Episode 110

In the dark bedroom, Deedri places her aetherphone upon the nightstand, pulls the bed covers around her tighter, and sighs with a worried tint. She blinks her auburn eyes, and the dimming phone display light reflects off her anxious, distant glances. Gritting her teeth briefly, she hisses in a slow breath and releases it through her nose. Curling her claw tips into a section of tightly balled comforter, she settles her head upon the pillow. Her tufted, furry ear flicks back. Modoran lifts his head up from behind Deedri and blinks to some consciousness. “Hey, you okay?”

Deedri uneasily breathes out and tenses under the sheets as she rolls slightly towards Modoran. “I’m just really worried.”

A comforting smile appears on Modoran’s dusky bluish gray face. He wraps an arm around Deedri and gently draws her close. “It’s going to be okay. We’ve got nothing to hide any more.”

Gradually mustering a smile on her fair face, Deedri frees a hand from the impromptu stress ball and intertwines her fingers with Modoran’s. Scooting back into his embrace, she sighs deeply and searches her thoughts. “I know. It’s just... I don’t know. It all made sense in the moment. But, I just keep on thinking and thinking...”

Propping himself on his elbow, Modoran cranes his head around Deedri’s furry, tufted ear and meets her gaze. “You’re overthinking it. It’s all out in the open now. Everyone else has to figure out how they’re going to handle us.”

He rolls his dark blue eyes and smirks with a faint chuckle. “We’ve made quite the first impression whether we wanted to or not.”

Wrestling flits of anxiety, Deedri closes her eyes. Modoran lowers his face closer to hers and whispers. “It’s going to be okay.”

Opening her auburn eyes, Deedri smirks, releases the ball of comforter, and guides Modoran into a kiss with her free hand. Moments of quiet after, she parts from the kiss, combs Modoran’s grayish white hair, and smiles. “I know. I’m glad it’s out there. I’m just still... worried?”

Modoran quirks his brow and gently squeezes Deedri’s hand. “About what?”

Twisting her mouth uncertainly, Deedri furrows her gaze. “Um, thinking if your family is going to be, I guess, okay with me?”

Blinking blankly, Modoran pauses in thought a moment with an amused smirk. He holds Deedri close, smiles warmly, and laughs softly. “You stood up against one of the more annoying Evuukian nobility, scolded him about proper procedures, and then taught him a lesson that over half the Evuukian houses have wanted to for years.”

Deedri glances around, fighting the impish grin slipping out, and faint hints of color tint her cheeks. “I guess. I just hope it’ll be seen for the self defense it was.”

Modoran shakes his head with a chuckle and gazes proudly into Deedri’s auburn eyes. “The only way it could have been better was if it was a dumpster behind a Lennie’s.”

Squelching a reflexive snort, Deedri covers her mouth and snickers devilishly. “Gods, having someone of nobility shit behind their dumpster would be a step up for Lennie’s.”

Modoran grimaces in between a laugh and drops his head down. “They’d totally pay for that kind of clout, too.”

Deedri rolls her eyes, flicks her furry ears low, and quips. “It’s three in the morning after a show, where are you going to go?”

Both Modoran and Deedri laugh and hold each other close. After regaining a bit of composure, both enjoy the quiet, close moment. Modoran smiles a Deedri and whispers. “Feeling better?”

Deedri nods slowly and sighs. “Yeah. Thank you. I love you.”

Modoran meets Deedri with a kiss. “I love you, too.”

He pauses to gaze at Deedri and starts to shift over to his side of the bed. “Well, we should probably get some slee-”

Halting, he glances down briefly and lifts an intrigued brow towards Deedri. “Okay... That tail brush was on purpose.”

With a flash of playful guilt, Deedri grins eagerly, squeezes Modoran’s hand, and leads her arm around his neck. “Well... I’d sleep better if I didn’t have all this nervous energy.”

Modoran nods with a nonchalant smirk and follows Deedri’s guidance. “I think I can help you with that.”

In a large auditorium, Chad, Veevi, Tassilda, Trakenthin, Modoran, and Deedri sit behind a long table upon stage. From the seated crowd, eager fans line up behind a microphone. An assistant motions for the next person to step up and adjusts the stand for their height. The young woman suppresses her excitement, steps up close, and eagerly inquires. “Hey! Totally been a fan of this show and ESPECIALLY this season! My question is for Modoran.”

A crack in Modoran’s nonchalant facade flits open briefly and he musters up a muted smirk. “Yes?”

The young woman draws in a long breath and continues. “So, with the big reveal of you and Deedri being together... How long have you been hiding this from everyone? AND, when did you first start thinking about her?”

Modoran blinks a moment, chuckles awkwardly, and glances over to Deedri. “Uh, how long have we been hiding this, um... Two months?”

Reaching her hand over, Deedri grasps onto Modoran’s forearm and gently squeezes with an encouraging smile. “Yes.”

Recollecting his nonchalant attitude, he projects his confidence and presents a laid back smirk to the audience. “It wasn’t long after meeting her that I was thrown head over heels. So, I always was interested. It just wasn’t until recently that we figured it was mutual.”

Trakenthin cocks his head to the side and twists his dark bronze face curiously. “Literally thrown?”

Modoran glances over and nods. “Yeah.”

Narrowing his gaze into his memory, Trakenthin’s hazel eyes search for a few moments and he chuckles to himself. “Oh. Then. Understandable.”

Murmurs of discussion between different groups drone up from the audience. Flits of intelligible words rise out of the debates.

“...wait, what does he know?”

“Oh, it’s definitely real. He can barely keep his cool...”

“...they’re so cute together...”

The young woman rushes back to her group seated in the audience and the gathering excitedly discusses between themselves. A young man steps up to the microphone. While he states his question to the team, Samantha stands at the far back wall with an eager grin as she sorts through her notes. She keeps an aetherphone pressed to her ear and rests her clipboard upon a foldout table. “Oh, Howie, this weekend has been a GOLD MINE. Oh. My. Gods.”

She brushes back stray locks of her brown, shoulder-length hair and her hazel eyes watch the fan questions. Her attention settles upon Veevi and she observes the sparks of irritation slip out. “Yeah, I can tell she’s definitely not liking having none of the attention. I can’t wait for when it finally boils over. This has to be eating her up.”

Slowly nodding her head, an evil, plotting grin grows upon Samantha’s fair face and she chuckles quietly. “Yes, I’m sure she’ll stir something back up. Get those ratings back where they should be.”

Off to the side, Gerald glances over from his mounted camera, frowns, and grumbles to himself as he resumes observing the question and answer forum. As the fans react to the latest question, another young woman approaches the microphone after a prompt from the assistant. She gazes over to Veevi and speaks up. “Hi, um, my question is to Veevi.”

Veevi’s fuzzy ears perk, she snaps her interested stare over with a sharp grin on her tan face. Tossing her pink hair back, she sits up in her seat and flutters her pink pupil eyes. “Finally! Someone asking the pressing questions. What do you want to know?”

The young woman smiles brightly and works up to the question. “I know it probably hasn’t been long enough for anything new to happen, but... Do you have anything to say about Odellon getting you into a movie with him?! I could totally see you starting with him!”

Despite the struggle to maintain her confident exterior, Veevi manages to subdue a twitch of her cheek and laugh dismissively. “As much as I would LOVE to say something, I can’t reveal anything at the moment. You know how it goes. Lawyers negotiating contracts in secret and movie scheduling is so demanding.”

She smiles to the young woman and winks with a giggle. “But, we’ll see. I mean, Odellon would be insane to refuse a proper actress like myself staring with him in his next project.”

With a satisfactory answer, the young woman steps away from the microphone and finds her seat. Veevi smiles confidently to the murmur of the audience, while her hand clenches the table edge and her sharp nails dig into the table’s wooden underside. As the surge of fan conversations wane, new sounds crest over the background noise. Shouts muffle in from pairs of exit doors along the long wall. Surges of loud, fast foot traffic travel down the length from the other side. A growing cacophony of metallic clangs echo louder by the moment. The recording crews along the back glance around and search for a source in their confusion. Samantha blinks at Gerald. “What the hell is that noise?”

Gerald shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know-”

A loud slam shakes the nearby metal double doors. Another hard hit resonates and rattles loose bits of the supprots. The crew quickly vacates away from the door. As the blatant confusion and fear grow in the crew, the fans nearest the pounding exit doors move away. Chad stands up from his chair, stares at Samantha’s uncertain body language, and picks up his microphone. “Everyone! If you could, please move away from those doors and clear a way for us.”

Tensions drive the large group of people away towards the opposing wall. Chad signals the team and readies his sword. Trakenthin joins up with Chad. Modoran and Tassilda follow up behind and prepare themselves. Deedri maintains a distance behind the team and trains her furry, tufted ears ahead. “It sounds... Robotic?”

Veevi glances between the team moving forward and the cowering crowd. She starts to trail far behind the team, slows her progress, and stops in the middle of the room. Between the team forming around the rattling doors and the mass of fans and crew, she draws a deep breath and turns to the people. “Okay! Let’s just gather over here and move towards the other exit doors! Just follow me!”

With a solid pound, the middle post breaks loose and the metal doors bend out to the sides. Stepping through, a battered, rusty construction bot staggers in. It lumbers forward with jerky motions, scans the area, and pivots towards the Chad and Trakenthin. Narrowing his stare at the robot, Chad tilts his head uncertainly and calls out to the rest of the team. “That looks like a construction droid. A really old one.”

Trakenthin glances over to Chad and holds his blade at the ready. “What is it doing here?”

Donning his shield, Chad wields his sword expectantly and grimaces. “Not sure, but it looks like something is wrong with it.”

He pauses in thought and shouts at the construction droid. “Robot! State your designation!”

Upon the faded yellow, orange, and black paint, faint traces of gloss reflect the overhead lighting. The humanoid robot halts a moment, shakily stands up straight, and rotates its armored head to Chad. “P-P-P-Processing r-r-r-request... This unit’s d-d-d-designation is Foreman Zero Zero.”

Chad blinks his brown eyes, twist his mouth curiously, and glances around to the rest of the team. “Foreman Zero Zero. State your function.”

Foreman Zero Zero shudders, sways upon its legs, and replies with wavering inflection. “Construction and surveyor- PRIORITY OVER-RIDE. NEW BEHAVIOR DICTATED.”

The team exchange awkward perplexed glances between each other, while crew and audience far behind search similarly for some kind of explanation. Foreman Zero Zero’s form perks up as servos activate, yellow spinning hazard lights flash, and hydraulic motors groan. “MUST BREAK TARGET INTO COMPONENT MATERIALS.”

A wave of shock widens the eyes of all in attendance. Chad readies his shield and yells out. “Anyone got a clear shot?!”

Both Modoran and Tassilda reply. “YES!”

Modoran finishes a flowing a surge of magical energy into his bow and the power charges up the arrow. Lining up his aim, he releases the arrow and it streaks immediately into the armored head of Foreman Zero Zero. With a final gesture, Tassilda flings forth a swarm of magical bolts up into the air. The dozen bolts swirl upwards towards the ceiling and sharply zip down in a pelting barrage. The bolts of force burst powerfully upon the metal chassis of the robot, and the series of impact tips the machine off balance. Chad gestures his sword forward and rushes with his shield leading. “Bash and stab!”

He slams his full weight into the teetering droid and shoves it completely off balance. Trakenthin charges afterwards, lifts his massive blade up, and drops it down upon the intersection of metal head and torso. After a few hacks from Trakenthin and stabs by Chad, a plume of acrid smoke vents from Foreman Zero Zero and the robot’s systems audibly power down.

In the moment of silence, Chad steps back with Trakenthin and glances around at the situation in the room. From the open doors, faint sounds of yells and lumbering thumps waft into the room. Chad draws in a long breath, straightens his posture, and turns to the team. “Sounds like there’s more. Okay...”

He address Trakenthin, Modoran, Tassilda, and Deedri with firm tone. “First, we need to get everyone here to safety. I think the best chance is to head to the main hall, since it leads to the main entrance. If that’s clear, good. People can evacuate, then we start figuring out what to do from there.”

Searching for reaction from the team, he sighs with traces of nervousness. “Sound good?”

Trakenthin nods in conformation. “Yes. I agree.”

Tassilda stretches her arms out, ties her raven black hair back, and smirks. “Time to get serious.”

Modoran grants a thumbs up and Deedri nods. Chad looks past the team, narrows his stare at Veevi, and calls out. “Veevi!”

Veevi startles and sheepishly glances over her shoulder. “Uh, yes?!”

Chad summons up a confident smile and nods to Veevi. “Help direct people out of here.”

Darting her eyes around, an awkward smirk overlays the fear on Veevi’s face and she musters up some composure. “Uh, ah, yes! I can do that!”

Shifting his attention over, Chad spots Samantha on her aetherphone, narrows his glare, and shouts. “SAMANTHA! Stop talking to Howard, and CALL THE GODS DAMNED AUTHORITIES!”

Samantha blinks blankly and notices the combined attention of crew and fans focusing upon her. Chad pivots around, eyes the smoldering droid, and rolls his shoulders. “Okay. Keep it close. Let’s the clear path.”

Lounging upon the couch in the living area, Bach idly scrolls through an aethersite on his phone and yawns. Flicking her furry ears back, Cideeda pulls a fine tip paintbrush away from a figurine and fights back the urge to yawn. She grimaces and squelches most of it. With a few wags of her long tail, she glances over her shoulder, narrows her emerald green eyes, and sighs. “Don’t start that. It’s too early to be doing that.”

Bach flutters his eyes, pulls himself up against the arm of the couch, and rolls his blue eyes. “Sorry. Just a slow day. It’s been really peaceful and quiet.”

Cracking a smirk on her light brown face, Cideeda perks her furry ears, lifts an amused brow, and grumbles playfully. “Oh, now you’ve gone and jinxed it. You should have left it alone.”

Cocking his head to the side, Bach gazes over to Cideeda and snorts. “Really? I mean, what could possibly happen on a Saturday, around this town?”

Cideeda shakes her head of short, multi-colored hair, focuses her gaze upon the armored humanoid figure in her hand, and picks some excess paint off with a claw tip. She speaks out a few quick phrases in a dialect of fvalian. Bach pauses his aetherphone browsing and ponders a moment. “What did you say?”

With a humored smile, Cideeda flicks her tail, and eyes Bach over her shoulder. “Don’t tempt Fate. Fate might be listening.”

Sitting up in his seat on the couch, Bach narrows his attention at Cideeda, tilts his head to the side, and smirks intrigued. “Okay. Anything I can do to appease Fate to avoid bad fortune?”

With a toothy grin, Cideeda chuckles and slowly shakes her head. “Unfortunately, if Fate has decided, it’s going to happen. There’s very little you can do to sway her once she’s decided to include you in events. The best you can hope for is to thank her for the good and ask her to keep you out of the bad.”

Bach crosses his arms, searches around his mind, and twists his mouth on his tan face. “If she has already decided, then what harm does me stating things are peaceful and quiet do?”

Placing the war game unit on the table top, Cideeda’s emerald green eyes admire the drying paint and she angles her view around it. “It’s complicated and bigger than that. The context you said it in matters. You sounded bored. And, Fate is always making decisions on how many events all around us are going. So, you have to be careful to not ask to be added to those events.”

Contemplating on the subject, Bach rocks his head side to side, glances around uncertainly, and awkwardly smirks. “I don’t know how I feel about that.”

An understanding smile appears on Cideeda’s face and she turns in the chair at the dining table to face Bach. “Yeah, that’s how everyone feels at first.”

From the hallway archway, Sotalia walks in with her aetherphone in hand and glances between Bach and Cideeda. “Has anyone checked the local news? I got a message from Tassilda that some robots are attacking that convention center?”

Aristespha’s voice echoes from down the hallway. “I just got one from Deedri! The same thing.”

Dretphi calls out from her room as aetherphones chime out alarms. “Guild Alert!”

Bach and Cideeda check their aetherphones, while Sotalia taps to the message. As everyone reads the alert in surprise, Sebastian hovers over next to Sotalia in the hallway. He peeks out into the living area and address the team. “Any objections?”

Sotalia shakes her head, pivots swiftly around, and sprints off to her room. “Getting ready now!”

Movement sounds out from Dretphi’s room and she calls out. “No. We should go!”

Aristespha’s voice sounds out from her room at the end of the hall. “I’ll tell the guild we’re responding and see if Deedri can give me any more info!”

Cideeda scoots her chair back, quickly closes up her paints, and places her projects safely in the middle of the table. “I’ll get the humvee started after I grab my gear.”

Bach quickly pulls himself off the couch onto his feet. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

Sebastian nods to both Bach and Cideeda with a proud smile, and darts back down the hall. As Bach and Cideeda move to the hallway archway, Cideeda cracks a toothy grin at Bach and winks to him. “Peaceful and quiet, huh?”

Bach contorts his expression, averts his gaze with flits of embarrassment, and groans with a trailing sigh. “Yeah... I shouldn’t have said anything.”

He gazes down at Cideeda and smirks with a chuckle. “Is there a shrine for eating your words? I might need to visit that one.”

A flit of warmth fills Cideeda’s smile and she glances up to Bach with a quick claw tip squeeze on his forearm. “There’s a few. I’ll show you them next time we go.”

An arc of electricity flashes out and lights up the large T intersection of the main halls. The construction droid rattles as the many status lights flicker erratically and shudders in place. Trakenthin charges forth, swings his large, two-handed blade low, and drives the sharp edge into knee joints. The robot tumbles forward and crashes onto the tile floor in an echoing clatter of metal. Tassilda steps forward finishing the gestures to a series of incantations. “Step back from it!”

Trakenthin yanks his blade clear, hops back, and stands next to Tassilda. Thrusting her palms forward, magical flows rush out to her fingertips. Streaks of electricity launch out into long, continuous arcs. Crackles of power spark along the metal chassis of the droid, and it shakes violently. As the barrage of electricity conducts through the machine, smoke billows out in dark plumes and blue-white light flashes from the divides between joints. Tassilda releases the spell, shakes the remaining magical miasma off her black nailed fingers, and keeps her light blue on black eyes trained expectantly on the failing droid.

After a few moments, Trakenthin cautiously approaches the machine, pokes it a few times with his great sword, and waits. He glances over his shoulder to Tassilda and shrugs. Tassilda nods, pivots around, and watches Chad drive his blade deep into the neck segmentation of another construction bot. As Chad steps away from the droid, Modoran draws back an arrow in his finely crafted bow. Flows of magic swirl around his forearm. The energy sinks into the bow, radiates out to the string, and condenses onto the arrow. Taking careful aim, he waits with his dark blue eyes wide and body tense. The robot shudders, status lights sporadically flick on, and garbled speech spews forth. “DAMAGE DETECTED. COMPENSATION SYSTEMS-”

A streak of prismatic energy ends upon its head and the armored frame shakes with the impact of the arrow through the thick metal exterior. Chad squints as he studies the machine. His head snaps to a detail, and he rushes up to the robot. Jamming the tip of his sword between gap, he drops his weigh down and frees open a maintenance door. Reaching quickly inside, his gauntlet covered hand grips onto a device, and he yanks out a cylinder. The robot immediately ceases all function. Moments of relative quiet later, Chad glances at the power cell in his hand, tosses it to the side, and sighs. “Okay. That wasn’t too terrible. But, I don’t think we want to deal with more than two at a time.”

Trakenthin nods and walks over to Chad. “Agreed. Still dangerous. Seem dysfunctional?”

Searching around the area, Modoran alternates his gaze down the halls of the intersection and twists his mouth uncertainly. “Yeah. They don’t seem to be working right at all. Well, I mean they’re supposed to be construction bots. Still, I was expecting a little more out of them?”

Chad narrows his attention to the nearby downed droid and carefully inspects it. “These things are ancient. I’m surprised they are working as well as they are. But, something is not right with their programming.”

Quirking an eyebrow on her gray, patterned face, Tassilda guides a stray lock of raven black hair over her swirling horns and rest her hands on her hips. “Well, you’d think civil service robots shouldn’t be trying to murder people.”

Cocking his head to the side, Chad grimaces and briefly grits his teeth. “Well, yeah. There’s something else going on here. But, I can’t figure it out.”

Deedri shakes her head and droops her furry ears. “Well, I think we should be thankful that who or what worked on these robots flubbed it. I hate to think of the harm they could cause if they were doing more than bumbling around.”

Drawing in a long breath, Chad surveys the area slowly and stares down both runs of the main hall from the perpendicular part of the intersection. He straightens his posture, pivots to face the team, and addresses. “Okay. First, Deedri and Tassilda, any word from the other team?”

Perking her furry, tufted ears up, Deedri smiles hopefully and nods. “Yes. The guild put out an alert and they on their way here.”

Tassilda smirks and stretches her neck. “Also, I think they’re contacting some people they know in government or something. Hopefully, if there’s anything else coming, they’ll take care of it.”

Chad wrestles his thoughts on his face, searches his mind, and ponders out loud. “Okay. Priority one, we need to make sure no one inside this place is trapped or hurt. If we can, we take these things out. But, I think should hold back on that so we don’t waste time.”

He pauses, sighs uneasily, and frowns slightly. “Since time is important, I think we need to split up to cover more ground.”

Pointing at Tassilda and Trakenthin, he motions down one run of the intersection. “Tassilda and Trakenthin, could you go down that way and check for any one who needs help?”

Both Tassilda and Trakenthin nod in acceptance. Chad smiles appreciatively and glances over to Modoran. “Modoran, you okay with teaming up with me and heading down the other direction?”

Modoran slowly nods but winces apprehensively. “Yeah, but what about Deedri?”

Chad gazes over to Deedri and sighs. “Deedri, do you think you’d be okay to stay here and help point people in the right direction? I hate to leave you alone, but...”

With a confident smile, Deedri straightens her posture and nods. “No, it’s fine. We’ve cleared out everything leading up here. The main exit is just down the way we came...”

She perks her furry ears and steps towards the middle of the intersection. “And, I can easily hear anything coming from right here. So, I’m not sticking around in plain sight if I hear metal clanking closer and closer. I do have a few offense spells, too.”

Her ears droop and concern fills her face. “Also, someone needs to make sure the people you find don’t wander off right into trouble again.”

With an exhale of relief, Chad bows respectfully to Deedri. “Thank you.”

He pivots, starts walking to Modoran, and calls out to everyone. “Okay, report in every ten minutes, and don’t engage any more than one bot at time. Sweep and return back here!”

An aetherphone chime rings out from Chad’s pocket, and he fishes out his phone. Tapping the answer button, he sternly answers the call. “YES, Samantha?”

His brown eyes dart around and his brow furrows. His distant stare widens and he growls out a loud groan. “You’ve GOT to be kidding me! How did you lose track of her?!”

Deedri, Modoran, Trakenthin, and Tassilda watch curiously and exchange uneasy glances. Chad pinches the bridge of his nose, hisses a sharp breath through, and exhales harshly. “NO! It’s fine! I’ll look for her. Just see if you can use any of the cameras you all jammed up this place’s ass to find her! Okay?”

Chad firmly presses the end call button on screen, plops his phone into his pocket, and sighs out his frustration. “As you may have guessed... Somehow Veevi got separated from the group when a broken bot spooked everyone. People are okay and got out, but she’s nowhere to be found.”

He draws in a long breath and grimaces. “I’m going to go look for her. Modoran, you can either stay here with Deedri or join up with Tassilda and Trakenthin. We need to at least sweep one branch to make sure we help who we can.”

Modoran smirks nonchalantly and chuckles. “I’ll check down the path. You can join up with me after you find her.”

Chad blinks and slowly shakes his head. “I don’t want to send you out into danger alone-”

Waving off the concern, a confident grins grown on Modoran’s dusky bluish gray face and he gestures out an incantation with his free hand. “Don’t worry. I got good hearing, long range, and stealth. I’ll be fine to scout out ahead.”

Wrestling with his judgment, Chad nods to Modoran with a smirk. “Okay. I’ll try to back to you all as soon as possible.”

Trakenthin and Tassilda moves down one end of the intersection, Modoran slinks into transparency along the other run, and Chad rushes through the remaining stretch. Deedri eases out a calming breath, surveys the area, and walks into the obscuring cover between two Next Adventurers of Nexus displays. She closes her auburn eyes a moment and listens the distant sounds of Trakenthin, Tassilda, Modoran, and Chad. With a nod, she reopens her eyes, slips off her pack, and inspects her medical supplies.

Motioning down the hall, Tassilda directs a few fans exiting the safety of a closet. “Down to the main hall, take a left, and look for Deedri.”

The people rush off and run for safety. Trakenthin glances around to the empty vendor stalls, slowly steps over to counters, and carefully inspects the area. “Nothing here.”

Tassilda rests her hands on her hips, surveys the vicinity, and nods. “I think that might be everyone down this way. We should follow back and-”

A loud shout echoes out from the end of the corridor. Displays topple over, metal rattles, and sounds of struggle fill the air. A tall young woman backs away, steadies herself at the ready, and hoists up a long metal support tube. Stepping through the freshly tossed debris, a battered construction robot with heavy hydraulic arms staggers forward, and pounds its reinforced feet up on the tile floor. Summoning up courage into her frantic tan face, the young, tall woman grips the pipe firmly with tensing muscle definition in her arms, and grits her teeth between panicked breaths. Tossing her long silvery hair back, she narrows her piercing hazel eyes at the approaching bot, plants her feet, and readies herself. Rearing the length of the metal back, she swings hard at the armored head of the machine and slams the support piece solidly upon the chassis. The weaker aluminum bends around the reinforced shell of the robot, and she releases her grip upon it. Hydraulic claws of the droid clamp onto the tubing and work to pry it off.

The young woman backpedals, spouts out a few grath curses, and searches around behind her. Her piercing hazel eyes widen briefly, and she draws out a metal replica greatsword from a display piece. Gripping with both hands, she assumes a practiced stance, positions her feet, and readies the faux weapon at the construction bot. Trakenthin momentarily squints his eyes. In utter surprise and shock, his hazel eyes spring wide in recognition. He drops the visor of his helm and charges forward in a full sprint. Tassilda blinks blankly, regathers her awareness, and follows close behind.

Keeping her distance from the lumbering humanoid machine, the young woman studiously watches the robot’s movements and waits. The droid steps forward with leads with a heavy arm swing. The replica greatsword interdicts path of the attack and directs the force away, while the woman sidesteps. Building up momentum, the young woman pivots around tightly, pulls her blade with the motion, and guides the arc to a torso joint. The metal of sword and robot chassis ring out. Flecks of rust stained paint flake off. And, a few sparks spring from the impact. The woman follows through, pulls the sword into another arc, and spins with the momentum. Shifting her footing, she swings down, powers it up and over, and drops the blunt blade down with all her force.

The large sword crashes onto the head of the construction droid and drives a deep dent into the protective plating. A satisfied grin emerges upon the woman’s tan face. As the droid remains motionless and inert, she pants loudly, blinks back to her senses, and yanks on the blade. After a few powerful tugs, the blade remains lodged in the dented chassis of the construction droid. The machine stirs back to life. Sensor arrays scan the area, status lights flash online, and a hydraulic motor winds up to full power. A powerful sheering claw clamps down on the middle of the sword. With a groaning whine and rush of fluid, the edge of the cutter presses through the cheap metal of the replica. A sharp snap rings out into the surrounding hall. The woman stumbles back, regains her balance, and hoists up her blade. She blinks blankly at the empty space where a majority of the weapon used to be, and cringes. “Oh, shit...”

Prying the blade out of its mechanical skull, the droid’s sensors focus upon the young woman and it lumbers forward. Stepping away, the woman glances over to the side and her piercing hazel eyes widen in awe. Trakenthin lunges forward from his sprint, swings his blade with his full might low, and drives his sword behind the knee joints of the machine. The sharp edge severs electrical connections with crackling sparks, slices hydraulic lines into sprays of fluid, and shatters apart structure into metal fragments. As the robot topples backwards, Trakenthin stands up, pulls the greatsword with his motion, and drives it up. From up high, he slams the massive blade down upon the torso cavity. The machine’s frame buckles under the powerful blow. Moments later, acrid smoke bursts forth from the cracks and hydraulic fluid spews out onto the tile work.

Stepping cautiously away from the shuddering pile of robot, Trakenthin positions himself defensively in front of the young woman. Tassilda finishes an incantation, points her finger, and releases an arc of electricity. After the current conducts through the bot, the surge of power renders it inert and motionless.

Quiet returns the area, and Tassilda sighs out her relief. “Well, that was quite too close.”

Trakenthin flips up his visor, gazes at the young, tall woman, and asks with anxious concern. “Shayuri, are you okay?”

Shayuri blinks in astonishment, smiles awkwardly, and nods with a laugh. “Uh, um, yeah! I guess I am. Yeah... Huh...”

She brushes back her long, silvery hair with her hand of reddened knuckles. Trakenthin spots the injuries as worry slips into his tone. “Is your hand okay? Do you need a bandage?”

Averting her piercing hazel eyes way, Shayuri notices the traces of smeared blood on her knuckles and rubs her hand with a bit of embarrassment. “Oh! I’m fine. Really. When that robot walked into my hiding spot, I punched it.”

She twists her mouth, rolls her eyes, and sighs. “It wasn’t very ineffective... To say the least.”

Tassilda rests her hands on hips, cracks a smirk, and glances around. “I have to say that was impressive regardless. Before we converse more, was there anyone else with you? Did you see anyone go by?”

Shayuri ponders a moment and shakes her head. “No. I think I’m the only one that went this far. When the robots broke in, I decided to run away and find somewhere quiet to wait it out.”

Straightening her tall frame, she bites her lower lip and shrugs her shoulders. “I’m not the best at hiding, so I figured out running them was a better plan. Of course, I got tired and tried to rest behind a counter. And, so here we are.”

Hint of relief appears upon Trakenthin’s face and he glances over to Tassilda. “Think we can head back.”

Tassilda nods in agreement, glances between Shayuri and Trakenthin, and smiles. “Yes, no need to stay around here longer than we should. All that noise may have-”

Loud clanks and rattling metal echo down the hall. Tassilda, Trakenthin, and Shayuri slowly pivot and stare down the wide corridor. From two side branch passages, a pair of construction droids amble out, sweep their sensor packages, and stagger towards the trio. Tassilda quickly gestures up an incantation, flows the magical energy into her hands, and grips hold of the condensed power in her hands. “Oh, of course. It’s ALWAYS when you are almost done that real trouble shows up.”

Trakenthin narrows his glare ahead, contorts his face in thought, and grimaces. “Two is risky. Weaken them first from a distance.”

With frown, Tassilda glances up to Trakenthin and shakes her head. “Yes. That would help, but I’m still quite apprehensive about two versus two.”

Searching his mind, Trakenthin’s hazel eyes flit widen and hopeful smirk appears. He turns to Shayuri, smiles awkwardly, and gazes at her. “Have you handled a proper sword before?”

Shayuri smiles nervously and takes a deep breath in. “Yes. My mother has taught me the basics.”

Trakenthin nods and offers the handle of his greatsword to Shayuri. “Could you use this to defend yourself. Hope it will not be needed.”

Flitting her eyes wide, Shayuri nods, grips hold of the weapon, and hoists up the weight competently with her upper body muscles flexing. “Wow! Um, Yes! I’ll try to keep out the way, but I’ll hit what you two tell me to.”

Trakenthin glances over to the attention of Tassilda. “Any issues?”

Tassilda guides a stray lock of raven black hair over her horn, narrows her light blue on black eyes, and cracks an intrigued grin. “To be honest, I am curious what she might be capable of with a real weapon.”

She pauses a moment and narrows her scrutiny on Trakenthin. “But, what are you going to use?”

Trakenthin reaches his hand down, and taps a button above section of his hip plating. A compartment opens and a holster pops out. Trakenthin draws the long barreled, electromagnetic pistol, twirls it into a firm grip, and powers it on. A high pitched whine rises up from the background, and weapon’s status lights flick to ready states. Tassilda and Shayuri question in chorus. “You have a gun?”

Trakenthin rolls his eyes with a groan and nods. He engages a switch on the plated bracer on his opposite arm and positions his forearm in front as an energy barrier materializes. He focuses ahead and levels his aim. “Engage from a distance. Aim for the legs. Immobilize if possible. Move past when an opportunity arises. Run to the meetup.”

Tassilda brings the energy in the palms together, holds her hands out, and surges up the flow. “That is a plan I can work with.”

Shayuri nods excitedly, tightens her grip on Trakenthin’s two-handed sword, and grins eagerly. Trakenthin picks his target, disengages the safety, and squeezes the trigger. A three round burst of thin projectiles flash down the corridor and plunge into the reinforced leg plating of a bot. Loud cracks sound out and faint vaporous projectile trails dissipate. The robot stumbles a moment, gradually regains some coordination, and continues forward slower.

Tassilda nods and shifts her aim to the other. Shayuri readies the blade. Trakenthin sets up for the next shot.

Walking fast down the main hall in formation, Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia navigate around knocked over displays, toppled decorations, and the occasional smoldering ruins of a construction bot. Sebastian’s voice sounds out form the sword at Aristespha’s side. “So, where did Deedri say she was?”

Aristespha narrows her distant stare ahead and frowns slightly. “At the T intersection ahead, I believe.”

As the group moves forward, Cideeda lingers back, kneels down next to a disabled droid, and briefly inspects the wreckage. “These things are old, but built tough. It’s really weird to see them in use.”

Bach turns his gaze at Cideeda when she rushes back up to the team. “Any idea why they are attacking people?”

Cideeda shrugs her shoulders, adjusts her vest, and rests her hands on her holstered laser pistols. “Someone programmed them to do it. Just can’t think of how they would do it.”

Stretching her arms out, Sotalia checks her cape, brushes back her fiery orange, wavy hair, and perks her brow. “These are building robots, right? I wouldn’t think going on rampages would be something they could do?”

Holding her hands up at her sides, Cideeda grimaces uncertainly. “You’re right. These aren’t routines or functions they should have. Either someone somehow added new functions to antique robotic systems that goes against their design, which is really hard. Or... Some one figured out how to twist something existing to do this, which isn’t that easy either. The robots just wouldn’t randomly do this.”

Dretphi lifts up her visor, contorts her face uncomfortably, and ponders out loud. “This seems to take significant effort. Why? What is the purpose?”

Slowly shaking his head, Bach frowns and adjusts the fit of his helmet. “Yeah. If you are this good at making these old machines work, I would think you could find better things to do?”

Aristespha’s violet eyes spot movement ahead between two large displays and she signals the group. After a moment, Deedri slips out from hiding, waves down a hall, and motions people to her. A few lost fans rush up in stale panic. Deedri calmly assures them while checking them over. After a quick inspection, she direct them down the hall past the team. When the people quickly vacate the area, Deedri notices everyone and gestures them over with blatant relief on her face. “Oh good! You’re here!”

The group gathers around in the middle of the T-intersection. Deedri breathes easier and smiles appreciatively. “Thank you, I’m so glad you all are here.”

Aristespha nods and surveys the area quickly. “I hope we can help.”

Sebastian’s voice sounds out from the sword. “Where is everyone?”

Flicking her furry, tufted ears around, Deedri blinks her auburn eyes at the blade on Aristespha’s side and cocks her head in confusion. Aristespha smirks awkwardly and quickly rolls her eyes. “Long story. Don’t be frightened. Come on out, Sebastian.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form materializes next Aristespha and he bows respectfully. “Pleased to meet you.”

Deedri perks up her furry ears and blinks as memory sparks in the back of her mind. “Oh, yes! We were told something about this a long time ago about your group and... Well, we’ll talk later.”

With an understanding grin, Sebastian nods and glances around the area. “So, what’s the situation?”

Deedri draws in a long breath, thinks a moment, and gestures through the explanation. “Trakenthin and Tassilda went down this hall. They reported back they reached the end and found one more fan. They are taking it slow coming back, since they ran into some robots after they thought they cleared the path there.”

She shifts her attention to the other run of the hall. “Modoran went that way. He’s only found one bot patrolling a dead end with no one around and found a few people. But, he’s by himself.”

Gazing down the intersection hall, she points distantly behind the team. “Chad went off to try to find Veevi. She got scared off and ran away down another part of the convention center. The last radio message I got clearly, he hadn’t run into anything. But, for some reason his calls are all distorted and I can barely make out anything.”

Sebastian holds his chin and sorts through his thoughts. Drawing in an ethereal breath, he addresses the team. “Okay. Rough draft of a plan. Cideeda. Go and meet up with Trakenthin and Tassilda. You can keep quiet, scout a path for them, and help them get back here. Dretphi, Sotalia. Give Modoran some backup and help him clear out what’s left. Maybe shutdown that one bot, if it’s an issue. Aristespha and Bach. Stay here and keep this area clear.”

As the team mulls over the assignments, Bach cocks his head to the side and quirks his brow. “Shouldn’t someone check on Chad? If his radio signal is acting up, he might not be able to call in for help if he needs it.”

Sebastian grits his teeth briefly, and his visage crosses his arms. “Yeah. Maybe once we get a group back, we can check in on him. But, I don’t want to stretch us thin.”

Bach glances down the intersecting hall and smirks with a bold tinge. “I can go. We’ve already traveled part of this path and he’s reported not seeing anything. How about I head down that direction and see I can get him on the radio?”

Noticing the apprehension on Sebastian’s transparent face, Bach grins confidently and stands up straight. “I think I can handle one of these bots if I run into one... But, I’ll try not to.”

Sebastian pauses, gazes to Bach, and matches his enthusiasm with a chuckle. “Yeah, you know... I definitely think you can. Okay... Any objections?”

After no objections, Sebastian signals the team to split down their paths to their tasks. Sebastian drifts up higher into the air and maintains a watch. Aristespha and Deedri coordinate medical treatment efforts and reinforce their defensive cover.

Overhead, the convention center lighting flickers momentarily. Just above the background noise, a very faint, low, rhythmic thump barely vibrates large windows to the outside. Deedri halts briefly, flicks her ears around, and furrows her brow uncertainly.