Episode 111

Footsteps upon the tile floors echo out up into the high ceilings of the main mall hallway. Bach glances around at the leftover clusters of disarray near displays and stalls, and searches the area for any recent disturbances. Stepping around the remains of a construction bot in an oozing pool of hydraulic fluid, he pauses a moment. He blinks a few times and twists his mouth uncertainly. Scanning the vicinity, he lifts up the visor of his helmet and darts his blue eyes around. Walking slowly, he pans his gaze around a huge intersection and walks in orbit around the large fountain. He rolls his shoulders anxiously and wrestles flits of discomfort on his face. Standing still, he stares distantly down the corridor runs from the intersection and curls an uneasy frown.

Reaching into his pants pocket, he retrieves his aetherphone. Flipping through menus, he attentively watches a radio application scan through frequencies and the dead noise charting out on the display. Drawing a breath, he glances around the area and rests his hand on the side of his helmet. “Chad? Hey, come in Chad. Can you hear me? This is Bach from the other team. We’re trying to reach you, something is causing problems with the radio.”

After a few moments, blips of noise crackle to distorted surges of volume. Bach carefully listens and grimaces as the interference obscures any coherence. He shakes his head with a long sigh, taps the display on his phone, and tunes in to clearer channels.

Cideeda’s voice chimes out from the headset in Bach’s helmet. “We’re heading back now. There was one more of those bots wandering around. But, I think that’s it.”

After a few moments, Dretphi sounds out from the background crackle. “Modoran found us. One civilian found. Remaining robot eliminated. Proceeding with caution.”

Aristespha calls out with hints of relief. “Sebastian scouted out as far as he could go. So, the main halls near the intersection should be clear. He hasn’t seen any new threats.”

After the radio keys down, Bach breathes in and gazes out into the area. “It’s been clear for me, so far. I haven’t been able to contact Chad using any the channels he should be on. It don’t think my signal is reaching him clearly. Something might be getting to him, but I think it’s as garbled as what I might be getting back from him.”

Moments later, Cideeda responds with tinges of worry. “Yeah, there’s A LOT of interference. We really should not be getting any. Tassilda and Trakenthin haven’t been able to call Chad up on the aether system. It’s really weird.”

She draws in a breath over the call and grumbles uneasily. “But, they can call everyone else and radios are still working between us. Though, the interference is getting worse.”

Bach nods gradually and freezes. A faint, barely audible thumping rises out of the idle drone of the vast open halls beneath arching skylights. Searching for the source in vain, Bach darts his blue eyes around, grits his teeth, and spins around to stare down each hall. The overhead lighting flickers erratically and stabilizes seconds later. Wrestling surges of discomfort on his face, Bach pulls in a stiff breath and frowns with slow hiss through his teeth. Staring distantly into his mind, he contorts his face and speaks calmly on the radio. “This just might be my paranoia speaking, but... Anyone else been getting a really WEIRD feeling about this place... that’s getting stronger?”

The radio remains silent for seconds. Sotalia’s voice crackles out. “Well, I’ve felt that something has been off with the magic in the area. But, then again there’s been some fighting and spells used. So, I don’t know what to compare it to. It definitely doesn’t have the same feel last time we were here.”

Moments of quiet later, a wary, cool tone slips out from Cideeda over the radio. “You too, Bach?”

Bach blinks at the response and grimaces. “Yeah... It feels familiar... In a bad way. I don’t want to jump to conclusions...”

Cideeda’s side of the radio call keys up and a cold tinge colors her voice. “Orth Ridge.”

An uneasy sigh from Dretphi follows the brief moment of quiet. “It feels like Hattan to me. Quiet. Dangerous. Don’t know why.”

Gritting his teeth, Bach stares long down the wide hall, tries a few calming breaths in the radio silence, and keys up his radio. “Yeah... Shit... I don’t want to worry everyone, but... Gods, I swear I keep hearing some low thumping. I don’t know where it is.”

Cideeda quickly replies with a surge of concern. “I’ve been hearing that, too! It’s too quiet and low for me to find it.”

A nervous sigh creeps out from Aristespha over the channel. “Deedri has heard it. And, so have I.”

Aristespha keeps the radio keyed in the lull of conversation. Sebastian's ethereal tone reverberates from a distance over the radio channel. “Okay. Everyone... Keep a look out. Let’s focus on getting everyone back to the meet up. Aristespha has gotten reports the GAA and Rangers have been called in to secure the area, since they don’t know where these things came from. Let’s try to get everyone out of here, and we’ll go from there.”

Agreements chime in from all the team. Seconds later, Aristespha keys up her side of radio call. “Bach, Sebastian is going to see how far he can go towards you and keep watch of your way back. Don’t go too far, yet. We should have a group ready to head your way soon.”

Bach nods and scans the area. “Wasn’t planning on it. I’ll walk a little further out and keep trying on those channels.”

He frowns uneasily, pauses a moment, and steps towards a long hallway off the junction.

Outside in the massive parking lot in front of the convention center, Samantha rushes between different crew members and inspects lists upon tablets and clipboards. Pushing through the chaos of people scrambling away and police forming a perimeter, she rushes up to one of the studio trucks. Leaning her back against the side of the vehicle, she gradually collects herself and tries to secure a moment of calm from the anxiety all around. Her hazel eyes flutter and she glances around at the different groups of people gathering. Combing her fingers through her shoulder length, brown hair, she hisses a breath through her teeth, summons up her composure, and spins around. She grips hold of the handle of the nearby door, opens it up, and climbs inside. She peers into the narrow cab and calls out. “Any sign of Veevi on the cameras?”

Gerald glances over, shakes his head, and returns his attention to the bank of monitors. “Nothing yet. Thankfully, we’ve been finding a lot of stragglers and people hiding.”

Samantha nods, pulls out her clipboard from underneath her arm, and flips through a few pages. “Okay. All crew are accounted for. Half the registered guests have been confirmed to have left the area. I’ve got everyone with parts of the registration roster calling people, and a few working with the police to check guests still here.”

Pressing a series of buttons on the main panel, Gerald squints his eyes at the screens ahead and grabs hold of a joystick. “Good. I think all the fans are out of the building. We haven’t found anyone else on the cameras for a while and the teams have directed those out.”

Glancing at Urdi, Radnae, and Harris sitting at different control stations, Samantha frowns briefly and fights the surges of nervousness on her face. “Okay. The guild says the GAA and Rangers are near and will be doing perimeter containment and area searches. I think we’re going to be here awhile.”

With a simple nod in response, Gerald flips a few switches, adjusts the aim of a remote camera, and carefully watches the output on the main screen. “Yeah... Have you been able to call Chad again?”

Samantha shakes her head, twists her unease on her face, and sighs. “No. Any call to him won’t connect and I’m getting nothing on the radio from him. And, I still can’t call up Veevi.”

Gerald narrows his dark brown eyes, shakes his head of short, dark blonde hair, and grimaces hard. “Gods damn it. This shouldn’t be happening. What is going on here?”

Harris directs his voice over. “Hey, Gerald, did outside camera three go down for you?”

Blinking a moment, Gerald shifts his attention over to a side display and nods with a tinge of frustration. “Yeah. What the fuck is going on? Those are good shielded cables, they shouldn’t be getting this much interference. And, they shouldn’t completely cut off.”

Radnae flicks his furry ears, glances over to Gerald, and twists his mouth. “Um, I think something is causing the cameras themselves to shutdown. Outside cam five just came back up, and it’s going through its start up checks.”

Gerald meets Radnae’s gaze, and the two exchange uncertain expressions. He shakes his head and flips through another series of views on the monitor bank. “What the hell is going on?! I know we’ve had those camera in worst spots and they didn’t do this.”

Urdi’s furry ears perk up, and she quickly taps her claw tips upon the control keyboard. “I think I found her! Interview area, camera two!”

Harris, Radnae, and Gerald quickly switch the feeds to the main screens of each of their stations, and Samantha slips behind Gerald. On the main display of Gerald’s console, a stool stands in front of a toppled over backdrop. Peeking out from cover behind a pile of advertising stand debris past the backdrop, Veevi frantically glances around and rushes out from cover. She scrambles down the hall in partial view of the camera and slips out of the shot. Samantha grits her teeth and grumbles. “Dammit! She’s all the way in the interview area. I think that hall leads to that old food court.”

Gerald nods and sighs out his frustration. “Yeah, and we got nothing past this point. Shit. We need to let Chad know.”

Urdi blinks her eyes, cracks a grin, and adjusts her headset. “I got an idea! He’s still probably in a section we have some announcement equipment working. I’ll patch it in to my station and hope he’s listening.”

With a hopeful smile, Gerald shrugs his shoulders and focuses upon the other screens. “Worth a shot at least.”

He pauses and shifts his attention to a side monitor. Pressing a few buttons on the control panel, he swaps out the side feed to the main screen and squints. He leans in close, contorts his face in bewilderment, and blinks. “What the fuck is that?”

Samantha leans over and narrows her stare at the monitor. “What?”

The two watch a video of the outside from a high vantage point. The screen shows a long sidewalk along the side of the building with a thick forest meters beyond a mowed lawn. Moments of still quiet pass. The tops of distant trees abruptly shift, briefly try to move back, and stop. Gerald notices an audio meter measuring and turns up a volume knob. Over the amplified feed, low thumps sound out and wood cracks resonate in the area. Harris and Radnae slowly turn to stare in confusion at Gerald’s display.

Seconds after another tree top falls below the canopy, the feed distorts, an error screen flickers, and the video cuts to a no signal warning.

Hurried footsteps echo out into the vacant food court. Veevi scurries out from a decorative column near the center of the large rotunda and frantically glances around. She slides behind a dividing, concrete planter. Scrambling next to the disused low wall, she pants loudly, darts her pink pupil eyes around, and presses her back against the cover. Minutes pass and idle silence settles around Veevi’s slowing breaths. Blinking to some semblance of calm, she cautiously surveys the unused food court. Her attention shifts between dust sprinkled tables, stacked up chairs, and vacant vendor stalls. Wrestling her paranoia within, Veevi pulls her legs up, wraps her shaky arms around, and rests her forehead up her knees. Fighting off tremors of fright, she forces deep, long breaths into her lungs and exhales slowly. Her long, short-hair tail coils around her cowered form, and she sniffs up the traces of tears in her eyes.

Lifting her head up, she glances up into the high, glass ceiling and finds a moment of tranquility in the white, fluffy clouds coasting above. Combing her sharp nails through her long, pink hair, she musters up a bit of composure and mutters to herself. “Okay... Okay... No one is here... Just me... Wait here... Let them take care of it...”

She buries her face in her hands, sniffs up a few more tears, and vents a long sigh through her fingers. Her fuzzy ears perk. Her pink pupil eyes widen. As she straightens her back up against the concrete planter wall, she frantically searches ahead of her. Moments after a fruitless search, her fuzzy ears twitch with each low, distant thump growing from the background noise of the cavernous space. The rhythmic sounds mix with loud wooden cracks and the chaotic, muffled cacophony of branches crashing. Veevi’s eyes lead her head and she gradually peeks over the top of the low wall. Down the far off end of the disused food court, treetops violently shift beyond a tall glass wall.

A few large trees at the edge of the forest topple over and crash to the sides. From the shade of the canopy, a darker, massive humanoid form stomps out. Black ethereal fire fluctuates wildly between a robotic frame and stone plating of magic. The giant golem steps forward, plants its metal alloy foot into the crackling sidewalk, and shifts its mass for the next move. Its metal and crystal skull presses through the glass wall effortlessly. A waterfall of shards wash over the humanoid monstrosity and splash upon the food court floor. Window framework breaks free from anchors and crashes upon shattering tile work. The black fire automaton slowly marches into the court and approaches the center of the rotunda with each foot fall rattling the vicinity.

Veevi gawks in utter horror as unbridled terror freezes her mortified stare ahead. Her hands clench through tremors upon the planter lip on top of the short wall. Moments later, her knees buckle underneath the overwhelming fear and she drops down upon a pooling puddle of absolute fright. Each powerful thump shakes her still and she remains motionless longer with the increasing intensity.

Seconds of silence pass. Veevi blinks her eyes, wrestles her quivering lips into a frown, and leans towards the side of her cover. As her fuzzy ear passes around the corner of the short wall, she freezes. Her eyes widen and her breath halts. A dark, hellish taint poisons the background ambiance and floods out the peaceful tranquility with an unearthly blend of machine drone, energy hums, and chaotic hiss. Swallowing hard, she presses through a surge of fear driven trembles and peeks an eye around.

The nightmare golem stands at the center of the vast space under the high, skylight ceiling. The black energy writhing between machine and magic components rejects the sun light above, and pulses of dark miasma vent out into dispersing mists upon the food court floor. The robotic frame containing the dark flow shifts with hisses of hydraulics, tightening bands of artificial muscle, and glows of magical runes. Powerful, large metal hands idly clench and the inhuman head of the creation scans the area with two dots of blood red in a hollow, dark void.

Veevi remains motionless. Sparks of attention fight past terror and her pink pupil eyes follow the panning, empty stare of the nightmare. Timing a rhythm with the subtle wags of her tail, Veevi’s retreats behind her cover and searches the surrounding vendor stalls. She settles her focus upon one and spots the metal door to a back area. Her glances dart to the vast space above her, the tighter fit of the metal door, and proximity of the nightmare golem. Quelling the surge of quivers over her body, she grits her sharp teeth, peers around the corner of the short wall, and watches the idle scans of the monstrosity.

The huge, dark form stands in place. Its metal and stone plated head repetitiously pans across the area and constantly sweeps the same arcs rhythmically. When its cold stare reaches an extreme, Veevi slinks out fast and slips behind another short planter wall. The skull pans back to the other extreme, holds, and drifts back. Pulling her peek back from around another corner, Veevi scrambles quickly to the vendor stall, slides around the counter, and freezes in place. Seconds of tension weigh down upon her, and she mouths a silent count to herself. Wincing briefly, she carefully looks around the corner and watches the head of nightmare golem turn away from her. Her full focus snaps to the metal door, and she crawls over to the solid barrier. She grips the handle and pulls. It remains in place. The color drains from Veevi’s tan face. Her brown striped arms flex against the immobile door and she strains in vain to budge the door open. Her eyes widen, she glances around, and the head of dark beast begins to swing back. Veevi releases the handle, scrambles back behind the counter, and freezes in place.

Quiet gives way to the hellish drone that looms. Seconds pass and Veevi keeps still as she stares up at the age stained drop ceiling of the vendor stall. A ground shaking thump resonates. Another impact follows, and subsequent grow weaker. A strange relief teases Veevi. She closes her eyes and her fuzzy ears perk to the lessening power of the thunderous footsteps. She eases out her relief and opens her eyes. After she her attention shifts away from the distant sounds that still vibrate the area, a crisp metal clatter seizes her attention.

A collection of stacked pots tips over from the top of a nearby shelf. Veevi gawks in terror as the cookware crashes upon the tile work floor, bounces loudly, and scatters in a cacophony of clangs. Silence stills the air. A fast series of powerful impacts rushes up to the counter and halts on the other side. Veevi remains perfectly still. Her terrified glances search desperately.

Robotic hands crush wood and metal, and rip the counter free. Veevi rolls over and stares up at the nightmare before her. She reflexively gasps and unleashes a shattering shriek that echoes out violently around the food court. Scrambling for footing, she tears off into a sprint. Mid step, a powerful machine grip seizes her around the chest.

The tightening hold clamps down upon her and Veevi struggles to get free. The golem glares coldly down at Veevi and waits. After a few moments, the grip gradually closes down upon Veevi. She frantically flails around, futilely pulls against uncaring steel, and gritting her teeth as the mix of machine and magic presses upon her torso. Her desperate pants shrink. She fights against the forces upon her rib cage for each shallow gasp. Between forcing out screams of help, a few muffled cracks from within sound and Veevi barely manages a yelp of pain. With tears streaming down her face, she struggles for consciousness and uses the last bit of strength to claw against the robotic hand crushing her. Her hope fades.

A laser blast drags across the metal and crystal head of the machine. Another beam rocks the unnatural skull, and the nightmare golem spins around to face the barrage of attacks. Chad charges forth at full speed with his laser pistol leading and sword at the ready. With another volley of laser blasts pelting the monstrosity’s attention, Chad rushes in close, stabs his blade into the wrist joint of the machine, and violently thrashes the edge deep within. Loud clanks rattle out and sparks spray out from the robotic mechanism. The grip around Veevi shudders to a full release, and Chad yanks his sword free. Veevi flops onto the ground, reflexively gasps for a deep breath, and winces in pain.

The nightmare wails out a flood of unnatural and synthetic tones. It steps back, straightens its imposing metal and stone frame, and glares blood red upon dark void eyes down upon Chad. Stepping over quickly, Chad kneels down next to Veevi and checks on her. “Veevi. Are you okay?”

Veevi gazes up with tear stained eyes, fights through the pain, and whimpers. “I don’t think so...”

Chad glances back at the towering amalgamation of magic, tech, and terror. He grits his teeth uneasily, and nods to Veevi. “Okay... Get to cover. I’m going to keep it busy.”

Watching the shifting form of the nightmare golem, Chad points his blade down the corridor away from the food court, aims his pistol, and directs his voice at Veevi. “Catch your breath, stay in cover, and get ready to run that way when I tell you to.”

Blinking back to awareness, Veevi notes the direction, gazes up to Chad in her confusion, and shakily asks. “What are you going to do?”

Chad stands up straight, steps in between the monster and Veevi, and lines up a shot with his pistol. “Make myself the target.”

He pulls the trigger, drags another beam across the metal, stone, and dark energy form of the golem. Side stepping away from Veevi, he fires blast after blast upon the towering, black fire entity and yells out. “You going to do something about me or what?! Plenty charge left to crack open that beer can you call a body! What are you waiting for, asshole?!”

With each scorching trail upon the armored exterior, the nightmare golem’s head leads the rest of the imposing form to follow Chad’s movements. When the glowing blood glare shifts completely away from Veevi, she crawls over away behind the cover of another planter wall and pants heavily while clutching her sides. Concentrating his fire at the head of the monster, Chad back pedals away from the designated exit, waits for the nightmare golem to step forward, and releases another volley. Tense second pass, the creature slams each tile shattering footstep forward, flexes robotic hands, and shifts its black energy form within its frame.

A shrill alarm screams out from the pistol after Chad pulls the trigger. Glancing at the weapon, Chad grimaces at the various warning lights flashing on the pistol and eyes the lumbering monster closing in. He holsters the laser pistol, retrieves his shield from his back, and readies himself while yelling out. “Veevi! Are you about ready?”

Veevi forces out a call with tinges of pain and exhaustion. “I’m trying... A little longer... I’m sorry...”

With a concerned frown, Chad musters up his resolve, tightens the grip on sword, and shout back encouragingly. “It’s okay! Just tell me when you are ready. I’ll draw it far away.”

He concentrates his full focus upon the light absorbing shape of the nightmare before him, summons up his courage, and grins boldly. “Gods almighty, I’m such a dumbass.”

Carefully stepping towards the towering creature, Chad watches the fluctuating black energies of the monster and listens to the mixture of chaotic drone, hydraulic hisses, and magical hums. He hops forward. The golem’s darkness flares within confines of its frame and a robotic hand quickly swipes out. Chad leaps back with his shield guarding the dodge. When the attack finishes, Chad jumps forward into its recovery, drives his blade forward, and sinks his sword into the dark energy of the nightmare’s forearm. Wrenching the sword within the amorphous mass, Chad slices through the thick energy and searches for vital points with the sharp edges. A corrupted growl vibrates in the room, and the monster pulls its arm away from the assault. Seizing the opportunity, Chad yanks his sword clear and darts his brown eyes around to other similar points.

With quick thrusts, Chad violently probes his blade into the dark energy forms, gaps between plating, and spaces of joints. He orbits around the beast, slashes at other possible spots, and backs away. After each attack, his eyes watch the golem’s reaction and his ears listen to the noises. The nightmare’s full focus rests upon Chad as it closes in on him. Chad steps back, maintains a distance just outside the demonstrated reach, and waits cautiously. In the tense standoff, he glances away from the monster and watches the stains of black energy plume upon his blade. He blinks in utter confusion and tries to shake the dark flames off his sword.

Rushes of fluid, clanks of metal, and surge of chaotic noise echo out from the beast. It draws its arm back, clenches a robotic fist, and drives it forward. Chad raises his shield, steps back, and watches carefully. His eyes widen in shock when the nightmare golem’s arm stretches beyond the detached restraints of its frame. Bracing against his shield, Chad catches the impact. The force shoves Chad onto the floor, and he slides upon the back of his breastplate. Veevi’s panicked voice yells out over the shift of metal and hum of energy. “Chad?! Are you okay?!”

Chad blinks his eyes open, checks his helm, and groans out. “Yeah... I’m fine. Just fine... Fuck...”

With each thunderous step forward, Chad forces another motion, gets his legs back under himself, and stands up at the ready. “Just get ready! He’s mad at me! He shouldn’t care about you.”

Veevi nods with a wince behind cover. She struggles against her trembling form to peek out from behind the wall. She flinches and lowers her fuzzy ears with the clashes of metal, crushing thumps of footsteps, splinters of furniture, and crumbling of concrete. After a fluid rush, metal clang, and a surge of chaotic droning, a solid clang resonates and a heavy flop slides into a grind of plating against floor tile. Veevi’s pink pupil eyes widen and she screams out. “CHAD!”

She braces herself upon the short wall, lifts herself up, and searches around the court. Past the lumbering black fire form of metal and stone, Chad grumbles loudly and grunts in a mix of pain and anger. “Oh, fuck you! That’s such a bitch move... Oh, fuck... Gods dammit... Shit, that stung...”

He props himself up on his sword, stands up panting, and summons up another wave of courage against the nightmare golem. Narrowing his eyes up at the beast looming over him, he pushes forth a brave smirk and prepares for the next assault. He tenses his body, steadies his footing, and glances around the fresh debris around him.

The towering machine draws back its arm as familiar sounds rise up over the background. The nightmare pauses. It lowers its arm, straightens its form, and scans its blood red eyes around.

A powerful eruption of plasma bursts out against the back of the golem’s armored skull. Bolt after bolt slams against the black fire filled form the nightmare. Slowly orbiting around the monster, Bach squeezes the trigger of his magically enhanced plasma pistol and releases another charged up ball of energy. The golem’s full attention snaps to Bach. It glowers blood red within black void eyes into the pinpoint of white within Bach’s glowing blue eyes. Side stepping with each barrage of bolts, Bach moves closer to Chad and calls out. “Chad! Are you okay?”

Chad blinks in surprise, thinks a moment, and nods. “Uh- Yeah! I’m still standing.”

Bach settles near Chad, holds his fire, and watches the nightmare monster. “Did you find Veevi?”

Pointing his blade over to a short wall planter, he smiles comfortingly to Veevi peeking over the top. “Yeah. She needs to get out of here.”

Gritting his teeth, Bach maintains uncomfortable eye contact with the nightmare golem and motions towards the exit route. “It’s clear that way and the others are coming.”

Chad grimaces and keeps his attention upon the monster. “Yeah, I’ve been trying to draw it away and keep its attention. That way Veevi can get clear.”

Bach glances over to Chad, looks over him, and returns his uneasy stare at the golem. “She should be good to go. It’s not paying attention to her.”

After following the concentrated glare from the nightmare to Bach, Chad twists his mouth, nods in agreement, and yells out. “Veevi! If you can move, get out here! The others are coming that way! Meet up with them!”

Veevi lifts herself, nervously glances around, and stares at Chad with worry. Chad grants a simple nod. Veevi fights against a frown, turns to the exit corridor, and rushes off. The nightmare golem continues to glare right through Bach. When Veevi clears the area, Chad draws in a long, deep breath, side steps closer to Bach, and whispers. “So, you got an idea on how to deal with this? Because, my blade isn’t doing a gods damned thing to it.”

He lifts up his sword, rotates the blade, and eyes the coating of flaming black energy. “And I have no fucking clue what it is made of. But, this doesn’t look good.”

Wrestling a few thoughts on his tan face, he sighs out his exhaustion and worry. “The best I got is the two of us keeping it busy until the others arrive... But...”

He notices the nightmare golem still standing motionless and still glowering at Bach. “It- Uh... What the fuck. I think it’s watching YOU.”

Gritting his teeth, Bach hisses a nervous breath, swallows hard, and chuckles awkwardly. “Yeah. It’s got a good reason to watch me.”

He glances over and meets Chad’s intrigued gaze. “Do you think you can keep it occupied for a little while. I got something that’ll take it down... But, it probably won’t give me the chance to try it.”

Chad cracks a humored smirk and laughs. “Sure, but I don’t think my sword will do anything to it-”

Bach reaches his hand out as threads of white energy flow down, grips hold of the blade through the black flaming energy, and smirks against Chad’s surprise. “I can fix that.”

Threads of elder flow surge out along Bach’s arm, condense into his hand, and spread upon Chad’s sword. Flashes of light crackle against the disappearing black flames. Energy sinks in the blade, channels of elder flow attach to the surface, and a white aura pulses. Bach releases his hold of the blade, grins to Chad, and shifts his attention to the nightmare golem. “That will probably hurt it.”

Quickly glancing over his blade, Chad gawks in awe and draws a bold, bright white smile on his face. “There’s one way to find out.”

Lifting the sword up, Chad watches the red glowing stare dart to the blade. “Yeah... I think he’s worried about this.”

Bach nods, stares up at the nightmare, and grimaces as he tenses his body. “Once I start, it’s probably going to come right after me.”

Chad rolls his shoulders, readies his shield, and tightens the grip on his blade. “It’s not the fastest. If I can set up an approach to its side, I’ll probably be able to get a good chance to strike it before it gets too close. I’ll go for the legs.”

The two exchange glances of agreement. Bach glares up to the nightmare golem and remains stoically still. Chad slowly orbits around the monster, and keeps his blade down and out of sight at his side. The towering monstrosity grants moments of attention upon Chad from his primary attention on Bach. When Chad stop his circling, he meets Bach’s gaze.

Yanking a deep breath in, Bach brings his hands close together and his eyes flash a brilliant blue glow with growing white. Layers upon layers of circular bands of magical energy materialize, rotate to speed, and spin upon chaotic pivots. A growing white noise rises from the background as crackles of power fill the swirling air. The nightmare golem focuses fully upon Bach, digs its metal alloy feet into the crumbling tile floor, and powers forward.

Chad springs forth into a full charge, speeds towards the side of the monster, and readies the pulsing energy sword. He finds his approach vector, lines up the target, and slashes into the dark mass of a leg. A brilliant burst of miasma erupts in the wake of the blade’s slice through the bulk of the limb. A bellowing shriek floods the air with an unnatural cacophony of random noise, and the golem staggers. Chad winces through the acoustic assault, follows the momentum of the swing, and carves his sword across the thick of another leg. Another enraged roar vibrates the area in drowning sonic chaos.

Wind vortexes around the orb as countless streams of prismatic energy pour into the ball. Gazing up at the downed nightmare, Bach cracks a grin. White light flashes in his eyes. Surges of elder energy burst forth from his body, jet towards his hands, and drive into the contained maelstrom. The glowing blood red eyes of the monster widen. Its body shudders. Bach grits his teeth, tenses his body against the power, and shouts. “GET CLEAR OF IT!”

Chad nods and turns away. The golem glares at Bach and draws its arm back. The sounds of fluid rushing, metal clanging, and magic humming fill the air. Chad’s brown eyes widen. He slides into a pivot. He reverses to a sprint and drops his shield. He raises his blade with both hands. “NO!”

The glowing white blade slams through the black fire in a burst of dissipating energy and sticks solidly into the framework within. The beast wails in synthetic, distorted agony, as the arm flops limply. Chad yanks against the sword, fails to budge it, and glances over to Bach. A moment of awe upon the spherical chaos convinces Chad to abandon the blade and run for cover.

The energy flows into the orb stop. Bach hoists up the elder energy disintegration ball, smirks eagerly, and releases. The sphere launches forward in a pulse of power, jets across the distance to the nightmare golem, and trails threads of magical energy. The monstrosity swings its other arm at the projectile. The ball slows, sharply drops low, and darts underneath the arc of the limb. It pitches up and slams into the metal and stone plated chest. A particle cloud plumes out from the impact as it burrows through. The orb sinks into the black fire core of the nightmare.

A silent moment passes. Cracks of white spider out along the hidden surface of the fluctuating dark mass behind surging black flames. The frame of the golem rattles violently. Spouts of hydraulic fluid burst out, sparks erupt into showers bouncing upon the tile floor, artificial muscle snaps, and metal joints break. The fractured dark form leaks billowing clouds of white miasma and the black mass within the magical and mechanical frame disintegrates. In final plume of energy, the last traces of nightmare dissipate and fade from existence.

The remaining metal and stone collapses into a smoldering heap upon the stained floor.

Bach chuckles lightly with a worn, triumphant grin, and drops down to his knees. He lays back upon the tile work, flips up his visor, and loudly sighs. “It’s done. Shit...”

From behind a pillar, Chad plods out in disbelief, gawks at the leftovers, and tilts his head to the side. He pivots to gaze at Bach and walks over. Sitting down on the ground, he props himself against tipped over table. After moments of exhausted breathing between both, Chad cocks his head, stares at Bach, and contorts his face. “What the fuck was that?”

Bach blinks, tilts his head towards Chad, and ponders out loud. “I don’t know. Some kind of Nightmare based creation? It wasn’t as bad as the Nightmare Geists. Both those sucked. It was kind of a bot and kind of a golem? I’m leaning towards golem... Yeah...”

Blinking his wide eyes, Chad gawk blankly at Bach while rubbing his temple. “Wait, you... What? Okay... I’ve got... So... Many questions...”

With a long sigh, Bach accepts the situation and chuckles. “Well, I literally can’t move right now. So... You might as well ask.”

Veevi struggles to keep pace down the long, wide halls. She pushes forth between debris, wrecked bots, and toppled advertisements. After a sluggish sprint, her stride staggers and she slows. She pants loud, short breaths, clutches her chest, and winces with each draw. Blinking her eyes, she reaches out for support against a pillar and leans down as she gasps. Mustering up her strength, she grits her teeth, stands up, and lurches forward. She maintains a slow walk, keeps her distance gaze ahead, and fights the looming fear on her face.

Seconds later, her eyes flutter, her balances tips, and she stumbles to the ground. Catching herself, she yelps out in pain, winces, and trembles. Pulling short breaths, she gulps down air and coughs in agony. With a sharp frown, she positions her hands, pulls her legs underneath, and strains to stand. Seconds of struggle wane quickly and she settles back upon the tile floor. Horror erupts on her face. “No...”

Veevi heaves her chest to drag more air into her lungs, grabs her sides, and reflexively blurts out in pain. Her worn stare searches around in vain and grows more distant with each passing second. She slumps down upon the floor and flops out on her back. Short, rapid pants drive the overwhelming panic through her body. Surges of terror press against the exhaustion and Veevi aimlessly flails into weak attempts to right herself. The power behind each attempt fades with the minutes.

Fighting to keep her eyes open, Veevi heaves with each shortening pant and stares distantly up to the high skylight ceiling. Tears well in her pink pupil eyes, flow down her tan face, and soak her pink hair. Veevi forces air to voice single syllables. “Please... No... Help... Please... Help…”

The empty, hollow silence of the hall overpowers the frail squeaks. Veevi musters small, partial sobs with each labored breath. Short pants punctuate the silence around her. The long moments loom over her. Veevi’s distant stare softens. She gazes up to the clouds drifting through the skylight, and her eyes flit between the flood of thoughts in her mind. As the seconds pass by, her tired stare weakens.

Between shallow, heaving pants, a grim resignation washes over her and genuine acceptance leaves her lips. “I’m... sorry...”

Consciousness slips away and her body continues the fight.

Through a radio, Chad’s crackling voice echoes down the hall over the sound of fast footsteps. “I think we’re good. Has Veevi found you all? She was looking rough and might need help.”

Across another channel, Bach keys up. “Yeah. She should be getting close to you all.”

Jogging with Trakenthin and Tassilda, Cideeda glances her emerald green eyes around and frowns. “We’re heading down that one last run your way-”

Her furry ears flick and she searches around. “Wait! I hear someone.”

Spreading out a bit, Tassilda steps to the other side of the hall around a center aisle decoration, and her light blue on black eyes widen. “Veevi!”

She rushes over with Trakenthin and Cideeda in tow, kneels down, and watches the unconscious Veevi struggle to breathe. “Trakenthin!”

With simple acknowledging nod, Trakenthin sweeps up Veevi in his arms, pivots sharp, and sprints at full speed down the hall. Cideeda keys up her radio and yells out. “Aristespha! Deedri! Veevi needs help! Trakenthin has her!”

Powering through the sharp turns, Trakenthin speeds down the long distances as the wind blow the pink hair of Veevi’s limp form. Around a final bend, the Deedri and Aristespha lead ahead of Sotalia, Dretphi, and Modoran. Trakenthin slides down to a halt in front of both Deedri and Aristespha and lays Veevi upon the ground. Deedri and Aristespha rush to diagnosis. Blinking her glowing auburn eyes, Deedri quickly speeds through a complex series of incantations. “Massive hemothorax. Multiple broken ribs.”

Aristespha nods, focuses her violet illuminate eyes after a gesturing another chain of incantations, and rests her hands on Veevi’s sides. “I will handle the bleeding and the ribs.”

Deedri directs prismatic flows into Veevi’s gasping mouth and rests a hand on her chest as energy sinks into Veevi. “I’ll get oxgenation and fluid evacuation.”

Aristespha and Deedri methodically work magical energies, apply trauma treatments, and stabilize Veevi. Aristespha installs a IV line, secures it, and readies medications while preparing a synthetic blood bag. Keeping her glowing auburn eyes attentive on Veevi, Deedri constantly gestures through different spells and carefully adjusts fine details as Veevi’s breathing deepens. Among the concern in the surrounding teams, Cideeda messages back to Bach and Tassilda relays the information to Chad. In the midst of the emergency care, Veevi’s eyes flutter open.

Awareness gradually returns to Veevi and her eyes refocus upon the world around her. Deedri notices the searching gaze and flits of emotion upon Veevi. With a calming smile, Deedri speaks softly. “You’re okay. We’re taking care of you. Just... Focus on deep, slow breaths. Okay?”

Veevi glances up to Deedri’s concerned face, frowns slightly, and weakly whimpers honestly. “Thank... you...”

Closing her eyes tightly, streams of tears trail down the side of Veevi’s face. She reopens her pink pupil eyes and gazes distantly up into the clouds through the skylights. Her fuzzy ears perk and focus upon a nearby conversation. Chad’s voice crackles over Tassilda’s aetherphone radio. “Any update on Veevi? Is she okay?”

Tassilda smiles and reassuringly states. “She’s woken up. They’re still taking care of her. But, it is looking good. I think they’re just getting her ready to transport to the hospital.”

An exhale of relief sounds out from the other side of the channel and Chad replies with a faint tremble in his voice. “Oh, thank the gods. I... um... fuck...”

Tassilda slowly nods her head and reassures. “Rest up. Once things are good here, we’ll get to you soon. Are you sure you don’t need anything?”

Chad chuckles awkwardly and sighs. “No. I’m fine. Just... was worried.”

Veevi blinks another swell of tears out of her eyes, returns her distant gaze to the clouds above, and weathers the long unfamiliar waves of shame and regret.