“Let’s see how you like it,” Alena muttered angrily as she snapped one of the magic blocking collars around Alec’s neck. Her flesh golem loomed behind her, his hollow eyes observing Alec closely as his mistress circled around the man. Alena had initially pocketed one of the collars for study later, but the little Asura had seen an opportunity for revenge and took it. No one stopped her. “Grenth’s horns,” she grumbled, fiddling with the controller. “Anyone seen the conductor? Little metal piece about this big.” Alena measured the space between her fingers. “If we can find it, I could probably repair the zapping function and give him a taste of his own medicine.”
Alec chuckled dryly and then turned to me. “I doubt I’ll live long enough for a proper testing anyway. Isn’t that right, Lady Commander?”
He and I stared at each other in silence as the noise in the cavern settled into stillness. Even though Alec’s outward demeanor exuded a placid calm, I could hear the rapid thundering of his heart in my head. The longer we sat staring in silence, the quicker his heart beat. It was deafening as well as mesmerizing. It would be so easy to end his life, so easy to pull those life force ribbons from his body and I would be more than happy to do it.
I shook my head, clearing my thoughts. “Get him up,” I ordered roughly.
With one large clawed paw, Clarkus grabbed the back of Alec’s coat and lifted the man roughly to his feet. It wasn’t a surprise to me that Alec fought against Clarkus’ grip. He was a prideful man but even prideful men feared death and that was all that was left of him.
“Well look what we have here,” Dee said as she strode up to join us with Tuborg at her side. Her dark hair was matted against her cheeks with the Aatxe’s plasma and as her bright hazel eyes fell to the collar around Alec’s neck she raised a dark eyebrow. “Is that even necessary at this point? You don’t expect to keep him alive much longer do you?”
“He has answers I need,” I replied while I tried to still my weak and wavering body. I sighed as I closed my eyes and hugged my arm around my torso. “Until then, I need him alive.”
Dee’s eyes narrowed sharply and her lips settled into a hard line. “Fine.” Crossing her arms over her chest, the Norn moved to within a hair’s breadth of Alec and glared at him menacingly.
“Let’s finally get out of here,” Quint said, wiping at the blood near his temple with the back of his hand.
“That was some fancy swingin’, princess,” Artis pointed out with a bright grin as he sauntered up to Seren. He threaded himself through the bow and let it rest on his shoulder. “Didn’t know you had it in ya. I have to say I’m impressed.”
Holding the stolen hammer in her hands still, Seren shot Artis a confused glance. “That almost sounded like a compliment.”
The hunter winked. “You’re welcome.”
Seren rolled her eyes.
Dee offered me an arm to steady myself but I waved her off and received a motherly scolding in return as we readied to leave. Artis stopped Seren at the back of the group and spoke quietly so as not to draw attention from the others.
“Maybe we can start over, eh princess? When we get back to Lion’s Arch, you wanna-.” He suddenly stopped short and his expression twisted.
“Maybe if you stop calling me princess,” Seren replied. Her brow slowly narrowed in growing concern. “Artis, you okay?”
The hunter blinked.
“Come on guys,” Alena called out to Seren and Artis as she put her golem to rest back into the ground. Bone, flesh, and sinew disintegrated and became one with the earth once again.
“Artis?” Seren’s tone grew worried as she watched a trickle of blood emerge from his slightly parted lips. Her eyes grew wide. “Oh gods!” The hammer fell from her hands and landed with a heavy thud on the ground.
The hunter tried to speak but his words only came out as gurgles
“Guys! Something’s wrong!” Seren cried out to the others.
Artis’ body grew limp and he fell to the ground with a wet groan, revealing the wounded blonde Norn kneeling behind him. Her whole body shook in her weakened state as she held her wounded torso with one hand and a bloodied dagger with the other. A satisfied grin spread across her thin lips as she looked up at Seren.
A mix of heartbeats thundered in my head but amongst them all, one weakened and slowed to a near halt. As I watched the Norn woman grin pridefully at Seren, I felt my own body start to shake, not from weakness, but from something far more primal and dark.
Despite my wobbly legs, I pushed the others aside with a murderous growl as red bled into my field of vision. Seren raised her fists, ready to strike but I pushed her aside. Surprised, the young guardian stumbled back but managed to catch herself on her heels before she fell onto her backside. Words of warning and opposition erupted from behind me but the sounds were muffled to my ears. I had half expected someone to stop me but no one dared to lay a hand on me. The blonde Norn woman saw me coming and raised the bloodied dagger to defend herself, but I slapped the small blade out of her hand with the sword still in my hand. Alec broke out in an amused laugh, but was silenced with a soft thud.
Clutching her hand to her chest, the Norn stayed on her knees, waiting. Her grin had faded into a heavy scowl and she seethed as she stared at me. I glanced at the blade in my hand and then down at Artis’ body. His heartbeat had now stopped and I felt the last few ribbons of life flutter away. I tried reaching out for them in hopes that I might be able to tether them to the hunter once again, but they had gone too far. It wasn’t his fault he got caught up in all of this. He didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he sought out sanctuary with us.
Who would tell his mother?
Wild emotion took over and before I could consider what I was doing, I had my hand at the Norn’s throat. Her eyes went wide as my nails cut into the skin on her neck and she clawed at my hand in an attempt to break free. As her nails dug into the back of my hand, she tore into my skin and drew blood, but I barely felt the pain. My focus was sharp and too singular to care about anything else then my hold on the woman. She gasped for breath and fought hard against me but I reached down into the dark for strength. Fueled by my anger and the energy I had left, I managed to keep my grip on her, who despite her weakened state, still continued to struggle.
Under my fingertips, I felt her pulse throbbing wildly. I dug my nails further into her neck and tightened my grip. Her ribbons of life danced within her and as I called to them, they wove around my fingertips and I gripped them tight. The air around us grew heavy and cold enough I could see my own breath. I felt the shadows all around, writhing and whispering to me of past souls that haunted my dreams at night and my thoughts during the day. I hated hearing them but I needed this power. I needed to do this. The whispers grew louder as I felt her life force flow into me, renewing my energy and sending a cool wave over my whole body that soothed my wounds.
The Norn woman’s body grew slack under my grip as her eyes rolled into the back of her head. The clawing eventually stopped and her hands fell from my grip. The woman’s life force rehabilitated my weak body and as I felt the last ribbon flutter away, I let go of her neck and watched her dying body fall to the ground. The corners of my lips tugged upwards into a brief smile.
“Nienna?” Dee called to me. Her voiced, though slightly muffled, managed to cut through my angry haze.
I turned sharply around, still fueled with anger and teetering on the edge of a renewed high from the Norn’s life force. I was met with a sea of wide eyes and shocked expressions. Reality began to poke through and the shadows started to fade away. I looked down at my hands. There was so much blood. Once I realized what I had done, I let them fall to my sides.
“Nienna we should go,” Dee said urgently as she moved towards me.
My heart jumped a beat and I took a quick step back as my hands started to shake. I felt the urge to look back over my shoulder but I forced myself not to. I knew what was there and I didn’t want to see it. Years ago, I had promised myself I’d stay away from that sort of dark magic and yet here in my anger I had let myself get carried away.
“G-get everyone out,” I stammered. They didn’t move. “Go on!”
Shocked out of their concerned stupors, Dee and Tuborg rounded up the others and they all started making their way out of the cavern. Clarkus dragged Alec along by his coat collar as the man looked over his shoulder at me and flashed me a wicked grin. I glared in return as I slowly followed everyone else out of the cavern. Alena flashed me a worried look laced with fear before turning to follow Clarkus to the passageway. I followed behind them, my steps steady and surefooted thanks to my recent victim. As I walked along, my boot hit something hard on my way out. I thought it was a rock but I looked down and found Alec’s pistol on the ground. I picked it up and tucked it in my trousers.
I stopped at the edge of the cavern as the others exited through the passageway. My renewed energy gave me just enough to do what I had intended to do in the first place, though I had intended to take out Alec and his people as well. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t have anyone else finding this place anyway.
Gently, I touched one of the sigils and traced the outline of the elongated skull with my bloodied fingertips, brightening the darkened bloodstain with new blood. Covering the whole mark with my hand, I closed my eyes. The sigil had already been charged with power so as I slowly transferred some of my existing power into the mark, it passed it on to the next one. It too was full so it transferred the energy to the next one, and the next one, and the next one. Having nowhere to go, the energy became stuck in the web of sigils, overcharging them and causing a magical static. Red charges of energy leapt from the walls, whipping about wildly.
I groaned as I pushed myself off of the wall, my body weak once again. The aches and pains from my wounds set in once again now the Norn woman’s life force had left my body. Her whispers would be added to the dark symphony of voices waiting for me in the shadows.
I didn’t look back as I started down the passageway after the others with a bloody hand on the rough wall to help guide me along. Not even when the charges crossed and thunder erupted throughout the cavern with a vicious roar. Not even when the walls started to collapse and fall, filling in the entire space with rock and earth. I didn’t want to look. Looking would confirm what had happened and I wasn’t ready to face that yet.