I couldn’t really be sure where the scream came from, only that it pierced my ears and set my heart racing. Was it a cry from Owl? Or from Grenth? Had it come from me? A dark cold gripped me tightly and my chest felt like it had been put in a vice. As I tried to steady my ragged breathing, I blinked, waiting for my vision to clear and stop spinning. Red. There was so much red in my vision.
“Great Spirit!” Dee roared, her sad tone bordering on anger. “You’ll pay for this with your life!”
Liliana lay motionless on the snow covered ground. Her eyes, now lifeless, remained open and gazing at the snow. Blood mixed with her hair and darkened the usually earthen hue. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as I felt the last ribbon of life force start to flutter away. I desperately wanted to reach out and tether it back to Liliana but it was quickly swept away by a bitter breeze. Suddenly, I felt myself shaking. I turned to Dee and blinked, not understanding at first why she was shaking me so hard. Then suddenly, the world came rushing back to me like a gale force. The realization of what had just happened as well as my involvement in the matter hit me hard.
“Nienna,” Dee cried out as she held tight to my collar. She nearly pulled me up off my feet. “Nienna, we need to do something!”
“W-why?” I uttered in nearly a whisper. Reality may have been starting to set in but my thoughts were still swimming. They were like puzzle pieces being tossed around in a hurricane and I did my best to try to catch them and put them back together.
Being a necromancer, one might assume that death would be something I would be so used to that I wouldn’t even blink at it and for the most part, that was correct. In my experiences to date, there was always a disconnect between me and the victim with no emotional attachment. But here with Liliana, there was no disconnect and the pain reached out to me and dug its claws into my heart.
Alec had been right. I was bluffing even though I knew he had all the cards. I couldn’t let him see my weakness. I didn’t want to let myself see it but it made itself known as I folded and Alec knew I would. How he knew I would fold was unsettling, but then I remembered the feeling of watchful eyes along our journey. Had he been studying me this whole time? Why hadn’t I been more careful?
“Why didn’t he just take it?” I asked Dee, not really looking at her. I couldn’t bring myself to look her in the eyes. Feeling myself lose my balance, I adjusted my footing and kicked something hard. Looking down, I recognized Fendall’s breast plate in the snow. At some point I must have dropped it but didn’t remember doing so.
Get ahold of yourself, Nienna.
Once my legs regained some semblance of sturdiness, I reached for Dee’s strong hand and tugged at it. Reluctantly, she let me go and I turned to face Alec who was standing over Liliana’s body with a disturbing smile on his face.
“Why not just take my blood?” I spat, taking a few steps forward as I gestured wildly. “Why not just come and get it, huh? You have all those people at your beck and call. Why do you insist on involving them?” I demanded, gesturing to the others who avoided looking at Liliana’s corpse.
Alec’s face brightened and a smirk formed on his lips that sent angry chills down my spine. “Where’s the fun in that?” he asked, almost puzzled. His disturbing smirk fell. “You screwed with my life and got what you wanted. Your precious blade stayed safe and you got to go on living as if my brother never died. I’m repaying in kind.” He pulled back the pistol’s hammer and pointed it at Tuborg’s head without hesitating. “How many of your friends are we going to have to go through before you give me what I want?”
“By the Pale Tree, no more killing,” Tuborg said as he shot Alec a furious glance. Drops of Liliana’s red blood had sprayed messily onto his crown. “Stop this madness.”
“Don’t push me, sap bleeder,” Alec warned as he pushed the pistol barrel against Tuborg’s mushroom shaped crown. His eyes were alight with fury.
“Alec,” I called firmly and he looked up at me expectantly.
I paused as I seethed, my eyes narrowed sharply at Alec. I knew once again I was at a cross road: choose the mission and risk losing all of the others and likely myself or give Alec what he wanted and risk the consequences that would follow.
I was so tired of people dying because of my mission.
I was so tired of people dying because of me.
“Alright,” I bit angrily. “You can have it but no more of this torture. You let them go!”
“That my dear will all depend on you and if there are any tricks or traps waiting inside,” Alec replied. “They go free once I have what I’ve come for.”
“Fine,” I replied, clenching my jaw.
“Are you sure about this?” Dee asked quietly as she leaned in towards me. She had lowered her greatsword but still held onto it tightly. Worry mixed with the tears already in her eyes as her gaze darted between me and the others. “You’re giving him exactly what he wants after fighting so hard to protect whatever it is you do.”
“Trust me. This is the best way,” I assured her as I holstered my axe. I turned my back to Alec for a brief moment while folding up the thick, red material of my sleeves. “Follow my lead,” I told her quietly and then turned back toward Alec and the others.
“She does anything other than open the way, fry all their heads clean off their necks, Torx,” Alec ordered.
“Gladly,” the little Asura sneered.
I flashed the long eared cretin a sharp glance before taking my dagger from my belt. Grimacing, I made a deep cut in my hand and watched as red welled up and began trickling down my palm and onto the white snow. I sheathed the weapon and then moving in an arc towards Grenth’s statue, I locked my gaze with Alec’s, showing him my willingness to cooperate in hopes to move this situation along smoothly. As I neared Alec’s people, my nerves started galloping. They were all armed and ready to fight with expressions of contentment frozen on their faces. Without my axe in hand, I felt naked.
“Your people need to move,” I said coldly to Alec. “They’re in the way of the path.”
I could almost see the wheels turning in Alec’s head as he stood there eyeing me with pistol still in hand and pointed at Tuborg. With a silent wave of his hand, Alec eventually signaled to his people to move and they did so but not without grumbles. I walked through part of the group, letting my blood drip onto the ground and his people stayed back. Circling behind Grenth’s statue, I rested my bloody hand along a series of intricate grooves. They had been worn over time and a person might not even know they were there unless they knew exactly what they were looking for. We emerged from the other side where Alec still held a pistol to Tuborg’s head. We locked into a battling gaze as I passed him.
“No tricks,” Alec warned me again and I stifled a growl.
As I strode near Liliana’s corpse, the air around me grew cold and silent. There was no heartbeat, no rushing of blood, no spirit. She was just a shell now that would rot away into the snow. She deserved more than to just rot. If we got out of this, I would make sure to give her a proper send off from this world.
Tuborg flashed me a worried glance as I passed, probably because my hand was mostly covered in blood at this point, so I flashed a little smile of assurance to the Sylvari. At this point, I had noticed more of our people looking up at me from where they all knelt but I looked away and kept walking. It was hard to look at any of them right now in the state they were all in and knowing it was because of me. Following the same path as before but mirrored, I continued towards Dee and then turned around to face Grenth’s statue again.
Are you watching Grenth, I wondered. Do you see what’s happening?
I stumbled a little but caught myself. Waving to Dee, I called her up to me and she instinctively offered me an arm to hold on to.
“Thanks. Feeling a little weak,” I said, loud enough for everyone to hear.
I felt Alec’s eyes heavy upon us now as I led us together in a crossing arc behind Grenth’s statue. I rested my bloody hand along a second set of grooves as we passed. We emerged from the other side as I led us along to finish the arc, still bleeding onto the ground. Reaching the far point, we turned and made our way back towards Grenth in a zig zag pattern this time as I drew a jagged pattern in the snow with my blood. About half way up, I stopped us.
“You need to move them,” I said to Alec as I pointed at our people. “You need to move them back to the statue. Right next to it so they’re out of the way.”
Alec eyed me suspiciously.
“Do you want the way to open without complications or not?” I asked him, impatiently.
Raising a dark eyebrow, Alec pursed his thin lips in thought. “I suppose not. Fine. Move the others back.” He then motioned to one of his people, a short but stout man with a heavy stubble and carrying a thick headed hammer in his strong hands. “Follow them.”
Alec’s people began pushing and shoving the others back towards the statue but not without resistance. Torx followed our people closely, still holding tightly to the controller. I studied it for a moment, paying close attention to how he held it and in which hand before continuing on. After a few moments of verbal opposition, our people were in place against Grenth’s Statue and Dee and I were on our way around the statue one last time. My heart raced wildly in my chest. I could tell by Alec’s stiffened form and hyper-alert eyes that he was beginning to grow wary. I needed to wrap this up.
As we went behind the statue one last time, I stumbled and caught myself on the stone, wiping my hand along the third set of grooves. We didn’t have much time left.
“Count to 10 in your head,” I whispered to Dee while we were behind the statue. “Then get to the others quickly.”
Taking in a deep breath, I reached deep into shadow for the strength I needed and then with a sweep of my hand, I reached for the man with the hammer behind us and a wisp of shadow sailed towards his throat and pulled him to us. I unsheathed my dagger and plunged it into his gut and twisted. Then, reaching for my axe, I managed to hold it at my side despite the bloodied grip.
There were sounds of confusion when Dee and I emerged from behind the statue with our weapons in hand. A thunderous rumble filled the cove and for a few seconds, most everyone’s focus had shifted to the sound.
With as great of force I could manage, I threw my axe at Torx’ arm, severing it just below the elbow. As the Asura screamed in pain, his limb fell to the ground and the controller fell out of its grip. I lunged for the controller as an eruption of cries rose from Alec’s men but before I could see any of them reach, us the ground opened underneath our people, swallowing them up.
I plunged myself into the dark after them just before the ground closed back up.