Ugh… Where am I? What happened? He let his pounding head rest for a minute, trying to process and recollect.
Oh… Oh, yeah! I was being chased by those bounty hunter bastards! Wait, where are they now!?
His eyes flew open.
“Oh, you’re awake! Are you alright?”
He immediately jumped away from her, lighting his fist on fire. Startled as a bit of her hair was singed, she took a step back as he ran around wildly, looking for an exit.
He was in a cave of some sort. Weird gadgets lined the walls, along with countless books and scrolls. A lab, then? Was this room just one of many? Could it be a labyrinth? Was he stuck in the hunter’s secret base? But if that was the case, then who was the girl? A scientist!? This was bad, really bad. He had to get out, now.
She approached him, but when her hand gently grazed his shoulder, he shot a plume of fire at her in a panic. The blaze illuminated the room, letting him see briefly what she looked like. Her skin was fair and her hair was long and white. Her pink eyes were wide with shock and to his surprise, she managed to dodge his flames. Instead, something behind her was burned to a crisp in an instant.
The flames billowed up in a sudden burst before dying down on the spot. Whatever they had just consumed with their heat was now no doubt a pile of cinders. But he could care less about whatever it was he had just destroyed.
“Ah! Oh no!”
The girl ran over to the table, observing the charred mess he had just made. But he had no time to acknowledge her distress. It was unimportant, below him. He himself was in hysterics, and if he didn’t find a way out of this place right now he was gonna𑁋
“…How could you?”
He paused his rampage, watching the trembling figure of the girl with caution. She was running a hand over the burned object and her other hand was clenching in and out of a fist. From her soft hiccups and shaky breaths, she seemed to be holding in tears. Now that he had a better look at the cindered object in front of her, it appeared to be vaguely human-shaped. Did he just kill someone? Great. That was the last thing he needed right now.
The girl turned around, taking deep, concentrated breaths, desperately trying to calm herself. Her eyes were red and her face was flushed. He hesitated, debating whether he should make a run for it or take out this girl first. Surely one good punch to the face would knock her out and give him enough time for him to escape, right? Just as he was debating this, the girl marched right up to him and slapped him across the cheek with pursed lips.
He was sent crashing down onto the floor, hissing violently like a hydra. For a petite girl, she hit hard! It hurt! She hurt him! She actually hurt him! She dared hurt him, a king! He felt his tender cheek with dazed confusion, glancing up at the girl warily. He opened his mouth to spit at her when she began yelling at him.
“How could you!?” she shrieked again, openly crying now. “I was working on that for months! How could you just up and destroy it!? I put everything I had into it and now it’s ruined! I never should have healed you up or brought you here!”
He paused, processing the information.
If what she said was true, then she wasn’t a scientist working for whoever the bounty hunters had been hired by. He was never caught by those bounty hunters either. This cavern could be something of a safe place, if what she said was true. He was in no danger here, for now. But it seemed he had just made a huge mistake in his frenzied riot.
“Tch!” He picked himself up off the floor, not even bothering to look at her. “Where the hell is the exit to this damn place?”
“Don’t think I’m just going to let you leave,” she said crossly, folding her arms.
“You destroyed something precious to me, so you’re going to help me rebuild it.”
“As if I’m going to listen to you,” he scoffed. “This is below me.”
The girl snapped her fingers, pink eyes narrowed like a snake. Bubble-like purple lights danced at her fingertips and the walls glowed violet for a moment.
“What the hell did you do?”
“I created a magic barrier that prevents anyone from leaving this room. Anyone but me,” she said coolly. “I won’t let you get away with destroying REAN. You’re helping me fix it, whether you like it or not.”
He gritted his teeth, considering whether or not he should just burn this girl right now and make a break for it. Even if she got him before with that slap, he was sure he could overpower her, with his magic or his fists. Putrid black smoke curled up from his hands as he stared her down, holding his head high and puffing out his chest.
“I wouldn’t use any magic if I were you, less you destroy something else and incur more of my wrath,” she said.
The girl snapped her fingers again and he was pushed down to the floor. His breath escaped his chest in a forced cough, causing his lungs to heave. It was like an invisible force or a huge boulder was pinning him down. Was this what it was like to have a mountain crushing you? He couldn’t even move with this damned pressure grinding against his body. That was when he realized what this sensation was.
A variant of spatial magic, gravity magic was one of the easier types to learn, but it was still immensely difficult to master. Very few magicians even showed a talent for it, or could even cast a single spatial magic incantation in the first place. The fact that this girl so easily conjured up a spell of this level with just a flick of her fingers meant she had to be a magical genius or prodigy.
And he was smart enough to know not to go up against someone like that, kingly majesty or not.
“Fine! I’ll help you with your stupid thing or whatever,” he grumbled. The girl released him, turning away from him and walking towards the back of the room. “What even is it, anyway?”
He got up, muttering swear words to himself, and lumbered over to where the girl was. She was standing over a long work table covered in all sorts of bronze gears, wooden planks, strange metal bits, and other miscellaneous parts. At the center of it all was a charred body, falling apart at the seams and cut in two. Its exposed midsection revealed a complex array of machinery and at its chest, a strange orb that was sputtering and blinking.
“A puppet?” He moved in a bit closer for a better look. “A combat puppet,” he said in awe.
Even in its burnt state, he could still see how fine the craftsmanship was. This was one well-made puppet. Its limbs looked sturdy, its chest powerful and refined, and its face stern yet understanding. He hadn’t expected the soft-looking girl next to him to be interested in war machines, but perhaps this could turn out to be good for him. He could exploit this for his own personal gain. A king had to use everything to their advantage after all. Unfortunately, the puppet in front of him looked like a dead body covered in soot.
“Yes,” the girl said stiffly. “This is REAN009, which stands for realistically emulated articulated neo-human, model 9.” She sighed and shoved the puppet to the side, causing a large number of strange puppet parts to drop from the table. “We might be able to scavenge some components from this but otherwise, it’s completely toast.” The boy shifted awkwardly.
She pointed to the wall next to her, which displayed intricate blueprints tacked to a corkboard. The paper was spread across every inch of the board. Some were scribbled over in red ink, others had annotations written in blue or green. As the girl plucked the orb from her puppet’s chest, the boy observed her design.
It was very organized, so he could understand it well enough, but he could already see some details that could use some refining.
“Is this the wood you’re using?” he asked, holding up a piece.
“Yes. It’s violetheart wood.”
“This is no good,” he said, trying to bend it. “It’s too stiff. You’re using it as the internal structure for the limbs? If you want your puppet to be able to move right it needs to be flexible. In fact, I think most of these materials are no good. You need stuff that can mimic the human body.”
“Oh… I was using leftover supplies from people in the village,” the girl said awkwardly. “It would have looked suspicious if I had suddenly asked for a bunch of materials. This project is a secret, so please don’t tell anyone!” she pleaded.
“Who do I have to tell?” the boy snorted. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m stuck here until your stupid puppet is fixed. But we’re doing it right, dammit. A king accepts nothing but perfection. Crap materials like these are worth nothing.” The girl smiled.
“You’re right. I was so worried about getting caught, I completely skimmed over the materials. How foolish of me; I should be embarrassed. From here on out, I’ll have to up my game a little. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
“Hmph. You’re not as stuck-up as you seem.”
“You’re not as savage as I thought, either.”
They smiled at each other, finally coming to an understanding.
“I’m Serena Bly,” the girl said, extending her hand.
“Kakane Beureum,” he replied, shaking it.
“Now, let’s get to work.”