The Axalon RPG

 
It is currently Mon Dec 18, 2017 4:34 pm

All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]




 Page 1 of 1 [ 6 posts ] 
Author Message
 Post subject: DWA: Mirrors of the Djinn
PostPosted: Mon Oct 04, 2010 7:02 pm 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
Posts: 97
MIRRORS OF THE DJINN

EPISODE ONE


Pestilence sat on the edge of the AXALON's navigational console, her short legs kicking idly as she directed Buckshot about his work. When standing, the Predacon scientist still only came up to the middle of his chest- sitting on the console, she'd found, gave her both an optic-to-optic view of him as well as an improved ability to oversee his attempts at learning to pilot the AXALON. At the moment, the big canine Maximal's brow was furrowed in concentration as he looked over the controls. Calamari watched the two of them at it, occasionally peeking out the viewscreen at the front of the ship to see where his inexperienced piloting might take them.

"Now, we'll cover entering a time tunnel," Pestilence told Buckshot. She said there was an operations manual somewhere on the ship, but had foregone utilizing it in her instructions because she claimed she'd memorized all of it. "Enter the coordinates on the navigational computer- let's just say SR-298, present time- flip the tunnel ignition, and disengage the inertial dampeners as the time tunnel is generated."

"You mean put the date and place in on the big computer, flip this red switch and then pull back on the lever with the black knob?" Buckshot asked.

"That's what I just said!"

"Right," Buckshot said, a little uncertainly, as he started to make the course corrections. Under most circumstances, he was an excellent driver. Most circumstances didn't include driving a spacecraft/time machine.

"Are you sure the navigating computer is, like, repaired?" Calamari asked. "You said it got totally fried when we sent back all those people on Unity."

"I'm absolutely certain it's fixed," Pestilence assured her. She paused, drumming her fingers on the console edge a little. "I'm almost completely certain it's fixed. Well, I've been meaning to pick up replacement parts and haven't gotten around to it, so I had to make do with what I found lying around the ship, but I am relatively almost completely certain it's fixed. Bucky?"

"Hell," Buckshot steadied his grip on the lever with one hand as he prepared to flip the switch with the other, "Let's take a shot and see where it lands."

He manipulated the AXALON controls and sent the advanced, prototypical ship into the time tunnel. While no time jaunt was without a little bit of turbulence, the difference here was immediately apparent- Pestilence had to grasp the console tightly in both hands underneath her as the ship swayed from side to side. Calamari sent out a couple of beast mode tentacles to grasp support structures in the walls, and Buckshot set his jaw with determination to complete his first jump, leaning into the console. The navigational computer flashed SR-295, 296, 297- then, with a sudden shower of sparks erupting from the console, several circuits fused and the computer screen erupted into static before flashing a string of gibberish and incomplete coordinates, its version of the blue screen of death. Pestilence tossed her scarf over one shoulder, reaching over to make adjustments to the maneuvering settings, as Buckshot concentrated on easing them back into normal space. With one last shudder on the overstrained engines, they exited the time tunnel and emerged into a sector of space far beyond any star charts.

"Relatively almost completely certain-" Buckshot groused.

"It still needs some work, I think," Pestilence said sheepishly. She hopped down from the console edge, patting Buckshot on the shoulder, and knelt underneath the console to look at the circuitry. She made a noise of concern and Calamari bent down to look as well.

"See this?" Pestilence indicated a thick, frayed length of cable leading from the navigational computer to other areas of the console. "Fixing the covering is easy, but that kind of wire is rare."

"Do you have more to replace it?" Calamari asked.

"Used to have this big spool of it, think I lost it back when I was my second self. No problem," Pestilence pronounced as she stood back up from underneath the console, "I can make the wire from fairly common metals. Needs to be a certain alloy in order to best channel the high amounts of power. We'll just land on a planet somewhere and I'll take some geographic scans, we're almost bound to find the stuff."

"We can still fly around and land?" Buckshot asked.

"Sure- navigational circuits may be fried, again, but we can still move the ship through this region of space. We just can't time-space jump for right now. Overall- first driving test, not bad at all." Pestilence assured Buckshot, who grinned a little. Pestilence moved towards the viewscreen and frowned thoughtfully as she peered at it. In her long and experienced life, she'd been to quite a few uncharted regions of the galaxy, but she'd never seen one like this. There were very few stars visible among the inky curtain of space, and only one planet nearby. It was a greenish orb with swirls of blue and pink in the atmosphere, an M-class distance away from the sun. Pestilence gazed out the viewscreen for a moment longer, then made her decision.

"I've never been to -that- planet before," she said, pointing it out. "Buckshot, do you want to make the landing?"

"Nah, I'll let you cover that part," he said in a hurry. Pestilence nodded and moved over to the console, her fingers moving over the controls with practiced ease. The AXALON, visible as only a tiny silver booth in space, glided towards the mysterious planet, its three-bot crew unaware of what awaited them.

-----------------

With a slow strobe flash and a clank and thud, the silver booth materialized inside an alley. After a moment, the doors slid open and Pestilence poked her head out, goggles down, looking around curiously. It was midday, rather cool out, atmospheric conditions relatively normal- she slid her goggles back up on her forehead and stepped out of the AXALON. She glanced down at the cobblestone street, moving back and forth on her heels, while Buckshot and Calamari emerged from the ship. Calamari looked up at the nearest building wall on their left- it was a tall graceful-looking wooden structure with the corners of the roof gently curving upward, and some kind of much thicker, denser variety of thatch providing shingles and shutters alike. There were unusual purple symbols painted into the wall, resembling some arcane graffiti. Buckshot looked behind them, seeing a range of snow-capped mountains in the background of a pinkish sky. Pestilence swept her scanner back and forth, optics moving rapidly along the scanner's readout screen to keep up with the large volume of sensory data it was feeding back to her.

"Small village, several kilometers from one side to the other. Picking up a lot of organic readings here, concentrated in and around the structures," she said, mostly to herself.

"What kind of organic readings?" Buckshot asked.

"Let me clarify the search- oh, not this thing too!" Pestilence exclaimed, impatiently smacking the palm of her hand against the scanner as its readout screen started to err. When it cleared, she narrowed her optics at the screen. "Anomalous readings all over the place. Something in the air here is messing with my equipment. Or, at least, confusing it."

"Maybe we should step out of this alley and just, like, look for ourselves," Calamari said.

"Three robots setting foot on a planet wayyyy too far away to have heard of Cybertron?" Buckshot said. "What if they freak out, call us metal demons, and try to kill us?"

"Then we run right on back to the AXALON and bid this place good day," Pestilence assured him. "We won't get very far without materials for me to repair the navigational console, though. Let's just peek."

The trio of explorers nodded to one another, then walked as one down the narrow cobblestone alley, towards the end opening out into the town proper. They set foot out into the light and paused, fascinated. They were in the middle of a great bustling town square with hills going both up and down in various directions, and silky-furred feline beings milling around. The very center seemed to be a valley- from there, cobblestone paths wound their way up and around the snow-flecked grass parks. Covered wagons bumped their way along the paths, pulled by massive blue oxen. The houses all expressed the same artfully curved, simple-means aesthetic. In the middle of the town square, there was a temple of worship where they could see great statues in varying poses through the long glass windows. There was a restaurant with many of the felines eating bowls of stew at open-air benches and tables as a massive cauldron bubbled and boiled, emitting a tantalizing scent. There was a great pagoda towering overhead, ten stories tall- this seemed to be the main workplace of the villagers, the restaurant and temple flanking it. The houses on the hills all stretched out from this focal point of the village. Pestilence took all this in, pleased as ever to be seeing a new place, while Buckshot looked concernedly at the villagers. Nobody had seen them yet, but when they did...

At that time, one of the feline villagers came walking by the alleyway, a sledgehammer over her shoulder. She was about Calamari's height, slender and graceful, wearing a long billowing robe, leathery boots, and, curiously, a pair of protective eye wear not unlike Pestilence's goggles in appearance hanging at her neck. These ones were far less technological tho, intended only to protect from harsh glare. Her fur was a patchwork of colors, stripes of brown and white and orange, and she had brilliant golden eyes. She'd have passed by without incident, but then she happened to turn her head an inch and so spotted the three standing in the alleyway.

"Outsiders!" she said with surprise, her voice a melodious trill.

"Aw, crap," Buckshot said, preparing to turn and charge back to the AXALON.

"We welcome you!" the feline villager said with a beam.

Buckshot stopped at that, and grinned.

"Now that's good to hear."

"I am Ascarta, of the Lykia," the feline villager said with a graceful bow. "I must admit, I did not believe the Elder when he told us of metal beings appearing as if from nowhere. And more than one!"

"Oh?" Pestilence's optic ridges raised. "You've been expecting us?"

"The Elder's dreams foretold your arrival," Ascarta said happily.

Pestilence looked askance at her. She didn't believe in predestination, and a random barely-not-a crash landing on a world far outside charted space that nevertheless was expecting them aroused her suspicion.

"Yes, well, we've come a very long way, and we're happy to...um...arrive as foretold? Why don't you take us to meet this Elder?" Pestilence asked.

"Certainly. I was just on my way to the tower," Ascarta said, pointing out the great pagoda in the center of the village. "The Elder is certain to be about, to observe and oversee the mirror production. He'll be delighted to learn you've arrived ahead of schedule."

"Oh yes, the mirrors, we've got a lot to talk about, with the schedules and the mirrors. Lead the way," Pestilence said, motioning with her hand at Ascarta. The feline nodded, toting her sledgehammer back up onto her shoulder, and began to walk with sinuous grace towards the pagoda. As Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari followed, Calamari leaned in close to the petite moth and whispered:

"I guess we're not demons?"

"No, we are not," Pestilence said thoughtfully. "That was quite an enthused welcome. Either they're looking for us- which I doubt, I've never been within five parsecs of this region of space before- or, they're looking for other Cybertronians."

"This Elder guy must've told everyone. Look," Buckshot said, and the other two glanced around them as they walked towards the tower. Every villager that they passed, whether they were eating at the open-air restaurant or attending to chores at their places of business, all were staring openly and with fascination at the trio of metallic beings as they passed by. Calamari wiggled her fingers at a few in greeting, and they promptly erupted into excited discussion with one another. She lowered her hand, blinking, and hastened to join the others as they headed to the pagoda.

They approached the great double doors of the ground floor. Craning their necks to peer upward, they saw narrow windows at evenly spaced intervals, and a wooden sign next to a bell. The wooden sign, attached to the side of the building, had more of that curious purple lettering on it. Ascarta reached up for a long black rope hanging from the bell on the side, and gave it three firm tugs. The bell knocked back and forth rhythmically, tolling out a specific three-note cadence, and the doors swung open. Pestilence looked on the other side for a guard who must've opened the doors at the signal, or some kind of sound-activated mechanism, but saw neither. Just plain wooden doors. She stared at the hinges for a moment before Buckshot elbowed her and she continued on.

They entered the vast innards of the tower and didn't even try to hide their amazement. A great wooden spiral staircase stretched up the walls, to platforms going up to the very top of the tower. They could see all the way to the roof via the great round shaft between the stairs and platforms. And on every level were more Lykia workers, goggled and robes, hammering and welding pieces of metal and sliding them out in long rectangular sheets. Pestilence took a few steps forward, still staring up above, and almost bumped into a metal railing. She looked down to see a great working floor basement, where a massive oven was being tended to by more Lykia. One on the basement floor called out to the workers above, and one of the long rectangular sheets of metal was floated down from the third floor. It gently levitated to the ground worker, who took hold of the ten-foot sheet with the help of another worker and set it onto a trough in front of the oven.

"Amazing! This appears to be a tower of simple wood and metal and stone, yet you have sonic pattern recognition door locks -and- antigrav field emitters!" Pestilence said to Ascarta. The Lykia worker gave her a blank, politely uncertain look.

"I didn't see any machines like that on the way in," Buckshot murmured.

"Me neither." Calamari agreed. Pestilence opened her mouth to provide the rational explanation, paused, and shut it. She watched as, on the basement floor, the workers opened up the oven and funneled a shimmering liquid, all silvers and purples and blues, onto the metal sheet on the trough. It flowed across the sheet as though with a mind of its own, coating it at all corners, the run-off pooling in the trough. They wheeled the trough towards another machine where the reflective liquid was rapidly cooled and hardened in place, without a single ripple, bubble, or imperfection.

"I don't recognize that metal," Pestilence said to Ascarta. "It's not gold, or silvering, or any other mirror coating I've heard of. Would you mind if I walked down to the floor and took a quick scan?"

Ascarta inclined her head and Pestilence took her multi-tool from one of her coat pockets, moving down a staircase to the basement floor. Calamari and Buckshot followed and watched as she swept the scanner part of the tool back and forth across the oven, the mirror trough, and the two nonplussed workers staring at them. She blinked, reconfiguring her scanner, then reconfiguring it again, and shaking it a little.

"I can't pick up a molecular composition of the coating. More anomalous readings. Except for one thing- whatever that substance is, it's incredibly powerful! A little of that and I could repair the navigational circuits and keep the AXALON engines running for centuries!"

"Hey, not bad, maybe they'll let us borrow a bit," Buckshot said. "Who do we ask?"

"I'd say we run it by this Elder, as soon as we find out where he is," Pestilence replied. The two workers next to her, who'd been observing this conversation with a mixture of awe and amusement, stopped in their labors and looked up at the ground floor platform. They twanged their whiskers, then touched a single finger to their foreheads, a sort of salute. Ascarta, up on the ground floor, did the same. So did every worker in the pagoda, as a graying-furred, regal and handsome Lykia in brilliant green robes entered the tower. He twanged a single whisker and bowed his head, and the workers immediately returned to their duties.

"Elder Azmus! The metal beings you spoke of have arrived!" Ascarta said to him as he walked towards her. "Earlier than we thought, too."

"They have? Then there's no need to set up the ritual," Azmus said, blinking. "When the wish-granter spoke in my dreams, he did not say they would arrive early. But surely this is a wonderful thing, and I would be happy to-"

His slightly confused ramblings ended as he approached the railing, and looked down at Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari. Buckshot copied the single finger to forehead, Calamari waved, and Pestilence smiled awkwardly.

"....Those are not the metal beings foretold of!" Azmus exclaimed.

-----------------

The two Lykia workers nearest to the three explorers grabbed them- one taking firm hold of Buckshot's arm, the other easily steering along the diminutive Pestilence and the slender Calamari. They started to walk them back up the stairs towards the Elder, as a group of Lykia workers gathered around him.

"Here comes the freaking out and killing us part," Buckshot grimaced. Though he could've easily punched out the shorter feline with one metallic fist, he went along with him for now, waiting to see just what the Elder had in store for them.

They manhandled the trio up to the top of the stairs and set them standing before Azmus. The aged Lykia considered them for a long moment, and finally shook his head.

"I do not think you three are here to harm us. When I realized you were not the being I dreamed of, I feared a Kurylian trick," he said, waving a hand for the workers to let the three go.

"Who are the Kurylians?" Pestilence asked.

"You really are just visitors to this world," Azmus said.

"Non-violent visitors, I would add. We were brought to this planet by chance. I'm Pestilence, these are my friends, Buckshot and Calamari," the small moth femmebot said, pointing out Buckshot, who nodded a greeting, and Calamari, who reached forward and shook the Elder's hand. He looked a little surprised at the gesture, but returned it cordially enough.

"I am the village elder Azmus. I have as many questions for you as you must have for me," he said, seeming to warm to them a little. "When the dreams came, showing me a metal warrior who would arrive to save us, I thought he must be one of a kind. There are an entire race of you?"

"There was," Pestilence answered. "There's not very many of us left now. We're scattered all over the galaxy- and, to be honest, I don't know many Cybertronians in the habit of entering peoples' dreams. Who did you see?"

"A great dragon from another time," Azmus said, a distant look to his golden eyes. "When the time is right, we will summon him to protect us, and guard us against the enemy."

"The Kurylians?" Pestilence prompted him.

"Precisely," Azmus said. He started to walk towards a completed mirror hanging not far from the entrance doors. The explorers walked with him, and looked up at it. The mirror was ten feet tall and in an ornate black frame, showing their reflections. Azmus looked closely at himself in the mirror, as though inspecting the reflected image for some irregularity. He turned to face the three.

"This is the planet Lykur. It belongs to two evolved races- the Lykia and the Kurylians. We, the Lykia, are a race of pacifists. We were content to live in relatively simple means- we tended our crops, we hunted and raised animals, we debated philosophy and theology, we lived our lives in tranquility. The Kurylians, a reptilian race, were once our neighbors. Though they preferred a somewhat more militaristic life, and questions of science rather than questions of being, our separate nations managed to co-exist peacefully. We maintained trade with one another and stayed diplomatic."

"What changed?" Pestilence asked.

"The meteor shower, about three harvest-cycles ago," Azmus said. "Meteorites raining down from the heavens. The damage was minimal, no one was hurt, and we thought nothing of it. The Kurylians were curious, bringing scientists here to inspect the rocks, and taking samples back. Then, some time later, the sky changed. Eerie lights visible only at night. And some of us in the village, those more sensitive to the intangible, began to have dreams. A shadow in the night who spoke to us. A beautiful being, a granter of wishes, always just out of reach, with charming words and merry sentiment. He knows the secrets of the universe. He will bring us true enlightenment."

"A mysterious stranger promising incredible knowledge. Sounds...intriguing," Pestilence humored him. She gave her friends a doubtful glance, which they reciprocated.

"I received the dreams most strongly, and was directed to spread the word," Azmus continued. "The Kurylians, I am sorry to say, were suspicious and fearful of what this dream-being might do. It was a source of debate at first, then conflict. They severed diplomatic relations with us. And when we began to build the mirrors, and they heard of it, conflict escalated into battle."

"The mirrors, yes," Pestilence seized upon that, "What are they for?"

"They are the doorways to new power and knowledge," Azmus replied matter-of-factly. "The wish-granter cannot enter our realm directly, but through the mirrors he will send a champion, a warrior dragon to protect us from the Kurylians."

"Then these are some sort of gate..." Pestilence mused. She reached out and brushed her palm along the mirror's smooth surface, finding it cool to the touch. "That strange metal you use to coat these, could I have a sample? Just to study, and maybe just a tad of it to power my ship?"

"I am sorry," Azmus said, "But that is impossible."

"I understand it's important to the mirror production process, but if I just had a little to analyze, I could help you with-"

"I would gladly allow you to take some," the Elder interrupted, "But the problem is that we are nearly out of it. The material is derived from the meteor rocks. There was ample supply, once, but after the Kurylians cut off trade we could no longer take the rocks that landed in their territory, and their attacks on us have been largely focused on seizing our supplies of the meteor rocks, and the metal drained from within them. We cannot create the mirrors without that material."

"All right," Pestilence decided, "Then I'll go over to the Kurylians' territory and try to negotiate with them. You said they're beings of science, I'm sure we'd get along just fine."

"I wouldn't recommend that," Ascarta interjected, "It's a long and dangerous trek to their kingdom. You're likely to be attacked by Kurylian sentries or the beasts in the wilderness."

"I have a means of bypassing the distance," Pestilence said confidently, though inwardly she wondered whether the navigationally impaired AXALON was up to another transport, and how these as yet unknown beings would respond to it suddenly appearing within their more militaristic kingdom.

"If you wait for the ritual, we can summon the guardian to-" Azmus started to say, when, with a sudden crackle of ozone and a flash of light, a portal opened up within the mirror production tower. The Lykia whirled around, going for staffs and spears as the Elder shouted out,

"It's a Kurylian! Stop him!"

Indeed, he was a reptile. The Kurylian attacker was a short and stocky turtle being, his shell a heavy brown armor resembling a great stone flak-jacket on his back. His protruding limbs were muscular and smoothly scaled, and he wore a rudimentary body armor lined with pockets on his torso and legs. His head was bald and craggy, with deep-set black eyes, a rounded nose, and a beak of razor-sharp ridges. He looked around rapidly, and thumped one of the pockets on his shell. It slid open and he drew a silver handgun, pointing it at the mirror nearest to Azmus and Pestilence.

Pestilence yelped, grabbing hold of the feline elder by the robes and hurling him to the floor. The Kurylian squeezed the trigger and fired an orb of energy that slammed into the mirror, shattering it into a thousand fragments. With quick military precision, the Kurylian turned and fired on another mirror, then another, destroying several of them. The Lykia charged towards him, and Ascarta flung out her spear. He dropped to one knee and spun around, the spear bouncing off his shell, then turned and fired at her. The orb of energy blasted from his advanced handgun caught her in the midsection and she was propelled backwards, hitting the opposite wall and slumping to the floor.

"Enough!" Pestilence shouted above the din of shattering mirrors and attacking Lykia. The Kurylian leveled his gun at her, pulled the trigger, then frowned as it merely emitted a harmless click. He placed it back in his pocket and, as Lykia vaulted over the railing and landed with cat reflexes on the basement floor, turned towards the swirling portal. Pestilence reached into another one of her coat pockets, drawing a tiny beeping device, and hurled it at the portal just as the Kurylian dove through it. He, and the tracker, disappeared into the portal at the same time. With another flash of light, a loud bang, and that faint smell of ozone again, the Kurylian was gone. The Lykia steered to a halt and uttered emphatic curses, thumping their staffs against the floor in frustration. Clearly, the pacifistic felines could not match the clockwork precision of this shelled invader.

Pestilence hurried past Azmus towards where Ascarta lay slumped against the wall. Calamari had bent down next to her, and had a metal finger to the side of her throat. Pestilence gave her a questioning glance.

"Nope, she's not dead, I still feel a pulse. Did she get stunned?" Calamari asked.

Pestilence sweeped her multi-tool over the feline's body, picking up a low heartbeat and no signs of serious injury. She nodded, and pocketed the tool.

"There! That is the second attack in a month! You see why we must have the guardian!" Azmus said angrily, sweeping a hand towards the shattered mirrors, his sandaled feet crunching over the fallen glass shards.

"Then the Kurylians have gone after the mirrors before? Do they tend to just stun, and not kill?" Pestilence asked.

"Yes- there have been deaths, but not many. They show up, set us back weeks' work, and disappear again. That gun of his is powered on meteor metal! They would use the material for weapons of war, we would use it to usher in a new era of understanding! You see they do not listen to reason!"

"Look," Pestilence said slowly, "It's clear they have the technology to just teleport into your village and attack. If they wanted you dead, they could just teleport into your rooms and shoot you in your sleep, couldn't they? But to only attack these production facilities, they must have a reason to want to impede your work. If I could just go there, and talk to them, maybe this can be straightened out. I threw a tracking bug into the portal after him. All I need is to pick up the signal and we can find our way to their kingdom without need of a guide."

"You may not need a guide, but you'll have a protector," Azmus said resolutely. "Tomorrow night, we will complete the ritual to summon the dragon. He will save us from these...non-believers."

Azmus swept out of the temple, clearly incensed at the loss of the mirrors. A few Lykia workers gathered around Ascarta, lightly pulling her whiskers to revive her. They helped her to her feet and out of the temple, and Pestilence watched them go with a frown.

"Unbelievers. Enlightenment. That guy coming off like a zealot to you?" Buckshot asked, and Pestilence nodded.

"Let's stay and see this summoning ritual," she said. "If this 'dragon' is as much of a zealot, and as dedicated to fighting the Kurylians as Azmus, this could turn bloody, fast."

They headed out of the temple, leaving Lykia behind to tend to the shattered mirrors and start moving intact ones out of the pagoda.

------------------

A female Lykia in velvety pink robes ushered Pestilence, Calamari, and Buckshot into the guest rooms of the Elder's house. Though Pestilence had told the Elder that they had their own place to stay for the night- referring not too overtly to the AXALON, which had not been discovered by any villagers as yet- he'd insisted upon having them as guests.

"Elder Azmus apologizes for not dining with you in person, but if he is to expect another meeting with the wish-granter tonight, he must enter a state of deep meditation prior to sleep," the Lykia said in a serene purr. She had lightly orange and brown-streaked fur, and golden eyes.

"We understand. This is more than we need, very gracious," Pestilence nodded. The aide swept out of the room with a billow of her robes and a pendulum flick of her tail, leaving them to glance about the room. There were four beds at the end of the room, all sized for Lykia (or, in more diplomatic times, Kurylians). Paper dividing walls separated each bed. The long glass window stretching across the room, with curtains pulled back on either side, showed the moonlit vista of the village. A wooden table had been set up in the front of the room with a variety of food- fruit, meat, fish, soup, vegetables, grains, in reasonable portions on wooden plates and bowls. Apparently, the mansion cooks weren't sure what Cybertronians ate, if they ate anything, so they compensated by setting out a little bit of everything. Buckshot eyed the table as Calamari plopped down to sit on the edge of one of the beds.

"What're we supposed to do tomorrow up until this summoning thing?" Calamari asked.

"Look around the village," Pestilence suggested, peering out the window. "Get scans of anything and everything, and smack my scanner until it stops saying 'anomaly'. The Kurylians clearly have access to advanced technology, portals and such, and the knowledge of how to take these meteors and apply them to weapons science. What sort of technology are the Lykia using, by comparison? What kind of capabilities will they offer this 'dragon'?"

"I don't think there's much technology here," Buckshot spoke up through a mouthful of fish and vegetables. He'd made his way to the wooden table and had a plate laden with food, his energy intake systems hard at work on converting the organic matter into sustenance. "These guys're farmers and hunters, not scientists. Probably when it came to-" he swallowed, then continued with mouth unimpeded, "When it came to going all scientific revolution, the Kurylians went one way and the Lykia went the other."

"Maybe they're using magic," Calamari proposed. Buckshot shrugged a little, and Pestilence just shook her head.

"Impossible," she said.

"You saw the mirrors floating around that tower! Plus the big door opening at a sound with no machine stuff to move it, not to mention the guy talking to people in his dreams."

"I'll readily admit there may be forces at work here that defy easy explanations-"

"Like magic!"

"-but I'm not satisfied to say 'oh, they can just magic their way out of it'." Pestilence finished. "All things can be quantified and understood by science. That means they have rules, limitations, defining factors enabling them to be grasped by even outsiders like us. Otherwise, if magic has no rules, why doesn't the Elder wave his hands and abracadabra the Kurylians into nothingness? Or pluck the dragon guardian out of the ether himself?"

"Magic's got rules like science does, I guess," Calamari said. "The Elder's probably just not powerful enough to take care of everything on his own."

"I can agree with that much. Are you two going to sleep?" Pestilence asked. Though the three of them had no need for sleep in the organic sense, they could choose to enter a period of temporary stasis during which they could recharge secondary systems and declutter their neural nets.

"I might get that aide back in here to hook me up with some more of this grub," Buckshot said, having cleaned his plate and set it down on the table. "Maybe have her hang around, get to know her a bit."

Calamari looked askance at him. "Bucky, she's organic!"

"I know!" he said defensively. "These Lykia just have, I dunno, a way about them. Probably my beast mode talking."

"How about you, Pestilence? Seriously, you need to recharge, you've been on non-stop since we got away from Unity. Piloting the ship, fixing everything, running your weird experiments, you so need a break," Calamari said critically to her friend. The diminutive moth smiled a little, removing her scarf and dumping it beside one of the beds.

"Yeah, you're probably right. I'll take a brief recharge and we'll start getting the feel for this place in the morning. Bucky?" Pestilence asked as she laid out on the bed.

"Gonna stand watch for a little while, in case any more of those turtles come 'porting in here to stir up crap," he said, toasting to her with a wooden cup of Lykian sake. Pestilence and Calamari laid down in each of their beds, powering down into stasis.

------------------

Four hours later, deep into the night, Calamari awoke. She laid in bed and stared up at the wooden beams of the ceiling, frowning. Her internal chronometer had been set for longer than this, hadn't it? She sat up, optics adjusting for the dim of the darkened room. Pestilence lay on the bed next to her, in a stasis cycle. Her overactive, Transmetal-enhanced neural net seemed to be feeding back to her in some odd way. As Calamari watched, the petite moth's optics would intermittently flicker on and off, and she mumbled under her breath. Calamari listened very closely and realized she was saying long, complex equations and formulas. Calamari smiled with amusement in the darkness. Even Pestilence's dreams were super-genius stuff.

She sat up, and looked over at Buckshot, curious whether he was still standing watch. He'd clearly extinguished the lights. No; the big burly Maximal had his chin on his chest, leaning back in a chair. His optics were off and he gave no sign of dreaming, save the occasional grunt or shift. He might've murmured a name. Calamari didn't recognize it.

The lithe young octopus Predacon slipped off the bed silently, and looked to the window. Snow was falling more heavily now, lightly blanketing the graceful curved wooden roofs of the village. It was very quiet, very pretty- and a little strange. She couldn't hear a single animal. And there were strange shimmering lights in the sky. She stared at them for a while before feeling a faint whoosh of sound behind her.

Calamari spun around, seeing nobody in the room save her sleeping friends. There was a faint undercurrent of whispers in the air that nobody seemed to be picking up on. She considered for a moment, then decided to follow them. Not too far, certainly not into that silent snowy night outside, but just enough to get a hint. She'd run back and wake the others if there was any danger.

She padded out into the long mansion hallway, the ginger steps of her metal feet making the barest of creaks on the wood. The aides were gone, presumably off to their own rooms or separate housing. She looked around, magnifying her audio feedback as much as she could to pick up on that sound. There- the door at the far end of the corridor. She stepped lightly towards it, seeing the door slightly ajar. A flickering light within. She peered into the door and gasped into her hands.

Elder Azmus was sitting cross-legged in the center of the room. Ink jars were arrayed around him, a quill dropped carelessly to the floor at his side. A sheet of paper scrawled with bizarre symbols laid on the floor before him, a candle set in front of it and lit. Azmus rocked back and forth, low murmurs emerging from deep within his feline chest. His eyelids batted open and shut rapidly, not seeing Calamari peering through the door, not seeing the door, not seeing anything. The candle flame jumped and danced upon its wick, giving off a silhouette far too big for a small flame upon the far wall. And this shadow illuminated by the flame- there were two of them. Azmus, and something else. The other shadow was shaped like a person, though with each gesture of its arms and movement of its mouth, head bobbing, it would warp slightly, dancing like that flame. That faint undercurrent of whispers was coming from the shadow, the sound emerging from it. Calamari looked at Azmus, and saw his low growls and murmurs were in response to that whispering. He was smiling benignly. He murmured something unknown, and at this the shadow actually seemed to pantomime a merry laugh.

Frightened, Calamari backed away from the door and left it hanging open just as it had been. She returned quickly to her friends and laid down on her bed, though she had no intention of returning to sleep.

------------------

The following day was one of a great deal of activity. The Lykia were chiefly concerned with making the necessary preparations for the summoning ritual. Elder Azmus worked like a man possessed, helping the other villagers to set up a shrine in the center of the village, in the shadow of the great pagoda. The mirrors destroyed by the Kurylian invader had been swept away from within the pagoda, the metal debris melted down and what coating that could be saved, added to the oven. Lykia patrolled the tower with rudimentary weaponry, crossbows and spears and shields, at the ready. They stood a watch at the outer perimeter of the shrine, while feline farmers and teachers, and their children, gazed curiously at it.

Upon the Elder's cryptic instructions, they'd erected a platform upon the center of the cobblestone street. Workers hammered wooden beams into place, while scholars with long rolls of parchment murmured incantations and directed apprentices to scrawl unusual symbols upon the platform in ordered rows. Lykia in heavy brown robes, tools or nails clenched in their mouths, hammered a great metal frame into place at the edge of the platform, some twelve feet tall and three feet wide. Inside, the Lykia were putting together the largest mirror yet, pooling the very last of the forge material to produce its bizarre reflective coating. By nightfall, everything would be ready.

Calamari had recounted her experience of the previous night to her friends. Buckshot had been a little surprised by it, but taken it in stride with casual acceptance. Pestilence had asked Calamari for every detail she could recall, and turned the recounting over and over in her head for explanations. She had yet to come up with any, but chalked that up to a lack of data. The three Cybertronian explorers walked through the village, their feet crunching across the snow as they observed the busy activity of the workers. Azmus had said they required no assistance, and only he knew the specifics of its construction. The type of wood, the order of the symbols, it seemed to be important. He didn't say what would happen if the summoning went wrong. That concerned Pestilence.

"I've been trying to adjust the scanner for the anomalous readings in this village- on this whole planet, really," she said to her companions as they watched the construction. "It's slow going, I've had to do some programming trickery to get it to work, but I'm getting more accurate readings now. Accurate enough to know that this planet is -very- far outside the range of any known systems. Practically the edge of the galaxy."

"What about that weird writing?" Calamari asked. "I saw the stuff all around the elder guy's room, and then they're writing what looks like the same symbols on that platform. Plus it's on that purple graffiti everywhere."

"Language translation database has nothing on it," Pestilence admitted. "Normally it can adapt to a new language fairly well, but these symbols throw the scanner for a loop."

"S'pose it's magic words? For a magic spell?" Buckshot asked, and Calamari nodded emphatically.

"I'm...skeptical about that," Pestilence said evenly. "But I've been wrong before. There are accounts from many cultures of words of power. Some you speak aloud to bring about magical events, others that must be written down. If it really is possible for a language to create changes in the physical properties of things, or to summon beings from other dimensions, then maybe writing that odd graffiti all over the village was an attempt at blessing this place. They could have been declaring the village under this wish-granter's protection. Or, under his control."

"Look at that mirror! That's the biggest damn one yet!" Buckshot pointed out, and indeed, five workers were hauling out the newly created mirror. As the sun began to set, casting an orange glare across the village square and glinting off the mirror, they set it up in the metal frame. Rather than secure it to the frame, they set it to simply hover in place. The scholars uttered one more blessing and took a step back as the apprentices scribbled one more symbol in place, completing a circular pattern of glyphs across the platform. Whatever came from that mirror would step down into the circle.

"That mirror looks big enough to maybe squeeze a dragon through," Calamari murmured, and Pestilence nodded. She had a bad feeling about it- they all did- but they were committed to witnessing this event. All the same, Buckshot kept clenching and unclenching his fists, and Pestilence had her hands stuffed deep in her pockets, fingering and rubbing her multi-tool. One quick stun burst was all she might manage.

"The time is now!" Azmus called out to the gathering Lykia workers, scholars, apprentices, farmers, hunters, parents and children. They formed a reverent circle around the platform, gazing up at the mirror. The sun was setting directly behind it, disappearing gradually past the rooftops. Night had fallen, and a pair of lit torches on the corners of the platform threw flickering patterns of light on the assembled villagers, casting dancing orange lights on the snow.

"When the meteor shower came, it was no mere weather phenomenon, as the Kurylians would have us believe!" Azmus declared, his throaty feline voice carrying out over the night. "It was a portent of a great ascension! They rejected this knowledge- they have attacked us, wounded us, destroyed our work! We have known generations of peace. It has left us open in mind, rich in soul, but weak in the ways of war. We bring forth a guardian from another dimension and a doomed world!"

He turned to face the massive mirror, humming and growling deep in his chest. The Lykia watched, awestruck, murmuring to one another. As he rocked back and forth on the pads of his feet, the flames of the torches burst into greater heat and intensity, casting a brilliant purple fire. Buckshot swore under his breath, startled, and Pestilence ran her fingers along her scanner, staring with fascination. Calamari turned, seeing the living shadow dart across the snow. She clutched Pestilence's shoulder hard, and the diminutive scientist turned, optics widening as she saw confirmation of Calamari's story. The laughing shade flitted across the snow and onto the platform, crossing the symbols and leaving them shimmering purple where he passed. The mirror went from reflecting the platform, Azmus, the villagers- to showing another realm, a hallway of glittering doors and yawning black shadows, candles floating in midair. Azmus's eyes opened and he stared into this ethereal realm with the delight of a vindicated believer.

"From this mirror realm comes our guardian!" he called out. "I ask you to come forth! Leave the darkness and the silence, and grace us with your presence!"

There was silence for a moment- then, a large, muscular metallic arm wearing an ornate gauntlet burst from the mirror, inspiring shrieks and gasps from the villagers. It moved from side to side uncertainly, like a man moving his arm into the doorway of a darkened room and searching for the light switch. The clawed fingers found the mirror's frame, and gripped them tightly. The metal bent and shrieked as more of the visitor revealed himself. He was indeed a Cybertronian- he wore armor adorned with spikes to deflect incoming blades. It was cracked and ancient, inscribed with runes of some unknown power. He pulled himself out further, the mirror rippling like water around him. He wore a horned battle helmet and his head was bowed, obscuring his face. The dragon looked from side to side, inhaled, and stepped forward in one lunge. The folded-up wings on his back burst open as soon as he'd cleared the mirror, popping outward in a great span of creaking metal. He folded them up, and lifted his head. There was a scream from several in the crowd as they saw he had no optics- there were empty pits in his face showing nothing but inky blackness. Then the shadow leaped into the mirror, and Pestilence caught the barest glimpse of a purple being with smoke puffing and curling around him, before the mirror became once more a simple reflective surface. The dragon's entire body arched and he let out a guttural howl as light erupted from his face, bright white and blinding. When it subsided, he had a pair of smoldering red optics in their place. He blinked once, twice, and touched a switch upon his helmet- causing panels of it to split and recede, fully revealing his face, He had a rather handsome visage, though it carried faint scars and the weight of his years. Azmus placed a reverent hand upon his shoulder.

"Yes, it is indeed as I have dreamed," Azmus said with satisfaction. He turned towards the villagers, who had taken intimidated steps back from the platform.

"I give you our guardian! From the dead world Cybertron! PYRE!"

Pyre turned his red gaze upon Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari. His gaze narrowed, and he growled.


END OF EPISODE ONE


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: DWA: Mirrors of the Djinn
PostPosted: Thu Oct 14, 2010 2:00 am 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
Posts: 97
MIRRORS OF THE DJINN

EPISODE TWO


The crowd of villagers gazed upon their promised guardian with trepidation. Pyre took a step forward, then another, the wooden platform creaking under his weight, and they drew closer together. Azmus's hand, laid upon Pyre's shoulder, drew closer to one of the armor's blades and nicked his palm slightly. He drew it back quickly and rubbed it, looking up at the dragon with awe. Pyre took in the scene of silence and fear- then, the small moth Predacon in the long coat, scarf, and goggles that he'd seen in the audience hopped up onto the platform, and walked fearlessly right up to him, talking freely and enthusiastically.

"That was quite an entrance! Very awesome. I've never seen a mirror used as a basis for teleportation before. What realm do you come from, anyway? You look pretty Cybertronian for a dragon."

He looked down at the much smaller femme, then towards where Azmus stood. Instead of answering her, he raised his right hand up in front of himself, and clenched his fists. A small port, about the size of a standard dataslot, sparked brightly, discharging a rather impressive, if small, light show of red and orange sparks, leaving behind a small puff of smoke and the smell of burnt electronics.

"I know what I'm doing here," he said, finally answering Pestilence, whose good cheer seemed completely unaffected by his prior silence. "So why are you on this world?"

"Total accident. We set down looking for materials to repair my ship, and, well, we got caught up in the chain of events from there. You're here to protect this village? Or are you here to attack its enemies? Maybe it's neither. Maybe you're here to serve the design of...the wish-granter?"

She said this last part with raised optics, gauging Pyre for his response. Buckshot stepped up onto the platform just behind Pestilence. The big, muscular canine still gave up a few inches to Pyre. Calamari remained standing just past the platform, looking a little more hesitant to join the discussion.

"I don't 'serve' anyone," Pyre answered, looking from Pestilence to her taller, more imposing companion. He gave the Maximal a cursory glance, and what seemed to be a round metallic seal on his left hip then rotated, a soft hissing sound made as it spun twice, before two of the heavy plates on his leg slid forward and back respectively. A holster extended outwards, displaying a hand cannon of a firearm. It looked intricate and advanced enough to immediately draw Pestilence's attention and curiosity, while Buckshot felt his hackles rise, so to speak. "I'm here to end a war."

"What kind of gun is that?" she asked, pointing to it. Buckshot stepped forward a little, as if ready to tackle Pyre in case he raised the gun to point at her.

Rather than reassure either her or Buckshot, he drew the weapon, turning it upwards to look at the rear of it, just above the grip...and he scowled darkly. Ejecting the clip, Pestilence saw a faint blue covering on the top bullet, and blinked. "Depleted triuranium shells? A portable railcannon! I've never seen one so small before! May I?" She held out her hand, smiling up at her...and to Buckshot's surprise, the dragon actually handed it to her! The sight was rather bizarre; the difference in size between her and the weapon ridiculous. "Oh. You're missing the charge module."

"I noticed," Pyre growled.

"Here, that's yours, little big for me-" Pestilence handed it back to Pyre, who reholstered it dourly. "Maybe we should introduce ourselves. I'm Pestilence, this is my good friend Buckshot-"

"How's it going," Buckshot said, looking uncertainly at Pyre.

"That's Calamari, back there-"

The youthful octopus femme waved in greeting.

"And this is Azmus, who presided over your summoning ritual," she said, indicating the aged Lykia. He bowed a little.

"It went better than I'd have hoped. The wish-granter has been kind to me, and answered my prayers. What plans do you have for ending this war?" Azmus prompted Pyre.

"Wish-granter?" Pyre shook his head. "Tch. He's got a cute sense of humor. He brought me back but didn't bother to fix my weaponry. Everything I have on me is as depleted or as broken as it was when I went down. I'll have to get by on whatever I can find."

"Were you in some sort of battle before?" Pestilence asked, triggering a sharp and unwelcome flash of memories within Pyre. Being plucked from oblivion by a merry entity with a charming voice...

"A losing one. Used the charge modules to rig a force field." He said, and looked down at one of the runes on him. He ran a sharp claw across it, and it flaked away like old, dried paint. He preferred not to think of the battle's outcome.

"Could I run a scan or two? They'd be quick!" Pestilence asked.

"If it means no more questions, by all means," he said dryly.

Compensating for anomalous readings and environmental interference, Pestilence swept her multi-tool's scanner up and down Pyre. The crowd of Lykia were now mingling around the platform, making quiet conversation with one another. Calamari stood up on the platform, regarding him curiously, while Azmus seemed overtly pleased by his presence.

"You're almost as old as I am," Pestilence said with intrigue. "But there's traces of corrosion and shell ruptures consistent with what would be mortal wounds. These runes match the graffiti we've been seeing around town. I think I'm going to have to keep asking you questions. Like your name. And if you're really from Cybertron. Because if you're nearly my age, you should remember a Cybertron that isn't there anymore."

"I'm Pyre. And...I'm complicated," he replied, sounding irritated. The names and designations of entities familiar and unfamiliar, dangerous and more dangerous still flashed across her multi-tool. It informed her that some kind of Greater Force cell count was currently at zero, that a spatial, light-based teleportation system was offline, that ablative armor was not regenerating at present, and that something called the 'Primevil' virus was not present in what it referred to as 'current incarnation'. More worrisome was that it stated that Pyre was once a carrier, and now free of, the Beast infection. "Satisfied?" He rumbled. 'Complicated', he'd said.

"...That'll do for now. At least for as scanning goes. I think I'm pretty relieved that most of your weaponry is either damaged or out of ammo. I don't think this wish-granter intended you to charge into the Kurylian kingdom with guns blazing, anyhow. If he had, why not use magic to give you a flaming sword or a holy hand grenade or something?"

"A sword," Pyre repeated, and blinked. "I did have a sword...couldn't take it with me. Lost in the void."

"How much can you tell me about your friend within the mirrors? The wish-granter?" Pestilence prompted him.

"He talked a lot, but some of it's vague," Pyre said reluctantly. He clearly didn't like to speak much, or at least wasn't in a mood to do so. Azmus turned towards the villagers, making subtle sweeping gestures, and they started to disperse, casting glances back over their shoulders and talking softly to one another as they returned to their homes. Buckshot noted their parting glances- they looked more afraid of Pyre than of any threat by the Kurylians. He didn't seem to notice or care, glowing red optics narrowed in recollection.

"He said he'd brought the meteor shower upon this planet as a catalyst for some kind of great awakening. A rebirth," Pyre said slowly.

"And so it has been!" Azmus agreed vehemently.

"But something went wrong. There was a gem, he called it the Crystal of the Infinite. It fell within the boundaries of these...others. He couldn't influence their dreams."

"That does not surprise me," Azmus said sternly. "The Kurylians' minds are closed. They would deny him."

"The Crystal will amplify the effect of the mirrors, he said. He needs it to complete the resurrection- mine, I think- and to save the people of this planet from some awful fate."

"What fate?" Pestilence prodded him.

"Didn't say."

"Well, that's not good enough! Are you holding anything back from me?"

Pyre fixed Pestilence with a grim stare, and she returned it, hands on her hips as she looked back up at him. After a long moment, during which neither dropped their stares, Buckshot eased himself between them and lifted up a placating hand.

"Okay, pal, back it down a bit. You know this guy's manipulating you, right? I mean, c'mon. You look pretty resurrected to me. What kind of fate're you supposed to save everyone from with some magic crystal? He's using you."

"I can get the crystal and avert bloodshed between these people, or I can go back to the void and stay there forever. I don't really care what he wants with it. Just point me in the right direction," Pyre said resolutely.

"That is completely-" Pestilence started to say, before Azmus interjected:

"If the Kurylians have the Crystal, you can count on them keeping it under lock and key while they study it, analyze it, perform endless tests. Undoubtedly they are using it, and -our- meteor rocks, to power their vile weaponry. You must take it from them!"

"If it comes to that. Do you have any weapons of your own?" Pyre asked, and Azmus moved towards one of the ornate spears, before Pestilence started to cut in with outrage.

"Now, WAIT! Wait, wait, wait! I have not been putting up with all this nonsense about magic just to be witness to a slaughter! You're holding back information, I know you are, but since we're stuck on this planet and things are going to get worse before they get better, we might as well go along with your goal of getting this crystal back- BUT, I think we should go there and negotiate for it."

"Negotiate? We have tried that, again and again! The Kurylians call us zealots, and we know they are destroyers. When the heavens deliver unto you a warrior, do you ask him to be a coward?" Azmus demanded.

"I ask him to use his brain and think things through. We can travel to the Kurylian kingdom and speak to them personally. Let them see that there's merit to the talk about metal beings appearing from nowhere. If they see we can back up your claims, they might be willing to talk. Maybe they'll give us the Crystal. If they won't, we can assess the situation and then think about our next step. But I won't help take a life."

"You don't have to help. You just have to stay out of my way," Pyre growled.

"Forget it, tough guy, I'm coming with you. Buckshot?"

"Couldn't keep me away."

"Calamari?"

"Um...I guess so," Calamari said, frowning a little.

"It's a fool's errand. You'll be turned away at the gates, or captured and tested. But you may try it before the inevitable last resort," Azmus said, twanging a whisker. "I can send one of our finest hunters with you to guide you to the boundaries of the Kurylians' kingdom."

"That -may- not be necessary. I almost forgot!" Pestilence said, rummaging in her pockets. She pulled out a succession of tiny and complicated devices, handing them over to Calamari to hold, before settling on a little palm screen gadget with a blinking light on it. As she tapped it, it briefly glazed over with static before settling into functioning order, showing a wire-frame scan of the village and then dots to represent the nearest lifeforms- the Cybertronians, Azmus, and any nearby Lykia.

"I threw a tracking bug into the portal just before the Kurylian attacker escaped. Assuming they haven't ditched it somewhere...is that the right direction?" she asked, zooming in on a green light on the screen and showing it to Azmus.

"About eighteen welks rising-way, that is accurate," he confirmed.

"Sixty miles east. It'll take some time, and since we're not all flying beast mode equipped, we may as well walk. No time like now! Come on, Pyre- we can get to know each other better on the way. We might even work out a plan that'll make everyone happy."

He looked distrustfully down at her, then slowly nodded. Azmus escorted him over to a rack of spears, staffs, and bows, which he mulled over. Pestilence looked after him for a moment, then pulled her two companions into a huddle.

"You're not really gonna let that big scary bastard get at a magic crystal, are you?" Buckshot asked almost immediately.

"Not sure yet," Pestilence said with a shake of her head. "We'll just have to keep an eye on him. I do want this crystal so I can see just how 'magical' it is. I'm not liking these references to resurrections and saving everyone."

"The Elder's starting to, like, weird me out," Calamari said. "He sounds like he's ready to sic Pyre on all his enemies and not even care what happens to them."

"These people are pacifists. I don't think they're ready to go to war- unless their leader is feeling awfully bolstered by the presence of a big, scary dragon. We should- oh, you're back!" she interrupted herself with a louder, more ostentatiously friendly voice as Pyre walked back towards them. "No weapons?"

"This- Lykian?- weaponry isn't enough. I'll get by," Pyre rumbled, flexing one large taloned hand.

"Just as well. I find weapons limit my creative thinking. Let's get going," Pestilence said, and started on the snow-covered cobblestone road leading out of the village. Buckshot followed, trudging along in his casual way, while Calamari followed, giving Pyre another uneasy glance. He frowned, looking back at Azmus, who smiled serenely up at him. Pyre shook his head, growling a little, and trudged after the trio of explorers. Azmus watched them leave, hands pressed together as though in prayer.

---------------

The thick wooden double doors were pushed violently open, and the two Kurylians entered in as much of a hurry as their bulky, shelled bodies would allow. One of the two Kurylians had a knobbly shell, his more advanced age shown in the shell's greater array of bumps and whorls. His mottled skin was a rich shade of sea-green, and he wore a pocketed coat over his underside. The other Kurylian would've been quite familiar to any witnesses of the pagoda attack- he was that same attacker. He looked discomfited, looking at the tiny, soundlessly blinking metal device in his four-fingered palm.

"Why did you not speak to the directors of this a day ago?" the older Kurylian demanded as they walked through a low, claustrophic stone tunnel.

"It lodged upon my shell! I was not even aware of its presence until my mate pointed it out to me this evening!" the younger reptile retorted.

"This may lead the machines right to our doorstep. The directors will not be pleased, but I will attempt to vouch for you, Kresor," the elder said with a gnaw of his beak.

They reached the other end of the tunnel, emerging in a long, low underground chamber. The walls were ancient stone bricks, with metal panels and circuitry interspersed throughout. Torches with electric starters were set into sconces on the walls. There was a great ornate tapestry hung upon the back wall, depicting the rise of the Kurylian race from the primordial sea, to walking upon the land, the discovery of tools, of fire, of writing; the dawn of scientific reason and the ascension to a higher plane of thought. The directors sat, mid-meeting, on the floor of the chamber, in a platform lower than the rest of the floor. They sat bow-legged, propped slightly on their shells, around a long octagonal stone table that rose up from, was indeed a part of the floor. The Kurylians' feral ancestors would tunnel into the damp earth for safety and rest, and now their societal leaders sought the deepest chamber of the castle and the lowest part of the floor to hold conference. Kresor had seen it only once before- when receiving his attack orders for the Lykian mirror facility.

They passed between a pair of guards who wore metallic helmets with sighting visors and commlinks, armed with the new and experimental stun weaponry created from the meteor rocks. Their clomping footfalls upon the stone floor drew the attention of the eight directors, who looked up expectantly from their table. Each one handled a different aspect of their lives- the director of war, the director of science, the director of medicine, the director of education, and so forth. And having them all staring at Kresor was not an experience he cared to repeat. In fact, at this moment he rather thought he'd prefer facing down a small army of Lykia, or even one of these deadly robots invading the planet.

"Directors," he said with a nod, pressing a fist to where his heart beat beneath the underside of his shell.

"Your friend Yorus sent a message that we must see you immediately," the director of war said, setting down a communications pad marked 'urgent'. He leaned his bulky arms on the table and craned his head further outward from his shell to peer at Kresor. "I am gladdened you made it back safely."

"Thank you, Director. But the reason I must intrude upon this meeting is that I did not make it back alone," Kresor admitted. "This came with me."

He tossed the small, blinking device onto the table. The director of science reached out and scooped it up. She turned it over in her palm, her flinty black eyes inspecting it keenly.

"It is transmitting a signal. This is almost certainly a tracking machine," she pronounced, causing varying responses of consternation and anger around the other Kurylians at the table.

"No Lykia has the knowledge to build a device like this," the director of education said, and turned to look at Kresor. "In your report, you said the metal beings had already arrived. One of them must have thrown this tracking machine at you. They may even now be on their way to us."

"That seems the likeliest possibility," the older reptile Yorus nodded. Kresor just steeled himself for disciplinary action. It'd be a day in the stockade or potato-digging duty for this, he just knew it. But to his surprise, the director of war just nodded briskly and turned to consult the director of trade.

"The creature that you say you saw in your dreams. What did he say of the metal beings?"

The director of trade had previously been responsible for maintaining diplomatic ties and commerce with the Lykia, prior to the current conflict. She was younger than the other directors, pale green of skin, smooth-shelled, small for a Kurylian. The directors' response to her description of her dreams had been first skepticism, then astonishment and a call to action when a battery of scientific tests had proven she'd been suspect to some sort of psychic transmission within her dreams. She paused, biting her lower beak before speaking.

"The dream-creature tried to charm me, to influence me. He was a being of metal and smoke and flame, though he could make himself appear in my dreams as one of us. He needed the crystal most of all, he said- and when I resisted his charm, he said he would be forced to summon a metal being like himself. A dragon. Is that what you saw, Kresor?"

"I did not," the soldier replied with a shake of his head. "There were three of them, amongst the Lykia. A small one in goggles and a coat. A larger one, brown and fit-looking. A slender one with metal tentacles and a blue and pink hue. They were not armed, but they were standing freely amongst the Lykia. They must already have allied with them."

"These new machines could be agents of the dream-creature," the director of science said. "If they are here, then surely the dragon is with them."

"We should keep the device, study it for answers as to its nature. Perhaps it will tell us something of these metal beings that we can use against them," the director of war opined.

"But won't it lead them right to this castle?" Yorus asked.

"Yes, it will," the director of war agreed. "If they have not flown or teleported into our borders already, then they are either marshaling their forces to do so- or, they are traveling here by land, slowly. Let them be led into our domain, where we can capture them, study them, and find a way to rid ourselves of the dream-creature. And if the dragon is with them, we can afford no mercy. He must be destroyed above all other concerns. Kresor, speak to your superior and tell him he is authorized to double the border patrols and expand outward as far as they can."

"Yes, director," Kresor nodded. He and Yorus turned to leave with a shared expression of relief at being spared the directors' wrath. They made it past the pair of guards and nearly to the double doors, when a thought struck Kresor and he looked back at the directors.

"Director, how will we destroy the dragon?" he asked.

"If we find him? I propose severing his head from his shoulders. That should do nicely."

--------------------

Many miles away, the team of Pestilence, Buckshot, Calamari, and Pyre made their way across the outer borders of the Lykian village and into the lands separating the conflicting territories. An alien moon shone down on them, casting its glow on the white fields. Clouds rolled across the orb, intermittently obscuring it and leaving them in greater darkness. Their metal feet crunched across grassy hills thinly layered with snow, and they passed between clumps of trees and admired the mountain ranges miles off in the distance.

Pestilence looked brightly and alertly around her as she walked, hungry to take in the sights and preserve in her memory all that she saw. Buckshot walked with a slight sway of his fists, occasionally sniffing at the air a little. He seemed to enjoy the open air as well. Calamari kept close to him, sashaying along in her uniquely lackadaisical manner, while only every so often glancing back at Pyre. Pyre rarely spoke. Pyre stared ahead, as though he could already see the outskirts of the Kurylian kingdom- welks away though it may be. He looked like he was formulating a plan of attack, and shutting out the rest of them in doing so. Calamari felt happy to let him- he scared her a little. She was relatively young, but had certainly never seen any Cybertronian that looked like that.

They walked across a long wooden bridge that connected the two banks of a calmly flowing river. The water, clear and pure, was showing patches of ice drifting along. Bright green fish swam underneath the river surface, darting beneath the small ice floes to gulp down tinier fish. Pestilence bent over the ornate rail of the bridge to watch them, and noted the runes carved on the rail. Blessings of safety for the traveler, most likely. From here on out, they were in no man's land. She looked out at the empty yet hauntingly beautiful vista, the winding trail between the snow-capped rock formations, the thick forests devoid of leaves, and heard the faint howls of prowling animals.

"Maybe we should've let one of 'em come with us, guide us through," Buckshot said as they set out along the path.

"I'm sure we'll be able to find our way," Pestilence said.

"Do you think those animals out there might come looking for us?" Calamari asked.

"I don't think we've got any scent that tells a wolf or a bear that we're good to eat," Pestilence replied. "All this metal and circuitry's hard on the teeth."

"Actually," Pyre spoke up, and all three looked back at him with a little surprise. He hadn't done much more than grunt since they'd left the village. "The Elder told me there are creatures in the mountains that could pose a danger to us. Some bigger than me. I'd rather not provoke them."

Pestilence mulled that for a second before nodding.

"Agreed. We'll stick to the path and not make an excessive amount of noise," she said. They continued walking through the small forest, trudging up snowy hills, for a couple of minutes before Pestilence dropped step a little to match Pyre's pace and asked, "Just when in Cybertronian history are you from?"

"When?" he repeated, looking at her with a frown.

"I'm a very old femmebot. Older than I look, trust me. And I never saw a 'bot like you before. But I did hear things from time to time, back in my first incarnation's days, about these Greater Force beings. You know, like your cell count that I scanned? But they're long gone, supposedly mythical. And that you were a Beast carrier? There were no carriers in the final days, just infected and uninfected."

"This guy's a freakin' Beast?!" Buckshot exclaimed, stopping short enough to kick up a little snow and spinning to look at Pyre.

"He was once a carrier of the disease but not symptomatic," Pestilence explained, looking up at him. "And all traces of it are gone. My point is, Greater Force, Beast carriers, these are things not exactly present in my timeline. And I've seen a lot."

Pyre looked down at her. Calamari and Buckshot had both stopped walking, and were looking expectantly at him.

"...I don't remember everything. I don't know how I died, just that I did, and that it was in some kind of battle. You said your Cybertron had been destroyed. Mine was in a bad way, but not close to destruction. So I've got two theories. I'm from your past, which seems unlikely. Or...I'm from some kind of parallel...?"

"A parallel universe! Now that's an explanation that fits!" Pestilence finished for him excitedly. "There may be historical overlap between our worlds, but clearly the timelines have finished in different directions. Where you're from, the Beast may have just been starting to establish themselves, infect carriers, whereas on my world it was more of an overt invasion. The reason you're so massive and spooky, no offense, could be indicative of the style of 'bot construction in your time. Bigger the better! Whereas in my time, happy to say, a 'bot can get farther on brains and perseverance than on number of spikes per square inch-"

"I don't have that many spikes. And even in my time, there were little, annoying scientists like you around to balance out the number of massive spooky dragons," Pyre growled.

"Glad to hear it, I can be quite useful even when I'm annoying," Pestilence said brightly, rolling right over the insult. "The question is, why did this dream being pick you? You must've had something very special to draw his attention. How much did he tell you about his reasons for resurrecting you? Or about the crystal he wants you to get? Did he even tell you his name?"

"He called himself a wish-granter, nothing more," Pyre said after a pause, trudging along between the trees.

"You mean to say you were brought back to life by an honest-to-goodness Earth genie?"

"Not from Earth. He looks like one of us. Cybertronian," Pyre grunted.

"So what'd he want you for? What's he gonna do with the crystal to actually end this war?" Buckshot asked.

"...Given a choice between caring about that, or being sent back to nothingness? I'll go with not caring," Pyre said, and turned to continue walking through the forest.

"I guess that's easier than thinking about what he's going to do with you once you've fulfilled your purpose," Pestilence spoke up. Pyre looked back over his shoulder at her, his expression dark and unreadable, and continued on up the hill. The trio of explorers gave each other uneasy glances and followed.

They made their way over a winding uphill path, occasionally grabbing onto narrow snow-flecked tree trunks to secure their footing over less even portions of the road. Pestilence scrabbled up the hill and leaned down against a cool, flat rock to scan the horizon. They were on a fairly small hill that rose from the southern end of a larger ridge wrapping around the western side of a long, empty field of plains. Pestilence rooted inside one of her pockets, producing a pair of binoculars, and zoomed in on the wide plains at the bottom of the small hill.

"See anything?" Calamari asked.

"Some tracks and animal remains. Let's get a closer look," she replied, and started to skid and slide down the snowy end of the slope. She came up jogging as she hit the bottom of the hill, and continued along the ridge. She bent down, taking a moment to brush snow off from her body, and turned to call up to the others to follow- when, with a ground-shaking thud, Pyre had landed inches away from her, snow flying up in a drift around him, having jumped the entire way down. Pestilence stumbled back a little on impact, startled, and then shook her head.

"Do you suppose there were any Kurylian sentries within ten miles who -didn't- hear that impact?" she asked.

"I like to take the most direct route. You can explain that to them when they get here and you break out the coffee and crumpets for a peaceful negotiation," he said. He walked over to the tracks and looked at them carefully. There were bits of fur, flesh, and bone leaving behind red spatters on the snow, and heavy indentations leading, along with a trail of red, down a path heading northeast halfway along the ridge.

"Big prints, three-clawed feet. Dragging print in back behind, like a tail," Pyre muttered, as Buckshot tumbled down the slope and walked up behind them, shaking snow off of himself. Calamari was right behind him, easily hopping from spot to spot and landing gracefully. Buckshot took a whiff of the air, and frowned.

"Grah. Smells like stale water and mushrooms. We following it?"

"I'd be curious to get a look at it," Pestilence said, and as her companions gave her startled looks, quickly added: "But I'm not going to risk getting us eaten to satisfy scientific curiosity. We've covered a long part of the distance already; we should try to keep going. We can set up a camp as soon as we find a safe spot hidden away, preferably a while past any hunting creatures' turf, and be at their borders tomorrow."

They continued onward, leaving four sets of footprints through the snow.

---------------------

In the earlier hours of the morning, as night would've started to give way to the first rays of daylight, a squad of Kurylian sentries set out from the borders of their kingdom. Kresor, who'd been told in no uncertain terms by his superior that he would be part of this early-morning duty, gripped his rifle tightly as he and three of his soldier brothers hustled over the snow. As reptiles, they didn't care for the lower temperatures, although this time of year it was still only just cool, not quite freezing. They forced themselves over the hills, and would stop at each peak, flicking the visor of their helmets to gaze out as far over the land as they could. They stayed split up, never too far apart, and maintained constant radio communication with one another.

Kresor looked doubtfully down at his rifle. It was one of the new designs, using ammunition derived from the meteorites. He knew the stun-orbs would take down a Lykian, leave him out of the fight for a while. But would these even affect the invaders? What if instead of causing damage to them, it just bounced right off their metallic hides, or even revitalized them? Though he didn't know the affect the weaponry would have, he knew that the directors had the best intentions of Lykur at heart. They had yet to succeed in acquiring one of the Lykian mirrors- primary orders being to destroy them- but the scientists wanted one badly. They had a theory that, if the Lykians were using meteorites to create the mirror coating, that they would certainly have more purpose than just being reflective ornamentation. They could be gateways to somewhere between worlds.

//"Stone-way peak secure, no sightings,"// one of the other soldiers commed.

//"Rising-way plains secure, no sightings,"// another chimed in after a few moments. //"Kresor? The director said that the creature in her dreams could change shape. Can the metal beings he sends to us do the same?"//

"I didn't see them long enough to find out. I certainly hope not. Metal monsters are difficult enough to fight, without them having the ability to transform," Kresor said, moving downhill and sweeping his rifle from side to side.

//"Setting-way peak secure, no sightings,"// another sentry commed. //"I think that, to be on the safe side, I will headshoot any creature I see. Then check afterwards to see if the corpse transforms."//

There was a faint array of grunting, snorting laughter from the soldiers, which Kresor did not join in on. He was the only one to see them in person, if only briefly, and one of only a handful of elites to go forward on attacking the Lykia- which was not something he relished doing. But to bring destroyers from another world in as their protectors? That was something no pacifistic feline could justify.

"Hyrok, you'll check your fire until I've given the order to shoot," he commed to the joking soldier. "The directors anticipate and expect some sort of contact with them, and the other elites are strengthening their position around the castle. We will detain and escort the metal beings to the castle."

//"Unless...?"//

"Unless they attack us first. Then we will defend ourselves- and the directors must make do with what we drag back to them," he said with bravado he didn't feel. This was met with another round of grunting chuckles, and the sentries met each other to start fanning outward in different directions.

------------------

Pestilence awoke with a start. She looked around, seeing that there were no soldiers around them, and no big tail-dragging creatures looking for a meal, so why did she feel so disconcerted? She checked her internal clock- asleep for maybe three hours. It was nearly dawn. They'd made their way along the ridge and found a little narrow area surrounded by big rocks, almost a natural hiding place. But in that brief period of recharge, she could swear she'd had just a glimpse of something in her dreams. Calamari was still dozing beside her, and Buckshot was gone. Pestilence got up, re-adjusting her goggles on her forehead, and moved out between the rocks to look. Buckshot was crouched behind a rock at the edge of the ridge, looking down. Pyre stood in the shadows a few feet away, talons flexing slightly as he stared down into the plains.

"The big guy there saw 'em maybe five minutes ago," he said as Pestilence leaned over the rock and looked down, seeing a half-dozen Kurylian soldiers sweeping the fields.

"They've got more of those interesting stun weapons," Pestilence said. "More powerful variants of the one I saw them use at the pagoda. Judging from the movement patterns, this is clearly a search party, not an attack force. I'd guess they found the tracking bug, and rather than destroy it, decided to let it lead us in."

"So why come out armed and dangerous? Why not just let us walk in?"

"Show of strength. They're not willing to be diplomatic. They'd rather capture us and bring us in that way. Or be 'forced' to shoot us as we were 'escaping'," Pyre growled.

"Maybe we shouldn't go down and greet them, then," Pestilence said. "We could just sneak right by, keep moving along the ridge. Cal- where's Calamari, is she still out?"

Pyre turned and looked at the narrow camp space between the boulders. Calamari's optics were blinking rapidly, and she was murmuring in her sleep. Pyre bent down, frowning, and reached out to lightly shake her shoulder.

"I don't...there's nothing I can...It's got no eyes! It's got no eyes!" the tentacled Predacon burst out, and started to kick and struggle against Pyre. He clamped a hand over her mouth, as her friends whirled around to look at her. She kicked him several times, letting muffled shrieks into his large palm, and her optics finally blinked on completely. She sagged in his grip, large luminous optics confused. A trail of small rocks kicked up by her struggles rolled off the edge of the ridge, landing with soft splats of snow in the plains. A sentry glanced down at them.

"Cal, what's going on?" Buckshot asked, looking at her with concern. Pyre frowned down at her for a moment, looking out over the ridge, then carefully removed his hand. She immediately backed up from him against one of the boulders, getting to her feet.

"A totally weird dream- it was okay at first. I saw this guy- he was dark, kinda purple. Smoke coming off him. Said he was a friend of my friend. He seemed really nice, but it was like he was looking through me, and something made him upset. He said, um, he said 'I've got to get everything moving myself, don't I?' and he started to change and make himself look like, like, like the Beast and then like Abacus and all these awful things I can't even remember, and I got scared and he kept telling me to scream myself awake, like it was a big game."

"Scream yourself awake? Why would he want you to eject yourself from the dream, if that's the only way he can contact or control anyone?" Pestilence asked, then it dawned on her. "He wanted you to draw attention to us! Oh, now that's a new trick- sabotaging our efforts from our dreams."

"So much for camping out the morning. I'm glad I didn't sleep," Pyre said.

"Well, there's no harm done. I don't think they heard us," Pestilence said hopefully- even as, down in the plains, the lone sentry had called more Kurylians to his position. They looked at the rocks and the fresh holes in the snow cover around them, the flecks of snow drifting down after them, and started to move as one up the winding path to the top of the ridge.

----------------------

The explorers stayed quiet, moving low along the ridge. Pestilence and Calamari were able to keep behind cover without much difficulty, both being fairly small, while Buckshot and Pyre would only be able to duck behind the larger boulders. Buckshot glanced over at Pyre, seeing an expression of frustration on the dragon's face. He clearly wasn't built for stealth, and Bucky preferred a direct confrontation himself. Yet they tried to remain silent, keeping a slow but teady pace over the ridge. Pestilence peeked up from behind a rock, looking down into the fields, and saw the tracks all leading away north. She rubbed her chin thoughtfully. Calamari peered over her shoulder, and made an expression of apology. Pestilence patted her shoulder, spread her palms in a shrug, and continued on. Maybe, she figured, they could bypass the Kurylians completely even if they'd been alerted to their presence on the ridge. It was a fairly long rock formation, lots of boulders to maneuver around, plus, how fast could a squad of turtles be?

Buckshot ducked behind a thick boulder and dared a peek over it. Seeing nothing, he nodded to Pyre, who moved out from behind cover and took the point. There was an area where the ridge started to narrow out to a downhill path, sliding a bit and then resuming the eastern path. They could follow it all the way down, moving right past the fields. Pyre continued on, heading for this path, and stopped short as he saw one of the Kurylians pass by. The stocky, spike-shelled reptile swept his gun slowly and with military precision from side to side, brown eyes narrowed beneath his helmet visor. He was separated from the others- they were a little further down the path. The Kurylian was bound to see him if he kept on this path. Pyre thought quickly. If he took out this one- dragged him behind a boulder-

He stood up, claws flexing, and threw a shadow across the ridge before the Kurylian's feet. The soldier whirled around and let out a grunt of shock.

"It's him! The dragon! Sighting, sighting, get up here!" he shouted out, and lifted his rifle.

//"Hyrok, hold your fire! HYROK!"// Kresor's voice blared in his helmet, but he paid it no mind, falling back a few steps and beginning to open fire. Pulsing orbs of electricity arced out into the sky, the first one passing Pyre by inches, the second catching him in the shoulder. He stumbled back, pain sizzling through the wound, but pushed it right out of mind. This was old news to him- battle, injury, ignoring the agony to seek the foe, do battle, punish them, end them-

"PYRE! Don't-!" Pestilence shouted, getting out from behind cover and running for the dragon. He'd let out a growl of fury, snatching up Hyrok by the front of his shell. The other Kurylians, not far behind, were racing up the ridge. They dropped into position, the one in front kneeling as he fired to allow the one behind him to fire over his head, and more stun balls slammed into Pyre. He spun Hyrok and heaved him off the ridge. The bellowing Kurylian fell head over shell 40 feet to the field, slamming shell-first into the snow. He wriggled around, gasping, trying to right himself. Pyre spun towards the others, sprinting towards them, claws extended, and they slammed into him, smacking their rifle butts into his heavy-duty spiked armor.

"Pyre, don't kill them! Are you even listening?!" Pestilence demanded, frantically reaching into her pocket as she hurried along the ridge. Buckshot and Calamari ran full-speed alongside her.

"Fall back! Fall back!" Kresor yelled, as Pyre's claws raked a fearsome scratch along one of the Kurylian's undershell. Bursts of panicked chatter overrode his communicator signal.

//"He's taking the stun-weaponry with little damage-"//

//"Voluk is down, wounded, the CLAWS-"//

//"Grenades, who has a grenade?!"//

"Everyone cover your audio receptors! Now!" Pestilence yelled, her multi-tool in her hand as she charged towards the fray. Buckshot clapped his hands to his canine ears, Calamari holding hers tight, Pyre barely noticed- then grit his teeth as Pestilence thumbed a switch on the tool and a piercing whine entered his ears. It pained him, but the Kurylians were far more affected, stumbling away from him. Before he could press the attack, Pestilence had grabbed one of his arms- and, to his surprise, the small-framed scientist was able to give him a great tug, pulling him in her direction.

"Higher range of sound perception! Now come ON, before you kill the entire squad-" she yelled.

"I haven't killed any of them, yet, so let me finish what I started!" Pyre yelled back, pulling his arm away from her. Kresor took a grenade from his belt, a small black orb with a glowing green light on it.

"You won't hurt my brothers again, demon dragon!" he yelled, thumbing a switch and causing the glowing green light to blink red.

He hurled the grenade, and immediately spun around so that he and the other Kurylians could make their way back down the ridge, pulling the wounded with them. Pestilence and Pyre watched the device hurtle, seemingly in slow-motion, through the air towards them. Buckshot glanced behind them, seeing a cave entrance. There was that trail of red leading through it. 'Better than being blown to pieces, maybe', he thought, and grabbed Pyre, yanking him backwards towards the cave. Calamari, sprinting fast, grabbed Pestilence's scarf and tugged, taking the moth into her arms and following Buckshot. The grenade detonated in front of the cave entrance, and as the quartet of Cybertronians tumbled downhill into darkness, the explosion sent a shower of boulders falling down to block it, sealing them up in an unknown monster's lair.

---------------

Dust and snow settled, the sound of the explosion still echoing along the ridge. Kresor's brown eyes narrowed and he took off his helmet, rubbing the top of his bald and smooth-scaled head as he stared at the cave entrance. The collapse had well and truly sealed off access to the cave; they lacked the manpower to remove the boulders themselves, and it would take hours to go back to their borders and return with mining equipment. One of the other Kurylian soldiers was checking on two of the wounded, while another was making his way down the path to where Hyrok lay in the field. After a moment, he gave a raise of his fist to the other soldiers on the ridge, picking Hyrok up, and helping him up the ridge.

"Are you well?" Kresor asked the other Kurylian as he and Hyrok limped up the path.

"Shaken. Mildly concussed and bruised. Otherwise fine." the other soldier said, while Hyrok looked around with dazed eyes, helmet askew.

"And Voluk?" Kresor asked, turning to look at the soldier bent and sitting on his shell near the fallen soldier.

"These claw scratches are deep, but not life-threatening. He requires medical attention."

"The metal beings, are they dead? The grenade-" the soldier supporting Hyrok started to ask, but Kresor shook his head and pointed to the collapsed cave entrance. The soldier looked at it with trepidation.

"The Gruegothans' nest. They won't last much longer even if they survived the collapse," he said.

"I won't take that chance. The directors want these creatures," Kresor growled. He'd felt it for a moment- stark fear as that dragon had locked eyes on him. Horrible, glowing red eyes. He shook it off. "The Gruegothan caves run for welks in various directions, but this collapse seals the nearest exit point. The others are all rising-way. Bring Voluk back to the castle, then come back with a seismic sensor and secondary squad. We'll post reinforcements at all cave exits. Move!"

Helping their injured comrades along, the Kurylians started back down the ridge, leaving the destroyed cave entrance behind.

------------------

The Cybertronians had rolled down a low incline hill, bumping off of one another and into smooth, cold cave walls. With a great series of clanks and thumps, they finally came to a stop in a low-ceiling cavern, cool and dank, with scratches and gouges dug into the stone walls and floor. Pestilence looked up from underneath Calamari, whose limbs and tentacles obscured her vision. She pushed a tentacle aside and Calamari groaned a little, rolling off. Buckshot sat up and backed up against the wall, turning his head from side to side with creaks of slightly damaged servo muscles. Pyre laid face-down on the stone, and pushed himself up, teeth gritted, his wings brushing up against the ceiling. He folded them up with a grimace of pain, and remained crouching on the cave floor, staring around in the darkness.

The cavern was maybe fifteen feet around, and less than seven feet high. There was an uphill path leading away in one direction, but, as Pyre could deduce from the small rocks even now gently rolling down the hill, and the total absence of daylight save little slivers here and there, they were completely shut in. The only other path was a narrow corridor leading in the other direction, with more of those scrapes and cuts in the stone wall along it. The Cybertronians all adjusted their optics' light magnification, glancing around. Pestilence reached up and pulled down her goggles, flicking a switch to give herself greater vision in the dark. She fumbled in her pockets, removing a flashlight, and handed it to Calamari, who switched it on and moved the circle of light around.

"We trapped?" Buckshot asked.

"I don't think so, there's another path leading away over there. Maybe this comes out another cave entrance," Calamari said hopefully, sweeping the flashlight beam around, and let out a little squeak as the light settled on a dusty pile of bones.

"Pest! Look! There's dozens of them!" she said with alarm. Pestilence peered through her goggles, looking around the cave. Buckshot glanced down at where he was sitting, seeing a skull right next to him, and grimaced, pushing it away. Pyre could see a great shell nearby him, and he pulled it over to himself, taking a closer look. The chamber was littered with bones pushed off into the corners- some Lykian, slender and light, evidently chewed on, devoid of meat for years now. The Kurylian shell had been bitten into, chewed and crunched apart so that a great U-shape where the head would've been was now missing. Pyre's frown deepened- if whatever inhabited these caves could bite into that shell, they could probably bite into them.

"Well- this is certainly an improvement over meeting the Kurylians non-violently and attempting negotiations," Pestilence said briskly, getting to her feet. Pyre stood up, bent over somewhat in the narrow chamber, and glared at her.

"They wouldn't have had a chance to go for the grenade if you hadn't interfered," he told her. "I was handling it."

"You'd have been handling their internal organs if I hadn't interfered!" she retorted. "If you hadn't come out of cover and attacked, we might have salvaged the situation."

"You may not have gotten the full sense of events from your hiding place, but they fired on me first. I will defend myself."

"Defend yourself, yes, but lethally? Any right-minded Cybertronian knows that on a planet of organics, they've got to restrain themselves-"

"Cybertron is dead, at least according to you three, and these Kurylians will attack and destroy us. Our only chance at the crystal is to strike first, and make sure they stay down. If I have to kill them to make sure they do, then-"

"What do you know about these people? Nothing! You were floating in a void before you got yanked into this world! They have every reason to be terrified of you, and if your master and the Lykian Elder have what they want, you'll be just the destroyer the Kurylians are afraid of and so willing to fire on-"

"Guys," Buckshot interrupted in a very careful, very quiet voice.

"Guys...?" Calamari said in a similarly subdued tone.

Pestilence stopped in mid-sentence, and looked up at Pyre with caution. He returned her gaze with a sinking feeling of knowing exactly what the problem was. They turned and looked across the chamber, where the noise of their argument had drawn the local predator.

The Gruegothan blocked the entire corridor, his spiky hide leaving behind fresh scrapes in the wall as he dragged himself through it. It was a massive reptilian creature with a mottled gray hide and jagged bone spurs in a stegosaurus-like fence running along its back. Short black bristles lined its face, a rasping tongue sliding out of its snout. It had deeply set gray eyes, three of them, on its head, each one looking at a different Cybertronian. That smell of stale water and mushrooms was strongest now. It lumbered forward along the cave floor, its thick and stubby arms dragging and black claws clicking on the stone. Its long, spined tail whipped around back and forth with sudden speed and ferocity, shattering one of the Lykian skulls piled up in the nearest corner. Calamari yelped and stumbled back, while Buckshot stood at his feet, optics locked on the Gruegothan's. Pestilence gazed at it with fascination, awe, and of course, more than a little fear.

The Gruegothan opened its mouth, revealing a triple row of sharp and wickedly glinting obsidian teeth. It let out a roar that shook the cave ceiling, snapped its jaws, and with a sudden burst of acceleration, lunged at the intruders, jaws snapping to bite, to pierce, to kill.


END OF EPISODE TWO


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: DWA: Mirrors of the Djinn
PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 2:39 am 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
Posts: 97
MIRRORS OF THE DJINN

EPISODE THREE


The Gruegothan lunged, heading straight for Pestilence. She dove out of the way with abrupt speed, waiting until the last possible moment to evade the fearsome reptile's attack. The creature skittered along the cave floor, nearly headbutting one of the boulders that had rolled to a stop from the entrance collapse, and spun around, whipping its spiky tail. The tail caught Buckshot in the shoulder and he tumbled across the cavern, dents dug into his shoulder and a grimace of pain on his face. Calamari called out his name with alarm, moving to help, but found the creature turning to face her, its three eyes narrowing in fury. She hurriedly sidestepped, and as it spun to face her, it also caught a glimpse of Pyre, who was bent low on one knee almost like a marathon runner's starting position, his talons flexing as he kept his eyes locked on the Gruegothan.

"What's your moral stance on dealing with vicious reptilian carnivores?" he asked Pestilence sardonically, letting his horned helmet slide back protectively over his face.

"Run?" Pestilence suggested, edging along the scuffed, gouged cave walls to the other tunnel.

"I don't run."

Pyre moved forward quickly, arms extended, and the Gruegothan headed for the most obvious target. Its tail whipped out and would have caught Calamari in the face, had she not reacted with preternatural speed and ducked beneath the swipe. Buckshot was pulling himself to his feet, more shaken than hurt, and as the Gruegothan lunged to snap at Pyre, he reached out and grabbed it by the tail. Jagged bone spurs dug into his bicep and he grit his teeth against it, pulling back with all his strength. The reptile's lunge was halted by inches, triple rows of teeth crashing together right before Pyre's eyes, and the dragon let out a growl and swung a fist, punching the carnivore square in the jaw. That served only to make it angrier, and hurt Pyre's knuckles. It snapped and weaved, and as Buckshot struggled to hold it back, Pestilence aimed a laser tool at it, one intended for welding machine panels together. The laser lanced across the Gruegothan's thick hide and, aside from leaving behind a simmering welt, seemed to just enrage it further. It pounced at her with another startling burst of speed, she ducked and rolled quickly, scarf flapping, and it caught Calamari, knocking her to the cave floor.

"Calamari!" Pestilence yelled, scrambling to her feet.

"Cal!" Buckshot tried to pull back on the powerful tail, spines digging in deeper as he kicked his metal heels into the ground.

"GET- OFF-!" Calamari pushed at the Gruegothan's face with both hands, knowing it'd be a losing battle, and added to the push by whipping her tentacles up into the beast's underside and zapping him with as many volts as she could muster. It weakened him slightly, but that hide could take a lot of punishment. The Gruegothan leaned inexorably closer, saliva dripping from his maw and teeth glinting. Just as panic started to worm in on Calamari's mind, Pyre was upon it. He wrapped his arms around the creature's throat, ignoring the bone spurs, digging his talons in, and with all the strength he had, he twisted. Hard.

There was a harsh series of snaps, a slow turn of the throat- and Pyre slowly stood up, holding the limp reptile in his arms by its broken neck. He let it fall to the side, where it hit the scuffed cavern floor with a reverberating thud. Calamari looked up at him with awe, and he just let his arms slump to his sides, slowly walking off. Pestilence helped her to her feet.

"Thanks," Calamari said faintly to Pyre.

He nodded once, and started for the tunnel, taking point as though to dare any other cave lizards to make an attack on him. Pestilence and her companions followed, making their way through the narrow stone corridor while sweeping the recovered flashlight from side to side. As they walked, picking up no noise save their own footfalls and the distant drip of water, Pestilence passed the time by making little observations.

"Did you note that creature had three eyes? That's an unusual number, isn't it? I wonder what evolutionary process would lead to the necessity of a third eye. We know the creatures leave their habitat to hunt, so they're not so exclusively subterranean as to become blind, and the third eye isn't vestigial because it was following us as we engaged the creature. Maybe it offers a greater view of the terrain-"

Pyre looked over his shoulder at her, battle helmet retracting, and gave her a withering glare.

"Is there ever a time you consider -not- appropriate for running your mouth?" he asked.

"Well, I talk a lot when I'm nervous. Or when I'm interested. I'm glad that monster isn't trying to eat us anymore, but you have to admit, it was a fascinating specimen! At least I'm trying to learn more about the world we're on. What do YOU do when you're nervous, climb a tall building and have staring contests with the other gargoyles?"

"Guys, this is so totally not the time," Calamari interjected. They had to agree, and just resumed a slightly sullen silence as they felt along the stone corridor. They emerged in a long spacious cavern with pools of stagnant water dotting the cavern floor, luminescent mushrooms sprouting from the walls, and thick gray eggs in nests of bones and soil. Buckshot took the flashlight, sweeping it over the egg nests, seeing no other reptiles there to guard their spawn.

"What's going on?" he asked. "We're right inside their freakin' nursery, I thought we'd be getting mobbed."

"This cave is much warmer and damper than the outside, it's certainly an environment conducive to keeping the eggs incubated in the parents' absence," Pestilence replied. "Individuals must leave the cave to hunt and return here with food to share among the others. Either they're in other portions of the tunnels, or have left to search for prey. We could just walk right through and make our way to an exit tunnel."

"Agreed," Pyre said, and started to walk ahead of the others. There was another couple of tunnels at the other end of the chamber- one seemed to head deeper into the complex of tunnels, while the other grew lighter as it wound upwards and around a corner. That seemed the likely pick. As he walked past the nests, feet splashing in the shallow pools of stale water, he passed by a nest near the forked tunnels with its eggs broken, pieces of the thick, scaled shells scattered around the dirt. Pestilence called out to him lowly and he stopped, very carefully turning to look at the broken eggs. There were baby Gruegothans in there, very tiny and undeveloped. Their lower legs and tails were small and dwarfed, their bone spurs mere nubs. Their three eyes were shut and they made low hisses as they crawled around the nest.

"Be quiet. Be really, really quiet," Pestilence breathed. "If we just keep walking, slowly and steadily, they may not notice us,"

Buckshot gave her an uncertain glance. As scary as the adults were, surely these nest-bound babies were no threat? But he'd learned to heed her advice, so he kept as careful and even a tread as the other three, moving slowly through the nest chamber towards the forked tunnels. Pyre pointed to the one on the right and Pestilence acquiesced with a silent nod, figuring it to be the likeliest route out.

No one can be blamed for bad luck. It just happens. Through no fault of any of the four Cybertronians, one of the baby Gruegothans slipped out of the nest, taking hesitant first steps, and focused its trio of black eyes on them for the first time. It immediately recognized three concepts in its infant mind- Strangers, Threats, and Food. It started to let out an ear-piercing shriek, an attention-grabbing wail, that the other nestlings immediately joined in on. The cavernous ceiling of the chamber had great acoustic properties; the sound bounced back and forth, treacherously calling out the intruders with its sonic bounces down every adjacent tunnel. Pestilence and her companions froze in place, debating whether to stay and fight or make a run, and then the choice was perhaps made for them, as thick scuffling and scratching of spurs, and dragging of scaled flesh, and growls of great jagged-tooth mouths, were heard from within the daylight tunnel. A group of fully grown Gruegothans appeared around the smooth stone bend, hissing with outrage as they headed for the Cybertronians.

"Oh, shazbot," Pestilence said faintly as the nest guardians advanced.

Pyre conducted a quick head-count of the oncoming Gruegothans. Five of them. It was hard enough just killing one of them. He steadied his footing on the cave floor, arms spread lightly like an amateur wrestler about to take his opponent down on the mat. He expected the lizards to swarm upon him as the most immediate threat- it'd have been a gross underestimation of the three Cybertronians behind them, but it would give him a chance to distract them, let them tear into him if need be, as long as it gave the others a chance to escape. Pyre beckoned the horde forward, expecting a lunge, and got a nasty surprise- the lizards went for their nests first, protection of their spawn being the top priority, and since Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari were nearest to the eggs, that meant the Gruegothans immediately split up, each going for the nearest threat.

One of them scrambled towards Buckshot with vicious speed- the burly Maximal let out a swear and raised his arms to protect himself, meeting its attack and trying to push its jaws away from his torso. Calamari lashed her tentacles out at the one attacking her, catching it with metal whips but only annoying it as it advanced. Pestilence darted from side to side, hoping to confuse her assailant's vision, maneuver around it, knowing it'd catch up to her. The remaining two Gruegothans swarmed towards Pyre, one latching onto his leg in its powerful jaws. He shook it off, and as the other dived at him, he side-stepped it and slammed it to the cave floor. It hissed angrily before getting back to its feet. Pyre looked around, angry and at a loss, and saw his new companions being attacked, minutes from being mauled, food for the Gruegothan nests, because he'd attacked the Kurylians and gotten them stuck in this cave, this tomb-

"No. NO! ENOUGH!" he roared, and something raw and elemental burst from his outstretched claws. A shock wave of energy, a rippling blue field of power, slammed into the two Gruegothans assaulting him and fanned outward, bypassing the Cybertronians but leaving their reptilian attackers frozen in place. The wave of energy swept over the nests, leaving even the hatched babies as rigid as statues. The eerie, shell-shocked silence settled down in place of the cacophony of shouts and growls and shrieks, and they looked around with surprise. Sparkling blue auras surrounded the frozen reptiles, their poses halted mid-attack.

"What'd you do?" Calamari asked Pyre.

"I don't know..." he said, nonplussed.

"I'll tell you what you did! You did freakin' magic! That was great!" Buckshot enthused, tapping the head of the Gruegothan that had been about to savage him.

"I can't-"

"Don't be ridiculous," Pestilence interrupted Pyre's response. "Probably you have some sort of Transmetal II ability enabling you to create localized temporal shifts?"

"I've never had an ability like that," Pyre said slowly.

"And if he stopped time, why didn't it make us freeze in place just like them?" Calamari asked.

"Well, because...huh. Good question," Pestilence said after a pause, flummoxed.

"Magic follows no rules of science," Pyre said, half to himself. "I stopped them by just thinking about it...I was never able to do anything like that. At least, not before I was brought back."

"The guy who brought you to life. We saw you come out of the mirror, you didn't have eyes for a second, then something happened, you were put inside your body, but maybe the wish-granter did something else. Maybe he, like, gave you something. Gave you magic!" Calamari said, optics shining excitedly in the darkness.

"Hey, we can be out of here in a minute! Magic us into the middle of the Kurylians' base, get us the crystal, and magic us back to the AXALON. We'll have this whole thing taken care of in no time," Buckshot said. Pyre gave him a frown, but it was a thoughtful one. It couldn't be that simple, could it? He focused, thought hard on his objective, forced himself to bend reality to his will- nothing happened. He was still himself, standing in a pool of stagnant water in a smelly cave. He scowled.

"Whatever I did, I'm not sure I can do it again," he said. Buckshot shrugged amicably; he'd not really expected the resolution of their problems to come that easily. Pestilence had been watching Pyre warily, and with some dawning intrigue.

"If you were resurrected with extra abilities, it may some technology we simply aren't aware of, and that you lack the knowledge of how to access. It manifested itself in a moment of fear, rage, danger. I doubt you can just turn it on and off. You may have no control over it. This crystal could amplify the effects, make you that much more dangerous. Or that much more helpful! Let's non-magic ourselves up this path, before those creatures' suspended animation wears off."

Pestilence started up the tunnel leading to daylight. Buckshot followed, and Calamari lingered for a moment, looking back at Pyre as if to make sure he was coming along. He met her gaze briefly before glaring at the stone floor. She went up the path and he followed, heading out towards the day.

-------------------

The Cybertronians picked and climbed their way out of the cave exit, a while distant from where they'd been blown down into the darkness. Their optics took a moment to adjust to the daylight, and then Pestilence stopped short. She'd been helping Calamari up over a boulder, and she nearly let go of her grip. Calamari looked up, going quiet, and Buckshot and Pyre stared at the dozen Kurylian soldiers with stun weaponry leveled at them. One in the lead was holding a beeping box, some kind of sensor, and was pointing the sensor end of it at them.

Kresor stepped forward, stun-rifle jittering a little as it was aimed on Pyre's head, and barked out:

"What was that shock wave just now? We detected several Gruegothans moving on your location and now they are frozen in place!"

"Hoping they'd kill us and you could tell your leaders to continue their attack on the Lykia?" Pyre asked with a glare.

"It would be an irony if the destroyer of our world was brought down by a mindless predator," Kresor growled. "But I have my orders. You four will be taken to Trysk and meet the directors. They'll determine your fate."

"No one determines my-" Pyre started to advance, and Pestilence quickly grabbed his arm. She leaned up on her tiptoes, speaking as close to his ear as she could manage.

"No fighting, no magic, let them take us alive. They're too afraid of us to attack directly, see how many of their rifles are shaking? We'll get to the castle and learn more there, and for goodness' sake let me do the talking!" she hissed.

Pyre looked down at her, then at the Kurylians, and stood down. Buckshot made a commiserating shrug and raised his hands in surrender, a gesture the others copied, and they allowed the squad of Kurylians to lead them away from the cave entrance and back over the snowy fields towards their home.

-----------------

The Kurylians were taking no chances at sudden escape attempts. They kept a tight flank on their guests, guns trained on them, walking them in the direction of their homeland. Pestilence walked with her hands in her coat pockets, occasionally brushing a finger contemplatively across one of her tools or devices, knowing she'd likely get shot in half a dozen places the second she went for something that looked threatening. She had no desire to harm these beings- but they were so tightly wound up by their presence that they'd interpret anything as an attack. They'd called Pyre a destroyer of their world. How much did they know about his coming that she didn't?

"Can I ask any of you fine gentlemen a question?" she asked, glancing over her shoulder.

"Eyes ahead! We will stun you and drag you if you go for a weapon or attempt to harm us in some supernatural way!" one of the Kurylians barked, prodding her back with his rifle. She picked up the pace, shaking her head, and caught up in stride with Buckshot.

"I think they know one of us did magic in that cave," Buckshot muttered to her. "It's got 'em all keyed up."

"Agreed. We're going to have to try to talk them down when we meet these directors."

"Sure you don't have another spell in you?" Calamari asked Pyre quietly.

"Nothing," Pyre said, sounding a little frustrated. "I don't even know how I did it. I need a weapon, something I can hold and use. Sarkazein has been lost."

"Sarkazein?" Pestilence repeated, looking quizzically at the dragon.

"My sword," Pyre said, a reflective look coming over his optics. "Simple broadsword. Quite large. No special powers, aside from winning many battles and saving my life more times than I can remember. Can't remember where I got it from, it was just passed to me...always felt like it wasn't just a sword."

"I had a baseball bat I felt like that for," Buckshot said. Pyre gave him an odd look and resumed his reminiscing.

"I died with it clutched in my hand- and haven't seen it again. The wish-granter said he couldn't get it back from the time he'd taken me from. I don't feel right without it, but maybe when I get the crystal-"

He spoke a little too loudly. Hyrok moved closer.

"Crystal? Did you mention the crystal?"

"He said pistol, he said you have very interesting pistols," Pestilence quickly interrupted. Hyrok, clearly not the brightest of the squad, looked at her for a moment, then at Pyre, and muttered:

"They're rifles. You metal beings don't know much about weaponry," and gestured with the stun-rifle for them to move along. Pestilence gave Pyre a look that said she wanted to know more later, and resumed their silent march along the snowy fields, until they were approaching the outer walls of the Kurylian city of Trysk.

At a signal from Kresor to a sentry up on a tower jutting out from the right side of the wall's gates, the sentry hit a switch and, with a great shuddering rumble, the door slid to the left, opening up a gap in the thick stone-brick wall. The soldiers escorted the Cybertronians into the city perimeter, and they looked around with wonder. The aesthetic of Trysk was bizarre, like a medieval fortress mixed up with a state of the art military base. The great castle that overlooked the rest of the city- much like the way the central pagoda of the Lykian village overlooked their city- was made of the same stone bricks as the outer walls, but had patches of metal and machinery pumping away. Kurylians of various castes- soldier, scientist, farmer, teacher- milled around the open air courtyard, glancing at the newcomers- some with expressions of curiosity, others with fear or hatred. Their homes lined in orderly compounds all around the castle, with open doorways for them to come out and work on constructing weaponry, scientific equipment, or body armor outside at various workbenches. Sparks showered and tools clanked, and knobby-shelled Kurylians looked up from their stations as the newcomers passed.

The Cybertronians were taken straight to the castle, the wooden doors- not very tall, considering the average height of most Kurylians- were parted, and they were led into the great hall. There, between tapestries depicting the history of their people, there were giant computer arrays and monitors showing feeds from security cameras set on the outer wall. Pestilence looked at these with interest- this was a far cry from the more simplistic, feudal-times feel of the Lykian village. Before she could start asking questions, the soldiers had assumed a guarding position at the doors on one end of the hall. The other door opened, and an aged but powerful-looking Kurylian stepped out, glaring at them as he marched across the stone floor. He was accompanied by two others.

"Nesyk, our director of war," Kresor said with stiff formality to his introduction, and immediately stepped back. Pestilence looked at the large reptile- who had a couple of inches over her and much more bulk and muscle- and offered a hand.

"Pleased to meet you! We've come a long distance and through a series of complex misunderstandings to get here. Misunderstandings that may have led these soldiers to believe we came to attack you-"

"This must be your tracking device," he interrupted her, holding up a small, blinking metal object. Pestilence nodded, gave him a gracious smile, and accepted it from him, deactivating it and placing it in her pocket. "You say you haven't come to attack? I believe it."

"You do?" Buckshot asked.

"The Lykia haven't yet attempted to attack us. They don't know the depths of our defensive structure. So they speak to their perverse idol, their dream-creature, and ask for spies! Spies to accompany the destroyer, the dragon, into our kingdom under pretense of- negotiation?"

"Well, as it happens, we are here to negotiate, but not as spies," Pestilence said, speaking calmly but quickly. She didn't like the way Nesyk's deep-set, dark eyes kept flicking over to Pyre, then to Buckshot, then at her and Calamari. He was tense, fearing a sudden attack. The soldiers hadn't holstered their weapons. Anything could set them off. "You see, we came here by complete accident, looking for materials to repair our ship. We are from another world, but a world that is long gone and was completely...well...for the most part, peaceful towards alien life. Coincidence, nothing more! And Pyre here is no destroyer. He came with us to prevent any loss of life. If you and the Lykia would just see that you're being manipulated-"

"Manipulated," he repeated, looking from one to the other.

"Yes! The problem here is a lack of communication. Rather than teleporting into their village and destroying their work, why not discuss just what it is you're afraid of and-"

"Diplomatic channels were exhausted weeks ago!" Nesyk snapped. "The Elder, Azmus, is a madman. The meteor shower, the creature appearing to him in dreams, the directive of the mirrors, he is convinced his people are on the cusp of some great ascension, and when we questioned it- how? Why? What does the dream-creature want?- and then took our samples of the meteor rocks, and the crystal, for our own purposes other than these mirrors, he became enraged. Do you think him a wise and benevolent pacifist? He was- but this dragon, this Pyre standing here? He's the killing hand of the Elder and the dream-creature both, and he means destruction for our way of life!"

"Since I got here, I've heard a lot of people telling me what my purpose is," Pyre said, glaring down at him. "Here's my purpose: To end this war before it gets started."

"Oh, you're right about that," Nesyk said with a nod. "I saw what you did to our soldiers. Heard of the supernatural occurrence in the Gruegothan caves. We will not welcome you as a guest, nor hear you as a diplomat, when you are so obviously intent on bringing destruction. You will be executed."

"Executed?!" Pestilence exclaimed.

"Our conventional weaponry will not overpower you, but we may have just the thing to do the job. And we'll do it without your evil magics!" Nesyk spat up at Pyre. The dragon lunged forward, grabbing him by the front of his shell, and was immediately set upon by the soldiers. They blasted him again and again with stun-orbs, and when he turned his smoldering red gaze on them, withstanding the pain even as smoke poured from his wounds, they blasted again, and again, until he sank to the floor, not yet unconscious, but weakened. They grabbed him by the arms and began to drag him through the open doorway.

"You're acting irrationally!" Pestilence said angrily to Nesyk, who turned and looked indignantly at her. "If you'd give us time to explain the situation, you'd see there's no need to kill anyone!"

"We must act before we are acted upon," he replied grimly. "We will question you at length after the execution tomorrow. Take them, too, to the strongest cells by the laboratory."

"Aw, crap. We have to get locked up in cells again-?" Buckshot said, and as a soldier grabbed his arm, pulled it away before allowing himself to be led through the same doorway Pyre'd been dragged through. Calamari was pushed along beside him, and Pestilence followed them, listening carefully as Nesyk turned to his aides.

"The mirrors are gateways after all. They've drawn four of these beings into our world. We've no choice but to make a full-scale strike on the village," he said lowly.

"Director, we've avoided casualties so far, but if we kill any of the Lykia we cross a political threshold we won't be able to come back from," the diplomatic aide said with concern.

"I know," Nesyk said with an expression of regret. "But we cannot allow this to continue. Arm the soldiers with teleportation devices and lethal-grade weaponry. We disembark after the execution. Kill all who stand in our way."

"NO!" Pestilence shouted, and elbowed her escort in the side, running towards them. "You'll slaughter them, and the ones you don't slaughter will kill you off with magic! It'll be a bloodbath on both sides, and it'll all be for nothing!"

"Neutralize this one and bring her to the cells!" Nesyk shouted, as soldiers hurried around Pestilence. She pushed them aside, nimbly side-stepping one, showcasing surprising evasive maneuvers, shouting all the while, until one finally got his gun out and fired a stun-orb directly into her back. She jittered all over and fell to the ground unconscious, dimly aware of Calamari and Buckshot calling out her name, as she sank into darkness.

----------------------

Pestilence dreamed. She seemed to turn slowly in midair, optics wide and unblinking, as mists surrounded her. She finally settled on a lying-down position in midair before the mists cleared and she saw she was inside the AXALON. She sat up, smiling at the familiar and comfortable confines, and ran a hand across the underside of the navigational console. She got to her feet, looking around, and saw with a disconcerting feeling that this wasn't her AXALON. Things were a little...off. The bridge lights weren't bright enough. The banisters of the staircases leading to other areas of the ship were canted oddly, almost warped. There was a house of playing cards carefully erected on the keys of a laptop. There was a metal folding chair with a teddy bear on it. This teddy bear was wearing her goggles. There seemed to be other small details, the random minutiae of dreams, scattered around the ship.

"It took electrical trauma and neural net override just to get an appointment with you?" a charming and amused voice spoke up from the shadows. "You are a dedicated non-dreamer, aren't you?"

"I dream," Pestilence replied calmly. "Just not usually, you know...of such weird things."

The edge of the navigational console started to melt at one corner, dripping and running like tallow. The gray console's melting runoff started to stain and darken to purple, and coalesced into a tall candle in an ornate black holder. The man standing in the shadows looked at the candle with an expression of brief distaste before draping a handkerchief over it to cover it up. The handkerchief caught fire, a brilliant blue flame, and lit up the shadows. Pestilence got her first look at the wish-granter, the dream-creature.

He looked like a young and handsome modeless 'bot, leanly built almost to the point of looking androgynous, the kind of mech the girls back on Cybertron would've gone crazy for. His body was made up of a luminous swirl of purple, with faint streaks maroon, black and dark blue. He had a pair of silver manacles on his wrists, though they were greatly cracked and stressed, looking close to breaking off completely. He had a merry-looking face with a pointed chin, high cheekbones, and brightly expressive lavender eyes. Smoke puffed and curled around him as he walked towards her, a strolling care-free gait. He wavered in and out of view, fine details futzing up around him. He was beautiful, but a little unsettling- and the way he looked at her, like a child with a fun new toy, that didn't bode well.

"Pestilence, my sweet old girl, I've been waiting to have a chance at you. You can call me Ifrit," he said, bowing low.

"Ifrit-?" Pestilence repeated. She looked up at him with curiosity as he took her hand and kissed it. A little puff of smoke went up painlessly from where his lips touched her hand. "A race of mystical beings from Earth Islamic lore. Granters of wishes, tricksters, deceivers who could possess the minds of the living, inhabit fire, water, smoke-"

"No relation," Ifrit assured her. "Ifrit's quite a good name, I like it. My true name, well- I haven't been called that in a very long time. But the reason I intruded upon your dream-realm is to ask for your help. Don't worry, I'm not going to put some seductive mojo on you- though I could- but it's so, I don't know, last resort."

"You appeared in Calamari's dream, scared her into blowing our cover," Pestilence said accusingly.

"Oh, that? Please send her my apologies when you wake up. I was worried something bad might happen to you before you four made it to Trysk, so I just pushed your meeting with the Kurylians along a little. I think it's worked out all right so far."

"Worked out all right?!" Pestilence asked incredulously. "Pyre's to be executed and I and my companions are locked up!"

"Oh, he won't be executed. He'll see a way out of the situation," Ifrit said, waving his hand dismissively. He strolled around the AXALON, bending down to pluck a pair of glasses out of the ether. He sent them floating away with a smirk.

"You've been pulling Azmus' strings, and brought this dead warrior back to life. For what purpose?" Pestilence demanded of him. "The mirrors are gateways to where? Wherever you're from? You want the crystal to resurrect yourself as well?"

"Pret-ty close," Ifrit said with a mischievous grin. He took Pestilence's hand in his, and gave her a ballroom twirl. When she'd turned around, he'd slipped his arm over her shoulder and spread out his other hand, like they were looking out on some vast field of history instead of on the wall of her ship.

"I have spent centuries in nothingness and obscurity, and it is...so...boring," he said to her sadly. "Do you know what it's like to belong to a time of different rules, of different possibilities, and to no longer have a place in the universe that has asserted itself into the one you once knew?"

"...No. I don't," Pestilence said carefully. "You're not from Cybertron, are you? Or Earth, or Lykur, or any other planet."

"I'm from a time before planets," he replied. "I'm from a time before time. I came from another universe, one that knew how to stretch the rules and imagine the limitless possibilities. A time of magic. But you- you're from a colder, crueler, smaller universe than that one. Science and all the quantifications, limitations, and firm rules thereof. That's the universe that asserted itself in my absence. And I hate it. Everyone hates it."

"So you're going to destroy it?"

"No! Oh, no! That's- no-!" Ifrit burst out laughing, smoke bursting off in him in little puffs and his eyes glowing merrily. "I would never destroy anything, nor kill anyone! That's mortal silliness! I'm going to save everyone."

"Save them?" Pestilence repeated, hoping to keep Ifrit talking before she woke up. He was pacing around now, happily energetic, seemingly enjoying her company.

"The meteor shower- years, decades of exerting every tiny finger-grip of influence I could get on this dim and rigid galaxy. The dreams, the mirrors, the Lykia, every element carefully engineered- but the crystal! An object of pure chaos! I can't even touch it! That twist, ooh, it stumped me for a while. And these Kurylians, so thick-headed, they won't give it up to the Lykia. I searched the ranks of oblivion, and I found someone who died in just such a way as to make it possible to pluck him from the abyss. He'll be my white knight. And if you just help him to get the crystal, everything will make itself right."

"Do you really think I'm going to help you on the basis of these cryptic ramblings?" Pestilence asked.

"I think you will. I don't want to see these poor beings hurt any more than you do," Ifrit said.

"And what change will you enact to make them unable to be hurt?" Pestilence asked. Ifrit opened his mouth to answer, and then started to chuckle- a silky, infectious sound.

"Oh, you can get the exposition rolling right out of me, can't you? You're too clever for my own good, I think- if I tell you every detail, you might throw a monkey wrench into my most well-laid of plans. You'll probably work it out yourself- like I said, clever clever!- but that's the more fun way, don't you think?"

He turned to walk away, and started to fade away at the outlines of his frame, and Pestilence spoke up again, sensing she was about to wake up.

"Ifrit! People will be hurt! You're playing with lives!"

He glanced over his shoulder at her, a little smile playing at his lips- and an expression of incredible age and sadness in his eyes.

"I just want to be alive again," he said. "That's not too much for anyone to ask for."

And then the AXALON began to darken and fade around her, until Pestilence was shaken awake by her friends.

------------------

Pestilence awoke, optics dimmed against the harsh light of the holding cell. It was daylight outside, rays of sun beaming in through the narrow, barred window. They were in a ten-foot long by ten-foot wide cell, with a large metal door in the wall opposite from the window. The walls were comprised of the same thick stone bricks and steel panels that made up the exterior of the castle; no breaking through those in a hurry. Pestilence sat up, adjusting the tangle of her scarf. Buckshot and Calamari were kneeling on either side of her.

"How long was I unconscious?" she asked.

"Like five hours?" Buckshot estimated.

"You were talking in your sleep. Even Pyre heard it," Calamari said, pointing a thumb towards the wall on her right. Pestilence looked over, and saw another one of those narrow, barred windows. She stood up and walked towards it, glancing to her left at the one facing outside. Through it she could see the courtyard at ground level- their cells seemed to be a little bit lower, almost basement-level to the courtyard. The other window looked in on the adjacent cell. Pestilence peered through it to see Pyre sitting on his bunk with a heavy-duty steel lock holding his wrists together and binding them to his waist. Even his wings had been folded up and secured by chains to either side of the bunk. He gave Pestilence a little nod.

"They chained down your wings? That seems like going a little overboard," Pestilence said, her face just visible through the narrow slot in the wall if she stood up on her tiptoes.

"They decided on extra restraints after my escape attempt," Pyre said dourly.

"Escape attempt?"

"During the testing. They left you in this cell and then took us for some weird tests," Calamari said. "Nothing really creepy or painful, just running these scanners all over us, taking lots of notes, and asking us to try, like, lifting a pen by staring at it or, y'know, transmogrificating something into something else."

"They were testing to see if we were magic. I told 'em to test my crank and see if that magically grows, but Cal said we should try to be cooperative," Buckshot added, looking with resignation at the bars on the window. "So I played along and we did the tests, and I guess Cal and me didn't ring any warning bells, but that scanner of theirs just about had a meltdown when they ran it over Pyre. So he took a swipe at the guards, wrecked a couple computers, they started freaking out and stun-rifled him again and again until he went down."

"Hence the additional restraints and the separate cell," Pestilence finished for him, looking at Pyre. "What a shocker, the most violent solution doesn't work, again."

"Oh, that escape wasn't even close to my most violent solution. I'll try again when I'm feeling more imaginative," Pyre replied with a glare.

"Well, since you're chained in place, that leaves out any chances of you headbutting right through the wall. Ifrit said you wouldn't be executed- seemed to think the two of you had some escape plan all worked out."

"Ifrit," Pyre repeated, and shook his head like a man finally remembering some long-lost bit of knowledge that had been driving him crazy in his forgetting. "He gave me some alias, he talked and talked, I could never quite remember the name. And if he's got an escape plan, I wish he'd let me in on it."

"What else did you hear from this guy Ifrit?" Buckshot asked.

Pestilence filled them in on everything from her dream- what Ifrit was (or seemed to be), the things he said, the hints at his grand plan for them. Pyre was silently contemplative from the next cell over, while Calamari listened with rapt attention Buckshot stared out at the courtyard, occasionally clutching at the bars on the window and shaking them a bit.

"Everything Ifrit's been engineering, in his own haphazard way, was leading up to some kind of rebirth, I'm sure of it," she said. "This Crystal of the Infinite he's after, somehow that was the only thing he couldn't affect."

"We saw it, yeah. They're building it into some kind of super-cannon," Buckshot replied. "They had these rows of meteor rocks for making their stun-rifles, and these 'porting gizmos."

"Maybe the crystal can affect technology as well as amplify magic. Sounds weird to me, but I've begun to accept I might need to think supernatural," Pestilence said, pacing the cell. "So he can't get the crystal, can't touch it, but he can bring Pyre back from the dead, possibly from a parallel universe, to go get it for him. His very presence in this universe is unnatural, even magical. He needed to be reborn...Cal, didn't you say when Pyre first appeared from the mirror he briefly had no eyes?"

"Yeah?"

"And you mentioned things with no eyes when -you- dreamed of Ifrit!"

"Yeah, I just got a glimpse of...oh, oh!" Calamari clapped a hand over her mouth for a moment, then removed it to speak further. "I was running from him 'cause he kept changing into scary things, to get me to scream myself awake, and I saw this long hall of mirrors and there were reflections of everybody on Lykur with no eyes! Lykians, Kurylians, all of them!"

"Eyes are supposed to be the windows to the soul," Pestilence said, pacing rapidly. "These duplicates are soulless until they are drawn from the mirrors and Ifrit ensouls them just as he did Pyre. His plan...no, I doubt he plans to duplicate himself, he'd lose control of the clone as soon as it left the dream realm via the mirror. But if he brought Pyre back with a little extra, brought him back with magical abilities, he could be counting on Pyre to restore him somehow."

"What would his plan be from there?" Pyre asked.

"Dream-world duplicates of every being on Lykur? I think he plans to duplicate everyone and give them magic. Bring back a time he knew best. An entire planet of beings able to change the very laws of reality. Oh sure, you've got no control over it yet, but over time..."

"Give everyone on Lykur magic?" Calamari said disbelievingly. "When they're, like, this close to going to war with each other?"

"Agreed. It's madness. And not just for the unstable political climate, but just the sheer enormity of it," Pestilence said. "Let's suppose that there is such an ancient and elemental force as magic- surely you'd need to be an innately magical being, like Ifrit, or a dedicated practicioner trained over a lifetime just to handle it. But to give magic to an entire planet full of mortal beings...no, not just a planet. I have a bad feeling he doesn't mean to stop there. A solar system, a galaxy full of newly duplicated beings with the use of magic comparable to his? He might as well hand out loaded guns to toddlers."

"So why do it? What's the gain? For laughs?" Buckshot asked.

"No...no, that doesn't quite fit. I've faced a lot of villains in my lives, looked right into the face of evil, but somehow Ifrit isn't that. He genuinely seems to think he's helping everyone."

"I never got the sense of evil or malice from him," Pyre said. "More that he's capricious. Doesn't think of the consequences. And as a little bonus, a planet rendered more magical might be able to take Ifrit back in full power."

"There's no time to waste," Pestilence said. "We've got to figure a way out of this cell, get back into the labs, take the crystal and one of the teleportation devices, we can be back at the Lykian village and-"

"Too late," Pyre said. Pestilence looked up at him, and realized she could hear it too- tromping footsteps on stone outside their cells. Outside, a crowd of expectant Kurylians was gathering in the courtyard, and the sun was at its highest. The thick metal door to Pyre's cell swung open, and a squad of Kurylian soldiers entered, unhooking his chains and pulling him to his feet.

"The cannon is complete. We believe it will be...relatively painless," a Kurylian scientist said nervously, looking up at Pyre. He looked calmly from her to Pestilence, who was on her tiptoes staring through the window to his cell, and nodded once. He allowed the Kurylians to lead him out of the cell, and though they couldn't see his walk down the long stone hall through the doors, the other Cybertronians could hear it. Calamari sat on one bunk, an expression of bleak sorrow on her face. Buckshot slammed a fist into the door. Pestilence tried to think, racking her hands through her coat pockets, of course emptied of any interesting devices.

Buckshot walked to the courtyard, looking out of it angrily as he saw engineers bringing in pieces of the experimental cannon and starting to slowly bolt it together. He gave the bars another hard shake- and one of them canted forward in his fist with a little, hope-igniting trrreenk! He looked at the others once, shock on his face, the expression mirrored on theirs, and then he started to work the bar back and forth rapidly. He managed to pull it out of the stone, and with renewed vigor he turned to the next bar over and started to tug on it as hard as he could, while the other two urged him on.

--------------------

The Kurylians gathered around the courtyard didn't fit the profile of any execution spectators Pyre had ever seen. They had neither a raucous expectation nor a somber silence. Instead the gathered soldiers, workers, scientists and children all had an air of dignified resignation, seeming to take this as the last resort and being determined to see it through to its ugly conclusion. And ugly it would be, Pyre thought with some apprehension, if that crystal-powered cannon they were constructing was as potent as it looked.

He stood with his back to one of the castle walls, arms bound in front of him. His feet had been quickly restrained to the ground, his wings held down with more of those chains. He flexed his muscles a little, an expression of irritation on his face. Reborn just to be executed. He wondered vaguely if Ifrit was amused by this. A great cosmic joke. At no time did he feel less magical than right now. Those engineers worked fast, setting up a reinforced tripod for the cannon- a long, fierce-looking metal tube with the Crystal of the Infinite set into a chamber atop it, and the wide barrel end aimed squarely at Pyre. The same scientist who'd assured him of the cannon's relatively painless effects was standing nearby as a pair of soldiers checked and re-checked his manacles.

"They're secure," one of them reported, standing up and signaling to the engineers. He nodded once and started to program the cannon. Nesyk stood by the cannon, large arms folded in front of his shell, a grim expression on his face.

"Do you understand the necessity of this, Pyre?" Nesyk asked, his voice carrying easily above the silence of the courtyard. All labors had been paused for the Kurylians to watch the execution.

"I've always understood better than most the necessity for killing when faced with a threat- real threats, anyway," he growled.

"Then you do not admit to being the harbinger of the complete destruction of life as we know it? I figured you would not. But we will not allow ourselves to be overtaken by zealots and soothsayers and dream-creatures. We prefer our lives the way they are."

"Send back the other three," Pyre said abruptly, interrupting Nesyk's pronouncement. "They came here by mistake. They've got nothing to do with me or the one who brought me here. They might even be able to help you."

"I believe they will. When they see we are quite serious about threats to our lives," Nesyk said calmly. "Our scans of you and the others showed a great power source within a chamber inside this chest. We believe a high-intensity, piercing energy beam directed at this area will be sufficient."

"Oh, it'll be sufficient," Pyre said, lowly, and shook his head. "Just get it done."

-------------------

"Almost...got it..." Buckshot said, working the bar back and forth in its place. The other three bars lay on the floor of the cell between his feet. "Don't you have some kinda tool for this? I know the Kurylians didn't empty your pockets."

"I've got good tools for hacking computers and disabling electronic doorlocks, not much for stone walls and six-inch thick metal hinges. Have you got it?" Pestilence urged him.

Buckshot pried out the last bar with one final wrench, bits of stone crumbling away around it as it came loose. It left behind a slot less than a foot tall, too much for any Kurylian to fit his shell through. And no Lykia would have been able to pry off the bars. Buckshot nodded at the other two and stepped back. Pestilence, the most petite of the three, was easily able to scramble up the wall and through the narrow window, her feet kicking as she shimmied along the snow and soil of the courtyard. She turned and offered a hand to Calamari. Though she was nearly a head taller than Pest, she was quite slender and easily wriggled through the window. That left Buckshot. He grabbed hold of the bottom of the window, trying to push through it, and grimaced. He was too tall, too broad, too muscular to fit. He tried a couple more times, teeth gritting as he tried to push his burly torso through the window.

"Damn...freakin'...can't!" he slumped back against the wall. "Hell with this. Maximize!"

With a series of clanks and whirs, he transformed into his canine beast mode, a larger than normal rottweiler, and with the compression of size was just able to bound up the wall and push through the narrow window. He popped out and rolled along the snow, kicking up little tufts of it with his paws, and transformed back to robot mode. Pestilence smiled, clapping him on one broad shoulder, and they turned to start running around the castle towards the courtyard.

-------------------

The engineers finished the programming sequence and the cannon started to power on. At the chamber atop the cannon, the Crystal of the Infinite- which seemed to be constantly changing in its color, its shape, its number of facets- began to glow. The entire barrel started to hum and vibrate, gathering molecules of unknown energy around the barrel. Pyre eyed this weapon uneasily, and started to shake his manacles. The soldiers had backed far away from him and fallen back to stand beside the cannon, not knowing whether his death would result in an explosion. The molecules coalesced into a corona of sheer white light gathering in the barrel, and Pyre stretched his hands, his wrists, feeling the metal start to rend and break. His wings puffed out, chains bending as they struggled to hold them down. His face contorted in a scowl of effort as he started to pull free. Off to the distance, he could see Pestilence and her companions rounding the corner of the castle, paying no minds to the shouts of the alarmed Kurylians who watched them pass.

The manacles broke. Pyre pulled his hands apart, and the crowd of spectators let out yells of terror. His wings burst outward, chains flying apart into so many pieces of drifting metal, and he took a step forward just as the cannon finally erupted with energy. A flash of white light seared the sky and a beam of pulsing energy punched into Pyre's chest. He gasped, falling back against the castle wall. It ruptured his chest armor immediately, slicing into his spark chamber. Expecting a rapid death, he looked down one final time at the smoldering wound- then saw the wound heal itself up, even as the constant hammering waves of energy from the cannon shot tore it apart again- before healing itself up again. A piercing pain hit his optics, and he looked up at the terrified Kurylians. Soldiers, little shelled soldiers, who didn't know how to handle the new beings that fell from the sky.

Pyre let out a howl of pain that echoed back and forth in the courtyard, his optics pouring purple smoke. The cannon, overloaded, burst apart, sending shrapnel out in a fan and scattering soldiers. Pyre opened his optics and twin beams of light lanced out from them, hitting a spot a few feet in front of them. The dirt and sand was immediately crystallized into glass, and before the startled eyes of all in attendance, a handsome being of smoke and metal was pulling himself up out of the glass. He looked around with high excitement.

"I wasn't sure that would even work! But I'm glad it did," Ifrit said with glee.

"The dream-creature! Open fire! Open fire at once!" Nesyk called out. A squad of Kurylian soldiers dropped to their knees, leveling stun-rifles at Ifrit, and began to blast. With a merry laugh, Ifrit waved a palm and caused the stun-orbs to dissipate like steam. A soldier near to him charged forward with a military saber- Ifrit nimbly side-stepped the attack and flicked his fingers. With a flash of light, the saber was transformed into a silky purple umbrella. The soldier looked at it oddly, before Pyre swung out a backhand into his undershell and knocked him aside.

"My thanks, Pyre. You've done more for me than I could have ever asked for. Let me heal that little scrape," Ifrit said, passing a palm over the ruined hole in Pyre's spark chamber and leaving it as good as new.

"You...used me," Pyre said above the din of soldiers.

"Of course I did, and you've used me, so let's set that aside for a moment and get- oh yes. Oh, yes," Ifrit said, and with a swirl and burst of smoke and fire, glided across the courtyard to the ruined cannon, plucking the Crystal of the Infinite from it.

"No more mirrors, no more dreams. Magic reborn in this universe, from this object of chaos-" he breathed, turning it over in his hand and staring at it. Nesyk drew a wicked-looking handgun and leveled at his temple- he pulled the trigger, and with a blink of his lavender eyes, Ifrit turned it into a feather-duster before it could finish firing. He glided back towards where Pyre leaned against the castle wall, and with a sweep of his hand, crystal glowing hotly in his palm, he created a mirror from midair.

"Busy busy bees, we are. So much to do! Come on, Pyre. We're remaking a world," he said, and with a playful push, had dumped Pyre through the mirror. The dragon fell through the glass like it was water, and Ifrit tossed the crystal up into the air and caught it in his hand with a grin. Pestilence, Calamari, and Buckshot were running at full-speed, bobbing and weaving between soldiers like players on a football field.

"If we- let him- get through there- we'll never catch up to him again-!" Pestilence said, willing her legs to run their fastest.

"Almost- there-" Calamari panted, a few steps ahead of the others, simply a faster runner.

Ifrit stepped through the mirror with an insouciant grin at the Kurylians, waving them goodbye, the glass rippling around him. Calamari dove after him a second later, disappearing into the mirror. Buckshot was next, barreling into it, and Pestilence jumped through last. Shots shattered the glass just as her feet disappeared into it and it turned solid, leaving the courtyard of Trysk in chaos.

--------------------

They emerged inside Ifrit's realm, a place of dislogic and chaos somewhere beneath time and between universes. The environment seemed to attempt to adjust itself to the limited perceptions of a third-dimensional being, and so became a long hall of mirrors in an ornate palace. They'd landed on a marble floor, the ceiling vanishing into a starry sky where the constellations changed as you looked at them. And so many mirrors- tall, short, wide, narrow, round, warped, in long rows stretching down the corridor. Ifrit was walking along the center of the corridor, smoke curling contentedly around him as he rolled the crystal back and forth in his palm. Pyre walked alongside him, seemingly still dazed by the beam's impact. Then Ifrit stopped short, sensing the newcomers in his realm, and turned to look at them.

"Oh, hello. I was hoping you three might make it in before the mirror solidified!" he greeted, turning around. Pyre looked at them, then at Ifrit.

"Ifrit, you've got the crystal, and you are clearly capable of materializing yourself in this realm now. Let Pyre go," Pestilence said, as Buckshot stood beside her, hands tightened into fists, and Calamari looked angrily at Ifrit.

"Well, he's certainly not a hostage. His role's been fulfilled. But I've come to like him. See, in Pyre's case the process of duplication is already complete. And the results, well, they speak for themselves. A magical reawakening of being, of purpose, across an entire planet- it gives me chills. Literally! Chills. No more candle, no more wishes, no more wish-granting, just me on a planet full of equals. Peers!"

"We'll never let you do it. Nobody can use that much power who isn't born into it," Pestilence said.

"Oh, I've heard that before," Ifrit smiled like a man listening to a very old and corny joke with a punchline he can guess ahead of time. "I'll just have to start the duplication process on you three. Let the dupes do their work, and let me do mine."

"Dupes-?" Buckshot started to say, before another version of him leaned out of one of the mirrors. This other Buckshot resembled him in every aspect, except for one- he had nothing but empty black sockets where his eyes should've been. The duplicate Buckshot reached out, pulling him into the mirror. He struggled, punched, yelled out before disappearing into the rippling glass surface. Calamari ran towards the mirror, futilely grabbing at Buckshot's hand seconds before it vanished into the glass, when a metal tentacle spun out and grabbed her by the wrist. An empty-eyed mirror Calamari, without sound or malice or excess movement, wrestled the real article into another mirror. Calamari's panic-stricken eyes stared imploringly at Pestilence as she was pulled in. Pestilence started to run down the hallway at the grinning Ifrit and the staring Pyre, before another version of herself, silent and devoid of eyes and soul, burst from a mirror and caught her by the ankle. Pestilence scrabbled her fingers along the marble floor, turning to face her attacker. The duplicate grabbed her by the scarf, pulling her into the mirror, leaving no trace of any of them behind.


END OF EPISODE THREE


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: DWA: Mirrors of the Djinn
PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2010 3:31 pm 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
Posts: 97
MIRRORS OF THE DJINN

EPISODE FOUR


Part One

Pestilence could feel herself tumbling through nothingness for an instant, her only contact with anything else the cold, smooth metal fingers clutching at her scarf and shoulders. She and her duplicate fell through a mirror suspended in midair, the glass surface rippling in waves after them. They landed on a carpeted floor and tumbled along until they bumped against a marble pedestal. Pestilence tried to get to her feet, hands scrabbling for purchase on the carpet, but was pulled away from the pedestal by her expressionless, empty-eyed duplicate. Without haste or malice, the duplicate lifted a hand towards her face as Pestilence struggled. She planted both feet into the other her's midsection and kicked her away.

Pestilence quickly stood up, and risked a few glances around, even as her magical duplicate got to her feet with a marked lack of hurry. They'd fallen into some bizarre garden- the pedestal Pestilence had collided with was the base of a fountain which showered sparkling sands endlessly into itself. All of the plants were made of glass, and swayed musically to a non-existent breeze. Mirrors hovered around them in empty space. As the duplicate advanced, raising her hand again, Pestilence ran to one of the mirrors, surmising them as a means of going from one 'room' to another, and saw in the mirror Buckshot in some sort of foyer area, trading punches fruitlessly with a duplicate as strong as he.

"Buckshot! Hold on!" Pestilence yelled into the mirror's surface, not at all sure that he could even hear her, and plunged a hand into it- contributing to the situation only a small spider-web crack on the mirror's surface and a faint register of pain in her knuckles. She spun around, sensing her clone's advance, and ducked as the duplicate sent that hand outward, fingers glowing with white energy, and caused the mirror to ripple around it. Pestilence shoved the dupe backward for a moment, and dove into the mirror while it continued to buckle under the duplicate's magical touch.

"Quit- hitting- yourself!" Buckshot was growling, delivering a fierce haymaker punch to his duplicate. The dupe spun for a moment, then regarded his original with empty-eyed curiosity before moving towards him, fingers spread, white points of light unlike any Cybertronian tech glowing at the tips. Buckshot swore, ducking away from the attack, and nearly tripped over Pestilence as she landed beside him at the foot of the long carpeted stairs leading up from the center of the room. The stairs went nowhere, simply corkscrewing and turning in on themselves in a chaotic pattern that hurt one's brain to look at.

"Pest! I see you got eyes, so did you waste the copycat?" Buckshot asked hopefully.

"No, she's pretty tough. Takes after the original," Pestilence said hurriedly, glancing behind herself as the empty-eyed duplicate pushed through the rippling mirror on the wall facing the base of the stairs. The duplicate Buckshot seemed to have no interest in Pestilence, being solely focused on the other Buckshot. Bucky moved backwards, fists raised, while Pestilence moved to his side, regarding her clone warily.

"I dunno about this one, Pest. Every punch I throw, he takes it. He does all the same stuff in a fight I'd do," Buckshot said, looking at his circling duplicate.

"I'm having trouble outsmarting myself, too. This is odd- they're just magical constructs, they have none of our memories, intellect, personality- eep!" Pestilence had to quickly side-step a sudden lunge from her clone, and back up to Buckshot's side. "But they're shadowing us exactly!"

A mirror opened up above them, droplets of shimmering glass falling from its surface and dissipating into nothingness before hitting the floor. A pair of long slender metal legs and a set of wriggling tentacles burst through, and Calamari hung from the mirror's frame, kicking at midair.

"Cal!" Buckshot called up to her. She looked down at him, startled.

"This other me's really creepy! She keeps trying to do something to my face!" Calamari yelled down, before another tentacle burst through the mirror and looped around her throat. An empty-eyed duplicate Calamari's head poked through the rippling glass, looking dispassionately at her original, and started to raise those white-pointed fingers. Calamari reached up, grabbing the dupe by the hair, and yanked hard, sending her other self tumbling ten feet to the floor. She hit hard with a clank and whump, then simply sat back up, not so much as glancing at the other two. Calamari dropped to the floor with a gymnast's grace, and backed up against her two friends. They shifted from foot to foot, desperately trying to think, as the trio of doppelgangers advanced as one.

------------------

Pyre could see the fight through one of the mirrors in the hall, watching as Buckshot traded blows with his duplicate. Ifrit was watching as well, an interested little smile on his handsome face. He tossed the crystal joyfully up into the air like a kid walking home from the major-league game who'd caught a fly ball- then Pyre whirled around, grabbing Ifrit by the neck and smashing him into one of the mirrors lining the wall. The glass cracked inward beneath the djinn's slight frame, and Ifrit let out a startled yelp- but not before making sure to still catch the crystal and stuff it somewhere into one of his pockets.

"Call off your monsters!" Pyre growled into his face, talons digging into his throat. Ifrit looked shocked, and then slowly fascinated and amused.

"Oh, but they haven't finished the job yet. Those monsters, as you just a -tad- rudely refer to them, are just the shells, soon to be filled with your friends' very essences. They'll be improved, they'll want to thank me."

"For killing them?!" Pyre demanded, tightening his grip and pushing Ifrit until glass creaked behind his body.

"Killing them! Nonsense! The duplicates draw the beings into themselves, all consciousness is retained. It's not killing, it's...a little shift, you could say. It's about as much killing as changing clothes. They'll enter a whole new realm of possibilities. And before you call my dupes monsters, you might want to think about this: You're a construct, Pyre. It's all you in there, your mind and memories are real, but do you think I bothered scooping up your broken, battered body from where I found it? You've got me to thank for your tangible, living status."

"What if they don't -want- to become like you, or like me?" Pyre demanded.

"Then it goes from being a joyful ascension to a quick but necessary inconvenience. Like a vaccine shot! I'm inoculating them against mortality and mediocrity. They'll be grateful. You should be too. Oh, you're mad? Well, I am being a little heavy-handed. Out of necessity! But if you want to, go ahead, crush my face in."

Pyre looked askance at Ifrit, who grinned playfully.

"Twist my head off. Pop! I'll sprout a new one. Go on, it'll be fun. I haven't been in a fight in centuries and physical violence is so...kitsch!"

Pyre looked sorely tempted, but after a moment of thought, let go of his grip on Ifrit. Ifrit seemed neither annoyed nor inconvenienced, making a show out of brushing off his violet-swirled torso while smoke puffed and poured off him in mellow waves.

"You've got the crystal. I've got a new body. That means our deal is concluded. But the others- they have no deal with you, and I have no obligation to you regarding them. I'm going to help them," Pyre said, starting towards the mirror showing the fight- where, now, all three Cybertronians had reunited and were surrounded by their duplicates.

"You're delaying the divine! Is throwing a monkey wrench into the works really the way to repay a friend?" Ifrit called to him.

"You're NOT my friend," Pyre glared back at Ifrit. He reached out one taloned hand, getting set to pierce the mirror's surface. Ifrit watched, an amused smile playing at his features, expecting the dragon to achieve no reaction- then Pyre's hand easily dipped into the surface. Ifrit looked startled, opening his mouth to object, then Pyre had plunged bodily through the mirror and towards his friends. Ifrit stared after him for a moment, then shook his head and hurried down the hallway, feeling in his pocket for the all-important crystal.

------------------

"All right, I've got an idea," Pestilence declared as she and Buckshot and Calamari pressed up against one another until their shoulder blades were touching.

"About freakin' time! Lay it on me!" Buckshot said hopefully. The duplicates walked slowly forward, each with a hand raised in the air. White points of light were glowing at their fingertips, and Pestilence surmised that light would finish the job of replacing them if they got close enough to use it.

"These duplicates have no interest in anyone beyond the entity they've been created to replace. The clone of me would walk right past you to get to me. So switch targets!" Pestilence said. Buckshot and Calamari glanced at each other, then charged forward. Buckshot grabbed hold of the empty-eyed duplicate Calamari, wrestling her away from the others. Calamari grabbed the dupe Pestilence's arm by a tentacle and started to drag her, while Pestilence tugged at the dupe Buckshot and distracted it. The duplicates struggled, their fingertips going dim as they were engaged by originals they had no interest in absorbing.

"Stop- ow! Stop hitting me!" Calamari yelped, wrapping her arms around the dupe Pestilence's midsection and pulling the petite femme away. She flung the dupe into one of the banisters of the twisting stairwell- there was no crack, no dent, just the dupe folding over the banister and sliding down. The fake Pestilence sat up, its empty eye sockets devoid of pain or irritation, and tried to walk towards the real one again before Calamari got hold of her. Buckshot had the duplicate Calamari in a headlock and rammed her head again and again off a wall, achieving superficial damage. Pestilence kept a few steps ahead of the dupe Buckshot, easily outmaneuvering him due to her smaller size and greater speed, trying to distract him.

"Lemme try this," Buckshot said, and tightened his headlock on the duplicate Calamari. He wrenched, hard, and the duplicate's head was cocked back at an unnerving angle. The duplicate blinked- or, rather, flexed its empty eye sockets- as it stumbled backwards a little.

"Hey! Don't break my neck! That's so gross!" Calamari yelled.

"Sorry, just tryin' to make it stay down!" Buckshot said. The dupe Calamari set her head back into proper place, the wounds magically sealing, and would have gone right for the real Calamari had Pestilence not shoved the dupe Buckshot into her and sent them tumbling to the floor. They were buying time, keeping the dupes distracted and off-balance, but affecting no real damage- until Pyre stepped through one of the mirrors floating in midair and landed with a heavy thump on the carpet. He looked around, taking a quick assessment of the situation, and grabbed the duplicate Buckshot. There was a quick snap and crunch, the other Cybertronians winced, and Buckshot leaned slightly as his duplicate's head went sailing past. The duplicate sank to the ground without sparking electricity or spraying mechfluid, simply feeling at the glowing stump where his head used to be. Pyre turned towards the duplicate Calamari, raked his claws along her torso- leaving behind glowing gouges in the metal- and flung her through one of the mirrors- it rippled as the clone passed through it, and once it had solidified, Pyre shattered it in his fist.

"One more! Here!" Calamari pushed the duplicate Pestilence forward. The empty-eyed clone stumbled, scarf trailing behind her, and Pyre punched his fist through its midsection. His hand popped out her back, light shining around it. The clone looked curiously down at the intruding limb, before going limp around it. Pyre pulled the duplicate off his arm and let it drop.

"Did you enjoy that?" Pestilence asked sharply, pointing down at her neutralized duplicate.

"Of course not," Pyre replied. Pestilence turned to check on the others and he surreptitiously gave the downed duplicate a little kick.

"Everyone's all right? Good to hear. These duplicates are fascinating technol- well. I mean fascinating magic, don't I?" Pestilence said self-consciously, bending down to look at the headless Buckshot-dupe and then back to Pyre. "They just kept coming for us, and no matter what violence was enacted upon them, it didn't seem to do any permanent damage. At least until you came along."

"Maybe you being all magically resurrected gives you the power to do stuff to duplicates we can't?" Calamari asked.

"Maybe. When I first got here, Ifrit said anything's possible in his realm if you will it. He looked surprised when I got in through the mirror."

Pestilence rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "If magic is an expression of will, he must think his will is the ultimate here. Only Ifrit or his magical constructs could travel between mirrors- we only got into this realm in the first place because the mirror surface was still in flux for a brief time after you and he passed through it. But...I wonder...if will isn't dependent upon being reborn from the duplication process..."

She started to mutter to herself, pacing around the room, looking at the downed duplicates and at the mirrors. Pyre stared at her, and Buckshot grinned.

"Ah, she does that. Better to just let her talk to herself for a while before she gets one of her genius moments. Man, I'm glad you jumped in here. That other me had these glowing fingers, I think it was trying to suck my spark- y'know, my soul or whatever, right out of me."

"You'd have been the same after the transfer. But with a lot of new power you wouldn't know how to handle."

"Yeah? Well, I can get by without all this weird magic. And I don't like the idea of some creepy dupe forcing me out of my body and into his. I like this body just fine. Seriously- thanks. For helping out," Buckshot said, and offered a hand.

Pyre nodded, and accepted Buckshot's handshake.

"So what's Ifrit doing with his crystal?" Calamari asked Pyre.

"Not sure. He's very happy to have it. I don't think he'll be needing the Lykia to make any more mirrors for him. They've already got enough to send a duplicate into every house in the village. And he can just pop out into that world and finish the job himself with its power. His object of chaos."

"-psionic empowerment potential to a factor of- wait, what?!" Pestilence looked up, startling herself out of a low string of equations she was reciting under her breath. "Did you say object of chaos? He used those exact words?"

"Yes," Pyre said. "I heard him say it when he plucked the crystal from the Kurylians' cannon at the execution."

"Object of chaos- oh, that's bad, that's very bad!" Pestilence said with dawning reminiscence. "Back when I was my first self, I encountered one before and learned a little about it. There's a theory held by some that all the universe is a stage for an eternal battle between the elemental forces of order and chaos. One side can never win over the other- their struggle is the point, the necessity for balance. Some objects of great power and mysterious origin are considered to be incarnations of these two forces of order and chaos- like weapons or tools for one side to use on the other. The Crystal of the Infinite must be an object of chaos! That's the kind of power that'd attract an essentially chaotic being like Ifrit. It'll ramp his power into overdrive, give him the ability to magically duplicate everyone on the planet and then the solar system and then the galaxy. I can't destroy an object of pure chaos."

"Oh, that's more good news, then," Buckshot said, rubbing his head.

"We can start by delaying his plan for Lykur, though. There must be a way to get back planetside. Pyre, can you use one of these mirrors to open up a route back? Use your will, just think about it, and you should be able to leave."

"Very well," Pyre said a little doubtfully. He walked towards one of the mirrors and stared at it. Nothing happened for a moment- then, as he concentrated, the mirror started to shimmer before showing the Lykian village at midday. The feline villagers were running to and fro in a state of great distress, calling to one another and arming themselves with spears and bows. As the Cybertronians watched, they witnessed portals opening up in the air and Kurylian soldiers jumping out, charging for the pagoda.

"They've gone to war. We're too late to stop 'em," Buckshot said, staring at the mirror.

"Over my duplicated body!" Pestilence exclaimed. "Bucky, you and Cal and Pyre go through there. Do whatever you can to delay the battle, to minimize casualties, disarm weapons. Most of this stuff just bounces off Cybertronians, I know you can do it."

"I can sure as hell try," he said with resolve. "C'mon, big guy."

Pyre looked from him to Pestilence, an optic ridge raised.

"You expect me to take on both sides of a battlefield and make them stand down with no loss of life?"

"Sure- aren't you some kind of great tactical warrior?" Pestilence said with a challenging smirk. Pyre found himself smiling back very slightly, and nodded.

"You're gonna stay here?" Calamari asked as Pyre plunged a hand into the mirror surface, ripples spreading around it like a heavy rock dropped into a lake, and stepped through.

"I'm going to talk some sense into Ifrit. Let's just say it's my will. Get going!" Pestilence urged Calamari, who jumped in next. Buckshot stepped through last, and the mirror swirled around them before resuming its normal hardness. Pestilence looked at it for a moment, thinking very hard, and then touched it. There was a faint ripple around her finger. She looked at her finger, smiled widely, and then hurried away to find Ifrit.

-------------------

It was a few hours past noon and the sky was turning shades of gray and dark blue, clouds gathering ominously, as the sun began to set past the mountains overlooking the Lykian village. Snow first drifted from the heavens in flakes, and gradually began to fall faster and harder as the coming storm grew in intensity on the battlefield. Shouts and cries rang out amidst the firing of lasers, the twang of arrows released from their bows, the shattering of mirrors, and the crackles of opening portals. Kurylians hopped out and hustled for the pagoda, rifles in their arms, keeping their bodies bent slightly so as to present their shells as the most obvious target.

"Take the tower! Destroy all mirrors! We must hold this village should the metal beings return!" Nesyk yelled to his squad, directing them up the snow-flecked streets to the pagoda. Lykia sprinted out of the doors, hopping from spot to spot with feline agility. One flung out a spear that caught a Kurylian soldier through the shoulder, piercing his softer undershell- he dropped his rifle and rolled along the ground, clutching at the spear and trying to pull it out. A medic dropped to assist him, and Nesyk responded to the attack with a salvo of laser rounds, scorching the pagoda walls and dropping the spear-tossing Lykia with severe burns. More Kuylians teleported into the village behind him, almost forty strong now, charging on the pagoda, ignoring any Lykia who weren't armed or directly attacking them.

Atop the pagoda, a few floors up, was the Lykian Elder Azmus, staring out the windows as more and more reptiles ported in. Able-bodied Lykia were being summoned from all over the village, and were arriving in waves to meet them. He stared through the window with an avidity that Ascarta didn't care for at all. She watched him warily, a spear in her hand.

"Elder, at the rate the Kurylians are coming, we may not be able to hold the tower. We'll have to retreat!" she implored him.

"It is imperative to save the mirrors!" he said, rubbing his padded palms together compulsively. "The wish-granter will save us- he will return the dragon to us, or deliver unto us more protectors."

"Elder, it is possible that the dragon's arrival was the only such that we can count on-" Ascarta said, carefully. He rounded on her, a mad glint in his eyes.

"It is the time of the Lykia's ascension, and if we must face the onslaught of the unbelievers without the dragon's protection, perhaps that is our final test! We will defend this tower with our lives! If we die, we die heading for our glorious rebirth in a new realm of possibilities!"

Ascarta opened her mouth to protest, but didn't get to finish her sentence. About three stories below at ground-level, one of the Kurylian soldiers had just 'ported in with a rocket launcher mounted onto his shell. He bent down and flicked the switch protruding from the silver tube, and a rocket-propelled grenade punched out and made its spinning, uneven path towards the pagoda wall. The explosion rocked the tower and great chunks of stone and splinters of wood flew in all directions. Azmus fell over, clutching at the railing of the catwalk, Ascarta almost pitching over the side all the way to the bottom floor. She righted herself and stared down as the Kurylians used the newly created hole in the pagoda wall to fire shots in, wounding any Lykia they could and shattering mirrors left and right.

"NO! We can lose no more! They are mad, they are demons!" Azmus brayed above the chaos. Ascarta looked helplessly down at the hole now letting in wind and snow. She then looked through it, a curious and hopeful expression on her face. One of the large mirrors that had been removed from the pagoda lay on its side in an alleyway, a great crack down its middle and much of the bottom shattered away. What drew her attention to it was this: A rippling and swirling of its broken surface, the crack sealing up and joining the ripples. Pyre plunged through, landing on his hands and knees, and was followed by Buckshot and Calamari. They got to their feet, looking around quickly, and charged for the battle.

"The wish-granter has brought us deliverance! Never doubt our blessings in times of great evil!" Azmus said, clasping his hands in thanks. Ascarta looked unsurely at him, then back to the returned Cybertronians down in the village square, at the foot of the pagoda.

-------------------

Pyre barreled between the ranks of the Kurylians, hearing their startled shouts and cries of recognition. The nearest soldier lifted his rifle, pointing the lethal-grade weapon at Pyre's face; the dragon snatched it away and broke it over one knee, tossing the ruined gun aside. He planted one foot in the Kurylian's undershell and shoved, sending him bowling over two more behind him. Calamari ran from soldier to soldier, sending out her tentacles like whips to knock guns out of hands and to fling them away over the rooftops.

"The metal beings are driving back the Kurylians! Press the attack!" a reddish-furred Lykia yelled, and lifted his bow. He sent an arrow flying out, and Buckshot quickly lifted a hand, the arrow bouncing harmlessly off his metal palm before it could fly into the throat of a nearby Kurylian soldier. Buckshot was on the almost comically surprised Lykia in an instant, grabbing his bow and snapping the string with a jerk. A Lykia lifted a spear on a Kurylian down on his shell- Pyre grabbed the spear away and used it like a staff to knock aside another Kurylian's rifle. Calamari cartwheeled over a low fence and came up low, tripping up a Lykia before she could fire her bow and grabbing her quiver, tossing it away. Shouts of war, of aggression, were becoming shouts of confusion as the Cybertronians engaged both sides at once- breaking guns, snapping bows and spears, tossing armament away and leaving warriors on both sides downed, disoriented, but not dead.

"You! Executioner!" Pyre growled, pointing a talon at Nesyk. Nesyk lifted a gun at him and Pyre flung out a wing-tip like the snap of a wet towel, knocking it to the ground. He took a lunging step forward and brought his heavy metal foot down on the barrel of the gun, crunching it inward. Nesyk raised his fists, anger on his scaly complexion, and suddenly Pyre brought that same wing up like a shield, deflecting an arrow that'd have driven itself into Nesyk's face. The Kurylian director of war looked up at Pyre with astonishment.

"Have you gone utterly mad, dragon?"

"Call off your attack! Tell your soldiers to stand down!"

"Do your kind hope to overthrow both Kurylians -and- Lykia, so that you might rule our planet for yourselves?!"

"If we wanted to kill you," Pyre intoned, looming menacingly over the stout but short reptile, "We could have done it right now instead of disarming your men and saving your miserable lives! You can try to execute me again, but that cannon of yours? Only made me angry. And if I, this angry, am trying to save you, then what do you think our intention was all along?!"

With a crackle and a smell of ozone, a portal opened next to Pyre and a Kurylian soldier jumped out. He immediately grabbed the surprised soldier by the shell, hefted him up and tossed him back into the portal to Trysk right before it closed. Pyre turned back to Nesyk, who was gaping up at him.

"Call. Off. Your attack," Pyre said. "Now!"


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: DWA: Mirrors of the Djinn
PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2010 3:32 pm 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
Posts: 97
MIRRORS OF THE DJINN

EPISODE FOUR

Part Two

Pestilence stepped through the mirror and looked back with a small smile of satisfaction at it as the reflective surface rippled and then remained shut. She looked at her own hand, and then down the long hallway of mirrors. She ran down it, her footsteps echoing up and down the corridor. She saw a faint trail of violet smoke curling around the edges of the mirror at the very end of the corridor and plunged through it like a suspended sheet of water. She fell for a short time and landed nimbly on her feet in what could only be described as a throne room. Candelabras hung upside-down in midair, their purple flames burning resolutely, and ornate curtains flapped in a nonexistent breeze. There were mirrors at the corners of the room showing various mystical objects. A red carpet traveled up a small series of steps to the center of the room, wound around the throne in loops and circles and figure-8's, and never seemed to actually get there. The throne itself was a curled and comfortable-looking chair of ebony with purple cushions. Ifrit paced back and forth energetically in front of his chair, rolling the Crystal of the Infinite around in his hands, occasionally brushing his fingers across its multifaceted, ever-shifting surface and drawing energy into his hands. He stopped at seeing Pestilence.

"Pestilence? Shouldn't you have gone back with the others?" he asked curiously.

"I decided to stay behind and attempt to talk to you," Pestilence replied. She slowly looked around the room, thinking to herself, seeing the mirrors at the corners. She looked into one, seeing a huge, old broadsword. She looked at it curiously, then back to Ifrit. "Do you know what the others have left this place to do? To try to prevent a war! A war brought about by your machinations!"

"Oh, don't be so melodramatic," Ifrit said with a flap of a hand, keeping a firm grip on the crystal with the other. "Mortal beings are always getting into wars. However, this time there's an easy out. Once I've drawn enough power into myself to expand my sphere of influence in the mortal realm, I can summon the duplicates for every sentient being on the planet."

"They won't stop fighting simply because you grant them new power and immortality!" Pestilence retorted. "If anything, they'll find a way to destroy themselves and each other with this power that they'll have no idea how to control."

"I'm not saying the transition won't be rough," Ifrit said smoothly. "But mortal beings are ever adaptive- they'll figure things out. And I'll finally be able to enter this universe again, and help them learn the way. No more candles, no more wishes. Just me and all the freedom an object of chaos can grant. Since you're here, why don't you let me make another dupe and have her shift you? Quick, painless, gives you a head-start on the grand cosmic paradigm shift."

"No, thank you. I value my uniqueness," Pestilence said.

"You're being difficult. But have it your own way. Hop a mirror and go back to Lykur- help your friends save some lives while I finish charging up," Ifrit said dismissively, sitting down in his throne and gazing at the crystal, continuing to draw more raw magic from it and into himself.

Pestilence took a step forward, up the small stairs leading to the throne.

"I'll leave when I have the crystal. I'm not letting you keep it," she told him.

Ifrit looked at her with surprise.

"Do you honestly think you can take this from me?" he asked with a trace of amusement, a smile flickering at the corners of his mouth.

"I think that in this realm I'm capable of a lot more than you'd believe."

"Oh, now that is interesting," Ifrit was grinning now. He stood up from his throne, gripping the crystal in one fist, and stared down at Pestilence as smoke puffed and twisted in intricate swirls around him.

"Do you even understand where you are, little moth? When I was cast out from that ancient universe, I had nothing left. No form, no power, nothing but memory and will. It took longer than I can even communicate, but I was able to gather all the willpower I had, and every iota of magic remnants I could draw from this sterile, scientific excuse for a universe, and I made this place for myself. Do you see? Nothing happens here that is not willed by me! Time and space are hops, skips, and jumps for me! You're smart, and you're tough, I have no doubt. But you can't defeat me in my domain."

Pestilence just flexed her hands into fists, a grim expression to rival one of Pyre's etched on her face. Ifrit stared, disbelieving, and his smile widened.

"You really mean to try it," he said wonderingly. "All right, then. You want my crystal? Come and take it from me!"

He spun around on one heel and waved the crystal around. It emitted a bright flash of light, and a shimmering portal that seemed to reflect the entire room in dizzying waves opened up. Pestilence cast one last look at the broadsword, then began to charge after Ifrit. The djinn leaped into the portal and Pestilence jumped in after him, and the chase was underway.

------------------

At the Lykian village, the storm was picking up in intensity and flurries of snow were blowing down onto the battle. Calamari had rapidly disarmed every Lykia or Kurylian she was near, Buckshot had spent his time either neutralizing them with non-lethal blows or breaking their weaponry. But for every group of combatants they successfully disarmed, more seemed to pour in, either from portals or from the outskirts of the village. Arrows flew back and forth, laser bolts slamming out. Buckshot dove in front of fleeing Lykia, taking several laser blasts to the chest. The metal singed, rupturing slightly in parts, but he simply shook it off and got to his feet, snatching away guns from the assailants. Calamari ran past him, ducking low to avoid a salvo of lasers, and tackled a Kurylian to the ground just as a spear sailed where her head had been a moment before. Another grenade went flying and Calamari slapped it away like a volleyball without even giving herself the luxury of thinking about it- it impacted one of the curved-tile roofs extending outward from the pagoda. Masonry and wooden shingles flew, and the tower shuddered once again.

"They'll bring down the entire tower!" Azmus yelled as the wooden floor of the upper level shook beneath his feet. Ascarta, who'd been staring with amazement down at the battle through the hole in the tower wall, turned to look at the Elder. His golden eyes bulged slightly, and his beautiful robes were disheveled. He pulled on a whisker repeatedly, unthinkingly, a nervous tic.

"They will destroy our salvation...we are so close to higher knowledge..." he whispered, his voice just barely audible to Ascarta over the chaotic sounds outside.

"The metal beings may be turning the tide!" Ascarta said. "They have confronted and disarmed the Kurylians and our brothers and sisters alike- if they can make the Kurylians see reason, and with no loss of life, we can-"

"They attack us?! Disarm us? Why?!" Azmus said, staring at her with fright. "If we are to attain immortality, we can only do so when the unbelievers lie dead and broken before us!"

"Elder, you're being irrational! If we can end this conflict without-"

"THERE WILL BE NO CONFLICT WHEN WE HAVE RISEN TO GLORY! I WILL NOT ALLOW MYSELF AND MY PEOPLE TO DIE! IT IS A KURYLIAN TRICK, AND THE METAL BEINGS HAVE BEEN FOOLED BY IT!" Azmus shouted, shaking all over. He ran past Ascarta, ducking as an errant laser sliced through the hole in the wall and nearly parted his hair, and ran to one of the very few intact mirrors. He tripped over his robes, nearly face-planting on the wooden floor, and got up on his knees, staring at the reflective surface.

"Elder...?" Ascarta asked, looking fearfully at the once level-headed patriarch.

"The Kurylians' filthy technology outmatches our weapons. But I will take unto myself a secret weapon, oh yes," Azmus breathed, looking over his shoulder at her. "I saw it in a dream. And if I use all of my will, it can be brought to me now-"

His golden eyes rolled back in his head as he started to make those humming and growling noises deep in his chest, the same that he'd made when Pyre had been brought forth. Ascarta watched helplessly, convinced he'd gone mad- then was shocked as the mirror started to ripple and pool in front of him. Before her eyes, another Azmus began to appear from the mirror. She stifled a sudden shriek- this Azmus, so quiet and eerie, had no eyes- just black sockets in his face. It protruded from the mirror surface head-first, and then shoulders, finally by its entire torso. The real Azmus looked at his doppelganger with a mixture of awe and fear, and held out his arms to it. Without expression, the doppelganger raised one hand, white points of light glowing at his fingertips. These beams of light began to draw some indefinable, ethereal light from Azmus' eyes and mouth. He laughed, his body sagging against the mirror frame as the duplicate leaned its torso out of the shimmering surface and drew more of his essence into itself.

"My hour of ascension is upon me! Let the Kurylians and the metal traitors feel my righteous wrath!"

--------------------

Pestilence emerged into darkness and looked around. Unknown stars twinkled overhead and purple candles drifted lazily by. She looked down, seeing more star-filled darkness below her, as though she were standing in space. She took a step forward and the space rippled and waved around her as though she were walking on water. She started to sprint, her feet splashing in midair and the sound echoing off into the distance. As she ran, she had no perception of any change in position; the stars grew no closer, she didn't seem to be running anywhere in particular; and yet, if she focused and forced all her will on what she was doing, she saw herself growing closer to faint contrails of purple smoke in the dark.

"I've got a head-start, little moth!" Ifrit's merry voice echoed back and forth after her. "I'm not sure a mortal being can close the gap!"

"I've got no intention of giving up!" Pestilence called back, fists pumping as she forced herself to put on more speed. She felt no sense of physical exertion- and yet- something was straining within her, something that needed to be expressed in this realm.

She ran, harder and faster, almost catching up to the puffs of smoke. She caught just a glimpse of Ifrit's back, his eyes glinting as he looked over his shoulder at her, and she reached out a hand to touch him- only to get a fistful of smoke. He plunged into another portal and she followed him in. She had a brief sensation of inversion, and realized she was now standing on a marble, chandeliered ceiling. Below her was a yawning chasm of blackness. She pinwheeled her arms in midair, optics wide, as her scarf's trailing end fell from her shoulders and hung above the abyss.

"The law of gravity always asserts itself sooner or later!" Ifrit said with a grin, floating cross-legged just above the pit. He waved a hand and the black chasm started to take on a reflective glow.

"Some laws don't seem to apply in this place," Pestilence said, shutting her optics tightly. When she opened them, she could see the pit was showing a view of the Lykian village. The Lykia and Kurylians were engaged in battle, and she could faintly see her friends in their midst, trying to delay them. Ifrit tsked, and looked back up at her.

"You're not going to let them try to avert this war by themselves, are you? Just step off the ceiling, let yourself fall back into a world you understand."

"You'd be surprised how quickly I pick things up," Pestilence said with determination. She thought hard, a series of advanced equations flying through her head, and stepped off the ceiling. She tumbled downward, Ifrit watched with expectation- and then the chasm suddenly turned into a great fabric sheet. Pestilence landed gently on it, bouncing up and down, and got to her feet. Ifrit looked at her with astonishment.

"You said nothing happens here without will, Ifrit," Pestilence smiled at him. "It's not my will to go back yet."

Without a snappy reply, Ifrit turned and created another portal. Pestilence took a couple of bounding steps across the sheet and just barely made it through the portal herself before it closed. She popped out on a winding carpeted staircase, and saw puffs of smoke behind Ifrit as he dashed upstairs. She went to follow, but her feet sank into the next riser she ascended with a buttery gloop. The stairs started to run and melt beneath her- she tried to jog and keep ahead of it, but lost her footing. She slid down the spiralling stairs and landed hard in an exotic dining room with silky curtained windows. There was an hourglass on the dining table that was full of sand on both sides. Seated around the table in tall, straight-backed wooden chairs were nearly a dozen more empty-eyed Pestilence duplicates. The duplicates got up from the chairs and advanced on Pestilence as she stood up.

"I am a scientist, and magic is no more than another form of science, with rules and constants all its own!" she yelled. "So back off!"

She spread her palms and a wave of energy erupted from them, sending the Pestilence-dupes tumbling backwards over chairs and table. She marched forward to the curtained window and yanked the silky lavender curtains open. Ifrit was floating behind the glass, looking at her with surprise, and he turned around to create another portal. Pestilence broke through the window without a thought and grabbed at him, nearly succeeding in taking the crystal, before he created a lampshade and dropped it over her head. She pulled it off distractedly just in time to see Ifrit's feet disappearing into the portal. She jumped through after him and now they were in a long wood-patterned hallway, chasing one another through a Moebius strip pattern, never-ending.

"Do you see how much deeper in over your head you're getting?" Ifrit asked, glancing back over his shoulder at her as he ran. He took long, nimble steps that seemed to float just above the floor. "I haven't even started to defend myself yet!"

"I think whatever you can bring, I can take!" Pestilence retorted, though inwardly, she wasn't sure. Ifrit was just a few steps ahead of her, always just maddeningly out of reach. She knew she couldn't afford to lose pace with him- if he got away from her, he'd lose her in the infinite rooms and halls of his realm. And if he managed to trick her or trap her, and dump her through a mirror back into the real world, she'd never get back in. Bolstering all her willpower, she took a gamble and made a running leap forward. She closed a hand around Ifrit's ankle and he tumbled down. The wooden floor shattered and disintegrated around them, and they tumbled in slow-motion through space. Ifrit pulled his foot away from her and started to swim through the blackness.

"This isn't just a magical mystery dimension, you know!" he said, and for the first time, the merry sense of amusement, the sense of a highly enjoyable game, was starting to fade from his voice and be replaced by a faint tone of apprehension. "This is an access point to all space and time! If you follow me, I'm not responsible for where or when you wind up!"

"Big deal- I'm an old hand at traveling through space and time," Pestilence said. Ifrit put on a burst of magic speed and vanished into a strange new portal, this one looking jagged and fragile. Pestilence plunged into it after him.

*******

Ifrit burst through the portal and it broke like glass around him. He looked around rapidly, as if trying to detect some stronger dimensional re-entry point, and ran towards that point- faster than anyone could see, faster than anyone could move. Pestilence burst from the portal a precious few seconds after, looking around as she ran. They were on Lykur, along the ridge just outside the collapsed entrance to the Gruegothans' cave. She could see the scorch marks where the grenade had blown apart the rocks. Yet, if she was back in the real world, she shouldn't have the magic ability to chase Ifrit- and then she looked at the sky, and at the distant valley, and saw spider-web cracks in the very reality. They were in some kind of bubble, a shell of power to protect Ifrit briefly as he made the dangerous passage from time to time, and if it shattered with her still in it, she'd be stuck.

"Ifrit! You're not getting away!" she called, putting on extra speed. Ifrit threw a quick, panicked glance back at her, a nervous smile on his face, and jumped through a new time-portal. Pestilence ran after him, the bubble starting to crack and corrode around her, giving the impression of being inside a great glass cocoon stressed to shattering point. She jumped into the time-portal after him, just barely making it before the bubble broke and she'd have been stranded on Lykur.

*******

The time-portal cracked open and created a new bubble, and Pestilence leaped out onto the surface of a moon. There was no atmosphere, not that that would have particularly hindered a Cybertronian, let alone a magically imbued one. Pestilence took big reduced-gravity jumps across the dusty, cratered landscape- and, mid-jump, saw Ifrit crouched inside a crater waving at her. Pestilence yelped soundlessly, trying to reverse her direction in midair- or lack of air, anyway.

Ifrit ducked down through the portal within the crater, and just as the bubble started to break away, Pestilence pumped her feet and focused her will on the crater, shooting forward at it. She swan-dived through it after him, the bubble shattering behind her and leaving only an eternally quiet and unmarred lunar landscape.

*******

The next portal opened up on an Enclave mine, decades in the future. Ifrit ran swiftly through the rocky corridors, a purple blur just vaguely glimpsed by various aliens forced to work the mines. Pestilence ran after him, having gained a few bare inches of progress on him. Although the bubble was splitting and warping around her, she spared a quick glance around at the enslaved aliens, an expression of sympathy and resolve on her face, before jumping into the portal after Ifrit. The aliens, insectoid and reptilian and human alike, glanced at each other and shrugged before returning to their duties.

*******

The portals were appearing and disappearing faster, the protective bubbles between portals lasting for less and less time. And so Ifrit and Pestilence were putting on ever greater speed, and she was very faintly gaining on him. They burst onto a thick forest and Ifrit ran past a pair of startled humans with heavyset, hairy bodies, sloping brows, and rudimentary stone spears.

"Paleolithic, right?" Pestilence called to the stunned cavemen as she ran by. "Did either of you two gentlemen see a djinn run by?"

They responded with shocked, frightened grunts and howls, backing away from her. She caught a glimpse of a curl of smoke behind a tree and ran at it, very nearly missing the next time-portal.

*******

Faster, faster they ran. They burst out onto a Cybertron of another time and dimension, and even forcing herself to try to gain on Ifrit, focusing all her willpower on the magic she could muster in his realm, Pestilence took an appreciative, homesick glance around at the gleaming towers and bustling streets. Ifrit was just a few feet ahead of her, a purple flash of speed. As Pestilence ran, she bumped right into a pair of Cybertronians and brushed between them.

"Sorry, in a hurry! Time bubble and all!" she yelled, charging away as the cocoon, invisible to their eyes splintered and cracked around her.

"Who was that?" Squirrely asked, looking at the sprinting femmebot.

"Didn't see her," Pyre grunted, shouldering his sword and continuing on his way.

*******

"Would you just GIVE UP?!" Ifrit puffed, only inches ahead of Pestilence now.

"You didn't give up when you came up with your grand plan for a new magical universe, why should I give up at trying to stop you?" Pestilence fired back, and put on more speed.

Their latest time-portal opened up and dumped them inside the AXALON. Ifrit charged down a long gleaming hallway and Pestilence saw herself through a doorway, the real deal this time, sitting alone tending to some controls while Buckshot and Calamari slept. Pestilence passed by the other her and they made eye contact.

"Future or past?" the Pestilence in the AXALON asked with intrigue.

"Future!" Pestilence replied, smiling as she ran by.

"Good luck, then," the past Pestilence said with a wave of her hand, and Pestilence nodded back. She got through the next time-portal, barely evading the shattering bubble, and continued to chase Ifrit through past, through future, through worlds that moved by like frames of a movie reel. And as Ifrit expelled more magic, more will, without time to draw more power from the crystal, he started to flag, and Pestilence caught up. She ran by the djinn, passing him, and snatched the crystal from his hand. He let out a startled "NO!" and she diverted, taking a sudden veer through a portal that she created with a thought. She beat him into the mirror realm by a precious second- it'd be enough time.

Pestilence popped out, focusing her concentration. She had the Crystal of the Infinite now, and it seemed like all possibilities were stretching before her, dizzying, intoxicating. But she just wanted one thing. She emerged in the throne room and ran for the mirror with the sword behind it. Passing through it like a sheet of suspended water, she snatched up the blade from its pedestal.

"Sarkazein, I presume," Pestilence said, hefting the heavy, long blade up onto her shoulder- more than a little like Pyre had. She balanced the crystal in her other hand. Ifrit entered the throne room a moment late, and the wide, disbelieving stare in his eyes at seeing her with the sword confirmed her theory.

"I think I'm ready to go back to my little scientific universe, now," Pestilence said with a grin, and jumped through a mirror back to Lykur.

------------------

Ascarta ran towards Azmus, even as the empty-eyed duplicate drained more of his essence into him, like pouring water from one cup into another. She grabbed hold of the Elder's shoulders, pulling at his robes and attempting to drag him away from the mirror. The duplicate, pushing itself further out of the rippling frame, neither reacted emotionally to Ascarta's interference nor changed its focus. Azmus looked with awe up at it as power was drained from him. His golden eyes started to fade, to lose their luster, and for a moment it seemed the transfer was nearly complete- until the tip of a huge, old broadsword burst through the Azmus-duplicate's chest. There was no splatter of blood or cry of pain- the duplicate just stopped siphoning energy from the real Azmus and looked down at the sword jutting through its torso curiously. Before Ascarta's astonished gaze, Pestilence poked her head out of the mirror just by the dupe's shoulder and looked at her handiwork.

"Sorry about that," she said to the duplicate, "But you were blocking my way out. Back to where you came from!"

She sidled out of the mirror, dropping to her knees on the wooden floor. The Azmus clone was bent over the bottom edge of the mirror, feeling for the hilt of the sword, as light glowed from the wound at both ends. Pestilence grabbed onto the sword with both hands and tugged as hard as she could- Ascarta went to her side and assisted, and they pulled the great sword free and tumbled away. Pestilence pushed at the duplicate's face with her foot, sending him back into the mirror. The real Azmus laid panting on the floor, eyes wide and fearful, quite alive and as non-magical as before.

"You've doomed us," he gasped, "Doomed us..."

"Not even close. Where's Pyre? I have to give him this, quickly!" Pestilence urged Ascarta as they got to their feet. She pointed down through the visible hole in the wall, where the hulking dragon Cybertronian was facing down the Kurylian director of war, and Buckshot and Calamari were running to and fro between the troops. Pestilence nodded, hefting the sword up over her shoulder, and ran down the winding stairs. Ascarta looked from the petite moth scientist to the mirror, which was rippling again and pouring furious gouts of purple smoke.

--------------------

"Call. Off. Your attack," Pyre demanded of Nesyk. "Now!"

The aged and battle-hardened Kurylian looked up at the dragon with distrust and uncertainty. He could see the other two metal beings working hard to prevent any loss of life, rapidly attacking and disarming any Lykia or Kurylian nearby them. The winds were howling, hammering them with snow. And through the haze of xenophobia and paranoia that had been motivating his actions, Nesyk saw the truth of Pyre's words- they could've simply killed them. And this was no efficient way to subjugate them, either. He slowly raised a hand to his helmet, tapping his communicator.

"All troops, stand down," he finally said. "Halt your advance on the pagoda and fall back to an outer defensive perimeter. Gather the wounded. Cease all attacks on the Lykia."

Kurylians across the village square looked unsurely at one another, but did as they were told. The ones still holding guns lowered them, and joined the disarmed in shuffling back away from the tower. The Lykia set down spears and bows alike, looking around at each other and then at the tower, as if hoping for a sign. The chaos of the battlefield had quieted to a curious murmur, two warring factions contemplating one another.

Pyre relaxed somewhat in relief. Buckshot and Calamari appeared at his side, Calamari giving him an enthusiastic thumbs-up and Buckshot patting his shoulder. There was a loud bang that startled many of the combatants and they turned to see Pestilence running out of the tower, the wooden doors thrown open before her. She ran unevenly, her gait thrown off by the huge sword bobbing on her shoulder, and she made a line straight for Pyre.

"Pest, what the hell-?!" Buckshot asked as the youthful-looking scientist hurdle-jumped a low wall and skidded to a stop in front of them.

"No time, he's right behind me! Pyre, take your sword and destroy this crystal!" Pestilence said, handing over the ornate broadsword to Pyre and dropping the Crystal of the Infinite on the ground.

"Sarkazein?! Where did you-" Pyre started to ask, then simply shook his head. "Tell me later."

He grasped tightly to the long, thick hilt of the sword in both hands, reacquainting himself with his blade's familiar, sturdy grip. He lifted it up, staring down at the Crystal of the Infinite; where it lay on the ground, it glowed and trembled and continuously shifted its appearance, its shape, its number of facets. The surrounding Lykia and Kurylians stared at it with awe. Pyre pulled the sword back to bring it down in a giant chop when a burst of smoke and licking purple flames trailed out of the pagoda doors. There were shrieks, startled yells, scattering bodies as Ifrit walked towards them.

Ifrit looked, for the first time, truly desperate. He seemed slightly spent, fatigued, but all too ready to fight. His shining optics were narrowed and he held out an empty palm like the weapon it could be, and slowly advanced on them. His near-perpetual smile was still on his face, but it looked apprehensive and disbelieving of how his luck could have turned so sour.

"Pyre! I'm telling you right now, doing what you're about to do would be a terrible idea!" Ifrit said warningly. A Kurylian soldier drew a rifle on him and with a distracted wave of his hand, he turned it into a baguette. A Lykia let an arrow fly, and with a snap of his fingers the arrow became a feather wafting on the breeze. He never broke stride, coming to a stop a few feet away from the Cybertronians.

"Face it, it's over," Pyre said, fingers twitching a little around the grip of his sword. He wondered why Ifrit hadn't simply used magic to transform the blade or take away the crystal yet.

"Let's just calm down and consider your position," Ifrit said, keeping a palm out and pointed at him. "You might think that I manipulated you, brought you back from the dead to serve a greater purpose in my plan to save the universe. There's a kernel of truth in that! But if you think I was just going to abandon you, you're quite wrong. I've come to see you as a friend, and I can't let you destroy yourself like this."

"What do you mean, destroy himself?" Calamari asked.

"The crystal has been amplifying my power ever since I was able to find it drifting in space and push it into a meteor shower directed at this world," Ifrit replied. "If you destroy it, Pyre, guess what happens? It's back to the void. Back to nothingness and obscurity. You die all over again- no, not even die. Not even that natural process will occur. You'll just fade like a dream. I'll be stripped of what I am, and this planet, this universe's chances at being saved from the curses of powerlessness and death, you can kiss those right off!"

Pyre looked at Pestilence, then at Buckshot and Calamari. He slowly smiled at Ifrit, keeping his sword raised.

"So do something," he said. "Turn the sword into a pillow. Raise a magic shield around the crystal before I hit it. Do something to stop me."

Ifrit raised his hand, fingers twitching like he was feeling for a light-switch in empty air, and an expression of frustration crossed his handsome features. Pestilence looked at him with vindication as Ifrit let out a noise of exasperation, almost jumping up and down.

"He can't," Pestilence explained to Bucky and Cal. "He can't affect Pyre because Pyre's body is a magical duplicate and he has greater willpower. He can't affect the crystal because it's an object of chaos, far too powerful to be altered or transformed. And he can't affect Sarkazein because- as I suspected when I saw it in his realm in a safe place- it's an object of order. Rigid, brutal, imposing its will and slicing through the anarchy of war to create order."

"I couldn't very well let Pyre keep it! I had to take it, and I had to lie to you about it because, uh, because-" Ifrit stammered, at a loss for words as he gazed helplessly at Pyre.

"Because it wouldn't have fit in with your plan," Pyre finished for him. "I don't know how much you lied to me about, but it ends now. And if destroying this sends me back to the void, then so be it."

"Pyre! You don't know what you're doing! I gave you life and purpose!" Ifrit yelled as Pyre raised the sword above his head once more.

"Deal's off," Pyre growled, and brought down the sword.

Ifrit ran towards him with an agonized shout, and Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari threw up their arms to protect their eyes as Sarkazein shattered the Crystal of the Infinite. There was a great flash of blinding white light and a sound like a million discordant voices yelling out various things at once. The ground shook, the stormy skies flashed, and when the white light cleared away, there was nothing but a scorch on the ground, flecks of crystal scattered, and Sarkazein's blade buried in the earth.

Pyre opened his eyes slowly, cautiously, only to discover that, yes, he was still there, still alive, still holding the sword. Order had defeated chaos, this time. Pestilence looked up at him with a smile, and opened her mouth to speak, when Calamari interrupted her with a yelp, pointing at Ifrit.

Ifrit, who'd been drawing on the power of the crystal for a long time now, had his remaining magic stores completely thrown into flux. Smoke and fire swirled around him in lunatic whirling patterns, and he staggered forward a step, groaning as his body constantly shifted and mutated and changed. For a second he was a Cybertronian, then a Lykia, then a human, always with a purple hue of some kind, his eyes unfocused and in pain. He swirled and puffed and transformed from species to species as he lurched towards them, and between each transformation they had a glimpse of something of pure brilliant light, extremely old and of tricky, untrustworthy temperament.

"All right, so I also lied to you about you dying from destroying the crystal," he said to Pyre, his voice rising and falling in pitch, changing octaves and frequencies. "I don't know everything! My plan wasn't exact! But it'd have worked, I'd have saved everyone, and you RUINED it! I have just...enough...magic to make you little mortal Cybertronians so very, very sorry you meddled with a djinn!"

He raised his hand, smoke puffing from his fingertips and erupting into little fireballs, and the Kurylians and Lykia behind them flinched, expecting to be blasted. Pyre lifted the sword, intending to fight Ifrit to the last, but Pestilence jumped between them, hands raised.

"WAIT!" she yelled. Ifrit took another lurch forward, and stopped, his ever-shifting face turning to her and his optics focusing a little more.

"Ifrit, you said you were expelled from a much older, much more magical universe, longer ago than any of us could imagine," Pestilence said quickly. "Because you wouldn't follow the rules, right? You tried to help people in your way but someone else didn't like that."

"No, of course not," Ifrit said, looking at her with a frown. "They said the wishes I granted caused trouble. They said I favored mortals too much. They called me an instigator, a manipulator, a deceiver. I was cast out."

"Those old, judgmental beings cast you out because you didn't care for their limitations. They imposed their will on you," Pestilence said.

"Yes, that's exactly right," Ifrit said a little impatiently. He was still flickering, moving from form to form as his magic bubbled over out of him.

"Then what do you think you're doing to these people?" Pestilence demanded. Ifrit paused at that. "You are imposing your own will on them- your desire to save them from a cold, scientific universe as you describe it. This is their home, their way of life, and you'd saddle them with the burden of magic? Just to ease your own transition into this world?"

"I didn't..." Ifrit trailed off, looking around the battlefield.

"You lied, and you manipulated, and you instigated. With your will and ability, you could've found your way into this realm and lived happily, but that wasn't...what? Fun enough? Is this fun, Ifrit? Making people fight and die?"

"No! No one was going to die! That was the whole point!" Ifrit burst out defensively.

"You were going to take away their choice to live their lives as they saw fit and to go to whatever end awaits them. You'd have fit them into whatever magical mold you thought was best, from your old time and your old universe. That's imposing your will, all right. I ask you now to use your tremendous willpower to do something right, and stop all of this before it gets any worse," Pestilence said firmly.

Ifrit stared at her for a moment. His shoulders slumped and he raised his palms in the gesture of 'I give'. His rapid form-shifting slowly came to a halt and he expelled great waves of power. The blasted pagoda repaired itself, battle damage across the village mending. Wounded Kurylian soldiers lying on the ground saw the cracks in their shells heal up, their skin repairing with a tingle. Lykia villagers with broken limbs and singed fur were mended, sitting upright and staring agog at one another. Total number of fatalities in the battle: Zero. Ifrit let out a long cry of exertion and finally slumped as the last of his magical power drained away, becoming a purple ray of light that solidified into a thick wax candle with an ornate black holder. It hovered in midair before Pestilence reached out and let it fall into her palms. Ifrit stared at himself, no longer puffing smoke or fire- he looked like the same purple-swirled, faintly androgynous Cybertronian, but now he was simply that. A modeless 'bot, mortal and relatively powerless. He let out a long sigh and smiled ruefully at them.

"Looks like you've got me," he said, and almost collapsed, before Buckshot reached out to grab his arms and hold him upright. Pyre looked sternly down at the dazed Ifrit, then at Pestilence. Lykia and Kurylians were comparing healed wounds and chattering to one another, the fact of their opposition to one another forgotten. Ascarta appeared from the tower doors, supporting Azmus on one shoulder. Nesyk walked over to Pyre as the skies grew calmer and snow fell in a gentle flurry, no longer being whipped down onto them by the winds.

"It seems the dream-creature is robbed of his power. We have you to thank," he said stiffly.

"Thank her," Pyre said simply. Pestilence smiled at Nesyk, who gave her a formal bow. Pestilence returned the bow a little awkwardly.

"Sorry, Elder, I don't think you'll be seeing any more magical duplicates of yourself," Pestilence told him. "Without Ifrit's power or the crystal, the meteor rocks lose their luster and any mirrors left intact are just that. Plain mirrors."

"I saw a glimpse of something there..." Azmus said in a distant tone. "It was wonderful- and also frightening. There were depths I was not prepared for. Perhaps, in time, we will be ready for that ascension. But now is not that time."

"Hey, you're not such a lunatic after all," Buckshot told him. "Good to hear."

"With no threat to our way of life, there is no more need for conflict, is there?" Ascarta asked Nesyk. He inclined his head to the taller Lykia.

"I will return to the other directors with my troops and we will advise them of the situation. I believe they will share my conclusion- that it is time we re-opened diplomatic talks with the Lykia, and established trade and peaceful relations once again."

He nodded briskly to her, and to the Cybertronians, before turning on his heel with military swiftness and beginning to march off through the snow. Pestilence slapped her own forehead for a moment and then ran after him, quickly catching up to the diminutive reptile.

"Director! I'm sorry to bother you, but since I did just save your entire planet from magic duplication, do you think you could get me some materials to repair my ship...?"

--------------------

The AXALON materialized in a forest, with its customary slow strobing effect and clanking thud. The sun shone through the treetops, casting a checkered pattern of light and shadows on the green meadow. The silver booth's doors slid open and Pestilence stuck her head out, glancing around. She smiled and walked out of the AXALON, hands in her coat pockets, looking around the peaceful forest. Buckshot walked out after her, with a hand laid firmly on Ifrit's shoulder. Ifrit looked sullen, powerless, walking with a stoop and frown. Pyre left the booth last, his great order-bringing sword slung over one shoulder, with Calamari at his side.

"Hey, look at that. We set down on the right planet and the right time, first try," Buckshot said, looking approvingly around the forest. "That Kurylian gear really fixed up the navigational controls."

"Well, it's rudimentary material, but I was able to improvise some repairs," Pestilence replied.

"What if the Kurylians and Lykia go right back to fighting each other now that we're gone?" Calamari asked.

"I -guess- they could, but without Ifrit there to threaten the Kurylians' way of life, they have no reason to go to war with the Lykia. I think they'll get along just fine, though they'll be nervous around mirrors for a long time," Pestilence said.

"Where are we?" Pyre asked, glancing about the forest. It was quiet, and off to the distance, he could see small towns with smoke curling from chimneys and water-wheels and logging equipment clanking away.

"West Running Brook- Westbrook, for short," Pestilence replied, strolling around the meadow a bit. "It's one of the outer colony worlds, and easily the nicest one. Clean air, docile indigenous life, and sentient inhabitants who are well used to seeing Cybertronians around every once in a while. Just the place to start a new life, Ifrit. Since I don't particularly like the idea of keeping you in the AXALON any longer."

"You have my candle," Ifrit said, folding his arms. "All my expelled power coalescing into that cursed little wax tube, the object of my wish-granting nature. My magic lamp. You do realize that the second someone lights that, my power will be restored?"

"Oh, I realize that," Pestilence said.

"...And you're going to lock that up somewhere in your time-space box and see it never gets lit."

"Oh, you realize that," Pestilence said, with a smile of satisfaction.

Ifrit's shoulders slumped and he took a step away from Buckshot, looking out at the forest vista, then turned back to them with a mean expression.

"Well, savor your victory for now, little robots. Remnants of magic exist in this universe, and when I find them, and willpower my way into using them, my vengeance will be swift and terrible and- you know, this really is quite a nice planet! So green, so warm. Er, hang on. What was I on about?"

"How your vengeance was going to be, like, swift and terrible?" Calamari prompted him.

"Yes! You will live your days out in fear, for the wrath of a djinn is a thousand deaths, each more horrible than the last! I will not rest until- what is that enticing aroma?"

"Smells like they're cooking something up down at the village," Buckshot said with a grin. "Meat and vegetable stew, fresh bread."

"Food- I haven't had food in millennia. A hearty meal and a walk through the forest on a nice day..." Ifrit trailed off, looking fondly through the trees at the village. "Yes, well, my revenge is going to be awful, you're all going to be very sorry you crossed me, and then, oh, I don't know, I'll turn you into- er- ladybugs or something..."

He waved a hand distractedly, and Pestilence and her companions smiled at one another as the depowered djinn walked away through the meadow. He turned back to look at them once, and gave a radiant smile of thanks, before leaving through the trees to start living a mortal life. Pyre watched him go, then turned to look at Pestilence.

"Are you absolutely sure you don't want to come with us? Relative-dimensional circuit means no bumping your head inside the AXALON," Pestilence said.

"I appreciate that, but I'm not sure how much time I have left," Pyre replied. "This body's just a copy, a magical construct. Without Ifrit powering it, how long before I just- fall apart?"

"I've learned that magic is an expression of will, and you're one of the most willful beings I've ever met. Second to myself," Pestilence said. "I think you'll keep on living just as long as you'd like."

"Then I think I'll do so for a while on this planet. I like it- it's quiet. Seems like somewhere I could get away from everybody for a while. I've got an object of order to keep safe, after all," Pyre said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at Sarkazein.

"Take this," Pestilence fumbled in her coat pockets, patting down several, before handing Pyre a small cell phone-like device. "This'll keep you in touch with the AXALON communication panel in case of an emergency, or if you just feel like chatting. While you're here, do you think you could occasionally check on Ifrit? Just to make sure he's...you know..."

"Not being Ifrit," Pyre finished, and nodded. "I'll keep an eye on him."

He turned, and extended a hand to Buckshot. Buckshot gripped his hand firmly and shook it.

"Good to meet ya, Pyre. Take care of yourself," he said, and Pyre nodded. The dragon released his grip and turned to Calamari, who promptly bounced forward and gave him an unexpected hug, wrapping her arms around his midsection. He took a startled step back, and then patted her head a little.

"Thanks for saving my life a couple times. You're totally not as scary as I thought before," Calamari said, smiling up at him. "Get in touch with us soon, okay?"

"All right," Pyre said, actually almost chuckling, before she let go of him. He looked at Pestilence, and she offered her hand as well. He contemplated it a moment, and then shook it.

"Good to see you can use your head every once in a while," Pestilence complimented him.

"Good to see you're not just all talk and big words," Pyre replied. Pestilence smiled and let go, before heading back into the AXALON. Buckshot followed her in, and Calamari waved one last time. Pyre waved back and watched as the doors slid shut and the AXALON dematerialized, leaving him alone in the fields. He turned around, taking an appreciative look at the sun, and walked off after Ifrit.

Inside the AXALON, Pestilence went to the console controls while Buckshot plopped down in a chair and Calamari looked out at the viewscreen as the ship moved away from the green and blue sphere of Westbrook.

"So where should we go next?" Buckshot asked.

"Somewhere small and scientific," Pestilence replied with a smile. "I've got a new appreciation for the universe's limitations- or lack thereof."


THE END


Offline
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: DWA: Mirrors of the Djinn
PostPosted: Wed Dec 29, 2010 11:43 pm 
Site Admin

Joined: Wed Oct 07, 2009 6:12 pm
Posts: 84
(I was drawn to this because of the nods to the old CA RPG and the old Beast RPG (loved the Squirrely cameo) but it was a well put together story. I'm not too familiar with Doctor Who but I'll have to check it out and your other Doctor Who themed stories. The idea of the 'magic' clones is an interesting one.)


Offline
 Profile  
 
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
 Page 1 of 1 [ 6 posts ] 

All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  

cron