Chapter 26 – Agreement

With painstaking effort, he opened his eyes and looked up into a dark ceiling made from big slabs of rock built into a dome. Blinking, he tried to get a grasp on his surroundings, which turned out to be a dimly lit room made from the same dark rocks as the ceiling.

Slowly, very slowly, he sat up, which brought him face to face with the two who had been speaking while he was in the dark. One was tall and extremely pale, dressed in a black surcoat over a white shirt. Both appeared to be male, as far as Ares could tell, although the other was a weird creature.

Squat and hunchbacked, the half-man had to twist around to look at Ares, which made him seem extra alien. He had soot-black hair that hung in tatters around his face, just like his beard that was barely braided.

They both stood with eyes widen open, shock painted on their faces, with their backs against the wall. Ares tried opening his mouth and speak, which he actually managed… somehow. What came out, though, was a disjointed screech that could shatter glass. This, of course, made the two draw even further back, as if melting back into the wall was an option.

Annoyed, Ares stopped trying, and instead focused on the messages he was receiving through his console.

Warning: lifeforce stores are rapidly diminishing

Estimating time remaining…

20 minutes of energy remaining

Unit unable to function at full capacity due to incompatible energy source

Efficiency at 20%

Essential functions have been limited

Status:

Skills: unavailable

Abilities: unavailable

Equipment: unavailable

Acquisition: unavailable

Communication: unavailable

Movement is at reduced capacity

So, he could not expect any miracles from the system, as per usual. Still slow, Ares swung his legs around over the edge of the slab he was seated on, and found his footing on the ground below. Gaining his feet with a bit of uncertainty, Ares turned back towards the two humanoids.

“Spane…! Do something!”

The taller of the two looked down at his companion and furrowed his brow at the commanding tone that had been used. Finally, with a sigh, he stepped forward and raised his hands in front of him, held like claws. Ares could see the sharp edges of his thick fingernails gleam in the meager light of the room.

Ares studied this ‘Spane’ character closely. He looked confident, not overly so, but there was no doubt in Ares’ mind that this one was a better fighter than him.

I can’t fight them. I have to communicate with them, somehow.

He opened his mouth again and tried to speak, but again the sound was a mashup of nails-on-glass and said glass being thrown onto the ground and shatter.

“What is it doing, master Baek?” Asked Spane, without shifting his eyes away from Ares. In the distance, footsteps began to sound the coming of several people, and fast!

“Well, it seems like it’s trying to talk, but I haven’t gotten to its voice modulator yet. Didn’t think it’d need it, to be honest.”

“You said is was back in perfect condition!”

“It was — I mean, it is! Just not the voice part.”

Their conversation made Ares take a look at himself. Astonished by what he saw, he could not resist letting his fingers run along the perfect and unpunctured skin. The red lines still criss-crossed his body in intricate symbols and writing, but there were also new lines that had not been there before. These were made in a different style than the rest, and Ares knew that they were not supposed to be there. It was wrong. It was blasphemy.

While he studied himself, a contingent of armored figures entered the room and spread out to surround him. They all wore the same uniform, a green surcoat with matching pants, over a breastplate made of an unfamiliar composition. While none of them looked alike – all having distinct appearances and traits – all of them shared similar traits with Spane: they were tall, had elegant bearings, a fighter’s confidence, and all had the sharp ears of elven kin. They all had a flintlock pistol in their belts, although they were currently brandishing melee weapons.

“What is this? What has happened? Cassius, what’s going on?”

The fighters were followed by the most impressive man Sam had ever seen. He was slightly shorter than the guards and Spane, but his face radiated command and authority. Dark hair fell silky smooth down his back, held back by silvery threads inset with gems in an intricate design. The man wore an outfit in green that matched that of his guards, but his was inlaid with silver and gold threads, forming imagery of animals that appeared to bow before this man. Lastly, his ears were not merely sharp, like the others’ were, but also had a fullness to them that was reminiscent of the ears Ares had seen on Alastor. Only, they were shorter.

Though his face was held impassive, the man’s black eyes shone with intensity as he took in the room. He laid eyes on Ares and didn’t even blink, just turned to Spane and said, “Well, Cassius?”

“We’re not rightly sure, lord Mingdale. The construct just… got up.”

“And… has it done anything since ‘getting up’?”

Ares felt he had heard the voice before; indeed he was sure it had been one of those that he had listened to in his earlier. The voice of command, yes! Ares thought, certain that this man was worthy of that moniker.

“Aye, Milord,” said the short hunchback, “We believe it may be trying to communicate. It’s just that… well…”

“Master Baek wasn’t wholly truthful when he told us the construct was back in perfect condition,” said Spane, as he brought the ‘lord Mingdale’ up to speed.

Mingdale studied Ares carefully, scrutinizing every inch before he addressed him directly. “Construct,” he said, “Can you understand me?”

Ares nodded slowly, his eyes warily darting between the ensemble of guards that all were barely out of striking distance.

“You can, good. I know that you are low on power – master Baek here had very strict instructions not to restore your internal energy stores. While I don’t know how you’re currently moving without any energy available, I presume that you can’t keep it up for very long; else you would have already tried to fight your way out.”

Ares did not move an inch. He just held the man’s gaze, hoping to bluff his way out of this.

“So, in the interest of sparing time, let me offer you this: we can provide you with the energy you require to function, in turn for service to our family.”

Only, what kind of ‘service’ is it you want…? Ares would not allow himself to be made a pawn.

For a moment there was silence, as they stared each other down. Just as the man opened his mouth to speak again, new voices could be heard down the hall from where all the newcomers had arrived.

“Hurry, Milady! ‘Is all happening down there!”

Lord Mingdale hesitated, but did not look away from Ares. Instead he shifted his position, so that he stood between the deadly construct and the two who barged into the room behind him.

The first was the strangest little creature Ares had ever seen run on two legs. It was dressed in dirt overalls, a dirty shirt, and it carried a monstrosity of a monkey wrench on its back – at least it was monstrous compared to the creature’s size. The most remarkable thing, though, was its bright pink hair gathered into two big puff-balls to either side of her head.

The other was stunning. Where Lord Mingdale radiated authority and command, this young woman somehow changed the lighting of the room with her presence. She had long silvery hair, braided intricately with dark threads inlaid with gemstones. A robe of red and gold was held up at her subtle waist by a silver belt with engraved imagery of the different moons and their phases.

It was, however, her face that drew in all of Ares’ attention. Every line of that face was sculpted like a doll’s, without a hint of imperfection or asymmetry. Her silvery eyebrows were a little darker than her hair, and framed her dainty nose and rosebud mouth as if it had been ordained. Within all of that beauty, her eyes stood out like blazing braziers in the night.

Instead of an ordinary pupil or iris, her eyes were each composed of two halves – one of a dark silver, the other of a blazing gold. As she came to a halt and stared dumbfounded at Ares, he noticed how the two halves would occasionally spin around their own axis, creating an almost hypnotic display.

“Father…? What is going on? Who has bound my construct?” She asked, panting slightly from the run she had apparently just performed. Ares recognized her voice as well – it was as pearly and silky as he remembered; a caress to the ears.

“No one has, Seila. It appears our construct is more resourceful than we thought; and intelligent to boot.”

“Intelligent?” She questioned, then looked back at Ares, “This one is?”

“Oh, oh! This is amazing, oh this is just great!” The little pink-haired creature – Ares had the impression that it was female – jumped up and down in excitement. This voice he also remembered. ‘Izzy’, he believed.

“What d’ya mean, Izzy. By the Old Ones, it might go on a bloody rampage any minute now!” The hunchbacked master Baek growled, but the little creature was deaf to his grumbles.

“Oooooh! Please, can I have closer look, master Baek. I promise I’ll be quick!”

“No, ya fool! Don’t you go about ye’re crazy ideas now, Izzy. Is bloody dangerous, this is.”

The young woman, Seila, looked from the pink-haired creature and back to Ares, studying him. “Well,” she finally said, step up to the side of her father, “I’ll just have to bind it, right? It can only be easier now that it is awake.”

Ares narrowed his eyes, not liking the way she referred to ‘binding’ him.

“OOOH! Be careful, Lady Seila! He did not like that!” The little creature tugged at her mistress’ robe and whispered conspiratorially – though loud enough for everyone in the room to hear her.

What? How?

“What do you mean, Izzy?” Asked Lady Seila, a slight tinge of uncertainty to her voice.

“Milady, I don’t think the likes the sound of being ‘bound’. You could try asking him, maybe?”

“Asking?” The Lady Seila scoffed and took another step forward, “Asking a construct? Why would you ever ask a construct anything? It’s just gears and bolts; a machine to serve a purpose.”

Ares opened his mouth and let out his signature screech. The guards reacted instantly by stepping closer, while both Lady Seila and Izzy jumped in surprise. Lord Mingdale, however, barely twitched. As Izzy was about to open her mouth and say something, he made a hand gesture that instantly silenced her.

“I think we all know what that meant, mistress Izzy, thank you,” he said, keeping his eyes on Ares. “Seila, I believe you must recognize that this one has a mind of its own. If you wish to bind it, you will have to convince it.”

“Convince it? Why, father, it shouldn’t have a say in this – at all!”

Another screech, just make the point clear.

“Enough, Seila! We’re in unfamiliar territory here. Whatever you think you know about constructs, you’ll have to leave behind. This one has just proven to us, beyond a shred of a doubt, that it is intelligent, and that it can even function without our help. Do you deny this?”

“No, father, but–“

“No ‘but’! Seila of House Mingdale: you will convince this construct that you are its best option, or you will be satisfied with an ordinary construct for your binding!”

“Fine!” The girl – for now she really just looked like a pouting little girl – gave her father a glare, then turned on Ares and stomped towards him.

“Careful milady,” said Spane as he made to step forward. With another move of his hand, however, Lord Mingdale stopped the man in his tracks. “She will do this on her own, Spane.”

Seila just ‘humphed’, as the words had been loud enough for her to hear. She stepped up to Ares so they were barely an arms-length apart – a move that had every guard in the room tensing. Then she put fist on hips and decreed, “Construct, we have fixed your body when it was broken. We have returned function to you when you had none. Now we provide fuel for your unnatural machinery, and all we ask in return is that you serve us fully and wholeheartedly. You will accept this deal and become my servant!”

In response, Ares just folded his arms across his chest and stared her down. Not a chance.

“Not the smoothest approach…” The hunchback had tried to mumble, but the acoustics of the room made his words reverberate to all. The girl went bright red and her lips tightened to a thin line. She spun on the dwarf, and Ares managed to catch the sight of literal sparks flying from her eyes. “What did you sa–” she got no further before her father caught her eye, and she noted the disapproval. “Ahem.. Izzy, you say you can tell what it wants, correct?”

The little pink girl lit up with excitement, “Oh yes, milady! It definitely did not like you talking to it like that, though…”

Even from behind, Ares could see the muscles in Lady Seila’s jaw tighten – along with a deeper shade of red on her cheek. “Yes, you may be right,” she said, the words coming out through her clenched teeth, “Could you be a dear and help me talk to it; unless that is not allowed?”

The last bit she directed at her father, who kept half an eye on Ares, while the other half was clearly following his daughter’s actions every step of the way. A subtle hand gesture made it clear that Lord Mingdale would allow it.

With a snort, Seila turned back to Ares while Izzy stepped up next to the lady. “Alright, construct, let’s make a deal then, if we must. I want you to serve me, and I will provide you with energy in turn. What more could you possibly want?”

Ares looked down at Izzy, curious as to how she had known what he felt. With a cautious optimism, Ares thought about what he wanted, and held the idea within his mind as best he could.

“Uhm… I think…” Izzy tilted her head from side to side, “I think it’s something like ‘no kill‘. Am I right?”

Ares nodded, and within he breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps he might even be able to get through this without any sort of violence.

“No… WHAT?” Seila exclaimed, sparks flying from her eyes in every direction. “Are you playing games with me? Why would I want a construct that doesn’t want to kill? ” She stepped forward, clearly not thinking straight, and prodded Ares with a long dainty finger in his chest. “You’re supposed to be my guardian, my protector! What kind of protector won’t kill to save its mistress?!”

Her actions had made everyone in the room take a step forward, awaiting the crazed response from the mad construct in the room. Ares, however, took it in stride. With an unblemished hand he grabbed her hand and pulled it away from his chest, keeping his eyes locked with hers as he did so. Her hand was so soft, and felt as fragile as porcelain in his mechanical hands.

The move did not, however, lighten the nervous move in the room. Every guard now stood within striking distance, and even Lord Mingdales expression had twitched slightly.

I will protect you, Ares thought, if I must.

“Oh my…” Said Izzy, holding both hands to her mouth.

“What…?” Asked Seila. She seemed a little dazed by the physical touch, then with eyes wide in realization, she drew back her hand. “Let go of me!”

“It loves you Milady!”

“It what?” Seila asked, holding the offended hand tight to her chest.

“It WHAT?!” Spane roared from the back. The pale man stepped forward with fury in his eyes, but was once more stopped by Lord Mingdale. The Lord, though, had slightly narrowed his eyes, and his attention was now all on Ares.

“I think it wanted to express that it loves you Milady! Or, at something similar at least.”

That is absolutely not what I wanted to express! Ares was seriously contemplating a revision to his current policy on not killing anymore.

“And now its embarrassed; aww that is so sweet!”

Seila looked from Izzy, then to Ares, then back to Izzy. With a perplexed expression she said, “Well… I suppose that if it will agree to kill when necessary to save my life, I can agree that it does not need to kill in other situations. Is that good enough, construct?”

Ares was glad that she lightly skipped over Izzy’s extremely inappropriate inventions, and nodded. He needed energy, soon, and he doubted they would be as lax in their security again if he rejected them.

“Very well, then I will initiate the lifelink. Prepare yourself.”

External input has initiated lifelink

Rewriting conditions… complete

Master/servant relationship has been set to ‘provisional’

Will you accept lifelink through provisional contract?

Yes No

Ares accepted, knowing that this would mean that he had tied himself to these people. There were other perks, though, something that had made the choice much easier to swallow. These people seemed important, and important people usually knew a lot more than others. This was perfect for someone who knew nearly nothing about what was going on.

Lifelink has been accepted

connecting… complete

Seila Mingdale has been registered as the master of the lifelink

Changing status from ‘lower lifeform’ to ‘protected, lower lifeform’

Energy stores are now being recharged through lifelink

Restoring essential functions… complete

A flow of… something. Ares had no way to express it any better, since it was an alien sensation to him. He not only felt the flow that steadily recharged his depleted reserves, he also felt Seila in a way that should be absolutely impossible. Though she looked at him with a triumphant expression, Ares could tell that she was extremely nervous and only held onto her composure through sheer force of will.

Barely had he had time to process this sudden change in sensation, when a voice howled through his mind like a hurricane. “MAAAAAAAAAASTEEEEEEER!”

Hi, Orca. I’m glad to see you – well, hear you – again

“Master… sniff… I was so…” Somehow, the sentient not-entirely-an-AI who had been his first real friend in this world was crying and sobbing. “Master I was so WORRIED! Never do that to me again, never! I don’t want to be alone agaaaain!”

I am really sorry, Orca. I would like an update later, but right now I’ve kinda got a situation here.

Before Orca could get up to speed though, Seila began talking. “Very good construct. Now that we have established a contract, it is about time we find out how powerful you really are.”

Ares realized that he might have made a slight miscalculation; how much trouble would he be worth to these people when they discovered how shallow his fighting skills were?