A golem the size of a small town would, you’d think, draw a certain amount of attention. In the days that followed, though, there was curiously little chatter about Zurra’s creation, and though we felt a series of continued rumblings from the volcano behind us, no-one in the vicinity seemed to think it anything out of the ordinary. Of course, much of the area we passed through was utterly deserted, desolate swamp and the like, but to find not even a single curious scout was disheartening. Zurra had built – and loosed on the world – the mostly deadly golem ever seen… and the world hadn’t even noticed.
Things didn’t get much better in Lion’s Arch. It was a relief to be back there, of course, after days in the wilderness, but even the most informed inhabitants of the city seemed to know nothing of Zurra’s activities. There were no high-ranking members of the Order of Whispers available to hear our concerns, according to Caolinn, and Erin had no greater luck interesting the Priory in our findings. For now, we were on our own.
“No news is good news,” Caolinn said, as we all converged on the lodgings Spark had rented, after a futile afternoon trudging round the city. Even she didn’t sound much convinced by her platitudes, though at least if no-one had heard of Zurra, she couldn’t have started levelling any major settlements.
And Weir was there to greet us. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed his stalwart, often silent presence in our party until he was there in front of me again; I had the feeling Spark felt the same way. Still, there was something of a pall over the gathering, until Spark sat us all down at the long table and pulled out a flask.
“To Blaise,” she said, passing the flask round.
There was a moment of tense silence. We all knew this wasn’t an apology, and were we really going to let Spark off so lightly for the ranger’s death? In the end, though, I sighed and took the flask. Spark knew what she’d done, and going after the Inquest on her own had been her way of atoning. Right now, we needed unity far more than we needed heartfelt honesty.
“To Blaise,” I echoed, taking a cautious sip from the flask – blood whiskey, if I wasn’t mistaken – and passing it on. Caolinn did the same, then Erin and Weir; Ivar remained in the corner where Erin had left him, tied to a chair. It didn’t matter how many times the rest of us pointed out that Ivar hadn’t technically done anything illegal in working for he Inquest, and hadn’t once tried to escape on our way north – Erin still seemed determined to treat him like a criminal.
“All right,” Spark said, breaking the contemplative silence. “We’re going to need a plan, so here it is.”
No-one protested at Spark taking over; quite frankly, I think we were all relieved to let someone else do the thinking.
“Zurra can’t keep that golem hidden forever. If she decides to use it, someone will notice. We’ve all got contacts across Tyria, and it’s time we used them. The first time the Inquest so much as twitches, we need to know about it.”
There were nods of agreement all round the table.
“That could take weeks,” Weir said, surreptitiously taking another gulp of fire whiskey before passing it back to Spark. “What if Zurra goes to ground?”
“Do you really think she can keep that golem for long without using it?” I pointed out. “Besides, she’s asura. She’ll be doing everything on a schedule.”
Spark nodded, one claw tapping on the table. “Let’s assume she’ll make a move soon. We need to be ready when she does.”
It was hard not to laugh, and I could see Erin looking equally dubious. We were just five people, with no significant allies, whilst Zurra had the whole might of the Inquest behind her. How were we ever going to stop her, especially with that golem in tow?
But then, when had that ever stopped us? My whole crusade against the Inquest had been unlikely from the beginning, but I’d found allies – friends, even – willing to stand beside me, and we’d accomplished some extraordinary things. We were the reason Zurra had been stymied time and again, at turn after turn; I might even have felt proud if I wasn’t so exhausted.
The gathering broke up after that, Caolinn, Spark and Weir heading back into the city to drum up more news, and Erin disappearing outside. I knew she wouldn’t go far, but for a moment I found myself alone with Ivar. We stared at one another, and I tried to see a trace of the norn who’d been my staunchest ally, but I was struggling to even find that in Erin any more, let alone her brother.
“What really happened to you?” I asked on a whim, not expecting a reply.
Ivar’s scarred, tattooed face twisted. “Why are you all so convinced I’m lying?”
“Because Erin thinks you are.”
A shake of his head. “Erin can’t see past her own anger. You know that. Everything I’ve told you is true. I escaped the destroyers, but only just. Joining Zurra was a way to get revenge.”
I understood all that, but… “So why is Erin so furious?”
Ivar was silent a moment. “We were more than siblings, when we were younger. Looking at Erin was like seeing the other half of my soul. We hunted together, joined the Priory together, worked together. And then I volunteered for that stupid mission to go north, to look for dwarven artifacts.”
Another shake of his head. “Didn’t find a damn thing, except the destroyers. Thing is, we’d all known it would be dangerous. Erin begged me not to go. That was the first time we ever argued, and I hated myself for it, but I refused to back down. I’d volunteered for the mission, and I was going whether she wanted me to or not.”
“But this isn’t about one argument, is it?” I asked. “She’s angry because you didn’t come back.”
Three years, Erin had said. Three years since that failed mission, with Erin left thinking her brother was dead. I could see why she was so angry. If they’d been so close before, Ivar hiding himself away like that must have felt like a betrayal.
“I needed…” Ivar shook his head as though the words he was looking for wouldn’t come. “I couldn’t just go back. I thought Erin would understand.”
But Erin hadn’t, that much was very clear. If I was honest, I thought both of them were overreacting to the situation, but perhaps there were some tricky aspects of norn honour I wasn’t seeing. Besides, what would I do if Mikk suddenly appeared out of nowhere, not dead after all? Furious wouldn’t even begin to cover it.
Gradually, the rest of the party trickled back to our lodgings. There hadn’t been much news to be found, and there was little conversation as we one by one made our way into the bunkroom above. It was little more than a loft, some old piece of ship reclaimed to make a curving room, but it was a relief to sleep in a proper bed again, even if I had to listen to Weir’s snores.
It wasn’t Weir who woke me in the dead of night, though, hours later. I jolted upright, surveying the room by the thin sliver of moonlight through the open window. Something had invaded my dreams, niggling at me until I awoke, but I couldn’t immediately see the source. Everyone was sleeping… except Erin. Her bed remained empty, untouched.
That shouldn’t have bothered me. If Erin wanted to go carousing in the city, or just walk its darkened streets to clear her head, who was I to stop her? Something tickled at my spine, though, telling me that Erin was still in the house, that she was downstairs… with Ivar.
I tiptoed downstairs, half expecting to be proved wrong, Ivar sleeping peacefully in his chair and Erin nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.
I don’t know what Erin was intending to do, but she loomed over Ivar, her hands clenched into fists. Ivar himself was awake, leaning back as far as his chair would allow. He didn’t look scared, exactly, just wary – suddenly, I’d had enough.
I stamped down the last few steps, deliberately making my presence known. Erin didn’t immediately turn, but when she did, I couldn’t read her expression – and right then, I didn’t care. It was enough for me to know that Erin hadn’t been about to offer a reconciliation.
“Enough,” I snapped, my voice loud in the stillness. “Just let him go, Erin. He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Erin growled low in her throat; I almost glanced round to see if one of the charr had followed me downstairs. “This is none of your business, Amber.”
“Isn’t it? We’re trying to stop the Inquest before they do something colossally stupid. Anything that interferes with that is my business – and this feud is definitely interfering.”
“What would you know about any of this?”
The anger, almost scorn, in her voice took me aback, but I hadn’t finished. “I don’t know what it is you think you’re doing, but it looks like revenge to me, and the petty, selfish kind. Trust me, I know revenge. Ivar isn’t the one who’s going to come out of this worst.”
Erin was listening, but I wasn’t sure I was getting through to her. In fact, she looked rather like she was about to hit something.
“Enough,” I repeated. “This is your last chance. Let him go free right now, or I’ll cut those ropes myself.”
Erin just glared at me. Perhaps she was gauging which of us would win in a fight. That wasn’t an easy call to make, particularly in such close confines, where the warrior’s strength and size would work against her. I didn’t particularly want to find out the outcome either way.
Luckily, Erin seemed to be coming to her senses. She turned, slicing through Ivar’s bonds with a single stroke of a table knife. He sat there, rubbing his wrists, as Erin strode past me and up the stairs.
“Happy now?” came her parting words.
“Far from it,” I replied, but I wasn’t sure she heard. I turned back to Ivar. “Just get out of here. I’m not going to call her off a second time.”
Because, misguided or not, Ivar had worked for the Inquest, and that wasn’t something I could easily forgive.
He didn’t thank me, just bowed his head once and made a limping exit. Only as he disappeared into the night did I realise there was someone else outside, a sylvari looking like he’d only just avoided being ploughed right over by the departing norn. A messenger.
“What is it?” I asked, going to the door.
The messenger hurried over, still looking a bit stunned. “Are you Amber?”
“Yes.” I was already rummaging in my pockets for enough coin to pay him.
The messenger waved away my payment, shoving a letter into my hands instead. “I was paid in advance. Here, take it.”
I did so, waiting until the sylvari had followed Ivar into the darkness before examining the letter. There was little in the way of a distinguishing feature to mark where it had come from, and I wondered who could possibly have found us here. Someone who’d shown an uncanny ability to track us down in Lion’s Arch once before, perhaps?
Sure enough, when I tore open the letter and scanned the name at the bottom, it was from Darr.