Ventyr was right. As he’d expected, the captain in charge of the Divinity’s Reach outpost had only minor issue with his plan to travel with civilians, and his one concern was quickly assuaged.
Because of the recent uptick in bandit activity along the road east toward Gendarran Fields, the danger of travel for anyone was heightened. The Vigil were really no more a target than ordinary travelers, giving no reason to worry for the safety of Ventyr’s friends. They would give validity to Ventyr’s merchant cover-story, and in return, traveling with Vigil soldiers would actually make the trek safer for them. In the days between the forming of the plan and their departure, Ventyr simply had to lay low and prepare his equipment and a handful of rations.
Penny, likewise, had her own preparations to attend to. During the days, she and Eddie worked tirelessly to finish Sigmund’s turret order. In all truth, Penny worked tirelessly, and Eddie did what he could, though not for any lack on his part. Despite her genuine efforts to entrust tasks to her apprentice, she still could not stop herself from closely overseeing every action the boy took and critiquing anything that didn’t fit her expectation exactly, something that he was by now accustomed to. In the end, the turrets were finished, but at nearly double the effort it would have taken had Penny either trusted the boy or simply done all the work herself.
And of course, that was to say nothing of her ongoing personal project. Almost amnesiac of her near-apprentice-death experience, she spent half of every night in her workshop, continuing to refine her smartpack, as she’d taken to calling it. The thought that it would go unfinished, while she was away for the rest of the season, was more than her obsessive mind could handle.
Minkus, approaching the end of his visit in Divinity’s Reach, had every reason to invest his time in experiencing as much of the human capital as he possibly could. Indeed he did make time to see a handful of things he hadn’t to that point: the carnival, the Ossan Quarter, and the royal palace. In the Ossan Quarter, he’d even stumbled upon a local producer of Elonian wine, who, enjoying conversation with “the only pleasant asura in Tyria,” invited Minkus to share a fourteen-year-old bottle made by his grandfather, who’d made the trip from Elona to the Reach half a century earlier. It wasn’t a beverage the asura was familiar with, but his recognition of plum and oak in the flavor profile, or perhaps simply his honest gratitude, deeply pleased the winemaker.
Minkus’ sightseeing, though, was only during the days, while Penny and Eddie worked on the turrets, and only after his daily exercises. His mornings were committed to training, and his evenings were still dedicated in service at the workshop. As long as he was welcome with his new friends, he was present.
After six more days had passed, the second of the two crusaders assigned to escort Ventyr finally returned from a short assignment in Claypool. With the increasing problem of undead minions in southern Bloodtide, the Vigil’s presence in Divinity’s Reach had been reduced to its lowest reasonable count, and those resources had been distributed as needed throughout Kryta. Despite the potential importance of Ventyr’s errand, sparing two crusaders was the best the Hall could do.
Looking up from the paperwork on her desk, the Vigil Hall’s lead recruiter Riannan laid it out plainly for Ventyr. She tapped awkwardly on the helmet on her desk. “Look, I’m sorry, Sergeant. Two is all the captain could summon for you.”
Riannan went on. “One’s a longtime soldier: fought for the legions for a few decades and now fights for us. He’s tough as a destroyer crab, but he’s old.” She paused, flipping a page and scanning for the line she wanted. “The other— well, from what I understand, she’s the opposite: brand new. She did well in training, but she’s not battle-tested yet. They know each other, though. It appears Braxus was one of Jindel’s hand-to-hand instructors.” She handed Ventyr the sheets of information and asked, “Will any of that be a problem?”
“No, Riannan,” Ventyr remarked, standing beside the desk nearly motionless. “I’m not concerned. Two crusaders or twenty, it makes no difference. It’s time for me to go.”
She leaned back in her seat, no longer tapping on the helmet. “You sure are antsy to move that communication of yours along.” She paused, reflecting for a moment. “You were a motivated soul back when you were stationed here, but nothing like this. And what’s this I hear about a break-in at your bunk? Is that true; did someone try to rob you?”
He faced the door, waiting for his escorts to arrive. “From what I could tell, yes. It’s true.”
“Melandru bless us.” Riannan sighed, shaking her head. “In my years here, I’ve never seen someone attempt a theft. What in the gods’ name are you carrying? Do you know?”
Ventyr turned his head just far enough to see her from the corner of his eye. “It’s classified. You don’t want to know.”
“So you do—”
The great hall door creaked open, and both looked up to see who entered. It was the pair of crusaders, a human and a charr. The human was a strapping young woman: blue eyed, blonde, and of a sturdy build. Her hair was unique, falling down beyond her shoulder, but only on her left; she’d shaved the right side of her head in what looked almost like a norn style. From the brightness in her eye and the crisp swagger to her stride, Ventyr could tell immediately that the report was true: she was fresh and unscathed, probably only a season or two out of recruitment. The charr, on the other hand, was grizzled. Though only of an average charr height, he had to be two feet wider at the shoulders than any charr Ventyr had seen. His lion-like face was old and worn, with one horn half missing, and his bare arms were covered in scars that left his fur thin and patchy. The two crossed the room, side by side, highlighting not only the difference in their sizes, but the very different cares they bore. They stopped in front of Ventyr.
“Sir,” the charr growled, saluting with a fist to his chest. The woman did likewise. “Crusaders Braxus Razorfist and Jindel Valliford reporting for duty, sir.”
“At ease, Crusaders,” the sylvari replied. The two relaxed their bodies slightly, widening their stances and lowering their arms. “Have you been briefed on the nature of this mission?” he asked.
Braxus inhaled, but Jindel interjected before he could speak. “Yes, sir. Simple correspondence transfer between the Hall and the Keep, sir.”
The charr clenched his jaw, but Ventyr chose not to acknowledge the impudence of the young soldier. “Things are rarely so simple, Crusader,” the sylvari began stiffly, “but as far as you’re concerned, yes, it’s a simple correspondence transfer, one that must get to the Keep ASAP. We will waste no time in our travel and will take no unnecessary risks with our persons or our parcel. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” she responded, standing a little stiffer now.
“I’ll be straightforward with you.” He paused, glancing over his shoulder at Riannan. “Word has gotten around that an attempt to steal our parcel has already been made. That attempt failed, but the knowledge that someone is interested enough to infiltrate the Hall makes our discretion even more critical. We will therefore be traveling in disguise, as merchants on the road for business. To further this appearance, we will have with us two civilians who really are on a common path for reasons of commerce.” He paused, clasping his hands together behind his back. “That means we will not be dressed in Vigil attire, and weapons will be concealed at all times. In the event of a threat, combat is our last course of action, but the safety of our companions and our message is our top priority. Is that understood?”
The younger crusader looked a bit perplexed at these instructions, but both still affirmed, “Yes, sir.”
Ventyr continued, “We meet at the base of the Melandru High Road at daybreak tomorrow and waste no time in leaving the city. Any questions?”
“No, sir,” said the charr, his body unmoving.
“Yes, sir,” said Jindal after a second. “One.”
“Why are we pretending not to be Vigil? With respect, there are several reports of bandit activity to the east. Wouldn’t bandits be less likely to attack Vigil soldiers than a band of merchants?”
Braxus rolled his eyes.
“It’s a valid question,” Ventyr replied, “but at the moment, highwaymen aren’t our greatest threat. In light of recent events, it will serve us better to be indistinguishable as we leave town, leaving behind whatever interested we’ve already drawn. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison again.
“Alright. Dismissed.” With that, they saluted, and the crusaders turned to depart. The next day, it would be time to carry on.