“Kaado,” I hiss. “What are you doing? Get back from there!” He waves back at me for silence just as Linctu stumbles into view.
Twisting wildly and brandishing a length of pipe, her eyes widen as they settle on Kaado. “Hide,” she squeaks, motioning away from the ramp.
“Nonsense! What is going on?” Kaado demands, but Linctu has already returned her attention to the top of the ramp.
Human voices curse as fighting erupts at the opening and Linctu leaps forward, swinging her pipe in the direction of a confusing mass of shadowy forms, although she is too far away to actually strike anyone and looks absolutely terrified. An asura carrying a sword breaks from the group, heading toward Linctu, and I feel my jaw tense when I recognise the green-eyed stranger from earlier this morning.
“Linctu, look out!” I yell, trying to warn her.
The sword-wielding asura dives at Linctu and they both tumble to the ground as an arc of lightning rips across the stone above them, lashing the wall to leave a black scorch mark. A split second later the mysterious asura is up, sword ready, hovering protectively near Linctu as she struggles to regain her feet. My mysterious stranger saved Linctu’s life? I watch as another asura – one of our lab technicians – breaks from the melee, falling off the side of the ramp and crashing to the floor below in a smouldering heap.
“Enough!” screams Kaado. Pulling something from his robe, he points it up the ramp – whatever its intended use is, he is too late, for a second arc of lightning ripples and curls along the floor, striking him directly. Kaado is flung backwards by the force and Linctu screams, scrambling toward him.
I have to do something! The melee, this madness, Kaado… “Where are the Peacekeepers?” I feel the scream burst free, but no one takes any notice. Our curious benefactor is being slowly pushed back – two more of our lab technicians at her side are doing everything they can to assist, and even now one of them stumbles as a shadow lunges; I turn away.
“The suit! The suit – Master Treen, use the suit!” Linctu’s voice cries out in desperation.
Of course! She’s a genius – no one will think to look for me in there. Ducking beneath benches, I make a straight line for the suit – my power suit. It is like a beacon at the end of the room, standing centre to all against the wall like a proud statue, tools and plans arrayed before it like the accoutrements of a sculptor’s workshop. Highlights dance across the polished surface, reflecting the play of magical effect from the battle on the ramp, and it strikes me then how powerful a thing it seems. Therefore, it is a shame there is hardly any power, and the fact that the crystal is not connected; otherwise this would have proved an excellent occasion to test the automaton aspect of the suit and its offensive capability. The thought that all of my work at this stage is to come to nothing is frightening – maybe I can hook up enough power to walk the suit out? If the others create enough of a distraction its regular shielding should be more than sufficient to withstand some punishment.
I duck under the last bench just as another scream splits the air. Without looking back, I am certain that it is the second technician falling to the onslaught. Darting to the suit, my hands tremble so much as I type in a command sequence to open the pilot’s compartment that I keep getting it wrong. I stab each key deliberately, taking long slow breaths and with a whoosh of air that reflects my own sense of relief, the compartment opens. Hastily I grab a rail and clamber up, swinging myself in. Hands and feet fall naturally to the controls and I thumb a switch to seal myself in.
The cockpit is eerily silent with most of the external sounds muted and my previously felt sense of panic subsides. My fingers play over the controls subconsciously – years of designing and testing has led to operation by reflex memory – and the suit begins its power-up routine.
“Base diagnostic initiated.” Linctu’s voice startles me and it takes me a few seconds to recall that it is just pre-recorded. “Base diagnostic complete,” she says a moment after. I cannot help grin at the efficiency and speed of the first self-tests. “Commencing stage two diagn-”
“Override,” I command. I have to get the suit out of the lab and I don’t have time to run a full suite of tests. “Submit to pilot control – Treen.” My chair adjusts its height and tilts slightly to better accommodate my physical preferences and I feel the control pads down at my feet angle for better access. Resting back in the cockpit, I reach up to slide a helmet out from a small recess and strap it firmly in place on my head, cinching the chin strap nice and tight – ready.
“Neuro-coupling online,” Linctu’s voice chirps happily. “Pilot feedback engaged.”
The room, previously hidden to me by the suit, flickers into view and I have to fight off a wave of nausea triggered by the experience.
“Power level not optimal,” chimes Linctu.
It sounds like her. I know that it is her, as I remember being annoyed on the day that I found out she and the other technicians had replaced the core voice synthesiser module with pre-recorded segments made by Linctu. It had been intended as a prank to get at me. True, it had worked and I had been furious when we had run through testing sequences. It was not fitting for a Golem or suit to sound so lifelike. Yet somehow she had convinced me to leave it in place until we finished the testing phases.
With her cheery voice warning me of the fact that many of the suit’s secondary and tertiary systems were shutting down to conserve primary power, the scene in the lab that greets me offers the surreal antithesis.
Linctu is desperately pulling at Kaado’s limp form, whilst our green-eyed heroine has been forced further down the ramp.
“Climate control shutting down…”
The shadows leap forward – all male judging by their postures and size – one of them lashing out, forcing the asura warrior to spin aside and allowing two more to break past her. She manages to catch one, aiming a blow to his knees and cutting his leg from under him. The human sprawls forward with a cry, but the other heads for Linctu.
“Global navigation shutting down…”
Three more appear, two focusing on the warrior, the other heading down the ramp, sword in hand.
“Secondary sensor array shutting down…”
Yet more seem to flood from the ramp opening. The warrior screams a battle cry – swinging with her sword, she tries to force the offensive, pushing forward with pure determination alone. A kick comes from nowhere as she leaves an opening against too many, and she flies off the side of the ramp to crash onto lab tables below.
“Mineral harvesting shutting down…”
A cold dread grips me. What do I do? There are so many of them. Linctu drops Kaado and flings herself at the first human. Like a savage animal, she goes straight for his face, hands attempting to claw at his eyes. With an almost total disregard for her attempt, the human figure dashes her against the wall. Linctu crumples to the ground. The human turns to one of his companions and, snatching a sword, plunges it straight into Linctu’s still form.
“Weapon systems offline – have a nice day!” giggles Linctu. By the Eternal Alchemy! What do I do? Please, what do I do?
They make their way down the ramp, several of them, moving cautiously at first until they realise that signs of further opposition are not evident. One of them points at me, directing a couple of men towards the Golem, before he looks back nervously at the top of the ramp.
“Hurry!” he commands.
The two men approach me. What do they want? The others are starting to work their way around the lab, turning it upside down. What do they want? What are they looking for?
One man cries out in pain – she’s still alive! The warrior, clutching her side, pulls her sword free from a human who topples over.
She screams her chilling war cry once more as, to a man, they all turn and start to advance, wary of this furious asura’s ability.
“Genni!” I cry out. Genni? Who is Genni? The green-eyed warrior smiles dangerously at the men as they approach – too many, she will never take them all before she is overwhelmed. My heart races, breath growing ragged and my head pounds with fear. She is going to be killed. I struggle with the controls, trying to coax some life out of the suit’s limited power – anything to cause a distraction. It is too hot in here, stifling, claustrophobic, and my chest constricts with the weight of panic; I feel trapped.
There is only darkness.
I am awake. I cannot move. Something is wrong. I can hear fighting. Swords clash, men curse and above all else I hear a familiar voice as it exults in the heat of battle – Genni. She is in trouble.
Mother Bear, I have need of you.
“Power – optimal. Systems fully online – yay!” A childish voice chirps in the darkness.
A room opens up before me. I have no idea as to where I am, but ahead of me I see Genni standing on a long table, wielding a sword. Clearly she is injured, and several human men have started to encircle her, all bearing some form of weapon. There is no time for questions.
I roar and lunge forward. Everyone spins to face me, including Genni, clearly startled. I am sluggish and my movements feel uncertain, although this is most likely the result of being long recumbent. No time to question; I have just the idea in mind to work out lazy muscles.
The three closest men have barely enough time to raise their weapons before I am upon them, sweeping them aside with a crushing blow. I roar again as the Spirit of Bear infuses me. Genni uses the distraction to her advantage and cuts down a man who manages to get too close. Two more break away from the table, one of them brandishing a staff as he stands before me. His mouth opens and lightning curls around his hands and along the length of the staff. He does not appear frightened by my presence. Ignoring the other man, I lunge for the spellcaster as he unleashes his power. An electrical storm envelops me, blinds me, but I feel no pain other than from the sound assaulting my senses – and yet I do not need to see or hear my foe. The attack abates as I plough forward, cannoning into the elementalist, and as my vision clears I am granted his last dying look – fear.
They start to break now. The last few men seek a way out, past me, past the asura warrior who, now seeking vengeance and oblivious to current injuries, leaps from the table to cut off their escape.
Sensing movement to my right, I strike out with the back of my hand to send one reeling several feet across the room, and then I am on top of another as he squeals, struggling like a frightened rabbit. I lift him before me.
“Wait!” Genni cries out.
His neck snaps all too easily and I drop the lifeless form to the ground.
Shrugging, Genni scans the room and then seems to sag, the last of her reserve having been used up.
“Nyargh.” An asura stumbles forward from between my legs, causing me to jump. Where did he come from?
“No – desist!” Genni hastily calls out as I reach for him. Dropping her sword, she helps the other asura to his feet. “Pretty fancy moves, but I think your suit has a few kinks you need to iron out.”
The asura stares numbly at the carnage of the lab and then he looks up at me.
“You are safe now,” I tell him. It seems the right thing to say. The battle, though short, has taken its toll and I feel a bit disorientated. It does not help to wake in a strange place to a raging fight. I reach out to pat the asura on the shoulder.
“Gah.” He recoils from my touch. “Override interface control – erm, ah voice command: shutdown.”
Stepping back, I frown and look at Genni. “What is the matter with him?”
Genni blinks and turns pale, her mouth hanging open.
“Voice command: shutdown!” the asura says a little more firmly and I realise he is looking at me. When I do not reply, he huffs and steps forward. “Golem, voice command-”
“Whoa, back off little rat. I am-”
Genni squeaks, interrupting me. “Asbjorn Bre, norn hunter from the Shiverpeaks!”