Rytlock wasn’t in. He hadn’t been in for months, they said.
Mabel didn’t understand. They had been walking in circles for a long time, and yet they were in a completely different place. And now her owner was shouting.
“Yes, I know he’s a very important man, but if his mission is so important, then why doesn’t the public know about it?” Rovack was waving his arms about now, perhaps to make his frame seem taller than it was. The old charr’s back was slightly sloped and the man not tall to begin with, though where height was an issue, width was not.
“I’m sorry,” said the guard, seeming to mean it, but his face quickly hardened. “But if you don’t leave, we could have a problem.”
Rovack turned around and began his trek back down the ramp. “Ingrates,” he mumbled. “This is exactly why we—I—oh, it doesn’t matter.”
“Sorry, Cat.” He sighed, and stopped. Rovack was much too old to have a guide, and here he was, lost in the absence of one.
“Ahoy!” a voice rang out. It was the highest voice Rovack had heard in the Citadel, and definitely the loudest. He looked to the source, and there was a human male, on the ground floor, waving wildly at him with one arm.
Rovack looked around, perhaps hoping there were a few “explorers” around, like a ragtag team of humans and a single asura with new leather sacks filled with useless extra supplies. They had possibly just located their friend who’d opted to stay on the ground floor due to the intimidating guards he’d have to encounter on the way up.
There was no one around him that the man could be waving at. Rovack groaned softly, as he was now only a dozen feet away from him. He gave the human a wide berth as he attempted to walk right past him.
The man, who was about as tall as Rovack, with brown hair and a long, blue coat, cheerily walked up to the charr. “You look like you could appreciate some help,” he said.
“I don’t need directions. Thank you,” Rovack said, walking slower out of politeness.
“I will connect you with nearby areas that need assistance from good people like you who just want to help.”
“How do you like the cold? Hoelbrak is encountering more problems than usual at this time.”
“Never been,” the charr mumbled. He reached behind himself and Mabel met his paw with her back. He ran his claws through her fur, which was just barely medium-length. “How cold is it?”
“How odd.” The man’s expression softened, but in a way that suggested he’d been forcing a certain look for the entire conversation. He quickly regained the look. “Strangely warmer than it usually is, actually. There’s a sort of doomsday feel to the city at this point, contributing to the crime that has become rampant there. I’ve seen a cat or two there as well.” He nodded toward Mabel.
“Which part of Hoelbrak? I’ve never heard of these recent events.”
The man gave a sad smile. “Just listen. You’ll find it.” He walked away.
Rovack stared after him, unable to fathom why this man who looked and acted like an eager Divinity Guide was so bent on speaking to him, but had stopped giving information just to make it appear ominous. It worked, though, and the charr found himself itching to go to Hoelbrak.
He heard smacking noises from his backpack, and realized that Mabel must have found the dried ham he kept in an inside pocket. He would take her to relieve herself as soon as they reached the snow, so she’d be as comfortable as possible during the trip. Rovack lumbered along. The tensing of bodies and long looks the guards and soldiers were giving him made him vow to get some clothes off of a drunk norn once he arrived at the city.
Rovack had no qualms about going back to Lion’s Arch; the Lionsguard were very good at cleaning up incidents fairly quickly, and it would only be a few seconds between portals.
He made his way back down the metal path, briefly glancing back at the Citadel. He’d scarcely visited the capital city, but always saw it in the distance from his base. Rovack suspected that the Fire Legion rarely strayed far from the city because the structure itself was something to be marveled at. The idea of working inside of it made one feel like they could be part of a well-oiled machine, or at least it would be if the Fire Legion were to take over.
Rovack was at the age where leaving one place may mean that he’d never see it again. He hated the snow.
It was only a brief look, after all. He was now at the portal through which he originally came. The charr had almost convinced himself not to go to Hoelbrak, so he forced himself through it.
After feeling disoriented for a moment, Mabel peeked her head out of Rovack’s backpack. She mewed in excitement at the shrub in the center of the Eastern Ward and leapt out.
“No!” Rovack said, then lowered his voice to a whisper. “No. Mabel.” He followed her to the shrub, where she disappeared. He covered his face in his paws as his heart began to pound in his chest. The guards of all the portals were beginning to give him odd looks.
“No, no, no…” he mumbled, circling the bushes. He glanced over to see an Iron Legion soldier slowly walking towards him, his face hardening into recognition. Rovack had to grab the cat and go. He’d talk to her about crucial timing later. With a grunt, he climbed up into the bushes, searching for her.
It had been vain, even stupid, to believe that they would not recognize him after a whopping fifteen minutes after failing to arrest him earlier. It had been vain of Rovack to believe that there wouldn’t be a new guard, desperate to prove herself and kicking herself for letting him go last time. The new guard, the Iron Legionnaire, made sure she was the first to reach him and the first to tackle him to the ground. His body was weak, and the Legionnaire quickly stood up. A Seraph guard and norn easily restrained him and hauled him away, presumably to the next Lionguard they saw.
She watched them, noticed that the human was having a hard time of holding up his side of the charr, but could ultimately do it. He was weak for a charr. Her pity rivaled her pride for a moment, but with a grunt from her fellow charr by the portal, she returned to her post.
Mabel walked out of the bushes. She gave an inquisitive mew, then panicked. Running around the plaza, she believed that she’d been forgotten about.
Two human women made their way toward her, absorbed in conversation. Mabel heard one word of it, and then she forgot about having been abandoned. She temporarily forgot about her very good friend, because the humans were saying that word over and over.
“I don’t know why they would pick Hoelbrak. It should be a nightmare at this time of year,” one of them said, a short blond woman with a long, thick coat draped over one shoulder.
“Probably why they’re so desperate for people,” her black-haired companion said. “You still have time to turn back.”
The short one hesitated, and both of them stopped to look at each other. “He said ‘Hoelbrak,’ and I just dropped a solid gold on this coat.”
“You’ve never been there.”
“Are you trying to persuade me, or—“
Her companion groaned. “No, just trying to get you to weigh the options. For you to make a decision. Real soon.”
The black-haired woman cocked her head. “It’s exciting to be going nowhere.”
“I’m tired of nowhere. Let’s go.” She led the way to the portal for Hoelbrak.
They’d said the word enough times for the cat to make her decision. She followed them, hoping that with their repeated mention of this “Hoelbrak” would lead her to her friend. As they went into the portal, she jumped, sinking her claws into the long coat. She held on throughout the dizzying journey into the portal, and let go in alarm once the cold hit her. She cowered under the thin red robes of a nearby asura.
Graff side-stepped, still concentrating on his task of maintaining the portal. Mabel stepped out from underneath and looked up at him, shivering and already miserable.
“Oh, no,” Graff said. “Not another one.”