"I need a bag please."
The small asuran tailor stared up at the face of a smoke-furred charr. "A bag? How big?"
Vallus untied the coin purse that hung from his neck beside an embellished emerald pendant and counted out fifteen silver pieces. "What will this get me?"
The merchant reached into the shelves behind her and took out a grey medium-sized bag. "This will last you a long time, made it myself. Cotton. Can't carry a lot, but it's enough for everyday stuff. What do you need it for, if you don't mind me asking?"
Vallus frowned and his tail tensed up. "Actually, I do mind." He dropped the silver into the asura's hand and grabbed the bag. Without another word he turned on his paws, shouldered his new pack, and marched off towards the traders' forum. Somebody would have some meat he could buy.
Vallus stopped at the click of a lock, and felt the business end of a pistol being pressed against his temple. "Gladium have no business here," a voice whispered. "Your canton's on the other side of the citadel."
Vallus set his pack down under the rock ledge and took out an axe he'd stolen from the local farmers. He needed wood for a fire, or his meat was going to go rotten. Vallus pulled himself up over the ledge and cast a quick illusion spell over the alcove, making it look like just another clump of rocks. Now, Vallus thought, where can I find some good dry wood? He sighted along the little river towards the lake, and allowed himself a grin when he saw driftwood all along the ledge. Some of it was around crabs, but that wasn't a problem. The pirates, on the other hand, would be a hassle. Vallus was glad that he had a staff strapped to his back and a pair of swords. At least he'd be able to defend himself if the pirates took an interest in him.
Sesric clapped Vallus on the back as his illusions disappeared. "Alright, I'll admit it: I was wrong. Your illusions are pretty damn good; you even had my eagle-eyes fooled!"
Vallus grinned and punched Sesric playfully in the gut. "That's what you get for thinking your little gizmos are better than my magic! Now come on, you owe me some Ol' Regret, and there's a beef pie I've had my eye set on too!" Sesric and Vallus both laughed as Sesric lead Vallus off with an arm over his shoulders.
Vallus gazed at the grease dripping from the rabbit he had skewered over the flame. Not much longer now, he thought. Perhaps he could ask the farmers if they would take in a poor charr down on his luck. Lion's Arch was much more accepting than the rest of Kryta. Remembering the Black Citadel dashed that hope; Emer may be dead, but he didn't want to take risks. What if someone sent the Adamant Guard after him? Lion's Arch was far too near the Black Citadel because of the gates. This would be the first place they looked.
Then Vallus gazed at the night sky. It was so much clearer here than in the citadel. Maybe the Grove, he thought. The sylvari always loved to hear stories, and he had a few that would curl even their leaves. But then Vallus thought of the heat. The sweltering humidity. And those Risen seem to like it there, too, he thought. Slag!
Where was he going to go?
"Come on, let's go get cleaned up," Vallus huffed. Sesric nodded and followed along, but Emer shook her head.
"Not so fast, you two. We still have ten circuits around the citadel!"
Sesric waved her off. "Ah, come on Emer, let's hit the showers."
Vallus waved a paw back at the rest of the warband. All of them were panting and huffing as hard as they were. "We've done all the drills you ordered Emer, so we're going to take a shower. Hey Sesric," he said with a grin, "let's go down to the ruins and have some pool time. We –"
Vallus was cut off as Emer grabbed him and Sesric by the shoulderpads and dug her claws in. "Listen here, you mongrels," she growled, ignoring Vallus and Sesric's winces. "The Black Citadel is our responsibility. It is our duty to watch after her. We're going to do ten more circuits, and I won't hear another word about it. Or did we want to make it twenty?" Vallus and Sesric shook their heads. "Good." She shoved them back and raised her voice to the entire warband. "Ten more circuits, on the double! One, two, three, four! One, two, three, four!"
Vallus and Sesric headed the group while Emer shouted at the warband from behind. Vallus couldn't wipe the frown off his face. Sesric noticed it and shook his head. Vallus got his meaning: don't worry about it.
"Give us your money, cat!" a big norn pirate shoved Vallus hard. Vallus caught himself and glared back at the norn. The other pirates laughed, including the one charr in their group.
"Look," Vallus said, drawing his swords from their scabbards. "I don't have any money and I don't want any trouble. Just leave me alone and we won't have to do this the hard way."
An asura pointed at Vallus. "Then give us that emerald 'round your neck. That will fetch us a few silver, am I right mates?" The pirates laughed again and Vallus' face darkened. The asura grinned. "I'd take those swords out of your paw too, I would."
Vallus gripped his swords harder, but smiled. "You want my sword, shorty?" He cast his illusionary leap, and chuckled as the asura stumbled back. But to the asura's surprise, the sword seemed to pass right through him. He grinned and jumped forward to attack just as Vallus swapped positions with his illusion. The asura's expression turned from confidence to astonishment and pain as Vallus' sword bit deep into his arm. He screamed and jumped back even as Vallus swapped back to his original position. All of the pirates leapt at his illusion, impaling it under the delusion that it was the real Vallus. With a flick of his thoughts, Vallus shattered his illusion, and the pirates blinked hard, dazed by the flash.
It was the work of a moment for Vallus to return his swords to their sheaths and pull out his staff, enveloping the area around his foes with a chaos storm. The pirates blinked, dazed again by the flashing lights, though they ran at him with weak roars. Vallus rolled under them and into the chaos storm, casting a spell and warping out of it, leaving an illusion in his place to cast false orbs at his attackers. With the chaos swirling around him, Vallus summoned a warlock to fight alongside his illusion, and then started to cast orbs himself.
Sesric activated his shield's magnetic inversion, shoving back the Flame Legion axe soldier. His pistol let out one shot as Vallus' chaos storm erupted around the soldier. The round exploded and the soldier slumped to the ground, dead.
Sesric holstered his gun and gave Vallus a high five. "Perfect timing partner, as usual!"
Vallus grinned. "Those Flame Legion hellraisers don't know when to quit, do they?"
"Stow the gab you two," Emer called, though she too had a grin. "We need to get back to the citadel and make our report."
As Emer led the way, Vallus and Sesric fell to the back, still smiling. Vallus' grin widened when Sesric's paw slid into his.
Vallus looked at the five gates in front of him and turned away from the one leading back to the Black Citadel. Now was the time to make a decision. Rata Sum? No; the Asura would be insufferable. Divinity's Reach? Definitely not; Vallus had no crafting experience with which to become a decent merchant, and what would those god-loving humans want with a charr? So would it be Hoelbrak or the Grove? If he went to the Grove, he could probably set up as an assistant to the farmers. Who would look for him there? Hoelbrak was more dangerous, but perhaps better. There he could do as the norn did, and set up a homestead from which to tell his tale.
Or, perhaps, the tale of his cub. Yes, Vallus thought. He'd enjoy that. Vallus was not yet old, but neither was he young. His tale was drawing to a close. And from the Shiverpeaks, he could keep in contact with his cub more easily.
Vallus' mind was made up. Yes, he was going to Hoelbrak. He shouldered his pack and stepped towards the gate, dropping a few copper pieces into the asura's waiting hand as he walked forward.
"Come on, let's go!" Vallus whispered. His voice was urgent, but there was an excited expression on his face as he pulled Sesric along by his paw.
Sesric blinked the sleep away from his eyes as he trudged along with his over-excited friend. He stifled a yawn behind his paw. "Hey, Lion's Arch isn't going anywhere. We don't have to hurry or nothing…"
"More time in Lion's Arch, more fun. We're not going to spend our day off in this metal monstrosity of a city."
Sesric was too tired to give anything but a weak growl. "Hey, this 'metal monstrosity' is our home. It's all we've got."
"Look, we're not moving to Lion's Arch, we're visiting. Now shut up and shuffle your paws. Two going through," he told the gate attendant, dropping the copper into his hand.
The asura counted out the copper and nodded. "Very well gentlemen, enjoy your time in Lion's Arch. Will you be returning?"
Vallus nodded. "Yeah."
The asura took two tickets from a little box he kept near the gate. "These are gate transfers. If you want to return, you won't have to pay, as long as you use them before midnight."
Vallus took the tickets and stuffed them in his pocket. "Thanks," he said, but waited no longer to pull Sesric through the gate. As they walked, Vallus reassured Sesric by saying, "Remember: what happens in Lion's Arch stays in Lion's Arch."
Vallus set the plank up and hammered the nail into the woodwork. When he was done he leaned back to look at his handiwork and nodded, satisfied. He focused his gaze on the pendant hanging from a nail in a tree, then looked up at the ledge not far into the distance, on which the norn shrine to the Snow Leopard sat. He saw the Norn spirits little better than he saw the human gods, but he felt a kinship with the snow leopards in the area. Maybe it was that he was catlike, maybe it was that the snow leopards there were used to the presence of the norn, or maybe it was the fact that he liked it when the snow leopard cubs bounded up and tried to play with him. Regardless, here he felt almost at peace.
A full year later, it certainly helped that he had seen his cub pass through several times.
Vallus struggled against the hold of the Flame Legion shaman. Sesric's gun was pointed at the shaman's head and Emer's face was snarling, her sword and shield held at the ready.
"Let him go," Sesric growled, "and I won't rip your face apart."
The shaman let out a low laugh, tightening his hold around Vallus' neck. "And if I don't? What will you do then, little heathen? I have the leverage."
"What you have is a dagger in your ribs."
The Flame shaman's eyes widened, and then his grip slackened and he slumped down. Vallus heard Hasta's dagger slide out of the shaman's body. He slumped forward as well, gasping for breath as the hold on his throat was broken. Sesric holstered his pistol and helped Vallus up. Emer kicked the shaman's carcass aside and growled menacingly. "Vallus, this is your fault!"
"My fault?" Vallus coughed. His temper flared along with the emerald pendant around his neck. "How is it my fault? We followed the route you told us!"
"And you didn't keep your eyes peeled for the Flame Legion!" she replied. "No rations tonight, and you have double circuits in the morning!"
Vallus opened his mouth to retort, but Sesric cut him off. "Don't bother," he whispered into Vallus' ears. "Don't worry about the circuits, I'll do them with you."
Vallus yanked his arm out of Sesric's grip. "And the food? What can I do about that? Emer threatened to chop your tail off last time."
Sesric grinned and shrugged. "Oh, I'm sure we'll think of something."
And despite himself, Vallus couldn't help but grin too.
Vallus sat outside his steading at a table under an awning. A snow leopard cub pawed at his knees, and Vallus lifted it up onto his lap. The mother sat down beside him, keeping an eye on her baby. Vallus turned back across the table while he scratched the leopard cub's belly, who pawed at the emerald pendant hanging from his neck. "Now, what was that you were saying about Orr, son?"
Daemon Darkphantom continued to relate the tale of his travel to Orr. When he told his father how he'd become a gladium, Vallus had winced, but smiled again when he was told of the Dark warband taking him in. How he'd met Rowan and Hafwen, and later the sylvari Firstborn Trahearne. Vallus' jaw dropped when his son told him of the fight against Zhaitan. Daemon related the ordeal in every detail – the undead, the ships, the dragon champions, and finally the abomination of Zhaitan itself.
When the story ended, Vallus shook his head in amazement. "That, son, is quite a story." He stood up, sending the snow leopard cub yowling back to its mother, and patted Daemon hard on the back, laughing. "Amazing! My son, a slayer of Zhaitan! Ol' Knut isn't going to believe this." Vallus grinned down at his cub. "I have to say, I'm mighty proud of you boy. You've done me and your mother proud."
Daemon grinned and clapped his father on the back, and the two shared in a hearty, deep laughter.
"The faster I get this done, the faster we can get out of here," Vallus whispered. He started over the cliff, but was yanked back by Sesric.
"Are you crazy? You don't even know if it's in there!"
"I saw them bring the idol in!" Vallus growled. "This will be useful for negotiating with the humans, so it's a high priority."
"We should tell Emer that –"
"Slag Emer! She hates me, and she'd think up an excuse to leave this idol alone. You've seen it, if the idea comes out of my mouth, it's an instant shut-down."
"So what, you think that this is going to show Emer you're not stupid? By running in there alone?"
"This isn't about Emer. We don't have time to go back and let them know, we need to take the idol and give it to Imperator Smodur now!"
Sesric sighed, but did not release Vallus' wrist. "Alright, just…come back, okay? The minute I see you in trouble, I'm jumping in. Shut your maw, it's happening. Keep to the shadows." Vallus gripped Sesric's arm tight, and Sesric responded by pulling Vallus in and embracing him tightly.
Vallus returned the gesture and as they drew back, he pressed his forehead against Sesric's. "I'll come back. Don't worry, okay?"
And before Sesric could say anything, Vallus had cast his invisibility and vanished. Sesric didn't even hear Vallus' pawsteps on the ground.
Vallus waved Daemon good-bye and grabbed his weapons. He had to go hunting.
Vallus' pawsteps were silent as the shadows as he crept between the tents. There was the idol, sitting on the cot of the Separatist leader in her tent. And nobody was guarding it. Vallus grasped the emerald amulet around his neck.
Vallus didn't make a sound as he slid into the tent and grabbed the idol. Just as easy was walking out again and slipping into the shadows. He crept beneath the shadow of the cliff, keeping close to the wall so that the idol would not show in the moonlight.
Vallus heard the rumbling too late. He looked up to find the source of the sound, only for rocks to come crashing down and lay him flat out. He could not help letting out a growl of pain as the rocks pinned him to the ground. He felt the idol drop out of his hand and heard it thud against the ground in front of him. He also heard voices. Vallus opened his eyes and saw the idol in front of him, but as he reached for it a boot heel drove his paw into the ground. He looked up to see a Separatist standing above him. The Separatist called for his leader, and she came running quickly. She opened her mouth to say something as she bent down to pick up the idol, but a bullet hit her and bounced back to the Separatist pinning Vallus' paw. Sesric came charging out of nowhere, bulling the Separatists over with his shield. He loosed one explosive round on the rocks over Vallus and they blew apart. Vallus did his level best to ignore the pain and shot up, taking out his staff. But before he'd loosed his first spell, another rumbling sound came. Thinking it to be the rocks, both Vallus and Sesric dodged out of the way, but no rocks fell. Both the charr and the humans looked around for the sound, until a Separatist came running in. "Ogres!" he shouted, and fell as a rock hit him from behind, braining him. He was set upon by a nearby devourer, whose twin stingers fell on the scout's neck. The devourer retracted the stingers, clicking and hissing at the collected fighters. An ogre loped up behind it, followed by an entire host of ogres and their pets.
Sesric and Vallus planted themselves firmly, but the humans threw up a panic and tried to flee, despite the raging of their leader
Vallus' returned his attention to the ogres just before a club descended on his skull.
A tree root creaked under the pressure of a doe's hoof. Vallus, hidden behind a bush, silently removed his swords and prepared himself. He cast his illusion, switched places, and slit the deer's throat in one sweep.
His paws were tied. Why were his paws tied? Where was he?
Vallus struggled a moment against his bonds, but they were wrapped tightly around his wrists and ankles. A foot struck him hard in the stomach and took the breath out of him. Vallus gasped as he tried to breath, and he was kicked again. "You lost us our idol, you damned stupid cat!" Another kick. Vallus tried to curl up, but the next kick connected with his back. He arched in pain as two humans picked him up and threw him against a wall. Another walked up and drew a knife. The human pressed the edge of it hard against Vallus' neck, and he tried to suck in his neck as much as he could.
"Here's the deal," the Separatist snarled. "You're going to get us our idol back. Do that, and maybe we won't kill your friend over there." Vallus' eyes opened and he looked at the prone form of Sesric, bound to two poles in a cave.
"Oh," the Separatist sneered, "so it has a name. Well, 'Sesric' isn't going to be in very good shape unless you get us that idol."
Vallus snarled down at them. "Hurt him and I'll eviscerate you! I'll cut out your hearts and feed them to the skale!"
The Separatist narrowed her eyes. "Well then, it's in your best interest to get that idol for us, isn't it?" She grabbed Vallus by his coat and wrenched him backwards. Vallus stumbled forward and caught his footing. "You have two days, charr," the Separatist said. "After that it won't matter what you do: your buddy will be crow's bait."
And Vallus ran. He didn't look back.
The deer lay on Vallus' hunting table. Vallus took a hunting knife and started to carve the pelt from the deer, starting at the neck and moving down the stomach. Venison tonight.
Vallus watched the gate close and heard the explosion behind it. And over it all, he heard Sesric's cry. "Sesric!" Vallus cried. "No! We had a deal humans!" He snarled and swept his sword to the side, decapitating one of the humans. Vallus roared over the shouts. "I'll cut you all to pieces!" Vallus' blade found another human. And another. Daemon couldn't keep up with his sire, and Emer avoided him at all costs. Damn humans! Vallus raged. I'll kill you all!
The humans took Sesric. The humans took Venetia. The humans took his warband. He would kill them all.
The day was over. Vallus had eaten his meal and drank his ale. He had visited with his cub and heard stories that told of a completely different world. Vallus took the emerald pendant from around his neck and set it on a pistol and shield over the fireplace, where it would hang until tomorrow.
Vallus heard Sesric behind him, coming from the jeweler in Lion's Arch. He accepted an emerald pendant from Sesric, and looked at it. "Huh? What's th- Holy hand grenades! That must have cost you a fortune!"
Sesric laughed. "It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it to see that look on your face."
Vallus held the pendant towards Sesric. "I can't take this, you're crazy!"
Sesric pulled him into a back alley, where he took Vallus' paw and closed it over the chain. "Keep it. It's supposed to keep you safe. I don't want you dying on me."
Vallus put the pendant on and lifted the jewel up. It was exquisite: a light green orb set in an orichalcum filigree, it seemed to almost glow from within. He looked at Sesric. He tried to think of something suitable to say. Eventually he settled on "Thank you."
Sesric put his arm around Vallus' shoulders, and Vallus did likewise as Sesric led him out of the alley. Through his grin Sesric said, "When we're apart, maybe it will make it easier for your scattered brain to remember me. You know, I'm glad you came into the Hero's Canton that day. Glad I was the one to meet you."
Vallus let out a gravelly chuckle. "You're going soft on me." He felt Sesric pull him tighter under his arm and his tail swish happily back and forth.
"Yeah, I guess I am."
Vallus spread out the coals by the fire and checked that the door and windows were locked. He looked at the pendant glowing green over the fireplace.
"Good night, Sesric."
Story © Jonathan McDevitt
Characters and Locations © ArenaNet