The battle with my hairbrush was epic. It hadn’t occurred to me just how many knots could form in my hair after about a week of neglect. I ran my brush through again, making sure there were no more tangles and then pulled back the front section and secured it with a silver clasp. Examining myself in the mirror, I sighed, then abruptly looked away. As a result of all the lives that had been lost in my wake, I felt so much shame and guilt when I looked at my reflection now. I wondered if I managed to fix all this, my perception would change. I wondered if I’d ever like what I saw in the mirror again.
Having tamed my long, red hair, I moved on to changing into a set of real clothes for the first time in a week. I adjusted the red, fur-lined attire, noticing that the clothes felt a little looser than before. I hadn’t eaten much lately, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to find my clothes a little on the baggy side. After I pulled on and laced up a pair of calf-high black leather boots, I stood in the middle of my room, looking over at my bookcase. I smiled knowingly at the secret one of the shelves contained, but it would have to wait. There was one thing I needed to do first.
I quietly slipped out of the guild hall with a black cloak draped around my shoulders. With the hall as empty as it was these days, it was much easier to leave without being seen. As I started making my way down the hill, I put up my hood and made my way to the aerodrome on the south edge of Lion’s Arch, near the Vigil Centerhouse. They had only recently begun construction on the facility, so calling it an aerodrome was generous. However, the framework was nearly done and the foundation had been completed. It would be an aerodrome soon enough.
I sought out the port master, a short, broad man not much taller than I. He had a greying bushy beard and a round nose. When I approached, he flashed me a warm smile.
“How can I help ya, ma’am?” He asked.
“I’m looking for the Raven’s Reach,” I replied.
“Hrm,” he looked over his manifest, carefully written on a stack of parchment secured to a board, “don’t seem to have that ship on my manifest here.”
“Look again,” I urged firmly as I tapped my full coin purse. Danae always paid the port master extra to conveniently forget her ship was in port.
The port master brightened as he flipped through the parchment again. “Ah, that’ll be ramp number two, m’lady”
“Thank you.” I gave him a small handful of silver coins for his trouble and ascended the long ramp up to the ship. Since the aerodrome was recovering from Scarlet’s attack, the airships were forced to anchor where they could along the southern Lion’s Arch hillside. It was a steep climb, and near the end my breath had grown a bit labored.
I had nearly reached the top when I was met by a stocky charr with golden brown fur and dark brown striping. He had dark brown locks on the crown of his large head, as well as down the upper part of his thick neck. A mighty pair of long horns grew from the front of his great head and reached all the way to the back. One came to a sharp point, while the other ended bluntly, having been broken off somehow.
“What business do you have aboard this ship, eh?” The charr rumbled as he turned around to greet me. He narrowed his dark brown eyes at me as he growled deeply in his chest. His tall, broad frame towered over me by about two feet as he straightened himself.
“I’m here to see your captain,” I replied, keeping my hood up and trying to remain steadfast in the presence of the large beast.
“I don’t remember the captain having appointments today,” the gruff charr replied as he took a threatening step forward and bared a muzzle full of sharp teeth.
“It’s okay, Harrisson,” Danae called from the ship as she stepped out onto the ramp. She flashed me a warm smile and waved. “Glad to see you out of your hovel.”
A smirk pulled on my lips and I hoped it was concealed by my hood. I approached the large charr on the ramp and with a huff, he moved slightly aside as I passed by with a respectful nod.
“Don’t mind him,” Danae began, “he’s very protective of the ship. Most pilots are.”
I had never stepped aboard the Raven’s Reach before, nor aboard any airship for that matter, but I was at least somewhat familiar with their construction. They were impressive creations: a mix of charr design, asura technology, and human ingenuity. These airships were able to provide a presence in the sky when needed. They had become a vital tool for the Pact in the fight against the elder dragon Zhaitan and were poised to reprise that role for other threats that occupied the airspace.
The black material of the ship’s envelope fluttered gently as the ballonets inside readjusted their air allocation. Since they were not currently in need, the ship’s fins had been folded up and stowed against the body of the ship for protection from the elements. I stepped onto the port deck, and found it surprisingly stable for the size of the ship. As airships went, the Raven’s Reach was on the smaller side, perhaps about half the size of a standard airship, but she was just as well equipped with a formidable set of cannons on either side.
As I entered through the bridge door from the port walkway, I was met with the gentle hum from the ship’s idling motor and control consoles. The room was fairly open and was covered with steel panels bolted to the steel framing of the ship. The curved front of the bridge had three console stations: a main console in the center and one on each side. Each console was accompanied by a chair with safety straps, no doubt in case the ride got too rough. Behind those consoles, and in the center of the room, was a slightly larger chair with the same safety straps and a small console built into the left arm rest.
“Yours, I take it,” I said nodding to the larger chair.
Danae nodded with a proud smile and then motioned for me to follow her through a doorway in the back of the bridge. We walked along a walkway overlooking an oval-shaped chamber with a table and chairs, all bolted to the floor. The room was lined with cabinets, all latched I assumed. We came to a door at the end of the walkway. Pushing down on the latch, Danae opened the door to her captain’s quarters and motioned for me to enter.
Her room was small and efficient, with a small bed bolted to the wall across from me, a desk bolted to the wall adjacent the bed, and cabinets with a cleaning station bolted in across from the desk. The metal walls were mostly bare except for some random paraphernalia from various lands and a pair of crossed wooden sparring sticks. They had also been bolted to the wall and I could see the dark bloodstains had not been washed off. I recognized them immediately.
I pulled my hood back to rest on my shoulders. “You kept them,” I noted, nodding to the sparring sticks.
“That I did,” Danae replied as she looked up at them.
Sadness creeped into Danae’s smile as she offered me a chair next to her desk while she took a seat on her made bed. “I ‘spose they serve as a reminder.”
“Of the day you almost died?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
The airship captain nodded. “Up until that day,” she began, looking up at the wooden weapons, “I was a spoiled brat and bored. I thought joining the Order would be an adventure. It wasn’t until I had been backed into that corner, bloodied and bruised and a mere breath away from death that I realized the only thing that mattered to me was living. Nothing else mattered. The gold, the clothes, the prestige–none of it was important anymore, except for a simple choice. Give up and die or fight and live.”
I looked up at the two bloodied weapons. “I remember that day,” I said.
“I hadn’t killed anything before,” Danae murmured quietly as she looked at her hands. “It’s amazing what a person is capable of when they find their resolve.”
“And now look how far you’ve come,” I noted.
She smiled and sat in silence with her head bowed but before my thoughts could sink into deep contemplation of our early years in the Order, Danae’s voice pulled me out.
“So, what can I do for you?” She asked. “I’m assuming you came out here for a reason other than to chat about our younger years.”
I nodded. “I was hoping you could help me find someone,” I said.
Danae raised her eyebrows. “You need my help to find someone?”
“Well, I don’t have eyes and ears everywhere,” I replied, “and I certainly don’t have access to the network anymore. It would be best to find her sooner rather than later.”
“Ah, I see.” Crossing her legs, Danae leaned forward, resting an arm on her knee. “Who do you want found?”
“A young woman,” I began, “a guardian. About my height, athletic build, brown hair, hazel eyes. Her name is Seren Quinn. She was with the Vigil before she came to be with us.”
She let the details sink in. “I’ll check with the network as soon as I can. A number of agents are shipping out with the Pact soon so I’ll try to catch them before they leave.”
“Where are they headed,” I asked, my curiosity peaked.
“Out west, to the jungle,” Danae replied gravely. “Seems that crazy sylvari managed to accomplish something other than death and destruction. She woke an elder dragon.”
Closing my eyes, I uttered a heavy sigh. “Grenth’s great horns, just what we need.”
“One crisis at a time,” Danae said. “You deal with yours and let them handle this. That’s what they’re there for.”
“Thank you.” I stood to leave.
“Why is she important to you?” Danae suddenly asked as she rose from her bed. “This Seren girl.”
“Honestly,” I said, pulling my hood back over my head. Danae nodded and I replied simply, “I don’t know.”
When I returned to my room, I pulled off my cloak and casually tossed the heavy thing onto my bed. I found myself standing there for a moment staring at my bookcase, my hands on my hips. I knew what I had to do next, but I found it so difficult to bring myself to do it. I wanted to tell them the truth. I wanted to make things right, but going against decade old habits was like swimming against a riptide.
“Damn, come on,” I muttered to myself as I forced my feet to move, one step at a time, until I reached the bookcase. I pulled back the fake book spines and input the five-digit code in the asura panel. The lock disengaged and the safe’s iron door popped open. I reached in and pulled out the old dark red covered book and lovingly ran my fingers over the faded silver ‘V’ on the cover. Clutching the book to my chest, I closed the safe panel and then pulled shut the fake book spines. Trying not to overthink what I wanted to do next, I quickly shuffled out of my room, the book still clutched to my chest, and over to Dee’s room.
There was no answer. I tried again, but still there was no answer, so I walked down the hallway and into the main hall chamber in search of the elusive norn. There was no one there either, but then a rattling of dishes from the dining hall suddenly cut through the silence. I stuck my head in the doorway and found Dee sitting at the large wooden dining table over a plate of buttered toast and a mug of ale. She had let the pan cool on a trivet off to the side of the stove’s burners, next to a dish of butter. The stove’s embers had almost died out, but still gave off a gentle warmth which spread throughout the kitchen.
“Hello. Mind if I-?” I asked, nodding to an empty chair next to her at the table.
Dee grumbled something I didn’t understand and then nodded before taking a substantial bite of her toast. She made no move to brush away the long strands of dark hair that hung in front of her face so I couldn’t see if she approved or not. I decided to take her grumble as an invitation and sat down in the empty wooden chair next to her. Dee didn’t say a word, but I could feel her frustration simmer away within her.
“I was hoping we could talk,” I said while setting the large, red book on the table. “I promised you an explanation.”
Dee perked up and she lifted her downward gaze to the tome.
“But you have to decide,” I warned. “Once you know, you can’t unknow it.”
Without hesitation, she looked me right in the eyes. “Tell me.”
“Okay then,” I said as I opened the old tome to the first page, “let’s start at the beginning.”