Once Seren had finished removing as much of the toxin from the spider queen as she could, she gave De Koninck clearance to move about which the Norn did immediately. “Bear’s back!” De Koninck exclaimed as she struggled to push herself up. “Fire?” Her broad frame wobbled over weak and unsteady legs but the Norn managed to find her footing with help from Molson’s sturdy frame as he squared his shoulders and let her lean against him. She was never one to let an injury keep her down and she would be hard pressed to let one keep her down now.
I nodded as I passed a skin of water to her. When I had returned to the group, I relayed elective information from my find in the cave, only giving them the details they really needed to hear. “It burned everything in there. There was nothing left to find but a few charred corpses and I could not identify them.”
“Lucky us,” Artis’ comment cut through the soft gasps from the rest of the group. He tossed a root to Yunkle from where he sat propped up against a large rock and the hungry warthog devoured it immediately.
Seren sat off a little ways outside our group with one of her winged pauldrons in her lap. The wing itself had been bent back and some of the feathers’ edges had been broken off. Straining, she tried to bend the wing back as it should be but it barely moved. Angrily, she tossed the pauldron aside with a growl and stormed further away from us.
De Koninck flashed me a concerned glance and then motioned towards the young guardian with a nod of her head. “The battle was rough for her. She hadn’t had time to bond with the new weapon yet.” The Norn then nodded to the ornate hammer laying alone on the ground where Seren had sat before storming away. Taking a long pull from the water skin, De Koninck handed it back and I sighed as I glanced over in Seren’s direction. I had put her through a great deal in just the past day and it was already taking its toll. Hell, I had put them all through a great deal, but Seren was having the hardest time coping and it was killing a part of me to watch it happen. Perhaps she was not ready to handle what this life entailed but I had to believe that one day she could be. After all, when I met the young guardian, it was the last time I had heard from my patron god of death. I still remember seeing his visage as clear as crystal looking down upon the young guardian as she defended those children from the Aetherblades during Scarlet’s attack on the city. It had to mean something but what, I did not know yet.
“We will rest for moment and leave soon,” I announced to the group as I found a place to sit amongst them. “We need to get back to the hall and see if Clarkus and Alena were able to find Sir Fendall.”
There were nods and murmurs in reply but they were drowned out by the commotion in my head. My thoughts were swirling around what I had found in the cave. The bodies I found were inside the trap itself which meant they were not able to disable it before accessing the chest. They were in the trap when it was destroyed and five bodies were sacrificed to get the piece. Did their fancy coat leader have any remorse? My guess was ‘No’.
Something was also different about the scene that was not as obvious until I sat and thought about it. Since I was sure the person responsible for Rhys’ death was also responsible for ransacking the cave, I had expected to see our names carved somewhere for me to find. It was an odd thing to do and very personal. I had assumed it was a calling card of some sort and had expected to see it again. Maybe it had been destroyed in the destruction. Maybe one was not left at all. Either way, it had me perplexed.
A rush of air and a flash of red snapped my out of my thoughts. Michi waddled by, her large tail swishing back and forth and almost hit me in the face. Startled, I snapped backwards and my movement caught the drake’s attention. She turned to look at me with her large, triangular shaped head and hissed softly before making her way back to Quint who had been slowly pacing in a circle while in thought.
I glanced at each of my travel mates, thankful that all of their injuries were only superficial, aside from De Koninck’s poisoning. I wondered what god I had to thank for preventing what could have been. Certainly not the dark one who had been so silent for so long.
The sun passed its midday position in the sky and started its rotation downward towards the horizon. “We should go,” I said as I stood. “If we set a good pace, we can be back in Lion’s arch shortly after dark.”
“What’s the plan when we get back?” De Koninck asked.
“See if Alena and Clarkus had found Sir Fendall, resupply, and leave as soon as we can.” I replied. “We need to get to the next location my source noted as soon as possible.”
Artis snorted. “Another location? You guys could have split up and searched both places in half the time!”
I contained my frustration as best I could but the hunter’s comment caught me off guard. I tried to cover by forcing a very patient smile on my face but I found the act more difficult due to exhaustion. I imagined it did not work very well as Artis flashed me a playful smile in return. I hated to admit it, but he was right. However, I could not risk us splitting up given the circumstances nor could I reveal said circumstances. “We do not know who or how many we face so we go together,” I replied firmly.
“Whoever is behind Rhy’s death will be no match for us!” De Koninck bellowed as she thrust a fist in the air. “If we continue on now, we may be able to catch them early!”
“It is possible,” I began a little more firmly than I had intended to but I quickly softened my tone. “But we cannot take the risk. He has a number of individuals traveling with him and he may pick up more along the way. We are tired and need to rest. Plus, we need to have the others join us.” I paused, then added, “Besides, Sir Fendall will want to be there when we do catch the murderer.”
De Koninck nodded solemnly, her fervor waning. “You’re right.”
Artis sighed heavily. “Fair enough. Back to Lion’s Arch then. I have business there anyway.”
“With your mother?” Quint asked with an amused grin forming on his lips. He had quietly rejoined the group and it was not until he spoke that I had noticed the Adviser had joined us.
Artis shot the Adviser a furious glance. “That is none of your business,” he said coldly.
Chuckling, De Koninck reached down for her greatsword and secured it on her back. The weight of it made her wobble but she flashed me an assured look and steadied herself without Molson’s assistance this time. Still, the bear remained close to her just in case. Silently, Quint stood with Michi at his side. He gently pet the large red drake’s back and then slid his dark lens glasses back on his face all while still wearing an amused smirk directed in Artis’ direction. Letting the smirk fade, he turned to me and gave a little nod to let me know he was ready to leave.
I rose from my spot on the ground and dusted off the grassy debris from my red fur-lined skirt. “Everybody ready?” I asked the group. I got nods and verbal responses from everyone except Seren who stood away from us with her arms crossed over her chest and a sharp glare in her eyes. She turned that glare towards me and intensified it. There was no doubt in my mind that she blamed me for what had happened with the battle and every other thing that has happened since Rhys’ death and rightfully so. Yet, my choices were few to choose from. I wished she could understand but how could she when I could not even explain myself.
Upon leaving, I felt the odd sense of eyes on me but as I surveyed the area around us, I saw no signs of onlookers or spies. I furrowed my brow and wondered if it was an irrational sense of paranoia trying to take hold again considering the reason for our excursion. I let everyone go ahead of me and kept an keen eye open just in case.
Our journey back to Lion’s Arch was uneventful and quiet. An empty handed hunt left us all disheartened to a degree. I wondered if my travel mates were as lost in their thoughts about it as I was. We walked along in silence from Kessex Hills to the Gendarran Fields as the sun lowered along the horizon. It finally sunk in a haze of pink and orange an hour before we reached the northern entrance into Lion’s Arch. As we crossed the stone bridge, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had not lost anyone today and my secrets were still safe- for now. I listened to the crickets chirp their rhythmic songs to one another in the Gendarran Fields as I took in a deep breath and let it out. I let my muscles relax slightly as I reveled in the evening’s embrace. I had always felt more comfortable in the night.