Before me was the biggest golem I had ever seen, an absolute triumph of asura engineering and ingenuity. Not only was it vast, but it was sleek and beautiful, every surface a perfect, gleaming, reddish-black curve. And I had to destroy it.
Reluctance formed a dull pain in my chest. Asura might be competitive and proud, but we appreciate design innovation when we see it, and the golem appeared to be a technological advancement in every way. Its arms were longer than normal, equipped with an array of tools and weapons, and its legs had a manoeuvrability I had never seen in a golem before; I couldn’t begin to guess what might lie inside its massive body, but it had to be spectacular.
This, I realised, was the culmination of Flikk’s tireless research. This was the end product he had seen when he looked at the sketches and prototypes littering his lab. This was what we had been working on, and I had never once understood quite how magnificent it could become.
Someone else had, though. Zurra had stolen Flikk’s research, but I didn’t think this golem was her handiwork. Somewhere in this very lab had to be another asura with a genius to rival Flikk’s, and they were working for the Inquest.
That was the heart of the matter. This golem was staggeringly impressive, the feats it could accomplish monumental, but in the hands of Zurra and the Inquest, it could never be anything but a threat. There was no way I could steal it – it had to be destroyed.
As I watched the golem shuffle backwards and forwards around the lab’s vast hangar, arms whirring and waving as it ran through tests for some unseen master, I realised I wasn’t alone. Erin and the charr still hadn’t caught up with me, but I could see a familiar figure crouched on a lower walkway across the cavernous room: a sylvari, who could only be Weir and Spark’s companion.
The sylvari crept closer to the edge of the walkway, then abruptly dissolved into a streak of green mist and shot to another ledge. That could only be a necromancer’s trick, but that still didn’t explain what the sylvari was doing here. Could she, like her charr friends, be trusted? I had a feeling she could, but I reached for my weapons all the same – only to find I didn’t have any.
I swore under my breath, then probed every pocket and sleeve to be certain. It was no use. Zurra’s guards had confiscated my weapons and I hadn’t even thought to replace them before running off after her. Sloppy. Very sloppy, but there was little I could do about it now. I’d have to see what I could lay my hands on inside the hangar.
I sidled into the lab, feeling a ripple of energy pass over my skin as I crossed the threshold. I froze, tensing for the blare of an alarm, but none came. In fact, when I looked back at the near-invisible curtain I had just walked through, I was certain it was actually some kind of gate or teleportation device, of an extremely advanced design. We had entered Zurra’s lab from Brisban Wildlands, but there was no telling where this hangar was located – or where I had just been teleported to.
That, like recovering my weapons, would have to wait. The sylvari was edging closer and closer to the golem, and the faint gleam around her suggested she was readying a spell. Whether she was here to destroy the golem or not, I didn’t think she was a friend to the Inquest, and though I couldn’t be certain whether that meant she was my friend, I wanted to know what she was doing.
I shadow stepped along the walkway until I was directly above the sylvari. Through the metal grille beneath my feet, I could see her rummaging in her skirts and bringing out an arcane device, similar to the one I had seen in use at the Henge. She swung it from side to side slowly, as if taking a reading from the golem. I could see dials flickering and lights winking on and off, though what the sylvari was studying, I couldn’t say. After a moment, she nodded decisively and stowed the device away again. She was, I thought, preparing to leave – which is when the golem saw us.
I’d imagined the golem was being controlled by some unseen master, running it through diagnostic tests, but the speed with which the thing swivelled towards the sylvari suggested it thought with a mind of its own. I heard the sylvari gasp and dive into death shroud again, shooting towards the floor as the golem made to sweep her off the walkway with one massive hand.
I followed without thinking, shadow stepping down level after level until I reached the hangar floor only a few paces from the sylvari, only to find her nearly bent double, exhausted by her sudden flight – and standing directly in the path of the golem’s incoming foot.
My shadow step towards her stretched my resources, and when I grabbed the sylvari’s arm, I found I’d reached my limit. Instead, I hauled her sideways as air whooshed past us and the golem’s foot thundered down a hand-span from my head.
“Run!” I yelled, but the sylvari was already forging a zigzag path across the hangar floor. The shadow of the lumbering golem loomed behind me again, falling across us both. There was a sudden rush of buzzing, insect-laden air at our backs, propelling us to new speeds.
I spied an alcove ahead of us, the barest dint in the hangar wall, and flung myself into it. The sylvari followed, crashing into me with bruising force. There was a pause, a great whirring and scraping of motors, and then the golem’s colossal hand was reaching towards us, stubby fingers outstretched. Even if I could summon the energy for another shadow step, I could see no escape for my necromancer ally – but apparently she had other ideas.
With an eerie howl, she slashed her dagger in the air, weaving a complex pattern. For a moment, the golem’s fingers froze, its servos screeching as it fought vainly to move against the immobilising necromantic magic.
“Go!” the sylvari screamed. I didn’t need telling twice, but I wasn’t about to just flee. Even the largest and stupidest asura knows better than to run from a fight they can win – and I could win this. I had to.
In a single leap, I was on the golem’s hand. As the necromancer’s spell faded and the golem lurched back into life, I scampered up its gleaming arm. There had to be a way to disable it.
It took me only seconds to realise how difficult that was going to be. Not only was I weaponless, but this was a far more advanced creation than the clunky Inquest golem I had fought in Flikk’s lab. Severing a few wires or smashing a few circuits would have little effect here.
The golem’s arm began to vibrate, then to sweep back and forth. On my knees, I dug my fingers into a crack between two armoured plates and hung on, but it was no use. I didn’t know what had happened to the sylvari, but the golem seemed to have lost all interest in her and was now intent on shaking me off as an asura would swat a fly.
I began to slide, then to fall, only grabbing onto a hanging metal cable at the last moment. It was as the golem began to lift its arm higher, with me dangling from its elbow, that I saw my opening – quite literally. I was holding onto one of the golem’s hydraulic cables and the panel that should have been concealing it was nowhere to be seen. This golem might be a creation of staggering genius, but it wasn’t yet finished.
I stuck my free hand into the golem’s arm and managed to pull out a fistful of wires, but ripping them loose had no effect. Seeing them, though, gave me an idea.
When the golem next swung its arm, still hoping to dislodge me, I used the momentum to swing back upright. I’d regained some of my energy and it took only two more shadow steps for me to be at the golem’s shoulder. It wasn’t until I crouched to steady myself that I realised I had company for the second time.
The sylvari had, apparently, followed my lead, and was now scrambling up the golem’s other arm. The golem was as apoplectic as a machine can be, shaking both arms in a fury and conversely making it easier for us to stay in place – for every movement that threatened to spill us off, there was a counter-movement that shook us back into place.
“What are you doing up here?” I yelled to the sylvari.
She had reached the golem’s other shoulder. “What are you doing?”
I wasn’t about to shout my plan to her, not when there was every chance the golem might hear and understand. Instead, I reached into another uncovered section of the golem’s mechanisms and pulled out more wires – then began mashing them together. There was a fizz of sparks and a burning smell, but still the golem blundered on.
The sylvari quickly got the idea and began short-circuiting as many wires as she could get her hands on. It would take dozens, perhaps hundreds, to disable the golem, but I was confident we could reduce its functionality – and perhaps get it to stop moving.
As the sylvari worked, I clambered closer to the golem’s head, reasoning that its most vital circuits would be located there. Even here, numerous panels were missing or not bolted down: for good measure, I wrenched a bolt out of its socket and thrust it into a mass of wires.
Ahead of me was a larger hatch, one which had to conceal something important. A swift kick loosened the latch, another swung the hatch open – and then I was falling.
It was only a few feet, but the landing was hard and knocked the wind out of me. I staggered upright, staring around in disbelief. I hadn’t just uncovered a bank of cables, but an actual control room, something I’d never seen before in an automated golem. True to form, it was a nerve centre of extraordinary complexity, rows of switches and dials and levers that could have operated everything from the golem’s heat sensors to its weaponry.
One thing was immediately obvious, though: something was wrong. Complex or not, the control room shouldn’t really be flashing with so many red lights. There was even, above the whirring of the golem, a faint siren going off.
There was a soft thud behind me and the sylvari dropped through the hatch. She took in the control room with a glance. “Well?” she demanded. “Aren’t you going to shut it down?”
Admitting I didn’t know how wasn’t very appealing, so I began hammering buttons and yanking every lever I could get my hands on. Nothing seem to affect the massive golem, which was now spinning in frenzied circles so quickly I felt nauseous.
The sylvari had noticed my ineptitude. She pointed to a large switch, striped in black and yellow and situated behind a protective layer of glass. “What about this one?”
“That’s the-” Emergency self-destruct was what I was about to say, given that those words were written in large, block capitals over the switch. Too late. The sylvari leaned forward, smashed the glass with the hilt of her dagger and – with the grace of a woman painting her nails – flicked the switch.
There’s an advantage to having a low centre of gravity. The golem’s sudden stillness threw me to my knees, but the sylvari was catapulted into a wall, hitting her head with a sickening clang. She toppled over like a felled tree, leaving me in a silence that was broken, a few seconds later, by a klaxon blazing into life.
The golem was about to be destroyed, which was what I had wanted. What I hadn’t wanted was to be stuck in the belly of the thing, an unconscious sylvari at my feet, when it blew.