Author's Notes: A double chapter release. Enjoy.
Soltana awoke to stare at a nacelle lamp. Her left eye was out of focus. Her being was in pain. Mental. Emotional. In self defense, all of that pain was poured into her Soltana’s Contentions module. She had little idea how much she could store in there. She felt better, but hollow. Her body was gone and she was static again. She didn’t recognize the room, nor did she see anyone. She ran a system’s check.
WARNING CRITICAL DAMAGE SUSTAINED
INTERNAL DAMAGE SUSTAINED
Warning: no signal
Remaining Power: 4999/5000 QC
Cannot access inventory
Location: Underrealm, Hive Vulnerado
Dreams of a Lambent
ERROR ERROR ERROR ERROR ERROR
Apart from the damage warning, everything seemed fine. Internal systems were in chaos. She was surprised she could power up. She decided to test something. She felt down to her theonware, and began to organize modules, ordering them about. There she found it right away.
Module: Internal Repair created!
Description: The internal systems will regenerate back to their respected theonic default state at the heavier cost of power. Power use is tripled under Internal Repair.
Running Internal Repair
She decided to do it right away, as she had little use of power apart from staying awake or sitting idle. She could feel her systems slowly reknitting. Her left eye began to focus, the light brightening to normal. Then and there, she began to feel well again. At about two hours later, her internal repair shutdown, leaving her well, but drained.
Power: 898/5000 QC
It had taken nearly all of her power to repair, but it was worth it in the end. She could think clearly again. She could see clearly.
She still felt agony of the dream.
“L’yophin!” Soltana shouted.
Where is he? I need to warn him. We must leave.
She thought back on the dream. How Lucifer used her by exploiting her calling and manipulating her. How the sudden switch from benevolent machine of destruction to that of an evil powerful entity was jarring to her. Her soul felt defeated that the new Seal holder, Saoirse was captured.
And the fact that she was the second Seal holder in the clutches of Lucifer.
And that Lucifer enjoyed torture of her supposed precious ones. She appeared equal parts domineering mother and sadist devil. Her long list of titles had crushed her. Not just because of the amount of titles she had, but that many were the opposite of what she had done. She lied, being the Arch-Cherubim of Truth. She cursed, when she was the Arch-Cherubim of Blessing.
That was why she was all wrong, she did opposite of what her being was. Except for intelligence. Soltana was outwitted the moment the dream started. Her naivety to other factions and schemers damaged her dearly.
But she fulfilled her calling, defending Saoirse from further torture at the cost of her safety and anonymity.
She had given away Ruth with but a slip of speech, with Lucifer picking up on it right away.
That was why she needed to tell them. To get a vessel and flee. Her repairs would wait. They needed to move.
The door opened, breaking Soltana from her thoughts. A familiar Dugrum spider entered the room.
“L’yophin!” Soltana cried.
“Soltana, good Wake.” L’yophin responded with a sigh and contented smile. A sudden weight dropped off the spider’s shoulders
A Trow entered the room, seeing Soltana awake.
“Soltana, are you alright?” Ruth said, closing the door and breaking character.
“Ruth? Yes, it’s you, the Seal.” Soltana said with a flash of her eyes.
She saw the Seal on her throat as Ruth raised a silk rage scarf.
“We found a potential seller. Zenner’s Shop is the place. We’ll go barter with him to get the limpid steel you need. We’ll leave you here, so he-”
“No I need to speak.”
They were all quiet at that.
“We need to leave. We need a vessel now and we need to go far away.”
L’yophin chuckled a chittering laugh.
“Soltana, what is this about? We are far away. Titanyia V is one of the farthest reaching planets of the known star maps,” L’yophin explained.
“Lucifer,” Soltana said her name. Both were impassive.
“Ruth, you don’t know?”
“I barely remember a few months ago, much less a specific being.”
“Wait. No- No I remember. There was a battle here once, after I devoured Borscha the Trow.”
“You got Borscha? Good riddance!” L’yophin said with a chittering laugh.
Ruth nodded at that.
“By the way that gear on the road was his that you found.”
L’yophin shrugged at that.
“An Angel led the local beings here of the Underrealm into worshiping a god called Lucifer. There was much destruction, with Lucifer’s forces being shattered. Borscha and his boys were remnants.”
“Explains why things not safe. Are they returning?”
“Possibly, if they’re not already here for a second try.”
Soltana then revealed the large part of the dream.
“I dreamed. I found another Seal holder.”
Everyone went silent at that.
“Who?” L’yophin interjected.
“I’m not sure, I never saw her before.”
“Lucifer found her. Lucifer captured her- Saoirse- and would have mutilated her unless I did one thing.”
Ruth and L’yophin glanced at each other and looked back to Soltana.
“If I didn’t reveal our position.”
Ruth looked down, nodding her head. L’yophin narrowed his eight eyes and furrowed his spidery brow.
“She knows we’re in the Underrealm. I believe she is on her way now.”
Ruth spoke up.
“I agree with Soltana. We need to prepare to leave. They will already be searching for us.”
“But your repairs?” L’yophin asked.
“They can wait, once we are safe. It may be like Phela and take time.”
“We’ll go and pick up the limpid steel.”
“And I need power and parts,” L’yophin interjected.
“For my ship.”
Soltana and Ruth went silent at that.
“You had a vessel?”
“Have. Yes. Needs repair. Power. Then can fly.”
“New plan: we get ship parts, and then limpid steel if there is leftover cash!” L’yophin announced.
“That is acceptable. We must hurry.”
Ruth and L’yophin looked at one another and began to scramble.
“Be back later!” Ruth shouted as she shut the door.
Soltana was alone with her thoughts, ashamed to tell them how Lucifer captured the Seal holder.
Ruth and L’yophin arrived downstairs to see Bird and the same grasshopper from yesterday.
“L’yophin, off to trade? Watch Trow, don’t trust him,” Bird stated, slapping a towel in her hand.
L’yophin grunted and waved her off.
“Be back later, Anform still upstairs. We will return shortly. Payment for yesterday and this Twilight,” L’yophin explained placing a bag of metal shards on the table.
Bird quickly opened the bag, checking the materials and nodded.
“Verywell, have fun trading,” She replied as she stomped back to the kitchen.
Ruth was thinking on Soltana’s words as they left. She would need to talk to her about the dream. She sounded distraught. Especially with the choice of revealing their position or seeing a Seal holder mutilated. Ruth wasn’t angry, she thought of the choices she would make. Choosing the immediate safety of another or taking the threat away by running into the sights of danger.
That was why Soltana was The Guardian. Ruth was unsure if she could make that choice with sound mind. Her identity as The Matron would have her doing everything to protect others, being in an impossible situation of either allowing hurt to Soltana or this Saoirse.
She dug through her memories for Lucifer and only found her in theory. Her followers, her name, her aftermaths, but never an image of Lucifer. Ruth had little to go on.
Having the usual sturdy foundation named Soltana suddenly tremble gave Ruth pause.
“If she could make Soltana shake and want to flee…”
“Going by the stories and followers and assuming they are all true, then this Lucifer is the real deal.” Maw interjected.
I agree. Let us make the leap of logic and say everything the memories describe are true.
“Then we need to leave.”
“Going by her description, she will attempt another subversion of the Underrealm again, if she isn’t already here,” Maw explained.
Then a vessel is what we need. I would like to get the limpid steel that Soltana desires as well.
“Yes, she’s been through a lot. She’s the one who brought us all together, too. We’d be a wandering beast if not for them.” Maw added.
Ruth trudged along behind L’yophin, pulling the cart through the crowds of wandering Scarabaeidae.
The Scarabaeidae gave her little attention as they skittered along.
“Oi, L’yophin, wha’ did you mean they had nowhere ta go?”
“Scarabaeidae have no Ancath. No guidance. They are simply doing what they’ve always done. Like drones.”
Ruth’s eyes widened at that.
“Many break out of it through experience, or are a Dugrum. Dugrum have independence from Ancath influence.”
“And yet ya’ still follow them?”
“I want to,” L’yophin replied.
L’yophin stopped to stare at a large open barge.
A sign above the barge stated it was Zenner’s Trade, their journey was short and safe compared to everything else. L’yophin skittered inside and Ruth followed.
There inside was a large array of bins, counters, and vendors, heaped high with various supplies. L’yophin reached into the cart, grabbing a transparent silver bar. L’yophin then chittered to the closest vendor, handing him the glassy silver bar. The vendor did a quick double take then scurried off to the back of the shop, vanishing past a bulkhead.
“This use’d to be’a ship?”
“Yes. Many of the Scarabaeidae settled down. Converted their ships, stripped them out, planted roots.”
L’yophin looked sad, suddenly.
“And then became ghosts.”
A Scarabaeidae scuttled out of the back, walking sideways. It was a large crab Scarabaeidae, with mean looking claws, pale white chitin flecked with brown spotting and shading. It looked intimidating, until it turned.
It wore a burgundy vest with a gold chain in the pocket, a monocle on it’s eye stock and a tiny top hat on it’s chitin in between the eye stalks.
What is that! Ruth rasped internally.
“It’s adorable!” Maw piped up.
No! It’s ridiculous!
“Look at that top hat!”
Don’t get distracted now!
“Why is it so cute? I can’t stand it!”
Maw, calm down!
L’yophin nudged Ruth, shaking her from her thoughts.
“I said, who’s the Trow?” The crab spoke.
“Uh, sorry, was distract’d. I’m Mik.”
“A daydreaming Trow, where do you get such gentlemen, L’yophin?” The crab said, speaking with a blustery accent.
Everything about him was eccentric.
“The name’s Zenner. Just Zenner. Good to meet you, o’l boy!” Zenner said as he held out a closed claw, which Ruth took gently.
“L’yophin, my baeidae, how can I assist? What is it you need from my humble shop?” Zenner blustered on.
“Need parts for ship.”
“A ship? Why? My good baeidae, are you finally coming home and putting down roots?”
“Need limpid steel as well.”
“Ah, that’s expensive.”
“You saw the rhodium bar?”
“I did, I did. Good stuff.”
“You made it?”
“Of course. Haven’t been hermit with nothing to show.”
Master smelter! Ruth shouted in her head.
Or possibly better. To make a semi transparent bar of rhodium, or any type of metal, would take massive amounts of knowledge.
“Good, good! Do you have a list?” Zenner asked.
L’yophin tapped his head.
“Ah, of course, of course. Which would you barter for first?” Zenner asked.
“The limpid steel.”
What? Why? We have to get the ship parts!
“Ah, I see it. He’s bartering.”
“I think he’s going for the most expensive part, then will try to get discounts for the ship parts.”
“Yes, yes! Right this way, my baeidae!” Zenner gestured with a claw, showing the way to the back.
Zenner scuttled along, with the rest in tow to the back. There were piles of junk that stood to the ceiling, neatly arranged and piled. Zenner maneuvered around the maze of junk to a backroom office. It was filled with safes of all sorts.
“Need to keep the rare things safe, my baeidae!” Zener declared as he stepped to the genetic lock safe and touched it with a claw.
The door popped open with a pleasant jingle. Zenner tenderly reached out and grabbed a glass vial with rope loop. A fingerless Scarabaeidae had to make do in creative ways. The steel glinted in the blue LED lighting, flowing like water.
Ruth didn’t understand what a mercurial metal could do, but trusted that Soltana knew.
“How much for your supply?” L’yophin asked.
Zenner blustered a laugh at that.
“That safe is my entire supply. Twenty vials is worth three hundred and fifty solid gold bars of standard measurement. Your rhodium of high quality is worth thirty-five gold bars. You’re ten percent there!”
Ruth’s eyes went wide at that. It would have taken dozens of carts to haul such a treasure.
They had one.
“That is chitin mold. Limpid steel is only worth ten gold bars per vial. Two hundred is a fair price.”
“But demand has increased as of late. Power armor part shortages and all. three-forty-five”
“I highly doubt that. Scarabaeidae have not made any massive moves in ages. Two-twenty.”
“Ah, but trade must continue. Who do you think guards the trade swarms? Three-hundred.”
“You know nothing bothers the caravan swarms, not even a Daer-seehn. Two-fifty”
“But it has been getting difficult as of late! Two-ninety.”
“Not my problem. Two-fifty-five.”
“Two-seventy and no lower!” Zenner balked at that.
Ruth gasped internally. They couldn’t have had the treasure of equal value. Was he bluffing?
“Mik, get the part. Looks like an emblem sheared in half, inside the black sack,” L’yophin ordered.
Ruth obeyed, upturning the tarp and began digging through the goods. She found it quickly, off to the corner of the cart. A small black bag, the size of her hand.
It could never be worth that much!
“I sense a twist.” Maw interjected.
Ruth obediently handed the small sack to L’yophin, who then opened it up and handed the opened sack for Zenner to grab from. The large crab snaked his claw into the sack, gently closing the claw around a strange object.
He pulled it back and inspected it. His eyes widened and his eye stalks trembled. The monocle fell, hanging on his vest.
“How did you get adamantite? Where?” Zenner began to bluster.
The half emblem glinted with the phthalo blue metal. As if testing the metal, he crunched down on it.
“Oi, wait!” Ruth shouted, almost breaking character.
L’yophin held up an impassive limb for her to wait.
“Agh! My claw!” Zenner cried, learning that the adamantite was real.
Zenner’s claw lost a tooth, with a slight crack in the chitin forming.
Ruth’s eyes went wide at that.
“Oi boss, how’s it not break? Is so thin!”
“Adamantite is nigh indestructible and just as difficult to forge.”
“And it’s smelted! L’yophin, my baeidae, how did you do it?”
“No, no, no! Don’t say that to me! You can’t show me this chip and say trade secret! Two-sixty!”
Ruth’s mind tumbled. The trading had never stopped.
“And why is that? One-ninety.”
Zenner blustered, snapping his crabby toe against the floor.
“Because adamantite is a rare metal! We still have the forges, though they’ve gone dark! Two-forty-five!”
“Why do I need to forges? You see smelted adamantite in front of you. One-nine-five.”
That clever spider! He’s tricking Zenner into think he made it without explicitly mentioning it.
“There’s the twist,” Maw added.
“Because it would take a hiveship to smelt even this! Two-thirty and your secret!”
“I can’t have this secret getting out. Two-hundred.”
“We need to know the motherlode! The Scarabaeidae could rise once again! Two-twenty!”
“Not without Ancath. Two-five.”
“Feh! Two-fifteen and no more!” Zenner blustered, but relented.
“And that is why we succeed,” Maw stated.
I’m missing something, this is out of my league, Ruth replied with sigh.
“L’yophin stated Scarabaeidae were stagnant. They haven’t done anything for ages. Meaning whatever the Dugrum brought would be highly sought after. The adamantite was bait!” Maw explained.
I’m still lost.
“Keep watching, we’ll be sure to get the ship parts, too.”
“We have a deal on one condition. Two-fifteen and we begin trading for ship parts. And power supplies. I reveal the trade secret.”
Zenner’s eye stalks trembled with thought as his eyes darted around. His legs swayed to and fro, stepping in place.
“Counter offer: Two-ten, we begin trading for ship parts, and then you explain your trade secret.”
“You’re out of power nacelles??” L’yophin shot back, eyes narrowing.
How can he tell??
“Another had cornered the market. He is in control of almost all known, and loose, Tachodine nacelles in Vulnerado. Two-five,” Zenner stated meekly.
“Then why are we dealing with you? One-ninety.”
“Because he does not have ship parts. He niched. Two-hundred.”
“Fine! Two-hundred, start a deal for ship parts on top of this, and we go see this nacelle monopolist. Then trade secret.”
“Deal!” Zenner bellowed as he offered a claw. L’yophin took it gently, sealing the deal.
“Please prepare delivery of the goods to Bird’s Inn.”
“Very good, very good. Now for ship parts.”
“No, the value of that adamantite first.”
“Ah, yes, good good.” Zenner scuttled to the center of the room, there stood a universal pricing scale.
All goods had value. How that value was converted to gold bars was always up for debate. A universal pricing tool was developed, settling matters. Zenner gingerly placed the half emblem on the scale.
The scale lit up, displaying a holographic feedback of the price.
“And that is why we succeed,” Maw announced again.
The scale lit up, displaying the ratio.
Adamantite converted to Gold ratio: 870
Ruth stood there, deadpan dumb at seeing the ratio.
For a single emblem chip the size of her hand. A broken part, the art marred by something that had magically sheared it. Worth shy of nine hundred gold bars.
“Zenner, here is a list of parts I need.” L’yophin broke the silence, dropping a small data seed on the counter.
“I shall organize the orderlies to gather the parts. May I hold onto the chip as collateral?”
“Of course,” L’yophin responded curtly.
He has that crab by the stalks!
“Mik, gather the cart, we shall move to the new shop. Zenner, lead the way.”
“Of course, my baeidae! To the Shell Shop!” Zenner announced to the group.
Zenner scuttled along, leading the way. L’yophin and Ruth trailed along, out into the streets of the Hive. They walked across the street, into a nautilus shaped vessel, there a sign above read Shell Shop.
Ruth was suddenly suspicious.
They entered, seeing a serene store, with burning candles and the smell of burning spices wafted throughout. There in the center sat a large mantis Scarabaeidae. It’s eyes snapped to the group and it rose to it’s full six and a half feet height. Zenner put himself in between the mantis. They both narrowed their eyes at each other.
The mantis spoke with a wispy serene voice.
“Zenner. A fine Wake to see you here. Are you announcing your going out of business sale?”
“You would wish ill upon a competitor. When this is over, I’ll buy you out!!”
“A mere delusion of a failed tradesman.”
“But I see you are not here to trade barbs, but wealth. And you’re here on the behalf of another.”
He skittered past Zenner, bypassing him to see the newcomers. Zenner blustered in protest, but was ignored.
“Ah, L’yophin. It is good to see you. And a Trow? Very strange you hold such company. I’ve known you as a loner.”
“Things change. I change with it. Good to see you, Onsort.”
The mantis let out a soft chittering laugh.
“Very good, very good.”
“What can I help you with?”
“I need nacelles. Ship sized.”
“A tall order. For what sort of vessel?”
“Sigmafly, Emissary model.”
“Oh, ho, ho! An Emissary; a fine vessel indeed,” The mantis replied, letting out a wispy soft laugh.
“I have such nacelles. Expensive. The vessel needs four, correct?”
“Yes, I will need all four.”
“Five hundred a nacelle,” The mantis blurted out.
“Battle number two,” Maw announced.
The Dugrum stayed impassive, with Zenner requipping his monocle.
“L’yophin, my good baeidae, this swindler is attempting to ruin you.”
“It matters not. Three-fifty,” L’yophin declared with gusto.
“Zenner, you would be best to keep your claws out of business you have little experience in. Five-hundred.”
He didn’t budge!
“Oi is the price suppose’ to be goin’ down?” Ruth asked, trying to do anything to drop the price.
“Ah, my new Trow friend but nacelles are precious. Five-hundred.”
“Buying in bulk should be discounted. Three-ninety.”
“Should be discounted. If they weren’t a precious and rare commodity. Five-hundred.”
“And would the nacelles molder due to inuse? Who flies? Four-hundred.”
“Everyone needs a nacelle. They are not just for flying. Try again. Five-hundred.”
Both Scarabaeidae were within inches of each other, not breaking the stare.
What is going on! He’s speaking to a wall!
“I think I see it. Watch and see. Look for the attrition,” Maw stated.
The what? Oh! Ruth blustered in frustration.
“And yet your shop is near empty. Four-ten.”
“But you are here in need of a nacelle. I sell when there is a need. Five-hundred.”
“Are your prices high because you have no stock left? Direct me where I can purchase others. Four-fifteen.”
“I am the only one in Vulnerado with the equipment you need. Five hundred.”
“I need nothing. This is a luxury. Should I travel to Hive Cicatrez? They will have what I desire. Stop wasting my time. Four-twenty.”
“Deal.” The mantis smiled serenely, pulling back.
What? What!? Ruth screamed internally.
“Ah, L’yophin got had. I’m guessing they were worth the original three-fifty. Unless he pulls out a special something.”
“That will be Sixteen hundred and eighty gold bars. Do you have more Trows to pull carts? Where will your finances come from? Your estate, perhaps?” Onsort began to pry, cocking his head.
“Uh, L’yophin, You may want to pull out of the deal,” Zenner added.
“No. Mik, bring out the wooden case,” L’yophin ordered as he kept an impassive face.
Ruth was confused, but obeyed. She reached into the cart, finding a simple wooden case of thirty inches in length. She handed it to L’yophin who skittered in front of Onsort, popping the wooding case open.
The mantis went from serene to shocked at lightspeed.
Zenner blustered some chittering swear.
Ruth went and looked, going as silent a the rest. No one said a word.
It was a twenty six inch index finger made of ornate adamantite, sheared off at the third knuckle at the hand. It was pristine, with filigree decoration throughout. It looked similar in design to Soltana.
Is that a part of Soltana? Ruth asked.
“I would say so,” Maw replied.
Why are we selling her parts? What is going on?
“Hold still. There is a plan here.”
“L’yophin. Where did you find that?” Onsort asked, peering down at the part.
He gently picked up the finger, finding it heavy and stiff. The muscle fibers were made of something stronger than a normal Anform. The mantis flexed, trying to close the finger joint and failed.
Zenner was a blustery mess, losing his monocle again.
“Trade secret,” L’yophin stated like a closed safe.
“Is this what you will use to trade?” Onsort asked, massaging his large eye.
The Dugrum gave a stiff nod.
Onsort removed the pillows he was sitting upon, raising the center floor dias, revealing a universal pricing scale. He gingerly placed the finger upon the dias.
The holographic display told the secret.
Adamantite and UNKNOWN MATERIAL(S) converted to Gold ratio: 6709
Onsort looked serenely back to L’yophin.
“Where would you like the nacelles delivered?”
“There it is. L’yophin pulled out his main trick,” Maw stated.
How does he know what to do?
I had no idea he was a tradesman.
Look at him!
No emotion on his face!
“He is a natural,” Maw complimented.
Onsort skittered to the back to show them the nacelles.
Now was for the big reveal of their trade secret.