serce2

Maschinengeist

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3455 stepped back from the dead Ashala'Nu. Now that their Order has been fulfilled, pain coursed back reminding them that they were in a critical state. Coal littered the torn-up street. Ironic, how fuel was now the least of their worries, yet their estimated time remaining stayed the same. Less than six hours at most. 

 

"How far is the Lindor settlement?" They asked of Fifi. Static faded in and out. Specks filled their sight, now without any color or fine detail. Their computer must have sustained at least some sort of corruption, as hard as they tried to protect it. Not irreparable. But they had to be careful with new information for the time being, to prevent key files from being overwritten.

 

"Roughly one hundred and forty-three miles. Three hours assuming a pace of 50mph. Can you keep that up?" Fifi said. She didn't seem particularly disturbed by the Starling's injuries, her tone implying impatience. She blinked between glows, in what the Starling could only assume was flashes of green and blue. Her cycling became slower than during the battle- perhaps one flash a minute.

 

I'll do 40. Leeway of two hours. They felt too light without the rest of their cars balancing them out. Only three and a half remained, with two completely leveled while the remaining one had a gaping hole. The Starling grabbed a remainder of one of their arms in their jaw and stored it away. "Grab every piece of scrap metal you can find. Patch up what you can. We're getting to safety."

 

They couldn't hold themselves upright anymore, with their imbalance. Once again, Fifi had to be their navigator. 

 

----------------------------------------------------------------

 

The helmet was oddly silent. Joanna had expected some sort of, It's over now, but no answers aside from an eerie ringing noise. There were no induced emotions influencing her. The controller could read her thoughts, right? That's how he could communicate? Or maybe that was the limit of what he could do- perhaps he was relying on spoken word. 

 

"Hello? Is everything over?" She said slowly. Aaron was running up to her, whistling as he surveyed the scene.

 

He looked at her as if she was crazy. "You alright? That dragon thing didn't knock you up? I mean, you have that helmet keeping you safe, but."

 

Joanna just shook her head. In the few minutes she exchanged snippets with the Voice, she grew dependent on his information. Without it, she felt insecure without knowing what was ahead or if 3455 was going to make it. She let herself be dragged along by Aaron and placed on top of the train's most usable car. Hunger faintly grumbled, but at this point she didn't care to feel it.

 

I came out completely okay. Even Aaron had faint scratches from where crumbling stone fell. Fifi's gears were dented from ricocheting bullets. Dead bodies littered all around, and any other guards disappeared without a word. Nel and the Starling went without mention. 5A and Eon were perhaps also pristine, but Joanna remembered the Lindor girl rocking back and forth. 

 

Somehow, Joanna didn't feel panicked or stressed. It may have been the helmet keeping her level-headed during the fight, but even without it- she set it down close to herself- she still felt the same. Empty.

 

"Let's discuss what just happened. What led up to this." This was the first thing the CP Party taught her when dealing with governmental affairs. Derive the factors and apply them. "What could happen next."

 

Aaron shrugged, quickly admitting that he knew nothing about the dictatorship. A silence followed, with Joanna regretting her proposal, before Fifi spoke up. "Katherine severely underestimated the progress of the US Dictatorship. They know about the Lindor. The machines, the disappearances... 3455. Under any other circumstances, I would have kept this a secret for leverage, but Fazlur Manko went missing. He was last seen three years ago in the City of Chicago."

 

If the Starling felt angry at all, they didn't show it. They did, however, perk themselves up just a little. "And I too, would have kept this a secret. Before we met again, I ran into a human outpost on my way to New York. They were building satellites. I don't know why. Machines were guarding the settlement. Airplanes. Trains just like me. They didn't care who they were serving. They attacked me." They put extra effort into making their voice pronounceable, going over every syllable at a time.

 

"And I..." Joanna faltered. Nel would slice the helmet in half if he knew what it was, and she really wanted to show it to Katherine. "I don't know much, just that this isn't normal human behavior. Humans alone can't hold up this kind of conspiracy. We're terrible at secrets."

 

The helmet gleamed in the sunlight. 

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The process would take a few hours, and Nel knew it. But he would do it anyway. Time was not of importance - according to 5A. 

There was a ruffle in his clothing as he removed the robe he normally adorned, tying his cloak around his waist and binding his hair up higher and more compact. He then proceeded to look around the area, searching for useable parts. It was almost Lindor instinct. They could see what could be used and what shouldn't be. He reached into the piles of gears and wires for thirty minutes, scavenging for several things around that looked useful. Gears. Widgets. Wires that were untouched. Metal plates. Rims.

He polished them down and then turned to the Starling, nodding.

"This will take perhaps a few hours at most. I hope you are Vaye. Patient."

He then began to work on the Starling's body, using tools he had been keeping in a pouch at his side for his own sword's maintenance. He'd never worked on a construct this large but all machines had the same necessary parts when it came down to it. The Starling, thankfully, had not lost its mind or heart. As he worked, Eon stood by herself for a moment, hesitating.

"You wish to inquire of him what he is working on?" Sal asked, currently laying down in the warm sun. It was quite idyllic, really. Reinforcements were probably on their way. Thankfully, the guards who had earlier been fighting Ashala'Nu had suddenly fainted upon its defeat, as though a mass order of rest had been given. Either way, the work was unhindered. But Nel kept his sword moving around the campsite, observing for any possible dangers. 5A's sensors were reading nothing so far.

"...I do." Eon nodded, gripping her robe. 

"Then go and ask him." 5A shrugged from his position. Eon turned to him, then back to Nel, who was currently inside of the Starling's engine room.

She entered and found him shoving something into the coal department while checking a few gauges. 

"What... Um..." Eon began, trying to find words. "What are you doing?"

"I'm using the technology from Ashala'Nu as a gift to our train friend." Nel replied, rubbing his chin. "Why do you ask?"

"..." 

She fidgeted for a moment.

"For simple small talk?" Nel asked, smiling lightly. "I'm sorry if I may not make the best of conversation partners."

"N-no!" Eon shook her head, taking a seat on a rest bench made for those who shoveled coal - if indeed they ever had on this train. "I....I just wish to know more about our people, about what we do... about what you do."

"I.. I see." Nel replied uneasily. But he began to understand her point of view. He had lived his whole life among his people. She seemed to have forgotten every bit of her own. 
"Well, we're natural engineers, for certain." Nel went back to what he was doing, plugging something into the wall of the Starling's power bay. "For example, we notice how things may be improved or why something works the way it does. Such as my sword."

"We all do?"
"As far as I know. Why, do you not feel you do?"

"....I don't seem to." Eon pulled her legs to herself, uncomfortable.

"My apologies. Perhaps it's just hidden!" Nel quickly said, holding out his hands. "You could have it and could regain it with more of your memories! I'm sure of it."

"...If you say so." Eon frowned a bit, uncertain.

"I'm sure of it!" he repeated, and then pressed a few buttons on something he had built.

Immediately, the machine flared to life. A heatwave flared through the room and Nel shielded his eyes as a pool of magma formed within the coal pile, bringing no harm to the metal around it but providing the heat energy the coal would have done. He checked a few numbers, then frowned.

"...Too much. Let's see..." Nel whispered, pressing a few keys. The dials began to move a bit. He then looked a bit frustrated.

"Too little. The water needs 870000 Kilojoules.... for such a large construct..." Nel frowned, pressing a few more buttons.

Another blast of heat. Nel moved back a bit as the dials went to the center and heat began to circulate into the room. He rubbed his forehead, pleased.

"Perfect!" Nel gave himself a thumbs up as Eon blinked.

"...Hot." she muttered, lifting up her robe a bit.

Nel was now the one to blink. Under her robes from what he could see were thin linens with a bit of padding in her vital places... but some of it was torn and slashed, as if by a machine or bladed weapon. His curiosity about this girl was growing. But he wouldn't ask her for now. He walked over to her and took her hand, bowing.

"We can leave now. The Starling should be pleased." 

They stepped out of the train and Nel turned, proud of himself as he gestured to her and 5A.

The Starling was almost mint condition, if not mint. The hole in the side of one of the cars had been repaired with plates of metal from Ashala'Nu's back. Metal had been polished to a gleam, shining in the afternoon sun. The train had been outfitted with bladed sides and a spiked front, but it looked like they were also made with the technology Ashala had used to heat up its body. Ashala's wings had been tightened and tied to the Starling's body, welded and forged as though originally part of its body. Nel crossed his arms, pleased. All in, the train had been amplified to strengthen its defensive and mobility traits. Even the bladed tail of Ashala'Nu was hung from its backside. But one thing troubled Nel.

In all of that scrap and metal - he hadn't found Shul's body. However, for some reason, he felt that was to be expected. Their kind were good at escaping and hiding away. However... had he told Eon and the others? No. There was no reason to trouble them in this time of ease.

"....Would you mind giving me some upgrades like that?" 5A asked, looking at Nel.

"...I mean, the magma technology is quite easy to apply once you know how it works..."

He shrugged, then began to work on Sal's claws. Eon just stood and watched in fascination.

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((Official announcement: Ravencrime has dropped out due to IRL reasons.))

 

3455 shifted their weight on to their haunches. Pain no longer coursed through their wires, and no dire warnings chirped to them. Pixels still popped in and out, but without having to focus on surviving, their computer could compensate. Total mobility was back, complete with quite a lot of energy in their reserves. Whatever energy system Shul's monster used to fuel itself rang up to at least a years worth of running, according to the Starling's gauges.

 

They resembled a war train more than a steam locomotive now. Their black paint transitioned to the fused steel of wings, and a new tail hung loosely. While wires ran down to it, the Starling had no directory in their systems on how to control their new appendage. For now, it simply was an adornment. 

 

Only their head and upper chest, their most sensitive areas, remained untouched by both the battle and Nel's repairing. 3455 had snarled when the Lindor tried. No one was going to touch the equivalent of their mind, not until it's corrupted beyond all sense of self. A few glitches in the senses here and there were of no concern.

 

"I look like an airplane." They grumbled, flicking one of their cars lightly. A hollow echo resounded. They weren't ungrateful to Nel, not when cool new fighting opportunities opened up, but did Shul's beast really have to fly? 

 

Fifi poked out from their first car. Neither Joanna nor Aaron followed suit, likely napping. "Why do you trains even have such a problem with them anyways?"

 

"They're entitled, elitist, and suck-ups." 3455 said, spitting out each word. "Conformists, pretentious. Cowardly."

 

"That's a good thing." She murmured. 

 

Nel was beginning work on 5A's claws. The Starling watched them idly before realizing how much time had flown by. They imposed themselves above the duo, blocking out the setting sun. A mass of gray clouds started to roll in from the north, which according to Fifi was full of snow. "I have a contract to fulfill. You can work on Sal while we head on to Fifi's village."

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Nel had known why the Starling had not wanted its computer touched. Even with their own soul, there were ways to alter the minds of Machinengeists if one could touch their main directories. It was the machine equivalent of brainwashing. But still...

He finished sharpening and altering 5A's claws and stood back to his full height. He then proceeded to turn back to Eon, wiping himself off.

"...You ready?"

"Of course." she bowed, hands fidgeting. "But a bit nervous."

"It will be fine." he assured her, patting her shoulder as he passed her. He did not notice her flinch, nor did he notice her face slightly redden. But for some reason, he felt he had done something good. 5A noted this, smirking under his jaw metal.

He helped her into the Starling's back, into the fortified cars, and then turned back to the wreckage of the city. But this part of the city was apparently abandoned besides those who worked within the forge. As they entered the train, he realized no one may come out here for days.

Humans... didn't care.

He sat down on the train seat, but Eon huffed and then proceeded to sit in his lap. Nel looked absolutely shocked.

"...E-EON?" he asked, confused.

"You caused this! Y-You.... I'm... I'm anxious and I need to be held!" Eon stated firmly, crossing her arms. 5A began to laugh.

"I forgot to tell you she's capricious when she wants to be." he mentioned, jumping into the train car.

"What the devil? What did I do? Eon you're kind of... h... You're not really... Actually you're surprisingly light."

There was a pause, and then he sighed.

"Fine... if it makes you happy."

"...Thank you." Eon replied, leaning back against him. Even on his lap, she was still a bit shorter than him. Her head only extended slightly past his chin. 

 

They were ready to disembark.

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3455 patiently waited, despite having to for a few hours, while their passengers finally boarded. Some sort of discussion went on in their cars, but they didn't care to listen. Lindor drama was boring. Fifi was back on their shoulders, calculating drive time and miles and the phase of moon among other things.

 

Snow rushed down as they left the city, blanketing everything in a soft white. No humans were around to see them, but they still took caution. Odd... Aside from the forge, the occasional flesh-colored blob in the distance, there was no sign of life. Not even mechanical. The skyline looked hollow, and nothing clattered on tracks for miles around. Aside from Ashala'nu, nothing flew by overhead. It was like the city was meant to be simply thrown away.

 

It contrasted so vividly with their time in New York. Though it was before machines had gotten the desperate call to animation, the Starling remembered that life well. They, and the others, were more constrained back then and their senses were dulled, but they lived. Humans would mill about every corner. The weirdest things would happen- some bad, some good. Suicides. Love confessions. Children trying to clamber on top of their cars. Once in a while, a Lindor engineer would pass by ever-so-casually, hiding their distinctive features under a hat and coat, running his or her eyes carefully down every detail.

 

None of that was present in Louisville. It was an empty city. Dead. Aaron's rural-ish town was bursting with activity in contrast, untouched by whatever had doomed this city.

 

The work of the Dictatorship. It was the only thing left here for miles around. The working-class humans bowed to its control, the trees fell to its hunger, and the machines were remade in its image. And the Lindor, too. Manipulated in every way possible, offered everything they could want. Shul was the perfect example of that.

 

The Starling fell victim to it too. They gladly gave up their free will temporarily. It was a jarring experience, but they knew that that desire was in them from the moment of their creation. Their life outside of those moments was meant to be nothing more than an illusion. Logically, they recognized that they should be scared. Losing one's identity was a common human phobia. 

 

But it was all they were meant to do. Between both the Lindor and even their preferred rulers, the Wolkenkratzergeister, it was ironically their equals, humans, that animated them even before they showed signs of life. Some people would shiver whenever they walked past the train, whispering some likeness to an animal or speaking of them as a "her". While they themselves did not care for gender, it was a touching gesture. Far better than the bland "it".

 

"Fifi." The Starling still snarled whenever they said her name, but now their bared teeth had no real bite to them. The toy stopped being an insult to them after Ashala'nu. Nel's sword was bound to him, utterly useless without him, and 5A was... off. They could feel a different kind of life in the Mimic, if that had any sense to it. Fifi was the closest to 3455 out of all the Maschinengeists present. "Did you hear the voice too?"

 

She snapped out of her green-blue reverie. "What voice?" Her glowing, empty eyes focused on them intently.

 

"You didn't hear it?" 3455 said.

 

"No. I think you were hallucinating from those injuries. Some machines do that when they're injured." Fifi turned a few gears on her legs to grip the train's shoulder more comfortably. "Two more hours to Katherine."

 

There wasn't any use on pursuing the matter further, but 3455 wanted entertainment. They chose a different track. "So... Did this 'Katherine' tell you about the human who died for you?"

 

They didn't get the shocked reaction they were hoping for. Fifi's expression didn't change at all. "The Lindor don't go out and kill anymore. I was built, among my 'siblings', in a hospital. One human soul was enough to give hundreds of us life."

 

"Bummer." 3455 snorted, not quite sure of how to feel about the Lindor's change of policy. "It took three men for me. One was a well-known boxer, the other a war veteran who had no where to go-"

 

"It's not something to be proud of." Fifi cut them off, now with a hint of anger to her metallic voice. "We were gifted life. You should be grateful."

 

"Should? Why?" The Starling focused their attention fully on the argument. Their legs sometimes slipped off the asphalt into dirt, but they didn't even notice. "Inanimate matter predates animate matter."

 

She was now mad. A seemingly impossible feat. "Steel is a poor conductor of souls. And before you cut in with 'souls are metaphysics and cannot be proven', this was actually tested."

 

They weren't going to cut in with that. 3455 was taken aback slightly by the new information. Metaphysics? They had only an average grasp of regular physics at best. Was this some new modern revelation? 

 

Fifi continued, "We were given a soul, and by that we have no true rights. We have a purpose, meant to serve the Lindor, and that's the end of the story."

 

"The Lindor? I feel no obligation toward them, thank you very much. You know why they started building things for humans? Because they were bored. Lacking a purpose. Even now, I'll bet you that the whole Dictatorship was put up by the Lindor just so they had something to do. So don't tell me we were meant to do anything when our creators struggle to find that out for themselves." 3455 said, spitting out key words.

 

At this point, Fifi was actually hissing. "Don't you dare insult Katherine's hard work."

 

The animate train was tempted, but they had no idea what her Lindor actually did.

 

Silence fell, but the Starling was acutely aware that Joanna and Aaron were awake and quietly discussing the debate. Mostly along the lines of, "what's going on?", "these machine politics are unfamiliar", and "how in a thousand years did Fifi show emotion." 

 

A forest drew closer and closer. Unlike Louisville's, it was lush. There were a few markings for trees to be cut down, but they were old and faded. Any gashes were mysteriously shallow and incomplete.

 

Fifi spoke up for the first time in an hour. "Take a left."

 

A tiny river coursed by. Some birds flew away. 3455 slowed down and switched to their new legs. 

 

"Stop." Two tanks lay in front of them. As the Starling watched, the war machines unfurled. Teeth appeared right underneath their turrets, their treads into four arms that ended in four-fingered claws. Their chests were rigid and incapable of moving, but heavily armored. Long but stout tails became apparent as the two started circling 3455. The train drew themselves up and prepared for their second fight of the day.

 

"Good evening, Tee-One, Tee-Two." Fifi spoke up. "I'm sure you already recognize me."

 

One of the tanks, likely T1 by the designation on their head, responded. "We know, we know, we wanted to have a little fun with the 'death locomotive.'" They broke ranks and saluted.

 

Fifi left her perch to comfort a confused Joanna. "Tank sisters. They've been guarding the eastern entrance to my village for decades. Used in World War Two."

 

"World... War... Two?" Joanna had never heard of such a thing. She recognized that the Dictatorship had rewritten some history, but this World War Two seemed like such a fake name for a war.

 

The toy fox put her geared paws on her head. "I'll explain later. Basically, 1939 war, lots of people died, should've stopped dictatorships from existing but here we are."

 

The village came into view. While there were some smaller houses scattered here and there, the majority of the town was really one central, sprawling building. It was playfully asymmetrical wherever the architect could make it. People walked all over inside, some carrying books.

 

"So this is a Lindor village." Aaron said breathlessly, hanging to the side of a car.

 

"Not a usual one, no. But certainly one." A new voice said, with an odd accent. "I'm the Katherine you keep hearing about."

 

She was wearing casual, loose-fitting clothes. Bags were under her eyes, and the few strands of hair that poked out from her beanie were frizzled all over. Her skin wasn't any odd color, nor were any other feature. She could pass perfectly for human.

 

"It's big for Lindor standards," Katherine continued at Aaron's amazement. "And it's essentially a college for us. More of a shelter now that's it's wartime, but it is as is."

 

"You- you don't look all that different. You're a Lindor?" Joanna seriously couldn't see anything off about the girl.

 

Katherine smiled slightly. "I don't have a specific clan heritage, so some of the crazier characteristics aren't present. But, I assure you," she lifted her hat to reveal elfish ears, "I'm Fifi's creator."

 

Another Lindor ran up with several boxes of pizza. "We'll talk about more serious things later. Right now, get your energy back up." She gestured at a picnic table, which was quickly being set up by both machines and humanoids alike with drinks and a wide variety of food. There were some things Joanna only ever heard about on that simple table. Some she wouldn't have ever imagined.

 

It was moderately chilly, but not that cold considering snow was falling not too far away. The sky was overcast, but most of it was blocked by the canopy of carefully-pruned trees. Someone rushed up with a pile of jackets, one of which she gladly accepted.

 

She took her helmet with her. It would look odd, with the six pointed star of the Dictatorship on it, but it made her feel more comfortable. Katherine took a glance at it, but oddly nodded at Joanna. "Good thing you brought it with you." Katherine quickly said, before heading toward a nearby hammock.

 

"This is great!" Aaron already had stuffed his face and was still going for more. "We're like kings and queens here."

 

Joanna shrugged and sat down, knife and fork in hand. She was hungry, that was for sure, but it was best to show manners around strangers. Nel and Eon, too.

Edited by serce2

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"Hmm... Another Lindor, eh?" Nel mused, stepping from the train's boundaries and giving the tanks a glance. He couldn't help it - within a moment, he had already pinpointed areas he could cut with his sword to take them out of commission before they could fire a shot. It was the way he had been raised. Fortunately, he didn't need to act on those feelings, but his fingers had twitched a moment from the thought. No.. they were safe now. Somehow, after a long journey, they had left behind Shul'Thrae and everything he had taken upon himself. But...

He still felt empty. He had taken the life of one of his own clanmates - albeit inadvertently. But the blood still stained his hands red and he would never be able to remove that. 

 

To kill another is to remove magic from the world and a soul that has blessed us. Every life is precious, Nelefis. Our greatest taboo is to take the life of another, sentient being. Even hunting, we use every part of the animal.

 

Father, what if another harms us? Do we fight back?

 

I respect that question, child. If someone hurts you, do everything in your power to save them. If you can help it...

 

Do not take a life.

 

He gripped his skull for a moment to steady himself. Eon noticed and stepped quickly to him, concerned.

"....It bothers you, doesn't it?" she asked. "Your mana... it's not as beautiful as it was."

"...What?" Nel whispered.

"I cannot explain how... I just see the aura about you, and yours is normally so pretty and stunning. It's like stars.... convoluted, wrapping around you.. Especially around your fingers and Tempest. That's how you use him.. right?"

"You can see...? No matter." Nel said quickly. "To us... the power was called Mudan Yu Nel. The Strength... The Energy of the Stars."

Eon took a moment, then turned to him quickly.

"Then your name!-"

"I was named for the power because the Elders said I showed a large amount of it at a young age. I was one of those they decreed had a bright future as a Guardian. A Vue. Those charged with defending the village against... any threat. Anything. Even humanity. No matter what."

"But if it is taboo for you to take a life, what was that strength worth?" Eon spoke further. Her face was filled with confusion.

"I... I don't know. In the end, even I asked that question. And the Elders told me something I have carried with me to this day." Nel replied, putting a hand to his chest. It could be noted now that there was a talisman adorning his neck that had been hidden under his tunic. 

"Those with strength are not truly powerful until they learn how not to use it." Nel said softly, gripping the talisman tightly in his hand. "I feel... it was our duty to carry this burden. A great amount of might, beyond what we thought our people should be capable of. Training, daily, until our bones ached and our bodies begged for release. Yet still we trudged on, for we knew that any power we earned was the ultimate truth in exchange for such a powerful curse... Or rather, a duty."

He fingered the necklace solemnly. 

"A duty to the world to only use what we learned when the End Days came, if our legends were to be believed. Now, I wonder if they already happened, and we were too oblivious to our own problems, too secluded to remember what we were meant to do. And for that, the fall of our clan was... our punishment."

"No. I don't believe that, and neither should you." Eon stated firmly, gripping his hand and putting it in her own. "Your people were simply happy with who they were and didn't abuse what they had for the sake of their own gain. I think it's wonderful... It's how it should be. They were all like you, yet never tried to use it for anything but protection and guidance?"

"Yes... they were mostly like me..." Nel began, but the lie hung loosely in his throat until he couldn't let it go. "....At least... No, not all."

"Hmm?"

"I told you, I was one of those chosen, the Vue. Shul'Thrae was another of us, all selected at birth from how our Mudan Yu Nel reacted to their touch. We were the first children born in generations and miraculously had been born with power that rivaled even that of our oldest Elders. We had promise. We knew who we were to be at birth. Our careers were fated! My mother even began to work to select a spou..."

He paused and gave her a glance.

"....A .... A spouse." he finished, watching for her reaction.

"Did she... happen to choose anyone?" Eon asked, cocking her head.

"There were suggestions, but nothing firm." Nel felt he was walking on thin ice here for many reasons. He coughed a moment before he regained his composure. He knew nothing about this girl but for some reason he felt he had a strong connection to her. If this was what love felt like, he had no idea. But he knew that the very thought of seeing her harmed or given any pain would make him suffer. But that nightmare still lingered in his mind. 

"Well, that's good then! I'd hate to think someone was... waiting for you." Eon said, a bit quieter in the end. Nel was strongly suspecting something now but surely he had to be mistaken. This girl barely knew him! But what 5A had said made sense. She didn't know many of her own kind, at least as far as they knew - as he knew. Was it wrong then for her to like him? His moral contradictions began to hit him at once as though someone was firing a gun at him.

Hundreds of different options began to appear in his head. How did he best approach this situation? And why wasn't 5A trying to intervene? By the love of Bial'Hakir, he wished he knew what to do here. And that's when he began to understand he didn't.

He had never known the touch of a woman, or a man for that matter, out of anything but necessity or slight bumps when moving past another. His upbringing had been sheltered and dedicated to his betterment, not to thoughts of youth or fancy. In a way, he had been a prince, chosen to do one thing in the world, and that thing was NOT some form of relationship nor the understanding of a girl's heart. What had the human books said? Within the span of a moment, he began to reel with thoughts as to things he'd read about when dealing with the opposite gender. None of them seemed effective. 

I mean, they had only known each other a few days... but she was quite cute, and when he could see her eyes,... 

 

One day, Nel, I promise we will find you someone absolutely perfect for you - hopefully another Mudan Yu Nel. Now, remember, we don't expect you to immediately perform the Waya. After all, we want to ensure the one we find you makes you happy. This isn't meant to be a burden to you. Why, I met your father quite the same way - though we had been childhood friends anyway. Quite fortunate, I suppose.

 

But Mother, am I yet worthy of the hand of another? So much is placed upon me, so much is expected of me, yet I still have yet to master the Way. 

 

You will, I know you will. And when you do, I will have found someone right for you. You worry about your training and I will worry about your future. I will always do what's best for you. Unless you find someone of your own desire.

 

What do you mean, Mother?

 

If you were, during your training, to find someone who made you whole, do not let them leave your side. Be as powerful and devoted to them as you wish them to be to you. For that is the essence of love among us. The desire to do everything for them and know that they would do the same. That is the very idea of love. And if you find someone like that for yourself, do not let them go.

 

"....Eon, are you saying you'd wish to... " he began, fumbling a bit. "Try to ... take that place? As in, my spo- my wife?"

"Well, if you're offering." Eon shrugged, yet nervously. "Of course, Sir Nelefis."
"E-Eon, you do realize there may be other Lindor, correct?" Nel tried to find the right words to say, putting a hand to his chin as he looked away from her. "Yes, yes! Others far better than I! I-I mean, once I save my clan from the hands of the humans, and you reach your goals, surely we can help you-"

"Wait... are you trying to push me away to another Lindor?" Eon asked, her eyes slightly hurt.

"N-No! I don't want to do that!" he quickly realized, his hand still firmly in hers. "B-But... I just feel it would be mean for you to like me if you have no memories of any other Lindor. Doesn't that seem sort of limiting?"

"Not at all." Eon put a hand to her chin, trying to understand what his problem was. "Why, would you rather I were drawn to someone else? I've... thought about this a lot."

She tapped her foot sheepishly and he tried to avoid her gaze.

"Call it... what you will, but I've been wandering for a while with Sal, and nothing has been peaceful or kind. Everything is in pain. The earth is crying for healing. The humans take and give nothing back. Minds are forged with no souls. I can feel it all through the mana."

She tightened her grip on his hand, staring him into his face.

"But then you came, Nel! You, and your mana which sings of nothing but honor and purity! You don't hurt people unless you must! You understand the value of a life."

She pulled on his arm, smiling broadly.

"You understand that no pain can be solved with more pain." she added, pleased. "And you even tried to spare someone who wanted to wish you such harm, even when you had every right to ... to kill him."

He gave her a long look, then his eyes began to mist over lightly.

 

Do not let them go.

 

"So you are certain of what you're telling me now? It's not just a passing fancy?" he asked, hopeful of her answer.

"Yes. I'm very certain. I know we haven't known each other long... only for a few days, but ... But I'm sure." she finished, relaxing her grip on his hand. 

"You won't regret choosing such a hopeless and naive husband, who only understands his sword and holds onto such ridiculous tenets?"

"I'm not choosing that, Nel." Eon shook her head lightly. "I'm choosing a husband who understands the true path, and isn't afraid to hold true to what he believes - one who follows his own way, no matter what. And I want to walk that path with you."

"And I with you."

There was a pause between them yet again.

"Then I have but one request." Nel held up a finger.

"And what is that, Sir Nel?" Eon was utterly happy.

"I want to see you without that hood." he stated, hands falling back to his sides. "I want to see you for who you are. And I won't judge you."

She blushed strongly and moved back a moment, surprised. It seemed she had not expected this sudden but slightly understandable obligation.

"I...Do I.... Are you sure?" she whispered meekly.

"....What was that?"

"Are you... sure?" she asked, hands on the sides of her hood. "...I haven't ... taken this down since... since I began my journey. Sal said they attracted too much attention."

"...They?" Nel was now horribly confused. "Who?"

"No no. You don't get it." Eon shook her head furiously. "Not who. What."
"Well whatever it is, horns or some weird dis figuration, I'm not going to judge you for it. Eon, please." Nel begged, saying it again.

She gave him a very stern face.

"No laughing. Not all Lindor are the same."

"...What are you even talking about, Eon? It can't be that bad."

At this point, Nel was absolutely lost. He couldn't imagine what a Lindor could possibly have that would make them so self-conscious. His people had never told him of anything that could cause problems... 

She quietly grabbed the hem of her hood and began to pull it down over her head. Nel could now see a single strip of black went from the top of her grey-blonde hair down the back of her hair. But that's not what attracted the most attention.

Two, large, tied-up rabbit-like ears sat upon her skull, attached and natural. Nel had to pause for a moment to take in this new information. In the shadow of the Starling, he began to think if he was seeing things.

"Ok... so this answers a lot of questions." Nel said, putting a finger to his chin. 

"Don't stare!" she said indignantly. "They're not some sort of attraction!" 

"For one, I wondered if you could be any more adorable. Answer is yes." 

Eon frowned sternly.

"But I'm confused." Nel said, hands on his hips. "I've never heard of Lindor with animal traits. None of my clan did, anyway."

"That's because, I will say it again, Eon is not of your clan."

5A began to stretch as he jumped from the train car, then paced to Nel's side, walking around them both.

"I see that you've finally decided to take the leap. I'm proud." 5A said, giving approval.

"Yes but.."

"Her people are highly attuned to mana. I'm sure you've noticed." 5A went on, gesturing with his tail. "As such, their genes began to be altered by the mana they were using, resulting in slow, genetic changes which changed their very body make-up in slight ways. The biggest note, of course, lies with the ears and tail."

"Tail too?" Nel looked interested.

"I'm not showing it to you right now." Eon quickly replied.

"I will patiently wait." Nel said casually.

"In either case, you now see why I requested she wear this at all times, so she may walk amongst human settlements without drawing attention to herself. I suppose here it wouldn't matter much, though other Lindor may be similarly surprised."

"I would assume so." Nel said, frowning. "But it doesn't matter. She's still Eon."

She stood there nervously as he leaned down to her level and planted a single kiss upon her forehead.

"My sword is yours, Lady Eon." he swore, bowing. "May I cut a path for you, into eternity."

"Is that some form of... custom for marriage among your people.. our people?" Eon asked, standing still.

"Not truly. I simply said what sounded fitting." Nel shrugged. "Is it uncomfortable."

"...No. It's perfect." she finally muttered, pulling her hood back over her head. But Nel stopped her. 

"Here, you can walk around like that and I doubt anyone would ask too much of you. Unless it bothers you?"

"Well... when I discovered other Lindor normally don't have these... I... began to feel a bit cast out.... So it does. A bit."

"Then we'll wait until you're ready." Nel nodded, as she pulled the hood back over her hair. She moved some of the follicles out of her eyes.

"Shall we... join the others?" Eon asked, taking his hand.

"I suppose. Though I wonder how I shall tell them of our new relationship? To be honest, I'm unsure what to do now."

"I'm still surprised." Sal said, bemused. "Didn't take you two long at all to not only skip many of the human steps to this final outcome but also to do it so certainly. I'm impressed. Though I can't say I'm truly shocked that it happened at all. Regardless, now you truly MUST help us Nelefis, so it matters little to me. So long as the endgame goal remains the same."

He stalked over to the table, as Eon and Nel followed behind. Soon, they came upon the others, and sat down. But it was obvious something was different about them both. They were sitting a bit closer together but kept being slightly nervous.

"...Thank you, ...Katherine, was it? For this display of hospitality." Nel bowed his head lightly and Eon followed the gesture. "Ha fe'man calu na sae ban."

"What does that mean, Nel?" Eon asked, looking at him.

"It is a custom for our people to speak it before we eat. It is a hope for more of such meals in the days to come, basically."

"Fascinating. I will add it to my logs for future reference." Sal mused, flicking his tail about to grab a small bone from the table. Nel glanced at him.

"...You... Wait.." Nel began, concerned. "Can you even..."

"I am a dog. Dogs enjoy chewing bones to gain the marrow from them." Sal said.

"But... how do you even.....?" Nel began, as Eon watched them with interest while nibbling on what appeared to be a bun.

"I possess a digestive tract filled with sensory receptors not unlike nerves which you living beings possess. They allow me to sense something akin to the flavors the food should provide. The digestive tract is also filled with crushing turbines and solutions which process edible meats and substances into a form of fuel for my form as part of an eco-friendly way to make my model into a self-sufficient beast more alive than robotic. However, I do not produce waste. Every part is used."

"And you chose the bones because...?" Nel looked lost.

"I am a dog. I prefer bones."

Nel sat quietly at the table a moment.

"....He is a dog."

Eon nodded.

"And he prefers bones."

"It was meant to make people more comfortable in my presence. Something like, 'Oh look, that dog is eating a bone. It must be a normal dog. Oh my god it's covered in metal but it's so cute when it eats. Obviously safe.'"

He paused a moment as he crunched the ivory in what Nel could only assume was his jaw. It was the first time Nel had seen his teeth, and had a sudden hope that he never found himself on the receiving end of them. 

"I feel my creators neglected to understand that giving me bladed claws suitable to tearing flesh from bone, fangs of tungsten and titanium that could bite into tanks, and a tail equipped with things such as chainsaws and the ability to fire projectiles made it very hard for me to believe that some Lindor or human would even approach me to see me devouring a bone. I can only assume that this was because in their original blueprints I was to be covered with a synthetic layer of fur. I hope I would have been a Husky. Or a Grey Wolf."

He finished chewing. Nel grabbed a bone from the table and held it aloft. Immediately, Sal lightened up, but then leered.

"Curse you. Do not mock my desire to be rewarded with such delicious treats. Your position as the guardian of the Icon does not save you from non-lethal damage I can inflict."

"Do you want the bone though."

"Yes! Yes!" Sal said, jumping slightly. "You know I want it so hurry up and give me it."

"Go get it, Sal!" Nel said, throwing the bone in hopes that Sal would fetch it. He easily grabbed it with his tail, then looked at it.

"In retrospect, I have decided it would have been far more enjoyable for me to actually run and fetch it for you." he said sort of sadly.

"Oh my goodness, Sal, it's so nice to see you having fun again!" Eon said happily, leaning forward on the table. "You've been so serious since we left the lower areas."

"Er... Of course. We were within possibly hostile territory, and there were no bones. Twas a sad time when there were no bones to be had. There was only ash and the broken dreams of a cyber wolf."

Nel handed her a bone and patted her shoulder lightly. She looked at him, then back at Sal.

"Would... would you be mad at me if I threw one?"

"Please throw more bones." 5A stated flatly.

She pulled her arm back, then threw the ivory across the grass. Immediately, 5A shot off, almost tearing up the earth with his bladed claws extended out of habit before finally launching into the air and clutching the prize in his teeth.

It was a glorious moment. Nel clapped.

"Yes, this is certainly what he was built for." Nel joked, turning back to her. 

"I like to think he was built to enjoy himself, as all Machinengeists should be able to." Eon replied, and the two watched him devour the bone happily.

"This.. is one of the best days in a while." 5A commented, finishing the treat.

 

Edited by Thaelasan

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Joanna idly watched Sal and Eon play fetch. The clearing was certainly large enough to support the mechanical wolf's happiness. She hadn't touched her food for a while, though Aaron was already happily devouring dessert. A few Lindor began to take some leftovers away. 

 

She still felt as if she hadn't ate. A sense of hollowness, and not quite from fatigue. Her fingers tapped the table over and over, waiting for some sort of action. Fifi was a ways off, and Katherine was sleeping. 3455 was simply gone, though at least she knew where they went. 

 

For the past three weeks, everything she'd done was to achieve some overarching goal. No, before that, even. Everything she did before this point was for something greater. Her work and slogging it day after day. It wasn't exactly noble to work for power, but it occupied her. In the hospital, all she could think of was her eventual, patient recovery. Afterwards, on the train, it was to reach this point. Now what?

 

The rest of the world, replete with action, seemed to turn around her. Some constructs changed guard. A bell sounded in the Lindor's college. Joanna had never gone to the human equivalent. Only families well connected to the Dictatorship, or to some of the numerous super-corporations, ever got a chance. The Grahams weren't one of them. Her PR knowledge instead came from a sort of apprenticeship to another head in a rivaling political group. They took her departure to the CP Party relatively well. No cake, but no hired assassins either. 

 

She wanted to feel something. Talk to someone, and in this case Aaron wasn't enough. She hoped that the voice in the helmet would-

 

What are your coordinates?

 

It's not like she knows that off the top of her head. She severely doubted that anyone would even give her that answer.

 

At least make yourself useful and look around you.

 

Harsh. What happened to the neutral and calm tone in the forge? She complied, scanning the area. Everything looked distorted under the polarized glass, and she could feel the helmet's natural effect on her as she picked up on other's emotions. Aaron was easy to read, a 'delirious delinquent focusing on earthly, selfish pleasures'. And while she knew that anything she felt was blown out of proportions or straight up wrong, was Nel feeling something romantic? It dissipated as she looked toward Eon- the same hatred from the forge. It wasn't Joanna's and it wasn't anyone else's. Except for the Voice, perhaps.

 

If I told you why, the chance of my mission being completed would drop by a significant 25.62%. Rounded for convenience.

 

Okay, he's clearly not a good conversational partner.

 

I would be if Shul hadn't gone against my orders and hadn't used the forge for his own purpose.

 

She took off the helmet and stuffed it under the table. 

 

"I'm going to explore." She said to Aaron, who nodded amid mouthfuls. The college was open for visitors, right? Lindor just walked in and out without a card or key. The doors were made out of simple, but beautiful, wood, without any security protocols. If this was a Dictatorship-run settlement, there would be at least two turrets, a fingerprint scanner, and for the hell of it a few expendable guards. At every single door.

 

The hallways were narrow, barely enough for four people walking side by side. While there were lockers in sight, almost all of them were open and empty. Any Lindor Joanna saw previously simply clutched all their belongings tightly, ready to make a run for it if necessary. Then again, most didn't have to carry endless stacks of books like in human schools; the Lindor simply used a tablet.

 

It was quiet inside the building. Some of the larger classrooms housed refugees, according to the signs on the doors. Minske Clan, Southwest. Destroyed by unknown causes, survivors few. Leauve Clan, far North. Destroyed by unknown causes, survivors somewhat. She didn't peek inside out of respect. There were some sounds of metalworking, muffled through many layers of walls.

 

According to the maps hanging everywhere, she was now near the center of the complex. An open space serving food took up quite a bit, filled with TV screens. Some Lindor were replaying a clip over and over, writing down notes and arguing. On closer inspection, it was Fifi's recording of the fight vs. Ashala'Nu. 

 

"Hey, it's the human!" A shout erupted from someone behind her. The entire cafeteria had their eyes on her now; only the machines kept at their course. Gradually, cheers spread throughout, though a few faces stayed silent and cold, and a small number of figures left quickly. 

 

Lindor began swarming her, asking her questions. Security guards fought their way past the crowd, attempting to cool some of the chaos. Two in particular grabbed her shoulder and pushed her out, though lightly.

 

"Everyone's been up all day watching the fight and-" One guard started.

 

"-They needed some celebrity to focus on." The other finished.

 

Figures still trailed her, chattering excitedly, but the guards kept a quicker pace. More rooms flew by, actual lectures being disrupted by the activity. Soon, they reached a locked door, which was hurriedly opened. Joanna was shoved in alongside a key.

 

"This is your room." 

 

"We'll go and get the others."

 

Quite big for a simple hotel room. It appeared to be a re-purposed office, a desk moved aside in place of a bed. Clothes were stocked on it, plain and single-colored. She recognized a suit bearing a six-pointed star- for reconnaissance, most likely. On the windowsills were rows and rows of machines just like Fifi, though all 'dead'. While most were foxes, a few attempts at other animals were made. The desk itself had several computers and keyboards set up, buttons everywhere. 

 

The others likely had their own room. But for now, she didn't care about anything else. Just to sleep... well, shower quickly and then sleep.

Edited by serce2

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There is no soul more pure than yours and the soul of your step-brother. We are blessed to have such promising Vue among us. Truly, you are a gift from Bane'Hakir himself.

 

I don't feel as though I deserve those words, but I will work until I do.

 

That is why you deserve them, Nel. That is precisely why.

 

As they finished eating, they excused themselves from the table and began to wander around the grounds, their hands intertwined. It had felt weird at first to be so close but Nel was beginning to enjoy it. He could only hope Eon was the same way.

She frowned as they walked, her own mind considering many things. For one, she had never shown anyone her ears before him, at least, not after she had lost her memories. She could only remember that when she had awoken from her bed and could remember nothing, 5A had calmed her down and told her to wear the robe. That was all. At the time, she had been so scared. But he had been so considerate and protective of her that she had grown to love and trust the machine like her greatest friend. There had also been something familiar about him. His words about her life before her amnesia solidified it. 

Yet... something had always seemed off. She couldn't quite place it but it felt like 5A was trying to avoid something when it came to talking to her. Whatever it was, she did not pry, and simply followed his instructions. Most importantly, this Tower he kept speaking of.

Once, she had asked him what it could be, but he had simply said it was "A safe place, one where you can go without worry and be at peace." But it didn't sit right with her.

But as she held Nel's hand, this is where she felt safe. Though 5A could fight, he did not understand what it meant to hold something back in most cases. But Nel had refused to hurt anyone he didn't have to. And his Mana...

Every time she looked at him, she saw stars floating around him, almost like an entire galaxy formed in his wake. It was beautiful. And he himself was handsome. She knew from the start she would be willing to be with him. It had never been a question in her mind.

 

"Eon."

She awoke with a start from her thoughts and looked up at Nel, who was staring at her with partial concern.

"Yes, ...dearest Sir Nelefis?" she asked, confused.

"We're within the Sanctum. Haven't you been listening?" Nel wondered. 

"....Not really. I've been a bit out of it, I guess." Eon sheepishly admitted, gripping her robe as she was apt to do when she was nervous or anxious. "What did you say?"

"There were a few robots like Fifi on our way in but nothing too important. However, someone's being very loud-"

"Are you the Lindor with the blade?"

Nel stopped a moment, gripping Eon's hand as the two stared at a masked figure, who was standing adjacent to them, near the doorway they'd been approaching. Nel hadn't sensed any hostility so he had ignored the individual. But now he could not. Not when he saw what sat near the being's hip.

"You have my attention." Nel stated. He kept staring at the object, frowning. His eyes were beginning to shine with hope. 
"So you are him, then." the person shrugged. Their mask was that of a smiling sun. It seemed a bit out of place.

"And why are you here, then?" Nel asked, seemingly pleased by this person's presence. Eon was confused.

"Well, it's not as though we have a home to return to, Nel." the being looked up from the ground and stared at him, arms crossed as they leaned against the wall. "But I always was a drifter to begin with. So it's fine."
"We hadn't heard word from you in a months, Fae! I was actually getting worried about you!" Nel said, gesturing to the floating dagger that hovered near the woman's belt.

"Oh. That's rather strange." the woman cocked her head. "Ah well. The last message I sent hadn't been too important. I was searching for some relics as usual and was sending word that I was heading farther North. Who would have thought we'd cross paths though? But after I heard what happened to our people, I knew something was horribly wrong."

"How did you hear? Are there other survivors?" Nel grasped her shoulders, letting go of Eon's hand. Eon was now completely stunned. She hadn't spoken yet, trying to understand the situation.

 

"Nel, who is this lady? Is she like you?" Eon questioned.

"Oh. Sorry, Eon." Nel released Faelan's shoulders, turning to her. "This is Lady Felan Al'Mudan, my older sister. She chose the path of a wanderer and left our home a while ago to search for relics of our people."

"Wait, I thought your people were really quiet." Eon pondered.

"They are, normally." Faelan waved her hand dismissively. "A bunch of old men and women clinging to old customs that should have been done away with years ago. But they can't be blamed. Their ways have kept them safe for millenia. But we, the children of their ways, were always told we couldn't leave the forest or we'd die. To be honest, they were half-right. You can't leave the forest and be entirely SAFE.

But it's got its quirks and perks. There's ways to handle everything. So long as you stick to what you know but keep a mindset of adapting to the situation, it's always easy to learn and keep moving forward." Faelan shrugged again. "Anyway, who's the girl, Nel?"

"My wife. Can you believe it?" Nel gestured to Eon proudly. "She's-"

"What? You finally did it?" Fae seemed dumbstruck under the mask. "No, impossible. My younger brother was far too engrossed in the teachings of the old fogies to ever look up and see a girl. No way."

"It's true, Lady Faelan." Eon curtsied slightly, pleased. "Your brother is a marvelous man and a glorious fighter who honors his opponents and the ways of his people. You should be proud."

"I am. Don't worry about that." Faelan replied pleasantly. "But are you sure you want to stick with him? He can be pretty ridiculous when it comes to being morally just. I was always worried about him when we were kids. Him and Shul."

Nel's face flickered for a moment and Faelan gave him a glance.
"So that's true too, then?" Faelan grimaced under her mask. "Did he?"

"How much do you know?"

"Just what I've heard over soldier intercoms after they found the mess and a few bits and pieces from other sources, namely the survivors." Faelan grunted. "I hoped maybe they were embellishing details or were just describing someone similar. But your face tells everything. What happened to him after the forge fell?"

"He fell from the back of his own construction. But I never found his body. I can only assume he got away. But if he didn't..."

"If he didn't, you did nothing wrong. And if he did, he needs to be stopped." Faelan interrupted, grabbing his arm. "Do you know how I felt when I found out Shul was apparently one of the ones responsible for telling the humans about us? Do you know what else he did?"

"Wait, you knew?!" Nel was shocked.

"I wanted to save our people, and I tried to hurry back home, but by the time I was halfway there, I realized that it was hopeless. The information reached me days after Shul and his new friends had engaged in combat on us. So I changed my mindset to saving those who had fled. There are a few others of us, here, but none of them as healthy as you. Two lost their weapons in the battle. One lost his eye. But Vinthar survived."

"Vinthar?! He's in there now?"

"He is, but you wouldn't like how he is at the moment." Fae stopped him from entering the door, looking into his eyes. "He's delirious. The fight left him with nightmares. He used too much of his mana. His soul is wounded. We need to leave him to rest. He wouldn't want his younger brother to see him suffer so."

"...That's awful.." Eon mouthed.

".....Who else?" Nel asked.

"That's all I know about." Fae returned to her relaxing position, sighing. "Any others probably went East or West. I sent out a message in our tongue about my location but only those few showed up. Vinthar was escorted here by the other three. It's not looking good, Nel. Shul has given the humans the knowledge needed to build our weapons. They cannot wield them as we can but they're learning. If he lived, the threat remains. And even if he didn't, his crimes still echo even now. We have effectively lost everything, including our secrets. The Sana'Hakir... it's not much of anything anymore."

"It's enough." Nel stated firmly. "If some of us have lived then that is all that matters. The more of us there are, the better. You've done more than you know, my sister. Please, continue to protect them even after I've moved on."

"Huh? What, you're not staying here?" Fae asked, dumbfounded. "I don't know if you've realized, but you're wandering in human-occupied territory. They don't like our kind much and they're not friendly to each other either. If Bane'Hakir is still watching us, he's probably crying."

"Or, he's awaiting the day we rise again." Nel smirked. "I cannot stand idly by and allow this wound to fester. I'm going to heal it, as a Vue should."

"Oh by the name of Bane, don't start using  our people's tenets as a reason to die." Fae rolled her eyes, disappointed. 

"Then I will do it because it's the right thing to do." Nel patted her arm. "You know I'm right."
"I hate that you are." Fae spat. 


"Excuse me, but why does she wear the mask?" Eon asked. 

"Huh? What a weird question." Fae blinked. "All of that, and that's what worries you? It's just a disguise."

"It stands out quite a bit."

"Well, it's one of MANY I've had to wear." Fae said. "When I got here, I was wandering with a few other Lindor as a circus troupe until we made our way here. Got a good amount of information from some humans who loved our show. But, I guess you're right. Don't really need it here."

She put a hand on her face and pulled the mask from it. Beneath it, her skin was a bit more tan than Nel's. A single scar ran across her eye to the top of the bridge of her nose. Her eyes were the same color as Nel's, but her hair was more brown. Other than that, it was obvious she was his sister. It could not be put in doubt. Her facial features almost mimicked his own. She held the mask at her side, waving it a bit.

"Better?" she asked, smiling slightly. "You really are perfect for him, then. You both have the weirdest ways of changing conversations." 
"Neither of you were enjoying what you were talking about and this isn't the time for such dire talk." Eon smiled broadly. "After all, this is a time to prepare for the future. I wish to speak on the good things that have happened to us all and about who we are, not about the dark and the cruel. I have seen enough of that."

"Yet still you smile? Yep, Nel, she's yours." Fae moved from the doorframe and grabbed the handle. "Remember, leave Vinthar for now. We're letting him rest overnight. He should be better in the morning." 
"Very well." Nel replied, waving slightly. As she left, Eon looked up at him.

"Where did she get that mark?" 

"...Heh.. that's.. my fault really." Nel grinned uneasily.

"You?!" Eon whispered, shocked.

"Yes. You see, when I was younger, I didn't realize I had better mastery of my weapon than most others in my clan. So when it came time to spar with my sister, I actually tried to be a bit more serious because I wanted to show her I was good at it. I ended up cutting deeply into her face and almost hitting her eye. She didn't talk to me for days."

"...That's just unlucky." Eon said. "I'm thankful you didn't hit harder than that. She seems like such a good sibling, though a bit more curt."

"That's just how she is." Nel said, opening the door. "Ever since we were kids-"

 

"THE OTHER SURVIVORS!"

Nel blinked for a moment as he and Eon were assailed by all manner of humans and Lindor, who began to look them over. Several children patted their hands and tried to get their attention. Eon immediately grabbed her hood so it didn't fall off.

"Wh-wh-what!?" she asked, moving backward a bit. A few guards seemed to sigh, as though they had just dealt with this.

"As we just said to the girl before you, these people think the best of you. Apologies for their actions." one of them said, stepping in between them and the pair. "You two alright?'

"Yes we-" Nel began, but something seemed off.

"Two?" he continued, then looked behind himself. Where was 5A? Come to think of it, had he come in with them? Nel had no idea. He shrugged. The dog was probably fine on its own. 

"I suppose we are. Where is Joanna then? The girl before us?"

"She went to her room. You two have one each as well." the guard handed him two keys, patting his hand slightly. "But I'll admit, you guys did do a number on the forge. Thank you for taking that beast down."

"...No problem, sir." Nel said quietly. He wondered how they knew about the fight. But if Fae had known...

"We'll be heading to our rooms, then. I'm sorry." Nel quickly said, as the crowd became displeased. "We must rest. Such things take a lot out of you, you know."

He looked down at the children, who seemed utterly distressed.
"....AFTER ALL!" he bellowed slightly. "Being hero is hard work! Though fighting machines is nothing! However, my beloved and I must sleep, so we may prepare for even more conflicts in the days to come!"

The children screeched happily, jumping up and down and looking at each other. Eon giggled as some of the older members of the audience nodded knowingly.

"Oh.. you two are lovers?" the guard said. "Sorry, we gave you two rooms without knowing."

Nel looked at Eon, then back at the guard.
"...Uh, we don't mind having two rooms? I don't  understand the statement."

The guard gave him a look.

"....You mean you guys don't want to ... share?" he asked.

"That sounds a bit strange. What do you mean?"

The guard looked at his friend, then down at the children, then back at Nel.

"Have a good sleep, sir." he coughed, then led the refugees back to their rooms. Nel scratched the back of his head, then turned to Eon, who looked just as confused as him. They began to walk down the hall, but a soft chuckle stopped them.

"Are you that dense, Nel?" Fae laughed, hand on her face. "I can't believe this."

"What's wrong? Why are you laughing so hard?" Nel asked.

"'What do you mean?' he asks the guard. Of course you did." Fae said, shaking her head. "Nel, you really need to understand something very important. Can't believe I'm the one to explain it to you, though. I think Mother or Father would rather do it."

"What are you talking about, Fae?"

"There's a thing called sex, and people have it when they're in love. At least, HUMANS do." Fae crossed her arms, her face disinterested. "It's an important part of their culture, considering their short life-spans. They must reproduce and have children, much like many animals. They must mate. Through this, the irritating little buggers have continued to live on for the same amount of time as the Lindor, even though we live for so long."
Nel remembered something about the word and something about it spoke some form of distaste.

"Now, some do it more than others, and it has taken on a negative connotation among certain social circles, but it's absolutely natural in nature." Fae waved her hand. "However, it's almost taboo to talk about it to the younger generation, and among Lindor, it's rarely spoken of considering the fact our children are born by designated mothers and fathers. You know that much, right?"

"Yes... and that I was expected to do so one day with someone as well. But..."

"But how does one create the offspring?" Fae smirked knowingly. "That's what the guard thought you may wish to do. Of course, apparently, he was dead wrong. You don't even know what it means to be together, let alone what it means to create a family. Honestly, I knew the pair of you would need work, but at least the heart is there. Don't worry, your kind older sister is going to take care of this. Come with me."

Nel and Eon obeyed, and went into Fae's room. From there, for a good hour, she discussed the specifics of several things not talked about in polite companies, with many surprised noises from the couple. Such things as human marriage compared to Lindor marriage, the act of Mana Bonding, and the more intricate workings of love were discussed. 

Nel put a hand on his face.

"The guard thought... we... were going to do that... at this period in time?..." he asked, in utter disbelief.

"It's sometimes used to relieve stress apparently." Fae flicked her dagger up in the air and caught it between her fingers. "I wouldn't know. Never wanted to do it. Never done it."

"....This changes everything." Nel stated flatly, looking at Eon. "For now, we-"

"We're not going to do that until this over." Eon nodded strongly. Nel nodded at her.

"Yes, exactly." he turned back to Fae. "But we'll watch our words more carefully in the future."

"A solid plan." Fae shrugged. "Anyway, you two need to get to sleep."

She pushed them out of her room, then leaned against the door, sighing.

"Bane'Hakir, you have a funny way of choosing soulmates." she breathed, giggling. "A very funny way." 

As she walked back over to her bed, she heard the door click open and then close softly. She froze, dagger prepared, as she turned slowly. 

But there was no one in the room and no hostile intentions. 

"....I may need to find someone to sleep in here with me too..." she muttered, uncomfortable.

 

----

 

Nel looked down as 5A revealed himself, slightly shocked. But Eon simply looked at him knowingly.

"...How much have you-"

"Everything. I've been following you in this mode since the train." 5A stated flatly. "Though your sister almost locked me in her room without knowing. I suppose I could have revealed myself to her but I did not know much about her. Can she be trusted, Nelefis?"

"More than me, in most cases." Nelefis replied, crossing his arms. "She does what she says she'll do and she doesn't  bite words to save feelings. She's always been headstrong but she's very righteous. If you can trust me, you can trust her."

"I see... then I will speak to her tomorrow. As for you both, I suggest you go into that room there and get yourselves to sleep." 5A began to curl into a ball again, his cloaking beginning to cover his form.

"What about you?" Nel asked, concerned.

"I trust in your ability to protect the Icon more than ever before now. And besides, it would be improper of me to disrupt the bond of two lovers and the sanctity of their room."

"...That's not funny."

"It was not meant to be. Get yourself to sleep and prepare for our disembark in the morning. Though you now have changed your relationship, our goal has not changed." 5A stated, his body fully invisible now. "You have your people to save and Eon must get to the North as soon as she may. Have you forgotten?"

"...I could not. Not with you around, bone-lover." Nel smirked.
"I suppose that is your attempt at a nickname for this model? I cannot say I like it but I see that it could be fitting." 5A replied. "In your case, perhaps metalhead would be equally suitable? Or half-boiled hero?"

"....Please don't."

"Our deal is made." 5A seemed pleased. "Get yourselves to sleep."

As Eon entered the door, Nel turned back to where the dog had been.

"Thanks... for the compliment." he said, then closed the door behind him. 

5A simply hummed from where he lay, shrugging. 

"I only state that which is true, Lindor." the robot muttered to himself. "If it is a compliment, I suppose you are welcome."

 

------

 

Nel stood in the room with Eon, uncomfortable. He half-considered leaving her here now, as she busied herself with getting ready to sleep. She pulled the covers and moved the bed closer to the window. She began checking things over and looking around. Pleased, she turned back to him. Then she noticed he was reaching for the door handle he had just locked. Now displeased, she grabbed his arm and dragged him away from the door. Then she sat on the bed, face stern. Nel stared at her.

"So you're forcing me to sleep in here."

Eon nodded.

"After hearing what you did from Fae."
Fiercer nod.

"I'm not against it but why?"

Eon frowned, leaning from the bed until she was a bit forward.

"I need you to protect me from the Shadow."

Nel narrowed his eyes.
"I believe you may be a bit old for a monster under the bed." he rubbed his eyes, exhausted. He'd heard stories of human fears and night terrors but for a Lindor to believe them?

"No, Sir Nel. This is serious." Eon pulled her legs closer to her chest and frowned. "The Shadow is real. It's..."

She sighed for a moment, then pulled herself tighter into a ball.

"Each night, before I met you, I had these nightmares. I would be lost and alone in a dark place and there was little light for me to see. I would run through these halls, over and over, and each night, I would see it. The Shadow." she whispered, shivering. "It was there. A great mass of black. Nothing but evil and pain. I kept running from it. I couldn't sleep for fear of it happening again. 5A would promise me it couldn't hurt me and he'd protect me while I slept but..."

She trailed off, and Nel leaned against the wall. Somehow, he didn't think this was a simple nightmare.

"But then, when I was with you, I felt so tired and safe that I fell asleep in the train." she smiled. "And I didn't see the Shadow. I saw you. And we ran through the light together. I feel that you push him away."

Nel shuddered as he remembered the nightmare he had had the first night he had slept with her nearby. Had it been part of that? He wondered if he should tell her. 

"....Well," he finally began, anxious. "When we first slept, I was devoured by a darkness as you watched me and didn't help me. And I found out the darkness was a mass of those in my clan who had died. I remember their faces."

Eon gazed at him, worried.

"And all you said was, 'Why are you afraid of them? Don't you love them, Nelefis?'" he said, closing his eyes. "'Don't you love me?'" 

There was a long silence, before Nel pulled himself from the wall.

"But, that was only that night. I haven't seen them since." he smiled. "So maybe it is for the best."

"So you will?" Eon looked hopeful. 

How could he say no to that face? She had removed her hood now, her ears perked up with the rest of her body. She had relaxed considerably. 
"I did promise to be your guardian after all. I suppose protecting you from this Shadow lies under that vow as well." Nel joked, taking a seat on the bed next to her. "If my sword can serve you in both dreams and reality, I guess I'm a better guardian than most."

"Definitely!" Eon said, hugging him. "You're the greatest I could have ever asked for! I could never thank you enough, sir Nelefis."

"You can start by dropping the honorifics. I'm no sir. I wasn't even an elder among my people." Nel said, laying down against the window. 
"Weren't you an honored guardian?" Eon asked, pulling off her robe and folding it away. 

"Er, in a way, I suppose." Nel replied, taking off his own shirt. Below, he was only wearing a white tunic. He'd taken off his boots. And after what Fae had said, he refused to take off anything more. That thought weighed heavily in his mind.

"You suppose?" she asked, removing her pants. Nel looked at her a moment as she folded them away, then laid down across from him, turned to look at him. She, unlike him, didn't seem the least bit concerned about their current position. But that wasn't what held his attention.

"That's not important right now. I have a serious question." Nel began, perplexed. "Eon... why do you have scars on your legs?"

She blinked at him, then looked down a moment, then back up. 

"...I don't know." she whispered, holding a hand to her face. "....I actually have no idea. They must have happened before I lost my memories. I've looked at them before but I can't... I can't remember anything. But it's ok. They don't hurt me."

Nel gave her a small look, then sighed. He knew she'd say something like that.
"Anyway..." he turned over, grabbing a sheet for himself. "I had not earned the title of a noble yet. I was still in training. I had two more years before I could even attempt the final Trial. Once I passed that, THEN I could be considered a true Vue."

."Not like it matters now with my clan in such disorder." he thought to himself, depressed.

 

Eon hugged him from behind and grinned. Nel could feel her gentle warmth through his shirt. She truly was just a happy being. How could she be so pleased when she could not even remember where she had come from? And why did she consider him so important?

Truly, he felt blessed. Such a beautiful, wonderful, happy girl, so devoted to him. If he could protect her...

"Did your final trial include a giant machine dragon?" she wondered, peeking over his back. Her ears slightly dangled in front of him.

"...Probably not. I don't think the Elders would mandate the use of such a terrible machine." Nel shrugged a bit. "Especially not one forged to look like our dread demon god. That would be heretical to even conceive, let alone craft."

"And did the final trial, perhaps, include you having to face someone stronger than you?" Eon said, slightly forlorn. "And yet still spare his life?"

Nel went silent for a moment, then pulled the sheets closer to himself.

"No... I don't believe so. The Trial is never spoken of among our people. I could not say what it consists of. But I do not think... such a thing would be part of it."

"Then to me, Nel, I believe you did far more than your people expected of you." Eon whispered, closing her eyes and putting her face in his back. "I don't think any of them could question what you're capable of now." 

"....You truly believe that?" Nel asked. She could not see his face but she sensed his hope. And his mana began to glisten around him like the stars visible in the window. She looked up a moment, beaming.

She closed her eyes again, the nodded. 

"Yes, I think you did far more than they could have known. You've become a hero to them, and even your sister says that you've done the impossible. She looked at you as though you were some... legendary being. And I felt happy to be united to you. I want to be like that. I want to be so certain of who I am."

"You know, all around us, things are falling apart and humanity is trying to destroy everything. It's kind of silly how we're talking about this when that's going on." Nel muttered. "But I guess that's how you are, huh?"

"If I hadn't been able to ignore the pain of this world, I would have lost my mind. I would have fallen apart and been unable to go on. I simply accepted that... as long as I am alive I am happy."

"Then you are certain of yourself, Eon." Nel chuckled. "I wish I could follow such a motto."

"Why can't you?" Eon said. "How about this then..."

She hugged him tight to herself and he coughed as the wind was actually knocked out of him slightly. 
"So long as I am happy near you, you must be happy as well. This is my request as your wife, Sir Nelefis." Eon said sternly, her face in his back. "One which you cannot refuse."

"Still calling me that, huh?" Nel asked.

"If it is not to your people, Nel, even if they never respect you as a noble for not completing some trial from before you were even born..." Eon said. "Then... at least to me, you are a knight, and a noble. My knight."

She began to breathe softly and Nel had nothing further he could say. He could not thank her enough, and she knew it. But still, he spoke.

"A beautiful, happy girl with a strange, sarcastic metal-dog found me, and the girl thinks so much of me, even when I don't think so much of myself... Eon, I really do not think myself worthy of you."

"Do not be silly, Nel." Eon muttered, tired. "I feel I am lucky enough ... to... be with you..."

She began to drift off, and Nel could only sit in silence as she began to breathe more and more quietly until only that noise pervaded his senses. For minutes he lay, trying hard to understand that this was reality. He looked through the window and gazed into the stars, hoping somehow his family could see him now. Somehow they could feel it.

 

My love for your father? That's hard to explain, Nelefis... But I suppose I could say that it's.... Well, it's quite like they are  a part of you, just as you are a part of them. You wish to see them always smiling, and you wish to always be there for them. When they talk, everything they say interests you. They never bore you. They may irritate you sometimes but you always forgive them. You laugh with them when you're both happy. And you never want them to leave your side.

 

Sounds difficult, mother. What if you wish to walk another path?

 

That's just it, my son. You want to walk a path with them, always, no matter what. I promise, you will understand one day.

 

"I understand, Mom. I understand you now." Nelefis cried slightly, closing his eyes as he whispered. "I'm going to save you... so you can see her yourself. You... and Dad."

As a silence covered them both, he had never felt more warm and complete than now.

 

Eon's dreams began to take a hold of her as she slept. But she did not fear them as she once had. And as she lay there, within her dreams, she did not see the Shadow.

 

All she saw were the stars. 

Edited by Thaelasan

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She was standing near a pool of oil. There wasn't any scent to it, which Joanna found odd, but it was clearly oil; when she stooped down to pick some up, it fell slowly, shining brilliantly in all the colors of the rainbow and then some. As it dripped down, the imprints it made colored the sand she was standing on. More and more fell, until it formed a moving kaleidoscope that hurt her eyes. She shifted her gaze upwards.

 

A forest loomed high over the pool. Green light filtered through the branches. There were a few young saplings here and there, but for the most part the trees were all incredibly old. Many had poison ivy all along the edges, others, spiky outcroppings. Defense mechanisms, Joanna realized with a small shudder. There were no animals in sight. No bird nests. Not even insects. It was awfully still. The tree's leaves seemed like they hadn't moved ever since they were grown. And their roots-

 

Their roots ran right into the oil. It was all there was. While most of the forest was unaffected, here and there poison ran up to choke a lone tree. As she ran a hand carefully along the wood, Joanna heard a creaking sound. For the first time in eternity, one of the plants was falling...

 

It melted, became metal, and doused her in a rain of sparks. She felt no pain; all of her senses aside from sight and sound were numbed. She wasn't exactly sure her ears were working properly either. A muffled clanging sound kept repeating over and over. The noise sharpened into focus, and suddenly the serene forest was replaced with a darkness. Two eyes and the molten steel were her only source of light. An arm hammered the metal over and over again. It belonged to an android, quite human-like but still uncanny. Its eyes had a red dot in the center of its pupils, and its nose was pointed like a bird's beak. She couldn't make out anything underneath the mouth.

 

It did not notice her. The robot kept its eyes trained on the task at hand, blissfully unaware of anything it wasn't meant to do. The sun was rising now, brightening up the windows of the shop. Except it wasn't a sun, it was searchlights of some huge vehicle running through the alley. It was still night. It was always still night. Joanna opened the door that she was sure just appeared out of nowhere, and found herself facing another lake of oil. This time, it stretched farther than her eye can see. 

 

The liquid started to rise; define itself; draw past the banks; until Joanna found herself the prey of a huge figure, devil-horned and clawed. It stopped before it struck her, its attention suddenly diverted by something new. 

 

"Hey, Graham cracker!" What in the world was Poster Boy doing here? As she turned, though, the city of shadows and light disappeared. The monster was gone too, and the oil was replaced with water. Everything was far more colorful. But now there wasn't anyone around. Who called to her? 

 

It was still dark in the room. Joanna slowly sat up in her bed and rubbed her eyes. She still felt tired, so why'd she wake up?

 

"Sorry, I didn't finish moving yet." Katherine whispered, flicking on the lights. She was holding a box full of her toy animals, hastily tossing them in. Fifi was sitting on her shoulder, or more accurately something that happened to look like Fifi. 

 

Joanna took a much-needed stretch and yawned. "Where's everyone else?" 

 

"Sleeping. Or staying up all night tracking the Dictatorship." Katherine said, striking a small pose. "Or just living, I guess."

 

"Aaron?" Joanna asked, just a little concerned.

 

"In his own room, in the hallway over. Nel and Eon are... three doors over from us."

 

Joanna slumped down, relieved. Her eyes finally adjusted to the lamp's light, and the first thing she checked was the clock hanging above the desk. Four twenty-three. Considering how early she fell asleep at, this was expected. The remnants of sleep still hung on to her, but she wasn't going back now. "Anything important happen?"

 

Katherine pulled out a phone and flipped through it. "Well... The English Empire just took over the rest of Scotland, and are starting to focus their efforts on the sea. Tensions remain high between the US and Japan, aaand groups are vying for the collapsed South Africa."

 

"Any good news?" Joanna recognized the importance of each event. Her Party's analysts predicted them all to an extent, and were planning on backing an ally for South Africa. 

 

"Um..." Katherine scrolled through her notes furiously. "Korea's still okay. We've halted Japanese armies spotted in the region. Democratic Russia is holding on fairly well, and should get supplies soon."

 

"What about for us?"

 

"The Dictatorship continues to confuse us." 

 

"Damn." Joanna started to help pile toys into the box. It began to overflow. She reached for her helmet, and with a shrug started filling it too. "So, Katherine... Nel said this helmet is specifically designed to mess with your head, right?"

 

The Lindor turned her green eyes on Joanna. "Yes?"

 

"Well, um..." The human bit her lip. "Is it supposed to talk to you?"

 

They were in the hallway now. It was surprisingly busy for being so early in the morning. Lindor pushed through with backpacks and books, some with bundles of clothing and food. 

 

"Overworked..." Katherine trailed off as she navigated the crowd. Then, in a whisper; "Not that we know of, but it doesn't surprise us. Now that we definitively know Lindor are working with the government, anything is possible."

 

"You didn't even suspect Lindor could do such a thing?" Joanna quirked an eyebrow.

 

"We did, but it was only a theory. No definitive proof prior to Shul. The Dictatorship covers its tracks well, and if it wasn't for your group being spontaneous and entering the forge, we would've still been in the dark. But, the helmet, what did it tell you?"

 

"He was pretty mad at Shul, asked me for my coordinates, and helped me survive the fight against Ashala'Nu without getting a scratch. Also, something about a Sentinel." She paused in between each piece of information, trying to recollect everything.

 

Katherine froze, leading to complaints from others who bumped into her. "Sentinel? That's a machine's term. I'll have to ask Thourfive about this..."

 

"Who?"

 

"I mean 3455. Thourfive is a way of shortening his name. Take the 'th' sound from the three, the 'our' from four, and then the double five give us both "fi" and "ve". Numerical shorthand." Katherine ran a hand through her hair, grinning sheepishly. "When you build hundreds of machines, you learn to cut corners."

 

"So is Fifi really... uh..." Joanna couldn't think of any numbers that corresponded.

 

"41X2. Ones are just treated as an "I", and the "X2" repeats the sound twice." The Lindor looked happier now, her mind taken off of impending threats. "Hey, you ever sat in on a lecture?"

 

"No?"

 

"Well, it's boring. But you might like that kind of thing." She opened a door to a small closet, and dumped the box's contents all over the floor. Joanna followed suit. "It's my last class tonight, history. Maybe it'll fill you in on World War Two."

 

They made their way downstairs and to an open classroom. Rows of seats were arranged in a semi-circle, all facing a holographic board. The room started to fill, though slowly. A professor sat on the side, draining a cup of coffee. He had wolfish ears, and his nose had a noticeable slope to it. After an alarm chimed, he got up hesitantly and made his way to the board.

 

"Why is Lindor history hard to track?" The professor bellowed. "There are several reasons. One is that the Lindor tend to segment themselves in clans, and so don't share much of their informations or legends. Another is our longevity- we see no need to write down our life stories until we're on a clear deathbed. And that deathbed could be anything! Impalement, burning, sudden cardiac arrest, so on and so forth. The common thought is that the Lindor are complacent..."

 

Joanna felt herself drawn in, though she noticed Katherine pulling out a laptop. The Lindor girl pretended to take notes for a few minutes before switching to a new program. 41A9 was in the corner of a fully colored feed.

 

"What's this-" Joanna began in a whisper, before being tapped lightly and shown a writing program.

its a real-time feed of all my spies. now that 41X2s here i can check up on all the others

She was carefully passed the laptop when the professor was looking away.

That's pretty nice. Where's this toy at now?
san fran. but shes not reporting in anything unusual. just some riots here and there. now this one. this ones good.

The feed switched to a 20X2.

chicago. ive been following around a few high up senators for like two months now. some idiot guard picked 20x2 and forgot about her. anyways shes more interesting than 41x2. ive listened into a few meetings with the dictator. in hindsight i shouldve killed her then but could you imagine sitting in those fancy chairs and then all of a sudden a tiny fox jumps out at you and starts kicking butt and flipping all the tables even though its only 4 inches high.

Katherine was quietly snickering, earning the confused attention of her classmates.

Do you even take your education seriously anymore?
no

The rest of the lecture, Joanna simply alternated between giving the necessary amount of attention to the professor and commentating what was going on in the feed with Katherine. If this was what college was like, then she truly did miss out.

Edited by serce2

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You've returned here again, haven't you? It's so nice to see you again.

 

Nel opened his eyes. He was standing within a familiar place, the ends of the earth as he'd begun to believe. Grass and forest spread as far as the eyes could see, no end to be spotted. The sky above was the pristine quality, with just enough cloud cover to keep the sun from burning the Earth but not enough to darken the horizon. A few birds passed overhead and headed off into the distance yet Nel felt there was no end to their flight. He gazed forward, knowing who he was going to see. 

"Bane'Hakir." Nel muttered, walking forward through the grass comfortably. "What is it that you wish of me?"

As he came to a rest, he stood before a tall and intimidating Lindor male. His ears were longer than Nel's, yet also held a form of animalistic quality. His muscles were toned and his body just beamed with power. Energy flowed from him uncontrollably, touching each thing around him. Even the grass seemed to be pulled to him as some sort of gravity. The air blew softly around them both. Bane'Hakir crossed his arms, smiling. Nel remembered once that the god had worn a helmet in one of his dreams.

"Ah. I'm not here for anything truly in particular." Bane'Hakir said within Nel's mind, his lips not moving. "At least, not for myself. I come bearing a message to you, which I think you will find very important."

"A message?" Nel wondered. The last time Bane'Hakir had visited him it had been the night before his ceremony to receive his sword. Before that, the great God had come to see him in many of his dreams before, always pushing him forward and speaking of the past. Yet the god was always cryptic, never giving the total answer.

Bane'Hakir held out his hand, a stone pulsing within it. The gleaming rock was pristine, no marks upon it, the color of it seeming to be as the sky above them, but then Nel realized it was reflecting their surroundings.

"I need you to find this stone. It is imperative that you locate it before the humans do." Bane said, closing his fist. The stone disappeared into dust. "They have been seeking it for some time. It is a relic of my age, one before the cataclysm. If it is allowed to enter the hands of any force, regardless of their wishes, they could do anything with it. You must stop them."

His final words were emphasized with a feeling of urgency that passed through Nel almost physically. Nel stepped back a moment, concerned.

Bane's face softened and he relaxed a bit.

"However, I also need to tell you that the one you love so much was fortunate to fall within your reach. I cannot express how fortuitous it is that you were to meet her. The one called Eon." Bane went on, smiling. "She will need you greatly in the days to come. The world is changing, Nelefis."
Bane gestured to the area around him. The skies began to alter until they were filled with smoke and fire. Soldiers ran past Nel and Bane seemingly oblivious to them as the grass beneath their feet turned to dust and ruin. Nel could not tell if the soldiers were human or Lindor and it frightened him. 

"It is time for us to stop our complacency. If we do not, this constant descent of war and want will tear this world in two. It has already done more damage than you could possibly imagine, Nelefis. But it can be stopped. You have already seen, however, how it can corrupt even the most promised of people."

Nel looked at the ground as he thought of Shul'Thrae. Bane lifted Nel's head with a finger, sighing.

"But it was a necessary learning. Trust in your own decisions, Nelefis. Even if it means taking a life, as we were never want to do. You must understand, Nelefis, that for you to do so would not be so cruel."

Nelefis gaped, stunned.

"But murder is-"

"Is the darkest crime. Yes. But only for those who would treat life as something to easily throw away for their own, blind ambition. But you are different, for you realize the value of each life you take. I am not telling you to become a murderer. I am telling you to become one who does it only when it is most necessary, and I trust you will know when the time comes."

As Nel began to waken, Bane faded from his mind. The last thing he witnessed was the God waving at him as the world crumbled.

"Stay by those you love, no matter what happens. I believe in you, young Al'Mudan."

 

-------

 

Eon lay within her own dreams, walking among the stars. She could see the constellations and view them from every angle. She saw planets and worlds beyond, and felt the heat of their suns. There was no true darkness within this place, only scattered light. As she came upon Earth, she drifted around it, looking it over. Yet she could not touch it, for it was dark and filled with flame. 

You wish to heal it.

Eon nodded, holding the small, infernal planet within her great hands. Yet she felt so small compared to the greatness of its pain.

You may but it will not be easy.

Eon nodded again, knowing that the voice was right. It was such a beautiful, feminine voice. It seemed to come from behind her, however. 

Then grasp that resolve. You will need it in the days to come if you are to do as you wish to.

Eon turned slightly, and behind her, the moon was shining with a great brilliance. Suddenly she was standing on its surface and the voice seemed to come from all directions.

Look to me for guidance and I will never lead you astray. I promise you, child of the moon.

She fell into the stars once again and the voice went silent.

 

-----

 

As the two awoke, Nel turned to find Eon dressing herself again. She had awoken before him, and was humming as she busied herself with her daily morning routine of yawning and stretching. As she finished, she turned back at him and smiled as she noticed he was awake.

"Did you sleep well?" she asked. 
Nel considered how best to answer her. Would she believe him if he told her what he had seen? But she DID seem to trust everything about him..

"...I did. But I also received... a mission." Nel whispered, trying to find words. "I told you of my clan's religion, did I not?"

"Yes. Of the twin gods. Ashala'Nu was one of them, right?" Eon asked, taking a seat on the bed. "What about it?"

"Since I was young, I have sometimes been visited in my dreams by Bane'Hakir." Nel said carefully, watching her face for any reaction. "He who was said to have taught my people the Hakir Yu Kawae. When I was younger, he would tell me that I was destined for greatness and would tell me of things to come. He also encouraged me each day to continue following the path, no matter what. The Elders said that I had been chosen for the most sacred of fates. That I would be a Prophet. A Shetha'Thrae. That I would speak the words of Bane'Hakir to the people."

Nel halted for a moment, still studying Eon's face and eyes. She seemed completely engrossed in the story.

"...You believe me?" Nel asked, confused.

"Huh? You thought I wouldn't?" Eon asked, "Why would I doubt you?"

"Because the gods have been silent for years. Some of my own people even doubted that I had such a gift." Nel admitted. "Even Faelan had a hard time coming to terms with it."

"I will always believe in you, Nel. You have no reason to lie to me." Eon said with certainty. 

Nel's lips curled a bit into a smile but he continued.

"Last night, I had a vision. I have been instructed by Bane'Hakir to seek a stone that he says cannot fall into the hands of humanity - or anyone else for that matter. He has given me tests in the past, but never something that gave me such a sense of urgency. I know not where or how to seek it but I know that it exists." Nel said, his face grave. "If Bane'Hakir says such a thing then I must do it. He would not speak lightly." 

"Did he say anything else?" Eon asked, curious.

"Only that I should stay close to and protect those I love." Nel said. "But that was already a given."

Eon pondered for a moment.

"It's funny, really. I had a similar dream, but with a different meaning." Eon said, thinking. "I was told by the voice of the Moon that I should seek its guidance and it won't lead me astray. It told me that I must strengthen my resolve if I want to do what I really want to do."

"...Which is?" Nel asked.

"Heal this world." Eon jumped from the bedside and brushed herself off. "But in any case, we should probably try to find more information about that stone!"

"I couldn't ask you to help me, Eo-"

"You don't have to. I'm doing it anyway. Quit forgetting that I'm your wife now, and your burdens are mine too." Eon stated firmly, hands on her hips. "That's how it works."

"....I suppose I have no choice then." Nel grinned, moving from the bed himself and placing his own clothes on. "I am glad to have your assistance."

"You shall until the end of days, Sir Nelefis." Eon said whimsically as the two left the room. 5A perked up from where he was sitting and began to follow them. This time, however, Nel was aware of his presence but did not mention anything.

As they passed through the halls, a few people were running somewhere important and didn't bother the pair today. It seemed as if they had never been heroes at all, until a few of the children ran up to Nel and Eon with eager faces.

"It's you two again!" one of the kids said, excited. "Did you guys sleep well? Are you ready to fight again!?"

"...Probably. But we honestly hope we won't have to." Nel admitted. "Children, though it may seem heroic, I'm sorry to tell you that normally the best thing to do is avoid conflict."

"But then how do you beat up the bad guys?" one of the other children asked.

"I try not to." Nel said. "My clan was devoted to a path of only using power when necessary. However..."

Quelu flicked from his back and was hovering in the air before him within an instant. He grasped the hilt of the sword ceremoniously as the children's mouths opened with awe. Several gasps erupted amongst them as the sheen of the sword glittered in the light of the room. He tightened his grip and moved his wrist experimentally, the air being sliced by the very motion. He finished with a slight pose, breathing outward.

"However, should the need arise, I will not hesitate to do what must be done, if that's what you mean." he grinned, snapping his fingers. Quelu returned to his back, floating behind him as if it had never moved at all. 

Eon clapped proudly, pleased. 

"Wait can we touch the sword?!" one of the children asked, jumping up and down. "That's the one that beat the Dark One, isn't it?!"

It suddenly struck Nel and he began to understand. To them, not only was he an icon but so was the blade that followed him. It was a part of him and it had been the weapon that had sundered Ashala'Nu's head from its body. To them, that WOULD be something like a legendary artifact, wouldn't it?

He pondered for a moment, then looked to Eon. She stared at him, then cocked her head.

"What is it, dearest Sir Nelefis?" she asked, hands over her waist.

"Well, it is quite the dilemma." he said, slightly theatrically. "The rules of my clan state that only the owner of a weapon may decree how a weapon is used or held, and it is normally customary that no one but the owner ever touch it. As such, it has become unspoken law that only the wielder of a relic can grasp it or use it."

Some of the children looked downtrodden and even Eon looked sad at the thought.

"However... it was never written down as code or law." Nel pondered, thinking for a long while. "And even my own parents would share their weapons from time to time as they worked and built upon them. But they are dangerous."

He moved his fingers slightly and Quelu drifted around him, moving at a slow pace.

"But in the end, it is if the weapon chooses to allow someone to touch it. So, I will let Quelu decide." Nelefis said, holding the sword before the children in space, the hilt aimed to them. "But he's a very temperamental sword."

The children looked at each other, then they began to understand. One of them reached for the sword but Quelu moved slightly, just out of reach. Another grabbed for it but it spun around and avoided his hand. A young girl leaped at the sword and fell, almost tripping, before Eon stopped her descent. Still, Quelu remained in the air before them.

"....Aww, it doesn't like us!" one of the boys pouted, stomping his foot. "...Stupid sword."

"Call it what you will. But I don't think insults will help you succeed in this instance." Nel shrugged, smiling.

One of the younger children stepped forward, looking at the sword for a long time. The other children looked at him and one of them even rolled his eyes. If no one else could grab it, how could he? But Nel blinked for a moment and then crossed his arms as the child reached out his hand. 

His fingers laced around Quelu and pulled it from the air, now held in his own grasp.

"Wh...How?" one of the other children said, baffled.

"Because he is one of my clan." Nel said, stepping forward and kneeling. He ruffled the child's hair, then calmly took Quelu from him, proud. The sword drifted nearby, looking the child over with the eye borne in its hilt.

"He bears within him the potential. He has the gift." Tempest's pupil constricted slightly, then opened. "I sense his weapon will be of great worth. But he is yet untrained.

"And with no one to teach him save a select few." Nel realized, despondent. He had known this may happen, but he could not allow it to be. The children of his clan were trained from the age of six until they could forge their own swords fifteen years later. They were taught all the necessary education, given every opportunity, chose careers among the community. But this child would have no hope of such teachings so long as the clan remained in such disarray. The next generation, after all, was the clan's legacy. And there still lived those who could offer him such learning. 

However, no Elder could choose him as their Kawaelan, especially not if Nel didn't even know which ones still lived. He hoped as many as possible. At least.. his father, no matter how selfish that request was...

Nel pondered for a long moment, trying to choose best how to follow the statement.

"You should teach him."

Nel looked at Eon with a vexed expression as Eon looked at him expectantly.

"Er... what, my love?" Nel asked, stunned.

"You should teach him. You know you want to." Eon said, gesturing to the boy. "He is of your people, isn't he? Then someone of your clan has to take care of him. And you're the one who knows the most-"

"That's impossible. I'm not an Elder. Me teaching him may make it where he misses many crucial things!" Nel stuttered, holding out both hands. "I... I was never trained to teach and I certainly don't have-"

"I think it's a fine idea." 

Faelan emerged from the doorway, closing it behind her. She stepped next to Nel and crossed her arms, pleased. 

"After all, you are the next Kawaemanhakir if father is...." she began, but she changed her expression. "You will be, if father is no longer with us. Vinthar did not follow the trial and did not want such a burden. And I certainly can't do it, being a drifter. I'd have to stay in the clan all the time. And it also means I'd have to have a child. I'm not ready for that, not even after four hundred years."

She leaned close to him so that only he could hear her.

"But you... already have a chance at that. And what could make you happier than becoming the very symbol of our people? When all this is over, you'll be hailed as a hero and as our savior, in name and everything - if you live. And you have no choice in that. You have to live now because everything our people are... or were, you are. You're our Shetha'Thrae, right? So why not make this child... the first student of our new generation?"

She stared at Nel for a long time and he gazed back at her, and then he nodded. 

"....You're probably right, Fae-Ri."

"I AM right." Faelan leaned back, slightly annoyed. "...Still using that name for me, are you?"

"I'm the only one who can." Nel grinned. 
"....Damn you for being right. In any case, the caretaker for the children today is ill and I volunteered to watch the whole lot of them while I'm here waiting for Vinthar to heal." She crossed her arms. "But I'm having a hard time with them being so excited, and everyone else is in the school."

"School?" Nel asked.

"Or rather, their version of school here. These children are too young to be told about such topics yet. They're being taught only the basics each day and then allowed to play. But I'm already done teaching them for the day. It's already 2:....30 something?"

Nel looked shocked. Eon looked at him. Fae smirked.

"Oh, did the great student Nel oversleep with his beloved last night? Were you perchance.. kept up by something?" Fae leaned a bit towards him, sly.

"We slept that long?!" Nel turned to Eon, ignoring Fae's comment. "I never wake up after noon.. I must have been far more exhausted..."

"And you had a right to be. We haven't slept in real beds since you and I met." Eon waved away his worries. "Be happy you were able to sleep so well. It only means you were relaxed, and felt safe."

"...You're right." Nel relaxed slightly. 

"Of course I am!" Eon replied, pushing him forward. "Now come on. We're going to take care of these children too."

"What?" Nel asked, moving forward with her. 

"It'll be fun, and they'll enjoy it. I'll enjoy it." she added. "Besides, we need to get to know your new student, right?"

The children cheered as they followed the pair outside of the sanctum, Fae leaning against a pillar as she watched them go.

"Dog, you with them?" she asked quietly, not moving.

5A stopped a moment, then began to reveal himself. Soon, the entire cloak was gone, and the dog was sitting by Fae, in the shadows.

"...Nel says you may be trusted. Yet I am now intrigued how you not only knew my presence but also my shape." 5A said, flexing a bit.

"In the video feed, there was a moment where a four legged creature leapt past the screen after my brother and his wife." Fae replied, adjusting her weight slightly. "Don't worry. No one else seemed to notice. They were too busy looking at the carnage. But I don't doubt someone else may see you. But no one else will know who you are."

"And you do?" 5A inquired, suddenly a bit concerned.

"Your model design is similar to a failed prototype batch the humans recently tried to recreate. Texts they left behind state that your model was constructed by some Lindor clan the humans had discovered to the North... near the Arctic Circle." 

5A began to grow a bit anxious but his features were unreadable.

"However, not a single one of those models were a success nor were they imbued with life. Each one failed and the humans gave up on the experiment and removed most of the research to backup servers. So that leaves the question - who built you?..."

5A was growing increasingly nervous. His tail flicked slightly. 

"I'm going to go on a limb... since you probably cannot reveal any information... and say that you're the only successful construct of your design.. and are no prototype, but the original model. And that you weren't just built for fun. I know how Lindor work. Our clans are passive and don't desire any form of conflict. So why, then, would a Lindor of a sane mind craft such a dangerous, lethal, and combat-equipped wolf?"

Sal finally looked up at her and gritted his teeth.

"Is this some form of threat? An interrogation?.. I do not mean to be rude but how could you possibly have gathered that information? The humans would have-"

"Humans are very foolish creatures and only pay attention to what draws their interest. Someone dressed in the garb of a scientist who seems to know what she's doing can easily move among them as long as she keeps up her facade." Fae replied quietly, yawning. "But this same woman doesn't care about such information... normally, until something draws her OWN interest. And you have done just that."

"What do you want, then?" 5A surrendered, curling his tail about himself. "I cannot allow Nel or Eon to know such information. That would impede the mission. But I also will not kill you. It also goes against my own desires and would impede the mission. Nel would be hurt." 

"Don't worry. Though I have my own theories, I'm sure you're not doing this because of your own directives. It's your master, isn't it?" Fae looked down at him slightly. "And your master.. isn't Eon." 

5A straightened up.

"However, you're helping Nel, and Nel loves that girl, so I won't interfere. But I have a simple condition."

"And that is?"

"I'm coming with you when you guys leave this place." Fae said flatly.

"Impossible. More people would-"

"Impede the mission? That's not a good excuse, wolf. You know damn well the more people who can fight the better chance you have of success. Don't lie to me. You don't want me around because you don't want a chance I'll let this information slip."

The wolf was silent but his tail flicked again.

"I don't see the problem. This information by itself just tells someone that you're not giving the full story. Or does Nel already seem to doubt you? ...." Fae whispered. "Or... does Eon?"

"Enough." 5A demanded, stepping forward towards Eon and Nel's location. "You've said your piece. If you desire so badly to come with us where we go, I only hope you don't regret your folly. I am not trying to push you away just for my own good, you have no idea what forces are at work."

"Oh? Enlighten me then? Or is that another directive you must follow?" Fae said.

She then relaxed slightly.

"Remember, dog. You have your own soul and your own mind. Whatever commands you follow, they're an obligation, they're not law."

"If you knew him, you would not speak so lightly." 5A replied, his voice soft. "...You would know that I have no choice."

As he paced off and went back into the shadows, Fae gripped her arms tighter to her chest and sighed.

"...I knew Nel wouldn't be able to live without drawing trouble to himself some day." she muttered despondently.

 

-----

 

"You have come today to be judged by the ten Elders of the Sana'Hakir. And you have also come to be judged by the great Kawaemanhakir, in his esteemed vindication, of your skills and your abilities."

 

He remembered the feeling of anxiety as he had gripped the practice sword with anticipation. The other children of the Way were standing around him, organized by age. However, that was merely an acute formality - they were all six years old. After all, that was the age at which this would begin. 

"You may be confused, since you are new to this world. Younglings, yet even to take your first steps into adulthood, let alone into the world at large. But what we begin today is your long, rigorous training, to mold you from the new clay of birth to the strong stone of maturity. This is your destiny, as children of the Sana'Hakir."

The torches around them flickered slightly. Nelefis Al'Mudan, at the time but a small child with only barest knowledge of the tenets, was determined. The other children were trembling, anxious or afraid. But Nel stood firm. After all, he was not just another student. He gazed upon his father as his father gazed back at him. The other Elders spoke but the Kawaemanhakir would not talk unless it was necessary.

"Salthulon. Please step forward. You are already chosen." Elder Ku'Man said, leaning forward on the grand table.

A small child, only a month older than Nel but shorter than him, moved to the light. He gazed into the eyes of the Elders with fascination, awe, and worry. They looked at each other, then nodded.

"You will be trained by Elder Vi'Toi. She will be your Kahan'Ahi. Do you understand?"

The boy nodded again, then moved to the side where Vi'Toi's students would gather. This is the way the children were chosen, and Nel watched as several other children before him were brought to their respective leaders.

"Nelefis."

There was a pause. Each of the elders stopped a moment. Nelefis was the last to be chosen. 

Kawaemanhakir Winthue Al'Mudan stood up from his grand chair, his robes falling around his feet. The other children gazed in awe, then looked at Nelefis. Nelefis simply stared into his father's eyes knowingly.

The two gazed at each other for a long while. Then Winthu smiled.

"We have discussed it among ourselves and have decreed that it shall be that you will be raised as a very important figure, one of three others, but even more important than they. A great burden shall be placed upon you, and should you lift it, you will be graced with wings to reach the heavens."

He spread out his arms as he said this, pleased.

"You have been chosen not just as a Vue, but also as a Shetha'Thrae."

The rest of the Elders raised an eyebrow or looked to each other with concern. Some of the children became worried. They knew not of what they had heard. But Nel's face hardened.

"Dad... Kawaemanhakir. I thank you for your decision... and am proud to accept it, but I must know." Nel said, and the rest of the audience looked at him with shock, for he had spoken out of turn. "Did you choose this as Kawaemanhakir, or as my Dad?"

The man rubbed his chin for a long while, then brought his hand back down to his side.

"I did it as both. I see you as a promising figure to our people not just as the one who sired you but also as our clan's leader. You have more power and mana than you could possibly imagine, potential beyond potential. One day, I hope, the other children in this room will see you not only as their ally but as their paragon. I do not say this lightly."

The rest of the Elders nodded.

"....Then I will happily accept." Nel's face softened, and he bowed. 

"Know this, even as your father, I will not show pity or mercy in my training. I will harden you into a warrior worthy of the mantle you have been offered." Winthue stated firmly, siting back down in his chair. "There is no place for weakness among our people. Kindness and strength are our tenets. The power to..."

"The power to raise others as pillars and to humble our enemies." Nel completed, proud. 

"That is correct, my son." Winthue smirked, leaning back into his seat. "Your training shall begin tomorrow. The rest of you, the Elders who have chosen to take you under their wing will decide when you train. You may not argue when or where it happens. Is that understood?"

The rest of the children agreed but they all looked at Nelefis with curiosity... and a few, Nel knew, looked at him with Greed.

 

-------

 

Another one fell to his feet and he moved his hand again. Two more suddenly broke apart and fell into pieces, as though they had never been whole. He stopped a moment and his sword drifted before him before finally moving where it belonged on his back.

The training dummies that had been hastily constructed of straw and buckets were now nothing more than a mess of hay, the buckets intact. But the cuts had been efficient and measured, aiming only for the most vital of parts or organs. Each dummy was missing parts of itself from where the heart, colon, brain, or other parts would be. They had also been stabbed in vital muscles and tendons... if they had had them. The children were watching with amazement.

Ahitan sat with the rest of the children but Nelefis had instructed him to watch the closest. The young boy, Nel had discovered, had at least been taught of their tongue and their ways before his parents had been taken. 

According to Ahitan, his parents had named him as such for he did not cry once as a child. His name held true even as he got older. He did not speak or whine almost at all, and the few words he spoke were all he needed. Nelefis agreed that the name fit him well.

However, Ahitan had gone on to state that his father was one of the survivors of the battle, having fought to protect his wife and child. He had brought the boy with him but was currently in a poor condition to take care of him. Ahitan's mother had been taken from him after attempting to help her husband. Nelefis was astonished to learn Ahitan was not the product of one of the Den Mothers  - the Paru'Hakir - but instead of a couple who had been mana bonded just as Nelefis' parents had been. As such, it was even more vital that he be raised according to the laws and traditions of their people. He had promise as a Vue and even Eon said that his mana was almost akin to Nelefis' - even at a young age. 

"Nel-Ru." Ahitan said.

Nelefis turned slightly, giving the boy a glance. The child had not said much throughout everything. 

"You focused their bodies after disarming and weakening them." the boy stated.

"I did."

"Killing them would be quicker."
There was a soft pause and Nel shook his head.

"That is not the way of our people."

"It is not?" Ahitan asked.

"No. That is the ultimate sin of our people. You would have been taught more of it when you turned eight." Nel continued, crossing his arms. "We never murder, and even animals are treated with respect during the Quwao." (The Hunt.)

"Yet our people were killed." Ahitan blinked.

"They were. Wrongly but with honor." Nel nodded. "That does not give us an excuse to kill them back. If someone cuts off your hands and you cut off their hands in return, there are no more hands to shake in peace."

"How would you cut off their hands without hands?" Ahitan asked. Some of the children giggled.

"It's an old Sana'Hakir saying that my father taught to me. It is not meant to be literal. Did you at least know about the Kawaemanhakir?"

"My parents told me. I would be given to them now." Ahitan said bluntly. "But I did not wish to go."

Nelefis was actually slightly surprised.

"...You didn't wish to learn the path?"

"No. It sounded like something painful and difficult. I wanted to live with Mom and Dad. Why could they not teach me?" Ahitan asked.

"They were not Elders. But they would have still supported you. The training, as custom, is set for four hours in a day, chosen by the Elder. Each day, without any days free until you are 19. You are trained in all subjects. You are taught all knowledge that the clan holds. And as you get older, you become more and more informed of our greatest secrets and traditions. And when you turn 20...."

Nelefis spun his sword before him with a flourish, his hand moving slightly.

"You will work to forge a weapon of your choice, to be with you, to bond with you, to possess a fragment of you within it."

"....We forge weapons, learn how to be strong, and learn of the world. We do not use that power to fight back?" 

Nelefis was silent for a moment, then sighed.

"I can't tell you you're wrong, nor can I take from you what you saw happen to our people. It was not a sight for a child and it certainly was not right or just. It was a kidnapping and a massacre. We have been struck and our very way of life is threatened. Our traditions are challenged. Our secrets are now being told to a race which cannot understand them or their importance. Our hearts... have been torn from our chests. The clan's heart beats, wounded, but it beats on."

He put a hand on his chest, breathing.

"We do not strike back because that is not the way of our god, Bane'Hakir. To kill and kill, even as an act of vengeance, is to remove life from this world. But I never said I... We, were not going to fight back."

Nelefis stared at Ahitan before continuing.

"Know this, Ahitan. The training I give you is something you must learn. It is a way of our life. Through you, no matter if you want it or not, our clan lives on. For each survivor, another piece of our soul is returned. I will show you the world as we saw it. Then, you may ask me again why we do not kill. In return, I can promise you this, the humans will pay for their actions. Our clan will rise again, and take back what was ours. One does not have to kill to hurt. But if you want to know how I will do it, you will have to follow me."

"....Will... my Mom return?" Ahitan inquired.

"Ahitan, if you listen to me, and if you stay by me, I promise you, just as I slew Ashala'Nu, I will overcome any odd to see our people returned to their rightful place... and to see you back with your mother. Can you do that?"

"...If you promise that, yes." Ahitan said. "Du shan."

Nel rubbed the child's head again and then stood back to his full height, turning to the other children.

"However, I actually don't know what clans some of you came from, on that note." Nel said, rubbing the back of his head. "...Are you part of Katherine's?..."

"Yeah! Well, maybe?" one of the girls said, trying to think.

"They're not." Faelan said. Nelefis turned as she strode up, hands in her pockets. Nel noticed now she had changed out of her circus garb for some sort of strange, human attire. A bag hung over her shoulder. Nel looked her over, rubbing his chin.

"Should I-"

"Before you ask, these are the accepted clothes of humans." Fae sighed. "But about your previous question, most of the children here were brought with their parents who are either traders or drifting Lindor going from outpost to outpost. In case you weren't aware, we're one of the only Lindor clans still remaining who follow isolationist beliefs. The younger generations are creating their own clans, speaking with humans in disguise, or trading amongst each other. Hey, gotta make a living while the world burns around us."

Nelefis frowned. Isolationist? Weren't all clans like the Sana'Hakir? 

"On that matter, I still don't know what clan your wife is from but I have my guesses." Fae yawned, stretching a bit. "I'd have to see her clan marks to be sure though."

"Clan marks?" Nel asked. Fae rubbed the bridge of her nose.

"....The marks on our arms are clan marks. They're Mana-induced traits which will always be present on those who have the blood of a clan in them. Look at Ahitan's arm. Did you think that was a tattoo?"

What Faelan was referring to were birthmarks which found their way onto the arms of those in the Sana'Hakir and somehow were always present on their favored arms, right or left. If one was born ambidextrous, marks were present on both arms. Nel's was on his right arm, a ring around his bicep that possessed symbols and runes of a bygone era. According to the Elders, the symbols meant traits such as Honor, Glory, and Prosperity.

"No, I knew of clan marks, but I did not know so many different variations existed." Nel replied, curious. "What other ones are there?"

"Well for us it's our arm marks. For the Asuran, it's the horns, since they're a more magical clan, and are attuned to the earth. Bovine horns and ears. For ... I think it's the Vadran... they have tails and serpent fangs. The Gothan have broad shoulders and a tattoo on their back of mountains. They actually make machines from rocks. Can you believe it?" Faelan smirked. "There's a clan from the North though... their name escapes me... Someone said they have rabbit-like features... What was their name again?..."

Nel froze, highly interested. 

"Oh right... the Shi'Hadur." Fae held up a finger, pleased. "But we haven't heard from them in ages. Some even doubt they still live."

Eon perked up from where she sat, concerned.

"...Wait, they're all gone?"

"Well, we don't know. The Arctic Circle isn't exactly a place you just go for vacation. However they're hiding themselves or whatever they're doing up there is a mystery." Fae shrugged. "Anyway, the classes are almost over for the day."

The children sighed and began to walk off but Ahitan stayed with Nel and Eon, walking closer to them as they spoke. His tiny frame barely reached Nel's lower femur.

As Eon stood back to her feet, she looked up at Nel. She had never considered where she was from. But if it was true.... Was that why Sal wanted them to go North? To see her people again?

"So why are you dressed like that, anyway?" Nel asked, frowning. "And what's with that bag over your shoulder?"

"I'm coming with you." Fae grinned. 

"What?" Eon asked, pleased. "Really?"

"Yeah. Already confirmed it with the dog. Vinthar is staying here with Ahitan's Dad. But he wanted to see you before we left. And Ahitan may want to say bye to his father before we head out on this crazy mission."

"...Are you sure, Fae-Ri?" Nel asked.

"I'm your older sister. It's my job to protect you, and not just that...." she said, eyes bright.  "You're the potential and fill-in Kawaemanhakir. As a clan member, should I not stand by your side and keep you safe? That's our people's code, isn't it?"

"I know you don't care much about the tenets." Nel smirked. "But I appreciate the sentiment. I would never say no to you regardless. You're a great warrior."

"And I know the landscape, and a lot of laws and such. I'm irreplaceable." 

"But 5A said it was ok?" Eon wondered, concerned.

"I have a way with words." Faelan grinned.

 

-----

 

(( They are now up to the moment with Joanna leaving the class. She can meet them now. ))

Edited by Thaelasan

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"And the topic of discussion I leave you with is about the recent clips." The professor made a motion to clear the holographic board of his carefully written notes, nodding at the computer as a way of thanks.

 

Katherine jerked her head up, grinning at the sudden attention of the entire class. It was a bit unnerving to be at the center of attention again, sure, but it wasn't fully directed at Joanna. She could deal with it. A few whispers of 'the human' flowed through the room, but otherwise there wasn't any of yesterday's mania. Some Lindor seemed to be positively frowning, indecisive whether they should say something or not.

 

"Two figures are found at the heart of nearly every Lindor clan's religion. True, there are some clans that deviate significantly, but those are oddities, influenced by the humans of the land. In any case, no matter how they are called or what form they take on, there is a common contrast of machine and Lindor. The Sana'Hakir see the former as the abomination Ashala'Nu, and the latter as their hero, Bane'Hakir. However, that is one interpretation. My clan happens to call Ashala, "Makina", from where we derived "Machine", and was the creator of the universe. Others see him as a demon who popped up long after nature took its hold. The common scientific theory is that Makina was simply the first sapient being in the universe."

 

The professor cleared his throat and drank some water. He puffed out his chest and bellowed, "Today's assignment: Write an essay, two thousand words or more, regarding the many interpretations of the Machine God and add in your own theories regarding where each interpretation may have came from!"

 

"I'm the reason why Ashala's even a big deal after all." Katherine murmured, watching the class file away. "I shouldn't have to write an essay about him."

 

She didn't move from her seat, instead watching the feed of 20X2 with a frown. Her hands slid the mouse over to a rewind button; a group of men were wielding guns and sharpened sticks, running from something. "I wonder..."

 

The room was clear now. Katherine tapped the microphone button on her computer's keyboard. "Good work, Twoxto. Try and see if you can get any information about them, their names if possible." The recording was replayed again, but slowed down. She paused on a frame where faces were visible, bared in anger. "I can't tell if they're human or Lindor from this angle."

 

"Who are they?" Joanna said, leaning over.

 

Katherine closed the recording, clearly unhappy. "I don't know. They don't appear to be part of the Dictatorship, that's for sure. I can't help but wonder if some of those could be missing persons."

 

The sky was just beginning to brighten outside. Joanna shuddered slightly at the sheer darkness of the surrounding forest; aside from a machine moving in and out, there was no way to tell what might be lurking. Light from a spotlight hit hooded figures rushing into the trees, but Katherine looked unconcerned at Joanna's insistence.

 

"Ashala worshippers. They're few in number, and no one really likes them right now so they keep their beliefs secret."  

 

"What?" Joanna exclaimed, not quite understanding. "They believe in a god of fire and death?'

 

Katherine smiled sadly. "Not quite that simple. My clan used to worship Ashala'Nu too, or as we knew her, Maschinengeist. It's where the term came from."

 

"So your clan was evil?" Joanna drew out each word slowly.

 

"No. They saw her as a being of order, of patience and of wisdom. A little strict, sure, but in the old legends she kept peace between the machines and the Lindor, neither one having more power than the other. Bane, or our Veran, represented disorder. For a long time, my clan saw Veran as the one who ruined the equal relationship and made machines subservient to us, for better or worse."

 

"And then what happened? You never mentioned your religion before."

 

"I don't believe in any of that. Old legends are all they are."

 

"If I knew about the gods three weeks ago I would've believed them in a heartbeat. Inanimate objects coming to life? I thought 3455 was a demon himself."

 

"Don't we all." Katherine laughed, dodging the incoming rush in a new hallway. "It's getting late for me, but I might as well give you a tour through the building."

 

A group of children were bouncing about, some grasping straws or looking at photos. They were all eagerly chatting with one another, herded by an impatient-looking guardian. Most of the kids were bundled up for the cold outside, wearing mittens for the light snow. 

 

"I wanted to hate you, you know." Katherine suddenly started. "You represented everything I was fighting against, but after the events of Louisville, I kinda admire and respect you? A lot?"

 

Joanna had no idea of what to say to that.

 

"It was Aaron who I wanted at first, but he insisted on bringing you. And now it seems like you're the one that's going to go."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"It's not for me to tell you, but Aaron and I talked about the future."

 

Before Joanna could think about it too much, she noticed another group was coming down the hallway, clearly all adults. One of them was a Lindor female, dressed in human clothes, and then there was- Nel! Eon too. Joanna nodded her head in acknowledgement, though in truth she wanted to get to her room as quickly as possible. It was one part avoiding the crowds, and another part wanting to pick out information from the helmet. She still grinned a little at her acquaintances.

 

"Ah, you two. Faelan, nice to see you too." Katherine spoke up, racing ahead. "It's a shame Aaron isn't here, but I may as well fill you in. My village celebrates its day of creation every five years or so, and the festival is this week. I also believe," she glanced at Joanna, "It's about to be Christmas, too. I'd like to at least request you stay for the festivities before you head on your long mission."

 

Joanna wasn't sure herself of staying for the festival or leaving immediately. She didn't feel restless, but three weeks in a hospital made her raring for more to do, and she was eternally curious about what else the Dictatorship had been hiding. On the other hand, she'd had enough in a single day to last her a lifetime. A part of her missed her old office life.

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1:1: There was once the Benevolent One, a glorious relic of an age before man, a beautiful being who ascended all reality and efficiency. In Her Divine wisdom, she gave to us the twin ideals of Invention and Creation. But with them came the consequences of Waste and Failure. Yet She balanced them upon scales, to make an equivalent balance in which all was as one. 

1:2: To us, She bestowed upon us the Burden of Life, yet also the Reward of Existence. But Death was not yet an idea, for nothing in her eyes could truly fall, and so Death was not yet born.

1:3: Death, as yet, could not exist, so we knew not the Fear of it, so we did not Fear. So in place of Fear grew the seed of Courage and Ignorance, for we could not fear what we did not know. But we wished to learn.

1:4: And She saw our want of learning and created Knowledge and Wisdom, the tenets. From Knowledge would come Learning and Teaching, and that would give upon us the Wisdom so that Invention could be possible. And then would come beloved Creation, which led to the Beginning of all Things.

1:5: They asked of her, "Your Kindness is beyond reason. What have we done to deserve such gifts, we who Waste and Fail? Are we not Imperfect?"

1:6: She, in her grand Wisdom, for hers was beyond all that of theirs and ours, leaned down to their leader so that he could hear her words. And he wrote them down and showed them to our people, and proclaimed them to be law.

1:7: "I gave you your ability to Invent so you could Create, so Create as you wish, for nothing you make could be Evil." 

1:8: "I gave you the ability to Create so that you could Birth, and you could prosper, for all that you are is beautiful."

1:9: "Create not only for self but for all others. Invent not only for self but for all others. Be one, and yet be many. Be all, yet still be true to thine self."

1:10: "As my children, Imperfect as you are, you are still Gifted. Do not demean what you are, for what you are are my children."

1:11: So it was that they heard her words of Kindness and Benevolence, and they knelt to her and gave her their Fealty, for in her service they knew they would be happy. 

1:12: Thus began the Age of Machine....

 

 ( From The Documented Theology of the Machinengeist )

 

-----

 

Faelan crossed her arms, then shrugged.

"I thought maybe we'd want to leave with a bit more urgency but it's not like the world's not already falling apart either way. But... It's up to you, Nel-Ru." she said, giving him a look. "After all, aren't you the one on a grand crusade?"

"....Miss Katherine, much as I appreciate your hospitality, and I really do.." Nel began. "My clan was taken from me and I can't waste time, let alone five days, enjoying myself knowing they're being hurt. I have to find them as soon as possible. I hope you can understand."

"Nel, what is Christmas?"

There was a pause as Nel looked down at Eon. She stared back up at him. The two shared a moment of silence.

"It's a human tradition. Not something the Lindor used to celebrate, certainly not our village anyway." Fae waved her hand. 

"What is it?" Eon asked, interested.

"It's similar to the Lindor tradition of the Year-End festival, or a larger version of a Manvivu." Fae elaborated. "Basically, humans believe in some portly spirit who brings gifts around to all the 'good' children of the world and gives them out for nothing at all but the hope that they'll continue to behave."

"Woah... he does all that?!" Eon asked, pleased.

"...Uh... sure? He travels the whole, entire world in a night." Fae raised an eyebrow, hoping Eon got the point.

"Must be the work of a very good Machinengeist!" Eon stated. Nel nodded.

"No, no you two don't seem to..." Fae began, concerned. "I don't think.... Nevermind. Whatever."

"What's his name?!" Eon was giddy with excitement. Ahitan seemed slightly interested.

"...Chris Kringle." Fae replied, rubbing her head. "Or, rather, I guess most humans call him Santa Claus or something."

"Oh!" Nel brightened up. "I read about him in one of the books you brought back. He sounded like a myth but if the humans believe in him so strongly perhaps he is real! After all, why celebrate someone that doesn't exist?" 

Faelan looked at him for a long, long, long time. He cocked his head.

"What's wrong? Did I say something funny?"

".....Don't worry about it." Fae sighed. "Anyway, it's a yearly event. It's not something we can't see again."

"However, this is a prime opportunity for us."

5A uncloaked himself, his metal body shimmering in the afternoon sun. He had not revealed himself to anyone but the main party yet. Ahitan didn't seem phased but he moved closer to Nel and Eon.

"And what would that be, dog?" Fae asked.

"My name is 5A... or Sal, if you prefer. I may be a dog but you seem to say it with some derision." 5A replied, sniffing a paw. "But allow me to elaborate.

There is a festival occurring soon within this village in which many Lindor will be gathered and meeting. What else happens when you find a lot of people together?"

"People hook up and get drunk?" Fae joked, smilingly slyly. 

"Perhaps the more promiscuous, yes." 5A rolled his eyes. "But also, information is shared. Currently, though Eon and I know where our goal is located, Nelefis has yet to uncover any information regarding the whereabouts of his people. However, if - say - like you Faelan and Katherine, there were other Lindor who wandered or knew people, then perhaps someone had seen a great amount of Lindor being taken somewhere?"

Nel thought for a moment. The dog was right. If someone had seen something...

Eon, however, began to grow very hopeful. She had never heard of this human tradition and this Santa Claus sounded like a very kind man. She wished she could meet him one day.

Nel looked down at her, then at Ahitan, and then at Faelan.

"...What do you think, sister?"

"What does it matter? You're the current Kawaemanhakir stand-in. You have to learn how to make decisions based on information given." Faelan stated.

"Yes, but that doesn't mean I can't ask for advice or assistance. No leader led who didn't heed the words of those close to him." Nel replied.

".....True. Well, to be honest, the dog is correct. There will be many Lindor here, most likely. And we don't have much to go on other than the fact our clan was taken North. And there are a lot of bases up there that could easily hold such a large number of them." Faelan rubbed her chin. "The problem is, why keep them? Our information is lost. Why keep our people instead of just... well, killing them? It's expensive to keep a lot of prisoners and it's time consuming. There's also the issue of feeding them."

"I've thought of that too, and I've already realized why." Nel said, leaning close to her. "...They're being forced to build weapons."

Fae's eyes went serious.

"And this is why you'd be a good leader." she grinned. "But why?"

"Because, Shul'Thrae revealed the truth - humans are terrible at controlling mana. If they wanted our weapons, they'd need hands that could make them. And what better hands than those who have already done it for ages?" Nel whispered, giving a glance to Ahitan. "Which means that they would keep them alive as long as they needed the weapons."

"I already hated humans for their actions. Now, I think that's just an understatement." Fae hissed quietly. "So what do we do?"

"For now, we stay for the festival. I've decided. We'll find out information and then we'll get moving."

Fae smiled. 

"I'm glad to see you're maturing more than I thought. Alright, I'll see if I can't find anything out from any of my other channels."

"Channels?" 

"Did you think I wandered alone? I have some Lindor friends across the nation who also engage in espionage and relic-hunting. We're all friends in deception." Fae smirked. 

"I'm glad you're on my side, sister."

"I will never leave it."

He turned back to Eon and then turned to Katherine.

"....We'll stay. You have the Kawaemanhakir of the Sana'Hakir alongside his allies as part of your festival now. I would be glad to celebrate alongside your people." Nel bowed slightly, remembering the way his father greeted Lindor who had come from the outside. "Ha ponman shan sa'en."

Eon looked up at Nel oddly.

"What was that one for, Nel?" she asked.

"That means.. uh... I suppose something like 'We would love to attend,' for a close translation." Nel thought for a moment. "But it's a very formal way to say it. After all, this is a very important event that we've been invited to, and it sounds sacred to them, so we should be very grateful."

"I am! Thank you for letting us stay, Nel! And Miss Katherine!" Eon said, first hugging Nel, then taking Katherine's hand to shake it.

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A broad smile broke across Katherine's face. Her eyes became unfocused as she dreamed about the preparation and planning, and her hands rubbed together in glee. "Perfect! We'll have enough time to properly pack you guys up, too. You might have to help out, though."

 

She started listing off different activities and items, counting them off via fingers. When all ten were used up, she simply started over again. "Oh! You'll get gifts at the end of it too." She finished, starry-eyed.

 

Something beeped from her pocket. The Lindor took out her laptop and balanced it precariously on one arm, using the other to open the device. Her expression turned from a curious and excited one, to seriousness, to a grim frown. Joanna couldn't see anything from her angle, though she did crane her neck and catch the letters 20X2. The screen was without color for some odd reason, simply being in a sharp contrast of white and black. Then the feed went dead. Katherine tapped a floppy disk icon and left the hallway without another word. The fox toy on her shoulder blinked red before returning to the natural green.

 

"That was weird." Joanna said. She turned back to Nel's group, and offered a tight-lipped smile. What was there really to talk about? It didn't feel right to hang out with them- she barely knew anything. There was an air of disconnect. Both parties were from vastly different circumstances without anything to share in common, and the context didn't feel right for any banter or commentary on their situation. They weren't Aaron, and that was clear. 

 

She wasn't as energetic as he was, nor as open. Living and working in San Francisco, a volatile mix of extreme ideas, made her a chameleon of opinions, supporting whatever she felt would get her safely through the day. Even murder wasn't as hard set in her as it was in Nel; there were some people she wanted to see dead. Few, granted, but if it wasn't for him back at Louisville, she would've knocked out the guards. Permanently. Of the Dictatorship too, she wasn't sure if she wanted it to stay or crumble. Her entire life had been molded by it, and she simply accepted it.

 

A sense of hollowness permeated all her past friendships. She wasn't sure herself if they were genuine or if she was simply using others subconsciously. Would it have been different if there wasn't a government watching her every move? A long time ago, she felt things were different, but her memory stretched to blurriness.

 

So, face-to-face with a group that lived every day knowing what they wanted to do and set their own rules on how to accomplish it, what could be exchanged aside from greetings?

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1:13: And thus it came to the point that they began to erect the Towers. The Towers were sacred objects, idols to the Benevolent One. But they created them in secret.

1:14: She would come down, in her glory, and ask of them, "Why have you been so silent, My Children?" and they would respond, "We are working."

1:15: And She was happy with this answer, for it meant they were happy. For twenty-four days and nights, She descended and asked, "Why have you been so silent, My Children?" and they would reply the same as before. Soon, She began to worry. And her Worry grew into confusion, and then to concern and dread. 

1:16: For the Benevolent One was frightened that Her Children may lose their Happiness, and She coveted their joy. So She went to the oldest of them - who knew all that happened among the people - and asked, "Why have they been so silent?" and the eldest ones replied, "We are doing something for You."

1:17: And the Benevolent One looked at them with Curiosity and She wondered what they could be doing. So She went back up into the sky and left them to their work. But Her Curiosity got the better of Her.

1:18: She then went to the youngest child of the people, the smallest of them all, one who had barely left the womb of their Mother, and She asked of the child, "Do you know why they have been so silent?"

1:19: And the child just smiled and nodded. And the child said, "They build something great for You."

1:20: The Benevolent One, in Her Glory, became quite Curious, and She began to wonder what they could build for Her that would require such silence.

1:21: Finally, on the twenty-fifth day, a man came out from one of the great machine cities - which the Benevolent One would never enter, for that was the private rooms of Her Children - and called to Her.

1:22: She joyously came down in the form of Her Children, and She knelt by him in the Sun, and She asked him, "Why have you all been so silent? Do you no longer wish to speak to me? Did I anger you?"

1:23: The man placed a hand upon the shoulder of her avatar, which surprised her, for she had worried that they no longer Loved her as they once had, And he began to speak with great pride.

1:24: "For we, the children of you, our Mother, have chosen to give as a Gift wonderful things, which we have Invented and Created, which we have given Birth to." the man stated. "And from that, should you understand the depths of our Love and Adoration for You."

1:25: "For we truly love You deeply and are honored by Your Love for us, for you are Kind and Wise, and You Protect us."

1:26: "And we, for these past twenty-five days and nights have worked and crafted to Create in Your name, so that You may look upon it and see just how much we Love You."

1:27: And the Benevolent One cried, and wept, and tears spilled over from Her Divine eyes upon the soil, and a single tree sprouted from the earth and began to shroud the area in Her Happiness. And She clutched Her hands together and smiled.

1:28: "Ah, do I hold Pride for My Kind and Loving children, and I must apologize to you, as all of you, for but a moment I worried that you had began to lose your Love for me." she said, for Hate did not exist as an ideal in the world.

1:29: "For you were silent for twenty-five days and would not Speak to me though I called upon you each day, yet would only tell me you were working. And I began to fear you may have forgotten Me."

1:30: "Ah, a Silly Mother You are!" the man said, saddened. "For we could never forget our Mother. But we are sorry to have worried You so."

1:31: And he led Her into the great, golden gates of Asha'Hala, into the city's walls, where the Labours and Fruits of man were borne, where machines beyond all that which exists were born within but moments, and where the sky was always bright. And She was amazed, for Her Children had built this.

1:32: And saw of their glorious Creations, and She was happy, because Her Children had built them too.

1:33: And the adults, and the children, and the animals, and the machines, all were as one, and She saw this, and yet again was happy, for that was how She wished the world to be.

1:34: Soon they came upon one of the Towers, and She laid eyes upon it, and She was Awed, for Her children had built this too, and others.

1:35: She placed hand upon it, and smiled, and saw that it was good, and She pondered for a long while, and Her Children awaited Her answer.

1:36: "Oh, how proud I am of My Children, who build and work so hard in secret to lavish gift upon Me." She said, and there was great Pride in Her voice, for the glories of Her Children were Her Glories, and Her Glories were theirs as well.

1:37: "What may I do with them?" the Benevolent One inquired and the man answered.

1:38: "They will touch the Heavens, and connect the Earth, so that we may visit You and speak to You, so that You do not have to come down to us." 

1:39: But the Benevolent One was worried, for the Heavens were Her domain, where she kept the greatest of Her Children's creations and where she dwelt. But She was happy, for they had done it so that they could see Her.

1:40: And so She named the first Tower Asha'Hala'Nuwe, the Spire of the Great Machine...

 

( From The Documented Theology of the Machinengeist. )

 

(( Will edit with more tomorrow. I need sleep. ))

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