Chapter 13 – United We Stand
Getting the heads of all three orders to meet had been a relatively minor challenge, but I knew that the worst was yet to come: convincing them to get along.
Trahearne and I stood ready to meet them at one of the docks in Lion’d Arch. We waited in silence, because I had something planned that I could not bring up to him, for fear that he might try to talk me out of it. Occasionally we’d exchange a nervous glance, offer a half-smile, but no words passed between us. I hoped that he couldn’t tell what was on my mind. It was late afternoon, and the heat in Lion’s Arch was intense. I was relatively immune to the effects of both heat and cold, but even I felt a little wilted around the edges.
Almorra was the first to arrive. Unease danced in her eyes, betraying her otherwise stoic expression. I saluted her as she approached, and Trahearne bowed his head respectfully. She waved a hand to cease my salute, and came in close, the wood of the docks creaking underneath her weight.
“Are you sure about this, Warmaster?” Her voice was deep and skeptical.
“I know there’s strength in numbers,” I offered, and Almorra rolled her eyes.
“You’re right, I know. I just… ugh, they’d better not be late.”
They were not. Within minutes, the heads of the Whispers and the Priory arrived, along with a small entourage. Dressed in the scholarly robes of the Priory was an asura with brown, disheveled hair and wide-set eyes. His mouth seemed to be permanently turned downwards. The charr leading the Whispers was a far cry from most charr I’d met – she was slender and agile, her shadow-grey fur sleek and well-groomed. The two were not talking, and seemed to be at a mutual agreement not to make eye contact with one another.
“Gixx, good to see you stumbled out of your library. And Halvora Snapdagger herself crawled out of her hole,” Almorra grumbled, and I shot her a warning glare.
“I see you’re not letting rationality get in the way of your temper, as usual, Almorra. How predictable.”
“Who’re you calling – ” Almorra began. I nearly stomped on her foot, but the Preceptor of the Whispers interrupted instead.
“Wonderful. I see we’re off to a running start, here. The Whispers need allies, not infants.”
“Enough bickering,” I snapped, and the three of them fell silent. “We’re meeting here because we all recognize there is a bigger enemy here than each other.”
Trahearne nodded, capitalizing on their sudden silence. “The real foe lurks across the waves. Zhaitan’s servants march at the gates of Lion’s Arch. We must band together, or we will all be destroyed.”
I kept talking, in the hopes that it would keep any more outbursts at bay. I was determined to make my argument before everything devolved into chaos. “When I joined the Vigil, it was because I wanted to defeat the dragon. Is that not why all our orders were formed? I will die in the service of my cause if I must. Are there any present who would not?”
There was a thoughtful pause, and I continued.
“Preceptor, your order has seen nations rise and fall. There is no hiding from this threat, unless you wish to see every nation falter. You need to make a stand.”
Halvora squinted her canny eyes, sizing up me and seeming to make some mental calculations. Then, she nodded, and placed her paw over her chest. “The Order of Whispers has worked for generations to bring nations together. We can do no less now. Our blades are yours.”
“Thank you. And you, Steward Gixx. Who knows more about the dragons than the Priory? But there is more yet to learn; in Orr itself. And your knowledge would be an invaluable resource to your allies.”
“By the whorls of the Eternal Alchemy, you’re bold,” the asura frowned, crossing his thick arms over his chest. “But you’re also correct. Knowledge is useless if it is not used. We shall aid you.”
I nodded to him gratefully, and then turned to Almorra, who was already looking rather uncomfortable. “General, the Vigil has shown tremendous courage in the fight against the dragons. This alliance will also require courage. It seems unlike the Vigil to back down from a challenge.”
“Blast it all, Warmaster, the Vigil backs down from nothing! Not even ill-tempered, undisciplined louts like these two. We will join.” She held up a warning claw, and added, “But I insist on a decent hierarchy. Who would lead this compact?”
Trahearne glanced at me with a confident smile. He clearly intended for me to do what came naturally to me: step up and take command. And for my part, I would have, but my concerns were suddenly voiced through Gixx. He stepped forth and waved a finger around at the assemblage.
“It cannot be a member of one of our orders,” he postulated, and I saw him glance at me suspiciously, “Lest one be seen as above the other two. Which leaves us in quite the conundrum.”
“I have thought about this,” I said, and took a deep breath. I knew that this would upset him, but it seemed the best way. With a solemn expression, I cast my eyes to my companion. “Trahearne, you have never joined an order, yet they all respect you. You have spent your life studying the domain and influence of our foe. I can think of no better leader than you.”
The surrounding soldiers gave a murmuring of satisfaction at my appointment. Trahearne boggled at me, and opened his mouth silently for a moment before shutting it. In his silence, the orders broke into a dull uproar of debate and nomination. Trahearne pulled me aside the commotion by the crook of my elbow.
“Lyra,” he said, looking stern and uncomfortable. “What are you saying? Me? Have you met me? I’m hardly a leader.”
“In Mother’s vision, you were. And I think you can be. More to the point, here I think you have to be,” I answered, under my breath. He looked at me, trapped between his own disinclination and my good points, and finally sighed.
“Are you sure you feel this is the right decision?”
I rested my hand on his arm, the foliage of his clothing brushing against mine. I gave him the sincerest smile that I could conjure up, hoping to ease the furrow in his brow. “I am. You have too little faith in yourself. I believe you can do this. Mother believes you can, as well.”
He perked up, seeming to take heart. He placed a hand upon mine, and brought it down from his arm without releasing it. “I believe in you,” he murmured, looking at me with muted earnestness. “If you believe that I am capable of this, I find I must believe it, also. And you will be there, at my side…?”
“The whole time,” I agreed, nodding and smiling more broadly. I watched as Trahearne’s eyes brightened and he gave a tiny, wry smile as he let go of my hand, and turned to the assembled orders, whose hubbub had diminished sometime in the last few moments.
“I am no soldier,” he said, when it became clear he had the floor. “I am a scholar, a seeker of truth. But I cannot resist such a nomination. So, yes, I will lead this pact to Orr, to the gates of Arah themselves. Together, we will see Zhaitan destroyed. But first, to Claw Island. Let us send our defiant message straight into the heart of Orr: Tyria stands as one!”
It was bittersweet, for both of us. It was a position that I was not eager to give up, and that Trahearne was not eager to accept, but the Steward had a point that could not be refuted. And despite myself, I truly did believe that Trahearne was a good choice.
It would take some time before we were ready to retake Claw Island. All three Orders had sent out pigeons (or owls, ravens, parrots, and one particularly fast moa) to their members, calling all able-bodied soldiers to the task. In the meantime, I rented a room in Lion’s Arch.
Normally the city would be abuzz with action, but since the evacuation, it was still rather quiet. The bulk of the people who’d returned were those who did business – legal and illicit – in the city. Many of the residents had chosen to wait for the possibility of retaking Claw Island. It seemed a wise decision, but it did mean that for the moment, the city was more cutthroat than usual. This suited Coggs just fine, it seemed, as she showed up in my quarters one night, unannounced, and invited herself to dinner with me.
As we ate, she talked almost constantly. She gave me a history of the reconstruction of Lion’s Arch by Cobiah Marriner and the first Council of pirates, but I wasn’t the most dutiful student, and I tended to zone out when the story got less swashbuckling. I was intrigued by what she said about Livia, however, who was an unusually long-lived woman in service to the Krytan throne (Coggs’ exact words were “an immortal hottie who looked after the prince”). I made a mental note to ask Logan about it, as my companion kept prattling.
I had been thinking about Destiny’s Edge a lot, lately. In fact, my room was located just around the corner to the arena in which they had gotten much of their reputation – trying to earn off their billet after being incarcerated. It was one of my favourite of Caithe’s stories (second only to the one about fighting against the ogres – who seemed like fearsome foes).
But their disagreement rankled with me. I couldn’t help but feel like their bickering could be reconciled. Perhaps it was because Caithe had convinced me so, but it seemed to me that the seeds of reunion were beginning to sprout in them. At some point, Coggs had finished her food, her drink, and her story. She thanked me unironically for the company and the conversation, and left as quickly as she’d come. I felt a little bad that I barely remembered a word she’d said.
I thought again about Logan, and how it seemed to me that he’d been maligned. He seemed a loyal and capable person in general, and I felt that his reason for abandonment held weight. I had never been in love, but I would sacrifice a lot for my friends, and I can only imagine I would sacrifice much for someone I loved, also. I hoped, in my case, that it would never cause such a catastrophe as his did.
I sighed and slumped onto my bed, my back against the wall. The room I rented was little more than a section in an overturned schooner’s hull. The floor (formerly the ceiling) was decorated with a ratty little rug of asuran design, and the bed was dressed with a cheap comforter. There was little else in the way of furniture. Hibiscus lay on the foot of the bed, diligently licking his paws clean. I wished I could be as occupied. I itched for something to happen, even began to miss Coggs’ chatter a bit. I stared out the window blankly. It was evening outside, and windows were lighting up; the stars were beginning to show through the clouds, and the city looked beautiful and festive. I barely heeded it, playing the upcoming battle over in my head, hoping to somehow anticipate every obstacle and come up with a solution for it.
The problem was Forgal. I knew he was dead. I knew that everything he’d known was now Zhaitan’s knowledge as well. That meant that he’d been corrupted after he died. Which meant that he was now my enemy. In my mind, the gates of Claw Island would swing open, and he’d be there at the front of the line of risen, waiting for me. I wanted to think that I could somehow reach out to him. Perhaps if I spoke to him – if he recognized me – he would escape Zhaitan’s influence. Maybe even become an ally. But each time the scenario ran through my head – he killed me. I did not think I had it in me to end him. I knew that it would give him peace, but I just couldn’t bear the idea of sinking my blade into his throat or chest. I couldn’t imagine peppering him with arrows and watching him fall. I was terrified that he would somehow come around just before death – and that I would truly be killing my friend.
A knock came at my door, and I wiped the moisture hurriedly from my eyes and went to the door.
“Who’s there?” I called, hand on the doorknob. I took back my thought about missing Coggs and desperately hoped she hadn’t come back.
“It’s Trahearne,” he answered, his voice muffled by the ragged wood. I opened the door to see him standing uncomfortably in the entryway. “Do you mind if I come in to speak to you?”
“Not at all,” I said, turning my body to the side to allow him passage. He walked past me and I shut the door. “Especially since you made the long climb up here,” I added, mindful of the meandering path that led from ground level to this high apartment.
“It was nothing,” Trahearne said dismissively. He averted his eyes. “I am sorry to bother you so late. I have been… troubled. I did not know who else to talk to.”
“If I can ease your mind, I will,” I said, surprised at his admission.
“I preface this with the fact that I have not often discussed such things. I am unaccustomed to having a confidant, so I hope you’ll forgive me any trespass.”
“Please, it’s all right. To be honest, I’ve never really been a confidant before,” I said, cracking a bit of a smile. “Anyway, won’t you sit down?”
“I prefer to stand. But please, sit if you’d like.”
I did, so I took a seat on my bed, crossing my legs and resting my hands on my ankles. Trahearne shifted his weight back and forth from one foot to the other. He seemed about to speak several times, but each time stopped himself. Eventually he broke the silence.
“All my life, I’ve watched Orr. Studied it. Researched the abominations that Zhaitan spawns,” he began, and I nodded, encouraging him to continue. “Perhaps,” he said, then sighed deeply. “Perhaps I have avoided the challenge of my Wyld Hunt.” His shifting turned into pacing. He spoke without looking at me, eyes trained on the floor.
“I hid, always claiming I was not yet ready,” he continued. “I did not think Orr could be cleansed. I did not fear death… I feared failure.”
He stopped abruptly and looked up at me. When he next spoke, his voice was quiet and wavering.
“I know so much about Orr – but I’ve done nothing to stop the devastation. Am I at fault?” Trahearne asked, looking for a moment so vulnerable that I nearly stood to embrace him. My heart twisted inside of me, and this must have showed on my expression, for he seemed to stand a bit taller – regain a bit of his composure. “My apologies. I was not asking for pity. I just…”
He sighed again, and leaned against the wall beside the door. He looked at the ceiling and shook his head. “You’re right,” he said, as though I’d offered him advice, and then turned his gaze back to my face. “It is time to lay down the pen and take up the sword. I suppose, in the end, it’s better to fight and lose than never to fight at all.”
I chuckled a little. “That’s not how I’ve heard that phrase,” I said, and Trahearne paused. It was hard to tell in the dim light – but it seemed to me his face coloured a little.
“I think it is equally applicable here,” he said, shortly.
“Of course,” I conceded. “And in honesty, I do believe you can do this. Lead this charge, I mean.”
“With you by my side, I am less doubtful,” he said, nodding his head as if convincing himself. “You have a military mind that I lack.”
“And you have an even keel, which I lack,” I said. I meant it to comfort him, but as I said it I realized it was true. The two of us together were a formidable force.
“Speaking of military minds… may I ask you some questions? About the battle?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “What did you want to know?”
“I’ll be expected to give orders, come up with a strategy. I have some ideas, but I crave your advice. How would you retake the island?”
I nodded, pursing my lips. “I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot. Securing the outside of the island shouldn’t be too hard – the interior will be the major issue. And there’s the Blightghast to consider. If it was me, I’d make sure that we had access to siege, first. That way we could keep the Blightghast in the air while we retook the interior courtyard.”
“Let me see if I’ve got this. First we clear the outside. Then the ramparts, to get the siege working, and then the interior?”
“Right,” I said. “Once we have the fortress, we can focus on taking down the Blightghast. He didn’t seem to have much in the way of long-range attacks, so as long as we can keep him away while killing the rest of the minions, then we can engage him one-on-one on our own terms.”
Trahearne shook his head from side to side, looking at his hands. “I don’t know how you do it. This seems to come so naturally to you. I don’t know that I’d have thought of that.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know that it’s the best plan. Don’t praise me until it works. And besides, I’m sure you’ll pick it up quickly. I mean, you’re a scholar. You must learn well, right?” I smiled at him.
“I suppose so,” he said, half a laugh in his tone.
“You can do this,” I affirmed again, and he looked up to my face. “I’ll be there for you.”
“Thank you for speaking with me,” Trahearne said, quietly. “It… is good to have someone to listen.”
I smiled, flattered. In truth, I found it comforting as well. Trusting, and being trusted. It was a far cry from my relationship with Caithe.
“I should go,” he said, breaking the momentary silence. “I’ve received word that the troops are assembled and ready to move out. We sail for Claw Island tomorrow.”
My stomach dropped. As eager as I was to return to action, the visions of Forgal’s corruption – of my own demise were still fresh in my mind. Trahearne was already turning to leave, but I stood up to stop him.
“Wait, Trahearne,” I called, and he stopped, turning halfway to face me. “If tomorrow we… If I don’t…” I trailed off, and while he seemed to get my meaning, I felt compelled to continue. “If I don’t ever get a chance to say this again… I am glad to have had you as a friend.”
Trahearne’s face split into a genuine smile. He nodded deeply. “And I you,” he said. “But let’s not think of that. We will emerge victorious tomorrow. We must.”
“We must,” I echoed, and let him leave.
I went to bed, feeling both agitated and oddly satisfied.
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