Cyberrsaur and Iron Rat continued to peek around the corner, watching the only other being who seemed to have mobility in the entire city. Being the taller of the two, Cybersaur’s head was over Iron Rat’s, but the duo currently stood as equals as they studied the being.

“I can take him,” stated Iron Rat, matter of factly.

“No you can’t.”

The duo said nothing for a time, continuing to watch, then Iron Rat asked perplexed, “What do you mean I can’t? I most certainly can! He’s big, but that’s his downfall!”

Cybersaur did not say anything aft first, then after a time, “What?”

“You said I can’t take him.”

“That I did.”

“I most certainly can take him!”

“No, you can not take him.”

“Sheesh, such boundless confidence in my capabilities.” Iron Rat gave a snort at his companion, before continuing, “What a pal you are.”

“We’re not friends.”

“I said pal, not friends.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Yes, there is.”

“What is it?”

Iron Rat illuminated Cybersaur, “A pal is much lower on the totem pole of companions. A buddy is the lowest, a pal is just one rung up.”

“What defines a buddy from a pal?”

“A buddy is a person whose name you know and you don’t hate, but you don’t really do anything with. Or someone you drink with. A pal is someone you will, rarely, perhaps once a year-”

“Too often that timeframe for my taste.”

“Perhaps once a year or maybe more oft, you will amicably-”

“I wouldn’t say that about us.”

“Shut up, or you’ll be the dirt on our companion totem pole, the barest foundation of things.”

The duo gave a slight snort and looked away from one another for a time, though still watching the walking one. Finally, Cybersaur inquired, “Is he…waiting for someone?”

“Sheesh, how should I know.”

“Because you’re supposed to be wonderful about knowledge, are you not?”

“I can only know what I’ve learned before.”

“Namely in books.”

“Yes, in books.”

“Written by those long dead many ages past.”

Iron Rat gave a frown, “So?”

“Seems your knowledge is outdated.”


“What an annoying word.”

“SHEESH!” Iron Rat then snarled, “Let’s see what you know then! Who is he?”

“He is from a neighboring village.”

“So you said. But who is he?”

“He tried hooking up with my one ex-”

“Sheesh, but who is he?”

“His name is…ah….Gri….Sl….Sw….Sn….Slu….uhhhh.”

Iron Rat rolled his eyes, “Sheesh. So the only reason you said I can’t kill him is because you percieve that you know him?”

“Is not that good enough?”

“Not really, no.” Iron Rat then asked, “And have you ever seen me fight? I can take him!”

“I have not seen you fight, no, but you’re half his size.”


“One punch of his is enough to rattle you apart.”

“So I do not let him punch me.”

“One of his-”

“Have some confidence in me! But I’m killing him! Sheesh.” Iron Rat stepped away from Cybersaur, then clung to the shadows as he slithered from where the duo were to a more advantageous position, creeping behind a pillar in the pathway the walking one traversed. He studied his soon to be opponent to see his mannerisms and read his movements, examining the probable combat capabilities of his target.

After the second time the walking one whose name Cybersaur had forgotten passed by, Iron Rat struck. Four quick stings of his rapier pricked at the target’s back, but a heavy armor and a cloak had prevented the fatal blow piercing him. The being simply turned slowly, frowning at Iron Rat.

Iron Rat looked up with a cocky grin, “Hi, want to die now?”

“I thought I felt some member of the creatures vespidae try to sting me. I never thought vermin grew stingers.”

“Rodents! I mean…ignore that.” Iron Rat swung out his parrying dagger, pointing out, “And the blade’s name that will kill you is Scalpel”

Tossing his cloak back, the large northern barbarian casually, slowly unsheathed both of his short swords, giving the smaller assailant a soft grin, “A parrying dagger, how interesting. Very effective if I used but a single blade.”

“Yeah, yeah, shut your trap and let’s get to killing you.” Iron Rat nodded to the swords, “You want to use them on yourself first, spare yourself the pain I’m about to deal you?”

“What a lively, if insipid, little one you are. Is not your little tin blade supposed to slay me?”

Iron Rat gave a faux salute and a cocky grin to his opponent. Then he suddenly lunged forward, Scalpel piercing the air as it went straight for the barbarian’s heart. The large barbarian simply swung his left blade in a lazy arc, battering Scalpel aside. His right blade swung in a likewise casual arc, but Iron Rat ducked beneath it before it took his head off from his body. The blade bit deep into the iron pillar Iron Rat was hiding behind prior.

Iron Rat is both cunning and opportunistic, so when he saw the blade bite into the pillar and get stuck there, he quickly jabbed with the parrying dagger, set the prongs just right, and gave a vicious twist of his wrist and arm, stressing a large crack up at an angle in the blade. Normally, the blade would be shattered, but these swords seemed to be made of a metal stronger than average or an alloy rendering the weapons so. As it is, the blade only became fractured and stressed and not splintered and destroyed. Iron Rat cursed as he jumped back several meters as both blades swung forward before the barbarian.

“Disappointed, vermin?”

“Only a little. It’s not often a sword survives a swordbreaker, but I feel a second strike against it should suffice.”

The barbarian stalked forward, swinging his twin blades in graceful arcs that belied his size. Iron Rat noticed that the speed at which he moved was slower than he’d expect, the short swords should be light and easy for someone of the barbarian’s size to swing around. He dared not underestimate the speed at which the blades could be swung, but measured the speed exhibited currently.

“Your armor is either slowing you down,” Iron Rat pointed out, “Or the swords are heavier than their size would state. Or…”

“Or?” asked the barbarian as he kept stalking forward.

“Or you are so strong that you can not reach the speed that a typical twin blade user achieves. That your strength came at the cost of the speed and agility.”

The barbarian kept moving forward, smiling, “And just how are you going to find out which is correct, without costing your life?”

Iron Rat gave a grin, then kicked off the wall he was backing up towards. As he did so, he used the height advantage it gave him to swipe Scalpel in a flashing arc right before his opponent’s eyes, causing him to flinch. As he did so, he kicked again, this time into the right wrist of the barbarian, who dropped the somewhat cracked sword. It clanked upon the metal floor. The barbarian countered by continuing to swing his right arm upwards, originally attempting to slice into Iron Rat, but turning the now aborted slice into a fierce uppercut.

Iron Rat twisted just in time to turn the powerful blow into a glancing one, using the momentum of his own twist and the force of the punch to put him into a controlled spin, dodging the swing from the left blade. The nimble fighter then took two half steps up the wall and pushed off of it again. His movements were as swift as a hundred stinging bees as Scalpel nicked into the armor of the barbarian again and again, though not piercing in any decisive and fatal fashion.

The barbarian grinned darkly, waving the left blade about, “That is all you have? Your sword can not pierce my body. You’re not capable of winning this fight.” The barbarian pointed with his empty right hand to the front door of the building they’re in, “Just walk away and I’ll let it be done at that. Naught else but what transpired this day. Go on. A reward for your bravery.”

Iron Rat smirked, “How kind of you.” He looked at the doorway, commenting, “Perhaps I should take you up on the offer. However.” He dashed forward and ducked into a roll, careening off against the blade bitten pillar to grasp the fallen and cracked blade of his opponent. Then he struck hard and wildly with the off balanced weapon, shattering it as it pierced into the barbarian’s lower back. Iron Rat then shrugged, “I’m not very gracious.”

The barbarian staggered and collapsed on his knees, grunting some, “However, I have some slight revenge.”

“How so?’

“Scalpel did not kill me.”

Iron Rat gave a shrug, “Eh, I could be a liar, after all. I mean, it’s not like I promised it, exactly.” Iron Rat tapped his neck, “You should see yourself. You’re oozing positronium from your very fatal neck wounds Scalpel gave you when I jumped at you before.”

“Then backstabbing me with my own sword?” The barbarian began to cough and struggle as he felt the positronium that was his life essence seep out of him.

“Just a distraction, really. Insult to injury. Take your pick. Mostly, it was to insure you did not feel yourself bleeding. Also, because I could.”

The barbarian sputtered a few vindictives at the one who killed him, before toppling over and making a mess of the formerly pristine floor.

“Eh, now to find my dumb partner. Yo, Cybersaur, you catch all that?” There was no response. Iron Rat quickly grabbed the parrying dagger he dropped to pick up the short sword, and began to sneak around. He asked, “Cybersaur, pal? You there?”

A few moments passed before he heard Cybersaur’s heavy footfalls and the rattling of coins. In a bag of pliant metal was thrown a large amount of coins near Iron Rat’s feet and a grinning Cybersaur commented, “Decided to pilfer the pilferers. You know, just in case.”

Iron Rat narrowed his eyes, “Just in case of what?”

“Just in case my buddy died. I did not wish to see that happen.”

As Iron Rat bent to pick up his bag of coins, he asked, “Which buddy? Me or him?”

Cybersaur gave no response as he walked out the front door and into the city once more.

Once freed, the duo stalked stealthily down the dark alloyed hallways, in case their captor or captors kept sentinels. It was an unnecessary precaution. Besides themselves, the hallways had been empty. The cell that they formerly occupied was one of many cells, those the only type of rooms upon the top floor of the building. When they reached the stairs, they crept down those quietly, holding their weaponry to keep them from clanking.

When reaching the next floor down, they peeked out and into the hallway here. With no one guarding the hallways here, they moved through slightly less catiously but still wary. Cybersaur eventually stated, “This is odd.”

“Yes, but if all the rest of the city is in a stasis, it’s to be expected, yes?”

“True enough.” The larger of the duo kept moving, then asked after a time, “What is this place anyway?”

“The Thieves’ Guild, I wager.”

“How do you know?”

Iron Rat swung open a door, showing off a large pile of gems and jewelry strewn about the floor, “Eh, call it a hunch.”

Cybersaur opened another door, here large piles of various coins stacking up against the walls, “That supposition seems to hold water.”

Iron Rat opened the next door, the room housing paintings, “It’s a shame we can’t take any of this with us.” A soft pause, then, “At least not yet.”

“We’d need our own place to take the material too, for starters. Some of this is useless to us anyway, if we, ah….liberate…some of this material, we can donate to the museums and local cultural centers.”

“Oh? Someone who would thief from the Thieves’ Guild and would just give away their gains?”

Cybersaur gave a soft shrug, “We have little use for the paintings. The jewelry we could only use to entice the ladies. The gems and coins would be of most use to us. More portable, more universal, no need to transact them into other wealth.”

“Look at you, a northern wastes barbarian who knows the most useful aspects of wealth. How interesting!”

“Yes, well, I’ve given though to what I would do with wealth.”

“And that would be?”

Cybersaur gave a toothy grin, “Spend it, of course.”


“Wealth is useless if it is doing nothing.” Cybersaur opened another door leading to piles of coins, “Look at them. They don’t like sitting around, doing nothing, wasting their lives away. They want to be used and spent, and used and spent, and so forth.”

“You can talk to the coins or something, fangs?”

“Of course not, rodent. But everything has a purpose, and everything is happiest when fulfilling that purpose.”

“Oh, that so, barbarian philosopher? Then what’s the purpose of this pipe jutting oddly from the wall?”

“To be yanked out of the wall and used to bludgeon my insipid partner if he does not quiet his trap.”

“Eh, good enough answer for me….sheesh.”


“Sheesh! Never heard of that? Sheesh!”

“I can see that word, if you love using it, will soon be aggravating to mine ears.”

“Sheesh, how annoying. She…shhhh.”

“Don’t you-”

Iron Rat slapped a hand over Cybersaur’s lips and expressed more emphatically, “Shhhh.”

Cybersaur gave a nod of understanding and crouched slightly. The two listened and heard. It was the tell tale sound of footfalls clanging upon the metal floor. The footfalls were going away from the duo. The northern barbarian asked, quietly, “Our captor? Or mayhaps the stasis effect has ended?”

“If the latter was the case, then it would be more likely the building would be swarming with people, right? Chances are the former.”

“Well, if it was our captor, then mayhaps it is best to repay their hospitality.”

The two crept down to the next floor, then peeked out catiously again. The pair looked over the floor, seeing no one. Cybersaur asked, “Did we hear things? Or is the thief invisible? A ghost?”

“A ghost with footfalls? How stupid are you!” Iron Rat’s retort was responded with a swift slap to the back of his head, and he grumbled, “Hey, you damn barbarian, watch it.”

“Let’s just continue on, the less time I spend with you, the better I imagine I shall enjoy my existence.”

“Yeah, agreed. Yeesh. You’re about as disgusting as a flesh creature.”

The pair continued down the hall, their footfalls quiet. They quietly peered into each door to see if the other mobile being was within one, but all proved empty of occupants. Furnishings were there, but not a being using them.

“Wait,” growled Cybersaur, “I’m as disgusting as a what?”

“A flesh creature, has your audial senses given-”

“I don’t get the reference.”

Iron Rat paused and waved Cybersaur into a room. It looked like a training room, it had several practice dummies with various outfits and accessories. Here, the less experienced thieves would practice the basics of pickpocketing.

“Flesh beings. It was written in two books…not three…nooooo….two. Yeah, two.”

“Pick a number and stick to it!”

“Alright, sheesh. It was in a rare few number of books. My former teacher…well, not really a teacher, he let me live in his swamp house and read all the books, in exchange for me keeping tidy the place.”

“A housekeeper! I am partnered up with a housekeeper!”

Iron Rat gave a sneer, “Illiterate barbarian. I was able to read a lot! Now let me continue my story.”

“Why bother reading when I could compose the stories myself? But fine, let us entertain the rodent. Pray, continue your story for your heart’s content.”

“In the books, there was talk about a time when our reality, the Land of Living Metal, intersected with other realities. In those realities, beings like us were in the minority.”

“Beings like us?”

Iron Rat slapped Cybersaur over the head, “Living metal beings, bolts for brains! Keep up!”

“Wreteched rodent!”

“Vermin, rodent, whatever. That’s getting stale. Now, in the alien realities, it seems there were organic life instead of metallic life, and these beings had flesh wrapped about their bodies instead of proper metal.”

“And what is this ‘flesh’?”

“Soft. Pliant. Supple. Many times had these odd outgrowths on their bodes called ‘hair’ or fur’.”


“Tell me about it. The descriptions of them do no justice, you would need to see a picture. But the intelligent ones are built much like us. Bilateral symmetry. Head over their torso, limbs connected to torso, walked on two legs like us. But very much shorter than us. Much softer. Even their tallest would barely come up most of my leg.”

“Like how far up?”

“Only up to mid-thi-why’s it matter to you?”

“Curiosity. Details help to improve the story.”

“You want the details, you go read the book, alright?” Iron Rat pilfered a few coins from the pockets of a teting dummy, then put them back, “Worthless blanks. Anyway, one of the books suggested that at times when our reality and their own intersected, we’d have guests from their worlds here and our own would move into their worlds.”

“How come I haven’t seen one of these freakish abominations then?”

“It seems, my so dear friend Cybersaur, according to the theory in one of the books, that prolonged exposure to our own beloved Land of Living Metal would modify one of them into a metallic version of themselves, so you may have seen some of these alien abominations, but they’d just look like us.”


“Repellant, indeed. You ever hear of the Southlands?”

“Of course,” Cybersaur commented, “There’s also the Westlands, Eastlands, and the Roaming Isle. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I was actually going to comment on those. No one who has been to either the Westlands or Eastlands have made it back, so far as we know.”

“Indeed, yet it is unknown why.”

“As you say. And the Roaming Isle is filled with those death dealing dervish barbarians with the axe fetish. What is up with them?”

“I never met one.”

Iron Rat gave a shrug, “Whatever. No matter. It seems there’s at least one area where they can exist as they were for a long time before converting into a metallic being. A lost area full of flesh aliens, wiggling and oozing about their lives.”

“Such a place must be a nightmare realm unto itself.”

“Perhaps.” Iron Rat went to the door, peeked out, then asked, “Shall we be off?”

Cybersaur gave a shrug, “Sure, your story was boring me.”

The next floor down had high arched ceilings and a wider hallway. The siderooms of the upper floors had given way to small rooms, more akin to closets and storage rooms than a proper room. Alcloves dotted the area. The hallway ended in a large and spacious grand room, likely where the whole Guild could congregate at once to hear the Guildmaster’s agendas and messages.

It was in the middle of this hallway that a being moved, walking from one side of the room to another, perpendicular to Cybersaur and Iron Rat’s location.The two studied the being, and then Cybersaur gave a little gasp.

“What’re you gasping in my ear for, you foul-”

Cybersaur clamped his hand on Iron Rat’s mouth this time, then said low, “I know him.”

“Yeah?” Iron Rat looked over to the entity, “Who is he?”

“I don’t know his name.”

“Oh, you know him but not his name.”


“Fine, fine, continue.”

“He was in the village just east of mine own. We never interacted before, his hunting grounds and mine did not overlap. Yet he would often sneak time with one of my ex-girlfriends, as if to woo her.”

“One of your ex-girlfriends?”

“Is that what you picked up from my story? That I have multiple ex-girlfriends?”

“You could have shared with your friend!”

“I just met you, Iron Rat!”

“Save some the future, then, plan ahead!”

“And I don’t like you overly much.”

“Yeah, well, the feeling’s…” Iron Rat studied the stranger, who had been walking back the way he came. Something tingled in the smaller one, and he heard the mystic’s voice speak to him again, “You will know who you must kill.”

Iron Rat stood up and ducked from shadow to shadow, pillar to pillar, his blade, Scalpel, and his parrying dagger both taken out.

He felt a strange compulsion to end this being’s life.

Cybersaur tested the cell doors by grabbing on the bars and trying to pry them open with his prodigious strength. Though the sound of straining echoed in the cell itself, it came not from the bars but instead the arms of the one straining to bend them. With a vicious growl, Cybersaur gave up, moving to sit on the only bench in the cell again.

“Eh, least you tried, right?” said Iron Rat in some comfort.

Cybersaur simply grunted, “To try and fail is as if I tried not at all.”

Iron Rat shook his head, “Not at all, fangs. Now we know that the bars are resilient enough to vex your strength.”

“I also know,” growled Cybersaur, “You’re annoying enough to vex my patience!”

Iron Rat shook his hands up, “Yo yo yo, wait a minute, old buddy.”

“We just met!”

“New buddy. Now wait a minute. You know what they say, if one of us isn’t enough perhaps two of us are.”

Cybersaur snorted softly, “You can not add your strength to mine own. You are built wiry and thin, for speed and agility. Not power. It would be like trying to scream a tornado away.”

“Still, any effort that does not kill is worth trying, yes?”

“Perhaps,” Cybersaur granted, then stood up. He spontaneously charged forward, shoulder down and head set, charging right into the cell door. The cell rattled and shook, but resisted the blow. The hinges shook but stood. Cybersaur kicked the door in frustration and growled again.

“Ey, wait a second.”

“No! I’m tired, I’ll wait a whole minute.”

Iron Rat gave a shrug, “Wait five minutes if you want. I just want to study something. Just have a rest out of my way and I’ll be happy.” Iron Rat waited for Cybersaur to move away from the door, then approached it. The agile one then moved up and examined the cell door. As he did so, he patted at himself to see if he had any items on him. It seems the duo was stripped of all possessions as they were thrown in here.

“Trying to see if the wall will crack if you stare at it long enough, or perhaps the bars will rust if you spit on it? How stupid!”

“Shut it, long nose!”

Cybersaur growled, “Why you little-”

“I wonder what is longer, your nose or your-”

“Enough!” Cybersaur growled and charged at Iron Rat. The smaller one simply darted to one side, and Cybersaur clashed into the door again.

Iron Rat studied the door as his companion slammed into it, and gave a soft frown, “Hmmm. Now let’s see…”

“Just what are we seeing, vermin?”

“I have an idea.”

“You have a stench as well, vermin.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Iron Rat, “Says the one who stinks. Look you, the keys and our salvation lie just yonder, yes?”

Cybersaur gave a look just outside the door to a table nearby, “Aye, but out of reach.”

“If only by a few inches, correct?”

“I’ll give you that, but I inquire so what? An inch or a mile, what you can’t reach, you can’t reach.”

Iron Rat gave a snort, “You really are defeatist. What one person can’t reach, maybe two can.”

Cybersaur eased his large metal body against the wall and gave a sigh, “So, what’s your plan, little one?”

“You push on the cell door, I reach out through the bars. If I press myself so tight against them and can slip my shoulder through, mayhaps with you pushing on them we can get those extra few inches I need to grab the keys.”

Cybersaur shrugged, “I suppose there is naught else to do. Rather that than depower from lack of substinence.” A grin was given to Iron Rat, “Well, after I ate what I could, of course.”

Iron Rat rolled his eyes, “Of course. Now let’s try this, shall we?” He moved up to the cell door and pushed his arm through it. He then squirmed his shoulder and grinded the metal of his shoulder against the metal of the bars to get as much reach as possible. “Alright, now try it.”

Cybersaur gave a roar and slammed himself into the door, which did move the door a good bit. Iron Rat’s hands clawed at the table top but barely missed the keys. The two sat down on the bench again after this attempt with a sigh.

“What did you say?”

“I said nothing, idiotic vermin, you must be hearing ghosts. Time for you to become useful and feed me.”

“I’m not a cook!”

“That’s not how I meant anyway! I can eat you raw!”

Iron Rat sighed, “No no, let’s start over.”

“Fine. I’m Cybersaur, and I don’t like you. I foresee you becoming breakfast for me sooner rather than later.”

“No!” Iron Rat shook his head then ran his hands over it furiously, “Damn it. I mean this conversation. What did you say before, when we tried to work together on the door?”

“Just as I said now, really. That I would devour you.”

“Yes, that!”

“You’re asking to be devoured, are you?”

“No no! Listen, fangs, think with your brain and not your fuel pit.”

“It’s an effort around you.”

“It’s an effort for you period, I think.”

“Despicable vermin!”

“Yes, yes. Why would you want to eat me? Why wouldn’t I eat you?”

“Because, idiot vermin, I am a large platinaraptor and you’re a small and skulking rat.”


Cybersaur gave a shrug, “As you say. Now that we’re stating the obvious, the ground’s hard, the positronium is wet, and we’re in a jail.”

“We’re in a cell, to be precise.”

“We’re in a coffin that just happens to be a room.”

“Mayhaps. Listen, chum.”

“You’re the chum, vermin, if I sink my fangs into you.”

“Mayhaps that too. But listen. You just said it. You’re a platinaraptor and I am a rodent.”

“No we’re not, you’re a smaller than average Vescaxian predominantly comprised of iron, it seems.”

“As fitting my moniker, yes.”

“And your brain is rusting.”

“Now that I doubt. For I figured our way out.”

Snorting, Cybersaur inquired, “Oh, and what amazing way have you thought of now?”

Iron Rat stood up and shape shifted using the esoteric art he was granted by the wizard he met outside of the city. He scampred about in his rat form for a bit, asking, “Now do you get it?”

Cybersaur kicked at the smaller cellmate of his, grumbling, “No.”

Iron Rat gave a sigh, “Of that I have no doubt. Use the esoteric art you were granted also.”

Cybersaur stood up and grunted, “It’ll be a short chase in here, hardly worth the sport.”

“You’re not hunting me, enough of that!”

The larger cellmate shape shifted into the form of a platinaraptor and asked, “Then what am I doing, idiotic genius?”

“That doesn’t even…nevermind.” Iron Rat moved over to the cell door, “Push against it. Use those giant claws-”

“You mean this claws that are bigger than your living carcass?”

“Delightful. Yes, those two gigantic claws, use them to anchor yourself and give yourself that much more force to exert on the door. Stick your tail out and push backwards. Give me enough room as you can with the door, and I will knock the keys down and towards us with my own tail.”

“That puny thing?”

“It will be enough to bring the keys down, thanks to gravity. Then your own oh so muscular appendage can lift the keys and carefully bring them into the cell. At which point we can then open our door and leave.”

“I can be careful.”

“Of that, I have much doubt. Shall we, regardless?”

“Fine. But if this one does not work, I shall devour you.”

“If this one does not work, I’ll jump into your mouth, if only to avoid your inane commentary. Let’s go.”

Cybersaur turned around and moved backwards until his rear end smacked against the cell door. Then he began to push, his strong legs flexing. Once he could push no more, he embedded his claws deep into the ground. He took a few moments to relax, the door still pushed outwards, his claws holding as anchors. Then he did his best to push some more, another several centimeters budging way to his force.

Just enough for Iron Rat’s agile tail to sneak itself out of the cell door, up the table, and wrap its prehensile tip about the key ring. With a jerk, he was able to yank the keys down and towards the two. Cybersaur then aimed his less than agile tail down and dragged the keyring closer to the cell.

Once close enough, Iron Rat changed back into his natural humanoid form, crouched low, and reached out of the cell bars to grab the keys. Then he stood up and stuck his arm out again, sliding the key into the cell lock and opening it up. With a cry of joy, he shouted, “Now let’s go kill someone!”

Cybersaur looked at him and growled, “Gladly.”

Rolling his eyes, Iron Rat snorted, “Someone else.” The two started out, Iron Rat in his humanoid form and Cybersaur still in his platinaraptor one. After awhile, Iron Rat inquired, “Hey, can I ride you?”

Cybersaur gave a startled look back, eyes wide, snorting loudly. Then a shrug, “Fine. But kick your feet into me like I’m a pferd, and I’ll make good on my earlier promises.”


“If you say so.”

Cybersaur and Iron Rat faced one another from across the rooftops. The two closed in on one another, darting across rooftops, so only one street width kept them apart. Each held onto the hilt of their main weapon and sized the other up. Then they looked around the city, at the still citizens that had been walking the streets, frozen exactly in the action they were taking whenever the stillness settled upon Argreon.

“You did this, didn’t you?” accused Iron Rat, as he placed his hand on the pommel of his parrying dagger as well.

“How could I? I am a singer, no mage!”

“Every wizard says they’re not a wizard! That means you’re a wizard!”

Cybersaur snorted gruffly, “Facetious logic. You’ve the stench of magic about you!”

Iron Rat growled, “Well you stink also!”

Cybersaur pulled his very long and heavy sword out and swung it quickly about him. It was a testament to his strength that he could wield it with such ease. The sword was perhaps as large as Iron Rat himself. He pointed the tip towards the only other being with mobility in this city, “Either take that back or back it up with your steel, vermin!”

Iron Rat snorted, “I’m not doing either, fangs!”

“Fangs? How dare you! I’ve….” Cybersaur looked into the mirror sheen of his sword and noticed that he did in fact have fangs in his mouth. His face was still recognizable as his own, but it had taken on some of the features of a cybersaur raptor as well. He gave a dark growl, “Damn wizard.”

“Hah! So you admit your wizardry!”

“I admit I met one, vermin, not that I am one!”

Iron Rat took a slight step back, asking, “You met one? When?”

Cybersaur’s sword pointed downwards, in a relaxed position, “Just before I entered this town. In fact, said wizard put me in this town.”

“In an attic?”

“Yes,” growled Cybersaur, “Why?”

“Because I met a wizard just before I entered town. And they gifted me with the Esoteric Art of Shape Shifting, then they put me in an attic with their magic as well.”

“Interesting,” growled Cybersaur, as he sheathed his sword, “Were they named Faceless One?”

Iron Rat moved his hands off of the handles of his weapons and crossed them over his chest, “No, it was Many Eyes.”

Cybersaur’s sword lifted up again, “Then how do I know you’re still not my enemy!”

Iron Rat studied Cybersaur some. Fighting him would be difficult. The northern barbarian had size and strength on his side, in spades. And he was fast enough that Iron Rat’s agility would not save him for very long. He waved his hands about, “Hey, wait, I’m not an enemy. I don’t even know who you are.” Then he considered a bit. Many Eyes told him that he would know who he was to kill. He would know. He sized Cybersaur up some more.

“What, vermin? Your looks leering at my body offend me!”

“Yo, it ain’t like that, fangs!” Iron Rat took a slight step back on his roof then sat down upon it, “I’m thinking. My wizard told me I’d know who I was to kill in this city.”

“Mine, as well,” growled Cybersaur, as he also moved to sit at his own rooftop, the duo talking across the gap of the street splitting the buildings apart, “What of it?”

“Well, I was thinking. I feel no actual compulsion to kill you.”

“Nor I you, loathe am I to admit it.”

Iron Rat gave a nod, “Well, that’s good for me. Thank you.”

“Welcome. Now prattle forth.”

Iron Rat gave a short snort, “It’s not a prattle so much as a thinking out loud within your earshot. Look, we’re supposed to kill someone here in this city, and we’re supposed to know who, but neither of us have much of a feeling it’s the other. Right?”

“I am not disputing that, no.”

“You could have just said right. Anyway.” Iron Rat looked upwards to the sky, “Your wizard…Faceless One was it? Did they say they were an enemy of mine, Many Eyes?”

“They mentioned not the name of Many Eyes at all, nor of you,” Cybersaur stated.

“Good. So I do not think we are supposed to kill one another. I do not think our wizards are antagonistic to one another. Rivals, perhaps, but they’re not at war with one another and we’re not their pawns in a battle. I don’t think. Leastwise, not in a way that we need to fight amongst ourselves. With me so far?”

“I am agreeing with your premise, but I do not think I am very much ‘with you’, exactly.”

“Why’s that?”

Cybersaur gave a snort, “Because I’m downwind of you, vermin!”

Iron Rat gave a short laugh, “Alright, maybe I deserve that. Living in a swamp could do that to someone. How about instead of just a truce, we form an alliance?”



“Let’s form a partnership.” Cybersaur pointed to a bathhouse he could see from his rooftop that lay a few blocks behind Iron Rat’s location, “But first, let us wipe the stench off of ourselves so as not to offend the other’s oversensitive nostrils. Then, we find some spirits to down.”

“I thought you said you weren’t a wizard.”

“Alcohol, vermin fool! Liquor!”

Iron Rat hopped off of his roof to the street, landing in a gentle crouch, “Fine, let’s be off. Yo, what’s your name anyway, big guy? I can’t keep calling you fangs. Least, not when I’m not trying to be polite.”

“I am Cybersaur.”

“Like the beasties? Seems fitting. I’m Iron Rat.”

“Haha!” Cybersaur hopped down and gave a loud laugh that echoed down the alleys, “If you impress me, you can be Steel Vermin then!”

“Hey! Watch it, bub! This could be a quickly ended friendship if you keep pressing that V word on me.”

Cybersaur rested a powerful hand on Iron Rat’s head and started to lead him down the street, “An old nickname from when you were younger, yes? It still chafes you?”

“It still does.”

“Mayhaps when this adventure in Argreon is complete, I can help you gain revenge on the bullies you had from this times.”

Iron Rat gave a sidelong glance to his new companion and a soft shrug, “Nah. Don’t worry about it. I mean, kind of you to offer and all. But what good would that do me now?”

“Wisdom in those words, small one.”

Iron Rat slapped Cybersaur’s forearm, “Now that’s even worse!”

Cybersaur growled down at his new companion and gave him a dark look. Then the two burst out laughing as they entered the bathhouse. Each went to a bath of their own, Cybersaur taking what is normally the men’s bath and Iron Rat the female’s bath, their weapons placed at the edge of the baths and within quick reach. It was not just an issue of trusting the other, but it was also due to the strangeness of everyone in Argreon being completely still. Iron Rat cursed that none of the city’s females had been using the bath when the stillness set in.

Afterwards, the duo went to the bar across the street. They found fermented positronium of various flavors and began to pour themselves several drinks. They set them across the bar, Iron Rat taking one end and Cybersaur the other, meeting up in the center of the bar with the strongest of said drinks.

Cybersaur and Iron Rat each started the drinking farthest away from one another. They’d drink their first drink, then move closer to one another, drink the second one, and repeat. Eventually they’d be drunk and next to one another.

Hefting his first mug, Cybersaur gave, “From the frozen north I come, I who am Cybersaur.”

Iron Rat hefted his own mug, “Iron Rat is my name, most recently of the northern swamps.”

After the drinks were drunk, which took some time for these mugs were filled high, they moved closer and took their second drinks. Cybersaur started, “Enslaved when I was gone are a number of my people, and I am here to rescue them.”

Iron Rat took his own drink and stated his intent as, “A mentor who taught me nothing and used me as his one house’s caretaker was kidnapped by a small group. I would rescue him.”

When they got to their third drink, Cybersaur said, “This I offer to you then, that a rescue of your friend be attempted.”

“Agreed,” Iron Rat said with his third drink, “And thank you. But first we rescue your people.”


Iron Rat gave a laugh, “Because if any are half as powerful as you, that’s several good allies we have on our side!”

Cybersaur snorted and asked, “And if they’re immobilized like the rest of this city?”






The two kept drinking and kept moving closer to one another with each drink. But their statements were less and less unintelligible with the emptying of the mugs, and their alcohold muddled minds had to fill in the blanks of the other’s intent.

When they finished the last drinks, they pledged eternal brotherhood in a way that only drunken camaraderie could exhibit, then passed out against the bar.

When they awoke late the next day, they found that their weapons were not with them, They further found, to their chagrin, that they were no longer in the bar.

They were in a cell.

Which means someone else in this city was able to move around, and they or their minions dragged the two into this cell.

The one they had to kill, perhaps?

Cybersaur tracked the slaver’s caravan, but with the need to descend The Sisters, the caravan had a large head start on him, and he always a day behind. They had left a trail of forlorn families who lost one or more of their kin to their brutal rampage. The stares of the despondent left Cybersaur’s heart chilled, and after the first three towns he passed in this manner, he went around and bypassed the rest after. After a few such treks around towns he noticed that the caravan stayed only upon the main roadways and that they were traveling south, likely to the large city of Argreon. It was a place of wonders he heard about in stories in the past. But it was a place that trafficked in everything, even slaves, and their destination was all but assured. Knowing this, he was able to take to the foothills and sidepaths and catch up to them. Eventually, a half day’s journey outside Argreon, he surpassed the ones he was pursuing and had time to set up an ambush. He worked boulders and branches in such a way as to fall upon the caravan and knock most of the guards off the hill road, if the timing was right.

Iron Rat, for his part, had been following his own quarry. Unlike Cybersaur, he had no desire to catch up or even overtake his prey. He only intended to follow them, wait for the moment when the armed group made a mistake or split apart, then rescue the mentor he never obtained a lesson from. He simply stayed out of their sight as he kept moving after them. The group, however, had kept a guard on watch always, at night, and during the day kept one riding outwards from the group to scout. So he had no chance to rush in for the rescue then flee, and in fact, had struggled to keep up at times.

When the slaver’s caravan had come upon Cybersaur’s ambush spot, Iron Rat was about to try to play a trick to distract the group and throw them off guard. And just as the duo, in their own spots, were about to burst into movement….they were frozen in place.

Their quarry continued onwards, the duo just able to watch them move on. Cybersaur saw his move into the western gate of Argreon, and Iron Rat, the northern one. The duo were completely still, their bodies locked in place, just as they were moving to make their ambuscade.

Cybersaur growled in rage as his targets vanished out of sight, then growled again darkly as before him came the vision of something grotesque and alien! It was a strange life form that floated on tentacles, of a gigantic bulbous shape, whose size easily matched his own. The being had soft metallic flesh of dead, wet grey and a voice that could tarnish copper. But the strange being had a multitude amount of heads, all twisting about one another!  The strange being had a strange way of speaking, one sentence per head, each with a face unique to that head. “A foolish mistake you were about to make, yet save you I did. In exchange, a favor to be done for me, the Faceless One!”

Cybersaur stared and only replied with a quiet, “…”

“Come come now, I returned your power of speech, ye strong skald! Show me some of that quick wit and hold a conversation with I!”

“That’s a stupid name.”

The alien being gave a cacaphonous roar of laughter from its many mouths then snorted, “Never have I heard that. Pray pray, why is my moniker not approved by you, do tell!”

“You have six faces.”

“Oh ho ho! Yes, six faces but seven heads! See now, my name is fitting!”

“Fitting but stupid. But enough nonsense. Why did you stop me?”

The alien being stood upright, its heads still corkscrewing about one another, “You would not have survived, though you would have made quite an accounting of yourself. No no, I can not have that. Of you, there is much use, much potential. Allies, yet not friends, we shall be.”

Cybersaur snorted, “Why should I ally with you?”

“Because I can give you gifts! Knowledge! And I know in your future you’ll need me to heal you at least once. In fact, such a gift is to be made now.”

“I do not want to accept it.”

The alien being just tapped Cybersaur on the forehead with a tentacle and stated, “It is done.”

Cybersaur gave a blank look and a simple, “…”

“Come come now, you have a silver tongue!” The alien entity stuck one head forward and peered into Cybersaur’s mouth, adding, “Literally.” It made an odd and grotesque shrugging motion of its body, “Regardless, one gift has been given you.”

“What of it?”

“That platrinaraptor you slew on your last hunt, its form you can now assume. A welcome you are.”

Cybersaur frowned a bit, lips curling to bare his teeth, “I had no intention of studying the Esoteric Art of Shape Changing!”

“Good thing you did not learn it then, you were gifted it. Need it you will. Now, a mission to be given you are.”

“I refuse.”

“Do it you will, no matter what, for destiny writ that yours it is. So bad. In Argreon, one you shall kill. Know them by sight will you, o wise raptor bard.”

“Then I shall throw away my sword!”

The alien laughed, “A new one you shall find.”

“I will turn around from Argreon and return to my home.”

The alien’s many visages paused a bit before continuing to twist about themselves, “Without your precious lady? Your mother? The women of words you like to challenge yourself against?” One ugly face looked at Cybersaur and the alien mused, “True that may be. So be it.” The alien known as Faceless One tapped Cybersaur again, and the discussion was over.

Cybersaur had been teleported into an attic inside of the town of Argreon.

While Cybersaur was having his conversation with his alien and mysterious benefactor, Iron Rat had likewise such a conversation. His started with him shouting, “Rust me red, what the smelt is going on?”

An alien being, different from Cybersaur’s, had appeared in a vision before him. It was a being coated in robes that had no eyes whatsoever. Even with a cloak upon its head hiding its features, Iron Rat knew that this being had no eyes, yet felt strangely stared at. It said in a rusted whisper, “An exchange we are to make. A gift to you, a gift to me. Agreeable?”

“I can’t agree with anyone whose name I do not know.”

“You are Iron Rat, and I am Many Eyes.”

Iron Rat snorted, “You got no eyes!”

The alien being waved an arm about, the robe swaying some, “Many eyes I have, all scattered around. Some are here, some are there, but all are somewhere. Because none I have on me does not mean none I have at all.”

Iron Rat snorted some, “Fine, I’ll give you that. I suppose. Go on, what’s your deal?”

“Instant knowledge of an Esoteric Art you do not know. Then, in Argreon, you will kill someone for me.”

“I’ve no real problem with killing, exactly,” stated Iron Rat, “but I’m not an assassin, either. What’s my cause to do so?”

“You shall see. Now…” with a tap of their hand against Iron Rat, he was granted the same Esoteric Art that Cybersaur was given, only, as Many Eyes stated, “Now your namesake you can become.”

“By the Cataclysm, what a raw deal I got! Iron Rat is not my name, it was a derogatory moniker people called me that stuck!”

“Then make of it what you will. To your mission you now go.”

“I refuse, I hate rats. You gave me a bad-” and before he could finish, Iron Rat’s view had changed. He was instantly teleported into Argreon, also into an empty attic.

The two it seems were not teleported instantly, for when they were able to explore the attics they were each respectively teleported to, they found that it was evening light that was coming through the windows. Each found some secondary weaponry, thief tools, ropes and grapnel hooks, climbing spikes, and a small number of other tools useful for one to climb up heights and run along rooftops.

Each had tested their confines in their own way. The larger and stronger Cybersaur tried to shove open the door leading from the attic to the rest of the building, then ran into the same door several times, but without it budging. Iron Rat had tried using his keen intellect to pry open the door, but its lock stayed tight, almost preternaturally so. It became clear to each that their mysterious benefactors had planned to allow each to explore their own domicile as a reward for their mission.

To kill someone.

Both eventually grudgingly accepted their predicament, and opened the windows. They each careened up to the roof of the building they just occupied. They each gave a short, quick look around, then each felt compelled to run northwards, towards a large tower dominating the nearby cityscape.

Cybersaur’s footfalls were sure and firm, though he ran silently across the rooftops. Iron Rat’s were fast, agile, quieter than a wind’s whisper and almost as quick. The duo moved as if dancing across rooftops.

When they came near the tower, there was a central square where many city blocks met one another. A lovely fountain with a statue of an old hero took the center of it. Many people were around it. A few stores had their doors open with customers inside the doorways.

Both Cybersaur and Iron Rat studied this scene for a time, trying to figure out how to get to the tower without being seen by the group. But the more they studied the seen, the more unsettled they became.

For all was stillness. Not a single citizen, nor the fountain, had moved a bit.

The duo looked around and ran from one building to another, looking into houses and down streets. Nothing, not even the urban wildlife, was moving.

All was still.

All, sans the other one scrambling upon their own rooftop.

Skirting the edges of the territories of the Tribal Armies, south of Cybersaur’s homelands, lies the corrosive swamps of Dgahboa. It is here that a natural, ancient, primordial type of magic is said to be practices, possibly older than the Esoteric Arts. Some even say it may be the formation of the Arts themselves. And it is here that many a lonely hermit arrived, attempting to study the power of this land while being slowly devoured by the acids of the very swamps.

Enter here, Iron Rat. While he gained his life in the Turbochargers tribe, it was not in the roguish arts that his young heart lain. He, being quite literate, quickly found the pleasure of books and archives, and oft would be found squirreled away inside of a dark nook, reading away his time. And it was because of this that he got punished often.

One punishment too far had Iron Rat evading patrols as he deserted his tribal army, fleeing north to the Dgahboan Swamps. He knew there that the Turbochargers would not send search parties for him, excepting maybe perhaps some reluctant fools being punished themselves.

It was eight years ago that he came upon the house of a wizened old scholar, who gave him permission to live in his house if he but take care of it. He also promised to teach Iron Rat the tricks of pure wizardry.

In those eight years, he saw his mentor but once.

But Iron Rat learned nevertheless. The house was full of books on the subject, and was all but inherited by the young rogue. He had been given enough free time not just to study but to practice the fundamentals of the arcane arts. While he never learned what he truly wanted, for he was seeking powerful battle magic that would change the world at his utterance.

What he learned was how to grow hedges tall, even in an acidic swampland. He learned how to manipulate ropes with your mind. He learned to make his voice sound like it came from up to fifty meters elsewhere.

And the parlor tricks were it.

And this peaceful letdown of a life was disturbed around the same time that Cybersaur, further to the north, started to scale the Three Sisters.

Having fallen asleep while reading a book that all but promised his every desire, Iron Rat heared the telltale sounds of Pferds all too late. Pferds are the equivalent of the equine species in the Land of Living Metal. Horses.

Pferds meant Vescaxians, for no pferd would arrive in these dank swamps of their own free will. It was the loud slapping of one pferd hoof against a tree that shook Iron Rat awake. His mind quickly raced from its dreaming state to that of full wakefulness, then raced to take in the sounds he was perceiving.

There was at least six people who had arrivved. They were not Turbochargers, for they made no attempt to mask their sound, they were as loud here as if they had been at a party in their own homes. Their heavy metal feet stomped heavily against the ground and they casually and carelessly swung their blades through the high, thick hedges Iron Rat had grown in his years here. And he heard them souting across the swamp to one another. From the location of their voices shouting and responding, he knew that the six had surrounded the house and were hacking their way in through the thick hedges.

Due to the hacking, he knew, without any doubt, they were not here by invitation, for the hedges would have parted to allow entry if that were so. He knew they were hostile to himself. This was further cemented when one shouted, “Did you see our quarry?”

Iron Rat quickly scurried about the house. He grabbed a backpack and filled it with a few bare essentials and some important books. Now, to be fair, in the Land of Living Metal books are not the same as they are here, for their is no organic plantlife. In the Land of Living Metal, books were recorded on disks full of data, so it would be more appropos to call them data disks, but books more properly convey the information and use they embody.

Iron Rat slung his pack around his shoulders and grabbed his weapons. He took a main gauche, which is a parrying dagger with large guards used to parry enemy weapons. He also took his prized sword, a long rapier like blade he called Scalpel, for it struck with surgical precision.

Geared up, Iron Rat absconed from the house via the basement. When he was about to leave the house proper to run to the hedges, he heard one hunter shout from nearby, “You two, guard the hedges, let’s not let him escape. The two of you, patrol the house.” Then to someone closer, the same hunter said, “You and I, we’ll go inside.”

Iron Rat stuck close to the basement door, head tilted so he could press one of his sensitive ears up closer to the hunters, for every little detail may help. He heard the heavy metal footfalls of the two entering the house, one going up the stairs to start looking on the second floor, the other taking the first. He heard two pairs of feet patrolling the front and back of the house, but they did not fully encircle the place. From the distance, he heard one pair of footfalls as they walked up and down one side of the hedges.

His opponents were good, but he detected several points at which he could escape. It was just about timing. He waited while the person near the hedges walked away from his destination. He creaked open tthe basement door a bit, only to hear the sounds of one of the ones patrolling the house coming closer. He had to wait until both house guards were moving in the direction opposite him, as well as the one near the hedge he wanted to leave by.

Twice more he nearly left the basement, only to hear the footfalls of one or more guards stalk in the wrong direction. He waited a few more minutes, then he heard that same voice, obviously the group’s leader, ask the other one searching the house, “Anything upstairs?”

“Nay, there’s no one here.”

“Well, there was,” said the gruffer voice of the leader, “The data disks are unsettled, the dust is disturbed, and there are writing utensils that had been used recently. Someone’s been using the house.”

“Maybe they’ve gone out hunting boss?”

“In the swamps?”

The other voice, younger and somewhat unsure of himself, replied, “Why not? Lots of minerals out there. Lots of medicinal-”


Iron Rat darted his head backwards to look over towards the stairs leading down from the house to the basement. He narrowed his eyes and gripped harder at the handle of the basement exit. If all else failed, he would rush across the yard and steal a pferd, then run away in the swamps, taking his chances that way. As a Turbocharger, he was confident in his speed. He bided his time and listened.

“Thought I found a secret room. Nevermind, continue.”

A secret room? Not even Iron Rat discovered one of those, and he’s been exploring the house and its local grounds all these eight years he lived here. While he was considering what was going on, he heard heavy footfalls snap him from his reverie. One of them found the basement, at least.

He took another moment or two, waiting for the patrolling guards upon the grounds to travel paths more favorable to him, then he quickly yet quietly slid the door open, crept out, and soundlessly place it back. Then he quietly bolted the door, preventing the leader from leaving how he just did.

Iron Rat then ran with incredible speed across the yard. He did not run into the hedges, for the gate would open for him and make his location known. When he got near it, he slid and then rolled on his sides, tumbling into the undergrowth of the hedges. He was clear!

“I saw something!”

Maybe he wasn’t quite clear.

He heard the sounds of footfalls clomping across the land as the hunters started to congregate about the one who saw something. He knew he didn’t have a lot of time, so in the boggy, acrid undergrowth he began to crawl away. It was not safe where he was.

As attested by the fact that a blast of energy just destroyed the hedge where he was!

Iron Rat diverted on a diagonal path, keeping low, crawling on hands and knees, towards the exterior end of the hedges and the location of a pferd he heard stomping at the ground, apparently bored. He’d give it some excitement soon when he abducted the animal.

Another blast hit the hedge just before him, giving Iron Rat pause. He then just scampered directly away. Once he did so, he ran right to the pferd, which meant he was visible for the entire length of time it took him to run from one side of the blasted hedge to the other.

“There! Get him!”

As more energy blasts seared the hedges, he knew that ‘get him’ meant, ‘dead or alive’ and he preferred one vastly over the other. As they did not seem to be a group for talking, he knew that these were hunters, pure and simple. Bounty hunters most like, but beings who would not leave without his body, one way or another.

He charged off on his pferd at full speed, trying to get as far away from his hunters as he could before they mounted up and pursued. He heared the leader behind him shout, “You, stay guard in case he returns! The rest, mount up and chase!”

Well, that answered the question about whether one of the remaining pferd would get two riders or one hunter would be left behind. He knew the house would not be safe. He knew that his puruers would easily follow him with the deep grooves in the fetid swamplands. And he knew his pferd would eventually tire. He also knew it was typical yet silly to shout your orders when your opponent can hear them.

As soon he was far enough away and around a bend, he took a moment to stand up on the back of the pferd, then jump and catch a tree limb. The pferd would continue running off, his running footfalls making an obvious trail for his pursuers to follow. He climbed up from one branch of the tree to another, gaining height and becoming further out of sight.

After a few moments, the five remaining pferd, with their riders, strode on by at high speed, their hooves making the tree itself shake and quiver. He slipped a bit but caught himself, with nary a leaf shaken to betray his presence.

Iron Rat had been moving from branch to branch, slowly, carefully, after his hunters left him. His journey stopped, however, when the steeds came back, his empty pferd in tow. Their heavy footfalls made him rattle again.

And his pack also rattled. Just enough for a data disk to slip from it and hit the last hunter in the head with a metallic plink.

Iron Rat cursed under his breath as that one called a halt and looked upwards. He had been found. Two of the hunters were skilled in the Esoteric Art of Energy Blasts and had pointed their arms at the branch he was on and fired, making him come crashing down to the ground. Even though he hit nearly every branch on the way down and was bruised, he still landed in a graceful crouch.

He sneered as he whipped his rapier and main gauche out reflexively, “One at a time or all at once!”

The one who got plinked by the data disk held his hand up and dismuonted. He slid his broadsword from his sheath and charged towards Iron Rat with a yell. There was a powerful arcing swing of the broadsword followed by a clang of metal on metal. Then, there was a loud snap followed by a clattering of the blade on a tree trunk before it fell to the ground.

Iron Rat had intercepted the broadsword with his main gauche, then expertly twisted his wrist to let the powerful tines of the parrying dagger to snap the enemy’s blade, effortlessly. Then, in the same fluid motion, he thrust forward with Scalpel, percing his assailant’s neck with the rapier.

The hunter fell to his knees, making oil drenched sounds, clenching at his wound. Iron Rat knew that the exposed internals would quickly react to the acidic and corrosive air of the swamp and fester and rot. The broadsword swinger had but painful moments to live.

The group’s leader waved his hand forward and said coldly, “All at once, then.”

As the group dismounted and stepped forward, there was a powerful clap of thunder and a flash of light. A wizened elderly gentleman stepped forward, laughing, “What are you doing assaulting my housekeeper?”

Before he could act, the old one was assailed by the hunters, who fired capture nets at him. They quickly pummeled him unconscious with the flat of one of their blades, then tossed him up on the back of the empty pferd.

As this was happening, Iron Rat fled. He ran off into the heavy brush of the dank swamp, into the watery portion of the land. He heard a short discussion behind him.

“What of that one we were chasing?”

“Leave him, he’s just a housekeep. Let him live forever as a swamp rat.”

Another said, pointing to the wounded one, “And him?”

“He’s as good as dead. And his share now can be split amongst us.”

Iron Rat gave a dark frown. Housekeeper! After all these years of loyal service, without really any lessons at all, the old one not even knowing his name, he had always been just a housekeeper, a servant, to him!

He fumed a bit, but not for long. After all, he had a rescue to plan.


Far in the northern parts of the Northlands lies a land where the cold dominates everything. Even the steel hearted Vescaxians native to the area find life often difficult and their limbs sapped of strength and languid from the frozen atmosphere of the place. Only the heartiest survive here.

It is of such a deadly cold in this land that only one in ten Vescaxians survive their first few years of life. Only the very strongest can survive here, this frozen wasteland inhospitable to even the concept of life.

And out of all these great survivors, one stands, very literally, head and shoulders above the rest.

In his first year, his parents took him further south into warmer climes as guards of a trade caravan. Two years later, only he returned to his homeland, draped in the hide and using the parts of a cybersaur, a cyberaptor to be precise, that his people dubbed him Cybersaur.

Perhaps fate-entwined, it would be thirty years from now before he heard of Cavalier’s own raptor slaying exploits and he sought out the other. However, he had a long life of adventure until that great clash.

A teacher, draped heavily in warming metallic furs of lesser beasts, one of the traveling teachers that wander about the lands earning their living by instructing others in one of the many Esoteric Arts. This teacher came to teach the Esoteric Art of the Invincible Robot, and came to the very furthest point of the Northlands to test his own prowess. He kept pushing his limits, and was working on being able to defeat the feeling of the cold with his art.

He wasn’t having very much luck in that regard. He hated, no abhorred, the cold. It was biting into his heart, even under his invincible armor, and he had to hide himself in furs just to stay slightly uncomfortable.

He also was not having much luck in his teaching up in these barbaric lands. The only one who was interested in learning his training was the young giant named Cybersaur, and did learn some of the very basics, but then became distracted.

He found girls.

In these barbaric lands, females seemed to fare better than males. Many males who did survive their first few years would often become mercenaries of one sort or another in the much more comfortable environs of the Northlands. A lot of the females, however, have taken to staying in the land of their birth. While fully capable of traveling south across the Northlands like the rest of their people, most females did not. They seemed to have a preference to staying and raising offspring here.

Perhaps, instinctively, these metallic maidens knew that those that did survive the very harsh climate here forged a stronger generation than the last, and they had an instinctive desire to make an ultimate generation of super powerful Vescaxians.

They’ll tell you, however, they just have a fondness for the bleak, snow driven wilderness. It had a pristine beauty that was almost poetic.

Cybersaur, though built like a hulking brute, had a mind like a steel trap, and a heart that pumped kindness. He would engage the older females of the group in poetic challenges, quickly learning the nuances of a clevverly twisted phrase and the imagery of a properly laid out sentence. And in short order, not only was he winning these challenges, he was winning the hearts of most of his challengers.

But a certain shy lady had found his optics and caused his servos to pump just a bit faster. Her exterior was clad in gold and silver, with eyes that sparkled like blue diamonds held up to soft starlight. And her voice was melodic and oozed its way into Cybersaur’s auditory sense like sizzling honey.

Something about her made it almost impossible for him to concentrate. He started to ignore the traveling teacher he originally studied hard under. He started to get tongue tied in the regular poetry contests. He even started to feel his strength enervated and his movements lacking grace and power.

He was either in love, or lust so deep he could not see he was wallowing at the bottom of a pit.

But she would have naught to do with him.

Cybersaur’s heart felt leaden and dead, His poetry became morose and it took far longer to scribble out a few lines than it ever did for him to write entire stanzas before. And the only thing he desired to armor was the sinking feeling deep in his chest.

The only pleasure he could feel nowadays was in climbing all the tall mountains in his native land. Today he wished to conquer the Three Sisters, a set of mountains that abutted right against one another and the next taller than the prior. They looked almost like three gigantic stairs leading to the stars.

Cybersaur just crested the peak of Little Sister, looking towards Middle Sister, who towered over his current position at almost half again the height. Beyond her he could see Eldest Sister, a mountain that dwarfed even Middle Sister.

It is said that no one reached its peak and ever returned. The practical ones will say that such is due to the difficulty and challenges of the extreme height. That no one can survive such a tall mountain, for the atmosphere becomes so thin that even the hardy ones struggled to draw breath.

The more poetic minded said no one returned because, being so close to the stars, it was just one great leap away from becoming a constellation yourself, and the heroes who do survive the trek up never return to the worldly realm, for they have touched the roof of heaven.

He then turned and looked down at his village, which seemed somewhat small in the distance. He could still see the dwellings of his people, and barely see his people walking about the village, but both were vague and indistinct. Cybersaur adjusted his hide cloak and did a moving meditation by jumping side to side to keep himself warm while trying to let his mind unfocus and wander.

It kept on wandering back to the lady of his affection.

He barely registered a merchant caravan moving up from the south with his village as their destination. He barely registered that they were many moons too early for the annual trek. His people would typically have a yearly fair setup for the arrival of the merchants, but this was quite earlier than normal.

He did not really pay attention to what his mind was telling him with this, and just turned to face Middle Sister. Cybersaur craned his neck back to look up the mountain, flexed his arms and rolled his shoulders, then leapt the gap splitting the two mountains to begin climbing up the steep face of this towering behemoth.

Cybersaur’s fingers, like claws, slammed themselves like jackhammers deep into the iron mountain. The hard metal cracked under his repeated strikes, and he tattooed the mountainside in his journey, leaving behind visible scars of his path. The bitter cold and chilling winds would eventually erode away the evidence of his passage, but for now it gave him a pleasant feeling that he was, very literally, making his mark across such a geologic monument.

It was almost like he was made to climb. He was certainly sure about it, surer than he was of his footwork when dancing. He was an exalted mountaineer, an exemplar of the craft. Even birds capable of flight could be jealous of the speed at which he journeyed every upwards and further skywards.

He was panting deeply by the time he was able to see the peak. Fatigued but not undaunted, he pressed ever onwards. It was mid afternoon when he grasped the edge of the summit and pulled himself up to the flat table of the top.

He stared for some time at Elder Sister, which seemed to make Middle Sister pale in comparison so that he thought about ironically renaming this mountain Child Sister and the one he crested prior Baby Sister. It was positively huge, the top invisible with clouds hovering about it, giving an ambient haze that was unpiercable to the optic.

Instead, he turned to gaze down at his home village. Now, it was impossible to see anyone walking about the area, and the abodes themselves were vague and indistinct, hard to see.even when focusing deeply on them.

At first, he thought it was just trick of the impending twilight on the fog below, but upon further study, he began to see that the vapor dancing skywards was the tell tale smoke of fire. Upon further examination, he saw several of the dwellings of his village were set aflame.

Cybersaur began to travel back down Middle Sister at breakneck speed. His claws dug deep into the mountainside to arrest his momentum, but he never let up too much on the pace. He had to get down to his village and quickly. His people were in danger. The lady who stole his heart was menaced.

They were not merchants in the caravan that arrived, they were slavers!

Foxfire quickly shifted into her silver metal vulpine form and ran off at quick speed, her five tails streaming behind her. She ran at speed and with determination in the direction of the tree she felt pulled to earlier.

A different kind of Lost.

She disturbed the nests of some of the forest dwellers that were just starting an early day before sunlight, but paid them no mind. The silver metal vulpine jumped across ravines gracefully and launched herself up a short hill, not once lowering her momentum. She wanted to get there soon as she could.

Foxfire arrived at the tree that seemed to have pulled at her just before the sunlight came up. She sniffed around the tree itself, one of her tails sticking upwards and pointing to the tree. After some more sniffing about, she stopped, her tail arched gently as it pointed right to the tree.

She turned back quickly to her natural form, her chain coin sword gripped in her left hand instantly. She looked the tree over some more, studying it. Her right hand rested against it softly, then she tapped it a few times. During a few taps she said, “Hello? Can you speak?”

Of course, there was no answer from the tree.

Foxfire tapped the tree a bit more, frowning softly, “Of course it can’t be done the easy way. What ever could? But I know this is one.” She gave the tree a hug, asking, “You’re a Lost, right? I’m going to help you.” She looked around some, “First, I’m going to figure out how to help you.”

Foxfire gave a bit of a sigh as she circled the tree once more, studying it. She arrived back at that one spot she left prior, knowing instinctively, deep down, that this was where the face of the Lost was, behind their alternate form’s exterior.

A tree though, that’s unique. She expected animals or vehicles. Sometimes objects like light posts, lanterns, and writing desks. But a tree, she never knew anyone who could turn into one.Now she’d have to be aware of bushes and maybe even the grass made of copper that was shaped like great stalks of bamboo.

Foxfire stared at the spot where the face of the Lost lies. She rested a hand against that spot and tried talking to it some more. Nothing of importance, just small words of encouragement and asking the Lost to step forth. When nothing happened, she gave it one last shot before sitting down on the ground.

With nothing better to do, Foxfire sat in her lotus position again and focused once more on the coin sword, starting to meditate again. Her eyes soon unfocused, and she began to feel her mind relax and her spirit drift. Soon enough, she was untethered once more from her body and able to float about. She looked quickly to the tree.

Only it was not a tree in the spirit realm, but a large Dangaizan male in heavy armor. With a look like the heroic ghost she met the night before, Foxfire felt she knew this being. She began to speak, asking for the name of the Lost and how he came to be here.

He said nothing. Instead, he made the motion of a sword stabbing into himself. When Foxfire did not understand, he pointed to her sword, then made the same stabbing motion again.

Foxfire found out what he wanted, and lifted the sword up. She jabbed it right at the spirit of the Lost, but nothing happened. It dinged off of his spirit form as it did her real form when she experimented with it earlier. So Foxfire stared at the spirit form of her coin sword some more, concentrating on it. Her right hand she waved arcane sigils over the coins and she began to mutter esoteric phrases of ancient languages. She knew not how she knew them, but assumed it was due to training she had from before she became a Lost. Someone taught it to her once and she knew it deep in her mind.

With the spell done, the coin sword glowed bright and took the form of a proper sword, though all of energy. The coins comprising the actual sword remained, they were just sheathed in this light. Then, she stabbed the sword forward, into the spirit of the Lost before her.

There was a great howl as the Lost contorted, turning from his heroicly armored self to a tree and back, this happening several times. Then it stopped in his nature, humanoid form and he spoke with a ragged gasp, “My thanks.”

“Did I hurt you?”

“No, young fox. You snapped my mind awake again, and it and my spirit came together once again.”

“However,” said Foxfire, “you are talking raggedly, like you are hurt.”

The heroic looking Lost, his armor mostly blue and red with highlights of gold, shook his head, “Not a wound you gave. I obtained it before I turned into my tree form and then became Lost.”

“Is it serious?”

“I shall die of it, now.”

Foxfire looked sad and tilted her head downwards, “I’m sorry.”

“Nay, fox sorceress. It is not your fault. The barbaric invaders that took our country from us and oppress our people did this to us. But I gave a fine accounting of myself. I took enough away from this world before I was wounded and forced to run.”

Foxfire gave the Lost a soft smile, “I’m sure your family would be proud.”

“I hope my father would be, at least. Could you tell him of my fate, mayhaps?”

Foxfire studied the hero who was a tree for a time, studying his aura, then shook her head, “I’m sorry, but no. Your father was buried last night. I talked to him briefly, but conjuring a ghost is a lot of work, and he was content to pass on into the next world.”

“I understand. I suppose I can talk to him myself when I, too, pass.”

“Does it hurt?”

The hero shrugged slightly, “I’ve had the wound since before I turned into a tree. The entire time I was in my tree form, I felt the wound. The pain has long become a part of me and I have become numb to it. Regardless, the wound will still take me.”

“Did I kill you?”

“How could you do that?” asked the large male robot, “You did not wound me. In fact, you save me.”

“But I stopped you from being a Lost! Because of me, you’re no longer stuck in the form of a tree, and if you turn back, your wound could kill you.”

“No could, if I turn back, my wound will kill me, almost instantly. But I said you saved me, and you did.”

“How, though?”

“I am no longer Lost.”

Foxfire gave a sigh, looking at the other Dangaizan in spirit form, “I suppose that is true. I’d rather you no longer be Lost and be alive as well.”

“As would I, but fate’s plans state otherwise. Fret not, know you have saved me.”

“What can I do for you, now, though?”

The spirit form of the red and blue hero sat down with a little grunt, “Listen, know this. I was one of many people who followed a great and heroic leader in a failed revolt. We were betrayed from within. Many of us died, more of us became Lost to escape. We hoped to one day fight again, somehow. I would ask you to find who betrayed us and gain revenge if you could, and rescue as many of us who are Lost. Know, however, rescuing us is of more import than gaining our vengeance. There will be no lack of volunteers for that task once they regain their senses.”

“I can try. How many of your fellows became Lost, do you know?”

“Yes, hundreds.”

Foxfire frowned a bit, “Hundreds. All scattered about the entire Emprie I wager?”

“Most like.”

“And how am I to find them all?”

The hero pointed to where her fox tails hung in Foxfire’s robot form then explained to her, “That one moved when you got near me earlier. It is likely able to detect the Lost. If you can train yourself to detect others with it, I’m sure you’ll get better and better at detecting Lost, and perhaps from greater ranges.” He waved to the other tails, “I’m sure that they, too, have other magical use, and you should learn their capabilities as well.”

“Sound advice.”

“I try. Look you, now. I have a last request for you.”

Foxfire nodded, “Of course, anything you want.”

“Do not bury me.”


The Lost that was stuck in tree form gave a wan smile, “Do not bury me. Let me be. If you awaken me on the physical world, I’ll turn back into my natural form, then die in your arms. I do not want that, to die in the arms of she who saved me. I do not wish you to grieve.”

“You want me to just…leave you? But you’ll die alone!”

“My choice.” There was a soft coughing deep in his chest, “I’d rather not pass on in front of you. Leave, leave and travel far away. Do not stab my tree form with your coin sworrd on the physical plane like you did just now to my spirit form.”

“Why’s that?”

“It would force me to become fully aware and turn into my natural form. I imagine it would do the same to any Lost you ran into. Let me remain a tree, my branches to the heavens, providing shadow to sojourners and home to animals.”

Foxfire gave a short nod. She wrapped her chain coin sword around her waist again, then bowed slightly, “I will never forget you, your requests, or your integrity. I am sorry I could not save you.”

The dying one smiled softly, shaking his head as Foxfire began to fade out, “Oh, but you did. You did.”

She snapped her eyes open in the prosaic world again, inhaling the scents of the Southlands. She stood up and gave the tree a hug, then bowed and gave a short prayer to it to speed his way to the afterlife. She studied her surroundings then started off on her journey once again.

Someday, she’ll return, with the rebels who fought alongside this hero. And then they’ll give this hero, this tree, a proper funeral. This was not a divination. This was a promise to a friend known all too briefly, and a vow to herself to atone for not being able to properly save him.

Foxfire scampered out of the graveyard with nary a look backwards. She ran on all fours to a hill overlooking the area, gazing down into the village some distance away. The mourners have by now arrived and have been heading back to their own homes. It seems once the burial was complete, the funeral was done. Likely the day itself was used to memorialize the deceased, which is why they left to bury him relatively late in the day when evening was approaching.

To avoid the risk of becoming Lost again, Foxfire only stayed in her silver vixen form fo long enough to survey the town and look for trouble. She then twisted and contorted her shape, shifting from her bestial form to her humanoid one with grace. She used the motion and momentum of her form shift to glide gently down into a lotus position upon the hilltop. Her coin chain sword hung limply about her waist like a belt. She gave a soft touch to the hilt, contemplating it and other matters.

“Make your own spell,” said the ghost. She mused quietly to herself. It’s easy to say that, but hard to do. For all the good it did, the advice may as well have been, “Conquer the world,” or “Live forever”. It’s like saying the key to living long is to not die. Simple to say, but how to do?

Foxfire gave a soft sigh and glanced again about. At this time of night, there was nothing interesting going on, nor people moving about. Without such a distraction to keep her mind off of things, she once again tried to contemplate things. Foxfire fell on her back on the hill and gazed upwards. The night sky was dark but pretty, the various stars shining quietly.

Foxfire remembered some of her constellations from before her time as the Lost. She also recalled the theory that the stars were powerful life engines of giant and powerful heroes of old. That, together, a number of them was the actual body of the being, thus making the constellation. And she heard a theory that some of those bodies that travel so high up in the heavens are still alive and still fighting against one another. To be amongst those beings!

There was the Emperor and the God of Destruction. The Will of Evolution and the Chaos Bringer. Steel Dragon and White Knight. The Sword and Shield. The Energy Matrix and Great Creator. The Dark Emperor looked to be fighting her personal favorite, Wise Sage.

There were others of course, but Foxfire was focused on those, for they were the ones that were immediately above her head and easy to view from where she lay. She imagined the various constellations fighting a slow but terrible battle across the great void of space, shifting her eyes side to side as if watching them battle one against the other. Then she narrowed her eyes, using her greatly enhanced perception to try to see into space clearer, to see if she could see the actual beings. But even with her sight, she could not see anything like a physical body.

Foxfire gave a soft sigh and chastised herself some. Enough procrastinating. If she really venerated the Wise Sage and thought herself anywhere close to his capabilities, she’d have to live up to those standards! Besides, she has a calling, a purpose, and others are relying on her! With a short benediction of, “Please light my path, Wise Sage,” she sat up again, back into the lotus position.

She grabbed the hilt of her coin chain sword and unwound it from her waist, flicking her wrist to make the coins clink quickly into the sword shaped position. She gave it a few swings, studying it in motion, but once again thought of how useless it would be as a sword. It’s still not likely to cut a branch off a tree, as the edges of the coins have not been sharpened or modified in any way.

She held it in front of her, straight, chin level, her eyes focused on the tip. This she did with her left hand, while her right hand she raised upwards and twisted her fingers slightly. Her first two she held raised, the hand in a mystical position, this next to the sword’s hilt, her two upward pointing fingers just inches from her mouth. She took three deep breaths then held herself fully and completely still for a time.

Only her mind moved. At first it raced about, thinking about the ghost, and the constellations, and wondering if the ghost she just met may, perhaps, become a constellation, if only a minor one. She thought of Wise Sage descending from the heavens to point her in the right direction. She thought of funerals and living an utterly bestial life. Then she understood that the Wise Sage walked their own path and she would have to walk her own. While she’d enjoy the aid, she knew in her heart that true understanding of yourself meant being your own guide. So she focused on the tip of the sword more, trying to lose herself in it to slide into a deep state of meditation.

It took some time before she felt herself begin to fade a bit. She felt herself starting to lose her mindful consciousness and resisted the urge to pull back. She had to meditate deeply and look in on herself. It was with effortless effort that her ancient teacher told her to do that she finally let slip of herself and her surroundings and slid deep into pure meditation.

She felt herself without a body, weightless and emepheral, incorporeal but at the same time impermeable. She felt her true, inner self unshackle from the body and weight of the world. Foxfire flew with speed towards the graveyard she just left, but stopped quite some distance away. On a spiritual plane, there was a sense of wrong despair here, a forboding essence that scared her. She flew away quickly.

Instead she went to the village nearby, thinking that may be a better place to be. But people were asleep, and the chaos world of the dreamscape had its pall fallen about the place, and she felt a wrongness after coming close to it. Something about the ever shifting nature of dreams prevented her from willingly entering the village proper.

She flickered back and forth, noticing the differences between the two locations. In one, the dead ruled in their stillness. In the other, the sleeping living ruled in their fervent commotion. The contrast was somewhat unsettling, so she floated above her own meditating body. Foxfire stayed there a bit, looking at herself. She knew that if she went in meditating on a particular question, she’d have focus now, that her meditative, spiritual self would have something to do. But she did not, for ‘how to make a spell’ was too general of a thought that she may be lost meditating upon just that. If she knew what spell she wanted to make, she may have a chance meditating on ‘how to make my spell’, but she had not thought out yet what she wanted her spell to do.

So, she floated. And while floating, she looked at the constellations on the spiritual realm. Here, they were different. Not just twinkling stars, she could see here the auras and bodies of the heroes and villians that the constellations are. She flew upwards a good bit, before she felt the invisible cord that tied her spirit to her body gently tug on herself, keeping her only halfway to heaven. Perhaps, once she was done with her body, one day she may travel the rest of the way. But that day was not this day.

Instead, at the utmost height she could achieve, she looked to the constellation of Wise Sage, and asked, “Are you there?” She paused for some time, as if waiting for an answer, then conceded, “No, of course not.” She pointed upwards at the constellation, “And if you were, you’d be too busy for those of us still living upon this world of rust and unconcerned with worldly affairs, I wager! Just because you think yourself so high and wonderful, being some of the stars in the heavens!” She waited a bit more, watching to see if her chastisement worked at all, but only saw the twinkling of the stars making the constellation she was vocalizing to. Then a shrug was given, “I don’t know what to talk to you about anyway. If I ask you how to make magic, you’d likely misinterpret me and teach me the very basics. I know how to cast spells, that’s not the question. If I ask how to make a specific spell, you’d likely give me the grand theory of magic, inundating me with information overload, giving me everything I need for ten lifetimes but hiding what I need now in too much data.” A sigh and a tap of her chin, “And I wouldn’t ask you how I am to make my spell, for my spell is mine. It is for me alone to make, and perhaps to use.” A grin is given coyly to the stars, “I’m sure you’d be jealous of it, however! It would be such a grand spell that even the stars would twinkle in the joy of it!” foxfire looked around a bit, shrugged, and headed back towards her body.

Halfway down, she heard from the heavens, “I’m sure it will, and look forward to it.”

Foxfire did not turn around to speak to Wise Sage. She just smirked and used a minor spell to make dancing balls of fire in the shape of the Wise Sage’s constellation, then rearranged them to make a shape of a five tailed silver vixen.

There was a laugh before the voice again said, “The pathway to the stars is open to all. But not to the ones who listen to their own words.”

Foxfire darted her head back to the stars a moment while hovering near her meditating body. Her spirit felt a tug to her body, like a magnet attracting a ferrous metal, but she resisted a bit. She quirked a brow, hmming softly to herself, “My own words…huh?”

Foxfire thought of all she said to the Wise Sage when she thought they weren’t hearing her. Unconcerned about worldly affairs? No, that was not it. Helping others is her goal, that requires some interest in the workings of the world. It is, after all, where life happens, Lost or not. She then thought about the making of magic.

Flashes of images crossed over her mind and her spirit jerked some from the information overload. She was seeing a past life,  her own past life, from before she became Lost. Days, years, and decades worth of teaching came flooding back to her in mere seconds. She saw one teacher blend into another as their lessons came back to her in a flood. The dam was not only broken, she made it vanish completely as if it were not there, and she was attempting to drink all the water flooding from an evaporated damn at once. It was intense, and she saw her physical body shaking as her physical mind was assaulted by the data in the same way her spiritual mind was. But she knew that, somewhere, those few drops of water she needed now was in that great lake of knowledge she just dove into.

Foxfire’s spirit form dropped to her knees and she recoiled a bit from the sensation. She instinctively wanted to turn into her silver vixen form and hide in her bestial mind, but fought the urge while fighting losing herself within all this information. With sheer determination and patience, she finally calmed down and held the information securely and safely within her mind.

She knew what she needed. Somewhere. It was there within her mind, she just had to find exactly where it was. She was just glad that she did not become a different kind of Lost, whose spiritual mind was inundated to the point of catatonia, her body resting forever in that meditative pose.

And as she merged her spiritual form and physical again, her eyes snapped wide and she blurted aloud, “A different kind of Lost!”

Upon awakening, Foxfire found that she had a weapon. It seemed not a very effective one, but apparently important enough for her to take with her when she was Lost. It was a bundle of coins strung together with strong chain in the shape of an ancient sword. She swung it around effortlessly, the sword almost weightless. But when she swung it against her own arm, it did not do much besides ding off of her metal flesh. Obviously its designed for some purpose other than being used as an actual sword.

Foxfire sat down to examine it a bit more. It was in the shape of an officer’s long sword from the ancient days. The chain was flexible and strong but she did not recognize the metal. The coins, circular in shape with square holes punched into the center of each, were not from any dynasty she recognized. They had very faded symbols across the face of them, but she did not recognize those, either.

The only real clue she had about it was one of the coins in the center of the hilt. It was silver instead of copper, and looked decidedly out of place. It looked like it replaced an older coin, for the chain there seemed repaired. She could see that this silver coin came from early in the second dynasty, which means if this was the newest coin in the sword, the sword was extremely old. The second dynasty was sixteen dynasties ago!

Foxfire swung it a few more times, then gave a shrug. It couldn’t even cut a branch. It obviously had some other use to it. What it was, she could not guess.

She held it out then concentrated on it a bit. The only effect it had on her was that it seemed to give her some clarity when focusing on it. Maybe she could use it as a focus during meditation, but she did not feel like meditating then. She felt like action.

Of course, she was not at all eager to turn again into her fox form, having been in that form as a Lost for so long, even though traveling in that form would have been faster. So she just walked on two legs in her humanoid form.

The sky was clear and the breeze was soft, making for a rather pleasant day to amble. She noticed that she was heading in the general direction of the Imperial City, so turned to the right and walked off in that direction. She didn’t know what city lay there, but she did know that a few lay along the coast, so she could travel along that if she found nothing else before.

The better part of the day was spent journeying through a small wood, then along a trodden path that was a country road. This lead to another set of woods, and Foxfire felt a strange pull to one tree there.

Coming upon it, she studied it carefully. It looked just like any other tree in these woods, firm and metallic with a dull silver grey color. Its branches spread out proudly, but lay bare. She saw nothing unique about it, but still felt compelled to stand near it.

Foxfire walked about it in one direction thrice, then in the other direction thrice again. As she did, she roamed her optics up and down the tree, finding nothing of note about it. Finally, she decided to just sit under it, her back against it.

Looking around, she glanced across the other trees nearby. They all looked pretty typical as well, nothing with them seemed out of the ordinary. Many had dull grey rodents scampering across the branches and stirring their leaves.

Foxfire looked up at the tree she sat against, and noticed that it had no leaves. Its branches were bare, and the rodents avoided it. And when she studied a nearby rodent, she noticed that it pointedly ignored this particular tree.

Foxfire stood up again and examined the tree some more. There seemed nothing out of the ordinary, still, except the lack of leaves and rodents in it. There should at least be leaves on its branches, it was the height of the growing season. But the tree itself did not look sick, its branches looked healthy and not withered.

The mystery would have to keep, she wanted to continue onwards. Still, moving away from this tree seemed to cause her a bit of stress, her steps slow and heavy. She routinely looked back towards the tree and twice almost went back towards it. But she kept on going and left the forest.

Down the small hill she saw that she was on was another small country road at the bottom of the hill’s slope. She then saw a funeral procession traveling alongside this roadway, so she waited against a tree at the forest’s end and watched with respect.

Seeing that it was nearing early evening, and the procession still had not passed, Foxfire decided she would not be able to make it to a city before night fell, and still she wanted to respect the procession and just watch it go on.

Why she did so was to study how it went. Things were different now than the last funeral procession she recalled, before she became a Lost. This procession had wailers keening for the dead, with the deceased inside a palanquin. It looked like more than just the deceased’s family lined up behind the dead, and she trained her eyes to where the procession came from. There was a village off in the distance that had the appearance of being abandoned. Obviously the entire village, or almost every one of the villagers, left for the procession.

In the last procession she saw, the deceased was wheeled away by their next of kin. There was no wailing people, and no villagers joined the processions that she knew, just the family. The deceased was taken to its final resting spot by family, friends and close acquaintances, people who may know the personal name and not courtesy name of the deceased.

If they were important to a village or city, such as an elder, or governor or mayor, then some of the citizens may line the pathway outside of the settlement to see the corpse off, but they did not join in the procession.

This piqued Foxfire’s curiosity. She ate her dinner from fruits she gathered from the forest she stayed in, and waited. The procession returned shortly after nightfall, torches lit to light their way. Once they returned to their village, she moved.

Foxfire turned once again into her silver vixen form, the chain coin sword wrapping itself around her waist as she shifted her shape. She wagged her five tails about behind her, giving a glance to the woods again, looking to the mysterious tree she still felt compelled to return to.

But, for now, she had to satiate her curiosity. She bounded off in the dark, seeing perfectly with her enhanced vulpine senses, heading right where the procession went earlier. Her nose flared at times to take the scent of the procession, following the trail, arriving quickly at the graveyard.

Finding the recently buried grave was easy, and she remained in fox form as she paced around it. Foxfire studied the headstone a time, and sniffed the air. She used senses atypical to a typical Dangaizan to learn that this person used to be good. A hero. No wonder the entire village paid their respects.

She hesitated to do so, but sat atop of the grave and drew mystical symbols with her paws onto the ground. Then she chanted in an ancient tongue before calling the dead hero’s name seven times. Then she sat and waited, but not for long.

The fog formed and coalesced into the spiritual form of the hero she just called upon, a tall, well armored mechanoid with deep, glowing eyes. His head looked more like a helmet than anything, and his body was itself armor. The spirit asked, “Who summons me?”

“No one you know, hero. And until recently, no one I knew, even.”

“I do not understand.”

Foxfire then explained what it was like being a Lost. That she had turned into her silver vixen form to evade the barbaric invaders long ago and had forgotten who she was, becoming the fox she only wanted to look like. She then told the spirit her dream.

The hero listened then gave a nod, “So that may be what happened to my eldest son.”

“You have not seen him?”

“Not in ages, no. Not since the northern barbarians flew like death upon wings into our lands. I had thought he dead. Perhaps he may still live.”

“If so, I may be able to find him for you, great sir. I desire to help the Lost to recover themselves. If I find your son, I can pass on a message.”

“It is well your intention, fox,” said the ghost, “But I have nothing to say to him beyond to live a life without regrets. Pass that message not to just my son, but all you help to reclaim themselves, and I will be well content.”

“It must be an important ideal for you,” Foxfire said with some admiration, her multiple tails flicking behind her some, “And one I like myself. I readily agree to this.”

“Young fox,” started the hero.

“Foxfire,” interjected the vixen.

“Foxfire, then, and a pleasure to meet you. I must ask, how would you recover the Lost?”

Foxfire gave a tilt of her head and her tails drooped a good bit, “I have not thought of such as yet.”

“How did you summon my ghost, then?”

“I’ve studied the Esoteric Art of Ancient Magics long before I became Lost. I guess I just remember certain spells, like an instinct.”

The ghost started to drift a bit, a strong wind blowing some of the fog that comprised its spiritual body away, “Do you know of a spell to talk to the Lost?”

“No, sir, I do not.”

“Then make one.”

Foxfire tilted her head, her ears flopping some. She gave it some thought, then asked, “Do you know where to start making a spell?”

“Sadly, no, I never learned the art. I’ve had one friend who was a master of it, but he died many years ago, and buried in his home far away.” The ghost continued to fade as the fog that was his form continued to evaporate in the wind.

“Nevertheless, if others can make a spell, then so can I!”

“That is the proper spirit, young fox.” The ghost gave a soft, short chuckle at his own pun, before continuing, “I hear there were swords in days gone by that enhanced one’s mystical-” but whatever else the ghost wanted to say was blown away by the wind and fog, his spirit could no longer stay manifested.

Foxfire gave a soft sigh and bowed her head to the gravestone, giving an old prayer of peace to the deceased. She prowled about the graveyard a bit, seeing if she found anyone of interest or any she had known before, but no gravestone marked a name she recognized on any level.

The vixen hopped about the graveyard hill, then slid a bit on loose scree. She sprawled across the ground, her nose bumping into what was once a gravestone but had been weathered in the many long centuries since it was placed. It had cracked, crumbled and fallen apart, markings on it long weathered away. The only way that she recognized it was a grave marker was due to the unnatural shape of it, it was obviously worked.

Foxfire gave a soft sigh, bowed her head, and issued a prayer of peace to it as well, before starting off, saying, “I guess you’re a kind of Lost yourself.”