Chapter 12 – The Order of Whispers
Finding the final order was more of a challenge, as one might expect of an association dedicated to stealth and espionage. General Soulkeeper didn’t have much advice on how to locate them, so we began at the Crow’s Nest. Anne greeted us, and gave me a sympathetic clap on the shoulder. She didn’t say anything aloud about Forgal, but I knew it in her expression. I nodded at her in gratitude and understanding, and Trahearne and I made our way inside.
“Magnus, go back to your quarters, you’re drunk.” A flinty female voice was the first thing to meet us as we entered. “And when you are drunk, you forget that I am in charge.”
“You’re not in charge!” A musclebound norn with black hair was jabbing his mug at a human woman – Lionguard, by the looks of her – and frowning. “I’m the Captain, here. You’re just here to make sure no one stabs me in the back.”
“Exactly. I’m in charge of keeping you alive. And if you die of alcohol poisoning, that means I’ve failed at my job. And I never fail at my job.”
“Kiel, you having another round?” The waitress asked her, interrupting the conversation. She shook her head.
“Not for me, thanks. And not for him, either,” she added. “We still have rounds to make this evening.”
“Warmaster, Firstborn!” A voice called to us from the bar, drawing my attention away from the ruckus at the table. It was Laranthir, looking hale and bright, but odd in plainclothes. He was wearing what seemed to be linen, as well as a pair of brown leather boots.
“What are you wearing?” I asked, before I could stop myself. He looked surprised for a moment, and then glanced at his garb.
“Clothing?” He responded, a little off-put.
“Yes, but… human clothing,” I protested. “Isn’t it itchy?”
“Not at all,” he said. “It’s quite comfy. Easy to wear, as well.”
“Easier than an extension of one’s own skin?” I pressed him. He shrugged.
“It hardly seems worth it to grow a new outfit when I’ll just be putting my armor back on. Besides, I rather feel naked in just leaves nowadays.”
“To each his own,” Trahearne said, pointedly ending the conversation. He placed a hand on Laranthir’s shoulder, and the Grand-Warmaster looked up at him in warm admiration. “It’s good to see you, Laranthir.”
“And you, Firstborn. What brings you two to Lion’s Arch?”
“We’re hoping to find a representative of the Order of Whispers to speak to,” Trahearne explained. “But we’ve no idea where to start.”
“That is a pickle,” Laranthir said, thoughtfully. “I may be able to help you, though.”
“If you could, I’d consider it a significant personal favour,” Trahearne said.
“Yes, we’d be very much in your debt,” I added.
Laranthir’s smile widened. “Well, thank you. That’s not necessary, though, I’m happy to assist. I’ll put you in touch with a human I know, who I believe has contacts within the order.”
“That seems like a good enough place to start,” I said.
“As far as I know, she lives above the inn in the east of the city.”
“The Lion’s Shadow?” I asked, surprised.
“The very same,” Laranthir agreed. I felt a little pang as I realized the circumstances in which I’d last been there. I frowned. “Don’t worry,” he added, seeing my expression. “She’s a decent enough person. Just a bit… eccentric.”
I didn’t bother to correct his concern. He wrote down the name for us, and we made our way to the sparsely-populated western section of the city.
“How do you even pronounce this?” I wondered aloud, looking at the paper in consternation.
Trahearne shrugged. “Linguistics are not my speciality.”
“Hann… han something,” I muttered. “Is it hahn or like ham?”
My thoughts were interrupted by the sudden roar of a rifle shot. I instinctively moved to put the Firstborn behind me, but it became evident rather quickly that the weapon was not being aimed at us. To the far right of the inn was a human, bearing an enormous rifle shaped like a Canthan dragon, whooping and firing at what appeared to be sparkflies. She paused for a moment and grasped absently at a mug of ale. I noted that instead of the usual fleshy appendage, she had a rather thin articulate set of hooks. She took a drink and noticed us for the first time.
“Oh, hey, plant people,” she said. Her voice was higher than I’d have expected, given her rough garb and demeanour. “Sorry if I scared you. Target practice,” she said, and waved her rifle at us as explanation. Trahearne and I both flinched. “Oops,” she said, and carefully set the weapon down before picking her mug back up and taking a seat on the barrel it’d been resting on. She propped up a leg in an unladylike fashion and leaned her good elbow on it. I couldn’t help but notice that her limb was a peg. Having known her only a few seconds before, I nevertheless felt as if I had a good measure of her character. If this was the right person, I could see why Laranthir had called her eccentric.
“So, you guys look like you’re lookin’ for someone.”
“We are,” I said. “Are you Hannah… Hahnne – ”
She laughed. “Hannelore. You can call me Coggs, though. Everyone else does. What can I do for you?”
“We’re looking to get in touch with the Order of Whispers,” Trahearne answered. “My name is Trahearne, and this is Warmaster Lyra of the Vigil.”
“Nice to meet you, Tree-man and Liar.” She gave us a cheeky grin, but upon seeing Trahearne’s dark expression, she rolled her eyes. “Oh it’s a joke, come on. Don’t be such a spoilsport. Come on, let’s go to my room. This isn’t an outdoor conversation.”
We followed her into the inn. The barkeeper saw me as I entered, and I saw his eyes widen in horrified recognition. I offered him a broad smile and a wave as we passed wordlessly for the staircase.
Coggs’ room was a lot different than I expected. I’d assumed it would be messy and possibly severely charred, but in fact it was… pretty clean. Shelves lined the walls, labeled in messy Krytan. A workbench spanned the entire south wall, and it was the only untidy thing in the room, spread across with papers and varying pieces of metal. Coggs finished the last of her drink and flopped down onto the bed, crossing her legs and gesturing for us to take a seat. Trahearne took the armchair in the corner, and I opted for the bench at the workdesk. I couldn’t help but notice a small, red sphereoid on the table.
“What are you working on?” I asked. Coggs’ face lit up like I’d given her a Wintersday gift, and she leapt instantly off the bed.
“I’m so glad you asked!” She said, scooping up the device and moving into the center of the room. She fiddled with it a little, and then held it suspended between two hands. “You ready? Watch… this!” She cried, and let the object go. It fell to the floor with a surprisingly heavy clonk. “Shit,” she added, picking it back up. She unbent a protrusion that had gotten dented in the fall, and turned it around a few times. “Oh, I’m stupid,” she said again, and did some more fiddling. “Okay. Now watch this!”
This time, when she pulled her hands away, the device stayed where it was. It had a small propeller up top, and whirred merrily away. I pursed my lip appreciatively.
“Very nice,” I said.
“And that’s not all,” she said. “I mean, I’m not the only person to invent a machine that can fly. What’s really cool is this. Hey tomato, c’mere.”
The device buzzed in response and hovered over towards its creator. She walked around the room, and it followed in tow. “Okay. Now go to the green man,” she ordered, pointing. It obeyed. By now its buzzing was getting quite loud, and a clicking was starting to accompany is. Coggs sighed. “Okay, tomato. Go lie down.”
It flew slowly to the workbench, dipping occasionally in the air, and landed with a tired little beep. Coggs went and fiddled with it again, until it was silent, and then went to retake her seat.
“It’s still a work in progress. They get worn out really quickly, haven’t figured out why.”
“What exactly is it?” I asked.
“It’s a semisentient gyroscopic levitator,” she answered, remarkably articulate despite being clearly still drunk. “Right now he just flies and obeys orders, but I think I’ll be able to program him to do stuff like dispense potions or that shadow dust that thieves use, or something. Contributing to the war effort, you know?”
“Speaking of,” Trahearne finally spoke. “Do you know how we could get in touch with the Order of Whispers?”
“Oh, right, that’s why you’re here,” she said, mouth forming a remarkably cute “o.” “Totally slipped my mind. Yes, I do. I’m actually a member, you know. That’s how I have access to all these plans and stuff. Supposed to be a big secret, but eh, who really cares, you know? Anyway, I’m just an Agent, and you’ll want to talk with one of the Preceptors. You know the Crow’s Nest?”
“Yes,” I agreed. “We were just there.”
“Hah! That’s funny. Our base is accessible through the bar area. Just tell the bartender something like ‘We’re here to see the unseeable.’ That’s kind of our thing. Know the unknowable, see the unseeable, eat the uneatable.”
I thought she was being remarkably forthright with us, but I didn’t want to be discouraging, so I didn’t say so. She gave me another smile.
“You know, I like your branches. Wish I had hair like that,” she said, a fond look on her face. Her hair was deep brown and cut into a short, fluffy hairdo that partially covered her eyepatch. I smiled wanly.
“Yours is nice, too,” I said, a bit lamely.
“We should be on our way,” Trahearne said, breaking the awkward silence with an awkward segue. “Thank you very much for you help, Coggs.”
“Anytime! Come visit me and the tomato again sometime! Hopefully I’ll have worked out the kinks by then!”
“We will,” I lied, and followed the Firstborn from the room.
By the time we arrived at the Crow’s Nest, it was dusk. The rowdy norn and his human bodyguard were gone, as was Laranthir. There were a few tables occupied, but it seemed like we’d reached it at a lull in business. We approached the bar directly.
“Evening,” the bartender said. He was wiping a wine glass with the hem of his apron, but set it down as we arrived. He was a handsome, rather roguish man with a mop of shaggy dark hair, and he gave me a crooked smile. “What can I get you?”
I paused, realizing I wasn’t entirely sure how to go about this. Should I just go straight to “know the unknowable?” Trahearne spoke before I had a chance to make up my mind.
“Uh, something undrinkable. I want to drink the undrinkable,” he said, and I watched as he visibly cringed. I shared the sentiment.
“Ah,” the bartender said. It was clear from his expression that he was having difficulty not laughing. “So you want the cheap stuff.”
I chuckled weakly at the joke. The bartender moved away to pour our drinks.
“I don’t think that worked,” Trahearne said to me, softly. “I feel an absolute fool.”
I didn’t have the words to reassure him, but I wouldn’t have had the chance to say them, anyway. The bartender handed us two tumbler glasses, filled with a small amount of what smelled like whiskey. Well, actually it smelled like turpentine, but I assumed it was whiskey. I felt my nostrils clear instantly after the first sniff.
“You’ll need to drink those out back, though,” the bartender said. “The smell puts the other customers off. Hey, Fergh, can you watch the bar? I’m gonna escort these two cheapskates to the back.”
“No problem,” a sylvari who’d been soaping up some dishes responded.
The bartender took off his apron and hung it on the back of the door that he led us through. We followed a narrow and dimly-lit corridor and down a flight of stairs. When we arrived at the bottom, we found ourselves on a platform, painted in crimson and gold, and full of people in matching uniforms, bustling back and forth with papers or strange artifacts or devices. It looked shockingly like the Priory.
“Real subtle,” the bartender said, turning towards us with a quirked eyebrow, “But you two would be surprised how often people use that exact line. Hey, no, don’t drink that,” he said, and I looked over to see Trahearne lifting the glass to his mouth experimentally. The bartender took both of them from us and dumped them over the side of the platform. “It’s turpentine.”
The platform overlooked what was essentially a mini city. Houses, built into the rough-hewn rock of the mountain, strung between with laundry and connected by a series of wooden boardwalks and stairways. I guessed this was the Whispers base.
“Anyway, it’s good to see you, Firstborn, Warmaster. I’d ask what brings you here, but it would just be a formality,” the man said. “So, to cut to the chase: all right.”
“I’m sorry, can we go back a moment?” I asked. “You are?”
“Oh! Where are my manners,” he asked, patting his pockets as if he might find them there. He held out a hand for me to shake. “My name is Doern Velasquez, Preceptor of the Order of Whispers.”
I shook his hand firmly, and he continued. “I’ve been receiving reports that you’re putting together an army to fight the dragons. When you came back to Lion’s Arch, I had some of my men following your movement throughout the city, and assumed – correctly – that you were here to ask us to join. To that, I answer, all right.”
“Really?” I asked. “That easy?”
“Easy for you, perhaps,” Doern said. “I’ve spent a day or so deliberating over the decision. However, I believe that it is will benefit the Whispers to have legal access to the other orders, and clearly our expertise will be of great value to the cause.”
“Well, then,” Trahearne said. “I thank you.”
“No thanks necessary,” Doern said. “Although I did want to extend you a thank-you,” he said, turning to me. “Clearing that dragon minion from our sewers was a major favour to us. I had us pull up your dossier, and I must say, I’m impressed with your deeds thus far. Also, you’re taller than Tybalt made you out to be.”
“Tybalt?” I asked, helplessly.
“Yes. Hey, Lightbringer Leftpaw,” he called to a tall, white charr dressed in the order’s uniform.
“Hmm?” the charr asked. He turned around, holding a sheaf of paper, and gave us a quizzical look. His distinctive, droopy face immediately registered in my mind.
“You’re that apple vendor!” I cried. A look of surprise crossed his good-natured face, and then he broke out into riotous laughter.
“And you’re the one who wasn’t my contact!” He settled the papers in the crook of his arm. “Imagine my embarrassment. My first job in the field and I tried to get the wrong sylvari.”
“Oh, wow,” I said, as everything fell into place. “That all makes sense, now.”
“Yeah, I thought you’d appreciate some closure on that subject,” Doern said. “You’re dismissed, Lightbringer. Go ahead and get that paperwork filed away before you head out.”
“Yes, Preceptor, sir!” He said smartly, and left.
“He’s a good guy,” Doern said, a bit affectionately. “Been behind a desk for so long, so we cut him a little slack. His field work has gone a lot better since then. Anyway, now that you have your answer, I assume you’ll want to be heading out to tell General Soulkeeper?”
“I, uh, yes,” I said, still trying to catch up. “Thank you again, Preceptor.”
“You’re most welcome, Warmaster. Have a lovely evening,” he said, and reached for my hand. I tried to shake it again, but he pulled my knuckles up to his lips and laid a kiss on them. I instinctively pulled my hand back and gave him a shocked look. He just laughed.
As we left, I stood a little closer to Trahearne. “I think,” I whispered, “Everyone in this order is insane.”
“I’m inclined to agree,” Trahearne nodded.