The ground rushed up to meet me and we collided forcefully. I could taste metallic in my mouth from Alec’s strike and as I struggled to push myself up, I spat out red. As Alec sheathed his greatsword on his back, he advanced on me and I pushed myself back away from him until I knocked into Tuborg. He toppled over and I shook my sleeve, depositing the small blade I took from Torx’s belt. I made eye contact with the Sylvari and he nonchalantly nodded and scooped up the blade before anyone could see.
“What you did to him was unforgivable!” Alec roared as he grabbed me again and tightened his grip on my tunic. Roughly, he pulled me to my feet. “How could you leave him there like that? When I found him, the Risen were digging him up!” His voice cracked and anguish joined the anger already present in his violet eyes. For a brief moment, I almost felt sorry for him.
I pried at his grip on my tunic but was not able to get any sort of hold on his white knuckled grip. With a swift motion, I hit hard against the underside of Alec’s elbow and the force was enough to pain him and loosen his hold for a second. I broke free and landed a punch against his cheek, stunning him for a brief moment. Clarkus’ triumphant roar filled the air, followed by words of praise from the others and it enlightened my dimming spirit. In the few seconds I had, I located our weapons piled against the hillside to my left. Two of Alec’s people were guarding them.
A pained growl leapt from Alec’s throat as he drew his greatsword again. He raised the large blade over his head but I was ready this time. In my years before forming the Defenders of Peace, I had taken it upon myself to learn a number of skills to keep myself alive. None of them had been as valuable has how to properly evade an enemy’s attack. I leapt to my left, tucked, and rolled just a large illusion of Alec’s greatword flew near me. Digging in my heels, I stopped myself as I came upright. I was almost there.
“He deserved what he got,” I shot back, my chest heaving from the exertion from the dodge. I was a little rustier than I had thought. It took everything I had at that moment to not let this facade break down. I hated saying these things but I needed to. I had to keep Alec distracted and needed a cover for my movements. I could not just casually stroll over to the weapon heap without drawing the attention of the guards or Alec himself. Above all however, I hated saying these things more because they were rooted in truth. “He showed his true colors. Turned out to be just like his brother.”
Alec let out a pained laugh. “True colors? That’s the pot calling the kettle black,” he sneered. “You’ve muddled your colors so much that your people have no idea of the demon lurking beneath.”
I forced a wicked smile on my lips. “But your brother got a good look.”
Without warning, Alec cried out and with a sharp wave of his hand, he cast his mantra, calling upon the power from his patron god Lyssa. Standing, I readied myself and prepared for his next hit. “Agony. Torment. PAIN!” With a series of three passes of his hand, Alec cast his mantra and readied his energy. I did not have much time left. In the corner of my eye, I spied a large hilt of dark, twisting metal darkened by a murky shadow. Alec’s eyes were trained hard on me and as he raised his hand toward me, I dodged again and grabbed the great blade’s hilt. With as much strength as I could muster, I threw the blade to Tuborg just as a surge of sharp energy radiated throughout my body. It felt like a thousand long needles were being driven into my body at the same time. I clutched my sides, ground my teeth, and doubled over in pain.
There was a fury of red-hued shadows followed by the sound of rustling foliage and a rousing battle cry. Tuborg swung his greatsword at an advancing Norn warrior in heavy mail. The broad shouldered brawler stood easily a foot taller than Tuborg and carried a heavy mace in each hand. With an intimidating growl, he readied them for Tuborg’s head. However, the Sylvari did not falter and instead gracefully stepped under the warrior’s swing, sweeping his blade down with him and then up at the Norn’s arm. The large man cried out in pain as Tuborg parried and slashed at his chest before finishing him off with a deadly strike. With a broad stroke of his blade, he next freed De Koninck from her bonds and set to work on Alec’s people while he and De Koninck worked to free the others.
There was another flash of pain and as I shut my eyes tight, I could see a burst of white behind my eyelids. I fell to the ground, gasping for breath as sounds of skirmishing filled my ears. Alec’s people began swarming the others but Alec himself was still focused on me, as were the attentions of the two guarding the weapons. I shook off any lingering sensations of pain and stepped down on the ground hard. A dark glyph appeared under my feet and immediately I felt the charge of power surge into my veins. A slender, dark-haired woman rushed for me, daggers in hand. As she thrust one of the blades at side, I grabbed her wrist and twisted hard. The woman cried out in pain as her wrist snapped and she dropped the blade. Wildly, she swung with her other hand tightly gripped on her other dagger so I swept my leg under hers and she fell to the ground with a grunt. I pried the remaining dagger from her hand and buried it in her chest without another thought.
A sharp sting cut into my left shoulder blade. I turned around to find the other weapons guard holding a short sword stained with my own blood on the edge. He raised the blade above his head to strike again but I rolled out of the way. Quickly, I reached back for the other dagger the woman had dropped and as he brought the short sword down, I crossed my blades and blocked the strike. Focusing my energy, I called to the shadows and with a wave of my hand, a swarm of dark insects flew into my opponent’s face. He desperately swiped at them to clear his view. That distracted moment was all I needed. Before the insects dissipated, I slashed my blade at his arms, cutting deep, and then drove my dagger deep into his chest, twisting the blade. He struggled to stay on his feet but eventually dropped to the ground like a weight.
The others were holding their own against Alec’s men and it made my confidence in the situation grow. I had higher hopes now that we could get out of this mostly unscathed and I could bring this situation to an end. Flicking blood off my blades, I turned to find Alec who was nearly upon me. His eyes were wild and before I could raise my blades, he knocked me back with another wave of energy and I fell onto my back, stunned. I scrambled to my feet but before I could stand, his fingers curled around my throat. Slowly, he pulled me up by my neck and as I reached for his hand, I realized the force of falling back had made me drop my weapons. I really needed to work on that issue.
“Why don’t we show them all what you really are,” Alec sneered.
My lungs burned and I gasped for air as he lifted me to my toes. Clawing as his grip, I tried to free myself but the lack of oxygen was making me weak. I tried kicking at him but could not manage to get in a good enough hit. I knew I did not have much time left.
“Come on Nienna,” Alec urged, mockingly. “Show us that demon inside. Show the murderess hiding under that noble’s facade.” He brought his face close to mine, a strange smile on his lips.
I breathed in hard, barely filling my lungs. I did not want to give Alec what he wanted but I was running out of options. The others were busy tangling with Alec’s men and I was on my own. I did not have a choice so I called to the dark.
A great shadow rose from beneath me and embraced my body. It danced and rolled along my skin as whispers filled my ears. They were voices of the past. Voices of the dead. They stayed in the dark, waiting for me when I called and if I listened too long, they grew stronger. I made sure I never listened for too long.
The energy from the dark helped my focus become razor sharp and as I raised my hand, I locked my fingers into a rigid, claw-like position. Summoning my energy, I pushed forward with my hand, invoking the primal emotion of fear. Alec’s eyes widened. His body started to shake and he let go of my throat. Harshly, I breathed in air as he stepped backwards, all the while staring at me with those wide violet eyes full of fright.
“N-No,” he stammered, shaking his head hard. “Your tricks won’t work.” He tightened his grip on his greatsword and moved towards me in a sprint.
I dug in my heels and readied myself with a surge of my life force in my hand, ready to strike when I felt something suddenly sail by my cheek. An arrow of energy lodged itself into Alec’s shoulder and sent him sailing away from me and onto his back.
“A little close for comfort!” I called back over my shoulder.
“You’re welcome!” Artis snapped back as he pulled his bowstring and readied another shot.
De Koninck rushed to my side with Molson by her and Alena with her minions in tow. The battle over and their energies depleted, the misshaped characters shed their flesh, sinew, and bone and returned to the ground from whence they came. As the last of Alec’s people were finished off, one by one the others joined me and we encircled Alec. Like a cornered animal, he clutched his wounded shoulder and glared at me. Slowly he stood and swept his gaze over each of us.
“Your people are more robust than I anticipated,” he grumbled. “But no matter. You don’t bring all your weapons to the first fight, right?” He locked his gaze right on me. “You didn’t, now did you?”
A laugh erupted from his lips and I stared at him. It was obvious the pain of losing his brother consumed him and it was that fact which stayed my hand at that very moment. I did not realize at the time how much I would regret it.
“Before I go,” Alec stated simply. “I have a gift for your red queen, courtesy of Jannaj and his men. They were kind enough to procure it for me.” Reaching into his coat, he produced a small crystal rose. Its thorned stem curled around the petals, holding the flower in its deadly grasp. It glowed with a pale, violet light. I had seen one before, many years ago and immediately, I knew this was not a well-meaning gift.
“Everybody, get back!” I ordered.
Before I could move, Alec threw the crystal rose at my feet and a cloud of sour smoke filled my lungs. I coughed as I covered my nose and mouth, but it was too little too late. Alec’s gleeful cackle filled my ears as he picked up the short sword stained with my blood, vanished in a flash of brilliant shattered light and appeared near De Koninck.
“Don’t worry, I brought gifts for everyone else,” Alec said manically. “One for now. More for later.”
I reached out to De Koninck but before she could move, Alec ran his blade through Molson’s heart. A pained bellow filled the air, mixed with cries from the others as they rushed towards Alec who disappeared again, this time in a cloak of reflecting light, leaving behind the echoes of his laughter. De Koninck released a pained, sorrowful cry and fell to her knees next to Molson’s lifeless body. She buried her face into his fur as she mourned the loss of her beloved bear.
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I watched the whole thing unfold. From the outside, it may have looked like a random strike but I knew better. I had read the Order’s file on Alec Sable myself and I remembered the tight lipped story bits Torran had let slip. He was driven, calculating, and a little mad. After his time in Divinity’s Reach’s prisons and his brother’s death, he was even more so. I bet Alec knew that taking out Molson would drive a passionate Norn over the edge and the blame my way. It was a good move to force a wedge between us and to start to fracture the group. Gods, my secrets and I had already helped him with that.
My whole body immediately felt light and I could barely feel my toes and fingers. As I blinked, the whole world seemed to spin around me. My legs weakened and I toppled over onto the hard ground. I could hear the others call out to me but they sounded like they were miles away. My eyelids grew heavy and I forced myself to keep them open as Tuborg lowered his head, his thorned face coming into my view.
“I-I’m so sorry,” I managed to whisper as I felt a warm tear run down my cheek.
Then the blackness swallowed me whole.