I knew before the conversation even began, that despite my usual single-minded determination, I wasn’t going to get my own way. I was going to have to follow someone else’s lead.
“You’re absolutely sure Zurra has vanished?” I asked, for the third time. We were sitting in the same bar in Lion’s Arch in which I had previously been persuaded by Erin to head for the Wildlands. Doing so had advanced my knowledge of Zurra’s actions and allowed me to thwart her again – I didn’t think this new plan was going to do the same.
Spark pushed the communique across the table to me, using ale mugs to hold down its curling edges. “There’s no intel on her. See for yourself.”
The charr wouldn’t reveal where she was getting her information from – if she was Order of Whispers, she hid it well – but the facts seemed conclusive. There had been only one sighting of Zurra in the last week: fleeing for the eastern hills of Brisban Wildlands, a tattered band of rather scorched-looking Inquest in her wake. Since then, she seemed to have completely disappeared.
“Go back to the Wildlands if you want,” Spark said, “but we’re moving on.”
I rubbed my forehead and sighed. I’d suspected Zurra would go to ground now that she’d lost another lab – I wouldn’t have left the Wildlands otherwise.
“Moving on to where?” Erin asked.
There was a pause. Weir and Caolinn both appeared to be waiting for Spark to speak: it was quite clear who was in charge of their little operation.
“What were you even doing in the Wildlands?” I probed. “The Henge, then Zurra’s lab…”
Spark grunted. “So that’s how you knew who we were. What were you doing at the Henge?”
“Tracking Zurra, of course.” I folded my arms, waiting for her answer.
“All right, all right.” Spark threw up her claws. “We were studying the energy of the Henge, just like Zurra was. We went to the lab to see what she was doing with it.”
“Powering her golem?” I guessed. I’d seen no direct evidence to suggest as much, but a golem of that size had to require a formidable power source.
Spark nodded. “Exactly. It was our mission to compare the energy of the Shattered Henge to that of the Brand.”
“The Brand?” I echoed, taken by surprise.
Erin put the two together faster than I did. “You’re Sentinels,” she said, gesturing to the charr.
“Ex-Sentinels,” Weir corrected, his tone a low growl.
“We officially left the Sentinels when our research took us away from the Dragonbrand,” Spark clarified. “But we’re going back there now.”
“And you want us to come?” I suggested.
Spark only stared at me, but Weir shrugged and said, “Up to you. Zurra’s trail is as cold as a norn’s frozen arse, though. You either hang around and hope she pops back up, or you do something constructive.”
I couldn’t really argue with his assessment of the situation. Zurra was gone, for now at least, and there was little I could do if even Spark’s apparently extensive contacts couldn’t find her. I had little knowledge of the Dragonbrand, but I suspected both Zurra and Spark had similar research interests – perhaps if I followed one, I would find the other.
I looked to Erin, gauging her reaction, but she only shrugged. “This is your decision, Amber. This fight is yours.”
It was, and I wondered how long Erin would choose to join it. How long until her Priory duties – and her devotion to her dead brother – called her back?
For now, she seemed content to follow my lead. I nodded and knocked my ale mug against Spark’s. “All right: the Dragonbrand it is.”
Divinity’s Reach has always struck me as being the ultimate example of style over substance. It’s impressive, true, but its character is one of cheap tricks and glossy facades, the home of a race trying to bolster its confidence by putting on one last show before their final slide into obscurity.
Erin, however, seemed impressed. “This is exactly what Hoelbrak needs,” she said, as our mismatched party crossed the plaza beneath a glittering construction of glass and gold. “A little more…”
“Brash self-confidence?” I suggested. “Foolish disregard for the practicalities of modern urban living? Grass?”
Erin poked me in the shoulder. “I was going to say ‘glamour’.”
“I thought norn didn’t go in for ‘glamour’. Hoelbrak’s all ice and timber and purveyors of alcohol that’ll burn off your tastebuds.”
“Hoelbrak might be,” Erin replied, “but not all norn are interested in the same things. I could get used to this.”
She sounded convincing, deeply so, but there was a faint wistfulness beneath her words that told a different tale. I was certain that Erin missed her home, and that the farther we travelled from it, the more strongly it would call her back.
“All right, cubs.” Spark’s voice cut through our conversation. She had taken to ordering the rest of us around as if we’d joined her fahrar, and any dissenting voices – mine included – were silenced with a glare. “We’re not scheduled to enter Ebonhawke until dawn tomorrow. I’ll arrange accommodation in the Maiden’s Whisper and see you all back there tonight. Any questions?”
I had only the vaguest notion of where the Ebonhawke asura gate might be, and even less when it came to the ‘Maiden’s Whisper’, but Spark was clearly itching to be about her business. She nodded curtly and was off, Weir trailing in her wake; Caolinn vanished in another direction without even acknowledging my presence.
Erin watched the sylvari go. “I don’t think she likes you very much.”
“Really? Whatever gave you that impression?” Before she could expound her theory (norn don’t really do sarcasm), I went on, “Want to see the city?”
With Erin in agreement, we set off, leaving the orrery behind and descending to a lower level. For all my earlier disparaging remarks, I had to admit that the shops and stalls of Divinity’s Reach had a certain charm. Every merchant in Rata Sum seemed to have an agenda, and would push their own latest hare-brained inventions before any other wares. The vendors of the human city, however, sold anything and everything they could get their hands on – their only motivation was profit – and the range of merchandise on offer was refreshing.
It didn’t take me long to lose Erin. Doing so wasn’t exactly intentional, but it was only a few minutes before she’d become fascinated by a book cart selling historic combat manuals – ‘How to Skewer Your Opponent in Three Easy Steps’, or something of the sort – and I wasn’t inclined to linger. I moved on, flitting from stall to stall. There was a time, when I was barely out of progeny-hood, that I’d earned my title of ‘thief’ in more ways than one. Whilst I wasn’t about to revert to those reckless days, the urge to examine every little shiny bauble and trinket sometimes gripped me still.
“I would have thought this would be more your style.”
That voice. I didn’t freeze, just turned slowly and steadily. I hadn’t seen Darr in weeks, but finding him here, miles from the Wildlands where we’d last met, didn’t surprise me at all.
He was holding a beautifully crafted dagger, the point between his fingers and the gilt handle bobbing in my direction. I scowled at both the mesmer and the weapon. “I was wondering when you’d pop up again. Are you a clone, or the real thing?”
Darr shrugged, as if to say even he wasn’t sure any more. He dropped the dagger back onto the stall and began to walk away. Curiosity overrode all my better instincts: I followed.
“What did you find in the Wildlands?” I asked him.
Another shrug. “Much the same as you, although I’d warrant my exit from the area was in rather less spectacular fashion.”
“I’m sure it was.”
“I come bearing bad news, I’m afraid. The golem you tried to destroy…”
My heart beat heavily in my throat. “What about it?”
Darr spread his hands. “The damage was severe, but the self-destruct mechanism was only in the early stages of development. It could be rebuilt.”
“By the Alchemy,” I hissed. “I thought Zurra fled her lab?”
“She did, but that’s the beauty of a floating construction. It can be moved, and all its contents with it. We still don’t know where.”
“We.” I narrowed my eyes at Darr. “What’s your stake in this? Who are you working for?”
Darr stopped walking, turning to face me with a sombre expression. “I would tell you if I could, Amber. Please believe that.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “How can I? You speak in nothing but riddles. I don’t know anything about you.”
“Except that I’m your friend.”
I scowled at him again. “So you keep saying.”
Darr sighed and pressed one hand to his forehead as if our entire conversation pained him. “I realise I’ve given you little reason to trust me, Amber, but hopefully in time I’ll be able to convince you we’re on the same side.”
I stared at him, waiting for more.
Darr went on, “You’ve done well to ally yourself with Spark and her team. She’s an excellent engineer and an even better leader. I don’t know whether she’ll lead you to Zurra, but every operation she undertakes is worthwhile.”
“Is she a member of your little secret club?”
Darr shook his head. “She’s Order of Whispers, or she was. Our intel suggests she might be a free agent these days.”
‘Our’ intel. Darr wasn’t Order of Whispers then, he was implying. I filed that away amongst the very small number of facts I knew about him.
“So, stick with Spark,” I said. “Is that all you came to tell me?”
Darr looked at me, his head on one side, and gave a sad little smile. “I just wanted to check you were all right, Amber. That’s what friends do.”
I heard someone calling my name and, glancing up, saw Erin approaching. When I looked back at Darr, he was gone.
Erin was carrying a satchel full of books and had a new axe slung at her waist. She looked down at me with concern. “Is everything okay, Amber? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“A clone, maybe,” I muttered, then shook my head. “I’m fine. Let’s go find the others.”