"Seeker of cunning, fledgling of mine, show me your mind," a small Raven statue announced as we entered a room that vaguely resembled a frozen forest.
Suddenly, a ghostly image of an injured hunter appeared at the base of a tree.
"A mortally wounded man lies beneath a tree. Without help, he will die. Wild beasts close in, eager for a meal," the statue dictated, as wolfish ghostly creatures also appeared.
"Healers are nearby," as the statue continued, two men appeared further away. "They are unarmed, and unaware of the wounded man or the beasts.
You summon a flock of ravens for aid. What will the ravens do?"
"Make your choice at the totem," stated Jhavi.
I walked to the statue. It was a riddle, for sure, I thought. I looked around the room, at the ghostly figures representing this challenge. What was the answer hidden in plain sight?
"I tell the ravens to take the healers to the wounded man," I said confidently.
"I see. You want the healers to save the wounded man's life." As Raven spoke, a healer appeared at the man to help.
Then, however, a healer appeared being feasted upon by the beasts, screaming in agony. "But one life is traded for another. A fate not easily avoided. Did you believe you could cheat death?" it said with a smarmy tone, and I felt my fur bristle.
"I have seen enough. The trial continues."
"I feel like I didn't make the right choice…" I said, staring at the statue, feeling humiliated.
"There isn't a "right choice", Commander. That's what the Raven Spirit is about. That's why we choose to follow it," explained Jhavi, as we headed towards the next room, with me reluctantly taking up the rear.
I looked back at the statue. I wanted to argue with it. I wasn't trying to cheat death, I wanted to say. I was trying to help everyone. I thought 3 was better against the animals. The wounded man could defend the healers.
I turned away, as we moved as a group through the maze. And anyway, I thought, what makes it cheating death? Death doesn't own us. That's not what death is about. That's the entire reason that Grenth...
I shook my head, frustrated, tapping a Raven statue as I passed it. I saw the Spirit's image emerge from it and dart through a corridor, and followed. "Jhavi, how much farther do we have?" I asked, irritable and ready to be done with this already.
But no answer came. I looked up, suddenly realizing I was alone. "Jhavi??" I asked, looking around. The halls had suddenly gotten incredibly dark, and I felt my fur beginning to stand on end as if I was being watched.
I heard whispers, not Jormag but something else. Something swiped at me, passing through my body like a ghost's blade, and I felt sharp coldness. Was it Jormag after all?! But as I whipped around, nothing was there.
What did Jhavi say? That things would not be as they seemed?
I darted back to the totem I had tapped. The light returned, and I realized it was that specific area that was… dark, and wrong. But, my companions did not return to the light with me. Were they trapped in the corridor?
No, no, remember what Jhavi said. I took a deep breath and tapped the totem again. The image emerged again and went down the hallway, and I followed.
It lit up several larger statues, showing the way. But shadowy figures kept snatching at my fur, tangling in my mane, trying to chase me down and frighten me. I saw Risen giants marching the halls. Were these all tricks? Or were some of them punishing me for going a wrong way, and the Raven image was the trick?
Trust Raven. I have to trust Raven. It has not led me astray in such a way before. I shouldn't expect it now.
"Why couldn't you save her?" I suddenly heard Jhavi's voice again.
"Jhavi!?" I started, looking around and feeling my heart rise. But, there was no one there.
Another trick, surely.
"She died alone," said Jhavi's voice solemnly.
I kept following the image.
"Did you even try?" the voice spat.
But before I knew it, the darkness lifted, and I was in another room. Still alone, save for the Raven totem in front of me.
"Seeker of wisdom," it beckoned.
The room was like that of a fancy library, with lovely seating and a great Raven shrine, with the walls lined from ceiling to floor with books. Seeing such literary splendor made me feel worlds better, as I marveled at all of it.
But suddenly, fires burst into the room, engulfing every shelf and book around me. I looked around in alarm as the totem began its riddle.
"A fire spreads through Tyria's greatest library. Thousands of books turn to ash as the flames leap higher."
Oh, burn me!! REALLY!?!
"A scholar cries, wracked with turmoil. Two books lie on opposite ends of the room."
As the statue spoke it, a scholar appeared in the middle, looking frantic, with two books appearing quite far apart from each other, impossible to take together.
"The first is a detailed record of Tyria's history before human arrival. There are no other copies. The second is a book of arcane spells that could turn the tide against the dragons. It is the only one of its kind."
I know it was just a test, just a bunch of fake books in a fake scenario, but I groaned in agony. I was a Priory Explorer before everything, after all. And what a horrific choice I know this is going to be.
"The scholar can only save one book. Which does she save?"
I licked my lips, anxious. Both books could mean so much to the world, to its future. But… but, knowing what I do now…
"She should save the history book!" I declared.
"You would forgo peace to preserve what came before," it remarked, much to my dismay. "What good is the past when there is no future?"
"I–!" I started.
"I'm beginning to get a feel for you, seeker. The trial continues," it concluded, sounding almost amused, with the room returning to normal.
"N-no!! No no no!" I yelped, hopping in fury at the totem. "The past is the key to the future!! If… if we knew the past, we'd have known that–!! We wouldn't have killed the Dragons!! WE WOULD HAVE KNOWN GLINT'S LEGACY!!" I hollered.
But the statue remained silent. I gave a snarling snap as I passed it by.
I was absolutely done with this place already. I had been excited and apprehensive when we started, but now all I could feel was the sting of rejection and being found out as ignorant and foolish.
I sighed as I left the room and continued through the maze. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, after all it's not like things are going our way, are they– ugh!!
I covered my nose with my paws. A foul stench had suddenly hit, stinging my eyes and making it hard to breathe. Poison!! Ash Legion knows poison when we find it! The surroundings were lit up in choking, green smog.
"We've lost something because of you..." I heard Braham's voice. I ignored it and moved quickly. This poison gas was no phantasm, as I felt my health draining from me. This could actually kill me!
"All of us," I heard Rytlock's gravelly voice say as I started to run, feeling frantic.
"We sacrificed for you." Braham again. I felt spittle at my lips as I bumped into a Raven shrine. There's a trick somewhere! Somewhere! Help me survive! I looked up at the shrine pleadingly. Something, somewhere, how do I survive!?
"Aurene sacrificed for you." Rytlock this time. I galloped around a corner and found a dead end.
"You'll never be enough," snarled Jhavi's voice.
"Who do you think you are?" Crecia's voice said contemptuously.
I scrambled away from the wall and turned the other direction in the fork.
"You just make everything worse!" Rytlock's growl almost matched Crecia's in contempt.
"We can't trust you, can we?" the condemning voice was Jhavi's now.
"Just give up!" It was Braham's voice, almost. It was distorted with hushed, agonized whispers.
I stopped at a Raven barrier, and clutched my head, holding my ears. "Stop it!" I demanded. I am fucking over these god damned voices in my head!!
I shook myself. Ash Legion. Be like Ash. Be like Raven. You are a soldier, you are the Champion. I looked around. If there was a barrier, there must be totems I have missed. Panic does me no good and will not let me escape alive. I must look for the totems.
I scanned the hall behind me, and suddenly saw it at the beginning of the T I had come from.
I darted to it, pain and oxygen depletion making my movements difficult. I activated it, and immediately felt relief. I could breathe again. I was being protected by Raven, just like the Raven shrines protected Jora's Keep. I rested for a moment, regaining my strength.
I turned towards the barrier, but it had not fallen. There must be another totem I missed, now that I could think clearer. It couldn't be back in the library room, so it had to be... at the "dead end".
I moved back towards it, and sure enough, there was the totem. Just as I activated it, however, the protection of Raven left me, and the poisonous air seized my body immediately.
I had to make a run for it. There would surely be no time for me to stop at the other totem before the barrier was back again.
I loped on all fours towards the now opened hall.
And as I careened past the shrine, surely past the barrier, I heard Jhavi's voice again: "...should be coming up on the last one."
I skidded to a stop, and my friends appeared around me.
"You're back!!" I gasped, relieved to see and hear the real deal this time.
Rytlock looked at me, raising an eyebrow. "Commander. You okay?"
"Where... Where were you?"
"We've been here the whole time," Braham said, a hint of confusion in his voice. "You went quiet for a while."
I frowned. It was all a big trick. "This place is–"
"I know," reassured Jhavi. "But we're almost done."
We continued and found ourselves in another room with another totem. This time, the room was apparently a mausoleum, and we were surrounded by bones, spiritual imagery, and caskets, almost reminiscent of the Cathedral of Silence.
Another flame-damned riddle to mock me over, I thought bitterly as the statue addressed me.
"Seeker of the beyond..."
A bed appeared with a man beside it, and an elderly woman ailing upon it.
"A plague sweeps the capital city, claiming countless victims. Both the old queen and the young prince have fallen ill. The queen is benevolent and wise, and she has ruled fairly for decades. But her age is showing. The prince is her only child. He's very young, and prone to petulance."
A darkened portal then appeared beyond the bed.
"If one dies, the other will make a full recovery. You must guide one of their souls to the afterlife. Choose."
"I choose to lead the queen to the afterlife," I growl, arms folded, ready to receive my tongue lashing.
"You would gamble with the fate of a kingdom to preserve a young life. A child becomes king before he is ready."
A throne replaces the bed, with the young prince cowering upon it. Multiple people appear around him, making various gestures, some threats and mockery, and speaking words we could not hear.
"He may fail. He may be taken advantage of. People will suffer. Was saving his life worth the cost?"
"Of course you'd say that," I muttered under my breath. I don't choose because he's young and I value youth above wisdom, I wanted to argue again. She may not live long enough for another child...
"You have shown me who you are. The trial is complete."
Shaking my head, defeated, I left the totem, sure that I would be booted back outside.
But to my surprise, the halls continued on, and I could hear the taunting of the fraenir.