Episode 12

Idle hum of ancient equipment fills the large room. The light of banks of monitors glows into the illumination of huge flatscreen displays at the front of the control center for the bunker. Bach stares at the end of a faintly glowing cord of condensed magical energy, focusing hazy mists of flow swirling around. Holding the cable, he hovers his other hand near. Strands of colorful energies solidify within the miasma as the power coalesces. The magical haze materializes around and fills in the gaps. Examining the new plug, Bach compares it to a port on the computer workstation. "I've only done this a few times this small, but it should be electrically sound. It should meet your requirements."

Cideeda gestures on holographic screen projecting out from the holoplayer, shifting commands upon the interface. She squints and hems while checking the messages on the screen. "Well, it should be this connection standard with this plug and use this protocol.

She glances down at Bach underneath the console and shrugs with a smirk. "So... Plug it in. We'll find out if it works soon enough."

Bach guides the plug into the port and stops when it refuses to go in. He rotates the plug over and attempts again. Furrowing his brow with the sparks of confusion, he turns it over and slides it into place. Shaking his head dismissively, he pulls himself into an old office chair and rolls near Cideeda. The two search between the holoplayer output and workstation display. Cideeda rubs her hands in anticipation, gritting her teeth as her eyes dart in anxious anticipation. "System detected the device... It's querying it... Holoplayer confirms the proper protocol and is trying to emulate a data storage device to the system.... And...

With a surge of excitement, she bounces in her seat. "YES!!"

She wraps her arms around Bach's arm and squeezes tightly. Letting go, she holds her hand for a high five. Bach grins, happily returns the high five, and points to the screen. "Nice! That holoplayer has got the largest data drive I could manage on it. I hope it's plenty for this system."

Clawtips clacking upon ancient polymer keys, Cideeda eagerly types up commands in the terminal prompt and bites her lower lip as she focuses. "I'll repeat whatever commands Noxian did and dump the output to files. Then-"

Bach's blue eyes widen as an idea sparks in his mind, and he gestures over the entire system. "Hey! Can you do a direct dump of the system drives? Maybe you have the permissions to grab other stuff on connected machines?"

With an eager glint in her emerald gaze, Cideeda snaps her fingers, points at Bach, and nods in agreement. "Yes! That will take a while. But, anything might help make sense of all this stuff Noxian pulled off. Right now, it's just random numbers and graphs."

Scratching his rough chin, Bach glances over his shoulder to the others at the back security console. He sighs uneasily and gazes back at the screen. "Well... I get the feeling we'll probably have some time here. I don't think we're in a rush to go outside. Anyway, once we do, I doubt we're going to get a chance to grab data like this."

Cideeda frowns slightly to Bach, with hints of concern. "Yeah... I know. I'll get the transfers started. We should go see what they've found out. I'll be over in a bit."

Bach stands up and navigates his way to the main central walkway. Stepping over the junk equipment littering the area, he arrives next to his ethereal brother. He scans over the security area where Aristespha, Dretphi, and Sotalia observe screens of still images and video feeds. Sebastian contorts a concerned grimace and tilts his head towards Bach. "Any good news on your end of the room, bro?"

Nodding slowly, Bach wanders his attention between security displays. "Yep. Conjured up a data cable, and Cideeda got the holoplayer working with the system. She's recreating the commands Noxian used, saving the output, and then setting the thing to mass dump everything else on the systems she can access."

He shrugs plainly at his brother. "I don't know, man. Maybe there's some other useful information in the mess. If nothing else, there should be some hint as to whatever the hell all this data is. I mean, there's a method to the madness, I guess since there's some kind of order to it all. But, damned if I know what it is at the moment."

Aristespha rolls upon a dusty office chair away from the console and leans into the back rest. Rubbing her eyes, she cups her hands over her mouth and nose. She sighs deeply with a faint flex of her very long, pointed ears and rests her hands at her thighs. "Well, that's good to hear. I do have some friends in the computer science department at the Grand Library that might be able to help us."

Nodding at Aristespha, Bach's wandering gaze spots a figure on the screen. He gawks at the video of a large, armored robot. "OH. GODS. Is that it?!"

Sebastian nods slowly and groans with an ethereal echo as he sternly stares at the monitor. "Yes. And it's not getting any better the more we look at it."

Dretphi taps the towering machine showing on the grimy edged monitor. "Yes. Heavy armor. Fluid movement. Autonomous AI. Short barrel minigun. Plasma Projectile Cannon. DANGEROUS."

Scratching the back of his head uncomfortably, Bach searches around for an explanation. "How did it reactivate? It was quiet and behind the doors before. Right?"

Sotalia snorts out her boiling aggravation, grabs the monitor's bezel, and pivots the display to Bach. "You can thank good old, Dark Douche Noxian, for that."

She crosses arms and rocks back on her chair's backrest, frustration radiating through her motion. "From the logs and the crappy time lapse video I found, whenever he forced open the doors, he triggered an alarm. The system woke up, started to fire up the bot, and Noxian did... Something.

A spiteful growl rolls up from her, and she stiffens her posture angrily. "Fuck! I can't tell! Every time that asshole does anything magical, the camera loses its shit."

Wincing, Bach rubs his eyes into a pinch of the bridge of his nose and groans in begrudging realization. "Dammit... Yeah. That makes sense. Yeah. The magic on the entry door had decayed. It would only make sense that the magic stopping the bot, cast at roughly the same time... Would have also decayed, too. Right around this time."

Cideeda slinks next to Bach, assesses the monitors, and bites on a claw tip thoughtfully. "Are there any remote controls for it tied into the system? Maybe a remote shutdown? Or an alert cancel?"

Aristespha shakes her head and waves a hand to the graphical menu on screen. Two robotic pictograms regularly flicker with status messages and color coding. Aristespha takes in a deep breath and rests her cheek upon the palm of her hand. "I have checked multiple times. There are all kinds of remote control features. Unfortunately, the one robot, that is still in contact with the system, happens to be the useless husk, gutted of parts. The system has endless pages of error messages trying to contact the working robot."

Finding a nearby chair, Bach pulls it over to him and sits with a firm frown. "Bastard Noxian probably fried or corrupted something by throwing that elder magic around... Now this thing is either stuck in alert mode, or worse."

He pulls out his aetherphone, clicks the power button, and sharpens his frown with the "No Relay Found" flashing in the status bar. Sebastian eyes Bach's phone and shakes his head. "I know, bro. We're too far out to easily call for help. We think we can radio for help if we get of the bunker and-"

Cideeda raises her hands abruptly and waves out an emphatic warning. "Whoa! No! We do NOT want to do that this close to it!"

Quizzical expressions appear on others, and all attention lands upon Cideeda. Moving closer to a screen with a video feed of the robot walking outside, Cideeda taps a button on the console. The stream freezes to a still frame of the towering mechanical soldier. Cideeda circles a claw tip over the head and shoulder section of the humanoid robot. "This thing looks to me like some kind of government hand-me-down. This HERE looks like some kind of antenna array. If we key up the radios on our phones, there's a good chance it might home in on the source expecting a fight. It's already doing an elevated alert patrol, so it doesn't need much more of a reason to go all out."

Squinting at the screen, Bach leans forward and spins a dial on the console, zooming in on the freeze frame. He swallows uneasily and pokes at the image of the armored mech. "Shit... It looks like it's got a little bit of everything, too. There's a lot of stuff on it."

The hard plates of Dretphi's armor suit clack when she crosses her arms, and she nods in agreement. "Yes. Possibly can see into multiple bands. Maybe radar. Probably thermal. Ultrasound."

Sotalia curls a lip in a sneer and huffs out her building frustration, shaking her head with an eye roll. "Gods, that figures. No amount of invisibility magic is going to obscure anyone enough from that thing. The best you could manage is to stay absolutely still IN a good hiding spot... And just hope you're lucky."

Sebastian's ethereal visage floats above the group and coughs for attention. "Okay. Everyone. Calm down. We can do this.

He furrows his brow, straightens his posture, and ponders out loud. "Here's an idea. From what I've watched, this thing has a rough patrol pattern. If we can plot it out and time it, there might be a few windows of opportunity we can use to get out of this bunker. Then, we move through the courtyard into the clearing, then bolt it for the outside antenna array. Once we clear the perimeter force and hit the forest, we should be good."

Nodding with the unfolding plan, Bach cracks a reserved smirk and sighs. "Yeah. I mean, that could work. If we can keep hidden between the buildings, we might be able to get far enough out. But, I don't know if breaking line of sight is enough with this thing."

Cideeda's emerald green eyes sort through the top of her head and her furry ears flicks with her thoughts. "These buildings are reinforced concrete. They should block radar enough that it won't be able to get a solid ping if we're behind even one. I don't know about acoustic detection. "

Dretphi presses buttons on the security console and iterates through a number of external cameras. "Windy outside. Storm nearby. It would be difficult to pick out footsteps with this noise."

Sebastian cracks a proud grin and gazes over the team. "Exactly! Ideally, we would get to the humvee, drive off, and put as much distance between us and this place as possible. Get to an aethernet relay, call the guild, and let the GAA have fun with his thing."

Aristespha narrows her violet eyes, pushes back in her chair, and analyzes the plan in her mind. "The open field of the antenna array will be difficult, since it is so open. We may need to find what cover is available and hide during a patrol sweep. But even if we are seen, we will hopefully have the distance to buy us time to mount a counterattack."

Sotalia rubs her hands together and an evil grin emerges. "Hopefully plenty of time for some powerful spells."

Sebastian drifts down to stand on the floor and directs everyone's attention to the security console. "Okay! It's a plan. Probably the best we're going to put together right now. So, let's get to studying this metal monster and figure out our escape route."

A harsh gust of wind blows ferociously through the courtyard, pushing flecks of age smooth pavement around in the current. Distant rustles of leaves chorus the air with a wavering drone that engulfs the area. The last remnants of white fluffy clouds jet across the sky in long, thin trails, and a darker front looms closer. The source of the constant, rhythmic thumping steps out from behind the corner of a small building near the bunker. A metal behemoth pivots its upper body, aims two weaponized arms down the path to the courtyard, and adjusts its walk to a measured strafe. Each step executes with an inhuman grace and precision, while the rest of the thickly armored humanoid body moves with exact coordination. The head of the security robot briefly turns, scans the area. Glints of sunlight reflect off the optics in its head and an array of sensors hunt down into the space. After a swift sweep, the towering machine returns to face its previous course. The body smoothly realigns with the head as it passes by. Continuing along the side of the bunker, the security robot moves away from the courtyard grounds to the outer perimeter of the facility.

As the last glimpses of its huge, rigid backpack unit and whip antennas leave sight around the corner of the bunker, Sebastian eases his face through the doors. His head emerges clear of the structure, and he glances to the corner and ground vibrating thumps. Silently tense, he listens and eases the rest of his ethereal form through the doors. Cautiously, he floats up to the bunker's roof, crests his head above eye level, and watches the security robot continue its patrol into the distance. After a minute of still observation, he quickly zips down and shoves his head through the doors. Pulling his head back, he flies back up to the roof line. The bunker doors slide open with a messy sputter and gurgling hiss. Bach and Dretphi swing outside to each side of the doorway, keeping grips on the doors. Cideeda leaps out onto the concrete walkway silently and swivels her head around while her furry ears scan the area. Sebastian motions towards the last passage the security bot used, keeps an arm pointed to the machine's position, and aims his voice down to the team. "It's still on course. Clear to move."

Aristespha and Sotalia rush out from the bunker and assume defensive casting stances near Cideeda. Bach and Dretphi simultaneously release the bunker doors to a final waning hiss that mutes when the bunker seals. Both swiftly walk up near the group. Forming a loose line, they sweep carefully across the courtyard, paying attention to Sebastian's tracking arm. Over the minutes, the group navigates the debris littered courtyard and stays within the perspective cover of the bunker from the distant security bot. Judging the path of the security robot, Sebastian drifts away from the roof, keeping level. He glances down to the group with a reserved grin, gives a thumbs up, and quietly mumbles to himself. "Keep it up... Doing good... Just a little while longer to the array..."

Something catches Sebastian's eye. Pivot midair towards the tree line, he puzzles at a strange wave of swaying treetops. A massive gale manifests into a wall of air and draws up debris from the bent over trees. A few treetops drop below the green canopy, and roots momentarily flip into view before sinking beneath the leafy sea. Sebastian waves an alarm and points. Cideeda's furry ears flick to the oncoming roar, and she alerts the rest of the group. "A huge gust of wind is coming. Get behind the concrete barriers."

The group gathers down low behind a chain of worn concrete construction barriers in the middle of the sparsely littered courtyard just as the wind speeds up through the alleyways of the buildings. The wall of wind blasts through. Dirt and sticks from the nearby forest soars through the area. A strange, loud noise grinds into the air, slicing through the drowning din of the gale gust. In the open, nearly barren field of the array, rust chunks crumble off a tall antenna tower assembly. Their ringing, bouncing impact on ground seizes the attention of Cideeda. She gawks wide-eyed at the tower. "Oh gods. No..."

An explosive snap of a support cable thunders out. The wind yanks the heavy steel line, and the supports audibly strains against the force. The last support cable slacks. The tower lurches past balance and flings the last support anchor, including broken off concrete base, into the sky. The massive structure of steel flexes as the bottom warps against the weight of the free-falling top. A cacophony of metal screeching and crushing upon the earth erupts, with the last crisp snaps echoing as the last of the strain escapes the fallen tower. The gust blasts through and sweeps the air, leaving an eerie silence. A repetitious thumping drifts up into the air, rising from the background with each passing second. Sebastian spins around to face the source. His eyes spring open, pupils narrow at the sight, and he bellows out an ethereal scream. "HIDE! IT'S COMING!"

Closing the distance beyond the bunker, the towering security robot clears swathes of ground with each thunderous, leaping bound. Each impact stamps deep indents into the dirt. Flowing articulation launches it into the next bound, crushing the soil beneath and leaving behind plumes of debris. It powers along the other side of the bunker and rockets around the corner in a calculated lean. Surging forth towards the center of the courtyard, the head of the robotic monster scans the area, spotting all targets in fractions of a second. Cideeda sprints behind a barrier in front of a tall pile of steel beams. Dretphi forcefully ushers Sotalia and Aristespha around to the back of a collection of concrete barriers, behind a pile of gravel. Bach's eyes glow as he flees to another barrier at great speed. Sebastian hovers in the air and frantically tries to logically assess the situation. The robot focuses on Sebastian. Riding a slide on the pavement to a bracing stance, barrels of its minigun spin up, and the machine aims the armed arm. Sebastian hears the spin up and glares down at the robot. Flaring up his ethereal form, he charges. "FUCK YOU, SHIT HEAP! TRY TO SHOOT ME! How much ammo you got?! Because I got all day!"

The minigun erupts blinding fire and precision mass. Rounds zip through Sebastian's form, and he dramatically dissipates. Seconds later, he reforms behind Aristespha, Dretphi, and Sotalia, trying to keep anxiety in check with a rigid grin. "Okay! Um! Ah... Ideas?!"

The military surplus war machine positions itself equally from each hiding spot, both weapons seeking a new target. The minigun winds down. The robot waits, pivoting its upper body and head independently and arms panning.

Aetherphones chirp out and echoes faintly bounce upon all the hard weather stained surfaces. Aristespha retrieves her phone and activates the speakerphone. Sotalia reaches into the collar of her armored cloak and slips a compact headset over a pointed ear. Dretphi taps the underside of her helmet. Cideeda's panting voice crackles through the speakerphone. "Okay! Well... It knows we are here. So we might as well use the radio. I think it's trying to jam us, but we're too close for that to work. Is everyone okay?"

Aristespha sighs with a wave of relief and lifts her phone close to her mouth. "Dretphi, Sotalia, and I are okay. Sebastian is with us here. Bach, where are you?"

Bach's voice briefly distorts over the speaker, and his excited, near panicked tone sounds out. "I'm okay! I'm down from you all and opposite from where I think Cideeda went. Uh, um, the concrete barrier closest to the middle building. Ah, any ideas so far?"

Sotalia pulls a menacing grin across her mouth and flexes her hands. "How about a few hard hitting spells?"

Sebastian shakes his head with a grimace at Sotalia. "No. Sorry. I'm going to have to veto that. Your hard hitters take time and positioning to cast."

He rocks his head towards the metal behemoth beyond cover. "It's not going to give you the chance."

Sotalia briefly sneers in frustration at Sebastian, takes a deep breath, and releases it with an accepting nod. "Dammit! You're right. It took no time to target you and fire at you."

Cideeda presses her back against the middle of the concrete barrier, slides her aetherphone in a front upper chest pocket near her neck. Closing her eyes, she lets her furry ears search the air and flick through the soundscape. She opens eyes after a few passes and bites her lip. "This thing isn't using servos or hydraulics. I can't hear them. It has to be polymer muscles. That's why it's got a ridiculous reaction time."

Dretphi growls and clenches a fist tightly as her gauntlet strains audibly. "The right rifle for this is in the humvee. That is too far. It is too fast."

Cideeda reflexively pats through her gear, confirms a filled pocket, and retrieves a rectangular bundle of a yellow clay substance. A devious grin cracks upon her light brown face, and she finds a few other items. "Well... I remembered to bring my block of breaching explosives. Got a mounting magnet and remote detonator with a controller, too."

Listening to the silence on the radio, she focuses on attaching the remote detonator and mounting magnet on the small brick of explosives. She tilts her head close to the phone and speaks in a lower, determined tone. "Permission to proceed?"

Sebastian responds over the radio with an eager hint in his voice. "Permission granted. Let's see if it'll fall for me again. Let me know when you are ready and I'll make a run at it."

Cideeda shakes out a plastic mesh bag from a small pocket. "I doubt I'll be able to stick it, but if it lands close enough I'll trigger it. Hopefully, the concussion will knock it down and give us a chance to get further away. Maybe damage it just enough."

She tosses the explosive assembly inside and gives a light test swing. "I'm about ready."

Sebastian prepares himself, watching Aristespha listening to her phone. Cideeda's voice hisses over the phone. "Ready!"

Aristespha keeps her eyes on Sebastian and speaks to her aetherphone. "Okay. Sebastian is going to draw its attention. He'll yell out if it is distracted. Then, you toss the explosives. When they detonate and the robot is down, everyone is to regroup and head straight into the woods to the west. Confirm Bach? Cideeda?"

Bach voice distorts over the phone against signal straining interference. "That sounds good to me. That bulky bastard should have some trouble getting us in there. If he can manage to get back up..."

Cideeda chirps excitedly over the static hiss. "Let's do this!"

Sebastian gives a thumbs up to Aristespha, Dretphi and Sotalia. He lunges out from cover, waving his hands in the air. Flaming up his ethereal form, he screams. "I'M BACK FOR YOU FUCKER! YOU CAN'T HIT ME! OOGITY BOOGITY!"

The robot's head snaps towards Sebastian, precisely tracking, and both arms immediately line up at the target. The minigun's barrels spin up. With a wild glint in his translucent blue eyes, Sebastian yells out. "IT'S WATCHING ME! DO IT NOW!"

Cideeda springs up from cover and vigorously swings the plastic mesh bag around with her arm in a large vertical circle. Holding her free arm out to aim, she launches the package in a lofty arc. The bag soars through the air and reaches the apex of its trajectory. As it sails down, the robot breaks lock on Sebastian. Pausing, its head snaps upwards. It crashes down to a squat and springs back into the air. It lands securely with a loud earth-shaking whump over ten meters away, its head tracking the bag. Cideeda's jaw slams to the ground in shock, and she scrambles frantically behind cover. "FUCK! ABORT! Stay in cover! It jumped out of the way!"

The robot redirects its attention towards Cideeda. The minigun spins down and a new low rumble resonates. Cideeda's furry ears twitch, and she nervously grits her teeth. "What is that noise? That sounds like an energy charge up of some kind."

She sneaks a peek out the side of her barrier and yanks back in fright. "Shit! It's charging up the plasma cannon! It's aiming at my position! I can't see exactly where!"

Bach flips the visor of his helmet down and rises just over the top of his barrier. He follows the angle of the cannon arm, as his panicked stare flutters between a flurry of visual calculations. A shock of tension jolts him, and he screams as loud as he can. "IT'S AIMING BEHIND YOU!"

Cideeda glances at the tall stack of steel beams behind her. Paling with mouth agape, her furry ears perk at the loud energy eruption. A twenty centimeter diameter ball of blue-white plasma streaks out from the huge barrel and blazes across the courtyard. Cideeda dives out from behind the concrete barrier. The plasma ball explodes into a concussive wave of superheated gas, filling the space behind the barrier and shaking steel beams down. Darting her eyes around, Cideeda collects her senses. The barrel of the minigun spins up. Cideeda spots a small pile of concrete parking stops. The claws on her hands and feet scratch upon the cracked pavement. She panic scrambles to the pile and desperately flattens herself, covering her head. A torrent of fast, unforgiving mass swarms her position. Chunks of dirt explode from under the pavement and concrete from the stops waterfalls over her back. The barrage relentlessly chisels down the pile.

Cideeda's short, dust covered hair vibrates from bullets passing over. Flecks of ricochets patter around. Bodysuit fabric ripples. Tears rips out with a faint mist of crimson and reveals light brown skin. Emerald green eyes spring open in abject shock at the hot searing pain and cooling red seeping out from the middle crest of both butt cheeks. Gasping in a frightened breath, Cideeda's throat tightens against another narrow wave of crimson pain streaking across her shoulder blades. A reflexive cry of pure terror shrieks out of her. "HELP!"

Sebastian's form blows out in a flaming aura and launches right at the robot. "FUCK OFF! JUST FUCK OFF WILL YOU!"

The robot briefly stops the assault, and prioritizes Sebastian. Bach pops out above his concrete barrier, levels his plasma pistol at the robot, and fires off a series of plasma bolts. The energy balls impact and lightly rattle the bot. The machine pivots its upper body and swings its aim around. Bach plummets behind the barrier as the loud rumble of minigun fire coats the area. Cideeda scapes up any sense left. Gritting her sharp teeth, she attempts to flex the muscles in her back and butt. Cringing against the pain exists, she moves, somewhat. She reaches an arm back and checks the extent of the injuries. She bites her lip, wincing. A sigh of annoyed relief slips out as she finds only grazes. Footsteps sprint across the ground and close in on her with a familiar clank of armor. A shadow crouches over Cideeda and pats the top of her shoulder with a firm but gentle gauntlet covered hand. "Can you move?"

Cideeda smiles through the winces and cringes. Lifts herself up, she crawls around to the back of Dretphi and forces herself up into a crouch. She taps a confirmation on Dretphi's back. Nodding her helmeted, visor protected head, she raises her arm mounted energy shield up. The two carefully move across the courtyard to an awaiting Sotalia and Aristespha. The impacts of bullets stop around Bach. Tense moments later lead to a realization, Bach radios through the headset in his helmet. "Look out! It stopped shooting at me!"

Dretphi watches as the robot's head locks upon her. Its arms follow. Holding her energy barrier up, Dretphi braces her shield gauntlet with her other arm. The minigun sprays a unyielding volley of metal. Dretphi concentrates every bit of herself and keeps the energy shield in place against the hammering impacts. As Dretphi and Cideeda edge closer, stray shots and debris from the blasts force Aristespha and Sotalia back into cover. Sparks erupt from the shield gauntlet and the energy field wavers with the overload alarm chiming through the thunderous onslaught. Dretphi pulls in her arms, plants her feet, and slowly squats down. She solemnly states to Cideeda. "Whatever happens. Stay behind me."

The shield flutters into a dissipating plume. Bullets slice through the air at Dretphi. Before each impact upon an armor plate, a golden magical barrier flashes. Metal careens at the plates of Dretphi's armor and bounce off barriers. Dretphi tenses herself and strains to slide her feet closer towards cover. Each hit shakes and rocks her. The barriers grow more visible and cracks form. Rounds contact Dretphi's helmet and throw her off balance. Cracks spider over most of the plates. The bullets stop. Bach's voice booms out into the courtyard. "OVER HERE! GOVERNMENT SURPLUS!"

Bach stands out from cover, eyes brilliantly glowing blue under his visor. His voice blares from the magical energy covering his respirator. "EAT PLASMA SHIT!"

The magically modified plasma pistol overflows with energy. Bach levels his aim at a spot on the robot. A powerful ball of concentrated energy vibrates inside the device with a whine rising from the background din. Bach pulls the trigger. The blazing white bolt screams out, and the recoil jerks Bach's arms up in the air, stumbling back. The robot curls the cannon arm up to shield itself. The bolt drops low, and rockets up to the minigun. A faint line of magical thread flickers into existence behind the powerful orb, leading back to the pistol. In the explosive swell of heat and energy, the force slams the minigun arm away and yanks the robot off balance. Metallic screech echoes out. The minigun halts, drive motor straining in vain. Sebastian sets down next to Dretphi and frantically motions her to cover. "It's distracted! RUN for it! I'll keep an eye on it for you."

Summoning all her willpower, she forces herself up, sweeps Cideeda into her arms, and sprints over to Aristespha and Sotalia. Sebastian hovers overhead, keeping sight off the robot. A smoking power cell drops from Bach's pistol, and he reaches into his duster for another. A surge of confidence drives a manic grin on his face. "Thought you were a badass! Huh!"

The robot stabilizes itself. The seized minigun drive motor struggles and groans. Bach pats around and retrieves another cell. "Don't worry, fucker. I got seconds for you-"

A familiar low rumbling vibrates through the area. Bach's wide blue eyes shine through his visor and hint at stunned shock. The robot levels its glowing cannon arm towards Bach. A plasma ball flares out. Bach drops everything, throws his arms out, and braces. A network of magical energy spreads out in front of him and solidifies with a golden fill. As the energy field grows towards the ground, the plasma ball crashes into the shield and explodes. The shield smashes into Bach, and his boots grind upon the battered pavement. The golden field crackles to full opacity. Plasma leaks burst forth through the cracks. A loud shatter rings out, and the magical barrier fragments into hundreds of shards. A concussive wave of blue-white plasma washes over. Bach flies backwards towards a concrete wall, and slams solidly with a dull thud. Sliding into a limp heap on the pavement below, smoke rises from his armor and clothing. Sebastian pupils shrink to mere dots as horror drenches his face. "Bach? Bach! BACH! OH GODS! BACH! NO!"

Sebastian's visage tries to fly over, and Aristespha seizes him with a hand, staring at him with glowing violet eyes. Sebastian sputters frantically. "What?! I gotta get over there and check on him!"

Aristespha fiercely glares and growls intensely. "It. Still. Targets. You. It may fire at you and near Bach! Calm down and THINK!"

Sotalia crests her golden eyes over the top of cover, glowers at the robot, and starts moving her hands to cast. Aristespha's other hand firmly snatches Sotalia by the collar of her cloak and yanks her back down. "Don't you fucking dare! I know it's hard. But, we need to lay low long enough to figure a way to get to him."

Grabbing hold of Aristespha arm, Sotalia glares back at Aristespha and slowly breathes. With each breath, her grip loosens until she lowers her head and wipes her eyes. "Gods, dammit. Okay. Sorry..."

Slowly lifting his head above the barrier, Sebastian watches the robot. The military machine waits patiently, the cannon arm pointing at Bach. Sebastian sighs with an ethereal echo. "Yeah... It still is targeting me. I don't think it has figured out that bullets don't work on me. I'll distract it. Get it to aim somewhere else. And, Sotalia, you go and at least drag Bach to cover."

Sotalia nods firmly and readies herself near the edge of the barrier. "Sounds good. Let me know when to run for it."

Sebastian darts out, mimicking a sprint to another pile of debris. The robot's head swings over and locks on to the new target. Peers over the top of the debris pile, Sebastian mumbles to himself. "Good... Pay attention to me, you bastard. Just long enough so we can get over to Bach-"

He squints over to a now empty spot. Sotalia peeks out, notices Sebastian gawking in utter confusion to the building wall that Bach ISN'T at. A distorted voice sounds out over the phones. "OWWW! Gods dammit, that hurt. I'm sorry. I didn't want to do anything when it was aiming right at me. Ow. Shit."

Ducking back down behind the protective barrier, Sotalia smiles firmly. "Damn you, asshole! You had us scared."

Aristespha lifts up her phone and sighs with a happier tint. "It's okay. Good call. I've got to treat the grazes on Cideeda, so she can move enough. Stay there for now."

Sebastian's visage reforms next to Aristespha, sheer joy in his face. "Bro, I know I seem like some kind of ghost, but my heart really didn't need THAT. Apart from pain, anything else wrong?"

Bach pats down another smoldering spot on his duster and winces when he slides up on the back of the concrete barrier. "Not really. Well, some burns. Sore back and ass. And, another shirt ruined."

Cideeda vocally eye rolls over the radio. "Oh? Sore back and ass?"

Bach sighs sarcastically. "Sorry. Forgot about that with all the plasma in my face."

In the lull of combat, the robot reaches over with its other arm and grips the barrel assembly with a mechanical hand. It sharply torques the weapon and rough metal grinds out. Sotalia slides her head from the side of the barrier, squints, and raises an eyebrow. "What is it doing?"

Flicking her furry ears to the noise, Cideeda crawls out enough to peer around the other side. Aristespha scoots along with her and continues treating her injuries. Cideeda narrows her stare and frowns. "Shit. It's trying to unjam that minigun. Figures this thing would be smart enough to know how to do field repairs."

Sebastian rubs his transparent temples and grumbles as he thinks out loud. "Okay. Let's all hit it hard at once. Hopefully, that will occupy it long enough, so we can get to the woods. I'll see how long I can distract it-"

A sharp, metallic crack shoots through the courtyard and the echoes bounce between the hard surfaces. An electrical groan of a motor follows, and an ominous cyclic scrape of steel shrieks, growing faster with each second. Bach's voice filters in through the radio. "Dammit! It must have broke the heat weld that plasma hit did. It's-"


The robot marches forward. Each footfall thumps solidly. Both arms aim ahead. The minigun fights friction to spin and achieves a threatening speed. A glow pulsates the inside barrel of the cannon. Sebastian pops his head over the top of cover and drops back down. He solemnly exchanges glances with everyone and desperately searches himself for a plan, a route, or a solution. Cideeda winces, gritting her sharp teeth, and covers her furry ears. "The hell is that noise?!"

Sotalia blinks blankly and snaps her confused glance at Aristespha. "Do you feel that?"

Dretphi feels the ground, waits, and furrows a puzzled brow. "It stopped walking?"

The crackling white noise surges out from the background and drastically pitches to a high piercing shrill. Upon a wave of excitement, Sebastian flashes a manic grin with his eyes fully open. "HE. CAST. IT!"

Heads peek out from the barrier. Bach stands behind his barrier, faint wisp of smolder drifting off his outfit. He struggles to maintain both his arms out his hands together as a half meter spherical maelstrom of visual white noise swirls chaotically in front of his palms. Wind vortexes around the orb as countless streams of magical energy pour into it. Bach's eyes spotlight blue through his visor, and veins of magic flow brilliantly in and around. The robot slowly turns its head at Bach, and spots the orb. Tensing his body, Bach draws his hands back. The orb jets at the robot, leaving hazy streams of magical energy in the wake. The robot leans away from the attack and raises its cannon arm to block. The orb adjusts course and contacts the upper arm. An explosive burst of fine powder and vapor billows out into a particle cloud around where the upper arm WAS. The forearm with cannon crashes out of the mist. The orb tunnels through the cloud, smaller. It sharply turns straight into the robot's chest. A plume of particulate mass blasts out, and the orb burrows into the machine. A heavy fog of vaporized material floods the air as it violently ejects out the gaping hole.

The courtyard silences. The robot remains still. A small pin point of daylight pierces out the center of the fresh, deep conical void inside the robot's chest. Bach's eyes dim, and he catches himself along the top of the barrier. He whispers to himself. "Please be dead."

Sotalia gawks at the scene before her. Aristespha slowly rotates her head to Sebastian and stares thoughtfully at him. "I can see why that spell was prohibited."

Sebastian beams with pride and casually shrugs. Cideeda drops her smile. "I hear something! It's not done yet!"

Everyone drops back to hiding. Bach slides down the back of the barrier. "Gods dammit! I'm sorry... I thought that'd get it."

Cideeda curls a lip as her mind processes the numerous noises coming from the robot now. "Don't be sorry! That hurt it A LOT. It's NOT doing well."

The robot struggles with its footing. The minigun spins up and the arm sweeps erratically for a target. Wisps of smoke vent out from the massive hole in the chest of the machine. Each struggling, sluggish action fans more haze out. Nodding thoughtfully, Sebastian watches the monstrosity barely stand. "Yeah, it's still a threat. But, it just might be one we can deal with."

Studying the robot, Dretphi squints her steely gray eyes through her full face visor, and growls in thought. "It is compensating. Better with each second."

Sebastian sighs with a trailing grumble. "Damn. We've already risked too much. I want to put this thing down hard, with as little risk to us. That minigun may still be functional."

Cideeda edges around the side of the barrier and spots the plastic mesh bag. Reaches into a pocket, she retrieves the remote control. She flips up a guarded switch and a green light blinks on the device. A second later, the light stops blinking and remains solid green. A sly, toothy smile grows upon her light brown face, and she hoists the remote control to Sebastian. "The explosives are still alive..."

A sinister glint sparks in her emerald eyes. "There's also a big gaping hole to put them in."

Sebastian points to Cideeda, and he furrows his brow as his mind pieces together a plan. "Okay... We need to get it there."

Dretphi holds her hand up. "I can run it in. Unfortunately, a few hits is all I can take. Magical barriers are worn."

Nodding, Sebastian takes a deep breath in. "Okay. I don't know if it will fall for me again. And... That will only work for so long. Dear, can you immobilize it with your magic?"

Aristespha contorts her ivory face as she deliberates. "Maybe for a few seconds? That spell was never meant to restrain machinery, even damaged. It could easily overpower me, eventually."

Bach listens to the discussion over the radio. Straining to lift himself up, he manages to place his back against the cold concrete of the barrier. Blinking in thought, he searches around his head at scattering of ideas and pounders out loud. "Polymer muscles. Cideeda. You said polymer muscles, right?"

Cideeda's voice crackles on the radio. "Yes? It does have them, I saw a few strands hanging out of the cut forearm. Why?"

Squinting at distant memory, Back cocks his head, focusing from a daze. "They have a freezing point, right? Or, something like they stop working right after a certain temperature? I remember that from a series I watched..."

Cideeda eagerly grins, showing her pronounced canines, at Sotalia. "How cold can your freeze spell get?"

Thinking for a moment, Sotalia laughs darkly with a swell of confidence. Cideeda chuckles. "We'll probably have a minute before it turns on the internal heaters, but it should work."

Sebastian nods slowly as the plan solidifies. "I'll distract. Aristespha will hold it down long enough for Sotalia to freeze it. Dretphi runs, snatches the bomb, and plants it inside. Cideeda triggers it. Bro, just sit back for now."

Bach's voice distorts over the radio. "Will do. I hope this works. I really don't want to look that far up my sleeve for cards at this point."

The robot sweeps its minigun side to side, seeking a target. The arm steadies more with each pass. Shuddering and stuttering in each motion, the head scans. Sparks sputter and bounce out of the hole. Sebastian runs out from cover. The robot's head tracks, the minigun swings out, and a roar of fire spews forth. Mass peppers the area around. Sebastian mimics a sprint, dramatically exaggerating dodges and dive rolls. "Oh no! I'm all in the open! What will I do!"

Rising up, Aristespha eyes glare radiant violet at the robot. She precisely gestures her arms and perfectly calls out her incantations, ending with a wide swing forward of both arms. A massive wave of energy speeds to the robot, impacts, and engulfs the damaged machine. The robot strains against the constricting, immobilizing energy enveloping it. Aristespha's body shakes, and she flows a surge of her power into the spell. "Now!"

Sotalia hops out the barrier and flings her cloak off to the side. Planting her boots, she gestures her arms quickly in front of her and yells out incantations at a feverish pace. Her eyes flare golden. The maelstrom of magical energy flows around her body, condensing into a point between her hands. The runic markings on her arms shine brightly, burn out, and wisp into the air. Wind gusts into the growing clear liquid orb in front of her, and waves of heat thrust behind her. The whites of Sotalia's eyes blacken around bright golden light. Shoving her hands forward, a guiding stream of energy spirals out to the robot, and a torrent of liquid deluges the machine. The clear liquid boils off upon contact with the metal beast and dryly steams. With each passing moment, less vents away and slip into roiling pools. An ear to ear grin shines on Sotalia, and she directs the stream to each part of the machine's body.

The stream cuts off. The frost coated and iced locked robot remains motionless. Stumbling to a knee, Sotalia rolls back behind the barrier, while Aristespha relaxes her hold on the bot. Dretphi tears out into a full sprint, straight for the plastic mesh bag. She coasts across the surface of the terrain, guides herself near the bag, and sweeps it cleanly from the ground. Powering on at full speed at the robot, she springs up to a jump and climbs onto the chest of the metal beast. The robot's head turns to meet the visor-covered face. Dretphi bares her teeth in a menacing grin, and drills an icy glare into the optics of the robot. Maintaining eye contact, she rams the bag upside the robot, shaking it violently from the force. Dretphi kicks off with both feet, sticks the landing, and sprints to safety. The tipped machine topples over stiffly onto the pavement of the courtyard. Sliding around the side, Dretphi swings herself behind the barrier, and Aristespha drops down.

Cideeda disengages the main safety of the remote control and yells out. "ONE!"

The frost begins to fade from the robot in a loud electric hum. Cideeda clicks the trigger, and a yellow light illuminates. "TWO!"

The robot slowly elevates its upper body up to a sitting position. Cideeda clicks the trigger again, and a red light flickers to life. "THREE!"

The head of the robot dips forward and examines the new filler within its chest hole. It pauses briefly. It lifts its head back up and long beeps once. Cideeda clicks the trigger.

The chest of the robot shatters and erupts out in a loud kaboom. Ammunition cooks off in a cacophony of thousands of cracks and riddles the rigid backpack unit full of holes. A loud piercing snap echoes in the area. Jets of plasma erupt from any open from a power core. A shockwave blasts across the ground and thunderously rattles the courtyard. A massive plume of plasma savagely vents up into the air, fading into the windy sky above.

Silence looms over the landscape. Fresh smolders drift up from the blackened crater in the courtyard pavement. Dissipating trails of smoke waft up from the larger bits of the robot in new, interesting locations. The last broken chunk of glass in the area drops out of its frame and shatters crisply. A strange whistle overhead grows louder with each moment. The head of the robot collides with the pavement and bounces poorly to a roll.

Sebastian floats up above and surveys the destruction. Hovering up higher, he scans the greater surrounding area and releases an ethereal sigh of relief. "Yeah... Think it's fucking dead this time!"