(2)syl in
 
008: The First     009: Requiem The Second     010: Third Twilight
011: A Fourth Beckoning
     012: The Last


Post: 08.06.1997
Date: 12.11.2195
Time: Morning

The First

Must have been out for awhile when the static hit that last time.  Days maybe.  I want to know what causes that.  Time is up for that line of thought though. 

THUD THUD THUD.  More banging follows. 

"What's out there?" I ask.  Stay calm, peacebestill don't let heartbeatsofast.  Loss of control is loss of self.  Loss of self is loss of life.  Loss of life is death.  Must avoid death.  Avoiding death is survival.  Survival, the only option. 

THUD THUD THUD.  Pieces of the outer wall bending inward, falling, crumble to powder dust. 

"We don't know," 3-43 says, almost solemn, but there's a rough terror sound in his voice.  That wavering is something which I don't like.  Illusions of power and strength shattered, instead replaced with frail and vulnerable images.  Superhuman wirewitches no longer, but human faults show through now.  The absence of cyberspace is really affecting them.  They aren't acting how wirewitches are supposed to act. 

THUD THUD THUD.  The wall is being pummeled in two places.  Two nasty big things out there.  It'll be two nasty big things in here in a few minutes. 

JACK isn't crying, but she looks like she wants to.  Can wirewitches cry?  Don't want to see that.  Not from her, so innocent. 

"What are our options?" I ask. 

THUD.  Structural cracking noises in my ear.  THUD.

"We don't have any," NAAQ replies. 

And then I lose control.  NAAQ is caught off guard by my attack, and she doesn't even resist when I turn, grab her arm, and swing her around.  Pushing wirewitch against wall, close enough to feel her, smell her.  Strength granted solely by adrenaline, don't know if I can keep this up, but I'm not in control.  There's a slight static buzz in the background, but I ignore it. 

"THEN WE NEED TO MAKE SOME!!!"  The words came out as a scream, primal. 

NAAQ's shock fades instantly, and her forehead rumples.  Anger--the event horizon, welling and about to break.  Her lips pull back, the snarl mouth there.  Her teeth are elongated and sharp now, fang-like.  Probably doesn't even know she's doing that, a reflex outside her real control.  It's a disturbing image at this proximity.  I watch and they lengthen more, digital pathways expanding within, forming razor edges.  But for some reason, she doesn't move to push me away.  She is there, breath in my face, chest inhaling and exhaling, but not fighting back.  Why isn't she fighting back? 

"What do you suggest?" NAAQ says rather calmly. 

THUD THUD THUD.

I back off, suddenly uncomfortable with being so close to her.  "What about other exits?" 

"There are none.  We're dead." 

JACK is making whimpering sounds now. 

"Oh glitch we're in trouble," one of the other wirewitches says. 

"What is it, KIKA?" 3-43 asks.  Now I know her name. 

"Eoas.  Two of them."  THUD THUD.

The wall out there is almost down.  There's a hole almost big enough for one of the beasts.  Never seen an Eoa till now.  Even uglier in the flesh though, metal bones jutting from random places in skin, six legs and a long tail of muscles and bone protrusions.  Demon horns on the head and metal tusks from below the jaw.  They're moving so fast, frantic to enter, the sense of prey near. 

"Don't we have any weapons?" I ask to the room. 

"Nothing," NAAQ says. 

Wirewitches don't need them.  Normally.  THUD.

"We can fight them," the last wirewitch says. 

"We can't fight them, TERA" NAAQ says. 

"You--we don't have a choice," I say. THUD THUD.

"She's right," 3-43 says.  "We have to fight."  I look and his right arm has become a long spike, sharp and piercing.  His body has changed too, bulkier, stronger perhaps.  The fingers on his other hand are claws, long and thin. 

NAAQ exhales noticeably.  After a second, her body begins to change too.  Her eyes are on fire.  The other wirewitches change too, their bodies expanding, compressing, growing new limbs, curved lines sharpening to edges razors.  Molecular control gives them incredible abilities, bodies reshaping in the metamorphosis waltz.  Within seconds, the wirewitches have taken on a new level of lethal.  Even JACK, though trembling, looks as deadly as the rest. 

THUD.  A deep, long roar follows.  No more time to prepare now.  The eoas just broke through.  THUD.  The walls shake as the first Eoa takes its first step into the building through the disrupted wall. 

I'm useless here.  I have no weapons.  I can feel static in the distance though, threatening to move closer, have to push it down and not let it take over again.  Loss of control now would be fatal. 

must             the
        silence     static
                               beastTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUD

Wirewitches moving through the door into the other room.  They're fearless now.  Or are they?  NAAQ's in the front, and I follow behind the coven.  Eyes scanning the room for any weapon, but nothing do I see.  The odor of the eoa in the room reaches me.  It's the smell of decay.  There's blood on its tusks, its own most likely, spilled in its frenzied attempt to get in here.  The second one is still behind it, unable to enter yet.  Room's too small for wirewitches and eoas and a blue-haired girl at the same time. 

The witches are tense, but they're not communicating.  Can't be good.  I know they're cut off from each other.  Should be talking to each other.  Not accustomed to that though. 

The eoa sees the advance of the coven and moves a step closer.  It towers over them, opening its mouth, and ducking its head, tusks ready, horns impaled in the ceiling, but tearing away at it with every slight movement. 

NAAQ's the closest, hunched and prickly, but KIKA is the one that attacks first.  I don't even notice her movements until she has already leapt forward, crouching just in front of the beast, swinging a bladed appendage upward into the beast lower jaw, between the tusks.  The beast's jaw splits open, bathing the wirewitch with a brownish goo, eoa blood.  Her other arm, a spike, flashes upward immediately, impaling the eoa through its jaw up into the roof of its mouth.  The eoa roars, goo oozing from its open mouth. 

The other wirewitches move in to attack, but KIKA has already slipped, landing on her back, and one of the eoa's front feet has already pinned her to the ground.  She slashes at the foot with her arms, digging deep into the thick flesh, but the weight of the beast is too much. 

I hear NAAQ scream as the eoa ducks its head.  "NO!!"

The eoa's squat head jerks up, tusks slick, and then something flies at me in a quick cutting arc.  Can't dodge it, coming too fast, can only put up hands to ward it off, can't ward off everything that flies at me, brown goo and blue slippery fluids splattering, painting me in the abstract.  Horror grips me, the terror tangle, and KIKA's decapitated head bounces off my outstretched hands and falls to the floor, rolling against the wall, hair stalks chopped. 

One down.  The coven is complete no more. 

  Post: 08.20.1997
Date: 12.11.2195
Time: Morning

Requiem The Second

      unclean
      unclean
      unclean
I'm unclean

I'm unclean and the wirewitches are wailing. 

It's a strange sound that I've never heard before, reverberating against my heart, aggravating ears.  There's a knife in that sound, poking my inside.  I can feel the sound, as if my skin is resonating in harmony.  I want to make the sound too for some reason.  It wasn't just the violence with which KIKA died, it's something more.  It was the suddenness.  I understand their wailing.  I know the reason. 

But I don't make a sound because I haven't had to time react.  I'm covered with wirewitch blood, dark blue and silver.  It's dripping from my forehead and onto other limbs and it's mixing with the eoa blood, brown and blue together in a sickish color I can't describe.  The fluids are soaking into my shirt, and I can feel it on my skin underneath, wet. 

            sprinkle baptized in blood
                                      the crimson splatterpaintstroke
                         of absolute red to drown but now
                                   only blues
                                    and browns

And the wirewitches are swarming the eoa. 

Their wailing fades away and the roars of the eoa rise again.  This time though they are roars born of pain, shard and spike and needle inflicted wounds, deep to metallic bones.  They're in a frenzy, attacking seemingly at random intervals, dashing in and darting out before the eoa can retaliate.  The eoa, inner fluids pouring from deep wounds, senses this and tries to back away, back to the street, but his horns are caught in the ceiling.  The wirewitches back off for a second as the eoa's head jerks back and forth, tusks heaving side-to-side too quickly to allow for a clean attack.  Beneath the beast still lies KIKA's body, beaten and squashed and crooked.  I can see the eoa's feet trampling her body repeatedly in its attempt to extricate itself from the collapsing ceiling. 

THUD.  The wall to the left of the eoa dents inward.  The second one wants in now.  The wall may be metal, but it won't keep the eoa out for much longer.  We're trapped in here. 

"We need to get outside!" I yell.  "We'll be slaughtered in here!"  The entire room seems to be shaking with the thrashings of the trapped eoa.  Foundations faulty, slippery constructions of earthquakes beneath my feet, bouncing world which will not stop. 

3-43 catches my eye and nods.  Difficult to make out his features though due to his body deformations, but it is him.  He understands the situation.  Proof of his mortality is beneath the eoa and all over me.  THUD.

NAAQ shouts something I don't understand and the wirewitches form up on her, just off to my right.  They're all covered in eoa blood.  It's a clash of colors, but the wirewitches don't notice.  They're preparing for another attack, tension visible, but battle lust also. 

THUD THUD THUD.

The wall beside the trapped eoa gives way in several places.  The second one is bigger than the first, but the first begins to show signs of exhaustion.  It's movements are slower, drawn out.  And then the wirewitches attack.  The initial blows are brutal, thick eoa skin ripped from front legs, head, and sides, brown liquid waterfalls everywhere.  The eoa backs away, finally pulling free of the wall.  The ceiling near the wall caves in, but the wirewitches are in the street already, pressing the battle with the eoa to its conclusion.  They're frenzied, seeking retribution no matter all else. 

I run through the mangled wall, dodging sparking metal and sharp edges.  Distracted, second eoa has turned to the wirewitches, ignoring me.  I'm not the threat they are.  I stay off to one side, but I don't flee 
                                                    (runaway)
                                                                     not sure why but I don't.  I just crouch. 

Sun's coming up.  Grayish and diseased. 

The first eoa goes down, one front leg sliced off by NAAQ.  Didn't know that eoa bones could be cut, unknown metals in there.  JACK takes to the air.  Her body arcs over the other witches, spikes extended, landing on the eoa's head, raising death arms upward, bringing them down, the eoa's brain punctured.  Eoa body stiffens.  Eoa body spasms.  JACK is thrown back over the enormous body, crashing to the street.  Eoa body falls to the ground, deadweight and silent. 

But the second eoa is close now, too close now.  NAAQ had her back turned, facing the first eoa.  The second eoa lowers its head and leaps.  The leap looks horrible and evil, and NAAQ is directly under the falling beast, her body jerked downward under impact, arms and legs sprawling, eoa's foot impaled on her prickly back, wirewitch trapped under massive limb. 

"NAAQ!" JACK screams, moving at the eoa. 

3-43 moves also, but the eoa's tail swings forward, over it's back, forcing him to duck, stalling his approach. 

NAAQ is making a terrible sound.  "Kill it!" she manages.  How can she talk with the eoa trying to crush her? 

But this eoa is bigger, smarter.  It's using its tail as the first one didn't, huge bone spikes to defend itself there, difficult for wirewitches to get close. 

"Hurry," I say, but it's only a whisper.  "It's going to--" 

I see a spurt of blue liquid as the eoa lowers its head and takes NAAQ's arm in its mouth, yanking, tearing the limb off with a twitch.  NAAQ's wail hits my ears.  Want to cover them 
                 (runaway)
                                  not sure why but I don't.  I just stare. 

Again the head goes down, second arm removed.  Inside fluids in a pool beneath the eoa.  And a third time the head lowers.  Brief thrashing, wet grindings. 

NAAQ stops making noises. 

The coven five subtract two equals three equals the broken circle of incompletion.

  Post: 08.29.1997
Date: 12.11.2195
Time: Morning

Third Twilight

They're leaderless and they know it.  The three are a serpent without a head, directionless and unseeing, flopping here and there but defeated in the end.  I know this also. 

TERAJACK3-43  Names squished together in my mind, multiple separates welded unnaturally.  Sole survivors, brutal holocaust arrival too sudden, difficulties in dealing with the situation.  Reality cannot be real must not be real please don't let it be real. 

Wirewitches are stunned, just standing there, armed weapon arms at their sides.  Happenings beyond belief right there in front of them, leader slain and ravished.  Eoa emitting low rumble growl, triumphant harmonies evident in the sound waves.  There's a loss of direction, absence of command base.  Is survival possible after mortal wounding?

The eoa steps forward.  Oh, toward me.

Stepping backward, I can see NAAQ's blood on the eoa's mouth, the fluid thick and stretching.  The eoa's eyes are on me.  Nasty eyes, only dim orbs sunken in dim shadows on dim skin.  Barely visible, but they're staring at me, focusing on nothing else I can sense.  Body tries to shiver but fails for unknown reasons.  Another step back, but the eoa will reach me in a moment regardless.  So big.  And nasty eyes. 

Flash of blue.  The wirewitches back on the offensive.  Salvation again, if but for only a few more breaths. 

The eoa's tail whips, TERA caught on the side, grunting loudly, somehow dodging the tail bone spikes, but her body flies backward and then downward, skidding the street for a few meters. 

3-43 moves in, but a jerk of the eoa's head sends him tumbling against a wall, hair stalks fanning out, no longer bound together by thought. 

Another step back and then I lower to my knees.  The static is back, making my head hurt.  Get me out of this vise and turn off that fluttering saw sound.

JACK's underneath the eoa, slashing at its belly.  Eoa is roaring in frustration, rearing up and then back down, tail waving.  JACK darts away, unhurt.  She's washed in the brown life liquid of the eoa. 

The wirewitches and the eoa waltz.  Inner fluids hot and open to the early morning air. 

The wirewitches still do not talk out loud, silent in their attacks, only grunts and groans of reflex and necessity.  Too used to the way it was before.  Before cyberspace went offline.  They strike at random, uncoordinated and discontinuous thrusts.  They should talk.  The battle is prolonged because of their silence.  They are weakened and are weakening more.  The eoa takes damage, but it is wounding them at every attack, its unnatural bone structure brutalizing them when they strike. 

I want to help, but I am unable.  Weaponless and defenseless I kneel and wait. 

Then the next combatant falls. 

It's TERA this time.  She falters awkwardly in front of the eoa, shoving razor-bladed arms into the eoa's face.  Eoa pulls back, evading her thrusts, then charges forward. 

No slow motion this time because the world is hyper on an overdose.  A fast-forwarded realspace... 

            ...flashes before me, and I'm only a spectator because the eoa slams into TERA who is caught between the eoa's tusks somehow she manages to go between them and not get stabbed through but she is pressed up against the eoa's face now being driven backward and upward as the eoa lifts its head TERA's feet leave the ground and then the eoa COLLIDES WITH A BUILDING tusks impaling the wall and TERA's body bursts in several places oh I can see her head pouring back there a hair stalk ripped out from the force of the blow and it's only a stump now the rest of it falls to the ground shriveling and lifeless but she is still alive and I know this because her leg just morphed into a wide blade which she is using to slit the eoa just beneath it's head going for whatever serves as its neck but it's not going to do any good because she's dying in front of me and JACK and the warlock and there's nothing we can do to help her or even avenge her death because the eoa is going to kill us all but first it needs to finish with TERA and so it begins to grind her body against the wall pushing deeper into the unyielding yet punctured structure but TERA is beating the eoa but her body is resuming it's natural shape and her blades and spikes become smooth skin once again and then the eoa pulls its head with jagged tusks gleaming red in the rising sun and then purple because red is mixed with blue now and TERA's body is torn in half when the eoa yanks sideways and through my tears and static I can see her body fall to the ground in two arcs of descent opposite and tumbling and I bow my head... 
Because I don't want to watch anymore.
  Post: 09.06.1997
Date: 12.11.2195
Time: Morning

A Fourth Beckoning

My mind wants to know why.  It's prodding and poking me insistently, asking me questions that I don't know the answers to.  It wants to know the answers--all the answers--and it wants to know them now.  Now now now glitch!  Spoiled child inside me, frustrated and unsatisfied.  Behind closed eyes and bent neck, I am pressed by that which is within me, my nature, myself, the thing which knows me like no one else.  It will not release its grip, will not let me back down or lie down, will not let me be blameless, will not let me relinquish my responsibilities, will not let me shirk the lots of life, and it will not let me ignore my situation and go through life without asking the question of the plague: why?

Why did the wirewitches die?  A reason? 

Why are the eoas attacking?  The wirewitches?  Me? 

Am I going to live?  What purpose? 

My foot hurts.  It's a biting pain somewhere below me.  Been ignoring it for awhile, but suddenly it's the only thing on my mind.  Not an overwhelming pain actually.  Just enough to remind me that it's still attached.  But other thoughts are gone as my foot makes its discomfort known to my consciousness.  Ignore the sounds of the battle near me. 

It has a focusing effect.  The edge of the needle, a laser line of energy, simplify the complex, deconstruct down to unity. 

I open my eyes and raise my head.  The fray materializes in front of me, but nothing has changed.  JACK and 3-43 are squaring off against the eoa.  They are protecting me.  Why? 

"We can't win!" I shout.  "We need to get out of here!"

I expect the wirewitches to ignore me, and they do.  Wirewitches never run, even at the cost of their lives.  Twisted logic perhaps, but wirewitches don't often see the need to flee battle, so rarely do they find themselves on the losing side.  But this time they are losing, and it's going to get them killed.  And something tells me that the eoa won't stop after the wirewitches are finished because I can feel that I'm next.  Maybe I was first all along and the wirewitches just happened to be in the way.  No time to dwell on that now. 

"The eoa's going to kill us all!  You can't win!"

"We know," JACK says.  Dodges the eoa's tail. 

"Leave us to our business!" 3-43 says, ducking and leaping.  "You do not understand!"

GLITCH!!!  I'm standing now, anger rage pulses in my streams. "YOU'LL DIE!  WHAT ABOUT JACK?"

Striking and thrusting, eoa goo exposed to air, "She is a wirewitch!  She understands!"

"I don't want to die," JACK says calmly, in the air again, arcing gently toward the ground. 

3-43 turns his head at that, but says nothing.  Still, he paused.  Something's alive in there after all. 

But JACK is already in motion.  She moves in on the beast, jumping over swinging tusks, sticking her spike arm into the eoa's left eye, pulling out and rolling away and then back on her feet.  The eoa lurches sideways, partially blinded, a gray puss bubbling from its socket.  3-43 is ready, darting close and bringing his arm down, a severing blade of hardened flesh, and a tusk falls to the ground, clanging on the street.  The eoa is off balance now, unable to control its movements with any grace. 

The wirewitches move in for the kill, sensing the end.  The eoa senses it too, movements erratic, unpredictable and dangerous. 

3-43's arms are longer now, two pikes.  He charges the eoa's head from the front, leaping only to avoid the remaining tusk.  His arms, stretched out before him sink deep into the eoa's head and deep into its brain.  The eoa stiffens then crumbles to the ground, minute tremors in the ground.  I can feel them, like thousands of tiny earthquakes reaching for the points where my feet touch the street. 

But the eoa is dead. 

I sit down.  Don't know why.  Guess I don't know what else to do.  It's comforting in some strange way, and I don't feel as vulnerable.  Maybe it's being closer to the ground, body's not as open to the world, back slightly curved, head tilted, face to the horizon.  Somewhere up there is the new morning sun, but I don't want to look at it, don't want to see the battle scars in morning's full light.  Because there are dead wirewitches all around me and I don't want to think about that but it's all I can think about. 

A hand on my shoulder. 

It's JACK.  "Are you all right?" 

No I'm not all right.  How can I be all right?  "Yes.  Yes, I'm alive." 

She sits next to me.  Her body is almost back to normal.  She's almost recognizable again. 

3-43 kneels in front of me.  "Why were the eoas after you?"  He's covered in brown blood.  More so than JACK or I.  But his eyes are clear, unblemished and swirling. 

"I do not know." 

He bows his head and exhales, hair stalks waving there and back.  His head comes up and he smiles.  It's a wirewitch smile so it's full of jagged teeth, but it's a smile.  "Neither do I." 

I can't smile back as good as it would feel, but I just don't feel like doing that right now.  It's not right.  Maybe it just doesn't feel right. 

JACK rises to her feet and walks off somewhere behind me.  Examining her fallen sisters. 

Then the staticstaticstaticstatic is suddenly back.  Not strong compare to last time, but enough to bring my hands to my temples, eyes shutting out the world.  Black in my vision, eyes inward.  Static fading.  It's peaceful, and I want it to last, but there's something disturbing in the blackness.  I realize what it is almost suddenly.  There is no silence.  I can still hear the outside world around me.  I can hear... 
                ...JACK stepping lightly behind me...
                                                ...3-43 breathing softly in front of me...
      ...scraping sounds...
                        ...soft squishy thumps...
                                                ...wet flesh sliding...
            ...deep inner rumblings of wounded internal organs...
And I realize that the danger is not over too late because suddenly 3-43 grabs my shoulders, squeezing hard.  My eyes open and I can see a ragged tusk protruding from his chest.  His mouth is open, surprise evident, shock and pain displayed.  The eoa's good eye bores at me, taunting me with life and rage.  3-43 still has me by the shoulders and I can see his eyes stilling, but his mouth is moving and I realize that he is saying his final words to me.  Blue liquid pours from his mouth, drowning most of his words, but I almost make out one sentence, "Protect the chil...."  Protect the child.  And then his hands have no strength in them and they slide limply down my arms.  I try to make up words but nothing comes to mind in that instant and then the instant is gone because the eoa tosses his head and 3-43's body shoots skyward, sliding slickly from the tusk.

I can't even move, my mind refusing to believe that the eoa can still be alive.  I watch as 3-43's body impacts back with the earth.  The eoa, raging blindly, begins to pummel the warlock with its tail, bone spikes ventilating 3-43's flesh again and again.  The eoa is taking out its frustration and anger and agony out on the dead wirewitch, mutilating it, ripping chunks of meat, discorporating the body until it is just unrecognizable pieces. 

Now I'm running toward JACK.  She's back to normal and she's kneeling over there, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she is the last remaining member of her coven.  She's hunched over, hair stalks bent to the ground.  Her body is convulsing, and as I get close I can see that she's crying.  Over my shoulder I can see the eoa still ravaging what's left of 3-43.  Nobody deserves to die like that.  How the glitch can that thing still be alive!  How the glitch!!  I don't know what to do so I do the first thing that comes to mind. 

I get down next to JACK and put my arms around her, pulling her close.  She cries into me, and I can feel her tears running down the front of my shirt.  I can see them there, running down, trails mixed with brown eoa blood and blue wirewitch life fluid.  And my tears follow, mixing with the other stains, just another stain in a world of blemish.  Who will notice? 

It's not long before I can sense the eoa close, towering over us with its sick, decaying smell invading the air. 

I pull JACK closer.

  Post: 09.22.1997
Date: 12.11.2195
Time: Morning

The Last [a008]

Eternity is a second in the mind and a second is infinity in this moment and this moment will be over in a minute but right now this moment will not end.  Closed eyes send me into an infinite loop with my eyes

closed eyes send me into an 
infinite loop with my eyes 
closed eyes send me into an 
infinite loop with my eyes 
closed eyes send me into an 
infinite loop with my eyes 
closed eyes send me into an 
infinite loop with my eyes 
closed eyes send me into an 
infinite loop with my eyes 
closed eyes send me into an 
infinite loop with my eyes 
closed eyes send me into an 
infinite loop with my eyes 
closed eyes send me into an 
infinite loop with my eyes 
closed eyes send me into an 
infinite loop with my eyes 
closed eyes send me into an 
infinite loop with my eyes 
closed eyes send me into an 
infinite loop with my eyes-- 

Get me out of here oh get me out of here!

The eoa doesn't attack us.  My arms are around JACK and I'm not going to let go because she's not trying to escape.  Two vulnerable wisps are we.  I can only pull her tighter to me and her skin is the skin of a wirewitch, almost slick but not quite.  My mind tells me that her skin is different than 3-43's.  The difference is subtle and my senses can't discern what it is exactly, but it is there.  Probably gender related. 

Something moves against my hand.  Hair stalks, the feel of cold wires on my fingers.  The movement seems to be unconscious, wonder if she knows she's doing that.  It doesn't matter.  Nothing matters right now because we've lost and the eoa is about to take our lives.  I don't like that, but I don't know what to do about it.  Not sure it would do any good, even if I did know what to do.  For some reason, it feels right to just crouch here, holding JACK.  It's not going to save her.  Not going to save me either.  But it's all I can do right now.  If I'm going to die, I'd want to be touching someone.  I don't want to face it alone.  Maybe JACK feels the same, but I don't think I'm going to get the chance to ask her. 

My head is bent downward, but I can sense the eoa above us.  Various fluids are dripping on my back.  Why isn't this thing dead yet? 

It's not moving, but I can hear it breathing.  Gurgling sound from deep within. 

"Don't let it get us," JACK whispers in my ear.  "Please." 

"Okay, JACK," I say.  But there is nothing I can do. 

The ragged edge of the eoa's tusk touches my shoulder.  Resist the shiver that wells up inside.  Resist.  It still isn't doing anything.  What is going on?  Why hasn't it tried to gore us?  What the glitch is going on?  Nobody to volunteer answers here.  I am the question mark at the end of the story. 

    Iamthequestionmark.
    Iamthequestionmark?
    Iamthequestionmark.

"I want to live," JACK pleads softly.  She sounds like she is up against the wall of inevitability. 

But now there are other sounds, new sounds entering my ears.  Something approaching.  No--somebody.  Footsteps sounding off to the side, behind the eoa.  Quick steps, purposeful and deliberate, can tell this somehow, minuscule vibrations or something, but I know.  The steps stop and metal on metal gratings are whispered, then steps again, faster than before, incoming. 

The eoa rises up, away.  I'm not going to look.  Don't want to. 

I hear the sound of ripping flesh.  It's not a ragged ripping, but a clean slicing.  Bones breaking, not bludgeoned, but cut through.  The eoa screams in pain not too far away, high-pitched this time, no more low frequencies to emit.  Loud thumps of the eoa's feet mingled with the quick, light steps of the unknown newcomer. 

Thick wetness hits us.  Who's to notice?  Our bodies have already been desanitized with blood to the extreme.  Incoming.  A meaty impacting occurs beside us.  I don't want to look, but body gets ahead of brain and I turn my head.  It's the eoa's tail.  Thick and long and spiked it's been separated from its owner. 

The eoa is convulsing.  Still on its feet though.  How can that be?  It has to be losing gallons of blood every minute. 

The newcomer is behind the eoa.  I don't get to look because the eoa suddenly lurches toward us.  It has no eye, but I know it knows where we are.  It's mouth curls and I know.  Suddenly I know. 

Oh glitch.

I know that it's not going to stop this time.  It is not going to stop!!

Incoming. 

Nothing to do except brace for the collision and hope that the remaining tusk is off target. 

But it's not going to miss this time.  It is not going to miss.  I can see it heading for my face.  Not going to miss. 

But it does.  JACK jerks in my arms, anticipating the final blow, but I can't close my eyes, mesmerized.  The eoa stumbles and goes down, vomiting red and black streaks, life flowing from body in one final violent heave.  Gore pours and puddles, flowing around my legs. 

JACK and I inhale simultaneously, realizing that life is not over, spared if even for just a few minutes more.  It deserves a deep inhale and a long exhale. 

"Your skin feels different," JACK says quietly.  "It's smooth." 

I laugh at that.  It's a quick burst, but it feels good. 

"It's you again," a voice says from up above and behind. 

I look up and back and I smile because a knight of chrome is there.  My smile came of its own accord but it's out now and it's too late to take it back.  Shouldn't have done that, but I wanted to.  I wanted to.  Maybe it's too soon to smile.  I let my face fade back to no expression.  He's silhouetted against a red sky.  There's red reflections on his face, metal where skin should be.  His body is draped with a trenchcoat, burnt and black at the edges, torn and streaked with holes, wanting to fall apart but denied by some higher power.  Scanning down I can see his hands, one untouched, the other wounded.  Pseudo-skin peeled back and charred, machinery and circuitry within the limb.  A finger twitches and I can see the micronized pistons pump, gears spinning, lubricant pumping through tiny silver hoses.  He's holding a sword, definitely unique.  It's drenched in eoa blood.  Vision back up to his face.  Those silver eyes are tunneling back at me.  On his forehead dance gray hair tentacles.  In the eyes there is recognition, but I'm coming up empty.  Do I know-- 

"Here, let me help you," the man says, hand extending.  It's the wounded hand. 

My hand is drenched with blood but he doesn't seem to notice as I'm pulled to my feet.  I can feel the workings of the machinery in his hand and JACK still clutches my other hand. 

"Who are you?" I ask. 

"You don't remember?" 

Remember?  My memory is a bit limited at the moment.  "No." 

His hand is still in mine.  He gives my arm a yank, pulling me toward him.  "Maybe you'll recognize me now." 

He's holding my hand to his face, my body touching his, blood smearing from body to trenchcoat.  He's taller than me, his head down, mine tilted up to meet his gaze.  Fingers touching the line where his torn skin stops and the metal beneath begins.  The skin feels sickenly real and the metal is humanly warm, radiating heat.  Wait-- 

My mind flashes to the alley where I awakened, only hours ago it seems though it must have been days.  Must have been days.  The memory brings smells of alcohol and refuse to me, smells of lying in piles of trash, but also something else.  It's back there in the dark place where I can't see, the hidden corners of my mind.  It has an ancient feel to it.  Ancient?  No, not quite ancient.  Maybe just familiar.  That's better.  Familiar.  But I can't define it better than that.  Still, there must be-- 

"I'm Aran." 

Mouth not working, thoughts jumbled and bumbled.  Need a second to sort it all out.  Just a sec-- 

JACK pulls at my hand.  "Let's get out of here, syl, it's not safe." 

"Syl," Aran mouths. 

"My name is (2)syl." 

"syl," Aran says, correcting himself.  "Sorry." 

"I don't like it out here," JACK says. 

I felt his jaw move, synchronized cogs.  I take my hand back and take a step back.  "Hold on, JACK, it will be all right.  I just need a minute." 

"No," Aran says.  "Your friend is right.  It's not safe out here." 

The street is a tomb.  Dead eoas and wirewitches littering the ground.  I can feel the putridness of this place.  Strangely enough, no other people are in sight.  People tend to run at the sight of an eoa.  That won't last for long. 

"Where can we go?" I ask, tired suddenly. 

Aran looks over his shoulder at me.  "I know a place."  Sun reflecting rays off his cheek, blinding. 

"Good." I say. 

Aran looks at JACK, then at the bodies of the other wirewitches.  "Is there--" 

JACK cuts him off.  "I will perform the rites.  We must collect what is left of the bodies." 

Aran nods.

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