/you presume to give me
/do you have any idea what I can do to you

“Ah, so now you see I’m serious.” She looked up, holding her arm in a fist. “Now, are you going to play nice?”

/insignificant nothingness
/i can delete your mind
/leave you a vegetable
/and feed off you for centuries

“A ‘no’ would have sufficed.”

/not to mention those two followers
/the ones outside
/should i start with them

As Kaire watched, energy crackled and ran across the floor. The ‘cathedral’ walls blurred and shapes began reaching out of them: pixelated and fuzzy at first, but defining slowly into tentacles, hooked talons, needles as long as her arm, crawling and reaching for her. One of the talons raked across her shoulder, against the dark purple mark on her neck, with a sizzling, static pain.

She studied the massing forms writhing before her, with a professional’s eye for horror. “Strange, isn’t it. You’re a machine, but you behave exactly the same as an animal when threatened.”

One of the tentacles waved past her face: she grabbed it with a lightning-quick snatch. Holding it was like clutching a stream of hot acid, but she made herself focus.

“When an animal attacks in anger, it doesn’t think to protect itself, just to kill whatever’s in front of it as quickly as possible. Like a human if he gets angry enough. Trouble with an attack like that… you don’t pay attention to defence. And you have to put a lot of yourself into it. In your case –“

She drew the tentacle aside, reached down into the moving mass and pushed her hand into it. The pain jumped several notches, but her fingertips touched something, even as the tentacles began wrapping around her arm, creeping up to her shoulder, slipping over her cheek. She reached a little further, just a bit… then drew back, her fist closed. The tentacles shuddered and retracted as she held up her prize: a glowing shape, a crystalline block of light.

“ – a little piece of system code,” she finished, panting.

/forget deletion
/you have a wonderful imagination
/little nuisance
/i think i’ll make you imagine a few hours of pain

The ground heaved beneath her, and Kaire fell back a step. It heaved again, rising up into something enormous, something intricate, animate. The limbs defined first: claws like meathooks, a body like living marble pillars, with dark code boiling inside…

Why are you standing here watching it? Work to do!

Kaire backed off, then started to run down the cathedral. The floor surged beneath her like a tide as the construct started after her but she ignored it, more intent on moulding the jumble of code in her hands. She pulled it apart like a puzzle piece, turning the elements and pushing them back, forcing it to take the shape she saw in her mind; not something a human being would have been able to express properly, a combination of a word’s form and the power of a musical note, one that reverberates rather than being heard.

All part of this silly analogy…

She bullied it between her fingertips, glancing over her shoulder. The construct the Librais had unleashed was merging into another form, one suited to pursuit, a powerful four-legged thing just beginning to get up speed.

Annoyed, Kaire put her lips to the system code, breathed into it … and felt something click into place. The block fluttered, twisted, and resolved into its new shape. Just as it did so, Kaire felt enormous claws rake the air an inch behind her. Clutching her prize, Kaire picked up speed, denying her instinct to turn and fight, one thought echoing in her mind, in Athellus’ voice –

don’t change don’t change don’t change


Ignoring it, Kaire drew back her arm and threw the handful of code ahead of her. It hit one of the walls, and erupted into a gateway with only void beyond it, overriding the Librais’ own construction.

Shouldn’t there be -? No, no time!

As the construct lunged at her, jaws gaping, Kaire leapt through the gateway. Her final command to it as she fell – “End!” – slammed the opening shut behind her in the blink of an eye, and then she was tumbling backwards into nothingness, her mind questing for what she needed.



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