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Maschinengeist

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Joanna could hear the soft clanging of metal on metal in the car ahead. Snippets of conversation floated over to her, muffled by walls. She brought her fingers up to her lips before approaching the door. If there were new living machines here, she needed to know everything about them. There were at least three distinct voices, though she had no knowledge on machines and mimicry. 3455 could certainly change his voice from a pleasant human's to a harsh metallic one.

One of them was definitely animal-like. It ran just as fast as the train did, a fact that half scared her and half comforted her. From her window observatory, two humans walked up to the animal-like machine. The details were lost in the window's limited capacity.

"Why are they here?" Joanna turned back to Aaron, who promptly shrugged.

"Dunno. I'm going to go say hi to them." Despite her glare of protest, he walked past her to open the door. Wind chilled the train, making her efforts of conserving heat null. "Hello? Anyone there?" He walked onto the precarious connector before gripping a piece of railing and knocking. 3455's erratic movements nearly made Aaron lose his balance and fall several times.

Joanna might've made a mistake by charging 3455 a few minutes ago, but that didn't mean Aaron's way was the right way.

 

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

 

3455 navigated the empty highway carefully. The pressure plates and wires underneath the road had most likely eroded, but a highway road-hydra was the last thing on their mind to fight. Too heavy to push off, and too long to avoid. Having a ramp collapse was the quickest way to certain death. Instead, they clambered through artificial hills with the use of their legs. Inefficiently.

"Where and when's the next industrial city?" They hissed to the smug-looking Fifi. A leeway of a day existed if they used emergency power, less considering that they were burning more oil than coal.

Fifi took a moment to respond, whether from looking it up or from her irritation. "Louisville. Roughly three hours north-east. According to my sources, it's a huge energy supplier, and moderately guarded. A couple of hours further west from there and we'll be at the settlement."

3455 nodded slightly, an awkward movement considering their head is essentially their neck. They opened a channel to their passengers. "This is your train, speaking. We will be approaching a city in T minus three hours. After that, the next stop will be a Lindor settlement." The highway cleared out of ramps. Only a few eroded signs littered the empty expanse- many were stolen- indicating old cities.

Edited by serce2

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Nel had just closed his eyes when a voice came from behind, in a car that was connected to theirs. The wind made it hard to hear but he could still make out, "..one there?"

He turned his head, but then glanced back down at the girl laying on his lap, her breaths slow and calming. She was sound asleep, and he dared not wake her.

"...Perhaps later would be a better time to talk." he muttered, but looked at his sword for a moment, then nodded.

"Go. Carry my words to them." he commanded. The sword obeyed, moving from where it hovered by his side to float out the door and then in front of the newcomer.

Through the sword, Nelefis could make out a male figure, but nothing familiar. He did, however note, the person was not Lindor - at least at first glance. A human?

The sword moved for a moment to inspect the man before hovering in front of him, the eye on the hilt blinking.

"The master does not wish to be disturbed, if at all possible." Tempest said, its voice sounding quite soft, for a blade, yet bold and certain. "We will speak to you at a later time, assuredly. For now, we must rest, unless you are content to speak with me."

 

Surely the notion of talking to a sword such as Tempest would normally be strange or alien, but he didn't seem hostile - which, for a sword, was most likely quite odd - and he simply moved up and down slightly with an unseen force. No legs. No arms. Just a sword with an eye of tough plexiglass stuck into the hilt connected to other parts of its anatomy. Wires went down the length of the blade, currently inactive. But something about the sword seemed... dangerous.

It was also useful to note that it probably wasn't a good idea to try and grab it.

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Two quiet voices in tandem reached him at the same time. One was a tired Joanna's, warning him to go back to the safety of their car. Sorry, Jo, but I'm curious. The sword in front of him seemed to possess the other, soft and still. Aaron blinked at the floating machine- no, not a machine like Fifi or 3455. It looked positively alien. It was even hovering, for Pete's sake- to his knowledge, neither of the latter could do that. He suddenly realized that he missed Fifi's know-it-all attitude on his shoulder.

"Err, okay." He was a bit dejected; if the new passengers had a floating sword, who knew what other cool things they had in store? Teenage robots? Sentient rocks? Aaron tried to glance around the machine-ish to look inside, but the sword took up nearly the entire window. Gray met him at every turn.

"Aaron, come on." Joanna again, now seated at the end of the car. He could see her slumping against the seat, shivering. Oops. He left the door open. The bitter wind began to nip at him, too. A long look at the new Thing later, he was clambering into a seat of his own. Green rushed by. He's never seen so many trees before.

Brown rushed by. Never so many dead ones, either.

 

---------time skip brought to you by: Louisville Energy. Coal. It's what's for dinner.-----

 

"This is your train, speaking. It's currently 1:38 pm assuming you haven't added any fancy leap minutes since the 1890's. We're approaching Louisville's core. Get food and get coal or you'll probably be legging it all the way west."

Joanna already saw the ruined skyscrapers rising from the city's heart. Quite a few had mismatched windows; US offices. The most well-preserved building was cut in half by silver, clean against the deteriorating black. Though the glass at times appeared to be mirror-like, she could see even from here that they hadn't escaped the ravages of smoke. The entire east side of the building was stained a permanent gray.

A few trees in a governmental plaza remained green even against the constant onslaught. No one was present to enjoy this rare spot of color. It was work day every day from 6 to 6. 3455 was lucky, though he was smart enough to take underpasses and cling to walls.

He suddenly stopped in front of a large propaganda poster. Though its specific design was new to Joanna, she recognized that they were approaching a danger zone. "This is as far as I'll go." The train knelt.

She had no formal suit to pass off as an overseer. Her closest match lay in a closet a thousand miles away. Neither did she have the swagger to seem like a Civilian Police. Aaron's plain clothes could be a worker's, so she tapped him lightly on the shoulder.

"Stay here, make sure 3455 doesn't kill anyone. Accidentally or intentionally." The kid was pretty smart on the streets, but he'd lived in a farming town for his whole life. Nothing worth stealing out there and besides, angry hordes of local businessmen and farmers were far more dangerous than the dictator's guard.

Her wallet was starving. Joanna had perhaps a reliable 30 dollars on her cards. Slivers of white peeked out from the side flap- IDs, some of which she placed delicately on the seat. They didn't need to know who she worked for, nor her address or former homes. Unfortunately, she used to consider herself too noble for a fake identity, her biggest regret. In general. Not just now.

"Fifi?" Joanna stepped out just as 3455 slinked back into shadow. A blue beacon lit up the darkness before turning green and hopping onto Joanna's shoulder.

The fox toy swiveled her head around. Finally, she said, "Keep straight for a quarter mile, then turn right..."

Edited by serce2

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Nelefis awoke with a start as the train rumbled to a halt. He rubbed his face for a moment before he gazed upward, confused. The train was cracking slightly, reality bending in front of him.

In his blurry, tired vision, he saw Eon standing at one of the train windows, gazing out into the night.

"E...Eon? Are you ok?" Nelefis asked, concerned. He tried to stand, but realized he could not move his legs.

 

There were hands. Hundreds of hands. Clawing at his legs, grabbing his hips and groin. They were inching up his body, and they were not the most frightening image.

Below them, connected to them, were a multitude of ghastly and hollow faces, no eyes, staring up at him, gasping. Fear gripped him and he began to sweat, unable to do anything as they moaned at him. He knew all the faces.

The elders. His family. The dead he had seen around him in the village. He tried to kick at them, but his legs had no strength. Was this how he would die? Taken by them?

"EON! EON! PLEASE, HELP!" Nelefis yelled, as the hands grabbed his chest and throat. "EON!"

"Are you afraid of what will happen if they take you?" she whispered, her face to the window. "But don't you see the stars? They're beautiful, aren't they?"

"W...What do you mean?!" Nelefis screamed, grabbing at the arms. But he could not stop them as they clutched his face.

Eon turned to him, her own face hollow and torn, the eyes black holes in a white, paper-like face. A smile was painted on it.

"Why are you afraid of them? Don't you love them, Nelefis?" Eon asked, reaching out her hand to him. "Don't you love me?"

Nelefis screamed as he was taken by the blackness... and his life faded.

 

----

 

He awoke, sweating and gasping, as he grabbed at the air. Eon fell from his lap, a silent thud echoing her movement. She awoke with a start, slightly in pain.

"...Ow...ow. ow..." she grimaced, a tear welling in her eye. "That... that hurt, Nel. Why'd you do that?... Are you ok?"

But Nelefis could only reach down for a moment and place a hand on her face, his eyes wide. He finally stopped when she looked at him, vexed.

"....Are... are you ok, Nel?" she whispered.

"..No. I'm not ok. But I can't let it stop me. I'm sorry." Nel replied, helping her to her feet. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

"Vital signs in extremes. Heart rate jumped to above average. Adrenaline was pulsing through your veins from your renal glands for roughly 14 minutes during your sleep. You are producing far too much perspiration for normal. Assumption: You had a nightmare."

5A stretched from where he was napping and sighed. "It is to be expected, especially after what you went through recently. Did you think your subconscious would escape unscathed? Though your mind may put on a front, your dreams will suffer."

"....Will they?" Nel asked, hopeless.

"But remember, they are only dreams." 5A said, leaping from the train car. "And you are awake now. And we must be off. The train has halted. That means that they may require our assistance."

"....With what?"

"Who knows. But I do not enjoy sitting around." 5A replied, giving him a glance. "Are you two coming along or shall I go myself?"

Nel looked at Eon, and then at his sword.

"...Would we be safe?"

"Will you be safe anywhere?" 5A asked.

There was a silence.

"Then come. The girl is already ahead of us." 5A stated, and he ran ahead to catch up with her.

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The first thing to hit her was the afternoon sun. The next was the smell. Not wholly unpleasant, as she'd grown accustomed to it back on the West Coast, but enough to tell that wood was burning en masse. It wasn't just the coal out east, either, as the smell was too powerful. Joanna winced. Louisville barely had any energy to spare for the other cities, and it wasn't going to waste precious money on its residents.

Metal hit asphalt behind her. She twisted her body slightly for a quick glance at the new passengers. Unlike 3455, the mechanical wolf didn't seem to mimic any vehicle she knew of. It was also definitely not a toy like Fifi, though that would be her closest approximation. Two humans followed the wolf, though Joanna had a suspicion that they weren't like her.

"Do you know what it is?" She whispered quickly.

Fifi was gazing intently at the entourage. "He's like me. Rarer. Better. No Lindor clan in my database specializes in wolf mimics, but I would hazard the guess that he's built for combat. Possibly anti-vehicle, though he appears to be better suited for guarding. In simpler terms, don't approach him."

Joanna took a deep breath. "And if he's approaching us?"

"He has no reason to kill us. The chance of us dying right here and now, still in full view of that damned train, is possibly 1.2%. Rounded up." Fifi paused for a second, whirring and clicking and computing. "In fact, I'd say it's a far lower chance than the humans on our right."

A couple of helmeted guards stood at attention in the shadow of an oddly windowless building. It was certainly important, but an unlikely choice for an office. They hadn't spotted Joanna yet, being quite a ways away. "Is that perhaps our site?"

"No, no, this isn't right." Fifi pored over her information. "The closest coal storage is a mile away. This is only a half mile away. Less. And it's not on my map!"

"A combat wolf is following us. The guards are unlikely to be guarding anything else. Don't you want to get moving, too?" Joanna's eyes were focused on that entryway. Now, how to get in? Distract? Bribe- out of the question at the moment. Kill, or much preferably, maim?

Fifi huffed. "Try and convince the others."

Edited by serce2

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Nelefis stepped in time with the wolf as they tried to keep up with Joanna, but she seemed to be following her own sort of path. He frowned, concerned. Would these people welcome them?

But with the guards roaming about, he wasn't feeling too comfortable. He followed Joanna at a distance, Eon holding his hand lightly. He didn't know why, but as long as she felt safer..

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Joanna took a quick glance behind her. The two humans were walking slowly, holding hands. She was unsure if this was a romantic or nervous gesture. "They seem to be staying away. Those guards don't look like they have guns, but I'm not gonna take any chances." Her feet started walking toward the wolf's group, almost subconsciously.

 

"What did I say about the mecha?" Fifi hissed in Joanna's ear, causing her to stop for a second. She took another long look at her destination's cross-street.

 

The relative sparsity of buildings meant that her voice wouldn't echo that much. She was currently out of sight from the guards, but that raised another question- are these guards well-trained enough to investigate?

 

"Hey! You three! What do you say about getting out of here early?"

 

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"Getting out of here early?.." Nelefis asked, confused. "Does she mean the city?"

"Unsure. More information is required." 5A stated, before he flicked his tail around and turned back to the girl.

"Are you suggesting we leave behind the train? That sounds like an awful idea." 5A said firmly, his voice low as he approached her.

 

(( What does Fifi look like, btw? She's a fox? I read some of the previous posts but I still don't know what she is, exactly. Can other people see her? ))

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She was close enough to see that they were different. The man's ears was pointed, and now she could clearly tell that his hair wasn't grey from stress, or gray at all- something Joanna wished she could say the same. What was odd about him was the length of his hair. Long and white would definitely catch the attention of any guards. And the girl! Well, she wasn't quite as odd, but her clothing looked out of place, more of a beggar than a regular worker.

 

However, convincing their way in wasn't the plan. Joanna knew that the guards were trained, at least enough, to look for IDs, if her assumption about the building was correct. She could feel dark thoughts well up, least of which wondering how human flesh looks like when... Perhaps it's for the better that she didn't follow the thought fully. The West Coast had more than it's share of bodies. Morbid curiosity officially sickened her, but she had to admit she could be quite the hypocrite.

 

The mechanical wolf didn't carry itself aggressively. She took this as a sign to come in closer, carefully watching for any sudden change in mood. The wolf's group babbled among each other, though she could catch its- his- question. "No, no, no. I'd never leave behind Aaron with that... I guess monster is a little ungrateful now. Fifi over here is leading me to a coal silo over that way," she pointed to a direction slightly to her right, "but it looks like there's an unmarked building closer by that looks like, sounds like, and probably smells like a silo." In all honesty, despite her charade, she felt a little anxious about being so open. Smooth persuasion was drilled into her as a PR head, but she had a sinking suspicion that the same tactics which theoretically worked weren't the same in practicality.

 

"All I need is support. I'm the only one here who can even try to pass as a VIP, Fifi can sneak in to survey the building. You- er, Mr. Wolf- could slice and dice your way through. As for you two-" Joanna faltered for a second. What could they really do? Aaron mentioned a sword, but he didn't mention what it did or whom it belong to or even if it was useful. "-you can help me carry out the coal that 3455 needs."

Edited by serce2

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The Raven Hunt was criticized and critiqued left and right by both leaning political parties, and then some third wavers that meant nothing yet strove to make a name for themselves by attaching it to this marvelous work. They argued it was the pinnacle of society. Others euthanized it with zeal.

He thumbed the cover and preface.

The raven hunt began.

Those four words were the opening of an epic that would overturn literary society forever. At least it felt like forever. It was all over in a moment.

He flipped the book shut and tucked it under his arm. He remembered the opera. The first bars of the opening scene, he hummed them softly to an audience of one. The soft light lilt that heralded the delicate ballerinas to the stage. Then began the dance with the drums.

He remembered watching the opera commence in awe. Maverick would braid his hair and Malcolm would sing along what words he knew in whatever language they were sung in. French. Russian. German. Morgan would just watch and stare.

The raven hunt began.

And now so did he.

 

The sunlight was warm, piercing the chilly air so long as the wind refused to blow. It helped some, as Morgan was wearing barely anything to keep out the cold save a thin, worn sweatshirt, cargo pants, and boots. Resources were crippled, along with the economy. The only people that didn't care were the upper crust of the town’s society that somehow managed to stay floating above them all.

Morgan had always lived transfixed between the two realms. There were the wealthy, the destitute, and him. He floated on the inbetween. Always in want, always in need, but what he had was always something more. His brother, the oldest one Malcolm, said they were high class beggars. They only had one blanket to share for keeping out the cold, but it was made of luxurious fabric and stuffed with feathers. They seldom had food to eat, but what little they had was the remains of a fois gras or half burnt croissants. They had no home but slept in the rafters of an opera house, entertained by its many wonders.

Now it was just Morgan, and he was not begging for his life, but for his missing brother. That meant more to him now. He felt so hollow when he was alone.

So he left that gilded sanctuary and began his own hunt.

 

He left the city proper and was on the outskirts, keeping to a direction summed up in his head. He had no idea where exactly he was bound for. His brother was plain missing. No trace, no clue. But Morgan had to start somewhere. North seemed like a pretty good idea, so North he would go.

He hummed the tune in his head, remembering without trying exactly the placement and precision of every instrument and key.

His opal eyes squinted into the sunlight and wind as he made his way towards a wood. There were traces of burned coal still in the air. He was used to it by now, but it still tasted awful.

He stopped suddenly.

There was something there that did not quite make sense. A… train?

Edited by Ravencrime

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5A agreed, beginning to follow Fifi.

Nel was still confused, staring at Joanna, almost like a lost child.

"We need coal? But the train is alive, isn't it? I apologize." Nelefis said, rubbing the back of his head. "We had some constructs of our own, but nothing like that train. In retrospect, coal would be like its food, wouldn't it? Then let's do it."

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(Posting order is Raven-Thael-Serce)

 

-----

Aaron waved until Joanna, Fifi, and the three others were out of sight. Then, he turned to the train with a scowl. 3455 had turned their headlight off, but the faint light from outside outlined them enough to see where their "face" began. "Alright, drama king, you need help."

"Help? I'm not defective." The Starling pulled their head closer to him. Aaron made a grimace as the train smiled humorlessly, revealing the fire deep down. "If there weren't enemies all around, I'd take that as an insult. My purpose was to be strong." Excess steam threw Aaron back a step or two, trying in vain to hold his ground against 3455.

"Look," Aaron's eyes shifted to the ground, "I don't get it. Fifi's emotionless and robotic and the wolf mecha seems loyal and attentive. That sword thing, too. But you're full of it. Isn't that bad for the Lindor people?" He knew nothing of the reclusive civilization, in truth, as Fifi preferred her information highly confidential, but he could at least assume that they didn't want a crazed hunk of metal rampaging around cities. "Fifi doesn't like you that much, too."

3455 snorted and drew themselves up. "Fifi can keep pandering to the Lindor. I simply don't care what the opinion of some pansy tree-dwellers is. You want power and confidence, leadership, go to them." They tried inclining their head up, but bumped into the bridge roof. Whoops. Take two, they indicated with one of their claws the not-so-distant skyline. They fell into an incomplete bow at the buildings.

Aaron understood the train well. He still burst out laughing at the thought. "They- they're buildings! They don't- don't move!" A sudden thought shook him out of his merriment. "Can they?" He took a second glance at the skyline, wondering if the patterns of light across glass changed. His eyes went down toward the street, mouth slightly open. Could they?

The atmosphere changed. 3455 reached out and grabbed Aaron from his open position and spun him around to face a boy walking quite close toward them. "Hard to tell from here, but definitely not an Incarnation. Human or Lindor, both are bad news."

He caught the odd term, but Aaron pushed it to the back of his mind. A train underneath an underpass was a strange thing. A human would panic, probably get out his or her gun and shoot wildly. A Lindor would probably take the train as deranged- rightfully so- and report it. He opened his mouth to whisper a plan to 3455, but the train was grinning with delight.

"Let's scare him."

"No, no, NO!" Too late.

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

Joanna was glad for once that someone was just as lost as she was. Was it today that she got released from the hospital, fought off her co-worker's murderer, and accepted a ride from them? And now planning a heist from a government building. "3455 said to get coal. I don't know anything about vehicles, but it makes sense that he'll want coal."

Her shoulder felt weird from the lack of any weight. Fifi was already halfway to the building, and as Joanna watched the toy fox took cover, waiting for a sudden open door, and slipped inside. The wolf was well-hidden in the buildings' shadows, but Joanna doubted that he would stay unnoticed for long. The guards had a button with them at all times, ready to flood the street with armored men in uniform. She didn't know how uneasy Louisville was, but a few all-too-common worker strikes would be enough for management to delay. Policemen didn't like spending their precious time outside.

Still, they could be rich enough to afford radios.

"We don't have much time. When the guards panic, we break in. Fifi should have a layout of the building by then and direct us to where the coal is."

The door opened again, followed by a green burst of light.

"Yes! I told you, Fifi." She murmured to herself. "Let's go."

Edited by serce2

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Morgan ventured towards the thing. He thought he had seen it move, but he was not quite sure. It had not moved in the way trains usually did: forwards, backwards. It almost looked like it had leaned. Trains did not lean.

 

As he came closer, Morgan’s strange eyes roving the scene, his gaze landed on a young boy that was there with the train. He was being… held somehow. Was this thing even a train? It was holding the boy in a way trains did not. It had to be a train. It looked like a train, but this was the most bizarre train he had ever seen.

 

“Um, I’m sorry to disturb you,” Morgan called out, stopping his advance as he noticed the way the boy was looking at him. It was almost fear. More like worry. Morgan could swear he felt another pair of eyes trained on him. The hair on the back of his neck rose at the sensation. But where were those eyes coming from. All senses alert, he searched the train for signs of movement, finding nothing.

 

“Is this your train?” he asked carefully. There was something so strange about the entire situation, but what did he know about it. It went beyond Morgan not knowing that the train was, for all intents and purposes, alive, but he was sensing things only Lindor could sense for the first time, and it puzzled him beyond expression.

 

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5A immediately began to prowl the area, taking on a stealthier form. His body began to refract light, making him almost invisible. Only a shimmer showed anything was there. If someone wanted stealth, they'd get stealth.

He didn't know much about Fifi or her coding, only that they shared a common goal. In this case, it was... to get coal? If it mean the Starling would go further north, all the better.

 

---

 

Stealing coal? Nelefis was absolutely horrified at the thought of doing something so abhorrent. Immoral, even. Definitely unethical. His elders would have been disgusted at even the thought. He twitched a bit.

"Do... we really have to steal it? Can't we just.. purchase it somehow?" Nelefis asked, but he knew the answer. What money did he have? What did humans even use for currency here? He had no idea. But stealing something from them without giving anything back sounded like a horrible idea. If he could just talk to them, maybe they could work something out? But Joanna seemed like she wasn't the type for that...

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Joanna, fully knowing that at any second one of the guards could come over and ask what she was doing on a deserted street when she should be working, did a double-take and stood in shock at the other figure. Oh wait, he might be one of those Lindors. Repressing the urge to roll her eyes, she resigned herself to explanation.

"Look, humankind isn't exactly kind to each other right now. Louisville doesn't sell coal for common use. If you have something valuable, it's possible to bribe them, but-"

"Halt!" One of the guards approached her. It was impossible to see under the helmet, but the physique indicated a feminine build, not quite yet an adult's. Great, Joanna, she mentally chided herself, Think of something on the spot now. She could see the other guard poise their hand on a button, while the one in front of her held up a rifle, though stumbling a little with it's weight. She couldn't see the mecha wolf anymore, but she dearly hoped he was ready.

Joanna glared at the Lindor behind her after getting a request of identification. Please don't mess this up for me. "My name's Avery Schmitt... um... I'm supposed to deliver a message to that building down there." Without Fifi by her side, Joanna had no idea of what to say.

The helmeted woman cocked her head. "Any relation to the Schmitt who heads an insurgent group?"

Okay, the name was the only thing Joanna could come up with at the moment. And, come on, almost everyone had to share their last name with a known rebel. "No, no, you misheard. I'm not a Schmitt, a Smith."

Thankfully, the guard seemed satisfied with the answer. The satisfaction was short lived, however, as she addressed the man behind Joanna. "And you, citizen? Who are you?"

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

The questions echoed around the underpass. Aaron kept a close eye on 3455, breathing heavily in the attempt to figure out how to get them to knock it off. The new boy had to have some sort of a clue, what with his careful searching and intent gaze. However, the train had gone completely still, their hand now only loosely holding Aaron.

He made motions pointing toward the train as well as holding his hands out. It wouldn't convey the ideal message, but there was a small chance the kid would get the message. Then, Aaron switched to vocal communication. "He's trying to scare you."

At that, all of 3455's lights flickered on immediately. They struck out their neck almost lightning fast, stopping just short of the kid. All of their four arms, excepting the one holding Aaron, arced out, forming an incomplete X. A roar emanated from deep inside, though distorted from injury.

And then, the whole pose fell apart into glitchy laughter. Aaron bared his teeth at the train. "That was cruel and you shouldn't have done that." If the Starling had an objection, they were too focused on holding themselves up to argue.

Aaron added, "Sorry, since he won't apologize."

Edited by serce2

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Nelefis listened intently to Joanna, but he had no idea her last name was Schmitt, nor Smith! He supposed it was normal for most people to have two last names? He really didn't know. But for some reason, he felt that wasn't the case. He then began to piece together what was going on through the words of the guard.

 

And several thoughts went through his mind, all at once.

 

1. This was most certainly not the territory of anyone friendly, in any way, shape, or form.

2. Humans were the ones who had taken his people from him and turned the machines against them - at least, that's what the evidence led him to believe.

3. They were treating them both like suspects and criminals rather than simple travelers and possible allies.

4. They were both inexperienced guards, obviously drafted. Even Nelefis knew what conscription was - a lot of his people were pulled into battles long ago in a great Lindor conflict of some sort. It was a legend passed down through his lineage.

5. The guard was now looking at him and didn't seem particularly patient.

 

Nelefis sighed for a moment, and then adjusted his arm.

"I apologize."

"...For what, citizen?"

"For the fact you stumbled on us tonight."

 

Within moments, his sword had flashed out of the sheath, cutting the rifles of the two guards in two before they could blink. He was then on the male guard, with one punch to his unarmored stomach, then another to his neck to knock him unconscious. The man stumbled to the ground, but before he had even fallen, Nelefis had taken the gun from the female who had released it in shock and used the butt of it to hit her in the shin. He then proceeded to slide behind her and wrap the gun about her throat, using it to hold her still.

 

"Your keys. You do have some, yes?"

"CITIZEN! Your actions are hostile by all means and WILL result in offensive action! You won't get away with what you're doing now! If you're some form of anarchist, we... we WILL see you dead!"

"....I do not wish to kill anyone, ma'am." Nelefis whispered somberly, removing the gun from her neck. "But I cannot allow you to hurt anyone as well."

With that, he swung his foot into the side of her head, knocking her on the ground and dazed. He then knocked the side of her neck as well, and her eyes went dim.

He stood back to his feet, dusting himself off. Eon's eyes were wide as she stared at him, uncertain.

He turned to Joanna, ashamed.

"I am sorry. I could not think of any answer that was not a lie. And I will not lie. But we cannot leave their bodies here." Nelefis gestured. "They have keys on them to the coal you seek - I'm sure. You may search them to your leisure, but no killing. I forbid it."

He gave her a long glance, stern. The air around him seemed to grow very cold from how warm he had appeared before.

"I have not had a chance to properly introduce myself. I am Nelefis Al'Mudan, of a Lindor clan who believes firmly in the power of the body and of the soul. Our blades reflect our intentions more truly than anything else we bear, but we have one, strict law - murder is forbidden. Even the hunting of animals is regulated. Life is a precious thing to us. I hope you can respect that if you wish for my assistance."

 

He flexed his fingers a few times before turning back to her.

"You are right. There is no more room for thought or naivety, or error. There must be action, swift and efficient. While we are here, I must search for anything related to those who kidnapped my clansmen and destroyed my home. If they are human... Murder may be the only justice they can be given, as a trial would lead to a death sentence. Hypocritical, I suppose, but those who kill must be killed. That is just, no?"

He seemed to be actually desiring Joanna's feedback. Meanwhile, 5A had been surveying the battle from the shadows. Satisfied, he revealed himself back to the group, sitting on his haunches.

"The coal you refer to is kept within that storehouse you previously pointed out. Your assumptions were correct." 5A stated firmly. "Besides the two guards you have incapacitated, only one protection remains to prevent us from our goal - a security system equipped with 50mm turrets set to assault anything humanoid. Other than that, I can sense no further protections. How shall we proceed, lady Joanna Schmitt Smith?"

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((Skipping Raven's turn for now...))

 

Joanna turned to the Lindor, expecting a stammered reply and an aggressive result. She certainly didn't foresee a sudden flurry of action, the strange man knocking down the two guards quicker than she could react. The male guard whimpered before he fell unconscious, his gloves sliding toward a button but not quite reaching it. The female guard ran through a hasty threat, though she too fell under the Lindor's hit. As far as Joanna knew, Gov. HQ. didn't know what just happened. Neither did she, holding her mouth stupidly open. It's not like they're dead... Give yourself five seconds. Then move on. 

The man had already laid down a few ground rules before Joanna snapped back. She could only nod and begin rifling through the female guard's body-armor quietly, listening intently all the while to his lecture. Keys chimed from the pant pockets; the female guard groaned and stirred, but otherwise didn't show any signs of life. "Nel, I'm pretty sure you almost killed her yourself." Joanna said under her breath, ensuring that he couldn't hear her. Before she rose from the body, her hands turned over the fallen helmet. A red eye inside of a hollow red star stared back at her above the laminated glass. A quick glance at the male guard's helmet showed the same, sans a big dent in the side. Joanna picked up both before tossing the undented one to Nel's friend.

"I believe these are bulletproof. I don't know if you have anything against thievery, but considering the circumstances and our very mission I think you won't object to practicality." Underneath the helmet, the entire world grew darker and smelled heavily of sweat. For one second, she could see Nel as a delusional anarchist, ready to destroy stability. 

After the initial shock, Joanna found herself agreeing, surprisingly, to everything Nel said. She knew her sense of justice was off- working for years under a ruthless political group made her apathetic- but murder made sense for kidnapping. 3455 has a friend, she thought, realizing that there were quite a few similarities. It started to seem more and more logical for Aaron to stay back.

The mechanical wolf broke in to update her. Oh my, they actually think my last name is Schmitt/Smith. The tinted glass hid her smile. "Alright. Since Nel's insisting on it, when we're done I'll push these guys' buttons to have someone pick them up. Fifi probably had enough time to scope out the layout and direct us in the fastest path." The toy fox reappeared on Joanna's shoulder, a little uncomfortable with the new headgear. "She's now telling me that there's a reception area, then a hallway with that turret, then an open area- storage. Three coal-filled floors at least, some with people, though all are hidden away in other rooms. Fifi's gonna try and infect that turret with a virus. If that goes wrong, someone has to shoot it or something. Grab as much as you can, and quickly since apparently a cold front is moving in."

She pushed open the front doors, meeting with a pristine white room. There wasn't even any dust on the reception desk, though an old computer remained on. "No important information." Fifi suddenly hissed. The woman tapped the desktop lightly and watched to see if it was alive. No movement. She moved to unlock the hallway door directly behind her.

"The computer doesn't unlock that turret?" Joanna cracked open the door before peeking in. She couldn't see the turret from her small field of view. 

"It's... not connected. Actually," Fifi looked up with a hint of genuine nervousness, "I think I might be what you would call an idiot right now."

A look of shock passed through Joanna's face. This took the cake as the most surprising moment in her life.

Fifi continued. "I'll explain later. I'm going to that turret now, be ready to rush through."

After a few moments of awkward silence, static sizzled from the other side of the door. Was that their signal? Joanna herself blanched, afraid to face random chance.

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Nel grabbed the helmet as it was tossed to him and looked it over, then checked it a moment.

"It is not a good idea to use these, Joanna. They're infected with a form of machinery which distorts the perception of mind, turning a normal human into one who can sense the desires of another - but only when it comes to those which conflict with the state. Dangerous. It will be hard for us to hide among them if they're using these, and they'll shoot us not out of necessity... but fear."

He threw the helmet on the ground and pointed at it. Within moments, his blade had sliced through it several times until the helmet was destroyed and unusable. He then turned back to her, listening intently as she described the inner area of the factory. A strong wind blew past them as they spoke, and Nel realized she was right. They were ill-equipped to deal with the cold - much less an entire swathe of it this fiercesome and this far north. He turned to Eon, who was tugging on his shirt. 

"Yes? What is it?"

"Why do they force their people to wear things like that?" she asked, as she pointed at the remains of the helmet. 

"Humans are not as us when it comes to machines and understanding, Eon. They would rather butcher it and bend it to their will rather than give the machines life." he replied, kicking the ruined headpiece. "This is why we will do what is necessary to get North, and find my people."

"...Is she like them?" Eon asked, whispering, as she pointed at Joanna.

"No. She understands." Nel said bluntly. It was almost as if his entire attitude had changed. The uncertainty from before - the anxiety - was replaced with what appeared to be his true personality. His depression and his disoriented state were gone almost entirely. One could only wonder - if all of his people had been like this, how had they been defeated? And if so... what enemy were they facing now?

"Don't worry about the turret." Nel promised, as his blade began to drift from its sheath. "Give me but a moment within its vicinity. I will see it cut down."

What he didn't tell her was why he couldn't just do it right now - something not many knew about the Sana Hakir, the Chosen Ones, his people: Their weapons could only drift so far from them before the tether became weak and frail, and if the tether became too weak... the weapon would be unable to move and even lose its life - something that almost never happened in their culture.

And if the weapon was lost, it was forbidden to take another. The weapon was an extension of their soul. Those without them were almost shunned as the Sana Shihan, the Lost Ones. They had lost their weapons, and unless the reason had been heroic, they were exiled for their foolishness. But those who gave their weapons as a sacrifice in the past, to save their people, were heralded as the Sana Kahan, the Discovered Ones. Nel had once wondered if he'd ever have to make that choice. He hoped he'd never have to. Tempest, his sword, or rather in his tongue, Quelu, was almost as much him as family to him. 

But all of this Joanna may have had to be told in time - but not yet. He simply followed her with Eon to the door as 5A watched behind them with his scanners. But Fifi then ran off, leaving Joanna behind, and a confused trio. 5A seemed forlorn. 

"She goes to attempt to stop the turret herself. My size makes it impossible to move around here without attracting attention, though hers would make it difficult for her to initiate combat. Ah, the sacrifices and gains of machine-making." he stated flatly, yet again weaving his tail around himself. "Perhaps you could construct a similar, smaller being for our own uses, Nelefis."

"Wouldn't you get jealous?" Nel joked, looking back at him.

"For the greater goal, all rivalries are trivial. And I do not believe I have the capacity to feel... jealousy." 5A wondered, cocking a robotic head. "Interesting."

"What. Aren't you a Machinengeist?" 

"In a way, yes. But also no." 5A wandered a bit around Nel, looking him over. "Think of me... as you would of you and your sword... but with me and Eon."

"So you're just-"

But there was a sudden noise. Nelefis' sword flickered to his side within an instant, the sound of air being slashed. Joanna was staring at the door, unable to move. But Nelefis would not be halted by such trivial matters. They had come too far. He snapped his fingers, and the door was opened with the butt of his sword, the blade floating into the room - but without its master.

Through its eye, he looked around the room. A simple turret stood on a precipice overlooking several balconies. No one was currently on them as it seemed work had ended for the day. Heat waves rose from the sides of the room but that was to be expected from what appeared to be a forge. 

"....Joanna..." Nelefis whispered, putting a hand on her shoulder. "We shall do more than simply taking the coal... we will destroy this place's abilities to produce. This is no simple storage - this is a machine and weapons manufacturing plant. There are androids along the walls not unlike the ones I saw my people fighting. I will not allow more of them to be made, not here." 

He held out his hand and his sword returned. He then turned to Joanna and 5A.

"...Keep Eon safe." he stated quietly. He then proceeded through the double doors, and they shut behind him. 

-----

Unidentified humanoid - present personnel qualifications or leave this area immedia-

There was a cut off as the robot's ability to speak was cut from its neck, the rest of the machine falling before Nelefis in one swift motion. He had not lifted a finger or arm - the sword had moved of its own accord, with his wishes behind it. 

Their blade style was mastered for years, almost since birth. Upon the age of six, they would have no more time to themselves. Each day, they would gladly practice outside with wooden swords, being taught to read and write as Lindor, But the training grew more rigorous with every year they lived. Sometimes, he had even cursed the elders in his sleep as he had laid in his dormitory, his arms close to broken, his legs bruised. The goal was to avoid every strike, to move fluidly. They called the style Hakir Yu Kawae, the Way of the Chosen. It was not about the movements of the body, but the movements of the opponent. As such, almost every possible move was meant not just to attack but to dodge the moves of the one before you. Yet it was flawed - the style was based upon human opponents or Lindor fighters especially - things with reason, with understanding. Machines with no emotions were harder to read. But for Nelefis, there were other means. 

Another robot fell as he walked down the balcony, silently taking them down before they spoke or scanned him. He stabbed at their cores, removing their communication relays as well as their alarm sensors. Human robotics were so simple - he had discovered. Anger rose within him now, but he had to restrain it. It was an anger that these robots had ever been able to hurt the people within his clan. They were barbaric. But that was why they had overpowered them. A stone can break a gun with enough force. A knife can still cut a throat before a trigger is pulled. Their stone age weaponry had surprised his people, and they had emerged victorious.

But not any longer. 

Another android approached, holding out a hand to him - a hand which soon found itself separated from a body that no longer moved. Nel's sword flickered now with both certainty and rage. He began to ENJOY the falling parts as they scattered around him. He stopped at the end of the hallway overlooking the coal storage. Above him was the turret. Below him was yards of blackened carbon and small forges they were endlessly poured into by robots who could handle the heat of constant fire. Below him was not a factory - it was a slave camp of androids. Hundreds of them, either constructing weapons to be shipped to hands willing to use them, or building their own kind. 

Humanity tried to do what we had done for ages before they had even lifted their hands to craft the wheel - but they had no souls to give them. 

"They have no minds." 

Nelefis looked at the ground, where 5A was standing, looking through the glass. "They are not given life. They are simply given form. For a simple purpose. Now you see what humans do."

"...Where is Eon?"

"She followed you. I could not stop her. But I did not sense danger." 5A replied, shrugging. "You already destroyed the turret."

"So I did." Nelefis said, looking up where his sword had just finished destroying the machine. It returned to his side, covered in small parts. He grabbed its handle, sighing.

"You can't survive down there long enough to cut down every robot, but you don't have to." 5A said, before Nelefis could move. "The girl is wise. Allow her to help."

"Eon?"

"Her, yes, but also Joanna Schmitt Smith." 5A responded, gesturing. 

Edited by Thaelasan

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((Ravencrime, I had to skip your turn again. Please post, or I'll unfortunately have to temporarily take control of your character.))

 

As Nel closed the door behind himself, Joanna stuck her foot to prevent it from closing all the way. Violent sounds and a heated conversation drifted through the doorway. The hallway was clearly safe now, but without the comforting presence of Fifi guiding her, Joanna still gripped her helmet tightly under her shoulder. After Nel made his analysis, she'd removed it off of her head, but refused to toss it aside. In truth, she had doubts on the accuracy of his claim. Never, as a PR head for the CP Party, did she get any word from the Party's hackers of something so advanced. In fact, according to them, the US government was behind technologically compared to their European adversaries. 

 

Granted, none of them said anything about the Lindor. Not even the slightest hint of their existence. Nor did they mention weapon factories underneath buildings. If Nel was to believed, and if 3455 not being able to find Manko ran deeper, something was very wrong. Everything she learned the last three weeks went against all known human behavior, and she knew human behavior. There was no way a whole government could keep up a secret like this for longer than a month or so. An odd feeling, similar to dread, filled Joanna's stomach.

 

Still, she clutched that cursed helmet close to herself, afraid more of bullets than of a warped perspective. She glanced behind her; the wolf and Nel were discussing the machines. She was aware of the girl Eon's presence in the room, perhaps about to judge her, but Joanna's curiosity overtook her. She slipped the riot helmet over her head, sighing deeply as the visor darkened the room. Caution must be exercised; she could already feel the helmet's effects kick in, soothing her and clearing her head.

 

The computer screen turned on with a small jiggle of the mouse. It looked just as plain as ever, the screen subdued against her darkened vision. Not even alive? Fifi claimed all machines were capable of life. She clicked around; no programs, just a calculator and Notepad. Nothing hidden revealed itself, proving her theory wrong about the helmet.

 

Perhaps you should focus on getting 3455's coal? 5A is holding you to a high expectation. Joanna thought. Nel was likely waiting for her to take action, and she wasted time getting sidetrac-

 

No. Wait. That wasn't her. She never thought in second person. Not like that. And she previously didn't know the mecha wolf's name. The helmet- how did the helmet know 3455? How did it know 5A when neither she nor the guards did?

 

"More soldiers?" Fifi poked through the door. At Joanna's odd look, the toy fox added, "You yelped. Doesn't that logically mean more guards?"

 

Joanna looked at the helmet now on the desk, wide-eyed. She didn't want to put it on again, but at the same time she wanted to show it to Katherine. Fifi cocked her head at Joanna's decision. "It's dangerous. Even I can substantiate that."

 

"I know, but-"

 

You're wasting time, Ms. Graham. Grab as much as you can carry, and if you must, set fire to the excess. That might speed up Nel's task considerably.

 

Joanna shuddered, but she obeyed the helmet's commands. There was no sound, no voice or dialect to the statements. They were instantaneous, pure information.

 

She crossed the hallway - a bridge, really- with Fifi in tow, and headed to the plain-looking door ahead. She ignored the android camp down below, though she called out a quick warning to Nel and 5A to get out of there. In front of her, a sea of black spread out. Fresh coal, ready to be used for whatever.

 

The helmet came in handy, after all. Slightly bigger than her head, it was able to fit a considerable amount of fuel quite easily, though it clearly wasn't enough for a train.

 

((The voice is aware that the robots are heat-resistant.))

 

 

 

Edited by serce2

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Nelefis stared out over the blackened slag and carbon as he walked into the room behind Joanna. But he noticed her odd actions. Something was amiss, but he couldn't get a good read on her. As he leaned down to figure out a way to get the coal, there was a slight shudder in the air. 

And a sword clanged against Quelu, Nelefis turning his head slightly from where he was kneeling. The swords hovered in the air for a moment, the sound resonating around the room before the shock halted. A single strand of hair fell from Nelefis' head, landing on the ground as he stared behind himself.

"You always were one of the fastest, Al'Mudan." 

 

There was a silence. Nelefis was frozen slightly, concerned, as he stared at the man before him. A tall, Lindor male, a bit more muscular than Nelefis but definitely of his blood. Their faces were similar, as well as their postures.

"....Shul'Thrae?....H... How?.." Nelefis began, but Shul shook his head before crossing his arms.

"Are you kidding me? What you should be asking is why." Shul cracked his knuckles slightly. "'Why are you here, exile? Why are you still alive? Why did you strike at me?' But of course, that monotonous tone of yours is ever present."

Another sword strike, another block, but if one were to look closely, they would notice that Nelefis seemed on edge, as though the androids from before would have been a blessing compared to the battle that seemed to be going on faster than the eye could perceive. 

Eon drew backward as 5A jumped in front of her, baring his robotic jaw open. 

Nelefis stood to his feet, grabbing the hilt of his sword and holding it aloft.

"That's not your blade." Nelefis grimaced, gesturing. "Your sword was destroyed, I saw it."

"Of COURSE it isn't, you idiot." Shul shrugged. "It's a sword forged with the help of these humans."

....Ho...How could they know how to-"

"Because I taught them. Just like I told them how to fight our people."

Nelefis went still, gripping the handle of his sword so hard his knuckles turned white. Lightning crackled from the depths of the sword as he bared it menacingly. 

"....You.... for the sake of petty vengeance... You... You would stoop so low as to endanger the lives of thousands of our people?!"

"They're not my people anymore, Al'Mudan. They're corpses now or fodder for the grand "human war machine." It doesn't matter to me. I got my end of the bargain, so I'm fine with it. But then we found out there was a survivor... and I hate to leave a job unfinished."

Shul grabbed his sword as darkened, reddish energy coursed from it. It wasn't natural, nor as alive as Nelefis' blade. It seemed.. forced. 

"But now you know everything." Shul grinned, almost every incisor visible from the depths of his twisted lips. "You're smart. You caught up. But that's the problem, Nel. If I let you live, that's one Lindor that could cause far more trouble for the humans than they'd like, and it falls on me to deal with you - just as I dealt with many members of those I once called family. Do you want to know a secret, Nel?"

Nel was silent, furious.

"The elders begged for their lives before I took three of them while they were chained to the same posts they chained me to. That's right, even the greatest of our people would shamelessly wish for one more breath in this reality and cry for it. Cry like despairing dogs." Shul gripped the hilt with both hands.

Nelefis pulled back his foot into a stance and 5A attempted to walk forward, but Nel gave him a glance. The dog retreated, understanding everything.

"....Then I will ask why, once." Nelefis grimaced, anger rising within him. "Why does your sword scream for release?"

"The release it whines for is not its own, but yours." Shul replied, as the shutters of the coal mine opened in the distance, and coal began to pour into the depths of the lower levels. More coal fell from the ceiling, landing in the great, black pile. A constant, whirring machine of carbon and processes.

"5A. Get Eon and Joanna out of here." Nel requested, moving in a circle around Shul as the man paced around him as well.

"Oh? So you DO care about them. Rest assured, Al'Mudan, I'm only here for you." Shul'Thrae flipped the blade around in his hand. "You. Your sword. Your blood. Your life. Anyone else would just be a chore to deal with. At least you provide some modicum of challenge - I hope. Don't bore me."

"I will do more than entertain you, Shul." Nel sneered, blade poised. "I will END you."

Two more blades shone against each other as the coal poured from above them. They moved around the rocks, their blades moving quickly almost in unison. What could be perceived by the human eye was a flurry of sword strikes against strikes, each one calculated. Nel seemed to be both on the offensive and the defensive, but something seemed off.

"You even corrupt the Way with your vile mind?!" Nel roared, leaping forward. But the man moved slightly, throwing Nel into the coal behind him and pouncing upon him. Nel rolled out of the way, then grabbed the hilt of Shul's sword, holding it in place. The two stared at each other over the blade as Nel tried to bring his around. 

"I PERFECTED it!" Shul grimaced, kicking Nel away and ripping his sword from the black carbon. "I CRAFTED it better than any of our clan could. The Way was passive! It was weak! But I have seen the path of perfection! I call it Palu Yu Kawae..."

"Leave father OUT OF THIS!" Nel screeched, clashing his sword against Shul's. The reverberation was ear piercing and sent a shudder through the coal. The ground broke beneath them, and both Nel and Shul plummeted into the intense heat below, but Nel grabbed onto the crater with his hand, barely holding on. The heat in the coal room began to rise to almost insufferable levels. 
Nel's hand began to slip but Eon ran for it, grabbing his palm and attempting to lift him back above. But Nel shook his head as the coal cracked further.

"You'll just fall too! Let me go!" Nel shouted, concerned. 5A attempted to run to Nel, but the cracks were spreading.

"I WON'T LET YOU DIE!" Eon screamed, giving it her all. But she fell backward, just as 5A grabbed her from the crumbling stone. Nel gave her one last look...

and then fell into the pit below.

 

----

 

"For your crimes against the Sana Hakir, Shul'Therae of the Al'Dura, there can be only one recourse. You are to be exiled from our lands, before you can cause any more harm to us."

"Why don't you just kill me!? Oh right, because of my FATHER?"

The Elder Al'Mudan stood, quietly, watching his stepson's conviction without a hint of sadness but with much disappointment. 

"....You're going to wish you had killed me...." Shul'Thurae whispered, and only a select few had heard him....

Nelefis was among them. 

 

----

 

His whole body ached as he rolled over slightly, trying to understand his current situation. Was he dead? He put a finger to his own neck stiffly, then breathed a sigh of relief. Not yet. And he still felt a connection to Quelu. The sword lay a few feet from him on what appeared to be a suspended, metal bridge. He looked to the right from where he lay, his head on the steel ground. The hole in the ceiling was still cracking slightly, but the tumult had past. The reason for the breaking was now abundantly clear. Rust spread from the hole across the ceiling in patches of brown and grey. This place hadn't been serviced in years. 

He put a hand in front of himself and reached for his sword, which slowly slid into his hand. He felt the hilt and felt comfort. He pulled it closer to himself, breathing deeply to calm his nerves. He had not lost his weapon. But what of his opponent?

He pulled himself to the edge of the suspension and looked over the edge, into the flaming coal below. Smoke rose from the ground in waves of black and grey but the bridge was too high up for it to really reach his nose. Just how far would he have fallen, if not for this? Had Shul died? Were they safe?

He rolled over onto his back and sighed, holding his sword over his chest. As he looked back up, he noticed Eon was looking through the hole. Her face was filled with worry. He waved to her lightly, smiling.

But she screamed at him, and he felt a sudden doom looming upon him.

"AL'MUDAN, YOU WRETCHED *******!" 

He quickly spun to all fours, turning in the direction of the voice. On the other side of the room, there was a half-burned Lindor man, grasping an arm that was absolutely unusable. His clothes on the left half of his body were burned to cinders, and the flesh blackened beneath. His face had not been spared much from it either. But it was still clear who it was.

"S...Shul? You survived?" Nelefis breathed, gripping the hilt of his sword with anger. 

"Heh.... Barely, thanks to you!" Shul grimaced, holding a hand on his arm and wincing. "But you're too late! The same thing which saved my life will be the end of you, Al'Mudan, and your damned lineage!"

Behind Shul, there was a loud, darkening noise as the coal shuddered. But it was not coal. It was a molten, metal body. Wings extended from it as its tail spread across the burning cinders. Metal claws scraped against stone with every motion. It shook the magma from its back as Shul moved from in front of it, grinning.

"BEHOLD, YOU IGNORANT SON OF A FALLEN RACE!" Shul held out his good, right arm, gesturing. "THE LEGENDARY BEAST THAT WAS SAID TO DEVOUR THE WORLD, BUILT BY THE HANDS OF MAN! ASHALA'NU! THE DARK HARBINGER!"

"....You... You idiot..." Nelefis breathed, standing to his feet. "Are you insane!? What are you helping these people build?! This is more than just our clan now! This is every Lindor alive! Every HUMAN! You have no right to decide their fate!"

"Ashala'Nu... show him how wrong he is..." Shul said, patting the dragon's face as it cooled. "Give him a.... warm... welcome."

A great roar echoed throughout the coal forges, and Nel gripped the hilt of Tempest even more firmly. Eon watched from the gap in the coals, frightened. And 5A could only stay by her side, concerned. 

"What have we gotten into now?..." 5A muttered.

 

Edited by Thaelasan

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Joanna stepped into the room to get her second helmet full of coal, before noticing a sudden presence. Hostile, and with the way those swords were swinging, dangerous. For the first time since the guard incident, Nel was on the verge of losing. Shul was just too good, dancing in and out, a perfect match for Nel. What can I do? What can anyone do? She couldn't get close enough- Shul would notice her. Fifi was attempting to creep toward him, but after a sword came too close for comfort she leaped back to safety, rapidly blinking between green and blue. After a moment, the glow faded down to a dull emerald. There was no way for them to get any help.

 

Cracks spread underneath Joanna, causing her to grip the now-hot railing. Sweat fell in beads from her face- when did it get this warm? After an awful moment, the tension in the bridge broke; Shul and Nel fell down below into the heat. 

 

"Are- are you okay?" Joanna called, realizing how lame it sounded. However, Nel recovered quickly from the fall and even waved up to a worried Eon. We're back on track to getting the hell out of here.

 

A scream emanated from the depths. Nel? No. Anguished. Tortured. A monster stepped out of the coal, flesh blackened. No no no. Not him. This defies all know laws of the reality. The whole building began shuddering and crumbling. A harsh ring caused Joanna to cover her ears. Wings spread out to fill the space.

 

Ashala'Nu, whatever the hell that is.

 

A shock spread through Joanna's entire body. Her hands, not out of her own volition, tapped the helmet lightly to clear the coal dust and put it on her head.

 

Shul'Thurae. YOU IDIOT. The Voice's messages were no longer instantaneous, possessing a very clear tone. It also appeared to be masculine. I should've killed you when I saw that it would all lead to this.

 

"What-what's going on?" Joanna said. "Sir?" The helmet had overstepped even Nel's expectations- it had a controller. She drew a quick analogy to Fifi and Katherine before discarding it in the seriousness of the moment.

 

LELANA. KILL LELANA. FORGET NELEFIS. Fear spread through her entire being- she could feel the Voice's emotions seeping in, but it was too late to try to destroy the helmet now. It was their last hope.

 

"W-who?" She felt a Voice-hatred toward Eon, but that made no sense. "Please, help us."

 

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

 

3455 suddenly paused in their fit of laughter. Both Aaron and the new kid fell out of their mind and sight, instead being preoccupied with a familiar feeling. They hadn't felt it before, but their very being understood- an Order.

 

Kill the Lindor's beast.

 

Coordinates flooded through, marking the scene of the fight as well as other potentially important places. The closest guard posts. The best high ground. Oddly, one stood out of line. 41.8781° N, 87.6298° W. It lodged in 3455's map of the world, but otherwise faded.

 

They had no desire to disobey. A feeling of happiness flooded through the animate train, of bliss and ecstasy. Of fulfilling their purpose. All else fell before them in importance, and their pain became nonexistent.

 

Take Aaron and Morgan too. Two claws swooped in and grabbed the humans.

 

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"And he scores! Goaaaaal!"

 

The Louisville HQ erupted in cheers and laughter. Policemen and women all alike clinked glasses. None knew that two of their own were lying unconscious. None could even imagine the nightmare unfolding inside their "coal storage". All eyes were focused on the television.

 

It suddenly cut to black. Eyes of light filled the screen in an ordered fashion, but it was no Tsukumogami. 

 

Kill the Lindor's beast.

 

The humans shuddered, not comprehending the instructions. Their higher-ups had passed down to them that they might be contacted this way, but what was a Lindor?

 

Put on those helmets.

 

Save Joanna.

 

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"Please..." Joanna fell to her knees from the heat. 

 

The roar of Shul's monster drowned out all else, but its echo rebounded oddly. It was too light, too broken. It didn't line up properly.

 

Get. Out. Of. There.

 

3455 crashed through the entryway, sending concrete flying everywhere. As if Ashala-whatever didn't cause enough concern for a cave-in. Somehow, the storage managed to hold up, though bits of the ceiling fell. Frightened voices from up above could be barely heard.

 

"We're here, and oh my God that is huge." Aaron chirped, a little out of touch with the fact that they were all about to die. Joanna managed a quick smile before a being dragged her out.

 

Governmental soldiers. Many of them. They ignored 3455, and instead focused their guns on Ashala.  The train, meanwhile, drew themselves up and spread out their arms. One still caught and bent oddly, but they compensated. 

 

And there was somebody else standing in the middle of it all. A woman, ethereal and flowing, gripping the railing and watching Ashala with a bittersweet pride and regret, but Joanna had a feeling no one else could see this mystery. 

 

"Tell the Sentinel..." The strange woman looked directly at Joanna, her eyes completely blank. There was an uncanny symmetry to her face. "That I'm sorry."

 

Noted.

 

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Edited by serce2

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Nelefis grabbed the hilt of his sword furiously as Ashala'Nu was attacked from all fronts. How had they known to come here? Humans too? What in the hell was happening!? But he couldn't complain. The beast was now unable to ignore the bullets and grenades piercing and exploding around it - respectively. A great roar erupted from the depths of its body as the androids around it suddenly stopped forging and turned, grabbing hot coal and hurling it at the soldiers. Several were hit with full impacts and sparks flew from body armor as flesh was seared. Screams of pain erupted from the conflict. But Nel dulled it from his ears.

Up above, Eon had her hands over her own ears, whimpering to herself.

"...Not again.. no more death... no more.. no more... no more... no more..."

Nelefis was watching the beast as a force began to move the suspension bridge. He turned to his right, just as a blade swung down at him and barely missed his leg. His own sword had halted the blow, the two swords yet again suspended in the air. But the amount of force they were exerting on each other was insane.

"I have to repay you for the damage you did to my flesh... and if Ashala'Nu cannot do it for me.... then I suppose I must ignore this blistering pain... and do it myself." Shul winced, his right arm extended. But his left arm hung loosely by his side.

"The fire... it torched your nerves and muscles... You can't ..." Nel began, holding out his own hands. "The path requires the connection of both arms. Your sword skills will suffer!"

"And?! Why do you suddenly speak sympathetically to me?! You should hate me! Despise me!" Shul stepped forward, his blade burning with fire. 

"There is no honor or glory in fighting you now! You have lost more than any of our clan, even after all you've done! No sword could serve you now!" Nel shouted over the sounds of the fighting to their sides. "You are dead! Why can't you give up!? Surely, you could-"

"Don't you dare speak of redemption to me!" Shul sent his sword forward, but Nel easily knocked the blade aside. He gave a long look to Shul, his eyes filled with sadness.

"Father... said you had such promise. Why would you do all of these things?!" Nel deflected another attack, concerned. "None of this had to happen! Tell me where they're keeping the Lindor!"

"Ca yu shihan ahi nae!" Shul yelled, leaping forward, now absolutely enraged. His sword shoved itself into the metal ground of the suspension bridge, and the entire thing moved. Nelefis looked over the edge, hesitant. They couldn't fight like this forever. The bridge would shatter. Nel looked back at Shul, but the man was just trying to pull his sword out of the bridge.

"Why... why don't you kill me!? You could easily kill me right at this moment!" Shul roared, tearing the sword from its position in the steel bridge.

"...The Way is not used to kill. It was made to take the unclean from the world to make it right, and to protect the wielder. To be used against Ashala'Nu when the time came." Nel said solemnly, his own sword hovering by him. "But... I also will not give you the satisfaction of an honorable death."

Shul gazed up at him, hatred burning within him. As the war between soldiers and the giant beast raged on, the two simply gazed at the other with mixed emotions. Shul attempted to strike Nel again, but another slice and his sword was falling into the magma below.

Shul looked down at his empty hands, his features unreadable.

"...Yet again... yet again I lose it." Shul whispered, making fists and opening them as he stared at his palms. "No sword... no sword will cling to me."

"Because you force them to obey, rather than ask for them to listen."

 

Right as he said those words, Shul leaped at him in fury, but the bridge snapped between them from Shul's earlier strike. The bridge swung apart, tension causing two more ropes to snap as the entire thing shuddered and began to fall apart. Nel reached for Shul, and he stared at Nel, his eyes filled with rage.

"And you STILL PITY ME?!" he yelled, just as the bridge he was on collapsed. Shul fell downwards, landing on the back of Ashala'Nu just as the beast's wounded body flew underneath. They slammed through the walls of the foundry, Nel watching as its mighty wings tried to take to the skies.

"He's going to get away!" Nel spat, turning to the train, concerned. "Can you catch up to him!?"

Edited by Thaelasan

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3455 claws melted against Ashala's intense heat, but they still stayed locked limb-to-limb, attempting to tear the beast apart. There was one major flaw to the beast- the steel had no strength to it, still fresh and ready to be molded. In a contest of brute force, the animate train knew they would win. Heat was a different matter by itself. They could feel no pain from their wires sizzling, as their desire to finish their task overwhelmed their computer, but their hands steadily lost their grip and started becoming part of Ashala. No fingers remained, just a round ball of metal.

 

Claws grazed the Starling's chest, leaving a gash running straight to their engine. Ashala roared and refocused its attack, extending its hands and sharpening them. Its feet shoved 3455 back a few paces, and regained ground. The cooler skull, despite being under heavy assault by gunfire, wasn't even scratched. The empty sockets glowered at 3455 with no emotion of its own. It simply reflected Shul's pain and anger.

 

It seemed to heave a sigh and darken. The inferno cooled ever-so-slightly, leaving a spreading patch of black on its skin. Dying? Giving up? Its tail swung and wrapped around. A few patches of light were blinking, opening. Slim missiles poked out ready to fire. One or two went toward the mass of human soldiers, but most reached toward 3455.

 

The train blocked their head with their arms to stop the worst, but two arms broke off and fell onto the side. Their cars suffered the most, with a few reduced to rubble. Those were antiques. The Starling snarled, but still felt no pain. They had a task at hand, and they were utterly determined to finish it. Beyond the grave, if necessary.

 

Ashala flared up again, stomping and snorting. A few bullets finally found their way to hit the beast, but as soon as it heated up again they fell in a rain of steel powder. Magma fell from Ashala's skull, eating through the already-unstable floor. Guards burned to an unrecognizable crisp.

 

Heat. Avoid the heat. 3455 realized that the tail and head always remained at the very least partially solid, where it must contain its necessities to survival. Thermal energy was enough to fuel it, but it still needed a mind. Two of the Starling's arms remained. One that was reliable. Their legs could fare the lava floor for a while, perhaps five minutes at most. Plenty.

 

The one benefit of having a ball for hands is just how much force you could pack into it. 3455 cracked it against Ashala's skull, managing to avoid its snapping jaws. A roar sounded; it unfurled its wings and struggled to take to the skies. Each wingbeat was painfully uncoordinated. Ashala fell when it leaped, unable to generate its necessary lift. It did not crash, barely able to hover above the floor. 

 

Nel's enemy was on his last breath. His sword was gone, the bridge was about to crack and his life was being spared. Despite all he did to Nel, the latter still wanted to keep him alive? He fell onto Ashala's back, narrowly missing being hit by an errant wing. 

 

Ashala finally gained traction, but couldn't do so quickly. It relied on climbing the buildings around it.

 

Oh no you don't. 3455 still had enough cars left in them. They used as many as possible, relying on the architecture around to keep themselves upright. Ashala's tail still remained within reach of 3455's jaws. The one heat-resistant part of them. Sharp blades cut through their mouth, but they had what they needed.

 

Using their body's sway, the train swung Ashala down to the ground. Their feet trapped its tail, but that was all they could do. Everything was too melted at this point. Unusable. Only their wheels remained unscathed from heat, but there wasn't much use for them at this point.

 

"Do what you must." 3455 looked in Nel's direction. Their voice was nearly inaudible.

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I... I was meant to be the greatest of the Sana Hakir.... My family, they told me.. they told me I had potential, I had promise... 

 

Shul gripped the broken wing of Ashala'Nu as his creation began to fall amongst the rubble, the Starling taking the dragon down just as it was about to take flight. It's own weight had driven it into the earth, magma pools forming around it and incinerating the ground with steam and smoke. A low growl emerged from it as the beast attempted to regain its power. But Shul was oblivious to this sound. His wounded arm hung by his side, moving slightly in the wind, as Nel emerged from the shattered forge, leaping out of the hole and landing slightly in front of the ruined buildings and destruction.

"None of this should have happened....." Shul started, "Your soul was to be the perfect sacrifice for my creation. But you just couldn't die, could you? And now you've... backed me into this corner, and ruined everything." 
Shul gritted his teeth, Ashala'Nu growling alongside him. The great beast struggled to move from the Starling's grasp, but the hold was firm. The amount of power Ashala'Nu required to move must have been massive. The creature tried to even move its wings but couldn't muster the kinetic force. It purred with discontent.

"Don't you get it? The world is already half-destroyed by the hands of our ancient enemies - the humans." Shul said, holding out his hand to the land. "The Elders were blind. They refused to accept the truth. The world needs change, a god who can alter it, bend it, to shape it back to our vision. The lives of a thousand innocents hold little sway when compared to the suffering of millions. You haven't seen what I saw when I left OUR forest!"

He gripped his left arm painfully as Nel walked towards him, Tempest floating at his side.

Nel stopped just short of the dragon's tail, his eyes stern

"Are you suggesting what you did wasn't cruel?! Did you not enjoy the murder of our people?"

"Oh, of course I did. For what they had done to me in the past, for what they refused to see, I relished in their deaths." Shul smirked. "But their ends served a greater purpose. Did you know of the Quelu Yu Shihan?" 
"The Storm of the Lost?..." Nel tried to put it in words.

"No no no. The Power of the Lost, when written a certain way. It was the way our ancestors first put life to machines, before the discovery of mana. An ancient technique which will always be superior to simple magic. It's the magic of life." 

He pointed at Ashala'Nu, gesturing.

"In order to bring this beast to life, 99 of our clansmen's souls were bound to the metal it was made from. I counted each of them as I cut them down. But it was incomplete. It lacked true power, true strength. It needed a soul with the legendary Hakir powers within it - a true one. One that is only born every few centuries. Yours."

He sighed, displeased.

"Yet you were more of an issue than I suspected. Still, I'll offer you the chance to give your soul willingly, knowing that it will be used to bring a new era to this world, one without clans or discrimination. I will bring vengeance for our people, for the entire race of the Lindor."

Nel shook his head, absolutely lost.

"You kill our people in the name of a grand crusade? You murder and justify it to a greater end? Killing will never solve ANYTHING Shul'Therae! The blood of others should never be shed for any purpose!"

"Then what will you do!?" Shul bared his good arm, furious. 

"I will show you what I think of your GOD!" Nel said, as his sword flew from his side, soaring past Shul as he reached to stop it.

"No... NO! DON-" Shul begged, reaching for it feebly as the blade completed its mission. 

It shoved itself firmly within the dragon's metal skull, then began to carve downward, cutting effortlessly through steel, sparks flying from the iron flesh. The dragon whined in what could only be described as pain as the sword completed its mission and released itself from the dragon's skull.

There was a silence as wires snapped and metal bent. The entire head of the creature tore from the body and fell into the debris below, dust scattering from the weight. The lights in the eyes went cold. 

Shul fell to his knees, despondent, as the beast he was on began to fall apart. Pieces shattered and broke as the souls that once held it together began to fly into the heavens. 

"Even my god leaves me now.... My sword... and my god..." Shul whispered. Nel attempted to jump to him, but the pieces shattered before him as Shul fell from the dragon's back, into the city below. 

"And your life..." Nel said solemnly, as the entire creature crashed into the city before him, Shul's whereabouts being covered by debris. When the dust settled, nothing remained but scrap. 65 feet of scrap.

Nel turned to the Starling as Eon and 5A ran up, concerned. She embraced him, looking him over for wounds. But there was nothing really physical, only mental. He returned her hug, concerned.

"...Is he... gone?" Eon asked, frightened.

"....I do not know." Nel replied honestly, his sword floating by him. "But there is still something I must do."

He walked over to the dragon's severed head, then knelt by it as the rest of the group watched. He held out his hand to it, embracing the feelings remaining within.

 

Hate... Anger... Sadness.. Guilt. Want to see it burn. Want to see it in ashes. All of it is ugly and cruel. Pain and misery. They don't understand. Why are they so blind? Must make them see....

 

He raised his hand, sighing. It was true, then. Shul was no longer the man Nel had known but a beast born of vengeance and spite. Or... had been. With another curious glance, he checked over the framework and found what he was looking for.

".. With these parts, 3455, you can receive a generous upgrade." Nel reached into the skull of the dragon and tore out what appeared to be a motherboard with several connectors linked from it to the rest of the skull. These he carefully removed, and then sat down as he tinkered with his sword.

"Shul was using a type of technology I have never seen before. It's violent and dangerous in nature but useful to us." Nel began as he opened a compartment within Quelu and began to move things around. "By using its own electric current and a large amount of power, the beast was able to produce massive amounts of heat by vibrating the atoms within its metal plates extremely quickly. It began to heat up the field, but did not melt or damage the metal because the liquid metal was contained to a raised surface. In short, a technology to produce weapons made almost entirely of fire." 

He linked several connectors to the board in question and rubbed his head.

"Hmm.... the larger the creature, the more the power... But by using it, one could generate infinite amounts of power through heat energy. How revolutionary." Nel began, holding his sword out. "It should work magnificently."

He moved his fingers slightly and the blade immediately began to turn red before liquid magma began to move over the surface, but never once leaked down the blade or burned him. 

"...Fascinating. It explains why they hid him in the foundry. Such large amounts of energy could easily be detected by thermal radar. So they hid him inside of the forge that built him and used him to produce massive amounts of power for the city. But Shul couldn't have come up with this."

Nel shook his head as he became more certain of this.

"He wouldn't need to think of it. He was too bold to worry about better ways of doing what he did. He just did it. Which means someone else gave him the idea." Nel muttered, sheathing Tempest. "But that's not important."

He turned back to the Starling as Eon stood by, amazed.

"...What's so surprising?" he asked, confused.

"How... did you know how to work with that sword?" she was startled.

"It's... quite easy, really. The sword is a part of me. It's like doing surgery on one's own arm." Nel flexed his fingers, then shrugged. 
"Do our people do that naturally?"

"No, only my clan from what I understand."

"Could you teach me?!"

Nel stared at her for a long while, then smiled.

"There WERE rules against teaching our ways to outsiders but if you were to join our clan, then you would be able to learn."

"How could I join!?"

"By marrying into it." Nel suggested, smirking. 

5A chuckled.

Eon didn't seem to catch it. Nel, however, was gesturing to 3455. 

"Would you like me to use the parts of this beast to repair you? Don't worry, they can't corrupt your systems."

Edited by Thaelasan

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