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The Disciples were camped in the Imperium for their last night before departing for Aspyn. Oracle Commager tossed and turned on his bed mat, accosted by dreams of an evildoer. Something about them was familiar, as if he’d had similar premonitions when enemies were near though he remembered no such thing. 

Commager awoke in the darkest hours of that last night. His lone, dark figure rose while the others slept.

Moshra, or some electronic sensory system, might have perceived him but only barely. His legs seemed hardly to move, but his body slid through the velvet black of the Imperium until he came to Marigold. A pulse of light, like Michael gently touching Marigold’s very heart, would rouse Ravenspire from his slumber. He would see the Oracle’s blue eyes, their own quiet lightsource in the doctor’s quarters.

“Who is he?”

@Djinn&Juice

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The isolated weeks he had spent trying to understand his new existence were A frustrating experience the likes of which he felt just as helpless against as The Mad God that had spiraled his life so out of control. The sensory changes and tertiary annoyances were easy to absorb in small chunks...but no longer needing sleep...weighed heavy on a human conscience that was in a sense; Home Sick. Dreams were craved for they gave the human experience a chance to explore the boundaries of what could persist and what simply couldn't. It was A necessity that he felt most starved of in the late hours of his enshrouded lab; so thoroughly scarred and ingratiated in misery and madness that it was more a prison to him than a home. He would have cackled at the thought of god's caring an iota for his wretched and withered soul...had it not been for such kind eyes. Blue and boisterous, so confident were they he could only wonder the suffrage such a man had experienced...and still he smiles so brightly. He had been told that hope does exist, no matter the depths of dark that coil his heart...and her name was Gaia. A name he had heard more and more when he had moved to Terrenus and constructed his Imperium. He was afraid to believe in anything other than himself, and had it not been for a raven black queen accosted at his doorstep...he may very well still have believed faith was only a constructed fail-safe for fools. What Michael had empowered him with was beyond just an energy source, be it magic or science...for it wasn't just the fact that he could for the first time in nearly a month experience the wind through his hair, but the warmth that burrowed so deeply he felt as though he once again...had a heart. A miracle tear cascading down his cheek where none should have formed. 

Everything had changed

After their debriefing over the departure at dawn, Marigold did as he always did in the later hours, and whisked his conscience away into the souless storage unit he had grown used to...yet the endless grid lay lines of the unit never appeared. What he stared now was A beach littered with sand and pastel shells, a brilliant ocean before him reflecting such potent blues and greens. He couldn't believe it's beauty...it was as though it were real...that he was once again...real. The sun against his face as sea spray lapped at the edges of his bare feet. It wasn't the sleep he remembered, but...it was more peace than he had ever known. The light of the sun so brilliant and yet, so humble...he never was one to soak up the sun, but it was as though his body moved on it's own as he dived into the brilliant waves. The sea cool and refreshing as he just allowed himself to sink....yet he didn't feel as though he were drowning. The sun's rays piercing through the surface of the water and engrossing him in brilliant warmth that illuminated the flora and fauna rife around him. A bubbled laugh slipping from his lips as a clown fish swims through his legs, and though there was a part of him logically somewhere that still believed this was just sending energy into a void...He prayed. A singular motion of his hand scooping up a shimmering seahorse in his palm as he smiled

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"Thank You.."

The doctor's own quarters being A quaint room that was surprisingly small for the overall size of his facility with a small staircase leading up to a cot where he would rest his facsimile for the night. A man with much darkness at his heels, and yet he had never given himself much in the way of personal comfort...always choosing something he considered 'more important'. The dim neon of the room casting the two in a myriad of blues and purples. Michael seeing him for likely the first time since he arrived...at some level of tranquility. That burning question still driving The Oracle to awake him, pulling him from the depths of his first permeable dream. His eyes opening and revealing his own purple hue, brightening as he realized who had woken him, and immediately sitting up with concern and confusion

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"Who is he? What do you mean? who are you tal-" Marigold falling short in his words as Michael's own eyes grew more intense and their connection bridging what words did not and his eyes widened in active and truesighted fear as his back stiffened. A wash of frustration flushing his metallic face "I warned Moshra that names have...power" Marigold accustomed to hiding secrets and dealing in selective information...but their connection made that nigh impossible. The Doctor running his hand through his bed head and seeming to visibly shudder "You had a run in with his master" Marigold said with a shake of his head "He is a member of that dreadful Legion Of Doom...Moshra has fought him...and understand that while Dredge is a heinous threat...this thing...is more cruel than anything I've seen. He is what drove out what remains of the Hyde villagers..." Their connection giving Michael unfortunate vision as he watched through Marigold's eyes; A terrible bloody curdling fight with a sweeping tail carving through flesh and screams...The oracle looking through his disciple's eyes as he looked upon a field of totem poles, bandits and villagers alike speared atop this poles of pain. "I have forbid the use of his name, but for you..." His brows growing furrowed as his jaw quivered 

"Kru'Gorah"

The name itself splintering terror into those who speak it, and The Oracle in his vast experience and tomes...remembered a race in history of the creation and near immediate destruction of The Djinn. A cruel race of demon that fed off terror, and without a shadow of a doubt...one must have survived. Marigold resting a firm hand on his shoulder "You have brought me more joy than I have experienced in a decade, and I say this with all respect...the more you have for him to take...the faster you'll wish you never knew his name"

 

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Michael stood beside Marigold’s bed, peering deeply into the doctor’s mauve eyes, absorbing every flexion in the waking man’s robotic face. He absorbed every modicum that indicated true life that machinery could only emulate so well. Perhaps for a while—perhaps forever— he would know humanity mostly as these machine contrivances, but even the tear on Marigold’s cheek had been one of those indications for which Michael trawled in the depths of Marigold’s wiring. At every available opportunity, Tori the warmind AI would analyze Marigold and run statistics through Commager’s head on his progress.

"He is a member of that dreadful Legion Of Doom...Moshra has fought him...and understand that while Dredge is a heinous threat...this thing...is more cruel than anything I've seen. He is what drove out what remains of the Hyde villagers..."

As Marigold spoke, something accumulated in the room akin to the warmth he had felt on the beach he’d rendered for himself moments earlier. When Michael’s blood boiled, the room temperature rose several degrees.

"Kru'Gorah"

The syllables resounded like cannonfire in Michael’s ears, carrying greater weight than most names. His eyes narrowed at the sound, looking at Ravenspire as if he’d stricken him but showing every indication of letting him finish.

"You have brought me more joy than I have experienced in a decade, and I say this with all respect...the more you have for him to take...the faster you'll wish you never knew his name"

When Marigold finished speaking, Commager’s and the room’s temperature were returning to normal as well as his expression. Showing no concern for his well being, as per his nature, Commager cut straight to the heart of the issue.

“You said he drove the people out of Hyde.. Those are all the refugees here, aren’t they?” said Michael, piecing all the information together into his innate desire for justice. His brow sharpened in concentration.

Instead of letting his emotions consume him, he focused.

“Is he still in Hyde?”

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Marigold knew that Michael wouldn't regard his warning; it was as though he felt it the moment the words left his lips. The beach a warmth they now shared in a way. The war-mind revealing that the doctor had undergone some psychic changes in the short time of his rest. That space his subconscious made a dreamscape where his mind could properly sleep...where he first prayed. One of thanks and appreciation. A large step for a mind of science. It was a step in a better direction for the melancholic A.I. He gave a solemn nod as Michael put together the rebuilding efforts outside the facility. His gaze as focused as it could be, yet it was the same one he saw in Moshra...a desire to do good recklessly. 

"Moshra's eldest daughter Rivana is an excellent scout and has reported back to her mother this morning that the survivors that arrived yesterday were the last...Their Mayor Thraice was an incredibly powerful wyrm that took him on alone and ordered Moshra to evacuate the villagers. She didn't see his body among his grotesque displays, but that only disturbs me more. I believe he is still there and is using The Mayor as a lure for his loyal subjects. That cretin must have planned this. I forbade any of them to mount a rescue mission;  I have analyzed the minor amount of combat data on him I could and his source of strength makes him detrimental against any foe. Who can say they are completely without fear?" He realized he was getting too deep in his head as Mike would soon understand was a common occurrence in the face of adversity. "On a more fundamental basis, he has a particular signal I can attract under the right conditions" His face growing stark and grim as he continued "When he excessively...feeds, he gives off a momentary blip I can accurately track. I found a deviance in my previous theory that places that particular source of energy somewhere in Hell's Gate. I have compled the collective Legion Of Doom movements that included these 'Poles Of Pain' that act as his calling card, and in every-single-town those were...the first respondents were preyed upon and met a similar grizzly fate. I doubt that he would break his habit for Hyde so then why is his signal thousands of miles away?" It seemed Marigold had been tracking LoD's movements in his spare time. He had seen what The Abaddon and The Legion had done and he wanted an end to these groups seeking the blood of good, honest folk. 

Michael feeling a bitterness in the back of his throat as he shared Marigold's momentary memory of The Carmine Emperor putting the edge of his sword between the doctor's teeth. Marigold squeezing his hands and letting go in bouts of frustration "I never want anyone else to feel as I did in that moment...utterly helpless, but I have read and seen footage of the things you can do! I have a knack for technology and was well studied...I managed to survive a Mad God...but I don't know if such gadget wizardry is enough against such a foe!" Doubt a difficult beast to tame, let alone burden. Hyde had been kind to him and always provided him a respite when his previous excursions to find The Imperium' plot of land didn't go well...they deserved justice in any capacity...what could he do against forces that once against were beyond human endurance? Is it that reckless desire to do good?


 

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Having seen his dream, his prayer, Michael drew encouragement and strength to press forward from Marigold’s faith. A willing faith shows itself in many ways and is rewarded in kind.

Michael, too, harbored in him an unquenchable desire to do good. Reckless, wild, lunatic as the chasm between their strengths could be, Michael would hurtle toward any foe of the greater good. Pragmatic as he may be, once Michael laid  eyes upon one who was truly and willingly bereft of the light of Gaia, his equal and opposite reaction was imminent. When that meant heaving one up out of the darkness, exposing their truths and cleansing them one by one, that was what he did. When it meant fishing one out of the abyss and gutting it for the sake of the world, that, too, was what he did.

The Peacekeeper Oracle’s conviction and constitution were such that, as Marigold reported Ravina’s findings, he had processed his reminiscent anger at never having crushed Dredge before he fled into the ocean and was already flipping through his mental rolodex of known LoD associates (of which Kru’Gorah was part).

“I managed to survive a Mad God...but I don't know if such gadget wizardry is enough against such a foe!"

Even in uncertainty, Michael placed his hand on Marigold’s shoulder, looking forward at the work being done. The hand was firm on his shoulder, an affirmation that Marigold wouldn't have to go through those dark moments alone anymore. Michael emitted an electric aura of unifying positivity, confidence that they could do whatever they strove to do together. Again, as if he were riding the waves of this confidence into the cove of the issue, he put his arm around Marigold's shoulders and pointed toward Hyde.

“We’ll start at Hyde. Together, you and me and whoever else you think is suitable. We’ll go look for this Thraice guy, see if we can’t catch us a djinn.”

And like that, they were off to Hyde.

"If he's supposed to be in Hyde, why d'you think his signal is coming from Hell's Gate?"

Even as Michael asked, the red gem illuminated intuitively as it spread out through its Imperium network in search of any outside magical influences.

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It was strange how things worked out, and Marigold as hard as he tried, felt lost when faced against such foes. Antigone had taught him magic was terrifying and unforgiving, and there were a great deal of beings he had encountered that proved him right. Such power terrified him at his bones and it made him want to run. It was why he was so against Moshra attempting any sort of rescue. That too, was contradictory as Last Chance, Ceyena, and...Gabriella proved. There were moments where his his mind couldn't find a proper solution and his body had just acted...A reckless endeavor that went against everything he had been taught. It was everything he saw when he looked upon Michael. It was like a lightning bolt had struck him in that moment because...it was everything he wanted to be. Marigold chanced a smile at Mike's words, so forward and purposed. Marigold, at the mention of any suitable allies, tapped the side of his eye and revealed a camera feed outside their door where Mike saw three furred figures leaned up against the door. 

"I couldn't have made it this far without Moshra. She's seen more in me than I had." He said, flicking his finger and forcing the door to open; the three shapes collapsing atop eachother as Marigold gave a rare laugh "They aren't the most subtle, however" He added. MIke recognizing Moshra large form as it rose and stopped just before she hit the roof, forced at a slight hunch in the room. He hadn't seen the other two as another wolven half the size of her mother stood up next and growled "Yea, well if it wasn't for Fye being loud and fidgety!" She argued back. Their fur complexion akin to snow camo shades with blotches and white and black, tinges of blue touching their facial fur. The third one being much smaller than the other two, and strangely was...a felinefolk in nature. A calico with brown and black fur, splotches of either on her eyes with a ratty witches hat perched atop folded ears and wild brown hair. "Secrets are fun aren't they? Mr. Mari never has friends over!"

The conversation that was had was tense, and their love for The Mayor was apparent. He had given them homes and land to call their own, giving Moshra the station to guard it's people. He was Rivana's mentor and she was determined. Marigold finalizing the discussion as he placed a hand on Fye's shoulder, asking for her opinion as her aloof nature often left her unheard. There were bonds between this wolven family and Marigold and it was a chance to have a positive impact for once. "He stayed so we could run...Who's gonna help him if we don't?" His eyes meeting Mike's in a solitary moment. It was all he needed to hear. They weren't just children. Moshra had trained them in their own ways and they could use such talent when it came to the forces of The Legion.

MIke's red gem used the Imperium's own netword, repairing and bettering with each given day. Their packing done; Marigold programming his defensive canine Xerxes to keep the facility safe. Marigold having a metal backpack without straps that had a dozen small shutters on it's surface; the Calquarts mounted at it's top. Moshra and The daughters were adorned in heavy armors with Moshra wielding only a massive blue steel tower shield and Rivana tightening the string on an onyx bow. Marigold waving his hand over the table they were huddled around and revealing the combined efforts of the two A.I combining their sensory capabilities. Nothing happened at first, but in time small dots of red would barely make themselves known; A dot of great intensity flickering within Hell's Gate, however Marigold was watching the farther edges of Shawnee. Hyde existing at the sides of it's great mountains. A dull red blip darkening in that location for but a moment. "These are the only two locations where his source is picked up, but...how can there be two sources?"

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Standing around the table, the gleam in Michael’s blue eyes matched that of Tori’s red epicenter as it hovered over his shoulder. A map of Lagrimosa scrolled in to observe the red phenomenon that must be Kru’Gorah. Michael didn’t know much about the mysterious man, but he did know a thing or two about Hell’s Gate. A peculiar thing indeed, he thought, leaning in with a finger on his chin.

“Well the main concentration is in Hell’s Gate, and it’s closer! Is that where we should head?”

‘Sir,’ emanated a voice from the red crystal as it hovered over the table before them. ‘It’s possible the technology in Hell’s Gate is powering something in Hyde. Perhaps we should cut to the source in Hell’s Gate.’

After vocalizing the Colonel’s thoughts for Marigold, Toiri chirped a mechanical noise that almost sounded like a bird as she returned in a crystalline subconscious motion close to her master’s leftward nape. Michael’s left brow quirked, his grin pointed leftward.

“Then Hell’s Gate it is!” He exclaimed with a finger in the air. “Is there any way we can track him once we get there?

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Marigold's eyes were akin to light bulbs in their ever shifting phosphorescence; Sub routines allowing him multiple lines of thought at once. It had been impossible without a suitable power source. The calquarts solving that problem and more as it too glowed with the same blue hue atop his multipurpose metallic pack; A direct source of power that would allow expeditions for the first time in nearly a month after the disaster that had befallen the facility. He would face these odds; science leveled the playing field. Marigold listening to Toiri curiously as she gave a most astute observation. It was indeed possible that he was using a third party to expedite his...feasting...but for what? Marigold snapping out of his fog and nodding at Mike's question. Rivana being elbowed by moshra "Oh! Right, this...creepy scale or whatever. I saw this and moved closer to get it" She said, pulling from her pack a piece of cloth, opening it, and revealing a piece of sinister demon flesh. "This certainly helps my theory" Marigold said, observing it with a careful eye "Those spikes he leaves as totems...are made from him somehow; I believe I will be able to triangulate his position by using this as the third point" He unveiled from one of the ports on his backpack a small satellite dish; Lighting up and beginning to slowly rotate. Marigold taking the sliver of wicked carapace and wedging it in between to conducting points underneath the satellite itself "Once we are in the city limits, this will lead us to where his source is strongest" He said with a faint smile. 

"What if he dies while we are jacking around in Hell's Gate?" Rivana spoke up with frustration

"Rivana, if we can cut him from-"

"We can't just leave Thraice to die!"

The wolven taking a few steps back and gripping her fists. Her eyes focused on that barely visible red dot in Hyde...it had to be The Mayor...a signal. "I'm going to go get him back" She snarled and sprinted off. A near blur as she left. Marigold having no chance to react as both Moshra and Fye immediately chased after her "We will catch up with you, Go!" Moshra called "Stubborn as mountain
Their gazes meeting and Marigold felt weak in the soften hues of her gaze. The doctor sighing as they too departed and ran a hand through his hair "A willful family; I believe in their strength so Hell's Gate remains our destination

They departed post haste, moving through the steadily growing village around the imperium. The hyde villagers enduring in their own way; many looking upon the two as they left and raised their tools, their hoes, their shovels, their axes, and spears. A sign of respect and safe travel. Marigold had grown quite fond of these folk. They were outcast races that had banded together. He knew getting Thraice back was imperative. A good deed insures another and such men were needed for this world to thrive. Their journey taking them to Hell's Gate...a city he had dreamed of seeing, and yet hadn't the chance. He was dumbfounded when he looked upon it's modern brilliance. His eyes taking in every bit of decisive tech he could see. The satellite pointing directly toward the gront gates, indicating they were on the right path. 

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“Even if we don’t find him in Hyde, we need to collect a piece of one of those totems,” responded Commager firstly. “It might help us track him.”

The Peacekeeper stared at the peace of flesh as he spoke. He wasn't revolted by any means, but would take it in his hands if allowed. Flapping or flipping it this way or that, smelling it, looking at it closely, Michael observed the thing as closely as one could even while Tori ran analytics on its composure and any latent energies remaining therein.

Michael could memorize as much as he needed to in any given scenario, and Marigold had a satellite, but Tori could also assimilate the technology used to track Kru’Gorah’s power into her tiny crystalline form and take it with them as a backup and supplement to the satellite; so that is what she did. Accessing the back-end of the program that the Imperium used to track the Djinn, copying its code into her Warmind processor, and spitting out a tracker of her own, the little red crystal took its perch below Michael’s earlobe like an earring.

As the wolves took off, Michael expressed a half-grimace.

“I suppose having them head straight to Hyde will help put us in two places at once,” he said, his tone cautious of the failure he saw woven into splitting up. “But I can’t shake the thought they may be putting themselves in danger... Do you have any way to keep in touch with them so we can tell if they get into any danger?”

The next day as they embarked on their journey toward Hell’s Gate, Michael observed from horseback the displaced citizens of Hyde raising their fists and tools above them in solidarity. The hopeful eyes twinkling out  from the craigs of desolate faces filled him with purpose that these people needed. Even if he couldn’t restore Hyde to what it had been, he could rid it of its oppressor and bring a new type of dawn to its innocent denizens. ‘I’ll save all of you!’ he wanted to shout back at them, but he didn’t. Michael knew too well the dangers of making promises you don’t know you can keep; he knew too well what convoluted dangers lie ahead to promise them anything.

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Marigold was not accustomed to the ways of A protector. A recess of guilt called to him when he associated such ideals with his actions before...It felt insulting the lives he had taken in utter madness. It would take time for such things to heal. The villagers of Hyde inspired him so and that recess of self deprecation felt miles away. The sisters, Rivana and Fye...polar opposites and yet bonded like adhesive. An impossible equation, His concern would have lead him to stop their egress to Hyde. A logic dictated time for planning proper...so why then did he trust Moshra so implicitly? She had been the first he had seen leaving Antigone. He felt as though he had known her for years longer; Both pulled from their mania and darkness. Mike had been the final candle to bring his soul to light, and he felt as though...that mantle of Protector wasn't impossible afterall. Tori' receiving much from The Imperium' archives. One of the only surviving facility functionalities. It's storage coated in a rare alloy and kept his data alive. She also noticed that his personal data was being stored and constantly updated as though it were cataloging his very thoughts. The Calquarts connecting him to the facility itself and allowing him a level of control no matter the distance, though more power would need to be generated for him to use more taxing abilities; Even stranger still was that though the power was being steadily drained, an incremental return was being processed. He was connected to the facility now, and with the addition of Mike's own magic and Gaia herself...had created A Bond Reactor. A new type of energy Tori had never seen before.

Marigold was being powered by his bonds

A quiet fell over them for some time as they had left The Imperium. Marigold deep in thought as usual as he digested Mike's concern of the Wolves. He believed in their strength since he had seen it first hand, but he too, believed in this Djinn's veracity. "I do indeed, Moshra has an earpiece that connects to me directly...Thraice built that town with them. He's much like you in that way. A stubborn paladin of the people as it were. Moshra was once A leader of bandits and had tried to attack Hyde. Thraice himself bringing their conscience number to one, Her; Offering mercy in return for hard work. That's the shortened version of Hyde's tale anyways, many of those men who sent us off are likely descendants of those bandits made villagers. I am not aware of the full scope of Kru'Gorah' communication abilities so I told her to only contact me in Emergencies; Worry can be reckless" Marigold opening a small notebook, an archaic device that still he wrote in with A Pen. He was going to keep a collection of notes he made on his journeys. "Hell's Gate is a city I've yet to visit, and have heard little about. Would you mind filling me in?" He asked. Mike noticing that the calquarts almost seemed to glow brighter as Marigold gave him a soft, endearing smile that turned excited as his eyes widened eagerly "I've heard that it is a technological marvel! Though we aren't sight seeing; I still feel I can learn much in the ways of progress. I was never taught proper and decided to seek the knowledge myself...I can only imagine how scholars of science achieve their dreams..."

 

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Michael had, since his inception on Valucre, been known as the Bastion. First he lit alleyways, then shantytowns, then entire cities with the brilliance of his hope for something better. Unlike so many he didn’t sneer at something sullied and walk away; he would scoop it up and clean away the mud on its face. Through all of it, the Bastion became more than a lighting of locations. The Bastion had come to symbolize the very rejuvenation and rebirth of wholly broken races and ideas. 

It was as if Marigold had just been waiting to be picked up, polished, and proven Protector.
 
The Bond Reactor would issue a new type of energy that connected one to everything around them. People, animals, plants, the very air and earth. A network with the betterment of one distributing into the betterment of all at its core was born. While the Disciples travelled, Bond Energy gestated within the Imperium.

White and green ferns and grasses threshed around them while they rode and Marigold spoke. The Peacekeeper’s shoulders rising and falling serenely to the steps of his horse, the thin line that was his mouth formed a subtle grin. He seemed placated by Marigold’s words. Their left sides to the sunset, its warmth on their bodies, they trekked toward Hell’s Gate. Michael ate and slept days prior such that he would not need sleep that night. If Marigold was as driven by the energy projecting through his Calquartz stone as he hoped, the man-become-AI-become-man again would be awake too.

“Hell’s Gate is the pinnacle of technology in all of Valucre. There is little its scientists and doctors can’t achieve,” he said in the crimson and tangerine bath of sunlight splashing over them. He turned his face and traced a hardly visible scar down his cheek from his left eye, “Scientists there healed me. I used to have a red crystal embedded in my face from this hell-like dimension I visited as a real kid.”

Michael didn’t speak of this story with pride. There was a red crystal nestled under his left ear where Marigold could see; it looked like an earring. With his remorse— more symbolic of it than any gesture of his— the red crystal hovered away from his ear and before him, casting conical rays of infrared light on his face frequencied to comfort him to no avail. Tori, more than anyone else on this planet— save, perhaps, Gaia— knew Michael’s pain at a scientific, statistical level. His journey was one of rejection, without a mother was he under a delusion that Gaia was that mother? Was she? Despite the Bastion that he was, his plight would always be the curiosity that was his mother. Was she the All-Mother, or just another wayward soul tread underfoot or unworthy of bearing his light? Whatever the case, Michael Commager tread forward on steel-toed boot as if he were the very son of the All-Mother. He refused to believe anything less because to do so would be his undoing and his downfall. 

Looking at the great knight burdened by a sense of loss that didn’t even seem to belong to him, Marigold would see the great weight that Michael placed on himself throughout their long horseride to Hell’s Gate.

“Hell’s Gate is a scary place to think of a demon being successful. It’s got to be something technological.” One of the eight rays of light projecting on Michael’s face blipped for a moment before becoming a projection of Kru’Gorah’s presence in Hell’s Gate. The information would be relayed to Marigold’s tracker too. “We’ve got to go here, to an independently owned cluster of computer servers called Server Z, to see what this Kru’Gorah has done. Tori’s hypothesis is that he has melded with the software somehow and could be projecting himself and his phenomena to Hyde through some sort of driver or device.”

Their horses trotted, they champed to continue when their masters drank and took pisses, they sprinted in the bare sunlight. Within a day and a half they reached Hell’s Gate.

Its pyres and great jagged towers rose from the landscape like the tops of the nearby Great Pine Barrens but manmade. Riding into town on this main road, there was normally a verification process that could take days, but Michael’s status bypassed it and they were able to enter freely. Riding into town on horseback seemed so rudimentary with great vessels both numerous-wheeled and hovering riding past them, but the very aura of their presence granted them free passage to the aforementioned Server Z.

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Bond Energy was a gift that wasn't Marigold' alone as it was only created when the fading power of The Imperium was nourished with the light of Gaia. Mike inadvertently brought it to life with only his good intentions. It's influence was already beginning to show across the facility as white light replaced the cool blue. Threads connecting the panels to the hard working robots who repaired them as life was being given to what was once just machine. It was solidarity given form all the while the two wayward souls made their way to the kingdom of technology. Marigold himself trying to understand the readings he was getting from The Imperium as it was apparent that the power was steadily It growing, but it was of a different source...something....stronger. It engrossed much of his thinking as they traveled together, but Mike's connection to him helped pull him into their humble campfire talks. The embers crackling from the fire glinting against his face; his cerulean gaze entranced by the flames as Mike explained the mystifying city. It sounded wondrous and though their mission was dangerous, the ghost inside the machine yearned for the possibilities such a place could bring

"You have gone through hell, my friend, and still have the strength to persist as light itself...I can see all the passions you inspire are completely justified. I can only hope your efforts with me aren't wasted. Your talents could save so much more than...Me" Marigold spoke up; the words his words having a gravitas of a man who shared in the mutual suffering this world can bring. Tori being able to transcribe a level of data about Marigold that was impossible for any other human simply because his human conscience had also become an A.I. A level of commiserating that could be shared with mere glances. This conversation unfolding over more campfires and horseback rides across lush fields that brought them closer to their destination.  He had always used words as a mere tool, and felt they fell short when he wanted them to be meaningful. He could still feel Raphael' sword at his throat as though it were a wraith that always reminded him how easily he had given in to A foe beyond power. He wondered what words Mike would have had in that moment. Marigold once again being pulled out of his stupor amidst the horse, bearing witness to the majesty that was Hell's Gate.

"That Roen character was some sort of demon, and he revealed to me that they are more twisted than I had thought. Their perceptions of love and obsession are terrifying to the human scope, but Kru'Gorah does not share his aptitude for modern delights...it is strange that he would risk interfering here. There is merit in your theory; He must be here for some technological purpose" Marigold watching Mike's projection of Kru'Gorah' presence was revealed. The calquarts' own detection projecting in unison as there wasn't any more doubt where he could be. Kru'Gorah had to be here. 
"Server Z? You think he has such an aptitude?..." Marigold questioned. A cluster of images projected from his gaze and revealing scarce sightings of Dredge and Kru'Gorah together at Shawnee, and another with the nation owned by that strange kitsune woman "Who knows what he might of picked up. He has the mentality of A serial killer and they only ever change their habits when they are starved for attention...I don't believe this is Legion related. It doesn't match any of Dredge's motives.

He felt a rustic charm in riding toward the peak of civilization atop a creature that has seen humanity through many of it's trials throughout history, bypassing the heavy security thanks to Mike's position, and entering the city proper. The inspiring sights captivating him as holographic advertisements lit up against a transport as it whizzed by on light rails. His interest stemmed by the persistent tracker they both shared. There was time for sight-seeing later he supposed as they continued toward their destination. Server Z a collection of backup data and latent files that slipped through the cracks; essentially a net for incomplete data and unusable code. "It makes even less sense that it's this server right? He couldn't access major functions unless he had A direct link" Marigold rambled, going through several sub processes in his thoughts; The signature beginning to grow stronger now as the chill ran up their spine. The terror here almost palpable. A dozen or so strips of holographic tape with 'stay out' barred their way through. A pair of guards standing their in silence and seemed un-phased by Mike's presence. Citizens and the usual bustle quieter here as though the terror that tinged air kept them at bay. Marigold getting off his horse and scanning the two as an unease set over them. "Move along" They both said in unison without moving

Their vitals are...level, but...something is in their bloodstream. A toxin of some sort Marigold recited to Tori through their link as he looked toward Mike. A sudden anticipation making the air thick as the two guards repeated their command and remained still, unmoving. Tori picking up that time that it was a...recording that was looping. "None of this matches his patterns...he...he must be working with someone else..." Marigold whispered to Mike. 


 

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Even Michael couldn’t predict what momentous effect the introduction of his will to the dying Imperium would have. Stronger than the simple math of fiber optics, driven buy a perpetual trust and like and faith that created an energy all of its own. Michael’s and Marigold’s was the ideal summation of Bond Energy, and whether the other deemed Disciples had it or not this would be the cornerstone energy off of which this duo would thrive for decades forward. Now that its power was defined, the purposes it could be driven toward were nigh endless.

So immediately upon its conception, Michael began brainstorming ideas for its application.

"You have gone through hell, my friend, and still have the strength to persist as light itself...I can see all the passions you inspire are completely justified. I can only hope your efforts with me aren't wasted. Your talents could save so much more than...Me"

Michael would guffaw at the statement. Had he not saved gremlin infants lying in the rubble from falling debris? Had he not saved enemies from unjust beheading by overly righteous sycophants? What’s more, Michael saw in the crystal developing in Marigold’s presence a brand new energy born based on the strength of their bond!

“Nah,” he punched Mari on the shoulder. “You and I are gonna revolutionize the art of saving people. Using my talents to save you was step one to all that!”

Michael spoke with a bluntness that bespoke his words’ lack of undertone. It was as he said. They would be a new team branded toward doing exactly what Michael had done for Marigold: restoring the unjustly downtrodden and defeated of which Lagrimosa had many. The sheer thought of people existing outside the protective light of Gaia made Michael shudder.

"Who knows what he might of picked up. He has the mentality of A serial killer and they only ever change their habits when they are starved for attention...I don't believe this is Legion related. It doesn't match any of Dredge's motives."

“I care not of Roen, for now. Server Z, like many collections of databases in Hell’s Gate, is effectively an Artificial Intelligence that could be interacted with the same as a human, with the right clearance,” said Michael, his shoulders rising and falling of the beast of timeless observation. “If Kru’Gorah was in some way able to gain its favor or coerce it, the two could easily be made to interact in the same way that I do with Tori. With some centralized electrical manipulation, together Kru’Gorah and Server Z could potentially affect another area’s communications or network content and emit focused electro-magnetic— hell, even anti-magic— pulses to neutralize enemy forces”

The Major, the Oracle, spoke like a machine. His mind had been so hardened against the world that what he said might sound like total conspiracy theory, but it was the most likely link he found between all the information presented to him between Tori and Marigold. If anything, it was a demonstration of his bravery in even proposing such a hypothesis.

At almost all points in the day Michael stared directly at the sun. He did so out of a wan sense of hopelessness himself. He did so because the sunlight literally nourished him and improved his mood tenfold. He did so because now in the late, red, dandelion-scented afternoon, he felt like a son who didn’t know his mother. Observant of this, Tori was in every appearance a crystal hanging by an invisible thread from his left ear; without a pulse of light or singular gesticulation she exclaimed her empathy for his wish to be infinitely close to someone. For Server Z or any server in Hell’s Gate, no matter how realistic it could possibly ever be, could fill the hole inside Michael’s heart. He covered it with the hopes that he was perhaps the primary son of Gaia, but even Tori knew that this was but a dwindling delusion. 

‘Sir’ said Tori as they passed the guards-on-repeat who stood before the red tape. ‘There’s something not quite right about these grounds. I think there might be more to it than the technology.’

"None of this matches his patterns...he...he must be working with someone else..." said Marigold.

“So what,” said Michael mutedly, jumping off his horse and walking past the guards who he deemed brainwashed and mindless as soon as they repeated themselves. “He’s paired up with Server Z and then someone else?”

They ventured into the gigantic dome of a building. There were three rings inside, each increasing in degrees from publicly accessible to confidential to highly confidential. On entering the outermost ring, Mike saw a front desk with an associate or a few associates behind it.

“Why should we say we’re here?” he asked Marigold out of the corner of his mouth.

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Michael and Tori worked well together and their hypothesis combined had a great deal of merit. Marigold doing a great deal of research on this creature, unlike Dredge, it was as though he were the enemy of humanity itself. Depictions of his visage going as far back as recorded history. He was a level of cunning that seeped through the pnuematics of marigold's form, into his humanity. He didn't understand how they could remain so calm. He still had nightmares of what had transpired in Ceyena, and now they were about to face something almost designed to suffer the world itself! A moment of pause taking place as they passed the guards, his eyes giving them a more pervasive investigation, as he attempted a touch that warranted no reaction.  "Gray skin...and blackened veins; A chemical likely introduced through their respiratory system..." He relayed back to mike as they carried on. "My theoretical gut is telling me that there is indeed a third party...some sort of chemist

The dome catching him off guard as it felt as though it were twice the size on the inside. The rings fascinating in their own right, cataloging some design ideas for later use. The reception desk now ahead of them. A pair of women working on clerical work. Marigold running through the many excuses and lies he had come up with over the years. Marigold nodding his head toward security cameras that focused on their arrival. "I suggest you take the lead, given your station, and say we're here to tour facility?" He offered quickly. He had used that in the past and given Michael's astounding charisma. It was a viable strategy. His eyes keeping tracking of the cameras as he followed Michael's lead. 

The two receptionist adorned in sleek business casual with black pinstripes and pink buttons; Blonde hair woven into tight buns. The twins matching as they always did for work. Both of their smiles never quite reaching their faces as they approached. Michael feeling a gravitas in the air the closer he got to the receptionist' desk. Their detection picking up strong trails of the demon's loathsome aura everywhere within Server Z; clinging to these two girls as they greeted him timidly, but only one managing to keep eye contact. Her fingers pensive and shaky on the holographic keyboard as her sister beamed at Michael. 

"It is an honor to see you Mr. Commager!" She said gingerly, her eyes flicking over toward Marigold before returning to The Bastion's "What can we help you with today sir? Our services are limited due to server maintenance, but we will do the best we can to assist you!" Marigold pinging Tori silently as his eyes flicked over toward the sister who was typing in a redundant manner that didn't match any clerk he had seen before. She kept pressing upon the H key for almost fifteen seconds before switching to the letter E. 
 

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‘Typically Server Z has been the hub for a relatively awesome-sounding device called the Sieve. Right now, however, I detect some kind of virus in there, sir,’ said Tori, floating beneath Michael’s ear, even swinging beneath it with a convincing but synthetic pendulum motion. Marigold would be able to hear her too because of their Bond Energy connections, though no audible sound emitted from her from an outsider’s perspective. ‘This is the schematics of how magi-tech works on a blown up scale.’

As the duo and Tori ventured closer to the low-level guards outside, Michael didn’t even need Tori to understand the immediate signs that something with the men wasn’t right. Walking past without raising alarm or exuding suspicion, they made their way into the outer circle.

‘There’s definitely something fishy going on with these guys,’ said Tori. ‘Looks like it’s more than magic and technology. This Kru’gorah guy has gotten under their skin!’

"It is an honor to see you Mr. Commager!"

It was said with excitement, but no real measure of surprise. Of course they’d known Michael Commager was here. By now, it was safe for Michael to assume Kru’Gorah already knew he was here. In response, Michael’s hand ran along the counter as he smiled down at the seated twins. Their condition was less obvious, but their actions more telling than the guards. It was safe for him to assume that, now, they were standing within whatever illusion Kru’Gorah had had the time to set up for them. Every single thing about this place could be a fabrication of someone’s imagination. For one moment after they spoke, Michael and Marigold made mostly inconspicuous eye contact. 'Play along,' said the look in his eye.

‘Scanning for magic or anti-magic fields, heartbeats, and hidden tech,’ said Tori in the background of their minds. Her voice was as even as a frozen pond, despite the tension being thick enough to cut with a knife.

“I’ve heard you’re working on something like a 4-dimensional printer,” said Michael casually, examining his nails before looking back into their eyes. “I was telling my friend here about it and he didn’t believe me, so  couldn’t help but see if we could come take a look at it.”

Michael had an easy way of talking and not at what they were doing while he spoke that made it easy to forget he still saw exactly what they were doing.

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