It was a relief to hold a meeting somewhere other than a musty cave or an abandoned building, or even the middle of the wilderness. Indeed, it was actually a relief to see Darr again, even if he was sitting in a tavern so loud I could barely hear myself think.
We shuffled into the seats around Darr, and for a moment he just beamed at us. The last time we’d seen him, I recalled, Spark had just activated Souleater, only to make a break for Ascalon. Finally, we were back together again – minus one.
“I’m sorry about your ranger friend,” Darr began, flicking a hand in the direction of the bar to order us drinks. “That sounded like quite an unfortunate incident, by all accounts.”
Whose accounts? I wondered. I’d been under the impression that Darr’s intelligence gathering operation was comprised solely of himself and Caolinn – and, inadvertently, me – but perhaps he’d expanded in recent weeks.
I glanced at Spark, but she gave no reaction. I was certain she was genuinely remorseful over Blaise’s death, but she’d never exactly apologised, and I didn’t expect her to now. Indeed, the conversation might have been about someone else entirely, given the blankness of her expression.
“Unfortunate, yes,” I said, hoping to turn talk to other matters. “Why did you want to meet us?”
“I have, of late, been investigating Zurra’s dealings,” Darr said, and I could almost hear the unspoken addendum, ‘now that I’ve finished investigating Spark’.
“You’ve heard about her golem, and the destroyer?” I asked, and Darr nodded – in Caolinn’s direction.
“I’ve been kept reasonably well-informed.”
I almost laughed. Caolinn was still reporting to Darr? Neither of them looked repentant, but then why should they? There was no need for secrecy any more, but if they wanted to continue convert communications, that was up to them.
“You’re up-to-date with everything that’s happened,” Caolinn said, but there was a flicker across her face that made me think she was holding something back. She’d been separated from the rest of us for a considerable amount of time after Erin’s brawl with Ivar, I recalled. What exactly had she got up to then?
“It seemed wise to continue my investigations elsewhere,” Darr said, pausing as a tray of drinks arrived. It wasn’t difficult to fathom his logic. Zurra was, essentially, missing whilst in possession of the most powerful golem ever seen. If anyone could work out what she was up to next, it would be Darr.
“What have you found?” Spark asked. There was a dull thud, which I thought was her tail swishing against the back of her seat.
Darr leaned across the table, gesturing for us all to lean closer. “You must have considered what the Inquest, and more specifically the Tyrian Development Syndicate, could want with their golem.”
“It has crossed our minds,” I replied, “but there are any number of major targets. Lion’s Arch, for example – Zurra could do a lot of damage here.”
Darr shook his head. “It’s not indiscriminate damage she’s after. Think about where this whole escapade started, for Zurra at least. About how… personal this could be.”
Everyone else looked puzzled, but I could see what Darr was getting at. My voice was a croak as I said, “Rata Sum. She’s going after Rata Sum.”
“Exactly.” Darr looked satisfied, and not the slightest bit worried. I, on the other hand, had gone cold all over, and even looking at the drink in my hand made me feel queasy.
“Why would she want to do that?” Erin asked, drawn into the conversation long enough to temporarily forget about Ivar. “Even the Inquest are based in Rata Sum.”
“I suspect Zurra no longer sees her Syndicate as part of the Inquest,” Darr said. “Perhaps she hasn’t for a long time.”
“So this is about a grudge?” Erin again, who knew all too well about those.
“Not at all. You misunderstand the mind of the asura.” Darr beckoned us closer again. “Zurra is not some slighted progeny, out for revenge after her krewe failed to heed her ideas. No, she believes Rata Sum stands in the way of progress, that we’ve listened to the other races for too long and become somehow… weakened. The core purpose of the asura has been diluted, and the only way to get it back is to start afresh.”
Darr’s words were making me feel even sicker, and I couldn’t help remembering his complaint that the Order of Whispers had been weakened by joining the Pact. Darr had never gone as far as the Syndicate… but was that only because he hadn’t had the Inquest’s resources?
“So she wants to wipe it all away,” I said. “The whole of Rata Sum.”
“Exactly. Quite what she’ll do with the golem when she reaches the city, I’m not sure. My hypothesis is that she’ll try politics before any actual destruction. I suspect she’ll demand all krewes disband, maybe the Inquest, too. If they don’t…”
“She’ll tear Rata Sum out of the sky,” Spark finished.
“Would she really do it?” I asked.
Darr paused a moment, reaching into the inner pocket of his jacket. He pulled out a slim, leather-bound book, placing it in the middle of the table. “Whilst you were pursuing Zurra herself, I decided to personally take on the task of investigating her. Most of her former bases have been dismantled or destroyed–” He gave a nod to me. “–but I found a small hideaway just north of Rata Sum. I believe it may be the first place she holed up after leaving her original krewe.”
“What is it?” Erin asked, looking more interested than I’d seen her in days; it was easy to forget she’d been a member of the Priory before we met, and still had their avaricious love of books.
“It’s a diary,” Darr replied, fingers still on the volume, “and a very early one, when her ideas about the Syndicate weren’t fully formed. Even in those days, though, it’s possible to see where her train of thought was leading her. I believe she really will destroy Rata Sum, if that’s what it takes to effect the change she so desires. Progress cannot be put aside for any cost.”
That last sounded like a quote, and Darr tapped the diary as he said it. Finally, he picked it up, handing it to me. “I believe you should have this. You’ve tracked Zurra longer than any of us, and I believe you already know her mind, but perhaps this will help.”
Gingerly, I took the diary, expecting someone to protest – but no-one did. This, above all, had been my crusade from the beginning. That this wasn’t really about revenge any more didn’t mean I wasn’t still doing this in Flikk’s name.
“We should go to Rata Sum,” I said, my voice shaking a little, and there were nods all around the table. “Perhaps we can get the council to listen to a warning.”
“And if we can’t,” Spark added, “some of us are good at cracking heads together.”
I looked down at the diary, wondering whether I dared read it. Did I really want to know what Zurra was thinking? The biggest fear of all, of course, was that I might agree with her.
Finally, I shoved the diary into a pocket, drained my drink and stood up. My chest filled with warm relief as everyone else did the same. “To Rata Sum,” I said, hearing my words echoed right round the table.
That was the big difference between me and Zurra, I thought. Zurra had the Syndicate, a krewe, lackeys. I had friends.