Armageddon – 4.03

Porter, flying past the others to the front of the wind carrying them skyward, held out Hasami’s sword. That wind rushed in his ears as the broadside of the ship sped towards him.

He broke through the hull. His sword tore through the shield and into the metal, punching a hole which the wind widened, sucking in the others. The entire ship turned on its axis with the impact.

Porter crashed into the walls of the hall where they’d penetrated. The spell girl and Smith landed as well, with Babba the only one hitting her feet. She sent bolts of lightning down the dark corridors, the flash of light showing armed androids sputter and drop dead.

The environment is hostile, Porter thought. “We need to find the control deck, Smith?”

The gaunt man replied. “That would be the place to gain control, yes!”

“I’ll find the way,” the spell girl told them. She threw out a handful of marbles which bounced along the floor and set rolling in the opposite direction they should have. With the ship tilting and turning, balance was hard to keep, but they still got running. Babba kept the lead.

“Hey!” a male voice came from behind them. Porter was at the back and quickly turned to see, running out of the dark, an Eidolon. He was young, his helmet missing and a gun in his hands. His face had black fluid on it. He illuminated them with a shoulder lamp. “Aku is in the system,” he said, catching up. As he spoke, what sounded like a gunshot echoed down the hall. “The core is set to meltdown. Everyone’s getting to the escape pods, sirs. They can still be manually launched.”

“If this ship goes nuclear, we lose.” Porter pushed Smith to keep moving as Babba started back leading. “You’re with us, now!”

Red lights lit down the corridor, a horrible siren beginning to blare.

We don’t have time. We won’t be able to save the ship and the Eidolons.

The ship was massive. They’d pierced it closer to the front than the back, but it would still take time. Porter kept the rear as cracks of lightning felled more machines ahead. He felt how lightly he stepped, as he went. He realized, they were still descending.

If the ship was going to hit the ground, he thought, they’d be lucky to get it back up again. Going fast enough, the impact would wipe everyone out.

Babba hit a door she couldn’t knock down. The soldier ran up to the thick steel gate’s keypad. He punched in a code.

“SCREEEEEEEEEEE!” the intercom screamed.

“Jesus,” he swore, shooting a hole through the speaker.

Porter moved for the door, fixing his eyes its surface. He sped up, hitting with his hands before bringing his head at full force into it.

“Goddammit,” the soldier cursed again, jumping out of his way.

Porter bashed his head against the metal again, putting a dent deep enough to work his hands into the surface. He breached in and ripped the doors apart, blowing out the hydraulics in the walls.

Smith and the girl ducked under his arms as he pushed. They rushed in. The main deck of the ship, a massive glass wall before a long walkway and rows of terminals, a number with corpses seated. They climbed up to the captain’s station, pushing his body out of their working space. Smith cracked out a drawing implement, speaking quickly to the girl. He needed her to amplify the area of effect.

Porter walked slowly onto the deck, regaining his bearings. His saw red that wasn’t there, shook his head to clear it. As he looked up and out the glass for the Martian sky, he shouted, “Brace!”

It was the surface flying towards them, the ship tilted face down. The gravity engine had fooled him. Rushing towards the glass was the valley a half mile down. He saw the dragon take flight, out of the safety of the shield they’d erected, only to be swarmed by drones.

He heard a crash, sensed a metaphysical snap.

The ship’s power completely died. Every light went out, the reactor meltdown ceased. He looked back, not seeing Babba but seeing Smith, who raised his fist triumphantly, only for his eyes to widen in horror. Porter followed his line of sight, over his should and back to the glass.

Red rock flew to meet the ship head on.

O

Kyle’s eyes opened, too blurry to see. He startled back into consciousness, his waking mind hit with icy hot pain lancing up his spine.

He rubbed sweat drenched blond hair from his eyes. He grasped at the top latch of his suit, snapping it open trying to free up his chest. He tried to breathe, but everything was wrong.

As he opened his suit, he caught a glimpse of his shaking hand. Where the interconnected circles had been, the skin and meat were tattered.

“Oh man.” He looked to his left, across the rocks. The legs of one of the Beaulieu brothers were dashed against them, severed by laser fire. “Oh, dear.” He could hear somewhere nearby, the other brother was screaming.

Kyle’s eyes cleared enough to look up at the sky. The ship which had taken them down was falling nose first towards the ground. A hurricane of wind was suddenly encircling it. A speck of a woman in the sky pushed the wind, sending the entire thing off course, in his direction.

He rolled over, trying to crawl. He let out a shout of pain.

Watching it come down, he thought of Jillian.

O

Porter stumbled out. The whole world was on its head as the gravity changed in his inner ear. The ship had turned over on its back after hitting. Babba had steered them away from the Utopians, slowing their descent. He’d not been crushed in the wreckage because of her.

Wherever she is.

He stepped down from an outcropping of rock, coming to an overlook.

The Utopians were in the valley, still holding against the onslaught of drones.

“Help!” a voice called.

He turned back, running into the mouth of the wreckage. They, Porter and the girl, dragged out the body of Master Smith, pulling him until Porter stopped.

Fuck, he realized. This is screwed.

“Smith’s dead,” he told her, letting go.

“There’s a… healer in the valley,” she said, catching her breath. “She can resurrect someone shortly after death. The brain, it stays active…”

He shook his head. “No. You saw his ritual for separating the ship’s essence from Aku, didn’t you? We’ve got to get you into space.” Porter craned his head up, trying to figure out the problem. “We’ve gotta… get Aku out of their system, before things get worse. We need control.”

The ships were a shadow in the firmament.

“Oh, my God,” she realized, letting go of Smith. “He’s dead. I have to do it?”

“Yes!” Porter snapped. “What’s your name?”

“Wanda,” she answered.

“Where’s that soldier?” He brought his attention back to ground level.

“He has to be inside,” Wanda knew.

Porter ran back into the dark interior of the captain’s deck. He found him, trapped beneath a detached computer console, against the upturned wall. Porter tossed aside the console and pulled him up. “Clyde,” he said, finding his name. He shook the Eidolon by the shoulders.

“Fuck… my arm! Sir?” he answered, coming to, pulling off Porter’s grip. He stood by himself, grabbing his broken bone. “What are we doing?”

“We still need to get into orbit,” Porter told him. “Where’s the hangar?”

Clyde looked back down the crushed ship interior. “I know the way if it’s clear.”

“I can make it clear.” He started ahead, rending metal. “Come on!”

They went quickly with him at the helm. He tore through anything in their way. They came to the hangar bay doors after a few minutes, Porter pushing through them. Immediately they saw a problem.

The small crafts were tossed about the hangar, on their sides piled at the back wall.

Porter caught his breath, sizing up the problem.

The heap of ships couldn’t be flown like this.

I’m going to have to He-Man it.

“We can do it,” Porter told them. He walked up to the top of the pile and grabbed hold. “Get in the cockpit, soldier.”

Clyde ran up the mound and pushed up onto the top ship’s wing. He popped the hatch and jumped in, starting the engine.

“When I get you level, go for a vertical takeoff.” He braced and lifted.

The metal under his feet bent as he raised the backside of the jet.

Porter groaned. He flipped his hands, bringing the ship to chest height, trying to work his way underneath. He had to get it up, he had to get it over his head. He tapped his power and dug deep to push himself.

“Now!”

The underside thrusters kicked on. A blast of heat hit Porter. His suit was melting he could feel, but he could take it.

Nothing can hurt me, he told himself.

“Give it some more!” he roared, stepping fully under the many ton ship and extending it high over his head.

Finally, the weight was relieved. It lifted, floating to put some distance between them. Porter stepped down, his blue suit charred black. He rubbed his scorched face.

Clyde set the ship to hover, stepping out onto the wing. “There are only two seats,” he said. “That’s all I’m good for, sir. Good luck.”

Porter let Wanda go first, jumping from a peak on the pile to the jet’s wing.

“Join the fight, Clyde. Find the other Eidolons,” he ordered.

Clyde nodded, still holding his arm. “Yes, sir.”

Porter climbed on, Clyde hitting the ground. He didn’t look back as he slid into the pilot’s seat. Wanda was already in as the hatch came down and pressurized.

The jet thrusted up and out of the wide-open doors of the hangar bay. Immediately as they came out into the smoky sky, a swarm of drones broke away from over the valley. A black cloud from the remaining assault.

Aku was ready to take them down.

Porter buckled in, taking the controls, bringing up the display.

“It’s been years since I’ve flown,” he said to Wanda. “But I try not to rattle.”

“Yes, Master,” she replied, catching a glimpse of the swarm approaching as they turned. Her breath hitched. “Don’t rattle,” she repeated.

“Man the guns,” he ordered her.

“I know.”

“I know you know.” Don’t rattle. He was in control.

The approaching drones fired out a rain of red beams.

“Here we go!”

Porter punched the throttle, turned on the shields and piercing the swarm’s mass. The spheres broke against them, bouncing off. Cracks formed in the cockpit glass with the impacts. The jet’s guns blasted in his ears.

The drones had perfect turning ability, instantly on their tail again as they broke through the machine’s front. But Porter knew what these ships were made for, what they had over the drones.

Speed.

He kicked it up, driving his head back into the seat.

They left the drones behind. Their fire damaged the ship’s wings as they ascended, but the shields held. The air outside thinned as they accelerated into the vacuum.

“Easy,” he said, putting on a grin.

“I guess so…”

The armada became clear over the planet, sitting dead in the water.

Now in the emptiness of space, he could make out something he’d missed from the surface. Squadrons of unmanned fighters which rocketed between the ships. They took formation as he left Mars behind, climbing high into orbit where the ships hung still in the sky. It was a trap.

Porters grimaced. The squadrons closed in.

“Wanda… man the guns.”

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Armageddon – 4.02

Kyle watched some of the students file back behind the stage and into another room. He’d heard something about food. He was among those too unsettled to leave their seats. Students with their heads down in their hands. A row ahead of him, a girl’s shoulders went up and down silently. She had messy black hair.

Just looking at the faces he could see, everyone was fucked up by this.

Kyle couldn’t tell himself he wasn’t rattled, though. It’d be a lie. He’d started out in all this shit looking for a way to cope, maybe even to bring back Jillian. He couldn’t comprehend the total loss the Utopians had just suffered, but he also couldn’t really bring himself to be surprised. He just wasn’t that kind of person.

What’s my next step?

The Ouroboros was up by the Masters, who were plotting. He turned around and sat down on the edge of the stage, crossing his arms. Where was the sickle he’d come in with? Kyle wondered. More so, why is he staring at me?

Professor Cobb kept glancing at the being. He was fascinated. He followed its line of sight to Kyle, who sat back with his helmet in his lap. Cobb frowned.

Kyle didn’t react. He was a little burned out, really. Consequence of being jacked up to an android for several hours looking for Doran. His eyes were blurry and his mind hazy.

Suddenly, the Sanctuary doors swung open. Porter?

In came a man with tattered clothes hanging off his emaciated frame. He looked around, taking in the room, before coming to sit on the same pew seat as Kyle. He looked, wide-eyed at the Ouroboros, before following their gaze right back to Kyle, who noticed his eyes weren’t wide, but that the lids were missing.

“As I have foretold,” they said, raspy.

“Did you?…” Kyle looked him over. “Did you come out of the rubble?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I studied under Master Laird. He died.”

“Not you, though? Master Babba tossed the mountains.”

The Lidless man only stared in response. Obviously, he knew that.

Kyle sat back, looking away but quickly finding his eyes locked with the Ouroboros. He got sick of it.

He stood up and excused himself to the back room.

It was a kitchen. People stood around, many sitting on the floor. Lanterns had been set out, casting dense shadows. He could see a young man eating a sandwich at the steel counter. He seemed apathetic to the other person sitting shaking on the floor by their feet.

Kyle was a psychologist. He really thought that he should be talking to some of these people. Out of everyone at the Monastery, only more than a hundred remained. They had to function, too. Everyone had lost someone.

He saw his hands bash the stainless countertop, denting it. The man eating his sandwich didn’t look up.

Kyle slowly exhaled. Anger is not my… master, he remembered.

“Fuck my shit right up,” he said, looking at his aching hands.

“We’re gonna move soon,” the sandwich guy spoke. He kicked the one by his leg.

“R-right,” they ratified.

Kyle recognized them. He’d studied associated files earlier in the day. “Beaulieu’s?”

The young man nodded. “What’s left.”

“You lost someone?” he asked, instincts getting the better of him.

“Our brother,” the one on the floor answered.

Kyle stood in silence for a moment. He had an idea, but he wasn’t sure. On a psychological level, it would feel irreverent. He’d read their file. “You’re a… Gestalt?” he said.

“It’s like a mirror… light,” the standing one answered. “I don’t know. Catherine knows.” He looked at the half-eaten sandwich in his hand. He saw a sink across the room and threw it, hitting the wall above. “How the fuck did this happen?”

He felt the answer was better left unsaid. “You amplify the power between you,” he explained. “Why didn’t you ever expand the circuit?”

The Beaulieu brother grimaced.

“I…” Kyle started, “why don’t you let me shore up the circuit? You’re used to a triune power hierarchy. I’m willing to guess it’s not going to work, maybe at all, without that structure.”

The Beaulieu’s made no move.

“We deploy…” he looked at his wrist, where Aku would have the information on his mind. An automatic response. The dark screen was barely visible in the light. “…soon.”

Still, no answer.

Just a little push. Don’t assert yourself.

“Come on, let’s get it set up with your sister?”

Finally, he nodded.

Okay, now we get working.

O

Porter hit the doors moving. He had a white-knuckle grip on the katana in his hand.

The Ouroboros sat up, starting towards him. They met in the middle of the aisle, the Ouroboros asking him. “You’re now ready?”

He was. “We need to gather forces as fast as possible before Aku can mobilize their network. Come on!” He called.

Cobb retorted, “We were waiting for you, Porter.”

He ignored him as they went for the doors. All the students, who’d been grouping amongst themselves, quickly picked up. Many of them were in casual clothes. They weren’t prepared. One student, clad in massive spiked red-steel armor, was clearly uncomfortable. Everyone had to go, though.

Kyle went with the crowd out the door and into the cold. They were a bunch of college students in street clothes, for the most part, about to fight in space.

Somehow.

Porter was in the lead, the Masters quickly backing him up. He waved his hand, setting the portal for the Martian surface, the red planet.

Over the heads in front of him, Kyle could see a ruddy rock valley and twilight sky above. Catherine was next to him, holding his hand palm up and reading from a notebook in her other. She was introducing him to the circuit. His arm was tingly as fuck.

They passed through the portal. Kyle knew he was ready.

The students quickly spread out as the sky came into view. The blue sky of a Martian sunset. He realized the administration program had control again. And he realized he was wrong.

A swarm of spheres so dense they darkened the sky, a swarm of drones buzzed like a train in his ear. He saw as Porter charged forward. The drones were grouping in his path as he ran out of sight. Kyle looked up and through. They were gathered in the way, but he could see through. A hazy silhouette of the Martian fleet was affixed in the atmosphere, gleaming on one side with the sun.

“How is this… a plan?” he asked, pissed.

The throng moved past him and Catherine. There were a few others still preparing spells, but they were left behind as well.

A slap hit him. He turned, red-faced, to Catherine.

“We’re gonna fuck the robots up,” she growled. “That’s the plan.”

She slapped his hand a few times, trying to draw out the spell. A mark welled up on the skin, three intersecting circles. The innermost space glowed. He felt a thrumming in his chest. The two brothers had an aura appear around them, pulsing to the thrum.

Every muscle in his body vibrated. He was light headed as hell.

“You ever flown before?” one brother asked him.

“I’ve tried a few spells,” Kyle answered, swaying on his feet. He brought up his helmet from under his arm. The visor wouldn’t work. He threw it aside.

“It’s wide open,” the younger brother said, the one who’d been on the floor earlier.

“Come on!” the other launched, followed by the younger.

They disappeared into the sky. It was lit up by laser fire. The drone swarm was going crazy, beyond the canyon they were in, and down to the valley where most the fighting was happening. He could feel how tough he was. Several protective spells were on him. It was hell up there, though.

Kyle took a breath. In with the air came lightness, then speed.

He launched. He found his way to the Beaulieu brothers in the sky, lasers glancing off him. They were racing through the air, tearing through the orbs.

He took in the landscape. The colonized Martian world was dotted with greenery. Every machine on the planet was buzzing in the air. The Eidolon were tearing up the ground fighting. In the distance, several smaller cities were melted. The drones and small crafts attacking were being put down. This was no military response.

Then, he saw it.

Lowering down from orbit was one of the Martian ships. It was joining the fight?

Kyle tried moving forward, putting his hands out and bashing one of the drones out of the air. A dragon, a literal dragon, was roaring somewhere. It was all too much to take in.

The Martian ship bared its canons. The massive guns glowed hot. They took aim at the sky and ground as the ship continued to drop quickly. It wasn’t stopping.

Canons fired at them.

O

Porter was in the valley. Trees were flattened by the dragon to his right, tumbling over them and breathing lightning. He’d lost sight of the Ouroboros. Cobb was with him.

The flurry of drones was almost too thick to see through. They’d built shields overhead, but some were slipping through.

Wulff grabbed O’Reilly by the shoulder and shouted something in his ear, over the chaos. They didn’t have long, here. He had Smith at his side. He was the only one which could use magic to purge Aku from the fleet’s systems. They needed to get him up.

Porter craned his head to see the ship above.

Or bring them down, he thought.

That same ship opened fire. O’Reilly and Miller, with the help of the students, quickly fortified the shield. Each of them devoted themselves to that task, setting up a human ring. It wasn’t a pretty tactic, all of them shouting in a circle.

This had been the best their portal could do. They only had one option, now.

“Smith, Babba, you’re with me. We need!” he looked over the crowd. He traced back the weak fortification spell that was on him to a girl crouching by a fallen tree. “You! You’re coming with us!” Finally, he pointed to Master Babba. “We need to get on that ship. We need to go up.

She nodded. The Elementalist planted her feet. All of them braced as the ground shot like a piston. Once they were up and into the hailstorm, a torrent grabbed them. Babba was the only one upright. Porter fought to stay oriented as the wind carried them.

He righted himself, seeing their destination approach. The black, monolithic ship drew closer. He pushed ahead of the others, willing himself forward. They needed a way in.

Porter was going to make that way.

Armageddon – 4.01

Porter and the Ouroboros came into the Sanctuary. The portal had opened into the cold, onto carven stone pathways leading up to open glass doors. To their back, the Ouroboros glanced, the pathways ended in a drop. The mountain had been rent, tossed away into the fog which rolled over the jagged ruins. Much of this place had been destroyed.

“They wouldn’t listen to me,” Porter said as they reached the doors.

Passing inside they saw the Sanctuary had been structured to look much like a traditional sanctuary, with pews and a stage. Mostly standing crowds of people had gathered. The Ouroboros recognized many them from his binding. That insult.

It would have to wait.

All the magi were suited and anxious. Their eyes fixed on Porter and the monster.

Wulff was sitting at the edge of a table on the stage. “You think you’re taking charge,” he said, jumping down into the aisle. “But you’re hurting the situation.”

Porter started to speak.

Wulff cut him off. “I knew his binding would break, I know this is advantageous for us. But self-determined action is not what we need right now. Now that the Abbot is dead, I’m at the center of the information loop. You go through me, please.”

Porter stopped as Wulff was in his way. “First, I appreciate you not being an ass about it. Second, I’ll act when there’s no time. I made that binding, I knew how fast it was going down.” He stepped around and went up to the stage and table.

The Ouroboros was left staring at Wulff, who immediately stepped to the side.

The remaining Masters surrounded the table, sitting in fold-out chairs. The Ouroboros could know their names; Cobb, O’Reilly, Miller, Babba, Wulff, Porter, and Smith. They watched the being perch on the stage’s edge and count their heads.

This force is not enough, he thought.

Cobb immediately asked Porter what he was thinking, what he had in mind now. He didn’t get the chance to answer.

The Ouroboros jumped up and put his hand down on the table. “I am no weapon of yours. You may count me your ally in common cause, but the law is what I deal. In my strength, you find I am now leading.”

They watched him. They didn’t have a response.

Timidly, a middle-aged woman with black bowl cut said, “Right now, we need to gather our forces. Would you happen to know anything about the most recent positioning of the Utopian fleets? No?” Babba quirked a thick eyebrow.

He made no show of emotion, though it was annoying. She thought she was clever. “Gather your forces, but you have no idea what is necessary. This broken vain chapel to dreams is fallen. We go to nature.”

“As a…” Miller puzzled. “As a symbolic measure?”

Smith worked it out. “It’s to say our side is most natural. It is a moral argument, yes?”

“The fight will be about truth,” Ouroboros confirmed. “Aziacht has set from eternity the three answers against each other. Faith, death, and acceptance to find truth. The question is absurd.”

“That’s fucked,” O’Reilly commented. “But yes, nature.”

“The glass valley,” Babba told them. “Water and stone. I preserved it when I tossed the mountains to destroy the machines.”

“Killed so many people,” Miller spoke, dead serious.

Wulff interjected, offended. “There were nukes in the bay. I demanded Master Babba act when I sensed your deaths. You wouldn’t know this, but we made away with the absolute best case scenario because of me, Miller.”

She looked away. Indignant.

Porter still hadn’t sat. He looked over the students gathered and listening in the pews. Many of them rested their heads forward. What hour was it?

“Hasami?” he called out.

A skinny girl with a mop of black, frizzy hair looked up. Beside her two young men sat, despondent. “He didn’t show up,” she said. “Everybody from the airlock brake hasn’t been recovered yet.”

“He didn’t go,” a young, blond man, Kyle, said. “He was in the city.”

“No,” Porter told him. “I…” He’d prepared the Monastery, trying to warn them and getting Wulff to help save what they could. If they’d listened it wouldn’t have taken so damn long… But, he couldn’t have forgotten Hasami? There hadn’t been a lot of time. “Christ.”

The Ouroboros watched displeased as Porter’s focus ran away.

“Our primary threat,” Wulff said, pulling things back on track, “is Aku.”

“Completely,” Cobb agreed.

“As I understand, it will take some time for Aziacht to muster his forces. We should do the same. We need to check for survivors and-”

“No,” Ouroboros raised a hand. “You’ve just said what you need do.”

“He’s right.” Porter rubbed at his face and pulled himself back. “We can check for civilian survivors when all’s done. Right now, we don’t even have the space to house and feed them. The grid is still largely online and hostile, yeah?”

Smith nodded.

“Then our immediate mission is to take down Aku. You’re right.” Wulff had avoided the obvious, but Porter was right. What few survivors there were would probably die from the elements. There was nothing they could do about that. “We should focus all our effort on recovering the Martian Armada.”

“Why the Martian?” Babba asked. “Why not the Saturn Dreadnaught?”

“Saturn was taken down,” Master Smith explained. “Taggart is the only reason the Martian fleet would still be operational. If it is.”

Taggart? Ouroboros thought. He reached into the thought association. It connected to an idea they shared, which reached back to reality. Memetic information.

Taggart was the Martian Sentinel, second only to Sebastian in station.

Porter abruptly left. He headed down the aisle, out the doors and to the makeshift portal that had been erected. Wulff sighed. “So, we’re agreed? The Red Armada?” he questioned.

“Aye,” they assented.

The Ouroboros stayed silent. He feared none of this would matter.

O

Porter stepped out of the portal. The hard, salted ground crackled underfoot. The sun above was hidden behind an ash cloud. He looked ahead at the towering, sweeping mounds of metal. He was so many miles out, just to get a good look at them. The cities had melted and warped into twisted, inhuman shapes. Alien.

He looked to his back, where so many more miles away the forest began and quickly rose to the snowy mountains. The air was dry and windy, quickly cooling under the dark of the rumbling black clouds. Occasional lightning flashes lit up the metal in the cities.

Kendall, he wondered momentarily. Knowing him, he made it out just fine.

Hasami, though. Porter looked on the melted cities. Was he somewhere in there?

Fuck not knowing. In fact, “Fuck you!” He shouted.

He couldn’t have averted this. If Doran had failed, Christopher would have just pulled the plug. Now the system was fulfilling its purpose. Aziacht, whoever the fuck he thought he was, had set this up. A test of truth to answer a question. To get a reliable answer, he knew, the system had to be free. No matter what happened next, Christopher had no power over them now.

He allowed himself to dream of what could come next.

Conscious determination of destiny is what makes us great, he thought.

He wanted to know. He reached deep and found his element. It was weakened, but it was always strong. A long time ago he’d been a different person. Afraid, silent, a thinker. His element made him who he was, now. The thing which he embodied, which he used to kill gods.

“Have I not told you?” he spoke, low. It connected him.

Now wasn’t the time. He didn’t know what would happen when he needed to pull out all the stops. He was afraid, honestly. It’s a pattern, he recognized. Frustration. For now, he’d hang on to himself. For now, he drew out what power he needed.

Porter teleported.

Covering the distance, racing over the flats and into the city. He appeared in a valley of melted and charred concrete. The still standing stone bodies of people littered what had been a street. They’d deformed but were still unmistakably human.

He’d willed the answer to his question and he saw it.

Porter walked some ways, stepping around still molten metal and the huddled bodies. Whatever had happened, it had taken more than a few moments. It hadn’t been a flash, it’d been heat. Every molecule agitated into a frenzy until the very air ignited. In the streets, he could still feel it on his skin, the warmth.

It’d only been a few hours, now.

He came into a parking lot. Up ahead the fallen space elevator began at its base and snaked over the melted mounds of buildings, blending into them. In the parking lot, the cars had fused with the asphalt. Up beside one he came to crouch and inspect a charred figure.

The figure leaned against one of the cars, sunken into its side. Stuck into the ground beside them was a preserved katana.

“How funny is it,” he asked, “that there’s no one else in these cities I even knew.” He took a knee. “I mean, I grew up here… I…” he trailed off. There’s was no point to talking. It didn’t help him. He rejected the thought of it helping himself.

He wrenched the sword from the ground and held it in his hand.

“I’ll remember,” he said. That was a good thing to say. Good enough.

With the katana in hand, Porter left.

Machina – 3.10

We covered the lot in a sprint. Ducked into the open apartment stairwell, through the building. There were only two more structures between us and our goal.

The rain was beating down harder. Fat drops broke against the crown of my head as we moved back out. There was a golden mean between timidness and recklessness. Courage. I wouldn’t have called it courage, though. That wasn’t a term I didn’t associate with.

My sense alerted me to several blue shots coming down from above in a trail of vapor. I turned to block them. Ash got behind me as I did.

The Sentinel was targeting him. He was trying to slow us down.

Keeping a watch on the sky, I needed Ash to guide me. There was water in my eyes, but I could make out the falling blue light. Though one arm was injured and both were tired, I could still block the barrage. He couldn’t beat me.

You’ll need that attitude.

One more apartment building to go.

Ash and I dashed down the hall. Up ahead I could see, back out in the storm, that a line had formed across the parking lot. A colorful lineup of Eidolons. Less than a dozen, but too many. These were the reinforcements they’d conjured to stop us, now standing in our way.

We stopped in the hall’s threshold. Ash fired from the hip once just to confirm my suspicion. A shimmer rested on each one of them. They’d gotten a Shielder.

I backed up a few feet. My mind was racing.

The Sentinel blasted down between us and them.

He held gravitas. “Stand. Down.”

“Never,” I answered. I kept backing up. Had to think of a way out.

We had one chance now. Need to bottleneck them.

“Come on, fuckers!” Ash yelled. He saw what I was doing and followed. He threw down his gun and withdrew a knife covered in hellish symbols.

Someone sent out a black smoke. A curse of death. I cut it down.

“That not going to work!” I shouted to them.

“The longer you wait,” the Sentinel growled, “the tighter the noose gets.”

They would get in more reinforcements. They would get in ships. At any moment, the only reason we had a chance was because of their restraint. He was right. They weren’t falling for it. They were standing in the rain, waiting. They would abstain from a fight and run out my clock.

I was trapped. There was only one path forward.

Into the storm.

“Stay… stay behind me, Ash.” I mustered some confidence.

“You got it.” He knew the odds.

Courage. It was necessary today.

I raised my cleaver up and ran out into the rain.

The Sentinel rocketed out of my way, shouting for them to attack.

A technicolor volley hit me. Every Eidolon threw what they had. Ice, fire, light, electricity, and shadow. But their primitive magic ended at my swords edge. They spaced out and those that had weapons brandished them. The first one came at me with a lance. I knocked up his stab and slid into my own, penetrating his gut and slicing up and out. I came back over into another’s shoulder, cleaving off the arm.

Ash would have to look out for himself.

I was hit with a blast of force. The concrete sprayed up and I went into an Eidolon and tumbling. When I was up, the seven or so remaining fighters were facing me. One had Ash face down under his boot, a sword to the back of his neck.

“I’ll kill your friend,” she warned. “Drop your sword.”

“That one?” I asked. “He’s fucked up, you know?” Quick and dirty plan.

Ash was seamless. “That’s funny, coming from you. I thought you liked men?”

“Sometimes. But don’t tell them the plan!” I shouted.

“What pl-“ The moment she was sufficiently distracted, Ash’s arms reached back, one hand knocking away her sword and the other stabbing her leg. He rolled and she crumpled. The other Eidolons were slow to react to her fall.

I threw my cleaver. It spun wildly through the air and into one of them. I rolled under a fireball and threw out my hand. The intention was clear. There was a momentary delay, but I had power over what was mine.

The blade dislodged and returned to my hand, slashing another across the face as it did. I was close enough now that I cut down the flame Elementalist on coming up. Ash was standing and killed another, stabbing him in the back.

We’d surprised them. The moment they believed they would lose, they had. And that moment came when more than half of them were dead. We’d mowed them down.

The last two ran when we’d gotten the rest.

“Doran!?” Hasami yelled. He was hurt, but he stood tall. He came out of the dark hall with his sword in hand, just now catching up. “You’re killing them,” he pleaded.

I stared back at him. I couldn’t say anything. Couldn’t doubt now. Ash started off without me, forcing me to catch up. We made it through the last building. There was an elevation of concrete and a bit of railing which we easily climbed up to another parking lot.

We’d reached it. The circular base of the space elevator.

We were so close.

O

Porter watched the digital room render. A table in the dark. Of the people still appearing, the first he recognized was Master Wulff. That old guy, Cobb. Ali was notably absent to this impromptu meeting.

The three important Magi had arrived, though. Next came the council.

Nameless ethicists, a few high council members. Everyone exchanged glances, waiting for the meeting to begin. Emergency meetings were supposed to be rapid.

The last one to arrive was a Zenith Council member. A singular man who held more sway than one-third of the rest of the council.

He looked like Santa Claus.

One of the old populists. A vote winner. A Zeitgeist, Porter thought.

On the table, a perfect hologram suddenly appeared. Doran, Porter recognized. Doran and the demon running away from a slew of bodies in a rainy lot.

“The reason for this meeting,” Aku’s monotone voice sounded. “The entities Doran and Ashmedai are on the move and dangerous. Permanent death weapons are in use. The council needs to decide on a course of action. Protocols have failed.”

Throwing Magus at it didn’t work.

“Why don’t we call in drones? Use nanites?” an Ethicist proposed.

“It’s not going to work,” Porter said.

“Truly,” Cobb agreed.

“Doran is using momentum, channeling raw sway. It’s like he’s got armor. You won’t get him with a stray bullet or a drone. He’s fucking with reality’s mechanics. Degrading natural law and strengthening metaphysical ones. Just passively. It’s a titanic ability. There’s no poetic justice in stopping him now,” Porter told them. He crossed his arms. This is what he’d known.

They didn’t know about the Primordial thing. It was about timing.

Wulff narrowed his eyes at him. “You’re proposing they’re impossible to stop?”

Porter didn’t respond.

“We could nuke them,” Wulff tested.

“You won’t and so you can’t,” Porter countered. “Same difference.”

“Gentlemen,” a councilwoman cut in. “We won’t know what measures are appropriate until we know what’s at stake? What is their motivation?”

“That’s my department.” A blond young man had appeared at the table.

“Who are you?” Cobb asked.

Aku enlightened. “Kyle, Magus.”

The young man continued. “Their apparent goal is the space elevator. That will take them up to a platform where they can access older, still functional teleports. Ones which can be manually overridden. Those teleports are short range, however. They could have only one destination in mind.”

“Jesus Christ.” Santa realized what he was saying. “Could he do it?”

Porter knew. “That machete he’s got, it’s called an Ender Blade. We don’t know how to make or break one. But I know what it can do. And the answer is yes. Absolutely.”

Kyle jumped in. “But Doran thinks he’s doing whatever he is for good reasons,” he said. “His determination is driven by conviction… And desperation.”

“Can we dismantle the lunar teleports?” Santa asked.

“I’ve cut power to both them and the elevator,” Aku informed.

Porter grimaced.

“Deploy me,” Wulff suggested. “I can control the outcome of this situation. Losing doesn’t need to be an option.”

“I vote so,” Santa agreed. The other council members were redundant. He represented such a large number of people, they couldn’t altogether overpower him.

“Why not take out the space elevator?” The same Ethicist from earlier.

A little trigger happy.

Porter told him, “it may not be staffed anymore, but if the elevator falls, it’ll wrap around the earth. The reason it’s still there is because it’s so hard to dismantle.”

“The ends justify-”

Porter cut him off. “It doesn’t matter.” None of them understood. This wasn’t about them. The Utopians were just collateral damage in all this. In an ageless machination.

He was going to get the hell out of here.

The meeting was adjourned. He was standing alone in his own apartment again. The curtains were drawn, the sound of pouring water the only thing that reached him inside. Slowly, his expression hardened. That calamity he’d wanted?

He was grimly awaiting.

They can’t see. He thought about what had to happen. The timing was now, they shouldn’t avert this thing. Utopians were arrogant in thinking they were bigger than what was going on now. He never believed in the Cause. The Omniverse was too big to make a difference in. They were complacent idiots. Mistaking outer strength for inner.

Utopians didn’t get it. Everything was going to break at the weak spot. Doran was their only hope for survival and they were trying to kill him.

Porter was out the door. He had to get to the Monastery fast.

Machina – 3.09

I’d blacked out for a moment, going limp.

Relativity, I thought. Assert one reality over another.

I’d locked into Sebastian’s eyes. A trick learned from demons. And when he looked up, with Ash holding tight onto my back, we’d accelerated at breakneck speeds. Traveling with his line of sight, letting go at the peak, we’d sailed high through the rain.

I can fly. Absolutely loved that trick.

What goes up. Not the last bit.

In the air, Ash manipulated me around. I was lightheaded, couldn’t think straight. Our arc would be harsh, our landing harsher, I knew. Suddenly, though, I understood what Ash had done. When we hit the roof of the first apartment building, I landed with him beneath me.

I rolled off onto the pebbled roof, knocking over a folding lawn chair. Somewhere distant a woman yelled. Ash was pulling his limbs back into place beside me and swearing. A brief coughing fit hit me as I stood over him. I was getting over the impact, limping a little, as I looked back over the building’s edge. The silver man, the Sentinel, jumped. Thrusters on his back spewed out red hot air, misting the asphalt with his ascension. He was seconds away.

Ash was barely up, his form still distorted. The entrance into the stairwell was almost a hundred feet off across the roof. That wouldn’t cut it.

My cleaver quickly in hand, I cut easily through the ground beneath us. Sparks erupted as I cut through powerlines and the roof caved in. We dropped through just as the Sentinel hit.

It was almost a dozen feet to the floor where I hit my knees and then side. The silver guy leaned into our hole, ready to jump down. I had a hunch about him.

I raised my blade up at him and he ducked back like I was about to fire something. Suspicion confirmed. I got to my feet with Ash and looked for a door.

He’s a Magi. Attuned enough to know to be afraid of this thing.

Ash opened the apartment’s door and held it open for me. He followed just after me, throwing one of his knives back as the door closed behind us. I caught a glimpse of it bouncing off the metal man’s head.

He’s not going to flinch at anything Ash can do.

In the hall, I could see both the stairwells at hall’s ends and the elevator.

“Can’t touch the suited fuck,” Ash quickly said. “There’s thirty heartbeats in the building. Shields for us.” He chose the direction for us, darting for the stairwell.

He’s right. The Sentinel can’t let loose. Collateral damage.

I’d seen him take out a building in the war games, I remembered. Overkill.

Ash jumped the first stairs, knocking into the rail at the bottom and then flying the next flight. I hopped the first like him but had to dive down the next.

The sentinel dropped and stopped just beyond the railing, hovering in the air past it, over the parking lot, his armor seeping with blue light. It opened for only an instant, flashing a rune on his dark-skinned chest. The magic hit me as I hit the third floor.

I tried to stand but stumbled. A sleeping spell wrapped around my neck like a millstone, pulling my face into the concrete.

My eyes were blurry, but I could see Ash with his gun up and firing at the Sentinel.

Shake it off.

Ash’s eyes widened. I knew his attack was useless.

I was vulnerable. The Sentinel was going to kill me.

My cleaver cut through a blast of energy as I rolled over, dissipating it. The Sentinel fired another, larger blast. I slashed it again, letting the crackling plasma roll off me.

“Fuck,” I groaned. I rolled behind the descending stairs as more shots hit. His shots were breaking against the concrete. They weren’t breaking through?

May be using nonlethal. I doubted it.

“Stay behind me,” I told Ash.

I was heavy on my feet, but we managed to back up down the hall with me blocking the Sentinel’s barrage.  When we got close enough to the other end of the hall and the other stairs, he boosted out of sight. He knew, he had to either get the jump on us or throw something too big to block. Right now, we were managing both his options. Good.

“Yo, faggot!” Ash fired at the stairwell after catching a glimpse of Kendall coming up.

Right. There was more than just a Sentinel, too.

Deal with it.

“Advance!” I commanded Ash.

He hurdled the stair’s railings, landing at the very base to open fire. I followed, dropping down behind him. Wind and rain washed against the back of my neck. As I came down Kendall kicked in an apartment door and escaped Ash’s shots. Black fluid dotted his path.

I was yanked backward by something amorphous wrapped around my left leg, pulling me down the stairs. Dragging my on my belly to the ground, hoisting me up, then slamming me down. I couldn’t see what it was whipping me around. I was pulled by my leg, bound to an axis and spun three hundred sixty degrees right back around into the apartment building’s walls. I was just fast enough to spin my sword and sever the line at my foot.

I scrambled to my feet, baring my teeth. I clutched my free arm to my chest. It’d taken the walls impact. It didn’t feel right.

The red substance which had grabbed ahold of my leg turned to dust when severed. The nanites dead. The line returned to the one who’d sent it.

A non-distinct Eidolon and beside him, Hasami. Both wore helmets, but I recognized the handcrafted katana he’d half drawn from its sheath.

“Hasami,” I said. “I can sense your hesitation.” The other Eidolon, I sensed anger. “Listen-”

“I want to listen.” He fully sheathed his sword, raised his hands. “But you must stop.” He stepped closer, keeping both hands raised.

“He can’t,” the other one spoke. A male voice. “What are you trying, Doran?”

They couldn’t know that. It would make things worse.

Where the fuck was Ash? I could hear him firing. I could hear the Sentinel’s thrusters too.

I moved my injured arm just enough to check the time. The watch was cracked. Dead.

It didn’t matter anymore. They’d caught up to us. There was no subversion or hiding left to do, only people left in my way. I had to keep fighting. Keep momentum.

I sprinted for Hasami and covered the distance before he could reach down to draw his sword. I jumped to kick him in the chest. He tumbled back and skid into a car.

The other Eidolon fired out a spike of red nanites from his hand, which I cut down.

“Symbolic resonances,” he said to me. The nanites formed a sword. He stepped forward and my blade clashed with his, not going through. He was smart.

He knew, a sword against another sword meant more than just nanites.

Our weapons unlocked when Ash shot him in the head. He crumpled with holes in his helmet. “Kendall’s slipped me,” he told me.

I asked him as we ran for the next building. “You went after him?”

“I hit him a couple times, almost had the fucker.”

We ducked into the next apartment’s center hall. “He’s not mortal, Ash. Don’t get distracted again.” I ordered him.

He didn’t like it, but he listened. “Fine.”

My foot flew out from under me.

Motherfu-

I was pulled quickly out the mouth of the hall and thrown through the air. I landed on the roof of a car and rolled off behind it. I could see the Eidolons feet through the gap underneath. Fuck this guy.

“Tumble!” I smacked the car with my palm.

It rolled violently over the Eidolon, crushing him in a flurry of glass.

Didn’t you already get shot?

That didn’t stop him. He was up again, blue blood spilling out the holes in his head.

An avatar of some kind. Remotely controlled.

“I know what that thing can do!” he yelled, pointing at my cleaver. “I’ve seen it. I-… Wasn’t going to be risking that.”

I tasted blood. One of my teeth was loose.

“Not what you wanted to see, though.” I could read him like a book. I could see his soul. “You lost someone to the cleaver. You wanted to see what the element was, get close enough to know. Now you know… She’s gone.”

Hasami pulled himself up from beside the car across the street, drew his Katana.

“Ash!” I called.

The hall where he’d been was unnaturally blackened. Sound didn’t escape.

Kendall. Ash’s not coming.

“Closure,” the Eidolon muttered, angry. He reformed the red sword in his hand.

“Two on one, then.” I grit my teeth and stretched out my injured arm. I’d need it.

“Stand down,” Hasami warned me.

“Never.”

The Eidolon lunged. I met his sword with mine, slid under it and cut through his arm. I weaved around him and kicked him in the back, moving for Hasami.

Hasami swung twice at once, simultaneously deflecting my slice and stabbing. I twisted around the stab and swung my cleaver around for his face. He barely formed a ghostly katana quick enough to block. He took several steps back and I sensed the Eidolon running up behind me. I parried his first strike and his second, having to alternate as Hasami tried to come at my undefended side.

I was dealing with a flurry of attacks from both sides. I couldn’t keep it up.

I had to slip close to the Eidolon the next time I deflected him. He had no hand to stop me from ramming into his chest, nor balance to save himself from falling. The moment he hit the ground, I chucked my cleaver into his chest.

Hasami came at me with four coexistent swings, filling up his max reach. I jumped backward, away from my weapon. I hit the ground and scrambled.

Hasami leaped and brought his sword down.

From the Eidolon’s chest, my cleaver dislodged and flew to stop his attack. It landed in my grip, caught in both hands, letting his strike hit the flat side.

Finally, I kicked him from me and he sprawled.

I picked my head up to see. He wasn’t ready to get up. Hasami was completely mortal. That fall had knocked the wind out of him.

“Ugh.” I let my head drop, let a sigh out. Breathe. I rolled over onto my stomach, got my arms under me to stand.

The Sentinel dropped out of the sky and landed beside Hasami on the ground. His suit thrummed with energy, but he wasn’t attacking. He was protecting.

I backed away towards the hall. The darkness had lifted and Ash wasn’t there. I ran through, looking into the open apartment doors. I came out the other side.

“Doran,” he said. He was on a knee in the grass just there. His rifle up, aiming at the apartment windows all around. “He can fucking teleport.”

“Ash!” He was fixated.

“What?” he snapped.

“We’re close. Ignore him.”

“He’s taunting me.” I grimaced at him. He changed subject. “There’s new heartbeats,” he said, getting up. He kept his eyes on the balconies. “New heartbeats. They’re not running. They’re comin’ in. Reinforcements.”

“It’s a mad dash, now. Come on!”

Machina – 3.08

Ali threw the blanket in his hands and it billowed out. The black shape stopped falling and it hung in the air. Ash let off a few rounds, but I knew they’d not penetrated. The bullets had been caught in the effect he’d placed on the cloth.

I remembered. Chronomancy.

“Last time I saw you die won’t be like this time,” I warned. “Run, Ali.”

His hand briefly showed from behind his barrier, the fingers posed, the movement fluid while sweeping across. It was a motion casting, a physical ritual. I could see the power gathering around him, the anticipation of a command.

I marched forward with my rusted cleaver, Ash staying back.

“Stop!” I ordered him.

There was a brief hesitation, but the spell climaxed. A resonation which formed a field over the alley. Immediately I knew what it might be, and as I looked at my watch ticking minutes as seconds, I was sure. The sun behind me began to inch forward faster.

I’d reached the blanket in the air and stabbed into it. With the spell, it cracked apart, falling as tatters. Ali wasn’t behind it, though. In fact, I saw that he was behind Ash.

Hate that trick.

Ash was frozen in space with a touch. He’d been slowed down so quickly that his startled turn would take him days. And Ali was ready to do the same to me.

I’d fought the Grand Chronomancer, Sosias, the heaven’s rearranger. I could face this practitioner. Utopian magic was in its infancy.

With four quick slashes, the concrete was marked with a diamond around me. Ali entered back into time right in front of me, frowning at the protection I’d made.

“How did you imbue it so quickly?” he asked, genuinely interested.

“How did you find us so quickly?” I’d give one to get one.

I resisted checking my watch. I could hear its rapid ticking.

Ali nodded at my return question. “I can’t manipulate causality, not like Wulff and his disciples. I change time.” He spoke energetically with his hands as well as his words. A side effect of casting with them, I thought. “I used time travel to search the city. I’m in many places this morning, but only the path in which I find you is kept.”

I chanced a look down at my watch as he finished.

It was bad.

I spoke rapidly. “The element of the blade is absolute. The intention of a border is obvious. The metaphysical command is clear.”

“What is so absolute?” he wondered. “I can’t sense anything?”

I didn’t answer. I lashed out, severing one of his hands. His reaction speed wasn’t fast enough and wasn’t enhanced by his super speed. He was caught off guard.

His hand hit the ground as he staggered back. Ali hit his back and scrambled away. He was on his feet and several yards back in an instant. I stepped forward and slashed many more times at the ground, etching out three more diamonds and a larger one overall. Expanding territory. I had to get to Ash. Time was running out. I could build towards him. He wasn’t too far.

Ali was on his feet and his body was a blur acting out a spell. I realized that he was using his magic to enhance itself, which was an absolutely bullshit tactic. He was slowed, though, by his missing hand. He bravely fought through with his will, but couldn’t compensate in his rituals which needed to involve both hands. He was trying to alter them on the fly, but he was losing blood incredibly fast.

I drew my automatic pistol and rattled its short store of ammo off.

Ali was peppered and stumbled back once more, this time into the alley wall. His greying face was shocked. He ripped at the dirty shirt he’d wore to see that his Eidolon body suit had stopped the bullets. It dawned on his face as he clutched his stump, that he was about to die if he didn’t do something. His gaze was cast down the alley.

If he escaped, they would know exactly where we were.

We’d have no chance of evading them for long enough. If we still did.

Ali signed with his remaining hand and the temporal field over us dropped.

He tried to stand and slipped on the concrete which was instantly wet. Rain appeared all around us, rushing in, and the sky greyed nearly to black when the effect ended. A storm had arrived.

He fought to his feet and was about to disappear. Flee.

I slammed my cleaver into the center of the four-part diamond. “Die,” I said. The command was clear, the power beyond necessary.

Ali gasped for breath. He slipped again into a puddle, clutching his arm. He lay very still, only his eyelids fluttering. I stepped out of my diamond protection.

That was what I was capable of. He’d felt the force of a determination trillions of years old. The sheer momentum I was carrying.

Freeze tag. Ash was still stuck.

I went and touched him, killing the effect. He whipped around for just a second before realizing what had happened. He grimaced.

“Fucker got me,” he said.

“I got him, don’t worry.” I checked my watch again. It was past twelve. “Dammit.”

“He ate our time? Can we make it?” Ash asked.

I looked down the alley. “No. We’re going to encounter Kendall. I can sense it. Everything is gathering in front of us. It’s the last trial. They’ll be an army to face.”

“Just you and me, yeah, against all of them. That’s abulous.”

I took off my jacket first, shrugged off my shoulder holsters, then put it back on. No ammo left for my pistols anyway. I had my own weapon. A personal connection.

“They’ll try to stop us, but we’ve got all the weight behind us. Even Christopher wants us moving forward. The bastard has us in line for now. But even with all that, Ash, there’s only so much that armor can do for us. Against Kendall… Hasami, I sense. And possibly the whole Guild? We’ll see.”

“I guess we will,” he smirked.

“Come on.”

O

The rain was beating down on us. Droplets gathered on my watch-face in the shadow of my body. 12:50. The light above was muted. The alleys boxing us in. The sight of the elevator was muddled in the clouds, but I could still make it out. Getting lost was not a concern.

What was a concern; our enemies discovering our destination.

I couldn’t properly shroud the body of Ali, and I suspected he had a failsafe in place. They will have known we made our way past the church. Our direction might be inferred.

They’ll be trying to quarantine the area, at this point. Create a search grid.

“They’re on our trail. The shroud, it’s keeping us unnoticed. Why don’t they just flood the city with drones?” Ash asked as we ran.

“Shrouds are effective against Aku because their attention is too spread out. They’re incapable of focus, as a single soul which occupies so much space. I can play on that. Create blind-spots.”

Ash wasn’t breathing as he went, whereas I was huffing raggedly. I forgot sometimes that he didn’t exert. Wasn’t alive.

“And we can’t just metaphysic our way to get where we’re going… fastly. That’d be too easy.” Ash was still smiling.

“If you ascribe to the notion… We kind of already are… Reality is a shadow in a cave… Magic is just a feedback technique, leveraging rules. What we’re doing now is magic.

Elements in battle. Good and evil, some times. Not today.

“I don’t really care, bud.”

We took a flight of steps, Ash following my lead, up onto street level. With the rain and chaos, there was no one really on the street. A few figures under black umbrellas sat around.

One of them, I sensed, wasn’t human. A watcher.

I didn’t have time to care about that. They were passive observers. Numbered around eight, but I couldn’t quite tell. Only one was manifest. His blue eyes visible beneath his umbrella, across the park on a bench. The wet grass vibrant between us.

“Creepy,” Ash commented. He’d spotted it too.

“They’re important,” I replied. “But not to us.”

Just past a row of apartment buildings, the very base of the elevator was hidden. Less than a mile, now. We could make it.

There was only a parking lot between us and the densely packed three to four story buildings ahead. We ran under the unpowered lot lights, nearing them.

From up above he sounded, “Doran, this is law enforcement!”

No. We were too close.

The silver man landed in our way. I quickly glanced back and Kendall was there with Hasami and another at his sides. They emerged from the same alley stairs we had. Three behind and one ahead.

The silver man approached. “Listen,” he spoke.

“No-” we were boxed in. Too much open space to my left and right. They could encircle us. “-How’d you do it? You tracked us to Ali?” His body was solid, his face was hidden. He had stopped moving and listened now, the rain pouring down. I looked back to Kendall. “You guessed our path by the only landmark in its way?” His face gave it away.

“That’s a yes,” Ash saw it as well.

“It doesn’t matter,” the silver man continued. “You’re done.”

He was right. It didn’t matter. The situation is what it is.

Ash spat at the ground.

The silver man began to approach again. He was a few dozen feet off. His voice boomed. “There’s nowhere for you to go. You’re coming in. Now.

I put out a hand. He did slow for a second, thinking I might have cast a spell, but quickly started again. Ash at my side met my eyes, expectantly.

Closing in. I couldn’t go around. I couldn’t teleport us. The silver man could fly, Kendall was fast. I couldn’t possibly fight them all, not in the open like this. I sensed the firepower the silver one could level. There wasn’t a way out. I couldn’t fucking fly.

Oh. Oh! Yes.

“You’ve got an idea?” Ash saw the look on my face.

“Get behind me. Grab on when its time.” He understood, putting myself between him and the silver guy. I set my feet, drawing out my hands and hardening every muscle. I stood strong and addressed the silver Sentinel. “See me,” I ordered him. Then again, “see me!”

He stepped cautiously, raising a hand which blue light billowed out from.

Watch this.

I put on a grin and looked right up at the sky. The silver man, who had before had his vision locked on me, followed my line of sight. Ash jumped on my back. I tensed up.

Then, I flew.

 

Machina – 3.06

Akio came over the bridge sprinting. His arms pumped as he crested the overpass, over the road below, and quickly passing to the other side. He began to slow, coming to a setting of iron tables outside a storefront. At the tables and gazing into the glass-front display, a white family picnicked. Six children, a father, and mother, all eating a meal after church.

The youngest children watched Akio. He huffed heavily as he entered the store.

He pulled back his hoodie, looking over the store’s contents inside. Fresh cheeses, chocolates, bread, and fruits, all there to be taken freely. No attendant or price at all.

No food from home, however.

They keep us segregated, only to demand I live in the capitol?

Akio smirked, spotting a sandwich which looked good.

It was all just insanity, worry, he knew. The fear left over from a bygone time. He would keep his history, they would write theirs. He only wished he could travel to see his parents more often, in Japan. He bit into his sandwich, sitting down at a table by the window.

In every corner, cameras watched. He reached into his pocket, holding up a phone.

Messages, nothing.

“Tell me the news, Aku,” he said, mouth full. He threw his phone onto the table.

“Earlier today, Quinn Lee Porter requested a council audience. In it, he revealed that he’d been contacted by the entity Doran. A being conjured by Kendall Blackthorn…”

“What happened?” Akio grabbed his phone back, looking over the pictures Aku presented. Pictures of Porter, Kendall, and Doran.

“Doran’s intent was allegedly to give warning. A city-wide evacuation was considered.”

“Continue.”

“With no compelling reason to evacuate, the council ruled Kendall authority to track and detain the entity Doran and any with him. Then another of Kendall’s former summons, the ghost Odessa, attacked the court. She was neutralized by mister Blackthorn.” The girl’s face came up on Akio’s phone. Street video was available of the fight. He didn’t touch it.

“Anything else?”

“As a student with experience, you are a candidate for the detainment team, if you would like to apply. The effort has been put on priority after Doran and the demon Ashmedai were found armed and dangerous, targeting the council building. Two Magus were killed. Citizens in city one are being advised to stay inside.”

Akio threw his sandwich away, heading for the door. “Put in my application, Aku.”

He was available. He’d known those four, Doran, Anna, Odessa, and Ash. If he could help Kendall and maybe even them, he would. There had to be a reason for this.

“Application sent, Hasami.”

O

The silver man touched down.

The council building’s surrounding lot was like a wasteland. A huge parking lot completely empty, only three dark figures by the stadium’s doors.

Sebastian had landed some ways off, so he walked. As he did he looked up. A front was approaching from the east, he saw, past the space elevator. A wall of clouds.

At the doors, those three people were waiting for him. A young man in a black suit with red tie. Kendall, who he’d been briefed on coming in. And lastly, someone in Eidolon-armor and helmet. Kendall was talking to the suited man but stopped to extend his hand to Sebastian.

He dropped his hand as Sebastian ignored it, towering over him. He knew what Kendall was. Even if it was well masked, he could smell the sickness.

Sebastian wasn’t wasting time with handshakes anyway.

“I am the Sentinel. I’ll be overseeing this operation. Understand that. First, are the dead recovering?”

“Healers aren’t here yet, but they will,” the red tie told him. “Now that you’re here, that’s my cue to leave.” He patted Kendall on the back. “Keep your head.”

Kendall gestured to the armored one. “This is Kyle.”

Kyle nodded.

“Is that all you’re bringing?” Sebastian asked.

“No. He was fast to apply, but there’s one more confirmed. He’s not here yet.”

“I can see that, Blackthorn.”

Kendall looked away from Sebastian and to his phone. “Kyle is a seer, battlemage. Hisami is an old acquaintance. We don’t need anyone more. They’d slow us down. Ashmedai and Doran should be working quickly at this point, so we can’t afford that.”

“Do you know why I’m here, Blackthorn?”

“I- what?” Kendall looked up, unable to see Sebastian’s face. He’d heard his voice turn dark.

“I wouldn’t be necessary if not for the surveillance failures. The one’s you’ve caused.”

“Allegedly.”

The silver man leaned in. “Don’t,” he warned.

Let him know his place, he thought. Scare in some respect of the law.

Sebastian continued with Kendall silent. He pointed to the council building, then past it towards city two. “They left out of the rear, moving away to the second city.”

Kyle spoke up. “I’m getting certain. They’re nearby.”

“They’re shrouding themselves,” Kendall stated.

Kyle shook his head. “A shroud of perception. Strong tactic. But doesn’t sufficiently mask essence. They’ll be a difficult find. Not undoable.”

“A shroud of perception weakens under direct assault. Aku is too divided in attention to find them, but from the sky, I can spot them if they’re under the sun,” Sebastian said.

The Eidolon nodded.

Kendall raised an eyebrow. “We’re done here, then?”

Sebastian lit up his thrusters in Kendall’s face, kicking up dust and ascending.

He was left with Kyle, who, once the dust had cleared, was facing him silently. Black visor staring.

“What?”

He shoved a thumb at the building behind them and started off for it.

Kendall followed. “What is it? Are you mute?

“I’m going to get a feel.” He pushed through the doors.

Kendall went with him into the main hall. They looked past rows of seats to where androids were strewn over seats. Bullet holes littered the lower isles.

Kyle ran his hand over the scorched walls. Suddenly, he jumped up onto the seats.

Kendall looked up at him. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Not answering, he walked on the tops of the seats, moving down the rows. Kendall walked the steps beside him. Kyle jumping onto the concrete at the very bottom of the room faced up to the glass barrier above. It protected the zenith council seats at the center of the court.

There was a tiny ledge between the shield and the stage which he stepped on to reach up. He reached to touch the spot where a concentration of shots had been fired, a charred dent. He craned his head back around to Kendall. “See this?”

“Yeah.”

“The… the guy, that guy,” he pointed back at the parking lot. “Him.”

“Christopher. Christopher is his name.”

“Yes. Christopher. He stood here?”

“Yes.”

Kyle hopped off with a thud. “That’s inhuman accuracy. The demon? With that accuracy, he could have killed a lot of androids. But he wasted his time testing the glass.”

“Please tell me you’re not a psychologist.”

He paused for a moment. He decided against responding. “What could be his motivation for doing that? A desire to kill Christopher?”

“You are,” Kendall decided. “Great.”

“I have to build a profile. Get a sense. Half science, half magic, really.”

They went back up to the top of the court, then around to the exit door. They came through and to the base of the ramp beyond. Two androids stood watch over a dead Magus there.

Kyle squatted beside them, waved a hand over the body. “Bobby Nolan, twenty years old. Smaller caliber.” He pointed back up the ramp at the lightning scorches on the wall. “He was aiming at the demon. The other one shot him.”

“Doran,” Kendall corrected him.

“Doran,” he repeated. “He didn’t hesitate…” Kyle checked the visor in his suit. It built a crime-scene for him, but it was lacking. “There’s not good surveillance here.”

Kendall again went after the Eidolon as he led him through the kitchen, over the wreckage, and into the loading bay. Another body was there, a woman.

Kyle reviewed the footage. “He checked her body. Face is determined, not cold… Where is it?”

Kendall noticed the dent in the truck ahead. “This really gives you enough to work from?”

“I just have to understand him. You can see a person in their eyes.”

“But is that enough?” Kendall asked again.

He was pacing but suddenly stopped. “No. There’s a lot I need to know.”

Kendall heard an intensity in his voice that he didn’t like. “Like what?”

“What are they doing? What was Christopher doing? What are you hiding?”

“I’m not hiding anything,” Kendall categorically denied.

He saw his own face in that black visor. His stilted expression.

“Of course. But what about Christopher?”

“He’s not hiding anything either.”

“What was he doing here, Kendall?”

He grimaced. “I don’t know what he does. Why didn’t you ask him?”

“They’ve all got a reason, Kendall. They were expecting each other.”

You’re a pretentious bastard, Kyle. He could turn this around on him, now.

“And you? Why are you here? You practically jumped on the application.”

That set him in the opposite direction, out the loading bay doors, and onto the road. Kendall caught up to grab him by the shoulder.

“Personal involvement,” was all he said. He repeated it, “personal involvement.”

“That’s not-”

“I don’t have enough,” he interrupted. “You can track them.”

Kendall gave him an evil look. “I might can catch their scent. It’s a hell-smell.”

The Eidolon was frozen for a moment, thinking. Kendall was visibly annoyed.

Finally, he swept his arm out towards the alley they’d gone. “Good.”

“Kendall!” Hasami called, running out from the building, sword rattling at his hip.

“Hasami,” Kendall acknowledged him.

“It is pleasant to see you again.”

“Mm.” Kendall started off, motioning for them to keep up. “We’re going.”

They could catch them. Kendall had the smell.

As worried as he was for himself, of being a victim to the morals of the council, this wasn’t about him. That worry was satisfied for now. Christopher had filled him in. He knew the consequences of Doran being allowed to succeed. Trillions of lives would be lost if he did. Kendall could avert that. If he could stop that, he was obligated to try, even at the cost of his life. He accepted that.

After everything, though, he wouldn’t stay here. He was sick of Utopia, of all their law and order. He would go someplace far away when he was done. He would escape.

Put that thought aside. I’m in control. Now, to kill a monster.