Guardians of the Eld
The Path of Destiny
Marcus sat in the crows nest of the freighter, staring up at the nights’ sky as he normally does every night. By the low light of the stars he marks down what he sees, craning his neck to see upward and comparing it to what he saw the night before. “4 degrees southwest Jones”, he calls down to the man on the wheel.
“Ay Marcus” The man at the wheel replied while under his breath continuing “you pencil-necked weakling”.
Marcus heard him, but generally agreed with his statement. Marcus was always more of the intellectual type, an attribute that always disappointed his father. He refused to join the military. He refused to live by the sword. He refused to settle in one place. So he got a job doing what interested him and would allow him the most travel. He never had a problem making friends, Marcus has always been well liked by most people. Unfortunately, Seamen are not most people. The crew of this, and pretty much every other ship, value strength through force and tenacity, strength of the mind holds no merit with them. Fortunately, Marcus has been able to avoid most confrontations through negotiations or simply confusing his shipmates with large words and confusing statements.
Marcus always loved the stars. Stars don’t judge, Stars care not of toils of mortals or emotions or life and death. The stars were power incarnate. A never ending source of light and heat and guidance and…
“Missing.” He mumbled to himself. “That small star is missing.” He checked his coordinates again. “75 degrees right Ascension, 15 degrees declination. Accounting for travel time it should be right there.” Marcus marvelled at the idea that a star would simply cease to be, in the span of a day. All that remained was its neighbor star that…
“Wait a minute.” He thought to himself as he realized that the neighbor star had moved over to the space that was between them. But the other was gone. This was indeed an amazing event. Marcus wrote in the margins of the star maps of this discovery and made a note to meet with Barten once he got back to port in 5 days. Barten would be interested to know about this, his shipmates on the other hand, would not. Their response would be something to the tune of “are we still on course?”
Barten Phillips is an interesting old man. Marcus first met him in the port city of (insert port city name here) when he had just started as a navigator. He found Bartens store very helpful, Wish Upon a Star, quite amusing. Barten sold maps to the sailors at what he calls a “modest fee”. Marcus purchased his first set of telescopes and parchments from him and found a kindred spirit in the pursuit of knowledge. Oh yes, Barten would be quite intrigued to know about this. Marcus looked forward to the meeting.
Five days later Marcus roamed the streets with his belongings in a dufflebag and his pay in his pocket. He had high hopes, he relished the opportunity to converse with another intellectual and was hungry for conversation. What would Barten think when he told him he thinks that a star merged with another star. He might not believe him. No matter, he had the maps and the coordinates to back it up.
As Marcus rounded the corner he saw something that distressed him greatly. The shop was closed. Shutters were closed, closed sign in the window, door locked. He decided to knock anyway, he had already come this far no reason to give up now. After a few raps on the door Marcus could hear a rustling inside and someone cursing angrily to himself.
Barten Phillips opened the door with a curse, looking as if he had just woke up and had not slept well since last they saw each other. “Can you not read the sign you illiterate sea dogs!? We are closed! Oh, Marcus my boy,” he said a visible sign of relief, “I didn’t know it was you, forgive me please, I….I haven’t been well as of late and needed to take a rest. Do come in, did you bring me more maps?”
“Yes sir I did” Marcus replied. He had always thought of Barten as the father or uncle he should have had, someone who he could at least feel some legitimate attachment to.
“Oh these are quite good my boy, your skills in star mapping have increased substantially.” Barten commented to Marcus as he poured over the maps.
“Thank you, undoubtedly I had quite the teacher. I also wanted to tell you about something else old friend. Something rather peculiar.” Marcus replied.
Barten paused, then resumed “Something peculiar you say? News around town?”
“Oh no, something I noticed a week ago while mapping.” Marcus continued
“Something peculiar with the stars you say?” Bartens face had lost a considerable amount of its color. “Please, do continue”
“Well, if you notice here” Marcus continued pointing at an earlier map “these two stars had been neighboring each other, and here” pointing to another map “Now one is gone, and the other has moved over to the place in between. Another oddity is that this star is quite bright, and yet I cannot seem to find any name for it.”
“It does indeed have a name my boy, it is Acamar.” replied Barten, his eyes distant and his voice hollow.
“Is everything alright Barten? You seem odd and disturbed as of late.”
“Oh yes” said Barten, seeming to wake from his trance “Everything is on the right path, if not a little ahead of schedule. I was not aware that Acamar had taken another, the lights from the city do make it so hard to see the stars at night.”
“I’m afraid I don’t follow sir.” replied Marcus who was quite taken aback by this sudden development.
“My good boy, you are on cusp of great knowledge. Before you is a choice. You can remain ignorant to what I call the Real World. Burn your maps, find a new profession and sleep easy for the rest of your days knowing that the path you took is safe. For you have seen, and once you see, it is impossible to forget when you constantly look to the heavens.” Barten said and then continued lowering his voice, “Or you can take the path less taken. This path is not easy but the knowledge and rewards are indescribable. The dangers on the other hand, are just as great. You stand on the edge of knife my good boy, Oh how I revel in this! I remember being in your position. Confused, afraid, confronted by someone you thought you knew who now seems like a madman, and yet, Hungry. Hungry for knowledge outside this mundane world. Hungry for the knowledge of what is, and with time, what will come to be. This great knowledge is the key to power my boy, Great power. But you risk it all. You risk your sanity. You risk your life. You risk your very soul if you’re not strong enough to remain in control!” ending with a yell and then stopping to catch his breath Barten looked crazed and yet young and invigorated.
Marcus wasn’t too proud to feel afraid. He had been visiting Barten for over 2 years, he knew him well. One would go as far as to say he was his only true friend, someone who’s thirst for intellectual pursuits matched his own.
Finally finding his voice Marcus replied, “I believe you have me at a disadvantage my dear Barten. These things you speak of seem strange and almost frightening. Before we go any farther I think I shall take some time and gather my thoughts. If this is as dangerous as you say I believe I shall weigh my options. Before I take my leave I have but one question and I hope that it is not met with more riddles. This knowledge, this power, and this risk you speak of…..is it worth it?”
Barten instantly went from near hysterical about the prospect of sending his young friend down a similar path as his own, to a solemness that chilled to the bone.
“Oh yes, if you’re mind is strong enough, it is quite worth it my boy.”
There was no more talk. Marcus gathered his things plus a few provisions and left to think on some of the enigmatic things that Barten had said and to decide whether he would ever return to Barten again.
Barten already knew. He knew days ago. He saw it in the stars.
As the days passed since their talk, Marcus had tried to keep himself busy as to avoid thinking about it to no avail. He decided enough time had passed since he had seen his parents, it was time to go home. He found a ship heading to Belariguard that just so happened to need a navigator and began his journey home. 8 years. A long time. “Perhaps I can make amends” He thought to himself has he boarded. “Maybe try harder to appreciate my fathers point of view and find some common ground.”
Marcus’ father was a captain in the army during the war. He fought for the Baronians in the Old War. He was a great soldier, and by all accounts, a great man. He met Marcus’ mother and started a family while on active duty. His ferocity and valor rarely matched. But alas, the king had gone mad with power and there were whispers of a coming offensive against the elves. So, disillisioned by the perversion of a once great empire, Antonius Praetor retired to Belarigarde to live his life peacefully. But Antonius was not the type of man to be defeated and just give up. From his home on the shores of Belarigarde he has been plotting and planing with the Elves. Giving them information on the Baronians’ defenses and weaknesses. Him and Marcus never got along well, he wanted Marcus to join the military and fight the Baronians mad king in his quest for immortality but Marcus refused. He chose to follow his interests and pursue intellectual might, rather than physical.
As he watched the stars above and mapped out the ships path, Marcus thought of these things, and other things. Bartens’ words kept creeping into his mind no matter how much he tried to block them.
It made no sense really, the stars are just distant points of light. Regardless, it did peak his interest.
Marcus always enjoyed the silence of the night, the big open sky and the gentle rocking of the sea.
Later that night, while making suggestions for course changes…Something happened.
“Quite peculiar indeed. When you connect this one…..and these…..and a small gap here to this one, it says my name….” He then sat up with a start, for no sooner did he finish his sentence than the stars in question turned a bright red.
He awoke breathing heavily and covered in sweat. He didn’t even remember falling asleep. “What a strange dream” He thought to himself “perhaps this is a good time for me to take a break” How he got to his quarters remained a mystery but here it was day time, his typical time to rest as the day navigator took over and used his notes to carry on. He tried to get back to sleep but found himself too troubled.
The next few days he found himself dozing off and having a hard time paying attention. He had to correct their course 3 times because of errors he had made. His sleep was troubled with odd dreams of things in the night sky or he would wake up thinking he hear someone say his name. “Perhaps the crew mates are playing a trick on me” he thought. Perhaps they thought it would be good fun to say his name through the keyhole and wake him up. He’d catch them in the act, and that would put this whole thing to rest.
He stayed up the entire day. He read and took some notes but mostly waited. He should have slept but he needed to know.
The lack of sleep took its toll the next night. He was lucky to get them on course before falling asleep, back into troubled dreams.
He dreamt that he was looking again into the nights sky but the stars were not stars. They were luminescent eyes! Not malevolent but observant. All just watching and blinking.
He was startled awake by the other navigator. The captain was not pleased with this and berated him terribly. If they had been any further away the danger would have been immense but they were only a day away from Balerigarde. Marcus offered half his wage to appease him, anything to keep him from yelling. The lack of sleep was killing him, everything was so bright and so loud. He slept the last day easily and uninterrupted.
When he arrived he wandered the coast until he could procure a ride from a man with a cart heading to town.
“Good morrow to you sir, you look like you could use a ride.” The man said with a smile.
“And a good morrow to you my lord, if it is not too much trouble I would like to inquire as to your destination. It might be advantageous for me to accompany you so as to reach My destination that much faster. I could certainly provide compensation.” Marcus replied. Strangers always seemed to enjoy it when he flexed his vocabulary, and it certainly showed now.
“My good man, I think if I get your meaning correctly you’d like to know where I’m headin’ ” Marcus nodded as he spoke “Well first things first the names Tim and I can most certainly give you a ride to where ever you’re going, sa’long as its on the coast. Im collecting drift wood you see, for some carvings I do.”
“Splendid my good lord Tim I would be delighted to partake in your mode of transportation, as Fate would have it, I am heading Northeast up the coast, towards the small town of Aeofal. Right near the beach. My name is Marcus, and we are quite well met.”
Nodding politely Tim tilted his head a bit to think. “Well Marcus, I may be mistaken seeing as I’ve only been here 2 years. But I don’t recall any coastal towns northeast of here. Just the ruins” Then, pausing a moment and quickly regaining his formally chipper attitude, “But that don’t mean anything at all, I could have just passed it by not thinking. Hop on up and we’ll take a look see.”
“Splendid.” Marcus replied, hoisting his meager belongings aboard, slightly confused. Aeofal was not exactly a booming metropolis but it wasn’t small either. There were at least 40 people living there when he had been there last.
The ride was pleasant enough, Marcus told Tim about his voyages and his excitement to see his parents again. Tim told Marcus about his wood carvings and how he had come to Corralia because of the almost militaristic way Baronia was being run.
As they drew near Marcus had a feeling of dread. They had not come across any other travellers out here and he had not seen any sign of a populace.
“Coming up around the bend here we have the ruins. This place always gives me the creeps but sometimes I can get some good driftwood on this part of the beach. You see the drift woods great for carving because of the bends that are already in it…” Marcus had stopped listening. He knew what was up ahead. He had put 2 and 2 together. Aeofal was the ruins.
The sight horrified him. The previously beautiful town of his youth, half tree dwellings and half small houses along the beach was completely eradicated. Scorched ruins of brick buildings and a burnt scar in the forest where the dwellings once were was all that was left. Nothing, nothing lived here anymore. It was a graveyard. The cart stopped. Tim could see the pain in Marcus’ face. It had all come to a head. All the wasted years, gone. All the people he grew up with, gone. In his heart he knew, even if he had been here he would be dead with the rest of them, he was too weak.
“What happened?” He managed to whisper.
“I’m afraid I don’t know my boy. I’m so sorry for your loss.” Tim somberly replied. “I’ll leave you to your thoughts for now, I’ll head up the beach a piece and gather more wood, then double-back and give you a ride to where ever you need to go.”
“Thank you.” Marcus replied, lowering himself to the sand where he walked into the ruins to sit and be with his thoughts. His memories. His ghosts.
A few hours had passed. “Maybe he’s a bit more at peace.” Tim thought. “Awful thing, whole town wiped off the map. Why? Why would someone do that?” Tim thought to himself as he plodded along. When he came around the bend there was Marcus, sitting on the beach staring out at the ocean. He didn’t want to disturb him, so he tied up the cart and simply went down and sat next to him. He could already tell that this was not the same man.
“Thank you for being so patient with me.” Marcus finally started. “I just needed some time to put things back together, to get it to make sense, figure out the path.”
“You don’t need to thank me boy, this is too much for anyone to endure.” Tim replied “I can take you to the next town, Feynor, and we’ll ask the Master at arms what happened here.”
They rode in quiet to Feynor, both lost in they’re own thoughts. Marcus, thinking of a plan, and Tim, just wondering what has going to happen next. “You don’t know what a mans gonna do when he realizes he’s got nothing left.” Tim thought to himself. But he knew he was a good judge of character, and he knew Marcus was a good man. But he needed to know what happened, it was only fair.
As they came to the army’s headquarters they saw a mix of Elves, Eladrin, and Humans. Most talking normally, like nothing was wrong. But something WAS wrong, and it infuriated Marcus that none of them cared to see it.
The military was the same no matter where you went. Strength was honored and only the ones with forceful personalities could get the information they seeked. Marcus knew this, and would not allow the guards to stop him as he barged through the door.
Eolin was a picture of Eladrin qualities. Stoic, reserved, statuesque as he sat behind his desk writing on a piece of parchment. “Who are you and why did you barge into my quarters unannounced? Speak quickly and concisely or I will kill you where you stand.”
“My name is Marcus Praetor. And I need to know what became of Aeofal.” Marcus replied forcefully, remaining absolute still and resolute, a complete mirror of Eolin. Any sign of weakness and he would be brushed aside. He needed to know the resolve of the person addressing him.”
“Aeofal was a tragic example of what happens when the race of man goes mad with power.” Eolin replied coolly returning to his writing. “Your father was Atonius Praetor yes? He was a great warrior, and I mourned him greatly as a brother in arms.” Finishing his writing he sat it aside and stood up slowly. As he took very measured steps Marcus could tell he was calculated the risk of telling him the entire truth. Marcus walked slow and determined and met him halfway across the room.
Eolin decided the risk was minimal, given Marcus’ current mood.
“When you father came to here to start a new life, he could not leave everything behind. As a brilliant leader and a fearless warrior he had defended Baronia. And, as one of the leaders of its defenses he also possessed the unique knowledge of its weaknesses. He also had a quite an extensive list of people who are, as they say, sympathetic to our point of view.” Eolin paused to measure Marcus’ reaction.
“I would prefer it greatly if you got to the point good sir, I thirst greatly for the knowledge you possess.”
“The strike was, as the Baronians thought, preemptive. The truth is that it was not.” He paused for a moment to let it sink in. “They wanted to kill your father and all that associated with him before he could leak information that was….sensitive. They failed. He had contacted us within months of establishing a home here. His disdain for the Mad Kings destruction of the once proud Baronia was needless to say, intense.”
“Well then what was done in retaliation? I have not heard of any counter offensive otherwise I would have known about this! Why not use the information you have and bring them to their knees?” Marcus could not contain his anger anymore. They knew of the attack, they knew why they did it, and they have the ability to reciprocate but they refuse.
“We cannot risk the identities of our informants. We need constant updates to keep up a strong defense. The people we have contact with are, how shall I put it? Not the most respectable, and thus, already being watched. Your father would understand. I do believe that is all the information that you require, so, if you’ll excuse me I’ll have my men escort you out and I’ll return to my work. I’m sorry for your loss.” Eolin made a motion with his hands and two guards emerged from the hallway to escort Marcus out the building.
As he sat on the stairs of the building, lost in his thoughts, Tim appeared at his side.
“Didn’t go well I take it?”
“Not exactly the response I had hoped for no.” Marcus replied.
“I’m sorry man. Here, I got you this. I saw you had your maps all loose in your bag, that’s not good at all. I had made it a while back to hold ritual papers for the Wizards but I imagine they just conjured themselves up something, cheapos.” He handed Marcus an elaborately carved wooden cylinder. It had carvings across it of stars and moons and symbols representing the seasons. Seeing that Marcus had noticed the carvings he confessed “I carved some of them when I left you on the beach, the rest while you were in there.”
Marcus was stunned. The craftsmanship was amazing. “I can’t thank you enough for your kindness Tim. You have helped me more than you know. The world needs more men like you”
Tim flushed a bit “Oh sir, not at all you would have done the same for me.” Then Tim fell silent for a bit, lost in his thoughts. “You know Marcus. You can’t let this defeat you. I’ve seen plenty of people that have lost loved ones and its destroyed them. You need to press on, take your life back. Claim your rightful place in the world.”
“You’re right my good man Tim. Thank you.”
Marcus knew what he had to do. He stayed a few days with Tim, making small talk and helping him gather more wood. Then he set out, back to Barten. He would claim his destiny. If the forces of Balarigarde would not take action, he would.