Chapter 22 - Samurai Seeker
Once we were all seated, Thyme leaned forward with his elbows on the table. “I assume you are here about the cyborg we recently captured.”
I let out a relieved sigh. “Then you stopped him. Thank the Creator; he caused quite a bit of trouble at Naidyr.”
“I was not aware that members of the royal guard were at the disposal of the Center of Knowledge.”
“We think the cyborg has been infected by corrupted transversion cells from a recently restored core constructor.” I said. “Given the threat, I offered the Seed my assistance.”
Thyme and Neeko exchanged glances. Again, I wished I could read the expressions behind their clothing.
“If what you say is true,” Thyme said, “Then he is a danger to all Glyche, including your friend. Fortunately, we have him currently locked in stasis.”
“Is there something that can be done to help him?” Jenna asked.
“Corruption Purge.” I said. “If you contact Rimstak-”
“That will be unnecessary.” Thyme said, raising a hand to stay my words. “We have the proper equipment to initate a Corruption Purge.”
“You do?” I said, surprised.
Thyme nodded. “When the Genovis Facility was rediscovered in Wukice, we felt it necessary to be prepared ... just in case.”
“Of course.” I said, nodding. “A wise precaution.”
In truth, it still seemed a little strange; Corruption Purges required very specific equipment that performed a very complicated procedure. Not only was the equipment not cheap, it wasn’t exactly a common procedure.
“Pardon me, Jimmy,” Nikko said, interrupting my thoughts, “but are you aware that your pack is wrggling?”
I glanced down and saw One’s hand sticking out of my clothes, waving frantically. I started to pull him out when I remembered what happened earlier. The last thing I needed was an incident, but if it was One, ignoring him could have even worse consequences.
“Pardon me,” I said, standing, “I need to step outside for a moment.”
Thyme nodded, saying, “Of course.”
I stepped out onto the platform and tugged the One doll out of my pack, murmuring, “Please tell me that’s you, One.”
"“Of course it’s me!” One sounded a little disgruntled, perhaps because he was a little damp from being stuffed in my wet clothes. “Who else would it be?”
“I was hoping you’d know. Someone else used the doll again.”
One’s annoyed expression fell immediately. “Oh. Right. I’d almost forgotten about that; the Elsewhere’s in a bit of chaos right now.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” I said sincerely. “Anything I can do?”
“That depends. You good at tracking tvyrns?”
“I don’t even know what that is.”
“Ah. Well, never mind.” He wrung a tiny bit of water from his shirt. “Still, that kind of thing will eventually take care of itself. This doll thing, on the other hand, is a genuine mystery to me at this point.”
“Are you sure no one else has access to the doll?” I asked.
“Positive. The only people who can reach the room I keep the dolls in are myself and Luck. I’m absolutely sure no one else can get in, and this isn’t the sort of thing I can see her doing.”
“Yeah, there’s one for each member of the Elsewhere. The dolls technically belong to Luck. She loves toys like that.” He blushed. “Actually, I do to, but don’t tell anyone that.”
“Your secret is safe with me.” I said, suppressing a grin. Something suddenly occurred to me. “One, do any of the other Dreamers have dolls of themselves?”
“Well, yeah. Everyone has at least one of their own. I’m positive I’ve got the only other One doll in existence, though.”
“Could they access the doll with another doll?”
“Could they-” One’s fuzzy cheeks went pink. “By the Creator. They use their doll to possess the doll in the private part of the Matinee, then use that doll to possess yours. Damn, that’s sneaky.”
Shaking his head, he said, “Well, at least I know what to look for when I go back. For now, fill me in on what’s been going on.”
I explained the situation quickly, hoping that Thyme wasn’t growing suspicious.
“So he’s being held.” One said, sounding relieved. “Well, that’s a relief. Kinda wish I could stay and chat with the Cleftans, but I’m sure I speak for both of us when I say I’d really like to know who’s been messing with-”
The door to Thyme’s workshop shook violently, as though something or someone had hit it hard. Shouting followed moments later, but I couldn’t make any of it out through the door.
“Sounds like trouble.” One said as he climbed my shoulder
“A moment of peace.” I said as I reached for the door handle, “That’s not too much to ask is it?”
I opened the door to see the workshop in complete disarray; Neeko was stuck in the center of a large cog, Jenna was lying face-down on the ground beside a large hole in the side of the tower, and neither Thyme nor the zelestra was anywhere to be seen.
I hurried to Jenna’s side and helped her to stand, asking, “Are you okay? What in Nocturnes just happened?”
“The zelestra!” She said, holding her torn keikogi closed with one hand while pointing out the window with the other, “Thyme was tinkering with it when it just went haywire! He grabbed it, but it just carried him along as it bashed through the wall!”
It took both of us to tug Neeko out of the cog. No worse for wear, she straightened her clothes, sighing deeply. “Here we go again.”
“This isn’t the first time?” One asked.
“No, and I’d bet a million shards it won’t be the last.” Slapping us on the arms, she said, “Well, come on! Let’s at least try to catch this one before it gets away.”
After a stop by an upended cabinet to fetch some metal-mesh nets, we navigated our way out of the house and hurried down the street. It wasn’t hard to follow the zelestra; it left quite a sizeable trail of chaos in its wake.
We didn’t have to wait long. The zelestra popped out of the chimney of a nearby brick house and zoomed toward us at a frightening speed. After following the rest of my group’s example and quickly diving out of the way, I caught a glimpse of a soot-covered Thyme as he blasted by us.
“Aaaaaagh! Somebody help meeeeeeeeeee!”
The Cleften Meister caught the edge of a passing roof, but it wasn’t enough; it was clear he was barely able to keep the zelestra from ripping him away. It flapped madly in his slowly slipping grip.
I rushed beneath the elder Cleftan and shouted, “Let go! I’ll catch you!”
“No! We can’t just let another one go! It’s not finished yeeeeeaargh!”
The zelestra obviously had some semblance of intelligence; realizing that its burden only had a partial grip, it shot in the opposite direction. Amazingly, Thyme still refused to relinquish his grasp; if anything, he seemed to hold on all the tighter. Neeko made a flying grab for Thyme’s feet as he flew past us yet again. She caught him, but only succeeded in being pulled along with him.
“Damn.” One muttered as it the zelestra carried them both away. “Little thing’s a lot stronger than it looks.”
He glanced up at me, saying, “I might have something that’ll help back at the Elsewhere.”
“Grab it.” I told him. “We’ll try to slow it down.”
It seemed to be heading downwards, through the heart of the city. We followed as best we could; even carrying two people, it seemed faster than us. Fortunately, it also didn’t seem capable of flying in a straight line. Once or twice we caught a glimpse of it, shooting from an alleyway or zipping through a crosswalk.
As we neared the bottom of the city, I caught sight of the zelestra zooming toward the edge of the cliff. With a flying leap, I managed to catch Neeko’s foot with one hand, the edge of a metal fence post with the other.
Still, it wasn’t enough; the zelestra’s pull was more than enough to keep Thyme and Neeko airborne. I managed to slip an arm around the post for better purchase, but even then I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to hold on.
“Let go of the damn thing, Thyme!” I shouted, straining to keep my grip.
“Not again! I’m not losing another prototype!”
Neeko screamed, “I’m not dying for your damn flying ball! Either you let go or I will”
He let go of it instantly. We all slammed against the side of the cliff as the zelestra flew off like an angry fly. After hanging there a few moments, I pulled them up. It wasn’t easy; they were both surprisingly heavy. Fortunately, Jenna appeared at the edge of the fence and helped me haul them away from the cliff.
I collapsed against the side of the fence once we were all back on solid ground. Neeko staggered to a nearby bush, lifted her hood (so we couldn’t see, of course), and was promptly sick in a waste receptacle. Thyme seemed a bit battered, but no worse for wear.
He stared into the depths of the chasm, saying sadly, “I was so sure that one wouldn’t go berserk on me.”
“Yeah, it was a real piece of work all right.” Neeko said as she collapsed beside me.
Jenna sat on my other side, putting a hand on my arm. “You okay, Jimmy? Terra would kill me if something happened to you.”
“Terra?” Neeko asked curiously.
I sighed. “My girlfriend. She went to Wukice to head off Zig.”
Thyme slammed a foot on the ground, making us jump. “Who cares about the cyborg? He’s incarcerated in an stasis pod! My zelestra’s missing! Someone needs to bring it back!”
I could tell what was coming even without Neeko and Thyme immediately looking straight at me. With a groan, I heaved myself off of the ground. “All right, Meister. I’ll try to find-”
I hadn’t even finished my sentence before Thyme was shaking my hand. “Thank you, thank you, Jimmy! I can’t tell you what this means to me!”
“Still, the way that thing moves, it could just fly up and out, right?” Jenna asked.
“It could, but it won’t.” Neeko said. “The large sinkhole this town is built around is a natural convergence point for lifestream energy. We actually power the town with the stuff, leaving the stream generators for the cloaking fields and emergency shielding that keep us separated from the rest of Wenapaj. The land down there has been relatively untouched for thousands of years, and we’re working to keep it that way for future study.”
“The zelestra.” Neeko continued, waving her hand at the misty forest far below us, “is in essence a magical life form. It’ll be attracted to the rich lifestream in the area, just like the others.”
“Just how many others are there?” I asked.
“Thirty-eight. We catch sight of one of them every now and then, but they never sit still for long. It’s almost like they know we’re watching.” Shaking his head, Thyme continued, “They’re useless now that they’ve developed a flock mentality, but if we can get the zelestra that just escaped back quickly, it should still be good enough for my experiments. I actually put a tracer in it this time; it won’t work well with all that stream interference, but it should come in handy.”
Sighing, I stared down into the chasm. I could almost hear Terra’s voice saying, “Oh, no! You are not going to go wandering around in some lost world jungle where Creator knows what could happen to you!”
Still, it wasn’t like the place sounded dangerous. The stream mist was a bit spooky, but it wouldn’t cause any negative effects with the proper preparation. Heck, if I did run into something nasty, the excess stream would only make my streamer skills more powerful.
“Don’t worry, Mister Thyme.” I said, tightening my sash. “We’ll get it back for you.”
“Oh, thank you, sir knight!” Thyme pumped my hand vigorously for a few moments before spinning on his heel and heading back toward his house. “I’m gonna go get a containment field ready. Neeko, you go with them; they’ll need your access to take the elevator down to the basin floor.”
As he hurried away, I asked Neeko, “I hate to ask, but is he part Rimstakken, by any chance?”
“No, but he lived there for quite awhile before coming here.”
“I thought so.” Shaking my head, I said, “Come on. Sooner we grab that thing, the sooner we can get back.”