The unnatural howl of the Orrian winds rarely sent a chill up my spine anymore. I had fought and wandered these forsaken lands searching for answers to my past so often that I was sure I had bled over every inch of them by this point in my life. Many others had bled for Orr as well. Some of them had bled and died here for me and it were their cries that haunted my dreams at night and my memories during the day. Too many had died for me before and now I worry there will be many more yet to come. Yet, this was the nature of our world now with the awakening of the dragons and the terrors they have brought upon us. It was a harsh world filled with frightful creatures and horrific enemies.
Generally, I would not have cared. Over the years, I had come to believe that in our world, a person was better off on their own, with no one to rely on and no one to rely on them. I truly believed it was safer, not only for me, but also for the people around me. I stayed away from people and for the most part that worked, but no matter where I travelled, there were always a few who against my better judgment, I allowed to travel with me. To my regret, I ended up burying each one.
And then my life’s path crossed with Rhys; a wandering enchanter from the Queen’s city, and Sir Fendall; a warrior from the east. They had changed everything. Their courage and resolve made believe again in the power of standing united. They helped me rediscover my own courage and strength that had begun to dwindle away after all these years. Together, we built a home. Not just for us, but also for others who sought out a place for themselves; a place where they could find sanctuary and safety. We made it a place of honor and together as a guild, we swore to defend the weak and strove to stand tall as pillars of justice. For the first time in over twenty years, I had a home and a family.
As I neared the ledge not far from Paga’s Post, I wondered if I had been kidding myself these past two years. Both Rhys and Sir Fendall had to leave to handle personal affairs in their homelands and I was left to lead our new family. I chose two of our veteran members to help me lead; two who had proven themselves worthy time and time again. They had become invaluable to me and to the peaceful existence we created. Even so, I did not believe the dangers of my past were gone, no matter how peaceful my life with my new family had become.
I peered over the ledge, through a pair of withered trees, to make sure it was clear of any Risen before descending. Through the early evening fog settling into the land, I saw an undead noble shamble his way through. He had not seen nor heard me. Perhaps luck was on my side today. I waited until the creature was out of range of sight and sound and then climbed down the jagged pillar structure that sunk into rock face. I hoisted up the deep red gossamer panels of my skirts so as not trip while descending. Sitting nestled up against the hulking half-circle of columns was the small pile of stones I had left over two years ago, set behind a mound of soil. Even if they were not there anymore, I still would have been able to find the place. The memory of burying a loved one burned too intensely in my mind to forget.
“Hello my dear friend,” I said, kneeling down next to the grave with a saddened smile. My long, crimson hair fell about my face like a veil as I bowed my head and I made no move to push it back. I did not want the world to see the signs of weakness I knew were forming on my face. “It has been too long. I have missed you so.” It was difficult to utter the words and they ended up coming out as a rough whisper.
I placed my hand gently on the mound of earth. Sensing death and decay was easy for those of us with skills of Necromancy. The aspect of death was as much a part of our lives as living was and became second nature to most of us. As necromancers developed their skills, one of the lessons we learned was to detect the lingering presence of death from a body or grave with a single touch. Some of us even learned to simply feel its presence in the air. When I touched the grave, I could feel only a faint remnant of death under the mound of earth. I had expected that. It had been some time since I had dug this grave but the fresh smell of Orrian soil revealed the ground had been disturbed recently. I sighed heavily and lowered my head. Someone had known where to look, but who?
The sudden sound of uneven footsteps and a deathly cry startled me. I turned to find the undead noble that I had seen before rushing towards me with an old, rusty blade in his hand. His deformed face twisted in malice as he raised a rotted arm covered in tattered clothing to attack. The thudding sound of my heartbeat became a deafening noise in my ears as I reached for my axe hooked on my belt. Just as I gripped the short handle of my orichalcum edged ambrite axe and released my weapon, the undead creature lurched to the side and fell to the ground. A petite dark-haired woman clad in silver winged armor with blue trim stood over the corpse. She delivered another blow to the creature with her mace as it tried to rise again. A brilliant flash of light erupted from the weapon as it struck the creature in the head. They exchanged only a few more battle strikes before the undead noble lay defeated on the ground. Breathing heavily from exertion, the woman nudged the body with her boot to make sure it was dead before looking up with a satisfied expression.
“Lady Commander,” Seren announced, gesturing lazily with her Shiverstone mace. It was a rare find; a long, sturdy handle with two sharp spikes sunk deep within a large, square-shaped chunk of ice. It glowed with a brilliant ice-blue light that left trails of snowflakes whenever she swung it. “You should be more careful.”
“I would have had him,” I declared confidently, clipping my axe back onto my belt. “You just had the luck of getting to him before I did.”
A playful grin formed on Seren’s lips. “My apologies.” The guardian swept into a dramatic bow. Her long and wavy earthen hair fell forward into her hazel eyes. “Of course the great Nienna Valar had everything under control.”
I smirked as I stood and smoothed my skirt’s panels, wiping away any dirt from kneeling. “You mock your Lady Commander?”
“I would never,” Seren declared but I could hear every syllable laced with friendly sarcasm. Pushing her hair back from her face, Seren smiled genuinely.
“What brings you out here?” I inquired.
“He sent me,” Seren simply replied as she holstered her mace and shield.
I clenched my jaw and crossed my arms over my chest. “Again,” I muttered harshly.
“Again,” Seren echoed. “He is…concerned,” she added.
“Concerned?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “I shall make a point of again addressing his concerns when I return.”
Seren rest her hand on the pummel of her mace and shifted her stance. “You know that won’t stop him. It hasn’t in the past.”
“I know, but it does not go without reminding ” I conceded. This had not been the first time and I knew for certain it would not be the last. I shook my head and looked off into the distance as my thoughts began to take over. “I wonder if he enjoys irritating me so much.”
“Or maybe he really is concerned,” Seren offered. “It’s dangerous out here, especially in Orr and you left on your own. You don’t normally do such a thing.”
Seren was without any doubts, correct. I normally did not venture out into the lands on my own. However, since certain details had come to my attention, my solo visits out into the lands had increased
“Why did he not come himself?” I asked.
“De Koninck asked him and a couple others to help her with a matter in her homelands,” Seren replied. “They should be returning in a few days.” She stopped and looked over my shoulder. “What are you doing out here anyway?”
I looked back at the grave. “Paying my respects to an old friend,” I replied, swallowing hard. I cleared my throat and took a deep breath. Turning back to Seren, I forced a smile and willed my tears to stay behind my eyes. “I am ready to return home though. Shall we?”
Nodding, Seren joined me at my side and we began our walk to Paga’s Post to resupply for our journey home. As we left the post, we walked in silence with Orr’s setting sun at our backs. The dimming brightness cast a ghostly light over the barren land, making it seem even more eerie. I looked back over my shoulder, wondering what sort of trouble had come digging into my past and if it would follow me home.