“I never thought he would let you have it,” said Christof, the norn engineer riding on the dolyak next to me.
I looked down at the sword that lay across my saddle. “I still would not be surprised if he suddenly appeared and demanded it back. I almost had to prise it out of his paw.”
None of us could believe Rytlock had given up his precious blade. In spite of the fact that something miraculous had happened when I’d held it during the battle—where none of the attacking ghosts had seemed to be able to see it—Rytlock had still needed persuading to part with it. He had protested right up until the moment we left Charrgate Haven, and I’d fully expected him to refuse at the last minute. But instead he’d stood in the doorway and watched us ride away, even though his face had been like thunder—at least, I assumed he was angry. It was hard to tell what charrs were thinking, sometimes, with their permanently-fierce features.
“Not far now,” Christof said. “We will be at the Black Citadel by sunset.”
I glared at him, and he stifled a chuckle. I hadn’t wanted to visit the charr capital, wishing to return to the norn lands via Wayfarer instead, and there to head to Lion’s Arch via Hoelbrak and Lornar’s Pass. Christof, however, had insisted that it would be quicker for us to travel to his home city through the asura gates in the Citadel. I refused. He then produced a sealed letter from Eir Stegalkin addressed to me. It was short and sweet, and it announced in no uncertain terms that Christof was the leader of our party, and I had to follow his orders.
I was now sulking. I hated travelling through the asura gates. I didn’t trust anything that claimed to disassemble your particles and reassemble them on the other side, or whatever it was supposed to do. I’d heard stories of people going through and never being seen again, and had told Christof so.
He’d raised an eyebrow at me. “You believe in children’s fairy stories, Freya?”
I’d stuck my tongue out at him. “So what if I do? They are usually based on fact. And Great Bear can be sure, if anyone is going to get stuck in the middle of the pink whirly thing, it is going to be me.”
He’d just grinned and instructed everyone to mount their dolyaks, and now we were only a few miles from the Citadel, and I knew my scowl must be as black as the sky above our heads.
The rain pattered down, dampening even the inimitable Christof’s spirits, and I pulled my cloak around my neck and sank my chin into the fur. The dolyak plodded along, rocking me from side to side, and although I could never have fallen asleep atop it, somehow it seemed to lull me into a semi-trance.
As the rain fell across the brown landscape, dampening down the dust for once, I rested my hand on Sohothin, wrapped in soft leather and secured on my saddle, and thought about what had transpired at Charrgate Haven. Why had the ghosts been unable to see the blade when I held it? Rytlock had been astounded, Christof bemused, and nobody else had been unable to come up with an explanation. I was not a warrior, so it was not some age-old connection of the ghost of a previous knight coming down through the ages. It was not my own doing—not consciously at least; I wouldn’t have known how to make something invisible, and I certainly hadn’t been aware of anything passing through me. As an elementalist, well attuned to the winds of magic, I thought I would have been aware of a presence casting a spell on me.
So where did that leave me? What in Tyria had happened to cause the blade to disappear?
I rested my hand on the sword. Around me, the rain fell steadily, drenching my cloak. There had been no sign of the ghosts, and under Christof’s instructions, I had kept the sword close to me, touching it whenever possible in the hope of hiding it from Malus—if indeed he had been the one looking for it.
My fingers tingled. I frowned, looking down at the sword. The leather wrap had parted halfway down the blade and the steel shone through, glinting, even though there was no sun to reflect on it. For a moment, I thought I saw it flicker of flame, although I knew that to be impossible. I reached out a finger and touched the metal tentatively, half-expecting to find it either burning hot or icy cold, but it was neither, just cool, and neither the tingle nor the flame reappeared.
I pulled the leather close around it and rested my hand on the pommel. Set with a huge orange stone, the pommel kept the heavy blade in balance in the hand. A wooden sheath enclosed the tang, wrapped in leather and bound tightly with cord, well-worn now from Rytlock’s grip, rubbed smooth and shiny. I wasn’t sure how long he’d had the sword, but it must have been some years. Touching it, I could almost feel his presence, almost imagine him standing there, hefting the blade in his paw…
Something shifted within me, an awareness, an awakening. I did not sleep, but equally I no longer sat atop the dolyak, plodding agonisingly slowly towards the Black Citadel.
Instead, I stood on a windswept circular plateau, surrounded by clouds lit with cracks of lightning. My hair snapped across my face, and the wind tugged at my clothes. Glittering dust obscured my vision and tasted bitter in my mouth, suggesting the presence of magic. In my right hand I held Sohothin, its weight heavy compared to the wooden staff in my left. I blinked and gripped the staff and sword tightly, my heart thudding, my breaths coming rapidly.
Gradually, my vision cleared. I wasn’t alone. With me, around the edge of the circular plateau, stood several other figures, spaced out at regular intervals and looking as bewildered as I felt. I recognised several of them. Christof stood there, along with Rytlock, Eir and Logan Thackeray. But there were many others I didn’t recognise too.
And then across from me on the other side of the plateau, I saw a familiar figure, tall and broad, his blond hair braided and held back with gold clasps, a blue light surrounding him. I caught my breath as emotion washed over me, strong and fresh as the sea. It was Rudi, my old companion who had died in battle by my side, and a smile broke out on his face as he saw me.
I tried to move towards him, but my feet seemed frozen to the floor. As I looked down at them, I saw a line in the rock beneath my feet travelling all the way to the centre of the plateau. Similar lines marked the ground in front of the others around me, like the spokes of a wheel. And in the centre, at the conjunction of the spokes, stood a single figure.
I caught my breath. The raggedy figure wore a long brown gown, frayed at the edges and trimmed with worn, scruffy fur. His wild grey hair fluttered in the wind, and his face bore deep lines around his mouth and eyes, as if he spent his life scowling and frowning and glaring. He held a staff in his hand, and as he raised it, the end of the wooden shaft curved and glimmered in the dull light like a scythe. A black smoke-like substance curled in the air, reminding me of snakes, writhing in and out of his clothes, around his body. He was a necromancer, a raiser of the dead, a wizard who dealt in death and disease.
Lightning cracked and thunder boomed across the sky. I ducked instinctively, unable to stop a shard of terror slicing through me. Had he brought us all here to kill us?
I will come for you…
The words slithered into my head, wormed their way into my brain. I dropped the staff and clamped my hands over my ears, nausea rising in my throat, terror building to a scream.
And then, above our heads, the face of the Great Spirit of Bear bloomed like a flower in the sky, shining silver, radiating across the clouds.
Then everything went black.
I blinked. I was back on the dolyak, the late evening sun filtering across the path leading up to the Black Citadel that loomed before us.
I looked across to see Christof staring at me. By the look on his face, I could see that my vision had not been a personal one but a shared one, and Christof had actually been there with me.
He guided his mount towards me with his knees. Beside us, Jeger, Skylar and Aisling seemed unmindful of what had occurred, talking amongst themselves about what they would do when they reached Lion’s Arch.
“You were there,” Christof murmured to me. “On the plateau.”
“Yes.” My heart still pounded with the memory.
“And that was Malus in the centre?”
“I believe so.”
He blew out a breath. “What did it mean? Did he bring us together?”
“I do not know. Was it a warning? And if so, why did the Great Spirit of Bear appear?”
Christof frowned and looked at me curiously. “I did not see the Bear.”
I stared at him. So maybe I was the only one the spirit had shown himself to? What did that mean? Was He saying He would be there to watch over me? And what about Rudi? Why had he been there?
I shivered. It had been wonderful to see both him and the Great Bear, and to feel they were both there to protect me. But neither could completely remove the fear that still radiated through me at the sight of the necromancer, the black smoke writhing around him like snakes.
I will come for you…
His words would stay with me, long into the night.