Greetings, my fellow humans. It is I, your Storm Dragon overlord, with a new chapter! It’s a short one, again, but I had a busy week and this one just defied my attempts at adding more scenes. Maybe it’s the better for it.
But yeah! Tenth chapter milestone! …I have no idea how many chapters this thing will be.
“Stop this immediately!” Lorelei stomped her foot into the metal grating beneath her, staring up at the Gun Ripper, her eyes filled with pure fury and hatred. “You hear me, Axel? That is enough!”
Axel glowered down at Lorelei, the Gun Ripper’s permanent, primal sneer reflecting her own rage. She dug her claws into the floor, scraping across the surface as she stepped closer to Lorelei. She held her head back again, and then roared right in Lorelei’s face.
“…Is your temper tantrum over now?” Lorelei scowled, stepping forward with her fists clenched, trying to seem as intimidating as possible to a woman inside a mechanical monster. “Don’t forget, I’m in charge here! Not you! Get out of that thing now, Axel! I’m not going to allow this disrespect from you!”
Axel roared again, taking a step closer so that Lorelei was standing between her claws. She raised her head and looked forward, distorted growls leaving her robotic throat. The sight of Lorelei made her stomach churn and her blood boil, and the adrenaline pumped into her veins by the Gun Ripper’s bond turned that revulsion into aggression.
She didn’t intend to hurt Lorelei, however. Intimidate, scare within an inch of her life? Yes. But not kill, never to kill. The war had ended long ago and their factions, their nations, no longer existed in the old sense of the words. She didn’t know why Lorelei had to continue fueling the bad blood, but she wasn’t going to cross a real line and become what Lorelei must’ve thought of her in that moment. She did hope that Lorelei would get the message and leave, but she wasn’t optimistic.
“Now,” Lorelei growled, kicking one of the claws. “I’m not going to play this game with you, Axel. I’m sure you think you’re still something special, but you’re not. You’re just as broken and hopeless as the rest of us, so get out of that piece of scrap metal and be a productive member of our group again. Got it?”
Axel turned around and stepped back into the hangar, whipping her head back around and roaring at Lorelei for one last time.
This isn’t over.
She disconnected from the Gun Ripper, her stomach lurching and her spine igniting in fiery pain as the wires pulled out of the implants and the armour was torn away from her body, throwing her off balance. She stumbled forward, catching herself on the helmet’s proper resting place. She took in a deep breath and removed the helmet, setting it down there and stepping outside of the Gun Ripper, her emotions still wrath-filled.
Cirrus was still waiting at the foot of the stairs, and her presence put Axel at ease. Well, as much as could be done when Lorelei still lingered nearby. Axel gave Cirrus a loving smile and then shot Lorelei a nasty one-eyed glare. Placing a hand on Cirrus’ head, she became anchored to reality again, any traces of the Gun Ripper’s spirit fading from her.
Her body ached from the short time spent synced with the Gun Ripper, protesting that she severed the connection so soon. She remembered that she wasn’t supposed to do that, because she risked damaging herself, but with Lorelei there, what could she do except leave? But that rationalization didn’t make it hurt any less.
She looked back at the Gun Ripper longingly, her fingers twitching and the rest of her body tensing. One day, one day soon, you’ll reclaim your rightful place as queen of the machines.
“No, I will not allow it,” Lorelei hissed, having a good idea of what Axel was thinking. She met Axel’s glare with her own. “Don’t you even think about it, Axel! After what happened to you, you haven’t a single cell in your brain left if you seriously consider getting in that godforsaken arena again!”
Axel’s glare intensified, and Lorelei responded by crossing her arms with a petulant huff, an action which reminded Axel more of a teenager than of the elder that Lorelei actually was. Cirrus raised her head to meet Lorelei’s eyes best she could, growling within her throat and scraping her claws against the floor.
“Don’t give me that look,” Lorelei grumbled, pushing Cirrus back with her foot, her leg twitching with the desire to kick the dog in her face. She stepped closer to Axel, pointing a finger in her face. “That damn thing nearly killed you, and I’m not about to let you throw your miserable life away for a stupid game!”
Axel opened her mouth to yell out a furious protest, a speech of how much she hated Lorelei, but instead her throat went aflame with agony, the air knocked out of her like she had been punched. She hacked and coughed, gripping her throat with one hand and trying to massage it, and covering her mouth with the other. Cirrus’s growls turned to whines, and she nudged Axel’s leg with her nose.
“Ugh, look at what a pathetic waste you are right now,” Lorelei wrinkled her face in disgust, looking Axel over from head to toe. “You try so hard to act and look tough, like you’re still some shining beacon of rebellion and hope, but all you accomplish is showing what a weakling you’ve become! The fact that you’re still alive and still thinking those thoughts after what happened to you is baffling and infuriating.”
Would you be happy if I had died instead? Axel wanted to say, but she was grateful she couldn’t actually ask the question. She didn’t want to know what Lorelei’s answer would actually be.
“Now, come back with me, to our little pity party,” Lorelei growled, taking Axel’s wrist and yanking her forward because Axel didn’t attempt to fight back. “We’ve got a job to do, and it requires everyone, even broken things like you.”
Lorelei released Axel’s wrists when the younger woman clenched her fists, and then she spun around to walk away, confident she had won the argument. The people around them returned to their work, but the incident weighed heavily on everyone in ways that varied between the person. It weighed heaviest on Axel.
With Lorelei gone from her sight, Axel turned her attention back to the Gun Ripper.
That woman does not own me.
She placed her hand on one of the talons, stroking the rough metal and thinking about all the work she would have to do to repair the Gun Ripper and restore it to its former glory, such as it was. Lorelei couldn’t stop her, but Axel found she didn’t mind letting Lorelei think she could.
Axel drew in a deep breath, letting the humid air fill her lungs. She let her hand slide off the talon and turned to walk away. Her anger at Lorelei still bubbled underneath the surface, but she had gained a good enough handle on it that it didn’t appear outward. There were better times and places for it.
She stopped at the entrance to the corridor leading out of the Valiance’s small mech base, turning her head to give the mechs one last look. Animals, myth and past. Memories and ideas danced across her vision, coalescing into a singular realization and desire. She couldn’t stay in any part of the Valiance any longer.
That city has to be better than this…
The city wouldn’t be the utopia it appeared to be on the outside, she knew that. The people within would hold a rot inside them, even if a different kind. The people of the cities never liked mech pilots, anyway, and so there were only a select few permitted to stay there. The “special ones”, the ones that had proved themselves useful.
Useful and loyal. Axel thought grimly.
And yet at the same time, Axel found the city and its vices preferable to the day to day life she held here, in the Valiance. There was nothing left for her within the spaceship’s crumbling corridors, only Lorelei’s hate and the indifference of Gage and the aggression of Rip. She’d much rather be bored out of her skull guarding the the city’s entrances if it meant her health would be better than it was now. If it meant she’d be away from Lorelei.
And perhaps, perhaps, she could prove herself “worthy” enough to become a Pathfinder, to march across the Martian landscape and connect the scattered cities. The Valiance had crashed far away from the other colony ships, left on its own without any contact. The only thing the city and the Valiance had found was a decrepit Mars rover, a leftover of the time before the war that ended the Earth.
Axel shook her head and guilt stabbed at her from her thinking, as she walked by the solemn faces of those who did believe in her. She wondered, briefly, if they knew she had begun planning to leave. But what hope could she give them here in a ship that was doomed to collapse upon itself? They’d have to find a new hero.
I can’t be your beacon of hope anymore. I’ll only disappoint you again. I’m sorry.
She didn’t think that was enough. It never would be.
In which Axel decides maybe the solution is to run away from her problems. Because that never goes wrong, right?
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