A change of perspective...

Sweet winds, that light is bright. My eyes struggle vainly to adjust the horrible whiteness. I try to put my hand in front of my face. I’m bound. Why am I bound? Whatever I’m laying on is hard… and cold.

Voices. Women? No, one woman. I feel a light sting in my arm. My head gets cloudy…


Mokuzai, I confer upon you the title of Guardian of the Song of Tempest. May you carry the lore proudly.”

“There are no limits to the honor I feel in being privileged to guard and pass on your lore, Elder Gogyou.”

“I know, Mokuzai. I know.”


My body is on fire. I can feel molten lead where my blood should be. What are they doing? Why are they doing this? So many questions. I can feel my blood spattering against the backs of my teeth. I didn’t know I could scream like this. Somewhere in the far reaches of my mind, I jot down the sounds my grinding teeth, hoarse throat and straining limbs make. Somewhere in that garbled mess, there's a song. Of that, I am sure.

My eyes dart wildly about as I search for the source of my torment. Is that? No, it couldn’t be. A fox’s paw? MY paw? Tears stream down my face, leaving droplets on the eyewear of my tormentors as I thrash in pain. Sweet, merciful blackness consumes me again…


“You think you can do this? I always knew you as a prideful rogue, Elder Mokuzai, but this? This is madness! The Cheldrun know only hatred and greed. Don’t throw your life away.”

“The compromise is ours to reach, Elder Ash. The Dusk Sages have gone. This is our duty; our task. The Dusk Sages gave us the tools. It is our responsibility to use them. We are no longer children to be coddled. The Zipsum are too fleeting and the Anakarix are too passive. The Gogajin prefer to negotiate with their fists, the Jevuum are too prideful to accept anything but total victory, and the Vorax, sadly, are too few to be heard. This task is ours, and I am making it mine.”

“I hope, for your sake, you aren't destined for martyrdom, Elder Mokuzai.”

“Do not hope, old friend. Trust.”


I lay on the floor of my cell, barely breathing. Everything hurts. With great apprehension I slowly look down at my hand, and begin crying in relief to see the five fleshy, chapped, scarred and weathered digits I knew so well. I painfully assume a sitting position, crossing my legs and resting my hands on my knees. I begin to think. What were they saying? Whiterock? White. Rock. Why was it important? Energy. They were experimenting with its energy. They move things with the energy. Changing them into energy and turning them back. They were experimenting with this energy on Karians. They didn’t like how it responded to Zipsum, Gogajin, or me. They said something about more tests- wait. No, the tests with me were stalled. Why?

Someday, this sort of thinking was going to get me in trouble. Pfft. Who am I kidding? It got me into trouble already.

I still my thoughts, close my eyes, and listen. Muffled noises echo down the corridor. My ears begin picking through them: hard-soled shoes on tile floor, the click of Cheldrun weapons… my guards are restless… And a voice, “Inform the executor of today’s test. Tell him we have a Vorax.”

My eyes bolt open in horror. Of all the places for the sad song of the Vorax to be sung, this artificial hell of steel and stone had to be the most profane. A rumbling begins to fill my cell in tune with my angered breathing. Feverish images of a Vorax enduring the tortures they had subjected me to flood my vision. These Cheldrun have betrayed my trust, luring me with promises of diplomacy and then shackling me as a guinea pig for their foul sciences. They forced me to break my most sacred vow, and now this? It is not my nature to judge all by the actions of few, but these Cheldrun, these…. Goshi

I rise to my feet as the Song of Tempest pulses through me. My limbs begin quivering with building energy. Indoors, it is but a pale whisper of an echo of what it would be, but for a former Guardian, one of the strongest the Song had ever seen, it was still quite potent. The roiling thunder begins shaking loose paint chips off the walls, begging to be unleashed. I hear the guards approach, roused by the sounds of the brewing storm. The safeties on their weapons make a pair of audible clicks as they round the corner. The air fills with the smell of ozone while thin ripples of electricity begin dancing across my body. Panic fills their expressions when their gaze meets the white-hot glow emanating from the eye sockets of my snarling visage. The storm lashes out, and one of them is left twitching against the back wall, dead. The other raises his weapon, fires, and a dart sprouts from my chest. The effect is instant, and I collapse unceremoniously to the floor as the remaining energy arcs wildly through the bars of my cell as it grounds itself in a final thunderous crack.

Terrible way to end a song.

For Want of a...

We make our way through the access tunnels, every step taking us closer to the rendevouz point, and by extension, closer to Home. Closer to Mama Pain. Closer to Doctor Soren, to Sever, Stitch, and Malicious. I hope Moses and the others are safe. I shut my eyes and let myself drift for a moment, thinking back over the experiences of the last few weeks.

Pain. Invasion. An alien will sifting through my consciousness for the single piece of information that it seeks. Nero.

I open my eyes. Aimi is watching me. She keeps me out. I don't know what she's thinking.

What was Nero looking for in my memories? What did he find? Where did Amaterasu go after she left the mines?

We move on. "You were wrong, you know," I say.

Aimi seems startled, as if my voice had just taken her out of a fond memory. Anger flashes in her eyes for a moment, but only for a moment. "Wrong about what?" she asks. She is humoring me.

"You said we couldn't take on Goshi," I reply. "I think what happened tonight qualifies. That was just with one of us. What might have happened if it had been all of us?"

Aimi's anger burns through her mental shield, and the barrier sizzles as it boils away. She's angry. I knew that already. It angers her that a defective prototype dared to take on Goshi, and it rankles even more that said defective prototype had the audacity to succeed. I feel a stab of pain. Is this how she thinks of me? I'm not defective. I'm not defective. I'm not defective. I'm not defective. I won't believe I'm defective. She thinks of me as defective. They all think I'm defective. I hate it. I'm... The success of my group against Goshi riles her pride. It...


My eyes widen. A moment later, her eyes widen, too. She knows what I saw. She considers attacking me. Then she sees herself being punished by Mama Pain, and the killing intent receeds. "Rei, I swear to the First Minds if you say ANYTHING about this to ANYONE..."

Say anything? Like what? He's eleven years older than you? That you're being an idiot? No. I'm not going to say anything. I don't need to tell anyone about this.

What I need is a shovel.

The Eyes of Hurricane

Dr. Omura, hands shaking, pressed the call button on his link and a pink bud of light appeared in his ear piece. It was disturbingly silent on the other end.

"They've found her, executor," he fought to keep his voice level. "She was, just as you said, trying to flee the city. Apparently she ran out of energy and her disLocator quit working."

The doctor waited for some kind of response. None was forthcoming. He swallowed, but his mouth was dry.

"I expect them to bring her to the labs within the hour. If you wished..."

"I'll be there," was all that he said before the connection was severed.

Dr. Omura pulled the link out of his ear hastily and leaned over the counter breathing heavily. Looking down at his own aged hands he noticed them quivering involuntarily and tried to still them. They stubbornly disobeyed. He brushed the few straggly hairs he had left out of his face and back over a balding pate where they clung sweatily. He examined his disorganized laboratory, countless unfinished projects lying across every level surface, bubbling under the hood, and sticking out of overfilled cupboards. What would he need? Oh yes. He walked over to a medicine locker and withdrew a scalpel. The hand holding it trembled all the more.


She had to be resuscitated from the stupor the Hei Shi had beat her into. She awoke face down on the laboratory floor gagging at the smell of ammonia. She looked up to see the armed men standing above her and her face blanched. She appeared suddenly far too small for her body armor, which was marred in places by the scrapes and scars of combat.

"Hurricane," she was addressed by the executor, Katashi Blade, who stood in a far corner in his customary white tailored suit looking away from her as if examining, with interest, the contents of a nearby bubbling vial. "I know that you understand the situation you are in, but I want you to nod anyway to make it real for yourself. Nod your head if you know why you are here."

A tear escaped her left eye and fled down her cheek, but she made no sound as she nodded her head slowly. Katashi neither looked nor made any sign that he was paying attention. Dr. Omura tried very hard not to let his thoughts betray how much he resented being made to be a witness to these proceedings.

"Good. You think that I chose you for your talents Hurricane and up till now it has been useful to let you think that. You think that I promoted you over countless other able candidates because I spotted some secret ability the others lacked. Sadly you are mistaken. You are a very ordinary girl Hurricane. That in itself is no great crime. For that I would have had you killed in your sleep so that you would not be awake now, experiencing this anguish," Blade bent closer to the glass of the hood, something was moving about in the vial that caught his attention.

"No Hurricane, I chose you because of your pliability. I required someone upon whom to test the disLocator, and someone who I could blame for Goshi's failure to put down the insurrection. It is convenient that you were able to do both." Katashi Blade turned purposefully to face her, his eyes covered with opaque white shades.

"So you see, I've really brought you here to express my gratitude. You've taught me several, very interesting things, and I am a man who always appreciates a chance to grow," with that he nodded and the Hei Shi immediately grabbed Hurricane's arms and stretched her out. Another soldier came behind her and unfastened her body armor. It came off and clattered to the floor. She flinched.

Dr. Omura, mouth clamped shut to prevent himself vomiting, stepped forward and swiftly cut her shirt away, baring a pale and muscular back. From between her shoulder blades a massive red pulsating cyst protruded, with tendrils that reached out like veins across the whole length of her torso. The sight of it startled Dr. Omura so much he dropped his scalpel.

"Shit. It's... so fast! So much faster than we anticipated, executor," he fumbled around for the scalpel not able to peel his eyes away from the alien growth.

The white form of Katashi Blade remained completely motionless, not a quiver of a single facial muscle betrayed any emotion and yet the room was filling, palpably, with his displeasure. Hurricane felt as though gravity had suddenly become subjective and her destiny lie in being obliterated by the black hole of a man in front of her. Broken in countless ways from within she felt a moist warmth spreading down her thighs and she longed with a profound longing for the bliss of unconsciousness.

Instead, the executor strode noiselessly over to her, crouching to put his face at a level with hers. One hand tipped his shades partway down his nose so that she might see directly into his eyes. His remarkable eyes. Laughing eyes, but cold. Not warm at all. Eyes which made her feel pathetic and worthless.

"Lest you think yourself completely unremarkable in every way, Hurricane, let me assure you that you did surprise me in one fundamental way. I never imagined that you would have Moses and Acetylene Sue within your grasp and still manage to fuck things up so utterly. You've cost me a great deal of money, not to mention the lives of 300 trained Goshi soldiers, and for that I ordered them to wake you up. I ordered them to revive you so that you would be conscious as we remove the disLocator from your body, which to your great misfortune, you gleefully permitted us to install in the place of your first thoracic vertebra. It will hurt, I imagine, quite unlike anything you've ever felt before and because I am something of a connoisseur when it comes to pain I will remain here with you so that I might taste what this new agony is like."

She began screaming before Dr. Omura even touched the scalpel to her flesh...


The surgery did not take long since there was no imperative to keep the patient alive. Very soon a bloody electronic device with a small chip of whiterock lay in an aluminum tray on the counter. Hurricane's body was dumped in an empty cell for disposal in the morning, a jagged hole gaping between her shoulder blades. The corpse lay unmoving all night with only Karia to witness the very early stages of decay commencing. The directors would hear only that Hurricane had failed and been dismissed. If they questioned Katashi closely it might be suggested that she had fled Geneva Prime. In any case, neither they, nor the doctor, nor Katashi himself would ever know that alone in the darkness, in a cell in the Goshi tower, blood began leaking from the eyes of Hurricane.


It had not occurred to me until I saw the tears in her eyes that Aimi was a person. Not really. She was an obstacle, a psychotic Biomade assassin that had caused no end of trouble for me and seemed to have a dangerous obsession; until I looked into her eyes in confusion and asked what she was talking about. In that moment I saw pain, real, visceral pain, and I realized that deep down inside she was just a fifteen year old girl who had been buried under years of training and conditioning and torture, both mental and physical, and who, for some strange reason of her own, had reached out to me, even if she did not realize what she was doing. She did not deserve this; none of them did. In the end she was just another victim, a Cheldrun who might have been able to have a normal life if it were not for her circumstances. The moment passed quickly, and she quickly covered it up with her usual bluster and irreverence... but I had seen who she really was, if only for a moment. Hopefully she would not kill me for that.


I meditated. I calmed my thoughts, relaxed my body, and slipped into the Void. Not plunging in, like I would do for battle, wrapping it about me like a shell; rather I slid in seamlessly, effortlessly, and let my thoughts drift away. Sometimes my mind showed me things it thought I should remember at times like this, and so it did now.


I held a cold, wet cloth to my eye to minimize the bruising. Master Yoshitaka sat next to me and offered me a rice ball, which I gratefully accepted. He did not speak. He did not ask why he had walked into the dojo to find me fighting (and losing badly to) his top student while the rest of the class watched. He just sat, patiently, and ate his sticky rice while he waited for me to speak. Finally I said "I am sorry, Master."

Without looking up from his rice he asked "And did you do something to be ashamed of?"

I nodded glumly. "I let my pride rule me and got in a fight I could not win. I broke the rules of the dojo and attacked another student outside of a formal bout. I would not blame you if you turn me away after this."

Still seeming to not pay me any attention, he asked me "And what could have made you so foolish as to do something like that? Hmm?"

I was not sure whether to be relieved or offended that he seemed to think my actions were of far less importance than his lunch. "Ryuunosuke was picking on the other students. He was bragging about how much better of a swordsman he was, and he... he said he was going to get genetic enhancements when he reached majority, to make himself even better than any of us could hope to be."

"And for this, you attacked him?"

"No! What he said angered me, yes, but I would not allow myself to be so easily goaded. Tsubasa, though... he spoke against Ryuunosuke, denounced him and said that his words were hollow, traitorous... and without honor."

"Do you think that was wise?"

"He was right!"

"That does not answer my question."

I sighed. "No, no it was not a wise thing to say. Tsubasa is still in his second year and half the size of Ryuunosuke; he could not hope to challenge him."

"But you still think he was right?"

"Yes, but... not for him."

Master Yoshitaka looked up at me then, looked right into my eyes and said "For another, perhaps, it was the right course?"

I nodded.

He chuckled. "It is good that you can understand the difference; sometimes the right choice is not the wise one. The path of the wise man and the path of the righteous man do not always coincide; often, but not always. And a course that is wise for some, right for some, maybe even necessary for one man, is not necessarily so for another. Many men older even than I have not yet learned that lesson." He nodded and went back to his rice ball. "Continue."

"Well, Ryuunosuke decided to punish Tsubasa, of course and I... I said I would not let him. I stood between them and... we fought. By the time you entered the dojo I was soundly beaten."

"Standing up for those weaker than yourself against those that would bully them; that was your shameful action, then?"

"What? No, I... I knew I could not defeat him. I should have gone to get you instead of fighting him myself. You were not far away; if I had ran, we could have been back in time to keep Ryuunosuke from hurting him badly."

"And if I had not been?"

"Pardon, Master?"

"If I had not been nearby, what then? If you had ran and let Ryuunosuke drub Tsubasa, perhaps hurt him badly, and I was nowhere to be found to help him? If the weak had been hurt and the other students had been cowed, or, worse, started to believe all of Ryuunosuke's claims after seeing him beat his only dissenter? What then? Would that have been a better course than a few bruises? Than showing your fellow students that you are willing to fight for them, for your beliefs, for your honor?"

"So, you are saying that even if I was not skilled enough to defeat him, it was still the right thing to do to fight him? Because I was defending those who were even less skilled than I?"

Master Yoshitaka finished his meal and looked up at me again, his eyes flashing. "Duty" he said. "That is the linchpin of honor, and you have learned the lesson well. It was right because it was your duty. You always were my best student."

I gave a disbelieving laugh. "But Master, surely you jest! Ryuunosuke proved himself not an hour ago a better swordsman, and he is far from the only student I could not defeat!"

He snorted. "And sometimes you remain dense. Did I say you were my best warrior? No, Ryuunosuke is that, and a thug besides, a bully. You, Kiyoshi, are my best student because you understand that in order to achieve victory you must use not only your blade, but also your heart and your mind. You are, what, sixteen summers? And yet you already can hold the Void better than any of the other students. Perhaps one day you will achieve mastery and be able to hold onto it indefinitely without fatiguing yourself. You have that potential, Kiyoshi, and so much more. Just remember always the lesson that you have taught yourself this day: duty, to yourself, to your family and clan, and to all Cheldrun."

I nodded. "Thank you Master. I swear I will always strive to make you proud. I will always strive to live up to the vision of the First Minds."


I was disturbed from my meditations by Sever and Stitch trying to goad me, to pick a fight. To fight them then would have been neither wise, nor right and so I ignored them until they got bored and left me.


It was all happening too fast. The video screen that Aimi had set up between us showed utter chaos in the Landing Square. Panicking soldiers, panicking Mechified, Rei fighting another woman who appeared to be a powerful psychic, poor Moses, his dreams for peace shattered... and Sankai... Ichiro's mecha. What was he doing there? His duty was to the clan, damn it! What had the others talked him into?

I stared, powerless at the screen. Particularly I stared at the metallic forms of Sankai and Moses. Damn it, I should be the one out there! It was my duty, my place! Ichiro had to think of his wife and unborn child, our sister, the entire Silver Phoenix clan; he could not help them this way! And Moses! I would not claim that I am stronger than him; not by a long shot. But I am harder. If he continues along this path, it will destroy him, or corrupt that which makes him pure, that which makes him suitable to even be a Symbol. It will leave him nothing but a husk as each of his dreams and beliefs dies one by one. I would probably be destroyed too, but not as quickly, and when it happens... well, the world can probably do with one less bureaucrat. Besides, it was my Duty. I will protect those that do not even see the danger coming. Moses. Rei. I look up at Aimi, staring avidly at the screen. Yes, her too. I had to convince her to let me go out there! I had to! I felt the need growing inside me, overwhelming me, and something else with it... I knew then what I had to do.

Episode 6: Surrender Or Else


Everything is like bile. It burns. I see them, and now its so clear. Stupid. They're just like each other. Standing like they're taller than they are. The little bright knives. Glittering eyes that go like one-way glass when they decide to kill. And they call us machines.

I lost it. I lost everything. I lost everything. I lost it because she took it from me, and I lost it because I let go. I lost because...because I'm just like them. I'm not any different. It just takes me longer to see.

It was working. Damn you, you didn't know! It was working! And I was right. It had to end this way, or it would never end. It will never end now. You've done that.

I'm drowning in all this blood. Its so heavy. I see them. No one else sees, no one else cares, but I see...I care.


When I hear her voice, I know she's killed us all. Some have to die for the freedom of many. Some have to die. Some Mechified have to die so that you can get what you want! Why didn't you kill me? Why didn't you fucking kill me when you had the chance!? You're going to kill me either way. You're killing me now. I'm dying. I know it, I feel it fall away.


I saw it then, but I couldn't put it into words until now.


Marching through the city, I see them watching me. The see me, and they can't believe it. Its their Symbol, marching along, with Goshi. I can't look at them. I grit my teeth so they don't see. Blink my eyes. You think I don't know what this looks like? If I don't hurt you this way, they'll keep hurting you worse, until its over and we lose everything. I have to hurt you. I have to make you see. See your Symbol. I'm just your Symbol for one more day, and then I'm done. I know they're going to kill me and I'm not afraid.

I thought I knew my Purpose - to survive. I didn't know...what I would have to survive. I didn't know what I would have to pay.

I can't let you kill for me anymore, I want to say. I can't watch you die for me, thinking it means something. But I can't find my voice. I see them, their bodies bursting as bullets find their way out in a spray of blood. I see their eyes on me before their ghosts leave them. I see them again and again. No more. This is the only way. This has to work, it has to end now, or it will never end.

So watch your Symbol. You have to watch, and you have to see. You call me a Symbol. Look at me!

Even then, when I was doing it myself, I could see, not until now.


I have to know for myself. I don't...I don't know what Highdive is doing - I think its going wrong, but I didn't...I can't do this alone. But everyone is gone. The Gogajin won't help - they'll try to help, but I can't let them. Highdive brought him to me. Now I have to make my decision.

Once I finally see, its easy.

I feel...I feel like I'm waking up. The gift I was given, long ago, when I left my home...with the Biomade...even I could tell she didn't know what it was. My 'mother' - she played mother like a game, but it was all I had. And she was excited, knowing it wasn't supposed to be out of the vault, wasn't supposed to be mine.

It attached so easily, like it was meant to be there. And then suddenly I knew that it saw me, that it knew me, that it was thinking. And I got so sleepy. Everything got so simple. I dreamed of it clicking, deep inside of me. I dreamed that it pulled at me, that it whispered but I couldn't hear.

I feel like I'm waking up after a long time.

I see so clearly - in the dingy sunlight coming through the window. The Gogajin rolling dice and trying to be quiet. The dripping faucet. Highdive's bullet-wound - why did they shoot her? Let them shoot me. Ha. Let them try. Something isn't right. So I need to go, find out. I need to do it before someone does it for me. Never again.

I do this, and then I come to an end. This is my Purpose.

I walk out. Brothers and sisters pass me by, not seeing their Symbol. When I'm close, no one sees me. They only see me when I'm far away.

He's surprised. I know why I'm here and there is no fear. We're not going to talk with snipers where they can shoot me when they want. You're going to talk to me where I want to talk, and you're going to see that I am not afraid of you, but you are afraid of me.

Now, I have to find out what I'm worth. I'll finally know. I know what I'm worth to Sue and the Army - too much. Far too much. But what am I worth to you, Goshi-man? Do some math and tell me what I'm worth.

Taking those steps out into the light, I lived it before I knew what I was doing.


I have your answer. You want to know why Kyoshi made a promise to people like that. I have your answer.

"When you make a promise, it doesn't matter who you make it to. It doesn't matter. What matters is what you do. If you keep it, or if you break it. It doesn't matter what everyone else does. You do what needs to be done, you tell the truth, and you pay your own price. No one pays for you."

I turn to look at Rei. [and your sister] I lost it because of you. [feel my heart breaking when I hear your voice] I lost it because of Sue, because of Goshi [his neck snaps in my hand], because of Hurricane [I wanted to jump and take her with me]...because I waited too long to pay my own price [blood all over me]. I let others pay for me, I let them make me their Symbol [his head splits when the bullet hits it, his eyes fixed on me go dark]. I let them pay for me because I thought it would be something good [blood and fire, the foundry]. Some have to die for the freedom of many? [snarling frustration] No. NO. NO! [shaking you] We do not tell other people when they die! I know I'm no better than you, now. So you have to see. You have to start to see!. I know I'm stupid, [I know you know] but I can see it when you can't. So who's stupid? [who blinded you?]

And never forget that I am not like you. [really, Moses?] I. Am. Not. Like. You. [they're dead just the same - murderer-Moses] I know I'm no better than you, but you do not tell other people when to die, and you do not tell me who I am.

Its wrong. And if you can't see that, then you belong with your family. [I want you to leave/I don't want you to leave]

They probably think I'm being stupid again because I stare at her for a long time [I know you're listening now]. Her sister looks bored. Fuck her sister. Are you listening too? Watch me and learn what it means to be Cheldrun, you vat-grown...!

I see now. There's blood on all of us. Maybe I can help Kyoshi somehow, and then there's nothing for me here but more blood [others] and tears [mine] and bile [swallow it].

Episode 5: Here Comes the Sun

Pain. Carried. People all around me with silent minds. The background hum of Kiyoshi's thoughts. Dreams. I awake to the tears of a little girl.

I am set down in the corner. I am in a small cavern. A large boulder blocks the far end. Gogajin are all around. Una and Kiyoshi stand nearby. Kiyoshi's thoughts are muted. Like feeling a vibration through a pane of glass.

The Gogajin lift the boulder and toss it aside.

There, in the cave beyond, stands a little girl with golden skin in a white dress. I meet her gaze, and for a moment, her mind is within me and without me. Her thoughts are brilliant, blinding, blistering and golden, and I am nearly lost in their fierceness.

I stare.

After a moment, I realize that Una is speaking. That she and the girl have been speaking, and I missed the start of their conversation. "Who put you in there?" she asks.

There is a drop of blood rolling slowly down my left arm, and it itches. I want to reach over and wipe it off, but it hurts too much.

Everything hurts.

I nearly miss the girl's reply.

"Susanoo," she says.

"Who is Susanoo?" Una asks.

"He's my brother." She looks up at Una curiously. "Mana?" she asks.

Mana. Where have I heard that word before?

A metal shuffling footstep echoes from further down the cavern, and the little girl brightens. "Mana," she says, and stops crying.

One of the Gogajin moves down the passage to investigate. He calls out once, and then is silent.

The metal shuffling footsteps draw closer, and the enemy is upon us: a vast being of reddish energy flows into the cavern, pulling along behind it a shuffling, eyeless mechified to which it is connected with an umbilical streamer of red light.

I clench my fist. I can not help but want it dead.

A Gogajin charges, and the creature tears strange blueish light out of him with a wave of its hand - he drops, dead.

The others leap into battle, and in the din I catch the little girl's gaze.

She looks hungry.

I feel the killing intent flow out of my body. I look up and see Una screaming.

The mechified body being dragged along behind the energy-beast explodes into bloody chunks.

Kiyoshi's thoughts are razor-sharp now. He leaps into the air and neatly bisects the energy-thing with his sword.

I want one of those.

The little girl smiles hungrily and moves forward to the now shrinking, fading enemy. "Mana," she whispers happily.

I am lifted into the air: one of the surviving Gogajin has picked me up. We climb upwards, and I am set back down near the exit from the shaft. I become aware of the sound of gunfire, and it occurs to me that we had been hearing that for some time.

I am dimly aware of people moving around me, leaving the cavern to join the battle.

Una places her hands on my shoulders and concentrates. I meet her gaze.

Nothing happens.

She was trying to heal me, I realize. Heal me like she healed Kiyoshi.

"I tried," she says. "I'm sorry, Rei."

I wish I could know what she is thinking. It feels strange for someone else to be so... opaque. I wonder if I am dying. Am I dying?

I am afraid.

"Try harder," I say.

Her expression changes. I wish I knew what she was thinking. Then she's gone. Off to join the battle.

Blood drip drip drips from my outstretched hand onto the floor.


It's cold.

There is a scraping noise. I look towards its source and see that the little girl has climbed up to join me. She glows like a star now. Her brilliant, blinding, blistering thoughts fill my mind once more, and in my state of blood loss induced cold, I am glad of the warmth.

"What's your name?" I manage to ask. It hurts to talk.

"Amaterasu," she replies.

That's a pretty name. I wonder what it means. I don't say so. "Did you enjoy your meal, Amaterasu?"

She nods, smiling a smile of sated hunger. "Very much," she says. She draws near, and her smile grows wider. "You're marked. He's marked. She's marked. You're all three marked. You have the sign."

Marked? Sign? I wonder if she's mad. I wonder if I'm mad. I don't say anything. I don't want her to leave. I want her to stay so I can feel her terrible, wonderful thoughts.

I don't want to be alone.

"You're all three marked," she says, reaching forward. "But you - you belong to me." She puts her hand on my forehead, and light and warmth fills my world.

She's gone. I feel warm. For the first time in days, I don't hurt. I don't hurt!
I look down. The blood is dry. The wounds are gone. The bruises are gone. The three broken ribs no longer trouble me.

I am healed.

The sound of gunfire is everywhere. I rise to my feet, clench and unclench my fists, and smile.

I call down the darkness upon me and stride out into battle.

The Gogajin have broken through Goshi's lines. Chaos reigns in the chamber. The smell of gunpowder mixes with the smell of blood and sweat and death, and I feel as though I have come home.

The thoughts of the wounded, and the dying fill my mind. Biomade thoughts. The thoughts of those still fighting. Moses's thoughts. Kiyoshi's thoughts.

There. Moses fights three Heishi by himself. One looks to be either dead or unconscious. I feel pride. Not a symbol alone, but also effective.

He staggers as a hole blossoms in his metal arm. I look up. A sniper reloads his rifle. There are two sniper nests.

It's only a ten meter jump. I leap up and deal with the fool, planting my psi-knife between his eyes before I kick him off the platform.

He lands face down in the chamber below, his legs bent at unnatural angles. I make a mental note to make sure to kill him later. I scoop up his rifle and take aim at the two snipers across the way.

One. A sniper drops. He is alive, but that's fine. Hopefully, he will die of blood loss. At the very least, he's out of the fight.

The other sniper returns fire, but within the darkness I evade the shot with ease. Two. The second sniper drops. He is also alive. I feel disappointed. At least he's out of the battle. The two crawl towards the door at the rear of the sniper's nest.

The little girl enters the chamber below. The battle continues. A group of Gogajin have reached the exit and are pounding on the six inch steel door. Moses battles on. Kiyoshi and Una cut bloody swathes through the Goshi soldiers.

My heart lifts at the sight. My heart sings for battle and death.

Amaterasu reaches the center of the chamber and begins to levitate.

I hop down from the sniper's nest and walk towards her, firing the sniper rifle from my hip. Recoil is a bitch, but it proves effective enough, downing several soldiers. It is times like this that I understand the way Aimi feels. I feel it, too. Death is like a light, blood is like a rose: you never loved your friends, my friends, as I have loved my foes.

Amaterasu glows brighter and brighter. Bullets whip through her form leaving both her and her white dress unscathed. I stand beneath her, staring up at her as she glows brighter and brighter. It hurts to look. I shut my eyes and I can still see the light through my eyelids. Her thoughts are everywhere now. The light grows, and the darkness I'd cloaked myself in evaporates. Light is everything. I am she and she is we and we are all together.

There is a terrible roar, light pulses around her, and beams of purest golden light flash out from her body, each one cutting a swath of destruction through the Goshi troops.

I watch in awe. Every soldier the light touches burns away like film on a light bulb. They burn. They burn like moths in the path of a torch. Embers float in the air like brilliant red butterflies, and are gone.

It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

The light fades. Vision returns slowly. The Goshi soldiers are gone.
Dead. Amaterasu is gone and a vast hole is opened in the ceiling. The blue sky shines through.

I feel vaguely drunk. I look up and can't help but giggle. "I think I'll keep her," I say.


The crowds of the city greet Moses like a hero. The others are surprised to see me healed, and seem uncertain when I tell them that Amaterasu restored me. The battle-haze is past, and I wonder if it's right to enjoy the struggle of life and death. Moses seemed deeply disturbed when I called what the girl did, 'beautiful,' and that unease seems intent on burrowing down into my brain.

Sometimes, I wish I couldn't read people's minds.

We are led to a tenament off the beaten path, where we and the Gogajin take shelter for the evening. For the first time in a week, I am able to bathe. Well, clean myself, anyways. The mechified of the tenament have the uniform of what they call 'a Goshi assassin' who was slain by the insurgency, and they offer it to me. I am happy to get out of the heishi uniform.

We settle in for the night, and Moses tells me that he saw Aimi. I ask him not to kill her if they meet again, and he seems disturbed by the news that she is my sister. There's something in his eyes that bothers me. His thoughts are distrustful. I fear what she may have told him, but whatever it is, he neither tells me nor thinks about it.

In the morning, Una and Kiyoshi leave to visit one of Kiyoshi's contacts in order to get us out of the city. The Gogajin need medical attention. I am willing to leave them to die, but do not voice this opinion.

I don't like it when the others look at me as if I were a monster.

There are no doctors who can help them.

I don't want Moses to distrust me. I offer to procure a doctor for the use of the Gogajin.

Moses looks at me distrustfully. "Can you do it without hurting anyone?" he asks.

In his mind, he sees me clubbing the doctor over the head, hefting him over my back, and dragging him back here. It's irritating. I want to tell him not to worry. I want to tell him that I won't hurt anyone. I want to tell him why I haven't killed him. I want to tell him that I've never had friends before. That freedom is more than I could have dared to dream. That if only my siblings could see what I saw...

I don't. "I will refrain from harming the doctor if it is feasible," I say, and then leave with the little boy who lives at the tenemant, Cog, in tow. All the things I wanted to say blow away like autumn leaves.

Damn it.

Episode 4: Up and Out

I awoke to find Una staring at me. Again. I do not think she realizes I have noticed, and I have not said anything about it. Maybe it is simply something Vorax do. Then again, I have not noticed her staring at any of the others. There was also the feather. During our stay with the Gogajin, I took the opportunity to wash my hair as best I could with the greasy water they had available, and in doing so I undid the braids that had been there when I awoke back at the hideout. I had assumed that Surgeon had simply done it to make my hair more manageable, keep it out of my wounds, but... I found a long purple feather braided into one. I am not sure what it means, if it means anything, but I have kept the feather for now.

Enough of that. What had awoken me was a voice I had not heard in a few days; that of Rei. She had finally regained consciousness. Good. Perhaps we could finally make plans to get out of these blasted mines. Una suggested that we leave the city and flee into the wilderness. Rei seemed to support this idea, but Moses was against it. I am uneasy about the idea of leaving the city, but I understand the necessity, for now at least, so I helped the others to convince Moses. The Gogajin were planning on leaving as well.

As we discussed our options, a loud crackling announced a message coming over the mine's intercom system. This ought to be good. Sure enough, the voice is a woman who identified herself as Hurricane, Goshi's new head of security. I do not even want to think about what happened to the last one. She offered amnesty to anyone who presents themselves to the main mine entrance and surrenders; death to those who do not. It is nearly enough to make me laugh.

I was feeling strange. I almost thought I could hear bits of conversations that I could not be hearing; that I could understand the Gogajin speaking in their own tongue. That is, of course, impossible as I have never even been within speaking distance of one of them before. Still, I kept imagining that I could understand them, and I was having some trouble concentrating. Rei took the opportunity to threaten me with death by shovel if I broke Aimi's heart. Let me repeat that. If I broke. Aimi's. Heart. Are all telepaths completely insane, or just this family? How can they even be a family, anyway? What can the word 'sister' mean to someone who was made in a lab? Just that they have similar genetic material? It certainly did not seem to be due to any bond of sorority.

We agreed that the first matter of business was to scout out the Refinery, see if we could contact Sue and the UMA. It would be very inconvenient to travel all the way out there and then come back here for the Gogajin, however, and we did not want to simply leave them behind; they will, after all, make an excellent diversion to cover our own escape. In their typical fashion they were taking forever, arguing amongst themselves, acting like, well, asses. I contemplated saying something, but I was busy telling myself that, no, I do not understand what they are saying to each other. Then one of them came over. Baldur? I do not know; they all look kind of alike to me. In any event, this one asks if one of us is good with words and can convince his fellows. It is my duty, I know, and so I step up.

Now this is interesting. I could not fool myself anymore; I could now understand the Gogajin's speech as fluently as if I was a native. I spoke and one of them translates, but I am not sure it was even necessary. Now it was a lot more than just Una staring at me: everyone in the cavern seemed rapt upon what I am saying. I urged them to strike out for their freedom in order to see the sky again (something I am beginning to miss rather dearly myself!), in order to deal a blow to Goshi, and in order to locate their females. They responded enthusiastically. The Gogajin language is rather odd; it seems that the closest word they have to eager is 'horny', but they have a word for raucous. In any event, with that out of the way, we planned to make our way to the real UMA hideout, which location I had asked Rei to fish out of Mickey's brain, then to the surface with as many as want to come.

We travelled six or seven hours and then Moses remembered an old natural cavern nearby that he opened up for the Gogajin to stay in until we were ready to go. Continuing on, we heard some noises ahead of us. Una scouted and came back to report that there were Mechified ahead, miners with wounded among them. We went to meet them; they seemed thrilled to meet Moses, and even more excited about Surgeon. We went to the nearby hideout where Surgeon got right to work on the wounded miners, but there was no other sign of the UMA. Moses decided it was time to go scout the Refinery and try to contact Sue.

Rei was still too hurt to push herself, so Moses and I went alone; or so we thought. Partway there we heard a startled yelp and turned to find that Una had snuck up on Rei, who had, in turn, been stealthily following us. Since they were there already, we continued as a group. I could tell we were getting closer as the temperature rose and the air quality went down. Then we started hearing the sounds of the siege ahead; gunfire and explosions reverberated through the caverns. We rounded a corner just in time to see a few Goshi soldiers coming around the other way. They seemed as surprised as we were, and then... darkness. It seemed to swirl around Rei and then engulf the entire cavern. It was like a light source in reverse; I could see what was beyond the sphere, but nothing within it, even my own hands! I quickly took cover, and sure enough the soldiers sprayed their guns at us to cover their retreat.

I filed the darkness away as yet another thing I would have to talk with the others about as soon as we had a chance to actually relax. This darkness. My miraculous recovery and newfound linguistic skills. Highdive's speed; I have seen Zipsum move fast, but some of the stunts she pulled were unbelievable, and the green speed-trails were definitely new. I wonder where that little nut-grubber ran off to, anyway? No matter. Most of all, I had to talk to them about what the First Minds told me.

All of these thoughts simply floated past me at that moment. I was within the Void and so no thoughts could touch me. Instead I made my way to the entrance through which the soldiers had come, and witnessed a scene of pandemonium. I could see the outside of the Refinery surrounded by an army of Goshi operatives and soldiers, and even more making their way in. They had machinegun nests and mortars; the only reason they had not yet crushed the UMA was that they wanted to preserve as much as possible of the expensive blackrock refining machinery. There was no way in.

The others joined me, and all but Moses soon reached the same conclusion. I sympathised with the big lug; it always hurts when you are powerless to help those you feel you should. I convinced him that we had to concentrate, for now, on helping those we could, and see what we could do for Sue and the others later. We made our swift passage back to the hideout. There Surgeon, Brick and Mickey made it clear that they were going to stay and see if they could help out the resistance. We wished them luck and collected the Gogajin.

It was a long and nervous journey, but at least the air cooled down as Moses led us unerringly toward the surface. We were heading toward one of the many secondary entrances that would let us out into the streets of Geneva Prime. There would be a lift and a processing station, and it would almost undoubtedly be guarded. The plan was that Moses and most of the Gogajin would use the lift and rush out throwing any heavy object they could find in order to confuse the Goshi soldiers, while the rest of us climbed up through the ventilation ducts to attack them from behind. As far as plans went it left something to be desired, but we had little choice in the matter.

Eventually we came to a huge cavern with a sheer cliff face. At the base of the cliff were four metal lifts attached to three thick metal cables each. Moses explained that the exit was just a little further once we reached the top of the cliff. We could not fit all four of us and about three dozen Gogajin on the four lifts at once, however, so we decided to go in shifts. Moses, Una and myself took one along with one of the Gogajin. Several others packed into the other lifts while the rest waited below with Rei. We started to rise through the air and were not quite halfway up when we were attacked.

The lift rattled and swung like something had landed on it, and, sure enough, moments later mining tools started ripping gouges in the sides of our conveyance. I sliced one through the wall while Moses grapple with another on the other side. One of our enemies started to climb in, and just as I had feared it was another of the Eyeless. These ones were different, however; they had strange red growths and tentacles reminiscent of the Vorax from the Goshi tower. It seems Una was reminded of this too; she shrieked in rage, a sound more avian than human, and the thing simply erupted in a spray of blood and pus. Not a pleasant image, but effective. Another thing to ask about, or could all Vorax do that? I simply do not know enough about my traveling companions.

We reached the top to see that the other lifts were still struggling to rise. One in particular was in a precarious position: two of the three cables holding it had been cut and it swayed ominously as the Gogajin within fought against their demon attackers. Without thought I continued my assault on the enemy. I ran to where the endangered lift was attached and quickly cut myself a remaining segment of one of the severed cables. Looping this segment around the remaining intact cable, I used it to slide down and land on top of the slowly rising lift. There I faced off with one of the Eyeless, dodging its hammer and striking with Keibatsu. Suddenly the lift lurched; I glanced up to see that Moses had hold of the cable and was dragging us up as fast as he could. I continued to duel with the demon until we reached the top. The Gogajin quickly jumped off, having already beaten off the rest of their attackers. I yelled for Moses to drop the lift, which he did without hesitation. I will have to thank him later for trusting me in the heat of battle. I sliced through the remaining cable and jumped, grabbing hold of the lip of the cliff edge as the lift, demon and all, plummeted to the cavern floor thirty meters below.

Moses gave me a hand up, and I saw that the Gogajin we had left below had climbed all the way up using an access ladder, one of them carrying Rei. We had all made it up and there was no sign of the enemy. We were close to freedom now. All we had to do was punch through the processing station with more force than they were anticipating. Soon, we would be free to seek refuge, to plan our revenge, and, I thought grimacing... take a bath.

Episode 3: The Writing on the Wall

Mickey was waiting at the new hiding spot. He welcomed us home, with a slightly odd tone to his voice, but it was the runes scrawled all over the walls that really grabbed our attention. The chalk-graffiti actually confounded us so much that it took a brusque reminder from the surgeon to get most of us moving in to action. We'd have to figure out what it meant that the runes were all the way down here, but Surgeon was right, keeping people from dying came first...especially Kiyoshi.

The rest of the day was a haze for many of us. Rei and Kiyoshi were still unconscious, Sue and Moses were bleeding so bad that they were barely conscious (despite Moses' patch-induced protestations to the contrary), and Surgeon kept High Dive and me busy assisting him. When time to sleep came, I collapsed under the table that Kiyoshi lay on. I wanted to be nearby in case anything bad happened.

I woke up to the *dunk*...*splat* of Moses... what? mopping?? Oh no! The big overly-helpful lug had washed off every single rune in the room. Damn it. He said it was biomade stuff so it had to be bad. *sigh* Maybe he had a point, but it still would have been nice to know what it said. Moses and Sue looked better, but the other two were still out cold. We continued fixing up wounds, including some nasty infections in Rei, and preparing to move to the next spot. With the biomade being able to read minds, I wonder why they aren't already knocking down our door.

The next morning things are going smoothly when Kiyoshi started going into spasms. Great Sages it was scary! Surgeon put some nasty big needles into him, apparently expecting improvement, but his convulsions continued, and I started to get very worried. He could not die! I have watched too many of mine die! At this point my skin started to tingle, like I was going to sweat acid or something, and I started to - I kid you not - glow blue. All over. I grabbed Kiyoshi's hand thinking it couldn't make him worse, and fervently prayed it would make the seizure stop. The whole room filled with the blue light, then shrank back into me. I think it focused to my hand, but at that point I passed out.

I woke up to Moses shaking me like a rag doll. I told him he could put me down and he dropped me. That guy is too good at following directions. *grimace* I looked over and Kiyoshi was talking in urgent tones; I was just overjoyed that he wasn't in a coma anymore. I walked over to him and noticed that his bullet-wounds had healed up dramatically. Wow, blessed blue light! I tried to think about what happened, but the conversation around me started to sink in slowly.. What? Going..? Oh! We're going NOW-now. Crap, and through what!?! This escape is going to be the death of me.

We all ungainfully manage to shimmy down a 160-degree shaft and drop down to a VERY high I-beam, into the most polluted air I've ever experienced. The molten rock from the room that was bombed right behind us is still searing painfully into my thigh, but that's the least of my worries as a whole bunch of biomade soldiers come out of nowhere and start hassling us.

By the time we've dispatched with those soldiers, the bullet-spitters in the refinery are sufficiently intimidated by the massive mob outside that they refrain from attacking us. Sue leads us outside and gives an incendiary speech, cuts open the gates, and lets the throng into the horrible, horrible refinery. I hope they melt it down. Completely.

Sue and Amos say their good-byes. Mickey will lead us to the new hidey-hole. I hope he's up to the task. Back down further into the caves. Sometimes I feel like the whole weight of Karia is pressing on my chest. It's been so long since I've seen the sky...

We follow Mickey down, down, down until we reach a point that's too narrow for some mechifieds to go through. Odd that Mickey doesn't remember not being able to go through part of the passage. The fact that he had a run-in with a mind-warping biomade is making me very nervous at this point, but Kiyoshi sees First Mind runes and assumes all must be cheery. So Moses carves a new tunnel, boy I think we should turn back, but we all enter the next "room". Mickey looks up, and true there is a blue light like he's been looking for...but where's the hideout?

Rei opens the biomade door that lets us through the acrylic wall marked with First Mind runes. It looks lovely, but what is it doing way way way down here? We enter and are greeted by yet another self-important teenage punk, standing with his hand on white stone. Natural stone very much like what was suspended over my fellow vorax before the world exploded... He demands access to Rei's memories; it seems to be yet another brother. We all hold a breath as we wait for the word from Rei to defend her, but she seems scared. Honestly scared.

She acquiesces. Hopefully this guy isn't too clumsy while he's fishing around. I would NOT like to be around a biomade assassin when she looses every shred of sanity left of her already meager supply. Everything seems to go okay. Rei retains consciousness, and this guy - Nero, just leaves. Rei looks like she just barely avoided brawling with an angry supernova. That pretty-boy can't be that powerful, can he?

Once tension in the cavern room drained out, we took interest in the white stone again. Moses tried to get off a chunk with his ridiculously clunky and smelly machinery, but to no avail. Then Kiyoshi took one of his 'special' deep breaths and - wow - a minuscule shard brakes off. No wonder there's so much of this special stone here, if only runic First Mind blades can chip it! The stone tingles when I touch it..."mana"...he said. What is it?...

Moses and I peek out the door, after finding out from Nero that HE altered Mickey's mind to get us here, so now we had to find the real safe house. A couple of steps later *WHAM* I kid you not, a cart full of black rock hurtles past me and plows into Moses. A voice, "Stop trying to recruit us, we're not interested in fighting your battles!"

To make a long story short, the voice belonged to a Gogajin who was the de facto leader of a large bunch of male donkey-sons. I'm surprised that I didn't pass out from the excess of testosterone in one cave. This leader and Moses admired each other's ability to play catch with carts of ore, then they took us home and got drunk. They got drunk, most of my lot rested, and much dancing and revelry was had at the finding of - well- me. The first vorax they had seen in a very long time. *sigh* What bittersweet revelry.

Dreams of the First Minds

Kiyoshi hung suspended in the air above the yawning maw of the pit below. Blood streamed freely from his freshly reopened wounds and the tattered remnants of his kimono flapped about him like macabre wings. He was held aloft by Una, in her raptor form, invisible to all so that it seemed that he flew of his own accord, the purple gleam of Keibatsu gripped in his fist. He had to stop the snipers, and quickly, or they would kill Moses and the others. As the air rushed by him he was calm, for he floated in the Void, without thought, without fear. Suddenly an inkling of danger came, but too late. He had only started to move when the first sniper's bullet ripped through his chest, tearing and destroying everything in its way. Cold spread through his chest and his vision started to fail. He was not done yet, however; he sensed a split-second later that another bullet was rushing in to finish him. This time, he was ready. Keibatsu flashed with impossible speed and deflected the shot that would have ended him. With this final effort, Kiyoshi was unable to stave off death's cold grip any longer and he slumped in Una's talons. The last thing he saw was his glasses spiraling down into the darkness. His grip on Keibatsu never slackened in the slightest.

Across the cavern, the Biomade sniper had only the briefest moment of surprise before his own deflected bullet took him between the eyes.

I awaken in a beautiful garden. I am whole and, thank the First Minds, clean for the first time in what seems like forever. All around me are beautiful flowering bushes and drifting cherry blossoms. I can hear the trickle of running water from a nearby stream, and the sound of songbirds in the trees. Across the stream is a little wooden bridge, and upon the bridge stands a figure. I frown. It is odd; this person's hair is the same silver color as mine, marking him as a member of the Silver Phoenix clan. But true silver hair is rare even within the clan; I only know of one other, one of my father's cousins. This was obviously not my father's cousin, however, for she is a woman, and wears her hair shorter than I. The silent figure standing alone looked very much like me from behind, in fact.

I decide to investigate, so I stand and walk to the bridge. When I step upon it, my sandals clack against the wood, alerting the stranger. He turns, and it is me; or rather, a demon that has taken my form. It is a perfect doppelganger, except that its eye sockets are empty and weeping blood, just like the other demons I have fought recently. I cannot let this abomination be! In less than the time it would take to think of the action, Keibatsu is sweeping across the air and removing the foul thing's head from its shoulders. Body and head fall into the stream with a splash.

A girl's voice speaks behind me. "Who was that?" she asks. I turn to find Rei standing on the bridge beside me, peering down into the stream. So much for the idea that this was a heaven; first a demon, and now a telepath.

I reply "A demon mimicking my form. It is no longer important." I smell incense coming from a pagoda on the other side of the stream.

"Are your dreams always like this?" Rei asks. "It's so... boring."

I glance back at her with disdain. "If you do not like it, you can leave. I am going to investigate the pagoda." I follow the smell of the burning incense to do just that. I hear Rei sigh and start to follow.

When I come to the pagoda, I see many pairs of sandals laid out neatly by the door. I recognize the smell of the incense, the sounds of the chants coming from within, and the symbol of the First Minds above the entryway. This is a temple, such as they should be made to honor those who came before, the Trinity, the Unity, the symbol of Cheldrun potential. I remove my shoes and enter, Rei following behind somewhat reluctantly.

Inside I see a line of men kneeling before the altar, many of them wearing the symbol of the Silver Phoenix. Upon the altar is a giant gong, the symbol of the First Minds prominent upon it. I make my way up to the alter and fish within my purse for a silver coin, which I proffer as an offering with a deep bow. As I move to take my place in line, Rei speaks. "These men..."

I nod. "My ancestors." Indeed, I see my father and his father, and many other luminaries of the clan, some of whom I had only ever seen in portraits. I also see my sensei, Master Yoshitaka of the Swooping Crane Resplendent dojo.

"Do you always dream about your ancestors?" she asks, looking very puzzled.

"Why would I not? Now hush, it is time to pray." I kneel and start chanting the mantra in unison with my ancestors. For precisely three hundred and thirty three cycles I pray, and a bright white light from behind the gong grows brighter and brighter as I do so. When finished, the gong rings on its own, and the light becomes so bright that the gong can no longer be seen. My ancestors form two lines on either side of me, with my father at the head of one and Master Yoshitaka at the head of the other. I turn to face the light.

"Does this usually happen?" Rei asks. I ignore her.

A chorus of voices, all speaking as one in perfect harmony, issue from the light. "Daitokuji Kiyoshi," they say, "you have earned the right to one answer."

Whether this is a vision or just a dream, I do not intend to waste my answer. I think for a few moments, then ask. "The eyeless demons that I have lately encountered; where do they come from?"

Everything is silent for a minute. Two. I begin to wonder if they heard my question. Then the voices speak again. "They are the beginning and the end of Malice." My blood runs cold to hear this. There is only one thing I can think of that fits such a description. But They could not have found us... could they?

My father suddenly steps forward and bows to the light. "Honored First Minds, I would sacrifice my answer that you grant my son a boon." He steps back into line.

There is a pause, then the voices speak again. "Noboru, you presume too much. One answer is not sufficient for what you ask."

Without hesitation, Master Yoshitaka steps forward and says "Then I, too, offer my answer." There are similar words from all of my ancestors as they step forward and nod their assent.

Another pause. Then "Very well. Know this, young Kiyoshi. Heritage is Heredity. Come to know this, and you will be on the path to understanding."

I nod. "Thank you all, Honored First Minds, Honored Ancestors. I will not fail you." Suddenly there is a flash and the light is gone, leaving only the temple behind. As if a spell was broken, my ancestors break into smiles and come to greet me and offer advise. We leave the temple where some of them bring out pots of tea, bowls of wine and sticky buns. I am about to sit and break fast with them when I notice a familiar pink-haired figure standing on the bridge. Are my dreams not even safe from intrusion now?

I glance up at Rei and gesture toward the bridge. "Can you take care of her please?"

Rei looks surprised and walks toward her sister. "What are you doing here?"

Aimi looks at her sister, equally surprised, and exclaims "What are you doing here?!" She peers over at me and my ancestors, then rounds on Rei. "You slut!" she cries indignantly.

"What?!" Rei squawks.

"You can't have him, he's mine! I saw him first! Or are you here for all the old men?"

"I don't know what you're talking about! And you want to talk about old? Kiyoshi is, what, eleven years older than you?!"

Aimi's face tries to match her hair at this point, and she opens her mouth to retort when I interrupt. "Would you ladies like some tea?" I proffer a pair of cups.

Both sisters gape at me like I had just grown an extra head, then Aimi smiles sweetly and says "Yes, thank you." Rei mumbles something that might be assent and takes one as well. She does not drink it, however, but instead starts right back in on her sister.

"Just what are you doing in Kiyoshi's dream, anyway?"

Aimi smirks. "This isn't the first time I've been in his dreams." She winks lasciviously at me. I am flabbergasted, and start to blush.

Rei rounds on me. "What?! What have you been doing with my sister? She's only fifteen!" I try to stammer out a reply when Aimi interrupts.

"Oh, we don't have time for this. Blade only gave us a limited window to get you out of there, sis. You were expensive, after all. But time's up, I'm afraid, and they're coming for you. You have to get out of there now; the Hei Shi are on their way."

Rei and I both pale to hear that. "You do realize that we are both unconscious, do you not?" is my sardonic reply.

Aimi frowns. "Oh yeah." Her face screws up in a pout as she thinks. "Okay, I think I know of a way to wake you up. It'll hurt though." Why am I not surprised? I nod. "Good. When you wake, just make sure you get out of there; I'm sure you have a back way, just go through there and I'll meet up with you." She turns to Rei. "We'll talk about when and how you'll return later."

Rei scowls at her suspiciously. "Why are you helping us?"

"Because I don't want you getting hurt, silly." She says flippantly, an obvious lie. She steals a glance at me as she says it though, and blushes slightly. "What the Hei Shi will do to you is permanent. We want to avoid that."

I nod. "Very well. Wake me up; time is running short." She nods and walks up to me. I cannot help but tense, but all she does is lean up on her tip-toes and give me a kiss on the cheek, just like at my father's funeral. In the same spot, too. But where that kiss had been unexpectedly pleasant, this one delivers me into a world of pain. I feel like every muscle in my body is straining to break free of its fleshy confines. I scream and scream, and everything goes black. Then, a flash of brilliant blue light...

Waiting for the Executor

Rain prides herself on her looks. No she isn't the type to drive men mad with lust. It isn't her voluptuousness which makes her striking. It's her precision. Her suits never have a wrinkle. Her hair is never unruly. Her complexion is never blemished. Rain looks, and walks and thinks like a razor. Nothing she does in unnecessary. No energy she expends is wasted. If the principle of economy were made incarnate, it would envy Rain.

Which is precisely why she was impatient with this meeting, starting late. Not to mention other things...

"What the hell is the purpose of making us come all the way up here for the meeting?" her perfect teeth flashed as she surveyed the wreckage of the 332nd floor around her. A flap of plastic from the sheets over the empty window frames fluttered in the wind emphasizing her annoyance.

"Calm down darling, you wouldn't want to spoil your reputation for infinite patience." Ara Satoshi, Vice President of Operations for Goshi Mining Corp leaned forward out of the shadows. Power had yet to be restored to this level of the building and the red tip of his cigarette stood out boldly. "I'm sure Blade will have a good reason."

The name Blade cut through the room like shrapnel. No one spoke for a moment afterward. Even Dr. Omura, 75 years old and as sour spirited as they come, looked at the floor.

At that moment one of the decorative elevators ascended through the floor. Everyone stood up straight and tried to appear as if they were not holding their breath.

The doors opened silently and a haughty looking woman in body armor stepped out, the heels of her boots clicking on the floor. Seeing everyone standing awkwardly she gave a wry smile, "No need to be so formal on my account," she quipped.

"Fuck off. You're lucky Blade isn't here yet, you're late," it was plain to all that Rain did not care for the new Vice President of Security at Goshi Corp.

The woman shrugged, pulling out her ear piece and tucking it in a pocket. "Something came up."

Satoshi took a long drag of his cigarette and stubbed it out on the melted surface of a desk turned on its side by the explosion. "Something indeed. Have you caught that illiterate tunneler, Moses, yet? How about Acetylene Sue? Your predecessor was let go," he hesitated significantly here giving everyone time to reflect on the former security director's fate. Rain blanched. "for taking his time on that score. Hopefully, you can do better, Hurricane."

The woman in body armor known as Hurricane flexed her hands like a gunslinger about to draw, "You're just put out, Satoshi, because the figures for the mine this quarter aren't going to look very good once the insurgency that you let get out of hand has its way."

Satoshi nodded, conceding the point, "Maybe. Maybe that's why I'm glad it will be you that the executor is scrutinizing this week and not me. I've already made Blade a very rich man. You'll find that around here one's... utility, is all that really matters."

Dr. Omura, who to this point had been silent, walked from his corner of the room toward the middle where the depression was and where the white-rock teleporter had been. He looked at the mangled arm which had once held the stone, and shook his head, bewildered. "If you two are about done comparing cock size, you might begin to realize how short sighted you are. The executor is an astonishingly smart man. He knows what it is we nearly created here. He realizes its potential value and he understands what it will cost to make it a reality - more than either of you, or I, or even his precious fortune is worth to him. For all the time I have been observing him, I have never seen him be unwilling to pay a cost."

The doctor gave one of those pregnant pauses that everyone understands means you aren't finished yet.

"Before he was executor he had survived three assassination attempts. Since his appointment he has outlasted at least four more assassins. I watched him order one of the assassins to slit her own throat and she complied. I don't believe, that if Katashi Blade means any of us harm, that there is anything we will be able to do to stop him. Don't rely on your skill, or your obedience, or your good fortune. They are meaningless. Accept that you serve him now, because you have no other choice and he will either take you to realms of possibility you never imagined, or he will destroy you without flinching."

Rain kept her teeth clenched and her heels together throughout the doctor's tirade, willing herself not to show any reaction. The bastard is out of his mind, she thought, aware that at least two of the people in the room could read her thoughts if they chose. She told herself she didn't believe Dr. Omura. She kept her professional exterior, icy as ever, but a bead of sweat was forming at her hairline.

The 332nd floor of Goshi Tower lay in shambles around her; concrete dust and broken acrylic strewn over every surface. Through the plastic and scaffolding outside a full kilometer drop led into the richest Blackrock mine on Karia, currently ground to a complete halt because of a violent insurrection. From this distance the gunfire was inaudible, but Rain sensed the turmoil. She felt the nerves of the city frayed to the point of breakdown. The conflict was omnipresent, even though the battle raged below ground. Sometimes in the sweep of events Rain questioned her own control. Sometimes it seemed to her as if they were all being pushed along by events beyond their control and only a very few people were ever gifted the power to influence history.

A second elevator rose into the room through the parting floor.

Perhaps the only man whom Rain was sure had such power was the Executor. The doors opened. Katashi Blade arrived.

Mission: Aquatic Turbo Squirrel

Moses doesn't sleep. He's so heavy, he can barely lift an arm or a leg, but his head is light, like he's floating above his lumbering body. The ringing never leaves his ears. He turns his furnace down for the night, becomes listless and leaden in his movements. For a while he's still.

Its hard to breathe, but he doesn't want to wake anyone up. They need their sleep and he'll be ok. The stickers fixed him up pretty good, and he knows bullets won't stop him. Not yet.

Its hard to breathe, and his breath catches, escapes as little, stifled sobs. He holds a hand over his mouth, clenches his eyes, tries to swallow them but they come back up. He sees the bullet going through the Mechified's head, his eyes watching Moses, looking at the Symbol, dying while looking right at it. The gunfire following them. The shouting Mechified, going to fight soldiers with picks an shovels and drills. Going to get shot and die, just so Moses can run away. So Moses can survive. The weight builds and builds and builds, so heavy, too heavy...

He pulls his hand away some time later, snot clinging to everything, his eyes starting to crust over. He wipes his hand carefully on his coveralls, wipes his face with a rag that replaces snot with little wet smears of grease.

Highdive is watching him, her bright little eyes fixed. She quivers with energy, even in the middle of sleeping-time. Her paws are tucked under her. Maybe she's cold.

Moses roots quietly through his many pockets, comes up with a nut that she gave him what seems like a whole day ago, but is probably just a few hours. He holds it out to her, sees her nose quiver. There's a blur and she's perched on his stretched-out leg (the flesh one of course). She glares at his right side distastefully and snatches the nut in another blur, coming to rest just beyond his reach. She begins munching it, still staring at him.

Moses decides. "Listen..." he whispers, as quiet as he can, knowing she can hear better than he can anyway, "I need your help with something. I know that...some of you...like to carry messages."

Her eyes narrow again and crumbs fall from the corners of her mouth as she mumbles...stupid machines (crunch) not that we like to (munch-munch) well we do (gulp) not the point (nibble) should pay us better.....

"I, uh, I know, uh, sorry. But listen. I need you to carry a message for me. I don't have anyone else here who can do it without getting hurt...but you can. However you want. And then just, you know, run away. And wait wherever you want for a reply. Maybe you could...write it down? Like in a note? I don't want you to get caught..."

The suspicion is now as thick as Blackrock smoke. Her jaws have stopped working and she's glaring at him like she's finding nuts she can loosen. Lefty-loosy.

"Here's the message. I want to ask them. I'm a Symbol. I'm...part of the surgency. And I want to know. If they're after me. If they're...if they catch me, if I go to them, will they stop? Will they stop fighting? If I go to them, and I'm not a Symbol anymore, then they can just...work things out. You know. Make it better down here. We can go back to work. If they make it better. And we can stop fighting. I don't..."he looks away, eyes glistening, blinks a few times, looks right at Highdive, clenches his fist, "I don't want...anyone else to die...because of me. No one else. Can you...can you tell them that?"

Episode 2: The Surgeon

‘Damn, that loose nut is starting to chafe.’

‘I can’t believe he would say that to me!’

‘Moses lives. Moses lives. Moses lives.’

Thoughts all around me. Everywhere I look, another mind. I am an island in the midst of a vast, stormy sea. Thoughts and feelings roll over me like breaking waves: I am unmoved. I must stand guard. Goshi will be sending soldiers soon. I must be ready. The cul-de-sac should be defensible enough. I don’t like that the surgeon’s home is held up only by cables. Stitch would have a field day with that.

I don’t want to think about my family right now. I let the outer voices rise up again; I allow myself to be the crowd for a few moments longer.

‘Just two more days until I can get a new arm. Just two more days.’

‘Samophlange? What’s a Samophlange?’

‘What’s with the Biomade chick? Is she bleeding? Holy crap, she’s bleeding!’

I open my eyes and met the gaze of the Mechified. Samophlange Jack. He thinks I deserve to bleed. That all Biomade deserve to bleed. He doesn’t ask if I’m all right. He feels guilty as he walks away.

There. Moses. Moving away from my position at a run. His thoughts are panicked. Goshi soldiers. Their thoughts are the thoughts of a hunter seeking a dangerous prey. My eyes narrow. It could be a trap.

It’s what I would do, after all.

But It’s Moses. He’s stupid, but he’s important. I can’t take the risk that he really might be in danger.

I take off running, and with my injuries, every step burns like fire.

Thoughts. Thoughts and feelings everywhere I look. A cosmos of words and emotion and pictures rush past me. I descend.

Goshi soldiers. I am closing on them. I follow them away from the crowds to where Moses has run. I wait until I can take two alone.

A pink flash is his only warning as my psychic knife blossoms out of its gauntlet-generator. I plant it in his back twice, and he falls to the ground. The other whirls around to face me and opens fire.


I can’t lift much with my telekinesis, but I have always been good at using it to shield myself. The bullets deflect off of my psychokinetic shield.

I make short work of the second guard. Even as I take a communicator from their dead bodies, something occurs to me: I hadn’t heard their thoughts.


The gunfire gave away my position. They’re coming. Moses is just ahead, but I don’t think that it’s Moses anymore.

I round the corner and come face to face with Aimi. Then a dozen guards rush out to surround me.

“Shit,” I say.

Aimi smiles.

“Mama Pain is very angry at you, dear sister,” she tells me.

Mama Pain. Doctor Aliya Pain. I feel that same love/hate I always feel when I think of Mama Pain.

Aimi speaks. “I have to ask, why Moses?”

I meet her gaze questioningly.

“Is it something kinky? I’ll be disappointed if it isn’t something kinky.”

I roll my eyes. Aimi never changes. “You know I hate to disappoint you,” I say.

She looks disappointed.

“I don’t suppose you could just forget you found me?” I ask. “Walk the other way?”

Aimi shakes her head. “Mama Pain would be pissed if I did that.”

“Mama Pain never stays pissed at you for long.”

Aimi shrugs.

In the distance, I hear what sounds like an explosion.

Her next words decide my course of action: I am not the only one to have run away. Nero is also missing. My eyes widen.

If Nero is out here... I feel a cold terror bubbling up within my stomach.

“Mama Pain will never understand,” I say, activating my psychokinetic shield, “But tell Doctor Soren that I’m sorry.”

I leap. My height and trajectory is perfectly timed, and will take me clear of the soldiers in a matter of seconds – seconds I don’t have.

They open fire. My shield blocks most of it, but not enough. Pain thunders through my body, and I fall. Even as the floor rushes up to meet me, everything goes black.

The world fades back in slowly, and reluctantly. I hurt. Everything hurts. Blood. Anger. There is a rage building, somewhere. The guards... where are the guards? Where’s Aimi? I don’t see Aimi. The guards look like they were slammed into the walls of the tunnel by... something. I feel cold. I get up and limp back to where I left... who? Moses? Una? I should protect Una. She’s lost her family. So have I.

I don’t know how much time passes. Everything is a haze of pain and fear and anger. The Surgeon’s house is gone. The cables that held it in place are snapped. A crowd has gathered. Where’d the house go? I look down.

There it is.

It’s on the train track about thirty meters down. If I weren’t bleeding so badly, I might try to jump it. There’s a train coming.


Acetylene Sue is down there. I can’t let her kill Stitch. He’s an ass, but he’s still my brother. Though I know it will give me away to her, I connect with her mind and whisper, ‘Don’t kill him!’

Touching her mind is like touching a hot coal. Anger is everywhere. I reel. There’s gunfire. Snipers are firing at my... friends.

I have friends!

There’s a terrible roar as the train hits the house and... stops? How did it stop?

The gunfire continues.

Aimi is their commander, isn’t she? Aimi and I are variations on the same DNA. Our voices are similar enough. I activate the comlink I stole and order them to cease fire immediately. It buys us the time we need.

A few minutes later, I’m being carried down a long passageway. Una is carrying Kiyoshi. Moses is running ahead, but he looks badly injured. Sue is with us. The Mechified are up in arms. Their revolution has begun.


They deserve better than what they have.

The thoughts of my friends and of Sue and her gang rise up, and I can barely concentrate hard enough to be myself and not them. Sue is full of determination, and I latch onto that. It helps.

Shit. There are six soldiers ahead. High Dive makes a little ball of flame out of coal and a sock, and I patch in to their telepathic channel and send my thoughts into it.

Sue doesn’t trust me. She knows. She knows. She knows. Kiyoshi has strange dreams. That’s anatomically impossible. Moses thinks he’s a symbol. He’s right. High Dive... Una... nothing. There are minds there, but finding their thoughts is like trying to navigate a mirror-maze. The others... revolution burns in their hearts. My own thoughts are nearly lost in the storm, but I push them through, too.

It works. The earpieces short out. A soldier stumbles out of his hiding spot just in time to be struck upside the head by High Dive’s fiery ball.

The cold feeling is getting worse, and I recognize it as a symptom of blood loss. Even so, I feel strangely energized. I feel as if something is about to happen. I let it.

Everything goes dark. There is a feeling like rushing wind, and bullets fly everywhere. Then we’re clear. We’re standing in front of the lift.

I’m still bleeding badly. I'm so very cold. My limbs feel like they're made of lead.