Being asura, you would think the Inquest would have a fairly decent grasp on scientific and technological concepts. In a lot of ways, they do, being equally as capable at research and development as any other krewe. There’s a certain lack of care about their endeavours, though, a disregard for life and limb, even their own. Put simply, in every Inquest experiment I’ve come across, someone is likely to die.
That had, in fact, already occurred by the time we made it back up to the caldera. Our progress wasn’t exactly fast, Ivar being injured and Erin refusing to leave him behind; the fact that her intentions weren’t beneficent made little difference to our speed. It didn’t help, either, that the rumbling ground had thrown the whole complex into chaos, Inquest lackeys running in all directions, and a fair few destroyers on the loose. These, we dispatched where necessary, though I’ll admit to feeling a little gleeful at seeing three of them go chasing an Inquest guard off down a tunnel.
And then we entered the caldera, where chaos took on a whole new meaning.
There were the aforementioned deaths, of course, Inquest members dragging those fallen comrades out of the path of the destruction, but that wasn’t what immediately caught the attention. No, that would be the destroyer.
Asura take destroyers seriously, or most of us do, but compared to this, every single one of the creatures I’d ever faced was no more threatening than a fly. The destroyer thrashing around in the depths of the caldera’s magma pool threatened to put even Zurra’s new golem to shame for size, and it was an awful lot more active. Between its long, clawed limbs and a plated head I was fairly certain no bullet would pierce, I had the feeling the Inquest had got rather more than they’d bargained for.
Spark was shouting something; over the roars of the destroyer and the cries of the Inquest, I had to practically step on her toes to hear her. “This is your chance!”
My chance. Yes, this was it. I had no interest in just how the Inquest had summoned the colossal destroyer, but I knew what they were planning to do with it – unless I got there first.
Turning away from my companions, too preoccupied to make sure the two norn didn’t start their squabbling again, I sprinted across the volcano floor. Zurra’s golem loomed large against the wall, a hulking black shadow now cast in terrifying hues of flame by the risen destroyer and the volcano itself. I had a sudden, horrifying vision of the volcano erupting, burying us all beneath tons of magma – if we didn’t burn to a crisp, first. Even that, I suspected, might not destroy the golem; what had Zurra needed Flikk’s research for if not to allow it to withstand this?
Even now, there was a cordon of guards around the golem. They had the fixed postures of elite troops, disciplined enough to hold their nerve even at a time like this. They didn’t immediately react at the sight of me, and at first I thought they might not have recognised me as an enemy – but no, they knew perfectly well who I was. They simply had a better strategy than immediate combat.
I heard the rifle powering up before I saw it. It was a massive thing, perhaps originally designed for a golem, and now mounted on a metal frame on the floor of the caldera. Despite its size, it fired far quicker than I’d have been believed possible – sheer instinct was the only thing that saved me as the first blast left a smoking crater where I’d just been standing. By that point, I was several steps away and invisible, shadowstepping my way closer to my foes.
Not one of them saw me coming. By the time I was finished, the rifle had been abandoned and eight bodies were scattered around the golem’s feet. I paused just long enough to appreciate the irony of it all – that whilst I’d been working for Flikk, my thief skills had declined such that I’d never have been able to do what I’d just done, and that it had taken his death and my journey for me to be able to defend his legacy – before turning to the golem itself.
Up close, it didn’t seem quite as intimidating. Yes, it was a construction of extraordinary magnitude, but it was also just a golem, built by asura hands. I might not be able to destroy it, but there had to be a way to disable it – and if there was one thing I knew, thanks to Flikk, it was golems.
I began to climb. Even a golem as advanced – and as shiny – as this one had the occasional nook in which to find a grip or wedge my feet. Still, maintaining my balance took a certain amount of concentration; between that and the general levels of chaos in the cavern, it took me half a minute to realise someone else was shooting at me.
The first few shots missed by miles, leaving not so much as a smudge on the impervious shell of the golem. The next handful came closer, ricocheting off the golem and slamming into the cavern wall behind me. I ducked reflexively, and just in time, as three more shots crackled above me.
I peered around the golem’s flank – I was now somewhere near the top of its left leg – to see a fresh cadre of Inquest had arrived. They seemed, in typical Inquest fashion, utterly unconcerned about their fallen comrades, and far more engrossed in picking me off with their shots. There was something rather slapdash about their aim, though, and about the way they spent half their time glancing over their shoulders. It was as though they didn’t actually care about me at all.
And it wasn’t difficult to see why. Across the cavern, a huge piece of machinery had emerged, wheeled into view. The Inquest swarmed around it like ants, making it difficult to discern its function – except they seemed to be in the process of luring the colossal, roaring destroyer towards it.
That didn’t bode well. Frankly, anything that involves Inquest, destroyers and technology is always going to end badly, but in this particular case, I knew what they were aiming for. That could only be Zurra’s device for extracting the destroyer’s energy – and using it to power this golem.
I kept climbing. The troops below me were either no longer in range, or had decided they had better things to worry about. Indeed, when I next looked out across the cavern, a tight knot of fighting had developed close to the machine. This, I was glad to see, was nothing to do with the destroyer, still wallowing in the magma. Instead, it was my own companions, struggling through the crowd. They’d be trying to destroy the extraction machine, of course, but if they couldn’t, that was where I came in. I had to make sure Zurra’s golem no longer functioned, once and for all.
Easier said than done, of course, because not only did the golem appear immune to all harm and had no obvious point of entry, but I was no longer alone. Vonn was standing on a metal walkway jutting between the cave wall and the golem’s chest – and whilst he might not have a gun pointed at my head now, it wouldn’t be long before did.
If he noticed me, that was. I’d frozen at the sight of him, giving me a chance to see that he had his back to me, and was apparently tinkering with something on the golem’s front. That made perfect sense, given the circumstances; once Zurra’s machine had collected the destroyer’s energy, they’d no doubt want to transfer it to the golem as quickly as possible.
Across the caldera, the destroyer gave another ferocious roar, making the very walls shake. Vonn looked up sharply, and rather than cower in the shadows of the golem’s flank, I decided to make my move. If I was going to take Vonn out quickly and efficiently, it was going to be now – and that was a very satisfying thought.