Book VI Chapter 33: Gears Blazing
"No, I haven't heard fromhimlately. He's joined theFirestarters, Grey-- I'm hoping they'll do him some good, but I'm not too sure. Caz hasn't been himself since his transformation, and I'm worried he's spiraling into a deep--"
A thundering crash shook the building, sendingElliottumbling to the floor from her office chair, the telephone yanked sharply out of her hand.
The reciever swung by its cord over the edge of the desk, a gravelly voice calling out to her.
"Elliot? Son of a gun, did you hear that? Are you alright?!"
She crawled underneath, peeking out through the nearby window. A flurry of black shapes darted through the night sky, glowing orange like a second sunset in the distance.
A second explosion rocked the city, followed by a third and forth; buildings burst into blue-white flames that quickly darkened to red as brick, concrete and metal burnen into ash before her eyes.
"Elliot! Elliot, get out of there NOW! It's time!"
"Time for-- No! Are you insane?!"
"Are you? Get out of that damn building and meet me. You'll know where!"
The next thing Elliot knew, she was hurtling down the museum stairs as fast as her legs could carry her.
"All of you, stay out of my way!"Casariliniabellowed, hovering over the smoggy city with firelight in her eyes.
"I have my target, and none of you will take the pleasure from me! Burn this filthy blemish off of the face ofValenth; we start with the humans, and work our way up..."
TheFlarionscircled around her once before swooping out over Gier, launching great blasts of fire at buildings and fleeing citizens alike. Casari watched grimly, flaring her crest in excitement.
It had been a very, very long time since theFlamekeeperhad slain her child in thePetalforest, but patience was a virtue-- and virtue was something the Flarions had plenty of to spare.
Valdrencould rot in his accursed glade for all she cared, and odds were high that he would do just that. He had fought off themirajinsickness commendably at first, but she could see the corruption taking hold in him. He was ill-suited to lead theRenatusnow, and even with his mind intact he had failed to designate an heir.
Snorting loudly, she caught a curious scent on the wind. With a snap of her golden wings, she hurtled through the air towards her mark as the temperature rose steadily higher.
"GoodChapters, Grey. You're sure about this?"
Elliot gazed at the control panel, buttons, levers, bells and whistles flashing and sounding at her as a soft hum in the background grew into a persistent buzz that vibrated her eardrums.
"You couldn'tve chosen a worse time to hesitate, my dear. C'mon-- I can't do this by myself!" came his voice over the intercom, crackling with static.
Truth be told, she was terrified; all the training and practice in the world couldnt've made this any easier.
She had spent the past few months with Grey, testing his new projects for him and helping him adjust the finer details of the controls and machinery.
Thanks to the world-class tailors and blacksmiths he had hired, the armor she now wore in this hot little chamber fit like a glove; it had been made for her, after all, and no doubt at great expense.
But she hadn't really expected she'd be doing this-- charging out onto the field to save the day.
"Such language for a lady!" Grey quipped; the damned intercoms were always on, she'd forgotten.
"Oh, shut up," she said, and slammed her heavy steel boot on the gas.
In the center of the burning city, agreat bronze sentinelopened its eyes, gears and wires flaring to life beneath its metallic carapace.
Held within its chest, Elliot braced herself, pulling her arms slowly forward and back beneath the heavy armor, rising to her feet from the pilot's chair and onto the automation platform.
The mechanical dragon rose in time with her, holding its head high as its tail unraveled and swished behind it.
Eyes flashing a crystalline blue, the Vigilant Defender arched its neck and bellowed.
Elliot gritted her teeth, reflexively reaching to clap her hands over her ears as the dragon mimicked her movements.
In the distance, a second metallic cry responded in kind over the sound of exploding dragonfire and shrieking Flarions.
"I'm coming, Grey."
"Attagirl," he said. "Let's get shakin'."
"Casarilinia!" a whelp trumpeted as it whirled past overhead. "There's trouble!"
"What sort of trouble could there possibly be?" the old dragon drawled, rolling her eyes. "The Flamekeeper is safely tucked away inAensdoun, and by the time he realizes what's going on, it'll be too late. TheErosions... ha. And I doubtthe fat oneand his ilk will stop playing doctor long enough to care."
A whiff of an offensive, bitter metallic scent hit her nostrils, and she drew her lips back in a sneer.
"The humans are attacking with metal constructs, Wyra! Powered bymirajin!"
Unamused, Casari took a halfhearted swipe at him. "You've interrupted me over some toys? Deal with them, fool! Or does your breath not work?!"
The young dragon yelped, fluttering off into the night at once to join his brethren.
They darted down towards the city, spitting their fireballs aimlessly before swooping away again just as the strange metal dragon lunged at them.
Heavy and ungainly, the beast could be heard for miles around as its feet hammered against the cobblestone streets.
It looked formidable, but there was no way its tiny, stiff wings could ever launch it skyward.
The Flarion took advantage at once, leaping onto its back, scraping and flailing with their claws and biting ferociously when they could.
But the iron dragon seemed invulnerable to their attacks.
Spinning around suddenly, it whipped its tail just as the young Flarion dove in with a fireball at the ready.
The attack caught him, lashing down his side; he crashed into the ground with a shriek, rising shakily to all fours and turning his head to survey the damage.
Much to his horror, he had left his entrails behind, trailing down the road where he had come.
The iron monster lashed its tail again, cleaving a second dragon out of the sky, its head and body parted.
The thing's tailtip gleamed in the firelight; a wicked axeblade hung from it, dripping with his blood and the blood of his fallen comrade.
As he dropped onto his belly, dying from his grievous injury, he heard the thing bellow in a deep voice quavering with emotion.
"Renatus Purifico! You've made a big mistake tonight. This is our city! And I promise you, if you don't leave now... you'll be leaving in pieces!"
The Stalwart Defender glowered down at the dead and dying dragons lying around it; lifting its tail threateningly, the axeblade split into a wicked claw.
"If you make it out alive after I've seen you, it'll be a damn miracle," Grey snarled, slamming his foot on the gas.
The mechanical dragon screamed its fury.
"Shit, shit, shit!" Elliot cried as the Vigilant rocked from side to side with each blow.
There were more dragons than she could count-- more than she had ever seen in her entire life-- and try as she might, she couldn't make the thing move swiftly enough to fend them off with tooth and claw.
They leapt at her with incredible speed and strength, claws scraping down the giant automaton's thick armor.
They didn't seem to be doing much beyond jostling her about so far, but she wasn't entirely certain her luck would hold up.
Something landed behind her with an earth-shaking thud, and she turned the vehicle around to face it.
"... Grey... the biggest freaking Flarion I have ever seen just landed in front of me," she squeaked, slamming her foot on the gas and shifting gears into reverse.
"So kill it," he said nonchalantly between puffs of his pipe.
Dragon and mecha collided with immense force.
Elliot hung onto her controls for dear life, struggling to direct the Vigilant's limbs against the ancient Flarion's powerful blows.
Hurling itself against her, the monstrous dragon sent the bronze robot careening into a nearby building, raining brick, splinters and dust down onto the street.
She gasped, flopping down into the pilot's seat to rest briefly-- and watching in growing horror as the creature opened its maw, drawing in a breath of its own.
There was only one thing that could mean.
"Shitshitshitshitshitshitshit," she shrieked, slamming her fist into a button.
The Vigilant lifted its wing-tipped tail and aimed it at the Flarion's face.
"Hey. Hey! Awful quiet over there," Grey frowned, puffing on his pipe. "You alright, toots?"
"...Greeey," Elliot mewled.
"What... in the nine flaming hells was that?!"
A dragon approached Grey from behind; he casually nudged a lever with his elbow, cleaving the stupid thing in half before it could blink.
He smirked, adjusting his fedorelmet atop his head. "Did you push The Button?"
"Gods, Scott. Yes, I pushed 'The Button'. I pushed the button, and this dragon exploded. My ears are still ringing.
"S'just a little experimental thing I've been messing with. Figured it'd be popular for military use, so I thought I'd pop it in the Vigilant and let you give it a test run on the field."
"Grey, if you don't uninstall that... that whatever it is as soon as this is over, so help me--"
He chuckled. "I gotcha."
He had no intentions of doing so-- you never knew when a panic button could come in handy, after all.
"...they're leaving. Grey, they're leaving!! I think we did it!"
"Mmm? Say, you're right. See, I told you we could do it, cupcake! You go survey the damage, huh? I'm gonna let the fire department know the coast is clear."
Inside the Vigilant, Elliot stared at the scene before her through the dripping mess that was once the largest dragon she had ever seen.
The Renatus had suddenly risen from the city like ghosts, soaring off into the night as swiftly as they had come.
Guiding her automaton to its feet, she made her way wordlessly through the city, trembling with excitement and fear.
She wasn't certain how Grey had talked her into doing this, or how she had come out alive; she was almost positive the mad engineer's handiwork was partially responsible.
Practicing in the Vigilant in his private testing site had been enjoyable-- but nothing could have ever prepared her for piloting the thing in an actual situation.
But she had done it!
Perhaps she'd be proud once the terror subsided.
Glancing up, a blazing street corner just ahead caught her eye.
A familiar blazing street corner; several of the townhomes there had collapsed into burning rubble, while those still standing looked ready to follow suit at any moment.
Instantly, she froze, searching the scene with panic rising in her throat like bile.
Failing to find what she was looking for, she wriggled out of the Vigilant's control system and detached her auto-armor from the plugs and cables, opening the exit hatch and launching out onto the street below.
Heavy as it was, the suit marched fluidly towards the rubble, but time seemed to crawl to a standstill around her.
Elliot didn't realize she was wailing until she heard Grey's voice rise sharply from the intercom.
"Elliot?! Elliot! What's the matter, babe? What's going on?!"
"This house... This house, I knew this house!" she cried, her eyes growing damp. "I knew this house!!"
Shocked and numb, she watched through tearful eyes as Kelan Flarion emerged from the flames.
Their eyes met.
Without words, his sudden arrival confirmed everything she needed to know.
"... how did they learn ..?" he whispered as Elliot wrapped her arms gently around him.
She only shook her head.
Next Chapter: Book VII Intermission I
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