Chasing Lirrah, Part 3

(continued from Part 2)

Part 3

Night under the jungle canopy was a different kind of dark. A starless, moonless dark lit only by luminescent insects, the occasional clutch of glowing mushrooms. Sparse torches lit a path between reed huts set into lofty, sheer cliffs.

Vast flows of water plummeted into a clear bottomless lake, and here among water and stone the Fahautl Itzel made their home. The Falls echoed a continuous roar. Sunslayn’s head reverberated with the noise. He hadn’t been inundated with such sound since his days under the Big Top.

He watched the water strike the surface of the lake, a storm of froth and spray, and felt the last of his hope vanish. The Itzel hadn’t seen Lirrah either.

The elders were kind, feeding their guests choice morsels of baked sparkfly, and listening astutely while Sunslayn and Arexa described their friend. They had consulted one another briefly, then sorrowfully delivered the news.

“She’s already turned, I know it,” Sunslayn said. The shouting of the waters failed to disguise his despair.

Arexa heaved a sigh. “You know nothing of the kind. We will keep looking.”

On their way back to the hut that the elders had given their guests for the night, they heard faint notes of music struggling to be heard over the roaring water. The hylek of eastern Tyria were not known for their musical talent, so it was odd seeing this Itzel’s long padded fingers softly plucking the strings of an oversized lute. The frog’s broad mouth gaped wide and the pale throat vibrated with the trilled syllables of a song.

Sunslayn paid the words little mind as he passed.

“…on the run, on the run

From the dragon’s deep call

The moon-blue sylvari

And her sugar-white owl…”

Sunslayn stopped cold; Arexa gasped and turned to face the hylek.

Sugar was the name of Lirrah’s snowy owl. She named all her pets after the cuisine she loved best. It was too great a coincidence.

singing-itzel-crop“This owl,” Sunslayn said, startling the troubadour into silence, “this sylvari, have you seen them?”

The taut flesh encasing the large bulbous eyes constricted as the hylek frowned. “The song is just a song, the words just words.”

“It’s not just a song!” Sunslayn insisted.

Arexa laid a restraining paw to his shoulder.

“If the human must know,” the hylek said, “I learned this song from a trader passing through.”

“A trader from where?”

“Jaka Itzel. Now, if you will leave me in peace…”

* * * * *

They traveled north for several days along jungle paths that swept them through battlezones and the crash site of the Pact fleet. Sunslayn decided he’d take snow any day over the mud and thorns and insects of the jungle. He’d never complain about the cold or the dredge again.

At last, Arexa pointed a claw. Wicker houses, wicker bridges, wicker platforms clustered high in the branches of vast trees.

The climb was winding and steep. Tufts of blue flax grew beside the path. They reminded Sunslayn of the flowers he had found in his quarters back in the guild hall. By the time he found them on his bedside table, they were dried and withered. He thought Ravenyth was just beautifying the place, but he’d seen similar decorations nowhere else in the hall.

A hylek strode out on long amphibian legs to greet them. Over large round eyes she wore an elaborate feathered headdress.  “Ameyalli bless you. I am Kaana Miatli, leader of the Jaka. We wondered when the searchers would arrive.”

“You were expecting us?” Arexa asked.

Sunslayn was too exhausted, his hope run too ragged, to feel anything but mild surprise.

“Word has way of traveling in the jungle,” the hylek said. “Ameyalli is not silent. You seek your friend.”

Sunslayn gave the same spiel he’d given two dozen times.

Miatli waved a large pad-fingered hand. “No need. She is here.”

After so long and difficult a search, the simplicity of the pronouncement took a moment to register.

“She paid us well to keep her under guard,” Miatli added. “To … finish it, if Mordremoth wins her. Do not begrudge us this generosity.”

“She is not given in yet?” Sunslayn asked. “May we see her?” Part of him expected to find a sylvari he didn’t know. Worse, a Lirrah that he didn’t recognize.

Miatli led them up a winding wicker bridge to a hut set slightly apart from the others. Two hylek armed with spears stood staunchly outside. Inside, cloistered among deep shadow, skinny branches shaped a barricade, like a jailhouse. White feathers rustled, and the large yellow eyes of an owl turned down from a lofty perch and pinned the visitors.

“Sugar?” Sunslayn asked.

Arexa tugged his sleeve and pointed at the opposite corner. Dusky blue skin melded with the shadows inside the hut, but pale eyes like twin moons blinked rapidly, then stared, then closed. Turquoise iridescence upon cheek and brow flared softly in the dark. She sat with her knees to her chest, hands gripping the sides of her head.

“Lirrah,” Sunslayn breathed, sinking down to crouch outside the bars.

lirrah-itzelhouse2-cropHer luminous eyes opened, as if his whisper had startled her.

“Arexa and I … we’ve been searching for you. Did Miatli tell you we were coming to find you?”

The sinuous glowing lines on her forehead pinched with a frown. “Did I dream you? You molded fire into the shape of birds. You made them sing for me.”

“No dream. That really happened. A long time ago. When we first met. You know me.”

She uncoiled and slowly approached the bars.  With doubt etched on her face, she looked over her visitors. At last memory seemed to sink in like balm on burned skin. “Sunslayn. Rex.” Her hands squeezed the wooden bars. “You shouldn’t have come. I might hurt you. The Call is deafening. It’s crowding out everything else. It makes me dream terrible dreams. I dreamed a new name. I am Briar. Briarmoon.”

Strange. The name fit, even if it was Mordremoth who had given it to her. “Come home with us,” Sunslayn said. “We will look after you.”

“I have been home. I left things for you.”

Sunslayn pondered her meaning, shook his head, then realized. “The blue flowers. That was you?” He smirked. “And all this time I thought Wanda fancied me.”

That won him a smile. “Of course it was me, silly.” One moment of happiness, that’s all the dragon was prepared to grant her. She ducked suddenly, hands crushing her ears as she tried to still the roar in her head.

Sugar chittered on her perch as if she felt Lirrah’s pain.

Sunslayn reached through the bars to place a hand her arm, but Arexa’s great paw stopped him. The charr was right. Even now Lirrah might give in and delight in tearing his arm off.

Lirrah straightened and exhaled slowly. “I can’t come home, not yet. Maybe … maybe never. I’m afraid…”

“We’re all afraid,” Arexa said softly. An admission of fear was rare from the charr, but she meant it.

“If … if I turn … will you…?”

“You won’t,” Sunslayn insisted. “We’re going to kill that dragon first. We’re going to make it roar in agony, Lirrah … Briar. Then you won’t hear his voice anymore.”

“What will be left when his voice is silent?”

Your voice. My voice. Don’t give up hope.”

“How long?”

“The guild is amassing in the next few days,” Arexa said. “Sapph is already scouting ahead with Dragon’s Watch.”

“With who?”

“Jory and Kaz and the others,” said Sunslayn, exchanging a nervous glance with Rex. “Remember?”

“Ah, yes. Mordremoth hates them. It hates you too. It wants me to hate you. But … but you’re my friend.” That she had to remind herself of that fact enraged Sunslayn. How could Mordremoth cause the sylvari to forget their loved ones?

“I’ll wait,” Briar said. “I’ll fight. A little longer. But I’m so tired. Hurry.”

Sunslayn heard her word as an order. He backed from the bars and with a leap, bailed off the bridge. Fiery wings opened behind him, whisking him aloft. He cleaved no longer to hope. To Lirrah, to Briar, he was hope. Her friends were hope. They couldn’t fail her now.

Arexa caught up, diving down beside him. “Where are we going?”

“To find Sapph,” he called over the wind. “Then we’re going to slay a dragon.”



Chasing Lirrah, Part 2

(continued from Part 1)

Part 2

“Have I said how much I hate this place?” Arexa Night Render snarled ferociously, baring fangs the length of a human finger. The jungle reared overhead, sweltering, bug-infested, and reeking of rotting foliage. The largest trees in Tyria fought each other for patches of sunlight (there was little discernable harmony, even among them). Roots and branches latticed out all but the smallest glimpse of sky. Arexa’s snout flared as she sniffed the air. Her great orange paw clenched the haft of a longbow that was easily as tall as Sunslayn himself. “Everything in this jungle wants to eat me, even the plants,” she grumbled.

“Not used to being on the bottom of the food chain, Rex?” Sunslayn had to maintain a quick pace to keep up with the charr’s long, sloping stride.

Arexa chuckled. “Now I can imagine how asura in the Black Citadel feel.”

Cliffs hemmed in the travelers, dictating a disorienting, winding path. They had been trying to head east for two days, but the cliffs and great tree roots kept channeling them south. Twice since making their way into Auric Basin, they had been forced to flee the wildlife. Once from a herd of belligerent half-sentient mushrooms, then from a scaly beast that appeared to be made of purple pinecones and flung its own scales like rockets.

So far they had managed to avoid most of Mordremoth’s minions. The possibility that Lirrah was one of them was too horrifying to imagine.

sun-glider-cropThe gliders were invaluable. Sunslayn and Arexa covered miles of jungle effortlessly, searching the ground far below for any sign of Lirrah or anyone who might have seen her. The Pact soldiers in the outposts had been little help. Too many people had gone missing in the jungle for them to offer troops, and Lirrah’s description hadn’t rung any bells. “How many blue sylvari are there in the world, eh?” asked a particularly jaded sergeant. “How many rangers wield bows and travel with dangerous animals? Here, let me loan you one.”

Sunslayn’s hope had begun to flag. The heart of Maguuma was just too vast.

“We need to start looking for a branch,” Arexa said. “It’ll be dark soon.” They refused to camp on the ground. Too many beasties had come sniffing around that first night. Afterward, they had taken a hint from the Itzel and bedded down in the trees.

The charr suddenly whipped an arrow from her quiver and aimed the great bow.

Sunslayn ducked, heart hammering, and looked for trouble.

A lizard, no taller than an asura’s pot-bellied waistline had emerged from a shrub. It cocked its head and chirruped at them.

“Raptor,” Sunslayn whispered. “Back away. Slow.”

“There’s only one.”

“The hell there is. Didn’t you read Ravenyth’s report?”

“I don’t have time to read.” Arexa let the arrow fly.

The reptile squawked as it tumbled with the arrow through its gullet.

Arexa grinned a fangy grin. “Dinner.”

Sunslayn was in the middle of a snarky refusal when the shrub rustled and two more raptors broke into the open. Another followed, then four more, then half a dozen. They chirped a chorus and charged.

“Shoulda read the report,” Arexa said. She dropped to a knee, pressed her paw to the ground, and set a circular sigil to glowing. “Run!”

Sunslayn was already backpedaling, staff clenched in his fist.

The flock of raptors charged over the sigil, triggering a circle of ethereal blades. For an instant they were trapped. Arexa and Sunslayn took advantage of the head-start and raced along the forest floor.

The chirruping grew louder as the celestial trap dissipated and the reptiles resumed the hunt.

Sunslayn looked for a low-hanging branch, a vine, something to get him off the ground. Needle-sharp teeth punctured leather and sank into the meat of his calf. Another raptor lunged and latched onto Arexa’s fluffy tail. The charr roared and batted the lizard with her bow.

With a sweep of Sunslayn’s hand, a fount of fire erupted amid the flock. The raptors leapt over the flames with single-minded hunger.

All at once, the pursuit stopped. One raptor shrieked a different note. The others took up the shrill call, and as one they raced back the direction they had come.

Arexa watched them go, an arrow poised. “I’m not that scary. Am I?”

The ground rumbled. Arexa’s ears perked as she sought the source of the growl. Sunslayn turned and watched the jungle floor heave up. A vast creature uncurled. A moment ago, it had been a tangle of dead timber; now it glared with small yellow eyes glowing like lanterns. A thorny mass of horns reared up from a narrow face. Teeth serrated a boney jaw, and a spike like a spear flicked at the end of a long sinuous tail.

Slowly Arexa backed away. “That in the report?”

vinetooth-eir-cropSunslayn started to shape the word, “Vinetooth,” when the creature roared. All he could think of was Eir Stegalkin. It had been a vinetooth that skewered the life out of the Norn hero.

The ground trembled as the creature set down its clawed feet, stalking slow. The brutal tail arched over its horned head, gaging, aiming.

An arrow as bright as lightning whistled past Sunslayn’s ear and thunked into a woody shoulder. The beast barely flinched.

The tail plummeted. The tip quivered in the earth where Sunslayn had been standing.

He rolled, leaving behind a whip-thin trail of flame, then swept the staff. Fire sprouted along the vinetooth’s arms and shoulders. With a shriek, the creature shook off the pain and charged.

A net dropped from the branches and crashed over the vinetooth’s head. Thick hempen cables tangled in horns, in knobby flesh, in claws. The creature shivered and bucked and roared, but the net didn’t come loose.

“Human!” cried a voice overhead. A large blue hand with padded amphibian fingers beckoned from the crook of a tree. “Climb! Hurry.” A column of flat mushrooms climbed the tree trunk like a ladder.

Sunslayn scrambled up the mushrooms, hoping they didn’t break under his weight. Arexa growled for him to scramble faster.

The vinetooth gnawed free of the hemp and circled below, enraged that its quarry was out of reach.

tlalli_auric_basin-cropAt the top of the mushroom stair, broad branches converged like a meeting of bridges. One of the frog-people was nodding approval at their hasty escape. A dark hood covered much of the Itzel’s blunt blue snout and bulbous eyes.

“You are with the Pact?” she asked, voice reminiscent of the notes of a water-frog’s song.

Winded, Sunslayn could only nod.

“Good, good. If you were not, I would feed you to the vinetooth. I am Tlalli, a hunter of Fahautl Grounds.”

“We’re seeking one of our comrades,” Arexa said.

“Hmm, yes. Outsiders are easily lost in the Basin. Follow me. Perhaps we can help.”

(concluded, Part 3)

Chasing Lirrah, Part 1

Part 1

Sunslayn trudged into the guild hall, dog-tired and footsore. The echoing song of hyenas welcomed him home. Wind whipping through the canyon blew sand into his eyes. Better than snow. He was sick of snow. Three weeks in the Shiverpeaks hunting ectoplasm and not a damn thing to show for it but blisters on his toes, a chill in his bones, and a rekindled dislike for dredge.

He ducked under a striped awning and slumped down at the bar.

tavern-gh-cropWithout a word, the Norn behind the counter turned on the tap and filled a mug. Nathan liked his ale, and he knew what everybody else liked too.  The scent of citrus rose from the mug. Sunslayn smiled. Bloodstone Orange Summer Ale tasted of fire-roasted fruit with a hint of sunlight.

“Rough time?” The question came from his right. A woman slid onto the stool beside him. “Same for me, Nathan.”

“You have no idea,” Sunslayn said.

A second mug slid into a pale, slender hand. Ravenyth sipped. Her lavender eyes peered over the rim, worried.  She dabbed a hint of foam from her upper lip. “Don’t tell me you were captured too.”

Sunslayn sat up straighter. “Captured? Who was captured?”

She grinned, suppressing laughter. “Tryn and Soffi. Inquest. They made it back all right. Mad as dragons and avoiding each other. But they made one hell of a haul.” The guild hall needed ectoplasm, and LegendFire had deployed teams of members all over Tyria to rustle up the magical substance. Sunslayn had insisted he go alone. He liked to work alone these days.

He lowered his nose over his mug. “I got nothing. Sorry, Commander. Who else is still out?”

“Aiven and Alesha, Jib and Saptah, Annilya and Sorel.”

Maybe they would have better luck.

Ravenyth tried to lift his spirits by recapping him on all the improvements they had made to the hall in his absence. He only half-listened.

“Incidentally,” he interrupted, “how long since you’ve heard from Lirrah?”

Ravenyth glanced down at the bar, absently dusted sand from under her mug. “About three months.”

Sunslayn slammed his mug down. “Three months?”

“Where have you been?”

He glared. “Besides rooting around for ectoplasm in gods-forsaken mining tunnels? Besides fighting evil minions of one dragon or another?”

Ravenyth winced. “Sorry. We’ve all been stretched thin lately. I know you were sweet on Lirrah once.”

“It’s not that,” he insisted. “When you recruited me, she was the first person you assigned me to work with.” The sylvari ranger and her fern hound, Thorn, had been gleeful to take the new recruit into the wilderness. The Bloodtide Coast had been full of pirates, undead, and massive bloodsucking insects, but Lirrah had shown admirable courage and contagious curiosity. Sunslayn had merely been horrified. Which had amused Lirrah to no end.

“Where was she last, do you know?” he asked.

“Somewhere in Auric Basin, I think. Her report was … almost incoherent.”

“I want to see it.”

Ravenyth eased off the barstool and led him to a room mostly free of sand. Ancient mosaics patterned the wall like glimpses of memory. She rustled around in a trunk and fished out a folded piece of paper. It was curled from having been rolled around a bird’s skinny leg. She handed it to him.

 Can’t silence it. The voice. Fighting. So many lost. Stay away. Jungle will lose me. Or I will lose it. Stay away. Goodbye.


Sunslayn cast the commander a pleading look. “I didn’t think it was this bad. You told me the sylvari were changing, but…” He dropped the letter and leaned heavily on a windowsill. Far below, water rippled between red sandstone walls. “She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, the most miraculous. It’s a nightmare to think of her being transformed into something … something I’ll have to kill. I don’t think I could do it.”

Ravenyth’s hand settled on his shoulder. “Of course you could. She would want you to. We told you what happened with Aiven?”

He nodded. A near thing. Only being knocked unconscious had brought Aiven back from the brink. Mordremoth was calling to his own.

Had Lirrah given in to the Elder Dragon? Was she already lost to her friends? Sunslayn turned from the window. “I have to know. We have to find her.”

The commander frowned, calculating options. “Then you’re headed into the heart of the jungle. Don’t go alone this time. Take Arexa with you. You may need a healer.”

(continued, Part 2)


For the Love of Ectoplasm, Part 3

(continued from Part 2)

Late at night, the Inquest base got quiet. Most workstations were abandoned, most consoles shut off. Little geniuses yawned and drifted off to the barracks. A few night-owls tinkered, oblivious to the hour, oblivious to the watchful eyes of the prisoners.

Trynden laid on his side, pretending to sleep, the gyro tucked inside his coat. Soffi affected a believable snore; he hoped she hadn’t actually fallen asleep. He nudged her with his boot.

“Quit it!” she whispered sharply. “He’s coming.”

The dogged pace of Mr. Monocle the Creepy Guard brought the soft pad of asura feet close again. Regular as a Norn’s drinking habit. As soon as the guard rounded the corner, Tryn opened his coat. The blue gyro floated free. Tryn ticked a switch. The gyro, Soffi, and himself vanished.

On time, Mr. Monocle turned his three-eyed glare into the cell. He froze, rushed the sizzling bars, slapped a code into a nearby panel, and the bars dissipated. “No, no, no,” he said. “Brix’ll dock my pension!” As if doubting his enhanced eye, he ran into the cell to search every bare corner, short rifle aiming at nothing. He entered the diameter of the stealth effect and disappeared, just as Trynden’s arm seized him around the neck.

Tryn squeezed until  the guard’s struggles grew woozy. A cork popped. The shimmering image of a small hand pried open the guard’s mouth and poured something down his throat. In short order, Mr. Monocle slept as soundly as a sylvari in a seed pod.

inquest-base“Hurry!” Tryn hissed.

The prisoners stripped the guard naked. Soffi threw on the red-and-black uniform and fixed the monocle over her eye, just as the gyro ran out of juice. Nothing would give them away like a worker glancing up and finding the cell wide open. So Soffi dealt the sleeping guard a kick in the buttocks and shouted, “Take that, cheeky bastard! Teach you to insult my ears.” She pointed the rifle in Trynden’s face and backed from the cell. She smashed a key on the keypad, and up sprang the glowing bars again.

If the gyro’s charge lasted longer they wouldn’t need the charade. But the capacitor was too small to maintain power for more than a couple minutes. While it recharged, Soffi had her work cut out for her.

Casually, she made her way to a workstation, tinkered with whatever experiment had been left behind. All the while, she marked her targets. The ectoplasm had been divided and siphoned into small jars and arrayed on a shelf. The transigolem had been escorted from the base, likely to secure another haul of supplies. But the M-One-Six-Two Thousand stood silent and empty against one wall. A red stasis light blinked dully on its chest.

While Trynden shoved Mr. Monocle into Soffi’s coat and trousers like some oversized, grotesque baby doll, he watched Soffi fire up one of the consoles. She punched buttons and swiped screens. When she found the keycodes they needed, she turned and gave Tryn a subtle nod.

Then came the risky part.

She picked up the earpiece of an intercom. After a moment of “listening” she pushed a button and said, “Are you sure, Doctor? No, sir, I would never question your genius. Yes, sir. I’ll get right on it.”

A couple of workers glanced up at the apparent scolding and smirked, then ducked their eyes over their machines again and paid Soffi no further mind.

She went to the shelf, lifted off handfuls of pink-glowing jars at a time and carried them past the workstations, past the cell, past a guard, to the M-One-Six-Two Thousand. A punch of a button, and the golem stirred. Pistons in its legs hissed as they crimped, lowering the torso toward the ground. Another button opened the top hatch. Soffi deposited the ectoplasm inside. Then went back for more.

She cleared two full shelves before the guard grew suspicious and waddled into her path.

Inside the cell, Trynden swore under his breath.

“Brix conferred orders to transfer the ectoplasm?” the guard asked.

“Of course,” Soffi declared, hands clutching jars to her chest. “You think I’d risk his wrath? He said it would be safer inside the golem.” She lowered her voice. “You know how he gets.”

The guard nodded, even tsked. “Paranoid.”


The guard waved her on. She tucked the jars into the golem, and this time she must’ve decided not to press her luck. She returned to the console instead of the shelf, crawled under it and popped open the panel to expose the wiring. A tug here, a tug there, then she hurried to one of the workstations and tried to look busy.

The console began to belch sparks, then gouts of black smoke, then open flame. The night-owls and guards came running. Water jetted from the ceiling. An alarm began to whine.

“I’ll get the extinguisher!” Soffi shouted, but ran to the cell instead. She entered one of the codes she’d gleaned from the security system and the bars dissipated.

Tryn let the gyro fly. “One minute. That’s all the power we’ve got.”

As invisible as breath, he and Soffi hurried for the M-One-Six-Two Thousand. As the gyro neared, the golem vanished. Soffi scrambled up its side and into the hatch. Trynden heard the pistons raise the torso and the feet stomp off. He followed, and the gyro followed him, honing in on the beacon he wore around his wrist.

Behind them, the base had dissolved into chaos as the fire leapt through the wiring and spread to the next console and breathed in noxious fumes rising off a workstation and leapt into a beaker and exploded. Asura screamed and cursed.

Ahead, the corridor ran long and dark to the ancient stone door. The golem clomped too slowly at Soffi’s command. “C’mon…,” Trynden urged. He counted silently. “Forty-one, forty-two.” The gyro bobbed happily, eating its stored power greedily.

Just as they reached the outer door, Doctor Brix shouted in a tinny, maniacal shriek: “My ectoplasm! Where is my ectoplasm? …  The prisoners! Find the prisoners.”

Soffi’s voice boomed from inside the golem: “Four, nine, zero, three.”

Tryn scrambled for the keypad beside the door and punched in the code. The massive door rumbled aside. Soffi pressed the golem through before the opening was wide enough. Steel scraped stone. The wide shoulders dislodged, and the machine surged into the open.

The gyro popped and exploded, crashing at Trynden’s feet in a shower of sparks.

“Aaa-ooo-gah!” groaned the alarm. The red light flashed. Asura aiming rifles sped down the corridor.

Trynden peered into the lighted hole that hid the outer control panel. The big red button looked promising. He pressed it. The stone door lurched and began to close. “Fry it!” he shouted.

Bullets whizzed past, scoring the golem’s carapace, ricocheting in all directions. Trynden curled into a ball. Gods, what a way to die. Survive Zhaitan and airship crashes and flesh-eating plant wolves, only to be struck down by a stray bullet shat off the side of a stolen golem.

All too slowly the golem’s torso turned. The little hatch in its chest opened and a muzzle extended. The door rumbled shut. The spray of bullets stopped.

With a brilliant flash from the muzzle, a jolt of electricity struck the outer control panel. Sparks sizzled. Try as they might, the asura on the other side would have to pry the door open with crowbars or exit a different way.

Soffi and Tryn didn’t wait around to see which the asura would choose. The M-One-Six-Two Thousand plodded off into the tangled trees of Maguuma.

“If we’re not hailed heroes after this,” Tryn grumbled, “Ravenyth can fetch her own damn ectoplasm.”

“Let’s not tell our guildmates all the details,” Soffi suggested.

“Agreed. And next time, can we just raid the centaur camp?”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you. You clearly appreciate the superiority of asuran technology.”

“Dream on. It was my gyro that got us out of there.”

“As if! Where would you be if I hadn’t…”

And so they debated the issue over the long miles back to the guild hall.



For the Love of Ectoplasm, Part 2

(continued from Part 1)

“Bloody Inquest,” Trynden grumbled.

“Who knew they had a base here?” said Soffi.

“I think that’s the definition of ‘secret’ base, even in your book.” His jaw ached from the spasm that came with swallowing a jolt of electricity. When he shifted, trying to get comfortable on the merciless stone floor of the cell, everything else ached too.

“I have to admit,” Soffi said, “not my finest moment. The Whispers hear about this, I’ll be a laughingstock.”

“You’re worried about the fucking Whispers? I’m worried our guildmates. We ever get back to the Hall, they’ll toast us for sure. Here’s to Tryn and Soffi, LegendFire’s greatest dumbasses.”

“True. They might laugh less if we’d been eaten by Tequatl instead.”

tryn-prison-500They shared a cell, smack in the middle of a room shaped like a cube standing on one corner. The ‘bars’ surrounding them were glowing matrices, too sizzling-hot to touch. Tryn didn’t fancy another electrocution.

Asura in red-and-black uniforms tinkered at workstations, entered data into consoles, debated and argued and barked orders. Just outside the cell, a pair of asura pilfered through Trynden’s pack. “Primitive,” said one and tossed the rocket launcher in a heap.

“Ach, don’t—” Trynden said, wincing.

“Junk,” said the other, dumping sorted packets of bullets at his three-toed feet.

“Can you not do that, genius,” Tryn said. “You want to blow us up?”

The “junk” asura approached the cell. “For whom are you surveilling, human?”


“We’re not spies,” Soffi said. “We made a mistake.”

“You made a mistake, all right. Your last.” The asura laughed maniacally, rubbing his ratty paws together. “I am Doctor Brix, Certified Mastermind, and my face will be the last you see.”

And what a face, thought Trynden. Prunes were prettier.

Soffi crossed her arms. “Tell me. Are all Inquest the embodiment of bad clichés?”

Brix shook a fist. “You’ll be the cliché when we use your corpses for our latest experiment.” He pointed at a series of tables where body parts of various creatures were being grafted to machines.

The Mastermind strutted away, and a miniature C.L.E.A.N unit rolled behind him, sweeping Tryn’s pack and all his supplies into its torso to be taken out for disposal.

“Since when do Inquest dabble in dead things?” he asked.

Soffi plunked down beside him and hugged her knees to her chest. “Since they were evil. Golemancy and necromancy, the two schools of creation. There’s always some mad scientist trying to meld the two. Looks like Doctor Brix is our latest candidate for the Mad Award.”

“Look, I don’t care to have my brain inserted into one of those things, so let’s get thinking.”

“Don’t worry, Tryn, they wouldn’t use your brain. Mine on the other hand—”

A slash of his hand shut her up. “If you’re so brilliant, think of a plan to get us out of here.”

“Working on it. Check your pockets. Between a thief and an engineer we ought to have something we can use.”

“The gyros!” Trynden patted down his coat. The guards had taken the yellow shredder, but they had overlooked the blue one.

Soffi’s big turquoise eyes sparkled at the sight of it. Her paw pressed it back into Tryn’s pocket before one of the guards spotted it. “Is that the thingamabob that can chew through steel?”

“No, it can hide us though. Maybe. Its propellers are bent. When I passed out I musta fallen on it.”

“Can you fix it?”

Maybe, I said. What do you have?”

“Fingers and a brain.”

Trynden gawped at her. “Seriously? You’re a thief, for Balthazar’s sake. You ain’t got a pick stashed in those pigtails?”

“Trust me. Fingers and a brain. And a couple vials of sleeping draught. You just get that gyro working.”


* * *


Trynden had to work with his hands tucked under his coat, and only during the brief intervals that the guards’ backs were turned. One guard in particular annoyed him. The asura wore a monocle and circled the cell with the regularity of a machine.

Luckily, the gyro was only the size of a grapefruit and easily concealed under a knee or a flap of leather. Still, watchful guards might’ve thought he was up to something inappropriate inside his own trousers or concocting a way to escape.

Soffi managed to distract the guards as they passed, tossing insults about the length of their ears or the extent of their intelligence.

Some hours after their incarceration, just as the gyro was bobbing relatively upright between Tryn’s knees, a team of asura led in a golem whose arms were attached to what looked like a mining cart.

The asura were armed to the teeth, little rifles poised across their chests. The transigolem wheeled past the cell, hauling its considerable load.

Doctor Brix waved for the golem to be brought to him. He occupied a console on the far side of the room and rubbed his hands together in that excited-villain sort of way.

The transigolem rolled over a metal plate and the console began beeping away.

“Two hundred and eleven units!” cried Doctor Brix. “More than enough.” He flung a canvas tarp off the cart. Semi-liquid ooze glowed pink, casting the entire base in a rosy light.

“Tryn, look!” Soffi hissed.

“I am looking. That’s a lot of ectoplasm.”

“I’ve never seen so much in one place. Where did they get a load like that?”

“Damn thieves.”


Trynden grimaced sheepishly. “Sorry.”

Soffi sucked her pointed teeth, then nodded. “This complicates things.”

“How so?”

“We’re not leaving without it.”

(concluded, Part 3)



For the Love of Ectoplasm, Part 1

Part 1

“We could blast it open.” Trynden surveyed the massive stone door for cracks and other signs of weakness.  Moss grew thick on the angular cuts of gray stone. Weeds sprouted in seams like hair from an old man’s ears. Despite the door’s apparent age and neglect, matrices still pulsed inside rectangular windows. Peering through the humming waves of energy, Tryn detected neither light nor movement.

At his knee, an asura sighed. Soffi Sprockets had enough attitude to fill up a Norn. “You would suggest that, Bombs-For-Brains. Rockets might obliterate the treasures on the other side.”

Ravenyth de Vaen had sent the two of them on a search for rare and wonderful items, anything from which they might extract an amount of ectoplasm. All armor and weapons, even buildings for the guild hall, anything worth having, required the magical pink goo, and LegendFire was in short supply.

“Soffi, there is nothing here,” Tryn insisted, shifting the heavy pack on his back. Gyros and rocket casings clanked around inside. “This ruin is a ruin’s ruin. We’d have more luck in the centaur camps. Or even the grawl cave we passed. They’re always worshipping some relic or other.”

Incredulous, Soffi’s little mouth gaped, showing off a row of pointed teeth. “Have you been inside asuran dilapidations before? The probability that the tech inside still functions is astronomical.”

“And will try to kill us.”

“And centaurs won’t? Besides, we agreed to cause as little bloodshed as possible.”

Tryden raised a hand in surrender. The overgrown rat always got her way. Her logic was unsurpassed. At least, Soffi thought so. “Fine. Be my guest.”

soffi-ponders-door Soffi sauntered to the door. “There should be a locking mechanism somewhere.” Her nimble mouse-like hands prodded the carvings to each side of the door.

Tryn slung the pack off his back, stretched aching shoulders, and made himself comfortable on the mossy earth. He had worked with Soffi often enough to know that she wouldn’t give up until she had exhausted every avenue of inquiry. She’d be hanging from the ceiling next or digging through the soil. She wasn’t above brute force either. Once, when faced with an archaic sleeping golem deep under Rata Novus, she had resulted to throwing rocks. Amazingly, the method worked. The golem hummed to life and promptly started shooting at them.

Tryn double-checked his supplies, in case a similar surprise awaited them beyond these doors. Eight rocket shells, a string of twelve grenades, half-a-dozen gyros. He was partial to his gyros. He painted them in bright colors, so he’d know which he was grabbing in a brawl. The yellow one tore through unfortunate limbs with saw blades. The blue one provided stealth that any thief would envy, even Soffi.

gyro-shredder-300He unloaded and reloaded his pistols, doubting the order of his bullets. There were bullets for every occasion: bullets that burst with acid, bullets that exploded with fire or sticky goo, bullets that were just the average kill-a-bad-guy bullet.

He had packed too much. He always packed too much. Damn pack weighed a bloody ton. And Ravenyth always wondered why he needed those spa treatments when he visited Lion’s Arch. How had he ever survived life on the streets without spa treatments?

He was checking the pins on the  portable rocket launcher when he noticed he was crouching over an odd pattern of footprints. Three-toed, many sizes, pressed lightly into the moist soil. Asura. Several asura. Aiven or Jib would’ve noticed the tracks right off—and have an explanation for them.

“We should’ve brought one of our rangers,” Tryn muttered just as Soffi cheered in triumph.

“Eureka!” Blue magilight glowed from inside a small square in the stone wall. Her fingers dug inside with the skill of a surgeon. The ancient door groaned and puffed and cracked open.

The alarm blasted immediately. “Aaa-ooo-gah! Aaa-ooo-gah!” Red light pulsed beyond the widening door.

“What did you do?” Soffi shouted, unsheathing her daggers.

“Me?” Tryn shoved a gyro of each color into his coat pocket. “It was your hands in the cookie jar!” He aimed both pistols down the flashing red gullet of the corridor. A golem—sleek, eight-feet-tall, new—ran at them. Pistons hissed. Dynamos whirred.

“Throw rocks at this one!” Trynden snapped and fired once. Ultra-sticky glue puddled in the golem’s path. The machine powered right through it.

“Oh, your ears are too short,” Soffi said, then launched through a Death Blossom that spun her over the golem’s head. Her daggers scored along steel, nicked a wire. Sparks popped. Before she hit the ground, a third arm sprouted from the golem’s carapace and snatched her by the leg.

A voice boomed from inside the machine. “Drop your weapons.”

“C’mon, Tryn, we can take ‘em!” Soffi shouted, upside-down. The golem’s third arm gave her a jostle.

“Drop the guns, genius,” the voice boomed. “Or M-One-Six-Two Thousand starts plucking limbs.”

Trynden swore under his breath and let the pistols fall. If he was lucky, they would fire upon hitting the ground and hit the golem in some magically vital place. Both pistols landed with a silent thud. If he got out of this, he’d design a way to remedy that—for the next time he faced one of Soffi’s rash decisions.

A hatch opened in the golem’s chest. Tryn dived for cover behind the carved stone wall, but the missile was a heat-seeker. It plugged him between the shoulder blades. He tasted lightning in the instant before he blacked out.

(continued, Part 2)

The Journey of Ravenyth De Vaen


  •  Name: Ravenyth de Vaen (pronounced rah-VEN-ith)
  • Gender Identity: Female
  • Pronouns: she/her/herself
  • Species: Human
  • Class: Necromancer/Reaper
  • Guild(s): Legendfire
  • Order: Durmand Priory


PART 1 – Origins and Early Adventures


I was born among the nobility of Divinity’s Reach, but I am not noble myself. My father was an importer of the finest goods Tyria had to offer—and a moneylender to many of the noble families, those same nobles who would have snubbed us had Father not wagged the IOU’s over their heads. He added the “de” to our name to help legitimize us among finer society.

My mother was cut from a different cloth. Elegant and soft-spoken, she was formerly a priestess of Grenth and distantly connected to  the royal family, some fourth cousin twice removed, or something or other. I could never remember, and she never laid claim to it. Her devotion to the God of Ice and Death blessed her with certain … gifts … which she tried to pass on to her daughters. My younger sister, Deborah, had no taste for such arts and pursued the sword, which led her eventually to a career among the Seraph.

statue_of_grenthI, however, reveled in discovering whatever Grenth could teach me. Though the six gods had abandoned humanity, I managed to glean much about the ways of life, death, and reanimation from old tomes that my mother had … pilfered … from the mouldering libraries under Grenth’s icy mausoleums.

By the time I was nine, I could reanimate the rats caught in the kitchen traps. They scampered through the corridors, skipping along with me, until their little legs fell off. My father hated it, decrying the stink of rotten things in his house, but my mother insisted he let me practice. One day, such skills would burgeon into something useful.

How right she was. If only she had lived to see it. How proud she would have been. But that’s a story for another time, when I can stand to tell it.


Some years later, the centaurs rose in arms against Kryta’s defenseless villages. The Seraph were spread thin and were forced to recruit help wherever they could find it. It was at this time that I met Captain Logan Thackery. Together we pushed the centaurs out of Shaemor and defeated what, at the time, was the most horrific monster I could imagine:  a giant earth elemental. I look back and laugh at my innocence, my naivte.

Shortly after, it was I who called upon the Seraph for aid. My friend, Lord Faren, was taken hostage by bandits, who had the audacity to crash MY party. Poor choice on their part. In short order, I rescued Faren and together we ran to the Seraph with information. An organization of bandits, hired by persons unknown, planned to poison the city’s water supply.

Logan helped us track the source, uncovering that it was none other than a minister of Queen Jennah’s council. We gathered evidence and brought the minister to trial, but he invoked the right of trial by combat. Again, poor choice. My mother had trained me well, and the traitor was defeated.

We became skilled at rooting out traitors. I received word that my sister had been killed in action. She and her entire company had been wiped out, but for some reason none of the bodies had been returned. One clue led to another, and I learned that the Seraph of Falcon Company had been betrayed by yet another of the Queen’s ministers. Anything to weaken her rule and strengthen themselves. Most of Falcon Company had indeed been slaughtered, but a few remained. We rescued survivors who told me that my sister had been sold to bandits. I didn’t take kindly to that.

Suffice to say, Debs is back home, safe and sound.


PART 2 – Friends and Elder Dragons


Because I had experience tracking down family feared dead, Logan introduced me to a young man named Trynden, a promising tinkerer who understood gadgets and fuses, and who had grown up among thieves and beggars in the backwater allies of Divinity’s Reach. Logan explained that while I had been helping above ground to thwart the minister’s attempt to poison the city’s water, Trynden had been helping underground. But now, Tryn had a personal problem that I might be able to assist with.

Seemed he had been lured into an ambush. Someone knew something about him that he didn’t, and the Shining Blade had contacted him to explain exactly what that something was. The Countess Anise told Tryn that his parents, whom he had never known, had been agents for the Shining Blade, murdered while gathering intel about the nefarious White Mantle.

At Logan’s urging, Tryn agreed to let me help him follow clues into the ghostly ruins of the Harathi Hinterlands. I’d never had dealings with someone who had grown up in squalor, fighting for food and a safe place to sleep, for shelter from the cold and a fearsome reputation that might protect him like armor. At first, we didn’t see eye to eye, much less get along. But once the truth of his parents’ deaths lifted the unspeakable burden from his shoulders, he seemed to warm to, well, everything, including me. Moreover, Logan saw his talent with machinery and explosives and gave him a permanent position as a useful auxiliary to the Seraph, which set Tryn up nicely as a full-fledged Engineer, and finally removed the burden of poverty as well.

We parted ways for a while, as we pursued different kinds of training, he with the Vigil, I with the Priory.

I met Aiven Dawnsight shortly after. My friendship with the sylvari bloomed quickly. She too was a member of the Priory and with fervor, we took up the task of exploring every corner of Tyria for the glory of the Priory, and to sate our own shared curiosity.

gh-banner-250Out of our friendship grew the LegendFire Guild. We were soon recruiting new fighters, exuberant and gifted. Brilyana and Annilya, Saptah, Jib, Toriad, Pelidrathi, Rayna and Sorel, and Alesha…

…and then there is the “de Vaen kindred.”

Sunslayn, the lighthearted, reckless Elementalist, whom I met trying to make his mark in a traveling circus, which he’ll admit wasn’t going well, likely because the ringmasters were corrupt. The circus is a bit … low for my tastes, but Logan and I were pursuing White Mantle recruiters. Sunslayn inadvertently helped with the investigation, then promptly fled the Big Top to make his name among the upstanding fighters standing against Zhaitan’s corruption. He likes to cause trouble and dive into it and have a big laugh afterward.

 Lord Sapphyrion, a surprise. I remembered him from my childhood. His full name is an exotic mouthful: Kazander Sapphyrion. His family calls him Zan. I call him Sapph, because he hates it. He is Faren’s cousin and, back then, was my old nemesis. He despised my family, claiming we were interlopers, though even then I understood that he resented us for having more than enough coin to go around, while his own family struggled to make ends meet. Decadent, penniless nobles. Yes, his father was in debt to mine, a debt he was never able to repay. Sapph fled Divinity’s Reach as soon as he was old enough. Faren told me he went to Ebonhawke to fight charr separatists, and later reported that he’d been killed in action. So, yes, I was surprised when ol’ Sapph turned up at Fort Trinity, assigned to my unit. His eyes were covered, like the blind, yet he saw clearly through the voices speaking in his head. He’d not been killed in action; Faren had heard wrongly. Sapph had been taken body and soul into the Mists, the result of some evil incantation. He had returned, changed.

Most importantly, it’s nice to see that he no longer holds a grudge, that his experiences humbled him to become someone I can actually call a trustworthy friend.

Arexa Night-Render, the fierce charr who rebelled against her own kind to become a gentle-pawed healer and Guardian. Lirrah, the sensitive moon-loving sylvari Ranger. The asura Soffi Sprockets, an elusive, resourceful Thief, about whom I still know little. Velvet, the anything-but-elusive, audacious, showboating Mesmer who left the circus with Sunslayn to “pursue prodigiously more significant endeavors and avenge her people by slaughtering Elder Dragons.” And Trynden, of course. When I sent him the invitation to join the guild, he jumped at the chance. We were happy to see one another again.


After months of incursions and setbacks, we of LegendFire joined forces with the Pact and Destiny’s Edge and managed to defeat Zhaitan, only to have the Pact nearly destroyed by Mordremoth. We have lost much. Caithe has betrayed us. Eir is dead. The rest of Destiny’s Edge is still missing. I fear the worst.

Sapph is currently scouting ahead into the Heart of Maguuma with Rox and little Taimi and the others. Only recently he sent a report in which he concluded that “Mordremoth is more powerful than Zhaitan.” How is that possible?

Zhaitan was a power of death; Mordremoth a power of green growing things, of life. In my studies of the forces of life and death, in order to harness both to my will, I have learned that in so many ways, life is far more powerful than death. This may help explain the dragon we are facing, but it does not lead us closer to an answer that will help us defeat it.

I’ve worried about my four sylvari friends. Lirrah has all but disappeared into the jungle, taking her tortured mind far away where she cannot be a threat to us. I do not know if she has fallen to the dragon’s Call. Jib takes refuge in her moa, and I suspect Wanda anchors her safely from the dragon’s voice. Saptah doesn’t speak of it. I think he staunchly ignores the Call, as much as Canach does. But Aiven is clearly tortured, fiercely denying the lure. And so, just when we thought we might find peace and a chance to lick our wounds, we discover we must face this most dire threat. And fight for the freedom of our friends.