Ares barely took note of the long dark halls, or the gilded tapestries and impressive paintings decorating the wall. Stepping mechanically along, half a step beside his mistress like a good dog, his mind was occupied with ideas on how to get through whatever Seila had planned for him.
Of course, Orca was absolutely no help in this. “Maasteer… sniff… don’t leeeave mee!” She was somehow sobbing even more now than when they had first re-established contact.
‘I’m not leaving you Orca! Pull yourself together; I’m right here!’
“It’s just… you were right there… and then you were gone, and I couldn’t reach you, and… and… Then I got that signal to send you back, and I thought you had just left me!”
‘I was heroically sacrificing myself for the greater good, dammit! I didn’t leave you because I wanted to’
“Well, be less heroic then!” Her tone suddenly grew sharp, and not a shred of the sobbing wreck from before remained.
‘Wait… you sent me back? You could do that the whole time?’
Absolute radio silence. Nothing but the noise from the stomping guards flanking him on either side.
‘And you didn’t think to tell me that – you know – I could return back home if I wanted to?!’
“Well, technically, you never told me to, so…”
‘Because I thought I had died! You could – no, you should have told me!’
“But that is not my function–“
‘Your function is to advise me, Orca! Don’t try and tell me you didn’t know what I was thinking – you’ve got my gods damned logs, for crying out loud!’
“I… I didn’t mean…”
‘Enough! I guess I am leaving you – right now, in fact!’
Without knowing how, Ares simply shut off the connection to Orca while she was still trying to stumble through a sentence. The anger flowing through him was palpable, much stronger than anything he had felt recently. Some part of him knew he was being unreasonable – that he himself had avoided the subject of his presumed death – but the fury that had its grip on him would hear nothing of it.
While he had been having the argument, he had followed Seila through a majestic foyer and a massive doorway, out into a wide courtyard paved with dark stones and dressed in a myriad of flowers. In the centre of the courtyard, the stones gave way for a circle of packed dirt, where currently a few guardsmen were sparring with weapons.
They stopped, and Seila turned to lord Mingdale. “Do I have your permission, father?” The lord with his back straight, arms clasped behind his back as he observed the sparring match between the two guardsmen in the circle. One was green-skinned with blue hair, while the other had huge fangs sticking out of his mouth.
“Captain Kindon,” the lord called after a short while. The sparring halted, and the green skinned man turned – huffing only slightly from the exertions of the battle – then saw who was speaking and bowed immediately. “My Lord!”
“I apologize for interrupting, Captain, but we need the use of the sparring grounds.”
“Of course, My Lord!” Said the man, signalling his sparring partner, who stepped off with a bow to the Lord Mingdale.
“I would also like to borrow your expertise, Captain. How many battles have you fought for House Mingdale?”
The captain came closer, bowed once more, and said, “Not counting the occasional skirmishes, My Lord, I have fought beneath your banner in four major battles against imperial incursion.”
Lord Mingdale nodded, then spared Ares a glance. The captain followed his gaze and started when he recognized what he was looking at.
“In these battles, have you ever had the misfortune to face a battlemage and their construct?”
“Once, My Lord,” said captain Kindon, his face darkening in a serious expression, “It was an illuminating experience.”
“Perfect. The Lady Seila has just bonded her first construct, and we need to test its capabilities. Would you do us the honors, Captain?”
The captain did not exactly look ecstatic at the prospect, but he kept a somewhat neutral face as he said, “As you command, My Lord.”
Mingdale turned to Seila and gave her a nod. The young woman beamed, her eyes sparkling as they rotated, then she turned to Ares. “Now, Construct, let’s see what you can do!”
Sighing inwardly, Ares stepped into the ring, not certain how he was going to fake his way through this. He had done alright in the forest, but he had mainly relied on his body’s ability to sustain incredible levels of damage. The system was already sizing up his opponent, sending him suggestions through his HUD, with an almost childlike glee at the prospect of battle.
As he walked forward, he noted a new tab in his options menu, which had been severely limited until now. He opened it up and found his status.
User level: 2
Lifeforce at 13% capacity
Unit: Prime unit of the Emporial Warbringers
Unit level: 1
Unit modification detected
Energy is currently provided through lifelink
Damage at 4%
Legacy slot: Solar lens
Dormant: user level is too low
Though it was nice to see how his damage had gone down considerably from last time, his lifeforce stores were pitiful, considering how much death he had caused before his use of [Final Discharge]. Perhaps he had not siphoned from those he had not personally killed? The rest had probably been burned away when he activated without any energy stores available.
“Well? Don’t just stand there, Construct! Make ready!”
Brought back to his current predicament by both the voice and the annoyance he felt in the bond to Seila, Ares shifted his attention onto this ‘captain Kindon’. Now that he was close, Ares could see how the man’s green skin was marbled with small scales that occasionally would catch the light from the two suns and flicker. He was armed with longsword, held up so that its dulled point was aimed at Ares’s chest.
With another internal sigh, Ares put up his hands, readying himself for battle. To the side, the pale Cassius Spane, as Ares gathered he was fully named, shouted, “Begin!”
The captain did not charge in with an attack. Instead he shifted his position, using balanced footwork to circle around Ares with practiced composure. Ares knew enough not to let the man flank him, and so he tried mirroring the man’s action.
“What are you doing? Attack him!” Seila shouted from behind, and Ares could feel the urgency in her. She wanted action.
I’ll give you action, you spoiled brat.
In jolt he moved, accelerating beyond what mortal flesh should be capable off, and stepped in to finish this off in one move. He planned to knock the sword aside and level a blow at the opponent’s chest. It would be quick, easy, painless. Then a swift swipe to remove the head, and…
He never even got to step one. Kindon swung with a sidestep, hitting Ares’ outstretched hand and knocking it aside. Though the dulled edge of the practice sword unable to cut through his wrist, Ares still felt the pain of the blow. Then a kick to the side of his knee sent him sprawling.
He knew the blow to the head would come next. Rolling around and back up on his feet, he barely avoided the blade splitting the air above him.
Gaining his feet, Ares only saw more trouble ahead. Strands of lifeforce were surrounding the captain, winding their way towards and around his sword. The air was positively vibrating when the captain swung again, even though he was nowhere near close enough to hit Ares.
His short experience with the weird abilities of the elves, told him this was no moment to trust in common sense. With all of his strength, he leaped to the side ducking into a roll. It was not enough.
The captain drew an arc of light with his sword, aimed straight at Ares. Even with his lunge, the arc homed in on him as if the captain was guiding it – which, presumably, he was. The way it moved left him only one option.
Gaining his legs after another roll, Ares jumped as high as his mechanical legs allowed him, which reached inhuman proportions. Again, he fell just short of achieving his goal. The arc of light rammed into his leg, sending him spinning through the air.
Crashing into the ground, Ares felt his damage meter jolt. Maddening anger surged through him as he thought of how this lower lifeform had left him looking like a fool. It was time he stopped holding back; time to put this rebellious insect in its proper place.
The markings down his skin burst alight as he got back up. Lines of fire consumed his flesh while golden eyes flashed. The Warbringers never lose. The captain did not hesitate, though. He saw the opportunity to deal the final blow and took it.
Ares cared not for this. Through his feet he activated [Pulse].
The user has gained the ability to manipulate lifeweave in a pulsating rhythm. The strength of the pulse is determined by the medium it is transferred through, and the way in which it is applied by the user. Greater mastery will increase the amplitude of the pulse, as well as the frequencies available.
One step: earth trembling, Kindon lost his balance and stumbled. Another step: focusing [Pulse] towards the captain, a shockwave split the packed dirt apart. Unable to evade, the captain’s feet were swept backwards. Hanging in the air, Kindon curled in on himself, aiming to roll forward and onto his feet.
A third step: this time not onto the ground, but directly into Kindon’s back. Strands of lifeforce congealed into a hexagonal pattern on the captain’s back. Ares hammered his foot into the hexagon. It took most of the force from the blow, but the pulse went right through and into Kindon’s body.
The captain landed on the ground, rolled around, and was back on his feet before Ares could press the advantage. A trickle of blood gathered at the edge of his mouth. The pulse had caused massive internal trauma.
“Can you continue, Captain?” It was Cassius. The pale man was addressing Kindon, but staring straight at Ares.
“I can,” said Kindon, also keeping his eyes on Ares. Cassius nodded and stepped back, allowing the combattants to circle one another again.
The rush was exhilarating. Ares felt the superiority of his body, his abilities, of his race. The puny elfling could do nothing against his might. Why was he not bowing down already? Did he not understand who he was facing?
Baring his teeth, Ares rushed in once more. The captain tried the same as before, sidestepping and sweeping.
Using [Edge], Ares met the sword with a sharpened hand, and cut through it. The disembodied edge landed on the ground as Ares grabbed Kindon’s throat with the other hand, lifting him into the air.
His still-sharpened hand went in for the kill like a snake about to strike. He would kill this insect, then move onto the next, and the next, and the–
Everything halted. His hand was inches away from the captain’s throat. Even though he wanted to move, it was as if he was back as a spectator. The unit would not respond, no matter how much he fought and screamed mentally.
A command has been issued through lifelink
Disobeying the order will break lifelink contract
Do you wish to proceed?
For a while, the lust for blood urged him to break the contract and begin the utter destruction of every lifeform around him. With inaction, though, his vision lost its red tinge, and another part of him took over. The one who was still a scared kid from Earth took back control, declining the option.
This is mad. This machine is mad.
Back in control of himself, and not attempting to disobey the command, whatever force had held him back relented. With agency returned, Ares put Kindon back on the ground. Spluttering for air, the captain withdrew a few steps from Ares, then put his sword back up.
“That will be quite enough, Captain. Thank you for your service.” Lord Mingdale stepped forward, patting Kindon on the shoulder. Slightly shaken, the green-skinned man stared at his master in bewilderment, then slowly put down his blade.
“It tried to kill me…” He half-muttered, half-hised, then belatedly added, “—My Lord.”
“It was, of course, never the intention Captain. I fear my daughter has a lot of training to do, if she wants to keep this one in check.”
Out of the sparring ring, Seila stood with her arms folded before her – a frown gracing her beautiful face. “What, by the Old Ones, was that, Construct? Were you trying to kill the Captain?”
I was trying to do what you wanted me to do, you brat. Ares attempted to send his thoughts through the lifelink, much the same way the command had come to him. Seila, though, just shook her head.
“Apprentice, I need your help with this,” she said, holding a dainty hand to her head. “It’s saying something through the lifelink, but it’s just nonsense, like before.”
The little gnome, as she had presented herself as, stepped closer with a wary look on her face. “Are you alright, Construct? You’ve been all… red-ish since we came out here.”
“Of course it’s alright; it’s a machine! You saw yourself how well it functioned,” said Seila as she approached. Back in front of Ares, she once again prodded his chest with one of her long fingers. “You will not ignore an order from me again, understood?”
Had he ignored an order? Unable to explain how he did so, Ares made the system show him a recording of the moments leading up to the command. Indeed, he had ignored her first order, because it had not been a true ‘command’. Only when she used the lifelink, had she been able to stop him.
“Construct?” Izzy looked at him with those wide eyes, green and shining like emeralds.
I’m alright, he focused his thoughts, trying to make his message as simple as possible, And I’ll behave.
He would need achieve better self control. Back in the forest, the rage had not been as extreme. The battles had been much more desperate, and only when driven to the edge had the rage surfaced. Compared to then, he was like an explosive now.
“He understands,” said Izzy, nodding sagely, then remembered who she was speaking to, “—Milady.”
“Good,” said Seila, with eyes narrowed and spinning about dangerously, “Master Baek, I want its voice module fixed by tomorrow. It appears I’ll have to talk to this one from time to time.”
“Aye, it will be done, Milady,” said the hunchback, drywashing his hands in excitement, “Now that it is active, I’ll also begin the installation of the equipment I’ve prepared. Next time, it’ll take an entire battalion to face this one!”
“Good!” Seila beamed. “I’m looking forward to it. I expect you to have it outfitted by the time Archeon Palander arrives. My mage training will begin the moment she has been settled!”
With that declaration, the Lady Seila, her father, and Cassius left Ares with the hunchback and the gnome. Looking at the fading figure of his new master, he was not entirely sure whether coming here had been the right decision.