Metallic fingers relaxed around the hilt of his sword and a quiet snapping noise issued from Cog’s left side as the sword was returned to its resting place in the scabbard. Though the tall automaton had not fully drawn the blade, the appearance of the Tyrix had given him cause to free the sword from the locking bit in the scabbard. His heavy three fingered hand, free from grasping the sword, made the sign of the cross before his torso and head, the metal plates of his face failing to express the sense of foreboding these creatures instilled in him as he spoke quietly.
“Domine, libera nos ab Orco” Cog said after the sign of the cross was finished.
As Joc spoke to the creatures and explained to some in their group their purpose and history, Cog became slightly more relaxed. The bundles of metallic cable like muscle under the plates of his body expanded and released the pent up tension that the appearance of these creatures had caused and with something close to a sigh, Cog relaxed. Soon they were on the move again and Cog kept to the side of the scale road as long as he could manage, somewhere in his mind he thought it rude to be tramping on a creature like this.
As he talked with Deidre JD continued to keep an eye on Joc. He watched his mannerism with the Tyrix for any hint that the situation was going to go south. In his former life he had learned that a situation could sometimes be better understood by observation than direct questioning.
They had been speaking with the militia leader for an hour longer than they should have. Lieutenant Miller had posted Sergeant Maddox’s squad around the compound’s walls for security and Maddox had ensured he could keep an eye on the LT. Miller kept speaking through their interrupter and the conversation was again rounding back to points that had been covered an hour ago. The hairs on Maddox’s neck were beginning to stand on end. Maddox looked over his shoulder and saw that Miller was no longer using his hands to gesture and convey his point to the elders. The LT’s left hand was hooked on the collar of his plate carrier near his radio switch, his right hand had returned to the pistol grip of his M4. Maddox’s eyes narrowed and he looked back out over the wadi that surrounded the compound; his eyes caught a flicker of movement nearly 200 yards off, four or five tall shadows moving through the tall crops. Just as he was going to report the movement to his troops Corporal Emery’s voice scratched through the radio. “This is post 3, movement on the southwest corner, 150 yards out and closing, looks like five foot mobiles, how copy?” Shit, thought Maddox, southwest was opposite where he had just seen movement; they were on two sides of the compound already. Again he was about to confirm the report and relay orders but another Marine beat him to the comm.
“This is Vincent on post 6; I have eight to ten foot mobiles, east road, 200 yards out, how copy.” This time Maddox didn’t wait to be beaten to the radio again, he leaned his head to his shoulder and keyed the transmitter on his plate carrier. “All posts this is Sergeant Maddox, fall back to the cover of the compound, keep eyes on, once in the compound take up positions, establish fields of fire, and if you get positive ID engage any and all targets.”
The Marines fell back and as Maddox walked to the LT the commander turned and watched the Marines taking up positions in the compound. “You read my mind Maddox;” The commander said as Maddox stood back to back with the commander, still covering the entrance, weapon trained on the opening. “These elders are stalling, what’s out there?” he finished asking Maddox after turning the selector switch on his M4 off safe.
Once Deidre was atop her mount again JD took up his hammer in one hand and hefted it over one shoulder, his hand helping to balance it and with the other hand he gathered up the reins of Deidre’s horse and led it along at a pace with the group. Her all too human chuckle after she spoke reminded him of Carrie and he was struck at that moment with a odd feeling of loss and happiness.
“I had spent some time in DC years ago.” JD said, the draconian tones in his voice rumbling out the words as he led the horse. “Alexandria in particular… there is a pub there, Kitty O’Shea’s, a great hole in the wall place for scotch, a soccer game and really good fish n’ chips.”
The human sounding expression she had made had reminded him of a world that seemed eons away even if it had only been a matter of hours since his abduction from that world. It made him happy to hear something that connected him back to humanity. That feeling though was coupled with loss, it had been the first time JD had thought about Carrie. Now he wondered what had happened to her, if she was okay, or if she had perished in the conflagration that had been the expansion. After his words to Deidre he had gone silent, troubled by thoughts of Carrie, wondering if there would be anyway to track her down.
“Blame the damn Mayans is what I say” he muttered, dropping his head “If any of them came back I am ripping off the head of the squirt that wrote that calendar.”
He heard whispered words in a familiar voice as his metal shod feet worked him along the scale road. Cog turned just in time to avoid being bowled over by JD, who was leading one of the horses in their party. Atop the horse sat the woman he had heard called Deidre, Cog lowered his head after he stepped out of JD’s way, the construct of his face able to show a slight smile.
“By all means take your leave.”
JD looked up to Cog and sighed as he spoke. “Sorry Cog, I was preoccupied.” JD slowed the horse and fell into step with Cog as an ascent in the trail began. Cog looked JD over for a moment, the large hammer balanced on one shoulder, mail tunic, shield, and smaller battle hammer linked to a baldric and belt all seemed to point to an expectation of violence.
“It is no worry JD.” Cog seemed to consider the name for a moment before using it. “May I inquire though; it looks as if you expect trouble. What do you really think is happening here?” Cog continued to walk alongside JD and for awhile, no answer came from the green kin. Just as Cog was thinking of excusing himself and stepping on from what seemed to be JD’s ever worsening demeanor the kin spoke.
“I do not always expect trouble Cog.” Cog seemed to consider JD’s words wholeheartedly. “Something you should know though is that trouble seems to seek me out, so I have found it easier to be prepared for the eventuality of its arrival.” Cog’s head dipped and lifted in a nod of affirmation. It was a concept he could identify with somewhat, it was a thought that seemed to resonate with him on some level, for a moment Cog wondered why those words had such a profound effect.
A report of pistol fire rang out, filling the cobbled alleyway with a deafening echo and a cloud of smoke. At the other end of the alley Cog stood motionless as the heavy lead ball impacted a thick iron plate over his left shoulder. The bullet stuck for a moment before rolling out and falling to the stones below, a man, covered by a heavy blue cloak, that had fired the pistol stood shocked as the machine that was Cog took a threatening step forward. With that step Cog sent the man fleeing from the alley way.
A flash of scenes filled Cog’s head before the memory returned.
A body covered by the same cobalt colored cloak lay sprawled and twisted at Cog’s feet as he watched the other similarly dressed man run away. Quickly Cog turned and knelt down next to a figure that had been tucked away behind a barrel. The man was well dressed with sharp aristocratic feature, a tumble of straight white hair that fell to his shoulders and a mane of a beard of the same white color. The man’s looked up in rapt amazement as he spoke while lifting a hand to Cog’s forearm to be assisted up. “Non credo che la mia creazione che funziona così bene.” The man in Cog’s memory had said.
Cog’s return to reality was caused by the rearing cry of a horse and the startled alarm of many voices. The jaw of his face plate dropped in astonishment as the gears of his mind realized that he stood but an arm’s length from what appeared to be an amber reptilian eye. Again his arm and hand involuntarily made the sign of the cross and a quiet tone again beseeched the Lord for deliverance. “To what Hell have I been condemned that I am now face to face with the beast of revelation?”
His short conversation with Cog had caused the mechanical golem to stare off towards the horizon as they began ascending the road that rose before them. Though Cog only had a series of interlocked metal plates for a face and pinpoints of bright blue light for eyes JD understood the way Cog was carrying himself, Cog’s mind was elsewhere and was to be left alone. The kin led the horse carefully along the path as they climbed until they reached a point that would be too treacherous for a novice rider. JD offered his arm and Deidre dismounted and began to lead the horse herself as Jackie approached and did the same.
Upon reaching their destination JD looked out over the expanse of the platform and shrugged the hammer from his shoulder letting the heavy metal head fall to the ground so he could lean against it.
“So where would …”
JD began as a sound like grinding stone filled his hearing. He turned to see what appeared to be a giant orb of gemstone or amber extending from the cliff side next to where they stood.
“…this great dragon…”
Slowly, JD realized that the alabaster cliff side was lifting away from the amber and not the other way around. JD saw the same swimming conflict of color he had seen in his own eyes when he studied his reflection in the armor and blades at the blacksmiths. Only this color seemed all the colors of smoldering fire and falling leaves combined together, vibrant oranges and cool yellows swam together forming the most intoxicating shade of amber he had ever seen. Center in this mass of color was the reptilian slit of a pupil that slowly moved, taking in the sight of each individual.
“…be…” JD leaned so hard against the hammer that, had it not been there, he would have fallen on his face. “Holy shit.” He practically whistled as one of the horses in their troupe reared up and disposed its rider.
JD was astounded as the creature spoke, the words nearly reverberating in his bones. Before too long Mithnal, the wild elf that had saved him back when he was human at the beginning of the expansion was engaged in a heated argument with the creature that possessed the eye that examined them all. Shouting ensued and JD gained some insight into Mithnal’s demeanor back at the church and in Rome, though the shock of seeing Aegis prevented him from putting those facts together for the moment. After the few minutes his brain had taken to absorb the situation JD felt as this would be the only time to get his answers to the questions that plagued him.
The anger that he had been infected with when he changed surfaced, that belligerent malice inside him, made up of the green scaled beast that coiled around his soul and twisted his body, flooded to the surface. All the images and memories that were not his came to the forefront of his mind, squads of creatures that looked like him tearing people limb from limb, images of green dragon kin, dressed in brutal armor relishing in dealing death all rushed into his thought process and before he knew it he was walking toward the giant eye, walking with a purpose. The hammer he had been leaning on was left behind and JD was vaguely aware of someone that had rode up and dismounted speaking but he waved away the words with a low rumble of a reply.
“Aegis or no, he is not skipping a damn thing until I have my questions answered.” JD stopped only a handful of feet from the eye, the musculature of his body wrapping and tensing so tightly against his bones that it was nearly painful. Every part of him, just like with the Tyrix, wanted to lash out at the being before him even though he knew on an instinctual level he would die.
"The king at the church said that this transformation into a kin was caused because of ancestry.” The tone of JD’s words were barely controlled and the venom they carried with them was bordering on irrational, this wasn’t JD in the slightest, it was part of the blood that changed him. “And if you can see what can, what may, and what will be… maybe you were around for what was and you can tell me what ancestor of mine had the desire to rip every living thing apart no matter the cost; because it is all I have felt like doing since this happened.” The scaled fingers of his hands balled into fists, black talons digging into soft palms as he stood staring into Aegis’s eye.