Feb 16 2015

Chapter 5: Part 6 – Loyalty and Betrayal

Chapter 5: Part 5 - Covert Investigations
Chapter 5: Part 7 - The Hidden Lair

AmberHeader5-6Norn and asura, though we might seem like entirely different creatures, are more alike than you might think, or so I have found. There are obvious differences, of course – our sizes, our intellects, our propensity for reasoned thought versus hitting things over the head – but as I walked through Lion’s Arch with a silent Erin, I knew exactly what she was thinking. She was angry, and anxious, and feeling guilty; I knew this, because I felt exactly the same way.

Similarities, then, as I said. Neither of us wanted to talk about what had just happened, and were thus content to stew in our own thoughts. We were both furious at Spark, of course, and worried about what she might do next. As to the rest, Erin felt bad about leaving me alone to get into such a situation, whilst I hated the fact that I’d needed rescuing at all. I kept forcing my life into Erin’s hands – no wonder I felt guilty.

But if I knew Erin at all, I also knew she would come to the same conclusion I did: that, for better or worse, our friendship was based around such things. We got into trouble, yes, but we also fought for one another, and would do so again and again until the danger was gone.

Erin really had come to the same conclusion, because when she finally spoke it was to say, “What are we going to do about Spark?”

The charr was, fair and square, the biggest danger I now faced. Zurra might be my target, but she had little interest in me until I interfered. Spark, on the other hand, was as angry as we were, and she’d already proved willing to do something about it.

“Perhaps we should just leave,” I suggested. “Beyond Lion’s Arch, Spark might not be able to track us.”

That was an overly optimistic interpretation, of course, because Spark could track us out of the city if she wanted to. Our only hope was that she might decide not to bother.

“She has no right to do this to you,” Erin said, sounding unusually angry.

I looked up, surprised, because Erin usually kept her emotions hidden behind a veneer of good humour. “Try to kill me, you mean?”

Erin shook her head. “No, I mean make you work on her weapons. That’s her business – you never asked to be involved in it.” She paused, then gave a sheepish grin. “Although she shouldn’t be trying to kill you, either.”

Night had fallen and the city was lit by lanterns and torches. We passed the dark hollow of the Priory excavation where I’d first met Erin, then took a wooden staircase up the outside of a nearby house. It led to a small upper room, with a fire in one corner, a table in the middle, and little else to recommend it.

“Priory lodgings,” Erin explained, laying her greatsword on the table. There was little room for anything else besides the massive blade. “Not exactly luxurious, but…”

I thought of wilderness camps in the Hinterlands, and of a cold, musty cave in Snowden Drifts. “This is perfect,” I said, meaning every word.

We ate the meal Erin prepared, sitting in companionable silence. In the morning, I’d have to resume my search for Darr, perhaps venturing into Bloodtide Coast, but for now I was content to enjoy good food, good company, and the warmth of a fire against the chill night air outside.

Content, that was, until I heard footsteps creeping close.

Erin heard them too and got to her feet, reaching for her greatsword. I think she might have rushed for the door, but I waved her back. There was something… familiar about the tread outside, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.

The door handle began to turn, and at the last second, I threw a handful of powder onto the floor beside us. In an instant, Erin and I were cloaked in invisibility; as the door finally opened, I could see the figure hesitate, perhaps wondering if they’d got the wrong place, despite the glowing coals in the brazier and the food on the table. I slipped across the room, drew a dagger, and waited.

When our invisibility faded, Caolinn gave a visible start, then jumped again when she realised I was standing behind her, dagger raised towards the small of her back. I wasn’t entirely sure sylvari had organs to puncture under all that fibrous skin, but I thought I could do a fair amount of damage either way.

Caolinn threw up her hands, though, and I realised she was unarmed. “Amber. Thank the Pale Tree you’re all right.” She sounded genuinely relieved.

I didn’t lower the blade. “Did Spark send you?”

“No, although she is the reason I’m here.” She hesitated, though her eyes never left mine. “May I explain?”

I shared a glance with Erin, who shrugged and returned to her seat at the table. I sheathed my dagger again and nodded toward the centre of the room. “Sit. Talk.”

Caolinn did both at once. “Spark wants to kill you,” she said, before she’d even pulled out her chair.

I rolled my eyes. “Really? I had no idea.”

“No, I mean she’s serious now. I saw the end of your fight on the bridge, though I was too far away to intervene.”

“Keeping an eye on me?” I interrupted.

Caolinn pulled a face. “No, on Spark.”

She was still spying for Darr, then. I nodded for her to continue.

“Spark didn’t know I was there, but when she got back to our lodgings, I heard her talking to Weir. She told us you betrayed her, and Weir believes her. Blaise too, I think.”

“They would,” I said wearily. I didn’t want to think ill of Weir, because he’d been good to me, but I knew he was loyal to Spark – just as Blaise was, perhaps fanatically so in the human’s case.

“I heard her plan, too,” Caolinn went on. “She doesn’t know where you are – yet – but she’s going to hire the Order of Whispers to track you. And then…”

“And then she’ll come after me, and take me by surprise,” I finished. Perhaps interrogating the Order in the Crow’s Nest in a not-so-subtle fashion had been a bad idea after all.

“We should move,” Erin said, deep voice cutting into the conversation. “Now, tonight. If you don’t want to fight, that is.”

I was tired of fighting, at least when it came to Spark. “We’ll go tonight,” I confirmed.

“Might I suggest where you could go?” Caolinn asked.

I looked at her, curious. “Why would you want to?”

“Because Darr has relayed some information to me which he believes might be of interest to you.”

Erin raised her eyebrows and I felt equally surprised. This was the first time Caolinn had spoken openly of working for Darr; I’d only got the confession out of her in the first place because I’d caught the two of them in conference.

It was Erin who asked, “What information might that be?”

Caolinn never took her eyes off me. “Darr knows where Zurra is. She’s gone south, into the swamps and jungles.”

South? What could Zurra want there? The answer came to me almost immediately: Mount Maelstrom. I’d seen evidence of Zurra’s interest in the place, or rather the volcano located there. I’d long believed Zurra had stolen Flikk’s golem research just to get closer to the mount.

“Why now?” I asked, then amended my question; I’d keep my suspicions about Mount Maelstrom to myself for now. “Why south?”

Caolinn shook her head, looking suddenly uneasy. “I don’t know. As I told you before, I-”

“Don’t have all the pieces,” I finished impatiently. “Why are you working for him, Caolinn? Why are you so loyal to Darr when all he does is keep secrets from you?”

“He’s not ‘keeping secrets’.” Caolinn looked down at her hands folded in her lap. “Darr’s organisation is too complex for anyone but himself to understand. I am simply one of his agents.”

I stared at her, exasperated. Whatever Darr’s ‘organisation’ was, it sounded more arcane and secretive than even the Order of Whispers.

Caolinn wasn’t finished, though. “I joined Darr not long after I left the Dream. He was in the Grove on some other business, and when I met him, I had the strangest feeling that we’d met before… And when he told me of the dangers Tyria faces, and of what he hopes to accomplish, I couldn’t help but join him.”

By her hopeful expression, Caolinn seemed to think that was explanation enough. I, on the other hand, heard only the woolly mumblings that all sylvari seemed to come out with. In short, Caolinn had joined Darr on a whim, a ‘feeling’, and she hadn’t the faintest idea what his grander plans were. For all she knew, he might be as destructive as Zurra.

“And Spark?” I pressed. “What’s Darr’s interest in her?”

“Spark wants revenge,” Caolinn said, sounding certain for the first time. “And not just against an individual, but against all the Branded, and the dragons too. Darr thinks she could cause great harm in the process.”

I couldn’t really argue with that assessment, as presumably that was where Souleater came in. Still… “I want to see Darr. Can you take me to him?”

Caolinn’s eyes widened. “I cannot. If I leave Lion’s Arch now, Spark will grow suspicious, and then-”

I gave a bitter laugh. “And then she’ll want to kill you, too? All right, just tell me where Darr is. I’ll find him myself.”

Caolinn stared at me for several seconds, looking doubtful and worried. Finally, she took my hand, stretching my arm out on the table. “Hold still. This might hurt.”

I started to protest, but too late: Caolinn dragged a finger across my skin, sharp as a blade, causing a line of blood to well. Erin shot to her feet, more enraged than I was, but I waved her away. I’d realised, after all, what the sylvari was drawing: a map.

Finally, she sat back, looking satisfied. “That will last until you reach your destination, if you move quickly.”

I wiped away a smear of blood. My arm was stinging, but I could see a faint tracery of silver lines across my skin, faintly glowing. “Necromancy?”

“The very same.” Caolinn got to her feet, leafy robes whispering. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. Spark will start looking for me soon, no doubt.”

And Darr would have to be warned that I was coming, of course. I saw Caolinn to the door of the tiny room, waving her out into the night. “Be careful with Spark,” I murmured, as she descended the steps. “She’s more dangerous than you know.”

Caolinn flashed me a smile, the first I could recall her ever giving me. “I can handle Spark. You just worry about yourself.”

With that, she was gone.

Chapter 5: Part 5 - Covert Investigations
Chapter 5: Part 7 - The Hidden Lair
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