The Fractured Maid


The Fractured Maid
S


ome five centuries past, the races of mankind faced the consequences of ignoring the warnings of the Cardinal Church. Once more, as had happened time and again marking the end of many an age, mankind was laid low by the Foreigners from their great cities in the sky. Broken and desperate, the races of mankind turned to the Light of the Cardinal Church along with the Sister Goddesses and World God Icarus and again found prosperity.

Some two decades past the races of mankind began to fear the Light of Cardinal. The last nation on the Face of Icarus not disbanded by the Cardinal Church, Lucir, was at last laid low and in her dying breath cast forth a light that foretold the coming of the Foreigners’ Dark God. But for fear of the Light that mankind was learning, the Light also saved those transformed by the Foreigners into monsters and was still a necessary part of life as it was known.

Yesterday, or perhaps longer ago, or even tomorrow, mankind at last learned to fear the Light. A great tree of Light appeared and the races of mankind collectively gave it the name of the Foreigners’ Dark God, Lucifalz. The appearance of the Lucifalz upended the world order and the Cardinal Church became untrustworthy in the eyes of the races of mankind. Now, in an age of steam and magic lead industrial revolution and war, mankind seeks to prepare itself to face the Light, the Cardinal Church seeks to purify it, and those who seek adventure find it in all walks of life across every corner of the Face of Icarus.

Land of Past Present and Future, Athecia
Early Autumn ~ Late morning
scattered showers and warm
Rugged earth and jutting spires
Sparse vegetation and wary life
A harsh land untamed and barren
Those dwelling within as unwelcoming as the land
Danger a short step in all directions   

Water. Ripples rushed across its surface and disturbed the fish within as well as the thumb sized humanoid blobs of light who danced upon it. The ripples came with the echoing of distant gunfire and sprinting horseshoes. It came with the pattering of rain upon its surface and the tumbling of dislodged pebbles. And with the ripples came light, and flashes of memories of a green-eyed blond boy and a blue-eyed harpy maid with pure white feathers and hair of crimson. Then there was a voice.

“I can’t believe it; I’ve finally found you! …maybe…”

So self-named for the suit of chainmail that fit her as though it were her own skin from her jawline down, save from the hips down where it was more akin to a pair of footed tights, the Chainmail Maiden, the Chainmaid, Chain opened her massive, round, sea gem green eyes. Those orbs looked out from the face of a light and fair skinned maid of some fifteen springs from behind erratic bangs with messy on top straight, waist long brown hair. Staring at the cavern ceiling above her, her slender, long limbed body lay halfway in the water, her fine bosom rising and sinking with her peaceful breathing. Her figure left the impression that she was rather tall, but in truth she was most definitely not even though she was also not short. Regardless, she dwarfed the owner of the voice who she turned her eyes filled with childlike curiosity on. As she looked at the owner of the voice, the maid who appeared as her twin, though only double the length of her finger and possessed of a long fish tail matching the hue of her eyes instead of legs, presented her a question.

“Our song is disharmonious right now so I’m not for certain which of us I’m speaking with right now. Are you perhaps the craftsman’s daughter or instead the Sa·B·er?”

Pushing off the ground with her left hand, Chain sat up and let her right hand slide down the leather strap it held, pulling up the sheathed, cruciform sword that she had been laying on. Having managed to sit up she scratched at the side of her nose with her left hand and looked off thoughtfully for a moment. When she finally managed to gather up her thoughts her words to her mermaid twin left their jaw agape.

“Sorry, but I know you, right?”

“Eh~ How could you ask that We share the same face and voice and are one in our song and the song of the Children of Ocia! I finally found you and you don’t even recognize a part of yourself

“Hm~… I figured that might be the case but…”

Looking down at her reflection in the water, Chain confirmed for herself the first claim of the mermaid. Staring at her own face reflected at her in the water’s surface, Chain let her mermaid double pound on her harmlessly with her tiny fists as she donned a thoughtful look. Pouting as she could not seem to put her thoughts in order she placed her left hand between her and her arm flailing double.

“…Yeah, that’s about it. The memories are there but they’re kind of scattered everywhere. Some are familiar some are not and it’s giving me a headache trying to put it together.”

“I guess that makes sense. We were fractured as it was, but then the Darkness came and the Lucifalz appeared fracturing us even more.”

“The Lucifalz…?”

“That.”

Responding to Chain’s question and accompanying head tilt, her mermaid double pointed behind her. Turning her head to follow to where that tiny finger led, Chain stopped as she set her eyes upon a tree of pure light growing out of the water covered rock. It possessed no leaves and only stood about two meters tall, but Chain could hardly focus on it. Her vision flashed with memories of a dragon of Darkness and a giant mechanized crimson warrior armed with a sword of light flying upon feathered wings of darkness. The sight of a massive mechanized ovoid city that hung in the air filled her vision and a hatred for all mankind flooded through her. Then there were the voices, incessant in their alien yet familiar rambling.

“Well, that’s kind of weird…”

Rising to her feet, Chain continued to watch the Lucifalz. Slowly she began to approach it and reach out for it.

“It’s weird, like the light is coursing through me and connecting all of me back to myself…”

“Don’t touch that!”

“Eh⁈–

A boyish child’s voice suddenly called out to Chain and her mind was brought back into the flooded chamber she occupied. Turning to find the origin of the voice her eyes landed upon a child of some ten springs garbed in baggy shorts, tights, and a button up shirt, gasping for breath. Looking up as they felt Chain’s eyes upon them, the child glared at her with clear blue eyes from under short crimson hair.

“You idiot! Don’t you know how dangerous a Lucifalz is

“Um… No. I just woke up and don’t really know what’s going on.”

“Just what we were hoping to hear. Tracking these foolish girls has paid off big time.”

Though the child donned a look of panic, Chain remained ignorantly calm and turned around to pinpoint the new voice. As she turned, she noticed that she was less in a cavern and more so under a low shelf of rock which is what had allowed her to be flanked by the two opposing parties. Well, at least the band of rough men comprised of a plethora of unique men, some sporting features of various animals, were a party as they numbered easily around two dozen. A particularly disheveled man with a scarred-up face and mohawk dressed in tanned leathers seemed to be the owner of the voice and leader as he stepped forward to continue speaking. As he did, he spun a revolver on his finger before pointing it at the child behind Chain.

“I bet you honestly thought we were after the two of you even though you of all people know that sometimes people show up with a Lucifalz. They’re kind of a rare treasure though and worth far more than a scrawny brat like you.”

“You take that back! I’m still a kid and she looks as scrawny as I do! Maybe more actually…”

“Oh, this one of us has a temper.”

Her mermaid double couldn’t help but comment as Chain pouted irritably. Clutching at her left temple Chain offered a warning to go with her irritation.

“I’ve hurt friends for talking about my figure.”

As if she needed to take out her built up anger on someone Chain studied the two opposing parties as they talked about an absent centaur. The leather clad group of ruffians were all cheering on their apparent leader as they exchanged insults with the child who seemed quite confident in the ability of their absent centaur companion. Eyeing the revolver still waiting in the child’s shoulder holster Chain made up her mind. Thrusting out her left finger at the child she reminded everyone that she was there.

“You!”

“Wha–

“You should be careful what you say about people. I’m not all here, but I know I don’t like people talking about my figure.”

“Why are you talking about that at a time like this?”

The child stared in disbelief at where Chain’s focus lay, but the bright and energetic maid didn’t seem to notice and continued talking.

“You see, I have a short temper when it comes to my figure and now I’m really upset. So, tell me, they are the bad guys, right?”

“You even have to ask They’re pointing a gun at a kid like me and are talking about selling you like some object.”

“Treasure of the Lucifalz that one is. Pretty enough too.”

“You really weren’t listening…”

Though Chain’s tone of voice stayed sweet enough she was beyond irritated as the leader of the ruffians also commented on her looks. The ruffian leader seemed less impressed by Chain than she did herself and turned their gun onto her face as she looked back over her shoulder at him.

“I think you’re the one not listening or paying attention. You’re out numbered and out gunned. There isn’t anything you can do but beg us not to sell you as a broken heap. Heh!”

The ruffian’s threat earned laughter and shouting applause from the men who followed him. Pouting, Chain groaned and tried not to feel sorry for them.

“You’re not very bright at all, are you?”

“That doesn’t sound like the begging we want to hear.”

“Why are you egging them on anyway?”

The child’s commentary of Chain’s actions fell on deaf ears as they had all but been forgotten. They could have left at any time if they so desired by that point but was as focused on Chain as the ruffians. With everyone’s attention on her, Chain continued unconcerned by their opinions.

“If I’m not wrong we’re out in the middle of the wilderness where monsters roam unchecked. Considering most monsters have powerful magical shielding due to their Ambrosial Gates constantly drawing in Nectar that fuels magic, guns are kind of the worst weapons you can use. The power of magic you can generate with Nectar is dependent on the size of the vessel you pour it into. Bullets are so tiny they’re pretty worthless and can’t even hurt most larger monsters.”

“Seems to me like you think you’re some kind of mage spouting all that mumbo jumbo. But the thing you seem to forget is humans, especially little icaran girls like you can’t survive the Nectar flow of a monster and guns work just fine on you as a result.”

“You think so? Want to try?”

“Don’t tempt me girl.”

“Please don’t tempt him. If they shoot you, they might turn on me next.”

The continued commentary of the child went unnoticed allowing them the time to leave and avoid the situation they were fearful of unfolding. Still they stayed, however foolish it was to do so, while Chain simply smiled with bright eyed enthusiasm.

“Well I’m already tempted and still needing to work off my bad mood. So go ahead and try your worst and see how you fare against the Chainmaid.”

“Tch. Arrogant welp. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

With a pull of the trigger the bullet rode a tongue of flame out of the barrel of the gun and made a bee line for Chain. The ruffian leader did not desire to kill her as he still believed that she was quite valuable and aimed for her torso. It was an ideal target and to Chain’s advantage. The bullet never reached her as it was ingulfed by a torrent of flames of pure darkness that erupted from her shoulder blades.

“What in the name of Icarus is that?”

“What your mistake looks like.”

Spinning about as she answered the ruffian leader, Chain snatched her sword out of the air as the scabbard that held it disappeared into the flames that trailed from her back.

“Can we really deal with people though.”

Though Chain threatened the ruffians, her minute mermaid double was less sure of their ability to fight people. Chain remained confident however and took her simple, cruciform sword in both hands as the flames became a sheer black cape and draped around her.

“They’re just monsters that talk as far as I’m concerned.”

“Don’t just stand there gawking, she’s coming!”

Spurred on by their leader’s battle cry while Chain appeared distracted, the ruffians prepared to receive her imminent attack. As they were still intending to take her alive, they did not reach for their gun, believing their physical prowess would be more than enough. Under normal circumstances they may have even been right. Most of them were large and muscular, with several being of the races of mankind known as the chimeric races due to the mixture of animal features with those of the more traditional humans, the icarans. For all of their perceived physical advantages however, everyone realized with Chain’s first step that she was the one with the physical advantage despite her waifish build.

“Amazing!”

The child who stood on the opposite end of the faux cave stared in amazement at Chain’s feat of speed. This was in direct contrast to the looks of shock and horror on the faces of the ruffians as Chain covered the distance between them and the Lucifalz in a blink.

“When did she–

A massively bright smile on her face, Chain looked at the ruffians from amongst their midst. Turning her body as it followed her sword strike, she not only brought herself to a stop but split one of the ruffians in two from his shoulder to his opposite hip. Landing with the completion of the strike Chain froze like the shocked ruffians around her. No one seemed to even breathe as they waited for what would come next. What that turned out to be was Chain’s mermaid double swimming into the crowd through the air and up to Chain rather concerned.

“Is something wrong? Does it appear that people are not as easy to simply kill as a talking monster?”

“Hrm~…”

“Eh–?”

Chain’s mermaid double became taken aback as she saw the frustrated pout on Chain’s face. She was obviously annoyed by something and the complaint that she verbalized clarified what it was.

“I was hoping maybe killing a person would upset me and open a path in my head to another part of me, but all I can see is that darn dragon. – Dragon? When did I learn that word? Hrm~! It’s so frustrating not having everything in my head like it should be!”

Sighing heavily, Chain’s double slumped her shoulders and admonished her.

“I understand how frustrated we are, but this does not seem the best time to dwell on it.”

“Hm–

Looking up at her mermaid double Chain was unable to ignore the enraged bandits any longer.

“Oh right, I am in a fight.”

“No, You’re in a slaughter. Killing one my men and then acting like his death is your problem. I don’t care how much money you’re worth anymore. You. Are. Dead!”

The ruffian leader lowered his gun onto Chain and attempted to pull the trigger. Before he could her foot made its way fully into his stomach and he was launched into the faux cave. The others watched their leader crash into the ground several meters away and nearly forgot about Chain. Spinning to her feet she reminded them that that was not a good idea and her sword drew a spiral of blood around her as she rose. The screams that erupted from those in reach of Chain’s sword assured she was no longer forgotten and the group she stood in the middle of all drew and turned their own revolvers onto her. Their hurried attempts to draw their weapons compromised their aims and perhaps prevented some of them from shooting their fellows as Chain leapt straight up, her cape vanishing into thin air like the last traces of a fire. Even as bad as their aims were, compromised in their haste, a number of the ruffians still managed to shoot their fellows with some being less fortunate then receiving simple injury.

From where he lay on the ground the ruffian leader had rolled onto his back and propped himself up on an elbow. As Chain emerged fully above the heads of the crowd of ruffians, he leveled his gun on her and took the shot. His shot proved a waste of ammunition as Chain either by instinct, foresight, or simply inhuman reaction ability summoned her cape again and let it absorb the bullet harmlessly.

“Damn you!”

In the same motion that Chain summoned her cape again, and was screamed at by the ruffian leader, she pulled herself into a tight spin and threw herself back at the ground. Landing hard and low in an extreme three-point-stance she sprang to her feet and used her momentum to shove back the nearest ruffian. As he stumbled back Chain’s sword followed him in a flash and stole his life. Before the body even hit the ground, she pivoted and engaged the next ruffian. By this point they had for the most part straightened themselves out, but it meant little against Chain’s speed, deft footwork, unexpected acrobatics, and the confusion she caused with the constant appearing and disappearing of her cape. The ruffians never stood a chance and before they could panic enough to retreat, they all lay dead.

“You’re a monster…”

Scrambling backwards as Chain again turned her attention onto him, the ruffian leader waved his gun at her while accused her of being inhuman. Pouting, Chain summoned her cape long enough to retrieve her scabbard from whatever space the cape had taken it and sheathed her sword. Slinging her sword behind her right shoulder she corrected the ruffian leader.

“Not quite. I’m a Sa·B·er.”

“What

“A Sa·B·er!”

In contrast to the ruffian leader’s confusion and shock, the child who now stood on the opposite side of the faux cavern from Chain shouted out a gleeful exclamation. Realizing they gave away their continued presence they drew their revolver and aimed it on the ruffian leader as they came under the ruffian leader’s aim.

“Don’t even think about it! I may be young but I’m a good shot and have the position advantage. I doubt you can shoot me from there as well as I can shoot you.”

“Damn brat! –

“No need to worry about that.”

Chain diffused the sudden tension as she casually kicked the gun out of the ruffian leader’s hand and clear out of the cave. Watching the flightpath of his gun in mouth hanging horror, he could barely believe that Chain completely disregarded him as she continued talking.

“When I woke up I heard horses, and based on your earlier conversation that was someone you know as well as more bad guys.”

“That’s right. Maye and I were spotted shortly before I found the Lucifalz. She attempted to draw them away while I confirmed its location.”

“Well, that means there’re more bad guys like him wherever we are, and I want him to go tell them all about me.”

“Why the hell would I do that

“Because it means you get to stay alive.”

The cheerful smile Chain turned onto the ruffian leader sent a chill down his spine. Scrambling away from Chain, he somehow managed to get back somewhat upright and fled practically on all fours. Chasing after his discarded revolver he yelled back threateningly.

“Don’t think I’ll forget this! You’ll regret sparing me when I get the gang together! Mark my words you welp!”

Chain watched him go with a blank look on her face while the child watched with greater anxiety. They were tempted to shoot him in the back but wondered if Chain would stop them. Glancing in the peculiar maid’s direction they saw her making her way towards the bodies of the fallen ruffians. Their mouth falling open as they realized what Chain was about to do, they suddenly chased after her.

“Wait! You can’t just desecrate the dead! You–!”

“It’s Chain.”

“Eh–

The child stopped short as Chain turned around suddenly and leveled them with a displeased pout, her left hand on her hip. Leaning in she pushed the child back with her intensity as she clarified what she was saying for them.

“If the Chainmail Maiden or Chainmaid is too much for you then Chain is fine. That’s who I am.”

“I’m also her, but you can call me Drop and not think about us being the same too much ~

Surprising both Chain and the child, Chain’s mermaid double swam up beside her right elbow excitedly. Looking down at her double Chain questioned it having a name.

“You have a name? I don’t remember that and don’t even feel like if everything in my head was in there that I’d remember you having one.”

“Well, it makes things easier, doesn’t it?”

“Hm. I guess it does.”

Watching as Chain scratched the side of her nose and conversed with Drop, the child smiled and returned their revolver to its holster. Clasping their hands behind their back, they interrupted with their own introduction.

“Chain, Drop. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Finch, Finch Whitehead.”

Athera Mountains - Lonely Root, fountain plaza
Early Autumn ~ Early Afternoon, distant showers and warm
Brick and stone covered in ivy tree shade
A village in the mountains hidden among the crags
Blessed crops held in towers of glass and steam
The steam works significantly more carefree than their keepers
A people on edge for the beasts of men rather than the wilds  

“Finch! What exactly were you thinking

On Icarus, the races of humankind were typically divided into three classifications. The most populous of these races were the chimeric, their features ranging from the prototypically human icarans mixed with bits of other animals to outright being humanoid animals. The maid with the blond ponytail and ruddy skin was herself split between an icaran from the waist up and a strawberry roan coated horse bellow. She was not large enough for an average adult icaran to ride, but her fiery demeanor and indignant disposition assured she would be worse than the worst of horses in need of breaking in. Chain was less interested in her natural features but instead took note of the red denim jacket she wore over a white, collared, shirt and the revolver style rifle she carried. She had an air of danger about here that Chain didn’t like and silently bemoaned rightly presuming that this centaur was the friend Finch was talking about; Maye.

“Maye, calm down. I was just showing compassion and helping someone in need like I was supposed to. Those bandits we found in the mountains wanted to sell her like an object just because she showed up with a Lucif­–”

“Don’t say another word Finch.”

Holding out a hand Maye silenced Finch. Glaring at her young companion she spoke with an intensity that belied her hushed tone, the fountain behind failing to drown out her voice.

“Consider where you are and what it is that you are saying Finch.”

“Oh… Sorry Maye…”

Hanging their head, Finch looked down and kicked the ground bashfully. Maye did not seem to find Finch’s lesson finished and continued to admonish the child.

“This is because you can’t keep your head out of those confounded machines you love so much. I swear, for your sake I hope when you grow up that Father Icarus has seen fit to bless you with the largest bosom that any maid has ever had just to keep you out of those things and focused on your studies.”

Snapping their head back up Finch stared at Maye in utmost terror.

“How could you say that Maye Do you have any idea the torment that would bring me Being unable to work on machines would be hell as it is, but we’re Daughters of the Cardinal Church! I would cut them off just to spare myself and the church the humiliation!”

“You’re an icaran and Daughter of the Cardinal Church and you speak of willfully desecrating the flesh born of Father Icarus Have you lost your mind child

The conversation between Finch and May had long since taken a turn that made all of no sense to Chain. Looking at Drop floating in the air beside her, Chain found her confusion staring right back at her.

“I don’t understand what they’re saying anymore.”

“That’s because it doesn’t make sense.”

“It should be obvious why our words fall on your ears as though they are stones. You are a heretic and fortunate that Finch cannot think of anything but her love of machines yet she would have left you where she found you as she should have.”

“Maye~! What about compassion and that most people don’t know that consorting with spirits is heretical It’s not like they were everywhere before the Lucifalz appeared, and then there’s where I found her! She couldn’t–”

“No, it’s alright. It’s hard to tell with how you’re dressed, but you two are with the Cardinal Church aren’t you?”

“We are, but–”

Chain’s look was not cold so to say, so much as it was disappointed. Something about her expression unsettled Finch and Chain almost didn’t have to say a word to interrupt. As interrupting was her intention however, she did not refrain from speaking.

“I don’t know what you’ve been taught, but I used to think that the church were good guys too. Then when I needed help after being infected by the Foreigners, they simply chose to torture me.”

“Torture…”

Finch was appalled but had no time to request Chain explain what she meant as Maye leveled her with an accusatory finger. Speaking contemptuously, the haughty centaur doubted Chain being anything but a deserving victim.

“As the heretic you are you could have avoided such punishment had you simply renounced your evil ways. That seems much too difficult for you though seeing as you walk with that thing beside you in broad daylight.”

“I doubt you care, but I wasn’t called a heretic until after I escaped from their torture.”

“Don’t think you can deceive me with your lies. A heretic would have never escaped from a bastion of the church. And if you were truly infected you would have never been anything more but cared for, but I know an Ambrosial Arm when I see one.”

“Ambrosial Arm? What’s that?”

“Enough with your lies, heretic.”

With nothing but accusations unaccompanied by any answers coming from Maye, Chain turned to Drop hoping the her that she knew to be a spirit and the likely cause of her being called a heretic might have an answer. Drop’s demeanor did not encourage confidence and she all but shrugged as she offered up what little knowledge she had.

“I’m afraid we don’t know anything about them except that they were built a long time. Mankind had already stopped communing with the spirits when they crafted them, and we only know of them for their influence on Ambrosia as they called forth Nectar to fulfill their purposes.”

“They sound pretty nifty.”

“I couldn’t say.”

“You two like machines?”

Finch piqued up as Chain and Drop contemplated the niftiness of Ambrosial Arms and attempted to interrupt. She did not fail to get their attention, but she also drew a wrathful look from Maye. Drop sighed for her larger counterpart allowing Chain to offer Finch an apologetic smile.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea if we keep talking. Your guardian doesn’t seem to like me one bit. And that’s fine, I’m not particularly fond of the Cardinal Church. So, I guess this is bye for now. Thanks for showing me to town.”

“Wait–!”

Finch took a step to follow Chain as the maid and her tiny double left but was stopped as Maye placed a hand on her shoulder. Looking back at the centaur maid, Finch’s eyes near watered with rage as her face flushed.

“This is your fault Maye! How do you hope to restore the people’s faith in Lady Cardinal when you constantly assault them

“That maid is a heretic Finch. She’ll pull people away from Her Eminence as much as my harsh demeanor. But consider the blame that you hold in this by bringing her and her devil here.”

“Now you’re blaming me Maye, you jerk!”

Pulling away from Maye’s grasp, Finch dashed away rubbing at her teary eyes as she ran. The scene made the centaur a sudden curiosity and she simply sighed and crossed her arms. Watching Finch run she spoke with a hint more softness to her demeanor than she had shown Chain she was capable of.

“You are especially susceptible Finch. I know exactly where you’re running to assuage your feelings and it is not the Light of Her Eminence. It’s for your own good that I’m so harsh. “

Athera Mountains - Lonely Root, Abandoned Church
Early Autumn ~ Midnight, distant thunderstorms and cool
The quiet of night
Distant bolts of lightning serving backdrop to the stars
An arc of distant pepples above the world
A set of planetary rings wrapped around Icarus in truth 
A lone rooftop view of the domain of Celestia  

Night had long since fallen on the sleepy mountain village of Lonely Root, but where the residents had long since retired for the night Chain joined the guards in remaining awake. Where the guards patrolled the gas lamp lit streets and the stone wall that protected the village, Chain sat with her arms wrapped around her knees and her back to the steeple of the abandoned, or perhaps run out, church that had become seriously overgrown with vines and moss. Looking up at the night sky and the planetary ring that she did not understand in the southern sky, Chain reflected on her day.

“What a day this has been. Waking up in a cave I don’t remember ever entering under a weird tree of light. Killing a bunch of bandits for the first time ever and my head being full of all the distance between my thoughts. Being attacked by the church as soon as I get to civilization, and not having any money to stay at the inn.”

“We could have returned to the cave and looted the bodies. The little one could not have stopped us since we were the ones chased off.”

Joining Chain on the church roof, Drop offered her a small comfort while highlighting a passed opportunity.

“Maybe, but I don’t know if I could trust my memory to get us back to the cave. I know you’re doing better than me and probably would have gotten us back fine if I couldn’t keep my memories in my head, but it’s still frustrating. And besides, we can do it tomorrow. For now we can make the church provide us with some hospitality since we don’t have a place to stay because of them.”

“But are we going to sleep? The confusion we feel looking at the sky and contemplating the lack of response from the villagers has kept our fractured thoughts quite occupied.”

“I just can’t figure out anything right now. I don’t really know where I am or how I got here, or how long I was out.”

“That is kind of difficult to say. No one seems to really know, not even the spirits, from who I talked with while trying to find a manner of you I could consider us.”

“And that’s just as confusing. When I close my eyes and try to put my thoughts together, they feel pulled all over the place to more of me than I should have ever been. I don’t know if I should follow those thoughts and find those distant mes, or try to figure out where in the world I am.”

“We could perhaps start by revisiting the Lucifalz tomorrow. Surely you heard our voice amongst the many others within it.”

“Maybe, that tree was really weird and I don’t think I want to go anywhere near it again. I guess we can figure it out tomorrow though. For now, I just want to focus on getting some regular sleep.”

Chain’s cape responding to its silent summon blazed into a life and whipped about in the night breeze before taking full form and falling around Chain. Snuggling into it, Chain closed her eyes and prepared to fall asleep atop the church. Drifting off though proved impossible as she heard a horse approaching the church from behind her. Pouting irritably, she got up and spied around the steeple to see who was coming.

Strolling down the road from the only inn in Lonely Root, the centaur Maye made her way towards the abandoned church’s front door below the steeple. Opening the double doors, she allowed the light from within to spill out into the night. Crossing her arms and both pairs of legs she leaned against the doorframe and watched whatever it was she saw within.

“Most impressive watching a centaur cross their legs.”

“Shh~!”

Chain shushed her double with a finger held to her lips as she had no desire to give away her location. Realizing her actions, Drop covered her mouth with both hands before swimming behind Chain’s shoulder. Bracing her hands on Chain’s shoulder, Drop leaned into her ear and spoke again but much quieter.

“What do you suppose she is here for?”

“Don’t know. Though if I have to guess the noises that have been coming up from underneath us all night are probably because of the other girl.”

“Finch? I wonder what she could be working on.”

Neither Chain nor Drop had an answer to the mermaid girl’s question and they could only watch Maye to see if anything interesting was revealed. Watching someone with any level of intensity though was bound to get their attention eventually and the two of them had to duck down quickly as Maye looked back and up from where she leaned in the doorframe. Not spotting anything she exhaled sharply through her nose contemptuously before turning her attention again into the abandoned church.

“You can stop pretending that you don’t know I’m here Finch. You’ve had more than enough time to sulk like a child, and now it’s time you get some rest. We need to confirm the best route back to the Lucifalz so its Light can be reclaimed.”

“I can sleep just fine here.”

“The guts of a Dolmen are not the place a young girl such as yourself should be resting.”

“A Dolmen?”

Chain and Drop could barely keep their voices down as they exchanged surprised expression at the word spoken by Maye. Wanting to lean over more to see if there truly was a Dolmen within it took a great deal of will power just to continue listening in on Maye and Finch’s conversation.

“What about the Sa·B·er from earlier? Where is she sleeping?”

“I doubt that heretic has ever been infected by the Foreigners. She was obviously wearing an Ambrosial Arm which means she is an adventurer and should be comfortable sleeping anywhere. You need to stop concerning yourself with that heretic and focus on why we are here; reclaiming the Light for Her Eminence.”

“I really wish I knew what an Ambrosial Arm is. It’d make explaining the nature of my Foreigner infection easier.”

Chain’s pouting and mumbling would not bring her an answer to her question, and neither would continuing to eavesdrop. As she was already invested in the conversation taking place below her though she felt no reason to seek out an answer to her question.

“I know it’s important to reclaim the Light of Lady Cardinal, but shouldn’t we be trying to foster goodwill as well so people stop chasing us away whenever we come to a new town? We should be welcomed not hated. We just want to help people and instead they blame us for everything including the coming of the Dark One who hasn’t even shown up. And what is that Sa·B·er going to blame us for after waking up under a Lucifalz. No matter what you say about her she isn’t going to recognize the world at all and needs our help.”

“You’re not going to give this up, are you?”

“Of course not!”

“It shouldn’t surprise me, but you really are such a child Finch. But, just to satisfy you we will speak with this heretic for your sake after we have contacted Mother Osprey.”

“Do you really mean it

“I am a Daughter of the Cardinal Church; my word is not so light.”

“Thank you, Maye, thank you!”

From wherever it was that Finch had been within the church she flung herself at Maye in a grateful hug. Maye sighed but allowed herself to relax and uncrossed her limbs. Gently rubbing the top of Finch’s head, she urged the girl to release her.

“Come now Finch. Our day seems as though it will be even busier than I had planned and we both will need our rest.”

Watching Maye and Finch head off towards the inn after Finch locked up, Drop grew curious about Chain staying where she was.

“Aren’t we going to follow them?”

Chain’s soft smile didn’t reveal her plans and was never intended to do as she dropped down from the church roof. Swimming down after her, Drop persisted in her inquiry.

“It seems the perfect time to pursue them.”

“Not really. If the centaur knew we were eavesdropping, she’d have a fit. Besides–”

Spinning around Chain turned her attention onto the front doors of the church.

“I want to know what she was working on in here. As far as I can tell it’s been abandoned so what could it be, I wonder.”

“I have a feeling our curiosity is going to bring us trouble.”

“May~be.”

Cheerfully ignoring Drop’s warning, Chain easily broke the lock that Finch had secured the door with. Discarding the now useless padlock Chain proceeded to push open the large double doors and her eyes began to shimmer excitedly. Even without turning on the lights that Finch had set up within, Chain could easily tell what it was that lay in the dark before her.

“It really is a Dolmen! I can’t believe it. How did they she even get it in here?”

Athera Mountains - Lonely Root, Main Gate
Early Autumn ~ Early Morning, distant clouds and cool
Twilight gave way to daybreak
The song of mountain birds rose up to lead the morning din
The villagers began their autumn day as any other
Atop the village walls the guards of the local militia exchanged posts
On the eastern horizon a shadow drew near  

“It couldn’t be!”

Staring down their spyglass, the sentry positioned above the main gate of Lonely Root swallowed hard. Approaching the village on horseback and dressed in leathers, long coats, and wide brimmed hats was a posse the guard knew the appearance of all too well. What stayed them from sounding the alarm immediately at the approach of the small army of bandits was a twenty-five-meter-tall mechanized biped that appeared as a suit of armor for a man too skinny with a distended stomach. Held in it’s left hand was a massive pole from which an equally massive black flag with a stylized image of a stitched together skull on it. Seeing that skull in the light of the morning sun the sentry finally reached for the alarm. As they began to crank the manual alarm, they also grabbed a radio receiver and shouted into it in a near panic.

“Be aware people of Lonely Root, the Skull Leathers are approaching en masse and are in possession of a Dolmen! I repeat, the Skull Leathers are approaching and have a Dolmen! All citizens, please remain indoors until advised otherwise! All militia men, report to your posts!”

The message along with the alarm blared across the village’s public announcement system and jolted the villagers from their routine-based stupor. Within the chest positioned cockpit of the mechanized biped known as a Dolmen, the icaran ruffian that Chain had spared the morning before pulled down the black bandana that was covering his mouth and sneered.

“I told you I’d make you regret it whelp. No one makes a fool out of Fangbeak and lives to tell the tale.”

Athera Mountains - Lonely Root, lonely Root Inn
Early Autumn ~ Early Morning, distant clouds and cool
T
“What do we do Maye

At the front desk of the village’s only inn, Finch turned a panicked look onto her centaur companion. Maye was far less unnerved by the sudden situation as she was annoyed and spoke in a touch harsher tone to Finch than she should have.

“There is no reason to panic Finch. We are already unwelcomed here and ill equipped to deal with that group of bandits in any number larger than a handful besides. If we act quickly, we might even be able to escape and rendezvous with the Chapel.”

“Wait. You’re not thinking of abandoning them are you Maye?”

“Why must you always paint the worst picture of me? No Finch. I am not suggesting we abandon them, but neither of us are equipped to help them as we–”

“We have my Dolmen!”

A most displeased expression crossed Maye’s face at Finch’s interruption, especially as she brought up the machine she had hidden away within the abandoned church, but Finch did not back down.

“I have our communication equipment in the church so we can call the Chapel for help and I can buy time with the Dolmen.”

“Have you even finished reconstructing that thing?”

Finch hung her head in defeat but did not quite fully concede.

“Well, no… …not yet… but it just needs to have the Artificial Gate Generator engaged and the systems synchronized with the new machinery.”

“And can you do that?

Maye’s next question finally stole any further argument from Finch and the younger girl admitted defeat with her whole body. Pleased with Finch’s concession Maye began to lay out her plan of action.

“With that settled, we shall leave immediately. As we have no reason to stay, once we determine where the bandits are approaching from, we can move to–”

Before Maye could finish, or really get started, the crackling and high-pitched whine of a speaker blared across all of Lonely Root. As the static and crackling of the speaker that was obviously turned too high subsided, a voice that Finch recognized from the prior day descended upon the village.

- People of this pitiful excuse of a village, most of you have probably heard my name whispered by wary travelers and rightfully know to fear it. Well, there is at least one traveler in these parts who has not heard the name of Fangbeak, leader of the Skull Leathers, the most feared gang in all of the Athera Mountains. That fool has earned my ire, and if you don’t wish to incur my wrath then you’ll hand over the whelp Sa·B·er maid in chainmail who calls herself the Chainmaid. -

“Good, he’s here for the heretic. That should allow us to slip away unnoticed.”

“You’re just going to abandon Chain too after you promised to help her?”

“We can’t help her in these circumstances Finch. It’s best we rendezvous with the Chapel and then ambush these bandits if we are to help anyone. Now quickly, while we have the chance.”

Snatching Finch’s wrist, Maye dragged the icaran girl behind her as she made for the inn’s front door. Her harsh handling of a child would have normally earned her curious stares but the people around her were distracted wondering who this ‘Chainmaid’ was. Their confusion should have made it easy for Maye to leave unnoticed, but Fangbeak was not done speaking yet and what he had to say next assured that would not happen.

- Now before you unfortunate worms beg me to spare you about some whelp you haven’t ever seen before, I can give you a way to bring them out to me that shouldn’t be too hard for you. I know you’re harboring a couple of Daughters of the Cardinal Church and can tell you that the little one with the bright red hair was personally acting as the Chainmaid’s guide. To make it simple for you; if you can’t find the Chainmaid, find the red headed church girl and have her show you where the Chainmaid is hiding. I’ll give you an hour to bring me the Chainmaid before I break down your front gate and have my men burn your pitiful dirt hole to the ground. Don’t keep me waiting.  -

“Maye…”

Finch tried to hide behind her centaur companion’s flank, but it was too late. Every patron of the inn who was up and, in the lobby, had their terrified and terrifying eyes boring into Finch.

“What are you hiding for? This is obviously your fault!”

“How fall the Cardinal Church has fallen. Setting bandits on us non-believers. Is that how you try to gain converts now?”

“Who cares about that? Why aren’t you running to get this Sa·B·er?”

“I don’t… I didn’t mean… This isn’t my fault…”

“What was that Running from what you’ve done!”

“You coward!

“Worthless brat!”

Finch’s attempts to try to say anything only served to further incite the mob in the inn. Their attacks and demands fell like hammers upon the child and she could not stop the tears from flowing. Maye had had enough and whipped her rifle off her back and slowly and deliberately stared down it at every patron in the lobby. Naturally they quieted down and allowed her to speak.

“The lot of you would attack a child whose only desire is to help those she sees in need of aid? And here I thought the heretic was deserving of my scorn. What ever happened to your militia? Is it not their responsibility to defend your village?”

“From unprovoked attacks you monster!”

“Yeah, didn’t you hear? They brought a Dolmen because of that ‘child’ you’re trying to defend.”

“Do you just want us to die for your foolishness?”

“Monster!”

A breakfast cup flew out from somewhere and shattered against the side of Maye’s head. The blow drew blood and Finch let out a shrill scream. Her scream did not relieve the inn patrons however and more breakfast dishes found their violent way to the unguarded centaur. Gritting her teeth against the blows Maye tried to brace herself for them as she suddenly yanked Finch onto her back.

“Hold on!”

Rearing and bucking about in a violent circle to deter the patron’s further attacks, Maye bolted through the door as soon as she had an opening. The patrons were quick to follow with shouts of coward and more thrown dishware, but outdoors none of them could match the four-legged pace of the centaur. Her pace did not protect her from the patrons’ actions attracting the guards who took her ignoring of their demands to stop and continued retreat as grounds to open fire with their rifles. Again, Finch screamed as bullets whizzed about her and Maye. Maye remained astoundingly calm considering her circumstances and surprised Finch as she asked her a question.

“You said that you have our communication equipment in the church?”

“Huh? I mean, yes.”

“Then this is your chance to attempt starting your machine. I’ll get us there as fast as I can and will contact the Chapel while you try. It looks like your machine is going to be the only way out of this mess for us.”

“Then I won’t let you down Maye.”

“We can’t afford for you to.”

Athera Mountains - Lonely Root, Abandoned Church
Early Autumn ~ Early Morning, distant clouds and cool

The answer to Chain’s question of how Finch had gotten the Dolmen into the church turned out to be as simple as the back of the church had fallen away but was disguised by the overgrowth of vegetation. Not wasting time on the front door of the church that should have been locked, Maye trotted in through that vegetation and Finch jumped from her back to the control console hooked up to the Dolmen’s arm. Maye meanwhile found the communication radio and set about attempting to contact the Chapel.

“Come on! Work! Please!”

Working furiously on the console to engage the Dolmen, Finch pleaded desperately for it to come to life. No amount of pleading from her or combination of synchronization commands on the console stirred the mechanized giant however. She did not intend to give up but the sound of gun hammers being cocked froze her where she stood.

“The both of you; step away from those consoles slowly.”

The voice of the guard earned a click of Maye’s tongue, but she held her arms up as she turned around slowly to appease their demands. Finch was too terrified and shocked that simple villagers could threaten her life as easily as a bandit to do more than look over her shoulder. Her failure to follow the command earned her a gunshot that ricocheted off the console beside her head. She screamed in response and fell to her knees clutching at her head. The guard who lead the others into the church showed no sympathy as he reminded her of the command he issued.

“I said to step away from the console.”

“What is wrong with you She’s just a child!”

A gun shot at Maye’s feet kept the centaur from taking a step forward and she scowled as the guard returned her disdain with his own.

“This child is the key to appeasing an army of angry bandits who have a Dolmen. We have no means to fend them off without suffering massive casualties. We can’t afford to waste any more time because they’re a child. Now talk. Where is the Chainmaid?”

“I don’t know… I don’t know… Maye chased her off as soon as I brought her to town. I don’t know where she is now…”

“What do you mean you don’t know

The lead guard started to take a step towards Finch, his arm lowering to obviously grab the girl once he reached her. Finch was helpless due to her shock to do anything but stare in abject terror while Maye was kept in check by the guns of the other guards being trained on her. The scene was changed in an instant however as a distinctive ringing sound of chainmail clad fingers snapping was followed by an arrow suddenly striking the ground before the lead guard. The normal reaction to the sudden appearance of the fired projectile would have been to find the shooter, but the nature of the arrow was not normal by any account and everyone present muttered the same word in response to it.

“Light.”

The arrow that had brought the unfolding scene to a stop was constructed of no physical material, but instead was comprised entirely of light. The arrow of light seemed to possess hypnotic properties as no one present could take their eyes off of it, or even move until a voice spoke up from above.

“Wow! That worked better than I expected. And here I was afraid that I’d have to jump down and hurt someone to put a stop to whatever was happening.”

Called up by Chain’s voice, the eyes of everyone present scanned up the Dolmen to where she stood on the seated machine’s shoulder, her hair and cape blowing in the morning breeze. Neither her features, including her chainmail and sword hanging from her shoulder, nor Drop sitting on her shoulder were what held everyone’s focus though. What held everyone’s focus was the bow she held in her left hand to which she had notched another arrow of light as the bow, like the arrow, was comprised entirely of light. Though Chain had everyone’s attention it was Maye who spoke next in total shock and disbelief.

“A heretic is a Child of Her Light… How is that possible… Only Sa·B·ers blessed with Her Light should be able to be possessed of her Light.”

“You're the one who decided I wasn’t a Sa·B·er, so I don’t know why you’re so confused.

“But… You’re chainmail…”

“What this? Believe it or not but this is the result of my infection. Pretty unusual isn’t it?”

Letting the arrow she held dissipate into nothing, Chain pointed her right thumb at her chest as she clarified for Maye that the halted Foreigner Infection that allowed her to be a Sa·B·er was quite unique. Important as it was to her to make that clear, Chain still did not like the situation below her and drew back on her bow conjuring a new arrow in place of the prior one. Aiming it at the lead guard she donned a frowning pout.

“Now isn’t the time to talk about my chainmail though. I’m pretty sure I have the gist of what’s going on here, but I don’t like how you guys handled this at all. You have the village public announcement system and you didn’t bother just using that to call me out? It looks to me like the villagers here are little better than the bandits outside. Bu~t, seeing how they’re here for me I’ll offer you a discount on my services.”

“What?”

The lead guard could not believe his ears as he looked up at Chain who was acting like she was in total control of the situation. The Light that she held created a wariness in the guards though that might as well have made that true and so no one stopped Chain from presenting the charges for her yet defined services. She did not like being questioned by the lead guard though and pouted deeper.

“You should be glad I’m not with the Adventurer’s Guild yet or otherwise you’d have to pay guild fees and I can’t discount those. Now then though, considering that as long as these two don’t get in my way I can make plenty off of the bandits the only thing I’ll ask for in payment is a map of the region with the nearest town with an Adventurer’s Guild outpost clearly marked. That, and I don’t want to be held responsible for any damage I cause while using this Dolmen to deal with the bandits.”

“Huh– You can’t use this Dolmen, I haven’t been able to engage the synchronization program and join the Nerve Work to the Frame.”

Hearing that Chain intended to use her Dolmen, Finch finally regained her senses and immediately shot down that idea. Looking up at Chain on the shoulder of the bipedal machine she was countered with a bright smile.

“That’s not a problem at all. I can get this thing running with no problem at all. Isn’t that right Drop?”

Seeking confirmation from her tiny double did not instill those watching Chain with any confidence. Drop did not seem to notice and answered matter-of-factly.

“The only thing that should make it difficult is making sure we don’t register ourselves as the pilot. We don’t want to keep this one, do we?”

“Nope. We’re just borrowing it for this job.”

“Then let’s get started.”

To everyone’s surprise Drop dove off of Chain’s shoulder and right into physical mass of the Dolmen. A moment later the chest plate that concealed the cockpit opened invitingly. Dismissing her bow with a thought, Chain waved at her audience and dropped down. Leaping backwards into the seat of the spacious cockpit she grabbed the multi triggered sliding control sticks on either side of her and toyed with the array of foot pedals at her feet. Smiling brightly, she leaned back and closed her eyes.

“Alright Drop, I’m ready. Just remember I don’t know how to actually pilot a Dolmen, so you’ll need to backflow the motor input to me.”

“No problem. Here we go!”

With Drop’s voice providing confirmation, the massive machine in the Dolmen’s belly roared to life and a surge of magic coursed through the entirety of the machine and Chain.

“That tickles!”

Squeezing her eyes shut and laughing in response to the sensation, Chain missed the illusion magic spring to life in the cockpit which provided her a full panoramic view of the Dolmen’s surrounding. She was not worried about missing it though as she focused on the backflow of data that established the relationship between the control magics, cockpit, and the joint motors of the Dolmen. As Drop swam out of the Dolmen and into the cockpit, Chain finally opened her eyes and commanded the Dolmen to stand.

“No way…! She actually did it! She got it up and fully operational!”

Knowing full well how much work had gone into the Dolmen, Finch was genuinely amazed even as her astonishment went over the heads of the others. Her enthusiasm did not last for long though as she suddenly remembered something as Chain piloted the Dolmen to leave.

“Ah–! Wait! Miss Chain, the Dolmen is equipped with a basic revolver in its right leg and the ammo is stored in its left.”

- Doesn’t matter. -

“Eh?”

Chain’s dismissal of Finch’s information of the Dolmen’s load out over its external speakers further left no one with any confidence in her ability to win. Still, Chain remained fully sure of herself and assured the crowd of her ability.

­- I don’t know how to use a gun but I’m really good at hand to hand combat. -

“Why do I have a bad feeling about this?”

Finch could not help but voice her concerns aloud as Chain piloted the Dolmen out of the church. Having the opportunity granted to her by the distraction caused by Chain to join Finch, Maye offered a possible option as Chain bolted off.

“Because it’s likely that she is going to break it.”

“She’s going to break it?”

Turning to look at Maye, finch just missed Chain manage to somehow get the Dolmen yanked off of its feet by the console cables still hooked up to its right arm. Turning to look back at the fallen Dolmen as Chain yanked free the cables and gave an ‘okay’ hand signal, Finch repeated her question as a deadpan statement.

“She’s going to break it.”

Athera Mountains - Lonely Root, Main Gate
Early Autumn ~ Early Morning, distant clouds and cool

The tension at the main gate was palpable as the militiamen and bandits eyed each other warily down the barrels of their plethora of firearms. Despite the tension all was still and Fangbeak leaned back in his Dolmen’s cockpit with his feet up on the rail of his left control stick.

“I shouldn’t have given them an hour. The boys will be itching to pillage at this rate, and we’ll waste the whole town and trade route. Having to pick up and move cause of a stupid mistake like that will be a pain. Hm? What the hell is that?”

Drawn from his thoughts by a sudden drumming sound that was growing closer from beyond the main gate, Fangbeak sat up in his seat and leered out across the village before him. There was nothing at first to justify the terrible drumming that unsettled the horses of his men, and then a Dolmen leapt clear over the wall.

“What the hell

Soaring over the head in a spectacular arc, the unusual Dolmen appeared to be a chest cockpit model but was difficult to discern due to the round bubbly armor that protected the steam motors and joints within. It was an impractical design as the Artificial Gate Generator housed within the belly of the humanoid machine could have easily powered the joints with the magical energy source it pulled in from the realm of magic known as Ambrosia. Instead the AGG was put to use summoning the Nectar from Ambrosia that served as magical fuel and running it through a prewritten spell to convert it into water to feed the steam powered joint motors. There was one advantage to feeding the motors superheated steam however, and that was that the Dolmen’s increased mass allowed it to be an even larger vessel for Nectar granting it far greater power than other Dolmen of its size. In this instance that extra power was used to reinforce the Dolmen as it crashed and rolled over into the army of bandits.

The twenty-five-meter-tall machine with it’s armor like a collection of pots was a weapon against the army that it was ill prepared to face. Throngs of the gathered members of the Skull Leathers were killed instantly and those that weren’t were caught up in the chaos of their horses entering an understandable panic. The Dolmen’s crash was not without design however and as it rolled over into a one-armed push up it snapped the fingers of its left hand and a massive bubble of water formed around it. Leaping back, the Dolmen punched the bubble of water into the ground, bursting it and releasing a flood that swept the rest of the Skull Leathers from their horses. The scene was a massacre, but Fangbeak to this point was safe in his Dolmen and finally managed to pilot the machine to draw its knife and revolver and turned to face the other Dolmen holding a three-point stance.

“I don’t know where you bastards got a Dolmen, but do you have any idea who you’re messing with and what that is going to cost you Do you

- Hey, so you are the one in there! That not so bright ruffian I spared yesterday. -

“IT’S YOU‼ THE WELP SA·B·ER FROM YESTERDAY‼”

“Heh, heh! Yup!”

Smiling brightly within the cockpit of her borrowed Dolmen, Chain commanded the mech to take a battle stance while Fangbeak screamed at her some more.

“YOU HAVE NO IDEA YOU WELP‼ YOU HAVE NO IDEA‼ I’M GOING TO PAY YOU BACK FOR THIS AND YESTERDAY’S HUMILIATION A HUNDRED– NO, A THOUSAND-FOLD‼”

“Go ahead and try.”

Not losing her smile, Chain goaded Fangbeak into firing off his revolver. As a Sa·B·er, the halted infection born of the monsters of the Foreigner cities that wandered the skies of Icarus granted Chain superhuman physical ability and she was easily able to read Fangbeak’s aim and dodge his first shot. The next five shots came as quickly as they could from the one-handed grip and Chain deftly dodged all of them while piloting her Dolmen to trample any straggling survivors of the Skull Leathers. In his screaming rage Fangbeak completely failed to notice what Chain was up to and threw his revolver down and charged his unarmed opponent with his knife.

“ENOUGH YOU WELP‼ JUST DIE~~~~~!!!!!”

With the Dolmen’s knife held in a reverse grip, Fangbeak led in with a lunging series of slashes that Chain easily danced out of the way of. She did not attempt to counterattack as slash after lunging slash forced her to dance backwards further and further. As the village of Lonely Root was situated well into the Athera Mountains, naturally, Chain soon ran out of space with a cliff wall blocking her continued retreat. For Fangbeak it was the perfect opportunity and he brought his knife around in a huge horizontal arc level with Chain’s cockpit.

“IT’S OVER NOW WELP‼ DIE‼ DIE‼ DIE~~~~~!!!!!”

“You really aren’t that bright.”

Losing her smile for a blank look of disappointment Chain piloted her Dolmen to step inside the wide swing. Watching in helpless horror, Fangbeak could do nothing as Chain caught the knife arm at the elbow and drove her Dolmen’s other arm through the shoulder and severed the arm of her opponent. Instinctually retreating, Fangbeak took a step back and gave Chain the room to maneuver her Dolmen into a spin as she released the severed arm. Completing her spin, Chain drove her Dolmen’s foot down and through the knee of Fangbeak’s Dolmen. As his Dolmen fell forward from the loss of balance, Chain maneuvered into a second spin and caught the machine by the neck while sweeping its remaining leg out from under it. The motion allowed Chain to flip the Dolmen in the opposite direction and she slammed it brutally onto its back, the torso crumbling under the impact blowing open the chest plate and cockpit.

Atop the wall of Lonely Root, Finch arrived on Maye’s back just in time to see the spectacular display and stared on in horror.

“No~! She’s going to break it!”

Finch’s concerns were not without precedence as within the Dolmen cockpit numerous warnings flared to life within the illusory view. Looking around confused, Chain failed to understand what was going on.

“Eh– What? What? What’s going on?”

“It seems that was too much even for this Dolmen. We’ve compressed the frame in numerous locations and have pretty much crippled the Dolmen.”

“Really?”

Surprised by Drop’s explanation, Chain stared at her tiny double dumbstruck. Movement in the Dolmen’s field of vision distracted her however and she turned her full attention onto it. Her eyes widening at the sight, Chain could hardly believe that she was witnessing a battered and bloody, yet somehow alive, Fangbeak retreating from his Dolmen.

“Ah! He’s still alive! Let’s go Drop!”

Due to the damage to the Dolmen’s frame, it took longer than it should have for the chest plate to lower and the cockpit to open. This delay bought Fangbeak a fair amount of distance to flee from Chain on foot, in a sort of a half-run, half-hobble gait, but he still heard her clearly as she shouted after him.

“Wa~it!”

“I don’t think so you crazy bitch!”

Looking back just long enough to shout his refusal and see Chain and Drop drop to the ground, Fangbeak did not relent in his retreat. He was perhaps fortunate to have not been shot by any member of Lonely Root’s militia atop the wall, or perhaps not as they were content to let the scene play out and not anger the maid who could summon Light. It was not Light that Chain summoned though as she chased after Fangbeak, but rather her own sword that she pulled from the depths of her cape while wearing a big pout on her face. Drawing her sword, Chain gave it a mighty heft with surprisingly little effort for her size and sent the weapon careening through the air. Had Fangbeak been in better shape the sword might have landed in him instead of point first into the ground in front of him. Regardless, the sword brought him to a stop, though as he was still alive, he was able to look back and swear.

“Crap!”

Fangbeak would not add on to that statement as he took Chain’s scabbard, chape leading, right between the eyes. The blow immediately knocked Fangbeak out, or perhaps killed him, and he collapsed to the ground in a heap. Catching up to her sword and Fangbeak, Chain lifted the defeated leader of the Skull Leathers up by the collar and flashed a victory sign at the village while striking a pose. Drop imitated her in the air next to her head, but neither of them held their victory poses for long as they noticed Finch fuming and screaming atop the main gate.

“You broke it Chain! How could you Do you have any idea how much time I’ve spent on that

“Uh-oh! Looks like it’s time to leave Drop.”

“It does seem like a bad idea to stay.”

“Hey! Where do you two think you’re going You broke my Dolmen and you’re going to pay for that!”

With Drop’s consensus and Finch still yelling at her from atop the wall, Chain broke into a run towards the eastern horizon. Looking back over her shoulder she yelled at the militia of Lonely Root.

“Don’t worry about my pay! I’ll find my own way! I’m an adventurer after all!”

Turning her back on the village of Lonely Root and leaving it behind, though not necessarily Finch and Maye for long, Chain ran towards the future with Drop swimming through the air beside her. All of the questions left unanswered from her short time in Lonely Root would be found waiting for her alongside endless challenges, trials, and the mystery of her other selves out there in the world of Icarus. It was the beginning of her adventures and the Legend of the Chainmaid, and she was smiling with shimmering eyes as she ran on.

The Fractured Maid · End
Chain’s adventures will continue…



Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater

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