*This chapter is from Seren’s point of view*
“I’m just suggesting that we consider things from her perspective, that’s all,” Alena offered, her chestnut twisted rows bouncing with every step. She had grown tired of riding on Clarkus’ shoulders and wanted to stretch her legs a bit. The small Asura waddled as fast as she could to keep up with everyone else’s longer strides. “This is something very important to her.”
Alena may have made a good point, but every fiber in me wanted to think it might be biased or her view had been skewed. Neither Alena nor any of the others had been on the receiving end of Nienna’s wrath when her behavior had been questioned. It was unsettling and suspicious. I stopped abruptly and addressed the entire group. “I don’t know if you all fully understand the implications of her choices,” I debated. “Her actions have put us all in danger. A person in her place of authority should not be dealing in secrets and lies.”
“That may be,” Tuborg said, stopping next to me. The dark thorns along his brow and the bridge of his nose flexed as his visage fell into one of seriousness. “But this is the situation we find ourselves in now so I suggest we put aside the blame, at least for the time being, and focus on the issues at hand and the problems we can solve currently.”
“Like running back home with our tail between our legs?” Clarkus growled. The Charr let out a loud huff and folded back his long brown ears.
“Strategic retreating,” Artis chimed in with a smirk. “There’s nothing wrong with running away to live another day.” The hunter reached down to stroke Yunkle’s coarse fur. The warthog had grown anxious from the raised voices in the group.
I rolled my eyes at Artis’ ridiculous comment and then turned to Tuborg. “When we get home, I strongly suggest we consider letting her go.”
“By what right do you have to make that sort of call?” Alena cried out, her tone growing darker. She thrust the bottom end of her staff into the ground in anger as she bared her small, but very sharp teeth.
“Now wait!” Tuborg ordered as he gestured firmly. The gentle rustling of his movements was overshadowed by the argumentative cries growing amongst the group. Abandoning his usual gentle tone, the Sylvari took on a more authoritative one. “Wait! Have we forgotten what Nienna, Rhys, and Sir Fendall have done for us? Have we forgotten all the work they have put into making us a home and bringing us together? Even saving some of us from death?” He turned and shot a knowing glance at me. “And others from being outcasts.”
Clarkus folded back his ears and let out a deep, guttural growl. Digging in his long toe-claws into the ground, the Charr turned himself away from the group.
I ground my teeth. He was right. Nienna had indeed saved me from a very real possibility of death during the siege of Lion’s Arch. Those children and I would have been torn apart by those Aetherblades, just like they had done to my brother, if she had not shown up. I didn’t want to think about it anymore and tried to lock the thoughts away again, but my fingertips unconsciously sought out the pouch on my hip containing my mace’s fragments: the last gift I got from my brother. It was a sharp reminder that no matter how armored we were on the outside, we were all still victims of death at one time or another.
I stared at our leader, clenching my jaw as I considered what to say before speaking. “And because of that we should just forget the madman out there wanting to kill Nienna and possibly kill us too because we’re associated with her?”
Tuborg shook his head and motioned with open hands for me to calm myself. “I’m not saying that, Seren.”
“Then what are you saying?” I pressed, placing my hands firmly on my hips.
“That we deal with what’s in front of us now,” he began. “And deal with what comes after, later.”
“Sounds fair to me,” Liliana said while casually stroking Athena’s white breast feathers. The owl sat perched on the Norn’s bracer, watching us all with her wide eyes. “It’s wise to take on the battles you can first and then ready yourself for the next ones.”
“Seems like a strange strategy for a Norn,” Clarkus said gruffly. “Thought you were all ‘headfirst into all battle’ types.”
Raising her eyebrow, Liliana looked aside at the Charr and said simply, “one learns.”
“So what now then?” I asked Tuborg. “What do we deal with first?”
I could see a slight look of relief in Tuborg’s eyes, likely from my waning opposition. “First, we return home and fortify. If this Alec and his people come looking for us, I want to make sure we’re protected.”
“We still have people out there,” Alena noted. Her long pale ears drooped as a deep frown formed on her thin Asura lips.
“I know,” Tuborg replied. There was a touch of sadness in his voice that couldn’t go unrecognized. “But we need to get back. We have to trust that they’ll be okay and make it back on their own.”
“And Nienna?” Alena asked. “Are we just going to leave her out there to deal with Alec?”
The Sylvari let out a heavy sigh and looked out into the Fen. “That is what she wants.”
“But is it the right choice?” Alena urged. “I mean, I know she wants to us go home, but what if she needs help? What if he gets whatever it is she guards? What if Alec kills her?”
The group fell silent.
“It doesn’t matter,” I spat out. “She doesn’t care about us anyway.”
“I think she does.”
The answering voice startled me and instinctively, we all reached for our weapons and turned only to find there was no threat: just Quint slowing from a jog to a walk. Strands of his salt and peppered hair hung down by his eyes and his brow was covered in a heavy covering of sweat. With a relieved sigh, I let the heavy hammer slide back into its harness on my back.
“I highly doubt that,” I began, shaking my head. “Otherwise she wouldn’t have lied and kept us at arm’s length like she has.”
The Adviser considered this for a moment. “I think she sees it differently. I think deep down, Nienna does care, but doesn’t quite realize that she does or wants to admit it. Perhaps keeping us all at a distance is a way to protect us and maybe herself.”
I glowered, crossed my arms over my chest and I looked aside to find Artis staring off into the Fen with an odd look on his face while the others continued talking. I guessed that maybe he had lost interest in the conversation but he was looking so intently.
“What is it?” I asked him, brashly.
“Thought I saw something,” Artis said unsure as he nodded out to the thick foliage before us. “Or someone.”
The sound of steel cut through the air as Tuborg drew his greatsword and held it ready in both of his verdant hands. His tightening grip on the dark handled weapon sounded like creaking branches. “We should go,” he ordered and he motioned to us with a nod to follow.
The group hadn’t gone two steps before I felt something sail by the front of my face and sunk into the muscle mass in Clarkus’ upper arm. The Charr let out a furious roar that I could feel rumble in my own chest. He grabbed at the arrow and pulled it out with another pained howl. I reached for the hammer on my back but as I felt the handle with my fingertips, something collided with me and knocked me off my feet. I fell hard into the ground with a grunt with.
“To me!” Tuborg yelled and as he fell to one knee, a large barrier of pale light sprung up from the ground under him to create a dome of protection. I scrambled to get my feet under me and then half crawled, half ran to the sanctuary. When I got there, I took a quick mental head count to make sure we were all inside but found we were short by two.
“Alena!” Clarkus roared. The hulking Charr, dug his claws into the ground and burst into a sprint out of the sanctuary, towards the Asura who was laying on the ground unconscious not too far from the barrier.
I tried to reach for his arm, but I was too slow. “Wait Clarkus!” I yelled after him.
Quint drew his bowstring and lined up a moving shot as a notched arrow formed in the weapon. “They’re cloaked! The blurred edges give them away!”
Following the Adviser’s advice, we all readied our weapons and prepared to defend ourselves against a foe we could not completely see. Quint let his arrow fly and it sunk into the attacker’s back near Clarkus, causing his veil to fall. With a loud hiss, Michi followed the arrow’s path and sunk her sharp teeth into his leg, trashing it around violently. The man collided face first with the ground not far from where Clarkus was scooping up Alena in his arms. The assassin didn’t get back up.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Artis lowered his bow. “That was close.”
“It’s not over, Quint warned. His eyes were trained on something moving around us but I couldn’t see what it was. He pulled back his bowstring again, and tried to line up another shot.
“Stay together,” Tuborg said as he readied his stance. “This could be Alec’s people and the gifts he promised.”
My heart pounding against my chest, I took the hammer in my hands and readied my own stance. I was not going to be taken down by a veiled assassin if I could help it. Scanning the area, I kept my back to the others and watched for a distortion in the space around us. A cry erupted from behind me and as I turned to look, something hit me hard in the head. I stumbled for a moment, my vision spinning, and then suddenly the ground rushed up to meet me. Sounds of struggle erupted all around me and before I could turn to see what was going on, I blacked out.