Posted by Vainglory

The Stormguard is replaced by a powerful machine…


—— Hullo, Beauty…
—— Hullo…
—— Hullo Beaut-beaut-bee…

Frankie and the veiled queen stepped along the scuffs, slides and stomp-marks scattered across the packed-dirt training yard. Pools of blood hardened into dusty paste around the bodies of Livia and Elena, the two Stormguard who had chosen to return. Alpha stood at attention, still as death, her mask and armor undented.

“Harsh,” said Frankie.

“Necessary,” replied the queen, “and impressive. No one in the world could have defeated either one of them, and your creation ended them both in moments.”

“She’s unstoppable.” Frankie rapped his knuckles on Alpha’s knee. “Had some bugs to work out with her memory drive. Not easy, wiping everything except how to fight. I patched the issue with an automatic reboot…”

“Is she ready?”

“Yeah. Directive is uploaded.”


—— You cannot protect it from me.
—— Protect it. From me. Best run now. Destroy.
—— Now before I destroy…
—— …your best assets.

Quick as fire with wind behind it, word spread through the scattered Eventide cities that the blancorojos were not to be trusted, that a technological monster stalked the insubordinate Stormguard. The news came too late for two old families, former royalty who sought to conspire against the queen. They, and six mangled former Stormguard, were dragged out of hiding into the streets to be picked at by the ravens.


—— Pretty thing.
—— Pretty…
—— …thing. Pretty thing.

Outside the oldest tea house in Taizen Gate, masked guards with curved swords stood shoulder-to-shoulder, silent. Inside, the Three Bosses knelt by a low table facing six former Stormguard, their palms facing down on the table according to local tradition.

“The Stormguard is known for causing trouble here,” said Second Boss, a four-armed bear hybrid whose pot belly rested atop the table by his paws and teacup.

“The Stormguard now serves the successor to Mont Lille,” replied Marelde.

“We have no stake in which queen rules the Eventides. Our international politics are neutral.” First Boss’ hologram flickered at the edges of her business suit.

Marelde bent her fingers, cracking each knuckle in turn, watching the Bosses’ eyes. “The queen’s ambition extends far beyond her shores.”

“If you lie, and we give you the location of this princess you seek, you will kill her, yes?” asked Third Boss, a slight man with an unnerving smile.

Marelde ached to look sidelong at the other women, but an unsteady gaze was a sign of weakness in Taizen Gate. Besides, she ever heard Catherine’s voice: A shieldbearer’s first line of defense is her eyes. She turned her hands over on the table, palms up. “I will not demand your trust, but for all things, there is a price. Use your best judgment and name yours.”

Screams, and the clashing of steel from outside, interrupted. The Stormguard jumped onto the low table, kicking away the teapots and arranging themselves in defensive position around the three mages. Second Boss rose with surprising speed and dropped to all fours. First Boss flickered and disappeared. Third Boss opened his kimono, revealing a vest covered in small blade sheaths.

“So much for no weapons allowed,” grumbled one mage, blue sparks exploding from her snapping fingers.

“Not yet,” said Marelde; magic conjuration would be detected all over Taizen Gate. What if your first line of defense is all you have, Catherine? she thought, but Catherine was far away, and she had no shield.

The screams outside stopped. The outer door slid open, letting in the night’s birdsongs and thick summer air.

“Now,” ordered Marelde, and the room filled with the snap and buzz of magic as a heavy sword split apart the room’s paper wall from ceiling to floor and a machine stepped inside.

The room erupted in flashing blue magic and the roars of Second Boss. The machine moved forward without pause, slicing through its former comrades, deflecting the magic bolts, Third Boss’ blades clinking off its armor. Within minutes, Alpha stood in the post-battle silence scanning the room with glowing eyes. Six women lay broken and bleeding at her feet; two bosses shook with terror in a corner. Her sword had cleaved the table, and Marelde with it, in half.

—— Pretty thing…

o be continued…

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