-55-

Daedrican peers out from a row of underbrush and surveys a clear area. He steps forward, investigates the space, and searches the up towards the highway. “It does not seem like there has any been new activity here, my lady.”

Tassilda rigidly moves into the thin of grass underneath a large tree and scans the vicinity, putting obvious effort in avoiding eye contact with Daedrican. She grants a simple, quiet nod before crossing her arms. Daedrican gives a final sweep and proceeds to push away brush in his path. “I must say, your magic is and was exceptionally impressive with those three bandits.”

Chuckling lightheartedly, he motions Tassilda ahead while holding back the obstructive plant life. “I still think that was one of the easiest captures of multiple bandits I’ve ever had. I’ll admit there’s been a few easier single captures. But, your magical prowess still makes the top of my list, my lady.”

A wandering cringe flows over Tassilda’s face as she passes by Daedrican and continues up a hill between the trees. Daedrican follows and hikes up beside her. He pauses in thought for a moment, turns his helmeted head towards her briefly, and resumes facing forward. “It will be a light day on patrol. There are only a few other locations to inspect for new activity.”

He waits for an audible response from Tassilda, but she only grants him another emotionless, existence confirming nod. After a few silent seconds, Daedrican sneaks a quiet sigh under his breath, and steps forward to the lead down a narrow passage. The two travel along a winding path through the older trees and around scattered clumps of underbrush. The sunlight leaks through the thick overhead canopy and lights up the forest floor with leafy outlines. Reaching the top of the hill, Daedrican glances back to the trailing, stoic Tassilda. “The meeting point is nearby. Garret and Yuttin are still a bit of the way out. Both are double-checking the area around another location.”

He lifts his lightly armored arm towards a direction and dons a happy tone. “Since, it’ll take them some time to arrive at the meeting spot, I was curious if you want to take a long route and explore a nearby stream?”

With a chuckle, he shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly. “If we are lucky, we might run into your feathered friend or maybe one of his friends. I don’t know how far they travel, but there still might be a chance.”

An obvious stirring out emotions sneaks out through Tassilda’s stoic facade and she vainly attempts to firm up her resolve. Her rigid exterior wavers and a contemplative expression spreads across her face. Daedrican gently bows and presents a respectful demeanor. "I thought with the time at hand, it might be a nice diversion to enjoy before we have to trudge back. The choice is yours to make, my lady.”

Tassilda crosses her arms tightly, tries to roll out the tension in her shoulders, and curls the corners of her mouth into a frown. Her body language loosens, and her demeanor calms down. Her light blue on black eyes search within, darting through her mind. As a pleasant smile starts to form and the stress fades from her exterior, the transition halts the moment her eyes lock onto something within. Her posture grows rigid. She assumes a cold exterior and quickly reshapes her composure. She narrows her eyes at Daedrican with an icy stare and radiates a superior aura. As Daedrican tilts his head at the sudden shift, she drones with a proper, deadpan tone. “No. I am NOT interested. We should go to the meeting point.”

With a slow nod, Daedrican's voice shakes slightly and he straightens his back in mild surprise. “O-Oh. As you wish, my lady.”

When Daedrican pivots forward to face another direction, Tassilda’s firm, hard cadence weighs down the air. “AND... I would prefer YOU stop calling me my lady...”

Daedrican pauses mid step, nods slowly, and apologetically voices his genuine concern. “My most sincere apologies... I only meant it as an honorific. If you find it disrespectful, I will immediately cease. Thank you for informing me of my error.”

A quieter, meeker tone leaves him, and he points out the direction ahead of him as he walks. “This way leads to the meeting point.”

Tassilda watches Daedrican march away in front of her. She lags behind and maintains a distance from him. A flit of smugness flashes upon her face, but quickly fades into a cold background. Following behind the junior paladin, she presents an air of superiority and proper stance, and flashes a mean glare to Daedrican when he glances back. While her face presents a invulnerable, frozen, and defensive resolve, Tassilda’s eyes fight against her will to telegraph a torrent of doubt, confusion, and worry. Her pace occasionally slows as her thoughts try to overtake her. Daedrican patiently waits quietly for her to close the distance when she strays too far back.




Sitting around the dining table, Cideeda, Bach, Dretphi, and Aristespha watch Sotalia flow magical energies around a small foam ball and suspend it above her palm. Sebastian hovers above the table and idly listens. Sotalia with an excited smile guides the sphere through the air with a dramatic wave of her hand. “This was one of my favorite magical toys when I was little.”

As the flow wanes, she catches the ball in her hand and presents it to Cideeda and Dretphi. “The foam is treated with a magically resistant alchemical compound. So, when it you flow your energy towards it...”

Waves of colorful energy travel around Sotalia’s forearm and swirl up from her palm beneath the foam ball. The lightweight sphere jumps up to a steady height above Sotalia’s hand and she manipulates the rotation with slight flexes her fingers. “It rides your energy up into the air.”

With a wide grin, she twists her hand and the magic spirals around. The foam orb spins and floats down back into Sotalia’s palm. Cideeda and Dretphi immediately shift their attentions to the similar foam balls in front of them and take them in hand. Sotalia excitedly observes as both Cideeda and Dretphi attempts to will their magic flow to the toy spheres. Cideeda rolls her shoulders, deftly balances the ball in her open palm, and focuses her emerald green eyes upon the object. Grimacing with twitches of frustration upon her face, her furry ears level to the sides of her head and she grits her sharp teeth. Seconds later, she grumbles out an irritated growl. “Come on...”

Aristespha’s violet eyes light up and she slips a hand underneath Cideeda’s forearm. Patiently analyzing, she smiles calmly at Cideeda. “Take it easy. You’re actually flexing your arm muscles more so than you are willing your energy.”

Cideeda twists her mouth and snorts out her frustration. “Gods... It’s hard to not think about moving my arm.”

Bach blinks out his glowing blue eyes and nods in agreement. “Yeah. I remember having that problem. Bad habit from watching too many cartoons. You might try closing your eyes and relaxing your arm on the table.”

He places his forearm upon the tabletop in front of him and opens his hand up palm up. “Just imagine like... water flowing around your arm and a fountain in your palm.”

Mulling the idea over, Cideeda draws a deep breath in, relaxes herself, closes her eyes, and exhales slowly. Everyone else watches as faint threads of green magical flow flicker into existence. The thin trails slowly glide over Cideeda’s forearm and collect in a haze beneath the foam ball. As more flow condenses in Cideeda’s palm, wisps swirl unevenly upwards around the sphere. The foam ball’s balance drifts around until a stronger pulse of flow rolls it out of Cideeda’s hand onto the tabletop. Cideeda’s ears perk immediately and track the faint noise. She opens her eyes wide in surprise and dons an eager grin as she swiftly the snatches the ball into her clawed fingers. “Wait! I didn’t move it! Well, I did. BUT, not physically... Oh... That’s SO cool!”

Cideeda quickly resets for another attempt to the proud amusement of Sotalia. Dretphi shifts her attention to the foam orb in her hand. She readies her arm, focuses her steely gray eyes upon the target, and concentrates. Bach glances over, perks his brow, and blinks his eyes to a glowing blue. He tilts his head and begins to instruct. “Uh, you might want to ease it-”

Flows of red stream into Dretphi’s palm, collect into a growing bubble under the foam ball, and briefly burst upwards. The orb launches quickly into the air, through Sebastian’s ghostly form, and bounces off the ceiling. When the ball falls back through Sebastian’s ethereal visage, he shudders visibly and glances uncomfortably downwards at the group. “aAhungh... Gods, that never stops feeling weird.”

Dretphi catches the ball securely in her hand, and darts her embarrassed gaze around at the rest of the onlooking group. “My... Apologies.”

Bach subdues a humored smirk and relays an understanding tone. “It’s fine. Given that flow sword you’ve been practicing with, you’re just used to leading with a lot more force.”

He presents a genuine smile with awkward tinges and gestures a pinching thumb and forefinger. “Just start with a tiny amount.”

Cideeda cocks her head to the side, watches the thin threads of green flow dissipate from her arm, and searches for a response between the mages. “I’ve always wondered this... Why does magical energy seem to be different colors? For example, why is my energy green and Dretphi’s red?”

Bach gazes at Cideeda, pauses in thought, and shrugs his shoulders. “Because you willed it that way.”

Cideeda directs an incredulous stare at Bach and lifts her eyebrow. Bach blinks as he blatantly struggles to thins of a prompt response. Aristespha sighs and nods in agreement. “That’s an unfortunately complicated topic. For what you are doing right now, it’s what you are willing the color to be.”

With curious curl in the corner of her mouth, Cideeda shifts her attention to her hand and concentrates with her eyes closed. Thin threads of green flicker and swirl into her palm and transition to a reddish color. Cideeda peeks through one eye and immediately opens both to watch the energy colors waver back towards green hues. “I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty sure I’m going to spend way too much time trying for different colors.”

Aristespha giggles and sighs with a roll her of eyes at herself. “Don’t worry, every mage does it.”

Sotalia holds out her hand and showcases a shifting spectrum of flow in her palm to the intrigue of Cideeda and Dretphi. “It’s true. A long time ago, I fashioned a whole routine of different color effects to put on some of my spells during my more... dramatic era.”

Sebastian chuckles with an ethereal snort and eyes Bach with a sly grin. “Oh, the HOURS some spend on the COLOR of a spell. Right, bro?”

Bach shrugs his shoulders and laughs. “Yeah... When you are flowing just general magical energy, it tends to react to light and emit light to your... expectations? I think that’s the best way to put it? At least, the best way I know since I never got around to taking those really high level theory courses.”

Easing into a long groan of past frustration, Aristespha tilts her head side to side and eventually nods in acceptance. “Expectation is a good way to explain it. Especially, if you want to avoid getting into long drawn out theories that involve psychology, sociology, and a lot of history.”

She bites her lip briefly, idly taps her fingers on the tabletop, and sorts through her knowledge. “When you are flowing unshaped magical energy from the collective spectrum you receive from the abstract prism, you can relatively will it to be a specific color.”

Searching her mind, she carefully constructs a further explanation with contemplation blatant on her face. “When you cast spells or will specific magical energies, the properties of the specific energies can influence any visual phenomena.”

Dretphi pauses from manipulating the hue of her magical flow and glances over to Bach curiously. “Is that why your barriers are golden?”

Bach nods to Dretphi. “Yes. That particular kind of energy tends to just have a gold color with normal light.”

A spark of comprehension lights up Cideeda’s eyes and she grins eagerly. “So, that’s why those magical materials you all were working on were different colors... Okay. So, depending on what energies and properties you are using, it changes how light is affected?”

Sotalia nods in confirmation, holds her palm up with a foam ball in the center, and directs magical energy to float it upwards. “Pretty much. Honestly, it seems more like a side effect than anything. It’s not as fantastical and clear as all those old magic color charts would lead you to believe.”

Aristespha rolls her eyes in disgust and snorts derisively. “Oh gods... One of these days I’ll have to take you all to see the History department’s magic categorization chart collection at the Grand Library. Our ancestors tried SO hard to fit everything into a color chart.”

Dretphi ponders a moment, and gazes a Bach curiously. “Can you make a red barrier?”

Bach scratches his chin, sways his head gradually side to side, and nods as he evaluates the concept. “Yeah. I should be able to. Might take a bit of trail and error to get to just right so the barrier isn’t compromised. That’s why I don’t bother trying for anything special color wise when I'm in a hurry.”

Smiling warmly at Bach, Dretphi nods contentedly and resumes her attention upon her foam ball. “I may have a project. In the future.”




Within a large layout between rows of parked Chrome Crusader utility vehicles and cargo trucks, personnel flow through food lines and sit down at tables underneath lighted camp canopies. At the larger, more prominent table in the center of the encampment, the heavily armored Senior Paladin Maxon laughs heartily out and grasps hold of a heavy duty cup on the table. “Now, that’s another story for another time. And well, one to tell when the cameras aren’t on.”

He eyes the Next Adventurers of Nexus camera crews surrounding with a clipboard wielding Samantha overseeing, and smiles slyly. Chad dons his trademark white smile and nods in agreement. “I’ll gladly take you up on that offer anytime. I am always wanting to hear more about my grandfather’s exploits.”

Maxon grins amused and perks his graying brow at Chad. “I know quite a few. But more importantly, I hope to add more of your great adventures to the list.”

With a heavy but gentle nudge of his power suit gauntlet covered hand, Maxon playfully pushes on Chad’s shoulder. “I’m still quite impressed with how you challenged that bandit leader, Red Hat. Nice display of swordsmanship.  You never needed that shield belt we lent you.”

A smug, bright grin spreads upon Chad’s face and he puffs out his chest out in pride. “Oh, someone of his skill would have never been able to touch me with a blade.”

With a light chuckle, he tilts his head to the side towards Veevi sitting next to him. “Admittedly, I may have needed to block his lackey’s bullets, but Veevi here took care of that.”

Veevi’s pointy, upright ears perk and she shifts her attention to Chad into an appreciative smile. She leans against his arm and grins with a flutter her pink pupil eyes in view of the cameras. “Well, I just saw that gun pointed at you and I had to do something.”

Trakenthin twists his mouth in between bites of food and mutes a grumble as he witnesses the attention absorbing display from Veevi. Maxon searches around the table at the higher ranking Chrome Crusader officers and notices a number of empty seats. He glances over to Chad and puzzles. “Chad? Where is the rest of your group?”

Chad blinks back to awareness from the half-fvalian upon his arm and quirks his brow in thought. “Oh. Deedri was assisting with the medical team. Modoran had something to discuss with your scout captain. And, Tassilda went to change her clothes before diner.”

Maxon nods in acceptance of the answer and slides a spoon into a bowl of stew. “You have a good team, Chad. The Flames of the Phoenix have proven themselves quite capable. I am happy to report that all my captains and officers report only good things about them during this mission.”

Veevi leans herself out on the tabletop and turns to face towards Maxon with a cute smile and fluttering eyes. “Even me?”

Maxon meets Veevi’s gaze, pauses in thought a moment, and chuckles heartily with a wide smile. “Especially you! We haven’t seen such... Entertaining marksmanship in a LONG time. That story is going to be told for years to come.”

Veevi grins happily, poses for the cameras, and resumes eating the food in front of her. Chad glances to Maxon, and rolls his eyes with a smirk. Maxon nonchalantly shrugs and smiles in good humor.

A distant, loud wooden crash echoes out into the area. Observant personnel, Maxon, Chad, and Trakenthin search around the area. Veevi’s ears flick towards a spot in the woods and she guides her head to face the source. Another distant cacophony bounces around the surrounding forest. Everyone including the camera crew seek the origin of the latest noise. Multiple flares launch out from different, far away locations surrounding the camp, and burst brightly against the night sky. Radioes chime out and alarms upon vehicles blare out. Maxon stands up quickly from the table and snaps his concern to a nearby officer. “Status?”

The officer nods as he listens to the fast paced radio traffic from his ear piece and reports. “Inner patrols spotted multiple quadrupedal, armored magical entities closing in fast on the camp from different approach vectors. A heavy patrol is moving to-”

A distant bright flash of light erupts out from the obscuring forest and a thunderous boom radiates through the trees. A chorus of fast, sequential gunfire echoes out in a long repetitious roar. Loud metallic crashes meet into hard thuds against heavy wooden snaps. Chrome Crusader personnel quickly confirm the situation, rush clear of the tables, and to awaiting vehicles and stations. Chad, Veevi, and Trakenthin leap up from their seats, while the camera crews nervously congregate and seek an escape. The officer blinks to Maxon and processes the stream of voices over the radio. “Heavy patrol is engaging. There are other targets closing fast!”

A nearby armored personnel carrier violently rocks to the side and teeters close to the edge of its tipping point. Loud, angry crackling swears blare out from the other side of the vehicle and harsh metal impacts against stone in slow, solid rhythm. Scrapes resonate through the structure of the carrier as it sways from a powerful force. Heavy footsteps sound out as opposing entities struggle towards the front of the vehicle. Sparks erupt as a golem shoves a heavily armored soldier through a narrow gap between the front and back ends of vehicles. The loud groans of straining hydraulics and servos fill the air around the fight as the Chrome Crusader Heavy Squad captain grapples with the magical construct. Trakenthin eyes open wide and he grits his teeth. “Captain!”

Trakenthin sweeps up his nearby helmet onto his head, snatches up his sword and shield into his hands, and charges forward. Maxon narrows his stare upon the golem, and lunges forth into the fray. Chad watches in momentarily shock, blinks back to awareness, and secures his equipment nearby before heading out. Veevi stares in wide-eyed horror at the monstrosity muscling around the huge, heavy powered suited man, and freezes up. The camera crews split up into teams to share anything roughly resembling cover and train their recording equipment at the fray. In the scrambling moments, Veevi shudders back to the situation, frantically pats around for her laser pistol, and quivers in place with a shaky grip upon the weapon.

Trakenthin rushes up to a safe perimeter around the captain’s struggle and observes the magical creation. A mishmash of worn, ancient stone and metal parts assembled in rough function, the over a meter tall and two meter long golem fights against its own construction to brute force the heavy powered armored man. Flows of green, red, and other energies pulse brightly around the structure and surface of the construct. Maxon yells out as his powerful, armored form bounds towards the magical machination. “It’s a golem! Look for an opening inside! There’s a power source somewhere in there!”

He runs past Trakenthin, slides around the back of the creation, and dives into a grapple of the back half. The partially intact head of the magical monstrosity roars out in a warping, twisting audible distortion. Chad reaches Trakenthin’s side, and the two exchange glances. Both raise their shields and ready their swords. Maxon calls out to the captain. “Lift and drop! On three! One! Two! THREE!”

The two powered armored men throw their upper bodies up and hoist the golem into the air, freeing its feet of the ground. A chorus of servos and hydraulic pumps sound out and the duo powerfully, violently drop to their knees, and slam the magical construct into the soil with an earth shaking thud. Flecks of stone and old metal fracture off the golem and pepper the shields of Chad and Trakenthin. Both search the construct. A glint of glow through loose armor plating catches Trakenthin’s eye and he points it out. Chad nods in the agreement and readies his blade. “Let’s see what’s in there!”

The golem sluggishly flails about, but regains vigor by the second. Trakenthin lunges forward, sends his blade firmly between the outer plates, and pries loose one with all his strength. Inside the chaotic nest of glowing cables, a crude chunk of crystal pulses out energy flows outwards through rough connector. Chad focuses his stare upon the junction, runs forth, and stabs precisely. A plume of smoke swirling with magical miasma vents out and the golem shakily spasms. Chad grabs hold of Trakenthin’s shoulder, signals him away with a pull. “I hit it! Get clear!”

Maxon and the captain release their grapples, leap up to their feet, and rush away. From safety the team of four watch a final blowout of magical energy. A brief moment of silence looms before the noises of distant and nearby combat rise out of the background din. Maxon snaps a stern stare to the captain. “Where the fuck did you find that thing?!”

The heavy armor captain responds through his helmet’s voice box. “Found me, sir! I was on my way to gather the rest of the squad to backup the patrol and that fucking thing jumped me.”

Maxon growls in frustration at the situation and nods. “Okay. Summon your squad and get your patrol back to camp for defense.”

His attention shifts briefly away and a holographic overlay appears in front of his face. He draws in a deep breath and commands as built-in radio unit keys up. “This is Senior Paladin Maxon! We are under attack. All personnel to defensive positions. Arm up and form up!”

He glances down to Chad with a grim nod. “They should be establishing a defensive perimeter near the center of the camp.”

Chad pants out his nerves, slowly regains his composure, and opens his eyes wide with a realization. “Oh, shit! We need to find Deedri, Modoran, and Tassilda!”

Trakenthin nods his concern and readies himself at Chad’s side. Chad takes a deep breath, exhales out his nerves, and scans the area. He notices Veevi still shaking in place and points to her with a commanding tone. “Veevi!”

Veevi startles back to awareness stares blankly at Chad. “Y-y-yes?!”

Donning a brave, heroic gaze, Chad directs Veevi’s attention to the camera crews. “Escort the camera crews to safety.”

Blinking out of her daze, Veevi quickly accepts the task and calls out for everyone to follow her. Chad glances over to Maxon. Smirking understandingly, Maxon nods and departs quickly. Chad motions a direction to Trakenthin and the two take off. Samantha watches Chad and Trakenthin run off, and glances to Gerald. “Okay! So we need to-”

Gerald firmly grips Samantha’s arm and ushers her along with the rest of the crew toward the interior of the camp. “NOPE.”




Deedri’s auburn eyes search the vicinity quickly and she keeps her aetherphone pressed against her furry ear. “Chad? What’s happening? It sounds like explosions, gunfire, and large things breaking from all the way over here... ...”

While balancing her attention between her surroundings and the conversation, she cautiously steps over near a large tree and watches the underbrush at the perimeter of the small clearing. “What?! I didn’t hear that last part, the signal is breaking up. ... Golems?! ... No, I’m fine. I was on my way back from our campsite to join you all for dinner. I went there after assisting the medics.”

Her demeanor grows stern, and a serious expression overtakes her face. She glances around the area as her instincts guide her paranoia and she pushes up against the tree. “Yes. I saw her there. ... I have not seen Modoran. ... I agree. I’ll see if I find Tassilda along the way and we’ll meet up with you there.”

She sighs out her frustration and nods. “I’ll see if I can radio call them from where I’m at.”

With a quick confirmation, she ends the connection on her aetherphone, closes her eyes, and exhales out her nerves. Slowly drawing a deep breath, she halts midway. Her furry, tuft-tipped ears flick frantically and quickly settle towards one direction. She pivots pressed against the trunk of the tree and carefully leans out to peek around. Quietly, she observes through the contrasting darkness of the forest, past the clearing perimeter, and spots a pair of yellow, triangular glows swaying rhythmically. The angular eyes grow larger in size and the motion syncs to low, thumps upon the forest floor.

Deedri grits her teeth and widens in eyes in terror as the faint light from the overhead night sky cast down upon an emerging, mechanically skeletal head. Jagged metal and rough stone cling to an anciently damaged skull frame. The quadrupedal magical construct stomps through the thick underbrush without a single sign of hindrance, and continues across the clearing. Deedri watches in momentary terror as her mind traces out the meter tall, two meter long, sharp tooth and clawed golem, and realizes its chosen path passes next to her. She slips behind the tree, frantically scans the area around her, and then snaps her head upwards. Determination floods her face and she sinks her finger claws deep into the bark of the tree. With quick and careful motions, she pulls herself swiftly and quietly up. High above, she stares fearfully down around the trunk and witnesses the incomplete outer shell of the magical monstrosity shift with the locomotion of the exposed interior framework. Streams of magical flow pulse from within and animate the golem forward, closer.

Deedri clamps her the claws on her fingers and toes tightly into the tree. Hugging the tree, she presses her form flush against the trunk, and ceases most movement. She only allows the slightest shift of her chest for each slow, silently, shaky breath. The golem continues along its course and arrives next to the base of the tree. It stops. The head swings side to side in a methodical scan of the area ahead. Deedri pales as the magical machination narrows its search to her trail in the grasses. The construct strafes itself around the tree and its head slowly follows the fresh, small disturbances in the scenery towards the roots. Deedri stares in wide-eyed horror. In a brief pause from panic, she releases a hand grip of the trunk and reaches out and around. Securing a new hold, she eases herself into an opposite, obscuring position from the golem below. Seconds later, the golem lifts its head up and aims its triangular, yellow eyes into the tree above. Deedri holds her breath and gazes up pleadingly upwards.

Through a gap in the canopy, she catches the fast motion of a tumbling object, arcing low over into the distant forest. After the mass drops out of sight, crashing noises, wooden snaps, and a solid thud upon the ground echo out. The golem snaps it’s partially armored metal skull and focuses on the new sounds. Pulsing a brighter yellow glow in its eyes, the magical construct darts off in the direction of the noises and flattens a large bush effortlessly as it leaves the area. Deedri keeps her mouth firmly shut and remains absolutely motionless for tense, long, agonizing seconds.

A faint hiss triggers the perk of her ears. The noise occurs again, slightly louder. A hushed voice directs a whisper from below. “Deedri!”

Deedri gradually angles her head downwards and her eyes lock onto the creeping form of Modoran at the base of the tree. An explosion of relief passes through Deedri and she quickly pulls air into her lungs. Modoran searches the area, gazes back up to Deedri, and signals her down. With expeditious maneuvers, she climbs down to the bottom of the tree and braces herself against the trunk. “Oh... Thank the gods... That was too close.”

Modoran looks over Deedri with concern and readies to assist. “Are you okay?”

Deedri gazes into Modoran’s dark blue eyes and smiles with a sigh. “Yes. I’m fine. We need to get back to the camp. Chad and Trakenthin are heading there. And, I last saw Tassilda there.”

Modoran blinks in thought and briefly shakes his head back to awareness. “Uh, yeah! I’ve been trying to contact anyone, but I think that damned thing has a radio jammer or something. I had to stay back from tracking it, so I could get a working signal to alert the Chrome Crusaders about it.”

With worry and relief mixing upon his face, he grins to Deedri. “When I finally caught back up to the thing, I saw you getting around the trunk.”

Deedri searches recent memory and tilts her head. “You caused that noise in the woods?”

A sly smile graces Modoran’s lips and he nods with tinges of pride. “Yeah. Never underestimate a well thrown rock.”

He peers uneasily around the tree and points out a direction to Deedri. “Speaking of which... I don’t think these things are that intelligent, but I think it’ll figure out it was rock soon enough. We need to move.”

Deedri rolls her shoulders, shakes off the tension, and get ready to move behind Modoran. “Lead the way.”



Tassilda grits her teeth and narrows her light blue on black eyes at her aetherphone. The erratically fluctuating signal bars frustrate her, and she spews forth a series of curses in a dialect of Emin. With each call attempt, another dialog appears on the screen and chimes out to inform of another failed radio call. Growling out her irritation, she tightens her grip on the device before throwing her hands down to sides of her outfit with snort. Slowly pivoting in place, she searches the edges of the campsite and stares out into the obscuring darkness deeper in the forest. Rolling her shoulders, she summons her composure and eases out a calming breath. Her attention gravitates towards the black sports utility vehicle at the perimeter of camp and Tassilda cocks her head in thought. Glancing around at the contrasting border of the low light the campfire gives against the dark, she gradually nods to herself and walks quickly to the vehicle. Maintaining a stern facade, her nervous stare searches around with a growing paranoia. As she reaches the sports utility vehicle, she stows away her phone, grips hold of the rear passenger’s door handle, and lifts up. It moves but the door does not open. Tassilda leans her face close to the window, and searches inside. She attempts the open the door a few more times and grits her teeth with another angered Emin phrase.

Tassilda halts her frustrations as a shiver freezes her spine and her eyes widen at the growing, glowing reflections in the windows. She spins around to the watch a massive, red-eyed form charge through the campfire and aim long, sharp horns at her. With a rhythmic, thunderous cacophony of heavy feet upon ground, the red miasma billowing bull form rockets towards Tassilda. Absolute shock and surprise plain on her face, Tassilda claws along the side of the vehicle to the towards the back, while the haphazardly assembled golem bull adjusts its trajectory. A loud crash upon a chorus of armored footsteps and servo assisted movement interrupts Tassilda wide-eyed horror.

A large polymer shield slams powerfully into the side of the bull’s head with the full weight of the light power armored Daedrican. Fragments of ancient metal and stone rain upon the dirt, as the construct stumbles off course and embeds one horn solidly into the heavy rear bumper of the black sports utility vehicle. The over a meter tall form violently twists and turns its roughly constructed head, and shakes the truck frame. Daedrican hops back, raises his fully extended, constantly arcing stun baton, and squats down. With a power armor assisted jump, he drops forward, drives the baton into a plating gap on the back of the magical beast, and implants the baton inside. Releasing his grip, he leaps back, draws a heavy energy pistol from his holster, and keeps the shield and himself between the rampaging golem and Tassilda. He glances his helmeted head to Tassilda with a composed, calm tone. “Are you okay?”

Tassilda blinks to awareness of the her surroundings and quickly nods as she backs away from the stuck magical machination. “Y-Y-yes!”

In between the momentary spasms, the bull thrashes about, shifting the heavy vehicle’s tires along the ground. Daedrican backpedals deftly, keeps his pistol targeting the golem, and fights the worry in his voice. “We need to move. There’s a number of these things around. We need to regroup with your team and get to the defensive line.”

Tassilda remembers to breathe, swiftly draws in air, and musters her composure. “Agreed. I’m ready.”

As Tassilda and Daedrican rush meters away from the black sports utility vehicle, a loud metal groan abruptly halts to loud stone crackles. Despite the constant shudder in sync to the shocking stun baton, the golem tears the last magically imbued fibers free from the embedded horned section of its mechanical skull. It trains billowing red eyes upon Daedrican and Tassilda. It digs its feet into the ground and launches in a full speed charge. Daedrican braces himself, watches the golem’s approach, and calls out. “Keep behind me and turn with me when I say so!”

Tassilda readies her stance and quickly alternates her attention between the charging construct and Daedrican’s body language. As the bull gets close, Daedrican’s body tenses and he yells out. “GO LEFT!”

As Tassilda hops to the left, Daedrican side steps, pivots, and shield bashes the golem towards the right. The bull tumbles off course and slides into a thick patch of brambles. Daedrican aims his heavy energy pistol and bolts of blue-white plasma repetitiously launch out. The projectiles impact and explode in powerful eruptions of bright energy. The illumination reflects off the fresh cracks in Daedrican’s transparent, polymer shield. His head glances down, notices the damage, and sighs. “Our options are running out. I may be able to shield you a few more times. But... If there’s anything your magical prowess can do for us... We need it now.”

Tassilda stares blankly as her mind races through options. Second pass on by, and the golem struggles to right itself. Blinking in thought, she feels her shirt, finds the strap of a satchel, and quickly slips her long, black nailed fingers inside the bag. She grips onto something inside and removes three vials filled with a faintly milky substance. With an uncertain grin, she presents the containers. “These are dispelling charges. They’re not going to bring it down, but it might hinder it enough.”

Daedrican glances back, and cocks his helmeted head puzzling. “How do we use them?”

Tassilda holds one forward toward Daedrican’s pistol wielding hand. “Throw them hard enough to break upon it.”

With a quick motion, Daedrican holsters his heavy energy pistol, grasps the vial, and nods. “Understood-”

The golem flings itself back up, aims its head and single horn towards Daedrican and Tassilda, and powers ahead. The moment the magical beast arrives close, Daedrican yells out. “GO RIGHT!”

Tassilda leaps clear, Daedrican steps out of the way, grinds his shield to set the golem off course, and pulls his arm back. He flings the vial with all his strength at the construct and the container shatters upon the side of the magical machine. A wave of transparent energy pulses out and the red flows of energy along the armored surface of the golem waver and dim. Swiftly, Daedrican draws his pistol, aims, and fires three round bursts of plasma. The bolts contact the dark plates and explode out energized clouds of super heated gas and fragments of ancient armor. A few projectiles slip into the beast, and sounds of malfunction and internal damage ring out. The bull golem barely maintains balance and sloppily stumbles when it pivots the breached section away. Daedrican holsters his pistol quickly and holds his open hand behind expectantly. “That did NOT agree with it.”

Tassilda places another vial into Daedrican’s hand and collects her confidence into a developing smile. “If these don’t hurt it enough, I can charge up a dispelling blast that might do it.”

Daedrican nods facing the construct. “Excellent. Let’s see if I can hit from here.”

He aims his visor briefly at the numerous new cracks in his shield. “Close range is not working out for us.”

The red flows pulse with new vigor and a wave of energy reestablishes the previous routes along the surface of the stone and metal beast. It takes aim and launches into a full sprint. Daedrican tightens his grip of the vial, pulls his arm back, and pitches the container. The vial spirals perfectly and splashes milky fluid and grass upon the front leg on the construct. A transparent wave of energy erupts out and the leg fails when the flows of red halt. The golem crashes down upon the dirt and slides to stop. Daedrican reaches back and feels the last vial pressing into the palm of his gauntlet. He searches for a target and tosses the container upon the side of the beast. Another wave of transparent energy disrupts the red flow, and a barrage of plasma bolts from a heavy energy pistol blow out the ancient armor plating. Daedrican continues to fire upon the downed magical creation until a warning alarm screams out from his pistol. He inspect his weapon, holsters it, and braces himself as the golem stirs. “Get your magic ready.”

Tassilda nods and concentrates on a series of incantations and gestures. After an initial sequence, she bites her lip and sighs out her nerves as the sounds of struggle grow louder from the magical construct. “I will charge it up as must as I can. I will need a clear shot.”

Daedrican nods and motions for Tassilda to move back. “Let us back away as much as we can.”

The two backpedal away cautiously. Daedrican maintains his watch of the recovering golem and Tassilda condenses her magical flows to a growing ball of fluctuating energy. A loud thump forces a plume of red miasma out from the core of the bull golem. Metal and stone scrape powerfully in the obscuring mist and two bright orbs of red light cut through the haze. The magical mechanical beast erupts from the smokey mass and rockets down towards Daedrican and Tassilda. Erratic red flows jet out from every seam and stream in raging gouts. Daedrican telegraphs his utter shock at the flaming monstrosity. Tassilda peeks around Daedrican, blinks at the situation before her, and glances at the significant sphere of energy.

Summoning all her courage, resolve, and will, she sidesteps out from behind Daedrican, hoists the large orb of transparent, disruptive magical energy, and aims. With the golem tens of meters out, she releases the sphere and it jets towards the construct. The golem angles it charge at Tassilda and subsequently impacts the massive ball of energy. A wave of transparent energy erupts and engulfs the golem. The red flows flicker, dim, and halt. The mass of ancient stone and metal drifts lifelessly forward from momentum alone.

A shrill, high pitched whine screams out and an explosion rips apart the back half of the construct. The fiery upper half zooms towards Tassilda. Stumbling from the spell, Tassilda only manages to lift her arms. Daedrican swiftly plants his feet in the way, raises his shield, sweeps his free arm behind to guide Tassilda into his shadow. A wall of fiery debris violently crashes and blasts around to the destructive chorus of scraping metal, grinding stone, and shattering plastic.

Silence fills the area. Within the ambient darkness and faint illumination of the starry night sky, Daedrican and Tassilda remain standing. Tassilda slowly opens her eyes and searches to either debris ridden side of her in utter astonishment. She gradually pivots, and inspects the area. Daedrican stands, drops the shattered remains of his shield, and slowly removes a cylindrical device from a waist belt. He points the tube upwards and clicks a button. A flare launches out into the night sky, bursts red, and slowly drifts down flashing red and white.

Tassilda watches the flare as a faint breeze blows. In the brighter illumination, she notices a splash of red to match the cool, wet feeling upon her shirt. In panic, she pats and searches herself. A realization dawns in her horrified eyes. Following Daedrican’s limp right arm, she traces up to see the tip of a red coated, metal horn poking out of Daedrican’s upper right back. Daedrican drops unceremoniously to his knees, coughs, and sways, as his remaining horn on his helmet falls off. “I will not... be able to assist you any further...”

As Daedrican tilts back, Tassilda slides down behind him and props him up. She eases his transition and lays his upper body across her folded legs, keeping the golem horn point from touching the ground. Guiding his helmeted head onto her lap, she gazes through the visor in absolute, silent shock. In the eerie quiet, her eyes trace the length of bull golem’s horn into the pierced right chest and shoulder armor, and pales at the slow ooze of bubbling blood. Modulated labored breathing sound out from Daedrican’s helmet. When Daedrican fumbles to release the locks on his helm with his left hand, Tassilda feels around and disengages the mechanisms with his guidance. Carefully sliding off the helmet, Daedrican’s calm, tired face gazes up and meets Tassilda’s conflicted expression. Tassilda stares into Daedrican’s golden pupil and white sclera eyes. She holds his face with her trembling hands. Struggling to form the words, she finally breaks the silence. “S-s-stay with me...”

Daedrican smiles calmly and gazes up into Tassilda’s light blue on black eyes. “As you wish...”

He holds his tone and watches as tears well up in Tassilda’s expectant eyes. “My lady.”

Tassilda firmly closes her eyes, and sobs as she cradles his head. Daedrican maintains a calm expression and concentrates on each labored breath. His helmet chimes out medical beacon and radio transponder alerts. An aetherphone chimes out and Tassilda fumbles through her pants pocket to answer it in between fits of tears.