Her skin was a bit coarser know. Stiffer, but still supple. Almost like the shell of a freshly molted crustacean. It was odd. The grey patches that was covering her once ivory-blue skin, she could live with. But the stiffness

She would have to make do. Hunting game from the surface implied sacrifices. Besides, how many largos back home could boast about how they braved the wind, the sun and the fluctuating temperatures, and brought the heads of powerful creatures from the Deep Drylands?

Not bloody many, that’s who.

The thought of her, presenting the head of a branded to the great Houses, receiving honors and praises for such a daring raid… it strengthened her resolve, while the extended period of inactivity whetted her thirst for blood.

She allowed herself three days. Three days during which she sat under the cool flow of the freshwater streams, cleansing her body from the salt of her enatic waters. She basked under the light of both sun and moon, cloaked from the wandering eyes of the city’s landwalkers, forcing her eyes to get accustomed to it. She fed on the harbor’s fat, bland fish, even stole a piece of dried meat from one of the shore’s stall, out of curiosity –hard to chew, even harder to digest. She would not make that same mistake again.

And during those three days she observed.

Like with the Pact’s members, the inhabitants were a rather wide array of diverse races: humans, norn, asura, charr, skritt, quaggan… Only a small numbers were soldiers. The rest were plebeians. They seemed all so… unimpressive.

The cannons lined along the shore were pointing in all directions towards the horizon, offering a good cover from any menace coming from up in the sky or over the sea, but not so much against something that could come from beneath it. A dozen well trained assassins, under the cover of night, could sneak out from beneath the waves, infiltrating the streets and crippling the settlement’s defenses before they could even use it.

With a few strategic hits, the whole city could fall.

She took those violent reveries as a sign that it was time to move out: she had waited long enough.

She went back to the building of hulls and masts, a shadow under the moonless night.

Moving on land felt so alien to her, despite her training and her obvious mastery of her own body. In the water, she was the deadliest thing the ocean had to offer: fast, graceful, precise. More agile than a sea snake and at least ten times as deadly. There, she and the water were one, a drop within the wave, a deadly undertow from the abyss, sweeping her enemies and preys away to their doom.

But up there, she felt heavy and slow. The large fins on her back, an asset in the ocean, were a hindrance on dry land. She had no prey in sight for now, and yet she was already in a fight: that of her muscles against a weight they were not used to carry.

Still, she managed to sneak past one of the building’s resident –a female charr wearing a green outfit– as she opened the large doors to leave. A stone tossed in the bushes distracted her long enough, and she was able to slip through before the charr closed the door, unseen and unfelt.

The inside was harder to navigate.

The interior was smaller than she expected: an area with seats and bookshelves to the left, presently empty, and with a low fire burning out to embers, a multi-floored room with even more books and scrolls and maps to the right, with a tired-looking human snoozing on a chair, and an area with a buzzing portal in the open central hub.

Doomed to roam on the ground like a common arthropod, she had to be extra careful that nothing and no one brushed against the edges of her cloaked body. In this tight, claustrophobic place, gravity was her enemy.

As this time of day, the place was nearly empty. From her days scouting the outside of the building, she knew that the residents of the place would leave the building at night, leaving only a couple people, and locking the door shut. If she maneuvered properly, no one would ever know she was even there.

Her heart rate picked up and she froze, holding her breath, every time her weight made the floorboards of the cursed stairs creak. But the human was snoring, blissfully ignorant, and comfortably exposed.

And so she searched… but found no trace of the norn.

During those three days, she was pretty confident that they had not exited that building. She usually had good instinct about those things. She had searched from top to bottom, finding nobody else, not even something that looked like living quarters.

Nobody lived in this building. And they did not leave. Therefore, they must have used the portal.

But where to?

If they used a portal, they could be anywhere, and they would be lost to her.

Anger flared briefly in her heart, but she quenched it quickly. A hunter would not let their emotions overwhelm them. Surely, there was a way for her to find her quarry in this place. And lo: he found it in the large book placed on a pedestal near the portal: a ledger. In it, two names, side by side: Fiel Farrinsson, Gilded Hollow.

The name of the son. The words spoken by the father.

“Gilded Hollow” was the place she would find them at. But how to get there?

Once again, she was amazed as the lack of forethought and caution those landwalkers demonstrated. The coordinates that linked the portal to the Gilded Hollow were right there in the ledger, next to the name. They made it all too easy for her. It was almost as if they wanted to be found.

This information, in the hands of enemies, could lead them to serious, deadly troubles.

                                                                             ———————-

The light under the waypoint flashed, followed by a soft, monotone hum. The portal activated, and underneath appeared… nothing.

The largos did not let the sudden change of decor, luminosity and climate faze her. After three quick looks around her, she was shadowstepping from golden column to emerald bush, her moves fast and precise despite her anxious blood beating in her ears.

Once under sufficient cover, she took the time to take in her new environment.

The Gilded Hollow was a tall, wide cave, with the light of the sun pouring in from wide cracks on the roof, and reflecting over the tall structures made of gold, illuminating the more recent and flimsier constructions of wood and cloth: tents, furniture, wooden platforms… Vegetation was growing over the broken arches, in a manner not unlike that of Orr. But while the landscape of that country was dead and putrid, that of the Hollow was vibrant and alive. Even the air smelled purer here, infinitely cleaner than that of Orr or Lion’s Arch. She could hear the rush of water, and excitement rose in her: a strong waterfall was near. Water. Shelter.

She followed the sound and arrived to a long golden bridge, overlooking a cobalt lake and a steady stream of crashing water. She resisted the urge to dive in, worried that a strong splash might alert somebody. Instead she carefully climbed down, and slunk beneath the surface with barely contained glee.

Even the water felt purer here. And fresher. She let herself sink to the bottom, eyes closed, drunk from the sensation of the clean water embracing every inch of her. Then, once revitalized, she began exploring the place from underwater.

She could get a better idea of the layout of the place now: Gilded Hollow was a golden temple perched over a pseudo-island, in the middle of a lake, itself hidden within a huge cavern. A perfect hideout.

The smells and sounds of the place were all very unfamiliar to her… Just how deep inland did that portal take her?

She would have to figure it out later. For now she was weary, and she was hungry.

Author BluJ
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