Snowflakes floated down from the sky in a light flurry and I welcomed their icy touch on my face. I had left a messy trail behind me dotted with blood from my still bleeding wounds so I kept to the back of the group. As we trudged through the almost knee-deep snow, I struggled to keep going. My legs felt like two stiff boards and my back muscles ached with every move, but I had to keep going. Thank goodness my blood blended in with my red attire. I didn’t want the others to worry and I sure as hell didn’t want to give Alec the satisfaction of seeing my weakened state.
“Here’s fine,” I said, thankful for the break from walking. We were far beyond the passageway’s exit now but still far enough from the Priory camp down the hill that we wouldn’t draw attention. Despite my wobbly legs, I placed a weak foot purposefully down in the snow, calling up the fraction of energy I had left in me. Dark magic welled up around me, casting a sickly greenish glow on the snow. I took in a breath of relief and let it out as I let the energy wash over me, calming my wounds for the moment.
Clarkus pulled on Alec’s coat collar, causing the man to halt sharply and stumble. With a growl, the large Charr kicked the back of Alec’s legs with a strong hind paw and he fell to his knees with an angry grunt. Clarkus uttered a deep, amused chuckle that rumbled deep in his chest as Alec shot a murderous glare over his shoulder at the ascalonian beast. Still holding onto Alec’s collar, Clarkus pressed down slightly, putting a firm amount of weight on Alec’s shoulders with his strong knuckles until he buckled slightly with a grunt under the pressure.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alena sticking very close to Dee and Tuborg who were off to the side. There was an odd mix of uncertainty, curiosity, and fear in her eyes as she watched me. Glancing aside at the others, I swore I saw something similar in their eyes too. Immediately, I felt as if all their eyes were boring holes into me and all at once, I was filled with self-doubt. I let my gaze fall to the snow. I shouldn’t have gotten so carried away before.
“I’ll take it from here,” I said gruffly, still holding my side.
“Are you sure, Nienna?” Dee asked. She gestured to her and Tuborg. “We can handle this for you so you can get some rest.”
“No,” I replied sharply. “This is my mess. I’ll clean it up.”
Alec raised his eyebrows. “A mess now, am I? That’s not very flattering.”
“Shut up,” I spat. “I’ll deal with you soon enough.” Turning to Dee and Tuborg, I nodded toward the hill that led down to the Priory camp. “Go on. I’ll catch up when I’m finished here.”
The Norn placed her hands firmly on her hips and pursed her lips in concern. She flashed a look at Tuborg who returned it with a silent nod. Reluctantly, Dee nodded in acquiescence. “Alright then. Let’s head out,” she ordered the rest of the group.
“Come on,” Tuborg ushered with a gentle gesture to Alena who had parked herself next to Dee’s leg.
The small Asura hesitated at first but then followed Tuborg, her large crystalline eyes fixed on me the entire time. The snow came up to her chest so the small Asura had to use her small, but strong arms to move the snow from her path. She tugged on Clarkus’ thick, furry arm as she shuffled up to him and the Charr let go of Alec with a huff before picking her up to place her on his shoulders.
As the others started down the hill, Seren remained behind. Her stance was rigid and I could sense a cold fury building within her. She glared at me with her deeply narrowed hazel eyes through a mess of earthen strands of hair that had fallen in front of her face. I opened my mouth, hoping an explanation would come out but nothing did. I couldn’t imagine anything I would say at this point would really make a difference anyway. I sighed sharply and nodded towards the others who were leaving, indicating for her to follow the others. The young guardian clenched her jaw but slowly turned and began trudging through the snow after the others.
“Will you be alright alone with him,” Quint asked quietly as he moved close to my side and bent down near my ear. He had his arms crossed tightly over his chest. “You’re badly hurt. He may try to make a move,” he warned.
Letting out a heavy breath, I tightened my arm around my aching torso and looked down. Blood had started to lightly trickle down onto the snow around my feet. There wasn’t a single part of my body that didn’t hurt and I probably could have slept for a week. Even though my free arm was stiff and aching, I forced it around my back and drew out the pistol from my belt.
“I’ll be fine,” I replied as I pulled back the hammer and pointed it at Alec.
The Adviser clenched his jaw, probably holding back another warning but instead he nodded and held out his hand to give me the collar controller. I didn’t realize that I had even dropped it. Uncurling my arm from my torso, I took the contraption from him. “We won’t be far,” he said, giving me a little smile before starting his way down the snow packed hill, leaving me alone with Alec.
“Alone at last,” he jested with a melodious dry chuckle. “Should I expect a little foreplay?” He asked, motioning to the controller. “Or are we getting straight to business?”
I grumbled and shook my head in disapproval. “You owe me answers,” I said, ignoring his comments. Narrowing my eyes sharply, I leaned slightly forward. “Tell me what you know about my parents?”
Alec’s features suddenly turned sharp and cold, as if he was remembering every bitter memory he ever had. “They died protecting the blade you guard now. Be careful, I think it runs in the family.”
“Who killed them?” I asked, looking down the barrel I had trained on his forehead. Firearms were not my forte, but I figured I couldn’t miss from a few feet away.
He frowned deeply. “You’ll find out soon enough,” he started. “And your friends will find out too.”
“Who!?” I pushed.
A mocking smile grew on Alec’s lips but sadness filled his eyes. Silently, he remained still with a knowing glance plastered on his face.
“Alec,” I said a bit gentler this time, trying to appeal to the pain he seemed to be wrestling with. “Tell me who. Was it the same person who hurt your fiancé you spoke of?”
At the mention of his fiancé, Alec’s whole posture changed from one of defiance to one of surrender. His shoulders slumped, his visage grew soft, and suddenly I was aware at how small he looked. For that moment, the raging monster was gone and a man in mourning took his place.
“He had her-,” Alec started softly but his anger snowballed and each word grew harsher. “He had her killed because I failed to bring it back. She was all I had after you took my brother from me.”
“Then why keep going after it?” I asked. “This person has nothing to hold over you anymore.”
“I wasn’t doing it for him,” he replied, his tone growing dark and his cold eyes growing glossy. “I was doing it for her!”
“You were after it for revenge,” I murmured as I put the pieces together in my head. “You wanted the blade to go after her killer.”
Alec glared at me with his cold eyes. “And you took that away from me. Just like you took my brother! He deserves to die for what he did!” Tears started to flow from his eyes. “You should have let me have it so I could put that bastard in the ground forever!”
He started to push himself up but I lunged forward and brought the pistol hard against his face. He cried out in surprise and raised his hand to touch the welt growing on his cheek. I had expected him to get up and try again but he collapsed back onto his knees.
“I didn’t want to kill him, you know,” I tried to explain. “But I had to. He succumbed to the power and took the blade,” I explained.
“He was trying to help me you selfish bitch!”
“NO ONE should have that kind of power!” I interrupted forcefully. “I don’t care who they are.”
A look of disgust came over his face. “And who are you to decide?”
I took in a deep breath and let it out, staving off a wave of lightheadedness and forcing myself to remain present. “I’m it’s warden and have been most of my life. I’ve felt the power first hand. It’s stronger than any of us. It’s dark, unrelenting, and eternal and it doesn’t belong in any mortal hands.”
Alec shook his head and uttered a weak chuckle. “It doesn’t matter anymore though, does it,” he muttered. “He’ll kill everyone you care about until he gets what he wants. He’ll kill you too, just like he killed your parents.”
“Who, Alec,” I pleaded. “Who killed them. Please, I need to know. Help me set this right. Help me balance the scales.”
Alec remained silent while on his knees in the snow as snowflakes continued to flurry all around us. His eyes were still as stone, but I could see the wheels turning underneath the surface. Then something changed in his visage and he narrowed his cold eyes. The raging monster in him had returned.
“You’ll meet him soon enough,” he growled. “And then you’ll pay for killing my brother and keeping me from my revenge.”
Without warning, Alec sprung to his feet and lunged at me with a furious cry. Taken by surprise, I reacted on instinct and squeezed the pistol trigger instead of using the controller. A loud shot rang out and Alec fell back, his blood reddening the pure white snow. I breathed in and out sharply, trying to calm my racing heart jump started by the excitement from the event. Stumbling back on wobbly legs, I grew dizzy again and before I could fully process what had happened, I fell back into the cold snow and blacked out.