It sounds hypocritical for a thief to say it, perhaps, but I’ve never trusted the Order of Whispers. Oh, I’m sure they’ve got the good of Tyria at heart, but I’ve always preferred the gruff militarism of the Vigil and the stuffy academics of the Priory. With them, you always know where you stand: might and force, versus learning and knowledge. With the Order, though…
That’s a long way of saying that I didn’t really trust Darr, either. I’d never really been able to fathom his motives, not since the day we met in Metrica Province. Then, he’d appeared out of nowhere and seemed to know exactly who I was, and even now, I felt like he was three steps ahead.
If Darr sensed my mistrust, though, he didn’t seem concerned. We sat at a dining table – an entirely incongruous piece that would have looked more at home in some noble’s house in Divinity’s Reach – at the back of his cavernous lair. Around us, the walls glinted with stored weaponry, and every available surface seemed littered with tools, parchments and other paraphernalia. Darr had built himself a base every bit as jumbled as a skritt’s nest – if there was order to it, I couldn’t see it.
“You want answers,” he said, as he puttered back and forth along a workbench in the nearest corner, from which a smell suspiciously like tomato soup rose. “Where would you like me to begin?”
“With Spark.” That was Erin, at the very same moment I said, “The Order.”
We glanced at one another and Erin shrugged.
“Start at the beginning,” I said firmly. “Wherever that is.”
“I’m assuming you don’t want my entire family history.” Darr glanced over his shoulder at me, torchlight reflecting off his smooth grey skin. “You’re not interested in which creche I was part of, or which college I joined.”
“Not really,” I admitted, although I was curious. Sometimes, an asura’s early years in Rata Sum could explain a great deal about their later endeavours.
“I left Rata Sum without ever joining a krewe,” Darr said. He spoke lightly, but his shoulders had tensed as though the memory wasn’t a pleasant one. “My personal studies progressed well enough, but I didn’t… What’s the phrase? ‘Play well with others.’ I didn’t want to join a krewe, and none would have taken me anyway.”
I grimaced. That sounded suspiciously like Mikk’s early years – and, to a lesser extent, my own.
“I was scouted by the Order whilst I was still in Rata Sum,” he went on. “Whilst they’re an organisation of prodigious size, they have a policy of allowing their operatives a certain degree of freedom – their members are allowed to play to their strengths, as it were. I accepted their offer immediately.”
I raised an eyebrow. “So you came here – to Bloodtide Coast.”
“Exactly. Much of my training was carried out just across the water from here, and in Lion’s Arch, of course.”
There was a pause, as Darr continued to rattle pots and pans. He wasn’t actually cooking anything, I realised; perhaps he just needed to do something with his hands.
“I spent three years working for the Order. I admired their methods, their members, and I felt certain we were making a difference to the safety of Tyria. And then-” His voice went flat, disapproving. “-then came the Pact.”
The Pact. I didn’t know a great deal about that particular organisation, save that its main aim seemed to be to destroy dragons – and that it was an amalgamation of Tyria’s three main orders, including that of Whispers.
“What about the Pact?” I asked cautiously, when Darr didn’t go on.
He wheeled back to the table quite abruptly. “What the Pact did to the Order of Whispers was, quite frankly, a travesty. Everything the Order stands for, everything it’s worked so hard to accomplish, wiped away in a heartbeat by that meddlesome sylvari.”
He stood there for several moments, chest heaving. I’d never considered Darr the emotional type, but he looked truly angry – and more than a little sad.
“He’s called Trahearne,” Erin said, her voice a rumble, “and though I’ve never personally had the pleasure of working with him, I’m told he’s done great things.”
Darr rolled his eyes, his composure regained. “If all you care about is dragons, perhaps. I, however, believe Tyria faces threats from any number of sources – the Inquest against whom you strive, Amber, for one, and now Zurra’s Tyrian Development Syndicate.”
I took a deep breath, hoping to get Darr back on track. “So you left the Order of Whispers, and formed… this?”
As yet, Darr’s organisation didn’t have a name, and he apparently wasn’t about to provide one. “This,” he said firmly. “I started with little more than a small krewe of my own, working to eliminate the Inquest. Whilst I’ll admit we haven’t been entirely successful in that arena, we’ve considerably thwarted their progress – and, since our inception, our work had expanded to any number of other areas.”
This all sounded so vague, though I wasn’t sure Darr was the right person to tell that to. Instead, Erin said, “Like Spark. You think she’s a threat to all Tyria.”
Darr shrugged. “How can I think otherwise? Between my own – and Caolinn’s – research, and your study, Amber, I’ve created a clear picture of the charr’s activities. I have no doubt she means to cause great harm.”
“But not intentionally,” I said uneasily. For all Spark’s faults, I couldn’t accuse her of that. “She wants to kill Branded, maybe even dragons – you can’t disagree with either.”
“Indeed, I don’t,” Darr said. His hands were behind his back again, and he had the air of a progeny who’s learnt something no-one else knows. “But what’s to say that’s where Spark will stop?”
I reached up to massage my temples. “What makes you think that? Why were you even watching Spark in the first place?”
“Spark first came to my attention something over a year ago, when she was still working at Varimhold Outpost. She was a Sentinel, you know, but something went wrong on one of her assignments and she left Ascalon to pursue her own research.”
She hadn’t entirely left it, though, I recalled with a shudder. On our own brief visit to Varimhold, I’d seen first-hand the workshop Spark still kept there and the ‘research’ she was undertaking.
“Spark seemed fascinated by a diverse number of energy sources,” Darr went on. “A fascination which seemed worryingly close to the interests of the Inquest.”
“And that’s why you started watching her?” Erin asked.
“Exactly so.” Darr rocked back on his heels, hands still behind his back. “I had Caolinn join the charr as a research assistant. My initial fear was that Spark was actually employed by the Inquest, but Caolinn quickly discovered that wasn’t the case.”
I held up a hand to interrupt him. “Do you actually know what Spark is up to?”
For the first time, Darr looked vaguely uncomfortable. “I must admit to a certain failing in that area. Caolinn has been with those charr a long time, but it’s clear they’ve never entirely trusted her. She’s been able to discover little more of interest, and I’ve never managed to place another operative with Spark.”
It wasn’t a matter of trust, I thought – Caolinn hadn’t learnt anything new because she wasn’t useful to Spark, not as I had been. I wasn’t ready to play all my cards just yet, though.
“So what about Zurra?” I asked.
Darr began pacing again. “I learnt of Zurra’s activities shortly after you did, Amber, which was why I’ve been keeping such a close eye on you. When you joined Spark, it was as though the Eternal Alchemy was slotting everything into place. My two investigations – Spark and Zurra – coming together in one place.”
“So you’ve essentially been using me to spy on Spark,” I said, feeling suddenly weary, “and Zurra too.”
“Precisely so.” Darr looked entirely unapologetic. “I’ve kept Zurra in my sights in other ways, of course, but it’s Spark I’m most interested in now.”
I could see what was coming. I’d not done a very good job of keeping track of Zurra or the Inquest – Darr could have learnt far more on this own. Spark, on the other hand… I was the only one who’d got close enough to the charr to find out what she was up to, even if that wasn’t entirely by choice.
I took a deep breath. “What do you want to know?”
Darr leaned forwards to place his hands flat against the table. “Why, everything, of course. What’s Spark up to – and how can we stop her?”
I didn’t immediately know what to say. “She has a weapon,” I finally blurted. “Which she calls Souleater. I think she’s spent months searching for a way to power it, long before I even met her, but now…”
Darr’s eyes gleamed. “She’s found something?”
“Searing magic.” The words felt dead and cold in my mouth. “She’s found a way to harvest the latent energy in an Ascalonian Searing crystal. She wanted me to help her apply the energy to Souleater, but…”
Erin’s hand settled on my shoulder. “You did the right thing,” she murmured. “Spark can’t be allowed to succeed.”
I still thought that, of course, but I was starting to doubt my own actions. I’d fled out of sheer terror of what Spark might make me do – but wouldn’t I have been better to stay with the charr and potentially sabotage her work from within?
Well, apart from the bit where she would have ripped my head off with her bare hands when she found out, of course.
Darr stepped back from the table, rubbing his hands together. “Everything’s starting to make sense. Caolinn sent word of Spark’s movements only this morning. They’re here, or nearby anyway – in Bloodtide Coast.”
I sat up straight, feeling cold all over. “Here? What for?”
“Caolinn didn’t know, but I can see it now: Spark must have finished this ‘Souleater’. She wants to use it to destroy dragons, or more specifically their minions, correct? What better place to test such a device than in the desolate swamps we now find ourselves in?”
I nodded slowly. That… made sense. Whatever vendetta Spark had against the Branded, she was the cautious type – she’d want to test Souleater in more controlled situations first. And as she was already in Lion’s Arch, drawn there by my flight, what better location to choose than the swamps?
“All right.” Darr swung away from the table, moving to a workbench. “We need to move quickly if we’re going to catch the charr. Take whatever supplies you need – we need to be gone within the hour.”
I stood up, shooting Darr a surprised look. “You’re coming with us?”
“This time, yes. I’ve been in hiding long enough.” Darr grinned at me over his shoulder. “Besides, I’ve been watching Spark for a very long time. I think it’s time I introduced myself properly.”