Episode 103

The team debates in the large room of the ruins. Dretphi secures a red shoulder armor plate, glances down at the bound Red Gear scout, and tightens the rope around him. Sebastian’s ethereal visage hovers the middle of the discussion, and sighs grimly. “We HAVE to warn Precipice. They need to get armed and evacuate.”

Aristespha rubs her blue and gray hinted temples, and tightly blinks her violet eyes. “We may have time, but it may not be much if we can’t outpace them.”

Walking in from the hallway, Cideeda slowly shakes her head, raps her claw tips on the chassis of radio in her hand, and grumbles. “No fucking luck. Too much interference to get anything out.”

Mavian follows in behind her, blinks his faintly glowing green eyes, and frowns. “Yeah, I can’t even get anyone locally.”

Sebastian glances over and lifts a curious brow. “Interference from the zone or them?”

Cideeda and Mavian exchange pondering gazes. Mavian shrugs his shoulders. “Both? It’s hard to tell.”

Placing her radio back into her vest, Cideeda rests her hands on her hips, and grimaces. “Yeah. Either way, we’re not getting anything out from here.”

Sotalia grits her teeth, crosses her arms, and rests her head of fiery orange, wavy hair against a wall. “Okay... So, anyone got any idea on how we are getting the fuck out of here?”

Nodding in agreement with Sotalia, Sebastian searches between the team. “Yeah, what do we have to work with?”

Bach twists his mouth, searches his mind with his blue eyes, and ponders out loud. “Okay... So, are there any other routes we can take that we can use the humvee? We have to go faster than them... Somehow.”

Lowering his head down, Mavian mulls as he stares distantly at the stonework floor. “I... Um... I don’t think so. The Red Gears are using THE best route. Anything else would take a lot longer and be really dangerous.”

Dretphi perks her brow inquisitively and tilts her head of platinum blonde, braided hair. “Viable routes on foot?”

Mavian pauses a moment and nods slowly while combating hesitation. “Yes. They are far from ideal, but could work. It’d be fucking dangerous to rush through, and I don’t know how much time it’d buy us.”

He glances up with a hopeful smirk. “Maybe we’d get a window to get a radio call out and warn everyone.”

Hesitation spreads, and uncertainty twist faces as the seconds pass. Straightening his posture in a chair at the rough table, Max cocks his head and glances around to the team. “Would my hover truck help here?”

Mavian perks up, crosses his arms, and darts his eyes through his thoughts. With growing attention from the team, he dons a reserved smile. “Yeah... It can.”

He nods his head down, strokes his chin, and grins hopefully. “I’ve never thought of it as viable route to cut through, but... The Blue Fields. It’s impassable on foot because it is packed with ground anomalies and arc flowers. But, we won’t touch the ground. Once we get past it, there’s an almost direct shot to Precipice.”

Sotalia smirks boldly, lifts an eyebrow, and rests her hands on her hips. “Sounds good enough to me.”

Cideeda frowns and sighs through a grimace. Dretphi glances down. “What is wrong?”

Rolling her emerald green eyes, Cideeda waves off the concern with a tug at the corner of her mouth. “It’s fine. I’d hate to leave the humvee here. But, we don’t have a choice.”

Bach turns his head towards Cideeda, smiles reassuringly, and motions towards the outside. “I think we can come up with some illusion magic to go with the camouflage. These guys seem to be about the tech. We haven’t run into a Red Gear mage.”

Cideeda’s furry ears perk up, and a toothy grin appears on her face. “That’s right.”

Dretphi nods in agreement. “Yes. Red Gears are hesitant to use magic. Doubt they would detect an illusion.”

She thinks briefly and twists her mouth. “Take what you can, as a precaution.”

Sebastian assesses reactions and dons a proud grin. “Sounds as good of a plan as we’re going to have.”

He motions towards the hallways leading towards the exit. “Okay. Grab your gear, load up, and let’s move.”

As everyone gathers belongings, Sebastian glances down at the bound and gagged Red Gear scout, and quirks his brow at Dretphi. “So, what do you want to do with him?”

Dretphi glares down at the subdued cyborg, maintains a stoic tone, and cracks a faint smirk. “Bring in as proof. Question if cooperative. Otherwise if not.”

Sebastian grants a single nod, drifts towards the exit corridor, and signals the team. “Okay, I’ll keep a lookout. Keep it quiet until we are clear.”

The team sneaks out to the parked hover truck. They coordinate swift efforts to transfer gear to the open bed, while Max and Cideeda prepare the vehicle. Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia gather around the humvee. With incantations, gestures, and flows of energy, the humvee blends into the background and a visage matching the surrounding terrain forms. Seconds later, the outline of the humvee fades into a fitting formation of rock, weathered brick wall, and dirt. Cideeda reaches her arm out the truck cab, directs the key fob at the obfuscated humvee, and presses the lock button.

The team seat themselves along the sides of the bed. Dretphi carefully lifts up the last bit of her gear. She glares down at the tied up Red Gear scout. With a mean smirk cracking, she hoists up the prisoner by shirt collar and waistline, and flops the captive in. As the scout tries to grumble through his gag, Dretphi hops up, glowers him into silence, and closes up the tailgate.

A low hum radiates from the truck as the front console lights up. Max toggles a bank of switches, and the landing gear flips up into the chassis. The vehicle drops slightly, hovers up, and stabilizes a meter off the ground. Max softly directs his voice out the back window of the cab, and motions towards the scenery in front. “Okay. We’re ready... How are we doing this?”

Sebastian’s ethereal form surveys the team. “Is stealth even an option at this point?”

With an uneasy frown, Aristespha shakes her head and brushes back her silvery blue hair. “Sorry, Sebastian. I don’t think we have a spell that can hide something this large while moving.”

Cideeda glances back with a toothy grin. “I say fuck it and go fast. They have to roll. We don’t.”

Mavian nods in agreement. “We get to the Blue Fields, they won’t follow after us.”

Bach furrows his brow, and tilts his head. “What if they try?”

Mavian blinks his faintly glowing green eyes, and cringes. “Their funeral.”

Sebastian assesses expressions, turns to Max, and grins. “Punch it.”

With an eager smirk, Max throttles up the powerplant, secures his safety harness, and grips the controls. “Hold on to your asses.”

The hover truck coasts out into the open, steers around ancient architectural leftovers into a straight passage, and accelerates. It speeds down a long stretch and zips over low shrubs. The wind stirs around the back bed, tosses hair around, and ripples around clothing. Tall grasses blur by with sporadic trees. Mavian points towards a destination in distance, while Max steers and Cideeda monitors the front console. A tentative calm settles as the squad maintains a watch. Seconds pass into a minutes. Hints of hope rise.

A chorus of engines drone louder with each moment, and shatter the hesitant silence. Three fast assault quads race through brush, trees, and terrain. They close the distance. Sebastian calls out to the cab. “Can we go any faster?!”

Max grits his teeth, and shakes his head. “This is about as fast as it goes at this height and weight.”

Squinting his faintly glowing green eyes into the distance, Mavian points out to a long hill line. “If we can go over that ridge, we’re good! Just need to hold out-”

Pops and cracks echo out, and metallic plunks ring. The team sinks low into the bed of the hover truck. Another barrage of gunfire fills the air with an aggressive cacophony of nearby wood splintering, leaves shredding, and steel puncturing. Dretphi deploys her energy shield, kneels defensively, and ushers the team in her shadow. Gunners on the quads balances themselves when the vehicles navigate a flat stretch, line up their sub machine guns, and squeeze bursts of lead. Rounds spark on the energy shield, bounce off the red plates of Dretphi’s armor, and impact the chassis of the truck. A loud pop rattles the vehicle, and it dips low to the ground with a trail of smoke venting out from underneath.

Cideeda yells out. “A repulsor got hit!”

Dretphi grits her teeth underneath her full face visor, and peers out with her steely gray eyes. “They are reloading!”

Sebastian points to Aristespha and Sotalia. “Barriers!”

Aristespha and Sotalia quickly gesture out incantations, sit up, and fling out fields of magical flow. Layers of protective energies bubble into hemispheres anchored to the back of the hover truck. Sebastian glances over to Bach then Cideeda. “Bro, you and Cideeda see what you can do to keep this thing up and running!”

Cideeda deftly slips out the back window, scrambles next to Bach, and taps the side of the bed. “The damaged repulsor is right here! Open it up!”

Bach nods, blinks his eyes to a bright blue glow, and presses his hands upon the vehicle. As bullets deflect off the barriers, flows of magical energy sink into the metal, and condense into a glowing square. A newly cut panel hinges down into the bed, and a plume of smoke vents out. Cideeda angles her emerald gaze into the space, and inspects the smoldering, sputtering unit. After more arcs, another gout of black smoke erupts out, and Cideeda grits her teeth. She spouts out a few fvalian curses, and shakes her head. “Shit! It took a direct hit. The coils are frying from the load. It’s not fixable right now.”

Frantically searching through his mind, Bach grimaces in flit of panic. A realization arrives with a blink of his glowing blue eyes, and he cocks his head to peer inside the vehicle cavity. “Where’s the power lines?”

Cideeda directs Bach’s attention with a claw tip. “There. Why?”

Bach cracks a hint of confidence. “Got an idea!”

An eager smile appears on Cideeda’s face. Drawing in a long breath, Bach presses his hands tightly upon the hover truck. A surge of prismatic magical flow erupts out, radiates through the vehicle, and condenses into the cavity. As the torrent of energy continues, ethereal mechanisms materialize with developing complexity, and anchor to the frame of the hover truck. Bach winces sharply, grits his teeth, and growls out. “Dammit! I just need some more energy to speed this up.”

Cideeda’s furry ears perk up, and she spins her attention to Sotalia. “Sotalia! We need you here!”

Sotalia grimaces as she keeps herself steady between the hard banks and turns following Mavian’s directions to Max. “Little busy blocking bullets!”

A solid, large rifle bolt locks into place, and Dretphi props her rifle up upon the tailgate. Both Aristespha and Sotalia notice the firepower, exchange glances, and twist barrier energies into a small gap for the barrel. In a clear valley run, Dretphi lines up her shot, and squeezes the trigger. Waves of pressure ripple across the magical barrier and a plume of gases vent out after the slug leaves the rifle barrel. The head quad lurches. Sparks and shrapnel blast out from the small engine, as the wheels seize to the grating rattle of shredding metal. The two side assault vehicle swerve out of the way and fall back. Dretphi opens the bolt, and glances over to Sotalia. “Hurry!”

Aristespha grants a quick nod as her magical flows mix with Sotalia’s. Quickly sliding over, Sotalia glances at Bach. “What do you need?!”

Bach winces and grits his teeth. “Energy.”

Without hesitation, Sotalia places her hands on Bach’s and directs a swirling torrent of flow. The magical machinery materializes faster. The final threads weave into the power lines of the repulsor unit. Sotalia glances over to the construction, and cocks her head to Bach. “What are you doing?”

Bach weakly grins and shrugs his shoulders as he pants. “It’s um... Like the uh... Hover Disc spell.”

Sotalia flits her golden eyes wide, snaps her gaze over, and watches as the solidified magical energy erupts to shining life. The hover truck rises up to stable altitude. Bach lays down on the truck bed and catches his breath. Cideeda lightly squeezes Bach’s forearm, and grins to him before rushing back into the cab. Sotalia scoots over to her position, and resumes her flows into the barrier. Dretphi mutters grath curses as the two assault quads dart around the landscape. She pulls her rifle back as the barrier repels another barrage of sub machine gun fire, and shakes her head. “No clear shot!”

Mavian calls back and points ahead. “It won’t matter soon!”

The hover truck ramps up the hill. Crossing the crest, it glides down the slope and coasts over a vast, horizon stretching field of short flower covered shrubs. In the momentary peace, the team stares out into the wind swept field of iridescent blue splotches, and stare in awe. Snapping back to awareness, Cideeda sniffs the air, flicks her furry ears, and her emerald green eyes widen in discomfort.

Revving up loudly, the two assault quads launch themselves over the top of the hill, and land into the field of flowers. As their tires roll over each plant, static sparks out. The two vehicle speed deeper in and approach a thick patch with traces of wavering energy reaching out. Mavian winces his eyes closed, and turns his face. “You might want to close your eyes! This isn’t going to be pretty!”

As team heeds the advice, arcs of electricity erupt along the ground from the distance down ethereal conduits. In a brilliant flash, energy surges to a central point. A thunderous boom erupts out with the hammering roar of current arcing chaotically and a gout of plasma bursts up.

Molten quads tumble, and charred remains flop into smoldering piles, with the snaps and pops of cooling cybernetics.

The hover truck coasts above the sea of patchy blue towards Precipice.

People rush around the center of town between buildings. A light recon vehicle speeds down a side street filled with armed Borderland Rangers. Citizens hurry down sidewalks carrying belongings aboard into a convoy of hauler trucks. A chorus of large engines roar as a small fleet of earth movers pull, drag, and hoist up flat sections of old concrete and massive panels of rusted steel from the junkyard. Around the divide between the inner city and sparser outskirts, crews of workers guide the pieces into a defensive wall. A militia captain over a loudspeaker instructs armed people about the current plan while pointing to a map of the town.

Mavian gazes down the street, listens for a moment, and sighs uneasily. He glances up at the starless late night sky, searches the dark haze above, and the pushes the main door to the Precipice Inn & Tavern. Inside Elissia drops off plate after plate of food to zone runners seated at the bar. Aggie climbs up downwards stairs beyond a dusty doorway, brushes her hands off on her pants, and smiles towards the bar. “Thank you all again for clearing that old surge shelter. Should be able to fit a few people down there while we wait for evac.”

One of the hooded figures in protective gear points to Aggie in the middle of scooping up food into his mouth. “Not a problem. Just be sure you all and your boys are on the next convoy out of town when they secure the path.”

Aggie smirks to the man and walks towards Mavian. “Don’t worry about us. Just make sure we have a place to go to.”

She stops in front of Mavian and frowns slightly. “Any updates?”

Scratching the back of his head of wild brown hair, Mavian grimaces. “The rangers are getting organized to secure the evac route when the time comes. Scouts predict the Red Gears are going to get here by tomorrow, since they’re pushing through the night.”

He dons a hopeful smile. “But, PDF has been contacted and they’re trying to get out here. And... Vukasin is coming. It’ll take them awhile since they’re not used to the zone.”

Aggie draws in a long breath through her nose, smirks with a nod, and gazes over the main room. “That’s some good news. If we can hold them off, they probably won’t be able to stick around long.”

Elissia carries large carafe out to the larger table in room, sets it down in front of Aristespha, and cleans up a few plates. Aristespha picks up the container, pours herself a cup, and fills up Sotalia’s mug when she slides it over. Soft snores escape from Bach as he slumbers with his head resting upon his crossed arms. Dretphi glances over from her watch near a front window, checks the team, and lifts an inquiring brow towards Cideeda. Sorting through a few settings on her aetherphone, Cideeda gazes up, twist her mouth uncertainly, and droops her furry ears. “Nothing new.”

Noticing attention from Cideeda and Dretphi between a long swig of coffee, Aristespha rest her hand on the sword at her side and blinks her eyes to a faint violet glow. Moments later, she shakes her head. “Sebastian hasn’t seen anything new.”

Max finishes up his meal, and furrows his brow towards the team. “Certain you all don’t want on the first convoy out?”

Aristespha dons an appreciative, tired smile. “Yes. Thank you, but we need to do what we can here.”

With nod, Max draws in a long breath and smirks. “Okay. Well... Look for me when the second convoy gathers, because I’ll be looking for you all.”

The group shares a moment of silent gratitude, and quietly contemplate as distant thunder seeps in.

Within a sparse section of forest and between assault quads and an armored truck, a dozen people with cybernetics and heavy weaponry watch a wide, established roadway. The rain surges down in a torrent and pushes through the canopy. A man walks over to another with far more apparent cybernetic modification and speaks above the surrounding drone. “You sure Boss doesn’t want us to trap the road out of town? We can fucking shut this shit down real quick.”

The decorated Red Gear glances over, returns his attention back to the road, and shakes his head. “No. Boss was clear. We wait here. When they get ready to run, they’ll send out a patrol to clear the route out. We let them pass. They’ll think it’s clear and send out the first convoy. THEN... We fuck that shit up.”

The underling shrugs his shoulders with a faint mechanical whine, and snorts with an evil grin. “Yeah. I see what he’s going for. Take some hostages, kill a few to let them know we’re serious, and leverage the rest of the town to give up?”

The commanding Red Gear nods with a sinister smirk, and crosses his augmented arms. “Pretty much. Make sure we hit them hard where it hurts, and they won’t have time to come up with some other plan.”

Other man straightens up his posture, pats his machine gun, and cracks a mean smile. “How many do we kill versus keep?”

Rocking his head side to side, the decorated gear twists his mouth indecisively. “Make examples of anyone who fights back. We’ll go from there. Boss wants as many workers as possible.”

The lesser gear nods in agreement, glances around the surrounding forest, and chuckles. “Yeah, need some peons to get this operation running right.”

From the darkness between two larger trunks, a pair of eyes flicker to a bright white and narrow angrily. The underling blinks, focuses his stare out into the trees, and lifts up his machine gun. He motions up a hand signal, slowly approaches the perimeter of the encampment. Seconds pass as others watch expectantly. The lesser gear scans out into the woods, trains his stare upon a different points, and relaxes. He pivots around, waves off the concern, and laughs. “Sorry! Must have been some weird zone shit and the rain. Thought I saw some glowing eyes-”

A translucent energy whips around the man, and he launches backwards into darkness. A machine gun pounds out rounds and muzzle flashes scatter light between the trees. Troopers freeze in place when panicked screams echo. A bright white glow bursts out from the shadows. In the seconds of silence, Red Gears exchange worried glances, peer into the stormy darkness, and aim weapons. Just as bewilderment matches concern, a smoldering mass of metal and bioelectronics splats into the middle of the encampment. Fright pulls triggers.

Weapons burst out into the surrounding forest as the commanding Red Gear barks orders. Individual troopers panic fire at random as the storm rages on and dumps a blinding deluge. A pair of bright white eyes flash out. Tentacles of energy spear out from beyond, envelop limbs, and violently drag people away. Screams, gunfire, servos straining, and snaps blend to a chaotic cocktail of terror when Red Gears lose their grip onto earth or steel. Bright white flashes erupt and ignite the mists in blinding blasts. The decorated Red Gear, retrieves a hand held radio unit, and keys it up. Only twisted static punctuated by crackles of matching lightning in the distance answer back after each vain attempt to call.

Gritting his teeth, the decorated Red Gear stands up with a ring pin around his finger and a grenade in his other hand. He searches darkness, spots white eyes, and opens his mouth to a defiant yell. A pure white lance of energy floods the clearing in a blinding light. The commanding gear remains still while his expression fades. Wisps of smoke escape his slacking jaw. Faint sizzles creep into the background noise as the rainfall wanes. The wind blows into the smoldering, seared tunnel through his chest. He tips back, splashes upon the flooded mud, and releases the grenade spoon.

Remaining troops rush clear as an explosion peppers the area in shrapnel. Dazed Red Gears scramble for cover near quads. One man scrambles up into the cab of the armored truck, and starts the vehicle. A pair of cold, glowing eyes from the darkness glare. A brilliant flash of white engulfs the hazy air within the encampment. Sizzles of molten slag dripping from the underside of the truck replaces the rumble of combustion. Smoke billows through a glowing, steaming hole through the engine block. Whips of translucent energy spring out, snare remaining soldiers, and yank them free from cover. Panicked blasts of machines guns and heavy rifles rip through the trees and brush, and silence under flashes of pure white energy.

An eerie silence looms over as the rain fades. Faint splashes sound out. From the darkness a thin man steps. He slowly surveys the devastation under the sparse forest canopy. His wispy hair flutters in a constant updraft of energy along with the tails of the blue scarf covering his face.

Noxian blinks his cold, bright white, glowing eyes, and frowns underneath the fabric.

Underneath the stormy, gray skies, people maintain watch from behind a perimeter of junk concrete and steel, and train weapons towards a distant line up of Red Gears troops and vehicles. Within the wide alley of a row of buildings, Aristespha coordinates between others in a field hospital. She places her hand upon the sword at her side, feels the faint vibrations, and twists her mouth uncomfortably. Beside her Sebastian materializes, glances down at the sword, and shares a similar expression. “I don’t know either, dear.”

He cracks a hopeful smirk and motions towards the front line a few block away. “Maybe he’s cleaning up some trouble.”

Aristespha shakes her head with a faint smile. “That’d be nice. I doubt he’d be too cooperative with them.”

On a store rooftop, Dretphi patiently pans the scope of her rifle out, and scans the horizon. Sotalia walks along the protective perimeter. She spots a large man with a sword on his back, a woman in elegant robes, and an emin woman with pistols at her sides. A faint smile appears on her face, and she steps up to the line. Settling into an empty space between the group, she gazes over to Omaron, and smirks. “Well, fancy seeing you all here.”

Omaron lowers the binoculars from his eyes, glances over, and chuckles with a small grin. “It’s good to see you, too. Quite the trouble your team found.”

Sotalia tosses back her fiery orange, wavy hair, snorts with a shake of her head, and peers out into the distance. “Yeah. We were lucky to get back yesterday before they got here.”

She pauses a moment, searches between the familiar gathering, and smiles hopefully. “Mind if I join you all here? If I’m going to fight here, I’d really like to be next to people I know.”

Omaron grins, chuckles as he lifts up his binoculars, and sighs. “Of course. I’m certainly not going to turn down more firepower with us.”

Precella quirks her brow, dons smug smirk, and snorts. “Hope you’re still in practice with those spells of yours. Hate for you linger behind.”

With twist in the corner of her mouth, Sotalia grins proudly, stretches out her arms, and settles into a ready position. “Oh, please. Just don’t make me have to wait for you to catch up.”

Down the main street, Bach stands and observes the activity surrounding him. He darts his attention between the Aristespha and Drekkalin down the alley field hospital, Dretphi’s barrel barely peeking out above, and Sotalia at the front line. He scratches the back of his head, and wanders his focus in an uncertain gaze. He startles when he feels a familiar five claw tips lightly press on his forearm, and he glances down at Cideeda’s emerald green eyes. “Oh! Hey... Um, how it’s going? I, uh...”

Cideeda cocks her head to the side, gazes up to Bach, and frowns with hints of concern. “You okay? You’ve been standing here the past fifteen minutes, looking really confused.”

Bach grits his teeth, droops his head down, and nods regretfully. “Y-yeah. I don’t know what to do right now. I know I can be useful... But, I don’t think here, right now? Um...”

A warm smile appears on Cideeda’s light brown face, and she gently tugs Bach arm towards the center of town. “You can come with me. I’m going help make sure the convoy trucks will make it to the evac point. I could use someone who can fashion parts for me.”

Bach smirks appreciatively, and follows Cideeda. “Yeah, that I can do. Thanks.”

Cideeda leads Bach down the main road towards the center of town, away from building tension of the front line.

Inside the Precipice Inn & Tavern, Aggie directs another group of civilians into the surge shelter. “Down here. I’ve set up some food and water. So, eat up and rest for now.”

When they descend down, she pauses a moment, glances over at the reinforced door frame, and places her hand on it. After a series of gestures with her free hand and incantations under her breath, a flow of magical energy glides over the structure and illuminates faint arcane symbols. Once the glow fades from her brown eyes, she releases a tense sigh. Stepping down from upstairs in heavy boots, Elissia brushes bits of lint and futz off her suit of soft armor, adjusts the carrying strap for her shotgun, and walks over to Aggie. Pausing moment, Aggie gazes over Elissia, cracks a loving smirk, and rests her hands on her hips. “Gods, it’s been a long time.”

Elissia smiles with hints of pride on her light gray, blue hued skin, and rolls her bright violet on black eyes. “It has. Unfortunately, the pants have shrunk for some reason...”

A humored grin appears on Aggie’s sun tanned face, and she shakes her head of curly black hair. “Don’t feel too bad. I couldn’t even get the pants on from my old battle mage gear... Since they had shrunk so much.”

Checking the ties on her dark blue, braided hair, Elissia giggles softly, steps next to Aggie, and kisses her on the cheek. “Amazing how old clothes from your youth do that.”

The front door opens. An older man and woman step in with Suzie in front of them. Aggie smiles with relief, and walks up. “Todd, April, and Suzie... Gods, I’m so glad you’re all safe.”

Todd presents a worn smile to Aggie and nods. “Thanks for having us.”

Aggie motions over towards the stairwell, and leads the three over. “It’s no problem.”

Suzie glances around the main room of the establishment, and gazes up with concern to Aggie. “Where is Cedric and Ryos?”

With a bright smile, Aggie points towards the stairs leading into the shelter. “They’re already down in the shelter. They found some old board games, and I think they’ll want you to play.”

With a spring to her step, Suzie excitedly slides her small backpack off, and opens it. “Did you hear that, Mr. Ishy! You like playing old games...”

Rummaging with fright in her eyes, she snaps her attention to the doorway and tries to rush over. “Mr. Ishy is not here! He must have fallen out!”

Both Todd and April secure their daughter and hold her back. April kneels down in front of with a motherly tone. “Suzie. Listen. It will be okay. Mr. Ishy will be fine. We will find him later.”

Hearing the sobs and cries, Amos steps over from a table in the main room, nods to everyone, and squats down to gaze at Suzie with his optics. Presenting a confident grin on his facial displays, he projects a reassuring tone and bows slightly. “Suzie, you have my word I will find Ishmael for you. He’s my friend, too. I will make sure he is safe.”

Slowing to sniffle, Suzie glances to all the reassuring adults, musters up a hopeful smile, and nods. “O-okay... Thank you, Mr. Amos.”

She reaches her arms around, and gives Amos as big of a hug as she can. While a gentle pat of his robotic hand, Amos directs Suzie to follow her parents down into the shelter. April and Todd smile gratefully to Amos. As April leads Suzie down into the shelter, Todd hangs back and waits. He inquires quietly towards Aggie and Elissia. “Have you heard anything from Miss Reena?”

Elissia grants a reassuring smile to Todd. “Not recently. But, I wouldn’t worry about her. She’s capable of taking care of herself.”

With a final nod, Todd goes down into the shelter. Seconds later, Elissia leans close and whispers to Aggie. “Gods, the stories from that woman after a few drinks about her days as an Appaland sniper...”

Aggie tightens her smile into a faint grimace, and gazes back at Elissia. “Gods, I’d hate to be a Red Gear right now. That area around the school must be a kill zone right now.”

Elissia smirks briefly and notices Amos walking towards the front door. She rushes over, pulls out a pistol from her back pocket, and presents it. “Amos, take this. I don’t want you going out there without something. You know how to use this, right?”

Amos glances down at the weapon, cautiously takes it, and focuses his optics upon it. In a quick series of precise and calculated actions, he inspects, checks, and assesses the pistol thoroughly. Checking the safety, he performs a series of twirls with handgun in his robotic hand, and holsters it with a flourish into an empty, dedicated spot in his duster. He projects a confident smile on his face, and nods to Elissia. “Thank you very much. I’ll return when I’m done.”

Elissia quirks her brow curiously, and cracks an amused smirk. Amos shrugs his mechanical shoulders, and synthetically chuckles. “Well, I think we all have our pasts in this town.”

With a nod, Elissia pushes open the door, and Amos exists quickly into the eerie silence of the dark gray day. Standing in front of the Precipice Inn & Tavern, he slowly scans the area, and settles his focus upon the muddy ground. His optics sort through the chaos on the ground, and his metal head perks. From the layers of foot traffic, his sensors follow a set of small, short gait tracks emerging from the front of the establishment and traveling in sprints down the street.

Amos pivots, and quickly walks down the trail. Building after building, he follows the route. Near the end, he aims his attention towards an alley, spots a small robotic doll peeking out, and rushes over. “Ishmael! What the hell are you doing?”

Ishmael freezes in place, turns his simple face around, and yells out. “Trying to save this town!”

Cocking his head to the side, Amos squats down next to Ishmael. “How do you propose to do that?”

Contorting his cloth, doll face, Ishmael sighs with faint ethereal reverberation and shakes his head. “It’d take too long to explain. But, I need to find Bach.”

Amos glances towards a direction and points. “I believe I saw Cideeda and Bach near the convoy checking vehicles.”

Ishmael snaps head up to Amos reaches his soft, cloth arms up. “Take me to him! PLEASE!”

Amos hesitates a moment, processes flits of confusion, and stares. After a moment of silent communication, he scoops up Ishmael into his arm, stands up, and runs. Speeding through the alleys between buildings, weaving through crowds, and darting around obstacles, the two arrive at the forming convoy. Amos spots Cideeda giving a thumbs up to the driver of a hauler truck. Bach steps away, flings excess grease off his hands, and stands next to Cideeda. The engine of the truck sputters to life, and rangers cheer as they board. Amos rushes over to Bach and Cideeda, and presents Ishmael. “My friend would like a word with you, Bach.”

Bach and Cideeda exchange confused glances. Ishmael gestures out his explanation and points to Bach. “Without going into details, there’s something in the junkyard that will help defend this town. But, I need YOU to help me to get it working.”

Uncertainly shrugging his shoulders, Bach blinks and cocks his head. “Okay. Um. Yeah. I don’t know why you need me specifically, but... We’ll check it out after we’re-”

Large rifle reports echo out, magical energies resonate, and bursts of small arms fire spread from the distance. Leaders of the convoy yell out orders, and the chain of vehicles roll out. Cideeda gazes up to Bach. “I think we’re done here. Let’s check this out.”

With a nod from Bach, the group rushes down the road towards the junkyard.

Thunder rolls overhead, and Amos, Ishmael, Cideeda, and Bach navigate through the towering piles of scrap metal and paths of packed down liter. Ishmael waves his simple cloth arms while in Amos’s grip, and motions down to the ground. “Here! It’s right here.”

Amos, Bach, and Cideeda exchange equally perplexed glances. Cideeda perks her furry ears, scans the vicinity with her emerald green eyes, and tilts her head at Ishmael. “Okay, what’s here?”

Ishmael blinks his robotic doll eyes, straightens himself up in Amos’s arm, and sighs. “Buried under here is a mostly intact Vukasin mech from the Red Gear Uprising era.”

He glances between the incredulous stares coming from Amos, Bach, and Cideeda. Furrowing her brow, Cideeda crosses her arms, lowers her furry ears, and growls out. “Well THAT would have been helpful to know maybe a WEEK ago! The town is getting attacked NOW. What the hell do you expect us to do?!”

Amos glances down at Ishmael, cocks his head, and grumbles electronically. “She has a really good point. I fail to see how an mech underground is going to help us out.”

Ishmael rolls his eyes, snaps his head over to stare at Bach, and points his cloth arm out. “That’s why I NEED HIM!”

Bach blinks dumbfounded, and darts his eyes around awkwardly. “Uh, okay. How am I suppose to help here?”

Narrowing his glare upon Bach, Ishmael rolls his eyes and groans with faint ethereal reverb. “You have THE POWER that I need and can use efficiently.”

With shock rushing into his face, Bach opens his blue eyes wide, reflexively steps back, and nervously chuckles. “Um- Uh- What do you mean by that-”

Ishmael yells out with a voice larger than his toy form. “ELDER ENERGY! You have it! I need it!”

Watching the mix of confusion and worry, he grumbles, face palms, and shakes his head. “Wait. This will make it easier explain.”

The robotic doll in Amos’s arm goes limp and an ethereal vapor plumes out. Condensing into a hovering entity of translucent angular shapes and transparent geometric arrangements, the cloud of energy and light drifts out in between the group. With an echoing tone, a voice emits from the being. “Without wasting any more time, I call myself Ishmael. But, I am an anima. A magic entity formed from technology with the ability to manipulate technology.”

Ishmael’s true form shifts and reconfigures as it drifts close to Bach. “You have Elder Energy. I sense it. This mech can be raised and activated, but we have to work together. Your power, my control, and we save this town.”

Bach stares frightfully at Ishmael, steps back again, and nervously sputters back. “O-o-kay... This is a lot to process the moment. Um...”

Taking a few calming breaths, he collects his thoughts and musters up his courage. “So, what you are asking me to do... Is willingly give some strange entity I barely know a form of ridiculously dangerous power... In hopes that it will be used to bring a war machine from past up to defend the town... And expect it won’t do anything else with that, at great personal risk to myself. Is that right?”

Flows of illumination flit through layers of angular, ethereal pathways within Ishmael’s form, and he sounds out. “Yes. That summarizes it, for all practical purposes.”

Bach grits his teeth, straightens his posture, and slowly shakes his head. “Yeah, I don’t think that’s terribly great idea, right now. We really should be helping out in ways that don’t risk more-”

Flashing his ghostly form brighter, Ishmael calms his tone and sternly relays. “I know this all sudden. I know this is a lot. But, we don’t have time for this. Just listen.”

The assembled group pauses as distant sounds of combat echo into the area. Cideeda and Bach’s radios crackle between different channels of radio communications. In quick succession, Aristespha, Dretphi, and Sotalia’s voices flit between the different conversations with new reports of trouble. Ishmael’s visage cools and a genuinely somber tone chills his voice. “This... This isn’t the first time. I’ve had to witness many towns fall to terrors like the Red Gears. I came into being out west, drifted, and settled into a nice town. Quiet and peaceful. I inhabited many of their systems and slowly improved their lives behind the scenes. But... It ended...”

Moments of silence later, a tremble wavers his speech and a sorrowful, ethereal sigh resonates. “It ended like it has many times... and THIS... Right now... is how it starts.”

With energy pulsing slowly through his form, his illumination gathers towards Bach. “I don’t want this to happen again. WE have a chance to STOP this. YOU can make good happen here tonight.”

Bach blinks his blue eyes. He stands silently, glances between Amos and Cideeda. Amos bows his head in thought, and turns to Bach. “I’ve never known him to lie or mislead. And, I must say... This town needs all the help it can get.”

Searching her mind, Cideeda grits her teeth, gazes up to Bach, and smiles worried. “At this point, it’s a chance. I don’t know what more we can do even if we joined the lines.”

Bach draws in a long breath through his nose, sighs, and slowly nods. “Okay... This may make top the list of the stupid things I’ve done... Let’s do this.”

Ishmael’s anima form floods with bright light and a determined, hopeful tone sounds out. “Thank you! Just flow what power you can to me, and I handle the rest. Stand off the side. This mech is gigantic.”

Amos and Cideeda stand behind Bach as he plants his feet securely and readies himself. Closing his eyes, Bach holds his hands out towards Ishmael’s form. Seconds pass on by. Slowly opening his eyes, between the bright blue glow, brilliant white swells within Bach’s pupils. Conduits of prismatic energy form and spiral around his body. Faint threads of pure white flow travel the guiding corridors and gradually condense near Ishmael. Geometric patterns spread out from the anima’s form and contact the orb of pure white. With a bright surge, threads of energy launch out from Ishmael, plunge into the dirt, and pulse with brilliant light.

Seconds tick away. Bach concentrates as the white pushes out the blue glow in his eyes. Surges of elder energy seep through the prismatic conduits, and the flow spirals along his body directly to Ishmael. In the relative silence, only the hums energy and distant fighting challenge the occasional thunder.

The ground shudders.

A pile of scrap metal slides away from a swell of dirt. From the earth, a massive hand pushes through the junk, turns its meter wide palm at the wrist, and sinks metal fingers into the ground. Another hand rises, and secures a grip onto ground. Wincing from the strain, Bach grits his teeth, widens his distant stare as the elder energy overtakes his eyes, and releases a surge flow. Ishmael’s forms swells and pulses threads into the scrap packed soil.

The earth rumbles, and the cracks form a humanoid outline in ground.

Dirt, scrap, and junk fall away from the robotic head, cascade down the armored torso, and pile past the hip section. Amos slowly steps back from the rising behemoth sitting upright, and leads back Cideeda while she gawks in utter awe. Recognition floods Cideeda’s face, and she excitedly calls out. “It’s an Amarok! It’s a Vukasin Amarok! I know that model!”

Amos glances over to Cideeda, and tilts his head. “Do you think it’ll work?”

Cideeda darts her gaze around to the critical sections of the emerging mech, and gestures her claw tip to parts of the humanoid robot. “I think so. It looks like all everything is there. It just might!”

Bach tilts his ear towards Cideeda’s voice, ponders a moment, and settles his attention up the massive machine in front him. He cracks a bold grin and forces out a chuckle. “You think you can handle more, Ishmael?”

Ishmael’s form flutters with activity. “Yes! I’ve almost got it articulated into the pre-start squat position. Then, we can try to bring it online.”

Bowing his head down, a burst of white energy floods around Bach, shatters the prismatic guides, and swirls in a torrent to Ishmael. The energy spreads through ethereal passages in the air into the mech. The mechanical humanoid shifts its huge feet underneath, and balances into a ready position. Ishmael launches forth and plunges through into cockpit of the mech. Angular pathways spread out along the surfaces of the machine. Geometrical patterns radiate out. Caked on dirt flakes off. Rust fades as white energy washes over and leaves pristine steel. Sparks shoot out from joins as sections of limbs shudder, and fresh leaks of stale hydraulic oil cease as the sheen of elder energy shifts through the machine.

Bach drops down to a knee. Gritting his teeth and keeping the flow of energy going, he pants louder. Cideeda steps closer and calls out. “Bach! Are you okay?!”

Forcing a nod, Bach stares at the hulking robot in front of him, and winces tight as the elder energy veins out from his eyes. “Yeah. Hitting my limit. But... I can do it... A little longer…”

From the mech’s loudspeaker, Ishamel calls out. “We just need to get the reactor online. It’s going to take a huge surge to start it. Can you do it, Bach?!”

Sweating dripping off his brow, Bach blinks hard, shakes his head, and strains against the looming fatigue. “I don’t know. A huge surge might be too much. I... Don’t know...”

Cideeda watches Bach teeter briefly before recovering his balance. She searches around the junkyard and growls out her frustration. “Shit! If the literature about these mechs is right, they have super-capacitors that can store a charge to jump start the reactor. But, it takes a lot of power for them to start the cascade reaction.”

With the robotic doll under his arm, Amos darts his optics around the area. “How much are we talking about, we might be able to get some assistance to power it up.”

Gritting her sharp teeth, Cideeda shakes her head of short, multi-colored hair, and droops her furry ears. “It’s a lot. They usually needed another mech that was running or a dedicated generator truck to do it. There’s stories of people arcing power from high tension power lines to pull it off in an emergency.”

A loud crack of thunder rolls over head. Bach pulls his attention from Cideeda’s explanation, forces his tiring body to turn his head up, and stares at the stormy clouds above. From deep within his mind, a surge of heroic determination pushes through hesitation and bold grin cracks on his face. He directs his voice towards Amos and Cideeda. “Cideeda! Amos! Get REALLY FAR away! Please!”

Amos resets his optics. Cideeda tilts her head and puzzles. Prismatic flows solidify upon the chassis of mech, conduits slip between the gaps of the plating, and a construct of golden energy forms. A growing tower of transparent magical framework extends upwards, and a thick thread of energy drifts into the sky above. Amos and Cideeda exchange glances. Cideeda stares wide eyed and scared. “Bach! Those were only stories I was talking about! I don’t think it really applies here!”

Bach glances over his shoulder to Cideeda, cracks a confident smile, and chuckles. “Don’t worry, I’m just directing the energy. I’m sticking around here myself.”

He pauses briefly, flits his glowing white eyes wide, and yells towards the mech. “Ishmael! You’re about to get your jump start!”

Springing to his feet, Bach sprints out from mech, flows of magical thread trailing behind him. He stumbles to the ground. He scrambles up to his feet, and twitches prismatic fibers from his fingers. Covering his ears, he shouts out. “Cover your ears!”

From the tip of the hovering, golden magical construct, a faint arc reaches up into the sky in the fraction of a second. A brilliant flash erupts out. The deafening boom rattles away debris and shakes scrap piles nearby. The golden structure ignites in a blinding glow and flows of blue-white energy surge down prismatic conduits into the mech.

In the silence after the strike. Bach opens his fading white eyes, uncovers his ears, and pants in between wavering attempts to keep his balance. Amos and Cideeda peer out from behind a mound of concrete chunks.

A low thump resonates out from the mech. Metal scraps shudder, and Amos warily keeps behind cover. Moments later, a more powerful thump rumbles out. Larger fragments of metal next to the mech slide closer. Over the growing drone, a final massive shake growls out to surging roar, and pitches to stable hum. Vents open up on mech and flows of heated air blast out.

Inside the cockpit, Ishmael’s form materializes from energy vapors seeping in. Angular threads reach out in to the surrounding controls. The cabin remains silent. Signs of activity flash on a screen. Streams of text sputter out and a Vukasin logo appears. Consoles activate, status monitors flick from red to green, displays highlight system status on 3d blueprints, and a preflight check list ticks down. A computerized voice states. “All systems nominal. Full startup engaged.”

The Vukasin Amarok shudders. Heated air blasts out, hydraulic turbines whine loudly, and metal strain echoes through the frame. From a squat, the massive behemoth stands up. Slowly rising, it towers above the tallest scrap piles surrounding, and reaches a height of twelve meters. A massive leg steps forward out of it’s grave. A wide foot impacts the metal strewn ground with a chorus of crunches. It shifts it’s frame forward into the next step. The mech stomps ahead out of the hole without pause.

Bach’s balance wavers as he watches the machine leave. He starts to tilt back, and a pair of arms wrap around his lower chest. Cideeda guides Bach gently down. She sits behind him and props him up. Blinking through the fatigue, Bach turns his head back and smiles weakly. “Thank you...”

Cideeda smirks warmly, pats his forearm, and laughs. “Least I could do.”

Amos walks up next to the two, and stares out to the departing mech. “I would suggest we join the fight. But, if THIS doesn’t win the battle. I don’t know what actually will.”

Bach attempts to brush some of his hair out of his face. He sighs as his weakened arm flops down and chuckles. “So... Uh... What the fuck did I end up doing this time? I don’t know what to call this.”

Cideeda deftly combs away the annoying strands of hair in Bach’s face and ponders. She grins toothily. “Mechanecromancy? Yeah, Mechanecromancy. I like that. That’s what I’m calling it.”

With an amused snort, Bach gradually shakes his head and laughs exhausted. “Good. I’ll add to the list of charges.”

Leaning close, Cideeda smiles warmly and winks. “It’s pretty cool. I’ll have to learn it one day.”

Standing upon distant pile of scrap, Isaac grin proudly, and gazes at Bach from afar.

Aggie inspects magical wards around the entrance of the Precipice Inn & Tavern. She pauses a moment, listens to a faint rattle of glassware on the bar, and puzzles. Elissia slowly opens the front door, and leans in with wide, bright violet on black eyes. “Um... You need to see this...”

From on top of the store front, Dretphi pulls back her rifle, opens the bolt, and checks the chamber. While changing the magazine, she halts a moment, and witnesses the spent brass vibrate. Slowly crawling up to the ledge, she aims her rifle around, and scans through the scope. She freezes in place, pulls her head back, and blurts out bewildered grath.

Aristespha finishes extracting a bullet from a man’s leg, and directs another medic. After walking along the run of the field hospital, she steps off to the side and closes her eyes to breathe. Staring down at the ground, she watches the ripples in a shallow pool of rainwater. As she tilts her head to the side, Sebastian’s materializes next to her. “Dear... I think know why the sword was acting up a few minutes ago. I think.”

Along the defensive perimeter, the fervor of gunfire wanes and an eerie silence looms over. From a commanding position opposite from the town, Boss peers out over the battle and furrows his brow. “I didn’t order a cease fire. The fuck is going on here?”

One of the underlings blinks in shock, hands over a pair of binoculars to Boss, and points. “Um... Over there.”

Peering through the optics, Boss searches around and halts his hunt. With each powerful step, a towering figure moves closer. Along the distant horizon, lightning strikes and back lights the gigantic humanoid machine. As the energy cascades through the clouds above, the flickers of arcs highlight the blue Vukasin logos decorating the metal behemoth. Lowering the binoculars, Boss blinks in sheer astonishment, cocks his head, and yells out to the surrounding troops. “Okay. WHERE THE FUCK DID IT COME FROM?! There was NO report saying THAT existed!”

He pulls out his radio, and calls out. “To all listening. Can someone fucking EXPLAIN to me the what, why, and HOW of that thing existing!?”

Strange wavering static and distortion twists the dead air out from the radio. Moments later, an ethereal voice resonates through the radio and a faint echo sounds out from the distant machine. “I can explain. I could explain many things to you. But, right now, all I want you to do is LEAVE. Just LEAVE. And, I won’t have to soil the earth with your charred corpses.”

Boss glances at the radio, squints at the approaching Mech, and sneers his upper lip. He keys up the radio and growls out. “All troops! Focus fire on the big metal piece of shit!”

Volleys of machine guns, rifles, and canons ring out. Round impact the Amarok. Small munitions bounce, larger flake off armor, and the most powerful melt divots in the chassis. In the rain of lead and bolts of energy, a low hum joins the cacophony from the mech and sparkles of energy arcs a long the chassis. A barrier spreads out and solidifies along the body. Boss grits teeth, grumbles to himself, and calls out on the radio. “Continue your fire! That shield will eventually wear down. Chances are that ancient hunk of junk can’t fire. They’re just trying to scare us off with an antique!”

Ripples of static blare out from the radio and a twisting voice calls out. “I wouldn’t be so confident if I were you. The past has come to collect.”

Boss frowns angrily, keys up the radio, and shouts out. “Who the fuck is this anyway!?”

Sounding clearly from the distance and static free over all radios, Ishmael’s voice articulates with chilling resolution. “You do not recognize me. I know you wouldn’t. But... I know... You. Ampa. Lake City. Junction. Mosa. Towns rendered to bloody dust in your kind’s campaigns to conquer. The suffering I’ve experienced and witnessed over the years... Pointless to explain. There’s only one thing I can do now.”

Boss’s wide eyes gawk in swelling terror and surges of recognition, and he stares at the incoming Amarok. Ishmael’s voice ethereally broadcasts over the air. “Their ghosts send their regards!”

Underneath the right arm of the Amarok, a blue-white glow radiates from within the meter wide bore of a barrel and huge intakes vacuums up atmosphere. The limb lines up a target. A sphere of ball lightning tears through the air, leaving a tail of ionized wind behind it. The orb impacts a heavy, armored truck, burrows through the exterior layers, and bursts inside. Molten slag spews from the windows and gaps between the outer plating, and the frame deflates into a heap of steaming metal. Underneath the other arm, multiple, massive barrels spin up to speed, and arcs of electricity crackle. In fast repetition, vapor trails rip from of each sequential muzzle, and stretches of dirt explode in eruptions of kinetic energy as sonic booms crack immediately.

Boss blinks blankly, assesses the situation, and yells out as his cybernetic legs power up. “RUN! Run, you fuckin’ idiots!”

Red Gear troops scramble into a chaotic retreat as the Amarok slows its advance and positions itself between enemies and the town. Cheers ring out along the town’s defensive perimeter. Snapping back to awareness, Sotalia searches her mind, furrows her brow, and keys up her radio. “Bach? Cideeda? Do you two have any idea at why a massive fucking mech showed up?”

With faint hints of Cideeda snickering in the background, Bach tries to form a coherent response. “Well... Um... Ah... You see... Shit...”

Sotalia smirks, rolls her golden eyes, and shakes her head. “Okay... So, where are you?”