The Battle of the Crawlers

Lasir screamed as the flesh was rended from her body. She fell silent as her form hit the concrete, knocking the air from her lungs. She felt the skin begin to move, stitching itself back together, and watched the blood dry on her skin, caking in her growing eyelashes. Serna's spells did keep you alive, but they had yet to spare anyone the pain of dying. Her read eyes activated, scanning the damage around her. She tried to rise, failed, and tried again. On the fourth attempt, she stood. Then, her ears started working again, and she grew very frightened.

Crawlers.

"Herid! You freaking idiot! Get back here! No, on second thought, kill that thing before you come any closer! Dammit, you're trying to get me killed!"

Cari knocked out the last eye of her opponent, then moved in to disable it, trying to keep her skin from getting ripped by the claws of the flailing metal contraption, all while keeping her eye on Lasir's newest student in the process. She had given up on dramatics, taking off the monstrosity's legs and fangs the her scythe instead of the way she'd been taught to take them off with her bare hands. She turned to see the little upstart tossing his knife at the another one, relying on its enchantments to "kill" the beastie. The mindset of youth and their surety that they were never going to die - it unnerved her. If Lasir was still alive to knock some sense into the boy after this, she'd have a veritable pummel party. As it was, Cari was determined to give him a beating he'd feel on rainy days.

Lasir crouched along the ground, grimacing as the pain racked her anew, her entire body being born against as she lurched. She slipped in a pool of her won blood and fell, cursing. She stood again, groaning, moving forwards as fast as she could. Her body was nearly healed by the time she reached the melee, though she feared it was over, her friends dead. But the machines still clanked and clattered, so her never-ending thirst for revenge would not go unsated. With a piercing war cry she leapt into the fray.

Cari fell back against the wall, clutching at the rip in her side. She smiled at the pain, determined to go on. Herid had lost his knife, and was now relying on his last resort, the hand cannon that Lasir had given him as a welcoming present. If the boy knew that Lasir had twelve others just like it, he'd tear the place apart trying to find them. He thought the one in his hand was the last in existence, and treated it like an extension of himself.

She picked up a rock and slung it across the street, tossing with all her might, screaming as the flesh in her side tore open again. She collapsed, grinning as another one went down. But there were still too many. Even if Herid wasn't a novice at Crawler battle. She closed her eyes and started to try and find and a god who still believed in her. Her concentration was broken as a loud yell sounded off to her right, and something thudded to a halt in front of her.

'Sir hit the pavement on al fours, the soles of her feet slapping against the concrete. On quick look told her that Cari was down, a glimpse to her left found Herid attempting to claw a Crawler's screen out with his hands. His feet and hands slid along the slippery surface of the metal, but he fought on with the ferocity of a lion.

She fixed on one of her 'trodes to the panel underneath a downed Crawler, wincing as she always did when making contact with these machines. They were cold, unfeeling death, but that was what she needed right now. She managed to take control of two more before she had to turn her attention back to the eleven attacking ones. She took sent two of the controlled ones out into the battle, one to help Cari, and set the remaining one behind her. She turned to face the three coming towards her, her muscles tensing.

Herid leaped off the back of the disabled Crawler and hit the ground rolling. She stopped and looked up to see if there was anything else to fight - Crawlers went down, but it was rare that they went out with one punch. He looked on with wonder at the three Crawlers still standing. The seemed to have befriended Lasir, and one was attempting to help Cari to her feet. He looked through the wreckage for his knife, finding it lodged in the leg of a Crawler. He ran a finger along the edge of a barb, wincing as it sliced through his finger. He grinned, thinking of what a really neat weapon this would make.

He saw Lasir turn and hold up a hand to her ruby eye, her other eye closed. She twisted her fingers slightly and let out a little whimper. She pulled her hand away, and with it, her eye. A hole gaped where her eye had been, which quickly spiraled closed to a pinpoint. If it wasn't for all the metal on her face, he'd almost believe she was totally healed - like a little girl who hadn't experienced the Utachex yet. He watched as she held up the ruby so it could catch the light, neon glinting off its surfaces.

She let the light catch, then extended herself through it to make the ruby come to life. Three thin cords sprouted from its base, wrapping themselves around her wrist. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, she could see through it again.

Everything was just a little off base, but it was just enough to make her have to readjust her perspective. She set it down on the ground, feeling the hooks on each barbed wire cord sink into the pavement. It scuttled along the ground, racing in between the alleys and hulks of burnt out cars. She stood shock still for a few seconds, then sat down on the rocks. It was difficult to stay up when your half your world was rocketing past you at 50 miles per hour.

She was vaguely reminded one her trips with Herid, who could fly at speeds that would put most jets to shame. If there were anymore jets. She felt for the energy trail of the machines, even though she'd already gotten the newest base coordinates from the Crawler she'd taken over. She didn't trust them, though, since the Crawlers only knew as much as their original controllers, and the people had been conditioned for years. She was not a telepath. At least, not one of humans.

She found it exactly where she expected it to be, two miles to the left of where it was supposed to be. She let the jewel follow it to make sure it was genuine, then recalled her eye as it began to slip out of her range. If it got more than fifty feet from the nearest satellite cover, she might lose it forever, and it was far too precious to try to replace. She'd implanted the electronics herself, after hours of praying and hoping and sweat.

It leapt from the concrete into her hands and whipped its tentacles around her arm and pulled itself up to her neck. Climbing to her face, it slipped all three of the metal lashes into the quickly widening hole that opened up for it. It drove the them into the tunnels in her brain that had formed at her Utachex. She felt the rush of omnipotence flow back into her, filling her every cell with information. It seemed at someone was trying to break into the computer at the base. how annoying. She sighed and waved at Cari to go home.

Cari stood and looked at the still bodies of the Crawlers, unable to shake the feeling that this was all too easy.

The Lesson

They arrived nearly an hour later, riding through the gates. Cari sighed and handed over the handlebars of her vintage '96 Harley, and the young boy walking it to the garage revved the engine once. She snarled at him almost louder than the roar of the engine, and he ducked his head as he jumped away from the bike. Lasir smiled at the scene, and moved up the stairs.

Cari switched her Utachex eye to green and looked around the night. Three shapes moved through the darkness, and their scents came to her on the wind. Serna, Maithu, and Atha walked towards her as she shrugged off the Saddlebags, finally handing them to the young Atha so the girl could teleport them to Cari's private quarters.

She trusted almost no one to go in there, especially with all the booby traps.

Serna checked over the both of them, paralyzing Herid when he began to act too squeamish. He became his normal cheerful self, the energy that crackled from his Utachex, flaring randomly. He ran off from Serna as soon as she let him go, carrying the detached leg of the Crawler, along with his plans for it, to the Smithy.

Lasir walked to her room, where she could be alone. She opened the door with her mind, imprinting the proper codes upon it without touching the keys. She slipped in, immobilizing the security as she did so. Stepping carefully across the carpet, she flipped the switch that lit up the wall of televisions to her right.

A dozen scenes played themselves out, people eating in the mess hall, two lovers in the garden, a boy walking Cari's motorcycle to garage. She felt the lock slide home, one of the functions of her programs working in perfect accord with the others. She looked on as Joshi, one of Brett's techno-smithy apprentices looked on in rapturous wonder while Brett pounded on the steel alloys of the Crawler's leg, making it into a perfect black knife. She let her mind and eyes wander, until they fell on a scene in the Training Room.

Herid was trying his skill on a pair of robots, of the higher levels at that. He moved in and out of them as if in a dance, his knife clashing against their swords in a pounding rhythm, following his steps perfectly. He would direct his shields to not only black but to redirect, hitting them with their own fire.

Just as she had taught him.. She smiles. He was lost in the fury of battle. He leapt and landed like a cat does, on all fours, soft and lithe. He turned to face another pair of metallic swords, his Utachex blazing. The two robots went up in a shower of metal and glass shards, traces of energy still running across the pieces. He nodded in satisfaction to himself, and she felt the confidence running through the many electrodes of his brain. She could sense the power that he controlled poised to burst loose as it rested in the synapses.

She snorted. He didn't know what he was to face out in the real world of assassins and runs in the dark. He counted on the sheer power of his Utachex to overwhelm any opposition, sure in the false knowledge that power was everything, that he didn't have to use his mind while his brawn was so big. She would have to fix that. She checked her clock, one of the few left from the Age of Peace, and grinned. Now was as good a time as any.

Herid wiped the sweat off his face and shook his head to clear it. He pulled off his shirt and started cleaning the rest of the sheen off, tossing the soggy cloth towards the hamper by the door. It was shredded into a thousand different pieces in mid-air. Lasir smiled at him, her swords at her sides, as if they hadn't moved to fast for him to follow just a moment ago. She resheathed them, the scabbards becoming a kwon nearly a foot taller than she was, the whole of it as thick as her fist. She placed it against the wall, then cracked her knuckles. She tied back her hair with a leather band, and took off the gloves that encased her fingers, the metal fingertips clinking as they hit the floor. She held her hand up to let the long metal claws that graced each finger catch the light. They were all razor sharp, all deadly. She never used them unless she was really going to hurt someone. And she was shutting the door behind her.

"What's wrong?" She asked, smiling as she adjusted the hem of her chainmail, leaving her kwon where it lay.

He gulped, and took two steps back, dropping into his first fighting stance. She laughed.

"Are you challenging me? Here I came to help you beat up robots, and you want to fight me? I am honored. I accept your duel."

She bowed formally, and slinked farther into the room. The jewel in her eye rotated once and the lights dimmed to near blackness. He cold only see a vague shape of her outline, though something inside him told him the image was false. Another twist and the floor began to move underneath him, twisting and turning. He stood twenty feet above her one moment, the sixty below the next. A wall pushed him off the piece of metal he'd been standing on, and he fell two feet onto another block before it plunged eighty more. It roiled and bucked.

The entire room seemed changed, all on different levels, canyons and mountains formed by tiny metal squares. Lasir stood on an upper level, laying down, looking upon him with a gaze unique to her Utachex - that of a cold unfeeling machine.

"Are you ready to become a Warrior? I am ready for you."

She rolled through the light and disappeared. He scanned the entire room with his eyes, but couldn't find her. He began to use his Utachex to scan, but heard only a high pitched whine inside his head and what sounded like a buzz. Laughter rang from his left, then all around him.

"Trying to use your powers, m'boy? It won't work. Perhaps you didn't pay attention to your tutors when they explained what Utachexes were. Do you know?"

He gulped and shook his head. She seemed to be everywhere now.

"And what is it that drives machines? Crawlers, locks, your shower, the thing that washes and dries and folds your clothes when you toss them away, do you remember what that is?"

He closed his eyes, and grimaced as his voice cracked on the syllable

"No."

When he opened his eyes, ten claws suddenly appeared in front of him, the pressure of Lair's body on his back, the tips of the metal slicing through his skin, just under the first layer. He nearly screamed, but a hand on his lips stopped him, cutting his upper lip.

"Electricity," She hissed in his ear. "It's in all of them. And I control it. I am master of it. Do you know where else Electricity is?"

He whimpered.

"It's in your mind too. What you've experienced is a synapse failure. It cuts you off from your Utachex. And there is nothing you can do about it. Even shielding yourself couldn't save you, for though it might work against a telepath, it would not work against one such as me. My power is over your control, and right now, you have none. I could make you tear yourself apart," she said softy, removing her claws from his face. Tiny rivulets of blood coursed down his face from five thin slits where she'd touched him. The lights came back on, and he saw the entire floor shift back to it's regular level surface. She picked up her kwon and then turned to leave.

"Just remember that I am not the only one able to defeat you. You cannot rely on you Talent alone. You are a Hayden Ghavami, Herid. Perhaps it is time you learned to be a Marohl. Cari, Serna, and myself are going on a Run tonight. I think it beneficial to you if you came along. Your job shall be simple...explained to you along the way."

She tossed a note at him, two sets of coordinates on it. "Meet me at the second set, after you pick up a change of clothes at the first ones."

"Why do I need new clothes?" he asked, touching his face where the blood was still slick.

She laughed a little as she left the room, throwing her response over her shoulder. "For one thing, dear boy, you need a new shirt."

He stood, gaping, watching her go. He had been her personal student for over a year now. Neither Cari nor the witch Serna had taken one, they were too busy. He had battled a few people, mostly members of the Control, but his action was limited to mainly the Training robots and Crawlers. Wondering what it all meant, he began the long trek back to his room.