We buried Rhys at dawn the next day while the early morning mist rolled in from the sea and enveloped all of Lion’s Arch, shrouding most of it from view atop the hills behind our hall. Deverol Island was almost completely obscured from view but I could still make out some of the general outline. I sat on the cold ground next to the fresh mound of dirt that now served as Rhys’ resting place. A cold emptiness radiated off of the grave, mixing with the morning chill that sent a shiver up my spine. I did not mind the cold I felt. At least it was something that filled the void consuming me.
After De Koninck had finished regaling us with tales of Rhys’ deeds and battles, as Norn do for their fallen comrades, everyone had returned to the hall to rest except one who lingered silently a little longer than the others but eventually they left too. The red drake’s soft hiss gave away their identity and a part of me was thankful for the presence of a remaining soul. Now alone, a stillness settled around the hill except for the occasional gentle whistle of the morning breeze. I looked down at the smooth stone resting in my hands, wondering why despite all the years of my exposure to death, I was so grieved. Death was after all just as a part of life as living was, was it not?
Taking my stone firmly in one hand, I reached over and gently placed it atop the small, cylindrical pile next to Rhys’ grave. The truth was, Rhys and Sir Fendall were the only ones who knew everything and understood. They found me, saved me, and chose to take on part of the weight of my secrets. The three of us built something good, something normal, but now with Rhys gone, I could feel the foundation starting to crack. With one of our pillars gone, I feared everything would now come tumbling down.
Clasping my hands in my lap, I considered offering a prayer to Grenth but refrained. Why would my patron god of death listen now after staying silent for so many years. Anger took hold in my heart and I could feel its roots dig deep within my soul. Anger for the death of my family. Anger for the death of my friend. Anger at a quiet and neglectful god. My reliance on Grenth had provided me with merely a slim reprieve of a sorrowful life, only to have that sorrow return. I had now found myself disillusioned.
My thoughts then drifted to our findings at Rhys’ home. The foyer had been untouched so that meant the perpetrator or perpetrators who had entered must not have intended violence right away or perhaps Rhys knew them. The destruction I saw had been in the sitting room where tea had been served, as well as in Rhys’ office. Rhys must have sat and talked with the person or persons before the situation got out of hand. In addition, whomever did this took the time to carve our names into the wall. They knew who we were and with the information Salara brought me, they knew of our secret.
Rhys had sent whomever did this to the Priory, as we had planned, with key words that would trigger Salara to then give them a certain scroll. She would have then sent word to me or Sir Fendall here in Lion’s Arch as she did. But why did they give Torran’s name at the Priory? His name was not one of the key words. Torran was dead and to my knowledge neither he nor his parents had ever been involved in anything shady. I had also recently received information that his parents had both been killed in a centaur attack near the Altar Brook trading post a few years ago, and his brother still remained locked away within the bowls of Divinity’s Reach. There did not seem to be any other connections I was currently aware of.
I stood, dusted dirt and grass from my dark fur-lined skirt, and looked down upon the heap of soil. “We will see this through,” I promised him. “Fendall and I will find who did this and they will feel the cold hand of judgment take what is owed.”
After a quick errand, I returned to my room and lit a fire. My bed had hardly been slept in last night. Between grief and nightmare riddled sleep, I had given up. The man at the stream came to me again with the dagger like he always did in the dream. He would always come for me and it would always end the same. Perhaps it was part of my punishment for my past transgressions and the ones I feared had yet to come.
I poked at the small patch of flame in my fireplace, allowing it to breathe and grow. I looked at the folded parchment in my grasp that Salara had brought me and without a second thought, I tossed it into the fire. The material darkened and combusted into flames as ashes rose and danced about before they settled. I spread out the burning material to let the fire die down and then left my room in search of Tuborg and De Koninck.
I knew I needed to travel to Kessex Hills immediately but my abrupt solo departure at this point in time could raise suspicions like my previous ventures had. I would need to take some of them with me and spin the trip as a hunt for the culprit. For the most part, it was indeed a hunt for the culprit but that was only the part of the whole picture I could let them see. Before we reached the location, I would have to figure out how to explain the cave or keep them away from it. Either way, this was not going to be easy but sometimes the best place to keep something hidden was right in front of them.
I found Tuborg and De Koninck conversing in the main hall with Quint and Seren. It was obvious by their tired appearance that none of them had rested after the burial and I could not blame them. It was hard to when sorrow weighed so heavily on our hearts. Tuborg’s usual vibrant dark green seemed to pale along the edges of each exposed section of barked skin and his shoulders slumped down at his sides. De Koninck rubbed at her eyes as she sighed heavily from exhaustion and Seren greeted me with bloodshot eyes and a polite nod while Quint pinched the bridge of his nose. Lack of sleep usually brought him headaches. As they saw me coming, they ceased their quiet conversation and offered me a polite greeting which I returned in kind.
“Where is Salara?” I asked.
“She’s on her way back to the Priory,” De Koninck replied. She shifted her weight and placed her hands on her hips. Despite the dark band marking across her eyes, I could see dark circles under them. “Rhys’ death has hit her pretty hard, as it has with all of us. I think she wanted to get away from it for awhile.”
“I understand.” I imagined she felt more comfort with her books than any we could provide here. We all had our different ways of coping with tragedy and loss. “And the new recruit,” I paused for a moment, trying to remember his name. “Artis I believe his name was.”
“A little rough, but should work out just fine. Might take some time though,” Tuborg noted. “He’s been out the past couple of days gathering materials. He wanted to make some improvements on his gear.” There was a soft rustling as the Sylvari shifted his stance and cocked his head to the side like he always did when trying to read my current state of emotions.”How are you holding up?”
“Well enough,” I replied as stoically as I could muster. “Any word from Clarkus and Alena on Sir Fendall’s location?” I knew it was too early to ask but I was anxious to hear.
“Not yet but I’m sure we’ll hear back soon,” De Koninck reassured me.
“I wanted to wait for him but there may not be enough time,” I stated. “I have information on Rhys’ murderer or murderers and their possible location but we have to leave right away. If they are where I believe, I fear they will not linger there.”
“Location?” Quint inquired, eyeing me curiously as he stroked his chin. “How did you come by this information?”
A wry smile formed on my lips as I locked my gaze with his. “You know I do not reveal my sources.”
“Of course not,” he mumbled, matching my smile with his own. “Where’s the location?”
“Kessex Hills,” I replied. “We will need to leave this afternoon.”
“So soon?” De Koninck asked, concerned. “We just buried Rhys this morning. We should allow some time for grieving.”
I raised an eyebrow as I looked up at the tall Norn woman who stood more than a head taller than me. Loose strands of dark hair fell in front of her face as she looked down to meet my gaze. “We are working against time,” I stressed. “I do not know how long they will remain at the location. Of all people, I would have expected you to approve of this hunt.”
A smile twitched on De Koninck’s full lips and I could see a flash of excitement light up her otherwise tired hazel eyes. “Rhys would want us to right this wrong if we had a chance,” she thought aloud.
“He would,” I replied firmly. “We are going to find who killed Rhys and make them pay dearly for the light they took from this world.”
Words of affirmation erupted from their lips and they gave me hope. If I could keep their focus on this hunt for justice, it may keep their eyes away from the entire picture.
“As one of the Founders, I will be going but I will need one of you to remain here with Ariella and Liliana and watch over the hall,” I said to Tuborg and De Koninck. “You two can decide who stays.” I turned to Quint and Seren. “I want you two to come with us. Quint’s contacts and knowledge of the area will prove invaluable and it will be good to have your defense skills, Seren.”
“You go,” Tuborg said as he turned to De Koninck. “I know how Norn love their hunts.” He offered a tired smile as he looked up at her. “Show them your claws and make them pay.”
De Koninck gave him a hearty pat on the back and grinned but sorrow crept back into her eyes, and her grin then fell. “I’ll crack an extra skull or two just for you.”
“Always thinking of me,” Tuborg mused.
“One more thing,” I began. “We will need to relocate our refugees displaced from Scarlet’s rampage.”
Their eyes widened. I knew it would surprise them but I was not sure how safe this place would be for the refugees if they remained. I could not foretell the dangers heading our way.
“Why?” Quint asked, taken back. “Space is a bit tight but we make it work.”
I nodded and crossed my arms over my chest. “I understand but it is time for them to move on. As you said, space is a bit tight here. I think they would be more comfortable at Lion’s Shadow Inn. I spoke to Aela after– on my way back from the hills. She says there is room.”
The three of them exchanged glances while remaining silent. I waited for a remark or a rebuttal but none came.
“Then it is settled,” I announced. “Pack what you need and we shall meet outside the front doors in a few hours.”
Everyone parted except for Seren who had remained quiet throughout the entire conversation. She still wore her winged armor from this morning but her sorrowful expression had shifted to one of irritation and frustration. The two of us stood in awkward silence for a moment in the main hall before Seren finally broke it.
“Why didn’t you tell them about the Inquest device?” Seren demanded in a hushed tone as she leaned in closer to me. Narrowing her tired hazel eyes, Seren flitted her gaze around the main hall to make sure no one was around to hear us. “You didn’t tell the Seraph about it and I can understand that. Keeping the officials out of the way so we can get our own justice. Makes sense. But not telling our own people? That doesn’t make any sense.”
Seren had a point. I supposed I had been so used to keeping everything so close to the chest that it was reflex now to not reveal any information I managed to gather. Still, it did not seem to be a detail that needed revealing at this point. “It does not matter right now, Seren,” I replied firmly. “We have the location so knowledge of the device is not relevant. If it does become relevant, I will let them know.”
As the young guardian leaned back, she straightened her shoulders and the winged shoulderplates moved in such a way that it made Seren look like a little bird trying to straighten its wings. “We could be walking right into a group of Inquest.”
I shook my head. “Highly unlikely,” I replied. “The foyer was void of any damage and Rhys had tea set in the sitting room. He would have never offered tea to Inquest members. Something about the detail is not right.”
Setting her jaw, Seren persisted, her voice starting to rise. “Still, we shouldn’t be keeping this from the others. It doesn’t sit right and I–”
“Rhys was more than a Founder,” I snapped harshly, cutting Seren off. “He was my friend! You do not get to make this decision. I am a Commander and a Founder of this guild and you will follow my order to keep this information to yourself until otherwise noted.” My heart raced and immediately I felt the guilt begin to wash up inside me. I knew I had spoken too harshly to the young guardian, much more than she deserved. Now, as she stood before me with wide eyes and cheeks flushed, I could see the rift beginning to build between us.
“Yes Commander,” Seren conceded. I could see a hardness taking hold in her narrowed eyes. She turned and left, leaving me with my surging guilt.
Yet another price to pay for the secret I kept.