I collapsed onto the bed. My body was exhausted and strained from the confrontation with Eilidh. The adrenaline, that only moments before had flooded my veins, was slowly subsiding, and my eyelids drooped heavily. Stalk whined, and rested his head on the bed. Lazily I put my hand on his maw comfortingly, but I soon drifted into a deep slumber.
A soft whisper breathed in my ear.
‘Oh Azalea,’ it whispered. ‘Even if you run, you will never escape. You will fall into Nightmare’s embrace, and I will be waiting with open arms.’
I snapped awake. Panic jolted through my aching limbs, and I threw myself from the bed. My eyes desperately combed the room.
My chest heaved with labored breaths, as I clutched my pounding head.
‘Azalea?’ I jumped. Hans stood at the door, his eyebrows raised in alarm. ‘Are you ill?’ he asked.
I sighed, and shook my head. Even Stalk was looking confused.
‘No, just a dream,’ I murmured. I looked to the window and realized that light had begun to seep through the stained glass. Though it had felt like only moments, I had slept until dawn.
Hans moved into the room. He was carrying a tray of food and a small bundle of fabrics under his arm. He set down the tray on the side table, and before the wooden surfaces could meet I was pecking at the food hungrily. Hans gestured to the goblet on the tray.
‘It’s a healing potion. Lurk has been working on it ever since we got here.’
I stared at the cup with distaste.
‘It’ll take away the pain and stiffness,’ Hans pressed. ‘You should drink it.’
‘I will not,’ I said firmly. ‘I won’t drink anything that creature concocts.’
‘That creature’s name is Lurk, and he worked hard on it, for you!’ Hans said sternly.
I hovered hesitantly, staring at the cup. I trusted Hans, but I was still unsure.
‘I’ve never met a sylvari as racist as you!’ He cried, throwing up his hands.
I flinched at Han’s displeasure, but quickly returned my gaze to the goblet pensively. It was tempting. To be free of my aches would be wonderful. I looked to Hans again, and he nodded. Tentatively, I took the goblet in my hands and swallowed it in one gulp. It worked as he said. My body flushed with pleasant tingling, and I felt revitalized.
Hans nodded approvingly. He took the cloth from under his arm and passed it to me.
‘I asked the Lionguard for some spare clothes. It’s not leafy or anything, but it’s the best they could spare.’
I breathed a soft sigh of relief. I could finally change out of the itchy nightgown. I wondered momentarily where they had taken my other clothes, but then I decided I didn’t care. They carried memories I’d rather forget.
I popped the last dried apricot into my mouth and picked up the garments. The vest and leggings were made of light, slightly worn tanned animal hide, and the undershirt was made of soft woven material. I adorned the apparel eagerly. Hans coughed and spluttered, before turning to stare intently out the window. His reaction hurt. Hans had bore my healing so well, I assumed he was used to my scars by now. It was evident that by the light of day that my disfigured body was too ugly for anyone to bear.
I put on the shirt and cringed. The sleeves stopped half-way down my upper arm, exposing a streak of black mangled skin. I felt sick at the mere thought that other sylvari would see it.
Hans, who was now watching me carefully, muttered; “I’ll be back,’ and quickly hurried out of the room. I watched him leave and then returned my attention back to the mirror. As I turned something glinted in the morning rays, catching my eye. Sitting on the dresser was the small pendant.
I had completely forgotten about it. It was the one I had found it in my cell as I escaped the Nightmare Court. As I looked at it now, I realized I had failed to appreciate its beauty. The pale gold metal had been scuffed and dirtied, but underneath, it was easy to see that it had once been a masterwork. Two tiny human bodies circled and embraced the opal, the hands of each melding together over the top of the spherical stone. Though the necklace was made of one stone, as I turned it over in my hands, I was sure the colour changed. It was exquisite. Lovingly, I placed it over my head and watched it glitter in the morning sun. It looked out of place against my chest.
Hans returned holding another shirt. As I pulled this one on, I realized the sleeves fell down to my wrists. I sighed with relief. As I looked in the mirror, the only scars I could see where on my face. I gently traced the deep grooves with my finger pensively. I sighed and looked to Hans.
‘Did the Lionguard have any spare weapons?’ I asked.
Hans shook his head.
‘Now that, I don’t think they’d be willing to part with so easily,’ he said.
I bit my lip. I needed to acquire a weapon as soon as possible.
‘Come on,’ Hans coaxed. ‘It’s about time you left this room.’ He gestured for me to follow.
My first steps outside my room were like my first steps out of the Pale Tree’s pod. As people rushed past me, I jumped and flinched. Even the act of walking felt unnatural. For the last few months I had either been stumbling, sneaking or running for my life, and as I fumbled over my own feet, I wondered if I had forgotten how to walk normally.
The hospice felt like another realm. The sun filtered through open windows as people conversed happily and kind, calm faces and soothing tones surrounded me. This is what I had been craving the entire time I wallowed in the Nightmare Court prison, but now I was here, it felt awkward and unfamiliar.
Hans lead me out of the hospice and into the Haven’s courtyard. The tall stone guard towers rose above us and on the walls Lionguard in gleaming suits of gold patrolled. Now it was day, the air was full of banging, clanging and crashing. A plethora of workers scurried around the courtyard, their foreman yelling orders at them. It was all too loud. The sound of the sea drowned in their clamor.
We weaved through the busy clearing and stopped in front of a small stall. A charr was cleaning various weapons that had been laid out on a small wooden table. He stopped and peered at us as we approached.
‘Whatcha need?’ He growled. Hans looked to me.
‘A bow,’ I said. ‘And a warhorn.’
The charr grunted. He pulled out two Lionguard issue weapons and set them on the table. I picked them up, and scrutinized their condition. It was poor, but I could defend myself with it. I nodded.
‘How much?’ Hans asked the charr.
’10 silver,’ He barked.
’10 silver? That’s robbery!’ Hans exclaimed.
‘No, that’s what the Lionguard protect you from on the road,’ the charr snapped. Hans sighed and passed over the money.
‘Thank you,’ I said slinging the bow over my back, and attaching the horn to my belt. Hans gestured that we should start walking back.
‘It’s fine. How else are you going to get back to the Grove by yourself? If only the charr weren’t so relentless, I’d take you back myself.’
‘If you dislike the charr so much, why do you travel with them?’ I asked, ignoring his incorrect assumption.
‘They’re escorting me to Ascalon,’ a voice piped up from beneath me. I looked down to see Lurk sitting at a small portable asura stool and table. He had set it up one side of the courtyard and had put out an extravagant breakfast for himself. His personal golem stood over him, carefully refilling his drink.
‘What are you-’ Hans spluttered in surprise. ‘Why can’t you just eat in the mess hall? People are staring!’ Hans said in a low voice.
‘Nonsense! You’re imagining it,’ Lurk waved his hand. Hans was not imagining it. Workers had started to stop and gaze longingly at the food. ‘Anyway, we were talking about the charr; their boss and I have a deal. They’re supposed to be mindless body guards, but somehow they’ve gotten it into their augmented skull that they’re in charge.’
‘They’ve been insufferable,’ Hans agreed, crouching down to sit on one of Lurk’s miniature stools. ‘I hope you understand that you owe me a favor after this Lurk!’
‘Yes, yes,’ Lurk dismissed. His tone reminded me of Bex and I instinctively stiffened, my hand tightening around my new bow. He noticed my change and shuffled away nervously.
‘When are you planning to return to the Grove?’ Hans asked me, obviously trying to defuse the tension.
‘I do not intend to return to the Grove,’ I said.
Hans was shocked. ‘Well then, where do you plan to go?’
I thought for a moment.
‘I don’t know. Somewhere far from here.’
‘Well if you don’t have anywhere in mind, why don’t you come to Ascalon with us?’ Hans suggested. Lurk choked on his food, but Hans continued. ‘Ascalon is on the opposite side of the continent. You can’t get anywhere further away in Tyria.’
‘Hans,’ Lurk said warningly.
‘She’s a fighter, if we’re going to make it to Lion’s Arch in one piece she’ll come in handy,’ Hans reasoned.
‘I’m far more concerned about her gutting me than anything else we might meet on the roads.’ the asura said in a low voice. My eyes narrowed on the asura, for some reason I enjoyed seeing the his nervousness.
Hans shook his head and turned back to me.
‘So what do you say Azalea?’
I pondered the prospect for a moment. I really had no idea where else I would go. Though I detested the thought of traveling with the asura, Hans had a comforting presence. I nodded silently and Lurk slumped deep into his seat.
Across the stone courtyard I saw the two charr, Kilgar and Farkuz. They had spotted us and were making their way towards us. I was seeing them clearly for the first time in the light of day, and as they got closer I realized what ferocious beasts they were.
Their large teeth were stained and their horns jagged and chipped. Kilgar looked older than Farkuz, as Farkuz had considerably fewer scars, and unlike Kilgar had both his horns.
‘I’m glad you’re up weed,’ Kilgar said, barely glancing at me. ‘Get your gear,’ he said pointedly to Hans and Lurk.
‘I’m in the middle of eating!’ Lurk cried, aghast.
‘We’ve fulfilled our end of the bargain. The weed is healed, and now we’re going,’ Kilgar growled.
‘Azalea has agreed to join us. She’s barely healed and needs more time,’ Hans sad firmly.
‘Another few days by the look of her,’ Lurk added.
I bit my lip. I didn’t want to be here for another few days.
‘I don’t care,’ Kilgar growled. ‘She either keeps up, or gets left behind.’
‘Listen here, I’ve just about…’ Han’s voice escalated.
‘I’ll keep up,’ I said quickly. Everyone turned to stare at me. ‘Let’s leave today, this morning.’
Kilgar’s maw moved silently until he found his words.
‘Good, because we would have left without you anyway,’ he said finally. He turned back to Hans and Lurk. ‘You heard the weed, we leave in an hour.’
Hans watched Kilgar and Farkuz leave, and breathed out a long heavy sigh as if he was deflating. He turned to look at me quizzically. He opened his mouth to speak, but Lurk jumped in before him.
‘Well,’ he said, obviously miffed. ‘You may have been ready to leave, but now I barely have time to finish my breakfast!’