By Blake Tan
Continued from part three:
After slipping into her Vigil armor and buckling on her sword, Jehanni dragged a wet cloth across her face over the washbowl, enjoying the moment’s serenity and realizing that it might be her last. The Sound would be constant battle, sleep caught rarely and without pattern. Geirmund would not believe his warmaster would miss this peace but she would and not just the quiet, but the friends among the asura krewe she had made while posted here.
Nixx would be fine, she promised herself. The little genius could crack heads with the best of them, and he still had his friends in the Peacemakers, who were never far off in the Brisban Wildlands. But if the Peacemakers got themselves tied up with Inquest or the Nightmare Court, what then? Could the asura defend themselves without her?
Jehanni looked up from the washbowl to see Moa-Brain Ben’s head sticking through the tent flap. He coughed into his hand before she gestured for him to enter. “Yes, crusader?”
“Recruits Fireena and Gore Ironteeth have not returned from their patrol,” Ben reported with a crisp salute. “Crusader Geirmund thinks they might have gotten themselves lost, but –“
“But? Speak your mind, Ben,” Jehanni said, bemused by his formality. “You know I’m a soldier just like you and I’ve learned to trust my instincts. Trust your instincts now.”
“Aye, warmaster,” he replied, scratching his head, smiling weakly. “Fireena’s been exploring the Maguuma long before she joined the Vigil. I doubt she’d get lost.”
Jehanni picked up her shield, hooking it over her shoulder, and nodded toward the tent flap. “Well, crusader, on me. Time to go looking for our lost recruits.”
They went out into the camp where the morning patrols were just returning, checking it with their duty officers before dragging themselves over to the mess hall. A pair of tacticians, an asura and a human, argued in hushed voices over a meticulously copied map of the region. Two golem sentries stood watch by the camp’s palisade gate, their alchemagical cores humming with a low buzz, while one of Nixx’s krewe tinkered with a defense turret. The asura looked up as they passed, frowning, and shook his head, turning back to his work.
“Nixx still angry with you?” Ben asked as he walked quickly to keep up with her pace.
“Disappointed, most likely,” Jehanni said, ignoring the asura’s glares. “He’s a strange one, very prickly about honor and keeping your word.”
“Not common with the asura, I guess,” Ben said. “I mean, acting honorably and all. Most of them are more concerned with results.”
She paused to consider the asura technician working on the turret. He had an omnitool in one hand and a miniature assistant golem hovering by his head. The asura could’ve instructed the assistant golem to carry out most of the leg-work, but he was inside the turret frame himself, tinkering with his own hands. Funny thing about leaders is that the foot-soldiers always try to emulate the good ones.
“Nixx has always tried to do things the right way. Even if it’s the harder way,” Jehanni replied, resuming her stride toward the asura lab. “I just hope he’s still willing to help me.”
Nixx was within the lab, occupied by a palm-sized display with technobabble scrolling at a speed only an asura could understand. Jehanni was surprised to find Tactician Eris with him, blinking as she tried to keep up with the text. Both asura and sylvari looked up when they entered.
“Warmaster, kind of you to visit. Will this be our official goodbye?” Nixx asked, his voice flat and cold.
“Of course not, Nixx,” Jehanni said, crossing her arms. “I still have to beat you at a game of polymock.”
“You will never defeat me at polymock, warmaster. I am a player without equal,” Nixx said, snapping the palm display closed. “But it is good that you try. All beings should at least attempt at greatness even if they fall short, as most do.”
“Have you found a new security force yet?” Jehanni asked.
“I’m afraid not. The Arcane Council refuses to grant my request for a detachment of Peacemakers. My best hope now is to recruit some hylek mercenaries from the tribes nearby, thought their willingness to help us is slim to none,” Nixx replied, “but, that is none of your concern now, is it, warmaster?”
“Your safety will always be my concern, Nixx, even if I’m hundreds of miles away in the Shiverpeaks,” Jehanni insisted, putting her fist over her heart. “I swore it to you and my word is my bond. Even if my orders take me far from this place, your safety – and the safety of your krewe – will never be far from my mind.”
Nixx’s lip quivered, but surprisingly, the asura held his composure. He extended his hand to her. “Jehanni, you have and always shall be my friend.”
“And you, mine.”
She shook his hand, but Nixx yanked her into a magnanimous hug, the techno-motors of his armor humming as he crushed her against him. “We will miss the Vigil’s guardianship. None can match your soldiers’ courage and valor. Now, what can I do for you, warmaster?”
Jehanni nodded to Ben, motioning for him to explain. He reached into his belt-pouch, fumbling with a folded map. Nixx’s wide mouth split into a tooth-filled grin, his display buzzing to life. The asura researcher waved his hand and the palm display expanded to a wall-sized, flickering map of the lab and the surrounding geography.
“Allow me, Moa-Brains,” Nixx boasted, putting his hands on his hips and chuckling. Even for an asura of noble bearing like him, Nixx still had a penchant for showing bookahs their place.
“Ah, that’s useful,” Ben replied as he stuffed the map back into his pouch. “And it’s Crusader Fenn, if you will, Genius Nixx. Ben Fenn.”
The warmaster gave her a crusader a curious look. He shrugged. “In the Seraph, I was always Moa-Brain Ben, but my father was Ascalonian and our family name was his greatest treasure.”
“Not to mention how ridiculous your name sounds,” NIxx said, baring his sharp, little teeth in a grin. “Ben Fenn! Was your mother an especially dim-witted bookah?”
Ben bristled slightly, but let the insult pass. Nixx was an asura, after all. Insulting the other races was their racial pastime. Jehanni marveled at his patience; she’d have at least smacked Nixx – playfully, of course – for the comment.
“It was my grandsire’s name and he bore it proudly, as shall I,” the crusader said, and would have continued had Nixx not waved him to shut up.
“Quiet!” the asura shouted, his voice taking a tone of urgency, his fingers fiddling with his palm unit’s buttons. “By the Eternal Alchemy, is that even possible?”
The ridge of vine that made up Tactician Eris’s brow shot up. She waved a thorny hand, purple light dancing across her fingers and filling her eyes. “I can confirm your readings, Nixx.”
“What is it?” Jehanni asked, her hand instinctively going to her sword.
Nixx looked at her, his ears drooping beside his face, eyes wide with fear. “Dragon minions ... Hundreds – Hundreds of them.”
The camp filled with cries of alarm, the lab’s sirens blaring to life. Ben drew his sword and watched Jehanni for orders.
“How? How did they get past our scouts?” she demanded.
Nixx, still fumbling with the palm unit, shook his head. “They didn’t, warmaster. They – They’re coming from the jungle itself.”
The asura threw down the palm unit, stomping it under his foot. “Jehanni, they are the jungle!”