It’s not often that asura are lost for words, myself included. In fact, faced by Spark, Weir, and most importantly Souleater, I very much wanted to summon a witty retort. Instead, I could only stare, fear and anger warring in my chest. I’d seen what Souleater could do; once had been enough. Worse, I’d genuinely thought Spark might have changed, might have learnt from her mistakes. Seeing such evidence to the contrary was a veritable punch to the gut.
“What,” I finally managed, “are you going to do with that?”
Spark reached into the case, putting a hand on the weapon almost lovingly. “I wondered what you’d done with this.”
Belatedly, the pieces slotted together in my head. I’d ended up with much of Spark’s equipment, hadn’t I? After her failed attempt at a second Searing, I’d shipped it here to Rata Sum – to what I’d assumed would be the safety of Flikk’s lab. Being back there had been so overwhelming that I’d never even noticed Spark’s gear was present. She, on the other hand, clearly had; I felt a little bit sick to think Souleater had been under my nose all this time.
“I’ve spent weeks thinking about the modifications I could make to this,” Spark said. She tapped the rifle’s barrel. “Your old lab is full of all sorts of interesting gadgets.”
I felt even worse to realise that, all the time I’d been dealing with Erin and Ivar, trying to keep my people safe, Spark had been down there… tinkering.
I took a deep breath. “Spark. I’m only going to ask once. Close that case, give it here, and let’s forget that thing ever existed.”
Spark looked up sharply, the tips of her canines showing. “I can end this, Amber. I can kill Zurra, here and now. After that, Souleater’s all yours.”
For half a heartbeat, I understood the power her creations had over Spark – because I was tempted, too. It was impossible not to be. I knew what a genius Spark was when it came to weaponry, to anything that could cause devastation. What if this wasn’t just bravado? What if she really could kill Zurra, just like that, and end our months of struggle?
“You’ve never suggested this before,” I said cautiously.
Spark shrugged in a creak of leather. “Honestly, I never cared much about Zurra before. She was a means to an end.”
That ‘end’ being tagging along with me – and finding a way to make me help with Souleater’s creation, of course.
“After Blaise, though, when I started thinking clearly again, I saw what you can see,” Spark went on. “How dangerous the Syndicate are. How Zurra needs to be stopped. Besides, your lab really is a fascinating place. Even Souleater wouldn’t have been capable of penetrating that golem before.”
I looked up, involuntarily, at the colossus. From here, we had a clear view of it, its gleaming metal sides, so sheer they could have been coated in glass. Zurra was inside that thing, somewhere, biding her time.
“She’s out of range, and behind who knows how many layers of reinforced metal,” I pointed out.
“Doesn’t matter,” Spark said, patting Souleater. “With these modifications, I can obliterate any living thing inside the golem with a single shot; distance and shielding make no difference. It won’t even damage the golem itself. You could take it afterwards, make sure Flikk’s research is finally put to the use he intended it for.”
It was a low blow, mentioning Flikk, and my ears twitched in irritation. I was trying not to show how rattled Spark had got me, too. It wasn’t just Souleater’s power, which had always been unsettling – it was the way the charr used words like ‘obliterate’ so casually, as if it hadn’t occurred to her what else she was implying.
“What about everyone else inside?” I demanded. “You can’t target Zurra alone, can you? And what if that thing malfunctions and blows us all up?”
“It won’t malfunction,” Spark growled. “And what do you care for the Inquest, or the Syndicate, or whatever they’re calling themselves? Why not burn them all together and be done with it?”
I didn’t immediately reply. I had nothing against killing Inquest, but that was usually because they were in the middle of trying to kill me. Slaughtering them in cold blood, without warning, seemed a step too far, even with the colossus hovering over us. How many of them really wanted to be in there? How many had been brainwashed by Inquest lies?
And if Spark fired at the golem, wiping out all trace of life inside… what about Vonn? Which would Flikk have most desired to protect: his inventions, or his son?
I struggled for words, and realised Weir was staring down at the crouched Spark, striped face pulled into a grimace. He’d been loyal to Spark all this time, so incredibly loyal, and yet I sensed Blaise’s death had almost been too much even for him. What was he thinking now?
Spark straightened, this time with Souleater in her hands. She tapped her claws against the barrel, then lifted it to eye level, apparently making last minute adjustments.
“You’ve already said this isn’t your fight,” I said. “But it’s always been mine, and I’m asking you not to do this.”
Spark shook her head. “You’re soft, Amber. This might be your fight, but you’ve never known how to end it. Think of all the suffering you could have prevented if you’d taken Zurra out earlier.”
That was almost laughable, coming from Spark; who was she to talk about suffering? “I’ve made some hard choices,” I replied, “and I keep making them, over and over again. And I’m asking you – begging you – not to fire that weapon.”
For the first time, Spark looked at me properly. I could see the calculations she was making, but they weren’t the ones I’d hoped for. She wasn’t contemplating whether ending this fight was worth destroying countless other lives, and taking our friendship with it.
No, she was deciding whether she could fire Souleater, and make the shot accurate enough to count, before I attacked.
I was already reaching for my daggers, and bemoaning the fact that I’d left my pistols in the lab. Still, I wouldn’t need them, not in such close confines. Spark might have Souleater in her hands, but I was fairly certain it needed time to power up, and she’d want to be very careful about her aim besides. All I had to do was shadowstep, dart past the open case, perhaps launch myself off the rear balcony wall–
A fresh growl jolted me out of my calculations, and I realised I’d already been stepping towards Spark. The warning hadn’t come from her, though, and she wasn’t the one with a mace pointed in my direction.
“Don’t come any closer,” Weir said, waggling the mace for emphasis.
My heart sank. How could he defend Spark, after all this time, and when it was so clear what she was about to do?
“Weir, please–” I began, but his expression cut me off. There was a hard cast to his jaw, as though he was steeling himself – but it was there, I thought, to mask his indecision.
I held up a hand, aware that Spark was making her adjustments to Souleater all the time. “Weir, listen to me. You can’t let her do this.”
Weir growled again, but Spark just laughed. “Are you really going to order Lightpaw around, now of all times? You don’t know the first thing about him.”
I didn’t, or certainly not as much as I wished I did. Weir had always been so close-mouthed, so loyal to Spark, that it was difficult to get close to him at all. “I do,” I said, regardless. “I know he was Vigil, once upon a time. And I know he was better friends with Blaise than any of the rest of us.”
That was my own low blow, calling to mind Spark’s previous failings, but I was running out of options. I was guessing, too, mostly about Weir being Vigil, but I knew at once that I’d guessed correctly on both counts. Although Spark couldn’t see it, his mace was beginning to waver, the indecision becoming clearer with every passing second.
“You can’t let her do this,” I implored. This had nothing to do with the Inquest, nor with Zurra, and Weir could see that. “Spark might be your commander, but she’s also your friend.”
There was ruthlessness on the battlefield, after all, and then there was what Spark now proposed. If she fired that weapon, I didn’t think the Inquest would be the only ones to lose their souls.
Slowly, so slowly, Weir lowered his mace. “Spark,” he began, his voice a low rumble. I felt my breath catch, waiting for his next words, for the decision he was about to make. “Put your weapon down – or I’ll make you.”