"--And that's about the long and short of it."
"That wouldn't be a joke at my expense would it, dear guest?" emanated a muffled voice from the belly of a gutted, inert golem that lay flat on the workshop's center table. The workshop itself was large and relatively clean. Workbenches lined the room, covered with various tools of which Roy could not identify. The far corner was littered with beakers and vials of liquids, of which Roy knew enough to know that the incorrect mixture would annihilate the workshop, along with most of this strange city he found himself in. On the other side of the wall at his back were his companions, patiently awaiting the results of his sortie.
"It wasn't my intention, I assure you. Happy accident." Without warning, a shower of sparks lit out from inside the golem's body and Roy heard a yelp, followed by a streak of muted curses. After a moment, a figure emerged slowly from the automaton. Patches of cream-colored hair--singed in spots--became visible. The creature was an Asura--short, not reaching Roy's waist. It was further distinguished by its long rabbit-ears and bug-eyes, which were shielded by goggles especially designed for lab work. Unfortunately, Roy fashioned, the goggles did nothing to combat the very real threat of exploding golems.
"I've had about enough happy accidents for one day, of that I assure you." The Asura climbed down and out, tossing a small, pinecone-shaped device towards Roy. He caught it and studied it for a moment.
"Inhibitor. It ideally prevents catastrophic failure should the conducting crystals become damaged, or see their energies become warped."
"I gather it was the source of your malfunction?"
"You make for an excellent gatherer, Roy. You may very well make for a hunter-gatherer, even!"
"Quarlix, is that a joke at my expense? You know I'm an awful hunter." The Asura gleamed and smiled, revealing a row of shark-like teeth. Roy set the inhibitor-pinecone down on a small table (relative to his size),between a hammer and what looked like an Asuran wrench.
"What do you want from me, Roy?"
"Why does it have to be like that? Perhaps I merely want to talk to an old friend of days long gone. How's that last, deranged prototype of yours faring? What was the idea? Flying golem? How'd it go?" Roy knew full-well how the project ended. In fact, it ended as it had begun, designated to only exist as the musings of one very drunk Asura.
"I'm afraid it never got off the ground. Now, what is it you actually want?"
"I don't know myself. I know that we need to find Glayvin. He had the Grimoire last." Roy had taken some time in studying the tome before he offered it to Glayvin. The little he was capable of deciphering painted an ugly picture. Dark magics and bloody rituals. Spooky stuff, he acknowledged. And old at that. He tried not to imagine the authors of such a work.
"You don't sound too sure."
"That's because I'm not. Even with the Grimoire, I don't know what the hell I'm doing. Besides, there's no guarantee that the spell is even reversible." He chose his words with the subtle grace of a politician, implying that there was still even a minute chance of reversing the spell in the first place.
"Have you told her that?"
"Roy?" Quarlix's inquiry was not unwarranted. Despite this, Roy had told her. It was the first thing that he had done. No matter how badly he felt, this revelation could not be censured. It was a sick act of penance, a debt owed to her brother.
"Truly. I told her that even with the Grimoire, there's little chance that the aspect of Lazarus can be removed. She knows what happened to Naveed."
"And yet you dangle that wretched tome out as a carrot to a mule. How much is she paying you?"
"Not nearly enough." Talk of coin usually had the net effect of taking Roy's head out of the clouds. This instance was no different.
"Surely you have a plan of action?"
"Find him. Kill him."
"Short. Sweet. Zen. I like it."
"Thought you might."
"What is it that you need from me, Roy? I needn't remind you of the debt I owe you for that ugly business with Mallen." Broken golems and broken skulls. Though seemingly diminutive in stature, the Asuran underworld was equally as big and scummy as that of the humans. In Kaining, one must sidestep certain gangs. In Rata Sum, one must sidestep certain krewes. Turn the wrong corner in Kaining, and you might find a dagger in your belly. Turn the wrong corner in Rata Sum, and you might find your belly flayed open under the pretext of an experiment.
"When you start speaking of debts and payments, one starts to question one's friendship."
"Then perhaps I misspoke. I would be happy to help you with your latest venture, my bookah friend." Quarlix performed a mock bow with just the right amount of scorn, then sat down on a stool by the workbench. The Asura then took a small abacus into his hands and half-heartedly adjusted it.
"Thanks. Now, I doubt I need a base of operations. However, If you know where Glayvin is, or the Grimoire Arcanum, then--"
"When you come into my workshop talking about a base of operations, looking for Glayvin, you sound like your Shining Blade associates." Roy failed to see how he invoked the ideals of the onetime freedom fighters now turned royal taskforce.
"You don't know?"
"Yes, and I'm sure you're relishing this moment. Now, spill." With an air of diplomacy, the Asura took a moment to compose himself.
"You've been in Lion's Arch recently. You know the country's on fire. On one side, you have the White Mantle zealots, and on the other stands Queen Salma."
"Have you been outside lately, Roy? Look around. Even Rata Sum is well aware of this fact. The White Mantle brigands control the roads and their main forces grow daily. Meanwhile, Salma remains in Lion's Arch, biding her time against the inevitable war that will breach the walls of the city. And it will breach those walls, mark my words. Even now, Shining Blade regiments battle Mantle forces in order to tip the scales of the upcoming battle." As he often was, the Asura was right. The White Mantle, as pathetic as ever, attempted to reassert their control over Kryta. The villages that lay beyond the haven of Lion's Arch were victim to the whims of the Mantle, and travelers were being harassed in increasing numbers. Rumors spoke of open bloodshed and even wholesale slaughter on the parts of the Mantle, but this gossip was hard to authenticate. Though more importantly, it was believable. Even by Roy himself.
"So what does this war have to do with Glayvin?"
"Glayvin and a handful of Asura have found themselves conscripted into service under Queen Salma."
"The Shining Blade representative in charge certainly left the threat hanging in the air."
"Do you know who it was?"
"A female necromancer, I believe. I've acquired this information second-hand."
"Livia. What does she want? I mean, kidnapping Asura? For what? Is the Shining Blade now in the business of slaughtering innocents atop Bloodstones?" He often found himself trading one enemy for another. Better the devil you know, he rationalized.
"As I understand it, they want only their Asuran ingenuity. Additionally, the terms of their service are hardly kidnapping."
"In any case, do you know where Glayvin is being stationed? How might I reach him?"
"You'd think that a world-class adventurer such as yourself would have been approached by the Queen and offered a lucrative contract. You would think that."
"You assume I'm always itching to involve myself in troubles that aren't my own. Though, I'm sure Livia had a role in preventing my involvement."
"In a manner of speaking."
"Then, I suppose your best bet is to ask Salma yourself. But be warned, bookah. Leave your Mantle friend at the gates while you speak. You wouldn't want to send a mixed message. Also, try not to tell her that her people's troubles are not 'your own.' At least until you get in the door."
"Do I detect some verbal venom?"
"It's quite the opposite. I worry for you. Throughout all your adventures, Lion's Arch has appeared to be your only semblance of a home. Then, you go off saying that the country's problems aren't yours. Are you telling me you have no home?"
"I once heard that 'home is where you hang your hat.' I like that sentiment just fine, thank you very much."
"At least put a pin in that thought and come back to it later, Roy. In all my years, I've acquired two morsels of knowledge so universal and true that I've come to live my life by them."
"Firstly, if you don't know where you're going, Roy, you're damned to never truly go anywhere." He chewed on this thought for a moment. The golemancer was right in more ways than his impressive brain could ever comprehend.
"And the second?"
"Krallex and Sons make the best hammers on the market." The Ausra looked at him for a moment. "They pay me to say that."
"You don't have to explain yourself to me. How do you think I financed my trek through Elona? 'Granitebeard bows are the pride of the Shiverpeaks.' "
"You can hardly notch an arrow. Why would they hire you as a spokesperson?"
"That's why it's so funny!"
"Speaking of funny, you should have seen the faces of a certain pair of street merchants earlier today."
"You heard about that, eh?" Roy regretted this remark instantly. At least one hundred Asura had to have witnessed the debacle. At first he thought it a small miracle that no one was hurt, but his conscience was quickly vindicated. The magical wards in place had functioned as intended, and prevented any Asura from being harmed. However, anything in the space that was not strictly living was obliterated in the grandest way possible.
"A house materializing in the middle of a bazaar is a difficult thing to miss."
"It's technically located between two vendor stalls on the edge of town. They were not amused."
"Perhaps they should have respected the magical boundaries that I cordoned off to prevent this exact situation. I'll charge the portal and you can be back in Lion's Arch by midday."
"I'm hesitant to return. In my charge is the assassin who attempted to take the life of Confessor Isaiah himself. Can you imagine what people would think, knowing that the Queen harbored a group of war criminals?"
"It would be an act of war. The spark that finally sets off this powder keg. Make no mistake, this powder keg will go off without you, and quite soon at that. But you may be able to ... expedite matters. Why not settle this as quickly and efficiently as possible? Lure them into a total attack and crush all of their forces in one swift blow?"
"Waging war is not the same thing as ripping off a bandage, Quarlix."
"Then it is in your best interest to keep this knowledge to yourself. Stash your assassin and employer somewhere safe and avoid too much attention." Courtesy demanded a knock. Instead, the door to the workshop flung open without grace or tact, revealing the source of Roy's most recent frustrations. There stood his employer, a young woman of perpetually foul temperament.
"What is it, Elizabeth? Important enough to interrupt our pleasant conversation?" The mesmer was not one to be humored.
"You have a visitor. Bring a sword."
The machine stood before him, hulking and brutish. It was neither elegant nor crafted lovingly by the skilled hands of a master. Instead it was crude, dull, and metallic in both form and function. Giant clubs passed for arms and hung ominously at the golem's sides. The point of interest however, was the golem's chest cavity. Inside a hollowed-out space especially designed for the purpose, sat an Asura, the machine's pilot. He was smoke-colored and angry. Roy recognized the anger from earlier that day. It was the same face as the merchant's whose stall had been ignobly destroyed by the materializing of Roy's home. The machine lurched forward, spewing out the scent of grease. A space had cleared out in front of Quarlix's workshop, more than suitable were a fight to erupt. Elizabeth took care to sidestep the conflict, retreating to the edge of the clearing. Wynn remained nowhere to be seen.
"Is there something I can help you with?"
"Bah! You destroyed my shop and have the nerve to consider yourself worthy of aiding me? Bookah!"
"To be fair, you declined to respect the specified zoning that had been established. It's really not my fault."
"I have eminent domain over your petty space!"
"And how is that?"
"My affairs are far superior to yours and therefore take priority! You managed to wreck my shop in true bookah fashion. You will compensate me for my loss, with an additional sum for pain and suffering."
"I shall do no such thing. Though, I would be happy to buy you an ale. We can be laughing about this in no time."
"I reject your offer. Instead, I will have to smack you about until I feel I have sufficiently beaten you for what you owe."
"That's mighty bookah of you." At this, the Asura puffed and caused his machine to stomp forward menacingly. Roy stepped back, careful not to lose eye contact.
"Bookah? Bookah-ish? No matter. Leave at once."
"Instead, you'll receive the honor of facing me man-to-Asura. My boundless intellect to your lackluster mental failings. Prepare yourself." Operating an unseen lever, the golem sprang up, raising its club-arms in a mock boxing stance. Roy's hand was wrapped firmly on the hilt of his sword when he caught the Asura's voice. "What do you think you're doing, bookah? This is a fair fight. I've with me only what was born out of my intellect and skill. I forged my golem. You did not forge that sword. I know, I know. Don't feel bad. Let it be known that I am generous. Feel free to sharpen a stick that you may find. I'll give you exactly one minute to do so." Were the golem capable of such motion, it would have crossed its arms and turned its head away in disdain. The Asura was putting on a show now. A sizeable crowd had gathered. Most faces reflected embarrassment on the part of this unhinged golemancer. Others showed bemusement and visible interest. Others still showed anger, perhaps siding with the Asura that would surely teach an ignorant bookah a lesson.
Roy let his fingers loosen around his sword's hilt as he inched his way forward. He was looking up into the golem's chest now, face-to-face with the Asura.
"Just walk away, alright? I'm being more than generous. I won't even demand an apology." The golem lashed out violently, swinging its arm out as a tree trunk might flail in the grasp of a particularly vicious tornado.
Were Roy still in the club's path, he would surely be flying through the air with more broken bones than he could count with both hands. Instead, the arm met no resistance, slicing through the air. Roy had ducked, using his arm to push off from the golem's side. He ran backwards and planted his feet. The golem was top-heavy and slow to turn. By the time the golem turned so as to reveal the Asura's face, it was too late. The Asura hadn't even seen the complex patterns that Roy wove with his fingers. Still, this didn't make the spell any less real. Instantly, lightning erupted from his palm, tackling the metallic giant. It keeled over at once, falling limp on its back. The smell of ozone hung in the air, as the golem lay dead and smoking.
After a moment, he became aware of the crowd's murmurs. "Is he dead?" he caught from an ash-colored apprentice. Roy certainly hoped this wasn't the case. Gods help him, he liked Rata Sum. The people were quirky and interesting. Most of them were actually quite nice, once you got to know them. The last thing he needed was the charred corpse of a two-bit golemancer hanging over his head. He pressed forward to the lifeless golem with caution. Inside the metal casing lay one living Asura. His hair was covered with soot and stood on end. Furthermore, he seemed to be missing a patch or two of it on his right side. Still, he was alive. Quite so even. When he regained consciousness, he would be no worse for the wear, provided someone could fish him out of the machine in the unlikely event it caught flame. Roy took care in waving about to the crowd.
"He's fine! Are there any expert golemancers in the crowd who can crack him out of this casing?" The bait had been taken. At once, no less than fifteen Asura were upon the golem. Images of hyenas and other scavengers of carrion entered his mind. He was quite pleased with himself until he heard the voice of his companion, who until now had remained hidden.
"So, we're to return to Lion's Arch now? Unless you have more Asura you feel the need to rough up." Elizabeth turned her gaze to the frenzy and studied it for a moment. Wynn had emerged from whatever hole he had been hiding in, and appeared to entertain himself by fiddling with some scrap he had procured from the fight.
"I've reached my quota for the day. And, yes, I will return to Lion's Arch. I intend to ask Salma for a few favors. In the meantime, I think you and Wynn should remain here."
"That's not possible."
"It's very possible. You'll stay with our most gracious host, Quarlix." Wynn's ears pricked up. "But on the condition that Wynn not be allowed to touch anything." The assassin's face grew sullen and he looked downwards.
"If there's any chance of settling this matter, Roy, it's going to be in Lion's Arch. Quarlix informed me about Glayvin. And, if nothing else, gaining Lazarus's attention will be easier in Lion's Arch."
"If we gain his attention, Elizabeth, people will die. We're keeping this fight as far away from civilians as possible."
"Understand that if we're able to take down Lazarus directly, we may very well end this war in Kryta before the bloodshed reaches its peak. Gaining his attention will paint a target on the back of Lion's Arch, sure, but think about all the lives we might save if we end this. And even then, Lion's Arch is already destined for an upcoming battle. Why not make it the first and last?"
"You sound like Quarlix."
"Is that a good thing?"
"No." If the mesmer was affected by the ultimatum, her features did not betray this. "I make for Lion's Arch alone."
The sun was high in the sky. Somewhere in Kryta, dark forces were amassing in number. Before this day was done, he might very well cut down most of those forces. What a lovely day for a fight, he fashioned.