Episode 115

Through the dense forest, the humvee’s wheels churn up a mix of sparse grass and autumn leaves. The vehicle powers up an incline of packed dirt and kicks up pebbles and debris. Cideeda narrows her emerald green eyes and searches the narrowing path ahead. She glances to either side of the shrinking and fading passage and sighs. “Think this is as far this path goes.”

Staring out through the surrounding woods, she swings her gaze at the short gaps between trees and slowly shakes her head. “So, unless we chop down half the forest, I don’t think we’ll fit through.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form searches around the vicinity and eventually agrees with a nod. “Yeah. Anyway, it might be good to go on foot from here. Tearing through the forest in this thing will probably get someone’s attention.”

Guiding the steering wheel deftly, Cideeda navigates the terrain and eases the humvee into a secluded gap between tall, thick brush. “Sounds good to me. I think this spot looks nice.”

The old military machine slips into the tight fit and stops. The faint whine of the powerplant pitches down to a trailing drone as it shuts off. Moments later, the team disembarks, carefully pushes open doors against bushes and squeezes their way out into the open. Sebastian’s ghostly visage hovers up close to the overhead canopy and cautiously scouts the horizon. After a number of passes lingering at briefly suspect spots, he coasts back down to the ground and shrugs his shoulders. “Looks clear to me, right now.”

He shifts his attention to Dretphi and watches her study the map in her gauntlets. “So, any idea of where to go next?”

Twisting her mouth with indecision, Dretphi sighs uncertainly and shifts her gaze between a number of points on the map. “We have options. Do not know which from this point.”

She lifts her attention away from the folded over paper, quickly adjusts a camouflage wrap over an armor plate, and scans her steely gray eyes over the area. She steps towards the treeline, focuses her attention to the ground, and studies the impressions in the dirt. “Need to determine where these tracks originated.”

Sebastian nods, waves to the rest of the group, and motions to the surrounding forest. “Sounds good. Hey, let’s do a quick sweep and see if we can find out where these tracks came from.”

Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, and Sotalia acknowledge the orders, pick directions, and wander out from the central point. In the next minutes, everyone searches the vicinity. Aristespha halts after stepping meters away from disturbed dirt and studies the untouched stretch of soil around her. “Nothing after this point, Sebastian.”

Bach pushes through a tall bush with his duster shielding him. He parts the shrub and leans over to gaze up pristine forest floor. “Yeah, I don’t think they wandered this way.”

With a pained wince, Sotalia moves a stray, low branch away from her swept back horn, brushes out the debris from her fiery orange, wavy hair, and rubs her head. “Gods, you would think it be more obvious with a bunch of robots plowing through here.”

Sniffing the air in the woods opposite of Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia, Cideeda kneels down and follows a scent towards the base of a tree. Her eyes narrow and she picks the crushed top of a root with a claw tip. She pries out a rusty fleck of metal and cracks a grin. “Hey! I think they came from this direction.”

Dretphi glances over to Cideeda, returns her attention to the heavy indentations in the dirt, and stares off into the forest. She studies the map, looks over to Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia, and then notes Cideeda’s location. Orientating the map, she holds out her armored arm towards the suspect section of forest. She keeps a compass away from her armor chest plate, studies late morning sun, and ponders out loud. “Correlates to a possible location.”

She pats around her side pockets between outlines of different items as irritation builds. Cideeda plucks out a pencil from her vest over her armored body suit and presents it to Dretphi. With a thankful nod, Dretphi charts out a vector from a point. With Dretphi lowering the map down into view, Cideeda studies the page and nods. “Yeah. That’s where I’d try first, too.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form peeks over Dretphi’s shoulder, and gazes over to the direct indicated. “Looks good to me. Let’s follow it for a bit and see if we find anything.”

The team forms up and moves into the dense forest. Sebastian coasts ahead, searches the distance, and watches the horizon. Cideeda and Dretphi lead ahead of Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia. Along the way, Dretphi points down to robotic prints in the softer earth. Cideeda sniffs the air and kneels down at different points along the way. With each stop, she finds another chunk of rust embedded in the scenery or splatters of unnatural oil soaking the terrain. Minutes down the path, Bach points to a large broken branch meters away and asks the team. “Um, that doesn’t look like it broke from natural causes.”

Dretphi steps over towards Bach, and her eyes follow the direction indicated. She nods in agreement, and approaches the fallen branch cautiously. “It was not. Snapped with significant horizontal force.”

She deftly guides her armored figure through the brush, debris, and forest clutter. Stopping abruptly, her steely gray eyes widen and she kneels with her attention downwards. As curiosity guides the rest of the team close, and she points to a large mechanical foot print sunk in the earth. She pokes the outline of the impression with her finger and uncomfortably contorts her tan face under her full face visor. Sebastian hovers overhead, blinks in surprise at the finding, and directs his voice to Bach. “Hey, bro. Does this look familiar to you? Like it belongs to the big bot you fought?”

Bach awkwardly steps over a rotting log, balances himself, and squats down next to Dretphi. He studies the large imprint, exchanges a confused glance with Dretphi, and glances up to Sebastian. “No. That’s actually too small.”

He searches around, spots another similar foot print, and visually measures the distance. “Yeah, and I know that thing had a bigger stride.”

Cideeda slips in between the gathering with hands on Bach and Dretphi’s shoulders. She narrows her emerald green eyes, perks her furry ears, and cocks her head to the side. “Wait... These too big for those construction bots.”

She squints, reflexively tightens her grips, and slowly shakes her head with an uneasy grimace. “These HAVE to belong to something else.”

The group shares a tense moment of silence, and dart paranoid glances towards their surroundings. Sotalia grits her teeth and hisses out an annoyed sigh. “Of fucking course. I bet this guy kept a few of the good ones for himself.”

Aristespha shakes her head and squirms out tinges of discomfort. “It makes sense. But, this means we’ve got unaccounted robots to watch for.”

Dretphi slowly stands up. She narrows her stare into the distance and motions towards a gradually curving path of scattered prints. Glancing back the previous, perpendicular trail, she sorts through the information in her mind, and dons a watchful gaze ahead. “This is a patrol path. Not old. I believe there is more than one robot left.”

Tense caution floods the area and the team grows suspicious. Sebastian drifts his ghostly visage to the ground in the middle of the team, and quietly addresses them. “Okay. Well, there’s obviously something of importance here. Let’s focus on finding it. Once we know what, then we’ll decide what needs to be done.”

With cautious acknowledgment from the team, Sebastian nods with a reserved smirk. “Okay. Let’s follow the other path. We’ll take it slow and quiet. Keep an eye out.”

Sebastian hovers up towards the canopy and looks out into the distance. The group reforms, moves through the forest debris, and continues up the original line of tracks through the dense forest.

Drifting forward through the trees under the sparse canopy, Sebastian’s ghostly form slows. He scans ahead and pauses between trees, obscuring rocks, and thick brush. Seconds later, he coasts backward and slips behind the large trunk of an old tree. He looks over the hiding team and whispers with ethereal reverb. “There’s a clearing up ahead, I think. The forest seems to be thinning out and there looks like a really big hill. I can’t see clearly enough through the tall grass from here.”

He glances between Dretphi and Cideeda. “Any signs of those patrol bots?”

Dretphi shakes her helmeted head and narrows a suspicious glare into the forest. “Nothing new.”

Shrugging her shoulders, Cideeda tucks stray multi-colored hairs under her helm and adjusts her vest. “I haven’t smelled or heard anything... Yet.”

Sebastian nods, points ahead towards the thinning section of forest, and floats onward. “Let’s get as close to the edge as we have cover for. See what we have, and then figure out what the hell to do next.”

With a quick collective agreement, the team waits for Sebastian to lead ahead. As Sebastian glides from tree to tree, the rest of the group maintains a safe distance. Easing close to the thicket of brush, Sebastian coasts low and phases into the bushes. He carefully peers out from the leaves and searches the area with his transparent blue eyes. He twists an unsatisfied grimace on his translucent face, and cocks his head of brown, coiffed hair. Blinking at the large open field of tall grasses, he settles a long, scrutinizing stare upon a huge archway between tall piles of earth and rock. He watches expectantly and waits. After a minute, he pulls his head back through the shrub and coasts backwards towards the awaiting team. He settles upon the ground between them and frowns. “There is a big clearing ahead. And, there’s a tall hill with some kind of entrance in the side. I think it was recently dig out.”

He grits his teeth and wrestles an uneasy curl at the corner of his mouth. “But, there’s nothing else. I don’t know... Something doesn’t sit right with me. I was totally expecting a bot watching the entrance or something.”

Sotalia crosses her arms, tilts her head thoughtfully, and smirks unamused. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would you leave the door unguarded, especially after you stirred up some bullshit... Fuck, he may have just ditched this place.”

Aristespha narrows her violet eyes to an idea in her mind. “Maybe the door guard is further inside?”

Bach nods in agreement, squints at a gap between low branches and tall grass, and ponders out loud. “That makes sense. You wouldn’t want people to notice some big fuck off robot standing in one place. Especially, not out in the open. That’d be inviting trouble.”

Perking her brow, Sotalia frowns and grumbles as she leans against a large oak. “I don’t know. We haven’t seen any patrols. My money is that he left. Probably took anything of value and ran off to whatever terrible thing he’s got planned next.”

Sebastian shrugs his shoulders, and gestures towards the clearing. “Well, we won’t figure out anything from here. Let’s get a little closer and maybe we’ll spot clue.”

After a quick confirmation, Cideeda stretches her back, kneels low, and starts to slink ahead. A strong wind blows through the area, and a faint drone sounds out from the canopy of leaves above. Meters into her approach, Cideeda freezes in place and reflexively hold up a hand signal to the rest of the team. Her furry ears flick rapidly and sort through the sounds around. She cautiously steps up behind the trunk of a small tree, eases herself up, and leans out. Her furry ear perks between two different angles, and Cideeda’s emerald green eyes widen in surprise. She slinks down, and quietly crawls back to the rest of the group. Motioning them close, she whispers with a concern. “I hear something robotic. Old artificial muscle fiber flexing and servos? It’s mechanical.”

The team exchange glances and puzzle at the information. Dretphi stands up halfway, side steps carefully, and squints her stare through a divide between brush. She lifts up a pair of binoculars from her pack and focuses them ahead. Searching across the clearing over the tall grasses, she blinks in surprise and pays attention to a distant patch of grass. The wind sways the leaves smoothly in the clearing, except one bundle that slaps solidly against air. Dretphi lowers herself, creeps back to the team, and points towards the suspicious grass. “Something is invisible.”

Bach and Aristespha glance to each other. Blinking their eyes to respective glows, the two narrow stares ahead. Bach blinks his illuminated blue eyes and grimaces warily. “I can’t see it clearly, but there’s something refracting the light. It’s not quite a spell.”

Aristespha nods, braces herself against a tree, and focuses her lit violet eyes ahead. “Magically enhanced technology, probably. Seems to be an older generation.”

Sotalia quickly gestures out an incantation, places her fingers tips together, peeks through the forming flows of magic. Twitching her long nailed fingers, the visage of the clearing between her hands zooms, and she mumbles to herself. “Let me try heat vision...”

Her golden eyes spring open and her expression blanks at the large outlines of two humanoid machine shapes. She arrives back to her senses and wrestles the fright off her face. “Those are robots. I see them on the heat vision.”

Cideeda zips over next to Sotalia, and points to Sotalia’s hands. With a nod from Sotalia, Cideeda grips hold of Sotalia’s hands carefully, and slips her head to peer through the spell between Sotalia’s palms. Drooping her ears to the side, Cideeda gasps and whispers to the team. “Shit. We need to fall back soon. They might be able to pick up us up-”

She drops her head out from between Sotalia’s arms, reaches for her aetherphone, and quickly turns the device off. “Turn off your radios and phones. NOW.”

Aristespha, Bach, Dretphi, and Sotalia find their devices and deactivate them. Cideeda eases out a relieved breath and gazes to everyone. “They might be scanning radio frequencies. But, we REALLY need to fall back. If we get any closer, they’ll probably detect us.”

Sebastian nods and directs the team away from the clearing in a hushed tone. “Let’s fall back fifty meters.”

The team carefully reforms and slowly traverse over the terrain. After some distance, Bach whispers over to Cideeda with a worried hint. “I’m surprised they didn’t already find us.”

Cideeda smirks as she quietly steps along. “Chances are they would have if they were using active sensors. Either those aren’t working, or they’re using passive sensors to avoid detection.”

Bach nods and slowly steps over a clump of wet leaves in a hole. “Makes sense, since they’re cloaked.”

The group eventually reconvenes behind a slight rise in and settles into cover behind a row of trees. Sebastian hovers low and address the team. “Okay. Well, we found something. So... Thoughts?”

Aristespha rests her head of silvery blue hair upon a soft patch of grass and blows out a tense breath. “Sebastian, we need to call Captain Hackle.”

Bach nods and dons an awkward grin. He combs his fingers through his longer brown hair. “Yeah... I mean we can take one big bot down. But, I don’t think it’d be worth the risk to tackle two at the same time.”

Rolling her golden eyes, Sotalia fights a grimace and groans. “As much as I’d like to try out a few spells on robots, I’m sure this Lexattican guy would not like someone roughing up his bouncers.”

She frowns and huffs with a shake of her head. “He’d probably join in the fight at the worst gods damned time for us, too.”

Dretphi nods and grumbles. “Three problems at once.”

Cideeda flexes her fingers while idly cleaning of her claw tips and tugs at the corner of her mouth. “Stealth is out of the question. I’m sure those things would detect us. Even if we distracted them, whoever is controlling them would get an obvious heads up that something was wrong.”

Glancing over, Bach shakes his head and frowns. “And... if we got past them, our one escape route lead straight into trouble.”

Dretphi lifts up her visor, sighs out her frustration, and nods. “A bad plan.”

She peeks over the rise briefly, settles back down, and grumbles. “Hate to lose sight of the situation.”

Sotalia nods to Dretphi and brushes off some debris from her armored cloak. “Especially since this Lexattican might be in there right now.”

She rolls her golden eyes and crosses her arms. “Shit, now I kind of wish he had actually left.”

Sebastian searches his mind, ponders a moment, and proposes. “Yeah... Okay... Here’s an idea. We’ll set up a watch from here and keep an eye on things.”

He lifts his brow curiously to Cideeda. “Any ideas on how to get a message to Hackle without accidentally alerting those bots?”

Cideeda blinks her emerald green eyes and discerns a solution. “Radio is out, for sure, being this close. I’d be worried transmitting from the humvee. But... aetherphones might be safe. They’re probably too old to have such a system.”

Sotalia contorts her face dismissively and cocks her head of fiery orange, wavy hair. “Really? My signal cut out the last part of the drive up here.”

With a confident chuckle, Cideeda grins toothily and quirks her brow. “There’s a few tricks I can try.”

Sebastian nods, gazes at the team, and addresses the group. “Okay. Bach, Dretphi, and Sotalia. Stay here and keep watch. I’ll go with Aristespha and Cideeda to see if we can get a message off to Hackle.”

The teams split. Bach, Dretphi, and Sotalia find positions along the rise. Sebastian coasts along with Aristespha and Cideeda down the path leading away from the clearing.

Adjusting her binoculars, Dretphi gradually pans her aim around the open corridor between trees leading to the clearing. Putting the optics down, she blinks her steely gray eyes, glances up at the early afternoon sun, and sighs quietly. “Anything new?”

Sotalia moves her hands away from her face and shakes of the dissipating magical miasma. “No. Same damn empty clearing. Nothing different... at all...”

Bach rubs his glowing blue eyes, turns his head away from the distance, and settles upon the side of the rise. “Still see the same two blobs of energy. So... Yeah...”

Dretphi nods, narrows her stare toward the far off clearing through the forest, and wrestles a shallow frown. “Not good. Not bad.”

Rolling her golden eyes, Sotalia slides away from the crest of the small hill and huffs. “Gods, for all this trouble, he’d better be in there. Otherwise, this is just what he left behind guarding the place.”

Blinking his eyes to a dim glow, Bach awkwardly grimaces and glances around the area with tinges of paranoia. “Yeah... I hope he’s in there, too. Because, that means he might be wandering around these woods.”

Dretphi searches her mind, furrows her brow, and frowns. “Do not remember regular foot prints. Nothing recent.”

Sebastian’s visage flies low to the ground and lands to a seat near Bach, Dretphi, and Sotalia. “Hey. Anything exciting?”

Sotalia shakes her head and grumbles. “Same empty looking field as before.”

Leading Aristespha through a quiet route, Cideeda slinks over to the rest of the team and smiles. “We got through.”

Aristespha kneels down, exhales, and dons a hopeful smirk. “There was barely enough bandwidth to get a text message out.”

Thinking a moment, Bach quirks his brow and cocks his head to the side. “Really? How did you manage that?”

Cideeda grins toothily with smug hints, lifts a cocky eyebrow, and flexes her clawed fingers. “A little altitude makes all the difference.”

She motions towards the direction she came from and angles her point up to the top of the treeline. “Took a wild guess that the closest aether tower was transmitting from a higher point. So, I climbed a tree to just get within it’s broadcast bubble.”

Shaking his head, Sebastian smirks with a chuckle. “No help from the wind.”

With a trailing groan, Cideeda briefly grits her teeth and rolls her emerald green eyes. “Of course, the one time the wind picks up is when I’m holding onto the highest branch and waving my aetherphone around in the air.”

She mumbles to herself and snorts her frustration. “I really made it too easy for Murphy.”

Aristespha crawls carefully up the hill and peeks over the rise. “We got a confirmation that he received the message and he’s mobilizing a team. But, that is all we could get back.”

Sebastian smiles tightly and wrestles a humored grin down. “It got a little too dangerous to keep the signal.”

Cideeda’s furry ears droop down and an unamused frown curls out from the corner of her light brown face. “Well, the first snap could of have anything. But, that second snap, I wasn’t hanging around for a third.”

Dretphi dons the binoculars, sets back up on the rise, and squints through the lenses. Her eyes spring open and she pats the ground with her gauntlet covered hand. With the attention from the team upon her, she points towards the clearing. The group finds positions along the top of the small hill and focus upon the distant field. From the darkness beyond, Lexattican steps through the large archway. He walks out into the field, gazes up at the fast moving clouds overhead, and stares around at the forest perimeter encircling the grass. Keeping a drifting gaze out into the woods, he draws a long a breath and exhales slowly. He directs his voice back and belts out orders.

Cideeda’s furry ears flick forward and search the soundscape ahead. Aristespha’s very long, pointy ears perk, and she angles her head towards the far off words bouncing between the tree trunks. She bends an ivory ear with a hand. Both Cideeda and Aristespha concentrate, and the rest of the team awaits in silence. A gust of wind blows through the woods. The drone of rustling leaves rises, and both Cideeda and Aristespha wince in annoyance and frustration. Lexattican pivots around, snaps his fingers, and points beyond the archway.

At either side of the archway, two large humanoid robots fade to opacity. The armored forms glint in the afternoon sun, and the refreshed war machines spin methodically around towards the archway. One mech steps ahead through the entrance with a slight stooping motion, and the other similar robot follows afterwards. After the machines stomp well into the darkness past the archway, Lexattican glances around the area, then walks inside.

When Lexattican disappears from sight, Sebastian whispers softly between Aristespha and Cideeda. “So... Anything?”

Aristespha sighs with a frown on her blue, gray hinted ivory face. “Sorry, Sebastian. It sounded he asked the robots something about a status. Then, he just barked something about-”

Tilting her head to the side, Cideeda twists her mouth contemplatively and lightly scratches a claw tip on her chin. “Something about a maintenance mode, I think?”

Sebastian darts his eyes between his thoughts and puzzles out loud. “Maintenance? I mean, they looked like they were working fine to me.”

He furrows his transparent brow, crosses his arms, and searches for an explanation. “Why would you take both of them inside for maintenance at the same time?”

A spark of worry rises upon through Dretphi, and she trains the binoculars upon the archway. Focusing at the entry, she directs a concerned tone to the team. “Changing of the guard. There may be more.”

Sebastian nods at the idea. “Shit. That may be the case. Keep a watch for anything.”

Cideeda’s furry ears flick with her deliberation, and she rocks her head side to side. “What maintenance would he be doing out here... Why both at the same time? Something is not right.”

Squinting his glowing blue eyes, Bach grits his teeth and shakes his head. “It doesn’t feel like the best time to do something like that.”

A frown curls on Sotalia face, and she narrows her suspicious stare towards the archway. “Well, I don’t think it’s smart to take down your guard bots right after you send some nightmare mech to terrify the local town. You should be expecting someone to come and investigate.”

She glares, gestures out an incantation, and forms the flow between her hands. “Gods, I just wonder what’s keeping him here. He must have found something big.”

A gust of wind whips down the far off hill, whistles around the archway, and pushes through the forest. The stream of air fades to a faint breeze as it travels, and eventually washes over the team. Bach tenses his shoulders. Cideeda’s ears droop as the hairs on the back of her neck rise. Failing to shake his suspicions, Bach glances over the team and eases out a long breath. “What if that nightmare golem was built there? Not just stored, but... made there.”

Wincing at the notion, Cideeda wrestles a sharp cringe, curls her claws into to an exposed tree root, and groans. “Fuck. I was just thinking that. He could be trying to use them for parts...”

She shakes her head and growls out her discomfort. “Or, gods, trying to do some weird upgrade to them? I don’t know.”

Sharply sniffing air through her nose, she frowns and gazes at the team. “I don’t like what could be happening.”

Sebastian nods, looks over the group, and addresses them all. “Okay. By all good reason, we should hang back and wait for Hackle. But, I get the feeling that bigger problems might happen before then. Suggestions? Thoughts?”

Aristespha sighs and shakes her head. “We don’t really have enough information to go on. As much as it is a risk, I think we need to find out more.”

Sotalia smirks uneasily and gazes through the optical spell between her hands. “Well, I’m not seeing anything trying to come out. I think staying here and waiting won’t solve anything.”

Lowering the binoculars away from her face, Dretphi rolls her armored shoulders and gazes at Sebastian. “This might be our window of opportunity. This man is distracted with maintaining the robots. We could get close unnoticed. Assess the situation properly.”

Bach nods in agreement and focuses a serious gaze at his brother. “It’s probably a dumb idea to go in there. But, if he’s trying to cook up a new version of that thing that attacked the convention center... Um...”

He glances around to Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia, and then settles back on Sebastian. “That thing was a monster. A big, ancient, clunky beast. I really don’t want to take a chance at finding out what newer models could do.”

Sebastian dons a solemn expression, stares out to the far off archway, and releases an ethereal sigh. “Shit. I agree, bro. Okay... We sneak in there. We figure out if we can shut it down. But... If we can’t...”

An eager grin upon Cideeda reveals sharp teeth, and she pats a pouch on her vest. “I bet the dirt on that hill isn’t too stable. A few charges might shake enough loose to close up the archway. It’d slow things down and give him something else to do.”

A smirk appears on Dretphi and she nods. A flit of confidence swells in Sebastian and he smiles to the group. “Okay. Close enough to a plan. If we can’t deal with it, then we’ll seal it. That might buy us enough time for Hackle to get here.”

He holds his arms out to the side and gauges reactions from the team. “Sound good?”

After a bit of silent deliberation, the group arrives at a collective, reserved agreement. Sebastian nods, drifts slowly forward, and commands. “Okay. Form up. I’ll scout and we’ll take it slow.”

The team navigates through the forest, cautiously approaching the clear and archway.

Underneath the dim glow of old overhead lamps, Sebastian hovers down the dusty corridor. Behind, Cideeda’s small frame slinks between piles of debris and old equipment. The rest of the team hangs back, and awaits a signal from Cideeda before each stealthy transition to a new holding spot. At each secluded section, they gaze down cluttered side halls and peer into ancient rooms filled with decaying furniture. The team progresses cautiously towards the very end of the main corridor, before a large metal double doorway. Through the open, heavy framed passage, the glow of brighter lights beam out.

Sebastian halts, settles to the side of the wide, concrete hall, and gestures questioningly at Cideeda. Narrowing her emerald green eyes ahead, Cideeda’s furry ears flick and search the faint noises echoing out the cavernous space beyond the doorway. She nods a confirmation to Sebastian, and points ahead. Sebastian gradually eases his ethereal form close to the heavy archway, and peeks into the space. Hunting around the massive space, his eyes dart between bays of tool chests and heavy machinery. He glances up at heavy mounts with enormous tracks leading out from the equipment alcoves and hydraulic powered junctions joining at a central loop. Following the echoes upon the smooth floors and walls, he narrows his stare down to Lexattican’s leather armored form searching through drawers of a tool box.

Lexattican spins around, gazes over the paperwork spread out upon a work table, and narrows his yellow eyes upon the scattered details. Twisting a contemplative smirk on his light gray, green hinted face, he hums to himself and pulls back his long black hair. While tying back his locks, he furrows his age worn brow, and bows slightly towards notes on a diagram.

Slipping back from the edge of the doorway, Sebastian pivots to the team in hiding, gestures towards the other side of the archway, and nods with a wary grimace. Cideeda glances over her shoulders at the rest of the group, steps softly away, and sneaks up to the other side of the archway. She leans a furry ear out and waits. After a few seconds, she angles her stare into the massive room and glances around in awe. Studying the space filled with equipment, she eventually returns her attention the present concerns and searches the vicinity with purpose. Her attention shifts between six humanoid robots supported upon lifts. She notices four in similar states of disassembly and recognizes two machines with recently opened maintenance panels. Drifting her focus around the rest of the room, her stare grows distant, and she shivers with a familiar, uncomfortable feeling.

She pivots around and motions Aristespha, Bach, Dretphi, and Sotalia forward. The group approach quietly and settle to vantage points at the edges of the large, tall heavy metal doorway. Eyes wander the room, take in the details, and hunt for more information. During the search, Back blinks, glances over to Sotalia, and faintly whispers. “Feeling anything weird?”

Sotalia pauses a moment, closes her golden eyes, and slowly nods. She carefully draws in a breath and softly speaks. “It’s like at the convention. But, it feels a little stale?”

Bach feels five claw tips pressing in his arm and glances down to meet Cideeda’s gaze. With a slight droop of her furry ears, she frowns with a whisper. “You feel it, too?”

With an uneasy sigh, Bach nods and squints through the contrasting spot lamps and shadowy alcoves in the room. “Yeah, but there’s something else...”

His blue eyes widen, and he points to a distant corner of the huge space and towards an area beyond open armored doors. Within the isolated chamber, a flickers of black flame coat the open retention clamps upon a heavy duty frame. The rest of the team follows the cue and gawk in surprise. Pulling his attention away, Sebastian furrows his brow and slides his stare down a row of complicated, intricate systems. His search halts upon an enchanted, cylindrical storage cell, and he watches the faint white pulsing glow from inside the device.

After leading everyone’s attention to the container, he signals the team back and drifts away from the entry. Between slinking, creeping, and sneaking, the squad convenes down a branch corridor and slip into a vacant room. Sebastian keeps his voice low and address the group. “Okay... Um, I think we need to do something. This is looking like a shitty situation in the making.”

Bach nods emphatically and hisses through his teeth. “Fuck yeah, we do. I don’t know what he’s planning, but none of that looks like it’ll be good for anyone.”

Cideeda grits her sharp teeth, snorts her frustration, and lowers back her furry ears. “Gods. I think he’s going to try to do something with nightmare energy and use those bots.”

Fighting the waning confidence on her face, Sotalia sighs and grips the side of her arms. “I’ll be honest, two nightmare bots I was not that sure about. But... I saw four more in there. I don’t know what the fuck we’d do against that.”

Dretphi frowns against her stoic demeanor and shakes her head. “Nothing of value. Are they functional?”

Shrugging her shoulders, Cideeda pulls in an uncertain breath. “Depends. I don’t know right now.”

Aristespha bites her lip nervously and rolls tension out her shoulders. “That container has elder energy. And, I would not be surprised that equipment may actually be able to synthesize the energy that was used to make the nightmare golem.”

Rubbing her temples, she drags her fingers through her long, silvery blue hair and shakes her head. “It makes sense. Gods damn it, it unfortunately makes sense.”

She gazes up to Sebastian worried. “Sebastian, I know we should wait for Hackle, but... I agree we can’t let this even start to happen.”

Sebastian nods, contemplates the situation, and wrestles the unease on his translucent face. “Yes, dear. Let’s try to figure out the best way to do it.”

He darts his gaze around his mind and ponders out loud. “Okay, definitely thinking of surprising him. But... We got a few factors to deal with.”

Dretphi curls a frown under her full face visor. “Robots.”

Cocking her head to side, a smirk grows from the corner of Cideeda’s mouth. “We could disable them. I could sneak in and plant charges in them. But, it’d be nice to have something with a little more power...”

She gazes over to Bach and holds a claw tipped finger up with a toothy grin. “Could you enhance charges with something like that EMP you did for those cyber zombies? But, smaller?”

Bach thinks a moment and smirks. “I think so. Well, at least, something that’ll throw a lot of electricity around.”

Cideeda’s furry ears perk up, and an excited spark lights up her emerald green eyes. “That’ll be perfect, especially from inside the robots.”

Lifting an intrigued brow, Sebastian strokes his chin. “Yeah. I can try to distract him with some conversion, and see if that keeps him busy enough. Don’t think he’s expecting a ghost to come on by. Now, the energy tank...”

Sotalia crosses her arms, quirks her brow, and grins. “If he’s distracted, I can use my telekinesis spell and pull it over to us.”

An idea pops to the front of Aristespha’s mind, and she grips the handle of the sword at her side with an eager smirk. “We can then dispose of the energy with the sword. That’ll shut down any chance of him creating anything terrible with it. Even if we just secure it and leave, that’ll limit what can be done.”

Trickles of confidence swell within Sebastian and he glances over to Dretphi with a sly smile. “After that, all that’s left is Lexattican. Dretphi, you think you can give him reasons to not try anything too stupid?”

A smirk graces Dretphi’s tan face, and she straightens her posture with a hint of pride. She rests a hand on her sub machine gun and darts a steely gray glance to the large blade on her back. “Two come to mind.”

Sebastian gazes over the team and grins proud. “Okay. We prioritize setting the bots up for failure, snag the energy, and keep him distracted as long as possible. The second he figures it out, blow the bots and show him the firepower. I hope he’s reasonable after that.”

Reaching inside the access hatch of a large armored robot, Lexattican twists an inscribed, smooth stone component into place. He shifts his examining gaze between different electronic systems within the confines of the chassis and narrows his yellow eyes. With a cold smirk on his face age worn face, he steps back from the machine and glances over to the pulsating white light from the magical container across the room. Walking over towards a workbench on the opposite side of the room, he gazes over the array of magical and technological pieces arranged upon the surface. Pausing a moment, he rests his hand upon an old golem arm, and admires the intertwining of enchanted stone and engineered alloy. While lost in his thoughts, he ponders to himself a moment. Sebastian’s ethereal form materializes nearby. Peeking around Lexattican’s shoulder, his visage presents an innocent smile and glances over. “So, what are you working on?”

Lexattican’s thin, tall frame stiffens, and he spins around to face Sebastian with a back step and a evuukian curse. Studying the ghostly apparition before him, his defensive anger wanes in the tense moments to a bewildered curiosity. “What are you?”

Sebastian crosses his arms, tilts his head to the side, and shrugs his shoulders with a nonchalant tone. “Um. That’s a good question. I think I’ve heard a few people call me a spirit. Yeah. I’m think I’m a spirit.”

Striking a balance between suspicion and intrigue, Lexattican grants a single nod and furrows his brow. “Interesting. What are you doing here?”

Drifting away from the side of the room with robots in bays, Sebastian drifts his ethereal visage through the walkway between impromptu workbenches and glances over the equipment. “Well, I sometimes wander over here just to see if there’s anything new. This place has been underground a while. So, I guess I’m curious to what you are doing here. If you want to say anything... I mean... I didn’t want to interrupt, but this is all fascinating to me.”

Keeping a close eye upon Sebastian, Lexattican follows and studies the translucent being before him in silence. After seconds of contemplation and observing Sebastian’s casual demeanor, he draws in a breath with an amused, reserved smirk. “Let us say that I’m doing some... Upgrades.”

Sebastian smiles at Lexattican and nods with interest. “Oh! What kind of upgrades? I figured this place built robots, but I could never figure out what kind. Especially, that one big scary one that looked like it was on fire... with darkness.”

Lexattican cocks his head, perks his brow, and walks closer to Sebastian. “Interesting, is there anything more you tell me more about this place?”

While Sebastian maintains a nonchalant front, a small figure darts through the shadows on the other side of the massive chamber. From behind a robot secured upon a lift, a pair of furry ears perk into view and lead a pair of emerald eyes above the metal chassis. Glancing around quickly, Cideeda surveys the interior of the humanoid machine through the open access port. She frowns briefly with a tinge of sadness, and slips a faintly glowing orb inside the intricate inner workings of the robot. In near silence, she swiftly drops back into the shadows and slinks through the darkness to the next target. Her ears flick out from hiding, her eyes watch for the opportunity, and she sneaks another magical charge inside.

Sebastian grins awkwardly and shrugs his shoulders while scratching the back of his head. “I wish knew more to tell you, but...”

He waves his hand through a workbench and sighs. “Can’t really interact with anything.”

Lexattican lifts an intrigued brow, wears a suspicious grimace, and stares at Sebastian. “So I see.”

Blinking blankly, Sebastian perks up and drifts over to another table of golem parts. “This is all so neat. I’m sorry if I’m asking too many questions, but... I’ve got to know... What do you plan on doing with these things?!”

He chuckles at Lexattican, catches a glimpse of Cideeda’s hand signal before she retreats into the shadows. “I mean you obviously know what you are doing. And, you have done a lot work. You got to be doing something big!”

Narrowing a wary glare at Sebastian, Lexattican curls a faint frown. “Well. I guess the best way to explain it is that I’m proving a point.”

Sebastian bows his head slightly and sighs with an ethereal reverb. “Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you too much. It’s just I thought this place would sit here forever. You know until someone stumbled into it, I guess.”

Lexattican halts his pivot away, and stares into his own thoughts. Gradually, he turns back to face Sebastian, and focuses upon him. “THAT is the problem with these places. You may know it all too well, then. All these discarded places... All carelessly abandoned... All hazards for the future...”

While Sebastian pries for more information and drifts away from the entry with Lexattican following, Sotalia quietly gestures out an incantation. Directing a transparent, warping flow of energy, she leans out the main doorway and guides her power onto the smooth concrete floor with her hands. The barely visible ripples of magic zip along the ground, stretch towards the intricate, complex machinery near the isolation chamber, and envelop the elder energy container on a bench. The portable vessel lifts up into the air, coasts low above the floor, and drifts back towards Sotalia.

While Sebastian continues the conversation with Lexattican, Aristespha loosens the sword from the scabbard. Dretphi readies her sub machine gun and watches for the right moment. Bach holds his plasma pistol in one hand and six thin flow threads in the other. Cideeda listens attentively.

Sebastian scratches his head and crosses his arm. “Okay, so you’ve dug through all these ruins and got things working and all... So, how are you going to prove your point?”

Lexattican draws in a long breath, fights off a sad twist of his expression, and coldly states. “It’s simple. You demonstrate to the clueless powers what their negligence and carelessness can...”

He swallows painful memories. “And... HAS wrought on others.”

Springing his translucent blue eyes open, Sebastian stares in shock at Lexattican. “Oh... You mean...”

A surge of paranoia boils up into Lexattican demeanor, and his eyes flick to a glowing yellow. “Yes...”

He squints through Sebastian and cocks his head. “You’re a strange spirit- Wait... A projection-”

Spinning around, he scans around the room. Spotting the missing container, his illuminated eyes follow a trail, observe the energy container floating towards the double door, and rest upon the awaiting team. A rush of ire erupts from within and he roars out. “ALL UNITS! EMERGENCY ACTIVATION!”

The robots stir and shudder with life. Cideeda squeezes Bach’s shoulder. “NOW!”

A surge of magical flow flashes down six lines from Bach’s hand. The pulses of power zip through the shadows around the lifts and end inside the humanoid machines. Explosive charges burst within the interiors of the war droids, and arcs of electricity crackle through their bodies as fiery gases jet out. Rattling to an abrupt halt, the robots crash upon the ground and cease to function. Dretphi charges out, flips over a heavy work bench, and levels her sub machine gun behind cover. She aims, narrows her stern glare, and shouts out. “SURRENDER!”

Lexattican collects his senses while rubbing the base of his ears. He stares at the sub machine gun aimed at him, and counts the three pistols tracking at him. Slowly he raises his hands, and silently waits. In the lull, Sotalia brings the elder vessel closer to her. Aristespha draws out the sword. Lexattican’s attention shifts to the blade and hints of familiarity contort fresh concern on his light gray face.

Dretphi calls out. “ARMS. UP. DO. NOT. MOVE.”

Keeping an eye on Dretphi, Lexattican grits his teeth more the closer the elder energy container drifts away from him. Dretphi keeps her finger on the trigger. Bach keeps his aim on Lexattican, along with Cideeda. He furrows his brow, and darts his eyes around puzzling. “Wait...”


Bach yells out to Lexattican with his plasma pistol charging up. “Don’t do it! Gods dammit! Don’t bring that power into this! STOP IT! PLEASE!”

Dretphi pulls the trigger on her sub machine gun. A burst of rounds leave the barrel and zip across the space. They stick just short of Lexattican into a thickening energy barrier. Swinging an arm out, Lexattican lashes out a whip of elder flow and slaps the mass of power onto the energy storage vessel. Keeping an arm out to push a barrier against bullets and bolts, he yanks on the container within translucent stream of telekinesis. Sotalia releases a surge of energy, braces herself against the door frame, and strains against the countering force on her spell.

Lexattican glowers as rage overwhelms. A flash of white fills the pupils of his eyes, and he flexes his entire body. With a powerful swing of his arm, the elder energy container rockets towards him. Sotalia flies forward, skids across the floor, and tumbles to a hard stop against a workbench.

Seizing the vessel of power into his arm, Lexattican stares at the pulsating white within and focuses his furious anger through the magical barrier stopping waves of attacks. He narrows his fury at the team, grips hold of the top energy port, and twists the container open.