There’s nothing quite as terrifying as seeing your enemy get what she wants. The box – the very same one I’d stolen from Torwen and the Nightmare Court, then insisted Erin lug all this way – sat between us on the table, and Zurra didn’t seem able to take her eyes off it.
“Thank you for returning this to me,” she said, sounding genuinely grateful. “You’ve no idea how much trouble it would have taken to recover it otherwise.”
I winced inwardly, because it sounded like I’d done the Inquest’s job for them. “Why would you want anything the Nightmare Court had?”
“Because it wasn’t theirs to begin with.” Zurra finally looked up, a gleam in her eye. “You may be aware that, in some areas of Tyria, the Inquest and the Court have been able to work together, but not here. Early interactions between us have left the sylvari somewhat… antagonistic.”
I almost rolled my eyes. Antagonistic? No wonder, when the Inquest kept proposing new experiments from which their sylvari subjects likely wouldn’t come out alive.
Zurra tapped her fingers on the box. “This was stolen during a skirmish a few weeks ago. The Court had no inkling of its value, I’m certain – they were just making trouble for trouble’s sake – but it was an inconvenience all the same. Our operations have been severely delayed as a result.”
I sent a silent and fervent thanks to Torwen, even if he had tried to kill me. In this case, the enemy of my enemy certainly wasn’t my friend, but I couldn’t fault his desire to thwart Zurra.
“So what is it?” I asked, knowing I was going to have to eventually.
By way of reply, Zurra pressed her hand to the box – biometric scanning, of course, which explained why I’d failed to open it myself – and I heard the lock click.
She opened the box and spun it towards me, revealing the contents – which were underwhelming, to say the least. The device inside was little more than a coil of wires wrapped around a metal rod, with an interface stuck on the front; it would have looked more at home on a charr’s workbench than in an asura lab.
“It’s a magnet,” I guessed. “An electromagnet, anyway.”
Zurra looked irritatingly smug. “It’s nothing of the sort. It’s less sophisticated than much of our technology, though, it’s true. Simpler creatures require a simpler touch, it turns out – that’s where we’ve been going wrong all this time.”
“Going wrong?” I shook my head. “What are you talking about?”
“Destroyers,” Zurra said, pushing the box aside to lean across the table. “Destroyers, Amber. We’ve been attempting to collect their energy for months, but they’re unsophisticated creatures, and many of our efforts have simply burnt them to a crisp. We can’t let that happen next time.”
That anything could burn a destroyer ‘to a crisp’ spoke of how violent the Inquest’s methods were – it would take an extraordinary amount of energy to ignite a creature so immune to flame. Maybe, though, that had been the problem.
“You’d been transferring the energy, not gathering it,” I said, studying Zurra for a reaction. “Your previous devices used up so much energy to synchronise with the destroyers that you ended up losing as much as you gained – and killing them in the process.”
There was just the slightest touch of annoyance on Zurra’s face. “Very good, Amber,” she said. “If only our technicians had minds as sharp as yours. It took a long time before we discovered we needed to go backwards with our technology, not forwards.”
I gestured to the box. “And that thing’s so simple, it just draws the destroyer energy without requiring any power itself.”
I would have been horrified at how easily my mind was travelling the sames paths as the Inquest, except I desperately needed to understand Zurra; it was the only way I’d ever stop her.
“I already knew you were an expert in these matters from your collaboration with the charr,” Zurra said. “It’s a shame you’ve so consistently refused to partner with my Syndicate, instead.”
My stomach lurched. The charr? That could only be Spark, whose obsession with capturing energy to turn against dragon minions had known no bounds. Had Zurra somehow made use of her research here?
There was a commotion at the back of the room, an almost bestial growl – perhaps the Inquest were capturing fresh creatures for their research – but I didn’t turn to investigate. I couldn’t take my eyes off Zurra, nor off the device she held in her hand. The fact that we’d essentially returned her stolen property was bad enough, but I’d come to a worse conclusion: the only purpose the Syndicate could have for their captured destroyer energy was to power Vonn’s golem.
“What are you going to do with it?” I asked, wondering if I’d get a reply.
Zurra was turning the device thoughtfully over in her hands, but she knew that wasn’t what I was referring to. “It’s time things changed in Tyria,” she said softly. “We fool ourselves into thinking we’re peaceful, advanced, but we can never truly grow as a species without the catalyst of war.”
I felt sick. “Who are you going to war against?”
I almost expected Zurra’s answer, but it chilled me all the same. “Everyone.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Zurra shook herself, standing up briskly. “I’m not going to get through to you, I can see that much. The Syndicate could have used your expertise, Amber, but if you’re going to be stubborn, you’re of little use to me. You, or your friends. I have enough norn muscle for the time being, and the sylvari… Well, I know where her loyalties lie. How is Darr, incidentally?”
I hadn’t the faintest idea. We hadn’t seen Darr since coming south to Mount Maelstrom. I didn’t even know what his current goals were, as he’d been primarily interested in stopping Spark, but it didn’t surprise me that Zurra knew of his existence. Darr worked to wipe out threats to Tyria, and the Syndicate were exactly that.
“You’ve made a lot of allies, Amber,” Zurra said, sounding almost like a teacher, “and a lot of enemies, too. I’m disappointed you don’t seem to know which is which.”
I snorted in dismissal, because even if Zurra didn’t think of herself as my enemy, she most certainly wasn’t an ally.
With that, she picked up her device and left, leaving me before a spread of cold food that I couldn’t bring myself to touch. Zurra and Vonn had turned Flikk’s tool of exploration into a weapon, and now it seemed like the Inquest were going to war.
And, right now, I couldn’t think of a single way to stop them.
I looked round, wondering when the next lackey would appear to take me away and return me to imprisonment. Shadows moved in the tunnel beyond the mess hall, shadows that seemed far larger than anything an asura could create. I was just getting to my feet, expecting Ivar to arrive, when a new voice spoke.
I froze, half out of my seat. That voice… But it couldn’t possibly be. There was no way, in all the Eternal Alchemy, that she could be here–
I didn’t hear the footsteps, the soft pad of paws against stone, but there was a crack as a leather coat snapped against the wall, and then there she was. Spark.
I didn’t back away – that was the last self-control I had. I remembered, dimly, how genuinely remorseful Spark had seemed after Blaise’s death, but already my mind was putting together new pieces. Spark had been working against dragon minions, but I couldn’t recall her ever having much interest in stopping the Inquest. Apparently, she’d found more allies of her own.
Or maybe not. Spark crossed the room, her yellow eyes fixed on me. “It’s been a long time,” she growled, “but here we are again. You getting into trouble with the Inquest – and me here to rescue you.”
“Rescue?” I almost choked on the word.
Spark sighed. She sounded weary, but there was something focused about her, something determined. “You’re predictable, mouse. I knew you’d end up here eventually. This is one fight you can’t let go.”
And what about you? I wanted to ask. What are you fighting for? I didn’t get a chance, because a fresh revelation had come to me. “It was you. You’re the one who sent that message to Darr. You’re how he knew Zurra was here.”
Spark folded her arms over her chest, nodding. “I wondered when you’d work that out. I came south by coincidence, after…”
She didn’t finish, and I found myself holding my breath, but Spark just shook her heavy head. “I came south, and I started hearing rumours about the Inquest, about what they might be building. I sent that message to Darr – and then word went out that Zurra was recruiting.”
“Seems she’s found a liking for the other races after all, as long as they’re useful. She was surprised to see me, but she didn’t take much convincing that I was genuine. I’ve been here ever since.”
“Doing what?” I asked, with some trepidation. Talk of ‘rescue’ was one thing, but perhaps Spark was the last piece of Zurra’s puzzle, the very reason she’d been able to harness destroyer energy and finish her golem.
Spark shrugged. “Learning all I can about her operation. Sabotaging it, where I can, as long as it won’t be immediately noticed. And now,” she added, her eyes gleaming, “I’m going to help you destroy it.”