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The arduous journey through the countless ruins was seemly unending. Empty streets aside from the small trinkets that lined the road, doll parts, smashed TV, dust and dirt, subtle inflections of a society no more. It was difficult not for the ground on which we tread, but heartbreaking to see the destruction that was wrought upon the world. No more did the creatures seek me out, but I think Velora’s presence had something to do with that. From her confident walk, I gathered that she feared nothing; an apex predator at the finest tip of the spear. To be honest, I feared her, but I could stop my steps from following her. Was I desperate for companionship that I would follow a demon. Maybe it was for the safety alone. I honestly could not tell you why I followed Velora.
It was a long way to where ever it was she was taking me. I could be being led to the slaughter for all I knew but if she was going to do that what is the point of lulling me into a false sense of security. Then again, there were a lot of weird things too. “Velora,” I asked.
“Mmm.” she hummed.
“Where are you taking me?”
“We cannot stop moving. We must keep moving.” She stops and looks up. “You see the skies,” I glanced up at the usual red, orange sky, there were a few dark clouds and when I say dark, I mean raven black clouds. Though being honest most everything looked harmful. “That is a sign of caustic rain. We need to find shelter. Understand?” she gazes down at me. It was odd, it almost felt like… Vanity eyes were looking at me.
“Yeah, I understand.”
Outside of a ruined diner became the shelter we were looking for. The inside of the building had long ago collapsed. A rusted metal canopy hung over our heads. The place had been long abandoned. The shadows of several people huddled over by the building’s entrance testified of a blast that vaporized them, their existence reduced to burned marks on the wall. I wondered what was it they saw just before they died. In line waiting to be seated. Caught up in a wall of fire. Most likely talking of work, or some other trivial thing. There was no way they could have even known. Though they had enough time to huddle from the blast. Saying the last I love you’s they would ever say. Gone. Nothing left but a whisper of ash to be carried off by the air. Some flesh grew on the side of the building, but I guess that was normal, now.
Walking crossed the ruined lot, grabbing onto a toppled over metal chair. It was melted in places, but I lifted the chair up. Pushing on the seat and legs with my hands, I judged that it could support my weight. Velora was laying in the center of the lot, smooth pavement under her. She bent her legs, kind of like a horse laying down. I drag the chair, allowing the feet to scrap on the ground to where she is sat on the concrete. Stopping beside Velora, I sit.
She is really something. Her torso looks like it would hurt. Considering how a mechanical thing is there displaying the seams of her body, exposed muscle tissue against the metallic armor that coats her and insides are partly visible. It’s like up to her stomach was cut off but not removed. Though her face looked normal if not for the horns and ears. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Oh I am sorry. I wasn’t aware.” I said though in all truth it hurt me to look at her.
“Am I that horrible to look upon that you would recoil at my sight?” she said in a curious tone. It was true, between the metal rods that extended her withered and stitched together hands, her visible spine fused with metal plates like some form of serpent, and her anthropomorphic legs clearly misshapen by some sick torture device to derive the image of a canines hind legs, it indeed unsettled me. Though whoever did this to her felt the need to keep her porcelain smooth face intact. A stamp of normalcy upon something entirely hideous.
“No… its not any of that. But I mean… does it hurt.” This must have taken her back a little. A small smile creeps over her mouth. “I mean the exposed muscle.”
“No.” she states calmly.
“I will be honest with you.” I mumbled. “I am scared of you.”
Velora must have found this funny. She laughed so hard that she held her upper body up with both sets of arms. “You have reason to be afraid. I used to be a war machine when things first went south. The dread you pathetic little things must have felt at my mere presence.” She said, which brought me no comfort at all. “I used to burn entire cities down by myself. I was a scourge to the world. Sadly, though, there is no world left and not must for a thing like me to do.” She said as she stretched her arms and let out a little yawn.
I could not help but think of the wars in my time. Terror struck people, and they died in bullets and bombs. Really if they knew this is what would become of the world would they have fought for it? Though I suspected more from her. She has not killed me. Does a machine or demon give end to their cause when there is none to be had or does it desperately try to obtain meaning? “What are you anyway?”
“I don’t know.” Velora said in a quiet tone.
“Are you an android?”
Velora shook her head at the notion. “I am something else.”
Looking beyond at the ruins, I saw some drops of the blackest rain I have ever seen hit the ground. The black little drops hit with a sizzle. No doubt eating a whole in just about anything. “Its scary to think about, even the rain can harm you here.” I huddle with both my legs on the chair. “Why isn’t this place harmed at all?”
“Special metal was used for the roofing here.” Velora causally responds. “It will hold up for a while.” Stroking her chin with her mechanical blade, Velora then pointed it at me, though I did not feel threated by it. “What was something like you doing out here in the first place?”
I panicked, and said the first thing that came to mind. “I can’t tell you.” An honest answer, but one with little tact. I was not sure if I could trust her. Velora went quiet. I guess my shut down of her was a little harsh.
We sat in silence for a while. It was strange. I am not sure how much time passed, just the sound of sizzling.
“You know Prina, we enjoy your company.” She grabs one of her arms with her other arm. “It gets boring with no one to talk to, you know. It breaks up the monotony of it all.”
It really was a secret… at least to Vanity it was. Then again, if she was… Vanity in some form. She would know this already, to some brief context at least. “So, when you assimilate people, what happens to them?”
“They become a part of me. They exist still, but they do not exist in the same way. I am a collection of their thoughts. As I increase to the number of people I assimilate, I hear them, so to speak. Its rather annoying, to be honest.” Perhaps she was not so bad.
I paused. “If Vanity, is… do you know her thoughts.”
Velora shakes her head. “We could, rather we do, but some thoughts have not been easy to obtain. There are many secrets she keeps from us. I wish she would tell me. This entire time I have been arguing with her for that little she has kept but she is so tiring. She does not trust us. Sadly, she thinks I will harm you.”
“Why don’t you just… force her too, I mean you could do that right.”
Vanity smirks. “You would not understand… I could lie to you. You would not know. So really, does it matter what I say to you?”
“I am trying to destroy Azergile.” I let down my guard completely with her. Telling her everything that had happened to me up until that point. I broke down crying Velora actually hugged me. “Velora I was so scared.” I wrapped my arms around her and held on. She cradled me softly in arm like a mother holds a child.
“You plan is impossible.” Velora says without showing much emotion.
I pull away from Velora. “What? Why?”
“Azergile is across the ocean. You would never make it. The struggle alone of the journey would kill you, no doubt.” She gets a strange look. “So that is what she meant.” Velora lets me down onto the chair. My face was to my feet and I felt a deep sense of sorrow welling inside me. “There are only two ways to get there?” I look up to Velora playing with her horns. “One way. Which is what I would choose is an airship? Seeing as how neither of us has one, it’s going to be very difficult to get over there.”
“Whats the other?”
Velora smirks. “Under the ocean, through the Amala.” She said it with such disdain, as though she was spitting the words from her mouth. “It’s an evil place. Dangerous is an understatement. They are controlled by the families. They made thing that are even worse than me. Devils dwell down there. Those that get caught in that demonic underworld are trapped in darkness. Constantly in torment. Starved and thirsty.”
“So we have to get an airship. Alright.” I said with hope.
Velora get to her feet. “If you insist. However, I suggest we hear the words from an AI.”
“A robot.” I thought to myself. That is a rather strange statement. I look at her puzzled.
“I see you are not familiar. He is not just any AI. He is very old. In fact he might be older that Azergile. But that is a very, very long way away. We will have to travel by foot there but it will be worth you while.” she said. “It will be shorter if we find a caravan along the way. We can travel with them for a while.” I nod my head in agreement. “You seem eager.”
“I am.” Looking at the rubble of the city I can’t help but wonder what happened to everyone. “Velora, I don’t understand one thing. Where have all the people gone? You said if we can catch a caravan, that means there are others.”
Velora stretches. “What do you mean?”
“I have seen no one since I was around. I was all over this city and I have found no one.”
“You found lots of people.”
“No, I don’t mean the monsters. I mean humans.”
“I am confused. I saved you from several human’s already.”
What Velora said buzzed around in my head. She saved me from humans. What those were not humans. That’s when it hit me. The rules. “No.” I hiss. “It can’t be.” Those things were, were people. I couldn’t help it. My stomach retched, gagging as though a thick brick met my throat. The sour taste of vomit fill my mouth as I allowed it to fall on the floor.
Slowly, I feel a hand on my back. “Are you ok?”
“No.” Turn my face to Velora, I scream at her. “This isn’t the world, this is a nightmare.”
Velora regards me for several moments. I can tell she does not know what to do. “I am confused. Did you not know those were people.”
I throw my arms to the side. “Of course I did not know they were people. A dog! What made a man into a dog!”
“The nano machines do it. Azergile changes their shapes out of curiosity.”
“No… this is all wrong. Where are all the cars, and where is the people walking the streets? The sky, the sky isn’t blue and everything is in ruins.”
Slack jawed, the girl with many arms seemed in shock, “Your from before the AI empires.”
“I don’t know!”
“What is the last thing you remember from before? From the time before you where frozen.”
“I don’t know. I was kid. I remember them telling me they were going to freeze me because I had a disease that was going to kill me.”
Velora squints and cocks her head, “So, you remember the old world?” I nod my head. “Then I truly feel sorry for you.”
It had been hours since we left the threshold of the city for that of the suburban wastelands. Into the rubble scattered wasteland. Dust covered everything. Anything that once stood here was laid bare to the earth. Buildings were nothing more then stumps; hollowed bones of a land forgotten by the gnawing teeth of time. It was like a junkyard, everywhere you walked there were valuables littering the streets. Pictures of people, alive, dead, did it matter anymore?
I stopped to rub my aching legs. While strong, my ability to walk was not endless as I come to suspect Velora’s being. “Velora,” I said. She turned to toward me with that proud; so, powerful. Her armored appeared to shine even though it was dull. “I have to rest.”
“Why are you refusing to walk? Come on.” she seemed annoyed at my human qualities. With little regard, she kept her pace. I had to question if what we were doing was exactly safe. She seemed in a hurry, so I decided it best to stick it out.
I huffed and continued up the path. It was not long till I felt weak, weaker than I have ever felt before. With that, I fell on on my knees and into a soft blanket of dust. The dust blew up in a plum upon my landing. I rolled onto my back gasping for air. I feel the stomping of Velora’s hooves; it disturbed the ground as it vibrating. The sun is blocked out by her form as she stands over me. Gazing up at the large portion of her goat like legs, the skulls staring down at me, to her red hair. “It hurt too much.” I wheezed. “I need water.”
“Why do you need water?” Velora said with such confusion.
“I am thirsty.
“I don’t understand.”
Eh, she wouldn’t. Does she really know as much as she says she does? I mean its a human trait to need water. “I need water to survive.”
Her eyes look over me for a moment. I could see annoyance with them, yet I sensed it was something else. Velora bends down lowering her forelegs and scoops me up in her arms. “I heard humans were fragile and require maintenance multiple times a day. I guess the rumors are true.” She lifted me off the ground and rested in her arms. Her limbs are not complete. They seemed to show breaks in the bone. I rested my legs to dangle off her enormous arms; my head resting on her other arm. When she rose to stand at full height, I could not help but be impressed. She was much larger than me, carried me like it was nothing. I remember looking over at this vantage point, I could see a considerably longer distance. What a difference a few feet makes.
“Velora,” I said.
“Yes.” she said with her usual unenthused voice.
“Thanks for carrying me.” She did not reply to me, but I could see it in her face, that she appreciated it.
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