*Please note that this chapter is told from Seren’s point of view*
I was very aware that if Nienna knew I was in her room, she would have my hide and maybe more but it was a risk I felt I had to take. I needed to know what secrets she hid and if any of them could affect any of us. Pushing away any sense I had left at the time, I tried her chamber door and surprisingly found it unlocked. I had expected her room, of any of them, to be secured but I imagined no one went in anyway because most of us weren’t willing to risk her wrath. I had been on the receiving end after all and knew first-hand how unpleasant it could be. After letting my eyes adjust to the lack of light, I began my search. Nienna’s room was dim, cold, and less organized than I expected a Supreme Lady Commander’s room would be. I had imagined immaculately organized bookshelves, tidy tables, and a perfectly swept floor. Maybe a perfectly roaring fire with a bubbling kettle. I couldn’t help but feel a little relieved that she lived like the rest of us.
Her bed was made and the bed curtains drawn back but there were random articles of clothing and armor pieces strewn around on it and the floor. Her windows were shut tight and the shutters were closed almost all the way, only letting in a small stream of light. Shards of wood from a broken chair were scattered over her floor but some had been pushed aside and I thought I saw drops of blood on at least a couple of the pieces.
My first inkling was to try her office so I strode over to her office door and tried the knob only to find it was locked. I don’t know why I was surprised and I didn’t have a lockpick set on me Chances were that I wouldn’t have much luck with it anyway. I wasn’t the greatest at picking locks so I’d have to settle for searching her personal quarters. Turning back around, I surveyed her room. There were papers on her table so I started there but they were nothing more than general tallies of our supplies and income. I tossed them back on the table and kept searching. Sifting through her clothes armoire turned up nothing as well and her weapons armoire wasn’t hiding any secrets either. Just a collection of decorative weapons and a lone dagger wrapped up on the shelf. Her axe and a winged dagger were missing.
After searching all around her room and coming up empty, I plopped down on her bed and let out a frustrated sigh. There was a crinkling sound as I sat and I searched in the fold of material and pulled out a piece of parchment. It was old and the edges were soft and worn. I unfolded it to find hand-written words written in a delicate script, as if it had been written with such care. Some of the letters had been rubbed away but I did my best to make the note out.
arest (Dearest) Daughter,
If this rehes (reaches) you, we are gone nd (and) our burden now falls upon ou (you). Tell no one and ct (cut) all ties. It will be safer for ryone (everyone). Run to the edge of the world. See (seek) solace in Dwayna’s arms and guard her WORD There’s nothi (nothing) left for you here. Please forgive us. May Dwayna ard (guard?) your soul and Grenth guide your hand.
I stared at the unsigned parchment, not sure what to make of it. What burden were they talking about? Was it connected with Rhys’ death and Nienna’s strange behavior? Folding the piece of parchment back up, I rushed out of Nienna’s room, careful to close the door behind me. I threw open my door and began searching for my gear. With the note, I had a starting place, but It sprouted more questions and I was looking for answers. I wasn’t going to find them here.
“Where you goin’?” A curious voice called. I looked up to find Liliana striding my way across the main hall. “Decided to join the others after all?”
“I should go help,” I said, telling half a truth.
“Mhm,” Liliana replied as she wiped a red apple on her cream-colored sleeveless coat to clean some dust off the skin. “Takin’ the new weapon for a spin?”
I glanced over my shoulder at the clunky hammer. The golden wings glinted in the sunlight streaming in through windows in the main hall, as if trying to entice me. I was more stubborn than the hammer realized and it was only there out of necessity. “Don’t have much of a choice,” I grumbled. “It’s all I’ve got right now.
Liliana nodded casually. “Goin’ by yourself?” She took a bite from her apple.
“That’s the plan. They couldn’t have gotten too far,” I said as I started for the main door.
“How ya going to track ’em?”
I stopped short. I didn’t want to admit it but she was right. My sense of direction was fine but tracking wasn’t exactly a talent of mine. I couldn’t tell most boot prints from each other and I didn’t know where to begin with drake versus salamander tracks. I just happened to get lucky enough to find Nienna in the Leap, thanks for a traveling party that happened by her.
I turned around on my heels. “What are you suggesting?”
A big grin grew on Liliana’s full lips and her eyes lit up with excitement.
A fluttering of white feathers startled me as a large snowy owl fluttered her wings as she flew in through the open main door and settled on Liliana’s outstretched arm. Gently, the Norn stroked the owl’s white breast feathers as she spoke soft words and called her by her name: Athena. She carried Athena on her arm as we stepped out of hall and into the Autumn midday sun. Leaves had started to turn and the sun’s warmth didn’t have the same intensity like it did during the summer. Smiling, Liliana took in a deep breath and let it out. It didn’t take a blind man to tell how delighted she was at being outside. A cool breeze swept a bunch of rusty-colored leaves across our small courtyard and they crunched under our boots. From her post at the doors, Ariella stood and regarded us with curious dark eyes. In addition to her black coat, she wore a black scarf around her neck for warmth. I wondered if she had stashed a blade in it, like she was prone to do in other articles of clothing.
“We’re headed out to find the others,” Liliana told our self appointed guard. With a beating of her wings, Athena took to the air and waited patiently in a nearby tree for us to leave.
Ariella’s curious eyes shifted to concern as she placed her hands on the hilts of her pistols. “Raven has brought strange dreams lately.” Solemnly, she looked at us. “Be careful.”
Liliana’s smile fell. “We will.” She extended her free hand which Ariella took in kind.
Lush foliage gave way to long stretches of beach as we crossed the southern hills and entered the Bloodtide Coast. I watched as fishermen wrangled large angry crabs to take back into Lion’s Arch to sell. The large number of tracks on the road were too messy to make out any particular set of boot prints, so Liliana struck up a conversation with the couple of the fishermen who had been here since before dawn and were now packing up to go home.
“She came through here,” Liliana said as she returned. “So did the rest of ’em”
“You sure?” I asked.
The Norn ranger nodded. “Woman in red walkin’ through these parts at pre dawn kinda sticks out.” She smiled and let out a hearty chuckle. “So does a large Charr carrying a chatty Asura on his shoulders.”
“Which way did they go?”
Pointing due east, Liliana replied, “That way. We can follow the road and see if we can pick up on her trail or the others’.”
I nodded. “Okay, let’s go.”
While we followed the road, Liliana and I kept our eyes out for signs of Nienna or the others. As we crossed the bridge near the falls, cold mist wafted heavily towards us and I had to wipe water droplets away from my eyes. The amount of footprints on the road lessened and Liliana spotted our friends’ tracks. I breathed a sigh of relief. With so much ground to cover, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to find them.
Overhead, Athena flew from tree to tree as she followed us and occasionally landed on the ground next to Liliana as she stopped to examine a print closely. The tracks directed us south off the road just before Marshwatch and as I eyed the moderately sized stone fort, I understood why Nienna might want to veer off now. Lionguard stood watch near the doors, patrolled the perimeter, and had posts set up along the parapets. They could see someone coming from a considerable distance. It made sense that she would leave the road here and head into the marsh.
“So,” Liliana started as we tromped through murky calf-high water. “Why do you think she just took off like that?”
“I dunno,” I replied, trying to keep my balance. My boots kept getting stuck in the muck under the water. I couldn’t see past the water’s edge and the smell of decomposing flora and whatever else invaded my nostrils. I didn’t want to think of what could possibly be hiding down there.
“You think it has something to do with Rhys’ death? Maybe she knows something that we don’t?” Liliana speculated.
“I dunno,” I said again, a little more harsh this time. I didn’t really want to talk about it and I think Liliana got the message since she stopped talking for awhile. We walked in silence for some time aside from the occasional word when the trail shifted slightly. I didn’t want to guess or speculate about what was going on with Nienna. I wanted answers and I wasn’t going to get them until we found her.
“So,” the Norn started again. She looked down at me with such curiosity, I felt I was on display. “You’ve been around for a little while but we’ve never really talked. What’s your story little bird?”
I wrinkled my forehead. “Little bird?”
“You know with the wings and all that you usually wear.” She motioned to my armor.
“Oh, yeah,” I smirked. “Not wearin’ them today,” I muttered. My winged shoulders had been badly damaged and were still laying on my floor. Instead, I wore a basic set of mail over my chest with simple metal plating, leather leggings, and leather boots with plating. “Don’t know if I will again.”
“No?” She asked, raising a dark eyebrow. She looked down at me and smiled, her earthen ponytail falling over her shoulder. “Still, what’s your story? Why does a small thing like you join the Vigil?”
Carefully, I stepped around a fallen branch that poked up out of the shallow water. “There’s a lot of bad in the world. My brother and I just wanted to do our part to help protect people from it.” Unconsciously, I felt for the small bag containing my mace’s shards on my hip.
Liliana nodded. “That’s a noble reason.”
“And I don’t think size really has anything to do with that,” I added. I’m sure a tinge of my frustration on the topic made its way into those words. I was a little on the defensive side about my short stature.
Her long ponytail hung long her back as she kicked her head back and let out a hearty laugh. “No, I suppose not. But it sure helps,” Liliana replied as she ducked under a gathering of low hanging pale moss that I was able to just walk under.
I sighed, partially agreeing with her mentally but I wasn’t going to say it out loud. Maybe being bigger would help protect people better than what I could do now. No, I couldn’t think like that. My brother believed that he and I could make a difference in the Vigil, no matter our stature or position in society, but his death had me questioning a lot lately. My sense of purpose felt like it was being stripped away, starting with his death during the attack on Lion’s Arch and now with our current situation surrounding Rhys’ death and Sir Fendall’s disappearance. I felt like I didn’t really know what I was doing or where I was going anymore and I was hoping that getting answers on what was really happening would help set me back on my path.