That night, I found myself staring at Seren’s empty room. She had taken all of her things with her and only left behind the bed, table, and chair that was initially provided when she arrived. She had even taken the hammer that she had not been quite fond. It must have grown on Seren for her to take it with her. Moonlight spilled into the room, casting everything in a haunting glow, reminding me of the emptiness I had created. I had caused the rift between Seren and I and eventually drove her away. The ache from my clenched jaw pulled me from my descending thoughts so I left the room to remain empty for however long it may be.
Quietly, I padded along the hallway to the modestly sized main room. It was dark and quiet aside from a crackling fire in the simple fireplace and the occasional sound of items being shuffled around. Dee was arranging something over the mantle and as I quietly stepped closer, I spied a pair of feathered bows in her hands: one that belonged to Liliana and the other one to Artis.
“Oh,” the Norn exclaimed as she saw me out of the corner of her eye. “Didn’t see you there. I thought you were sleeping like the others. How long have you been skulking about in the shadows?” There was an odd sound to her tone that bordered on the antagonistic side. I couldn’t blame her. After all, I was the cause of all their pain and I knew that even though she still stood at my side, her own pain and anger hadn’t been resolved.
“Not long,” I replied, eyeing the bows. I swallowed hard. “Why are you hanging them?”
Dee looked at the pair of weapons as she considered my question. “They shouldn’t be forgotten,” she finally said as she ran her fingers over the soft pale feathers. She reached into a pocket in her pale jerkin and pulled out a large, thick bone almost as long as my forearm and placed it on the mantle. In silence, the Norn stood there for a moment with her hand still on the bone. Her visage fell and she bowed her head.
Silently, I let my gaze fall to the floor. I hated having a reminder of my lethal failures within view. My thoughts already reminded me of every death every second of every moment. I heard their voices in the dark and they visited me in my dreams. They would haunt me for the rest of my life and I wanted nothing more than to rip everything off the mantle and throw it in the harbor. However, she needed to grieve. They all did.
Suddenly, I felt eyes on me and I looked up to find Dee looking up in my direction.
“I need to get some air. I’ll leave you to it,” I said abruptly and then turned to leave.
The Norn raised a dark eyebrow and turned from the mantel. “You’re coming back though, right? You still owe me a full explanation of what in Bear’s name is going on.”
“Of course,” I said with a clenched jaw and then opened the front doors to leave.
Crisp, cold air washed over me as I stepped out into the night. The moon hung full in the star studded sky and illuminated everything with its pale glow bright enough that I didn’t need a lantern or a torch to see. Hearing boot steps approaching, I stopped abruptly and waited as a tall figure emerge from the shadows cast from the side of the hall. Quint slowed when he saw me, his hands clasped behind him, and offered a polite nod. Michi waddled along at his side, her red scales glinting in the moonlight. Behind her, Yunkle followed with his snout at the ground, sniffing away.
“I see I’m not the only one who needed some air,” I said as he approached. He stopped at my side, his hands still clasped behind him. Michi snapped her strong jaws in the air and let out a bossy hiss as Yunkle circled around her, still sniffing at the ground.
The Adviser nodded solemnly. “Couldn’t sleep. I thought a little walk would help clear my mind and settle the nerves.”
“I thought the same,” I said, hugging the cloak around me tightly.
“Would you care for some company on your walk?” Quint asked.
I hesitated for a moment. The company would have made for a more comforting stroll, but where I had intended on going could not allow for any other eyes to tag along. “That’s very kind, but I’d like to be alone for a while,” I replied bowing my head solemnly.
The Adviser’s visage shifted slightly, as if he was about to say something, but instead Quint nodded and politely excused himself before disappearing into the hall with Michi and Yunkle following behind. I breathed a sigh of relief and checked around for anyone else who might be taking a midnight stroll. I closed my eyes and listened. The melodious chirps of crickets and the hoots of a nearby owl filled my ears. The sound of my heart beating joined the midnight chorus and was joined with no other. The way appeared clear so I opened my eyes and set out on my walk, constantly checking my environment.
Following the main road, I made my way to the tavern. A fisherman consumed by too much drink stumbled out of the tavern door, offered me a crooked smile, and haphazardly tipped his hat before making his way off into the night. When he was out of sight, I turned east and disappeared into the tree-covered hills behind the tavern. I stuck to the shadows as I moved quickly through the vegetation and doubled back until I was south of the hall. I then made sure everything was clear before I emerged from the tree line and crossed the road.
Gentle waves lapped at the shore as I made my way down the sandy beach to a small boulder near the waterline. Quickly, I removed my cloak, bundled it up, and hid it under the boulder. I took one last look around the beach and seeing no one, I took my aquabreather from my belt and disappeared into the water with a soft splash. Dark, cold seawater enveloped me as I swam down into the depths of Lion’s Arch’s inner harbor. I pulled an illumination crystal from a pouch on my belt and immediately my surroundings were cast in a pale blue light. As I swam along, schools of tiny silvery fish quickly moved together as a whole unit to get out my way while the larger ones lumbered along, in no rush to get out of my path.
Swimming deeper, I encountered tall, waving towers of seaweed swaying back and forth in the gentle current. Kicking my feet hard behind me, I swam towards a thick grouping of the sea flora. I cringed as I pushed through them. The slick and slimy texture made my skin crawl but they were in my direct path so I limited my contact with them as best I could while I swam through.
Beyond the forest of seaweed, I followed the gradual rocky slope of the nearshore down until I found a grouping of boulders with a large pale crab shell resting next to them. I then turned to my left and followed the sea floor until I found a small opening partially hidden by larger rocks that was big enough for me to swim through. I grabbed onto the rough rocks along the outer edge and pulled myself in head first.
The short passageway was pitch black aside from the gentle glow around me emanating from my crystal. Gripping the coarse walls with my fingers, I pulled myself along until the passage widened into a small cavern. Upwards I swam until I broke the surface. Lifting my crystal up, the glow spilled out all around me, illuminating the rock and earthen underground cavern. I pulled my aquabreather from my mouth and then swam to the edge of the pool, pulling myself out and bringing myself to my feet. I shook the sea water from me and clipped my aquabreather to my belt before venturing on. My crystal’s pale blue light glittered off of the damp surfaces all around me as I followed the elongated cavern to the back where an odd pile of stone rest against the wall. In the center of this outcropping rest a carving of an elongated skull with two hollow eyes on a flat stone.
I breathed out a sigh of relief, watching it billow out in fluffy vapor clouds as I beheld the carved sigil still intact. If anyone other than myself had tried to come through, the sigil would have cracked and released a plague borne mist, choking the life from anyone in the cavern. I flexed my freezing fingers. The cavern was colder than someone might expect any typical underground or underwater cavern to be. It was bitterly cold to the point I feared it might freeze my soggy clothing and hair. I walked up to the outcropping of stone, each step growing more labored. The air around me grew heavy and saturated with dread but I forced myself to approach while the hollow eyes of the elongated skull stared at me, waiting quietly and patiently.
Taking my dagger from my belt, I made a little cut on my thumb and watched my red blood well up. Firmly, I rubbed my blood in each of the elongated skull’s eyes, imbuing each touch with my energy. A gentle hum broke out in the air as I watched a series of dark sigils illuminate with pale green energizing light and as the last sigil lit up, a ripple swept over the outcropping. Taking a deep breath, I stepped through the portal.
Entering the small chamber was like walking into a vat of heavy cream. I struggled to take in breaths and it took me a moment to acclimate. There was no mistake it was still here. The heavy weight of oppressing power was all around me. Slowly, I crossed the small chamber to an upright simple cast mithril chest set against the back wall. I raised my hand, feeling out the pulses of ancient power dancing around the chest with my fingertips. A shiver travelled down my spine as I ran my fingers along the waves of energy.
Even though I could feel its power, I had to see the blade with my own eyes. I took the old round mithril handles in my hands and pulled the heavy doors open. A sickly pale green light washed over me, as did an unsettling wave of bleakness and dread. I shuttered as I beheld the weapon that had been the bane of my suffering all these years. As my eyes followed the curve of the blade, I marveled at its never-dulling edge. Despite the ragged underside, I knew the weapon could part droplets of water in half just as easily as a man’s head from his shoulders.
Alec had assumed the blade he was after was of usual shape and appearance, thanks to the information Rhys, Sir Fendall, and I had planted. He couldn’t have been more wrong. This weapon was no sword, great blade, or dagger. The whole of the weapon stood at least six feet tall with a long handle carved from wood more ancient than anything that grew in Tyria. The long ancient wood handle was wrapped in pale linens and at its head rest a deadly curved blade that emanated a ghastly green light. It was beautiful and deadly to all who met their end by it. The victims’ souls became trapped in the underworld, unable to move on and unable to escape. Just as its master preferred.
It was then I became aware that I nearly had the scythe’s handle in my grasp. Inhaling sharply, I realized in my weary and forlorn state I had allowed myself to succumb to the dark call of the weapon. I forced my hand down to my side and swallowed hard. Despite the dark dread the blade emanated, it was not without its mesmerizing pull for those with a weak or tired heart. Promises to stop the pain filled my mind and the temptation to take it in my hands took hold of me.
“No!” I abruptly shut the doors and stumbled back from the mithril chest, fear settling into my heart. A weapon imbued with a power such as this, a power beyond any creature that walked Tyria, was not without its dangerous appeal. I had managed to resist it for so long but I was growing weary, both in body and spirit. I had to be careful. My mission was not yet done. Alec had come for the blade but he was merely a puppet wanting to be free of his strings. The puppeteer had yet to make themselves known but in my gut I knew they would. It was just a matter of time. They would come.
They always did.