I jerked awake from a deep and restful slumber to the gentle sound of a crackling fire. My sleep had once again been plagued by the same recurring nightmare that I had been battling for years. I found myself walking through the fields in Queensdale to the stream that flowed along the southern edge of the city. Patiently, I waited for Torran under the bridge, as I always did in my dream, only to be greeted by a darker, far more sinister version of my friend. But this time he wasn’t alone. I saw Rhys, Sir Fendall, Liliana, and Artis standing with him. Their eyes were dark, covered by shadows, and their lips were all set in pained frowns. Encircling me, they closed in and I did not feel one knife this time, but rather five, and as I fell back into the water, everything faded to black.
I groggily opened my eyes and blinked a few times, letting the blurred view of my closed window clear. The dark sky was just starting to grow pale with the rising of the sun and I could hear the muffled sounds of birds chirping their early morning songs. I rubbed at my eyes and then took in a deep breath, letting it out as I tried to remember how I ended up in bed. I cleared my throat from a rising tickle and lazily pushed myself up.
The overflowing ash had been cleared from my fireplace and a new fire had been built in it. I leaned back against my bed’s headboard, rubbed at my eyes again, and looked around my room. My table had been cleaned up and was devoid of all the trays of leftover food and drink. A perfectly stacked bunch of papers sat next to a new tray with a pitcher, a cup, and a small plate with two apple muffins. The rest of my room had been tidied with clothing placed in a woven basket for cleaning. My chairs had been set around my table and my shoes and boots were lined up next to my armoire. I blinked, trying to piece together what had happened. I didn’t remember cleaning up my room, but I remembered sitting and having tea with–.
“QUINT!” I bellowed, throwing my blankets off of me. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and as soon as my toes touched the floor, I stormed over to my door and threw it open. “QUINT!” I yelled again before stepping through the doorway.
“What’s going on?” Dee asked as she stuck her head out her door from across the hall. Her long, dark hair hung in messy waves around her face and she rubbed at her weary eyes while yawning.
Ignoring her, I continued down the hallway with all the purpose of a rolling storm. As I crossed the main hall chamber, I spied the Adviser emerging from his room further on down the north hallway with Michi, his red drake, following at his heels. He had a piece of folded parchment in his hand and he tightened his grip on it as soon as he saw me barrelling across the hall.
“You’re awake,” he said, his eyes widening as he casually clasped his hands behind his back.
“What did you do?” I barked accusatorily as I strode right up to within a hair’s breadth of him. Alarmed, Quint stumbled back, nearly tripping over Michi who sharply swished her tail and let out an angry hiss.
“Now Nienna, wait,” Quint pleaded but I didn’t listen.
“What did you put in my tea?” I demanded. “I passed out right after I drank it. Or was it in the muffins?”
“You were tired,” Quint started to explain. Michi let out another hiss and placed herself between Quint and myself, her long tail continuously swishing back and forth as a warning. She snapped her strong, angular jaws and hissed again.
Glowering, I firmly placed my hands on my hips. “I was exhausted, yes, but something pulled me under against my will.”
“Is everything alright?” Dee asked. She approached us from behind while pulling on a long dark robe over her knee-length grey loose nightgown that laced up over her full chest. She yawned and then scratched the back of her head.
“I did put a sleeping agent in your tea,” Quint admitted, “but-.”
I felt myself recoiling from him. “How could you? Why?!”
Michi hissed again and snapped her jaws at me. I shot her a scowl. “Oh, stop it,” I spat.
“You were exhausted,” Quint explained before giving a quick whistle and motioning to Michi to back off. With a hiss, the red drake slowly circled around behind Quint’s legs and shot me a piercing glance from behind our Adviser’s legs. “You haven’t slept for days and you needed the rest.”
“Nienna,” Dee tried to interject.
I ignored Dee and kept my rage focused on Quint. “You had no right to do that!” I claimed, jutting a finger sharply in his direction. My head was swimming and rational thought had all but disappeared. A cold chill surfaced from my chest as my heart started racing. “N..no right,” I said again, placing my hand on my chest to settle the odd sensation.
“I only did it with your best interest in mind,” he admitted as he slowly stepped closer, his hands still out in front where I could see them. One still had the piece of parchment clutched tightly in his grasp.
“I asked him to do it!” Dee confessed, bringing herself into the conversation.
I turned around, eyes wide with surprise. “You?”
Dee confidently strode towards me, unfazed by my current state. “I asked Quint for help. We both knew you hadn’t been sleeping so he suggested the sleeping agent and I thought it would be better than knocking you over the head!”
“We could hear you moving about your room at all hours,” Quint added.
“You burned our emblem, Nienna,” Dee added somberly, “you’re hiding away…we’re worried about what’s going on with you. We can see you’re hurting and we just want to he-.”
“I don’t want any help!” I sharply cut her off. “I don’t deserve it.”
“I hardly think you’re in a solid frame of mind to determine that.” Dee crossed her arms over her chest and narrowed her bright hazel eyes at me in such a way that I truly felt small, not just physically, but in every possible way. “We’re not going to let you waste away in your room.”
“You should!” I shouted heatedly as I jutted a finger in her direction. “You should let me waste away till there’s nothing left. You’ll all be better off.”
Shocked by what I had just said, Dee and Quint both fell silent and the three of us stood there in awkward silence, not knowing what to say next. The only sound cutting through the silence was Michi’s soft hiss and suddenly, I realized that I had let the words cross my teeth before even thinking about them. Folding my arms over my chest, I immediately wanted to crawl deep inside myself and scream. I cringed, my mind and heart shadowing over with guilt and shame. Echoes of whispers wormed their way into my ears, but I exhaled sharply through my teeth, much like a hiss, and forced them to quiet. A prickling sensation as cold as ice tried to push its way through my chest as my heart continued to pound away, thunderous as a dolyak stampede. I pressed my hand harder against my chest, willing it to stop, but it did not.
“Are you alright,” Quint leaned in and asked me quietly, but I ignored him as I grew consumed with my strange symptoms.
“Did someone leave a door open?” Dee asked as she looked around the main hall chamber, almost glad to change the subject. As she exhaled, I saw a faint cloud form in the air. “Gettin’ chilly in here.”
“I uh,” I started to say, but stopped as my breath grew labored and shaky. My hands started to tremble, but I clenched them tightly to try to make them stop. I could feel both of their eyes on me and it fuelled my anxiety. “I left my window and door open,” I replied, looking back and forth between Dee and Quint. I waited a moment to see if my lie worked and when no one said anything, I abruptly switched the subject. “What is that?” I asked, pointing to the parchment Quint had clutched in his hand.
He hesitantly offered it to me, and snatched it out of his hand with a glare. “It came for you last night while you were asleep.”
I opened up the folded parchment, trying to keep my shaking hands steady while consciously working to even out my unstable breaths. Reading the carefully scrawled words, I gripped the rough material tightly in my fingers. “Great,” I muttered and then sighed heavily.
“What?” Dee asked.
With my eyes still locked on the message, I clenched my jaw but let it relax before speaking. “We’re going to have a visitor today. Send them away.” Crumpling the paper in my hand, I turned to leave.
“Who’s coming?” Dee asked as she started to follow me.
“Just send them away,” I replied through clenched teeth as I focused and tried to regain composure.
“We’re not done here, you know,” Dee said, reaching for my arm. “We still need to talk. You promised an explanation.”
With a grumble, I pulled away as I stormed back to my room.
A pair of dark, hard sole boots thudded loudly down the wooden ramp in Lion’s Arch’s meager Aerodrome where the Raven’s Reach was docked. Located on the bay just inland from the sea, Lion’s Arch saw many sea ships come and go, bringing goods from various locations. However, airships were much less commonly seen in the city. Pact airships would occasionally make port in Lion’s Arch for supplies or to transport soldiers, and the very rare merchant ship would make port to sell their exotic wares and to resupply in the market.
Captain Danae Morgan was not a soldier, but neither was she a merchant.
The raven-haired sky captain closed her eyes and lifted her face to the warm autumn sun. She and her crew had spent the last few days sailing through the southern Shiverpeaks, through cloud cover as thick as cotton. She had missed the sun’s brilliant light and intended to soak it up as much as she could while in Lion’s Arch.
“Where ya headin’ off to, cap’n?” Markus Ferrin, the Raven’s Reach’s engineer, followed just behind as he slipped his rifle’s strap over his head and let it settle on his shoulder. He was a tall man with broad shoulders and a carefree smile. “A bit of a debrief over some ale at the Crow’s Nest?” He grinned, revealing creases near his bright amber eyes.
Lowering her face from the sun, Danae turned to look over her shoulder. Her long black ringlets hung in a loose high ponytail, with a few strands freely framing her face. She offered a tired smile. Recent correspondence had not been conducive to restful slumbers of late. “Maybe later. I have to visit an old friend first.”
“She should be expecting you, cap’n,” Blake called out from the port deck, her long ears perking up. She was a rather tall asura, coming up to Danae’s stomach, with shoulder-length teal hair pulled back with a couple silver clasps. Teal bangs hung just above a pair of round crystalline eyes that were alight with alacrity. Her skin was a dark shade of grey that lightened over the bridge of her nose to reveal dark freckles. “I sent a message earlier today.”
“Thanks Blake,” Danae replied, offering her a nod.
Markus shrugged and tugged on the golden fur lined front panels of his jacket, straightening the material that had been caught in his rifle’s strap. “Suit yourself then. We’ll save you a seat just in case.” He offered a causal salute and Danae offered a nod in response before continuing on down the ramp and disappearing into the crowds of Lion’s Arch.