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[Fanfic:] Traveling Circus

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With the launch of the new forums, I would like to let you know that TC is still in-progress. While this may come as a shock to you, I still intend to keep writing the fiction until at least the beginning of the third Living Story season.

For the link to the old story (and to get refreshed if need be), follow this link: https://archiveofourown.org/works/18921094/chapters/44918104

Keep traveling (and always stay alert for missing baubles)!


EDIT: Link updated to AO3 for ease-of-access

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Chapter 3a:

“You think that’s going to be fast enough to outrun a Risen, recruits,” snapped Myrie, arms crossed behind her as she strode behind a line of racing Vigil soldiers, “then you’ve got an unpleasant lesson to learn.” She armed her shortbow, aimed, and launched an inky shot that teleported her to where it landed. A young charr nearly leapt out of his tawny fur in shock as Myrie’s dagger rushed towards his muzzle. “Claw Island is now heavily fortified by the enemy. The odds are not stacked in our favor.” He barely managed to parry her blows, growling in frustration as her blade glinted like a flickering star in the light of the setting sun. She nodded briefly in acknowledgement of his defense before sneaking around to the back of an asura, sweeping her squat legs out from under her. She rolled with the movement, drawing two swords and leaping back only to discover that the ground below her had a steep drop-off. She landed with a yelp.
“You’ve got to know your territory, soldiers,” Myrie said, dodging the asura’s vicious swipe at her knees and stealing her blade in the process. “Simply going off of what we know is not going to work this round. Keep your wits sharp and never fight alone. The Risen will kill without hesitation or mercy, and this means that you need to be ever-vigilant that your own allies do not have the chance to become corrupted.”“Easier said than done,” muttered a brawny norn.Myrie stalked up to him and brandished daggers. “Care to repeat that?” She did not shy from his gaze. “In case it missed your attention, recruit, anything that kills the living will also work on the undead. Does it have a heart?” Her weapon hovered over her own chest. “Stab it. If it’s still got its head, remove it. Don’t think just because you’re bigger – or smaller – than your opponent that victory is uncertain.” She sheathed her daggers, glaring up at him. “If you think a fight's too hard to be won, you’re already as good as dead. You’ve got to fight smart.”“What do we look like, the Priory?” he snorted. “If I wanted to run from the enemy or hide in holes, then sure, I’d have joined them.” He hefted an axe over his shoulder and sneered as he turned on his heel. “Forget this. If I want to fight Risen, I’m doing it my way.”
Myrie watched as he retreated, jaw shifting as her eyes narrowed.
“Ma’am?” The charr spoke uncertainly. “Are you just going to let him go?”Her arm moved like a blur, throwing a glittering silver spike at the retreating soldier’s back. He barely turned in time to avoid having it hit any major organs, but her dagger stuck in his arm. He gave a bellow of pain, face twisted in rage.“What in Bear’s name was that for?” He yanked it out, throwing it aside and clamping a hand over the bleeding wound.“You knew I’d react somehow, didn’t you?” Myrie snapped. “So why weren’t you prepared? I’m a predicable ally, and I could have killed you right then. If I'd been compromised or turned, I would have killed you. What makes you think you’ll survive against the Risen?” She marched over to him, glaring at his challenging fist. “Go on, strike me,” she hissed. “Maybe Zhaitan’s horde will have second thoughts when they see you run mewling away because you can’t be bothered to take orders.”“You’re mad, tiny,” he hissed.
“And I’m not a coward. Tell me, which one of us fought against the dragon’s minions, huh? I didn’t come running just because of some overinflated sense of glory. You can either straighten up and get back in line, or I’ll actually let you charge in there and die in the first place, because something tells me that you never really planned on sticking around if it wasn’t going to end up with your name in the stories of the skaalds.”He took a long, deep breath through his nose, glaring down at her. She defiantly stared back, emerald eyes as sharp as her daggers. Finally, with a growl of frustration, he hefted his axe back over his shoulder and marched back into line. Myrie felt her shoulders singing with frustration, and as much as she would have liked to have immediately sighed or gone and relaxed after that moment of tension, she knew that as their squad leader, she had the responsibility to keep them all quick to fight and cohesive when fighting as a unit.
“Everyone meet back in the Lion’s Square. We’ve got to meet up with the other squads shortly and see how they’re faring. Dismissed!”

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Chapter 3b:

The thief rolled her shoulders as the Vigil unit marched away, their normal low buzz of conversation and hushed whispers more like a dull drone; not a single laugh or triumphant cry interrupted the gray cloud of noise that hovered ominously over them. A senior officer took over the unit’s beach drills, allowing Myrie to be swept aside by Sylfia, who looked equal amounts of irate and concerned.
“We can’t find ‘er,” the sylvari growled. “Selana’s assured me she’s not in the Whispers’ camps, and the Priory knows better than to let her near their artifacts – ”“Wait, slow down,” Myrie stopped in her tracks, causing the sylvari to undergo an equally-drastic halt. “Who can’t we find? Please tell me it’s not who I think it is…”“Oh, unless you know more than one raging sylvari psychopath, please let me know!” Sylfia removed her helm, freeing her stiff, pointed leaf-hair from the metal. “Just wot we need during this rotten mess,” she seethed.“She won’t cause any harm as long as my seal’s still on her,” Gryphon said, emerging from a Whispers tent flap. Whatever mutterings had been going on as the thief and warrior approached had become sharply silent. “And I assure you, it would take some impressively-potent work to get it off without any negative consequences.”“Why do we even keep her around if she’s such a bad thing?” Myrie huffed, crossing her arms.
The mesmer shook his head. “I don’t like her any more than either of you – I would dare say I like her less – but we’re in a desperate situation. With one Elder Dragon on the rise and more to doubtless follow, we can use someone with her talents to taste corruption or sense other energies. She’s unusually-sensitive to them. The Master of Whispers has consulted with Steward Gixx, and both have agreed that it’s exceedingly-rare to have someone like her around. Not to mention,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his neck, “she’s rather good at getting information out of otherwise-unresponsive captives…”“You mean torture,” Sylfia grimaced. “Obviously whatever seals you’ve got on ‘er don’t seem to be inhibiting her murder factor.”“Actually,” the mesmer said slowly, looking from one to the other, “it has.”
Myrie shuddered, remembering those many nights ago when she had awoken to find the necromancer tasting the blood of Selana and herself. Gryphon had threatened Nettle in no uncertain terms that any further experimentation on her impromptu guild members would result in her most precious object – her brain – being reduced to little more than a potato in its functionality. She had since then fought alongside them with cold, deadly accuracy, striking more as a surgeon whittling away bad flesh than a frenzied bloodletter. Still, having her free to kill or experiment on others outside of the Knights of Gryphon or the heads of the Orders left her with nearly all of Tyria to test.
“At a time like this,” Gryphon’s voice broke into Myrie’s memories, “we can’t afford to have her gone. The dragon could easily be readying a massive counterattack before we can reclaim the island. If we can’t get that back, there’s no way we’ll be able to launch into Orr.”“Well, fortunately for you,” a calm voice intoned, the low, hollow tapping of fingernails on bone accenting her words, “you won’t need to worry too much. Well, not about me, anyway.” Nettle slid from the shadow of a tree and into the light, smiling blissfully at the rays as they beamed warmly down on her pale face. Myrie’s stomach lurched. There was something very, very wrong with how innocent and frail her form seemed compared with the cruel, inhuman rationality of her mind. “Unfortunately,” the necromancer continued blithely, cleaning her nails with her dagger, “it appears as though my talents have come in handy at the wrong time.”“What do you mean?” Gryphon loomed over her; she merely smiled at his grim face.
“Isn’t it obvious? There are traitors in your midst. All of your orders have been compromised.”“Then let’s head in and root them out before they can do any more harm,” Sylfia snarled, hefting her hammer.
“There you go again, thinking like a Vigil,” Nettle sighed, rolling her eyes. “Spies work best when they think they’re safe. If you let them know they’ve been uncovered, they either tunnel like worms into a corpse or lash out.”“Well, we can’t just stand here and let whoever it is send messages to….” Myrie’s brow furrowed. “Who, exactly, is spying on us?”“How do you get anything done, thinking with all of that meat? Let me outline it for you. Who or what would most stand to benefit from the destruction of the unity of the three most powerful Orders in Tyria?”Myrie’s stomach dropped. Nettle clapped slowly. “The ink of realization has finally spilled upon your blank page of a face. The dragon is smarter than we give it credit. Be careful when you work on uprooting your worms from your apples. If it lashes out, you know more than nearly anyone that it’s going to spew its venom, and we have no clue who will get burned.”

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Chapter 4a:

"How are you holding up?"

Llumin's head rose from her scroll at the sound of Selana's voice. She rolled it closed."As well as can be expected," she replied with a brave smile, standing and brushing dust from her segmented skirt. "Was there something you wanted to talk about?"

"Yes; several things, actually,” the elementalist replied. "May I sit down?"

The mesmer nodded and motioned to a threadbare plush chair on the opposite side of her rickety wooden table. "I think I can guess what you want to talk about,” she said hesitantly. She replaced the scroll in a ramshackle bookcase and took a seat opposite of her. "As insane as it seems..."

"This world is full of crazy things,” Selana said. She gave a gentle smile.

Llumin stood and paced a brisk circle around the human. "But this is all so... so different from what can be expected! The Elder Dragons are a strange, new threat to all our lives, albeit one I'm sure we can take down. But this... these memories..." Her leafed brow furrowed. "There's no logical explanation for them. None that make any possible sense."

"You're speaking about the memories of your birth.” The elementalist took a breath. “Your human birth.”

Llumin's pace paused. Her wide eyes shifted towards the human.

The elementalist sighed. "You saw the ghosts on the battlefield, didn't you?"

"Mother and Father," the sylvari murmured. "At least," she said with a soft laugh, "that's what those few memories would suggest."

"They are correct." Selana stood; she would have hit her head on the tent’s ceiling but for a warning cry from the mesmer. With an awkward cough, she returned to her chair.

"You're a bit taller than I am," the sylvari noted as the human crossed long legs beneath her embroidered robes.

"So far, you're taking this surprisingly well," she said. "I was in a state of shock when I discovered.... well, it's a long story."

Llumin was silent for a moment. "I…” Her mouth opened once before she closed it. “I was dying, wasn't I? That's why Mother and Father brought me to the Pale Tree -- to see if she would be able to heal me."

Selana gave a long, low sigh and leaned back. "No. At that rate, they had accepted that you weren't going to be healed. They instead prayed to the Six for forgiveness and asked that you be accepted into the sylvari's Dream of Dreams for rebirth. Gryphon Radwing – "

"The male red-haired mesmer?"

"That's him. He said that I was so distraught at the rebirthing that if he hadn’t sealed the memories away, I would have suffered irreparable mental damage. I suppose something similar must have happened to you?"

Llumin shrugged. "I was just an infant. I'm honestly surprised I remembered any of it – the Dream must have preserved those memories. I had dismissed them as someone else's for so long. I thought they came from some innate admiration or curiosity."

"And that may still be."

"But it was really when your friend, the necromancer -- "

"The other sylvari? Nettle?"

Llumin nodded vigorously. "Yes; her." She paused. "Although I take it," she said hesitantly, "that she isn’t really your friend?"

"The enemy of my enemy," the human said coolly. "The Orders are wary of her for very good reason."

"Well, after she visited me and started talking about humans, I thought that perhaps she might know more about sylvari who felt like they had been born in the wrong skin. I think she really was helping. I felt under her guidance that I was beginning to understand who I was. Yet I kept remembering something impossible: Parents. A sister. Even with what the Dream could have shown me, it didn’t make any sense.” She shook her head, a bitter smile on her face. "Seeing you for the first time made me remember my past. I didn’t know what to do with them; that’s why I avoided you.”

"I would guess that the Pale Tree helped subdue those memories. She probably didn't want you to be too upset about your old life."

"Mother would have been perfectly happy if I had never remembered, I think.” Llumin’s voice was sharp. She closed her eyes and took a breath before continuing. “She doesn't hate or think unwell of humans, but as she was right to worry about what remembering would have cost. Not that I’m doing unwell now," she said quickly, noticing Selana's worried expression. "It's just that... it's still rather strange, thinking that I have a human for my sister. Not just an adopted one, but one who is actually of my own flesh and blood."

"Well, I doubt I'm made of leaves and sap," Selana smiled, "but I understand how you feel."

A high-pitched whistle interrupted their conversation.

“Oh, I nearly forgot!” Llumin leapt to her feet and walked over to a small firepit in the center of the tent where a small, silver teakettle bubbled. She wrapped her hand with a thick woolen scarf before removing it and pouring hot water into two earthen cups and placing a few vibrant purple leaves into them. "I grew this tea myself," she said proudly. Realizing the elementalist’s conflicted expression, she quickly added, “Oh, thorns, not from myself! That would be… weird. They’re from my garden at the Grove. Would you like some?"

Selana nodded and accepted the warm mug. The tea was a fruity blend with hints of vanilla. She set the cup aside and asked, "So, now that everything’s out in the open, what would you like to do next?”

Llumin picked at the edge of her mug. "Does anyone else know that we're sisters?"

"Only those who are in my guild, and I doubt anyone outside of the Knights would believe it," Selana replied, shrugging. "I’ll admit that even to me it still sounds improbable. You don't have to announce it to the world; the reactions from either of our races might not be the most pleasant. Mother and Father were cautious about your birth for a reason."

"Well, that’s not on us.” Llumin frowned. "Just because we don't look much alike doesn't mean that we aren't family!"

Selana couldn't stop the grin that formed at the sylvari's expression. "You're right there. Nonetheless, I will leave the choice up to you." She stood to leave. "I do have to ask, though, in the spirit of sisterliness: How long have you admired the Marshal?"

Llumin's lavender glow deepened; a dark golden flush colored her cheeks. “Oh! Well, I mean, he is very intelligent and kind and handsome, I suppose, if you’re interested in that sort of thing – and of course he’s been helpful with finding materials on Orr and telling me of his travels – but just because he’s helped me with my studies and – !”

"All right, all right," Selana laughed. "I was only teasing.”

"It’s just a professional thing, that’s all,” Llumin murmured. She couldn’t meet her sister’s gaze. “I admire his work and character. He’s being very brave with all of this, really.”

"Mm. And he certainly seems to have a high opinion of you from what I've heard.” Llumin’s head swiveled. Selana couldn’t keep her lips from curving upward. “It was wonderful to speak with you, Llumin. Stay safe."

"I will. And…"

Selana turned to glance back at her.

The sylvari smiled shyly, willow-leaved hair draping slightly over her face. "Please feel free to call me 'sister' if you so wish. Should you require any help with research, please let me know."

Selana returned the smile.

“I will be in the Order of Whispers if you need any secrets revealed. Stay in touch, sister."

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Chapter 4b:

When Selana emerged, the camp was buzzing with suspicion. Order was seperate from Order, and all eyes stared at one another skittishly. Many were armed. Confusion only briefly flickered over her face; she composed herself and walked through with her head high, listening.

"Did you hear?" she caught wind of an asura whispering to her partner furtively. "Rumors say we've been compromised."

"A spy," growled a charr Initiate as she walked by. "Dragon's got its teeth into someone's brain. Trahearne's saying we might have an attack soon, but when? Where?"

"We can't let fear paralyze us," a magister stated, smacking her fist into her hand. "I say let it come. We'll take it out and defend our camp. It'll be a good warmup before we kill its champion at the island."

"Don't be overconfident." Khimma's voice snapped into the norn magister's boast. "We're not dealing with some tomb robbers. We're dealing with an Elder Dragon."

"Wait, what's that?" Lyca Whitestorm emerged from the chef's tent carrying a platter of sandwiches.

Elmfrond hastily sneaked over and swiped several, stuffing them into his pack as the ranger drew her bow.

"Where?" he asked, green cheeks bulging with roasted chicken and homemade bread.

"There." She pointed at a speck in the sky. Her wolf growled at it as her eyes narrowed. "I think we have our spy."

"Wait; don't shoot!" Selana warned; yet by the time her warning was voiced, the white-haired norn had already drawn back and fired a single, deadly arrow. Shocked yelps smattered from the camp as the rotten eagle plummeted to the ground, twitching as it returned to its eternal rest.

"There," the norn sighed. "I think that solves our problem."

Trahearne had entered the main camp during the commotion. Upon seeing the Risen eagle's corpse, he looked up. "That eagle was definitely our spy... When did you see it?"

Elmfrond remarked that he'd seen some sort of speck in the sky a while back but had dismissed it as a seagull. He swallowed his sandwich. "I'm... guessing that wasn't what it was."

The Marshal gave a pained grimace. "No. No, it wasn't."

The waters behind the camp began to seethe. The necromancer's golden eyes narrowed. "Everyone, brace yourselves," he shouted, drawing Caladbolg. Its blade glowed in the chilling air. "We're under – !"

A Risen krait lunged from the depths of the sea. Elmfrond drew his pistols and loosed a round of lead into its rotting skull, sending putrid fragments of skin and bone spewing in the air."Under attack, got it," he panted. "Anything you want us to do?"

More Risen emerged from the seas, dripping saltwater and snarling gurgling threats.

"Defend the tents," the Marshal ordered. "They have our information on the Risen and their plans. If those get destroyed, we might not have the chance to push them out again."

"Push them back," Selana shouted. "Push past them, and we can retake the Island!"

"We have to find their leader," Trahearne said. He swung Caladbolg in a deadly arc. "See if you can find which one of these brutes is leading the charge and kill it. Their offensive is useless without someone directing it."

"You've got it! SHU-TY, tie their rotten tendons in knots," Khimma barked, dashing from the Priory's inventions tent with her tiny silver golem. Klixx turned disbelieving eyes on her as the automaton clinked to the ground and bobbed away.

"See, you just admitted that thing can be used as a weapon! When this battle's over, I'm dismantling it!"

Her hammer sent a shambling human reeling back. "Don't you dare touch my precious little golem!" she snapped, shooting him a glare before returning her gaze to the fray.

Klixx sent a firebolt crashing into the bloated stomach of an oncoming foe and conjured a bellowing gust of wind that sent another attacker flying away from the guardian's exposed side."It's not precious," he retorted. "It's a device of pure, unadulturated evil!"

There was a series of moaning cries as a line of Risen ravagers toppled to the ground on mangled legs. SHU-TY dashed away from their grasping hands and whistled cheerily.

"Good golem!" Khimma cried, blasting two of the undead's heads with her hammer.

Klixx huffed in frustration. "Why I even bother..."

"Watch yer back!" His collar was roughly tugged back as he found himself rising into the air. He briefly protested before a red-leaved head crashed into the stomach of a silent Risen that had stalked behind him. It flew back as Sylfia plunked him back onto the earth. "Yer welcome," she muttered, wiping rotten matter from her brow as she charged back into the fray.

By the tents, the tides of reanimated foes clawed and gasped at the defenders with blind fury. Mesmeric magic shattered on one foe, converging with single-minded fury into cutting shards of psychic energy.

"Get the injured away from the Risen!" Llumin cried. "We can't let the dragon add any more to its army today!"

"It won't." Selana raised her hands to the sky, calling down healing rain and soothing wounds before she summoned winds to speed the injured along. "Go on, get to the center of the camp!"

A piercing, unearthly wail echoed through the camp. Selana felt the blood drain from her face. From the edge of the seawater rose the staggering remains of a norn female, skin gray and flecked with barnacles.

"Do you think that's our leader?" she asked, turning to deflect a blow and searing the face of a snapping Risen. Llumin's sword finished it off before she raised her eyes towards the noise, face grim.

The norn, brandishing a driftwood scepter, stalked towards them. She howled down at a Vigil recruit who had failed to retreat in time. His screams briefly drowned out hers before they were abruptly cut off. Her rotten face turned towards them as she began to take up her unearthly screams again.

"I'd say that's a yes," Selana muttered, laying down a line of flames to ward off the Risen that rushed their way. Llumin brandished her sword, readying a defensive stance.

"Then let's end her. On your mark...!"

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  • 3 weeks later...

@Gryphon Radwing.7042 said:A quick FYI: The link to your original story no longer works. If you'd like help putting the original manuscript somewhere that others can access it, I'd be glad to help you out!

Thank you! That would be very much appreciated -- I have all of the original manuscript saved offline, but if you'd be willing to help, I would be more than willing to accept the offer!


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Chapter 5a:

Fighting against the Risen, Trahearne had once told Llumin, was like fighting the tides. They would come and go, sometimes in legions and others with little more than a scouting party. Unlike the tides, however, they could show up anywhere, appearing without season or rhyme. You could attempt to divine their next place or time of attack, he had continued, spreading his fingers over a map scored with marks tracking a new invasion, but you could never truly be certain. When they did come, the Risen were like the sea. They were cold, they felt no pain, and they didn’t stop coming until, as if called by some silent song, they simply fell off the attack. The dragon’s minons couldn’t possibly be endless, he had mused, standing and walking from the parchment. Otherwise, why would it retreat instead of simply overwhelming its foes from the start?“We have to make it feel pain,” he had said fiercely, eyes glowing. “It must be fed somehow. Stop up the mouth, blind the eyes, and we could possibly take this thing down. But never underestimate it. Never think that you’ve won against its minions until you’ve killed the last one to rise. Even then,” he had said, standing and taking the parchment, “you should always keep an eye open. Set a guard. Don’t stop fighting. We’ve come this far. If we can retake the Island… we might just have a chance.”

Don’t stop fighting.

Those words echoed in Llumin’s mind as she let out a cry of pain; a Risen’s claws had dug into her arm. Even when severed from its limb, the hand had only tightened its grip. She beat it off fiercely, swallowing the scream that threatened to burst from her lips. Golden sap oozed from the wounds it made, incisions burning with pain. She grunted as she clasped her palm over it, squeezing to staunch the flow. The Risen leader still stood, blocking and attacking from within a center of Pact warriors with inhuman speed and ferocity.

“They don’t tire,” she whispered, eyes narrowing. She readjusted her grip on her sword. “Selana, how hold the gates?”

The elementalist summoned a shield of magnetic waves that reflected a putrid cloud of poison from her, sending it hurtling back at the caster. A grasping dead found that her staff was useful for more than magical purposes as she punched its end through the back of its skull, spilling its brains and gagging as it died.“They’re holding, but barely,” she grimaced. She let out a cry of pain as the corpse of an asura warrior lurched from the ground, blood still fresh in its veins as it lashed out with dulled claws and snarled at her.

A thin, cold dagger sighed into its neck and easily carved the head free from its holding.“We’d best kill our snake properly, then,” Nettle purred, running her tongue down the flat of her blade before melting back into battle. Adam’s eyesockets burned with necromantic energy, chilling foes in front of her and freezing the rotten flesh in place until it was sliced away. “Cut off the head,” her lilting voice echoed through the throng. “And the body will die.”

“Quit dancin’ round the bloody enemies, then,” Sylfia snarled, eyes wild as she horse-collared a foe and crunched its head against another’s, “and getcher sorry-leaved backside at it!”

“Don’t worry, sister,” Nettle sighed, rolling her eyes. “We’ll kill it soon.”

“Soon ain’t enough, we’re losin’ men!”

“Mm, but think of the observations we can make! Trahearne, isn’t that what you would want?”

The Firstborn was already shouting orders at the massed units, directing them towards taking down casters and stripping away the norn’s guard.

Nettle’s lip curled. “Fine, then,” she said, drawing her staff and casting necromantic symbols on the ground. “More experiments for me.”

“You’ll fight alongside us and focus your attacks on the leader.” Gryphon’s cold voice echoed in her ears as the mark on the back of her neck burned and seethed.

Nettle hissed, slapping at it before whirling around to send a chilling glare at the mesmer. “As you wish, Lord Radwing,” she growled.

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Chapter 5b:

The fight against the risen norn was brutal; hordes of undead continued to stagger ravenously from the sea, and even under dozens of blows and bleeding from multiple wounds, she still clung to her stolen life until her resistance finally ebbed out with the rotten blood from her veins. Few Risen attempted to rise from the sea after that, though the Pact couldn’t help but feel as though this was merely another calm before the storm. There was no time for celebration; the tents with medical supplies had been rent, and despite the choice to stay slightly off-shore in order to keep the undead as far away from the city as possible, there was still the unwanted chance that some had slipped in; the Lionguard would need whatever help they could get.
Sylfia slumped against a gore-slicked barrel, breathing ragged.
“Hey,” Myrie’s voice came from above her; the green-eyed sylvari squinted at the brunette’s silhouette. “You doing all right?”She gave a bark of laughter. “Oi’ve been burned twice in my life, nearly died both times, found out that there’s a bunch of undead that might just want to kill us all, and decided to follow my Wyld Hunt of whatever-it-is anyway.” Her thin lips jagged upwards in a fierce smile. “O’ course I ain’t fine, fleshy, I’ve got breathing troubles and was just battl’in your reanimated companions and whatnot.” She tipped her helmet down, shadowing her eyes. “Wake me when I’m sober.”Myrie straightened and crossed her arms. “You just got out of battle. I really doubt you’ve found something to drink already.”The warrior’s response was a hollow backfist to the barrel behind her. “Why d’you think I slumped over ‘ere, eh? Blood Legion whisky, tha’ll put the spark back in ya.”The thief rolled her eyes. “I’ll give you three gold that says it gets confiscated for use as medical supplies.”
The helmet tipped back. “Not if Oi drink it first! Wh – HOI!”
Myrie smirked as she watched two Pact soldiers cart off the barrel without so much as an apology. She raised an eyebrow and glanced down at Sylfia, who rubbed at her sore shoulder.
“Told you. Don’t worry about the gold.” She waved her hand.
The warrior’s eyes narrowed as she rose. “Why, how uncharacteristically gen’rous of you, Miss Ward.”“Eh, I already pickpocketed it from you. You’re good.”“You – !”“Well done!” Trahearne strode into the center of the camp, interrupting Sylfia’s insult. “We have already proven our worth as a fighting team. Now we know that the Dragon’s force is no longer unstoppable. The dead will be remembered, but we cannot stop now.” He looked over the crowd, pride gleaming in his gaze. “It is time for us to put our combined strengths into action. Tomorrow, we take back Claw Island!”“For the Pact!” cheered Elmfrond, raising a fist. Other voices echoed the cry.“For Sieran!” Khimma and Klixx shouted alongside Llumin.“For Forgal!” Sylfia pounded her fist over her chestplate.“For Tybalt!” Myrie roared, raising a call with the Order.

Nettle stood at the side, silently watching. Her gaze was unfathomable, though she had echoed Elmfrond’s rallying cry. She caught Myrie’s stare, and her lips curved, sending a cold chill down the thief’s spine.
The necromancer was on their side, she knew, but who could fathom what the Order of Whispers allowed her to study in their pursuit of weaponry against the Elder Dragons? A thin ripple of spectral smoke flickered around Llumin and Selana’s outlines before disappearing; Nettle’s eyes latched catlike onto them as her fingers slowly rotated Adam in her hand.
“Oi, we’re movin’ shortly, Ward,” Sylfia barked, shoving an oil-rag into her pack as she hefted it over her shoulder. “Don’ let whatever Nettle’s doin’ – or not doin’, for that matter – get to yer head, yeah? She’ll fight for us,” she grunted, steadying her grip on the straps. “E’en if she won’t like it.”

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  • 1 month later...

Chapter 6a:

Lyca Whitestorm grunted as she hefted her pitted, cast-iron cauldron over her shoulder and trudged behind the caravan. The wolf at her side shook its white-furred head and growled threateningly at a twitching corpse.

“It’s dead, Fang,” she said, not pausing from her stride. She shifted her pack, sliding the cauldron to the other shoulder and turning her head to look behind her. “Pup,” she called, voice echoing eerily in the sudden silence of the abandoned battlefield. “How are you holding up back there?”

“I’m fine,” came the reply. It was followed by a shout of surprise and two rapid pistol-shots, answered with a gurgling sigh. “Well,” Elmfrond panted as he jogged towards the norn, “now I am.”

“Did we miss one back there?” The woman slowed her pace, allowing the shorter sylvari to keep up. The wolf chuffed, ears twitching, as he went to his other side. The thief nodded.

“I still don’t like how the dragon uses its minions,” he muttered. “Never can tell when one’s really and truly dead.”

“There’s one way.” Lyca lowered her pack, kneeling by some wounded soldiers. A fragrant, rich broth was ladled from the heavy pot and into crude earthen bowls, gingerly handed to them. The soldiers murmured their thanks as they slowly ate the hot stew and as the norn went on. “You turn the corpses so battered that not even the Elder Dragon could make use of them.”

Elmfrond grimaced, maroon hair-leaves shining dully in the dim light. Occasionally a passing torch would illuminate his face. “That seems excessive.”

There was a slight crackle in the air, a growl to the norn’s voice that wasn’t quite normal. “Pup,” she said, silver-blue eyes like clear ice in the hazy sky, “you were nearly injured by one that someone else may have called excessive. In war, there is little grace given.” He shrank back slightly beneath her shadow. She frowned, the harsh lines fading from her brow. “I’m sorry, young one,” she sighed. She lowered a hand to pat his head; he blinked at the touch. “It is easy to forget that though you are fully-formed, you are still young.”

“That’s why you call me ‘Pup’, isn’t it?” A grin split his face. “Because I’m young yet able to pack some ‘bite’?” He flourished his pistols; Lyca couldn’t keep herself from smiling.

“Yes, Elmfrond. That is part of it.” Again the great soup-pot swung down. Elmfrond knew from experience that he could use it as a bathing kettle if he wished, but that Lyca did not appreciate the last time she had returned to find it half-full of lavender petals and steamed sylvari.

“What’s the other part?” He watched as she peered into the kettle, humming thoughtfully.

She arched a silver brow at him, a quirk to her pale lips.
“Like Fang once was as a young thing,” she said, raising the kettle once more and continuing to walk, “you are energetic, innocent, and yet quite full of teeth.” She gave a meaningful look at his pistols. “But aside from that,” she said, giving a low chuckle, “you are quite fond of food.”

“I’m not fat,” he protested, amber eyes flashing.

“Of course not,” she hummed. “And I’ve never understood those who would deny a good meal.”

“It’s war,” he said gingerly, stepping over a root that the advancing Pact had missed. “I don’t think the troops would like much fancy food out here.”

“You’d be surprised, Pup.” Another stop. Two charr raised their bowls in thanks as they tipped them up and drained the rest of the hot broth. They settled back into their armor, tightening leather belts and polishing swords with more vigor than before.

“One of the things that makes me think of home is the meals my father and mother would make to share with us. It might not be much, but a good roast ram, studded with rosemary and roasted over an open fire or in an oven, always will bring me comfort. My father would have a little secret about the loins when he would cook them – he would take a long, steel pole and poke dried fruits into the meat before cooking it. On cold winters,” she said, staring ahead as she followed the caravan, “those moments that tasted of spring would seem brighter than the others, though the sun’s shadow may have lengthened that day. Food is home, pup,” she smiled. “It is warmth and comfort and shelter, strength and courage all in one. So, no, I suppose some may not want to think of that while out here, but for those who do?” She took a great cloth from her pack, quickly ran it around the kettle’s bulbous interior, and hooked the empty pot onto a fastener. “For those who want to have a taste of what they fight for, we can give them that.”

The sylvari looked up at her and nodded slowly. She smiled and pressed a parcel of food into his hand.“Now, come on and eat up. I believe we have a dragon to fight.”

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  • 4 weeks later...

Chapter 7a:

The Pact fleet swarmed into Claw Island’s overrun harbor, guns firing into the seething tides as the Risen clawed their way above the water, desperate to tear their ways into the ships. A black-furred charr leaned over the crow’s nest, shouldering a rifle flickering blue with ghostfire. An experimental weapon, but this field would be a worthy testing ground for it. A black lip curled over small, yellowed fangs as she squinted amber-colored eyes, aiming the weapon at an undead that had somehow scrabbled up one of the sides of the boats. The gun gave a thunderous roar, spitting a magic-infused bullet that sent the Risen’s skull splattering into the stormy sky.She gave a triumphant snarl as it fell from the rigging.“Shadowstalker!”Her ears swiveled down; she could barely hear the captain’s voice above the din of battle and the howling storm.“Test your guns when they’re pointed away from our ships!”“Aye, sir,” she said, holstering the rifle and descending to the deck. A light flickered across the waters; the ship with the Marshal and some of the spearheading forces had reached the docks; already the path towards the gate was thick with the Dragon’s minions. Bloodlust, old as the magic her father, that disgrace of a Flame Legion shaman, had guarded, rose in her chest. He had been a traitor when she was born, sullying her name as a cub. When she had met him as an adult, he had changed and fought against the Flame Legion to not only save her life, but that of her Legion’s leader, Imperator Smodur the Unflinching. It was her Iron Legion that had instructed her how to forge the ghostbore musket she held, but it was her father who had shown her how to bend the wrathful flames of the dead Ascalonians into the very bullets that would kill them.
Nonetheless, she’d rather not go down in history as the crackpot charr who sank one of her allied vessels for the simple reason of testing out her new weapon. The captain’s voice cracked through the storm once more, drawing her gaze from the mesmerizing flicker of the rifle’s blue flame.“Everyone man the cannons! We’ve got to make sure the Marshal and the rest of the fleet can make it to the island!”

Khimma’s blue head bobbed as the Risen that had popped up from the side of the ship exploded in a halo of ghostly fire and maggoty brains. Regaining her nerve, she rose again and cupped her hands to her mouth. “Hey, fire away from our ships, bookah!”Abovedeck, Trahearne held conference with the leaders of the Orders, pausing to give a quick word to Llumin or listen to input from Selana or Gryphon Radwing. Finally, he nodded, and the leaders disembarked, spell and blade and weaponry at the ready.“Cut a line through them! We have to get through the gate!” he shouted, raising lumbering minions to defend against the vicious occupiers.
“What then, Marshal?” Nettle leapt back as a Risen norn’s hammer cleft through the air and crashed into the stone where she once stood.
“If you’ll please stop jittering around, these wires are very delicate,” Klixx snapped, hefting a diamond-shaped prism out of the way of scrabbling claws and nearly tottering over in the process.“The plan is, we blast through the gate by refitting the lighthouse with the prism Klixx has there,” Llumin said. She gave a grunt of pain as her blow was parried by an undead asura, who lashed at her with blind fury.A fireball incinerated the creature, sending its charred corpse screaming to the ground. “Afterwards we storm the gates and set up invasion points to reclaim major locations and weaponry,” Selana continued smoothly. “Once that’s done – ”“Once that’s done, we get the bloody lieutenant dragon whatsit right in the gob and kill it so the Dragon knows that it ain’t gettin’ this Island back again!”“Well-put, Sylfia!” Gryphon beamed as he parried a strike and buried his sword to the hilt in a jabbering corpse’s chest. It sank gurgling to the ground, grey flesh slack as the Pact continued its charge up to the broken lighthouse. Klixx and Khimma jogged over to the broken panel; the latter pried away the old panel while the former squinted and started to line up the wires. Meanwhile, the rest of the group battled desperately against the undead, who had begun to congregate around them at the sight of the new prism.
“Oh dear,” Klixx muttered, absentmindedly twitching his ear out of Khimma’s hammer range as she golfed a shrieking Risen away from him. “Khimma, are you sure these blueprints are right? Whoever first made this lighthouse was an idiot!”“That would be the Priory, cog-brain!”“Well, tell them to let us handle any future wiring for laser-lighthouse compatibility, hm?”“Klixx!”“All right, all right, I’ve got it!” He twisted the last two wires together and shoved the prism back into the casing. The glowing stone at the top of the lighthouse rotated once and flared. A bright blue beam lanced through the night and blasted through the bony fortifications at the fort’s main gate. Below, the main bulk of the Pact’s forces gave a cheer.“We’re through! Now, forward! We must recapture the weaponry and repel the undead!”

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Chapter 7b:

Like two colossal tides crashing against each other, the Pact and the Risen locked into battle with a chaotic roar. Myrie thumbed the safety on her pistols, took a slow breath, and rolled into the fray. A Risen gorilla beat its chest and roared down at her, charging forward flanked by others of its kind. She raised her guns and unloaded a firestorm of lead. The bullets sunk heavily into the gorilla’s thick skull; the beast gave a gurgle as its charge came to a stumbling halt. She dodged the skidding corpse and leapt to the side. One second of peace allowed her mind to catch and race through the possibilities.
“Marshal,” she barked, pointing to a parapet.
Trahearne glanced at her, sending several Risen hurtling back with a wave of magic from Caladbolg. Understanding lit his gaze. He nodded, shouting orders to the Pact forces.
“Keep the Risen contained to the courtyard while you can! The rest of you – with me! We’ll occupy that parapet and go from there! Push them back!”
Klixx whooped as he let loose a bolt of chain lightning. Smells of rotten, charred meat filled the air as undead were sent screeching to their final rests. Khimma’s shield repelled those that tried to snag him, hammer making short work of those who pushed past.
“We’ll help the soldiers in the courtyard!”Sylfia nocked flaming arrows onto a bow carved from molten metal. Two Risen servants coughed putrid blood as the smoldering shots lanced through their throats. In that moment, Myrie could see how the warrior and Nettle were related; in the heat of battle, both sylvari wore the carved, grim smiles of war. It was in the eyes that they differed – while one fought with the fury of a warrior, the other battled with the fanatic light of blood-frenzy.
Ascending the steps, Trahearne raised his sword barely in time to block a crushing blow from a Risen abomination. He grunted, struggling to hold his stance as the towering creature roared in his face.
“Llumin!” Selana cast down a line of fire. The mesmer leapt forward, enrobing herself in a flaming shield as she crossed the line, rolled behind the abomination, and struck, severing its hamstrings. The monster gave a horrifying bellow of rage as it sank to its knees. The Marshal whirled around as the thorn of the Pale Tree bit deeply into its chest. The Risen gave one final howl before it fell dead.“Quickly now,” Trahearne gasped, raising necrotic bone wurms as he turned to face the courtyard. “We must press on!”“There are trebuchets on the eastern and western ramparts that we can retake and repair,” Gryphon said. “I’ll get some of our fastest workers on them.”“And I’ll assist with the cleansing of prey.” Nettle switched her weapons to a staff with three fused skulls. The glow from Adam’s eyes faded, reappearing in the lowest of the three. “We will end them,” she said. The glow in her eyes mirrored the skull’s and the necrotic marks she cast on the ground. “Drag the enemies into the marks,” she snarled.Llumin’s illusions strode across them harmlessly, fighting stances mirroring the mesmer’s. The Risen surrounding the broken trebuchet turned on them, snarling and firing poisoned darts. For a moment, the flickering images flinched and stumbled. Then, at a single silent command from the sylvari, they converged on a target, throwing their arms open and shattering in psychedelic clouds of purple butterflies. The undead snarled, clawing at their scalps and eyes as they stumbled forward in a blind fury. The moment one flayed foot crossed one of Nettle’s marks, magic exploded upward, seething, putrescent lines that lashed into their skin, leaching poison and stealing strength. Myrie’s daggers finished the weakened foes as Priory engineers set up around the trebuchet.
“Go on,” one of them bellowed. We’ll keep this place clear!”

They traveled through the occupied fort, struggling against the Risen in a similar, deadly fashion until all three trebuchets were repaired and the courtyard’s tide finally seemed to turn. Though members of the Pact would fall and turn in battle, their forces were sufficient enough to put down any former allies and cleave through long-dead foes alike. Myrie saw more than one look of horror turn to an enraged grimace as the living fought against allies that had fallen before the enemies’ blades seconds before.
“Courtyard’s clear!” Klixx shouted. He incinerated one final scrabbling Risen as he turned to look towards the broken wall. An earth-shaking roar ripped through the air, causing Myrie to stumble back. Descending from the storming sky was a hideous dragon whose size towered above all but the highest parapets of the ruined fort.
“Blightghast,” she heard Trahearne murmur, awe and uncertainty in his voice. He leapt over the parapet’s railing and landed heavily next to the other soldiers. “Fight smart! Repel the monster, and we’ll finally reclaim Claw Island from Zhaitan’s forces!”

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Chapter 7c:

Cannonfire and trebuchet blasts hurtled through the air, pockmarking the already ruined ground. Blightghast landed heavily on the cliffside, bloated flesh writing with maggots half as high as Khimma. Its face held no eyes, but the rotted pits of its skull seemed to glare with cold malice nonetheless as it stared down at the Pact, reared back, and opened its mouth.“Get back!” Trahearne ordered. “It’s about to breathe poison!”
Seconds later, with a bellowing roar, clouds of noxious fume roiled across the land. Grass withered, insects died in-flight, and soldiers turned to flee in terror. Khimma’s shield of shimmering guardian magic flickered twice before it dissolved in the dragon’s acidic magic. She coughed, eyes watering.
The dragon’s claws dug into the ground. Bony fingers lanced from the soil, slashing and grasping at those who neared them. The asura’s grip on her hammer faltered as she limped out of range of one of the rotten appendages. She opened her mouth to shout again.“Keep your mouth shut,” came a cold hiss.
She felt the poison drain from her veins. Khimma blinked rapidly and turned to thank her savior. The words withered in her throat. Nettle straightened, licking a coil of magic from her lips and grimacing.
“Radwing wants you alive,” the sylvari said. A Risen fish burst from below the ground, breathing putrid clouds and sucking prey towards its mouth. The necromancer turned her dagger in her hands, veins pulsing with light as she carved the eyes from its head and pared the skullcap from its rotten flesh.
“Break the bones of Blightghast’s fingers unless you want to be flayed.”More than one Pact soldier was sent hurtling down a hole that the grasping fingers made, screams ending in series of disturbing crunches and wet pops. Sylfia’s arrows lanced like stars through the night sky, burning shots that loosed ichor from the lieutenant’s wounds. All the while, the thunderous strikes from the trebuchets crashed onto the dragon like the fists of the gods themselves.The dragon gave another roar as a blast from the artillery fire sent it scrabbling back on the cliffs.“We have it on the run!” Trahearne cheered. “Come on, one last push!”

“Whatever we’ve got to do, it has to be fast,” Myrie murmured. Blightghast looked as if it was about to flee, and she knew the island wouldn’t be able to survive another assault in whatever undoubtedly-short time the dragon would have to recover. Once more she looked back at Selana and Llumin. Her eyes widened. Dierdre Firestone’s ghost turned aside envenomed arrows from the enemy while Arcon's lent his power to his daughters’ magic. Even in death they protected their children. Myrie was shaken from the shock of the image by a final scream from Zhaitan’s lieutenant. It clawed at the fires that burned in the hollow, dripping space of its chest cavity where the relentless shots from the fort’s rebuilt weaponry had finally weakened the monster. It turned from the cliff-face, grasping desperately at the air before it coughed, writhed, and finally plunged lifeless into the roiling depths of the sea. Towering fountains of water gushed up from its impact. Myrie braced herself for a soaking, yet when she opened her squinting eyes, she saw the water sloughing from an ephemeral shield. Selana smiled down at her, grime streaking her pale face and sweat matting her fiery hair.
“This battle is finally over," she said tiredly. A touch of pride silvered her gaze. "We’ve won.”

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Chapter 8a:

The celebration in the reclaimed fort was dimmed only slightly by the losses incurred by the Pact. For the most part, there were shouts of joy and murmurs of surprise that the three Orders could have managed to work so well.
One historian in the Priory camp didn’t sound particularly convinced of any future victories. She frowned, tossing amber hair over her shoulders. “You realize this ‘pact’ only has a one in three-thousand seven-hundred and twenty chance of succeeding?” She crossed her arms, arching a skeptical brow at Llumin as she walked by.The magister stopped in her tracks and took a breath. She turned. “You really think,” she finally said, voice even, “that we’re going to fail even after all of this?” The historian stepped back, stammering. Llumin gestured at the amassed tents and soldiers. “We may be just getting used to working with the other Orders, but look around you. We are likely the largest collaboration of forces and resources that Tyria has ever seen! If Trahearne’s leading us, I’ll take that one of thousands. We’re the only ones who can help him succeed, and he’s the only one who can bring us to Orr.” Her gaze softened. “I understand your doubts, historian,” she said. “But in some things, we must have faith. Hope is just a sunrise away.” She clasped her shoulder and smiled. “Now, go rest up.”

Llumin turned, brow furrowing.
“Excuse me, I can’t quite – ah, there you are. Hello, Myrie. You’re quite a bit shorter than most humans I am used to speaking with, so I apologize that I didn’t see you right away.”The thief made a mental note to steal the mesmer’s teacups. The sylvari beamed innocently.
“Is there a problem? You seem rather stressed.”“Well, considering we just fought a literal army of the Elder Dragon’s undead and finally managed to retake the fort, I would say I’m doing quite well, actually. But yeah, there is something I’ve been thinking about.” Myrie grimaced. “You know Nettle’s a tenuous ally at best, right? The only reason she hasn’t killed us all or at least experimented on most of us is due only to Gryphon Radwing’s seal. But before your parents’ – your human parents…” Myrie cleared her throat. “Point is, Selana pretty much told me that the only reason you and she are safe from experimentation is because Lord and Lady Firestone’s ghosts have been royally messing up her experiments that aren’t vital to the Whispers’ operations. Now, I don’t know much about necromancy – or any magic at all, really, I just take stuff when I can and usually go on my merry way – but…” She rubbed the back of her neck. “Just … be careful, all right? Nettle’s not the kind to forgive a grudge or go under someone’s thumb for long without trying something awful. Just because your parents are ghosts doesn’t mean they’re safe – especially not from her.”Llumin’s wide eyes stared down at her, worry etching her features. “How would she even be able to do anything to them? The only kind of ghost-binding I’ve heard of requires a form of crystal used in asuran golemancy.”Myrie huffed. “I think it’s that skull, Adam, or whatever she calls it. Like I said, I don’t know much about magic, but even I can tell that thing isn’t normal. Most times I would brush off sylvari talking to skulls as just some weird plant thing, but with her, I can’t help but feel that it might actually be talking somehow.” The thief rubbed her neck, glancing around. Her street-rat senses were tingling. Were they being watched? “Like I said, be careful. Sometimes fair-weather allies are worse than steady foes.”Llumin inclined her lavender-leaved head, briefly reminding the human of the mesmer’s noble sister. “Thank you, Myrie,” she said. “I will let Selana know.” She glanced up at the parapets. Trahearne stood at the top. Noticing her stare, he smiled and waved, gesturing for her to follow him.“If you’ll excuse me,” she said, stepping aside. “I do believe that the Marshal wishes to speak with me.”“Go on.” Myrie palmed the satchels of glittering dust and pirate doubloons she had taken from Llumin and smiled. “I’ll be down with the Vigil if you need anything.”

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Chapter 8b:

Llumin ascended the stairs and gave Trahearne a polite greeting. When she finally stood by him above the massed armies of the Pact, any coherent thoughts fled her mind. So many lives stood before them. The sylvari looked below at the amassed forces below in silence while the soft touch of rosy sunset painted the rubble of the battlegrounds with its gentle hands, dulling the harsh edges of the fallen and the broken structures. Was this truly the army that defeated Zhaitan’s lieutenant? Would this be the force that could end it all?
“The tides of history have changed, Trahearne,” she said softly.“Indeed.” He shook his head. “A part of me can’t quite believe this is real.”“Many others fail to believe it still.” She smiled. “I suppose we’ll have to prove them wrong.”
The Firstborn was quiet. The sword Caladbolg glowed dully in the setting sun. He finally spoke as if waking himself from a dream.“Zhaitan waits at the center of Orr, surrounded by a nation of undead. The battle to destroy the dragon will not be easy—but for the first time in a long while, I believe it can be won. I’ve never seen Tyria so united before.”“And we must keep pressing on.” Llumin’s eyes shone. “Look at what you’ve helped us accomplish, Trahearne. The Orders would never have listened to someone who was one of their own. Imagine,” she said, laughing, “a Vigil warrior trying to take orders from a Priory magister? That would be something, wouldn’t it?”Trahearne’s jaw shifted. “That may not be too far off the mark, Llumin. I cannot possibly direct all of these people by myself.” He held up a hand. “Your faith in me is inspiring, but there are some times where we have to realize what we can and cannot do, and I cannot possibly manage this force singlehandedly.” He leaned over the parapet wall, resting his elbows on the rough stone and letting his hands dangle loosely below. “Your companions – would you say they are trustworthy?”Llumin blinked. “Well, the consensus is that everyone aside from Nettle seems faithful enough. You may be in for a surprise if you ask Sylfia what her next tactic is, or if you leave Khimma or Klixx in charge of an excavation, but overall, yes – the Knights of Gryphon are as trustworthy as an ally could hope for. Why?”Trahearne straightened, clasping his hands behind his back. “As the designated Marshal of this Pact, I can only do so much. Already I know that there are those whose concerns will go unvoiced or whose plans may be overlooked if there are no in-betweens for the Orders and myself. I will need commanders to help where I cannot, people to direct operations and lead battles on the ground. I know Orr and its terrors,” he said; a cynical smile twisted his lips. “Not people.”
They were silent a moment, staring down at the forces below. Even now, Priory talked freely with Whispers Agents, Vigil spoke with Priory, and Whispers conversed with other Vigil warriors.“I would like you to be one of my foremost commanders,” Trahearne said. “I have known you longer than most here; even in the Grove, your talent was apparent. I would not ask this of you if I did not believe you were worthy. You, of course,” he said quickly, “have every right to refuse. This position will not be easy. You would report directly to me, and along with the others who accept the position of Commander, you would act as the Pact’s hands and feet while keeping in mind the lives of those beneath you.”Llumin tilted her head. “Would I still be required to report to Steward Gixx?”“No, and none of the other commanders would be under the jurisdiction of their or any other Order, either. That would leave too much room for accusations of sectional influence. Your place will be by my side to keep the orders unified.”“I… I am honored,” Llumin said. Her brows furrowed. “But where do we go from here?”Trahearne smiled, sunset-gold eyes crinkling. “That directness and humility will take you far, my friend.” He turned to look back down at the armies below. “I know of a ruined fort on the coast of Orr. It will take some effort to make it defensible, but from there, we can strike at the heart of Zhaitan and its forces.”“Well, a ruined fort won’t be terribly inspiring without a name,” Llumin said. “Do you have any idea what we shall call it?”Trahearne blinked, a flash of surprise passing over his face. “Honestly,” he said, “I’ve spent so much time preparing for Claw Island; I didn’t really devote much thought to it.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Would you have any suggestions?”Llumin pondered. “We are three forces coming together,” she mused. “Wouldn’t it be fitting that we would work from Fort Trinity?”“Fort Trinity.” Trahearne smiled. “That’s perfect. I’ll set about recruiting other commanders and send word when the invasion force to Orr is ready.” He bowed at the waist.
“I will await your word, Marshal Trahearne.” She gave a salute and strode back down.

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Chapter 9a:

“Never thought I’d think fondly of Lion’s Arch,” Myrie sighed, smiling as she counted out coins from her bag and slid them across the scarred wood of the bar table.
“Maybe that’s because of your odd ‘talent’?” Llumin watched with growing awe as the thief removed four earrings, seven pocket-watches, two bracelets, and one concerningly-purple rabbit’s-foot charm. They stared at the dismembered limb for a moment; Llumin raised concerned brows at the brunette.“Don’t ask me where I got that; I claim no responsibility for these hands,” Myrie said helplessly.“Is that ring at least yours?” Selana tried desperately to ignore the twitching in her temple that seeing the thief’s stash conjured.
“Yeah, you noticed?” Myrie displayed the jewelry proudly. “Gryphon says that if I keep this up, I’ll be a master jeweler in no time!”“A thief who steals jewelry and sells her own.” Selana shook her head with a wry smile. “There’s something ironic about that.”“Hey, are you feeling all right?” The thief squinted at her. “Something’s different about you. New haircut? Sudden increase of human normalcy in interactions?”“Oh, please.” The elementalist rolled her eyes. “Getting away from Divinity’s Reach is a nice change of pace. Here, I’m not viewed with awe and fear as ‘Lady Firestone.’ I’m just… me.” She closed her eyes as she sat down, sighing contentedly. “I could get used to the anonymity.”“Yeah, until someone decides to try stealing something from you or calls you names.” Myrie drew herself up to her full height in the chair, adopting an imperious tone. “Excuse you, I am The Great Lady Firestone, last of the human line of House Firestone and daughter of …” Her monologue withered under Selana’s cool gaze. The thief cleared her throat awkwardly and pulled at her collar. “Yeah, like that. Ehrm. Sorry.”“Apology accepted,” the elementalist said frostily.“So! Llumin, what’s the word from Tree-nerd?” Myrie asked, hoping to shift the attention from herself. Sylfia walked behind and cuffed the human on the back of the head.
“That’s Trahearne, and for wot he’s doing, Oi’d show ‘im a bit more respect.” The warrior leaned back in her rough, wooden chair and kicked her heels up onto the table, nursing a mug of ale larger than her head. “Man’s a bookie, but ‘e’s not a bad ‘un,” she grunted. “Seems to ‘ave a good ‘ead for tactics and can even ‘old himself in battle. I mightn’t be able to understand all of what he says, but I can respect what he does.”“Yes, yes. Anyhow, any news?”“Yes, actually.” Llumin twisted to the side, reaching into her pack and pulling out a delicate parchment. She unrolled it, blue eyes briefly flicking over the elegant handwriting.
“Do tell me; is it your infatuation with the Marshal or lingering battle-fatigue that seems to require so many readings of the same letter?”
“Oh, shut up, Nettle. I’m just getting a refresher.”
The necromancer sneered. “Most people get a refresher by the second time they’ve read something. You’ve read that at least five times.”“Well, some of us like to make extra sure that we’re delivering the correct information,” the mesmer sniffed.
Nettle rolled her eyes. “If you need me, just ask Gryphon. I’m sure he or the other Whispers will know where I am,” she said bitterly before striding out.“Good riddance,” Sylfia muttered into her mug.“As I was about to say,” Llumin’s gentle voice had taken on an edge of impatience, “Trahearne has sent word that we are to meet in Fort Concordia in the Timberline Falls.”“Wait, as in the Timberline Falls that’s all the way over in the Shiverpeaks?” Myrie grimaced. “I should’ve known the missive to wait for more orders in L.A. wasn’t a ‘hey, we know you’ve just saved the city, have fun’ thing!”“Well, it’s not too terribly cold where it’s located,” Llumin said as she unrolled a map from her pack. “If you could hold down those corners…? Thank you. Trahearne says that some of the caves in the Rankor Ruins have been overrun with Risen as of late. He’s concerned that their presence correlates directly with a dwarven artifact the Priory recently discovered. Whatever it is, the dragon wants it. This is a perfect opportunity for the Pact to clear out the area and recapture whatever is in those caves.”“And doubtless to rescue whoever’s going to get trapped in there from the time we leave to the time we arrive,” Myrie sighed. She drained the last of her rice wine and plonked the empty mug on the table. “I was getting tired of this place, anyway. Who serves good Canthan wine in a mug?”

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Chapter 10a:

Once more the balmy air of Lion’s Arch gave way to the frigid climes of the Shiverpeak mountains. Myrie thanked the gods for whoever had the patience and tenacity to build the bridges and roads that led to the fort and cursed the creatures that attacked them in equal measure for slowing down their travels. Thankfully, it was only a few days that were required for the trip from Hoelbrak to the fort, yet by the time they arrived, a familiar, unwelcome miasma was slowly settling over the stone parapet.“Balthazar’s beard,” Myrie swore, throwing her hands in the air. “What did I tell you?”“There’s no need for panic or frustration just yet,” Llumin said, though her own brow was furrowed in concern.A short, armored asura with light brown skin and ruddy hair walked out of the gates and saluted the group. “Commander Llumin, good to see you. I’m Warmaster Efut of the Vigil. I see you’ve brought some of the other potential candidates?”“I will work alongside Llumin if it is possible, but should it be required that I go elsewhere,” Selana nodded, “I would be willing to accept the title.”“So much for anonymity,” Myrie muttered. Llumin gave her a look.
“What happened to your invitation?”“That thing? Threw it in the firepit. I knew it as soon as I saw it. The only way they’ll get me to command is if we have some seriously massive casualties – which hopefully won’t be happening.”
“Myrie!”“What? I just want this madness to end. I’ve already led once,” the thief said bitterly. “Making choices as to who lives and who dies isn’t exactly my strong suit.” Her fingers played with the ring at her neck. “I’m just here to make sure the job gets done.”
Llumin looked at Selana in confusion; the elementalist gestured that she’d tell her later. Warmaster Efut glanced from one woman to the other and cleared her throat awkwardly.
“Well, I’m sure Trahearne will understand your reasons for accepting and/or denying the position. He’s just inside the fort.”

“We’ll need the best of the best to help with our weaponry,” he was saying, back turned to them as they entered. A norn and sylvari stood alongside a birdlike tengu, who all were listening intently to what he had to say. “From what I’ve heard, you are all the best smiths among your people. Your works here will be remembered throughout the ages.”
The norn puffed out his chest. “My works even now are garnering attention, Marshal. These works will launch my name straight into legend!”The gray-skinned sylvari next to him rolled his eyes. “I’m sure that your attitude is legendary, Beigarth. We’ll see about legends when our inventions actually work.”The tengu clicked his beak. “Occam is right. This Pact and the world around us will only recall our tales with glory if we are proven worthy of them.”Efut marched to Trahearne and gave a light cough. The Marshal turned slightly. Catching sight of Llumin and the others, he smiled. “If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen,” he said, leaving them to their bickering. “My friends! It is good to see you.”Selana bowed. “I have accepted the position of sub-commander as outlined in your letter, Trahearne. Though I am aware that I would report to you, for the time being, if possible, I would prefer to be paired alongside my – ”Llumin nearly caught the word sister before Selana did. The noblewoman cleared her throat. “Alongside my sylvari companion, Llumin.”“Oi, wot about me? I’m a sylvari companion,” Sylfia groused. “Though, to be perfectly honest, I don’t mind too much ‘bout your decision.”“Ah, yes, Wyldcaller. What was your decision as to the position?” Trahearne asked. Myrie was half-certain that the smile on his face was strained. Three days’ worth of liquor had managed to somehow fit in the warrior’s pack and even more shockingly her stomach; the thief suspected that Sylfia’s slight state of constant inebriation was a point of contention in her letter’s writing. The flame-colored sylvari waved a hand.“Nah, not really my thing,” she sighed, shrugging as she dangled her hands over the haft of her hammer, which rested over her shoulders. “Oi’m not bad in a fight, I know that much,” she said, “but I’d rather help fight and be directed where to go than anything else. I ain’t a commander sort – but I’ll help where Oi’m needed,” she grinned. Trahearne barely managed to control the expression of relief that flooded over his face as he discreetly stepped back.“Well, now that that’s been addressed,” he said, turning to Llumin. “I’m sure you know who these are at least by name. Izu Steelshrike, Beigarth, and Occam are all the best metalworkers and magic-crafters of their races. They have agreed to help us with building supply carriers and ships for the Pact.” He lowered his voice. “And I hope that it is either out of the generosity of their heart or the pride of their heads that they will keep their word. Speaking of words,” he continued, ascending to a small parapet where a tiny desk was squashed, “I would like to know what the troops’ opinion of me is. I’ve tried asking them directly, but …” He rubbed his neck. “They all seem to be avoiding my questions, or playing them off.”“So you would like a mesmer to see if she can detect any lies?”“I would like to see if my Commander and friend can discern the truth,” he said, holding her gaze. “I need to know my weaknesses as much as my strengths, Llumin. As with any study, without proper preparation, I may very well fail in this role. I want to be worthy of this Pact’s hopes and dreams.”Llumin gave him a sad smile. “Just remember that you’re not alone in this endeavor, Trahearne. Mother gave you that sword for a reason. I’ll report back shortly.”

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Chapter 10b:

She had to admit that Trahearne’s observations were accurate; while he waited outside to hear her news, Llumin noticed that the troops seemed more relaxed when he wasn’t around.“Sure he’s nice enough, I suppose,” she heard one sigh, “but he gives me the creeps! I mean, who goes around studying Orr? More importantly, who goes to that godsforsaken land and decides to go back?”Llumin ignored him but decided to walk over to his superior, Tactician Art of the Vigil.

“Excuse me, Tactician,” Llumin said, saluting briefly. He returned the gesture.“I didn’t know that there wasn’t some sort of fancy protocol for the new Commander of the Pact. At least I know that I won’t have to bow, at least.”“I was unaware that word had traveled so quickly,” she said. The soldier shrugged.“We may not be members of the Priory or Whispers, ma’am, but Vigil soldiers are hardly as dense as they seem. You enter with a group and are drawn aside to speak in private with this new Marshal of ours? Well, adds up pretty quickly. Your presence here merely confirms suspicions.”Llumin quickly recovered from her surprise, clearing her throat. “I merely have some questions for you. What are your impressions of the Pact and Marshal?”The human raised a suspicious brow. “Trying to have an interrogation?”Llumin shook her head. “Simply seeing how the troops feel.”He sighed. “Well, as long as this is anonymous – it will be anonymous, right? Between you and me, I don’t have many concerns about the Pact. We obviously fight well together despite our size. But Trahearne? I’ve never had a scholar lead an army before.” He crossed his arms. “I’m just not sure he’s up to the task. And, no offense, but Claw Island was small. You may have kept your cool in that situation, but compared to what we’ll be going up against…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Two scholars leading an army of this size with this many lives tends to make a military man skittish.”“Does your Order representative share these views?”
Warmaster Efut strode to the front, soldiers saluting her as she walked by.
“I can speak for myself, Commander.” She held her posture with confidence. “And I would be lying if I said that I was completely without concern. Building an HQ in Orr is a smart move, especially for a civilian. But,” she said, one ear twitching, “before I commit any more troops to this ordeal, I want to make sure that he can lead under fire. Art and I are of the same mind on this: one victory does not win the war. If he wants our trust, he – and you – will have to earn it.”Llumin ignored the uneasy knot of worry that crawled into her stomach. “Thank you for your honesty, Ma’am,” she said. She took her leave and went to the next camp.

She found Doern Valasquez, the Order of Whispers’ representative, in the corner diagonally-opposite of Tactician Art’s, flanking the left side of the fort’s entrance. He, too, expressed his own concerns. The fort was, in his opinion, too obvious of a target for the Dragon and its minions. Aside from that, he was uncertain about the integrity of maintaining the Pact’s unity.“Between you and me,” he admitted, “alliances of this size are fragile creatures. Forming this one was difficult. Maintaining it for long, I worry, may prove to be an impossibility.”

Wynnet Fairhaired, the Priory’s representatives, spoke plainly.“I will speak to you as an equal in this situation,” she said, “as we both are magisters of the Priory. I can appreciate Trahearne’s idea of placing a fort in Orr, but I worry about our long-term prospects. He has the knowledge we need, but…”“You worry that the soldiers and spies may not listen to him.”The norn laughed. “I see you’ve already spoken with the others. Is my worry ill-placed?”Llumin sighed. “Not entirely,” she murmured. “And I worry of my own qualifications, Magister. Who has heard of two scholars leading a war?”The spokesperson smiled, placing a hand on Llumin’s shoulder reassuringly. “By the end this is all over, all of Tyria will have heard of it. Your legend is just beginning, my friend. You will prove worthy of it, one way or another.”

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Chapter 10c:

Trahearne stood outside the fort, watching the waves quietly lap against the shore. Every now and again, an amphibious skelk would appear from the dusky shadows and strike at the water, disappearing back into hiding with a wriggling fish in its mouth. How like the Dragon it was, he thought. To the unobservant, the skelk blended in seamlessly with the shadows, waiting for the faintest ripple to strike. Those who had encountered them before, however, would know the signs – a sort of ripple in the air, like water, a slight hiss as the creature prepared to attack, a deepening of the shadows in which the minnows made their refuge. Did the colonies of fish prepare themselves against the attacks of their predator? Did they resign themselves to being prey? The smell of rot and of musty, drowned magic was faint on the air. Zhaitan’s minions would show themselves soon. His ears perked at the light whisper of his commander’s footfalls as she approached, rousing him from his reverie.
“So,” he said with a dry smile, “how are the casualties of the Pact’s reputation?”“Well, all things considered,” Llumin replied as she came to a stop by his side, “morale isn’t as bad as it could be. Mainly, there are those who seem more confident in the role that our Pact could play in the greater history of Tyria, while some wonder if it will manage to survive that long without tearing itself apart. Others are uncertain as to your leadership capabilities.”“All valid concerns,” he admitted. “Did you manage to find out what they think of you as the Commander?”“I think they’ll grow to like me.” Llumin’s teasing smile faltered. “But if they were wary of you leading them, imagine how much confidence they have in my abilities to make decisions on the spot.” She gave a thoughtful hum. “There’s not much I could do with my history, I suppose, but if you’d like, I’m sure I could tell them some convincing stories of your battles against the Nightmare Court and Risen while I was in the Grove, or perhaps -- .”“A kind gesture, Valiant, but unnecessary. We must win our troops’ trust through our own battles of today, not the wars of the past.”The mesmer chuckled softly, shaking her head. “I fear we’ll have more of those than we’d care to admit, Trahearne. Especially if the humans’ skittishness and the atmosphere are indicating what I think they are.”

“Somebody help! You’ve got to help them!” A worn-down human stumbled, scrabbled towards the fort where the Vigil stood guard. “They were – too many – under attack…!”
“Easy there, hold on,” Myrie said quickly, holding up her hands. “Could you tell us – "
His eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed to the ground.
Myrie sighed. "Oh great, he’s passed out.”Selana conjured an orb of water. “He’s in shock. Sounds like he was running from Grenth’s reapers…” She released the liquid over his face, stepping back slightly as the blanched runner revived, sputtering and blinking rapidly. “What happened? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine – barely got away to let you know…” He ran his tongue over his lips, eyes darting around. “The Priory recently discovered an artifact in the caves, as you might know. But before we could get them out, we lost part of our team. Some of them are trapped in there with the undead, and the others are stranded just inside the ruins. I don’t know what the Dragon would want with this thing, but if we don’t get to the team soon…”Selana straightened and turned towards the back gate, where Llumin and Trahearne jogged in from their conversation.
“The Priory’s team has gone missing. We’ve got to recover them and whatever they found before the Dragon destroys both. What is your plan, Marshal?”

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  • 2 weeks later...

@MasterMoose.6034 said:Hello!I started reading TC back during the old forums, but like Gryphon said, the link at the top doesn't work. Have I missed a link to the other chapters somewhere?

Hello, MasterMoose! First off, thank you for your longstanding interest!! It's really encouraging to hear from you. :)

Unfortunately, the old forum link has expired, and I'm still working on a new place to put the compiled chapters. I do have a tumblr where I'll occasionally post stuff/flashfics, but the larger part of Traveling Circus has yet to be organized. If you PM me what chapter/Arc/section you last remember reading, I'll try to post those on my tumblr so you can access them. :)

Thank you, as always!~S.F

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Chapter 11a:

The party was small but efficient. Llumin, Selana, Myrie, Trahearne, and Sylfia all quickly readied themselves and were joined by Agent Zrii, a demolitions expert from the Order of Whispers.“I’ve heard you’re the ones working with the Skull,” she said, priming a set of charges and tossing them at a horde of Risen that rose from the ruins. She was unable to hide the gleeful grin that followed the resulting explosion of gore and chum. “I’ve got to admit, I’m pretty curious how that is!”Myrie’s pistols let off a report as she sidestepped a risen hylek’s blowdarts and sent its shredded corpse splattering the stone behind it. “The Skull? Who’s…?” Her eyes bulged. She spun around and neatly kicked a corpse’s head from its body like a rotten ball. “You have Nettle be creepy enough as is, then you decide to give her the brilliant codename of Skull?”“Well, Whispers does tend to use its weapons more enthusiastically when they’ve got fun names,” the asura replied. She crouched by the now-silent dwarven ruins, thin black lips curving downward. “No survivors here, Trahearne,” she reported, jogging back to him. The human thief was once more concerned.“You didn’t wait to see that before you started throwing explosives?”Zrii frowned up at her. “Listen, I don’t know if you Vigil are aware of how to see about Risen attacks, but at the Order of Whispers, we’re all highly trained to – ”“Yeah, I don’t care, duck.”The asura’s yellow eyes widened, but she complied just in time to avoid having a vaulting Sylfia barrel over her head, hammer held high and with a proud laugh ringing from her lips. A Risen krait had been hiding behind the bushes ahead; it reared back in surprise at its discovery, dismembered jaws gaping in a furious snarl as heavy Ascalonian stone turned its skull to paste.“Might want to work on your ambush-noticing skills,” the sylvari said, brushing off rotten flesh. Her ears pricked. She half-turned to look behind her as Selana unsheathed her staff.
“You ‘eard those shouts, too?”“The Priory did have two dig sites,” Zrii muttered, casting her eyes towards the top of a ruin-pocked hill. Risen corpses twitched in their death throes nearing the top. “The first one’s up there. It should be mostly abandoned, but I’ll make sure that any personnel we had there are evacuated. I know you’ll need to probably blow your way into the cave ruins, so take these.” She removed a satchel of small explosives and handed them to Myrie. “You seemed pretty quick-fingered with those pistols, Miss Ward, so just for now, I’ll entrust these to you. If you want to prime the charge, just twist the red top to the left, set the whole bunch down by the desired exploding point, and book it before these things blast you to smithereens.”Myrie stared dubiously at the bag of death. “And how many seconds of time would that give me?”Zrii scratched behind her ears. “Well, I’ve primed these with the fleet of foot and large of blast in mind, so if I’m being generous, I’d give you no more than ten seconds.”“Ten--?!”Selana placed a hand on Myrie’s shoulder. “I’ll see if I can help convince the winds to bend to your favor,” she said.“I have a better idea,” Llumin said. She glanced from one to the other. “I can open a set of portals; if we time it right, we’ll be out of the blast’s range faster than the wind.”Trahearne’s brow furrowed. “Are you certain? I know you said you’ve been working on it, but – ”“I can do it, Trahearne.” The mesmer’s mouth was set in a grim line. “You said it yourself that we haven’t much time. They'll last.”“Well,” Myrie said as she hefted the bomb bag carefully over her shoulder, “speed is of the utmost importance. All right, Llumin, let’s take your path. If I get stuck in some weird interdimensional portal, I’ll at least know who to blame.”

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Chapter 11b:

There was a strange music about the portals, an unusual flickering in the air, as if the fabric of reality itself flexed and warped to Llumin’s bidding. Which, Myrie supposed, it did. Although separated by birth, looking at the sylvari’s determined expression, the thief could still see the remnant of blood that bound her and Selana together. ¬The Firestone frown, the thief thought. She stifled the giggle that threatened to burst from her lips. Now was not the time for that. In a flash, she and Llumin were at the cave’s entrance, where rubble had collapsed the opening. The sylvari stood a pace behind her, staff at the ready.
“The portal won’t last forever,” she said. Her shoulders shook slightly from exertion. “I’ll do what I can to keep it open, but please hurry.”“Yeah, I’ll do that, just let me make sure I don’t accidentally blow myself up in the meantime,” Myrie said shortly. She cursed under her breath. Which bomb was the primer in this gods-forsaken snarl of powder? She couldn’t read asuran with its squiggly mathematic symbols and letters, and her eyes throbbed from stress. She gulped and tugged at the ring on her neck nervously. If sight would do her no good, instinct would have to do. She closed her eyes and reached in the bag, fingers dancing over the orbs until she finally closed her hand over one.“You have to hurry!” Llumin’s gasp came through clenched teeth. The portals’ music was growing dissonant, and sharp, ominous crackling underscored the chaotic rhythm.
Myrie cranked the bomb sharply and set it down. A set of quick clicks followed the twist. “I got it!”
She raced back to the flickering exit portal and closed her eyes as the ground beneath her lurched and flickered. In a second the cave’s entrance was in the distance. She staggered back to regain her footing. Llumin gave a low groan and pressed her free hand to her forehead with a grimace. Myrie stared at the entrance, stomach churning. Those explosives were the only way in there. Did she prime them proper --An earthshaking explosion sent the group stumbling and reeling backwards. Myrie dove behind a collapsed section of ruin, peeking over the top when the echo had finally started to fade from her ears. A wide grin slowly split her face.
“Did you see that?” she crowed. “What a blast!”“And Oi’m suddenly very glad you never took up engineering,” Sylfia muttered, squinting one green eye. “C’mon, Oi can smell those Risen from here. Let’s go save our crew while there’s still crew to save.”

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  • 3 months later...

Chapter 11c:

The caves were low-ceilinged and musty, scented with the thick odor of rot and rancid magic. Selana’s flames illuminated only some of the shadows that clung thickly to the air, burning and driving back the Risen that lurched towards her and the group. Eventually the gargling curses and screams of the undead became a grim background to the chaos of battle and its desperate rhythm.
“Where could they be? Do you think they held up in here?” Myrie’s hands ached and her calves throbbed with pain.
“We haven’t seen any fresh corpses wearing Priory coats,” Trahearne said. Caladbolg’s faint blue glow lit his face with an unsettling light. “The chances of the dragon’s minions staying after getting what they wanted from them would be very slim.”Myrie suppressed a shudder. “Can’t deny that logic, I guess.”A far cry caught her ear.
“Hey! Anyone not dead out there?”“Khimma, will you hush? They might hear you, and I am not dropping this tome again just to fight off more of those blasted things!”“We’ve been trapped in here for hours, Klixx! If we don’t get out now while we can – ”The search party rounded a corner, weapons held at the ready. A familiar, blue-haired asura let out a yelp and scrabbled back.“Oh, thank the Eternal Alchemy, someone did hear us!”

“We’re all that’s left of our party,” Khimma said. She marched just behind Klixx, guarding his back and keeping a wary eye out for more Risen. “By the time we’d fled from the dig site, all of the rest of our krewe had been slaughtered and turned. It’s only thanks to Klixx that either of us are alive.”“Well,” came the statician’s voice from behind the towering tome he carried, “you were the one who shielded me. If you didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have had time to use our subrupture portals.”Myrie’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Your what now?”“Khimma and I have helped invent portable exosuits,” Klixx explained. “They don’t last very long, and they teleport back after a set amount of time, but they do their jobs well.”“He looked pretty funny, though.” The asura guardian couldn’t quite stop the snicker. “That old dwarven tome he’s got there took up half the piloting space in his suit. He was squashed almost completely against the electropulsive barrier – could barely operate the thing!”“The point is that we managed to keep ourselves alive just long enough for both our defenses to wear out and for you to get here,” the elementalist huffed. “Khimma, why don’t you try holding this for a while?”“You know I can’t cast spells as well as you,” she retorted. “I’d be practically useless! You use books as foci all the time.”Klixx’s eyes bulged over the ancient tome. “They’re usually a bit lighter than this, Khimma!”“See, that just proves you need to work on more muscles than the page-turning ones!”
A rustling snarl was all the warning the asura had before a risen norn lunged from the deeper shadows in the cave. Khimma staggered back, hammer rising slowly before a crack of lightning flashed through the air, sending the corpse flying backwards with the horrible smell of burned, rotten meat.“Sometimes muscles aren’t fast enough,” Klixx said. His krewemember nodded mutely. A low chorus of groans echoed through the cave.“We can’t fight all of those,” Sylfia said, eyes widening as she peered into the darkness.“Pick up the pace, people,” Myrie barked. She dashed ahead of Llumin. “There are fewer Risen up ahead!”“Myrie, wait!”

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Chapter 12a:

The group caught up with her just in time to see the second entrance become closed off with a gate of rising bones, curving like ribs to trap them inside. The thief’s triumphant smile melted, face drawn in pale horror.“Why,” she gulped, “do I suddenly have the feeling that we’ve just been trapped?”Trahearne grimaced. “They’re evolving their tactics. I’ve heard of Risen using basic strategies before, but this far from Orr and with no visible leader…”“Well, that’s just great,” the thief said, spreading her arms. “But we’re kind of stuck here, so if you know a way to trick these rotten flesh-bags away from us or something, now would be a great time! Do they have books like that?”“Myrie, calm down,” Llumin said sharply. “I understand we’re in a bit of a situation, but losing our heads won’t help anything.”“All this rot for a book.” Sylfia shook her head. “Why would the dragon be so interested in it?”
Klixx huffed, shifting its weight. “It’s not just a book, you thickheaded tree. It’s a dwarven tome. 250 or so years ago, the Elder Dragon Primordus nearly rose from its slumber, sending its champion, the Great Destroyer, ahead of it. Almost the entire dwarven race was exterminated in the effort to kill it.” His clawed fingers clenched on the worn leather binding. “This book is proof – hope – that we can defeat the dragons. It may even show some of their weaknesses.” His eyes seemed to glow dully in the cave. “If anyone who’s ever fought could tell you, hope is one of the most powerful weapons of all.”“Great,” Myrie said, squatting and scuffing her boots in the dirt. “I’ll keep that in mind when we get eaten.”Caladbolg’s glow brightened as the sylvari necromancer walked from the entrance. “These gates are impenetrable – and we’re out of explosives,” he muttered. “There’s only one way we could get out. I will be defenseless while I channel the spell, and it will take a great deal of my strength, but when it is done, you must run.”Selana stepped alongside him. “We’ll defend you. Whatever it takes, we cannot afford to be stopped here.” Llumin had already drawn her sword. Sylfia stood ahead of them all, hammer at the ready and jaw set.
The Firstborn stood straighter. “The undead will sense the spell and come when they sense it, so be ready.”

Llumin watched him out of the corner of her eye, torchlight barely illuminating the muddy floor. At first he seemed to do nothing, merely standing in place and staring at the ground. Then she heard him inhale, slowly, as if he was taking in the very soul of the earth below. The rumbling below her feet nearly made her lose her footing.
From the corridor ahead, the undead shrieked. Sylfia had switched to her longbow, sending a Risen asura scout gurgling to the ground. Three others took its place.
Llumin looked back. The glow from Caladbolg lit the Firstborn’s face in an eerie blue glow. His shoulders shook, fingers clenched around the hilt of the living weapon. What was his spell? Was it working?
The scent of cold gravestones and fresh dirt was the only thing that preceded the ground bursting from around his feet. At first Llumin thought they were Risen, and her throat went dry before she realized that the constructs surrounding him weren’t made by the dragon.They were made by him.
Standing at least seven feet high, the flesh golems’ muscle was a dull red, horned skulls staring emptily down at Trahearne. There were six in total, hollow ribcages and with arms that ended in scything, wicked claws. Among the giants, their summoner seemed impossibly small.“Go,” he whispered.The silent sentinels turned on clawed feet and charged ahead. Caladbolg briefly sagged in the Firstborn’s grip.
“They’ll help us fight off the Risen while we can. They won’t last forever, but for now, the dead have agreed to battle the dragon before returning to their slumber.”

The battle to lead them back outside was not glorious. It was muddy, full of rotting blood and screaming dead, atrophied flesh and reeking marrow spilt on damp stones and in murky waters. Trahearne’s undead servants worked in horrific, brutal synchronization, surrounding and slashing viciously at the larger abominations. Only when even they had suffered too much damage to their constructed forms did they give a single, sad sigh before slipping back into the earth like a sleeper beneath warm covers. When they arrived at the fort again, there was little celebration. There were dead to be buried, and the gore of the battles and the silt of the caves stuck to their skin only slightly less than the horrors that gnawed their minds still. The Traveling Circus filed their way to Order tents and medical stations to deposit the books and work on resting their weary minds before the next inevitable battle.

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