Tools were strewn around the back of Penny’s shop, with a few embedded in walls and splintered crates, and the hatchet and split cables still lay untouched on the spark-singed table. Remarkably, Minkus had been right: the power cells and pack were still in good shape. Although, in the chaos, the pack frame had fallen to the floor. Still, no one moved to correct any of it.
“So you’re a guardian, like Logan Thackeray?” Eddie asked, eyes alight.
Minkus sat on the work table, dangling his feet over the edge and eyeing the state of the room uncomfortably. “Well, I don’t know that I’m a guardian. I know some guardian magic.”
“What’s the difference?” Penny asked, hand on her hip.
He shrugged. “Your Captain Thackeray’s practiced guardian magic for decades, and he’s good— very good. He’s a legend! I’ve only practiced for a couple years, and I only know a few effects.”
“But you made that wall thing,” she retorted.
“The wall of reflection? That’s what Royston called it. Yes, I can do that, but I just sort of feel that one. It doesn’t take much work.”
“Whatever it was, Eddie wouldn’t have a face if you hadn’t put it there.” She pointed at her assistant, whose expression changed from excitement to awe as he nodded his agreement.
Minkus smiled sheepishly, quickly looking to the ground. “I just— saw everything happening. So, I did what I could. You would have done the same.”
“Except we don’t have magic,” Eddie replied.
The asura didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything. Everyone quietly surveyed the room again.
Penny finally broke the silence, walking past Minkus and prying a screwdriver out of the back wall. “Now that we’re done ooh-ing and ah-ing, do you have any more magic you can use to clean this place up?”
As the trio patched crates and walls, the main gates of Divinity’s Reach were opening on the other side of the city. Like every morning, the first people waiting to come in were a handful of merchants from the town of Shaemoor just south of the southern wall. The Seraphs on guard recognized them all: the florist with the tulips, the pair of leather-working brothers who were always bickering, the handful of farmers selling vegetables of various sorts, the guy with the chickens, and the blacksmith no one ever bought from. The exception was a stranger the guards had never seen in the morning milieu before. He walked in the midst of the group with intention if not speed, his charcoal cloak almost unmoving despite his steps. He had a long hood drawn up and hanging low over his face, but in the brightening morning light, the squinting guards could make out an orange, barky complexion to his hollow cheeks and chin.
“Hold up there, stranger,” said one of the guards, stepping into the sylvari’s path. “We don’t get many foreigners at this time of day. What’s your business in Divinity’s Reach?”
The sylvari stopped, pulling his staff in close and raising his head only slightly. “Post reassignment for the Vigil. I’ve traveled from the Keep to take up my assignment at Vigil Hall.” Still holding his staff in his left hand, he reached into his cloak and drew out his Vigil seal for the guard to see.
The Seraph guard eyed it cautiously, hand on his mace hilt, but accepted it as a genuine article. He removed his hand from the weapon, stepped aside, and bowed. His paldrons clanked against his chestplate. “My apologies, Sergeant. You and your brothers are welcome in our city.”
The sylvari returned the bow. “No apologies necessary. Suspicion and security are your duty.” He walked on into the city.
The Vigil generally preferred the straightforward approach to almost anything: knock down the gate, stomp into the courtyard, and defeat the enemy with superior strategy and numbers. The sylvari, though, had learned a thing from his counterparts in the Order of Whispers: that sometimes it was easier to avoid a potential enemy with cunning than to rely solely on brute force if an enemy arose. Truly, he was headed to the Vigil Hall, but not on reassignment, and not on a road from the Keep. He was headed from the Brisban Wildlands to Vigil Keep, and his stop here at the Hall was only for supplies, local information, and perhaps a little rest. He carried something dangerous, something mysterious, and there was little time to waste in getting high-level eyes on it, but the guard, and anyone else who may have been listening, didn’t need to know that.
The Hall was relatively close to the main gates, just beneath the Melandru High Road, but the sylvari continued on with the group of vendors, under the road’s colossal arches and into the Western Commons, where the day’s business was just beginning. The clucking of the chickens cooped in the cart beside him was quickly drowned out by a host of other farm animals in pens at their respective sellers’ booths. There were shopkeeps slapping the dust out of rugs—and a few drunks hung over at their doors—women yelling at their unruly children; and the crashing, banging, clanking tools of a dozen local artisans starting another day. Though the streets weren’t yet filled with buyers, the air was rife with the sounds of preparation, sounds that would have grated on the sergeant had it not been so long since he’d last heard them.
It had been just over a year since he was reassigned to Brisban. Prior to that, he’d been a communication runner, often finding himself in Divinity’s Reach, running messages, supplies, and sometimes travelers between the human capital, Vigil Keep, and other far-flung places. Aside from one quick trek to Hoelbrak, this was the only major city in Tyria the Vigil had ever sent him to, and for two years it had been so frequent that now he found the sights and sounds of the bustling city welcome.
One of the first non-vendors in the Commons that day, he slowly perused the iron wares outside the blacksmith’s shop. He greeted the vendor with a silent nod as he glided his hand over the wrought surface of a large soup kettle. Textures appealed to him. He glanced back toward the gate, then behind him at the elderly woman setting a sign before her tomato stand across the road. He remembered her, her kind demeanor and the brief conversations they’d had when he was stationed here. A subtle smile cracked the edge of his lips. He thanked the smith and turned to walk further down the street.
After looking over the goods at a few more booths on a few different roads, he about-faced and strode through the open front door of a pub. The short, round barkeep looked up over the counter and was about to tell him they were still closed when the sylvari lifted his head and pulled back the top of his hood. Their eyes met.
The stout man looked side to side, ensuring no one else was nearby, and the two exchanged a gesture, each tapping his right fist against the opposite breast. “My old friend,” he said, “what’s it been, six months?”
“Over a year,” Ventyr replied in a low voice.
“We’ll catch up later. You have that business look. What do you need?”
Drawing back his sleeve with the other hand, Ventyr reached into his cloak and tapped an unseen satchel. “I have something here I need you to store. I fear it’s safer not having it on my person.”
“Certainly,” the man said. He grabbed a glass to wipe it down, as though the conversation weren’t even happening. “You know where the vault is. And you can slip out the back.”
“Thank you, Harper.”
He nodded to the sylvari. “Just be sure to have some good stories for me before you leave.”
The two smiled lightly as Ventyr strode past the bar and through a doorway at the back of the room, his staff ticking against the wooden floor with each step. Harper continued cleaning glasses as the sound disappeared down the staircase.