As the horse-drawn carriage pulled up along the country road, the two misty eyed sylvari within gazed out to the source of the rising smoke trail. Looking simply distraught, the well-dressed male–attired in human clothes, an expensive mix of black, white and red–put an arm around the woman comfortingly. “Steel yourself, Tish. It is not a pleasant sight that waits to greet us.”
Dressed in a fine gown made of gauzy material, she couldn’t stop trembling, and her hand pressed against his, “It is truly horrendous. I simply can’t…” she stopped herself, feeling the buds of tears develop in her eyes and rubbing them away with the back of her fingertips, “It is so tragic.”
The countryside was such a lush and beautiful sight, it made the blight that awaited them all the more singular and troubling.
The expensive carriage pulling to a halt, the Lordly looking man was out the moment the driver opened his door, a ruddy-brown bark-skinned hand extended to the lady within. “T’is worse than expected, Tish,” he said with a grim frown, “do gird yourself.”
From the edge of the scene a cluster of patrolmen stood watch, the captain with eyes upon the odd pair, watching their strange scene unfold.
The lushness of her plantlike flesh, the rich hues of her hair all contrasted terribly to the scene that they’d pulled up on. The wreckage of the charred building left little hope of lives saved, and she visibly stumbled as she stepped from the carriage, feeling bile rising in her stomach as she shook her head, “Noo,” she whimpered, just below her breath.
The captain moved towards them both quickly at the sight, but before he did more than jerk forward, the taller male gripped her chivalrously and steadied her against himself. “There there, Tish,” he comfortingly muttered, cradling her head to his shoulder, averting her gaze from the scene.
Catching sight of the captain he held a grim view, “Where are the survivors?”
He was a gruff man with a suspicious grimace, a cruel scar marking his neck, “None,” he admitted with a grunt.
The remains of the building left little hope, but still the woman sobbed, holding her hands to her chest, “Ohh,” she wailed, “How will we ever tell their families, Tieg?” she looked up at her fellow sylvari, heartbroken at the prospect.
Stroking his dark hand over her leafy head of hair, he grimly looked to the ashes, then down. “With a firm heart and a stiff upper lip, Tish,” he replied solemnly.
The captain, hearing that, perked up and stood straighter. “So you two are Lord and Lady Bramblebloom then?” Sizing them both up he stated, “The name certainly fits, although I expected humans.” He tacked on, “No offense.”
Tisha looked to Tieg, a moment passing between only them before she looked to the ground, “We are, Captain. I’m afraid we will be left to deal with the rubble of the Institute.”
The captain stared her down a moment, “Rubble is all you shall have left then, I’m afraid, lady. For all inside are lost, along with the contents of the entire facility. I doubt much could have survived such an infernal blaze. It seems to have consumed the whole place before anything could be done to hinder it even,” his voice rang with a hint of general suspicion, as if he felt it was not quite so simple as an ordinary fire.
He hadn’t even finished his speech before she was turned away, throwing herself against the carriage. She cried into it, causing her entire body to shake with the powerful sobs, as though his forthright description of events were too emotional for her to bare.
His face contorted in empathy, the autumn-headed Tieg put a hand upon her shoulder, gripping it comfortingly and she threw herself into his embrace. “Why would anyone wish to harm the Institute? We’re knowledge gatherers and teachers, not…”
As Tieg struggled for the words to continue, the captain butted in, “What about your boss, this lord–”
The male sylvari broke in and cut him off firmly, “He is aged and retired, sir. And has nothing to do with the running of the Institute in years. Had he any enemies, which he does not, they could gain nothing from targeting this institution.”
Tish turned her tear threatened eyes on the Captain, “It must have been an experiment gone wrong, surely! Perhaps a student wandered into some… book or some such that was more dangerous than the staff realized!”
Taking a deep breath, the captain acquiesced, “Perhaps, madam. Though it would be helpful if I could speak with your master, perhaps he could shed some light on things…”
She shook her head, looking profoundly sad. Glancing to Tieg, she chose her words delicately, “I’m afraid he is not as healthy as he once was. His mind has not aged well and he relies on us more with each passing day. I’m afraid most of the time,” she choked up, biting on her leafy finger, “he can not even remember his own daughter’s face, let alone his business holdings!”
Holding the weeping Tisha against his chest, Tieg nodded somberly. “We have full power of attorney for our master, I assure you, Captain. We have managed his affairs for some years. And if you insist on seeing him, I’m afraid he could do no more than lay there, struggling to breath.”
The Captain remained skeptical, but after a moment he gave a slight nod, “I understand. My mother got the same way,” he looked over to the charred building and then back to the two plant folk, “Well, if you don’t mind, then, I’d like to speak with you more on this once my crew has had a look over everything. See if we can’t find anything. Tomorrow afternoon?”
Nodding to the human, Tieg stated firmly, “Tomorrow at noon, we shall arrive at your post. We hope something can be salvaged from all this…” looking out over the charred ruins he stroked Tisha’s back and lamented, “The Institute took great precautions to protect its knowledge, but against a fire like this? I fear for the loss to all the free peoples of Tyria.”
As they rode away in the carriage, Tisha rested against her Lord and lover, her skin damp with sorrow, “The pain will be great. All of those books. All of those talented people. It is such a shame that it is all gone up in smoke. It will take so much time to rebuild.”
Peering back towards the receding sight of the former institute building, Tieg’s tone took a dramatic turn. Everything from his manner of sitting to the pitch of his voice altered in at least some subtle way. “Well, it’s all lost there. But with time and effort it could be be more suited to our vision than it ever could have been with that–”
She stroked his chest lovingly, cutting off his sentence as they so often did, “Still, it’s a lot of loss just to get rid of whoever it was.”
With a deep inhale, and a sigh that never came, he gave in. Looking down to her hand upon his well dressed torso, he continued, “We have to think positively somehow, don’t we?” With a slight, crooked smile on his face, “You were wonderful back there.”
She beamed at him, looking proud as a peacock, “You think? I was afraid it was a little melodramatic, but that play we saw last week really brought it out in me.”
With a coarse laugh he squeezed her fingers and brought them up to his mouth, licking them in an oddly inhuman manner that bears little resemblance to a human act of affection. “Not at all. The Captain was quite the captive audience, as they say. He bought it quite well.”
She nodded and leaned back, watching him intently through her slanted, devious eyes, “Well, I suppose then we should look to rebuild in our own image. Our first child.”
Smirking at that remark, his gaze followed her, “The old model was a bit dull, was it not? Hardly any excitement about the whole thing at all. Just the doldrum of learning and teaching, in endless repetition.”
“And we want so much more from our children,” she crooned.
With a roll of his eyes he smirked and looked back to the window, “So funny how they do things, isn’t it? Creating their young inside one another…” he looked back to her then poked her belly, “I wonder at the appeal of it.”
“They’re always trying to cram themselves together,” she paused thoughtfully, “I wouldn’t doubt they were linked.”
Wryly he remarked, “You just say that because every single romantic play involves one then the other.”
She laughed, a strange sort of melody akin to rustling leaves, “They enjoy repetition as well.”
“Maybe that’s the reason. The male has to bloat up the female with repetitive injections of some sort of… new-person paste.”
Tisha shrugged and curled into him, “We’re almost back to the mansion. Time to get back in character, my Tieg.”
With a simple kiss to her fronds of hair, he adopted a new persona with the ease one might slip on a hat. His voice haughty and upper crust once more, “Keep it together, Tish. We musn’t let the servants get wind of just how rattled this has all made us. For their sake, if nothing else.”
Already tears were formed in her eyes and she nodded, her voice quivering, “I just can’t believe that this has happened to him. In his advanced age… I’m not even sure we can tell him, Tieg. What good will the stress do him?”
As the carriage pulled to a halt and the driver pulled open the door, Tieg emerged to usher the tearful Tisha out to the awaiting servants, lined up to greet them back. “We shall bear the burden ourselves, Tish darling. As we always do.”