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May 08

Chapter 7: Part 18 – The Belly of the Beast

Chapter 7: Part 17 - A Last Stand
Chapter 7: Part 19 - Freedom

I reached the colossus with only three things in my possession. The first was the T.A.F.D.A. targeting module, the one that would hopefully bring down the golem. Second was the half of Lumm’s portable gate gun that would, in theory, allow me to escape the destruction I was about to create. And third, if you’ll forgive me for referring to them in the singular, was my collection of weapons. What more could I need?

The goggles, I lost somewhere in transit. Lumm had insisted I wear them, but by the time I exited the portable gate, they’d somehow disappeared. I didn’t have time to wonder whether I would have had my eyes sucked out of my head if I hadn’t been wearing them, because it appeared Lumm’s targeting with the gate had been a little off. By the time I got my bearings, I was soaring through the air, wind streaming past me, and the side of the colossus looming before me like a vast, gleaming cliff.

I had very little choice but to slam into the thing at high speed and hope to cling on. The move knocked all the air out of me, but at least Lumm’s targeting had been accurate in one respect: I was only a few feet above the golem’s knee joint, and when I slid, I landed on a ledge between two armoured plates.

I clung there for a moment, fingers hooked into the tiniest crevice, and made a quick inventory of my weapons. All were still in place, and crucially, so was my ticket off the golem. All I had to do now was–

The colossus gave a lurch, nearly flinging me off into space. In the panic of trying to recruit Motti, I’d failed to consider one vital piece of information. T.A.F.D.A. was no longer holding the golem in place – which meant it was now able to move.

Another lurch, and I realised the leg I was balanced on was about to lift. Not only that, but the crevice I’d wedged myself into was part of the golem’s knee mechanism – which meant it was likely to open wide, and then, quite possibly, to snap shut tighter than before. Suddenly, falling to my death seemed almost preferable.

I pulled the targeting module from my pocket, fingers wrapped so tightly around it that it left lines on my palm. Lumm had got me where I needed to go. The golem’s knee was the weakest spot I was going to get. Finally, I had a chance to bring this monstrosity down.

With a flick of my hand, I snapped the module onto the side of the colossus, where it stuck like a particularly stubborn barnacle. Motti’s design was perfect; nothing would dislodge the thing now. By the time I clicked the module on, and felt the faint vibration of its power cells igniting, I was grinning.

Three lights flashed across the module in quick succession. Red. Orange. Green. Targeting engaged.

My smile faded. Targeting engaged – and I was still on the golem.

I began to swear under my breath. It wasn’t as simple as using the reverse function on the portable gate and zapping myself back to Rata Sum. Inquest or not, I wanted to give the asura aboard a chance to escape – and then there was Zurra. I wasn’t going anywhere without her, not this time.

I tilted back a little, surveying the smooth flank of the golem. I had to find a way up there, and then a way in. And I had to do it fast. It was becoming clear to me that Motti hadn’t considered my need to escape once I’d planted the targeting module – distantly, I could hear the whine of T.A.F.D.A., followed by the low detonations as it began to fire. I was about to be blown to pieces.

Without stopping to think about my predicament – or whether this was going to work – I began shadowstepping up the golem’s leg. Between the steep incline and the glossy surface, every jump was like clawing my way through mud, my feet slipping, my ears half deafened by the wind, my eyes streaming. No time to lament the loss of my goggles – T.A.F.D.A.’s missiles were here.

I don’t honestly remember the moment they hit. The low roar of the missiles filled my ears, until all the world seemed to judder and shake – and the next thing I knew, I was sliding back down the golem’s leg, all my hard-fought shadowstepping for nothing.

I grabbed at the golem, trying to slow myself, without much success. My ears were ringing, and below me, there was a mass of smoke and glowing metal. Not only that, but the colossus had stopped moving and was beginning to lean. T.A.F.D.A.’s hit had been a success.

That would be only small comfort, though, if I slid off the edge and plummeted to my death.

I couldn’t see what I was heading towards. Smoke obscured everything, making my eyes sting, but I could feel the heat of the blast, the metal hot enough to sear the skin from my bones. I could picture the devastation well enough, though – and that gave me an idea.

It was an exceptionally terrible idea, it has to be said, but I couldn’t see an alternative other than to retreat, and I wasn’t about to do that. This was my last stand, my last chance to catch Zurra, and I wasn’t going to abandon it.

I wasn’t going to be shredded by burning metal, either, which meant I had to do something, and fast.

I shadowstepped, not even at the last minute, because I couldn’t gauge where the destruction begin. I shadowstepped, out into empty air, again, and again, steering myself by increments towards the place where I’d previously stood. T.A.F.D.A. had to have struck the site of the targeting module, which meant if the missiles had managed to blow a hole into the interior of the golem, it would be there.

Or maybe there wouldn’t be a hole, and I’d shadowstep right into a mess of twisted metal, skewering myself on the remains. At this juncture, I thought the likelihood was close to fifty-fifty, which sounded like the best odds I was going to get.

I landed heavily, before I’d thought it possible, all my senses reeling as I tried to piece together where I stood. Rough metal beneath my feet. Scorching heat on all sides. Shelter from the relentless wind. And, faintly, the creaking of damaged metal all around me.

Finally, the smoke cleared. I had landed, fortuitously, on one of the golem’s interior walkways, exposed by the blast. A dark hole lay before me, a ladder leading both up and down the leg of the colossus. Even more crucially, I realised both walkway and ladders were leaning. The golem was tilted sideways, ground to a halt, perhaps irreparably damaged. T.A.F.D.A. had done it.

I didn’t wait to survey the situation further. A slight lean now might lead to a catastrophic collapse in the near future. Indeed, by the time I started my climb, reasoning Zurra would be somewhere inside the belly of the beast, it became clear that the entire golem was failing. Metal screeched and groaned on all sides, and with each passing minute, the colossus leaned a little further forwards. It was in danger of toppling onto its face; I only hoped we’d stopped it far enough away from Rata Sum, or it would end up crushing the city despite our best intentions.

The interior of the golem had reached a pleasing state of chaos, at least. There weren’t many Syndicate krewe aboard, but every one of them was panicking. No-one seemed to know where or by what the colossus had been hit, or if they did, they didn’t care. I gathered, from their shouts and frenzied running, that they were preparing to flee.

I reached a wider corridor, lit by flashing indigo lights. It led into darkness in either direction, but by now I could hear a hum that could only be the golem’s power source. I had to be close to the centre – and, by extension, Zurra.

I was halfway along the corridor when the golem lurched, flinging me into the wall. At first I thought the colossus was about to take another step, but when we came to a halt, it was at an even more precipitous angle than before. We were, indeed, toppling forwards, the whole golem on the verge of crashing to the ground. If I was going to get out of here, I needed to do it fast.

But not without Zurra. She had to be nearby. I’d walked through fire and death to get here, crossing half of Tyria. Leaving without her wasn’t an option.

And then, finally, I reached the control room. Not in the golem’s head, but deep in its chest, a spherical room lined with consoles – and with a single, occupied chair in the centre.

Zurra didn’t immediately react at the sight of me. She had to have known who’d laid the golem low; perhaps she’d been expecting to see me ever since the blast.

“We need to leave,” I said. I wanted to grind my teeth at having to offer her aid, but at least I’d been the one to cause the destruction. Besides, if Zurra came willingly back to Rata Sum, I wouldn’t complain.

Zurra, though, didn’t move. “The greatest creation in Tyria, and you had to destroy it out of spite.”

“Spite?” I replied, before I could stop myself. “Is that what you think this is?” I bit my tongue before I could add that I hardly thought the colossus the ‘greatest creation’ in Tyria – we were standing next to Rata Sum, after all – because I’d only make things worse.

“You saw something magnificent, and because I was the one who created it, you wanted to destroy it,” Zurra said, as if that was all there was to it. “Spite.”

I shook my head, stumbling as the golem lurched again. Behind me, steam escaped with a whoosh. “I’m not here to argue with you. We need to leave.”

“Leave?” Zurra gave a broken laugh. “All the escape pods are gone with the rest of the krewe. Sorry, Amber, but if my golem is going down, you’re going down with it. We both are.”

I inched forwards, trying to make it look as though I was regaining my balance. One hand was in my pocket, on Lumm’s return device, ready to zap me back the way I’d come – and anything I chose to bring with me. Zurra, though, wasn’t going to give up easily. If I couldn’t convince her outright, maybe I could use trickery–

Abruptly, Zurra got to her feet. She’d been resigned before; now, I could see she was angry. “How could you do this?” she hissed. “You knew the world I wanted to create. Why have you felt the need to thwart me at every turn?”

Did she really not understand? I wondered. The Syndicate’s vision of this new world was one without Flikk, without Rata Sum, without anyone who opposed them – and Zurra still thought I was being petty?

The golem shifted, and this time, I knew we were mere minutes away from crashing to the ground. Besides, I’d had enough of Zurra’s self-pity.

“We’re getting out of here,” I snapped, grabbing at Zurra’s outstretched hand – a hand that I realised too late was holding a gun. I wasn’t about to back out, though, not even with a pistol pointing at my stomach. With one hand firmly on Zurra, I hit the return switch on Lumm’s device.

The world around us began to dissolve, the golem sliding sideways in slow motion, beginning its final descent to the ground. Within it, Zurra and I were a fixed point, wrapped in silence and stillness, my hand still on hers, locked together for what felt like an eternity.

And in the silence, Zurra fired.

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Chapter 7: Part 17 - A Last Stand
Chapter 7: Part 19 - Freedom
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