The machine’s head instantly snapped straight to me, eyes narrowing down, gullet glowing a brighter violet.

“Sssss… that voice. Yesssss, I know it well. A lake of fire screaming away into the void, answerless, except for pain and regret.” Fido hissed. “Ssss… so kind of you to walk all these miles here… my old enemy.”

Wrath patted the side plate, “Fido, please behave.” She said. “He is a trusted friend, and has spared your life prior.”

Lejis turned back to the machine, eyes quirked. “My friend, does something trouble you?”

The machine shook his head. “Only… an echo. One that rings too loud in a silent world. A reminder, a wound.”

I had one question that came right out, from all the dozen different questions in my head: “Wait, his name really is Fido?”

Wrath turned and nodded. “It is. Why does this surprise you? You named him directly.”


“I uhh, didn’t realize machines would take any name like that without question? Plus he really doesn’t look happy at all about it. You all heard him hiss at me right? I’m not going insane. Look, he’s doing it again right now.”

And that tail was batting left and right like a cat would while his eyes were completely fixed on me. With a head that’s about my full body size.

“Sssss... Let your flesh speak any whispered title you wish, you lost little child.” Fido said. “Sanity, insanity, all a destination you willingly flee to. Oh, frail little thing… your own name should matter more.”

“I get a feeling he’s trying to tell me to mind my own business.” I said, eyes not leaving his. Or rather, my helmet.

Wrath gave another nod. “He is.”

I turned to the nearest Winterscar knight. “You understood anything the drake said?”


He shook his head. “No m’lord.”

So I waved back to Wrath. “You got a translator by chance? Never really could understand what the purple hells these critters like to talk about.”

“Ssss… hearing goes first, comprehension second. Perhaps nature has forsaken you early.” Fido said, and that was probably an insult of some kind.

Wrath gave him another pat. “His prior speech can be reduced roughly to this: You can call him anything you wish, he already has been named and so your opinion is no longer relevant. He believes it doesn’t matter if you are insane or not, humans decline cognitively over years at a predictable rate that no amount of resisting can keep permanently at bay. And finally, he claims that your years are measured, and being more attentive to living up to your own name should be more important than asking more information from his own.”

“Okay. I understand.” I said.

Wrath frowned, probably because a Feather can detect lies.

Lejis on the other hand gave a few critical glances from Fido back to me. “Do you remember our discussion at the top of the mountain you carried me down from? Is this not an example of that moment?”

The drake broke eye contact with me, as if sulking. He gave one last weak hiss, before closing his eyes and resting his head fully on the ground. “Ssss… Emotions roil and boil. Words are so deceptively easy when describing a new world, priest. Walking through the tapestry is another world unto itself.”

“And yet it is a world worth walking for.” Lejis said. “Focus on that, and leave your justice behind, they were always illusions.”

The drake turned his head away from the priest, now clearly sulking. But Lejis turned back to me, a bright smile on his face. “I assume you speak for the assembled clan knights here that escorted our Lady? It was quite the pleasure to finally meet the woman Tamery harped stories about. A friendly Feather that carries no malice within her heart, truly a miracle.”

I gave him one look, then gave a short hand signal to the rest of the clan knights calling for attention.They did, helmets quirked at what my next request would be.I then raised a hand in the universal rock-paper-scissors position, unworded request to choose who would deal with all the politicking, like civilized men.Father scoffed then slapped a hand on my shoulder, turned me back around and pushed me right out of our little huddle and into the direct line of fire. “This is your expedition, boy. Lead it.”

The rest of the knights all gave light nods, giving me absolutely no way out again.

“Yes.” I said, with a sigh. “It seems I am.”

Lejis nodded. “I admit, your voice sounds very familiar to one I knew of from my time on the surface, though the sigils you carry are far different. It would be a fortuitous coincidence if you happened to be the same young man I spoke to once? The world is wide, but somehow I have a feeling it may end up being rather small.”

I gave him a thumbs up. “Yeah, it’s me. I remember you too Lejis, and our little chat.”

He gave another smile, “In that case, I must say a few words before we begin anything official. From me to you, I wish to thank you for eliminating To’Aacar and ridding the world of that monster. Because of that, our people have a new leader, To’Wrathh, who as I’ve come to learn from within the last half hour, is truly the leader we all had hoped to have.”

“I didn’t exactly do most of the work when it came to killing that Feather.” I said, then gave a few shifty looks around, “Though… guess that’s the official story now isn’t it?”

Wrath gave me a very slight nod and smile. The drake just scoffed. “Ssss… weakness begets weakness. Order turns and order rises.”

“I’ve got to ask, how exactly did you end up getting Fido of all machines to comply like this? Look at him, he’s one tummy flip away from getting a belly scratch and probably will just sulk for a few minutes at most.”

Lejis tilted his head. “He sought me out. And of his kind, only he has ever done so far. Your clan, understandably, ejected my people and I back underground, to walk through the machine lands. Our armors were admittedly taken, though we were left with weapons and ammunition. It was a dark time, machines were not our enemies but neither were they our friends. I prayed for a possible guardian, one that could protect us from danger as we journeyed back to our homes. And one such guardian came in the middle of night.”Stolen from its rightful place, this narrative is not meant to be on Amazon; report any sightings.

“Fido was your guardian down?” I asked, pointing at the drake in question. It gave me a lazy look before going back to rest his head on his paws, one eye still locked onto me.

Okay, that was… very difficult to get my head around. Drakes didn’t take well to the whole Chosen thing, from what Wrath told me. Spiders didn’t care at all, they just had their territory and if anything got inside, they’d get upset. Machines like Yrob turned out to be the most curious of all, easily getting along with most humans the moment their morbid curiosity was satisfied or something more interesting took their attention - usually some kind of human cultural quirk, like music, painting, dancing, cooking, story writing and other strange things Machines had no analogue to.

Other machines had mixed reactions, but most ended up like the spiders - completely ambivalent to it all.

Drakes? Drakes liked to hunt and humans going from their only prey to not-prey wasn’t something they liked. Or that’s as far as I understood. “How exactly did you convince a drake to protect your band of Chosen?”

“We spoke.” Lejis said. “He had questions, and his understanding of the world had been shaken. He sought me out to understand those answers. It so happens that the bridge to peace begins with questions and answers. He has not yet crossed the span of that bridge, but each day he takes one step further.”

“Sssss…. Illusion after illusion. The pursuit itself was naught but silken words that held no true meaning, proven lies in the only words the world could ever speak. Sssss… a life spent poorly.”

I turned to Lejis, and he gave a chuckle. “You learn to understand. Drakes are not quite the hunters we believed them to be. I would call them more akin to… paladins? Only the pursuit of their justice was not quite what they were convinced of.”

I went through all my talks with Fido and drakes in general. “Wait, you mean they actually wanted to help humans?”

Lejis nodded. “In a morbid way. It was partly due to their model’s… quirks and emotions, and partly due to what they all believed living within flesh and bone would feel like. They believed us all to be suffering from chronic pain.”

“Ssss… how could you ever enjoy life?” The drake hissed. “Prisoner of that rot and flesh slowly failing year after year, delusions within the tumor that hides behind your skull, that warp the world around you? Emotions deep enough to draw pools of tears, anguish and misery? And yet…. Ssss…. Struggle, I still do, to understand. Why you wish to even live such fleeting lives. Such pain, fear, and suffering. When life eternal awaits? I could grant it to you, in but a second. Painlessly, and free forever from it.”

“We do not suffer as deeply as you think we do, remember.” Lejis said. “You’ve seen firsthand my memories, there isn’t only pain and suffering in the world. There is joy and happiness in equal measure, wherever we choose to find it.” He tapped the tip of his staff on the machine’s plates, like a friend would. “And that is worth the occasional aches and sores when I wake up in the morning. An easy price to pay I would say.”

All right. So Lejis managed to convince a drake to stop wanting to kill humans and instead protect them. I was going to have to get a few notes from him on how to diplomacy that hard.

“Regardless, we have spent enough time under the sun,” Lejis said, turning back to our group. “Welcome to Aura. And, thank you for escorting Lady To’Wrathh back. Her return was… most timely.”

As one, our group looked over to their little town. And the sheer amount of guns all over, some offline and some very clearly active and still tracking us.

“I’m going to go on a limb and say you’ve had some possible issues that need solving at swordtip? Wrath’s really good at solving those problems.”

He gave a curt nod. “Unfortunately, conflict seems ever present in this world, and it has elected to follow behind our footsteps. Lady To’Wrathh’s presence will very much help stem our people’s fears, I haven’t personally seen her in combat, but the stories and tales I learned once I arrive fill me with quite some hope. Please, let us speak more in the safety of our walls. We’ll see you given a proper welcome with what we have.”

Well, in for a ride, out for some fuel as they say. “Right, lead on.” I waved the knights, and as one we took our first steps into the little machine-human city.

Inside the little town was just as cramped as it felt outside. Right past the gates, guns, and more guns, it was mostly machines lumbering around, carrying bags of cement and other goods. Didn’t see a single human anywhere other than our escorts. Which was odd.

Machines walking around I’d gotten a little used to in the Undersider city, some of the knights behind me hadn’t yet adjusted. When I gave them a look, they gave back a quick nod.

“They are no different than other humans.” One said. “Some are friendly, others are not.” He looked over to Father who strode around by the front. I got the message.

Most Winterscar Knights were still new to the title and armor. They’d been training on the surface as Retainers, to go out on expeditions. Not to fight machines. This would be like walking into a city and knowing some people there were dangerous, and others weren’t. Spending time around Wrath and Yrob also made it easier.

“As you can see, we haven’t had time to set more personal buildings.” Lejis said, deaf to what was going on in the comms chatter. “A few sewer trenches had been dug up when we first arrived, along with other general groundwork and then we were forced to retreat behind the pre-existing mite structures.”

Father glanced around, eyes scanning through the different signs of damage. People were starting to appear out the windows, watching as our group passed through the main walkways. So that answered where people were hiding. Indoors. Waiting for the all-clear sign.

All in all, the town felt like a clan colony, except a sky reaching up to the surface strata above our heads instead of more Logi catwalks, lights and floorways. And everyone was terrified of something.

“You mind telling me what exactly is breathing down your necks this whole time?” I asked. “I know you’re probably saving it for the negotiation table, but it’s been bugging at me ever since I saw the first cannon.”

Lejis nodded. “In a word: Deathless.”

Oh. That’s not good.

“A group of them have assembled together, and sworn to see this town burned to the ground for our actions in the deaths that happened in Capra’Nor.”

That’s very not good.

“What actions exactly did the Chosen do?”

Lejis sighed. “War.”

“That doesn’t seem like a good enough reason for Deathless.” I said. “Our own clan lord is a Deathless and you remember that he spared your lives. Even knowing you were with the enemy, and possibly letting you loose would only end other human lives, he still picked to do that. It takes a lot to get a Deathless to consider innocent people a target to attack.”

He shook his head. “Lord Atius, is a Deathless of myth. One from near four hundred years ago, if I remember his age right. The Deathless outside our gates, stalking the flowers, they are from our generation.”

Ohhh. That’s very very not good. “The ones that remember their past life?”

He nodded. “And that’s why they hate us so. The ringleader is a man named Drakonis. And he was a soldier fighting for Capra’Nor. One who died in the fight for the city. He survived, as Deathless do.”

“But?” I asked.

“But his friends did not. They hadn’t been blessed as he had. And he watched them be killed. Perhaps if it had been in the open field, he would not hate us so. But they all died, without even a chance to fight back. Stabbed in the back.”

“By the Chosen.”

Lejis nodded, sounding genuinely sad. “By the Chosen. I wasn’t there personally to see, my group had been sent up, for a mission I hadn’t even been told of. One you got to handle personally. And underground, Lady To’Wrathh was still a warlord that had a city to take.”

There were three major battles that I remember Kidra telling me about. The first had been Wrath taking over all the perimeter of the city, hunting lodges and isolated camps. The second big battle had been to take out the only real military base the Undersiders had outside the city, the Tower in the middle of the Stretch. And the last battle had been split in half, one for the gates and one for the pillar heart.

“I’ll guess this was done in the Tower?”

“It was. Explosives set to detonate in some of the Tower’s defenses, you can imagine the chaos that caused. Before anyone even suspected there could be saboteurs. Lady To’Wrathh believed that to be the fastest way to take the tower with the least amount of human casualties. She was correct - the Tower fell fast, and the soldiers all surrendered within not even a half hour of the fight, but many didn't have a chance to surrender. And all actions have their consequences.This one demands blood to be paid in kind. He has made it clear, he will not settle until his cup of blood runs empty.”