The god of death could do nothing but watch her suffer.
As the sun set behind the hills, casting Lion’s Arch in warm tones of red and orange, a hollow sigh emanated from Grenth’s elongated, pale, boney visage as he quietly observed his warden. Empty eyes peered out from under a dark hood as he comfortably remained in the growing shadows cast from the hall. The dark, ragged material of his robes stirred gently around him, even when there was no breeze. It worried Grenth that he had recently been spending more of his time watching over his warden. Her current grieving state had consumed her, but her mission was not yet over. The blade needed to remain safe in the mortal realm for the time being, but it concerned him that its warden was not in a stable enough frame of mind to do this.
Standing in the guild’s small herb garden overlooking Lion’s Arch’s inner harbor, Nienna Valar watched the gentle waves below. The once lush and fragrant plants were now brown and dry, and their desiccated leaves littered the garden beds as stubborn weeds took advantage of the circumstances. Despite the chill in the autumn air, Nienna wore a simple sleeveless, dark red, ankle-length shift that hugged the contours of her athletic body. Grenth noted how unfazed she seemed to be by the cold air and the cold stones under her bare feet. Her long, dark red hair hung loose and unkept around her shoulders while a few strands fluttered with the cool evening breeze. In her arms, she held her friend’s breastplate, clutching it tightly to her chest, with an old book held tightly in her left hand.
Nienna slowly turned away from the view of the harbor and quietly padded along the stone pathway through the open double doors leading into the main hall. Grenth silently followed, keeping to the shadows behind her and refraining from making his presence known. He was there simply to observe and not interfere. He and the other Gods of Tyria had found that more times than not, too much divine interference caused the living to rely on their assistance more so than their own selves. It created a dependency the Tyrian Gods did not want. They were not the mortals’ keepers, merely guides and advisers. It was up to the living to make their own way in the world. It was up to each soul to make his or her own choices.
But things were changing, and a bit of divine intervention was exactly what the situation called for.
As she strode along the wooden floor in the open and simply furnished main hall, Nienna abruptly stopped in front of the stone-lined fireplace, almost as if she had been caught by surprise by something. Someone had made a small fire and it gently crackled away, letting its warmth spill out over her and into the spacious room. It was the only source of light in the chamber, allowing for ample shadows all throughout for the god of death to comfortably remain in.
The flickering flames danced away, entrancing Nienna as she stood silently and watched. Grenth often saw the same spellbound gaze on Balthazar’s visage as he sat in his great skull-adorned chair, watching the battles and carnage of the mortal world. However, the sudden change in his warden’s gaze caught Grenth’s attention and pulled the god from his thoughts. Nienna’s tired eyes had moved up to the bone on the mantle and the feathered bow hanging just above it. The Hunter’s bow had not been hung over the mantel like the other. It had instead been presented to his mother earlier that day, along with his pet warthog and a solemn, but carefully crafted explanation about what happened to her son. Her hands shaking and tears streaming down her cheeks, the Hunter’s mother took the bow from Nienna and clutched it tightly to her chest. Although she tried not to show it for the sake of the mother, that moment had pained Nienna greatly and Grenth had felt her emotions twist wildly with shame and grief as he remained nearby the entire time.
With her eyes locked on the physical reminders of her fallen friends, Nienna stepped forward and placed the breastplate on the mantle, just under the bow, and set the book just next to it. The book had belonged to her friend Rhys, who had given it to Nienna as a birthday present two years ago. “The Theory of Divine Magic” had been imprinted in silver along the worn brown spine. She held onto each memento for a moment, not wanting to let go. Eventually she forced herself to part with them and stepped back to look at the mantel. Warm tears streamed down her cheeks as her heart mourned the dead and Grenth felt the pain well up inside of Nienna like a spring that had been set free of any obstruction. He knew she not only grieved for the ones who had fallen now, but for all who had fallen in her wake.
Strange how the sight of an object can elicit and manipulate emotions so easily, Grenth thought to himself. Mortals are such fragile creatures. They do not understand the delicate balance of life and death until their own time is at its end. One cannot appreciate life without the threat of death and death cannot be defined and understood without the existence of life. They were simply two sides of the same coin.
As he turned aside his hooded visage, the god of death noticed a sudden shift in the air: an unusual chill that did not come from him. It filled the room, and as he silently glided from shadow to shadow, he traced the source of the chill to his warden. How curious… Since childhood, Nienna had been afraid to use much of her gifts, let alone grow them. They didn’t start to bloom until she was on her own, after her family had all gone. Nienna didn’t understand her abilities and they frightened her, so she sought sanctuary with the Order of Whispers and opted for a more physical means of protecting herself and the blade. Grenth had done the best he could to watch over her, but with no one in the mortal realm to guide her, Nienna did not have the appropriate direction to grow her powers. The gentle grinding of bone erupted from under Grenth’s hood as he cocked his head to the side.
Perhaps it was the cumulative amount of stress she had been under or perhaps it was the heavy burden of grief wearing down her fear-guarded walls. Could her close proximity to the blade have anything to do with it? Her bloodline did help bind the weapon from His eyes. He let out a contemplative sigh as he ruminated in his thoughts.
Her body trembling with angry sobs, Nienna tore herself away from the fireplace and made her way to the front door with sure, quick steps. She gripped the iron door handle and with great strength, tore it open before stepping out into the courtyard dimly lit by the flaming braziers. Grenth followed, gracefully gliding from shadow to shadow before fading through the wall and rematerializing out into the courtyard. He settled against the outside wall, off to the side, but still able to watch the scene unfold. As twilight descended on Lion’s Arch, crickets filled the air with their shrill chirps and the cold, evening breeze swept in, causing goose-bumps to rise on Nienna’s skin. Paying no mind to the chill in the air, she strode across the hard, earthen ground to the woodpile, yanking an axe from where it was lodged in a stump, before heading towards the flagpole.
The sound of chopping drew two others out from the hall: a broad-shouldered, earthen-haired norn woman and a silver-haired human man. Grenth drew near the spectators as they gathered to watch their leader cut down their guild’s emblem. Splinters shattered off the pole with each cut of the axe and they shot out in all directions around her, but determined, Nienna kept swinging. Concerned for their leader, the norn woman mouthed “this is madness” to the human man and took a step toward Nienna, but stopped when she felt his hand on her arm. He shook his head, his eyes making it clear that it was best not to interfere, and the Norn nodded in acquiescence before taking her place again by his side. The two then remained silently watching as Nienna leaned into the now teetering pole, pushing it over until it finally fell to the ground with a loud thud.
A second norn, slender, with long raven hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, emerged from around the side of the hall. She was dressed in black leathers, with a long black leather coat, and a pair of pistols on her hips. Around her left eye and left cheek were a series of black rectangles set in a slight curve, and they wrinkled as the woman squinted against the bright light of the torch she held in her hand. She had just finished lighting the braziers around the perimeter of the guild hall and as they cast out their warm light, Grenth backed further into the shadows. The raven-haired norn woman noticed the others, but said nothing. Instead she silently took her place next to the other norn woman and the human man. She flashed them both a confused glance before nodding over to Nienna. As he did with the first norn woman, the human man offered a gentle gesture of patience, and the raven-haired norn nodded.
Ignoring the others and driven by her growing rage, Nienna threw the axe to the ground and it cut blade first into the earth. She strode with purposeful steps to a brazier near the front door, grabbed it by the leather-wrapped handle along the rim, and dragged it to the fallen flagpole. With an audible growl, she used all her remaining energy to push the brazier over onto the pole, letting the hot coals spill over it and char the wood. Flames rose up along the long, wooden cylinder as Nienna clenched her trembling fists tightly along her sides and silently watched, reveling in the satisfaction with what she had done. The flickering shades of warmth consumed the length of the flagpole and Nienna felt the heat wash over her. It stung her tear stained face.
Bending down, she picked up a wad of material resting on the ground near her feet. It had fallen free of its bonds when the pole had fallen. Unfolding it, Nienna gazed upon the guild’s emblem. She hadn’t realized how much hope she had placed on this idea and the people involved. Her hands started to shake but she held onto the flag with a white-knuckled grip, staring at the shield and sword set on a silver sun.
Grenth bowed his head, feeling his warden’s pain and sorrow wash over him like a wave of icy water. If only she understood, Grenth thought. All things died, eventually. Even ideas died. But they die so something new can be born in its place.
Her grief turning sharply again to anger, Nienna balled up the flag and threw it on the fire. The flames lapped at the edges of the material, charring it before it wholly caught on fire. The flames rose up, fueled by the material, and they danced violently. Her eyes transfixed by the flames, Nienna stood still and soundless, but Grenth could sense the fury growing inside of her.
As the flames began to die down, Nienna wiped away the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand, leaving a streak of grime. Her frame, rigid from the anger, relaxed and her shoulders slumped as she turned to make her way to the hall’s front door. Stopping in the doorway, she turned to the others, flashing them a tear stained scowl before disappearing inside.