have much time.â€ As she spoke, Shayliss could see her hands, once solid seeming, start dissolving into white light. It was slow, but Shayliss figured that it would speed up as this conversation went on.
â€œWhy?â€ Shayliss asked, â€œWhy did you need to do all of this?â€
â€œI wanted to talk to you. To show you what was at stake, what you prevented from happening, and my history. From this, I hope you will understand your destiny.â€
Shayliss stood there, blinking for a second before her mouth curled up in a smirk, â€œMy destiny? You sound like every story ever.â€
The Wardstone returned the smirk with one of its own, â€œTrue. But where do you think those concepts came from? There are heroes born every day and you are no different.â€
It swept a hand out into the vast ocean the ship sailed on, and the world shook. At least, everything in the world except the pair of them shook. Miles away from the ship, the water bubbled and rose. Objects were being pulled up from the ocean as if they had been underwater for years and were only now allowed to rise back up to the surface. Shayliss could see residential homes, the outer walls of the city visible behind those homes, and a towering building. In front of the tower stood about a dozen people, all of them armored. They stood around a large stone. One of those people was clad in brilliant golden armor and stood taller than any other person. He had an angelic longsword strapped to his side and a golden halo made entirely of blades was held over his head.
â€œThis is my first memory.â€ The Wardstone said, stepping forward to stand next to Shayliss, â€œIn a ritual led by the Hand of the Inheritor himself, I was born, infused with the Wardstone. Over the next few days, the other Wardstones are born in the same way. The Hand of the Inheritor gave me my task of defending the border with my brethren which I had done for centuries. This happened a decade before the Second Crusade began.â€
Before Shayliss could respond, the Wardstone waved its hand again and the scene changed slightly. The buildings and tower remained, but the stone was gone and the figures shifted. Now there was a stage and on top rose three stakes that Shayliss recognized immediately: pyres. A familiar looking man in silver armor spoke to a crowd of people as soldiers tied a form to each of the pyres. With a prayer, the man set the pyres on fire, burning the victims alive.
Shayliss turned her gaze sharply away, not wanting to see the very realistic burning of men and women. As she did, the Wardstone gave her a sympathetic expression, â€œLord Hulrun burns suspected witches in front of my tower, in front of me. Even I do not know if they were true witches or not. This event marks the start of the Second Crusade.â€
Shayliss looks up in time to see that the scene has changed completely. Now she looked from what must have been on top of the tower down upon the city of Kenabres. There, a war was being raged between demons and mortals. Smoke rose from burning buildings, screams could be heard in the distance, and flying forms descended upon those running around on the ground. A shadow blinks into visibility above the tower, and Shayliss watched as a very familiar demon, the same one that killed the Silver Dragon Terrendalev, dove right for the Wardstone like a bird of prey.
With blade and whip in hand, the demon charged right for the stone and swung down with the power of a demi-god. The blade connected with the Wardstone and Shayliss was, for some irrational reason, expecting the Wardstone to shatter under that massive power
The opposite happened, however. The blade in the demonâ€™s hand cracked and shattered in a loud sound of metal tearing magnified by the weapons sheer size.
The demon was about to circle around to attack the stone again with his whip, but then Terrendalev crashed into the demon, sinking talons into its chest, nearly killing it. Both forms raced away and out of sight.
â€œThe start of the Fourth Crusade.â€ The Wardstone said, â€œAn attack on Kenabres. It was the first time the demons made a serious attempt at destroying the Wardstone Barrier. It failed, but left a crack in me that leaked out power. The Wardstone Barrier became less effective, though no one noticed it. That is the main reason the demons were able to successfully invade Kenabres this time.â€
The image of Kenabres below changed and evolved to something that looked like what the city was before the latest demonic attack. Footsteps sounded from a set of stairs leading down from the Wardstone chamber.
An armored dwarf appeared, huffing out heavy breaths and staggering. Only a few steps behind him was a few years younger Irabeth. The half-orc had swiped her longsword at the dwarf, but he dodged it with much effort. However, that dodge sent him into the Wardstone and the sound of searing skin and cracking armor came from the point of contact.
The dwarf let out a scream but managed to dodge a second attack from the paladin. On his way up, he bashed his one handed hammer into Irabethâ€™s knee, bone audibly cracking under the blow. He was going to make a final blow on Irabethâ€™s head, but the sound of more footsteps from the stairs made him change his mind. He ran to the edge of the tower and leapt off. Moments later, he could be seen on a massive summoned wasp racing from the city.
â€œA traitor within the Crusaders kills many as he tries to sabotage me. Irabeth got on his trail fast enough, though, and prevents him from doing anything. But he got away.â€
Now Shayliss was looking upon the Wardstone Chamber where, she assumed, her body lay still. This was before the fight as two forms stood in front of an uncaged Wardstone fragment. The larger form, a humanoid demon with a long thin tail, clawed hands, and curling horns where her eyes should have been, raised both hands up and seemingly summoned a large black cage down upon the Wardstone, trapping it in the state the infiltrator group found it in. It then turned to the form of Jeslyn and gave her the order to defend the fragment until a crystal of appropriate size could be found.
â€œMinhago uses a Wish spell to request her patron god to create the cage. It is, of course, successful and traps me within it, unable to do anything. And the last memory.â€
The scene changed one final time, and this time it was a moving image. Shayliss was whisked around the city of Kenabres, helpless to do anything but watch as a surge of demonic and abyssal energy blasted across the city. Those citizens who did not immediately die suffered the worse fate of being infected by the abyssal energy, similar to the Mongrelmen. Crusaders, lay people, everyone was affected.
Shayliss knew that event would never happen now, since they succeeded in their mission, but it was still sickening to see. The whole city would have been weakened or utterly destroyed. A major fraction of the Crusaders would have been killed or turned into demons. That would have practically determined the demonâ€™s victory against the Crusaders.
â€œWhat would have happened, in five hours time.â€ The Wardstone stated, â€œOf course, I cannot know for certain, but based on conversations with Jeslyn and Areelu Vorlesh, I figured that Areelu would find the stone within three hours and finish the ritual needed in two more. If you had hesitated further with your attack, there is no guarantee that you would have made it in time.â€
Shayliss blinked, â€œWhat do you mean?â€ It was still hard for her to separate the Wardstone from the image of Valtyra and it became even harder when she saw the frown form on that achingly familiar face.
â€œWithin minutes of her finding the crystal, the Grey Garrison would have held their defenses, no matter what distractions you threw at them. Not only that, but Areelu would have arrived and in your current state, nothing you did would affect her.â€ The Wardstone turned toward Shayliss, letting the still running image of Kenabresâ€™s destruction fall slowly back into the ocean. â€œThat is what I hope to amend today. Destiny has led you here, though you do not see it. I hope to give you the power you need to face that destiny and come out on top.â€
Shayliss shook her head, â€œI still donâ€™t understand.â€ She pointed at the space where those scenes played out in the ocean, â€œWhat was all of that about? Why show me that?â€
The Wardstone stepped closer to her, â€œFour Mendevian Crusades have started and failed. In my lifetime I have seen and felt the suffering of Mendev from my tower. Suffering caused not only by the demons but by the same Crusaders that were supposed to be fighting against it.â€
Shayliss flinched backward. There were a couple of times she saw Valtyra show passion for something. Usually it was about her â€~sonâ€™ Bubnug the goblin. However, she never saw such emotion from the real Valtyra. It honestly scared her a bit. She expected the Valtyra in front of her to draw her blades to enhance her words.
Instead, the Wardstone only stepped again, â€œAnd if the demons succeed here, there is no stopping them from taking the fight to the rest of Golarion. No one will be able to stand against them. However, destiny has placed you here, now, where you have a chance. All of you, to fight and end the demonic threat once and for all.â€
Shayliss could not move. It was not like she was frozen in place. More like her brain could not process what the Wardstone had just said so its response to not think at all. After a moment of silence, she finally let out a stuttering, â€œI canâ€™t.â€ Using those two words as a crutch, she swallowed and followed up with, â€œI cannot do this. I did not want to join the grand fight against the demons. I only wanted to find Valtyra. Iâ€™m sorry, but destiny can wait.â€
The Wardstone tilted its head, which sent chills of memory down Shaylissâ€™s spine, â€œYou would sacrifice the world for one woman?â€
Hesitation. Shayliss was ashamed to admit it to herself, but she actually hesitated at the Wardstoneâ€™s question. She wanted to scream that of course she would. That Valtyra was more than the world to her. But something held her back.
The Wardstone nodded, â€œI see. Well, you always have the choice to run away. But I do not think you will.â€ It moved within an inch of Shayliss and said, â€œI trust you will make the best choice.â€
It leaned forward and Shayliss felt her lips on her forehead. With that, the world around her darkened and darkened until all of her sensations faded away.
â€œI am alive. Help me.â€ Came that familiar voice.