You would expect, in any normal circumstances, for a city being targeted by a giant golem to be one quickly swamped by panic. How could such a creation, after all, arriving without warning, be anything other than a threat? Any other race, I think, would see it as exactly that – but asura, being what we are, are nothing without our curiosity. Zurra’s golem was coming, and most of Rata Sum wanted to know why.
I heard the mutterings and heated arguments as we made our way back up through the city. Who could have conceived of such a thing? Who even had a lab big enough? How could anyone have secured the funding to build it? What was it for? My companions, I could see, were ready to shake some sense into many of the perplexed asura we passed, but I knew better. The golem could start tearing Rata Sum from the sky, and there’d still be some of my people trying to get close enough to see what weaponry it had been equipped with.
At least there could be no doubt of what was approaching. Even at a distance, the golem was eminently visible, and every eye in the city was turned its way. The Creator’s Commons, when we reached it, was packed with onlookers, every high ledge thick with progeny climbing up to get a better look.
“Zurra could squash them all flat before they even knew what was coming,” Spark growled. “How do we get them to take cover?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure we can. Can you blame them? We’ve never seen anything like this before. Who’s to say it isn’t just a krewe bringing their work here to show off?”
Spark grunted. “That’s one way of putting it.”
We eased our way into the crowd, my larger companions doing their best not to tread on any toes. Peacemakers and their golems were milling around the edges of the plaza, but they too seemed consumed by curiosity, and they seemed to have decided there was little they could do. Indeed, there was something of a carnival atmosphere about the place. Food stalls had popped up in the most unlikely of places, along with one enterprising merchant who must have had a warehouse full of golem toys, and had decided now was the perfect time to sell them.
“There must be a way to warn them,” Caolinn said, gently pushing past two asura deep in argument over which college had been involved in the golem’s construction.
“They’ll get their warning when T.A.F.D.A. starts firing,” Spark said, and whilst I knew she meant it to sound ominous, I couldn’t hide my relief. At least we’d made sure Rata Sum had some defence against Zurra, whether anyone else was prepared or not.
“But the Arcane Council,” Caolinn said. “Surely they’d listen to us now?”
She was cut off by a fresh influx of onlookers, these ones wearing council robes. Caolinn watched them go by and gave a despairing sigh.
“Looks like we’re on our own,” Erin said, casually stepping into the wake of the councillors and drawing the rest of us after her. I would have told her to leave them be, except there was a very good reason to follow; anywhere the councillors ended up would have the best view of the golem and, eventually, Zurra.
We were halfway across the Commons when a fresh thought occurred to me. “Do you think Zurra’s carrying all her troops inside the golem? She can’t be planning to attack Rata Sum without back-up.”
There was a moment’s silence as we all pondered that – and then the shooting began.
I dived for cover without really thinking about it, and it was a good thing I did. It wasn’t, at least at first, the shots that were the problem, but the sheer pandemonium that broke out. There were a few screams, many more wails of shock, and then the Commons shook to the sound of a thousand retreating feet.
I was crouched behind a dormant golem, and turned to find Erin beside me. “At least a stampeding horde of asura aren’t likely to crush us to death,” she said.
I glared at her. “Speak for yourself.”
There were shouts, asura voices all, and a few more shots, but I quickly realised something was missing. There’s a very definite aura of sound that develops over a battlefield, one that can only be associated with pain and death – and I wasn’t hearing it.
I levered myself upright. Erin started to drag me back down, but I gestured for her to wait, and as the shouts and thundering footsteps died away, her eyes widened. “I never knew the Inquest were so benevolent.”
I wanted to argue that the Inquest wouldn’t kill their own kind if they didn’t need to, but where Zurra was concerned, I wasn’t convinced. If her golem really was intended to drag Rata Sum to earth, she’d cause a lot more death than a few rifles ever could. This… this was something else.
I steeled myself and finally stepped out from the shadow of the golem, already poised to shadowstep away if more shots were fired. The Commons, though, lay under an eerie silence, onlookers, councillors and Peacemakers alike all vanished. Only battered stalls, dropped food, and one or two smashed golem toys remained.
I took a step forward. “Hello?”
And someone, across the Commons, started clapping.
My jaw dropped as a figure came striding through the detritus, a rifle slung over his shoulder. “Darr?”
He was still clapping, and grinning at me, looking more and more pleased with himself as my outrage grew. “I should have known, if there was someone left standing, it’d be you,” he said.
“What…” I struggled for words. “What are you doing here? With guns?”
He wasn’t alone, either. At least a dozen figures were gathered around the asura gate to Lion’s Arch, and more were piling through all the time. Darr made a vague gesture. “The guns are for Zurra, of course. What warmer welcome can we provide than a hail of bullets?”
I couldn’t argue with that, but… “Who are all this people? And why were you firing?”
Darr was still grinning. “I know you’ve always assumed my organisation was nothing more than me and a cave, Amber, but I have considerable resources to draw upon when I see fit. These are my… soldiers, you might say.”
I peered over Darr’s shoulder. His ‘soldiers’ were a motley collection, mainly asura, but peppered with members of every other race, and dressed in the sort of mismatched armour that suggested they were all hired guns. “They’re mercenaries?”
Darr shrugged. “Some of them. Many of them, in fact, although they’re working for me out of loyalty, not for pay. They have as much interest in seeing Tyria secured as the rest of us.”
“And the firing?” I pressed.
“How else were we to clear the plaza?”
I gaped at Darr in disbelief. “That was just to get people to move away?”
Another shrug. “Zurra grows ever closer. People need to take shelter, now rather than later. How would you have accomplished it?”
I didn’t have an answer to that, although I liked to think it wouldn’t have involved scaring half of Rata Sum out of their wits. Honestly, though, it seemed like something of a moot point. The Creator’s Commons were empty, the inhabitants of Rata Sum vanished into the depths – and we, finally, had room to work.
“Fine,” I grumbled. “Just warn me before you do something like that next time, yes?”
“And miss your delightful expression of extreme consternation? Where would be the fun in that?” Darr didn’t wait for my reply. “Well, now that I’m here, shall I take a guess at our current situation? Hmm, let’s see: you’ve had no luck with the Arcane Council, but you’ve devised some ingenious plan of your own. Am I close?”
I scowled, irritated by just how ‘close’ Darr was. My spirits lifted, though, when I thought of T.A.F.D.A. “We can’t take too much credit for the plan, actually, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good one.”
I must have been looking particularly gleeful, because Darr’s eyes widened. “Does it involve blowing things out of the sky, perchance?”
“That’s an excellent guess. Yes, it does.” At least, I hoped that was what T.A.F.D.A. would achieve. “Are your mercenaries ready to fight?”
Darr shrugged. “They’re mercenaries. What do you think?”
Anticipation was building up, a cold fire in my chest. We had technology. We had something approaching an army. We had the finest warriors outside of Destiny’s Edge – or the finest ones who’d fight alongside me, anyway, and definitely the most loyal. For the first time, I had the feeling that, when Zurra arrived, we’d be ready.