Feb 02 2015

Chapter 5: Part 5 – Covert Investigations

Chapter 5: Part 4 - Laying Ghosts to Rest
Chapter 5: Part 6 - Loyalty and Betrayal

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There’s a knack to finding someone who doesn’t want to be found. With as many layers of deception as someone like Darr employed, you’d think it would be impossible, but there are always hints: people who’ve been sworn to secrecy, supply trails deliberately muddied, coded conversations in the streets. Darr, after all, couldn’t exist in a vacuum, not when he had a whole organisation to run – and that meant I was going to find him.

It had been a wrench leaving Hoelbrak, I’ll admit. It took me by surprise, but in those last few days there, I found a measure of peace. I visited Mikk’s grave several more times as Erin gathered travelling supplies; I talked to people on the terraces about their lives and the places they’d been; I sat and watched the snow fall. There’s a curious calm about Hoelbrak that you’d never find in a place as manic as Rata Sum, and with my heart lighter, I found that calm suffusing me.

When it came to leaving, though, I didn’t have a choice. Erin asked me one day, over a meal, where we were heading. I’d already told her about Darr and our repeated encounters with one another, and this time I made sure to leave nothing out.

“I suspect he’s based in Lion’s Arch,” I replied. “If he’s really running some sort of anti-Inquest organisation, it would be the logical place for a headquarters. Nowhere else offers such uninterrupted access to every corner of Tyria.”

“Lion’s Arch.” Erin was holding a piece of bread and she turned it over contemplatively. “You told me Spark was heading for Lion’s Arch.”

“Well, she wasn’t until I ran away,” I replied, trying to sound light-hearted, “but I think it’s the first place she’ll have gone looking for me.”

“And she might still be there.” I couldn’t ignore the way Erin’s hand went to the hilt of the greatsword lying at her side as she said that.

We left Hoelbrak on a glittering, crystalline day. As we waited our turn at the asura gate, I glanced over my shoulder, studying the city I’d come to feel curiously fond of, despite all expectations.

“Don’t worry, Amber,” Erin said, her usual jovial self. “You’ll come back here one day, I’m sure of it.”

I managed a weak smile. I’d just been about to tell Erin that I didn’t think I’d ever see Hoelbrak again.

And then our turn had come, and we were through the gate, stepping out into the glare and heat of Lion’s Arch.

We left the asura gates quickly, aware that Spark might be having the area watched; no doubt she’d looked for me in Lion’s Arch when I left the Hinterlands, and she wouldn’t want me leaving the city. With Erin forging a path through the crowd for us, though, I found all my worries melting away. I knew the norn couldn’t protect me from everything, but I thought Spark would think twice before crossing her.

We didn’t stop moving until we’d found a quiet spot on the edge of Lion’s Court. “What now?” Erin asked, her voice a low rumble.

I studied the crowd to see if our arrival had generated any interest, but the city was too busy to be certain either way. “I need to find Darr, or at least someone who works for him. He has to have connections somewhere in the city.”

Erin looked unhappy. “That means separating, does it not?”

I nodded. I couldn’t really conduct covert investigations with Erin on my heels.

“All right.” Erin let out a heavy breath. “I’ll arrange somewhere for us to stay – somewhere close to the Priory excavations. Do you remember them?”

“Of course.” I grinned at her, pleased at the recollection. “Where we first met. I’ll see you back there later.”

Erin took our packs, leaving me to explore the city at my leisure. In truth, for all my worries about Spark, it was easy to move through Lion’s Arch without being noticed. I was small and light on my feet, able to use my invisibility if anyone got too close or looked at me suspiciously. Besides, the city was so huge and so teeming with members of every race that hardly anyone spared me a second glance.

I made my way to the Crow’s Nest, the tavern I’d conversed in with Erin all those weeks ago. There, she’d convinced me to travel to Maguuma in search of Zurra, a hunch that had proved correct. Now, I was searching for the tavern’s shadier occupants: the Order of Whispers.

As is the way of these things, the Crow’s Nest wasn’t officially run by the Order, at least not as far as outsiders were concerned, but it was common knowledge that they frequented it. I wasn’t even sure if Darr had any connection to the Order, but there was something about his manner and the way he operated that suggested he might once have been an agent. Besides, the Order of Whispers is one of the few havens for self-respecting thieves in Tyria, and I couldn’t help but feel at home there.

Inside, I made myself visible for a time, buying drinks for anyone who looked intrigued by my presence. It wasn’t long before a voluble – and rather drunk – sylvari gave me the hint I was looking for.

I’d had to mention Darr by name. I risked revealing myself to Spark if she had ears listening here, but there was no other way to get the information I needed. Thankfully, the sylvari seemed to know him.

“Ah, the grey one. Scrawny little thing with big ears. Mesmer, isn’t he? Oh, I couldn’t possibly tell you anything else – like, for example, which order he might or might not work for. Or used to, anyway. Think his defection was quite a blow to the organisation. But, you know, we don’t talk about things like that. Got to be discreet.” At that point, the sylvari elbowed me in the shoulder and gave an exaggerated wink. I bought him another drink.

It wasn’t long before I’d prised even more out of the hapless plant – enough to know that Darr was rumoured to have a hideout in Bloodtide Coast, and that it was widely believed he’d chosen the location just to get under the skin of the Order of Whispers, who he’d so publicly spurned.

By this point, the sylvari’s voice had risen enough that we were starting to garner attention. I bought him one last drink before slipping away, leaving him still oblivious to the disapproving glares he was getting from around the room – and probably to how much trouble he was in.

After that, I wandered the city for a time, enjoying its bustle and noise. I usually count myself the solitary type, but for once the crowds didn’t make me feel lonely or insignificant, just safe. Safe, that is, until I decided it was time to head to the Priory excavations and rendezvous with Erin.

I’d chosen a circuitous route, and was crossing an otherwise empty covered bridge when I realised there was someone at the other end. Someone huge and hulking, forming a lumpen silhouette against the daylight beyond. Someone who looked suspiciously like a charr.

Of course, there were hundreds, if not thousands of charr in Lion’s Arch at any one time, and I knew it was foolish of me to be alarmed – but even from such a distance, I was certain who I was facing, who’d been waiting for me all along. Spark.

She was alone, without Blaise, Caolinn or even Weir for company – which was worrying, because any one of them might have been able to rein her in somewhat if this went badly. As far as I knew, not one of them knew what Spark had asked me to do, nor why I’d fled the Hinterlands. Perhaps they thought I’d followed Darr, or that I’d just got bored of their company. Even if they thought some sort of betrayal had been involved, I didn’t think any one of them would advocate seeing me killed.

But Spark was alone, which meant she was dangerous, and I couldn’t help but think turning my back would create the same provocation as a mouse fleeing from a cat.

In the end, I could see no option but to wait and see what Spark did. After a pause, she began to advance, her armour and weapons clanking and her boots clattering along the wooden floor. I watched her warily, until she stopped a few paces away.

“Amber. I didn’t expect to see you here. What a coincidence.” Spark sounded oddly congenial, which was more terrifying than if she’d been making threats. She was angry – I didn’t need to see the twitching of her four ears to know that.

“Spark.” For a moment, I didn’t know what else to say, but then my frustration got the better of me. “I won’t pretend it’s a pleasure to see you.”

The charr’s ears twitched again and she took a step forward, at which point I knew I should have kept my mouth shut.

“You betrayed me, Amber.” This time her voice was a growl. “Everything I was working towards-”

“Was nothing to do with me.” I forced myself to stand tall, all the while plotting an escape route. “I didn’t want to work on Souleater. I don’t want to kill dragons, or Branded, or whatever it is you’re planning. That’s not my fight. Just… just leave me alone.”

Spark, it appeared, took her mission rather more seriously than I did. She moved with the speed of a striking viper, lunging for me with her claws outstretched. I dodged, only to crash up against the wall of the covered walkway; Spark swiped at me again as I jumped backwards.

We ended up as we’d begun, a few feet apart, this time panting and dishevelled. I think Spark might have come for me again, except a voice cut into our altercation.

“Is there a problem here?”

I have never, ever been so pleased to see Erin, not even when she rescued me from the snows of the Shiverpeaks. She was standing behind me, one hand casually resting on her greatsword – exact Erin never really did anything casually, and I could see the threat in her stance as well as Spark could.

Spark was no fool, either. She must have been able to see in a heartbeat whose side Erin was on, and that she was now outnumbered. I was fairly certain Erin would have won in a straight fight between the two of them, but with my own skills added to the mix, Spark didn’t stand a chance.

She straightened, tugging her leather coat smooth and straightening her weapon belts. “Erin. I didn’t expect to see you here.” She was back to that careful, controlled, dangerous voice, but this time she couldn’t follow it with action.

Erin gave her a nod of greeting, which Spark returned, before she turned and walked away. When I looked at Erin, she was pulling a lopsided smile. “You really have a knack for finding trouble, don’t you?”

“It tends to find me,” I said, though I couldn’t really argue with her assessment. “Let’s get out of here.”

Chapter 5: Part 4 - Laying Ghosts to Rest
Chapter 5: Part 6 - Loyalty and Betrayal
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