(Guild Wars is the property of ArenaNet. I do not claim ownership over any location or character, except those that I have specifically paid for or are in agreement with me over their use. While some NPC dialogue is taken from ingame, it has been modified and paraphrased to suit the story. This is strictly fanfiction and is intended for entertainment purposes only, not profit.)
Ian felt painfully obvious as he prowled ahead of the group scouting for Dredge. Having managed to sneak past hundreds of them already to reach the mine entrance, he was betting their luck would run out anytime now. A narrow stream of lava ran alongside their path, giving off welcome warmth after days of trudging through the icy countryside of Dredgehaunt. Moon Moon was noisier than normal, his every step seeming to echo and, he panted constantly. He told himself the Alpine wolf was probably just hot in here. Eir’s black wolf, Garm didn’t seem as affected, pacing along beside Moon like he was taking a casual stroll through Hoelbrak. Self-consciously Ian snuck a glance behind him at the Sylvari in the middle of the group.
Gliding along like dandelion fluff on a soft breeze, Azumae looked nothing like the deadly necromancer she was. The delicate Sylvari was a few inches shorter than Ian, her head just topping his shoulder. Armor the color of moss, threaded throughout with gold, browns and purple, made her pale skin look like alabaster in contrast. What passed for hair from a distance, on close inspection resembled leafy ferns curling beguilingly around her ears and neck. Nothing about the reaper was human yet, her physical form was so intriguing he couldn’t seem to stop himself from looking at her. Still, Ian hadn’t missed the implications of the small, sharply pointed, thorns protruding from her forehead. She had awoke beneath the Pale Tree.
“Something on your mind again, ranger?” Azumae stared blandly at him, shifting her axe from one hand to the other as she walked. Twin, deldrimor steel daggers, sheathed in her belt, seemed to strain toward her empty hand. Over her shoulder glowered the hilt of her reaper sword, a gigantic, vicious looking weapon that made his own sword seem like a Charr cub’s training toy.
Quickly Ian faced forward and tried to control the flush in his cheeks. Even with his new druid skills, he knew she could drop him in an instant. He had overheard Caithe grilling her intensely about her battle experience during their first night on the road and, more than once, in these past few days, he had watched Azumae fire off a spell before she had even turned to see what was coming. It unnerved him that she always hit her mark.
“You guys? I need to rest for a minute. Can we just stop and take a break?”
Wearing blood red armor and carrying the most obnoxiously, large, long bow she could find, Zerela Glub huffed and panted dramatically, shoving her pack and weapons back and forth like she couldn’t find a comfortable position for everything.
Pausing mid step, Ian looked back again, his mouth tightening as his eyes were drawn to the other thing he couldn’t stop staring at, Zerela’s red bonnet with its snow owl passenger. Even Azumae had turned up a leafy eyebrow at the sight of it. That bonnet clashed fiercely with his private nickname for the Charr, the Bloody Ranger, but he couldn’t shake the impression from his mind.
Halting just behind Azumae, Caithe’s breath cascaded down the reaper’s neck as she gave Zerela a pitying look. “For a Charr, you are considerably out of shape.” Wearing armor the color of sweltering, summer grass, the Sylvari thief was easy to miss among the trees and only slightly more visible in the cave.
Stiffening at the close proximity, Azumae turned her head and narrowed her eyes at her clan woman. “I do wish you would learn to not choke me out every time we stop.” Her smooth voice had a slight lilt that seemed native to their race. The warning in her tone was unmistakable though.
Amused, Caithe looked sideways at Azumae. “Excuse me, cousin. I meant no harm.” Taking a single step back she smiled and ran her eyes down the necromancer’s body.
“Of course you didn’t. You never do – cousin.” Azumae curled her lip in distaste, her opaque eyes seeming to flicker.
Zerela dropped to the floor of the chamber with a heavy exhale and shrugged off her bulky pack. “While you two sort out which plant is deadlier, I’m going to rest.” Her nearly white muzzle was turning mauve from the dust inside the dungeon, rusty powder coating the ends of her whiskers. Growling softly to herself she began rubbing the pads of her back paws and digging out hard, balls of ice that had formed between her toes during the past couple days.
“Just don’t start licking things again?” Ian requested. He could feel the spot right between his shoulder blades burning from the weight of his own pack. “That last time was really… uncomfortable.” His stomach tightened nervously as Zerela twitched all four ears simultaneously and glowered at him. Her cat-like head was the size of his entire torso, the sharp tips of her horns seeming to twinkle at him in the low light. Unnervingly, the owl followed her master’s gaze.
“I like to be clean. You could try a little hygiene yourself, human.” Sniffing pointedly at him, Zerela wrinkled her muzzle and sneezed soundly, sending up a small whorl of dust from the ground. Digging in with it’s talons the owl spread its wings and held on, keeping its balance on the bonnet.
Crossing her arms, Caithe huffed rudely. “Zoja could be dead already and you two want to quarrel about bathing and stare at your feet.” She looked toward Garm, apparently thinking he would agree. The wolf sat down beside Eir and began to scratch behind his ear, tongue lolling from his jaws. “I ask for heroes and this is what I get.” Pressing her lips into a thin line the thief stalked away from the group, pushing past Ian toward the iron bridge just visible in the distance.
Watching her go with a surprised look, he thought, you get what you pay for. A share of any treasure found is a pretty vague incentive. He couldn’t speak for the others but, his reason for coming was the hope of making a name for himself. Despite his training as a healer he was still just a ranger in the eyes of his peers. The druid’s staff riding beside his backpack was mostly untried, it’s warm, elder wood, smooth and unmarred. Getting this group through here in one piece was his main goal. Treasure, if there was any, was secondary.
“Caithe is just worried about Zoja,” Eir explained. The great Norn, looking more battle hardened than any of them, towered over the party in her iron and leather armor, her bound, red hair seeming to hold a fire all its own. Setting the point of her sword against the hard packed dirt she leaned on the pommel and looked worriedly after Caithe’s vanishing figure. “Knowing Zoja as well as we do, her reason for storming in here must have something to do with Snaff’s inventions. If someone has stolen one, Caithe fears that getting it back may be too much for our little genius to do on her own. We both do,” she added, her eyes clouding with dark thoughts. “Try to not let her get to you. She’s really just trying to protect everyone.”
“How very motherly of her,” Azumae said, managing to sound sincere and rude at the same time.
“Factoring in the small size of our group it’s not surprising that Caithe is worried. Five people isn’t nearly enough to be making a rescue attempt in here.” Eir looked hard at the Necromancer, seeming to make an unspoken point.
Azumae met her eyes for a moment before looking away, her expression unreadable but, she began feeling for her weapons, touching each one as if to reassure herself they were exactly where they should be.
“Snaff?” Flicking a small, ice ball into the lava stream where it hissed out of existence, Zerela looked up from her grooming. “What is a snaff?” Her amber, feline eyes jerked suddenly toward Azumae as she spoke.
Curious, Ian followed the Charr’s gaze and coughed loudly to cover his laugh. The necromancer’s staff was ornamented on one end with a small lantern on a short chain. It was this lantern that had captured Zerela’s attention, her eyes twitching as she tracked it’s movement back and forth off. A quick glance at the Sylvari’s face gave no clue to whether or not she was swaying it deliberately.
“Not what, who. Snaff was Zoja’s mentor. He passed on many years ago but Zoja is steadfast in her devotion to his teachings.” Eir smiled grimly at the Charr. “She is rabidly protective over his inventions, always hunting down those who misuse them.”
“Misuse of Asuran inventions? That smells like Inquest activity to me.” Grunting lightly Zerela tore her eyes from the lantern, pushed herself onto all fours and stretched deeply, arching her back and splaying her paws wide. Her tail rose high over her back, giving Ian a clear view at what lay beneath it. Swiveling its head, the owl watched his reaction.
Rolling his eyes, Ian backed safely away. The word Inquest made his stomach flip over. He had met several of the order while passing through Brisbane awhile back and had not cared for the experience. If they were here in the mine then, Eir was right. Five people were not enough. Taking a knee he began to wriggle out of his pack to ease that spot between his shoulders. Following his master’s lead, Moon Moon sat and began an intense, nibbling inspection of his own underside.