A month and a half later: we are back in operation! Took long enough, but I'll try to get things back in operations.
The door to the residence hissed open, and a Tenrek walked in, looking annoyed. Behind him, two nervous guards smiled and bowed to the room's inhabitants, and the Soulsteel Alchemical that they were flanking inclined his head. He looked across the sparse room to where Fokuf and Alina were sitting, a Gateway board between them. â€œMaster Fokuf.â€ He turned his head back to Tenrek. â€œWe thank you for your interest, and in the future you are not to approach the dormitories. Good evening.â€ Turning smartly, he marched out. Tenrek made a rude gesture at his back before stalking over to the table and dropping into the chair, his brow furrowed.
Fokuf sighed, turning away from the game. â€œWhat did you do this time?â€
â€œReally.â€ Gesturing to the door, Fokuf let out a chuckle. â€œBecause every time that door opens, I'm growing to expect the whole Soldality to be outside to yell at me about your latest stunt.â€
â€œThey aren't stunts!â€ Tenrek threw up his arms in frustration, rising from the seat. â€œYou might be happy to get all your information from the ruling classes, but I'm not! This whole city is screwed up. Do you know that they impose jobs based on what you did in your previous lives?!â€
â€œMm-hm.â€ Turning back to the game, Fokuf moved a piece. â€œYour move, Alina.â€
â€œThat's it? That's all you have to say? It's slavery, Fokuf! It's... it's past slavery, it's some sin there isn't even a word for!â€
â€œI can see why you're such a hit with the enforcers.â€ Fokuf shook his head. â€œIt's a completely different society, Tenrek. Don't drag our baggage into it. And for the love of the Incarnae, when the locals ask you about our beliefs, don't try to convince them they're real. How much of the city have you been banned from, at this point?â€
Tenrek glared at him, pacing back and forth across the room. â€œI'm not trying to undermine the Machine God. Hell, the Alchemicals have the right ideas about how to behave as Exalts, from what I've seen. They actually work for the people, instead of lording it over them. Half the Exalts in Creation could stand to take a page from their book.â€ He paused. â€œOr their crystal reader, or whatever the hell they use around here. That's not the point.â€
â€œNo, the point is that you don't like enforced classes.â€ Fokuf shrugged. â€œPlenty of those in Creation.â€
â€œEasy for you to say. You were on the top of those classes.â€ Tenrek gestured to Alina. â€œWe weren't.â€
â€œWhen did I get drafted into this argument?â€ Alina raised both hands defensively. â€œI don't have an opinion, alright? I just want Kieran to figure out this whole protocol thing so that we can get on with this.â€
â€œThere, I think we can all agree.â€ The three nodded, although Tenrek still shot an angry look at Fokuf when he thought the former Regent wasn't looking. â€œTwo months is a long time to be doing not very much.â€ Fokuf grinned abruptly. â€œAlthough, Tenrek, I hear that the locals are happier to have you on patrols than they are to have you in town.â€
Tenrek smiled despite himself, nodding. â€œAegis is a good sort, and we've actually managed to clear some tunnels that used to be uninhabitable.â€ He frowned. â€œBeen hearing rumours, though. A few of the outcast folks are willing to approach us, mainly because of me.â€ He gestured at his olive-green skin and hairless face. â€œThey seem to think that if Aegis is travelling with me, she must not want to eradicate them.â€
â€œI thought she didn't want to eradicate them.â€ Alina raised an eyebrow.
â€œWell, no, but...â€ Tenrek sighed again, rubbing his scalp. â€œAutochthonians round up exiled kids, you know? Implant them and take them away. And a lot of camps try to fight that, and then people die. And no one cares, because they're just exiles.â€ His expression was grim. â€œNot all Alchemicals do it. But some do.â€
â€œHarsh. But this is a harsh world right now.â€ Fokuf shook his head slowly. â€œMaybe we can help things improve once Autochthon doesn't need their souls to survive.â€
â€œMaybe.â€ Tenrek turned away quickly, brushing at his face for amoment. â€œThat's not the point, though, not this time. There are stories about Creation and the Primordials filtering through the exiles, out of Yugash. Aegis and I ran into them on our last patrol.â€ He turned back, jaw set. â€œClaiming that Adorjan is going to lead them to salvation and destroy the cities of the Maker.â€
â€œOh, dear.â€ Fokuf sat back thoughtfully. â€œWell, at least we know our Paladin friend is still here.â€ He frowned. â€œI wonder why this hasn't come up in my meetings? I would think that Yugash would be diverting resources to deal with that.â€
Tenrek shrugged. â€œCouldn't say. But we need Kieran to finish up now.â€
â€œI will.â€ The voice came from the door. Kieran stepped through, drooping with exhaustion. Alina stood quickly, stepping over to him and handing him one of the Autochthonians meal biscuts that all four had grown used to, and he took it without comment. â€œWe've finished all the preparations. Two more days, and we should be ready to leave.â€
â€œWell, that's a relief, at least.â€ Fokuf frowned abruptly. â€œWhat aren't you telling us?â€
â€œWell. Reverse-engineering the protocols isn't really possible. Or if it is, I don't know it.â€ Kieran sighed heavily. â€œI'm a thaumaturge, and a good one, but I'm not a sorcerer. So we've sort of been working on an alternative.â€
Everyone was staring at him. Alina's eyes narrowed. â€œHow, exactly?â€
â€œWell, uh, there's this implant...â€ Kieran looked over at the table. â€œOh, look, Gateway. Who's playing black?â€
â€œYou're going to implant unknown magics into yourself?!â€ Fokuf's jaw dropped. â€œYou aren't even an Eclipse, how are you supposed to learn...?â€
â€œMog has a way. I can't learn anything else, but he can give me the means to develop Man-Machine Weavings. I've been practicing the forms and calculations while they work on the implant itself. I can finish working enroute.â€ Kieran raised his hands defensively. â€œLook, it might sound a little weird, but it's just a magitech implant.â€ He paused. â€œA pretty powerful magitech implant, admittedly. Very powerful. But that's all.â€
â€œAre you sure about this?â€ Alina was still frowning, and Kieran nodded heavily.
â€œYeah. It's our only chance, basically, unless you want us to spend a few years try to tutor me in Celestial Circle Sorcery and then hoping I can redesign the spell.â€
â€œGreat.â€ Tenrek sat back, shaking his head. â€œThis mission of ours just keeps getting better.â€