“Seren’s pretty broken up over that mace,” De Koninck observed as she cleaned the blood off her greatsword with a discarded piece of cloth.
Clutching at my bandaged arm, I looked over at Seren as she gathered the Shiverstone shards and put them into a makeshift pouch. “She is,” I replied. “That mace was her brother’s. He gave it to her when she joined the Vigil and it was all she had left of him after Scarlet.”
De Koninck nodded silently. “The Battle of Lion’s Arch took from each of us. Some more than others,” she murmured, securing her greatsword on her back. “Are you okay?” she asked, motioning to my arm and neck.
I reached up and felt something wet and upon inspection, found red on my fingers. Vik’s blade had managed to get closer than I thought. It did not seem to be bleeding much and my arm was stable for now so I waved De Koninck off as she offered to help heal it and told her to save her energy. I could see to it later.
“However,” De Koninck began, placing her hands on her curvy hips. “Next time you plan on pullin’ a stunt like that, let me know first.” She ground her teeth, as if the very thought of being in that cage made her feel the claustrophobia she dreaded so much.
“Duly noted.” We nodded together, silently sealing our agreement. However, it was an agreement I would likely have to break at some point in the future but I could not tell her that.
Turning my attention back to Seren, I realized the young guardian was now weaponless. I could not allow her to continue this journey without a means to defend herself so I began looking around at the bandits’ weapons scattered about the camp. They were of limited quality as evidence by their haphazard construction. They would hardly survive a hearty battle.
Then I remembered what I had found in the chest.
Half jogging, I made my way over to the large chest where the bandits had kept our weapons, knelt down, and reached in. My fingers found what I was looking for and with a grunt, I pulled out the large ornate hammer. The hefty weapon had seen many battles as evidence by the scuffs and dents on the iron hammer head but it’s beauty still radiated, despite its blemishes. Whomever had owned it before was unfortunate to have lost such a magnificent weapon and I took a silent moment to thank them for their loss. A small pair of golden wings met together at their tips and glinted with reflected moonlight in the center of the hammer’s face. There were larger golden wings along the edges on either side of the hammer face. The great weapon also born worn decorative edging and an unrecognizable mark on both sides of the hammer’s edge.
“Seren” I uttered quietly as I approached her, carrying the large weapon in my hands. I struggled with it in my grasp and its heavy weight made my wounded arm feel like it was on fire. “You should take this.”
“I don’t want it,” she replied angrily as she stood. Pulling the pouch’s leather strings closed, Seren then hung the leather loop on her hip next to the bloodied mace haft. She had not even bothered to clean it off. “I’ve never used a hammer before.”
I nodded. “I know but you are smart and you will figure it out.” I turned the weapon over in my hands as I inspected it once more. “It is of good make and very sturdy. Please take it,” I urged as I awkwardly held out the hammer.
The young guardian looked down at her bloodied mace haft and then at me, still unsure. Eventually, she took the weapon from me. As Seren held the long hammer haft, she struggled to keep her balance but managed to stabilize after a moment.
“Tuborg and Clarkus can teach you how to use it properly when we return,” I said and watched as she looked at me and then back down uncertainly at the large hammer in her hands. Opening her mouth, Seren started to say something but instead, she stopped and let out a heavy sigh. Her whole body slumped. “Try to think of it as a new journey with this weapon. A new beginning.” I smiled, hoping my encouraging words would help the young guardian take to the hammer.
“They shattered his mace. I was so angry, I wanted to kill them all,” the young guardian confessed as her eyes began to gloss over. She looked down at the bloodied mace haft hanging from her hip. Blood slowly dripped down her side and had smeared all along her hip, contrasting drastically against the silver color of her armor. This normally confident young woman who carried herself with such strength and lightheartedness seemed smaller now and more fragile. The light that normally filled her eyes and fuelled her had diminished.
All because I had knowingly put her and the rest of my group in harm’s way.
I clenched my jaw and tried to force back the guilt. I did not need it to get in the way right now. Emotions had a funny way of preventing a person from making a good judgment call or doing what truly needed to be done. They clouded thoughts and made things messy. I needed to remain clear and I needed the young guardian to follow suit.
“It is okay to feel angry. Our emotions are a part of who we are,” I began. “As long as you do not let them take control.”
“Like you’re doing with this manhunt?” Seren argued, a fire sparking in her eyes. “You can’t deny that you’re letting your emotions drive your choices.”
Unwilling to start a heated argument, I took a deep breath and responded as gently as I could. I knew Seren would already be on edge from our previous disagreement about the inquest device and I did not need her to slip further away from me. “We’re– we are all angry about Rhy’s death, Seren. So no, I cannot deny it nor do I discount your concerns. But I let the chance at justice drive me more than my anger and that is what I hold on to so I do not cross over that fine line between justice and vengeance.”
The young guardian adjusted the heavy hammer in her hands, menacingly. “And if you do cross that line?”
“Then you have my permission to use that hammer on me.”
After we took a few moments to gather our packs and search the bandits’ camp for anything of use, we headed back out to look for the road. With help from the moon and stars, we found our position and eventually, the road. As we emerged from the tree line, I had the uneasy feeling of eyes on me. I slowed my pace and nonchalantly looked around us but did not see any signs of a scout or spotter. Perhaps it was nothing more than my own paranoia eating at me. Taking in a deep breath, I waved out my hand towards the ground, calling a mark upon it to cease my bleeding. The mark shadowed the ground and a dim light washed out upon the ground all around me. Within seconds, I felt refreshed and the pain in my arm began to gradually reduce. I stepped out onto the road. Quint and De Koninck took point with their pets while Seren lingered behind them. Intentionally, I remained behind Seren, walking next to Artis and his warthog.
“I don’t need to be babysat, ya know,” Artis grumbled as he looked aside at me through strands of light brown hair that hung lazily in front of his face.
“Look, you are obviously clever,” I stated matter-of-factly. “You saw an opportunity to take out Jannaj with our help and grabbed it. What if an opportunity comes up, granting you more than you have at my expense and that of my people?” I shot a sharp glance at the hunter who had chosen to remain silent. “So yes, keeping an eye on you cannot be helped,” I replied.
Artis shook his head and begrudgingly conceded. “I ‘spose not but if it helps my case, I have some information you may find useful.”
“I am listening,” I replied, curious.
“While you were fighting his lackeys, Jannaj said something to me,” Artis said, kicking at a stone in the road.
“Which was?” I inquired impatiently.
“He’s going to kill you last.”
I stopped abruptly and turned to Artis. “What?”
“He’s going to kill you last,” he repeated. “That’s what Jannaj said.” The hunter raised his eyebrows. “Sounds like someone is gunnin’ for you and yours, Red. Should I be worried too now that I’ve joined up?”
I wrinkled my nose, annoyed by the new nickname. “Do not call me that,” I replied, avoiding a response to his question.
He put his hands up. “Sorry.” He gestured to all of me. “It’s just with the red hair and the clothes, I thought it fitting.”
I rolled my eyes and continued down the road after De Koninck and Quint.
“By the way,” Artis called. I heard his quickened steps approach from behind. “Thank you. For what you did with Jannaj.”
I looked aside to him and offered a silent nod.
We arrived at Cavernhold a few hours before sunrise. It was a location aptly named for the enormous cave-like camp cut into the side of a large hillside. Quint spoke to Alina, the Seraph sergeant and his contact at the former centaur camp. The Seraph now controlled the cavernous location, preventing the centaurs from sending raiding parties to Quarryside. The Seraph let us bed down in a corner out of the way. Seren and Artis brought over firewood from the Seraph’s large store and Artis’ warthog even pitched in to the task and carried over a small log with his large, strong tusks.
As the flames grew, I sat down and leaned against the earthen wall, letting out a weary sigh as I watched my travel mates settle down. Placing my axe across my lap, I gripped the haft tightly and allowed my heavy eyelids to close. I reached out with my senses and focused on the rhythmic sounds of my travel mates’ heartbeats. I let the sounds lull me to sleep.
“I’m sorry dear friend.”
I jerked awake, a cry spilling from my lips. My chest felt tight and on fire as I gasped for breath. As my blurred vision began to focus, I found a pair of concerned bright hazel eyes in front of me, illuminated by the nearby low campfires. Reflexively, I raised my axe, unsure if friend or foe, but was met with a strong arm. De Koninck held my axe firmly in her grip, preventing me from burying it in her face.
“Sorry,” I muttered, lowering the ambrite weapon.
“You were talking in your sleep and then woke up yelling,” she informed me. “Nightmare?”
Sighing, I pinched the bridge of my nose and willed the memory of my nightmare away. “Yes. And I am fine,” I assured her with a nod.
The Norn looked at me uncertainly, “you sure?”
I nodded again and casually waved her away and told her to go back to sleep. She finally listened to me the third time I repeated myself. Leaning my head back against the cool earthen wall, I felt eyes on me. I looked around and found most of them slumbering as De Koninck settled herself back next to Molson who let out a sleepy grunt. Artis was sleeping heavily on his back with Yunkle’s head resting on his leg. Seren rustled where she slept on the ground across from me and turned on her side. A slow movement caught my eye and I turned my head slightly to find Quint leaning against part of a scaffold where he sat with Michi curled up next to him. He was awake and his steel eyes were on me for a moment before he leaned his head back against the scaffold and went back to sleep.
I sat awake for a little while, not wanting to return to my slumber. I looked down at the ambrite axe in my lap and traced the edge of the blade with my thumb. My eyes felt heavy and my body longed for sleep but I worried I would be met by the dream yet again. It seemed now every time I drifted off, I relived the nightmare. The truth had a funny way of making itself known despite bring locked away.