“Forms? Since when?” Treen responds.
“They may not want to state it openly, but folks in Lion’s Arch are more nervous than a room full of pirates and a spot marked with an X – no form? Then you’re not coming through with that thing.” The gate guard points at me, but I play my role well and do not move an inch. Play it dumb, Treen and Genni had suggested. I am certain Treen would have liked to add that this would be no problem for me. These asura seem to have little regard for others where intellect is concerned, but he had kept quiet.
“Right,” says Treen. “Where’s the form then?”
“I don’t have one, and besides, it needs to be completed two days beforehand and carry an inspector’s seal. You can get one from-“
Treen interrupted, “I don’t have two days. I need to get this Golem to Hoelbrak.”
“Hoelbrak?” The guard looks puzzled. “What would one of those overgrown oafs need with a Golem?”
Treen looks lost for words, but Genni steps up, beaming at the guard. “It’s a new UI.”
“UI?” The guard takes a slight step back from Genni’s overeager manner.
“Ursine Intelligence,” replies Genni. “They have big problems with bears in Hoelbrak. Of course, I expect you know that.”
“Well, yes. But-“
“You must get to travel a lot,” Genni talks over the guard’s response. “What’s it like in Lion’s Arch? Do you have any advice? Have you been to Hoelbrak? Is it really as cold as they say it is?”
I watch Genni closely as she plies the guard with an endless stream of questions, not giving him a chance to respond fully to anything. She is a clever one, even if she seems to doubt herself in the presence of other asura.
Genni sits down next to the guard. “I am quite nervous, I must admit. The thing that worries me most is getting lost. If we go through the gate, then I know someone is going to take advantage.”
“Oh no,” says the guard. “Yes, Lion’s Arch can be a very dangerous place if you’re not sure where you’re going. But if you just head straight to the gate for Hoelbrak, there’ll be no trouble at all.”
“But what if I cannot find the gate?” asks Genni, affecting an air of concern. She places her hand on the guard’s own hand. “Will I get eaten?”
“What? No!” replies the guard and for a moment I think Genni has over-played her routine, but he takes her hand between his and pulls Genni to her feet. “You will be fine. The gate for Hoelbrak is almost opposite you when you exit in Lion’s Arch.”
“Are you sure? You’re not just saying that to get rid of me are you?” Genni’s eyes narrow, then she glances over at the gate nearby and her ears droop noticeably.
“No! No – of course not.” The guard keeps Genni’s hands gripped between his.
“Could you not come with us? At least show me the gate to Hoelbrak?”
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly accommodate such a request.”
“Oh come on, please. Just a simple step through, point us in the right direction and you’ll be back faster than a backed up subatomic particle flow.” Genni steps toward the gate. “It really annoys me that Lion’s Arch is dictating traffic flow. I mean, it’s our gate network.”
“It has proved contentious,” the guard agrees, but we are all moving forward now, Genni leading us in the direction of the gate.
It would seem that female persuasion, in whatever guise that may be, is a universal trait. I still worry that she will push it too far though, as they continue to discuss the relationships with Lion’s Arch and the issue of Scarlet, which it would appear has escalated, although much of the exchange is lost to me. I am excited by the thought of seeing Helena again despite being stuck inside a Golem and although Helena might not be able to help directly, I am also confident that she will know what to do; Helena understands me, she understands life and it is by her lead that right now I live in the present.
The gate looms up in front of us. Genni is laughing hard at something the guard has said whilst Treen walks silently by my side. We approach the ramp; Treen steps forward until he is only a few feet away from the shimmering curtain of energy. He dismisses any aid from the guard, but thanks him anyway and then he is gone – he is through. Nothing happens. Genni turns and looks at me with a broad smile on her face. I read something in her look. What is it? She glances nervously at the guard then beckons to me. I realise that I am still standing at the foot of the ramp. Genni beckons again, this time a more insistent gesture. The guard is still talking, but the drone of his voice blends with the metallic hum of the gate. Pulsing, in and out – it is breathing. This maw, this open trap…
“What?” Genni is in front of me, tapping on my chest.
“Follow, Mr Bear.” Genni smiles and reaches out, presumably taking my hand. “You’ll be fine,” she adds, discreetly.
Genni steps up the ramp and I follow. I can see my arm extended, her hand clutching one of the metallic fingers. I wish I could feel that touch.
“Problem?” asks the guard.
“Mr Bear’s elevation sensors are not fully calibrated – he struggles with ramps.” Genni raises her eyes and then with her other hand takes hold of the guard. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”
I hold my breath.
“You are wonderful, wonderful – perhaps when you are off duty, when I return, maybe you could take me on a proper tour?” Genni is speaking to the guard and it takes me a moment to realise that we are through.
“I would be delighted.” The guard blushes, offers a small wave and even nods to me before he vanishes back through the gate and to Rata Sum.
“Remarkable,” laughs Treen, who is waiting just off to the side. “Quite remarkable.”
This time it is Genni who blushes. “I was rather good, was I not?”
Treen and Genni make their way down the ramp and I follow. Lion’s Arch feels different. I know that nothing has really changed since those first days of ale delivery for the Old Bear. Not since my mother was brave enough to venture through the gate with me, stopping long enough to watch as I wheeled the cart down into the heart of the city. That first day was a legend in its own right – at least that is what I thought. It was such an undertaking for a young norn with no sense of the world – so eager to get going.
Maybe that is what feels different. Glad to be here but glad to be moving on, getting home, seeing Helena and dealing with returning to normal. I have every hope, and there is a parallel: hope. Pushing the ale cart into the city had been fuelled in part by hope – hope of adventure ahead. Was that any different to how I feel now? Am I disappointed, now that I have the advantage of hindsight and the wisdom of age?
“Come on, Mr Bear!” Genni calls back. “Forward!”
There are people streaming all around us as we traverse the gate area. Plenty of norn, a good few asura, some charr and sylvari, and a great many humans. By far, Lion’s Arch does appear to be favoured by this prolific race, if numbers were anything to go by, although everyone regardless of their origin appears at ease tending to whatever business occupies their time. I am struck still for the moment by the somewhat ironic reflection: five gates with backs to the sea form tributaries to connect and pool all beneath and around the ramshackle recovery of what once floated on the ocean. Unlike back in Rata Sum, I feel like I could belong here, that I could make a life for myself, that place in itself is nothing more than to make a grab for what is to hand – I like this feeling, an un-tempered thought not designed by what should be but by just what actually is.
“Forward, Mr Bear,” reminds Genni.
What if Helena fails to accept what I have become? Will she see beyond the metal or forget? Lion’s Arch would not fail me, somehow I know this, and somehow I know that it would not care. Yet, Helena is my strength.
Genni is walking back up the ramp towards me, jostling with the traffic, and I see her, not Genni, but the little girl. It is her! The little girl from the woods! She walks as plain as day, her hand clutching hold of an elegant looking woman’s dress as they make their way toward the gates. What is she doing in Lion’s Arch?
Genni cries out in surprise as I barge past her to get to the girl. I ignore the curses that trail in the wake of my passing, using my heavy bulk to an advantage, and cut a path that ignores any naturally formed queues.
“Stop!” I cry. A few people start to scatter, a woman screams, more curses – the girl and, I suppose, her mother are too far ahead to have noticed my pursuit.
Genni’s voice is distinct amongst the angry reactions. “Asbjorn, what are you doing? Come back! Asbjorn!”
I cannot. Why is she here? How could she be here? “Stop! Little girl, please stop!” The crowd is now a confusing mob, people scatter before me, but there is no way that I will reach her in time. “Little girl,” I plead.
There are far too many people; a gap opens up and the crowd pulls back, allowing me to lunge forward with renewed hope, only to take note of five armoured men hastily assembling, swords drawn – one balances a spear and before I can think to say anything his arm whips forward, hurling the weapon. I track its movement through the air, the spear barely arcing over the short distance between me and the guards, and then my hand snaps out to smash through the haft before the deadly tip can make contact. The spear-throwing guard gapes, his jaw hanging down, but draws his sword as another guard commands them forward.
“Asbjorn!” Genni screams.
Twirling, I spy a man in mid-charge behind me, some kind of pole-arm levelled. Seeing me react to his presence, he tries to backpedal as I lash out and rip the weapon from his grasp. He sprawls to the floor, immediately rolling to the side to avoid further blows. I ignore him though. I am not interested in fighting these men. I must get to the girl. Bellowing, I charge, breaking the line of guards easily with most of them scattering. Swords clang off my suit as some attempt wild, ineffectual swings. The screaming and shouting of the crowd becomes chaotic, but I do not care. I can see her there with her mother, both captured by the display, standing at the top of the ramp. Why is she here?
“Asbjorn!” Genni darts in front of me – spinning, she drops into a ready stance a few feet ahead. Instead of brandishing a weapon, she holds up both hands, pointing frantically at the sky – time slows. I am no longer subject to the attention of either the Lionguard or curious onlookers. The area surrounding the asura gates has turned into something that resembles a dolyak stampede with travellers running in every direction.
A clear but disjointed and squeaky voice chimes: “Warning – aetheric activity – subitaneous levels.”
It takes me only the briefest moment to realise that it is the suit speaking, and then I am lifted up into the air as an explosion rips through one of the nearby gates. Within seconds, smoke swamps the area as a succession of further explosions burst around us with teeth-jarring, concussive thuds; then something big, which I hear rather than see, screams through the air above, a throaty mechanical whine marking its presence.
“Danger to life, danger to life, danger to life!” the suit begins to squeak.
Shadows dart through the murk, hurried panicking activity and I wonder if whatever it was that has just happened is over, but the air about me crackles and lightning strikes down from above, washing the roiling smoke with lurid reds and whites.
“Danger to life, danger to life, danger to life!”
“Shut up!” I yell at the voice and to my surprise it halts immediately. A disconcerting silence follows, only to be filled immediately by the moans and cries of the injured.
“Genni,” I call out.
“I’m here,” the asura hisses and I realise that she is crouched right next to my leg with her sword drawn.
Close by, another series of explosions tear through the city of Lion’s Arch and I realise that this is far from over. But there is no time to question the attack, as three shadows materialise from where the lightning had struck the wooden boards of the gate area and to my shock Genni leaps forward with a battle cry to engage one immediately on our left.
“Weapon systems: online,” the suit chirps happily.
One of the shadows charges forward and as it closes I realise that it is a he, and a fellow norn, dressed in the most outlandish garb I have ever seen. I raise my arm, palm facing out, thinking to warn him off – I jolt backwards as a flash of light erupts from my hand and a blue pulse smashes into his chest, sending him reeling across the boards. Shocked by the unexpected effect, I fail to notice the other shadow lift his arms until it is too late and lightning surges from his outstretched hands to crash into my suit. At first I think to laugh, for I feel no pain, but when I try to move I find now that I cannot.
The shadow walks towards me, a human man appearing out of the smoke, a sneer accompanying the same strange garb. “Weapon systems… offline!” he mocks. Intensifying his attack, the lightning continues to cascade down around me until the noise of the attack actually starts to cause me pain.
“Danger to life, danger to life, danger to life!” the suit immediately begins to squeak again.
Black smoke rises in front of me and I begin to feel a strange, disconnected sensation. The man moves closer, his arms still outstretched as he maintains his attack. “Asura Golem technology – pah!” he grins.
I am floating now. My attacker seems to be so far away. There is a darkness coming and I suffer pain. Someone screams. I know that scream – it is a desperate last stand. Mother Bear, I am in need of your blessing.
“Danger to life, danger to life, danger to life!”
The world rushes back. Lion’s Arch is under attack. I wish that the man could see my face now and not the impassive features of a Golem, although in fairness he does register shock as my arm snakes out to grab one of his. I pull him in close. “Weapon systems,” I state calmly, “are online.” As I smash his head repeatedly into the ground, I scan the smoke until I spot Genni about ten feet away, locked in a terrible struggle with our third shadow – another norn, judging by his size. Raising my free arm, I point it at the attacker, lifting my hand like before, and to my relief a pulse of energy spits out to strike the assailant.
Genni drops her sword, clearly exhausted and overwhelmed. I have never seen her look so scared as she staggers over to me.
“We have to get out of here!” she pants. “Where’s Treen? Have you seen him?”
The girl and her mother have long since disappeared – most likely escaped through the portal, so I focus my attention on the little warrior. Without further words, I scoop her up and head for the same portal.
“Hey!” Genni shouts, fiercely. “Put me down! We have to find Treen!”
I do not think to look back as more explosions erupt around us and the wooden boards shudder beneath my pounding feet, buckling and screeching as wood is ripped apart. I do not want to look back and watch a city burn; only the ocean watches on, passive and uncaring as I lunge at the gate.
Stumbling through, there is no time to take in our surroundings and I put my foot down on open air. As momentum dictates, the world pitches up before me, turning over and over as I tumble and clatter down large stone steps. At least I manage to heft Genni to one side before I end up crushing her beneath the bulk of the suit, and I come to a shuddering rest beneath beautifully clear blue sky. I stare into the peaceful void but it is not long before movement encroaches on my periphery, appearing in the form of a battered but relatively happy looking Genni, followed by a gathering of humans.
“Are you okay, Mr Bear?” Before I can respond we are alerted to a muffled cry and a dull metallic thump. Genni gasps and leans in toward me. “Hold still a moment, Mr Bear,” she commands.
I close my eyes to the whistling sound of vented air and the immediate protestations of a familiar voice: Treen. I realise now that in the confusion of what has befallen Lion’s Arch, that he somehow had sought refuge in the suit without me knowing. Just the thought of him rattling around inside makes me feel ill though, so I wait with my eyes closed.
“All done, Mr Bear,” Genni informs.
I open my eyes to find Treen sitting on my chest. “I would say that was a successful field test.” The asura nods and slides off.
Genni smiles proudly and winks at me just as one of the humans, tall and with an officious bearing, suited in highly polished armour, steps up beside her. “Perhaps you would care to explain?”
Edited by Amy.