Dee and I sat across from each other for quite some time while I tried to guess what she might be feeling. It was hard to decipher because her face had gone completely flat, devoid of any detectable emotion, but I imagined it was something similar to what I felt the first time I discovered my family duty. Remaining silent, I sat nearly as still as stone as I waited for Dee to say something.
“Bear’s back,” Dee finally uttered as she sat back in her chair and let her arms rest on the chair’s arm rests. Her eyes went wide. “You have got to be kidding me.”
I breathed a sigh of relief as I shook my head. “I wish I was,” I said, tapping my finger on the opened book’s pages, “but you wanted to know.”
Leaning towards the table, she picked up her mug, took a long pull of her ale, and then firmly set it down. “But—,” she paused for a moment as her brow knitted in thought. “How did your two human ancestors carry their sister’s body all the way out? I would not think they would have the strength to do so after a great battle. Human frames are so small.”
I flashed her an indignant glance. “That’s what you’re getting out of this?”
“It’s a practical question.” Dee replied simply as she rested her arm on the table and leaned forward. “So, how long have you had it?”
“Over twenty years,” I replied, aimlessly flipping through the book’s pages.
“And most of that time you were by yourself?”
I nodded, still flipping through some of the pages while glancing at some of the other entries. “Most of the time, until I met Rhys and Sir Fendall.”
“Must have been lonely,” she said quietly.
I paused, resting my hand on the current open page. “It was.”
Silence settled in while I sat staring at the book. I knew it was a lot of information for Dee to process so I gave her some time to let it all sink in. I remembered when I had first learned the details of my new duty and what it was that I watched over. I was no more than thirteen years old and my entire family was gone. It had taken weeks for me to work through the shock and fully understand the magnitude of what was at stake. I didn’t expect everything to sink in for Dee in the next few minutes.
Reaching out for her toast, Dee took a big bite, set it back on the plate, and then leaned back in her chair as she chewed slowly. Her hazel eyes grew unfocused and she crossed her arms over her chest and sat in silent contemplation.
“Thank you for finally telling me,” she said, breaking her silence and refocusing her gaze on me.
“You’re welcome. I owed it to you.” I nodded, but guilt still clawed at my heart. I hadn’t mentioned to her the Order’s assassin that had been sent after me. After everything I had already told her, I couldn’t bring myself to add on one more stressful element. “Why did you stay?” I asked, shifting the conversation slightly. “After everything that’s happened and all the lies, why didn’t you leave like the others when I ordered you all to leave?”
The norn clenched her jaw and looked down at the table. “After my father turned and news spread throughout the hunting parties in the Shiverpeaks, my name became just as bad as the corruption. It didn’t matter what deeds I had accomplished or what foes I had slain. I was shunned from the hunting parties, the homesteads, and I couldn’t even show my face in Hoelbrak without being slandered or attacked. I always had to keep one eye over my shoulder.”
“You shouldn’t be measured by your father’s deeds,” I quietly offered. “No one should have to bear the burden of their parents’ wrongdoings.”
“I know, but that’s the way of things,” Dee replied, letting out a heavy sigh, “and since I wasn’t welcome anywhere, I left the Shiverpeaks. I can’t remember exactly how long I wandered. I didn’t have anywhere to go until you three found me in Mt. Maelstrom.”
“I’m glad we did,” I said, making solid eye contact with her. “I know I don’t say it enough. I’m sorry.”
She silently nodded, still clenching her jaw. Her hazel eyes began to glisten but did not spill over as she looked away and immediately I knew she was composing herself. Allowing Dee some peace to gather herself, I pulled the open tome closer to me and stared at the pages. We had left it open on a recent entry from my parents that told of their plans to move the blade to a more secure location. It was one of their last entries before they sent me to live with my aunt and uncle and then disappeared.
I began mindlessly flipping the pages back, to earlier entries from my grandfather, then my great aunt, my great aunt’s uncle, and so on until I reached entries written by the very first Valar. These passages always intrigued me. I wondered what it would have been like to have been given the first watch over the blade. Did she feel the heavy weight of responsibility that I did? Did she find it easier to handle with her two sisters there to help carry the responsibility?
Suddenly, an odd thought struck me. Each series of entries from each ancestor basically read the same: the blade came into their care, they spent years keeping it hidden and safe, then they died and the blade moved on to the next in the family. I stopped flipping the pages. All these years, I had been so focused on the parameters of my duty, that I never stopped to consider other options.
“We should tell the others,” Dee finally said as she straightened herself in her chair. “After what we’ve all been through, they deserve to know and maybe we can all help you protect it. You don’t have to bear this burden by yourself anymore.”
I could feel every muscle in my body tense at the suggestion. It was already hard enough for me to break against old habits and tell Dee, but the sudden idea of telling more people made me freeze in my chair. However, I knew I needed things to change. My current path was getting me nowhere and I needed help from people I could trust.
Dee’s furrowed her brow and crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you mean, no?”
“For years, I’ve hid with that thing,” I said, tapping my finger on the old open tome. “Always hiding, always running.” I looked up at Dee. Her brow relaxed slightly as she listened. “I’m tired of running and hiding. This blade has been a death sentence for all of my ancestors and those they’ve become involved with. More people are going to be coming for it and more people are going to die. I want it to stop.”
“What are you saying?” Dee asked, her curiosity peaked. She uncrossed her arms and leaned forward in her chair.
“I’m saying I want to destroy it, and I’m going to need all the help I can get.”
A tall, hooded man waited patiently in the shadowed outcropping in the hills bordering the southern edge of Lion’s Arch. Here, there was adequate tree cover and was far enough from the main road to avoid being observed. He was always on time when checking in, but tonight, he arrived early. Recent communications had struck a concern, and there had been rumor of moving up the time table for removal.
“You’re early,” a curious voice called out from the darkness. A smaller, feminine figure emerged from the tree-cast shadows. She too wore a hood hiding her visage from view, but it didn’t matter. They had known each other for years and could recognize the sound of their boots. “That’s new.”
“What did they say this time,” he asked, ignoring her comment.
She shook her head. “You’re not going to like it.”
“Don’t tell me they’ve given the final order.”
“They haven’t officially,” she replied, giving a clear articulation to each word in the phrase, “but they are leaning that way.”
“This doesn’t feel right. It feels too aggressive,” he pointed out. “I don’t want my last job to be a mess.”
“We have been given orders.”
“I don’t like lying to her for this long,” the man said as he crossed his arms over his chest.
“She’s no different than any of your other marks.”
“That’s easy for you to say, given your position,” he replied tersely. “It won’t be on you if things go south.”
The woman placed her hands firmly on her hips, her heavy frown hidden by the shadow of her hood. “I’ll remind you that I was her friend long before you came into her life. This isn’t easy for me either.”
“Fair enough,” he conceded. “Still, who’s pushing these orders through?”
“They’ve given an asura the lead on the team now that Ilya has left with the Pact to go to the jungle,” she said, shifting her weight from one leg to the other, “but the orders have been approved by the Master as they always have. I wouldn’t suffer any fools though. The little slave driver is serious and doesn’t appreciate games,” she warned. “He now wants to know if you’ve found it.”
“Tell him I haven’t located it yet,” he replied firmly, “nor do I think she’s a danger to the Order or to Tyria.”
“Can you prove it?” She asked. “Can you prove that in her current state, she is not a danger?”
The woman sighed and nodded. “Alright. I’ll see what I can do. I can cover for you only for so long though, so whatever you have planned, do it quick.”
“I will,” he replied. “Thank you.”