Chapter 2 – Don’t Shoot the Messenger
Sergeant Eilye Jeyne of the Ebon Vanguard was pretty average-looking for a human. Medium height and weight, brown hair, button nose. Where she was exceptional was in her attitude, and – as Forgal and I soon discovered – her temper. She was not the slightest bit appreciative that she’d had two Vigil members assigned as her escort, and wasted no time in letting her displeasure known to us.
“Look, I don’t care what Samuelsson said, I don’t need any babysitters,” she grumped as she marched along the dusty path, kicking the occasional rock into the surrounding bushes.
“We’re not babysitters,” Forgal explained with a smirk, “We’re tourists. Traveling the same road, taking in the same scenery…and beating the ever-loving crap out of the same idiots as you. That’s all. Are you really going to try to tell us where we can’t go or who we can’t beat up on such a nice day?”
“Look, fine, tag along if you must,” she said, utterly unamused at Forgal’s jokes. “I have a job to do and I don’t have time to worry about you two. Keep up or get left behind.”
“We won’t get left behind,” I assured her.
“And don’t tell the rest of the Vanguard. I’d never hear the end of it,” she added, and did her absolute best to outpace us. As she pulled ahead, I noticed that Forgal was smiling to himself. I caught his eye to give him a quizzical look.
“Ah, if I’d had a daughter, she’d be a lot like Jeyne,” he said to me, under his breath. “Except smarter, stubborner, and better-lookin.’”
I didn’t know why, but for some reason his saying that prickled me. Not that I had anything against Jeyne, but she seemed unworthy of that level of praise from him. I frowned a bit and kept quiet about it.
As the afternoon wore on and we drew closer to our destination, I began to sense a bit of smugness from Jeyne. The route had been uneventful, which meant that my mentor and I had been useless, thus far. I could tell she was just waiting for the chance to say she told us so. Forgal seemed not to notice. In fact, now that I looked up at him, he seemed positively on edge. I told him as much.
“Well someone’s got to be,” he said, “You two are off in la-la land, and meanwhile we’re surrounded by brush that could easily be harboring our enemies.”
“Hey,” Jeyne objected, “I’m paying attention. Just because I don’t – ”
“Wait,” I interrupted her, perking up, “I think I heard something.”
She and Forgal both fell silent, and after a moment it came again: a voice, probably human, not too far away. I started off immediately, and heard Jeyne scoff in frustration before their footsteps followed behind me.
“We don’t have time for a detour,” she hissed, and I noted that she used the word ‘we,’ “We have to get this message to Summit Peak!”
“It’s one of yours,” Forgal grunted
“What?” Jeyne cried, forgetting herself and quickening her pace. He’d seen the same thing I had – ahead and off to the left, an injured soldier, wearing the same Vanguard armor that Jeyne was. He was bleeding profusely, but by the looks of it had taken out three charr in the process.
As soon as she saw him, Jeyne sped ahead of us, to the aid of her comrade. He lifted a weak arm as we approached.
“Eilye?” he called, “No! Don’t! It’s a trap!”
Jeyne barely had enough time to skid to a halt before the “defeated” charr pulled themselves to their feet and prepared to attack. Forgal, on the other hand, sprung immediately into action. He pulled a warhorn from his belt and blew a powerful short blast through it. The charr were stunned by the sheer volume, and stared at Forgal dumbly for just a second. Their hesitation gave Jeyne, Hibiscus, and I a step up.
I drew my bow as Jeyne tore her sword from its scabbard and shuffled her shield from her back. She lunged fearlessly, blade forward and shield covering her left side, and managed to sink her sword into the gut of the charr closest to her. He yowled and swung his mace down on top of her, but the shield caught the brunt of the blow. Nevertheless, the force was enough to send Jeyne staggering. He might have gotten the best of her, had Hibiscus not leapt into the fray at that moment, tearing at the arm of the charr and raking his claws along his front.
Meanwhile, I was preparing my own attack against the charr that was the furthest back, a tawny-colored beast with pure black eyes. His attention was still focused on Forgal, which suited me fine. I took my time lining up my shot just right, watching his movements – just before he moved to close the distance between them, I fired. The arrow struck him just beneath his jutting jaw, puncturing his windpipe. He gurgled, a feeble attempt at a roar, and after a moment’s pause, fell to the ground, defeated.
Forgal was making quick work of his foe as well. The charr had gone for an overhand attack, but he anticipated the move and used his powerful left arm to block him at the wrist. He brought his arm down in an outward sweep, disarming the charr as he did so. Forgal then slashed horizontally with his sword, cutting the charr from ear to breast across the throat. As a mercy, he then stabbed the Renegade through the heart.
With our enemies dispatched, Eilye turned again to her comrade. He was in poor shape, wheezing through a hole in his chest. His eyes wouldn’t quite focus on her face. She pressed her hands over his wound, allowing him to take in a full breath. His face was as white as a sheet.
“Eilye,” he croaked, “I’m not going to make it. Can you…would you tell John that I love him? I want him to – ”
“Actually, tell him yourself,” I interrupted. “I have just the thing.” Jeyne boggled at me as I elbowed her aside and grabbed my pack. I pulled one of the two remaining potions from its depths and uncorked it with my teeth. I poured a generous amount on the soldier’s chest wound, and coaxed the rest down his throat. After a few seconds, his breathing evened out and he looked up at me, a bit sheepishly.
“Well,” he said after a moment, “I suppose I could tell him, but what if he doesn’t feel the same way?”
Forgal made a noise that was half scoff, half chortle. “Kid, count your blessings that you can even worry about that.” Jeyne’s faced showed a similar mix of amusement and concern.
“Are you going to be okay, Dunne?” she asked, taking a knee beside him. He nodded.
“I’ll live. I’m not in any position to go anywhere, though. Even just moving my eyes around is making me dizzy.”
“You lost a lot of blood,” I confirmed. I picked out a packet of rations from my pack and laid it next to him. “There’s water and bread and jerky in there. Eat when you feel like you can, it’ll help you regain your strength.”
“Well, we can’t just leave him here,” Forgal said. “Those charr are bound to be back.”
“Maybe,” Jeyne said thoughtfully, “Or maybe not. It’ll take them a long time to realise their friends aren’t coming back victorious. Heck, they might have agreed to meet at Summit Peak. If we hurry, we might get to the Peak and send help before anyone even comes looking for him.”
“And if we move Dunne to that thicket over there, they might not find him even if they come looking for him,” I added. “After all, they’re not after him. They might assume we rescued him, or just not care enough to search.”
“I can’t say I’m fond of the idea of being found,” Dunne said, hesitantly. “I don’t have any way to defend myself.”
“Here,” Jeyne said, rather quickly. I could tell she was beginning to feel rushed. She pressed a pistol into Dunne’s bloody hands. “If you can’t take them out, at least you won’t have to suffer.”
He nodded, and swallowed heavily.
Forgal lifted the limp soldier and carried him the hundred yards to so to a thicket we’d passed. It was a bit bigger than a man, but sparser than I’d hoped. I ran my fingers along the stems, gently urging it to flourish and blossom. Most sylvari had an affinity with flora, for obvious reasons. The brush responded to my touch, and soon Dunne was almost completely obscured. From a distance, you’d never even think to look. We brought him the rations and made sure he was as comfortable as possible, and then hurried off.
“That was interesting,” Forgal said quietly, some time later. “I didn’t realize sylvari could do stuff like that.”
“Sometimes,” I responded, a little flattered at his interest. “At the Grove, flowers would bloom around me as I walked. I’ve always felt like they were glad to see me.”
“You are certainly full of surprises,” he said, with some finality, and I didn’t pursue the subject any further.
Summit Peak was just ahead, its massive tent jutting up dark against the late afternoon sky, and Jeyne broke into a sprint as we reached its base. I began to jog to keep up, and Forgal as well. There was no telling what was up there, but if things had gone poorly, I wanted us to arrive together.
“Minister Duran!” Jeyne cried, and I heard the relief in her voice even before I saw the Minister, myself. As I crested the hill, I saw that we were being greeted by looks of benign curiosity.
The two major figures were a human male in a traditional Krytan robe, and a charr in a similarly cultural outfit. I guessed that they must be the Minister and the Ambassador. Alongside them were several other assorted dignitaries. They were assembled loosely around some spots at the huge circular table, enjoying the cool shade. This was clearly no formal meeting, yet. And, better than that, there was no sign of the Renegades. We were in time.
“Sergeant Eilye Jayne, sir,” Jeyne reported, saluting smartly. “I have an important message for you. I’m afraid you’re in grave danger, both of you.”
“Danger? What do you mean?” Duran asked, shocked. “And why are you with two Vigil soldiers?”
“Samuelsson assigned us to be Jeyne’s escort,” Forgal explained, shortly.
“We were ambushed on our way,” I added, “The charr tried to use a soldier, Dunne, as a decoy. He’s in bad shape, we were hoping someone could be sent to retrieve him.”
“Certainly,” the charr beside Duran nodded. He was small for a charr (which was not small by any means), and he had magnificently curved horns rising high above his beige-furred head. He had a calm air to him. “But first, how exactly is it that the Minister and I are in danger?”
Jeyne quickly briefed them on Anvilburn’s plan, and Steelcrusher shook his head.
“An assassination and a framing… Well, we can’t let that happen, can we? Duran, can you fight?” He grinned crookedly at the Minister, who nodded.
“Not as well as a charr,” he responded with a smile of his own, “But I can hold my own. You know, I was trained by Bongo, the best swordsman in Tyria.”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you two were enjoying this,” Forgal said in amusement. I had been thinking the same thing. The diplomats made noncommittal noises and laughed it off, but I thought Forgal might have the right of it.
“What are your orders, sir?” Jeyne asked, still standing to attention.
“That’s a good question. Firstly,” Steelcrusher said, turning to Jeyne, “Send some of the Vanguard out to collect your soldier. Pugio,” he added, turning to a ruddy, one-eyed charr that I’d assumed to be his bodyguard, “Go alert Ember and the rest of the soldiers that we’ve got a fight on our hands. And Warmaster, I would like to ask for your expertise as a member of the Vigil. What should we do?”
“I have some ideas,” Forgal said with a nod, “But if you don’t mind, I’d like to test out my recruit here. Kid, what would you do?”
I was not expecting to be put on the spot in such a crucial moment. My mind raced, and I stammered a little before I could form a sentence. “Well, we can assume that when the Renegades discover that their ambush was a failure, they’ll probably come to the Peak. This place is defensible enough,” I said, noting the thick waxed-hessian canopy, which was held up by sturdy oak beams overlaid with iron. “We could arrange the tables as a barrier and use them as a defense. I might even be light enough to balance on top, and I could scout for their approach as well as fire down on them.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Forgal admitted, pursing his lower lip thoughtfully, “Although you missed a few things. Firstly, it’ll be night by the time they arrive. Visibility won’t be great, and moreover, you light up like a Wintersday tree, so having you up on top would probably just make you a target. Also, if you’re hoping to command troops someday, you’ll have to think about placement of your whole ranks, not just yourself.”
I nodded, pride slightly wounded, but not terribly. Still, he’d definitely given some credit to my ideas, and I appreciated his advice.
“That said, I think she’s right, we should dig in and defend here. We don’t have enough time to evacuate you back to the city, with that injured soldier on the way back. Also, we have enough manpower, and the high ground, and besides which, I’m here. We’ll give those Renegade kittens a whipping they won’t forget.”
“I like your fire,” Steelcrusher chuckled. “Very well. Let’s talk tactics and get prepared for nightfall.”