I don’t know what I expected really. Following days of death, capture, and battle, I drop a bomb that their Lady Commander isn’t who she claimed to be. But by gods, it felt great. It was a weight lifted, be it only a small one. But at what cost? Revealing myself would bring down another pillar in this institution I helped create but what did it matter anyway. My friends and confidants were dead and Alec already had two pieces. I may have lifted a weight, but my shoulders still carried much more and I knew no amount of confession could relieve the total burden.
“Did Rhys and Sir Fendall know about this?” Tuborg asked, cocking his head to the side. The look in his sapphire eyes had shifted, as if he were looking at a stranger. The trust in his eyes started to fade and I couldn’t blame him. At his core, Tuborg was a gentle creature and I pulled part of his world from under his feet. He’d probably never trust me again.
I looked aside at the fire, watching the flames dance within the turmoil in the air. I remembered Quint’s words and they echoed in my mind. Lack of truth and trust breeds friction. And friction breeds fire. As always, he was right. They say a little truth goes a long way and after what I had put these people through, they deserved a little truth. They had been nothing but blindly loyal to each other and to me. It went against my learned nature but maybe I could give them a morsel.
“They knew,” I replied. “It was actually their idea. The caliber of people we were looking for would be more apt to follow a trio of nobles.”
Tuborg’s eyes widened. “They knew? You mean to say that Rhys and Sir Fendall facilitated this?”
I nodded and clenched my jaw until I thought it would snap. Gods. I knew at some point I needed to tell them about Sir Fendall and as I opened my mouth to speak, the words got stuck in my throat. I wasn’t ready to give them yet another piece of bad news. I wasn’t ready to say it out loud.
“Nobles? Rather than what?” Liliana asked. Her tall Norn stature loomed over Tuborg’s slender Sylvari presence. Her messy ponytail hung over her shoulder as she looked down, her gaze boring holes into mine.
“We can do this later,” I blurted out. “I really don’t want to stay here longer than we need to.”
“Why’s that?” Seren scoffed as she narrowed her eyes at me. “Got some other place to disappear to?”
I raised my eyebrows. “Do you want to stay here and wait to see what Alec is up to?” I asked as we exchanged uneasy glances with each other.
Clarkus let out an uneasy growl. “Balthazar take him. The less we see of that coward the better,” he said in his low guttural voice. “Didn’t even stay to finish his own fight.”
“I’m with the big guy,” Artis replied, holstering his bow on his back. Yunkle circled around his feet, sniffing the ground and letting out a heavy snort, expelling dust through his nostrils. “Damn mesmers and their tricks. Can’t stand the lot of ’em.”
I shot a sharp glance at Artis but said nothing. He was right not to trust them. Many I had met were devious and two-faced. They would often take their gifts given to them by Lyssa, the goddess of beauty and illusion and twist them to their own devices. Despite my bad experiences with them, I had known a few in my life to be true to their gifts and their heart. But sometimes even a heart with good intentions can turn. Sighing, I looked aside, away from the fire’s light. Power had a way of tricking impressionable souls to walking down a dark path and mesmers weren’t the only ones to turn.
“Then let’s go,” I ordered gruffly. As I turned to search for my weapons, Seren stepped in my way, the large ornate hammer held tightly in her hands.
“Has it not occurred to everybody,” she began while looking around at the group. “That lies and death walk in her footsteps?”
“I’d watch what I was sayin’ if I were you,” I warned with a quiet intensity as I leaned in.
“Or what?” Seren challenged. “You gonna lie to us some more? Maybe let Alec kill one of us?”
“This isn’t helping,” Quint spoke up authoritatively. The Adviser remained at Huelec’s side who was now surrounded by armed Hylek guards. He shot me a concerned glance as the guards gripped their weapons tightly, their necks expanding and deflating rapidly.
“Listen to Quint, Seren,” I strongly advised. An aching pain rose from my clenched fists. “Let’s do this later.”
“Why are Rhys and Sir Fendall dead?” Seren asked as she leaned in. “Why did that man try to kill you?” Her voice rose to a thunderous rumble as she held her hammer tightly up at her chest. “What’s Dwayna’s WORD?”
“Stop, Seren,” I warned as I bared my teeth. The tension in the air had grown thick and heavy and various heartbeats echoed in my ears. The irregular rhythms were deafening and a complete mess of sound in my head. Letting out a pained growl, I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to force the sound out of my head. It calmed down but it didn’t go completely away. My patience running low, a rising chill crawled up my spine and slithered its way throughout my body, charging the blood in my veins. “ENOUGH!” I cried out. There was an odd echo in my voice that made me stop abruptly.
Fear filled Seren’s eyes as she took a step back. I forced myself to take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Every part of me felt charged and my very blood grew so cold, it burned. Despite my energized state, my heart beat slow and steady. It was an odd feeling to house two opposite reactions in one body. I felt like my very skin might tear apart. I closed my eyes for a moment and just breathed until I felt my body relax.
When I opened my eyes, a shadow by the fire caught my attention. At first I thought maybe it was one of us but a quick scan around the group confirmed that we were all accounted for aside from De Koninck who had left us for some alone time to mourn. I thought that maybe she had returned and had quietly sat herself down but then the shadow turned and the fire’s light illuminated the elongated pale bone visage with hollow eyes that held my gaze. Jagged horns poked through the rough, dark material of the hood and rose above the deity’s head.
The last time I had seen my patron god was during the siege of Lion’s Arch when I met Seren. Why after all this time of silence would he show himself now? The lord of death rose slowly from his seated position near the fire, never saying a word. He didn’t have to. His tall, lithe stature cast out elongated shadows that writhed on their own.
“What’s she lookin’ at?” Clarkus murmured to Alena in a low rumble. The Charr’s long ears twitched nervously.
The small Asura followed my gaze and looked around the fire but shook her head, confused. “I don’t know. There’s nothing there but there is a chill in the air. Can you feel it?”
The Charr shook his head. “Is this a necromancer thing?,” he asked her quietly as he bent down closer to Alena.
Alena frowned as she looked up at the Charr. “It might be. Stay on your toes big guy.”
Their voices pulled me out of my trance and I looked away from the fire and down at Alena. “Do you see?” I pointed towards the fire.
The small Asura looked to the fire again and back at me before shaking her head. “I don’t see anything, Nienna. Is he here?”
I looked back to find Grenth still near the fire, bathed in the shadows. Why couldn’t Alena see him as well? Was this a message specifically for me? He regarded me silently with his hollow eyes and then he began to move. The soft sound of bone grinding on bone under layers of dark woven cloth joined the crackling of the fire as the god of death slid his way around it.
“She’s not in her right mind, Tuborg,” Seren declared, shaking her head. “I’m calling for a vote of removal.”
Tuborg’s surprised utterance got lost in the cacophony of gasps and questions from the others.
“She’s put us in too much danger already and who knows what’s waiting for us. By Dwayna’s wings, we should just let that man have her and maybe he’ll leave us alone.”
“Seren!” Quint scolded.
“Leave you alone-” I muttered, pulling my gaze away from Grenth. “Do you really believe he’ll do that? Do you really believe he’ll just walk away?”
“He won’t stop until he has it and we’re all dead,” I confessed.
“How do you know that?” Seren bit out.
“I got an up close and personal look,” I hissed.
“Has… what?” Tuborg asked. There was a hint of hesitation in his voice, as if he didn’t really want to know the answer. Maybe he thought ignorance might spare him from some of this madness. The truth was simply that none of them would be spared. Rhys, Sir Fendall, and I had rolled our lot in a dangerous game and now even those who never touched the dice were going to pay. Maybe it was the guilt or maybe it was because there really was no reason anymore to keep up pretenses, but I felt my grip on the truth to be loosening. What did it matter. Either way, he was coming for us.
My shoulders slumped and I looked back up to the fire. To my surprise, Grenth remained. He stood tall, his bony hands clasped together in front of him under his tattered cloak. Slowly, he turned his elongated, pale visage to look at the rest of the group before resting his hollow eyes back on me.
“What do you want from me?” I dared to demand from the deity. “Silence for years and now here you are.”
Without a sound, Grenth remained still, the only movement were his shadows that constantly writhed uncannily at his sides. A quiet hiss emanated from the ghostly god and immediately, I could tell what he wanted. It wasn’t quite in the form of words, but rather in images and feelings paired together that formed coherent ideas that bombarded my senses.
“You want me to tell them,” I replied, my tone growing irritated. “After all these years of keeping it secret. Locked away from the world?”
“Is Red okay? Who’s she talkin’ to?” I heard Artis say.
I turned towards the hunter. “I’m fine.” Returning my gaze to Grenth, I waited for a reply.
The prince of ice and sorrow turned his pale visage to look over the group once more and then let his hollow gaze rest on me again. Another hiss emanated from the god, forcefully this time, and with a sudden chill taking over my entire body, I immediately I felt the seriousness of his request. I broke my gaze and looked over the group. We were still surrounded by Huelec and his guards.
“We should talk,” I said. “But not here. I wasn’t kidding when I said we need to move.”