Clarkus slowly nodded. “Iron Legion last saw him near Thunderbreak Hills. They said those renegades never saw him coming.” The Charr let out a deep, throaty chuckle that ended with a loud huff. “But he never returned to Ebonhawk like he told the Seraph he would.”
Letting out a frustrated sigh, I ran my fingers through my long red hair part way and stopped to cradle my head. as I closed my eyes to think. Where had Sir Fendall disappeared to? Had he received word of Rhys’ death and was on his way back? No, he would have sent word to us.
“We checked with everyone in and around Ebonhawk and no one has seen him,” Alena piped up. Carefully, she jumped down from Clarkus’ striped shoulders and landed on her feet with a soft thud onto the main hall’s hard wood floor. Her orange and red feathered collar fluttered as she jumped. “I’m sorry Nienna.”
Solemnly, I nodded. “Thank you both for trying to find him.”
A soft rustling grew behind us and I turned to find Tuborg approaching. The edges of his grey-green leafy armor pulsated with his red Sylvari evening illumination. “De Koninck is resting soundly. I doubt even a raging Dolyak could wake her. Any word from Sir Fendall?”
I shook my head.
“Right then,” He murmured. “We carry on without him?”
“We will have to,” I replied begrudgingly. Despite my concern, I did my best to not let it show on my face. However, I had a growing worry that some graven situation had found Sir Fendall like it had found Rhys. As I retreated into my thoughts, I rest my hands firmly on my hips, tapping my index fingers on my skirt’s dark leather belt. I wanted to find him, to make sure he was alive, but the three of us had promised that our secret would always come first. No matter how badly I wanted to shatter our promise for the sake of my friend’s safety, I had to remind myself what was at stake.
“You need a little muscle on this trip?” Clarkus offered, pounding a balled up fist into his other hand.
“I’m free too!” Alena added.
Clarkus huffed and looked down at Alena. “You may want to sit this one out little one.”
The small Asura’s proud smile faded into a pout. “Aww, but my minions and I can wreak so much havoc! We’ll totally have you all covered.”
I avoided Alena’s gaze as she silently pleaded with her widened bright blue eyes and clasped hands. More members in our traveling party would mean a higher chance of complications. However, we would have more numbers if we encountered a large group of opposition. I grumbled to myself as I found this whole situation too confusing and frustrating. I was never good at managing large groups of people. There were too many variables to manage and there was no way to foresee every single possible one that could be triggered.
“Fine,” I said firmly. “You can both come but you must follow any instructions I give without fault. Do you both understand?”
Alena looked at me a little uncertain but she nodded anyway. Clarkus straightened himself and pounded his dark furred chest in a salute. Unlike Alena, Clarkus was a soldier and had been bred for war, just like every other Charr. I would not have to worry about him straying from orders. Alena might stray, but if Clarkus followed, it was more than likely she would follow her close friend. I returned the salute with a polite nod and dismissed them. Tuborg started to leave with them but I grabbed his arm. His barked skin crackled under my grip.
“We need to talk,” I growled and let go when my fellow commander turned back around. “Two words. Artis. Cimber.”
The Sylvari’s eyes grew wide. “What about him?”
“Do not play coy with me, Tuborg. I’m lacking my usual patience,” I warned.
“Okay, okay,” he replied, putting his hands up. “He was indebted to a bandit leader and they were using his mother as collateral.”
“Jannaj,” I interrupted.
“I take it you’ve had the pleasure?” Tuborg asked, raising a black thorned eyebrow.
“In a matter of speaking,” I replied, narrowing my gaze.
Tuborg cocked his head to the side, revealing the red illumination under his mushroom crown. “Oh?”
“A story for another day,” I said. “Tell me the rest.”
“He needed to get her somewhere safe, away from his men, so I made a deal with him. She could stay nearby under our protection as long as he joined us and contributed to the group,” Tuborg explained.
I bit the inside of my lower lip as I frowned. The two stories lined up at least. “I understand you wanted to help, but do you realize how risky that was? Artis could have unknowingly led Jannaj and his men to our hall. They could have broken in and who knows what damage they would have done to our home or to any one of us.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” Tuborg acquiesced. “I just wanted to help. He seemed a decent fellow who just happened to catch a bad break.”
Despite my anger at Tuborg’s risky choice, I knew he had a good heart. It was in his nature to help those in need so I could not bring myself to assign a harsh punishment. “Do not do it again without consulting De Koninck and myself,” I warned. “Understood?”
“Understood,” he replied with a nod.
I politely excused myself and sought out some fresh air. There was a steady evening breeze blowing in from the bay that brought a chill to my skin but did not truly bother me much. Clouds had moved in and periodically moved in front of the moon, casting shadows around Lion’s Arch and down on the Deverol Gardens which was nearing completion. The glow lamps that had been constructed along the edge of the island cast down a luminescent blue light upon the ground that I could see from the cliffside up above where I was standing. I closed my eyes and listened to the soft sounds of the breeze and the gentle waves below. The rhythmic pounding of my heart joined in the evening song and I kept my thoughts focused on the sounds. I needed to stop thinking about everything else for at least a few moments. If I did not, I feared I may start to lose myself.
My senses must have reached out while I was meditating because before long, I heard a second steady beat mingle with the rest of the gentle sounds. Boot steps followed, bringing me out of my meditation. They were light steps but still sure footed and ones I recognized immediately.
“It is not polite to sneak up on a meditating necromancer you know,” I announced to my visitor.
“You keep telling me that yet I haven’t see any negative consequences besides getting on your nerves,” Quint jested. He was wearing a simple moss green coat in place of the one torn from the battle with the spider queen.
I looked over my shoulder and raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to join me or skulk about back there?”
The Adviser joined me at my side, his hands clasped behind him. “Been a rough couple of days,” he noted.
“How are the others?”
Quint paused for a moment, carefully choosing his words I imagined. “They’re fine.”
“And Seren?” I asked even though I was sure I did not want to hear the answer.
“Angry,” he replied, looking out over the island.
I nodded and sighed. “I put her through a lot,” I confessed. “Probably more than she was ready for after Scarlet.” I turned towards Quint. “Was it too much? She is still young and having to deal with the siege and losing her brother and now all this.”
Quint silently studied me with his steel eyes. “You’re choices are yours to make as our Supreme Lady Commander.”
I shook my head. “I know but–” I felt my words start to come tumbling out as anxiety began creeping its way back into me. The heavy pounding of my heart crept its way into my head and the palms of my hands started to sweat. “You are our Adviser. I need you to advise me and not just with what I want to hear. I need the truth. Am I making the right choices?”
Quint thought for a moment before speaking, his hands still clasped behind his back. He looked at me and gave me a knowing smile. “You care enough to ask me my opinion and you care about them more than you let on. I don’t doubt you’re trying and that’s all we can ever really do. We fail, or feel like we do, from time to time because we’re all fallible creatures.” Unclasping his hands, he gestured to both of us as he spoke. “Seren is angry and hasn’t figured out how to deal with her loss yet. She blames you for how the circumstances played out because you are the one in charge and it’s convenient. She chose to rush that bandit cannon. You didn’t make her. But be patient with her. She will come around.” The Adviser rose a dark, graying eyebrow as he leaned in and spoke softly. “But don’t forget the others. Lack of truth and trust breeds friction,” he warned. “And friction breeds fire.”
I knew he was right but truth and trust came hard for me these days. “Thank you. I will keep that in mind. As always, I appreciate your council.” I said, grateful for the honest advice but still had my doubts. At least I still seemed to be keeping up a good enough illusion. After saying good night, I politely excused myself and made my way to my quarters. I had many things to consider.
A gentle evening autumn breeze blew into my room through the open window and fluttered the pages of my book resting next to me on my bed. I thought some reading might help me find some answers and cure my current state of insomnia so I poured myself over the pages of the large, red tome. It did not seem to be working because I was still awake after at least an hour of reading. Another soft breeze fluttered the pages again until they remained open on a journal entry. I had read the entry before but I took the book into my lap anyway and started to read it again anyway.
98 Season of the Phoenix 1295 AE
Decisions like these are never easy but in a situation like the one we’ve found ourselves in, protecting the ones we love is paramount. However, we are also Wardens and we have a duty to uphold. For her safety, we have to send her away. At least for now. I couldn’t bear it if something were to happen to her because of the choices we had made. Never hearing her laugh again. Never watching her run through the fields in Queensdale with her long, red hair flying behind her like fire. I’m going to miss our little girl so much.
Will she ever find it in her heart to forgive us?
I ran my fingers over the elegantly scrawled words. Some of the black inked letters had been blurred by drops of what I assumed were her tears. I choked on my breath as I breathed and tried to hold back my own tears as I lightly traced the last letters of the entry with my fingertips. She always signed each entry, as if offering a declaration of truth to each confession and every thought.
Rhrya Valar. My mother.
Unable to bear reading any more of the entries and notes, I wiped my eyes and shut the book. The pale autumn moonlight streaming in from my open window reflected off of the fading silver ‘V’ on the cover. So much of my family’s history contained in this collection of bound pages, I felt I did not fully understand it all. For years, I could not bring myself to read the pages. Too much pain coursed through my veins and it was not until I found myself in Orr that I opened the cover for the first time. There were still so many questions left unanswered. I guess it was up to me now to find them on my own.
I secured the tome back in its hiding place in the bookcase and then looked at my bed. By my estimate, I had about five or six hours until sunrise. My tired and aching body needed sleep desperately but I knew as soon as I drifted off I would likely be visited by the dream again. Should I chance it? I was no good exhausted.
I tightened my fur-lined robe around me and shut the window panes. Looking aside at my bed again, I considered sleep once more but guilt and worry still chewed at me like a hungry Risen grub. I know I had told everyone we would be leaving all together to the second location but the outcome of the battle near the cave had me reconsidering my future actions. It had hurt me more than I had anticipated to see them all injured, not knowing what they were really fighting for. I thought this would be easy. I thought I could handle juggling these people and the truth buried in our past but now I just did not know.
I stood there for awhile in silence while pondering my choices and their outcomes. None of my options seemed to have particularly joyous results so I was forced to choose the one I thought would have the least amount of negative consequences.
Turning on my heels, I quickly strode over to my weapons armoire, pulled out my pack and began to fill it with extra supplies I kept in there for emergencies such as this. If I worked quickly, I could slip out without anyone knowing and attend to my business without harm coming to the others. Maybe I could catch a nap somewhere along the way. Of course, when I got back I would be returning to a sea of unhappy faces and there would be some explaining to do but I would rather face that than the death of one of my own. Besides, I was always better on my own.