Fighting Risen really is the most unpleasant experience a law-abiding asura can ever hope to have. Even for those of a particularly warlike, combative disposition, a battle against the undead is a singularly unappealing prospect. There’s little tactical prowess required against them, for one thing: the massed ranks of the Risen are generally mindless, and overwhelm through sheer force of numbers, meaning brute force is the only viable means of overcoming them. Being surrounded by undead – which are, lest we forget, dead and rotting – is also about the foulest situation imaginable, second only to finding your year-long research project is about to be overshadowed by someone else who’s studied the same thing – and done it better.
Not that I had much time for contemplation. I knew I was jumping into the middle of a fight against the Risen, and that I might regret doing so. I also knew it was an unnervingly long way down, although that second fact didn’t really hit me until I was already in the air.
The ground hit me next, coming up to meet me with alarming speed. I slammed feet first into sand, only just managing to bend my knees and then roll to cushion the impact. I came up slightly dizzy but with daggers in hand, to find Risen swarming in all directions, their stink filling the air. I wasn’t here for the undead, though. I was here for Spark.
And there she was: standing some distance away along the beach, Souleater cradled against her body. From the top of the hill, I’d known it was warming up by the glow it was starting to give off. Now, the whole weapon was outlined in light, and I could barely look in Spark’s direction without shielding my eyes. Blaise and Caolinn were off to one side, fighting a small band of Risen; Weir was so close to Spark, I could see him only as a silhouette.
I’d just regained my balance when the ground heaved, pitching me to my knees again. Erin had also chosen the shortest route down the cliff, and when she landed, she sent a shockwave out across the beach. The norn had swapped her customary greatsword for a hammer, twice as long as I was tall, and with a head that probably weighed as much as a small bear.
“Get to Spark,” Erin growled, getting to her feet. “I’ll clear some space.”
And so she did. Erin swung the hammer with ferocious force, flinging Risen off in all directions and cracking the skulls of any that remained standing. I darted under her blows, taking every opportunity to get closer to Spark, who was now surrounded by a corona of white light too painful to look at. At this rate, Souleater was going to explode before she had a chance to use it – and it was going to take half the beach with it.
There were other fighters amongst the melee, I realised, Vigil warriors and engineers manning a series of turrets aimed out over the water. They were doing their best but seemed to be perilously outnumbered, and frequently too weary to put up much of a fight. I couldn’t imagine how long the undead had been attacking this position, but the Vigil seemed to be in a poor state. I passed a fallen sylvari being dragged up the beach by a battered norn, and behind them two humans fighting back-to-back, the Risen closing in around them. For the first time, I could see how welcome Spark’s weapon might be – if it didn’t kill us all in the process.
Behind me, Erin gave a roar and three Risen went flying over my head to thud into the sand beyond. I jumped over their limp bodies, and suddenly the way was clear, nothing but blank sand between me and Spark.
Who, now that it came to it, I couldn’t actually see at all.
I didn’t actually know how Spark had utilised her Searing energy. I’d always had serious doubts about it, ones I didn’t think the charr would have listened to even if I’d stayed to work with her – but maybe now she’d understand my concerns. The amount of energy contained within Souleater must have been extraordinary, and as far as I could tell, Spark hadn’t even fired it yet.
I skidded to a halt, in what I hoped was Spark’s vicinity. I shouted her name, only to feel a hand close on my shoulder. Not the charr, though: Caolinn.
“This way,” she said, dragging me across the beach. I genuinely didn’t know whether we were running towards Spark or away until I crashed straight into a solid wall, which turned out to be Weir’s leg. Finally, I could see Spark, little more than a faint line within a white halo too bright to show detail. Detail or not, though, I could see Souleater now, and the butt was resting against Spark’s shoulder. Ready to be fired.
I lunged at Spark, crashing into her arm before Weir could stop me. She staggered sideways, Souleater dropping to point at the ground. Weir shouted something, and the next moment he’d clamped an arm around my chest, hauling me clean off the ground and holding me dangling.
“Spark!” I screamed her name, and she must have heard me even over the tumult of the battle. “Don’t do this!”
She heard, but she didn’t listen. As if I’d never intervened, Spark returned the weapon to her shoulder, somehow sighted through the white light, and fired.
The silence that followed was like nothing I’d ever known. You do experience silence in a battle, sometimes, all sounds muted below the rush of blood in your ears, but this was something else. Souleater wasn’t so loud it left us deafened – it simply sucked in all noise, as though the world had frozen around it.
Or maybe that was just my world. I hung from Weir’s steady arm, watching with my mouth open as the bolt of light from Souleater’s muzzle seared across the beach. It was too bright to look at, too painful, but I managed to track its progress, a sizzling beam of purest white that scorched the air.
And then it hit.
The explosion knocked us all to the ground; thankfully, Weir landed on his side rather than on top of me, and I managed to crawl away. My ears ringing, I looked up, and everything froze a second time.
Everything on the battlefield had been flattened. Bodies were scattered in all directions, Risen and Vigil alike. I thought they’d just been knocked down by the blast, but when I got to my feet, I realised it was worse than that. Much, much worse.
The first figure I came to was a norn, lying flat on her back, eyes staring at the sky. Her chest still rose and fell mechanically, but when I waved a hand in front of her face, there was no response. The next was a sylvari, and beside him, a human. Both wore the same blank, unseeing expressions, and nudging them in the side with my foot didn’t elicit so much as a blink. I felt horror rise in my chest, because there was really only one conclusion I could come to: Souleater had done exactly what it had been named for, on everyone who’d got in its way.
I spun back to Spark, who was staring out across the beach with a similarly glassy expression. She was the only one on her feet, the weapon dangling from one hand. I took a step towards her, feeling a sob rising in my throat. I couldn’t speak.
“What have you done?” That, I saw, with a thrum of relief, was Erin, staggering across the sands towards us. I wondered if I wore the same wide-eyed, stunned expression. Her voice rose to a roar. “Spark, what have you done?”
Spark didn’t seem to have an answer. She was staring across the beach, taking in the dozen fallen Vigil soldiers, and the scattering of Risen between them – some of which, I realised with a sick lurch, were actually starting to get up again. Not only had Souleater destroyed indiscriminately, but it had failed to completely eradicate our foe.
Erin gave a cry of pain and outrage, and flung herself forward. Her hands locked on Spark’s upper arms, shaking mercilessly. “What have you done? All these people, these soldiers… How could you?”
Still, Spark didn’t reply. She didn’t even look at Erin, just shook her off and backed away. Her head was swaying, her mouth open in shock. She’d thought she wanted this, I realised. She’d thought that any collateral damage would be acceptable in an attempt to kill dragon minions. Only now, faced with the damage she’d caused, could Spark see how untrue that was.
She took another step back, then flicked Souleater over her shoulder to click into a holster on her back. A moment later, she was gone, running off down the beach, then disappearing over a rise and vanishing from sight.
For a few heartbeats, we all stared at one another. No-one seemed in any hurry to chase after her, either for retribution or out of loyalty. In the end, it was only Weir who shook himself out of his stupor.
“I have to…” he began, shaking his head. “I need…” But he didn’t seem able to finish, and then he was gone, too, pounding across the sand after Spark.
I didn’t know what he was going to do – kill her? Comfort her? – but right then, I didn’t care. I turned back to the battlefield, a dagger in my hand. I’d tried so hard to stop Spark, but I felt responsibility for her actions anyway, and I couldn’t just run away. Whatever Spark had wrought here, I would look it in the eye, and face what we’d all become.