1-35: Aside 14: Under Glass

Completed episodes of the Azalea Company. Coming to a webcomic near you! https://www.su-comic.com
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1-35: Aside 14: Under Glass

Post by Kim »

Edge of Lucarin, Late afternoon
After the events of Rumble of Ebon Warriors

Lukina sat at the edge of the city, near a grove of trees. Since the knight had returned to Piyapon she had started favoring the Shadowmail armor as her everyday kit. That strange power armor, that she called the Onyx, was meant for more serious missions. She was adjusting her scope as it flurried around her. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground beneath her.

Retaking the city meant that the half-elf had more places to hide, but she was generally away from the main Azalea Free Company when she wasn't directly helping Creature with the Charter paperwork or the legislative paperwork for the Lorani province.

As the winter wind kicked up, a sound of a guitar echoed over the woods while a bass voice followed it. By its tone and rumble, someone must have a radio on somewhere deeper in the grove. It sounded eerily like Dallas, but it couldn't be.

Her ears perked at the sound as she shifted from her spot on the wall. She shouldered her Showstopper and activated her armor's stealth system. Her footsteps softly disturbed the snow as she followed the sound. It was strange to her music at the beginning of a snowfall. As she went, her footsteps were brushed over again by fresh snow.

As she closed in through the grove, the music stopped and a single word of, "Dammit," before the song just started playing acoustics for a moment before starting back from the beginning.

Lukina reached a small clearing, and a figure was playing a guitar while leaned up against a tree quietly singing to himself. The voice was almost perfect, like it was well tuned and everything. Who was this figure? He wore a black duster, a familiar looking uniform and a bright khaki Starson on his dark hair.

She stopped at the edge of the grove and silently watched the guitarist. Her eyes glancing up to the tree beside her, gauging its height. She lifted her rifle and stared through its scope to get a better view of the musician’s face. Lukina had an idea but she wanted to confirm.

She could only catch the bottom corner of his face, but that was just enough. The most hated Marshal in the sector was sitting alone next to a tree singing like he was a born musician. He was about halfway through a song but seemed to be deliberately making it longer.

Her ears twitched and she shifted her rifle up to look behind Dallas, it looked clear. She lowered her rifle again and decloaked. Lukina walked forward, she left her hood up to keep some of her body heat in. "It's an odd time and place to be doing rehearsals, isn't it?"

Dallas looked up without missing a beat to acknowledge her before looking back down and continuing. The song lasted about another minute before he stopped. "What is it, Lukina?" He sounded a tad out of it, like he had something on his mind.

Lukina re-shouldered the rifle as she advanced. "It's a good place to get sniped, I guess your sense of self-preservation went out the window a few weeks ago," she stopped in front of him and smiled. The snow lightly dusted her hood.

"If I die, I die. Ain't nothin' I can do about fate." He strummed his guitar lightly a couple times, "But I haven't gotten shot at yet and I'm comfortable."

"Trying to make Gol's job difficult then? The keeping you alive part but how are you doing?" She settled down on the ground beside him, setting her rifle beside her as she looked at him.

"Just keepin' on keepin' on." He was quietly strumming some tune that seemed to sound made up on the spot but didn't seem too bad.

"Still depressed then?" Her voice was soft, as she leaned lightly against him. "Sitting out in the snow, singing sad songs?"

"I don't think I'll change at the top of a hat, it'll be a while. No one mourns for the mourners." He began playing something that sounded like a song. His eyes looked dry, though it was obvious he was troubled by the emotion showing in his eyes.

Her expression was thoughtful, but she was against his shoulder. "Because the living get to figure out the value of living. And we have other people to lean on." She was close enough for him to smell the delicate perfume of lilies from her shampoo.

"Here to make me question my morality again?" He considered her eyes but did not change his expression. Unlike at the waterfall, he wasn't making moves. He was just playing the guitar and singing the country blues.

"No, I am just here," her eyes were a bright evergreen, the expression was not unkind. He could feel her body heat rising in steady waves through her Shadowmail. "Questioning is up to you."

Dallas didn't respond, just looked back ahead. For a while the only noise was the guitar before he finally spoke, "I'm here to get away from prying eyes and hateful stares. It's quiet here."

"It is, I like this province... I'll miss it when I have to leave again," she spoke softly, her voice was just barely above a whisper against his shoulder. Her weight was more against him now as she listened to his heartbeat and the strum of the guitar.

"Yeah, sometimes it's easy to forget that there is a war on. Those times are the best times in my opinion." His strumming became more of a waltz than anything, slow and emotional. He adjusted his legs slightly as well as his upper back but did so as if not to disturb Lukina.

"There is always a war going on," the half-elf nuzzled against Dallas' side, unbothered by the cold and the snow. "Just a matter of who you are fighting for,"

"You think we'll ever see peace in ou- my lifetime?" Dallas forgot that the elves easily outlived even the most modified humans. It didn't bother him though, the thought of his death had stopped really affecting him, it was the death of those around him that bothered him, and they did so dearly.

"Peace is for the heart, not the rest of the world. You might see peace, I don't think I ever will..." her voice drifted off and she was still against him.

"I just prefer to view peace as relative. We might not see true peace but we can be at peace if that makes sense. While you will live longer than I will draw breath, you'll have your peace while the rest of the world squabbles." He looked down to Lukina and simply began to strum a soft lullaby.

He didn't have the heart to move her, so he'd have to take the battering that would follow. He was content, though it would be probably be better to alert Creature before shit really got serious.

Cueing his ear radio, Dallas sent out a message to Creature, "Lukina is with me, she fell asleep. When do you need her back, m'lord?"

"The fuck? How the fuck did you get my number?" Creature responded to being suddenly called. "What the fuck again? I dunno how you, greasy ass humans, do it, but I am not her fucking keeper."

"Dossier, I've had it since I touched down. Don't blame me, blame the brass in the Capital. I thought since she was your... I don't know what Gartagens or you personally call your loved ones, I felt I would ask you. You are Lord of the Province."

"Well, that didn't come off as racist." Creature said. Sounding slightly irritated. "Fine. If you fucking insist."

"I didn't mean it too, m'lord." Dallas responded, "Honest."

It took about ten minutes, but Creature eventually showed up. He was riding that messed up bird he named Dickface McGoo. His boots touched down and the snow crunched under his feet. He had to admire the alien scenery. But in truth, Dallas could already see the curmudgeonly Gartagen lord was irritated. The weather for one was not welcoming to his people, and he had not really been one to police anybody, even if he had feelings for them. "I mean, you could have just brought her back. What's the fucking problem with that? Worried you can't let a girl sleep without your dick accidently sliding into them?"

"She's your girl, I was more apt to do what you wanted than assume and end up, m'lord." His voice was low, quiet, and calm.

"Uh. The fuck did you say? I think my hearing is starting to mother fucking go fucking bad." Creature said with some venom in his voice. "She is her own girl, you fucking hick. Even if we were in a relationship, which we aren't... also that’s also none anybody's business if we are. She is still her own fucking person." Creature advanced towards the sleeping Elf and Dallas. "But I get it. But you don't have to be such a fucking bitch about it. I'm pissed at you. But I already promised like half the camp I wasn't going to murder you in your sleep...or awake."

"Yes, m'lord." He sat his guitar down next to him and gently turned to pick her up as easily as he could. He lifted with his knees and held her there. "How does she prefer to ride? Riding your stirrups or heels I am guessing?" His expression was calm, though curious.

Creature just kind of shrugged. "She just kind of runs everywhere as far as I've seen." Creature said calmly. He jabbed Lukina's face with his maimed hand. "Hey, wake up." He rumbled.

Lukina was rather heavy in the Shadowmail. She yawned a bit and slowly opened her eyes to look at Creature. "Ohayou," she said sleepily.

"Sup, bitch? You uh, wanna stay here with King Friendzone? Or wanna come back to the Palace or something?" Creature said looming over her, rather unintimidated by the weight of the Shadowmail. "And yes, I can carry you. I think one time I tested my strength and I was able to bench press as transport vehicle or something."

"Doshite... why are you carrying me?" Lukina yawned, "Oh, I was checking out the perimeter and I heard music and I came over here..."

"I'm not. You are laying here. McClosky called me to come get you for some weird ass reason," Creature grumbled.

Lukina slowly sat up and stretched her arms. "I can walk, I guess. I didn't think I was tired," She slowly rose to her feet. "Did someone say something about a girl?" She rubbed her eyes, unsure of why Creature was so pissed off. "Did something happen?"

"No, it's just me. I don't care, I'm used to it," Dallas stated.

"I'm not pissed. It's like cold." Creature said. "If I was pissed I'd be louder."

Dallas shrugged, agreeing somewhat. "It is a bit of a harsh winter."

"It's nice out," Lukina shrugged. Her eyes looked up to the darkening sky and the snow-covered trees. The bark still glowed dimly green despite the season. "This grove is beautiful at night." She moved away from them towards the center of the grove to get a better view of the bioluminescence. "It's starting. Look at it." She gestured to the trees around them with a smile.

Dallas looked up and tapped his Starson so he had a full view. He closed the distance to the Elf, on the way picking up his guitar and slipping its strap over his should to where it was on his back. "What is 'it'?"

As the light faded from the sky, the lights of the city seemed distant behind them as the trees glowed more strongly. Some of the trees were filled with green lights while others glowed with teal luminescence.

There was soft shimmer over Creature. Like his entire form was an illusion in the night air. He stepped forward, and drew his pistol. "Yea. You have to live here to appreciate the serenity of this place." Then he turned nodded to Dallas and fired it, repeatedly at the man. The revolver belched out the shells, with the thunderous report shattering the serenity of this Grove.

Two caught him in the arm before the third skirted across his cheek, drawing blood. He drew steel and with a singular motion leveled against Creature, firing one actual round and following it up with a quickly fired laser.

The laser struck The Creature. The image of him flickered, and staticked having been disrupted by the incoming laser fire. For an instant, Dallas saw a vaguely humanoid form, only more reptilian, a notable foot snaked down where legs should have been. The Image went back to that of Creature, and it strafed with shocking speed to the right, firing two more shots at Dallas.

He flicked his eyes into white-hot, knowing the Vekimen they showed as a lack of heat instead of actual heat. His arms began to lock with his eyes as he barked, "LUKINA! DUCK!" He rounded the tree and had the pistol at his hip with his damaged hand on the hammer. Five rounds echoed within two seconds before several lasers streaked out when the lead had run dry.

He failed to notice the two wounds in his right chest and the bloodened holes in the guitar on his back. There was no time to bleed.

Lukina turned as soon as the gunfire thundered. Her rifle was at her shoulder before she disappeared. She moved away quickly and opened fire on the illusion of Creature.

When Lukina pulled her trigger, her world exploded, and she felt a blunt pain on her lower back as she was taken off her feet and slammed into the dirt. Less than a second later a thunderous report shattered the silence of the forest.

The Dopple Creature hissed, and advanced onto Dallas. It snaked around a Tree and the rounds struck it causing the DoppleCreature to dance. The imposter hissed, and rushed him.

He took two steps back, pulling his Truncheon from inside his coat and lighting it with several volts of pure n abuse. "Come on you, shit stain!" He attempted to jink to the side and swung for the thing's head.

Lukina gritted her teeth and clutched the butt of her rifle. She was grateful that her armor was meant for stopping rounds, which meant that it hurt like a bitch, she would have a nasty bruise but she was alive. "Ugh." she pushed herself up, kicking a commslink open. "Creature, where the fuck are you?"

The DoppleCreature obliged Dallas and rushed with the speed of a snake. It suddenly coiled around him taking him to the ground, and then it squeezed. Dallas would next find himself face to face with a humanoid male. Only the eyes were reptilian. The body was that of a serpent.

The real Creature responded. "Walking through these fucking woods like an Idiot. I think I'm uh.... was that fucking gun shots?" He crackled back. "Dallas called me and I said I was coming to get you."

"Fucking sniper. Fucking strange alien species..." Lukina growled as she slowly moved, her stealth still engaged. She had to move.

The Truncheon was pinned between his left arm and the reptile's tail. He gave a dirty smile before he hit the power switch and set it to full. "Sup." He slammed the switch home, the Sunstick igniting its strong electric current through the aggressor and the ex-Marshall's synthskin, which wasn't good enough to conduct.

The snake man thing shrieked. But the problem was Dallas felt the shock too, the metal of his arm conducted electricity very well. It was also touching the wet scaly skin of the alien that had bound him. Dallas Synthskin worked well enough, but those bionic mechanical arms by nature had to conduct electricity. They both shook in synchronization as the stun baton popped rapidly and delivered a full charge of electricity.

A follow up shot from the sniper did not follow. All Lukina heard was the crackling of Creature's comms as and his husky breathing as he pushed through the woods as fast as he could.

"FUCKTHATDIDN'TWORK!" He hoped his revolver was pointing the right way as he shoved another beam of laser against his aggressor, following it again and again until he felt he didn't need to.

Lukina quickly raised her Showstopper and fired a high explosive round at what looked like the snake man's head. She was tired of these games. She wanted to shoot something.

Dallas' arms, worked quite well however. The laser shot cut clean through the scaly body of the snake man. The rest of his body was locked in the shock. Then the snake's head suddenly exploded as the showstopper turned the snake man's head into a canoe. Dallas would fall limply onto his back, his body tingling and his hear cramping brutally. The sensation being like that of a hot knife piercing him. But he was awake, and alive, and able to move.

"WOO! HOLY SHIT THAT WAS AND ADVENTURE!" He rolled onto his stomach then again as he rolled himself into a bush.

"There's another one," Lukina murmured as she raised her rifle, searching with the IR of the scope for the shape of the hidden sniper in the tree line.

She aimed, sweeping the wintery snow coated forest. It was dark but her scope compensated, and then right as she saw it, her scope exploded. There was another shot, then another. Only it wasn't at Lukina. She felt the shots go over her head and into a tree directly behind her.

"Holy fuck!" Creature shouted from behind the tree. Creature lay in the snow with a nice hole in his abdomen, gripping the GP-1 custom that was Valériane’s.

Lukina had her line of fire, she fired the Showstopper in three bursts from where her scope was when it exploded. "Get to cover." She said as she retreated backwards, firing up at the hidden sniper until she was to Creature. "This fucker again..."

There was sound of rounds entering a chamber as Dallas reloaded in his bush. The n in him had a stupid idea, "Which one of you is a better shot!?" He switched the batteries for the laser and held the half-charged cell in left hand.

The burst hit her mark dead on. The shot shredded a large straw doll with a mock rifle in its hands. The doll dropped to the forest floor, and then it went quiet.

Creature peeked up and looked around. "Lukina is. But I'm fucking okay. Dallas can you fucking move?"

"I'm going to throw my battery, start a fire. If it burns as bright as I think can you will be able to see the reflection off the scope."

"Cover, now," Lukina insisted. The glass and metal of her scope exploding had cut up her face, she was damn lucky she hadn't lost her eye yet. "They are after Dallas and Creature."

"I think it's after you." Creature said huffing as he shifted back down behind the tree roots. "Last time the mother fucker dumped on me trying to stop me from grabbing you. The shots at that tree were wild, he only clipped me. He wants you, Lukes. Probably to wear your fucking skin or some shit."

"Stop fucking arguing you fucking love birds. I'm going to throw and I'm going to book it. Count of three, shoot the fucking battery!" Dallas dropped his guitar, pulling several splinters from his back while leaving a few in. "One! Two!" He took in a breath and gripped his pistol. "THREE!"

The man's hand went up and tried to throw the battery.

"Uhhhhh." Creature said being totally not ready to indulge Dallas plan. "That's a bad id-"

A thunderous report hit Dallas hand, causing it to fly apart. The battery flopped on the ground next to him, and began giving off a sizzling as it was heating up.

"Dammit!" Dallas booked it out of the bush and dove behind a collection of thick trees." He still had his main arm. "Okay, fine, bad idea, fuck off. Get the fuck away from the battery! When it cooks off it's gonna be hotter than hell!"

Two seconds later, a bright flash akin to a flashbang burned bright as the battery began to roar before it literally burst into bright, violent blue flames. The trees around the battery were lit up like Year-End Trees, and cast large bouts of light for meters. Dallas was lit up from one side, but not from the side he had received fire from. The tree might block most of the bullet if not inducing a shatter.

He stuck his head out in the brush slowly, his IR filter looking for anything with a heat source. He slowed his breath, beginning to feel cold as the slow loss of blood was beginning to pull harder and harder at his adrenaline high. "F-Fuck..."

Lukina ducked behind a tree and inwardly cursed. "Sonar? He saw through the last kit too." She kept her stealth active. She needed to hide her physical signature. She pressed flat against the tree. Think... This tree has been hollowed. I think there's an opening higher up... She pressed into the tree through a hidden entranceway and climbed.

"Brrrp." Creature said as Lukina hid in the tree. She had a clear view of Creature. Who was resting on his back safely behind a thick tree root. When Dallas booked it a shot was fired causing the ground beneath Dallas to explode in a puff of snow and dirt. The sniper missed. Creature rolled over and placed three shots right back at it, the heavy thumping of the "Deliverance" rifle punctuating the thunder of the heavier rifle that sniper was using.

Lukina then heard it. A machine-like screech came only a hundred yards away in the forest.

Lukina searched for her target, where was the bastard? She settled herself inside the tree, lifting her rifle, reduced to iron sights as she pulled on her goggles to compensation for the loss of her scope. If he wanted her, he might get desperate. This trick will only work for a short while.

Dallas, completely confused on what the fuck to do, began scanning what he could see with the eyes on IR. If this thing was using active camouflage, he'd see some sort of trail if the armor itself was coated. If it wasn't, it would be too obvious. "Where the fuck are you..."

Dallas with his IR vision saw a glowing trail in the woods. It was fading quickly, but it was getting closer. It often ended abruptly and began again on a large enough tree branch. This sniper was running and jumping up like a jungle predator.

Dallas tried his ear radio that he contacted Creature with, "Bearing 030, 035, 040. Closing fast." He kept quietly calling bearings before he finally started calling out heights as well. "Fifty meters above, still fifty, range 300. Guesstimate lead, fire for effect."

Lukina saw only a dark forest. But her hiding in the tree had for the most part hidden her. When she peeked up to look, there was a rifle barrel in her face. She would see a tall sandy blonde-haired man peering down at her. His body was thin and he was wearing a simple light reflection suit. His face was covered by a visor mask. He was thin, but whip chord muscled, and Creature and she had indeed shot him, his body was in fact filled with machinery.

Lukina raised her hands, "Now what?" Her heart was in her throat as she made the jump into the sniper's consciousness. Her eyes glowed behind the goggles as she fought for control of the sniper's mind.
Inside the Sniper's mind

This was not like when she entered Dallas. Dallas only had cybernetic eyes so she didn't see anything but his vision and felt his body's electronic pulses. She had gone into Creature's entire brain. Creature's brain was a warm place, and he was generally even tempered and his fucked-up thoughts were relatively tame, or at the very least well managed. For his propensity towards Violence, Creature was not spurred on by it.

This thing was like diving into ice cold water. When Lukina jacked in to his mind. She found herself in a room that was all black. Face to face with the man. Only he looked undamaged, and well groomed. "Oh. So, you are free of your body meats when you desire to be as well. You truly are marvelous," it began. "Your simple flesh bag friends are trying to figure out what to do right now. But, we, for the moment, have an opportunity to finally meet." He said smiling warmly at Lukina. His voice was baritone and smooth. His features were fine and a soft kind of handsome.

"Who are you?" Lukina looked at him oddly, confused by the man she saw. Her mental projection was free of scars, her body bare. Her eyes scanned the room. "You shot off my leg that last battle."

The man smiled. "I am the lone hunter. They call me, Glasseye. The meatbags. I like to free the meat bags from their body meat. Then take their body meat and minds. Placing it into the machine. You are worthy of this. So, I've been tracking you since I first saw you."

"What do you mean by placing into the machine? Most organics don't continue on once we die, Glasseye," Lukina replied as she moved closer to the man's mental projection. "Why are you in this blackbox?"

The man rose. The room illuminated, and Lukina saw others. Like her. Various individual minds were all stored in his head with him, and they were for the most part mad, or distant. "I bring them here. With me. Where they are free from their flesh. You made it easier." He said smirking and advancing on her.

"Hold on, I want to understand whatever this is, please explain it to me. I mean, I'm here, we're talking..." Lukina blinked.

Lukina found herself suddenly not before him. "You are free. Thank you for not fighting." She was now amongst the others, standing neatly with the other minds of the people he had killed.

Lukina tried to disengage the GHOST. She banged on the glass.

It didn't work. When she attempted to, she found that her trying to reach back to her body was akin to running into a solid wall. She tried, but nothing happened. The man smirked and eyed her up. "The blue one. I will let you watch as I visit him and have him kill the other one..."

"NO," Lukina's mental projection pounded on the glass.

Creature had his rifle aimed at the Man who was standing over Lukina. The pair looked frozen. "Dallas!" Creature called out. "Don't do it!" Creature ordered. "You could kill her mind!"

Dallas remained aiming at the sniper but did not fire. His destroyed arm was beginning to spark and spaz as blood rolled down the synthskin and down against the sharp broken metal. He still didn't know how bad he'd been hit, but he knew he'd been hit. His breath was ragged and he was spitting blood.

"Then what the fuck are we supposed to do?"

"Fuck if I know, she just jumps into my head using that fucking flesh computer wifi bullshit my people made. I just don't want to do something stupid and accidently kill her."

Dallas was a few feet away. He took a step forward and drew a breath. He felt his lung shutting down as he suppressed a bloody cough. He emerged into the light from the burning battery and showed his colors, his uniform tattered and torn with blood dripping heavily from his entry and exit wounds, one of which pumping with his heart.

Dallas simply tried to take the gun from the sniper's hands.

His hand was iron clad, and did not give the gun up. It would not take Dallas long to realize this guy for his fleshy appearance was mostly machine. A n would be showing off these enhancements, but this fellow went through the trouble of hiding them.

Putting the revolver sideways in his mouth, Dallas hit the magazine release on the 'Deliverance' and then racked the bolt back to eject the last round. He thought to himself for a moment before unlocking the bolt and pulling it out of the receiver. "Haha, got you gun bolt thingy." He staggered back a few steps and then kind of stood there with his revolver in his mouth before stuffing the bolt into a pocket and properly re-aiming his gun.

Lukina's voice was distant within her physical body, "I can't get out. This thing has a limited range."

Creature looked down, watching Dallas fiddle with the cyborg's gun. "Uh what?" He said barely hearing what Lukina said.

"He's going to steal your body, Creature. I'm stuck. Move me away from him," Lukina's voice was strained.

"I don't." Creature then went silent. Dallas suddenly had a rifle trained on him from behind. "Shhhhh. Be silent, my pet," Creature's voice said, but not with Creature's words.

"Why are you doing this?" Lukina's mental projection banged on the glass. She tried to break the cage she was in. She was still strong.

Dallas' voice was slurred, "Man, I should have taken your bolt too..."

"Because I can." The cyborg responded.

Lukina would see the man however was straining. Taxed. He had invaded Creature's mind. But the wiley Gartagen was somehow pushing back. Causing the cyborg to have to apply some effort. His words to her were more of a grunt rather than his icy cool confident voice.

Outside, the Blue Gartagen just stood there, with his rifle trained on Dallas.

Dallas slowly turned around to face 'Creature,'

Lukina's mental projection threw herself into the glass with all her strength. "CREATURE! DALLAS!"

Dallas, remembered something stupid. "Forgive me, m'lord." Dallas coughed blood, dark blood, and charged the man. He stabbed his handless cybernetic across the barrel shroud of the GP-1 and then swung heavily for the Gartagen's neck

Dallas heard a thunderous report. The bullet from the GP-1 "Deliverance" rifle exited and struck Dallas dead center breaking his armor. But the momentum was already there, and Dallas' fist flew into Creature slamming the Gartagen into a nearby tree having successfully struck him in the neck.

"FUCK YOU!" Dallas coughed harder, "If I die, I've done my fucking duty!" He mustered strength and began striking Creature with the metal and wooden grip.

The half elf tried breaking the connection again, she didn't know what would happen if she was stuck in here when the connection broke.

The man flew back before Lukina. Feeling the blows Dallas had delivered to Creature. He twitched and his face flew with every strike. Lukina felt the "Glass" weaken, then it shattered and she broke through.

Dallas began to pick up the man, somehow coughing out the opening lyrics to the Kowloonian anthem while beginning to march Creature towards the edge of the grove.

Lukina severed the connection, her body holding her rifle in a death grip. "Kill the sniper."

Creature snapped to, groggy from his beating. A foot stomped Dallas' toes, then an Elbow hit him in the face. "FUCKING! WHY DIDN'T YOU SHOOT ME, ASSHOLE?!" Creature roared, toppling over, and landing in the snow.

"Because you're needed more than me." Dallas felt his cybernetics twitch and spasm before the ex-Marshal gave a last word before he fell into unconsciousness, "Asshole."

In an instant, Lukina's eyes cleared and she stared at the face mask of the man that had meant to cage her mind and murder her friends. She brought her Showstopper up, there was no way to miss at this range and squeezed the trigger 3 times and sent 3 High explosive EMP rounds into Glasseye's head. Her body was trembling.

The first high explosive round tore through the sniper's helmet and ripped apart the man's skull. The 2nd round only made the hole bigger. The 3rd round didn't leave anything but a gaping hole where the top of the man's head should have been above the jaw.

Creature gasped, "Oh. Fuck off." He then slapped Dallas in his balls. Dallas didn't respond beyond coughing up more blood.

Creature lay motionless. "Mother fucker, passed out." He then punched Dallas in the balls again. Then again. "Oh, you are gonna feel it, mother fucker. Don't think just because you are fucking dying you can get away with bitch slapping me into the ground."

Dallas snapped back into consciousness, beginning a painful laugh, "Never change... you fucking asshole... remember me if I fucking die... maybe I won't and I'll make you fucking sad."

Creature stopped beating Dallas, and reached into his utility bag. He pulled rubber ducky. He tossed it into the snow, and pulled out an empty syringe. Creature then uncapped the needled and shoved it into his abdomen just above his pubis bone and withdrew a pinkish white fluid. He then slammed the needle into Dallas' synth skin and deposited the nanites into him. "Dallas. I really don't like hearing you fucking talk, as much as you do. Fuck off."

Lukina watched the sniper's body fall to the ground and shot it 3 more times for good measure, her hands were shaking.

Creature lay on his back in the snow next to Dallas. His head was ringing from the blows he had suffered. He was pretty sure, judging by the fact his vision was blurry Dallas had ruptured something in his brain. He then pulled out his pack of Cigarettes, pulled one of them out and lit it.

"Luuuuukes!" Creature rasped.

Dallas rattled the same thing except it was wet and raspy.

Lukina jumped down after the sniper and kicked him. She looked to Creature and Dallas, "Are you guys okay? I was... preoccupied with getting out of that fuck's head." She kicked the body again for good measure. She looked like she was going to shoot it again.

"I think I'm gonna lay here for a while.... Unless Dallas doesn’t stop being fucking depressing," Creature rasped.

"Can I bum a smoke, you fucking blue asshole?" Dallas coughed.

Creature handed the pack of smokes and his lighter over, by slamming his fist into Dallas' balls once more.

"You really love my balls, don't you..." Dallas pulled a cigarette and lit it before ramming his cigarette and lighter back against his head with his only functioning cybernetic.

"'Bout fucking time you stop crying like a full-blooded bitch," Creature grunted.

"Fuck off, thanks for the smokes," Dallas grunted.

Lukina trembling lowered her Showstopper and moved between the two men. "I have some med syringes. Do you need some Creature?" Her hands were shaking as she pulled a syringe from her pouch.

"Fuck yes," Creature responded as he ashed his cigarette. "Dallas needs them more though. I'll bounce back."

"WOO! DRUGS!" Dallas said weakly.

"What the fuck was that thing? It jumped into my head like you do. Only. Made me shoot Dallas. Which I mean he could have just said that it was you or Dallas and I'd have just shot his cry baby ass in the fucking face."

"Holy fuck..." Dallas rolled his head to the side to face Creature, "YOU DO CARE!"

"Don't cream you fucking pants. if you died Lukina would cry about it, and I'm not fucking okay with that," Creature grumbled.

"I'm not either, but I'm not fucking dead so we dodged that bullet didn't we!" Dallas felt loopy but alive.

Lukina stabbed Dallas with the quikheal syringe and injected him with more nanites to repair the damage. "That sniper, Glasseye, was trying to rip my consciousness out and stick it in his body to keep me in a fucking mental cage as a pet." She cast the syringe aside and pulled another one out.

"Well that was creepy as fuck. You okay, Lukes?" Creature said

"Needle number 2 but no drugs, more nanites," Lukina plunged the next quikheal syringe into Dallas to further speed the healing along. "I have the surgical nanites too, do you want that too? I am not so pissed at you so I can give you the happy drugs with it..." She remained kneeling beside them.

"I'll survive, you guys are in worse shape," Lukina's hands were still shaking. "It was a long shot to even attempt that... I didn't..."

Dallas tried to raise his left hand to attempt to comfort her but then remembered he didn't have a hand. He just did it with his right, "Hey, you did okay. Remember, I'm the stupid one."

"It worked. I'm not bitching." Creature said rolling over and sitting up.

"Lukina, is my guitar still over there somewhere?" Dallas asked.

Lukina looked over towards the grove. "Maybe? Can y'all move?" She pulled out the other two sets of surgery nanites and injected them into Dallas to repair the damage to his internal organs. "This should fix you."

Creature stood up slowly. "I'll stick around. Came all the way fucking here for you anyway." he grunted. His face still feeling like ground meat, Creature really was not in the mood to do much moving.

Lukina looked up at Creature and frowned a bit "I fell asleep apparently... and then this shit happened." Her eyes went back to the dead sniper in the snow behind her. "I wonder... if this guy had a bounty on him. I can cash him in and pay for some more supplies. He'd been killing people and stilling their consciousness for a while."

"You know what, fuck the guitar. I'll get a new one." Dallas pulled the cigarette out to blow smoke out his left corner of his lips, "Plus, I think it fucking exploded."
> - > - >

Once again, Lukina sat, well was laying on her stomach, on a hospital bed opposite from Dallas in the large room that the Azalea company had converted into a hospital emergency room. Her armor plates and Showstopper sat on a cart beside her and her bodysuit had been pulled down and tied around her waist. Her cheeks were covered in bandages where the shrapnel of her scope had cut her. She was still mostly clothed. Her tank top was pulled up to expose her lower back where there was a large, ugly, bruise growing. "How are you feeling?" She said finally, thinking that Dallas was awake.

Her gauntlet was exposed on her forearm as was the volumeric projection screen she was using to query the Bounty Hunter Database with the images and DNA sequences of Glasseye and the Snake guy she had also exploded to see if this would be a good payday for her and the Free Company.

The query came back positive. They were wanted for a large chunk of change together, about 2 million.

"Could be better... did they find me a hand yet?" He held up his left arm to find that, in fact, there was a skinless cybernetic there, much newer than the one that was on there before. "Yeah... well at least it wasn't a hook or an implanted gun or something."

"The Section sent me back with a box of parts, they are generic but it should work until we can get you a more customized one but I don't think you have the freedom to send out an order, right?" Lukina's eyes glanced over to Dallas from the screen.

"I had the original ones made, but that was also way back on Francesca and not here. These'll probably work." He flexed his arms while his eyes filled up with raw data. "Probably... I might do some shopping if I ever get paid." He laid his hands back down on the medical cot and sighed, "So, how long was I out?"

"A few hours this time, all the nanites we dumped into you repaired most of your issues but you'll still have to pass the dead tissue and cells from your system. You'll probably feel like you have a fever for a few days," Lukina replied reassuringly. "Thank you, by the way."

"It's nothing, I took an oath to protect those under the banner and I owed both of you one." Dallas felt at where he had been shot in the chest, satisfied by the lack of holes and protective bandages. "Well, probably won't be the last time I'm shot."

"If you hadn't called Creature... he... might have taken me and killed you," there was a tremble in Lukina's voice as she paused. "I don't ever want to experience something like that again." She shivered.

"Hey," he placed a hand on her shoulder, "You know no one will let that happen. I won't, Creature won't, no one. You were there for me when I needed it and I was there for you. That won't ever change."

Lukina turned her head to look at him and smiled gently. She placed her hand over his for a moment. "I don't think I say thank you enough these days. There's been a lot of death, it's hard to remember the finer points of the living part."

"I'm just glad that I could keep people from dying. That makes today a good day in my book." Dallas brushed her hand with his thumb for a moment before smiling himself.

"That hero mentality is going to get you killed, you must have at least some thread of self-preservation in that thick skull of yours, somewhere," she continued to smile, though her tone was gently scolding. "You can save people without jumping in front of bullets... and when you are on the ground coughing up blood... think of yourself a little bit?"

Dallas smiled and gently laughed, "I'll keep that in mind."

Her small hand gave his cybernetic hand a gentle squeeze. "You also always have the option to say 'no', we tease but you still have a choice. This situation is quite strange, so I don't know how to really address it." The tips of Lukina's ears blushed pink a bit.

"You can address it any way you want to, we're here to help you too." Dallas brushed the back of her hand with his thumb a few times carrying a level of affection but his mind was quick to remind himself what happened the last time he started to feel this way.

"You have some stake in all of this too... it is your body," she reminded him. "This emotional spectrum thing is pretty complicated, isn't it? It was simpler to be alone. But I like having friends. I don't want to be alone in a room of memories... that was... I almost feel bad for Glasseye."

Dallas raised a curious eyebrow, "Do go on, how come? You probably know more about him than I do." Dallas left has hand where it was to keep her calm more than anything.

"Glasseye was that sniper. Most of his body was mechanical, he was... psychotic to be sure but his mind... what humanity he had left... he was singularly focused on collecting people. We were just... butterflies to be added. He was in a large room surrounded by them... no one starts off that way... I wonder what happened to him to make him covet people like that? It was cold, lonely..." her voice was sympathetic, though the memory made her shiver again.

Dallas returned to brushing her hand with his thumb as he spoke, "The mind is a fickle thing, no one truly knows what happens to some people when they change for the worse. Some people do strange things but remain sane, others just become psychotic and devolve. We may never know for sure." He turned his hand to sort-of squeeze hers, "Are you going to be okay?"

"Another scar, it'll heal but it'll leave a mark," she replied. He could see the thin scars on her torso through the gaps of her tank top. "More nightmare fuel. I've never had someone tell me that they wanted me so badly that they would murder my friends while making me watch." Her voice was steady but her hand was shaking again.

Dallas moved his hand from her shoulder to physically hold her hand, "You were there for me when I needed to cry, I do not mind returning the favor." His eyes were sincere, it was clear he didn't like seeing her sad.

Lukina bit her lower lip for a moment. "I might...need a hug," she admitted softly. "I'm not supposed to move around too much until the nanites run their course on my back though."

Dallas moved his left arm to support his weight and sat himself up. There wasn't very much pain, so that made him a little happier. He looked her directly in the eye and gently pulled her into an embrace.

The half-elf had been laying on her stomach when Dallas effectively pulled her across his lap to hug her. She was startled for a moment but returned the embrace, closing her eyes and holding onto him tightly. She was still shaking but he couldn't tell if she was crying from how her face was positioned against his chest.

He gently moved his left hand to brush down her hair as he hummed an equally gentle tune. He made no movements to move her, he'd let her decide when she'd had enough. "If you want to lay back down, I can probably move my cot over closer."

"I should lie back down. Glasseye shot me dead center of my spine... he was trying to cripple me. My Shadowmail stopped it," Lukina said rather softly as she eased back towards her hospital bed again.

Dallas gently helped her lay back down before scooting his own cot next to hers before rolling back onto his back. He held out his right hand, offering it to her. "We're in this together, Lukina, no matter what."

Lukina settled back down and took his hand into hers and smiled at him. "Thank you. We'll figure the rest of this out eventually. I can't process the love thing right now, I just don't have enough... data, I guess to work with?"

Dallas blushed and smiled, "We'll see what time yields, right now you need to do what you need to do." He brushed the back of her hand with his thumb again, "I'm right here and I'm not going anywhere."

Lukina's expression became thoughtful again, "It's a journey without end or a set destination, all I can do is follow the path until I find where I want to be and then, who I want to be."

"We got the rest of our lives to decide who we are gonna be." He looked over at her and considered her eyes thoughtfully, "And if you ever need the help, all you have to do is ask."

"I live mostly on a battlefield, the rest of my life might be today or tomorrow," there was a sadness in her evergreen eyes though she smiled as she laid her head down against the bed, still looking at him.

"It's still life, I'd live it if I were you." He moved his left hand to brush through her hair again before just letting it rest on his chest. "I value you, dearly, and I'll live that life if I need to so you are happy. Yeah, it's cheesy as fuck but I mean it."

"That sounds a lot like a love confession, cowboy," she commented softly.

Dallas blushed and moved his lips to say something, stopped, and then tried again, "Quiet... It's a weird... thing..." He tried to play it off but his eyes just echoed his cheeks, embarrassment. It was up to Lukina to figure out the meanings.

"I don't need to hijack you to understand it... it would explain why you were looking at me when you were inside of Gol... or why you let me--"

"Yeah, I read like a billboard." He took a breath and let it out slow, "I do like you, very much so because you actually care, but I am trying to be careful. I don't want to lose someone again, there are only so many people you can go out and bender yourself to remember." His eyes gain a soft aire of seriousness, but remained cool and calm since he was no longer really hiding it.

"I understand. It hurts to lose, and... I don't live with a safety net though I am trying different ways to stay alive," she commented softly.

"I know... but you try and stay alive. You value life. Most importantly, you care. I can deal with the stress and risk that is presented. That's just the things I do to myself." Dallas didn't break form, finding himself spilling his bleeding heart.

"I feel stupid, I didn't even realize he was after me... I've been so busy trying to protect everyone else that I didn't realize it. I don't know what to say to you but thank you for caring for trying to be here for me. I do appreciate it," she moved his hand to her lips and kissed it gently. "I do like you. I don't know to what end." She closed her eyes for a moment and her breathing slowed, as if she was falling asleep.

Dallas didn't respond, just calmly rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. He knew he'd probably have a fight with Creature, he wasn't looking forward to it, but it might be time for him to stand ground instead of ceding it.

Lukina's hold loosened as she finally went to sleep, having come down from the adrenaline of the fire fight and the medication she had been given kicking in.

Dallas decided to let her loosely hold his hand, he owed her that much.

Lukina heard his voice in her ear. "Kill him."

Lukina's ear twitched in her sleep. "No contract, no orders and I don't want to."

"Yes, you do. That was your training. To murder everything alive. Nobody wants him. Only days ago he was professing love for another. He hops from person to person like an insect. Filth. You want to kill him." The sniper's voice hissed.

"I do not. People are not static. Emotions are a chemical response that is not constrained to timelines or reason. There is no logic." Lukina's voice argued.

"I am you now. I see your inner thoughts. You try to hide. You have killed less than him for even less reasons. But I will make a bargain. Hurt him. Or else I will wait until your first night together and murder him while you sleep." The voice threatened.

'"You do not have that power over me, phantom. You're dead. A virus in my interface that can only rattle in your cage and growl at me. You wanted me, now you are stuck with me and my complex illogical responses. I am not static." Lukina's inner thoughts growled.

"Afraid. Fear is a weakness of the flesh. I came with you because I could. I am happy to be here. Reliving life as you. Seeing your dreams. I do not want anything like power over you, little one. I want you to embrace what you are," the voice soothed.

Lukina would feel her hand begin to tap her field knife involuntarily. "Flesh is oh so simple." The voice gloated.

Lukina felt the tingle of her antivirus as she kicked it on to force the echo to silence. "I am a murderer but I am not you. "

"No. I am you." His voice said fading. The knife jerked out and flung at the door, and hit something with a loud thump. But the antivirus had done something at least. Her head no longer felt so stuffy.

Lukina opened her eyes, still half out of it. "...help."

The blade had struck Creature, who had thrust his hand up in front of his face. The knife was embedded in his palm but otherwise halted. "Uh. Okaaaaay? I'll come back later?"

Dallas knew something was up, sitting straight up. "Creature, I need some sort of painkiller or something." He knew something was going on in her head, but he didn't know what.

Creature stood looking at the field knife in his hand and kind of eying Lukina suspiciously. There was something of a look of betrayal on his face. She had never actually tried to harm him like this.

"Uh well..." Creature took his maimed hand and stuffed his pockets. Dallas would hear the crinkling of plastic and rattling of pill bottles. "I uh... dunno about any of that."

"You got something to numb limbs?" Dallas fished around a box of cybernetics and pulled out a data cord. He looked to Lukina for a moment and then fished out an empty data-transfer kit.

Creature removed the knife. "Oh, still sore? I know a fucking trick." Creature said advancing and then inserting Lukina's knife into Dallas' right foot.

Lukina's outstretched hand grabbed the edge of the hospital bed.

"Oh my. That one is a machine-made flesh. I had half a thought to join his mind. Imagine what I could do with his form. Though yours is more my skill set," the voice in Lukina's mind commented thoughtfully.

"NO, IT'S NOT FOR ME YOU FUCK, SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH HER!" Dallas left the knife in his foot, moving quickly to apply a tourniquet to his ankle and move.

"You can't have him," Lukina murmured. Her body felt heavy.

"Oh shiiiet." Creature said jerking the knife out of Dallas foot. "My bad bro, I thought you were laying here fucking suffering. Uhhhh..." He pulled out a fresh hospital syringe and stuck it in Lukina's left butt cheek. He injected the painkiller for her.

"Shhhhh. Relax. I am in no rush. The flesh has earthly pleasure we both can enjoy. Lover," the voice whispered into Lukina's mind.

"I think there might have been some sort of leftover in her mind, like an errant code of some sort. I had something like that happen when I rebuilt my left arm and coded it with the right arm's operating software," Dallas insisted.

Dallas stuck the cord into his arm and the other end into the data box, "Alright, somehow..."

"Don't," Lukina felt the medicine course into her body and made everything heavy.

"No, I'm okay." Lukina said suddenly, involuntarily. "Creature just scared me. The fight we had with that creep was... unnerving..."

"Well, that's obviously... something... you don't ever contradict yourself like that." Dallas' left eye went entirely white for a moment before looking like it went completely offline and then back online.

Creature discarded the syringe. "I think she was trying to say don't inject her with pain killers." Bare backed Chiharu on a fucking Suta, McClosky why do you have to fucking OVERCOMPLICATE everything?"

"I'm going to try and rip the code out through her leg, it shouldn't hurt her. It's all code and not something crucial to her mind. Plus, I think it should look entirely different from the regular programming for her other stuff," Dallas stated.

"You try fucking with her and I will bone you like a fish, mother fucker," Creature promised.

No! Lukina yelled from inside her head. Glasseye dragged Lukina into the memory of her childhood bedroom. She felt so heavy, she felt so tired as she had forced her to lay down on the bed. The sniper slipped onto the bed behind her and pulled her tightly against him. Lukina tried to scream, tried to fight him but she felt so powerless, her voice was paralyzed like the rest of her body. The double dose of painkillers surged through Lukina's system and shut them both down. Everything went black.

Dallas took another access cord and moved his hand around her cybernetic leg until he found the access point.

Dallas's bed was suddenly flipped over. "I told you to let her fucking sleep!" Creature said. "Am I going to have to fucking shoot you again? I mean this is the best place for it. In a hospital. I am about to have you fucking escorted out. I am the Lord after all.

"And what? Something is wrong!" Dallas insisted.

Lukina's body shuddered violently in her sleep. Tears were rolling down her cheeks.

"I just pumped her up with a hit of morphine. Something is right. Fuck, you aren't married to her. So quit fucking crying about her," Creature growled.

"I don't know, do your muscles spasm when you fucking inject morphine?" Dallas looked at Lukina and a lot of his anger turned to concern.

"No. But I am not a hybrid. Everybody's body is different. This bitch shit of yours is fucking annoying. Let the girl rest," Creature huffed.

"I still don't think everything is right." Dallas stated.

"No shit. That's why she is in a hospital. You know what?" Creature suddenly tackled Dallas and began trying to inject him with more of the Morphine. "I was gonna be a fucking dick and not share it with you but clearly you need some!"

Dallas just shook his head, "We can fight to the death later..."

Dallas suddenly felt extremely good. His body was numb, the liquid felt like a rush of cold water in his veins.

Creature began speaking but it was slurred, and his vision was blurry. Creature turned away to see Lukina crying in her sleep. "Uh. Oh shit." He turned around suddenly to find Dallas drooling on himself with the needle.

"Woo!... Fuck...!" Dallas, heavily drugged, threw himself up and shoved his right hand into the bed to force himself to stand on his knees, "Eppipinefferin"

"Fuck yeah." Creature said in response to Dallas. "I am so fucking jealous of you right now muh dude. Like I wish I had virgin veins."

"Nu... fah meh!" Dallas took the cord in his other cybernetic, "Weh ned tah halp hah! Oh at lest wake hah." Dallas' speech was barely comprehensible.

Creature jostled Lukina. "Come on biitch wake up."

Dallas lunged himself at a cart and began trying to find the opposite of morphine. "I canna red! Feck!"

Lukina's body was limp as Creature shook her. Her eyes moved beneath closed eyelids, indicating that she was sleep in REM but her face was wet from crying.

Creature tilted his head, switching on his HUD system. He then attempted to do the trick Lukina did with it, and jack into her mind. Only as soon as he did the GHOST safe guards immediately switched on. "Oh fuck."

Lukina's eyes glowed green behind closed eyelids for a moment as the safeguard protocols initiated a lockdown sequence on her GHOST. She made a pained sound.

Dallas, in a stroke of pure brilliance, found the right drug and injected his neck. After about thirty seconds, he was at least able to walk straight and speak slightly better. Though he was also starting to see things.

"Maaaan, we need to fiiind a way insiiide maan." Dallas rambled.

Creature backed off. He was no mind hacker. "Uh. We need to first figure out how to get past that GHOST crap that fucking idiot, Jack Pine put in her skull."

"Duuude, whaat if we uh... tried to get in contact... with the Lukina on the insiiide!" Dallas took a step, tripped over nothing, and then stumbled by her, "Cooool..." He was able to rouse himself somewhat when he hit the floor. He took Lukina's hand that he had held and cupped both of his around it. "Luuuukina... you neeeed to do stuuuuufff! Like that stuuufff where you get in my heeeead!"

Lukina was unresponsive. Creature had hit her with just enough drugs to make her unable to wake up.

"Shiiiit man, she's OUT!" Dallas fingered the cord again, "I might have to try and code myself in... it shouldn't do a hurty thing, man."

There was no visible physical interface that Dallas could see for Lukina's GHOST. Most of the times she interfaced with it, it was wirelessly. As far as he knew, she mainly used the GHOST to jump into his eyes. The only other cybernetic part that she had was her left leg but her gauntlet was her other prominent piece of technology that she routinely used.

"Daaamn, now I need to figure out a place to... put this cord into!" Dallas's drugged up mind was trying to find stuff out with what little clear vision he had.

The only place that even remotely had sense was the gauntlet on her right forearm, which he vaguely recognized as an old and heavily customized Peacekeeper personal communicator.

"Creeeature... can you call anyone?" Dallas snapped his head around even though he looked entirely too high. "Also... can you shoot me up with some anti-toxin nanites? I'm starting to feel colors."

Creature turned and quipped to Dallas, "I don't have any anti-toxin nanities and who the fuck am I supposed to call?" He pointed an angry finger at him.

Dallas cocked his head, "What about that Jack Fir, or Jack Tree... uh... Jack... PINE! That guy that you cursed a bit ago?"

"Jack Pine? Why the fuck am I going to call him? We don't even know if she is fucked up. She is doped up and in a hospital. Calm. The. Fuck. Doooowwwwn." Creature said giving Dallas a light shove back. "Mother fucker, you shit feelings. Like why the piss do you latch on to ever piece of trim that shakes its ass at you. Seriously. You are a fucking serial monogamist. Get therapy!"

"NOT NOW!" Dallas had a bout of anger mixed with a weird high, "We can fight later!"

Dallas world flashed as he suddenly found himself knocked on his ass. "Mother fucker, don't yell at me! I'm not fighting with you, I'm explaining your fucking issues. This chick is asleep! You just started spouting some crazy fucking shit out of the blue because you are paranoid about losing another bitch you love. But Valériane is dead. DEAD. She died. Lukina is not Valériane and you can't fucking save everybody!" Creature yelled.

"She called for help just before you came in the room, then she said, 'you can't have him,' and then she threw a knife at you. You know Lukina, she doesn't just kneejerk like that!" Dallas insisted.

"Okay! Well, if she doesn't wake up we get the fucking doctors to figure it out. But I tried to get into her head and her Ghost locked us out. It also fucking stunned her. Fucking with her is making it worse." Creature then grabbed Dallas by his cheeks, smushing his lips so that the crinkled up around his teeth. Creature came in close. "THIS ISN'T OUR SKILL SET ANYWAY."

"You have some serious fucking psychological issues. I am going to let your fucking boss know that you really do a bad job thinking with your dick. Plus, fuck! It's pretty bad if I am the one telling you you are acting fucking crazy!" Creature yelled.

"If you trust me, even for just one time, please trust me here," Dallas pleaded.

"Fuck. No. You have fucked up every time. I don't need to tell you how badly you have fucked up. Just this once maybe you should shut the fuck up and not let women you LOOOOVE get killed because you love them so fucking much!" Creature said releasing Dallas.

Something snapped in Dallas' mind but was subdued by the Morphine. On the outside, it looked like he felt a large pain in his head. "I know this isn't our field, but I think something is wrong with her GHOST." He stumbled up onto his bed, looking at Lukina with a lot of concern, "Who do you know that is good with the mind or cranial cybernetics?" He was loopy from being thrown around so much, the headache only getting worse.

"I may have gotten Val killed, I know I fucked up, but I am not letting her die. You can shoot me before I let her die," Dallas pleaded.

"Oooooh, don't fucking tempt me McClosky. This is way too fucking dramatic," Creature stated.

"It was a figure of speech, Creature. I'm just really fucking worried," Dallas sighed.

Creature placed his pistol back in his holster. "Right. Well. So am I. I just wish this fucking worry had been a fucking dominate thought process when you had me arrested and Valériane got put into a fucking position she did not want."

Creature pulled out his PDA and scrolled through his contacts. He found Jack and hit the call option. Jack's own communications device would soon begin ringing....

Jack was travelling across the provinces establishing the route his incoming product would take to the provinces purchasing his company's gear. He was now travelling through Lucarin City of the Lorani province. Something in the corner of his vision caught his attention, an alert for a Ghost unit with an anomalous malfunction, a moment before he received a call. Mentally activating the call in his head as he accelerated on his motorcycle, "Director Pine, what is it, I got an emergency?"

"Uh, that fucking GHOST thing you put in Lukina's head is fucking her up!" Creature said gruffly. "Plus, I'm pretty pissed that you killed her to have it fucking installed. You had better get over here and fix this shit or I am going to have serious fucking issue with you."

"Yeah, explain later. Right now gotta fix this first. Already inbound." Jack communicated back as he drew up in the building, hitting the brakes hard to stop short of the front wall of the hospital. He quickly hopped off and rushed through the front door and to the elevator, dodging medical personnel as he did so. The elevator was painfully slow as he waited for it to reach the floor the marker on his HUD directed.

"Come on dammit, fuck fuck. Come on you piece of shit." He mumbled to himself before the door finally dinged. Jack ran full sprint sliding past the door by a foot before stopping to quickly enter the room to see Lukina in a hospital bed, "What the fuck happened?!"

"She mind-jacked into some robotic guy, had some weird visions of being locked behind firewalls and other electronic stuff then had to be pulled out. I think the pull-out or something messed with her GHOST that ended up screwing her up." Dallas looked like he was tripping fucking everything but looked sane enough.

"Nothing. She got shot in the back. McClosky is acting like a fucking Drama Queen about it because he magically wants to fuck Lukina after the other chick he wanted to fuck died. So, just to be safe I figured I’d call you to look at this fucking thing to see if it was working okay. Which yea, we need to talk about that shit," Creature chided.

"That's what she told me, Creature, I ain't lyin' about that," Dallas stated.

"No, she didn’t! She was high as fuck from the drugs the doctors gave her and babbled something! Look at her back asshole! SHE ISN’T VALERIANE!" Creature shouted.

Dallas wanted to quip, but didn't. "Just please look her over, I'm concerned even if he says I'm not."

"Your fucking right you better be concerned! Diagnostic reads she's basically having a seizure, but she's not. I need to link in to get a better look. Even in its locked down state, admin override will disengage the safeties." Jack said as he kneeled next to the bed, before removing his helm, his eyes now glowing crimson.

The half-elf was passed out lying on her stomach on the hospital bed. Her black bodysuit was unzipped to her waist and tied below the large black bruise in the middle of her spine at the base of her back. Her torso was covered with a thin white tank top. Her ruby hair was messy on the pillow, and her right hand was outstretched in front of her on the bed.

"Yea, the seizure is when I tried to use my skull computer to link with hers. The safe guards went off and shut her down to prevent a hacking." Creature said sighing. "Wait, what? So, you can override her computer system at will? Yea, I am starting to have problems with this fucking GHOST."

Data windows and read outs would begin scrolling across his vision, several anomalies showing up in the data he was seeing, "What the hell, this doesn't make sense. These readings don't add up with any possible error in code, or even in firmware. It's almost as if something has tried to wedge its way into one of the data blocks. I can't pin point the origin with how erratic these readings are, so I'm going to have purge the block." Jack said his eyes shifting like they would during a REM cycle, but his eyes were opening.

The reading's Jack would see were more like irregularities in her mental pathways. Which could be the result of several factors. The pain her body was in could be causing stress on the brain. As well as any psychological issues, she was suffering from due to her time on the battle field. Other than the minor discrepancies, the GHOST itself was working perfectly.

"Data blocks? Uh this is an organic mind. I mean I’m no fucking computer wizard. But I did go through a computer science class and the digital mind vs the organic mind are vastly different uh...operating systems." Creature grunted. "Also, what I am fucking worried about more than anything?"

Creature paused. Looked at Dallas. "Uh. I need you to get out. Like now."

"As much as I want to, I don't think I can walk too far. It literally feels like my legs are in the next century," Dallas commented.

"Okay McClosky. I'll make it an official provincial order that you must fucking leave this room. Then I will ask my power armor wearing buddy here to throw you out the window for me. Pick one." Creature said folding his arms across his chest and motioning to Jack.

"Please don't lock me out," Dallas stood up and began limping out towards the door before walking out of it. "Please..." He shut the door behind him.

"The Ghost still stores data from the optical path ways as well as devices synched and whatever files you store on. It does everything your pad does, just with some extra fancy features. So yes there are data blocks where all this is stored, but what is confusing me is this just doesn't add up." Jack said his brows now furrowed in though as he continued sifting through the data.

The door locked. The discrepancies were just being irregular. But she was also dreaming as she was in the REM state. From what Jack could see, she was responding as if she was having a nightmare.

The scene revealed a small bedroom with large looming trees casting dark shadows across the small rough wooden bed. Lukina looked smaller, younger in her black bodysuit with a strange sandy blonde hair man, also dressed in black curled around her on the bed and contrasted with the green sheets. His arms were wrapped tightly around her waist and his face was pressed against her hair. She looked frightened, trapped, though she was sleeping in her dream, she had been crying. On the nightstand beside the bed was a butterfly trapped beneath a pane of glass and a large gun.

Her memory switched to this man holding a rifle in her face and then him trapping her in a glass stasis tube. There was a glimpse of the chaos outside as the man showed her that he was controlling Creature to kill Dallas. Lukina was slamming her fists futilely against the glass.

This is what alarmed Creature. "You killed her. Then brought her back to life. Uh. Jack. I know you are a good guy. You saved my fucking tail. But you do know what she is right? What that means?"

Creature was feeling anger swell in him. Since meeting Lukina, Creature had been spending his lunch hours speaking to Kamilla about elven culture. The Udari as his people called them. "She is fucking Udari. Death to them is. Permanent. To her people you have effectively murdered her in their eyes, and she CAN NOT come back from that. Even if she is back."

Jack paused for a moment as he thought about this, "There is a reason for this. A reason we must place implantees into a temporary state of death. You have a pad, yes? Sending you footage of the implantation of subject one in the group of four ever implanted. It will not be pleasant to watch. I guess I am the same then, but I was conscious for the Ghost. Instead I was told I had been spaced on a survey mission and listed KIA," he spoke resuming a few moments into his talk.

Creature looked at the process of Implantation. "Yea. I don't think you are getting it. No one can know about this. I don't think she understands what fucking happened and she did it to fucking help me and the people of this province. If I had known, I'd have stopped you from doing it to her. Because if her people ever learn of it. They will never accept her into their fucking society."

Creature paused his footage, and loomed over Jack to view the dream. Creature's eye grew fiery as he suddenly got enraged. "Jack....can you send me and Dallas in there?"

"I'm going to need neural pads, unless you both have mindware with a advanced enough connection. But, considering Ghost allows the sharing of dreams, yes, I can get us in. I would have to be there as the mediary of your connection." Jack said now looking to Creature.

The door unlocked. "I dunno about McClosky, but the crap my people used worked well enough when Lukina wanted to hop in and like. Be me for a few. McClosky get the fuck back in here."

Dallas staggered back in, the morphine seeming to begin to slowly creep off. "What?" He ended up next to Creature, looking to him, then Jack, then finally Lukina.

"Oh, we are gonna go mind walking in her head. You were fucking right. Something is.... wrong."

"Alright, and what are we doing about it?" Dallas gave Creature a look that just said, 'Later.' His cybernetic eyes adjusted to the change in light again while he looked to Jack.

"Gonna go in and see what’s up. Chances are this will go horribly fucking wrong. But short of asking my idiot page to use her people's methods, this is all we got."

Jack stood and turned to the two, "I'm going to link my Ghost to hers and connect your neurals through mine, and fair warning this is not going to be pleasant." he said before placing a hand on each on their shoulders. His eyes began to glow brighter as the connection was establishing.

"Yea yea. Nothing ever fucking is," Creature muttered.

"Woo for Morphine..." Dallas idly commented.

They would feel as if they had been sucked out of their own heads and funneled into a narrow path caught in a current like a blackhole drawing in debris. The world would fade back in, but they were not where they were before.
Inside Lukina's Mind...
Red Grove, Planet Liang 3003 GSC

The forest loomed over them. The bark of the trees was a deep red, the leaves were a ghastly white, and their branches stretched up to the sky like monstrous talons. The forest floor was covered in grey moss and patches of deep red grass. The small log cabin in the center of this clearing was cut from burgundy wood and the roof was thatched with large wooden shingles.

The air was crisp. It smelled of a coming winter. The birds in the trees overhead let out strange ominous calls somewhere in the canopy.

A thin wisp of smoke rose from the small chimney of the cabin.

Creature stood, not as he is. Normally a six-foot tall wiry Gartagen. But rather in Lukina's head, he was only a child of eight years old. He wore the same clothes he'd have worn as a child. A simple tan tunic with a pair of ruddy shaggy pants. His hair was long and unkempt, and both of his Amber eyes were present. He was a rather handsome, baby face little boy, and his skin was a sharp royal blue. "Oh man, are you fucking kidding me?" He said in a squeaky almost girlish voice.

Dallas felt smaller, looking down he saw that his original arms were back. His hair was cut short and he was rather well built for an eight-year-old. At this point, he had moved with his family to the ranch and had been accustomed to field work.

"I don't know where we are." Dallas' voice was light, absolutely opposite of its modern bass feel.

Jack noticing the change in the others examined himself as well. He was smaller, lean but still physically well built. He wore a tattered pair of jeans and shoes, and a ragged red shirt with an empty pistol belt around his waist. Jack felt his face to find the roughness of his scar gone, but most surprising was the fact that he wasn't completely solid, "Being mediary, I don't have as strong of a presence here as you. What this effects, I can't tell. I really don't want to revisit this part of my past a side note."

Creature looked at the door to the house. "Uhhh.... I think this is Lukina's house when she was a kid?" Creature said rasping and squeaking at the same time. He looked up at Dallas, who was much taller than he. Creature estimated he was only about a meter tall, and judging by the face he could see his ribs, he remembered the hunger he felt during his child years.

Dallas felt for his sidearm which he obviously didn't have. "Well, I don't have a gun but I was wrestling geldings when I was on the ranch with dad. He took a few steps towards the door, "Well, let's see what we can find, shall we?"

Creature hit the doorbell. DIIIIING DOOOOOOONG. He then patiently waited. "What? You've never gone to a bro's house to play with ‘em?"

"I lived in back alleys creature." Jack said rubbing a temple.

"So? I lived under some stairs. Momma left me in a dumpster. Still had friends. Not my fault you weren't cool AF."

A little girl, face full of freckles and long ruby red hair tied in long twin braids dropped down from a tree behind them. "OHAYOU GOZAIMAZU!" The little girl's voice was bubbly and cheerful. She was wearing a long green shirt and a black skort with knee socks and low black boots.

The voice of the man called out from behind the door. It was him. "Lukina my baby! Your little friends are here. Invite them in for cookies!"

"Okay Aunt Glassy!" The little Lukina danced around them and grinned. "He bakes the best cookies!" She rocked on her heels as she skipped over to them. She grabbed Dallas and Creature's hands. She looked to Jack. "Jack-kun! Come in!"

Dallas turned to Creature and mumbled as his hand was taken, "That's him, she told me it was Glasseye or Glass something. That and I don't think Elves name people 'Glass.'"

"What the fuck are cookies?" Creature rasped softly as he was pulled in by Lukina.

Glass stood wearing a pink frilly apron around his torso and a nice thick woolen winter dress. His hair was curly, and blond, and one his obviously masculine face, make up was applied very finely. "Young man, please close the door behind you. Did you grow up in barn?" Glass said to Jack as he stepped through the threshold.

"Cookies are small sugar discs of sugoi!" Lukina replied. "Dalla-kun, tell Kulea-kun how delicious they are!" She led them into the house and removed her shoes at the threshold. She gripped their hands tightly and let them go as she approached the table.

"Holy fuck, you are adorable as a child." Creature said as he was brought the kitchen table where indeed a plate sat with a pile of warm fresh baked chocolate chip cookies was waiting. At the table were four glasses of milk. "Wait. Little boy did you just cuss in my home?" Glass asked suddenly eyeing Creature coldly.

"Aunt Glassy, please forgive him! He didn't mean too... if you get mean then he won't want to be my friend anymore and I'll be alone again," Lukina pouted as she tugged Glass's sleeve. Her eyes big and pleading.

"I told you this little ruffian was a bad influence, Lukina!" Glass said raising her voice. Glass then drew a gun from her bra. Then pointed it at Creature. Creature's perfectly normal Gartagen hands shot up. "Aaaah holy shit!" he squeaked.

Lukina shoved herself between Glass and Creature. "NO!" She stamped her foot. "Grandpa said no guns in the kitchen!" She glared defiance at the woman. "You promised!"

Dallas, quietly side stepped to the side, quietly looking around.

"Oh, my sweet child you are once again correct. I can't break the rules or else it would set a bad example." Glass said compromising with her ward.

Glass then advanced and grabbed the child Creature by the back of his shirt and began dragging him across the kitchen. "You cannot cuss. You are a child. " She then stuffed the little blue Gartagen boy into the still hot oven. The oven door was then slammed.

"HOLY..." Dallas caught himself, like a good child. "Mrs. Glass, do you have a knife I can borrow? I like to cut my cookies and stuff." Young Dallas looked trustworthy enough.

Lukina let out a cry of protest and went over to the oven to pull Creature out. "IIE. I'm going to tell Grandpa you were mean to my friends," she threatened. Grasping the door handle and pulled it open again. "Hurry out!"

Jack slowly paced in an arc around the "woman". This was not right on so many levels, but the biggest item on that list was this Glass person. "Sir, on what side of the family do you come from? You seem like a rather experienced hunter." He examined the man from head to toe.

A knife was pulled from out of a knife deck. It was a standard Alliance carving knife. Glass then chucked it at Dallas sending it end over end into his chest. "Play time is over. Lukina and I need a nap."

Creature flopped on to the ground singed and burned all over his thick skin. He gasped. and coughed. "

Glass eyed Jack. "Why I am her Grandfather's youngest daughter, Lukina's aunt! No, I find hunting very distasteful. A pleasure to meet you, kind sir. Did you just move in to the house down the road? "

"Ow." Dallas pulled the knife out of his chest, which oddly did not bleed, and then looked at Glass. He held it in his knife and looked to Creature with a 'Get Ready' look.

"I don't want to go to sleep! My friends just got here, I want to go play!" Lukina whined as she kept her distance from Glass. "I want to show them the grove!" She pouted.

Glass sighed. "Fine Lukina. Take your little friends outside to play. But I want you to clean your room when you are finished."

"HAI!" Lukina bounded over to Jack and Dallas and grabbed their hands. "Come on! I want to show you my grove! Kulea-kun~ you'll like it, it has a pretty waterfall!"

Dallas was taken by the hand, holding the knife like it was something before it somehow disappeared along with his chest wound.

"Okay...you can show us your fuuu----uuun waterfall." Creature said nervously as Glass shifted a very evil scowl at the little Gartagen halting him from delivering his usual vulgarity.

Jack let Lukina lead the way, his eyes shifting to everyone trying to make sense of all this. That man was not supposed to be here. They had to get to the bottom of this, but hopefully the waterfall would provide a clue at least. Truth be told this was not like Jack's dreams, then again most of his took a much darker turn.

The little half-elf led them outside, forgetting about her shoes in her excitement to share with them her favorite spot. She took them deeper into the forest, she moved easily through the trees without a clear path. "Aunt Glassy came home from the war. Grandpa went out to get supplies from the White City and hasn't come back yet! Mom is... off planet still," her voice trembled as she mentioned her mother. But regained it bounce as the stillness of the forest gave way to the roar of a waterfall. It was the teal waterfall from Lorani.

"Oh Aleksasha. Yea, I fucking remember her." Creature said. "So, like if this is a Dream we just need to get Lukina to wake the fuck up right? Hey Lukes. Are you there?"

"I don't believe it is that simple, that man does not belong here. Something is very wrong with his mere presence here. He may be the source of her problems." Jack whispered to Dallas.

Lukina let their hands go and ran to the edge of the waterline. She smiled brightly as the mist rose around her. The water pulsed teal as she turned to them and waved her hand. "TA DA! This is my favorite place!" The glow of the water cast her in a strange light.

Dallas recognized it immediately, "This isn't right, this is up by the Lorani Camp. I came to her here before I arrested you trying to calm my nerves." Dallas walked over to the point where he stood and had talked with Lukina, looking around the place.

Lukina stared at the waterfall again. Her lip started to tremble. "Isn't it pretty, Kulea-kun?"

"Yea. This is where we started to get to know each other. I used to come here to read and shit."

Large tears spilled down her cheeks. "I killed them. I killed all of them, I didn't want to but they told me too," sobs shook the little girl's body as she hugged herself. "They couldn't..."

Dallas slowly walked towards her, "Hey, Hey, don't cry..." He really didn't know what to do, he was winging the hell out of it.

"M... maybe he's right, maybe I deserve him... " She sank to her knees.

"Deserve who?" Dallas tried to make himself look approachable and friendly as he crouched down next to her.

"I killed all those babies... I... am just a murderer like him... I can't take it back, none of this makes sense... I can't wake up... nothing but pain makes sense," her trembling hand pulled a knife from her pocket. Lukina didn't look at Dallas or Creature. "Is there really forgiveness for me?"

"We forgive you, there is always forgiveness." Dallas' face was covered in concern as he looked up to Creature for a moment before looking back to Lukina. He carefully extended a hand as he repeated himself, "There is always forgiveness somewhere. You just got to be willing to see it."

Lukina held the knife out in one hand and lifted the bottom hem of her shirt. "I can't... I'm trapped... he's trying..." The exposed skin was covered in fresh cuts. She held the knife to her skin. "...flesh is weak..."

Dallas's concerned face intensified as tears formed in his eyes. "Lukina..." He didn't know what he was looking it, he didn't know if it was real or something engineered for this plane of torment.

"No, there pretty much isn't any forgiveness." Creature said having gone silent. "Unlike McClosky here, that's the fucking truth. The universe is a terrible and disgusting fucking place. Then you move fucking forward." Creature said. It was harsh. Creature knew it. Most people got infuriated. But forgiveness didn't bring back the dead. Forgiveness didn't erase what was done. Creature knew it and accepted it. "I guess the only fucking thing you can hope for is acceptance."

Dallas blinked a few times and them simply said, "That too."

Her hand shook as the edge of the blade beaded crimson, “...I... can only... hope for penance then. There is no happy ending... Glass..."

Jack understood what she meant, "There is no atonement, redemption for those kind of actions Lukina. All we can do is hope to do better moving forward. I have killed children in the past as well, and they haunt me every moment with the rest. You deal with the devil you know, even if that devil is you. Turn that evil against those who would gladly use it against the innocent instead. Show them that not every demon lives in their head, and that they are not safe."

"What? Lukina shut the fuck up. Really? I didn't say anything about penance. You only fucking pay penance if somebody fucking makes you. Deserves are fine and fucking dandy, but ultimately, it’s a bullshit idea forced on you by other people anyway. But here is the clincher." Creature grabbed her and whirled her around and looked at her with his child like face. "The Lucky ones are alive to feel sorry for themselves. The lucky ones get therapy. So, stop taking it for granted biiiiitch."

Her evergreen eyes glistened with tears, "Is this living? He's trying to change me, I am fighting but... time here.. I can;t wake up. I keep trying. He keeps forcing me down. HE IS GOING TO KILL YOU!"

Dallas then saw something. Creature knocked Lukina over. and sent his little talons into her throat. The elf blood flashed out and gushed all over the small blue Gartagen.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" Dallas was frozen for a second before he charged him into a tackle, all near one-hundred thirty-eight pounds of him. "You're killing her!"

Her voice gurgled and she died.

"Fuck yeah, I am. Killing the fuck out of her!" Creature squeaked. It was then Dallas would wake up on the floor of the hospital room. Creature lay on the other side of a fallen Jack who had been knocked out from the sudden feedback.

Lukina lay on the bed gasping, but she would feel like herself. Sobs racked her body as she pushed herself up on the bed. She was shaking and hugging herself.

"GAH FUCK!" The morphine was somewhat out of his system but the adrenaline was still present. Dallas stood up and looked at Lukina, "Holy shit, it worked." He eased himself over to her bedside and crouched down, "Lukina..."

Creature lay on the floor trembling. "Okay..." He said sliding on the floor. "I'll leave you two love birds to it..." He said sounding even more raspy. "Didn't expect that shit to work..."

Dallas looked over to him, "But it did. By fuck it did." He turned his head back to Lukina, giving the same concerned face, he had been seeming to give all day.

"Wh… what did he make me do? He said he was going to make me kill you both..." Lukina managed to regain some of her voice. The dream itself was very vivid in her mind. Clearer, and she felt everything. Every emotion and every sensation.

"You threw a knife at Creature and that was all you did. He's fine."

Creature stood. "Dallas. Shut. The. Fuck. Up." He growled. "You can't do anything for her. WE can't do anything for her. So, stop trying to be the fucking hero. We got fucking lucky."

"There is one thing, dammit, we can at least be there for her,” Dallas sternly replied.

"Oh, my fucking Chiharu, I am going to send one of your fucking idiot kids straight to you." Creature said reaching for his pistol. "Any more sugar on that bullshit you are selling and you will give her diabetes."

"Creature," Lukina said firmly. "Please come here."

Creature exhaled and loosened his grip on his pistol; the weapon fell limply back into its holster on his hip... He cautiously approached. Soon he was standing over her.

She looked up at him and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly. "I'm sorry."

Creature returned the hug. "What are you apologizing for? Y-you didn’t do anything.... I’m sorry for like fucking tearing your throat open. I didn't know what else to do. Usually when I die in my dreams I wake up so...."

Dallas flipped his cot back over and sat down. It was still close to Lukina's as it was before the whole ordeal. Dallas has a mix of emotions on his face, but was generally trying to get his vision to not be fucking bonkers.

"He's trying to take me... he's threatening to make me kill you… it's different than before. I'm afraid to go back to sleep," Lukina shuddered against Creature. "None of you are safe with me."

"And that is why that motherfucker has to go. There are more dangerous things than that psycho, we just need to figure out how to get him out." Jack said lingering back a bit.

"This is war, we've never been safe. No one here is." Dallas looked solemn, then looked to Creature, "You can argue with me all you want but that's my opinion." He returned his gaze to Lukina. "You remember what I said earlier, we're in this together. All of us."

"I didn't ask for your opinion, dick head." Creature retorted. "This isn't fucking war at all. This is fucking terror is what it is. Quite a bit different. Not everything can be answered with a gun and a thump of the chest. I know your little pubic hairs are tickling that little pinky finger you call a penis, but you need to pump some of that blood flow to your brain and help me figure this out."

Dallas finally felt that snap again. "Creature, what is your problem with me that makes you want to waste me?"

"ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? ASSHOLE YOU THREW ME IN JAIL AND THEY MADE ME AND OTHER PRISONERS FIGHT POWER ARMORS FOR AMUSMENT!" Creature roared. "It then it directly resulted in Valériane dying and you are trying the same fucking approach again!"

Dallas stood his ground, he still looked calm. "You don't think I'm sorry? I sent someone after that prison and reported it as soon as I had heard."

"Oh no mother fucker. You are sorry." Creature snarked back. "You are the sorriest fuck I think I have ever met and I have been around."

"I am the sorriest fuck here, and I get that. I'm at the bottom of everything, I've lost a lot, probably much less than some but I am trying to fix it. I'm trying to make amends. I'm trying for acceptance."

Creature huffed. "Okay and the pity party shit. Get over yourself. Dallas, I am not asking for your fucking best. What I fucking want from you this one fucking time is for you to do fine."

"I'm trying, Creature, I really am," Dallas said.

"Then stop trying to impose your own insecurities on to every fucking dome you set eyes on! Your fucking friend is in trouble and she doesn’t need a knight in shining stirrups. She needs a fucking solution. I'M NOT THAT FUCKING SMART." Lukina was just sitting there in Creature's arms trembling.

"We'll get a solution, because that is what we do. We've done it before, and we'll do it again." Dallas looked directly into Creature's eyes. "We just need to figure out the how."

"Mona." Creature said snapping his fingers. "Yea, I was sitting here arguing with a stupid pathetic moron and it reminded me of fucking Mona." Creature said looking down at Lukina. Creature looked to Dallas. "You have no idea who I am talking about. My idiot fucking Page. Her people do telepathy. Which is different than this electronic mind war shit. But I dunno.... she is a kid. Do I really want to put her in a room with a fucking psychopath?

Lukina sighed as she started to recompose herself. "Those horns... she's one of those aliens that crashed here, right? The Kishargal?"

"The Kishargal? Yea. She has used it on me a few times, mostly to practice."

"Kishargal. There might still be others in Kitsuhoro... I don't know how much time I have, I can't go near Lord Isil like this," Lukina stared down as she leaned against Creature. "I can't be near any of you... I don't know what he'll do if I go back to sleep."

"We'll have to leave someone here as a guard, just in case." Dallas looked at everyone in the room, "Someone also has to stay to make sure she stays okay."

"That is a pretty good point. I guess we should find a nice cage to keep you in, Lukina. Dark. cold and lonely so you won't hurt any of us. Dallas go find a deep dark cage and hold for her please?" Creature said coming off as sounding quite serious.

"Do we even have those?" Dallas had a strong feeling he wasn't serious, but he never knew for sure.

"Well, I was originally planning on putting you in the stockade. I'm not fucking serious. But yea I have some drugs and shit that will keep you wide awake for up to a week." Creature said as he pulled out a pill bottle. "Combat stims you can find these days are AMAZE."

Lukina's nose wrinkled as she looked up at Creature. "I'm not thrilled. But that'll give me some time. Please, I guess I need the drugs."

"As soon as I can get the rest of my head to stop being so fucking slow I can see if either we or someone can go down to that province to find Kishargal," Dallas suggested.

"We already have an Kishargal. Just go get Mona. She is probably around my tent doing whatever she likes to do. Bring her up here and we can ask her," Creature stated.

"I'm not denying your order, I just want to make sure this is what we are going to try doing." Dallas was entirely serious.

Jack remained silent as he dealt with the headache from their surprise exit, which a shot of pain meds from his armors medical system fixed, "One, tell me next time when you're going to do that. Second, we need to get him out of there, and third, I could run a deeper diagnostic while doing that. Hopefully I can find a solution to this with what might be in there." he said rubbing his temples with the segmented like fingers of his suit.

"I think it is going to take more than just tech this go around," Creature said.

Lukina eased away from Creature finally and took the bottle of pills from him. "I'll start this process of not letting this guy hijack me in my sleep by not... sleeping." She opened the bottle and took 1 of the combat stimulants. She made a face at the bitter, chalky taste of the pills. She turned her head towards Jack, not sure how much the others had explained to him, "Thank you for trying to help, Jack. That man... in my head is the sniper that shot off my leg." She paused, she sounded tired as she sighed.

"He... Glasseye, caught up to me earlier. He tried to kill Dallas and Creature and cripple me. To free me of my meat bag and feed me to the machine, as he put it." Lukina's ears flushed pink at the memory. The half-elf's voice was annoyed as she continued, "I was only able to get out because he couldn't hold onto me and Creature at the same time as the host being smashed in the head. As soon as I got out of his head, I put 3 HE Electromagnetic rounds into it at point blank range." She rubbed her temples. "Apparently, that wasn't enough. He still means to take me, except now, he wants all of me instead of just sticking my consciousness in a digital jar."
Place: Lukina

Lukina found herself standing before the waterfall. That vibrant blue waterfall that glowed at night. The fire flies blinking over the bioluminescent algae. The thrashing of the water as it streamed over the fall and crashed down into the river was almost soothing. Lukina looked down and find herself nude. To her left was Dallas. Looking at her with that look on his face he had the first time she had been kissed by him. A very serious look on the burly human.

Behind and above him was that blue Gartagen who was squatting on the waterfall, reading a children’s book, and struggling to make sense of it with his inebriated mind. Above them all was a winged beast circling, and looking down on her.

Yet sitting on a rock on the other side of the fall was a black armored knight. Blond haired and golden eyed. Her liege lord. Only....it was Glasseye, leering at her.

Her eyes lingered on the lights of her memory. The people were icons.

"Very interesting relationships..." He said, his lips curling into a soft smile. "I've...been looking around this place. These living ones are the closest ones to you. Thus far. Save for myself.... I am wondering why you brought me here? I suppose you wanted me to see them? I perhaps you, getting tired, they simply crossed your mind."

She turned to look at Glasseye. "I don't have many," was her soft reply. "They all have expectations, promises... I am a method for whatever their desires happen to be. Even you, have an expectation from me."

"This is true. Though I do not deny what I expect. Though." Glass eye pointed at the Gartagen. "He stands out. Of the ones in this little.... vision quest, he is the only one not staring at you. I've looked at your encounters. He has never asked you or expected anything from you. Yet you feel that he has expectations. Even I could argue that his desires appear to be based on you.... based on your happiness. It is almost boring really...except, the part where you project that insecurity on to him. Is it a fear you have? That he may do what these.... other evil filthy things do to you?" Glasseye said, looking fully at the crouching Gartman, who was focused on reading his book, rather than Lukina.

The half-elf's evergreen eyes were fixed on the phantom's face. "He's used and discarded so thoughtlessly. He's a method, a distasteful means to an end for others. He's no more desired for who he really is as much as I am. But... even that is a lie. He doesn't see it. Brutal, primal innocence."

"So, pure," Glasseye added. "I had thought to collect him alongside you. But then I decided your colors would not look so well in my collection next to each other. Of course, I could take his body. Your little device facilitates that. But he like myself.... transcends the manipulations of others. He plays along so long as it benefits him. I can understand it. I suppose. If I killed him. Could you live without him? Or rather would you want to?"

"Do you really care?" She folded her arms as she stared at Glasseye.

Glasseye smirked. "Yes. You brought me here. This is my world. Those who say they do not care about their world are very dull."

"You see my thoughts, you should already know," Lukina grumbled.

"Yes. But perhaps it is you who needs to know. You cannot make sense of yourself. These expectations and promises. So, maybe you should answer a simple question. Could you live without that pure beast on the rocks? The one who makes you feel at ease, and has never made a demand of you," the invader pressed.

"...Yes." Lukina replied.

"Would you want to?" Glasseye said, reminding her of the second part of his question.

"I don't have that choice," Lukina stated.

"It isn’t a choice. It simply is yes, or it is no," he retorted.

"Once this war is over, I must leave," she commented softly.

"No. That is a choice. I feel you are very confused by what is what my dear. You use your profession as an excuse to hide from simple truths. So, tell me...tell yourself the truth. Would you want to live without that... Creature?" Glasseye asked forcefully.

"Yes and No," she replied softly.

"Always with the sad little riddles. " Glasseye said with a cackle. "It's rather precious, how difficult you can make things for yourself. "

"He makes me fear. I do not want that fear," she replied.

Glasseye advanced off his perch. His face stopped smiling and he shifted to a grimace. "But. Fear is pure, primal innocence. Fear means you are alive, and are willing to stay that way. Why would you not want to feel that way?

"It muddles me. I risk everything for irrationality," Lukina explained simply.

"Oh it is not irrational, dear. You are doing something for yourself. For what you care about. That is...what we all will ultimately do. I did that very thing when I came for you. When I found you..." Glasseye paused for a moment before he continued.

"But the two mothers. You do it for them. But do you care? The old one wasn't there. This one. Me, she has pieces of paper and uses you and others for her whims...meanwhile you fight for the blue one willingly. He has never once asked for you to come to him the way these two have."

"I approached Bhelith to fight. I asked her to accept me. I can trust her because I know what she wants from me and just as easily she could throw me away. I am a tool. My mother... I am a bitter reminder of a life she was not able to have." Lukina replied meekly.

"That is rather depressing. At least with me you'd be more than a tool. With me you'd be a treasure. Mothers can be hard on their children. However, if she cannot understand the life she has, the she isn't truly alive," he lectured.

"You should kill this one." Glasseye said looking at Dallas. "He is like me. He wants you. He doesn't care what you want. He only desires you for his own ends. You put several bullets into me. Yet, he is allowed to draw breath and profess his undying love for you?"

"You shoved me into a jar, hijacked my friend and tried to use him to kill the other one. You also crippled me."

"Well I did it because I could. I don't really care about what you thought of it. Because it didn’t matter. He would do the same, perhaps in a different way if you allowed him to. Much like you allowed me to do. You would end up crippled, and helpless if you don't put something in him. So why do you not take care of the problem while you can?"

"I haven't figured out how to put 3 more rounds into you yet."

"Indeed. However. Even if you do get rid of me. This....demon, will be there. Slobbering and projecting his will on to you. The blue one is hideous, the mother resentful. The ruler distant. But this one. I know him very well." Glasseye said smiling once more.

"I was foolish to give into fear and jump into you. I never would have installed the GHOST if I hadn't been afraid. I would have never gone to that damn dust bowl if I hadn't lost my leg. I owe Creature many things."

"Oh you think. Oh my. You think I am the machine? My love. I am you. Just another part of you. All of that trauma. The pain. The hurt. Dallas' so called love. Bhelith's infatuation, and your mother's expectation. So many dead. No. You cannot come to terms with yourself, so I formed to try to help you."

"I doubt that. Just like my cutting myself 'helps' me, right? No, I know I am damaged. That I actually hate myself but I do not want to hurt Creature, Dallas, Bhelith.. my mother. I want to save them from all of this," Lukina gestured around her. The distance between her and Glasseye was closer now.

She stared back into the apparition’s eyes, more annoyed than afraid. "None is this is healthy. I fail to see how making me kill someone for feeling something for me is good for me. I killed Glasseye because his intention was to rip me apart, cut out my soul and then murder the people I love. I have not killed Dallas because while he is an asshole for arresting Creature, he thought he was doing something in his capacity as a Marshal. His declaration of affection is strange but more detrimental to him."

"He almost killed your friend with that little capacity. But if you do not slay him in some form like you slew me, then he will only do his variation of what I was going to do to you. Maybe you are damaged. So is everybody else. You brought me here for a reason? I'll help you. At some point, you need to start living for yourself, and stop worrying about the petty whims of others."

"I do not understand, I brought you? You keep saying that but I do not remember inviting you into my mind, or locking me in my memories." Lukina stared at how the light danced around him, her memory of the waterfall was vivid. How many times had she visited it since she learned of it? "How long were you following me?"

"I am just here. You brought me here. You have been thinking about these people. Truthfully, I was hardly interested until I started observing them all. They are, save for that blue dog that loves you...rather predictable. It is all rather fascinating. You were raised alone. Then suddenly these people show up, wanting you to do things for them. To be used by them, and you consent. No wonder you harm yourself. This cage you live in is a cage that you willingly put yourself in. I find it ironic you cling to those who like this and use it.... then you use them. But the one who does neither is the one that makes you fear a life with. Or without. You didn’t give a straight answer to that."

"There is equivalent exchange. But the world isn't black or white, it's gray. I don't understand my emotions." Lukina looked away from Glasseye to the memory of Creature. Her expression thoughtful. "That's not what I meant. How long were you hunting me to collect me? Before, you know, I blew your head off."

Glasseye shrugged. "Since that thing took three rounds to pick you up. I tried to stop him, but he was resilient. Even your mother would not sacrifice to rescue you. I wasn't sure why until now. She did not wish to dishonor you, but that is a silly notion. Honor is irrelevant once you are dead. Then I found you! But what is to understand? You can embrace your emotions or deny them. I chose to deny them. Which opened me up to the simplicity of life. When I desire something, I simply take it."

"I was just curious, since you seemed pretty determined, how long you were watching me. You seem like the impatient type. I heard you lose your temper before you figured out I was hiding in that tree, perhaps denying emotions isn't the way to be, if it'll make me sloppy," Lukina commented softly. "I have read and seen so much about how love is defined. It doesn't fit the categories. I have seen what losing love does, my mother still mourns my father. Hers would have been defined as absolute love, passion, intimacy and commitment. Hearing her talk of my father after all these years... she's alive, I see her light. I live in the shadow of memories and expectations." She stared up at the dragon overhead. "That monstrosity is extremely heavy. She might have crushed me to get me."

She looked back down to Creature again. "I know better than anyone how he actually feels. I don't commit because I can't say with the same conviction those three words. He doesn't expect it. I will fight alongside him and fight to keep him alive."

Glasseye just kind rolled his eyes at her as she spoke. Though it wasn't condescending, rather he was growing wary of her speeches. "That is a lot of monologuing. Are those the excuses you make for your behavior? Have you ever considered you are not your mother? Or that your mother was making excuses to herself to justify not saving you? From where I was sitting that noble beast is what kept you alive. Selflessness is what love is. Selfishness is what I am. As I said, I make no excuses for how I feel. Rather, I embrace what I am. Others would deny, or make excuses, or..." He paused looking at Dallas. "Try to project their own.... little ideas onto you."

"I don't get your end game in trying to make me decide if I love Creature or not," Lukina lightly touched her lips. "I have rushed to help him without thinking more than once. I got this damn chip in my head to try a different way to end this war."

"Oh. It is simple. I am pressuring you to decide, because if you are pressured you will collapse, and deny them all. You will run away from the thing that makes you a little happy and gives you hope. Into another cage. Then I will be all you have my dear." Glasseye shifted to Lukina a vicious smile. "Had you not been milling about exploring your little emotions and not understanding or accepting them, you'd likely have been back in his bed, warm and comfortable. I, not knowing where you were. Or you'd have been away from him, alone. Vulnerable, like you were your entire life. Of course, had you been honest from the beginning you'd have never run into me to begin with. I suppose from my view point, you did everything right."

"I wasn't even on this planet for a week, if you hadn't blown out my damn knee, I would've been on this rock."

"Well let's not make excuses again." He quipped back. "There you go over thinking everything and trying to justify yourself. That’s okay. I am here now. I will fix you, and when we are together, it will be like I was never killed by your hand."

"I already made my decision. I just have no sexual desire for him."

"I don't really care. Because it does not matter to me. I have no sexual desire either, but I still want you more than anything. Now it seems like...well, destiny." Glasseye said standing up and moving to approach Lukina. "It will take time, and you can try to fight. But in the end. You will see what I mean. You did this to yourself. You....wanted this to happen."

Lukina turned to face Glasseye, her hands balled into fists. "I did not want this or you. I want you out of my head. You are not welcome or wanted. I can deal with my insecurities. I am still alive. The people I love are still alive."

"I never asked. I don't need to be wanted or welcomed. It doesn't matter who you love, because I am all the love you need. Once we are together, you will be free."

"There is no freedom inside a cage. There is no freedom in enslavement."

"You will see."

Lukina felt her anger start to bubble up. Her mental image of herself changed and she was back in her Shadowmail before him. "I do not need you."

He reached out and grabbed her by the wrist. His grip was ice cold, and as strong as steel. "I never asked you what you needed." He growled. "Now shut up." Lukina would once again find herself laying down with Glasseye spooning her, and stroking her hair.

Lukina fought to escape Glasseye again. She felt clearer this time. "No. Get off me."

He didn't. Her struggling only seemed to make him come closer. "What I find so strange about you, little one. You think sex is the ultimate form of emotional expression. It isn't."

"Get. Off. Me." Lukina tried to move away from him again.

"You could fuck Dallas. When you wake up. I am sure he is watching you sleep right now. Muttering about saving you. Touching you as you sleep. But you'd feel much the same afterwards. Some people have sex purely for the reasons you go to battle. It is their job. But your childish ideas...are so...Well." He then released his grip. "Vain."

Lukina scrambled away and tried to leave the room. "I know that. I don't... I just want..." She looked for the door. "I am going out. There is a door here. I will not stay in here with you with... whatever it is you keep trying to do to me."

"This is your mind. You did this to yourself, Lukina." Glasseye said softly. "But go on, over think. I even spelled it out for you and you still insist. I find this rather comical now. Even with the answer said directly to you, you refuse to accept it. Well. You will summon me again only to rail against the truth. I will be here. Then when you realize I was right, I will come to set you free from your little cage you built."

Her hand finally found the handle of the door. "To stuff me into another cage. Your solution is to kill everyone and be free. I want them to live. I deny it all, and I imprison myself. I accept you and imprison myself. I accept my feelings and then what? I am in love, so the fuck what? None of it matters." Lukina pushed the door open. "I will set myself free."

"No. You won't. You are being a stupid little girl again. Making excuses. Not listening to your betters." His words echoed as she slipped through the door. It would close behind her. She would find herself once again a child walking around her childhood home.

"You already imprison yourself. It isn't enough to accept you are in love, you must act on it. I could have accepted my desire to have you. But had I not, then I would not be here with you." Glasseye's voice said, as he sat in her Grandfather's chair. Wearing his clothes and looking every bit the caricature of the man she once knew. Your inaction. Your resignation to the way things are and must be. Well. I disagree. You will break, and as I said, I will be all you can turn to."

"I would rather put a bullet in my brain and kill us both than let you back into the world in my body. Than to let you hurt him," Lukina ran from the house to where they stored their ranged weapons in the shed out back. She pulled open the shed's doors to see the bows and the arrows in their quivers. Her eyes searched for the energy rifles.

"Then do it."

Lukina would hear the shower going off upstairs. The hiss of the water splashing onto the porcelain bathtub was unmistakable. Glasseye perked an eyebrow at this. Almost unprepared for the sound itself to be heard.

She grabbed an arrow and ran to investigate the upstairs bathroom. Glasseye's confusion gave her the idea that he wasn't involved with whatever this was.

It was in fact Creature in the shower. He was standing there scrubbing himself and singing badly. "I'm Crazy for trying! Crazy for- aaaaaah!" He exclaimed jerking the shower curtains across his body. "What the fuck are you doing bitch?" He said startled. "I'm trying to take a fucking shower shieeeeet."

"You're in my head," Lukina stared up at him. "I'm trying to get Glasseye out of my head."

'Uh. Yea. Side effects happen from jumping into mine. Err… his. I don't really understand it. I mean. I guess I am like a fucking imprint or something. Sort of like, how when you step in a fucking sand or clay or some shit. You came through that door, into my hiding space. Its right past your cerebellum, where that fucking computer thing got installed. Uhhh. Glasseye? Look. I mean, I don't mind the company and all that. But I kind of try to keep it lowkey. That away Jack doesn’t come and fucking make me go sit in his fucked up skull.

"Apparently, I'm supposed to act on this love shit. I don't know how to wake the fuck back up."

"Oh. I'd just try killing you. See if that fucking works." Creature said still clutching the shower curtains to his naked form. Which Lukina could see for the most part. It seriously was not pretty. One half of his body was muscular and sculpted, the other half.... looked like a landfill. "But then again this is a bit more vivid than dreams."

"I've seen you naked before. I don't care. I've seen all of you. I... just don't care. Fuck."

"Yea, well I do. It's fucking gross. Why would I. No. No. This isn't about me. Clearly you are having problems. Creature began reaching for his towel. "Uhhh... Lemme dry off, and I'll bash your skull into the toilet. If that doesn't work I guess we will try something else?"

"I don't know if killing myself again will actually work this time." Lukina pressed her hand to the bridge of her nose. "It doesn't matter. I don't know how much of this is real, probably none, since I'm still a chibi. Look, as much as I enjoy this journey of self-discovery..."

He took his towel and began carefully drying himself. When done he shyly went about putting his clothes back on, until he looked like his usual image that she was accustomed to. "Uh. okaaaaay? What doesn't matter? I have no fucking idea what's going on, gurl. You have Glasseyes? What? Acting on love? You are fucking losing your shit." As Lukina rambled on incoherently, the mind imprint of Creature began fiddling with his pistol. "Look just stay still, I'll figger this out." He said trying to sound reassuring.

"Fucking psychobabble bullshit..." He muttered as he took aim with his gun at Lukina. Lukina would hear Glasseye's footsteps slowly clomping up the stairs. The sound louder than what would have been normal.

"I don't get it. How does me telling you that I love fix anything?"

"Oh. Yea. I love you too!" He said pulling the trigger. BLAM!
Lukina woke in her hospital bed, to find not Creature, but Dallas, lying on the floor next to her.

She swung her feet over the side of the bed to touch the floor. She looked for her gauntlet, "Creature."

No answer. It just kept trying to connect. Finally, after several moments, the line picked up. "Yes?" He said sounding groggy. "W-what’s up? It's like 1500...." Lukina could see she had woken him up.

"I am going to kill myself," Lukina moved through the hospital room to see where they had hidden her weapons from her.

They had taken all of her weapons and Dallas was unarmed as well.

"Oh. Well you have fun with that. Wait what? Why? Didn't you already do that shit?" Creature said starting to sound somewhat nervous.

"I will not let him take me again. If I die, he dies." Lukina winced as she pulled the bodysuit back on, heading for the door and the stairs to the roof.

"Who? That Glasseye fuck? Hey. Calm down, we are working on that shit. We came up with a plan. It's not a very fucking good plan. But it's a plan. Mona said she'd do it for you. Feel honored, because she doesn't like too many of the people around here... I think she is going to kill Dallas or something."

"I'll be on the roof." She closed the commlink and went into the stairwell up.

It took about an hour. But Creature and Mona eventually showed up on the roof. "Okay. Uh let's not commit suicide. Because if you did that I'd have to bring you to my people to have you rebuilt, and that would fucking suck.

The half-elf sat on the ledge of the roof, staring down at the fall to the ground. "Acting on love. I'd rather die than let Glasseye live in my body or try to take you again," the wind whipped her hair around. "So, I guess, this is it. Fuck you, Glasseye."

"I uh. haven't asked you for much." Creature said coolly. "Like. Fucking, sure. I owe you. But you owe me too. Uh. So, could you please not fucking kill yourself? Plus, wouldn’t your suit like just cushion some of the fall and you'd live and only be fucked up?" he asked.

"I don't want to die. I never wanted to die. I wanted to live... I love you but I don't know what else to do. I don't want her in my head with him," Lukina rose to her feet. And looked at Creature.

"Bitch stop?" Creature said starting to grow up set. "Look if it does not work, I'll kill you myself. I'll even keep your robo-leg and cry over it. Maybe rub my weenie on it when I have a fucking lonely ass night or some shit. But I told the page what is up. She said she would try. It's her fucking choice. I wasn’t going to force her."

The page, stood, wearing heavy coat that dropped down over her knees. Her curly black hair was starting to look like a poof ball as it grew even thicker and shaggier. The bony nubs that were her ears were starting to form little points at the top. Mona's heart shaped face and almond shaped black eyes were expressionless as she spoke in a high pitched but soft monotone voice "I need your permission, Ser Lukina."

"Mona," Lukina looked at the kishargal girl. She took a couple steps from the ledge, conceding as she looked back to Creature. "If this fails, do not bring me back. Please. He needs to stay gone. Fucking destroy my CC."

"Plus, I was reading a mind software book for idiots. Apparently like, when you've been jacking into me, there may be an imprint of my mind in yours. Sort of like a fucking echo or something. These echoes usually fade away after a while, but they can be helpful in instances where a virus or trauma is involved. Though uhhh. if it is one of me...he may not want to be fucked with...."

"Already blew my brains out," Lukina met Creature's amber eye. "It's not real but that shit hurts. I can't keep going through these hoops every time I close my eyes. Having some creepy fuck trying to force his whatever into my body..." She looked down at Mona, "Mona, tell me what I need to do to kick the asshole's ass so he doesn't come out here and try to take Creature."

Mona stepped forward and held her hands out. "I need you to come by me and sit. Then I need you to meditate and be calm. It will only take a moment." She said sucking in a deep breath of air.

Lukina closed the distance between herself and the Page. She sat down next to her and sighed. Her eyes moved up to Creature for a moment. "Creature, before I go back into my head, could you come here, please?"

Creature was reaching for a cigarette, but his good hand shoved the little death stick back into the box slowly. He did not speak, his tail merely curled and he hesitated. He then approached Lukina.

Lukina rose to her feet again and rose to her full height, then pushed on the tips of her toes as she pulled Creature down by the front of his shirt to deeply kiss him. "Koreha sayōnarade wa nai to inotte imasu."

Creature's hands went up almost defensively., and he stopped to protest, but it was too late. He then allowed it and once more shyly returned the kiss.

The half-elf settled back on her feet and let him go. "Watashi ga osorete inai to iu no wa usoda." Lukina offered him a gentle smile before she sank back to the ground next to Mona. "Ready, Mona."

"Watashi wa sōde wa nai to fuckin inotte imasu." Creature said, taking a moment to think of the language as she walked away.

Mona stood, and silently motioned for Lukina to sit. "I need you to be calm. and you have to want me to come in. I'm not a master." The child said flatly.

Lukina closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. She centered herself on her breathing and opened her eyes again focusing on the young kishargal's face, "Onegai. Please come in, Mona."

Mona moved in close. Intimately so, and placed her hands gently on Lukina's face. She began humming softly. A few moments passed. Lukina felt nothing. Then more nothing. Then she heard it. The voice of Mona in her head, repeating the same phrase over and over. "It's going to be okay. I am here. Nothing to fear."

Lukina would awake on the floor of that bathroom where she had been "killed." A bloody hole in her childhood clothing. She would see Mona standing there looking at her with her black almond shaped eyes. "You are going to have to guide me to it. I can get lost very easily." She said softly.

"What will we do once we find him?" Lukina offered Mona her hand, a sad smile crossed her face. "I have an idea of where he is... he's waiting for me." She lightly grasped the Page's hand and gently led her downstairs towards her bedroom.

Once down stairs Lukina would see the Creature imprint sitting on the Sofa in the house. He had his feet propped up on the coffee table and crossed, and his head was tilted back and he was snoring loudly. "I am afraid I did not have much of a plan. But from what I was told." She said in a whisper and halting, when the "Creature" moved and grumbled "beh trying to nap fuck...."

"Do you need this one too or just the other?" Lukina asked softly, watching the Creature sleeping with deepening curiosity.

Mona held out her hands and shrugged. "I don't even know what he is." She said approaching the sleeping Gartagen. She reached out and touched him with her right hand. His head moved away and his brow crinkled, but he didn't wake. "Oh. It is an echo. You went into his mind?" She asked looking at Lukina and perking a thick black-haired eyebrow at her inquisitively.

"Yes," the half-elf replied quietly. "Let's find him then." Lukina moved past the sofa and the sleeping Creature for the burgundy door in the far-right corner of the living room. "I don't know if he's in there... but he keeps taking me back there." She had no ill memories about this house or her time alone in the city of ghosts but she did not know why he had picked this timeframe,

There was a loud knock at the door. Heavy. So forceful it caused the heavy burgundy door to visibly shake with every rap. "Honey? Are you in there? Can I come in?" Glasseye called out rather pleasantly.

Lukina's evergreen eyes looked to Mona, questioning. "Do I let him in?"

"Ignoring it hasn't worked." Mona said moving away from the door. "I don't know what it is. But it doesn't feel like you. It does. But it doesn't." She said whispering once more.

"Glasseye," Lukina called out loudly. "Come in." She clenched her fist and waited for the apparition to enter.

The door opened slowly. A booted foot stepped through the threshold and Glasseye stood before Lukina as she first knew him. A boyishly handsome sandy blonde-haired man, with an athletic but wiry physique. "You have been hiding here." Glasseye said accusingly. "I thought I was going to have to go out there and look for you."

As he spoke, Mona stepped forward flanking him. She advanced slowly, looking intense and cautious. Much like a tiger cub who was trying to be brave. The girl reached out and grabbed Glasseye's hand. The man allowed it and did not even look at the little alien who was touching him.

"I am an elf. I am everywhere and nowhere. I live in the shadows of this forest," Lukina moved towards Glasseye. "And hide within the trees." She offered a wry smile, her voice gentle.

Mona pulled away and looked at Lukina rather horrified. She then backed away from the thing slowly, and started moving towards the door, she motioned with her eyes that Lukina should be doing the same.

Glasseye advanced on Lukina forcefully. "You are mine." He barked as he grabbed the half-elf girl. "I am tired of these riddles. I am ready for both of us to be free."

Lukina pulled back away from Glasseye. "And you are mine. I need some air to process this."

"YES!" He exclaimed loudly as Lukina pulled away.

Lukina followed after Mona quickly leaving the room after the small kishargal girl. She turned over everything that had happened.

Mona grabbed the door and began closing it. Glasseye paused and looked around the room. Then tried to pursue Lukina. "No!" He said running. It was then he paused. Lukina would see the Creature imprint was awake. Holding him. "Fuck yea." it growled sounding groggy. It then chucked Glasseye to the other side of the room. "Just uh will it locked." The imprint said. "This is the fucking GHOST module. You can seal us in here and delete us." The imprint said. "Goodbye."

"Stay here in your cage, Glasseye," Lukina willed the GHOST to contain the imprints. "I'll see you soon, Creature."

The door locked, and so did the windows. Through the windows she could see the Creature imprint waving at both her and the Page. Mona pulled away from the door. "Delete them. The Creature imprint won't mind. He was just going to fade away. But THAT was no imprint," Mona gasped, her face looking utterly horrified.

Lukina activated the deletion protocol and looked to Mona. "What was it?"

"A demon. Very old. It was attempting to replace you. I don't know how else to describe it. It was the fragment of another mind and it was absorbing your own negative emotions to gain strength. Like a parasite.... this wasn't the first time either...."

Lukina did not look back at the house, her attention focused on the kishargal as the deletion started. "He kept saying that he was me. Are you ok?" She moved closer to Mona but did not touch her.

Mona was visibly trembling. "I will talk to you outside. I will try not to hurt you on the way out. But I am scared. I will leave an echo of myself and she will fade. I apologize to you for any of my memories.... most of them are not good."

As she spoke, Lukina would see the girl start to fade away. Before long she was gone. Lukina's eyes would open to find the page on the ground cradling herself and crying. "It is done." She said, her sorrow filled voice quivering as she spoke. "She got rid of it." Creature stood resolute, simply smoking his cigarette.

Lukina laid on the ground beside Mona, watching the girl. "Are you going to be ok?"

"Yes." She said starting to cry harder. "I'm-I’m fine..." She said wiping her nose with her sleeve and letting out a wet sloppy sniffle.

The half-elf moved closer to Mona and offered the girl a hug. "Mona... thank you."

Mona nodded. "You are welcome." She said as she started trying to calm herself down.

Lukina wrapped her arms around Mona and gave her a warm hug. "Take your time," she said gently. "I still don't understand."

Mona leaned into the embrace. She was accustomed to the touch of Creature, and often found physical nurturing contact was reassuring, but there was something about it when it was a woman that felt more reassuring. "What do you mean?" She mumbled, shutting her eyes to enjoy the moment.

Lukina took a deep breath and let silence fill the cold evening air. She felt the warmth of the little girl reassuring. "He said many things, not all of them insane. He had done this before?"

Mona nodded slowly. "Yes. He has done this before. He wasn't insane. It was simply trying to survive." She said breathing, and shuddering.

"You said he was and wasn't me," Lukina commented gently. "He was also pushing me to do... things." She smoothed down the girl's hair as continued to hold her. "A demon? How much of that was me?"

"Most. Like the parts of a body." She said. "The brain. and it pieced itself together from the unwanted thoughts and emotions you had and started using them against you to break you." As she spoke she began weeping again. "I'm sorry. I am not sad for you. I am happy I was able to help you.... I’m crying for him." She said motioning to Creature. "That echo I mean."

"Why are you crying for the echo? Creature is right here, he's okay," Lukina asked gently, still cradling the girl.

Mona gasped. "It was alive," was all she could muster.

Lukina felt her chest tighten and she hugged her a little bit more tightly, "This is not your fault. It's on me, just... it's what he wanted us to do... he wouldn't want you to cry, Mona. Go kick Dallas in the balls or something, it'll make him happy."

"No, it isn't on you. It isn't anybody's fault." Mona said. "I am just crying for something that died is all..." She said with a soft whimper.

Lukina's eyes flicked up to Creature for a moment before she looked back down to Mona. "What happens to me now?"

"That is up to you. You should be okay, my echo may give you weird memories. But that will pass. Echo."

"He is gone? I would rather not have to put a bullet in my CC," Lukina asked again, relaxing her hold on Mona.

"If you deleted them. Yes. That was your GHOST unit. If not, I'd recommend you do it as soon as possible. Then get rid of that machine."

"I deleted them," Lukina replied. "I would have to die to remove it... it's not meant for this."

Mona went silent and shut her eyes. Creature stood watching the both of them. Valériane was dead. Right now, these two were the only things he actually held dear in this world. "Sooooo. You aren't going to like, kill yourself, are you? Because I wasn't joking about keeping your fucking leg."

Lukina raised an eyebrow as she met his amber eye. "I chose to live. I am not going to die today. So, no, no cybernetic leg humping for you. Hopefully ever."

"Okay. Well that's good. Because I uh. Don't want you to die and shit. Also, I notice like Dallas is getting close to you. I mean if you two are dating it's totally fucking NOT cool. That fuckstick has issues. Plus, like you are what 14 in elf years? I mean that’s skeezy as fuck."

"I am not dating Dallas. I am not dating anyone. I am also half human, I am 22 years old... I am somewhere in the middle of those numbers. Jack is quick to lecture me on the harsh lessons of life or how things are, but I am older than him by a year. I am not a child," Her eyes narrowed as she watched Creature. "You know that. I... appreciate that you are concerned for me. I must figure out this sexuality thing, this relationship thing, this emotion thing because it's part of life. I can't hide from it. I can't lock it up and live like... he wanted me to."

"Oh no, I get it. I wouldn't fuck with you about it. You can do whatever you want. I was just saying I can back off." He said puffing on his cigarette.

"What did I say to you before I went back into my head with Mona?" Lukina asked gently as she started to rise to her feet. "Do you remember?"

Creature still standing quoted Lukina. "You said you pray this is not goodbye."

"Before that, I had said that I loved you," Lukina added softly. "But I could see how you might get stuck on the part where I promised I would kill myself to stop from being taken over."

"Well, I love you too Lukina." Creature said. "But yea I was fucking worried. But I could not do anything. But fucking sit here and wait. Which Uh. I didn't do. Y'all took like four hours doing that shit. So, I went and got food." He said pointing to the pile of discarded refuse he had tossed to the side.

"I don't know what this means for us, but I have no desire to sleep, or to really... I'm going to find a hole and stay there for a few days," Lukina pulled away from Mona finally. "

"You need a fucking vacation." Creature said nodding at Lukina. He began advancing. "So, while y’all were doing your fucking peyote trip, I also stopped by and ordered us some tickets to do a fancy star liner cruise. FIRST CLASS." He said holding up his PDA for Lukina to see he had indeed purchased a week long spacey cruise for three.

"I do not want to be trapped in space, again..." Lukina looked at him oddly.

"But it goes to planets too, it will end here." He said continuing to advance on her. "Tanning beds. Food. Fucking room service. I'll even creep down into the steerage and get wasted with the deck hands and you can flirt and party with whatever!" He said trying to get her hyped up

"I will cut your tail off if you stab me with any more fucking drugs," Lukina growled. She kept her distance.

"Oh. Okay. Well I can invite some other half elf girl. Maybe your mum might want to go." Creature said frowning under his Kiffeyeh. Or I'll go alone and we will get attacked by space pirates and they will murder me and the page."

"I just need a few days to do shit. I've been fucking trapped in my head with a guy that was trying to force me into a jar. If you can wait like... a week, I might be able to take the time but I still have work to do... "

"Yea sure. Take all the time you need. We just need to be on fucking Liang in like a week." Creature said grabbing the page and pulling her to her feet. "But if not, I'll go or something."

"I appreciate the thought. I just need space. Saule." Lukina ran a hand over her hair. "I haven't seen her either, I should do that."

"Well that's what the ship does. it is in space!" Creature said excitedly. "Plus, they have massages. A freggin luxury spa package. Kamilla can handle the company. I also hired a chubbier look alike to pretend he is me while I am gone. Everything here will be fiiiiiine! I can even booked separate rooms."

"I was gone for a DAY and you got arrested...." Lukina remarked.

"That was fucking Dallas' fault! Prick waited for you to leave! I was just training my page and he had one of his goons attack her and they jumped me! That wasn't your fault, that was his fault. Oh man I am going to SO fucking put him in the stockades now that I'm thinking about that shit again!"

"Are you saying you are going to take Dallas?" Lukina asked.

"What? No. I am going to put him in the stockades while we are fucking gone." Creature said as he pulled the little page close to him.

"Go-chan is responsible for him." Lukina commented.

"Oh, I know. That's why I am going to leave clues as to where the keys are for the stocks, and she can put her fucking skills to work finding a way to free Dallas. She is a detective. She will like the challenge." Creature said rather thoughtfully.

"She's probably worried about me too..." Lukina started to walk away again.

"Yea. She was. She is pretty nice. Anyway, I mean I can always leave the fucking page in charge and take Gol. " Creature said nudging the Page along as he followed Lukina, though mostly to leave the roof top.

"I'm going to see her," Lukina decided.

"Oh okay. I'm going to go raid a planet." Creature said calmly. "Gotta pay everybody including her since like there is no fucking money coming in from the Diadem.

"I have 2 million in bounties to collect," Lukina replied with a smile. "Happy hunting."

Having been quietly listening to the conversation while out of sight and mind, Dallas felt better regarding that everything went alright. For the first time in weeks, the ex-Marshal was content with what was happening. To him, all was well as she was still here as opposed to death or a puddle down on the ground below.

Tucking his hat down slightly to keep the wind from blowing it off his head, Dallas silently made his exit from the roof and back down to the room where he had been last seen to give off the impression that he had given up on looking for Lukina and just returned to the room with a hope she'd return.
Not much later...

The hospital room was a comfortable temperature. The walls were a sterile white and the floors sparkled in the dull, yellow light with how immaculate they were kept clean. The patient that had occupied this room was considered dangerous, so there was only the one hospital bed in this large room, its white sheets askew and the mattress empty beside a silent machine that should have been reading vitals. The patient had left in a hurry and a nurse had not seen to tidying it up.

Dallas had been left as guard, but had fallen asleep and let her loose. He sighed to himself and found himself fixing her bed like he'd learned at the aging academy in Funky City. It didn't take him long, but you could probably bounce a coin off the bed sheets. He fluffed the idle pillow and walked over towards the lone window at the far end of the room.

As he stopped by the window sill, he pressed the lock and opened the thing to let in the fresh evening air. Out far on the horizon was the setting sun, the beauty of the scene unable to keep him down. The ex-Marshal looked over at the corner in which he had placed his things and found his newly-acquired guitar which replaced his old one. With a fair gate and idle step, Dallas retrieved his guitar and leaned by the open window while strumming a slowly yet happy tune.

The half-elf's footsteps were soft against the floor as she re-entered the room that had served as a secondary holding cell. She watched the would-be guard's back appraisingly. "You are still here." Her voice was soft as it always was, it was just now edged with exhaustion. She walked further into the room to stop behind him and the window. She was close enough for him to hear her with some effort but far enough way that it would take a couple of steps for him to touch her.

Dallas' eyes met hers, "Sounds like you went somewhere, what did you not want to wake me and drag me to the top of a cliff face again?" He was emphasizing the lightweight sarcasm and somewhat jovial foil to what he knew was something bad. He was aiming to keep her off a certain subject for as long as could. He turned to face her and idly played the same slow waltz she had heard in the grove, but it was clearer and much more in tune.

It sounded much livelier than it did on his old guitar, but it probably helped that he had an entirely new left arm and hand to play with.

"I didn't go far. How long were you watching?" Lukina asked as she watched his expression.

It did indeed slightly sour as he gently placed the guitar up in the corner, "Long enough..." He didn't know exactly what to say as he ended up trailing off instead of trying to say something that would end up screwing him in the end. After a few seconds, he finally sighed more to himself than anything, "Are you okay?"

"No," was Lukina's soft reply. "It will be a long time before I will be okay again. I... will not be able to forget what happened any time soon." She folded her arms across her chest and frowned, her expression finally shifting from neutrality. "I never meant to hurt any of you."

"You didn't." Dallas leaned off the wall as his expression turned serious. "I remember saying the same thing and you were the one that taught me that people still cared. You told me that no one must walk life's road alone, leaving themselves for their own skins. The only way you could hurt me is if you try and push us away from you and end up trying to tackle all of this yourself."

His eyes for once showed an emotion that was fueling the man's soul, determination.

Lukina smiled weakly, "I did say that, didn't I? No one is left unstained by this bloody path we carve towards the future. I am no exception. The depths of my soul must have called out to the darkness for a demon to claim me because he almost did." She looked away and past him towards the growing light outside the window. "I thought I could deal with my shadow. It compelled me to kill everything that was not me. To free myself of these chains of perception and expectation that bind me here."

Dallas at least tried to understand, but he at least got the gist. He looked out towards the sunset and tried to use some flowery language of his own, "We live and die to watch the sun set and rise, though it is always our aim to not do it alone." He turned his head back towards Lukina, "Come on, there is enough window for the both of us."

"It's all a matter of where you will watch it rise and fall. Looking up on your feet and up with your last breath from the blood-stained earth," Lukina replied softly as she moved to stand beside him. "If you continue to attempt to walk beside me, you might experience the later rather than the former. I cannot make the decision for you or for how you feel. Nor will I tell you to deny your emotions for my behalf, they are yours to do what you will."

"I told myself I would not walk alone after you helped me begin my climb out of a pit that would have consumed me. I vowed to make things right for what I have done. Should I be judged, judge me on my final day. Whether that be tomorrow or years from now, I intend to do myself and those I care about right. If that means I walk through a valley of shadows and death, so be it."

Dallas looked to Lukina, "I'll walk until I can't muster the strength to, and then I will crawl."

She pursed her lips together thoughtfully, still looking at the building dawn as the sky was painted in crimsons and golds amongst a brightening azure sky, the glittering gold rings of the planet fading in the sunlight. It cast her features in warmth and made her skin look that much paler. "I may never love you in return, can you live with that?"

"May is a word with multiple meanings, and leaving a lot to interpretation. If I must stay in the shadows as Azalea's punching bag, so be it. As long as you draw breath and at least give a shit, I'm the happiest man in the universe." The way the ex-Marshal smiled and twinkled his eyes showed his interior content mind. He was entirely serious.

Lukina couldn't help but smile at the absurdity of it. She looked at him again finally. "I'm not looking for an oath. It's more... a warning, it seems the path beside me is filled with bullet holes and blood. My shadow does not fair much better. Just pray..." she stopped herself and frowned again.

Dallas looked over with a look of comfort, "You don't have to say it if you don't want to."

"Make no mistake, I have pretty words and ideals but in the end, I am just a murderer with a cause," Lukina watched his expression for a moment. "I'm just as much a monster as that demon."

Dallas' face grew serious again, "Do you want to know what doesn't make you a monster?" He looked deep into her eyes and stepped forward slightly, "You have a cause that is dear to you, a cause that others follow because they care for you. Glass didn't, he was hollow and cared for nothing. You will never be as low as him."

"He knew what he wanted... he.. wanted to live... to... " Lukina shivered as she stopped herself, hugging her arms as she looked away from his gaze again. "He filled the emptiness with others... I was.."

Dallas closed his eyes and shook his head barely to himself as he lightened his tone to grow softer, "Lukina, I won't understand half of this because I wasn't there. I didn't see what you saw and I'm not going to make you live that again to show me." He extended his hand and gave a slight smile, "You're not a monster to us, Lukina, you are much better than that."

Lukina hesitantly accepted his hand as she looked back at Dallas' eyes. "Have you ever wanted something so badly that you would do anything to have it? That you would tear down the world around you to claim it?"

Dallas could feel the weight of the question at hand. "I'm not that ambitious." He knew he'd not understand a lot of this conversation because he just didn't know, but he could at least give her the comfort that she needed as he could see the distress in her eyes alone.

"I was that shiny thing. He meant to take me and burn the world around me to leave me with nothing. I never want to feel that powerless again. I am not an object to be coveted or won. If you truly mean to be my friend, then understand... I will do anything in my power to never feel that way again," she quietly replied. She shivered again.

"You have a mind and heart. I don't want to see you powerless any more than you do. As long as you have your own mind, you have your own thoughts... you have your power." He smiled reassuringly, "That power is what makes you free, and will always try and keep you free." Dallas gently squeezed her hand, "I'm with you, no matter what happens."

Lukina smiled finally, holding his hand in hers. "Thank you. I have to go find Gol but, thank you for staying here with me. I... will leave my weapons where you and Creature have hidden them for now... I don't quite trust myself with them yet." Her evergreen eyes met his, the sunlight behind the two of them making them shine more brightly than before.

Dallas smiled and squeezed her hand one last time, "You know how to find me, I'm always around somewhere. Never forget that you are not in this alone, no matter how much Creature still would enjoy launching me from the window to see how good I would be as a kite." He smiled while their eyes met, having begun to joke about Creature's feelings towards him.

Lukina hesitated for a moment before she let his hand go. She leaned forward on her tiptoes and kissed him gently on the cheek. "Thank you," was her soft reply against his cheek.

Dallas smiled, blushing slightly. "Go have fun, I'll probably go down to the office at one point and then actually try to find some place to actually live for a bit. I seem to have forgotten that I like this thing we call fun."

The half-elf pulled away. "Be careful out there. It's a dangerous place still," her voice was full of concern as she finally turned away from him and started towards the door. "The safest place might just be beside or near Creature."

"Yeah, maybe if I buy him a drink or something, he won't try and act like he wants to kill me and such." He seemed to be half kidding. "Goodbye Lukina."

"It's bad luck to say 'Sayonara' in Japanese, we say 'Ja mata', so that we will see each other again," Lukina paused at the doorway and said more clearly over her shoulder to him. "Ja mata."

Dallas started to try and say it himself, "Jah Muhta- ah fuck it. I'll see you later." It was only evident to him whether he did that on purpose or in actuality. His eyes would say, but they were still covered in his resting emotion of happiness.

He could see that she smiled brightly at him before she disappeared again.
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