It was early evening by the time Seren and I returned to Lion’s Arch. The sun hung low in the sky just above the hills, painting it in pale hues of yellow, red, and orange. I had spun my tale to the Seraph, feigning ignorance of any knowledge regarding why this tragedy would happen. Despite Seren’s protesting, I did not disclose information to the Seraph about the Inquest item that she had found. I did not want a group of Seraph looking too closely to my own investigation because of the complications it could entail. I knew Seren would not understand but I asked her to trust me and for the moment at least, she acquiesced.
Providing the Seraph with Rhys’ will, they finally agreed to let Seren and I leave to carry out Rhys’ last wish: to be laid to rest where our idea had been born and took root.
Seren and I approached the courtyard outside the front doors of our hall with heavy steps and even heavier hearts. I turned to the four Seraph members whom I had enlisted to assist us home and motioned to them to set down the covered casket. The velvety dark blue mortcloth fluttered as they lowered it to the ground and I had to clench my jaw to hold back the fountain of tears I could feel welling up inside. I shut my eyes tightly, forcing back my emotions and mentally constructed another wall to hide them behind. There would be questions of who and why and I could not let myself slip.
As soon as she saw us, Ariella swiftly rose from her post and pulled forcefully on the rope attached to our hall’s signal bell next to the doors. The old silver bell’s loud ringing echoed throughout the area and before Ariella pulled the rope a third time, the doors opened and our members and some of the refugees began to swiftly pour out, led by Tuborg and De Koninck.
“What happened?” De Koninck cried as she came running, her white coat fluttering behind her. The Norn’s wide eyes kept moving back and forth to the casket, to Seren, and to me.
As I waited until everyone gathered, I tried my best to keep on a brave face and to hide the fear and sadness clawing at the core of my emotions. No matter how hard I tried to bury them, I could not hide the casket. Our members’ eyes bombarded me with their concern and sadness as their gazes fell upon the casket and then to me. I mulled over which words to use in my head but they all felt jumbled and none of them seemed to make any sense. Words failed me as I tried to find a way to break the news to them all gently.
“Rhys is dead,” I announced gravely. It was all I could muster.
Gasps and words of surprise erupted from many lips. Eyes began to tear over and I had to look away from them for a moment. I clenched my jaw and built another wall to hold the emotions threatening to break though.
“I have brought him here per his wishes to be buried in Lion’s Arch,” I said. “We can see to it in the morning.” I turned my gaze to De Koninck and Tuborg and blinked hard a few times, barely holding back the tears from my eyes. “C…can,” my voice broke and I stopped and cleared my throat. “Can you two help me and Seren bring him through to the garden?”
Without hesitation, the two commanders moved to our side as the Seraph stepped back and let us take over. We each grabbed one of the casket’s iron handles and lifted it up. The other three followed, bearing the heavy weight, as I led them forward. While we walked slowly towards the hall’s front doors, our members moved aside to make a path for us. I could feel their eyes on me as we passed but I kept my own gaze on our doors. I did not need to see them to know the pain and sadness they were feeling. I could feel it radiating off of each and every one of them.
We crossed through into the main hall and out the back door into our garden which overlooked the bay. We followed the middle of the three stone paths we had built throughout our floral and herbal garden beds. The flora waved gracefully in the gentle evening breeze, letting out their sweet and savory fragrances. We carried the casket to the center of the garden, one of Rhys’ favorite places to watch the sunset, and set it down on the small stone flooring. I rubbed my arm, slightly aching from the weight and then I placed my hand on the soft mortcloth. The familiar cold of death entwined with my fingertips and I stood there for a moment as I tried to find the strength to say goodbye to my friend.
“How did this happen?” I heard a soft voice ask. I turned and found Alena sitting atop Clarkus’ broad shoulders, holding on to his thick, black mane. I could see sadness in her big, round eyes but she remained composed as if she had already accepted this passing. How the little necromancer managed to remain so collected in the face of death was something I greatly envied. It took all I had to not let myself come apart at the seams.
The rest of our members had followed Clarkus and Alena into the garden. Many an eye had begun to gloss over, creating a sea of sadness before me. I could hear their murmurs and feel their gazes watching me, waiting for a word, any word that would explain this tragedy. I mentally searched through all the things I could say to them but came up with nothing. Should I finally tell them the truth? Should I warn them all of the possible dangers heading their way?
“I do not know,” I replied as firmly as I could muster. “Excuse me.” I removed my hand from the casket and stepped through the group, clenching my jaw tightly. I refrained from looking at any of them as I passed but I could hear the whispers amongst themselves. The questions were already starting and I knew I had to give them answers, but not tonight.
I strode quickly through the main hall and down the north hallway to my room. I entered and closed the door. As the sun finally set outside, deep hues of red and orange streamed in through the parted shades and illuminated my room in their warm light. I took in a deep breath and let it out as I stepped over to my dining table. A volatile mix of sadness and rage had been building up in me since we left Divinity’s Reach and had been threatening to break through since our return. Now, alone in my room, I pulled down the walls holding it back and let it out.
A firm knock came at my door, snapping me back to reality. I wiped at my eyes and secured the parchments I had procured from Rhys’ desk within the open pages of the book resting on my lap. I closed the book and ran my fingers over the faded silver ‘V’ scripted onto the dark red cover. It was then I discovered red on my hand. At some point, I must have injured it but I could not remember exactly when. I stood and looked at the mess around me. My epaulets and gloves lay tossed about my room amongst the splintered table, chair pieces and broken dishes.
A necromancer unable to handle a death. The irony was not lost on me.
Another knock came on the door. “Nienna?” De Koninck’s usually strong voice sounded softer and sympathetic. “Nienna? Are you okay?”
“Yes,” I called. “Just a moment please.”
Carefully, I stepped through the mess over to my bookcases, where I pulled back a row of fake book spines and punched in my five digit code on the Asuran crafted panel. The iron door on the small safe popped open, I deposited the book, and locked it up before replacing the row of fake book spines. I then looked around for a cloth I could use to bandage my hand and found one on the floor. Wrapping it around my hand, I secured it as tightly as I could to stop the bleeding. I smoothed my hair and did my best to make myself look as presentable as I could without the use of a mirror. There was nothing I could do about the room. It would take hours to clean the mess in the room and I could not make De Koninck wait that long. I took in a deep breath and let it out, composing myself and reeling in my emotions.
“Come in,” I announced.
My door slowly opened and De Koninck’s broad frame came into view as she slipped into my room and closed the door behind her. “By Bear,” she murmured in awe of the destroyed clutter around my room. She spied my bandaged hand. “What happened?”
I clutched my wounded hand to my chest. “I just–I just needed to–,” I tried to explain but could not manage to craft an excuse.
“Let me see that,” the Norn woman requested firmly. She stepped closer, a hand held out.
“I am fine,” I reassured her, but with a careful firmness, De took my hand and began examining it with narrowed eyes. Blood had already begun to soak through the cloth. “Just a scratch.”
“Looks like more than a scratch,” she insisted. With a swift, graceful motion, De reached down to the floor and as she pulled away, a brilliant spring of light welled up underneath us. A small grouping of vines and flowers with delicate yellow petals unfurled from the light, and within an instant, I could feel the pulsing energy reduce the throbbing pain to a mere ache.
“Thank you,” I said softly, ultimately thankful for the intervention. Carefully, I pulled the cloth away from the wound to find that the blood flow had ceased and the skin was already beginning to heal.
“Don’t mention it,” De replied as she swept her concerned gaze over my room. “So,” she began again. “You wanna talk about it?”
She narrowed her bright hazel eyes at me. “That wasn’t really a question.”
“There is nothing to say right now,” I replied, firmly.
“Nienna, your friend was just killed,” De Koninck insisted, her tone softening.
“I do not need to be reminded,” I replied more harshly than I should have. My gaze fell to the floor. Her true words had cut through me like a ragged blade.
“I hate to bring this up, but you’ve been very reclusive lately,” she added. “Going out on your own and not always telling us where. And now Rhys.”
I lifted my gaze until our eyes met. I could feel my jaw reflexively clench, trying to hold back another lie. “Not related. Besides, it really is none of your business.”
“If there is something going on Nienna–”
“There is nothing going on, De,” I interrupted. I knew she sensed something and was fishing for answers but I did not bite.”Someone killed my friend, one of our founders, and I am going to find out who.”
“We are going to find out who,” she corrected. “You aren’t in this alone.” She held out her hand.
De Koninck could not have been more wrong. Neither she nor anyone else here knew my past, my secrets, or the implications either could have. But, if I could stop this all before anyone was hurt, stop it before anyone found out, everything could be okay. I took her hand in mine and we exchanged a brief moment of solidarity as I nodded.
Another knock came on my door: a softer knock this time, followed by a recognizable voice.
“If you don’t want anyone else to bother you, I can take care of it,” De Koninck offered.
I shook my head. “It is fine. I had my moment of grieving,” I replied, my voice deepening from the sorrow still clinging to my heart. A Commander’s job was never done. I cleared my throat and called out to my next visitor. “Come in Tuborg.”
The Sylvari slowly opened the door and poked his head in. He had removed his usual woven helm, which he only did on rare occasion, to reveal the top of his rounded mushroom-shaped head. As he opened his mouth to speak, he stopped suddenly as he saw the state of my quarters. “I, uh, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt.”
I waved him in, ignoring his reaction. “What is it?”
“Clarkus and Alena volunteered to find Sir Fendall and inform him of the situation, so I let them go,” he informed us. “Also, Salara is here to see you, Nienna. She just arrived a moment ago but is taking a moment in the garden. I told her the news,” he said, bowing his head slightly. He quietly excused himself and closed the door behind him.
I stepped out into our garden, now illuminated by moonlight, and followed the stone path to the center where we had left Rhys’ casket. There was a chill in the air, an indication that summer was waning and autumn was on its way. A tall, slender Sylvari stood in contemplation next to the casket, watching the gentle rolling water in the bay. Lit candles and iron lanterns that had been brought out and placed on the stone patio illuminated her elegant amethyst-shaded floral robes that fluttered with the occasional breeze, as did her long bundle of deep plum-colored leafy strands of hair.
“How did he die?” Salara asked, her voice even softer than usual. She turned around and the gentle sound of rustling leaves filled my ears. Blinking her large crystalline eyes, Salara struggled to keep back her tears. Lines in soft silver pulsated throughout her pale, sage green-barked skin as they always did during the evening.
“Unexpectedly and violently I am afraid,” I replied sorrowfully. I joined her beside Rhys’ casket. Salara had met Rhys when they were novices in the Priory and they had worked together on many assignments. Rhys had vouched for Salara in the early stages of growing our small community and she had so far proved to be a valuable asset for us.
“Oh,” she breathed out sadly. “Such a terrible thing for a man of his caliber to be taken from us.” Tears fell down onto her cheeks.
“Indeed.” I nodded. It was a sad thing beyond measure and a small part of me did not want to believe that it had happened. The casket was closed and it could possibly be empty and Rhys could just fine back home enjoying a cup of tea and a lemon cake. But really, I knew better. I had walked enough steps in this world to know what it had to offer.
“You wanted to see me,” I said.
She nodded. “Yes.” Reaching into the folds of her robes, she fished out a folded piece of parchment. “Let’s see. The–”
“Wait. Do not read it aloud,” I warned and held out my hand. “Let me see it please.”
Surprised, Salara handed me the parchment. “Oh yes, of course. Here.”
Unfolding the note, I read its contents twice before looking up. “Are you sure? Are you absolutely certain?”
“Without a doubt,” Salara replied, firmly. “Those are the exact words and I made sure your other instructions were followed as well.”
I folded the parchment back up, creasing the material tightly as I clenched my jaw. “Thank you Salara. You are welcome to stay and rest until you need to return to the Priory,” I concluded.
Salara nodded and turned to leave but stopped. “Is something going to happen? Something bad, I mean,” she began in her gentle voice but I could hear waves of worry crashing through. “With Rhys dead and these words you had me watch for–”
I forced as genuine a smile as I could. “Return to the Priory, Salara. You will be just fine.”
With one last soft touch on Rhys’ casket, Salara left and went inside. Alone, I moved closer to Rhys’ casket, resting my hand on the soft, dark mortcloth and let out a heavy sigh. I stood there for a moment just listening to the water and the wind.
“Well my friend, the day has come,” I uttered, regretfully. “I only wish you were here with us.”
With my free hand, I unfolded the parchment and read it again. Every time I read the words, I felt as if my heart was going to leap from my chest. I had hoped my eyes had played tricks on me, but the words were just as they were the first time I read them. I bit my lower lip. A dull ache emanated from my hand and it was then that I realized that I had been gripping the material so tightly, I had left marks in my palm. I forced myself to loosen my fingers’ hold on the parchment as I read the words one last time.
Eternal, Divine, Blade, Mysterious Origin. Requested by Torran Sable.
I knew that was impossible. There was no way my dear childhood friend had requested this sort of information at the Priory. Torran Sable was dead.
I had buried him myself in Malchor’s Leap.