Light flashed and energy arced as I touched the smooth metal surface with the aetheric-amplified-point-plasma-welder. I often wondered what color the light might have but it was far too bright to know. If I did not wear the thick colored glass spectacles, I surely would become blind after the first welding. It was not just the flashes that were hazardous to my health; the energy arcs were unpredictable and quite possibly deadly. However, using a different welder would have made my invention unstable and that would have been unacceptable.
“Uh, Gorra?” a sweet, low, melodic voice rang through the room.
I halted my welding and turned around. A lithe female asura stood in the doorway, casually leaning against the smooth stone surface. Her skin had the color of cream and her amber hair covered her forehead.
“What, Effa?” I said, slightly disgruntled to be disrupted during my work. “Is it you or one of your lovely phantasms?”
She was a skilled mesmer; she often ordered her assistants around without being there herself. It was no wonder that I had more assistants than she did. As a krewe leader, she could be at several places at once, which was a terrifying idea.
“Awww,” she replied, pretending to be hurt. “You know I always visit you in person.”
It was true. We both had our own research projects in this krewe as well as our own pool of assistants and equipment. The reason we shared the large lab was because we saw the applications of each other’s work in our own. True enough, our advancements built up steam as we worked together. As the only females in the krewe, we started sparring each other with our ideas, but quite frankly, we grew rather close.
“Fine, then. To what do I owe the honors?”
“I just came to remind you that a representative of the Arcane Counsel will be here shortly.”
“Sparks!” I said, slamming my fist against the worktable. “I already spoke to them, why do they want to come again?”
Effa gave a nonchalant shrug.
“Beats me. However, treat him nicely, will you?”
“I know, I know,” I rebuked while holding my hands up. “I’ll even tidy up. How’s that?”
“Marvelous!” She winked and spun on her heels, walking away.
I gently placed down the point-welder, something that Effa invented. I was the only one needy and crazy enough to test it. With less care, I threw down the thick leather gloves and the protective spectacles. After taking a few steps back, I pressed a nearly invisible button. Doors of polished metal slid form above and below, hiding the workbench from sight. The room was designed in a way that one could not tell the difference between the doors and the rest of the wall. Looking into the polished metal surface of the now closed door, I saw the grime on my face. With a heavy sigh, I turned around to a basin of water.
The sun was shining brightly and a soft breeze rustled through the leaves of the many trees surrounding me. All fine and dandy, but I had work to do. Already I started fidgeting with a small bracelet around my wrist. There were quite a few asura walking behind me. They carried all kinds of laboratory equipment and moved on to their next experiments. And here I was, standing on the broad stone stairs leading to our lab, waiting. Finally, I saw a figure approach our base. When he got closer, I could see he was the representative of the Arcane Counsel, shown by his bright and lavish clothes and his pompous posture. I learned to judge these people with a short glance and this one appeared to be like all others. He wouldn’t be hostile to our krewe or her research: he just wanted to go back to the comforts of Rata Sum.
“Greetings,” I said with a small, curt bow.
“Are you Gorra?” he said with a bored, monotone voice.
“I am … ” I replied, letting a silence fall between us.
“Call me Inspector, and we’ll be fine.”
“Are you aware of why I am here?” he drummed up.
“I am, Inspector. However, I do not see why they made you come all this way for something they already know.”
-Always make it sound like it’s about them,- I thought to myself. -That always works.-
The inspector’s face lit up.
“We understand each other,” he replied with a subtle gesture of the hand. “But you and I both know how the Counsel works. They get a report and sign it. Sometimes, one of the members gets bored and decides to actually read the thing.”
“Yes,” I said, as meaningful as I could make it. “I know how they ‘work,’” I finished, making an air quote gesture.
The inspector shot me a smile.
“Yes, and one of those members read the report about your project and got skittish.”
“Skittish?” I replied with wonder.
“Yes. Your research is about … energy nullification?”
“Well,” I started, but after the inspector shot me a dark glance, I ended with “that is the gist of it.”
It was overly simplified, of course, but neither he nor I had the time or the desire to spend an hour talking about it.
“You see,” the inspector continued while staring at a sheet he produced not a minute ago, “the Council fears your line of research would be harmful to asuran society.”
I arched an eyebrow, prompting an elaboration on his part.
“They fear it could be used as a weapon against other asura.”
“Oh,” I gasped.
It didn’t sound very sincere, but it seemed the inspector could not care less.
“Now that you mentioned it, I actually wanted to use it against the destroyers, them being all energy and such.”
He nodded while writing my words down. Once he was finished he sighed profoundly.
“I must see your lab,” he said.
“Of course,” I replied. “Follow me.”
“How did it go?” Effa asked with her melodious voice.
I stepped back and wiped away the sweat that was congregating on my brow. As soon as the inspector left, I had resumed my work.
“He was another oh-my-ears,-why-am-I-even-here type of inspector.”
Effa grinned, baring her teeth.
“Those are the best, aren’t they? Anyway,” she said, holding up a bottle, “I have some wine here. Care to join me?”
I stared at the glass flask with interest.
“Where did you get that?”
“Oh,” she replied with a shrug. “A group of humans passed by our lab today.”
I crossed my arms and tapped my chin, pondering.
“They will be of use…” I mused.
“Indeed!” Effa replied, laughing. “So, how about it?”
“I’d love to,” I said, stroking my short, thick hair, “but I really need to finish this before tomorrow.”
“I can wait for an hour.”
“It might take more than that.”
“I will open it in an hour,” and with that, she was gone.
With renewed focus, I returned my attention to the workbench. It was nearly done. Placing the main crystal in its cradle, I envisioned the face of my former krewe leader. They were so focused on creating energy barriers. I told them that the research was too one-sided, but they did not listen. Eventually, they kicked me out. Me! I bit my lower lip in frustration. They had failed to see my brilliance. When I joined this krewe, I got my own project within a month. As I welded the last pieces of metal together, I recalled the face of Gokk. That annoying creep never ceased to stalk my shadow, but when they kicked me out of the krewe, he had joined the rest. When the internal mechanism clicked, I imagined seeing Hrakk. He was not the leader, but he was my senior. He deemed it necessary to reserve all the dirty jobs for me. The crystal flashed briefly as I calibrated the device. It reminded me of Zokka. She was nice, until she framed me for that lab explosion.
Satisfied, I stepped back, looking at my creation. I could only hope that it would work as there was no time to test it. The memories of my former krewe annoyed me. I hated them all and found a new krewe here. I looked at the clock and saw it took me 55 minutes. It was time for wine.
-Excellent,- I thought as I walked out of the lab.
The wind blew a bit harder today, rustling the canopies above. It was a bit humid still, the cold dampness of the night losing its battle against the morning rays of the sun. All of this, however, were just fleeting impressions as my focus lay elsewhere. As I peered through the scope of my rifle, I could see the scene below. I was on a hill some distance away from our target while Effa, accompanied by several assistants, was talking through a wall of energy at the leader of the lab. I knew this lab and I knew that asura she was talking to; he was the leader of my former krewe. As always, we tried to ask nicely before breaking our way in, even though it was usually interpreted as hostility from the get go. She was trying to make him give up a certain core that was fundamental to our research. Of course, we could have made it ourselves, but that would easily take up several months to do, whereas a civilized negotiation would take no more than a few hours, not to mention that progress waited for no one.
Their heated discussion changed for the worse, possibly becoming hostile. I charged up my rifle as I knew the outcome of such an event. Hork was as stubborn as he was proud; he would be fully relying on the energy barriers to keep him safe. While waiting on the signal for Effa, I let my hand stroke my latest invention. The rifle was planted on the ground with a tripod because the thing was a tad longer than I was myself. Considering I had only finished it yesterday evening and my head still swam a bit from the wine, I furiously hoped it would work. Then, I saw Hork fold his arm while a mocking grin plastered itself across his vexing face. Effa just shook her head as she pulled out a sword while her assistants pulled out their weapons as well. She raised her left hand in the air. That was the signal I was waiting for. I squinted through the scope to make sure I had the right mark and squeezed the trigger.
A blast of sound emanated from the rifle, but seemed to be sucked in immediately. Light flowed through the rifle until it reached the end of the barrel where it propelled a projectile at a terrifying speed. The recoil nearly dislocated my shoulder, but I looked on in awe and pride as the bullet seemed to rip the fabric of space in its wake. The projectile reached the barrier, but the energy field might as well have not been there as it remained undisturbed by the bullet passing through. It nicked Hokk’s shoulder. He was thrown aside by the raw power of the projectile, but he was not the target I was aiming for. A blinding flash of light and a sound like a thunderstorm rolled in, proclaiming my success. The generator lashed out arcs of lightning as its last breath. As the energy barriers flickered and faded, I reloaded the rifle while Effa and the krewe rushed in on the unprepared lab.
The rifle was disassembled into smaller parts that weighed a lot in my large rug sack. Carrying the rifle as a whole would have been impossible. I kicked aside the shattered ruins of a golem; it was another testament of the power of my invention. My eyes ran across one of the screens inside the lab and my hands fingered through the objects scattered across the worktable in front of me.
“What did you find, Gorra?” Effa asked with satisfaction laced in her voice.
She was also holding the coffer containing the core we were looking for.
“This research started after I was kicked out,” I grumbled. “It delves into energy containment.”
She arched an eyebrow to that. This was far from her field of work.
“Can we use it?” she asked bluntly.
“Well,” I started with a grin, “it could help to downsize that rifle of mine into a more handheld version.”
It took a second for the meaning of my words to sink in, but when it did, Effa’s eyes started to shine.
“Then we would be unstoppable.”
I returned her look.
A loud but strained coughing pulled us out of our visions of conquest. We turned to see Hokk laying on the ground, his shoulder reduced to bloody shreds. Thin streaks of red ran down his chin.
“Why?” he murmured, coughing up blood every so often.
I walked up to him and stood in front of him, scowling.
“What?” I snapped.
“The Inquest changed you…” he wheezed.
“Ha!” I scoffed. “The Inquest didn’t change me, they gave me home; you where the one who changed me!”
After letting the words hang in the air between us, I lifted my pistol to his face and squeezed the trigger.
Many thanks to the editor Koko, who took some extra time out of her busy schedual to help me on this story.