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53: The Hammer Falling [T-minus 6...]    54: Demon Apocalypse [T-minus 3...]    55: Obliterated [............]

  Posted: 11.14.1998 
Date: 12.29.2195 
Time: Evening

Continued from [p15]: Flight [T-minus 7...]

The Hammer Falling [T-minus 6...]

Uncomfortable only barely begins to describe the situation I'm in. 

Extreme peril might be better. 

I'm cheek-to-cheek with Phoenix.  Don't know if that's his real name or not.  Probably not, but I've lied about my name to people before so who am I to pound the gavel?  I'm on my stomach, my other cheek on the rough street, Phoenix is sprawled awkwardly on top of me, his weight making it a little difficult to breathe.  But Phoenix is not the problem.  Phoenix isn't the one making this situation uncomfortable.  No, it's the third person completing our trio. 

His name is Sahris.  The scythe shoved half a meter into the ground half a meter away from my nose is his.  He put it there.  The foot pressing into Phoenix's other cheek also belongs to Sahris. 

"Get the glitch off of me," I say, the words forced. 

The voice coming from somewhere above me is oh so calm and oh so confident, and rippling.  "Unfortunate that you ally yourself with this person reclining so lewdly upon you, my fragile amethyst.  Friends are to be chosen with care.  In this moment, I fear that you have chosen most hastily--and incorrectly."

Phoenix speaks, right against my cheek, his short breath moving across the side of my mouth, tickling.  His tussled hair fills my ear, irritating my lobes.  As he talks, the uncomfortable feeling grows.  "Sorry about this.  I really have no idea what his problem with me is." 

I want to move my shoulder against my ear to stop that tickling sensation, but my whole arm is trapped and Phoenix keeps talking.  "Bizarre person isn't he?  He's been talking like that the whole time.  Formal--and archaic in my opinion.  I'll bet he thinks he's better than all of us." 

I think about grunting a response, but Sahris speaks, suddenly kneeling close to our faces, but somehow still keeping that boot pressing down on us.  "Your beak opens often, little sparrow, and I am not sure that you even know what you are saying." 

"Oh, I know," Phoenix says. 

"Useless words from a confused and frightened mind," Sahris says.  "You disappoint me in the extreme.  I must admit that I expected more from one of your legacy, one who has a tradition to uphold.  Why do you toy with your destiny as if it were that of a child?" 

Phoenix speaks to me this time, "See what I mean?  Where is he getting this j'aa from?" 

Sharis leans even closer now.  I can smell his proximity, the grit on his boot, the strangely pleasant odor of his breath, the liquid he used to wash his hair.  His sweat.  Nothing familiar about any of that...oh wait...yes there is.  One more smell suddenly becomes more prominent than any of the others.  Blood.  Its stench is thick and real.  Sahris smiles, looking directly at me, teeth white and perfect.  I get the impression that he is somehow controlling what I can and can't smell.  He wanted me to smell blood.  Of course this can't be true, but that look...that smile demands a different conclusion. 

"The bird and the gem," Sahris whispers, looking at us in turn.  "How appropriate.  Two things of great beauty, yet only one breathes and is alive.  But my allusion is not reality is it?  In this case, is not reality the prefect lie?  It hides the perfect truth, does it not?  Oh, I suppose both of you would refute a state of non-life currently, wouldn't you?" 

"Well," Phoenix begins, "I was dead once, and I would have to say that I didn't--" 

"You say you were dead, little sparrow?  Once?  Well, then you shall be again--by my hand, and by no other." 

"Sure, I can live with that, if you'll excuse the pun, but let the girl go." 

I let that comment slip because it's too difficult to talk.  Sahris is really putting the pressure on.  A few sharp gravel rocks feel like they're poking through my cheek.  A little longer and I'll be able to breathe through the holes they're making.  Mind flashes to Aran.  He brought some Technomancers with him this time, along with...a few others.  A curious menagerie if there ever was one.  Then again, who I am to notice.  I've had wirewitches as companions.  Small ache at that particular thought.  JACK.  I wish she was here.  I need a hug, and the one Phoenix is giving me right now is not really doing it for me.  I need

a friend     a touch

Just where the glitch is Aran?  I thought he was nearby.  And just where the glitch did he dig up this Sahris?!?  I can only describe Sahris as disturbed--in ways I've seen and in ways I haven't.  What I've seen, I wish I hadn't, and what I haven't, I don't want to imagine.  I think Aran tangled with him earlier today.  Don't know what happened between them, and I don't know why Aran is letting him stick around.  I'll have to query him later. 

Of course, my assumption is that I'm going to survive all of this. 

Again the tickling is in my ear, Phoenix speaking: "Don't worry I'll think of something to get us out of here." 

A harsh, grating sound.  It's Sahris pulling his scythe from the ground.  I watch as the weapon rises, revealing its thin edges to me a centimeter at a time.  No dirt sticks to the blade, and I can see my reflection looking back.  Self stares, holding my gaze, framed with strokes of blue.  The first time I've looked at myself?  It can't be, can it?  My image reflected in a 

    weapon | nopaew

and I don't like it.  It's not me.  I reject it. 

Then the scythe is up, out of my vision, out of sight, but the image of myself remains. 

Sahris speaks, "I suppose you think that I will make this a quick death?" 

"It'd be nice," Phoenix says.  "I have an appointment with my physicist in a few hours.  She and I are planning on experimenting with the laws of rela--" 

"Oh, I am afraid that I will not be able to oblige you, little flightless one.  I prefer a much different approach to death and dismemberment--one which I believe to be, oh how shall I put it?  Creative.  Yes, that is the word." 

"So you're the poet, and you're going to write my eulogy?" Phoenix asks. 

"Well said,"  Sahris replies, spinning that scythe. Whish whish whish.  "Quite right you are." 

"How cute," Phoenix says to Sahris. 

Wait.  Phoenix said something to me also, at the same time and in the same breath.  How did he do that?  Wait, what did he say?  Almost lost it there.  I think I felt his words more than I actually heard them, his lips moving against my cheek.  He said: Touch my stomach. 

Touch his stomach?  Why?  How the glitch am I supposed to do that?  One arm is crushed underneath my stomach, and the other is trapped between us, with my hand sticking out the other side.  The blood stopped flowing to my hand a few minutes ago.  Can't feel my fingers much less move that entire limb.  At least, I doubt it. 

The scythe has stopped spinning.  Sahris is speaking, voicings thick with a gloating intent.  "Red is such a glorious color." 

"I like light blue," Phoenix grunts. 

"Everybody has a little red inside them," Sahris says.  "Show me yours." 

"Oh glit--," Phoenix exclaims. 

Straining my eyes I see that he's pulled that scythe back and, oh, now it's headed down this way, but Sahris moved his foot from Phoenix's cheek and Phoenix lifts up slightly, and I send the command for my arm to move, but I'm not sure if it's working, only I felt the upper part of my arm move and I hear a soft thump, and just perhaps that was my hand hitting Phoenix's chest, his grunt sounds somewhere close to my ear, and then I hear a click and somehow Phoenix's arms come tight around my waist, and then we're rolling over, Phoenix on his back and me on my back on top of him. 

I can only take half a breath because I hear a faint hum and then my intake of air is cut off, my mouth covered by some invisible veil, a soft hand only nanometers away, and then there is a shimmering in front of my eyes and the sensation of a light cloth clinging to my body just outside my clothes, whisper mufflers over my ears, only one thought through my mind goes: personal pulse shielding, but my body jerks in involuntary reaction to that scythe coming down. 


Scratch off another skinsuit is the ludicrous thought through my mind as the blade of Sahris' weapon punctures my stomach, slicing cleanly through my skinsuit first, and then through my body, burying its tip deep into Phoenix's chest. 

Only it doesn't. 

Instead, the blade never touches me.  It just--dissolves.  Before it comes into contact with my cringing body, the blade seems to spark and smoke in a violent shimmering.  Uncontrolled yell of shock from my throat goes nowhere but back inside my mouth, echoed through my bone structure.  Sahris' attack was powerful.  Virtually the entire blade is consumed by the thin layer of shielding covering my body.  I think all of the metal would've been destoryed, but Sahris appeared to pull his attack at the last nanosecond.

Sahris pulls back a stump of a weapon. 

Shield down.  I can breathe again.  I do, in and out. Wonderful.

Moving now, up.  Get up!  I break from Phoenix's grip and stand, examine self--cheek and right arm are bruised, large tear in right hip of skinsuit, glitch, can see some blood there, feel dirt on face and in hair, but feel okay, hearing that buzz again though--and I stare at Sahris, trying to focus.  Can hear Phoenixstaticgetting up behindstaticme, mumbling, fumblingstaticforstaticweapons probablystaticstatic


I hurl myself at Sahris, vision blurring, and static blaring in my head.  I'm mad, blinded, and I collide with nothing as Sahris moves effortlessly out of my path, only felt the barest hint of his cloak on my fingertips. Missed!  I spin on one foot, gaze back to my prey.  I want brutal physical contact.  I want to hurt back.

Sahris' back is to me, so I attack.  My hand just touches his shoulder--up there--and then it grabs at escaping molecules.  So fast!  He moves so fast!  Then I'm up close and personal with Phoenix.  Couldn't stop, but Phoenix almost gets his arms up in time.  He's holding a weapon.  One arm comes around my back.  What's this, protectively?  Must be a reflex. 

"Back in my arms?" Phoenix asks. 

Glitch him.  I take a step to the side, the broken embrace. 

Turning, Phoenix on my other side now, Sahris is holding the remains of his weapon at Phoenix, pointing, accusing.  His voice is controlled as he speaks, one eyebrow raised slightly, "You just ruined what you cannot comprehend.  I cannot believe that you did that.  You have no idea what--I am quite upset you must know.  I just do not know what I'm going to do about you, sparrow." 

"Uh...oopsie?" Phoenix responds in the manner I'm beginning to attribute to him.  Still, he brought his weapon up, training it on Sahris.  I think there's something lethal beneath his surface, but maybe that's just the gun he has impressioning me. 

"What do you want with us, Sahris?" I ask, barely resisting attacking again.  The static wants me to.  I want to, but... 

Sahris lowers his accusation arm and turns his eyes to me.  "I am but a shepherd." 

"What is that supposed to mean?" Phoenix asks. 

"We're sheep." I say. 

Sahris displays teeth in a disturbing smile.  "Give the blue crowned lady a prize!  We have a winner!" 

"A shepherd doesn't kill his sheep--" 

"Ah," Sahris replies, "you understand so little, so very, very little.  You cannot understand though, that is not your place.  Understanding is for the shepherd alone, not for the sheep.  Sheep have no purpose save for obedience.  Why will you not obey?" 

I'm moving toward him.  Static.  Not swiftly, just with determination.  I hear Phoenix shift his feet, but he makes no move to restrain me.  He must've seen thestaticlook on my face.  I speak as I walk.  "Should not the leader have the interests of his followers in mind?  If he doesn't, he is not fit to lead." 

I'm almost to Sahris as he speaks, "You haven't considered one thing." 

"And that is?"  Almost.

"What if I simply do not care?!?"  And then Sahris releases his damaged weapon and grabs for me.  He succeeds, but I'm ready for him this time, landing two staticfuzzstaticbuzz enraged punches in his stomach before he can pull me too close to attack any more.  Pain immediate sets into my fists, but he grunts and exhales, and I see a look of...shock?  Surprise?  Pain?  I'm not sure exactly, but I like it.  He masks it quickly, but it was there.  Caught him off guard there.  No, that's not it.  He was expecting me to assault him, so his surprise was due to something else.  But what?  I hurt him?  Is that it?

I don't struggle; something tells me that it would be futile.  His hands are at the small of my back, pressing, supporting me almost tenderly, but his touch is revolting--spiders crawling on my skin--cringe my natural reflex. 

"You are ever so fragile, pretty one," Sahris says.  "I must remind myself, or I would be apt to break you into pieces." 

"Let her go, Sahris," Phoenix commands from behind me.  "J'aa eater!  It's me you want." 

How heroic.  Still I suppose it's nice of him.  Though I'm beginning to get the feeling that words are useless with Sahris, wastes of time and breath. 

"What I want is what I want, sparrow," Sahris says.  "Do not presume to know me and my desires!  They are my own!"  He sounds angry suddenly. 

His hands move up my back and to my neck, fingers all over the place, then just as quickly back down, and an unzipping sound reaches my ears, and now I'm struggling as he spins me around, holding me at the stomach with one powerful arm, facing Phoenix now, oh, I realize that my skinsuit is open in the back, down to the lower part of my spine, the corners of the suit at my now bare shoulders, my marked skin visible to his leering eyes. 

He utters a single unintelligible word.  To my ears it sounds like drifting.  But there's so much static that I could've heard wrong. 

Then he drops me.  I'm still struggling so I land awkwardly and off-balance.  I roll away and manage to stand, spewing every insult and curse I can think of in my enraged state.  He appears distracted, considering something. 

Phoenix rushes to my side, still leveling his weapon at Sahris.  "Should I shoot him?" he asks. 

"I should have known," Sahris says, looking at me.  "Your people always manifest themselves without warning.  Unexpected, but not unfortunate. Quite fortunate in fact, for you and the sparrow.  It appears that you are his salvation today."  He turns his back and begins to walk away, stooping to pick up the weapon that once was.  His back is to us, ignoring. 

Glitch that.  "Shoot the g'ekk," I say.  The static made me do it.  It's buzzing so LOUD I'll do anything to satisfy it. 

Phoenix barely nods, and multiple silverish streaks dart from his weapon.  Sahris sidesteps the first several blasts, but then a single beam hits the hand holding the handle.  His entire arm is flung forward, the ruined scythe flying from his hand.

He doesn't even pause, but continues to walk, bending to the ground only to recover his un-weapon once again.  And he continues away.  After a few seconds, I stop looking at him, too confused about the whole encounter to even think about it just now. 

Static fading...

I feel cold. 

"Here," Phoenix says, "let me help you."  Fingers at my back, at my skinsuit.  He's zipping me up back there. 

"Nice tattoo.  Very, um...nasty." 

All zipped up now, I turn to face him.  "Where the glitch is Aran?" 

"Don't know.  I think he went to check on some of those 'perfect people' he's got stashed over there.  Well, at least he thinks they're perfect.  I'm not so sure.  I mean, they look normal I suppose--no extra limbs or heads.  Still...I don't know." 

"They're not perfect," I say, "just pure." 

"Ah, yes, that was the word.  Pure.  Sorry."  Phoenix surveys the area.  "Do you think you'll be okay for a few minutes?  I need to check on something.  I'll be back if you want to talk about all of this Sahris business." 

"I'll be fine.  He didn't inflict any serious wounds." 

Phoenix nods.  "I'll meet you over by the Rusted Whale?"


He leaves, moving off to "check on something."  I'm alone and by myself in the middle of the square--The Square In Which (2)syl And Phoenix Encountered Sahris.  Amazingly, the square is fairly unlittered.  Decorative artwork in the direct center of the square is the only item that sets it apart from the rest of the surroundings.  Tall structures--buildings and the like--tower all around me, dark and heightened unnaturally by men and women of past and present.  Those structures look down on me now.  There aren't as many as there were a few days ago.  The riots--can hear them in the distance and in the not-so-distance--have taken their toll on the city.  Aran told me they've been raging for two weeks now, unabated and unchecked.  No signs of an eye in this mad storm.  This isn't normal.  Undirected violence can't last this long.  Nobody stays mad at nothing this long.  It can't continue.  Can it?

Riot, the incorrect nomenclature.  I think it's become war.  But one with no purpose, and I think that's the worst kind. 

The square opens up on one side right onto the docks where the Rusted Whale rests like a dead giant.  No telling how long it's been there, unused and unusable.  What a piece of refuse.  Aran thinks he can fix it.  Well, that other technomacer--what's his name?--thinks he can fix it.  I'll believe that when my eyes behold it. 

Suddenly, I want to sit down.  Walking over to one side of the square, I do, next to one of those buildings leaning over me.  The sun, which had only been setting as Sahris attacked, is gone now.  Good, that ball of fire was a sickly red infected with graying streaks. 

Resting with my thoughts, losing track of time...

The Bleed haven't made it this far yet.  (Shiver)  It won't be too long.  I warned Aran and the others, told them what I saw.  Glad they believed me.  Of course, I'm not sure it really matters.  I don't think even Aran and those technomancers can do anything about The Bleed. 

As if my thoughts were projected, summoning, I hear footsteps approaching me.  Look up.  It's the knight of chrome--my knight of chrome.  Where were you a few minutes ago, oh knight?  Wait, it's darker now, more night.  How long have I been sitting here?  More than a few minutes.

The same as before, he's wearing that long trenchcoat.  It looks tired--a few more burns and holes now.  His boots clunk and grind on the street, crushing rocks into dust. 

"Glitch, where have you been?" I say.  It came out more forcefully than I intended. 

"Here," Aran says, dropping green food pellets in my lap, "you need to eat."  He stares at me for a second, then at the wall beside me, pausing, then he sits down beside me, bulky metallic forearms resting on his knees, compacted wings scraping on the building's surface.  His hair is jagged and all over, spiking downward and upward and out, falling at random over his firm face, shining red and black in the light of nearby lamps and explosion fires.  He lets out a stilted breath.  I can see wounds still unrepaired all over his exposed mechaflesh, micro-wire bundles exposed and fluid tubes leaking internally.  Recent battles have taken their toll--the price the warrior must pay. 

Food pellet enters my mouth, bitter.  "Where were you, Aran?" 

His head remains, unturning.  "Making sure The Pure behave themselves.  They're getting scared, and their fright is increasing with time.  Every little thing is making them edgy." 

"Sahris attacked us.  Phoenix and me." 

I have his attention now, silver reflecting eyes turning toward me.  "Did he hurt you?"  Gray spheres flicking over my body, looking for red." 

"A little, but nothing serious.  He was trying to kill Phoenix though."  I tell him what happened, everything.  It doesn't take as long as I thought it would, but I'm more confused about it than ever.  Aran bows his head and closes his eyes when I'm done.  He only asked me a few questions during my telling, and he showed no emotion at my answers.  Not a shock. 

"I will deal with Sahris," Aran says silently, after a moment.  "He will learn."

"Aran," I say. 

"Yes, syl?" 

"Talk to me."  My knight.

Aran speaks in low tones at first, his lips moving minutely, methodically. He tells me stories.  He tells me stories of pure humans and impure wirewitches.  Of the conflict.  Of Technomancers.  Of the man of string, that horrible abomination.  Of the war.  He tells me a little of numbers also--of five and three.  Of friends constructed more of metal than of man.  Of the struggle and the pain.  He doesn't tell me everything--he doesn't need to--but what he tells me pulls a thread of my heart, insistent and full of ache. Oh, such loss.  I think I'm about to cry.  Not for what he told me, but for how he told me.  Can't even really explain that to myself, but it happens before I can analyze it further.  Wetness on my cheeks.  Small streaks only, don't want to be out of control.  Release is brief, but the marks are there, slick trails leading from my eyes to my chin. 

Vulnerable--the two of us in this moment.  I saw inside him a little there, and I'm not sure if he realized what he let me do.  He's tired of it all.  I think he wishes he were somewhere else, maybe even someone else.  I saw that.  Perhaps some insight of mine, or maybe it was proclaiming itself boldly.  Did it before?  The last time we met?  I don't think so.  It wasn't that long ago, but somehow I think we've both been through some experiences since then.  He is vulnerable to me right now, opening up, talking to me, telling me those things. 

I realize now that I trust him.  I'm not sure why, but I do.  Had a conversation with JACK awhile ago in which I had come to different conclusions.  JACK thought he was dangerous--to the two of us.  I was probably a little confused at the time.  I agreed with her.  Now, I'm positive I was wrong.  Oh, he is dangerous to be sure, just not in the ways everybody thinks.  Not dangerous to me.  At least not directly.  Still, something inside tells me to trust him. 

"Aran," I say when he's finished, "look at me."  I want him to see me how I am. 

He does, seeing my tears.  What do I see in his eyes?  Those gray orbs peering.  How does he see me?  What colors am I painted with in those monochromatic eyes?  One day.  One day I will find out.  The mystery will be known to me--the mystery of him.

"What is it, syl?" 

"I'm sorry," I say, not knowing what to say, and not knowing why I said that.  Then, before my eyes can release any more liquid,  I find myself scooting closer, snaking my arms beneath his trenchcoat, around his body, pulling myself to him, laying my head on his chest.  Some indescribable need within me made me do it--some craving for physical consolation.  Somehow clinging to Aran, knowing what he is and what he does, satisfies that.  (Don't try to explain it, just feel it, angel!!!)  He doesn't move right away, but then I feel his arms come up behind me, against my back, holding me gently, but there's so much strength there.  So much strength held in check, as if cradling a whistlewisp, fragile and ready to shatter at the faintest tremor.  My ear against his chest, I can hear his inner workings, his heart beating, gears and cogs spinning, fluids racing and rushing, electronics, and I realize how alien he is to me.  How inhuman.

    embrace the Technomancer
    embrace the technology
    embrace, and you will become

But he's warm and I don't want to let go, because he's holding me, protecting me and--mind flashes to an alley where...where...where something happened, what was it?  Someone held me and..and...and what?--my mind tells me not much else matters in these seconds.  (Just feel it, don't try to explain the glitch out of it, angel!!!)

I don't tell Aran anything.  Not now.  Not right now.  He wouldn't want to hear that anyway.  I don't tell him stories.  I don't tell him of the witches of wire.  Of the circus and three dead Dokks.  Of the killing.  Of a haven and a fallen Guardian-8.  I don't tell him of the clown who haunts me with secrets. Of calamity.  Of the riots and that dark image on my back.  And of the child, my child.  Of my visions of doom.  Of survival.  I tell him none of this, because I don't have the words.  Perhaps there are no words for how I feel and what I am.  Or maybe I'm just scared.

I realize that Aran is whispering something to me.  I'm sorry.  He's repeating it over and over.  What could he possibly have to be sorry for?  Especially towards me?  Is he even talking to me?  Doesn't make sense, but maybe he doesn't know what else to say.

"I know," I say, it's all I can think of, the most comforting thing.  I find my eyelids heavy, an effect of the food pellets.  The warmness from his closeness is soothing.  I'm sleepy, thoughts dissolving into blurs, and them I'm drifting off before I can say anything else, but the image of chrome, my knight remains behind my eyes and the beat of his heart remains in my ears.


Waking...  I'm awake now, in a bed.  Where?  Ah, eyes opening, a nondescript room, blank walls except for a single white door, bare floor, bare ceiling, bed made of metal hastily covered with a thick blanket, a smaller blanket folded beneath my head.  Couldn't be Aran's bed.  Could it?  It is made of metal...

Still in my skinsuit, but it's been patched, can't see my skin anymore through ragged holes.  I've been patched too.  Wounds feel a little itchy and stiff, but definitely clean.

Standing, I try to run a hand through my hair, but there are three clips there, holding my hair back away from my face.  I remove one and find that it is little and shiny and silver.  Interesting.  My curiosity is aroused at who put them there, but the clip goes back in the blue tangle up there where it can do some good.

Out the door I find myself surrounded by purity, all of them gathered together in this temporary shelter constructed by one of Aran's Technomancer companions.  No sonic shower today, something about the necessary parts not being available.  Ah, glitch.

Outside, the first sickened rays of the sun are beginning to show.  The sounds of riots and battles are not to be heard.  Has it stopped?  Doubtful.  Probably just a short cessation in this area.  Smoke hangs over the city like a hand waiting to crush an egg.  Glitched smoke.

Aran swoops from above me, landing with an sense of finality, vibrations from his impact resounding all through my bones.

"Did you sleep?" I ask

"Not last night," he says, his wings folding. Shhhinnk!  "I had a few more problems with a couple of The Pure.  Right now, the wirewitches are giving me less grief.  That'll last--as long as Kreep controls himself."

"Kreep?  I don't remember meeting him."

"He's a Technomancer also.  He's a little on the wild side, not to mention unpredictable."

"Unlike you?"  I'm smiling.

"No, just like me.  But control is a thing constantly struggled with when you are a Technomancer.  I know this, and I deal with it in my way.  Others deal with this battle in...different ways."

He has a slight flair for dramatics, but I find myself liking it.  "So you--"

But my question never gets asked because Aran suddenly looks over my shoulder, past me.

"Visitors," he says.  Even before I can turn to see for myself he says, "Three of them...all wirewitches."

The three wirewitches are just entering the square to one side when I turn around.  Aran must've known they were there before they were visible.  Technomancer abilities.

"Stay back, I'll handle this," Aran says, pulsing blue lightning beginning to crackle around his hands.  Some new ability?  Don't remember seeing him use this the last time.  Of course, I'm not entirely sure I was watching when he killed that eoa.  His wings are expanded, partially blocking my view of the newcomers.  I duck down a little, obtaining a better look.


"Wait, Aran!" I shout, as Aran moves forward.  "Don't shoot."  All the wirewitches except the obvious leader are beginning to change.  Aran's arms are hissing and popping with some blue energy.  Glitch!  Going to be a fight if I can't put a stop to this.  I'm running now, ducking under Aran's wing and moving in front of him, he ceases his forward movement.  He doesn't quite walk into me, but I can hear that energy crackling behind me, oh so near, his wings in my peripheral vision, almost surrounding me, a blatant display of protection.

"You know these wirewitches?" he asks.

"syl, we have found you at last," the lead wirewitch, JACK, says to me, stepping forward, leaving the others a few steps behind.

"You were looking for me?"  Am I truly surprised at that?  I don't know what I feel.

"You left without warning," JACK says.   "We have been looking ever since."

Ever since?  "I--I had to leave, JACK.  I couldn't stay."

JACK looks at me wordlessly, her hairstalks moving to some unknown rhythm.  "You shouldn't have done that.  I was worried.  When the riots broke out, I was afraid that you had been killed."

Mind tells me that she switched from using "we" to using "I" and that should mean something.  It does.  But I push that down, avoiding.  Looking over JACK's shoulder, my eyes meet with 2-85's.  He's in the form of a weapon, spiked and sharp, but he's recognizable. Avoid.  The third wirewitch eyes me impassively, dangerous in her present state.

"syl, this is PIIX," JACK says, then, just as quickly, her attention moves to Aran, her liquid eyes hardening, agitated.

"Aran, it's okay," I say to my knight, and the crackling fades in intensity, but it doesn't go away completely.

Then the wirewitches are changing back.  2-85 looks exactly the same, and there's a tugging somewhere inside me, in my chest.  Avoid.  PIIX is taller than both 2-85 and JACK, a solitary hairstalk protruding from her forehead, arcing back, resting over one shoulder.

Wait, somebody is missing--the incomplete family.  "Where is--"

But of course my sentence is never finished.  This time it's because the air directly to the left of JACK is sparking, now shimmering, and then Kiiziiziixii appears.  She brushed her hands through those metal snakes on her head and brushes her arms, shivering a little.  Is that a mocking smile on her face?!?  For what?!?  "Hello, (2)syl."

Behind me Aran swears, his hands crackling again, a cold heat fills the air behind me.  Just what abilities does he have?

"How the glitch did you do that?" I say before my mind tells me not to.  The wirewitches aren't shocked.  They knew she was there! Cosmic glitch!

Kiiziiziixii smile fades.  "Sorry, can't tell you that one.  Oh, and I thought I told you to watch your language.  You shouldn't let your tongue run wherever it wishes."

Aran is muttering something behind me, something about not detecting this (grumble) woman.  "You know this lady, syl?"

"Aran, meet Kiiziiziixii."

I can hear Aran's feet shifting.  Did the crackling just get louder?!?  "I'm thrilled."

"She saved my life.  I trust her."  Besides, I still need some information from her.

"Trust fails us often, syl," Aran replies.  "It is a fact you must accept in this world.  Do you actually trust this modie, or are you just trying to avoid conflict?"

Of course I'm trying to avoid conflict! I want to say.  Still...do I trust her?  Truly trust?

"Trust doesn't fail us, " Kiiziiziixii says,  "people do.   Maybe you trust the wrong people, Technomancer."

A philosophical debate?  At this time?!?  What is going on?

"Or maybe you don't trust enough?" JACK adds.

"Hypocritical words from a wirewitch, but maybe," Aran says, "it doesn't matter in the end.  There are ways around trust--I've found a few of them.  I'm still alive regardless, trust or no trust."

Kiiziiziixii's reply is lost in the sound of a disturbance coming from the direction of the Rusted Whale.  A Technomancer approaching, moving like a charging eoa.  Aran curses, move vehemently than before.  Didn't recognize the swear word, but his tone demands that it be one.  Have to remember that one for later.

"Everyone, stay still," Aran says as he moves to my right--I'm out from under his wings--and confronts the Technomancer.  He hasn't released his hold on that blue energy pulsing around his hands.  A knight always keeps his weapons online.  "Kreep, what's the situation?"

My eyes tell me situation is glitched.  Kreep appears to have all of his weapons on display, razors bristling and arms flexing, impossibly clawed hands curved downward, blades for arms flashing.  His hair is a blur, hanging down all over, in his face, catching on all those sharp points plaguing his metal skin.  He's shiny and black all over, red and gray reflections distorted all over his body.  My eyes see his eyes, and I can tell.  I know.  He's mad, struggling to contain something which wants out--is clawing to get out--is going to escape.

"Wirewitch!" Kreep roars, his voice, small explosions.

The wirewitches behind me are changing.  One glance at JACK tells me she's ready for a fight, her body sharpening.  Kiiziiziixii is holding something in her hand.  Can't tell if it's a weapon or not.  She is watching as if removed from the situation.  A war hidden beneath a guise.

Aran holds up his hands, palms forward.  "There is no threat here, Kreep.  No danger.  There is no reason for--"

Kreep takes a step forward.  "Wirewitch!"

"They just arrived, Kreep, calm down."

I step closer.  "Aran--"

"Stay back, syl," Aran says, his eye gleaming.  "Tell the witches to move back."

I give JACK the look, and she nods her head slightly.  The wirewitches back off.  Kiiziiziixii remains in place.

Kreep is not taking this well.  Circuitry glitch, electron pathways colliding.  A blade arm flashes forward, centimeters from Aran's face.  "Why?  Wirewitch!  Why?"

Aran is a rock.  "You have reached the wrong conclusions, Kreep.  Your processors are screwed, and they're feeding you bad data."


"No!" I shout.  Situation dangerous--increasing.

"Lie," Kreep says, his blade swinging close to Aran.  "Wirewitch!"

Aran is a stone.  "There are no others, Kreep.  These are the only ones."

"Lie!!" Kreep screams.  "Lie!!  Lie!!  Lie!!  Lie!!  Lie!!  Lie!!"

"No," I say again, this time to Aran, pleading.  "Don't let him do anything, Aran.  They are my friends."

The blue crackling is pulsing now--ready.  Aran's voice comes, steady as usual.  "You must not harm them, Kreep.  Go somewhere else.  We will talk about this later, I promise.  But you must go.  You will go."

Amazement on my part.  Kreep actually relaxes.  He's considering what Aran is saying--somehow the words got through whatever sanity shields he had up.  His face calms, and he stands a little straighter, not hunched and tormented as before.  His arms lower, non-threatening now.  Kreep's voice is different when he tries to speak with control.  "I..."

    ...storm passing...


    ...just the eye because...

...Kreep takes another glance at the wirewitches and his gaze stops on one of them, wait, what's this?  Recognition? Surprise?  Difficult to interpret.  I can't get my head around to see which one it is he's looking at in disbelief when...

    ...the storm is back...


    ...repressed anger releasing...

...in the form of a lunatic Technomancer screaming the name Ijissa as he launches himself into the air, over Aran, whose blue lightning fills the air, too bright, so bright that I'm blinded.  Then the mad Technomancer descends upon me, but in my visually impaired state, I can only see a dark blur and them I'm pushed aside like I'm composed of air.  More blue lightning and shouts and grunts are around me.  Battle, and I'm in the middle of it.  I cover my head, and pray that the metal giants around me don't crush my head.  Movement all around.  Everywhere.  All of it close.  Foot in my back.  A split second pause in the battle occurs and I roll over, springing to my feet.

That's when I see JACK, lying on the ground in a pool of wirewitch blood, Kreep laughing, standing over her, blue liquid dripping from his body in a thousand wicked rivers.

Continued in [a33]: Blood Sun [T-minus 5...]


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