When is an ally not an ally, a friend no longer a friend? Where Spark was concerned, that was a question I couldn’t find an answer to. I’d thought, for a time, Spark and I actually wanted to achieve some of the same goals, and maybe that was still true – but the charr was also controlling, manipulative, and in the end her single-minded drive had got one of our number killed.
Now, facing her again, trust seemed rather hard to come by.
Spark had moved to the door of the refectory and was peering out into the apparently deserted corridor. “We need to move.”
I stayed exactly where I was. “Have you visited his grave?”
Spark gave a slight grunt. “The ranger’s?”
“Blaise,” I said, and I could feel my voice rising. “His name was Blaise, and if it hadn’t been for him, we’d all be dead.”
“We’ll be dead twice over if we don’t move,” Spark growled, not turning to face me. “I’ve been to his grave. Don’t know why you couldn’t just take him to a cemetery like any other human, but I’ve been there.”
The admission startled me into standing up; it felt as though there was something Spark wasn’t saying, but she’d already been more honest than I’d expected. “Where’s Weir?”
“Keeping watch outside this mountain,” Spark replied. “Or are you asking about before, when he caught up to me? Damn fool charr.”
Spark shook her head, and I knew what she was thinking – Weir’s loyalty and steadfastness were the one reliable constant, and not one of us deserved it, Spark least of all.
I crossed the room, coming to stand beside her in the doorway. I couldn’t bring myself to surrender to trust, exactly, but at least I no longer felt like speaking to Spark again was a terrible mistake. “Let’s get out of here.”
Being in Spark’s company was both unnerving and strangely reassuring, but at least she seemed to know where she was going. We left the refectory behind, diving into a series of low, twisting tunnels, some natural lava tubes and others hewn by machine.
“Some of Zurra’s grunts were supposed to be taking you back to the cells,” Spark said as we walked. “Won’t take them long to work out you’re not where you’re supposed to be.”
“So where are we going?” I asked.
Spark made a rumbling noise; it took me a moment to realise she was laughing. “The cells, of course.”
I almost stopped in my tracks, only to realise I was being foolish. If Spark really wanted me thrown back in the cells, she’d have left the Inquest to do it and likely not even revealed herself. No, we were on our way there for an entirely different reason.
Sure enough, when we reached a low-ceilinged chamber lined with cells, Caolinn was in one and Erin the other. All three of my companions stared at one another, although without much surprise; apparently, I’d been the last of us to learn of Spark’s presence here. I wasn’t sure whether I should be offended or relieved.
“I had them moved here out of the caldera,” Spark said. “For security reasons, obviously.”
She’d been planning this from the moment she saw us, I realised, which should have been reassuring, but instead I found myself wondering what her motives were.
“Do you have the key?” I asked.
Spark gestured with one claw, towards a viewing window cut through a wall of rock, and the two startled asura faces looking through it. “No, but they do.”
This wouldn’t be a long fight, I thought, only to realise I was no longer armed.
It’s a strange feeling, losing your weapons when you’ve spent so long with them permanently in your possession. I won’t go as far as saying it’s like losing a limb (though Erin probably would), but there’s a strange feeling of disconnection, of being off-balance and struggling to regain control. I was exposed, undefended, helpless…
Or not. It took only half a second for older training to reassert itself. Before Flikk, I’d been a thief, relying on my blades and pistols – but before that, I’d learnt other ways to defend myself. As the two Inquest barrelled out of their cubby hole, I launched myself at them. Both were lightly armoured, and it took only a few swift kicks in the right places to leave them groaning on the ground.
Only when I turned around did I see Spark holding out a dagger to me.
“Looks like you won’t be needing this,” she said, with a snort of amusement, but I grabbed it before she could sheathe it again.
“Just until I get my own back,” I said hurriedly, a little embarrassed at how relieved I felt to have a blade in my hand again.
Spark stepped into the tiny control room, hammering a few of the assorted switches until the cell doors popped open. By the time she returned, I was already tying up the two Inquest; I half expected Spark to ask why I didn’t just kill them, but instead she only crouched to help. Maybe the past few weeks really had changed her, after all.
“We should get out of here.” That was Caolinn, smoothing her skirts – and producing from them a pair of slender stilettos, their blades razor sharp.
Even Erin looked somewhat envious. “Where were you hiding those?”
Caolinn just smiled. “Trade secret, I’m afraid. Now, are we leaving or not?”
“We’re not,” I said, all eyes turning to me. “I can’t just walk out of here and leave that golem behind.”
Spark grinned. “Another giant golem to flatten? I like your thinking, mouse.”
“I hope you know how terrible an idea that is,” Caolinn said, but I noticed she didn’t actually dispute what I was planning to do. For once, though, Erin did.
“Destroy the golem if you want,” she said. “I’ve got other business to take care of.”
Spark looked puzzled, and I realised this was one argument she hadn’t been privy to.
“Ivar,” I said, hoping I didn’t sound too exasperated. “He’s Erin’s brother. She, er, thought he was dead.”
“And now he’s working for Zurra.” Spark nodded slowly. “I’d want to kill him, too.”
It was a little alarming just how well the charr and the norn understood one another, sometimes, but at least there’d be no disagreements.
“All right, then,” I said. “We’ll find Ivar, and then we’ll destroy the golem. Let’s just work quickly, yes?”
There were nods all round; what a bloodthirsty lot my companions were.
We set off into the tunnels, Spark leading the way and me by her side. I was becoming more certain she wasn’t about to find some way to betray us – this wasn’t quite the old Spark, and that was a good thing – but there was always a chance she didn’t know these tunnels as well as she said.
“How are you going to do it?” she asked, as we turned a corner into a long, straight corridor dipping down into the earth.
I’d been pondering that one myself, though I didn’t yet have an answer. There’d be no handy self-destruct sequences programmed into the golem this time – in fact, I was beginning to wish I hadn’t blown-up the last golem, because that one would have been a lot easier to follow and destroy en route, thus giving me a chance to learn Zurra’s plans before I scuppered them. She couldn’t, after all, intend to keep her creation down here indefinitely.
“I’ll think of something,” I said eventually, with more confidence than I really felt. “If it can’t be destroyed, there must be some other way to disable it.”
I wondered what had become of Spark’s own creations, including the weapon Souleater. I wanted to think everything she’d ever built had been destroyed, because Spark had a far more ingenious eye for ways to kill people than even the Inquest had. Still, it was unlikely the charr wasn’t armed, and sure enough she patted the pocket at her hip.
“You need explosives, come to me.”
I nodded. Nothing in existence was powerful enough to completely destroy that golem, I feared, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t do some serious damage.
It was getting hotter and hotter the further we walked, even more so than it had been in the caldera. “Where are we going?” Erin asked from behind us. I glanced back to see her sheened with sweat; though the blood on her chest and shoulder was dried and flaking, there was a fresh smear on one hand, as though she’d just examined the bullet wound and found it bleeding still.
“We need to patch you up,” I said, but for the first time I could recall, Erin entirely ignored me, speaking over my head to Spark as though I wasn’t there. It hurt more than I cared to admit.
“Where are we going?” she repeated.
Spark stopped beside an open doorway, leading into a dark and cavernous room beyond. “You wanted Ivar, didn’t you?” she asked. “Well, go get him.”