Book VII Ch 23: vs Mecha-Christoph?!
Firewing Base Camp
Whimsy Forest, South Dreamsong
Cazwell pulled his scarf over his neck, buttoning the clasp as he unsteadily rose onto his hind legs with a sigh; it'd be time to go out and survey the area soon.
Tedious as closing the thing was, it was a welcome bit of extra warmth as the temperature around Dreamsong began to steadily drop. As leupaks went, he wasn't terribly substantial, and the chill bit through his scales without remorse.
Moving about would warm him up somewhat, and take his mind off of it, too.
Dropping onto all fours, Cazwell made his way across camp, lifting his head to take note of a sudden commotion.
Nearby, Harley dropped her bags at her feet, laughing as friends wandered up to greet her and welcome her home. She gathered them up in her burly arms en masse for a hug, then glanced up and waved Cazwell over.
"I'm finally back, guys! After the concert, I took a little time ta catch up with the guys. It's been a while, ya know?
Yeah, Chimre was kinda crazy. I've never been to the Ball before! The Dreamwaker's a pretty good dancer. He's got stamina like a workhorse, it's nuts!
No, no, don't worry, I'm sure the food's safe. Why would they drug their own people? That'd just be silly. Stuff ya see with your eyes is one thing, but they make a lot of rumors up about Chimre, and ya know what the Lieutenant says about rumors.
Hi, Caz! How're ya?" she chirped brightly as he approached.
"... you went to Chimre," he said slowly. "To play at the Doctor's Ball.
Are you serious? Are you mad?!"
"Woah, hang on, little guy. Calm down, huh? I got clearance from El'enoa and everything before I went. Nobody here's gotta problem with it."
"I do," he said, his expression darkening. "You went to Chimre, loaded up on residual mirajin and then come strolling back here! You'll undo all our hard work! What if you mutate?!"
"Oh, Caz," Harley sighed.
"I'm a silisk. Silisks aren't bothered by mirajin like other races. S'why we do the miracrystal mining and all, yeah?
And, hey... didn't ya say you used to live in Chimre? What's the deal?"
"That... that doesn't count," Caz sniffed, momentarily embarassed.
"I wanted a job, and one of my cousins was working as an engineer in Ros Albion, so he put in a good word for me to work at a big library there.
But that's different! And I was only there for like a year or something."
Harley frowned. "Caz... you should have one'a the medics take a look at you. You don't look well, and you're gettin' a bit of a bite to ya.
I'm your friend, huh? I'm worried about ya, sweetie."
Cazwell scowled, laying his ears back flat.
"You don't like what I'm saying, so you're telling me I'm sick? That's pretty messed up, Harley.
Look, I'm going out on patrol. Maybe I'll talk to you when I get back.
Harley watched helplessly as the little leupak turned and stalked out into the woods.
"Cazwell, that's not what I-- oh, damnit!"
Caz ignored her, pressing through the young trees and into the deeper forest. He searched for a familiar stone that marked the beginning of his usual trail, his feet retracing steps he had taken every evening since he first began his work for the Firestarters.
Lieutenant El'enoa had insisted to him that she didn't much fancy working with slayers of any calibre-- "lawless murderers-for-hire with questionable morals", she'd called them-- but he managed to convince her that he was more interested in serving the long-term goals of the faction and reinforcing the safety of the region than money.
He took his job very seriously-- and if he had any say in it, no one in Dreamsong would ever have to fear the wrath of a leupak again when he was done.
Approaching the road leading into Axl, he froze, ducking down into the brush. As people made their way in and out of the city in carriage, on drakeback and on foot, he saw a familiar silhouette just within the trees on the other side.
The suspicious leupak turned its head as it watched the travelers come and go, its eyes glinting cold violet beneath the canopy shadow; it hadn't seemed to notice him at all.
Cazwell stood stock-still, carefully slipping a clawed gauntlet on over his right paw as he watched and waited.
As the suns dipped low over the sky and the shadows lengthened, the steady stream of traffic slowed to a thin trickle, and the guards at the gates began to pull them closed for the night.
A man rushed up to meet them from within the city, negotiating his way through before the gates were locked. He checked his bags, slung them over his shoulder, and walked quickly up the road as the lights flickered on.
The leupak across the road shifted its position, catching Cazwell's eye.
It watched the newcomer pass before emerging quietly from its hiding place on its hind legs, hide gleaming with a copper sheen in the streetlights.
It was going to go for him!
Bracing himself, Cazwell launched himself across the road. The man screamed, turning on his heel to run back the way he had come and spotting the copper leupak behind him before spinning again to dash into the trees.
Shuffling aside to let the human pass, the second leupak braced itself for impact-- and Cazwell slammed painfully into it with a metallic clang, bouncing off harmlessly.
The metal leupak tilted its head with a derisive chuckle, whipping its ball-tipped tail from side to side as Cazwell rose to circle it.
He lunged, swinging his claw down in a wide arc; it scraped across the leupak's tough skin, sparking as it went.
The beast threw a fist into Cazwell's soft underbelly, sending him flying and tumbling down the road.
Skidding to a stop on his side, he gasped for breath before standing again, spitting a glob of miratoxin and blood onto the ground-- and after a moment's thought, quickly scuffing up a handful of dirt over it.
The copper leupak took hold of the tip of its tail, pulling it out to form a long, springlike whip. It beckoned with its free hand, its face frozen into a cocky smirk as it spun its new weapon in the air like a bola.
Cazwell took a few steps back, carefully sizing up his opponent. The leupak was massive and sturdy, with a hulking back and short, powerful limbs. It appeared to be encased in armor from head to toe, with rubbery flesh showing through the gaps.
Its eyes were ringed by a set of mock glasses engraved into the metal-plated face below its glowing miracrystal facet.
Gritting his teeth, Caz slid on his other gauntlet and charged, eyes on the gaps in the creature's armor.
He slashed with one hand and then the other, desperate to land a blow even as the copper reptile parried each swing, lashing out with its elongated tail. The blunt weapon had little effect, bouncing harmlessly off of Cazwell's scales when it landed a hit.
Finally, his claws struck true, digging deeply into the thick hide of the leupak's neck. But they struck something hard inside, and no blood fell.
Instead, Cazwell recieved a brutal shock for his troubles.
With a horrible shriek, he ripped the claw out again, tumbling onto his back as his body trembled and his teeth chattered in his head.
The copper leupak--the robot-- snaked its tail forward to tie Cazwell's wrists and ankles tight as he lay on his side.
"Gggff... you... what the hell are you?!
You knew about me-- you're with the fucking Rose--"
The robot focused on its work, carefully ensuring the strength of its bonds before examining Cazwell.
"What am I? Huh, what a question!
Do you mean me, or the remotely-controlled robot suit? 'Cause I'm a human at the moment, I think... hang on, let me check."
The radio voice fell silent for a moment. "Yup! Still human.
Hey-- you're a textbook case, you know. It's pretty interesting! Venomborne leupak with a grudge neglects his new nutritional requirements for too long and goes rogue.
The leupslayer angle's new, but the blind rage is all the same.
It's a bit of a tragic take on it that leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth... but it's not my job to deal with that part, I'm just a rehabilitator.
You've caused a lot of trouble for such a frail little guy," the robot said in a patronizing tone. "Don't worry, though-- we're gonna fix you up once we get you into a decent facility, and you'll be right as rain!
Now, how to transport you..? I don't think I thought that one through. Hmm..."
Cazwell's rage drained from him. Squinting, he stared at the robot's smug, bespectacled face.
Something about it... something about its voice...
And in an instant, it clicked.
"...Drew? he murmured, shock icing down his spine.
The robot suddenly froze in place.
"Um, hang on a second. Do I know you?"
Next Chapter: Book VII Chapter XXIV
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