‘Stand down, human,’ the charr leered, his fur bristling with fury. ‘She started it, and we’re finishing it!’
‘That’s enough,’ the human commanded, his voice ringing with authority. The charr snarled, but reluctantly stepped back.
The human turned his back on the charr and faced me.
He had a soft appealing face, which had only recently been creased with shallow wrinkles. The fur on his head was long, and the color of rich mahogany. Each strand had been pulled back into a low ponytail, and rough stubble framed his strong chin. I wondered if this man and the puffed up purple and black splodge of a human I saw in the Nightmare Court cave could truly be of the same species.
The human knelt down, and I instinctively pulled back. Stalk tried to move, but I held him tight in my protective embrace.
‘Are you okay?’ He asked gently. I stared at him, wordlessly.
‘Don’t worry about me, Hans,’ the asura, Lurk, snapped. His big nose crinkled angrily as he stepped forward. ‘I was the one who got attacked by that belligerent cabbage!’
I snarled at him, and he took two steps back, his oversized ears twitching with alarm.
‘Settle down,’ Hans said dismissively. The human’s squinting eyes focused on me again, and I started to wonder if he was having difficulty seeing by the moon’s light.
‘You look injured,’ he said, his furrowed brow deepening.
Lurk also frowned. He seemed to summon his courage as he inched forward. He peered at me, his large asura eyes undoubtedly giving him the advantage in the darkness.
‘Oh no, oh no,’ he muttered, pulling back.
‘What is it Lurk?’ Hans asked urgently.
‘She’s not in good shape Hans, not good, not good!’ He squeaked.
‘I can’t see anything in this blasted darkness,’ Hans grumbled. He stretched out his arm, exposing the palm of his hand, each finger curled as though he was clutching an invisible orb. I stared at it, curious. From his empty palm erupted a small inferno of blinding flames. I cried out in horror. Stalk’s barks filled my ears, and I kicked in blind panic, my foot momentarily connecting with something hard.
‘Put out the fire, put out the fire!’ Lurk’s voice squealed. The searing light quickly extinguished, and a tense quiet cloaked the clearing.
My labored breathing slowed steadily, as my vision returned. Stalk was huddled up next to me, his hackles raised at the unknown enemy.
Hans had been hurled backwards into the dirt, and Lurk had retreated once again to the far side of the clearing.
‘Okay, no fire,’ Hans hissed through his teeth, as he rubbed his head. He stood up slowly, and turned to the charr.
The two charr had settled a short distance away, unaffected by the recent distress, except for the slight twitch of aggravation in Kilgar’s tail. The other dark furred charr, Kilgar had called Farkuz, stared at me. Was the glint in his eye curiosity, or hunger I wondered.
‘Kilgar, Farkuz, go to the campsite and put out the fire.’ Hans ordered, but the charr did not move.
‘We do not follow the orders of humans,’ Kilgar snarled. Hans stared back at him, undaunted.
‘You either go back and put out the fire, or you help me carry her back.’
‘We are not your dolyaks,’ Kilgar snapped.
‘Well then go put out the damn fire!’ Hans yelled. Kilgar’s hackles rose. I was sure the charr was going to rip the human apart, but Farkuz put a clawed paw on Kilgar’s iron-clad arm. Kilgar looked to the dark-haired charr, and let out a low hiss. He shook his mane fiercely, but slowly, both of them lumbered out of the clearing.
Hans let out a long sigh,
‘Brutes,’ he muttered under his breath. He turned back to me. ‘We’ll take you to the camp now. Here, I’ll help you.’ He reached out to touch me, but I slapped his hand away.
‘Don’t touch me!’ I snapped. Stalk jumped in front of me, growling defensively. Hans’ eyes widened and he stepped back, his palms up-held.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,’ he said quickly. ‘If you’re injured, we can help you. You can’t just stay here…’ he paused for a moment, ‘…can you?’ He asked as though he wasn’t entirely sure what was appropriate for a sylvari.
Unfortunately, he was right. There was the chance that they could be part of the Nightmare Court, but as I looked down at my bloody mess of a body, I knew I would die if I stayed here.
I looked to Stalk, but he just cocked his head at me curiously. I sighed and nodded slowly.
Hans took this as consent.
‘Good,’ he breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Your leg looks injured. I’ll carry you.’
‘I’ll walk myself,’ I snapped. I pulled myself up, and my leg wobble dangerously. I began to wonder if I could really support my own weight. As I did, my leg slipped, and the human reflexively put his arm around me. I flinched, wanting to pull away, but if I did I was sure I’d crumple.
Hans held me as I hobbled through the brush, Stalk and Lurk following close behind. A short distance away was a small clearing where the group had obviously been spending the night.
The remains of a crackling fire seethed under glowing embers, and various bed rolls had been placed around it. The other bedrolls were made of the skins of animals, but by one particularly strange-looking bedroll sat a deactivated asuran golem. It was different to the one I had seen in Bex’s lab. It was smaller and rounder. It sat in a small unthreatening compacted mound, but its presence still made me uncomfortable. The two charr were absent from the clearing.
Hans set me down on a soft bedroll. The asura was rifling through a rucksack and produced a small-elongated asuran crystal. He twisted the metal ring around the crystal’s mid-section, and a dull glow emanated from it. The light steadily grew until it was as bright as the lamps that shone in the Grove. Lurk passed it wordlessly to Hans, and he held it above my body.
They gasped. My body was covered in dirt mingled with sap and pus. My withering sickly skin glistened beneath the thick layer of crusted grime. Specks of black and yellow dappled my pierced skin. It looked disgusting. Even now I was oozing onto the bedroll. I felt faint, and my consciousness flickered as I lurched backwards. Hans caught me and pushed me up, holding me steady.
‘Lurk, look at this,’ Hans said, urgency rising in his voice. Lurk moved forward.
‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ he said shaking his head, his big asura ears flapping. ‘Do something!’
‘I can’t!’ Hans said aghast, his eyes transfixed on my body. ‘Her wounds are too severe.’
The asura rung his hands nervously, and his ears drooped. Then suddenly his eyes widened, and he perked up. He ran over to his golem and swung open a small front panel. Nosily he rummaged through it, fumbling and dropping items. When he returned he was holding a small glass vial filled with brilliant blue liquid. Hans accepted it from the asura and passed it to me.
‘What is it? I asked, suspicious.
‘What! Were you born yesterday? It’s a healing potion!’ Lurk snapped. I sneered at him.
‘Please,’ Hans said earnestly. ‘I don’t think we can take you anywhere in your state. Drink it, and we’ll take you to your kind.’
My eyes flickered between the human and the vial.
‘You’re not Nightmare Court?’ I asked, my eyes flickering momentarily to the asura.
Hans’ eyes widened.
‘Is that who did this to you?’
I bit my lip and snatched the vial from his hands and drunk it, hoping I had made the right decision.
Immediately warmth spread through my body, tingling in my fingertips. The sickly complexion on my arms and legs lightened to a pale green, and my shallow wounds knitted over leaving light scars. However my leg still festered and stung.
‘She’ll make it to an outpost alive now,’ Lurk said, turning his attention to the discarded items, and packing them back into the golem’s cavity.
Hans smiled warmly as I was able to sit up. As I did, the charr wandered into the clearing, and Hans stood to face them.
‘Where have you two been? We need to take her to Bay Haven right now!’ He said, but the charr did not move. They only stared with condescension.
‘You are not the leader here, human,’ Kilgar growled.
‘It’s not about who is leader,’ Hans said sternly. ‘It’s about the sylvari, she’s hurt.’
‘She’ll survive the night. We’ll march tomorrow and dump her on some weed we meet.’
‘That’s insane!’ Hans yelled angrily. ‘She needs help!’
‘We’re not wasting time,’ Kilgar growled. ‘If we have to escort you to Ascalon, we’ll do it on our own terms.’
‘Is this a power play to you?!’ The human yelled. ‘You Black Citadel beasts have no hearts!’
The charr raised his lips, exposing his white menacing teeth.
‘Yell all you want human,’ he spat. ‘We’re not going.’
‘May I interject,’ Lurk’s stern voice indicated it wasn’t a question. ‘Your job is to protect me, am I right?’
Kilgar’s eyes narrowed, but he stayed silent. Lurk continued.
‘Well, I am going to Bay Haven with Hans. If I go, you must follow and protect me,’ he said, grinning smugly up at the charr. Kilgar leered at him.
‘Just you try it pip-squeak. My orders are to get you to Ascalon. I wasn’t told how. If you want to spend the rest of the trip in a cage, I can arrange it.’
The asura snorted angrily.
‘Then what about an arrangement?’ he said sharply.
‘There is nothing you can give us,’ Kilgar said dismissively.
‘What if I told you that by going to Bay Haven you could potentially shave off half our traveling time to Ascalon?’
Both charr’s ears flicked upwards.
‘There is no way to get to Ascalon faster, other than asura gate,’ Kilgar said, pointing an iron-clad claw. ‘And you, old asura, are too scared to use one. That’s how we got stuck escorting you across the continent to see the imperator. If you’re still too scared, there is no deal we can make.’
‘I’m not scared!’ Lurk snapped. ‘I’m just not willing to put my life in the hands of incompetent asura, who don’t know how to insert a crystal the right way up! I’ve seen accidents. My first mentor went through one of those death holes. He was supposed to go to Lions Arch, but he didn’t fully rematerialize. The screaming…’
Hans coughed, and Lurk’s attention was momentarily diverted.
‘Yes, well…’ He continued. ‘Regardless, I know an asura in Lion’s Arch. I trust her. If she could tune the gate for me, I’ll go through it, but only if we go to Bay Haven, and see the sylvari’s wounds healed.’
Kilgar considered the asura for a moment, and then turned to Farkuz, who had been waiting silently. They shared a look, and Farkuz bowed his head.
‘You will not go back on your word, pip-squeak?’ Kilgar finally asked.
Lurk held a stubby hand over his heart.
‘I give you my word as an asura.’
‘That doesn’t mean much,’ the charr snorted. ‘But okay, we have a deal.’
The charr turned their backs on us as they wandered off to pack their bed rolls. Lurk turned to face us, smiling weakly.
‘Are you sure about using the asura gate, friend?’ Hans asked tentatively. The asura puckered his pips and put on a brave face.
‘Of course, it’s only an asura gate…’ as the words left his lips, his face paled and his ears drooped.