There comes a time when ingenuity fails even the most enterprising asura. This was mine.
Trapped inside the colossal golem, self-destruct lights flashing around me, all I could do was look down at the unconscious sylvari at my feet and wonder how, by the Eternal Alchemy, I was ever going to lift her. Even if I managed to heft her out of the golem’s control room, how could I manoeuvre her all the way back through Zurra’s lab to safety?
There was a brief moment when I considered fleeing and saving my own skin. The sylvari had attempted to help, true, but her ill-considered actions had done more harm than good. I didn’t even know whether she was friend or foe: was she the same sylvari I’d seen with Weir and Spark at the Henge?
I still don’t know whether I would really have left her there – I was spared the decision by shouts outside the golem and the sound of weapons clashing. I jumped for the control room entrance and pulled myself up. On a walkway below, a fight was in full swing, Erin and the two charr battling their way towards the golem against a horde of Inquest asura.
Or not, I realised. They were, in fact, retreating out of the lab. I couldn’t say how long they had been fighting, and their arrival was likely a complete coincidence, but at least it was one I could take advantage of.
“Up here!” I shouted, waving madly.
Erin spotted me and briefly raised her greatsword in recognition, before swinging it back to parry a sword thrust. It was Spark who retreated from the fight just long enough to shout back to me. “Is Caolinn with you?”
I glanced down at the slumped form of the sylvari. Well, that answered one question. “Yes!”
“We’ll come for you. Stay there!”
I didn’t have a lot of choice, but I couldn’t see how my companions were going to reach me any time soon. The golem had halted in the very centre of the hangar, a considerable distance from any walkways. How would they reach it?
I snorted and dropped back into the control room. I’d let Spark worry about that – I’d deal with the sylvari.
A sticky clot of greenish blood had formed on the side of her head, dissuading me from trying to wake her. I didn’t know the first thing about sylvari physiology, but if head wounds were as serious for them as for every other race, I didn’t want to meddle. Still, I couldn’t just leave her on the floor – not when help was on its way. If only I could get her outside, where Erin and the charr could reach us more easily…
What followed may be the most undignified rescue attempt in the history of asura-kind. There was no way I could bodily lift the sylvari, who was at least twice my weight. Instead, I stripped off my belt, pistol holsters and one of the straps from my backpack. With all three tied together – along with a strip of fabric ripped off the sylvari’s flowing skirts – I fashioned a rope, of sorts.
One end around the sylvari’s waist, the other looped over a metal stanchion, I began to pull. Slowly, the sylvari rose into the air, and though she slumped alarmingly in the makeshift harness, I counted my winch a great success. Until she woke up.
I could see the alarm in her eyes a heartbeat before she began to struggle. With her arms flailing in every direction, the sylvari began to swing wildly from side to side. I tugged harder on the winch, seeking to steady her before she bashed her head a second time, but it was no use.
“Put me down!” she demanded, fingers scrabbling at the knots in my ‘rope’.
“I’m trying to save your life,” I muttered, but she was too panicked to listen. Around us, the golem’s sirens were still blaring, loud enough that I could barely think straight. It was no surprise that the sylvari, head still dripping blood, couldn’t either.
I gave a final pull, aiming to bring the sylvari to the mouth of the hatch before she loosed the knot, but I could see it was no good. She was too flustered to know what she was doing, and any moment now she was going to fall a second time-
“Gotcha.” A vast, meaty hand closed around the sylvari’s upper arm, steadying her.
She looked up in surprise. “Weir?”
“Hold on, darling. I’ll pull you up.”
With a minimum of fuss, the sylvari was hoisted through the opening and deposited on the golem’s surface. My rope clattered back to the floor and I hurriedly untied each belt, strapping them back around my person. A moment later, a more familiar arm appeared through the hatch, a deep voice calling my name.
I jumped for Erin’s hand, caught hold and was pulled up with ease. As she set me down, she reached out and squeezed my shoulder, almost buckling my knees. “You had me worried there, Amber.”
It was such a long time since anyone had genuinely cared what happened to me that I didn’t have an answer for the look of blatant concern Erin wore. All I could muster was a shrug.
The sylvari was glaring at me and picking at the tattered hem of her dress. I rolled my eyes. “Ungrateful shrub.”
Thankfully, she didn’t hear me, because Spark was speaking. “Leave the introductions for later. We need to get out of here.”
That we did. Beneath our feet, the golem was beginning to rumble, a deep and ominous note. It really was going to self-destruct, but there was no way of knowing when.
Erin and the charr had somehow wrenched a section of metal walkway out of its housing to form a bridge across to the golem. We took it and Spark led the way to one of the myriad passages leaving the hangar. I shot a look back at the golem, half in regret. That I had been forced to destroy such a magnificent creation – and one so deeply connected to Flikk – was a burr on my soul. One day, I would have to find a way to make up for it, for my master and all asura.
The vibrations of the golem were soon left behind as we dove back into the lab’s maze of tunnels.
“Do you know where you’re going?” I asked Spark. “This place is enormous.”
“The lab in Brisban Wildlands was – this isn’t,” Spark replied, without breaking step. “You noticed the gateway into the hangar?”
“Of course. I’ve never seen a design like it.”
“Me neither. It transported us a considerable distance.”
My skin prickled at the warning in Spark’s tone. “How far?” I asked, then more importantly, “Where to?”
Spark didn’t reply. Instead, she took three more steps, swung open a metal door – and let the massive rush of air do the talking.
Gingerly, I shuffled up to Spark’s side and peered out. Space and light expanded around us, only sky above and clouds below. It was an untold distance to the ground below, only faint streaks of green visible through the miasma.
Something in Spark’s hand began to beep and flash. “We’re somewhere above the border between the Wildlands and Metrica Province,” she said, “and a hell of a long way up.”
Erin came to my side. “So how do we get down?”
A speck of colour had caught my eye: a standard asura gate, perched on a floating platform some distance away. “There.”
“And to get to that…?”
There was a pause as each of us took in what lay before us. A selection of platforms lay between us and the gate, but the majority had a glassy shimmer that meant they were only visible when the sun hit them at just the right angle. They were, in short, nearly invisible.
Perhaps she was concussed, but it was Caolinn who stepped up to the edge of the balcony. Without speaking, she made the short hop to the first platform. The rest of us watched, holding our breath, as she swayed, righted herself, then made the next jump.
Spark followed, her leaps surprisingly limber for such a large creature. Beside me, Erin looked dubiously at the platforms, then glanced back the way we’d come. As if to remind her there was no other exit, the entire lab gave a rumble, shuddering several times before subsiding again.
“Was that the golem?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Could be. It hasn’t blown yet, though. We’ll know when it does.”
Erin nodded and, with a roll of her shoulders, made the jump. I followed, Weir behind me.
The lab receded with every jump, the gate coming reassuringly closer, but that didn’t make the journey any less hair-raising. After reaching the third platform, I made the mistake of pausing to look around, taking in the vast expanse of nothingness above and below. I felt so small and insignificant within it that all balance deserted me and I was forced to lean over, grasping the edge of the platform for support.
A hand touched my shoulder, and I realised Weir had joined me. He pulled me upright, gently turned me in the direction of the next platform and pointed. “Keep going. We’re almost there.”
We weren’t ‘almost there’, but I appreciated the attempt. I moved on, focusing on a single ledge at a time, taking almost as much time as Erin was to sight each platform and line myself up for the jump.
Ahead, Caolinn had reached the final platform and had turned to watch our progress. Suddenly, she began waving her arms and almost jumping up and down. I wondered what she was trying to tell us, but behind me Weir chuckled. “Always the hasty one. Keep your fronds on, girl, we’re coming.”
But even before Weir had finished speaking, I knew he was wrong. Caolinn wasn’t just impatient, she was trying to warn us – and I heard the distant whine of weaponry warming up to prove it.
Weir heard it too. Even before the first shot was fired, he flung himself onto my platform, pushing me flat beneath his bulk. I found myself staring through the translucent surface, at the unfathomable distance to the ground, but suddenly the height didn’t seem to bother me. What did were the bullets flying around us, pinging off the platforms and raising shouts from my companions – and effectively trapping us in mid-air, sitting ducks just waiting to be picked off.
Weir had obviously come to the same conclusion. He got abruptly to his feet, hauled me up with him, and in the same movement, flung me forwards. I turned the throw into a shadow step, crossing two platforms and landing on a third, directly behind Erin – who was readying herself to fight.
“Keep moving!” I ordered, but she wasn’t listening. With a rifle propped on her shoulder, she began to fire back the way we’d come. I glanced at the balcony, taking in the small horde of asura guards and golems. Even at such a distance, such superior firepower meant they were bound to hit one of us eventually.
I heard a thud as Weir landed on the platform behind me, then whipped out a shield and flung up a glowing blue dome around all three of us. Bullets whined and crackled as they were reflected away, and I realised our pursuers were aiming closer to us with every shot.
Erin shot one final time, then slung her rifle away and jumped for the next platform. I followed, concentrating only on my footing, my balance, my determination to reach the end. Sure enough, three more hops and I was there. Weir landed behind me, wavering on the edge, but Erin grabbed him by the arm and steadied him.
There was a rattle as a turret beside Spark burst into life, spraying the distant balcony with bullets. She was already running for the asura gate, and with a frantic wave at the rest of us, followed Caolinn through. Weir was only a moment behind, then Erin. I paused on the threshold, looking back. Zurra was back there, and whoever had built that extraordinary golem.
A golem which was about to self-destruct, I remembered. I could hear the lab rumbling and see a faint bloom of red fire in windows far overhead. I grinned. Well, I might not have destroyed Zurra’s whole lab this time, but I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to be happy.
On the off-chance she was watching, I waved towards the balcony, then stepped through the asura gate and away.