Light in the Storm: Fighting Spirits

((From => Earlier Preparations))

A week later, the sky was cloudy again. The scent of fresh rain was alive in the air, but the dark underbellies of the clouds only threatened for now as they rolled across the sky under a blustery wind. Rogan ignored the breeze whipping at his coat and hair from his perch high on a cluttered rooftop in the middle of the evening cityscape. Dusk was falling and the light was fading; far below, people were leaving shifts from their jobs and heading home, while others were arriving to settle in for the night.

He was just one small shadowed figure, night indistinguishable from the multitude of machine blocks, vents, radio devices and other bits and pieces that filled most of the open roof space on the buildings in this part of the city. There was a busy and active tech industry here in the south west of netopia, but while it might not compare to any of the most notable major hubs of technology and progress across the world, there were far more places here where a building or two conducting their affairs in secrecy would never really risk being picked out of the other up and coming noise.

One such building stood across from his look out, and Rogan studied its mostly darkened windows with a calm eye. If it had just been the task that Varda wished done the job would be simple enough, but his task this evening was substantially more complex and Rogan felt the sharp edge of challenge and excitement running through him in anticipation of the coming night.

“I've found if, sir. It's hard to see, even looking for it, but there's a section of network space here that every sense I have just kind of wants to pass by. It's blank, and nothing passes through it or connects to it.” On his shoulder, Lyntael was also staring across at the building, but her eyes were distant and focused elsewhere. Her voice was serious too, and focused, and... the thought crept in despite itself... without fear, just as was normal for the girl now with him, and so different from memories of similar times in the past. Rogan pushed the thought away; there was no room for distraction tonight. Instead, he nodded briefly, then crouched to begin setting and preparing several of the devices tucked away in his shoulder bag. All of his normal tools were in order, but some of the more delicate equipment that he had prepared just for this outing bore making final checks.

“Good, that's what we were expecting. I've identified the external security points that we'll need to take care of, but you won't be ale to bypass or loop those until I get you access. There will be a few seconds where I'm exposed to their sight, and you'll need to correct that retroactively as soon as you can.” He stood, shouldered his kit and secured the strap, then flexed his left hand a few times to settle the device on it. A complex set of gears and cords ran the length of his forearm on the top and bottom, mostly obscured by his coat sleeve, and he could feel the support strapping securing it to his shoulder, further up. He stepped up to the edge of the roof, one foot on the lip, and raised the arm, aiming upward towards the roof of the dark building opposite him. Rogan glanced at Lyntael as he used his other arm to fine tune his aim and steady it.

“Are you staying there?” Her PET was clipped and secured on his belt now, but the girl had remained on his shoulder, clutching his collar with both hands. She grinned, then looked forward as well.
“You bet I am.” Rogan only shrugged. If she fell it would just mean her hologram would fail, after all. He'd be inserting her within a few moments of arriving anyway. He confirmed his aim and fired the device.

In the fading light, high above where any sane person was looking, a dark shadow flitted across the gap between one building and another, inscribing a flat arc that drew upwards as it closed with the far side. In near silence, Rogan landed with the balls of his feet planted on the cross sections of two of the metal vent dividers that marked this particular floor, with one arm extended upwards anchored to the grapnel; a wrong foot might have punched him through the glass instead, but he was precise in his movements. On his shoulder Lyntael let out a small gasp and laughed to herself.
“That was fantastic!”

Rogan examined the vent openings near his feet for a moment; they were designed to blend in with the external glass window aesthetic of the rest of the building, more or less, and there were indeed actual windows between them at intervals – he took a half-jumping step across two more vents, swinging on the grapnel and reaching down stabilise himself at the edge of one such window before it could swing him back. A brief pause to make sure of his balance, and then a shift to move one foot to hold the narrow window lip instead. His fee hand unclipped his PET and brought it towards the window, extending the probe. Over his shoulder, Lyntael looked at the device, and then past it, to the city streets more than a hundred metres below; he heard her breath catch. A fumble with the device would take her with it, but she didn't speak – only held her breath as he pressed a button, changed a setting and searched gradually until he felt it lock to the metal latch on the other side. Another small movement unlocked it and let him slide the glass pane open with his foot.

A final small jump let him slip in through the open window and land on what revealed itself to be bland lino-print floor covering. With his arm still out the window, Rogan swept the PET across the room and checked it, then set it to begin emulating a link to the first camera it picked up. He set the device down then stood and leaned back out the window; a flick of his arm sent an upward wave rolling towards the top of the cable, and after counting in his head for a moment, Rogan clenched his fist and disengaged the magnetic hold. The cord retracted rapidly as it flipped out from the building itself, and reeled in to his palm with a heavy crack of corded wire and metal parts. On the nearby bench, the light on the probe turned orange and Rogan pressed the command. Lyntael's hologram froze and dissolved from his shoulder as he twisted the device on his arm and unfastened it. The majority of the actual grapnel detached from the support strapping and got tucked back into his bag.

“Lyntael, get the cameras in this room bypassed and then work on looping the rest of this floor.” In his ear, her voice responded in a soft whisper.
“Yes, sir. Working on it.” Rogan reclaimed the PET and looked around the room.

Machine floor. No matter how far things advanced, it was nice to know that some constants would always remain. Any high rise building always had to have a number of these floors at regular intervals throughout their height, for placing various essential building service and maintenance systems, and for maintaining the structural integrity of the building itself. They were such a necessary and constant part of any building that their presence and existence ended up mostly forgotten about. He allowed himself a brief smile. They were often not even recorded on the public elevator systems, and tended to be accessed by shaft or stair instead. How many extremely high security buildings were riddled with layers of protections at every step... and then simply forgot about these eve-present spaces, leaving nothing more than a camera or two monitoring them, forgotten. His eyes glanced to the offending camera in the corner of the room just as Lyntael's voice returned.

“You're clean for this room, sir. Now that I'm here, the space looks... uniform, mostly. Lots of barriers and gates, but all set up efficiently and with a lot of interconnected transits. Data spaces are all isolated from one another, and I can't tell where anything is, at least not here. I think I know where I need to get to, to work out more though.” She sounded calm and collected, so that was good.

“Alright. My entry point to the floor below should be left at the end of the hall outside this room. Get those lines of sight covered, then see about finding out where they're keeping our targets. I'll have work to do, but it should only take me two minutes at most. I'll need you ready to handle more security by that time.” He scanned the room one more time then shouldered his equipment and moved to the door, one hand on the handle and his breath still as he listened. The machine floor would almost certainly be unoccupied at this time, but better safe.

“Working on it... just one more... Route is blind, you're clean.” Rogan nodded, more to himself than to his companion, then pressed the handle and stepped into the hall.
Lyntael grit her teeth, eyes winced shut, as the roughness of the insertion scoured at her, then blinked and drew a breath. She shook herself out and looked around as the light beam receded. A twisting, black and purple star-field greeted her as she turned about in a circle; stretching space with sprays of dark colours through it served as a backdrop for the data space she found herself in, with countless pinpricks of light far distant. If she looked closely, many of them were connected into constellations by faint, distant trace lines of information.

Closer, the space she was in wasn't completely hostile but it did seem a little awkward. She was standing on an immense smooth shape, black glass, or crystal perhaps, that felt like it was floating in the space and rotating slowly. Lyntael took a few steps to the side and skipped lightly over one angled edge of the platform as it twisted – gravity, it seemed, was fixed, even as the platform shifted. A bead of light zigzagged through the crystal under her feet and around one edge, out of sight, and as she looked on more followed, or emerged from different locations. She closed her eyes and listened; terminals, or access points at least, dotted around the drifting prism, and more signals leaving it and coming to it from each end. Rogan has told her it would need to be cameras first, when they were preparing, and that was familiar territory at least. As the crystal rotated slowly, a raised protrusion of crystal spurs curved into sight and Lyntael darted quickly towards it. A few light touches were enough for her to get her bearings within the strange control system. It was probably designed for a specific type of program to operate, she guessed, but it was easy enough to work out.

“Lyntael, get the cameras in this room bypassed and then work on looping the rest of this floor.” From its usual point behind and above her shoulder, Rogan's voice came through in a quiet, serious tone and Lyntael nodded.
“Yes, sir. Working on it.” She felt the urge to whisper, as much as there was no need for her to do so. The data space felt.. not silent, but muffled, and even if she were to shout she knew that her voice wouldn't carry beyond Rogan's ear piece... but whispering still felt appropriate all the same. She shifted another spiked protrusion and drew her fingertip across the display, then back around to where it started. The slow rotation of the platform had already moved the console across the upright arc and Lyntael found herself beginning to lean precariously as she finished off the process. After another moment to double check the outcome she nodded and stood back, then darted back towards stable footing as the crystal protrusion twisted out of sight. Others had emerged, at different points along the structure, but they wouldn't be all she needed to work with. Her eyes cast outward to where other dark black smudges created small voids of dark amongst the star-scape; other systems, locked and isolated, and between them numerous checks and authorisation points. Between each void of black space, she could begin to pick out dozens of thin light lines connecting them to many others, but nothing helped identify anything from where she was.

“You're clean for this room, sir.” Her eyes glanced across the space again. “Now that I'm here, the space looks... uniform, mostly. Lots of barriers and gates, but all set up efficiently and with a lot of interconnected transits. Data spaces are all isolated from one another, and I can't tell where anything is, at least not here. I think I know where I need to get to, to work out more though.” Her eyes fixed on another bubble of void, further off but seemingly more connected than man of the others. She nodded again while Rogan related his next instructions and her mind raced to plan out the steps she'd need to take after that. The danger was that the isolation stopped her from working out if there were any navigators or other programs active in the spaces she'd need to visit. There were none here, in this mostly forgotten about floor of simple security cameras, but the light defences here were the anomaly in an otherwise very well protected network. First things first, though. She moved quickly back across the crystal platform she was on, three other cameras to take care of.

As Lyntael worked at the first one, her mind wandered back to some of the first outings she'd taken with Rogan. Such a similar task, but she'd been so terrified, so nervous about dangers that she'd mostly imagined. It felt good to do the work – though she had to admit, it helped that this time it wasn't something she felt any conflict over. Tonight they were doing something good, and something important.

“Working on it... Just one more...” She answered Rogan as her feet carried her quickly across to the last terminal she'd need. It was already sliding beneath the platform's rotation horizon, but waiting for it to come back around didn't seem like a wise idea. She slide to the ground next to it, gripping onto one of the protrusions, then struggled to hook one leg through and underneath another extended spur of the hard black substance. Hopefully it was sturdier than it looked. She felt her vest an skirt begin to shift as she worked, and held her breath as she let her weight transfer entirely to the knee she was hanging by. Nothing cracked of shifted and she exhaled, then got back to work. It only took a few extra moments before she spoke again.

“Route is blind, you're clean.” Through the display, she double checked her work – a seamlessly empty hall that she knew Rogan would be moving through by this point. Good. That was just the first stage, though, and they had a long night of work ahead. She looked for her next destination as she waited for the crystal to let her climb upright again.

As soon as she could, Lyntael scrambled up then ran to the far end of the platform, to where the crystalline tip served as a branch point towards other systems and internal networks. At least everything was interconnected properly. Two minutes to find the captive navigators, and then to the security on the floor below. She took a long breath then pressed her hand into the glowing light beam that radiated from the crystal's point.
The light took her for a moment or two, along with a sense of quick, redirected movement. When it cleared and her senses recovered, Lyntael only gave herself a moment to look about before darting away from the place she'd arrived and seeking some less visible location.

She was on what looked like a series of four orbiting platforms now; each one was made up of half a dozen long crystal rectangular prisms, intersected to form block stars and large enough to hold dozens of people, probably, on the upward-facing sections alone. She could feel the one she was on moving slowly, gravity turning the flat surface gradually more and more into an incline. The four stars rotated in interlocking patterns, never touching or colliding, but always looking like they were about to, and scattered across them she could see more terminal points and transit spikes that led away to different subsystems.

Despite her increasingly precarious position, Lyntael let out a short breath of relief; there were, at the very least, no other navigators waiting to see her right where she landed. That much was good fortune – the black voids that covered each smaller network from the outside were going to make every transfer she had to make a risk.

Carefully, she moved to keep upright on the section of crystal she'd arrived on while it rotated. Above and to one side, something moved amongst the star-like shapes, and Lyntael ducked low again on instinct as she looked towards it. One long limb, blocky and crystalline like the structures, reached down around the outside of one star point and connected a multi-pronged sew of claws to the transit spike at the tip. The claw spun around swiftly, moving freely on a bearing at the end of the arm, while energy and light grew at the point. A moment later it pulled the hand away and a brighter beam emerged, shooting off towards another system. Lyntael did her best to get a clearer look at the program; it was about half the size of one of the stars, and shaped something like a spider, if she had to call it something. Four long, geometric limbs moved about the structures, supporting the creature as well as interacting with terminals and transits. The top of the creature came together into a series of triangular prisms that vaguely formed the impression of a head, more broad than tall, with a single triangular eye glowing in the centre. As she watched, it gripped onto one extended piece of the star and then rotated the rest of its body around the point, circling around tot he other side of it. A second hand inverted its middle joint to grip a piece of the next star along and again, the whole creature twisted around that contact point, swinging it away, almost out of sight to the far side of the cluster. Lyntael swallowed. So, she had to be quick, but she had to stay out of sight of whatever that creature was – probably a monitoring or management program, but it felt like a fair guess that anomalies like her were exactly the sort of thing it would be able to notice.

She didn't have long. Focus. It was only a few more quick steps to the nearest crystal terminal, and a few moments more let her begin getting to work. She needed to know which transits would connect her to the security systems of a few specific floors, and then... then she had to find out where all of the navigators and other programs they were experimenting on were being kept. A part of her still felt a sick kind of worry about the situation. She understood what they were doing here, to navigators just like her, and getting caught would be a sentence worse than death.

One by one, Lyntael began to identify the points she needed, eyes darting every few moments to find the ponderously moving monitor program. It didn't seem to move quickly at any point, but she'd already seen how deceptively fast it could shift itself around the star cluster, on the length of its limbs. Soon enough, the twisting of the platforms forced her to seek out a different access point, balancing precariously across the smooth glass until she could leap across to a rising section on the next star as her own ledge edged ever further downward. Forty seconds. She kept count as she accessed a new terminal. Rogan would need her at the next security point soon.

Seconds counted down as she slid fingertips across the display and shifted the crystal nodes that surrounded it, until... there. Her eyes scanned the read out. Not holding cells or quarters at all... just a stasis block, compact and small. The girl couldn't stop the repulsed expression that washed across her features; the navigators being tortured wouldn't even get a chance to recover or recuperate between 'tests' – from their perspective, any time between being put away and taken out again simply didn't exist. It was just non-stop torment until they died. She shut the display off and stood back, taking a few quick breaths. That's why they were here. Not any more. Twenty seconds. Her eyes scanned and she picked out the transit she needed to get down to the security floor that Rogan would need her on. Lyntael glanced once more at the massive spider-like program as it moved, then began to run.

Halfway across the inter-weaving cluster of stars, Lyntael landed from another short jump and checked the monitor again, but a sharper sound drew her eyes sharply as she prepared to make the next dash. A flare of light from a nearby spike gave way to the coalescing shape of two humanoid figures and Lyntael's breath caught. She pulled back and away, dropping low to the ground and pressing herself tight to the smooth crystal surface. They weren't looking her way, good. She held her breath and gripped the edge of a nearby terminal harder as the slow rotation of her own ledge began to tilt downward. Two navigators; one in a waist-length black coat and sturdy boots was holding the other navi in front of him, gripping tight to her shoulder. She walked close behind the other navi, and looked like he was leaning in to whisper something in her ear.

The other navi moved with a dazed shuffle, unresisting to the direction he was moving her; Lyntael could make out blond hair that fell to her shoulders in bedraggled locks, and pale skin, ripped white t-shirt and jeans. Her let arm flickered and twitched, as the bare skin was replaced with broken code ends and visual error warnings every few moments. Lyntael grit her teeth. He was leading her back towards the stasis block. She wanted to act; leap out and knock that one-sided grin off the smirking navi's face... ten seconds. There was a mission. She was coming back for them all, soon. Despite her affirmation, Lyntael winced and closed her eyes, looking away as the pair disappeared in another flash of light. She climbed up and broke into a dash of her own. Soon, they'd get them all out soon. She reached her own transit and plunged her hand into the light.
Rogan moved swiftly through the empty hall; the near silence was a comfortable backdrop to his focus and for once he wasn't hindered by thoughts of the tension between him and his navi. The past week of preparation had been working towards a goal they both wished to pursue, and it had been a balm to the other difficulties.

His measured steps paused at the end of the open corridor and he ducked into the room on his right. Amongst the many elements kept tucked away in high rise machine floors was the cycling system for water. In this particular case, his first task involved shutting off the water pressure to the floor below him. He tugged at his gloves and reached back towards his bag, but paused – his eyes found the necessary tools propped up against the valve board already. Lazy convenience was a wonderful thing. A few twists with tools well worn from this exact kind of maintenance was all it took to let him shift the necessary valves across; along with water, he blocked off the other fire-protection valves and fail-safes, then replaced the tools with a careful eye, leaving them propped up in careless fashion, just as he'd found them. The other end of the room held a door marked with numerous safety icons – most official, several drawn on in humorous comic style by bored maintenance workers. Rogan made his way towards it.

Beyond, a set of tightly twisting stairs led downward, until the exited into a much smaller cleaning and access closet, on the floor below. Beyond the opposite door, security systems would be much more aggressive, but he wasn't heading there yet. His eyes scanned upwards, to the access point for the floor's air ducts. Somehow, it always ended up coming back to this, one way or another.

This time, it had to be said, there was a little more to the process. He didn't have too far to travel, but as he pulled himself into the cramped space, Rogan extended the probe on his PET and scanned it forward; small sensors, positioned at each junction, ostensibly for monitoring the temperature of the air flow, but on these particular floors, they served another purpose. The probe blinked and after a few moments its standby light shut off. Heat readings beyond a certain threshold would start alerts in security, as well as maintenance, as would bypassing the system as a whole or turning it off altogether. Rogan shuffled through the vent until he reached the next junction and manipulated his probe around it towards the next scanner. Fortunately, a loophole of convenience existed – an individual scanner having an isolated power failure wouldn't trigger a larger alarm, just an inspection request. The string of them wouldn't be noticed until long after they were done. He moved forward.

Soon enough, Rogan arrived at a grill that looked down into a computer lab. Windows on two walls were shaded, but looked out onto the city below, while three individuals worked at different points in the room. Unfortunate for them. With careful movements, he reached back into his bag and retrieved another device. This one was about half a foot long and only a couple of inches thick, and Rogna set it down against the edge of the grate opposite him and pressed its contacts into place until they gripped. It was a tool that was at once a bit crude, and also fairly sophisticated at the same time... but in a world where the rights of sentient AIs were being expanded, and their person-hood progressively more affirmed, tools like this were thought of by some as being tantamount to explosives and other weapons of destruction. Rogan aligned the necessary components and clicked them into place, then began configuring the timer. Once it began to tick, he retrieved the case containing a fresh set of earplugs.

In the room below, one of the individuals working at her screen stretched and blinked a few times, then rolled her shoulders. She glanced out the windows, then moved to stand. A moment later, a wave of dizziness blurred her vision and she settled back into her seat. Across from her, her colleague hunched over his desk and lifted one hand towards his head with a wince. The dizziness got worse until her vision became indistinct splotches and she slumped to one side against the edge of the desk.

A grate in the corner of the room lifted away and a man in a long coat dropped into the space in near silence. He moved to begin searching each of the unconscious individuals.

“Set up loops on the halls, the inward facing rooms, and the other three corner rooms on this floor. After that, I need you to make sure this card will open any door on the floor below us. If it won't let me know.” Rogan took an ID card from one of the unconscious people as he searched and held it briefly up to his own device. Creating his own authentication was straight forward enough, but if it wasn't necessary, then it was time he could save. Once he was sure he had found every piece of data storage on the 'researchers' in the room, he took one sweep around the room making sure every computer terminal was turned on.

“Yes, sir. I may need to be more careful myself. I saw another navigator in the central administrative system. He was escorting one of the test navis back to where they're holding them. I don't know where he will go next, though, and I can't tell if anyone is in any subnet before I get there." Lyntael's voice was calm and serious, and Rogan felt sure he could hear a hint of anger underneath it, but worried thoughts sprang up. Fitzpatrick's navi always seemed to keep an eye on the places where the worst tests were being done, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he was here... but... Rogan shook his head. No, if it had been Vigilance, Lyntael wouldn't be calm, and she certainly wouldn't have said that it was just 'another navi'. She'd have reacted. It couldn't have been that one. He schooled his thoughts.

“Alright. Avoid being seen at any cost, regardless of who it is. You can't subdue other navis without them being able to report back immediately, so as soon as you are seen, we will be on a very short clock to get out.” He continued to work as he spoke; just because the data was about to be destroyed, didn't mean he couldn't take his own copy of the information, after all, and he couldn't leave the current lab until Lyntael was ready with the security. Lyntael's affirmative was followed a short while later by her clearance for the cameras and Rogan moved to the door.

He found only a few more scientists on the floor, prowling swiftly from room to room with methodical precision. Most he was able to put down quietly and with minimal fuss, save one who fancied himself a fighter for an extra handful of seconds. One by one, each of the corner labs got their own data destructive present and a quick scan for useful information, before Rogan ended up at the northern most internal room. The interior was dark, but rows of shelves and racks revealed back up drives, and rows of physical data copies; somewhere, there was always paperwork. It was the work of only a minute to thread the room with a chained series of small incendiary charges and hook them into another timer. He looked over the room again from the doorway. They'd checked; this storage contained only back ups of research results. There were no navigator programs isolated on any of these drives. It was a thought he had never considered, in the many years of his career before now, and a part of him was keenly aware that he had destroyed a lot of data just like this, without concerning himself about such things. The scale of the thought made even what they were doing tonight feel like a token gesture, in a way, but it was a feeling he hadn't voiced to Lyntael. Token or not, it mattered for the ones they were going to get out.

“Sir, that ID card should open everything you need on the floor below, no issues. I've taken care of the facial recognition scanners down there as well, so you should be clean for another... five minutes... now.” Lyntael's voice shook him from his thoughts.
“Understood. No sign of any other navigators?”
“No, sir. I'm going to head towards the stasis blocks, where they're keeping the other navis, now. I think the transit there will break the emulation, so you'll need to follow me manually to stay in contact.” Rogan turned away from the rigged room and closed the door behind him, heading towards the stairs down. Lyntael didn't even sound concerned by the proposition. How had they ended up at a situation where he was more worried about the dangers of their work than she was? The thought of leaving her completely alone in this place had been enough to almost make him deny the whole job, when they'd been planning... but here they were. He spoke as he reached the stairs.

“Alright. There's one main task for the floor below, and then we'll be finished. Three minutes, and then I'll be setting up the transfer space. Don't be late, Lyntael, the timers are on and they will not stretch for delays.” He forced the shudder of worry down behind his mask and focused on the job, taking the stairs down two at a time.
Lyntael felt her senses clear as the light of the transit faded and looked around. Unlike the first security subnet she'd arrived in, this space felt more connected, more organised, and more active. A set of eight black crystal structures, each a long multi-sided prism long enough to hold a dozen people, orbited a central disc where she stood. The disc bore a series of ten tall protrusions, each an access terminal of some sort, in the alien style of the network, and four of them had navigators standing in front of them. Lyntael froze, eyes darting as she held her breath, but none of the figures turned or moved. Seconds counted in her head; she had to move. Breathless, she took a step, and then another, towards one of the terminals furthest from any of the other programs. They were each facing outwards, towards the orbiting crystals, and after a moment, Lyntael began to notice details. Each navigator stood almost rigid, hands outstretched towards their respective consoles, but unmoving. Instead, small light beads jumps and sparked back and forth between their hands and the controls, while, beyond, signals flashed back and forth between the outer prisms, or away to other subnets.

Silent steps took her to a console and she turned her head to look at it. Still no reactions. Were they that absorbed in their jobs? Her gaze turned to the side, looking towards the nearest navigator from the corner of her eye and Lyntael bit back a small gasp. Up closer, it became clear why none of them had responded yet. The figure two terminals across from her looked like a navigator, certainly, and had the remnants of personal unique elements – they had tan skin and curly black hair, and were dressed in branded sneakers, track pants and a loose sweat shirt with the symbol of a music group on it... but whoever they had been before this was overwritten with cracks that glinted faintly across their form. The remnants of a shattered emblem remained visible in the centre of their chest, surrounded by broken shards of fractured code, and the front of their head was a swirling vortex of flashing currents and signals, scarred around the edges where it met ruined skin. The navi's fingers twitched and flickered as they worked at whatever task the were set to, but that was all.

Lyntael winced, clenching her teeth, then tore her eyes away again and reached towards the console she needed. She wanted to reach out, say something, find out if they were still alive, or still able to communicate, but it was too dangerous. If interfering with any of them, or drawing their attention, alerted anyone, they'd all be in trouble. There wasn't anything she could do. She closed her eyes and swallowed, willing away the distress, and got to work.

She had to handle the cameras for the floor Rogan was moving to, and after that, he'd be heading down further, and if she'd understood the system correctly, she'd need a different subnet for that. The former navigators here, whatever they'd been turned into, were doing something but she didn't have time to work out what, or the luxury of disturbing them.

“Lyntael, I need the monitoring for computer lab eighty-two fourteen taken care of.” Rogan's voice behind her made the girl start but she collected herself and took a careful breath, steadying her voice.

“Working on it, sir. Ready.” She whispered as she finished excluding the live data and replacing it, but even though Rogan responded a moment later, Lyntael didn't register his words. The moment she confirmed the bypass, one of the navigators around the circle staggered a half step back from their console and let out a sound like broken static and pain. Lyntael spun about, her skin starting to crackle, but the navigator didn't seem to be aware of her. Instead, it threw its head back, gripping at the sides of it with both hands, and shrieking again. Just like the one near her, this navi still bore the trappings of a previous life – a bodysuit that looked like it might pass as swim wear, with small fins at several points, long red hair and a long, scaled tail seemingly shorn short at a rough angle. Fractures and scars marked this one too, and in places the physical body seemed to fail entirely, leaving gaping breaks that fell into unrendered void.

None of the other navigators reacted, but this one clawed at its face again – a gaping hole surrounded by ruined flesh, just like the others. A projection of light expanded from the gap, throwing up a large image of a computer lab with three humans working in it as the navigator dropped to one knee with its back arched and rigid.

Lyntael felt her heart wrench even as panic and fear made her feel sick. She didn't know what to do. The others hadn't reacted, nothing had reacted... but... The sound repeated, more pain than static this time and Lyntael moved without thinking. Her steps crossed the floor as she rushed to the other navi, and slid down to kneel in front of them. She had to help, surely, but how. This close, she could hear the distorted static sound in between the louder emanations she could only think of as screams now. There were words in it, and Lyntael pressed her hands to her mouth as she picked them out.

“End, end it, please, any end, please, end it, end it, end it, please, anything, end it,” on and on, a murmur between the cries.
“I... I can't, I don't...” Lyntael spoke through her hands, eyes wide as the words slipped out before any thought of the danger caught up to them. The figure's head twisted slightly towards her, and it moved. Both hands reached up, grabbing onto one of hers and pulling it close. Before she could pull away, the figure drew her hand towards the damaged hole in its chest and pushed it in, moving its own body up and onto her hand as it did. The whisper sounded louder, and clearer for a moment.

“Please, please make it end. Please end it. No more, no more, it has to end.” Lyntael couldn't move; shock and horror held her still as she felt a discordant jolt of energy around her hand, like a current that her own charge repulsed and interrupted. Her strikers glowed and hummed before the other navi's form shuddered and convulsed, sparks jumping across from its fingertips to sink into her wrist as it griped tight. A feeling of something, brief and fleeting flooded her senses.

A long pool stretched before her and the cool of its water embraced her in a sudden rush as she dived in. Butterfly today; each stroke felt natural and comfortable, even if she'd always thought it was, empirically the silliest of all strokes. Her tail was sort of cheating, but it pushed Phillipa harder to beat the times... she still felt a little guilty as it swished back and forth as an instinctive part of her motion, lending her speed through the water. In bare moments, it seemed, she landed with both hands on the edge of the far end.
“Do we really have to do this today? I hate butterfly...” Phillipa's voice, already out of breath, pouted in her ear and she opened a view screen to grin at her operator. Despite her complaint, the girl had started her next lap after the comment, and she waited for her to pause again.

“You know what your coach said. Get you laps done, and then we can play.”
“I know, I know. My arms need the work anyway.” There was a soft resignation to it, in good humour, and she smiled before closing the window and kicking off again.

Lyntael half fell, half staggered backwards as her senses cleared. Across from her, the navigator... SeaSpray... crumpled to the ground as the flickering lights darting through her core sputtered and failed. Within moments the remains of her body began to disintegrate into fragmented data while Lyntael could only stare. Her hands shook as she shuffled back a few paces before trying to pick herself up. Raw horror at the first hand contact with the things Rogan had told her about left her numb. How could anyone... why would anyone...

Nothing else had changed in the chamber. Barely a second or two had passed, even though the brief flash of... memory... had felt longer. Lyntael could feel herself panting, heavy breaths and she swallowed again. No time for horror, no time for despair. She returned to the console she'd been using and began to check that nothing else had been alerted.

“Set up loops on the halls, the inward facing rooms, and the other three corner rooms on this floor.” Rogan's voice continued as though he'd already been speaking to her. He had, only moments before, she realised, but she couldn't remember what he'd said exactly. “After that, I need you to make sure this card will open any door on the floor below us. If it won't let me know.” Her hands were still shaking. She nodded, swallowed, then responded, looking at the ID image he showed her as she did.

“Yes, sir.” She paused, mouth open to speak, but words didn't come right away, and she reached for something else to say instead. “I may need to be more careful myself. I saw another navigator in the central administrative system. He was escorting one of the test navis back to where they're holding them. I don't know where he will go next, though, and I can't tell if anyone is in any subnet before I get there.” The idea of trying to tell Rogan about what she'd just seen, now, in the middle of everything, didn't seem right. She couldn't. Instead, she focused on the new tasks he'd given her. She listened to his other cautions, but they washed over her without any real engagement.

“Yes, sir.” As she moved to begin working on the task, her eyes were drawn back across the circle to the three remaining navigators, a dawning anxiety contorting her features. She knew, now, they were each connected to one of the four main labs on this floor, and bypassing the monitoring systems also cut them out of the loop, and their assigned job, whatever it was. It was what had given SeaSpray a chance to speak, and... Lyntael clenched her fists and grit her teeth. She was glad they were putting an end to this dark business. “Working on it now, sir.”
Lyntael forced herself to keep working. Her hands wanted to shake, but she fought to keep them steady while sparks began to dance in her hair and snap between her finger tips. There weren't any words in her mind to grapple with the feeling of horror, disgust and despair, or with the knowledge that doing her own job would mean the end of the three remaining programs in the space with her. It wasn't fair, and it wasn't right, and there was no other option.

So, she worked, jaw clenched tight. One by one, she locked out and re-routed the systems for each corner lab into controlled cycles, and one by one the other programs staggered away from their positions and fell. The second one collapsed, writhing and screaming in near-silent static and Lyntael turned from her console to catch them. It was precious seconds they couldn't spare, but even if these navigators had really died long ago, the idea of turning her back on these last moments wasn't one she could even consider. They were already fragmenting and as she held the program, fingers sinking into the broken voids in their form, more shattered fragments of past memories assaulted her.

He was grinning as he dashed and skated between high-speed signals and information lanes; the gaps were narrow, and the pace would push even the speediest of navis, but he was PaperBoy, and he lived for this. The postings in his clip were for his operator's newsgroup, but his mind was racing with plans for the coming afternoon – an evening to himself to work on his screenplay, and it was just getting to a good bit. It was shaping up to be a good day.

Lyntael gasped, chest heaving as the fragment passed, and watched the remaining ruined data crumble. By the time she set his body down, there was little left and she dragged herself back to another terminal, teeth clenched and breathing hard.

Moments later, it was happening again; each time she was quicker than the last, despite the increasing glow of sparks beginning to dance across her skin. The third tried to keep working as they fell back from their console, fingers twitching at empty air until Lyntael took hold of their hands and brought them together; she felt their core fail as the body arched and clutched at her, and the fleeting fragments passed through her.

NightSkip knew she was always a bad influence on her operator, but the thrill of free climbing in cities at night was a habit she could never kick. She felt the gleeful whop of joy escape her as she grabbed the top of the spire's lightning rod and kicked away. The rush of gravity suspended for precious moments as her body arced in the air, and then she was falling towards the ground. A sense of calm freedom flooded her as she fell through the dark night, speckled with city lights all around. Soon she'd release her wireshots and catch her fall, but for a few still seconds there was nothing in the universe but her.

Lyntael felt the other navi's body relax and go still, collapsing into her hold from its arched tension. It lasted only a moment before NightSkip's body was already breaking apart the rest of the way. Lyntael felt her fingers clench and grasp through the dissolving data fragments, her other feelings giving way to the bubbling anger that rose up through her and set violent light caustics flickering across her skin. She stood again and forced herself back to work. Almost done, for this dark, unfathomable work at least.

As she finished with the final lab, the last figure in the data space with her wavered, its hands dropping to its sides before it slumped to the ground, more like a doll with its strings cut, than a person released. Lyntael was there, regardless, reaching out to catch as they toppled over to one side, limp. This navi didn't respond; no screams, no pleading – just an empty shell with no further function. Lyntael whispered, then spoke; she heard herself ask questions, seeking any kind of reaction, but nothing responded. From within the broken elements of their body, the erratic energy pulses from their core stuttered and flickered. There was nothing else left to do. Carefully she reached into broken gap, then closed her eyes and interrupted the cycle.

One of the most advanced navis ever commissioned by the company that made them, and what did they end up doing? Accounting. SunCrest looked over the complicated spreadsheet one more time and shook their head. It was a living, perhaps, but it wasn't really living either. They often wondered what it would be like having a dedicated operator to spend time with, rather than being everyone's... and no-one's. It wasn't like they could do anything about it, though. They sighed. The taxes weren't going to do themselves.

Lyntael lay the body down gently; the last flickers of energy faded, but their body lingered for several more seconds before the inevitable breakdown began to set in. Her form crackled with sparks, as she fought down the fury. It hadn't been 'real' before this, but now... the anger made her want to break everything in this entire network and she pushed it back. Fighting the emotion helped – the anger left no room for the mass of other feelings underneath. She strode to one of the other terminals and checked her work then drew a long breath and let it out slowly.

“You're clear for the floor, sir. The remaining labs are dealt with.” Now was not the time to talk about any of this. They had work to do. Her eyes burned and she scrubbed at them, then looked towards the other exit transits from this subnet. She knew where she needed to go next; her eyes found a particular dark sphere of opaque mass amongst the space-like backdrop. A few moments later, the circular disc and its orbiting crystals were truly deserted.
As Lyntael arrived at her next destination, her eyes flicked across the space before her. Echoes of familiarity told her what to expect in advance and she knew, now, not to expect any other navigators roaming or working in this place. At least, none besides those who had already passed the point of usefulness in testing and had their broken and converted shells put to work. She felt sick, but the anger kept it from getting the better of her. This space was operated by another large monitor program, but it was fit to purpose with exacting precision, and lacked any external awareness of its space, beyond what it needed to function – as long as she didn't walk straight into it, it wouldn't know she was here, or report her presence. She swallowed and took a breath, clenching and flexing her fingers as she fought to stay calm. Thinking about where the new knowledge came from wasn't helpful, but using it to free others was the best thing she could do for them now.

The space itself was more enclosed than some of the other subnets. A complex geometric jigsaw puzzle of blocks and protrusions constructed entirely out of right angles. The same dark crystal substance, shot through with flickers of light and current, for the most part. At regular intervals, in the middle of each cubic segment and on each side of the blocks that protruded more visibly, there were circular valves that protected access points for dozens of different subroutines. The lower floor that this space controlled was tighter, and there was more to their security than just visual feeds, here.

A heavy series of metallic thuds, distantly in the background before, now started to draw closer and Lyntael darted quickly across the open space in a different direction. Markings on the floor created the treads of large footprints, with lines and arrows in between, but she ignored them; she knew where she was going and, unlike the monitor, she didn't need to follow a defined path. Instead, the girl turned and started to clamber upwards, one sneaker in the handle of a valve in front of her as she pulled herself into the top of a protruding block and turned back to leap towards one higher up.

The heavy footsteps stopped and Lyntael glanced down to see a huge shape, blocky and robotic itself, directly below. It had a distantly humanoid limb structure – two legs and two arms – though the proportions were off. The legs were short and think, while the arms were twice as long. In place of a head, the program bore a bank of four screens that pointed in different directions, each bearing readouts of scrolling data. It bent slightly, gripping the handle of a valve near the ground and twisted. The valve pulled out to reveal a cylinder filled with a bright blue glow, and the monitor moved its front-facing screen down towards it. Lyntael swung herself up onto the block she was climbing and looked about to get her bearings and counted the squares across from one corner. Over there.

Below her, the larger program pulled the cylindrical tube out entirely, gripping it with its other hand, then stood upright and twisted its torso around to face back the way it had come. Its arms reached up and fitted the removed valve into a different socket, pushing it in with a hiss and a crystalline click that echoed. As Lyntael arrived at the one she was seeking, she glanced down at the program. Without knowing what she knew now, she would have been very worried about being seen by it. For all the detailed information that Rogan gathered in advance for his own needs, it occurred other just how little intel she often seemed to end up going into these situations with. She put the thought aside and gripped at the handle on the valve in front of her.

It was obviously made to be pushed and moved by the larger program. Lyntael grit her teeth, bracing one foot to the panel as she strained to twist it into the release position. Sparks scattered to the crystal as she growled in the back of her throat with the effort. Eventually it shifted, turning and clicking into the new position with a hiss, as Lyntael herself gave a short cry of effort. It was a good thing there was no-one else around to hear her. She shifted her grip and began to pull outward instead. The valve was heavy, but at least it slid in its socket easily enough once the seal was disengaged. It was another moment before she had the thing open enough to work at, and she set to quickly, listening all the while for the return of the monitor.

With a few taps, she located the details for the card Rogan had shown her; it was good for most things, but not... well, it was easy enough to fix at least. Clearance updates were supposed to be run through a separate routine but, given how the database was set up, it would be easier to cut that step out and just redirect the references to... Understanding that she had no business having helped, and Lyntael drew on it without thinking. The navis that had been destroyed and assimilated into parts of this system could help give the monsters one more sucker punch. Done. She nodded to herself then moved to put a shoulder behind the end of the exposed valve and shove it closed again. Struggling to get it sealed would take time she didn't have, but closed up would do, probably. Next target.

It took three more heavy valves scattered around the space she was in, but a surety guided Lyntael's steps and determined anger lent swiftness to her work. The monitor plodded around, checking different systems and ordering subroutines, but its ponderous steps and lack of actual senses made it easy to avoid. Just looping the visual security wasn't enough here; the facial recognition software they were using would throw up alarms if it began to generate a repeating pattern, but it also opened up a different solution, when she had the access she did. Even so, Lyntael was sweating by the time she shoved the last valve closed again. She wondered if they'd designed it this way specifically to make it difficult for human-form navigators. No time to complain about that.

“Sir, that ID card should open everything you need on the floor below, no issues. I've taken care of the facial recognition scanners down there as well, so you should be clean for another,” she counted in her head, lining up the time she'd set. “Five minutes... now.”
“Understood. No sign of any other navigators?” Rogan's voice sounded distracted, and Lyntael found herself thinking about the other navigator she'd seen earlier. He had to be a guest to the system, probably belonging to someone important, since they didn't use any regular navi staff here. He'd been grinning as he'd taken that other navi back to the stasis block. Lyntael felt her anger surge and she squeezed her fists tight for a moment.
“No, sir.” She began to move towards the area transit, climbing down quickly. “I'm going to head towards the stasis blocks, where they're keeping the other navis, now. I think the transit there will break the emulation, so you'll need to follow me manually to stay in contact.” The stasis blocks had extra isolation measures in place, but she'd made sure nothing would affect her once she was there, and once she started getting navis out of their individual containments, she could trigger a full release of the other restrictions easily enough. She wasn't worried. Rogan cautioned her anyway.

“Alright. There's one main task for the floor below, and then we'll be finished. Three minutes, and then I'll be setting up the transfer space. Don't be late, Lyntael, the timers are on and they will not stretch for delays.” Lyntael nodded, though she didn't respond directly. It would be a bad idea for anyone to be around when the pulses went off. She moved quickly, counting in her head.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, Rogan paused, pulling out an overcoat that matched one he'd recorded employees here wearing and beginning to make small, quick changes to his appearance. Just enough to pass by at no more than a glance; it wouldn't fool anyone for more than a few moments, but those few moments were all it took to walk past someone in a hall without trouble, usually.

The lower floor would have more people on it, but most would be security. Fortunately, this wasn't Yumland again – it relied on hiding itself amongst the hundreds of other less than above-board operations and cut-corner tech businesses that swarmed in the poorly regulated south west of Netopia, carving out just a couple of floors of space in a high-rise dedicated to over a dozen other similar-looking mini corporations.

His own research had turned up the location as one of several they used to gather and run initial 'tests' on their new 'acquisitions' – ones that were selected for specific projects would be transferred to more deeply secure sites after a certain amount of work had been done on them here, including preliminary resistance tests and... and what he now recognised as will-breaking measures. It also served as a means of more securely cutting ties between the programs they took, and their owners and operators; finding a single program in this place would make seeking a needle in hay seem like the more appealing task.

Rogan rolled his shoulders and reached for the handle, listening for a moment before pushing it open and striding into the hall with a worn but focused expression as he scanned through notes on a slim data pad. Time wasn't on his side, but fortune was as a currently empty hall greeted him. He moved with quick strides – not rushing, but with somewhere to be. The layout of the lower floor was more complex, but he'd prepared a separate device for it, and one would do for the floor, with the right settings and positioning. There wouldn't have been time to handle each individual minilab on this floor, let alone each terminal within, but data destruction was, in many ways, easier than retrieval. He turned to the right and worked his way in towards the centre of the floor. A man in a black flak jacket patrolled the other way, but the guard didn't pay him any heed as Rogan brushed past, absorbed in his 'notes'.

One room on this floor was specifically shielded in a number of ways – it was where their most sensitive data was kept and where the highest priority experiments, at least for this facility, were conducted. The pulse wouldn't hit that room, but that would work to their advantage, considering their other goals tonight. He glanced towards the secured lab door as he turned the last corner; two guards lounged nearby, and didn't respond as he stopped at a different door before reaching them and flashed his stolen ID card across the scanner. The small screen registered the card and gave a green flash, but the text that accompanied it made his eyebrows jump up – despite the ID match displaying the image of the woman he'd taken it from, the acknowledgement greeted 'Lance Fitzpatrick'. Rogan pushed into the room before his expression got the better of him. Lyntael's work, he supposed... that was certainly one way to do it. She'd only told him that the ID was good, not that she'd changed anything, but it worked for now and that was all that mattered.

The mini lab on the inside was a pokey, closed in space housing six computer terminals tightly packed together, with a whiteboard at the opposite end of the room. Rogan clocked the three working employees as he let the door close behind him and reached for his earplugs. One looked up towards him, then back to her work as he stopped by the nearest terminal and set his shoulder bag down in the gap between the screens. The others didn't even look his way. He checked the timer on his PET, then pressed the button; in silence, the other three reacted briefly, reaching for temples or ears, or trying to stand, before they each slumped into unconsciousness.

Rogan opened his shoulder bag and retrieved the most complicated piece of equipment he'd brought with him tonight. It was more powerful than the other devices he'd set up, but even so, its pulse wouldn't penetrate the divisions between the floors of the building, or the shielding on the central lab. It would do for anything else on the floor though. He'd considered going for the incendiary option all the way through, but new considerations had forced his hand here; there was no time to manually search each terminal and each internal network space tied to the physical devices, and the employees might have navigators of their own. It was unlikely, and the facility itself didn't employ any, but it was a risk he was no longer willing to take; indeed, Lyntael had already reported that there was at least one guest navi roaming the network for some reason. That worried him still, but there was no time to fret about it before it became a problem. The pulse would destroy data, and it would break most of the hardware that it was stored on... but personal terminals were better protected, and any navigators on any affected networks should be ejected back to their PETs by their emergency systems before being destroyed.

He finished setting up the device and synced up the timer with the others. Only a few minutes left. Time to make the rendezvous point secure. Rogan shouldered his now much lighter bag and turned to the door, leaving the device blinking softly to itself between the computers.

It was only a short walk down the hall towards the secured lab in the centre, but Rogan felt himself counting the seconds. There was only one place they could extract the number of navigators that were being kept here, and only one time when they could do it without leaving some sign that they hadn't simply been destroyed. It was a narrow window.

With a distantly tired sigh, Rogan gave the guards at the door a short nod that didn't look up from his notes. He waved his ID card across the door and waited for the chime. As the lock disengaged and he pushed the door open, a hand reached out to grab his wrist. One of the guards was looking at him, and the small approved image on the access screen.

“You don't really look like Haley, and you sure aren't mister Fitzpatrick. I think we should—” There was no time for delicacy. Rogan twisted his hand and gripped the other man's wrist, then wrenched forward and down sharply as he lifted his other knee to meet the man's jaw at a practiced angle. The other guard reacted, but too slowly. Rogan's momentum swung back the other way as he put his foot down and drove his other elbow hard into the second guard's midsection, then reached over with his now free hand to deliver a knuckle-first strike to the back of his skull.

Rogan muttered a curse to himself as the pair went down hard and he reached to catch each of their arms. He dragged the pair into the room along with him, then hurriedly checked that they were at least breathing stably. As the door lock resealed itself behind him, Rogan scanned the room and thanked the small mercy that there didn't seem to be any scientists in here right now. He looked for a space to set up and get to work.

The room itself had many of the same features of the other labs – work terminals, open spaces for storage and several whiteboards with hand-scribbled notes on them, ranging from equations, to test outcomes, to personal messages traded back and forth about day to day things. One of the things that was quite different was the strange set of apparatus that stood in one corner of the room with about a metre of clear space around it. It was a rectangular frame, about eight feet tall and about five on each side. Inside, a skeleton of thin metal rods fitted with light projectors bore a vaguely humanoid shape, though it seemed to have enough structure to support a dozen 'limbs' if that was the idea. A nest of other cables and tools were retracted in a cluster at the top of the frame, and at several points on the sides. Rogan wasn't sure what kind of device it was, or what it was for, in this situation, but his mind made some uncharitable suggestions. Physical torture was easier to conduct up close and hands on, after all. International bans on certain technological advancements likely wouldn't stop anyone working in a lab like this. He shook his head and turned away from it.

As much as the pulses wouldn't get through the shielding on this lab space, it required a little more finesse regardless. Rogan's eyes flicked briefly to the long black box beside him now as he connected it up. A heavily protected high density unit; there were twenty seven navigators that they knew of currently on site here, and while the quarters wouldn't be comfortable, it would do to get them out without a trail to follow, at least until they could be brought anonymously to the GNA or to other sanctuaries. Lyntael had made it clear she wanted to help as many of them find and reconnect with their previous operators as possible, but Rogan didn't rate her chances of finding much success there; it was one of the first ties they made very sure to sever as irretrievably as possible, when they took new test subjects. There was no harm in letting her try though, he'd been wrong before.

The screen in front of him began to give up its secrets a last, and Rogan started to feed the lab net the code that would take care of the rest of the surrounding machines and their related non-physical storage. It would begin to ravage the network and lead the physical devices to write themselves into oblivion at the same time as the rest of their countdown. Which only left... He glanced toward the black drive again and began creating a data conduit where one didn't belong.

“Lyntael, update. It's almost time and everything is in place here.”
“We're on our way, sir!” She sounded out of breath now, but her simple answer gave him some small relief. Almost clear. He looked at the screen of his PET and began tracking to find his temporarily disconnected navigator.


Elsewhere, another navigator stepped out of an internal transit beam, onto a circular black disc of crystal, surrounded by eight other prisms, slowly orbiting it. Sturdy boots made no sound and the long coat, over dark green clothes, obscured much of his whipish form, but Vigilance grumbled to himself, muttering to break the silence.

It was a pleasant enough distraction, and fun in its way, but it didn't measure up. None of them did, any more. Nothing that had been his normal amusement had felt satisfying, no matter how he tried. Not since Yumland, and that utter waste of such magnificence. He'd even sought out similar girls – in form or in fight – to amuse himself with, since, but it never satisfied for long, and afterwards... he always ended up here, muttering to himself about all the ways it wasn't the same. The bloody whore had ruined him, that's what she'd done. He was never going to find a toy that exquisite again, and everything else felt hollow and second rate after it. No amount of taking his frustration out on suitable targets seemed to help. His mind always came back to that damn perfect little bitch. He'd even told her that she looked too young, and too slight for his tastes, and he'd thought so at the time, but now... now he damn well couldn't find himself wanting anything else. It was infuriating.

Halfway across the platform, Vigilance stopped, freezing still as something tickled at his awareness and made him look around properly. He was alone. This network was empty. Actually empty. Where were the parsers? There should have been four of them here. He opened a channel.

“Might be delayed getting back from this check-in, boss. Got a problem here that they don't seem to have noticed.” He listened to the voice on the other end for a moment or two. “Nah, I'll handle it. I could do with something to cut up anyway. Give me a standard load in, just in case... Probably another escape, but I think I want to get my hands dirty tonight.” Another pause for confirmation and he rolled his eyes at Lance's snide, superior remarks. Insufferable git. “Yeah, no problem, boss. I'll let you know when it's cleaned up.” The line closed and Vigilance turned back towards the transit he'd arrived from. Maybe the night would provide some fun after all.
It took several short jumps through different subnet paths before Lyntael found her way to the isolation block, where the navigators that were being imprisoned and tortured here were being held. She landed from the last transit at a running pace, before sliding to a halt as the space came into sight properly.

The block itself was made of the same black crystal flooring, but the light flickers shining through it were dense and bright. The space was a large circle, with a single control system in the open central space. Around the edges, stacked three high, a series of ten cells ringed the platform, each with an intricate crystal lattice for walls and a clear front. Power hummed across the surfaces and external walls of the cells, glowing a dim purple, while inside most of them Lyntael could see the shapes of navigators frozen in a timeless stasis. Her fists clenched as she looked at the sight, sparks scattering from her hair, but after a moment she diverted her attention to the console. Focus; she could be angry and work at the same time. Sneakered footsteps dashed across to the central controls and Lyntael began to release the seals.

What had once been a vague understanding of what she would need to do had been solidified by memory fragments of things witnessed in his very room and she worked quickly, but it was still several long-feeling seconds before the first cell powered down and the shape within lurched to motion. The figure that leaned against the cell's frame looked like a young boy, dressed like some kind of comic book super hero. He wavered, leaning on the now open frame and looked about with an obvious dread that swiftly became confusion as he met Lyntael's eyes. As he stumbled forward, the boy lurched slightly and hunched over, gripping at his body. His form glitched before stabilising, all save his right arm that looked as though it was trying to transform in a dozen different ways. Black crystal bands glowed at several points along the limb, seemingly holding it in check. He recovered after a moment and looked up at her again.

“Who... What is this...? I don't want to keep playing your...” his voice broke into a brief gasp of pain. “Your dumb games.” Lyntael fought down the urge to rush across to him and kept working instead, moving to the next cell along.

“You won't. We're getting you all out, now, tonight. Stay close, but I've got to work, we don't have long.” The boy just watched her, cautious and untrusting, but a flicker of hope joined the confusion on his features and he nodded. The next cell shut off; it was a quick process, but it was still taking too long. They had nearly thirty navis contained here, and... she grit her teeth... she couldn't trip the release on the whole system from here, like she'd thought. The final fail-safe didn't route through the stasis block itself at all, in the end. She had to work faster. Two more cells, and more navigators making their way out. She did her best to call out to them as they awoke, but there wasn't time to reassure anyone properly. Time counted down in her head. Another one open. Some of the navigators that emerged tried to lash out, while others tried to get their attention and calm them. Others seemed far less responsive, and had to be coaxed from their cells. They couldn't all travel at full speed. Lyntael felt her frustration rising alongside the anger and her skin began to dance and crackle with light. Too many variables.

A loud tone sounded through the cell block and a wash of purple light shifted to a pulsing red. An alarm. The console switched into a secure access mode and Lyntael drew her hands back for a second, making sense of it. No. No, no no.... there was no time for this. She heard herself growl under her breath as some of the free navigators looked towards her. Voices eager to go, terrified of being recaptured, desperate and confused. The screen frizzed for a moment as she gripped the edges of it. She didn't have time for any of this! Frustration reached into her fury as Lyntael felt her charge rise in response and she grasped it. Her strikers glowed and her skin danced as the energy swelled and she reached out her senses to the subnet itself.

Distantly, she felt the other navigators drawing back from her as sparks of electricity fell and scattered off her body and her fingers dug in against the crystal console. More. She drew deeper, embracing her charge and pushing it into the system as her strikers glowed brighter and brighter. The hot ache of it filling her, coursing through her body, was a moment of welcome sensation to channel the rage she felt and she willed it further, hotter, harsher. The screen shorted out and the flow of dense energy through the black crystal surfaces grew more erratic. Lyntael pushed further, drawing more energy as the cycle of her charge answered, pulsing out and rebuilding stronger each beat. Each ebb and flow swelled larger than the last, starting to scour at her but Lyntael turned her eyes towards the flickering patterns across the data space. She could take it, if it meant destroying everything here. Her grit teeth parted enough to become a growing sound of effort that the girl was only partially aware of. Sparks rolled off her body in its own natural attempt to stabilise, but she instinctively drew the energy fall-off back in to herself and redirected it through her strikers, into the subnet structure. The burn began to hurt, her eyes stung, but she drew deeper.

The warning alarm flickered. Lights coursing through the floor faltered and grew erratic and the steady glow on the stasis cells began to crackle. Lyntael heard her voice become a snarled shout and felt it as, around her, elements began to short and burst. Electrical sparks exploded from the barrier around one cell, then another, then another in an increasing cascade of failures. With a final shower of sparks and a reverberating static explosion the space fell dark. Lyntael threw her head back, arms coming free and stretching wide as they clutched at empty air and trailing bolts of lighting arced into the air above her and grounded themselves on the upper elements of the broken cells. Her shout trailed off into a series of shorter vocal gasps as she fought to pull herself back from the raging storm that wanted to keep going further and further. Focused through was difficult, but one thing that remained was urgency. She had to pull it back, calm down, focus. She couldn't lose control here.

Scared voices brought her back to the present moment. The scent of electrical burns and ozone filled the space. A light source drifted into the air from another navigator – a small blue star of light that bathed the area, guided aloft by a slender woman with long blond hair in a now-ragged dress that glittered. The light revealed a collection of navis now, gradually trying to make their way down from various cells and helping each other stand. Looks of fear caught Lyntael's eye – some of them were directed at her. Worry about that later. She nodded her thanks to the blue lady and tried to address the small crowd through panted breaths.

“I... hahhh... Sorry. There's no time. We need... hahh... we need to go. Now. I'm not leaving anyone behind. If there are some here, who can't walk or run, help them. We are all getting out of this, now, tonight. Hahhh... but we have to go, quickly. They'll know something's up. I've got a way out, just follow me.” Her body was still crackling with sparks, and the burn in her limbs was only slowly receding as she caught her breath. Many of the navigators still seemed hesitant to come any closer. She closed her eyes and tried to will the sparks away with another long breath. “Please, I just want to help.” Their hesitation only lasted another moment or two longer before the gravity of the situation seemed to get through to several of the navis. Others seemed in a much worse state, either physically or mentally, but swiftly enough the group began to galvanise themselves and gather up to move. Lyntael nodded and let herself breath a small sigh of relief. It took her an extra moment to bring the transit back online, to get them out of the damaged subnet, but she'd needed to reconfigure where it could take them anyway. She stepped through once it was ready, and the others followed.
The distance towards the place where Rogan could collect them became a hurried dash through subnets in an increasing degree of activity and uproar. Lyntael found herself taking the lead through most of it, threading between different scanning programs and, now that speed was more important than stealth, even moving to disable several of them instead of waiting. Just as often, however, she had to dash back between transitions to ensure that everyone was keeping up. Several of the navis couldn't move well, in their damaged, crippled conditions, or were too overwhelmed by the situation, or too scared, and more than once she found herself hurriedly crouching by another navi that had drawn in on themselves and refused to move, talking as gently as she could in her hurry to get them going again.

Her memory said that she herself had frozen like this at times, from fear and anxiety, but she thrust it away into the pile of other things that didn't make sense; false memories, mistaken memories – she wasn't like that. There wasn't time for it anyway. She'd given Rogan extra time to get out again, but the charges would go off before that, and they wouldn't leave much of anything here in this network space.

It was only a matter of seconds, though it felt like much longer, before Lyntael reached the last transit and took a moment to reconfigure it so they could get through.

“Lyntael, update. It's almost time and everything is in place here.” Rogan's voice over her shoulder was a reassurance that calmed some of her immediate nerves, despite his serious tone.
“We're on our way, sir!” They were almost there. The connection locked in, permitting them access to the sealed subnet and Lyntael gestured to her followers before darting through.

She brought the group into a broad space, filled with narrow corridors formed by tall crystal structures. This was it. She waited by the transit until they were all through then rushed towards the other end of the space, where the stacks gave way to an open space.

“We're here, sir. Now.” As she spoke, a pale yellow gateway phased into sight, its light pulsing with some uneven flickers but connected and present all the same. She looked toward the navis moving with her. “Go, quickly, through there!” She gestured, hurrying the programs through as they began to disappear one by one.

Sudden movement flickered at the edge of her vision and Lyntael moved on instinct. A figure shot from between the tall stacks, aimed to cut off the escaping procession and Lyntael met them just ahead of the line. She felt another body strike hers and her skin burst with crackling sparks at the sharp slice of a blade cutting across the top of her arm. The figure skipped back a few paces and Lyntael felt herself slip into a fighting stance. It was the other navi she'd seen, the one in the coat with the crooked smile. Silver knives flashed across his fingers as she took him in.

Behind her, Lyntael heard the sounds of distress, short screams and cries of worry. She glanced over her shoulder.

“Keep going, I'll handle this! Please, hurry!” As she looked back towards the other navigator, she grit her teeth and let her charge build to a crackling glow. He was looking at her, taking in every detail, but what had first been a confident, vicious grin shifted.

“I don't believe it...” His smile went from cold to almost joyous, excitement even, she couldn't place it. He seemed almost agitated suddenly, spinning his knives like he couldn't hold still. “It's you... little Lyntael, how is it you..? Never thought I'd get to see you again...” It was an expression of something she might almost call wonderment. Behind her, she heard Rogan's voice cut in, urgent, desperate... panicked even.

“Lyntael! Run, get away from him, now! You have to run!” The words didn't sound like Rogan, especially not during a mission, and as the remaining navigators continued to rush through the gate she looked back towards the navi in green watching her – he was focused on her so completely that he seemed to have forgotten his original quarry entirely. That was good. She called out to hold his attention.

“Look, I don't know who you are or why you're defending this disguising business, but we're leaving, and you are not going to stop us.” She let her charge build, listening to the small pulses of navigators escaping through the gate. Almost done.

The other navi's shoulders slumped,the boyish excitement deflating as she spoke. She saw his expression drop into one of disappointed apathy, and his eyes... There is was, again. Those eyes, looking at her like they were seeing someone else. Staring through her, like she was a ghost. Why him? Why now?

“You ain't her... Damnit. You ain't her.” The words slapped her in the face and Lyntael felt a spike of anger tear up through her determination. He knew! Somehow, this random navigator knew the same thing that everyone was keeping from her. Did the whole world know whatever it was? There he was, staring at her, just like the rest of them, looking at her like that, again!

“How do you know my name!? What do you know!? Tell me!!” A scatter of electricity rolled off her body as she shouted across the space to him, but the other navigator took a long breath and licked his lips, considering her. The smile returned, creeping up one side of his face and he nodded.

“Well, I guess that means we get to do this fresh again, from the start. That's a blessing in itself, isn't it? You look like you want to dance, little Lyntael... so come on, let's dance... there's so much I can teach you, all over again...” His knives spun across his fingers.

“Lyntael, you have to leave, now! You cannot interact with—”
“Shut up!!” She snapped the words back at Rogan's voice, then lunged towards the green-clad navi. He moved with her, taking a step back and then fading into mist before her first strike landed. She felt him reappear behind her and she twisted; a knife lashed out but she ducked low, trying to sweep her leg back to knock him down instead.

“Lyntael, Please! There's no—”
“Shut up!! If you won't tell me, maybe he will!” He was quick, but as she kept up a press of rapid attacks, strikers flaring at each sweep and swing, the other navi seemed to keep mostly defensive. He was smiling, almost laughing, and it infuriated her. “Tell me what you know!!” She manged to land a kick at his midsection and watched as it drove him backwards several steps. The electricity dissipated as it ate through a protective shell about him. He began to circle her, watching for an opening, and she tracked with the movement.

“No fear this time...? You're a lot angrier than you were, little Lyntael... guess that makes sense, though, right? Heh...” Something about this navigator itched at her; something that made her think of cold steel against her back. She shook it off. All around them, sudden flares of light began to erupt across the subnet. Lyntael barely registered it, but the other navi looked up for a moment as small explosions became a spreading corruption that started to eat the space; crystals cracked and the lighting they provided began to flicker and falter. Lyntael pressed his distraction, extending one hand to unleash a flaring arc of lightning that tore across the ground and attempting to blast the other navi. He pulled his coat across him, shielding from the blast and seemed to disappear again, but this time he reappeared further off, to a different side, still looking at the collapsing data space. She didn't care.

“What's you boss gone and done now, huh? Shit. Going to have to take you in and quickly, no time to play.” The data stacks were crumbling away, and precious little of the space remained as the other navi launched himself towards her.

“Lyntael, I'm reconnecting your—” She shut out Rogan's voice with a shriek of frustration.
“You know what happened! You know what happened, tell me!!” A force of bursting electricity seemed to catch and then rebuff the other navi, his assault tearing into her own defences but no further before erratic, uncontrolled bolts began to arc out from her in every direction.

As she shouted, a shock-wave ripped through what remained of the data space, tearing away the fragments that were left and scattering them. Across from her, the other navi winced, uttering a curse as the destructive wave hit him and a beam of light pulled him from the space. It hit Lyntael a moment later and she felt her body flung into empty space as her consciousness scattered away into darkness.
Rogan bit back a curse as his grip on the PET made the plastic creak. His mind reeled, trying to process the past handful of seconds and all that had happened in them. Why hadn't she run? Why hadn't she followed? A part of him knew why, but wasn't ready to deal with that. His heart hammered hard and his breath had quickened, well beyond the normal sharp-edged focus of his usual working attitude. He looked at the screen again, checking through vain hope for a different response. He hadn't gotten her. He'd tried to reform the link between her and the PET – he'd thought it had connected – but she wasn't there. She wasn't there. An empty dread was rapidly consuming his other thoughts; he couldn't lose her again, not like this, not after everything.

A voice from the hallway snapped him out of his stupor. There was no time to worry about it yet. He checked the status of the slim black storage device and slipped it back into his bag. At least he had to finish what they'd started. Less than two minutes to be out and away. Rogan retrieved his earplugs and the world slipped into silence.

As he opened the door and pressed the button, the extended probe on his PET flashed a confirming light and the faint sensation of vibrations running through the floor became a more pronounced series of impacts. Running feet became tumbling bodies and he waited an extra few seconds before stepping out. There weren't too many guards, and with luck most of them had been called to the conspicuous absence of the ones he'd already handled. He counted four more armoured forms in the hall, along with two more casually dressed employees as he strode quickly past them and headed back toward the stairs up.

It had been Vigilance after all. Rogan's thoughts raced as he passed through the halls, eyes darting for new threats. He shouldn't have been surprised to find Lance's navigator checking in on his holdings even though the man himself was still a continent away. Lyntael hadn't recognised him. It had to be part of the things she didn't remember, but the girl he was getting to know now never backed away from a conflict, and without knowing him, she hadn't shown any hesitation. He'd tried to warn her, but... His mind replayed the way she'd shouted at him, blamed him for not telling her more. How much of her staying behind had been his fault?

He reached the stairs a moment later and began to climb them two at a time. With one hand, he reached back and retrieved the grapnel from his bag, then pushed back the sleeve of his coat to begin clipping it back into place and reattaching the support straps. She'd realised there were things she didn't know, and he'd tried, as hard as he could, to convince her that it was for the best that she didn't pry at it, but Lyntael hadn't been content to let it slide. He knew that, but what could he have done? Eric had been adamant that if the girl she was now recalled whatever remained of the imprinted echo of the girl that had come before, it would be dangerous, potentially destructive, for her psyche. What could he do but keep it a secret?

Fire. The incendiaries on the upper floor had started and the play of light from creeping fires were beginning to flicker across the halls already. He'd left the fire suppression systems in the other labs online, and all the personnel that he'd taken care of were in those rooms – they'd be safe. The halls, less so. He began to run. The transfer of the other navis had gone smoothly, and he'd locked that down as soon as they were all safe. There had been time to re-link Lyntael to her PET, before the full destruction of the subnet; it should have retrieved her safely when the space collapsed, but... but she wasn't there. Had she been fighting it? Was that something a navigator could do? She could operate most of the PET's systems on her own, and even leave, if she wanted to... She'd not been happy about him insisting that she not do that any more but as far as he knew she'd done as he asked. He hadn't asked, another treacherous part of his mind jabbed – he'd ordered. The girl's shouts from only moments ago had made it very clear that he didn't actually have that right.

Rogan diverted around a section of hall that was too far ablaze to pass, and found a slightly clearer passage that he could make a hurried leap past. An evacuation alarm began to sound – he could hear the thrum of it reverberating through the air. Almost there. Smoke filled his senses and he lifted one corner of his coat across his face as he ran. Maintenance room; stairs. Soon he began to outpace the climbing smoke and returned to the empty machine floor above. The same room, the same window. The data spaces would have been destroyed and collapsed, but that didn't necessarily mean... navigators would have been jacked out when their emergency systems tripped, but that was because of the failure of the space, not necessarily because they were damaged. He hadn't managed to pull her back, but that didn't mean that she would have been destroyed with the rest of the space. Not necessarily. He paused at the lip of the window, looking back the way he'd come one last time, then reached out, aimed and fired the grapnel.


Rogan was panting for breath as he crouched in the dark of a different rooftop, a few minutes later. Far below, the sound of a siren joined the other night time city sounds. He shut it out and connected his PET to the secured drive. A murmur of several voices met him before one spoke up above the rest.

“Is someone there? What's going on? The lady that was helping us, where is she?” Rogan winced.
“Her name is Lyntael. And I don't know. We're getting you to safety, this is a rescue, but you might be a bit cramped for a little longer. I'm sorry. Are any of you in immediate danger, or need of emergency recovery?” The voices rose and argued again briefly before coming to another consensus.

“We're all... stable, I think. For now. Some of us are pretty bad, but... but none of us want to go back into any kind of stasis right now, even for that. What's going to happen?” The question set off another chain of calls and shouts across the line – navis asking after other names; navigators and operators alike. Rogan tried to sort out the clamour and focused on what Lyntael had insisted upon.

“We're going to get you all looked after, and then we're going to do our best to get those of you that we can back to any operators or other family you might have. It may not be possible, but if we can't do that, and for those of you who don't have any ties, then we're going to make sure you're looked after until you can get on your feet again – either with the GNA, or with one of the other hidden sanctuaries that exist. We're going to make sure you're safe and protected in case any of their agents come looking.” There was another clamour of voices against this worry, but a blinking notification caught Rogan's eye as he studied his PET. Its navi link was badly extenuated and in danger of being lost. His breath caught and his heart lurched. It still had a link. Where to? He tried to answer the worried voices, but callous or not they moved suddenly to his second priority.

“We don't think they will. We made sure of that, somewhat, but even if they do, you'll be hidden from them, I promise... but... I need you all to hold tight for a little longer... I have to find Lyntael first. Just wait, please.” He closed off their channel before any more objections could be raised and trend his focus over to the link diagnostic instead. It was frayed and tenuous; the link itself wasn't clearly locked, but was flickering between multiple high-percentage matches in the same place. She was probably hurt. Rogan tried to calm his breathing, fighting back a resurgence of panic, and alone in the dark, he hurried to trace the signal.

Lyntael felt herself drift. It was a distantly familiar sense; she'd been here before, somewhere between defined spaces, on her way somewhere without really knowing where. Echoes of the anger she'd felt made the peaceful moment discordant. She'd shouted at Rogan again... but he hadn't backed her up when she'd needed him to. Now... what...? She wasn't sure where she was falling to now, but a sensation flickered at the edge of her awareness. Something that felt familiar. Her unconscious mind focused on the strange feeling.

Gradually, her senses returned, only to find darkness. The feeling of damaged panels under her fingers; it felt like grass, for a moment, but then it faded again, back to unformed, blank panels. The girl began to push herself up, and look around; it was a dim space, barely enough light to see by, but the shapes around her made it look like a ruined, forgotten landscape of broken parts. Smaller points of light flickered or flashed in different places – sections of structure that remained partially intact, or damaged code pieces that frayed and faltered. The ground beneath her glitched, trying to hold to whatever state it had once been programmed to but only managing it part of the time, while above her the sky was dark, and shot through with occasional forking flares of erratic energy. The air was still, and aside from the occasional spark or crack of broken structures, the space was mostly quiet.

“Rogan...?” Lyntael's fists clenched as she looked around, turning in a slow circle to check her surroundings further. No answer; of course he wasn't here. The thought crept in with a bitterness that she hadn't expected. She was always alone when it mattered, after all. Even when Rogan gave her a chance to have friends, they always left her hanging, left her wondering if she'd done or said something wrong. She closed her eyes and concentrated. There was still a link – faintly but there, though she couldn't sense a direction to it. Where was she, anyway?

She tried again to determined which way she should go to meet up with Rogan, but the link was too distorted. It felt like it connected in several different directions, but the strongest of them felt like it was here, close even, while another felt fainter, and another felt like the barest of threads still clinging on. Wherever this network was, there were probably native viruses everywhere, and it seemed like it was probably deep down and dangerous. One way or another she had to find a way out. Lyntael looked around again, rubbing at her arms as she did. Without any further clues to go on, she began to move towards the strongest sensation she could feel.

Rogan would be looking for her, even if he wasn't here now. When she found him, he was going to tell her everything, no more excuses. He could look at her with those distant, pain-hiding eyes for all she cared, just as long as he actually told her the truth this time. She'd had enough of playing nice about it, and letting him deflect her. She walked, slowly picking her way through the broken wreckage of whatever network she'd found herself in, for several minutes until a faint glow of light caught her attention, moving between the ruins as well. She was heading towards it, and it was coming towards her as well, and Lyntael slowed further, beginning to move with more caution, preparing herself for danger.

When the figure came into sight, Lyntael stopped. Her chest clenched tight as her fingers curled into fists and she stared forward. She felt a tremble in her hands and a spike of anger thrust forward. She heard herself shouting as her mind scrambled to process what she was seeing.

“Who are you!? What are you? Why do you look like that!? Tell me!!”
Rogan knew he should get further away – at least get off this roof top right beside the site of his work – but there wasn't time to relocate. Finding Lyntael was more important right now, the only thing that mattered in this moment, if he was honest with himself. Even so, there wasn't great deal that he was actually doing; mostly it relied on the PET's own systems for tracking to a network location for its linked navi, while all he could do was try to keep it on track as it traced the anomalous reading.

As the device zeroed in on the strange reading, Rogan felt a tight grimace crease his lips. Undernet location. Falling through the cracks into the forgotten wastelands that their modern net was built on... that made it all the more urgent, especially if she was injured. He felt uncomfortably helpless in the moments when there was nothing to input, but he didn't dare divert his attention.

At last, the location locked in and the view on his screen began trying to resolve. The display flickered as it did, and the navi diagnostics pushed their way onto the screen with a warning. It showed him Lyntael's details, but they shifted and changed; injured, then not, critically wounded, then not, She was angry, furious; she was confused, scared. It showed him mental rhythms, overlaid and contradicting. Three signals, but the PET was trying to claim they were all the correct link, and trying to show him them all at once. He couldn't make sense of it.

Rogan pushed the screens away and tried to bring it back to the net view to work out what was going on, and his eyes widened. His grip on the PET grew stiff as he stared at the two figures on the screen. Both of them were Lyntael, facing each other amidst the dark wreckage of the undernet, and Rogan couldn't make himself act at all for the frozen moment that he took them both in. One was tense, broad stance, fists clenched... angry, like Lyntael often was these days.

The other... The other looked almost identical to her. Almost every detail was the same, in every way; the same slight girl, just on the leading edge of puberty, looking too young and small to be in the danger she was always in. She had the same spiky yellow hair and the same vibrant green eyes. She was dressed the same, too – the same short yellow skirt, the simply buckle-front vest, and... Rogan felt the painful ache in his chest sear – she was barefoot, just like she had always preferred to be, before. Unlike the Lyntael standing across from her, this girl moved in a more painfully familiar way; more hesitant and uncertain, with an expression that looked lost and unsure, more than anything else.

Time seemed to hold still as he took in every detail; everything from the girl he remembered, and every painful way he'd been noticing that she was different from the girl he was trying to save now. His PET thought they were both her. Who was he trying to save? His eyes were drawn to the lost girl's emblem. Lyntael's emblem rested on her chest, a slightly raised identifier that nestled about where a necklace or pendant might sit. On the lost girl, it was shattered. The outer ring remained, hemmed with jagged edges of glass-like shards and showing charred, ruined skin underneath. What should he do? Rogan couldn't think. They were both there, but... his eyes looked at the way the device was identifying both girls. The extension was different on the lost girl. What did that mean?

For a moment, Lyntael... flickered. One moment, she was the girl he had failed, every bit the twin sister to the angry Lyntael across from her. The next, her form shifted, glitching, giving way to frightful details that made Rogan lean back from the screen in sudden involuntary horror. It was gone again a moment later, but it happened again, fuzzing and flickering across her all at once or in bits and pieces.

Her clothing flickered away, leaving parts of her exposed, or it shifted to appear torn and ragged. Beneath, the most gruesome detail that tore his gaze towards it was a large, bleeding stab wound, just beneath her left nipple. Trails of blood tracked from it, like it was fresh, still bleeding in the brief moments it was present. Blood and tears flickered into sight across her face; damaged eyes, burned and scarred like some horrendous tortured mask, and a lower lip that was bitten and torn.

He caught glimpses of scorched electrical burns, weeping blood, all around the girl's wrists and ankles, just like her eyes, as well as numerous other cuts and slices across her body – one over her mid-section, another across her other breast, and a deep stab on her thigh that Rogan's mind supplied the memory of seeing happen. There were broad trails of blood covering much of her inner thighs, more than just that wound, and in a moment when her skirt became torn and her undergarments flickered away, it became uncomfortably clear where they originated. Rogan lifted his eyes, trying to gasp a clean breath of air. He fought the need to retch, tasting bile.

Each flicker seemed to make Lyntael stumble. Her eyes went from lost and confused to a blank, sightless stare, dazed, and she faltered, staggering for the moment it took the flicker to pass. Rogan's fingers clutched at the device, but his mind felt blank. He didn't know what to do. What should he do? He tried to find his voice, but his throat was tight and dry.

“Lyntael... I—” Both girls reacted, their heads lifting up sharply to the sound of his voice. He saw the lost girl's eyes go wide with sudden hope.

“Rogan? Rogan I'm here, it's me! Please, I'm here!” He couldn't have said which girl it came from if he'd just been listening... except he knew that wasn't true. His mind replayed the cries he'd heard played to him from Lance, and further back, the worry, trust and dependence she'd always shown him, that he'd refused to see. He felt frozen as shock let the device slip from his fingers.

Lyntael felt herself recoil as the other girl stumbled forward, and her form flickered to show the horrendous damage it bore. Something echoed in the back of her psyche, some dark, yawning familiarity that she couldn't place and didn't want to. She took a step forward again, slipping back into a stance and raising her fists; the figure hadn't answered her challenge, but that just meant it was probably some kind of trap. Something in the back of her mind whispered that she knew it wasn't, but she smothered it with the anger at everything else. It didn't matter. For another moment, the other girl's form returned to looking normal and healthy, and their eyes met. Green eyes, just like hers, and in them confusion and uncertainty. Lyntael grit her teeth about to call out again, when another sound snapped her attention away.

“Lyntael, I—” Rogan's voice sounded hoarse and dry, but her head whipped up at the sound of it nearby. Not quite over her shoulder, where it normally was, but somewhere close all the same. It hadn't come from the other girl's position, had it? The insidious thought crept in but she dashed it away; no, that much she was sure of, it hadn't... but somewhere between them wasn't much more reassuring. Across from her, the other girl had reacted too, standing upright and looking about with sudden desperation.

“Rogan? Rogan I'm here, it's me! Please, I'm here!” As she called out, Lyntael flinched. It was her voice; lost and worried, but definitely hers. She wasn't – surely he wouldn't think...? Lyntael growled under her breath and then hurried to answer the voice as well.

“I'm here, sir. I'm alright. I think this is the undernet. What am I seeing here, Rogan... what is this?” Now that she was paying attention, she could feel the connection back to her PET properly, and the nearness of the emulation point; Rogan had caught up to her, and it felt close enough that it became indistinct; he could just pull her out from here at any point now, surely. Surely there couldn't be any confusion for him – she was the one connected, after all. As she waited, her eyes returned to the other girl.

Her body wavered and flickered again, showing the uncomfortable injuries along with momentary indecency; what kind of mimicry was that detailed, though? As she spoke to Rogan, the girl's eyes had gone wider and her mouth had started to work, silently seeking words without finding them. She started to shake her head, hurt and disbelief waxing in those familiar eyes as she stared at her. Why hadn't Rogan answered, now that he was here?


Fleeting fragments of thought and sensation, eroding slowly in darkness; it felt like it had gone on forever as she tried to hold herself together and push forward, seeking some way out. Lyntael couldn't have said how long she'd searched; she was tired, hungry, in pain and lost, and she could feel herself blacking out, or losing moments, but she wasn't going to give up. Details about anything recent never came to her mind; her thoughts were too spaced out, but she knew she'd been hurt, and they'd been separated. She had to find a way out. A new sensation reached her; something familiar. She moved towards it.

At some point, she began to take in more of her surroundings; broken network ends, ruined data structures and flickering tails of forgotten code, all beneath a dark sky that crackled with erratic flashes of energy. She was down deep, wherever she was; it was a more coherent thought than she'd had in... she had no way of knowing how long. The pain became more real as well, as she moved forward. Any time she tried to look at herself it seemed fine, but she ached, everywhere. Her wrists and ankles, her chest, her middle, her... she tried not to think about it and pressed forward. Echoes of injuries some part of her knew were there, even if she couldn't see them. Something had happened, something bad, and she could feel it. There had been a mission...

A light, through the darkness drew her attention and she tried to hurry towards it. A mission, and it had gone well, but then it had gone badly. She'd been... captured. Hurt. But Rogan was coming; he was going to save her from it. A spike of fresh pain cut through her and she winced, then took a breath and pushed forward again. That was what she was feeling. That sensation; it was a signal, it was him. She stepped around a tall piece of ruin and the source of the faint yellow glow came into view. Lyntael took another step forward, trying to make sense of what she was seeing; it looked like her. She blinked and stumbled, then caught herself. The other Lyntael shouted at her, calling out to her in her own voice. The pain from injuries she could feel but not see flashed across her body again. What was going on?

Rogan's voice cut through her other thoughts and she lifted her head. She hadn't heard his voice in so long, but it was him; it was really him. She'd made it back after all. She called out, the words coming before any conscious thought to form them. Her chest felt tight and sore, her breath was short and her throat hurt to shout, but none of that mattered. Then the other Lyntael started to talk to him, and she felt sudden flooding despair tear her footing from under her.


Rogan still hadn't responded. Was it really that confusing for him? Surely he could see which one of them was real on her PET? Lyntael had no idea what this replica was, but— Yes she did. The thread of thought dashed in through her subconscious like an uninvited whisper. She tried to shut it out. Whatever it was, she'd need to deal with it somehow. She stepped closer, cautious but ready as her strikers started to glow. The other girl was still trying to shake her head in some kind of silent denial, but Lyntael saw her fists clenching as well. Well, one thing she knew was that she was a far better fighter than all of her false, wrong memories suggested. Lyntael felt her body pulse with static and saw, in the same instant, an identical fan of sparks rolling off her doppelganger and sending small ripples of light outward as she began to close the distance to the copy. It had to be a copy... didn't it? She was real, wasn't she?

-=Echoes of Loss=-
Lyntael.ides: ???Hp [Casing: 30/30Hp][Normal]

-=Echoes of Doubt=-
Lyntael.exe: 350Hp [Casing: 20/20Hp][Normal]

-=Where Broken Things Fall=-
100% Normal
  • No effects.

-=Resonance of a Fractured Soul=-

In the dark of his lonely rooftop, with sirens blaring below, Rogan scrambled to recover the device that connected him to his navigator. It had bounced off his bag and clattered across the concrete but by the time he had scooped it up again, the screen was trying to show a competing mesh of information, with scrambled static in between. His eyes darted as he tried to make sense of it, but it shifted from physical combat statistics changing between one set and another, then to wave forms, overlaid and in competition, then eventually to jumbled data, and symbols that flickered across the view in different directions. Bit by bit, the scrolling symbols resolved into letters, then words. Behind the crossing text, he could see the two girls beginning to trade blows, and his own confusion and worry morphed swiftly into desperate fear for the implications of what was happening.

“Lyntael! Lyntael, what am I seeing here? Stop!” He wasn't sure which figure he was even trying to talk to – it was clear they could both hear him.


Lyntael closed the distance, shutting out her other worries as hard as she could. She was the real one; was all this anger, all this pain and worry, was all of that not real enough? The frustration she felt when her friends looked at her, like that; didn't that continue to linger, and haunt her, at every hour?

As she reached the other girl and leapt to strike out at her, her mirror flinched back, raising her hands and ducking her head. The pulse of an electric field expanded from her with a reverberating sound, and Lyntael fell short in the moment, watching it happen from the outside for once. The girl flickered, clothes torn and bloodied again for a moment as a small secondary pulse of sparks flowed off her body, scattering against her clothes and skin like pinpoints of heat and sharpness; not strong enough to hurt her, but she felt something else along with it – something the made her blink and falter. Her thoughts jumped unbidden back to a long distant memory of playing chess in the morning sun, and the scent of cooking pancakes. A ripple of resentment answered it back inside her; how dare it try to us that against her.

Rogan's voice cut through her thoughts, but it didn't sound like he had any answers. She pulled back enough to take a proper stance again and raise her fists.

“I don't know! But I'm going to have to deal with it before you can get me out!” It was all she had time to snap back at him, but across from her, the other girl's expression dropped from uncertainty into wide-eyed confusion and hurt. Her mouth opened, wordless for a moment.

“Why... Why do you look like me? Why is he talking to you!?” The same tremulous voice that plagued her memories; no, not her memories, the one that were all wrong, the ones that weren't really her. Lyntael growled behind her teeth, fingers clenched as her strikers glowed brighter and she embraced her charge. She could almost feel the other girl's accusation across the static between them.

“Because he's my operator! My name is Lyntael. I am myself, I know I am!” She was shouting far louder than she needed to, to be heard by the other girl a few feet away, but she didn't care. “I don't care what you are! You're not me!!” As the last became a scream, the air around the pair crackled with ozone and the light warped. Whatever this other girl was, she was some kind of monster or virus, some kind of mimic, that had to be it. The static in the air coalesced and crushed inward around the other figure as the idea focused itself – her form changed, becoming grey and rubbery, while numerous tentacles and extra eyes began to extend and erupt across her increasingly amorphous body.

“No... no, no that's not... that's not. Rogan... I—” the blob creature clutched at itself, writhing, before gripping at its head and shaking back and forth. “I couldn't... I didn't... but... But you can't! You can't just... just replace me!” The voice crept back from something wet and soggy, towards Lyntael's own familiar voice. It rose to become a wracked scream as cracks of light forked and spider-webbed across its body. The form exploded into electrical shards as the scream increased and a wave of lightning burst outward, thundering across the ruins with a voracious force. A howling wind blasted out from the figure along with it, buffeting Lyntael and throwing her back from... she blinked past the stinging electrical burns to see herself again, curled over and looking as though she was about to cry.

“Lyntael! I never meant... I didn't—” Rogan's voice again, in the air between them. She could hear the pain there, and her mind supplied the look; the look that always reminded her of seeing someone else, or a ghost, or... or someone loved and lost... and he wasn't talking to her this time. Why was he talking to her? The shock took the wind from her and she looked at the other girl again; in between the flickers that left her naked and abused, she really was just like her. What didn't she know? Her mind skittered around the blank sections; on instinct she shut out the sense of looming dread, but it soaked in anyway. She took another step back.

“Rogan...? I'm, I'm me, aren't I?” Her own form faded as she backed off further, her stance growing more defensive with each step. “I'm.. I'm real... aren't I? Rogan...?” Without realising, her words had dropped to a bare whisper.


Lyntael gripped at her arms and panted, soft winds still curling about her as she felt the cycling of her charge building up again rapidly. Had... had it been a long time, since she'd felt this? The thought was a brief flicker of a thread, behind the more immediate fear and hope and desperation. The other Lyntael had backed off, and now she could barely see her. They might leave, and the sudden terror of being left alone in the dark again, when they were so close, lent her the strength she needed to keep going. Rogan wouldn't do that; he wouldn't just replace her, he wouldn't. She began to dash after the retreating, faded shape of the other girl. She was invisible to her eyes, but Lyntael could still feel her – could still feel the static in the air and the currents that passed between them. She couldn't let them leave, she couldn't! She staggered again, stumbling a few steps before recovering. The pain lanced across her body and at the peripheral of her vision she saw parts of herself; echoes of burns and scars, of blood. Something in her mind knew what that was, but there wasn't time to think about it.

“Rogan, please!! Don't go! Please, you can't do that! I'm here! Please...” the invisible Lyntael was still backing away from her; a sense, like she just wanted to leave, to jack out and go home. But it was her home. She reached out towards the other girl, clutching. “This isn't fair!!” Her words became a shout, and she felt her charge respond, cycling from her strikers and unifying into a bolt of searing electricity that shot from her outstretched hand, burning across the distance between them. She felt the other girl try to throw herself to one side, but not fast enough as the blast scored across her midsection. She cried out in her own voice, tumbling and rolling to one side as she came back into full view, clutching at the impact point. She could feel... fear. Not her own fear, but... Lyntael stopped chasing, steadying herself from the feeling of expenditure and the moment of drained breathlessness, and focused on the other girl as she picked herself up and stood again. She looked angry, and not nearly as hurt as... as she felt. She was scared and uncertain... Just as scared as she was, underneath the angry expression.

Lyntael looked down at her own hands, and the lightning bolt that was still bright in the echoes of her vision. The feeling of the expend; the feeling of it going, and going, and never stopping; the pain and the burn; she tasted blood in her mouth. She felt her mind go fuzzy again, and saw flashes of marks across her skin as the pain returned. Horrible scars around her strikers; the feeling of burning and melting skin; the scent of it. The other girl was still recovering herself, but there she was, whole and intact, alive and healthy. A certainty began to sink into her mind – the more she focused, the more sure of those horrible events she grew. Tears began to fill her vision as the pain in her chest lanced again. The other navi; the torment; how easily he had brushed her aside, forced her down; the helplessness and agony. She looked at her hands again, seeing the echoes of destruction at her wrists. Rogan had been coming for her, but... but...

“I... I tried!” It was a wet, tearful plea, looking upwards in the dark towards wherever Rogan's voice was coming from. “I tried! I tried to hold on... I couldn't... I tried, I did... I tried as hard as I could!” Tears streaking her face made the burned scars sting, and she felt the darkness encroaching around her. She was the one that was broken; she was the one that failed.

As she felt herself falling into the darkness of oblivion, a single thought held on and pulled taught in her mind. An echo of a memory, Eric's voice telling her something important, in those fuzzy early days. Whatever happens, and whatever she had to face, she was loved; she had tried her best. That wasn't an excuse or an apology; she had. She held on as hard as she could, because people loved her, and they were trying their best too. She was still here because of it; people still loved her, as much as she loved them. People still needed her, as much as she needed them. She could not, would not, let go yet.


Lyntael grit her teeth and pushed herself back to her feet. So that was what that felt like. The other girl had stopped, but her cry still rang in her ears. The electricity was just like her own, but it still hurt, somehow. The other girl hadn't pressed the attack, and Lyntael tried to catch her breath; she knew just how much raw power she could bring to bear, if she had to. If the other girl was like her in every way, then she could be in a lot more danger than she thought. She felt the threads of cautious fear, but with them flickering memories of older sensations. She felt excitement nowadays, but she knew, as the feeling washed over her, she knew she had felt like this before. Those old memories, they weren't false or wrong; the were real, and if they didn't line up with how she felt, then... she didn't want to finish the thought.

As she readied herself to fight, she watched the other girl; she had backed off, and wasn't even looking at her now. The flickering had stretched out, lasting longer and lingering on her body, but the girl seemed like she was increasingly aware of the damage when the glitches happened. She was looking at herself, but when she looked up next, Lyntael felt her breath catch and she hesitated. The girl was crying. She could feel, distantly across the static in the air, an echo of fear and despair; real and aching. She began to cry out; not to her, but to Rogan, pleading with him again. Maybe that Lyntael was the real one, after all. What had the other girl tried, and what had she failed at? An echo of a memory that she pulled away from before it could unfold.

Rogan didn't answer and, as she watched, the other girl started to fade at the edges, her form beginning to slip into ephemeral translucency. She collapsed to her knees, limp and hugging herself as she sobbed, and Lyntael grit her teeth. Something wasn't right about this, but... but if that other girl was the one they were all seeing when they looked at her, and she was just a copy, what did that mean? She clenched her fists, crackling, as the other figure faded and flickered, unsure. No, it didn't matter, she couldn't let it matter. Maybe she was a copy, or a clone, or something... it didn't matter whether she was real or not... She was still herself. She wasn't going to just give that up, because of someone who was around before.

She rushed forward and the fading girl's head lifted, clear-eyed and showing a grit-toothed determination through tears she she knew all too well. Her leading kick connected with the other girl's shoulder as she tried to spring up, and she caught the next two on forearms that were still showing torn skin and charred flesh. Their eyes met, close in as the two shifted around each other in fluid instinct. She could feel her anger at the other girls bristling, but the sensation that met her in return held none of the same rage; just a determination to defend herself and endure. It didn't matter. If it had to be one of them, then none of that mattered. She twisted low then rose with another elbow and a following kick to the other girl's midsection.

“I won't back down. I won't! If one of us has to be the real one, it's me!” A wave of static flowed off her as she shouted at her opponent, but as the other girl stumbled, shielding herself, Lyntael's eye caught sight of the sneaker she'd just kicked her back with. There was blood on the white material, from where her foot has struck one of the existing bleeding wounds. It felt wrong; she shut it out. Don't get distracted, she had to do this.

Across from her, the other Lyntael steadied herself. She was wearing only ragged scraps of clothes that failed to cover her now, and the horrific injuries lingered; she only occasionally faded back to her healthier state, but she seemed more focused and aware than before. She could see her eyes still. Hurting but determined; afraid but focused. How many times had she felt that way herself? Too many. She closed her eyes and shook her head, growling. It didn't matter! She pushed herself forward and then threw her body into another series of rapid attacks. It couldn't matter, it had to not matter; the only way she could really be herself was if this... whatever this was, was gone, and she couldn't let anything else matter than that.

The other girl fell back, defending herself from the strikes and giving ground as each one landed and pulsed with static. Lyntael felt her eyes prickle and her heart thud hard and tight in her chest. Why hadn't Rogan said anything? Was he watching, just like... like someone had... said? The thought came in broken and fragmented, evaporating into the gap that her mind wouldn't go to. Why wasn't he saying anything?

“Rogan! Come on, Rogan! I'll fight, if you make me. I will! It's my place, and I'm ready to fight for it, so answer me!” Her body pulsed with another wave of electricity as she shouted and her final strike knocked the other girl back and away, sending her crashing into the rubble and rolling over. Lyntael hesitated, looking from the fallen girl to herself; her fists were marred with smeared blood and they shook as she felt her charge building and swelling again.


Lyntael felt the sharp edges of broken stones digging into her, but it was a minor pain, alongside the injuries, new and old, that wracked her. Her charge pulsed, rippling with a warming beat as she pushed herself up to her hands and knees, then slowly up to her feet again. The other girl... the other Lyntael, she was fast, aggressive... she was trying to destroy her. How must she look to that girl...? She couldn't blame her. The pain from cuts and burns that laced her body were an ever-present sear now, but she was... getting used to it. Her chest ached, like the cold blade in her heart that some part of her subconscious knew it was, and she could feel the wound itself oozing blood down her front, but she pushed on. Unsteady, she lifted her head.

The girl close to her, the other Lyntael; she could see her hesitation, and the look of horrified denial on her features as she looked at her own hands, quickly suppressed. She was angry, always angry; she could feel that too, but didn't want to do what she was doing, either. The connection between them was growing stronger, and she could feel all the ways in which her double's life had gone from unfair beginnings to unfair burdens, to this. She looked up at her; this other girl wasn't a copy or a clone, wasn't a duplicate or anything lesser. She was her own person, in every way, and it wasn't fair, on either of them. Their eyes met across the gap and as she looked on, the other girl's expression changed from uncertainty to rage again; indignation flowed through the static that they shared.

“You're looking at me like that!! Why are you looking at me like that?! Stop it! Stop looking at me like that! Stop it!!” The girl flared with a brilliance that lit up the network for a brief moment as her furious shriek gave way to a blinding blast of lightning. Lyntael saw it, in a slowed moment; the flow of energy cycling through her body, drawing in to a focus point as her hands snapped up, wrists together, then pain and searing whiteness.


Lyntael panted and struggled to draw breath. The hollow ache of her spent charge left her feeling weak for a moment before the fury of it began to cycle back up and fill her again, searing in her muscles and dancing across her skin. How? How was even this other girl, this reflection, this... echo, or whatever she was... how could even she end up staring at her with that same look of pity, and loss. It wasn't fair. Why did everyone end up looking at her like some broken doll, or some lost friend. Why did everyone... she panted for air as a subtle thought fought through the stream of frustration; not everyone. Not everyone. She brushed the thought aside; maybe, but it didn't change much.

The moment was enough to give hesitation to her anger and as she blinked away the spots from her vision and the light from her attack faded, she saw the over version of herself stagger backwards several steps, reeling and swaying. The burn wound that had obliterated her emblem looked worse, almost like a hole seared in her chest. Her eyes had grown distant and staring again as she turned her face upwards, the rest of her body limp except to keep standing. Fresh tears had started spilling down her cheeks again.

“Where were you...” She barely heard it, across the short space, but the girl mouthed other words, voicelessly, before speaking again. “I tried to hold on. Where were you...” Her voice rose, tearful and wet. “Why didn't you come? Where were you!? Where... where are you? Eric... Rogan...” It rose to a shout, desperate and calling out, and Lyntael felt a curling of air becoming a growing circle of wind rushing in and around their space. It whistled between the ruins and moaned as the other girl's voice lifted above it. “Where were you!? Why didn't you come!? Rogaaaan!! Eriiiic!” The wind howled as a wave of electricity crackled in the air and exploded out from the wavering girl. Lyntael braced herself against it, feeling the fierce lightning scoring her skin as the wind pulled and thrust her body about in violent motions.

The storm continued, but as the lighting passed, the other girl's voice voice fell to a soft murmur of sound she could barely hear again. Lyntael could feel the words, though, and as her lips moved she still knew what she was saying. “Rogan... please... Why didn't you come? Where were you? Where are you? I'm here...”

Above them, the dark sky turned grey and the forking stabs of erratic energy became flashes of true lightning, within rumbling, stormy clouds. Lyntael felt rain begin to strike her; thin, scattering droplets that rapidly grew to a torrential downpour. She could feel the other girl's despair as the rain soaked her; she stood still at the centre of the storm, face turned up to the rain and eyes staring. The sky rumbled and the girl lifted her hands to hug at herself, cupping and covering the most grievous of her injuries. Thunder rolled as, each time the girl pressed a hand to one of her wounds, she flinched, wracked with pain. Each flinch caused a bolt of lightning to strike down from the storm clouds overhead, to the ruins about them. Lyntael threw herself away from one as it flung broken rubble across her.

“I don't want this! I don't want this pain! I don't want it to be all that I am!” Lightning continued to blast around her as she cried into the wind. “But... But it's so much... too much... I can't... How can I be anything else?” Blood pooled, diluting into the water gathering around her feet as the rain flooded over her, and Lyntael couldn't help but look down as it started to wash from her own hands as well. She took a breath and felt her body pulse again, releasing small waves of stabilising energy into sparks that danced across the growing puddles while in the centre of the storm, she saw the same effect rippling from the other girl.



L1) Resonance of a Fractured Soul

L*) My Pain is Real L1) My Fear Swells,
and lingers after and grips me tight

L2) My Vision Alters, L2) My Soul Screams,
and drifts askew no more to fight

L3) My Faith Trembles, L3) My Torment Rebels,
and forgets laughter and so I break

L*) My Heart Falters, L4) I Slip to Dreams,
and beats anew no more to wake

L*) My Fear Rejected
L4) With Hopeful Stride
L*) My thoughts Collected
L5) No More to Hide
L6) My Anger Directed, 'gainst Violent Threat
L5) As I look to the Sky,
L6) And My Wounds Bleed Wet

Cooldowns and Ovecharge
((Each signature is used only once))

Lyntael.exe Overcharge: Begin: +0, My Vision Alters and drifts askew (+1), My Faith Trembles and forgets laughter (-2), With Hopeful Stride (+2), No More to Hide (+2), My Anger Directed 'gainst violent threat (+4), End: +8

Lyntael.ides Overcharge: Begin: +0, My Fear Swells and grips me tight (+1), My Soul Screams no more to fight (+2), My Torment Rebels and so I break (+3), I Slip to Dreams no more to wake (-2), As I Look to the Sky (+4), And My Wounds Bleed Wet (-2), End: +6

-=Echoes of Loss=-
Lyntael.ides: 1 Hp [Self-Slow: 1 Rank, 1 Round][Off-Target: 2 Ranks, 1 Round] [Rain]

-=Echoes of Doubt=-
Lyntael.exe: 200 Hp [Glitch: Resonance (5)] [Self-Slow: 1 Rank, 1 Round][Off-Target: 1 Rank, 2 Rounds] [Rain]

-=Where Broken Things Fall=-
100% Sea
  • Fire Elementals lose 10 HP/action standing, 20 HP/action submerged. Other Non-Aqua Elementals lose 5 HP/action submerged. Nullified for Aqua Elementals.
  • Ice attacks: 50% Freeze1 chance, Changes terrain hit to Ice.
  • Terrain changes between Sea and Onsen do not inflict damage upon submerged entities, nor do they eject submerged entities to the surface.
  • Elec attacks: +100% Source Damage.
  • PanelShot: Imbue Aqua.
(Rain soaks the ground)

The winds continued to howl around the shattered battlefield while the pouring rain muted everything else. Lyntael blinked in the heart of it, tears streaking her scarred features as she gasped for breath around painful sobs. Her body pulsed with sparks, trying to balance itself out while she was distantly aware of a matching heart beat alongside her, not far away. It felt like her form was tearing itself apart; breaking open and scattering all the things that mattered most to the winds.

Lightning crashed between them, all around, and the air grew thicker with the scent of ozone. There was so much pain, everywhere, but she tried to grip tight to the threads that slipped between the overwhelming sensation; there were good times too – good moments, worth remembering, worth holding onto and fighting for. Friends she'd made, even if they hadn't stayed around, were still friends; a game of cards on a street corner, a chance encounter in a night-lit park. Little moments that were still worth everything. Her breath heaved, and she felt the other Lyntael's thoughts, across the resonating static, as they drifting towards similar places. She didn't trust those old memories, didn't want to think of them as her own. It wasn't fair; they didn't feel right to the other girl, because it wasn't her place to feel them. They were hers. The other girl was her own person, like she wanted to be. Why couldn't she let her have this?

Lightning lanced down at an angle between the two, anchoring itself to the ground between them as a second bolt struck down across it and remained as well. The air warped and shimmered and Lyntael felt her eyes dawn towards the sight; her gaze met the other Lyntael's through the haze as they both looked to it. She focused on the shimmering air, pushing those precious moments towards it; let her see them. Let her see how important they were to her.

She remembered standing in the hallway of a massive cruise liner; a mission to do, but a distraction at hand. A fearsome pirate, who just wanted her to look after herself. A slice of lemon tart, and an experience of taste and euphoria she'd never felt before. It was embarrassing to reflect on, but it was still a good moment, and one she treasured. Through the hazy images between the crackling lightning, the other girl watched on as well, eyes wide.

The lightning faded and another pair of bolts struck down to one side, creating another series of images. A sunny beach, and a girl in a yellow sun dress, sitting between two other navis. Aurora and Eternalis joking about how quickly she was eating, while Sparky eyed up unguarded skewers of meat. She missed them, so much; even when things had been scary, those moments in the sun made it all worth while.

The ache in her chest was more than just physical, and she felt her body shake with longing sobs. A third set of bolts, and more images; one of the earliest – one her mind always came back to, in the dark moments. A chess board, Eric humming in the kitchen, sunlight on the windowsill, Caminus and Servare smiling at her over every little achievement and the quiet love and adoration in Eric's gaze whenever he spoke to her. She felt her body sink to its knees as she watched the moments flicker by in the haze.

It wasn't just her pain and loneliness that dragged more tears from her amidst the rain; she could feel the other Lyntael watching too. She turned her eyes towards the other girl, and saw that same red-eyed look on her features. She was missing them as well, but... but why? Why when she rejected so much about these old memories that meant so much to her. Why did she want to take them from her, if she didn't treasure them in the same way?

“It's not fair...” She managed to gasp over the sounds of the storm even as the images continued to form and spread around them. “They're my memories... you don't even think of them as yours! But... but you're hurting, too. Why are you hurting? It's not your place, it's mine.” Hazy recollections of friends and family echoed with each pair of strikes. She didn't want to take anything from the other girl... but these memories, this life, it wasn't hers to begin with. They were her memories, she was the one that cared about them!


Lyntael tried to catch her breath in the rain while the haze of recollections flashed and faded all around her. Her mind jump from one to the next as each image appeared, and she was sure it was the other Lyntael doing it, somehow. She longed for those peaceful, brighter days, when she hadn't been so angry at everything, when she'd been happy, and surrounded by people she loved. They both wanted that, didn't they? In the end, that was what mattered. It didn't matter if her memories were the real ones or not, if she was real or not... it felt real, and the pain she felt, missing those times and those smiles, that felt real.

Somehow, she could feel the other girl's heartbreak, and her longing amplified together with her own. She looked down at her hands again; the rain had washed them clean of the other girl's smeared blood by now, but as she looked up at figure in the centre of the storm, she could still see the terrible damage on her ragged, unclothed body. Her mind started to wonder, again, what had happened to that Lyntael, and how, but it skittered away from the gap it couldn't face before she could notice. The memories were nice, but what mattered were the people; her friends and her family, and they couldn't both have that. She began to move towards the other girl, pushing through the buffeting winds.

The other girl had dropped to the ground, weeping now. Lyntael felt a tightness and pain when she though on it, but perhaps whatever this echo was was nearly spent. She didn't want to hurt her, not any more; it didn't feel right, but maybe... maybe the echo could be happy with those memories and fade away, and leave her to go back to Rogan and the others, and live her life.

As she drew close, struggling to think of how she could get the lingering being to let go, the other girl's head snapped up with a sharp motion. Her expression was wracked, red-eyed within the burned scars and her bitten lip trembling, but her eyes had a hard, desperate look in them.

“I won't! That's not how this...” Thunder rumbled as the girl glared up at her. “You could be anyone! You could have any life you wanted! You're free!” Lyntael felt the static grow heavy around her, drowning her senses except for the other girl's words. “Can't you just go? Go, and live your life, be your own person! It's what you want, isn't it?” The words were wet and tearful, from a cracked and and hurting throat, but they rang in Lyntael's ears all the same and she took a half step back, raising a hand to her temple. “You don't get it! You don't get any of it! It's not your place, it's mine! You're not me, that's what you've been saying, isn't it? You don't have to be! Go and be anyone else!” The feeling of crushing static grew tight, hammering at her from all sides suddenly in a barrage of sharp jolts and Lyntael gripped at her head with both hands. Long red hair fell across her vision, coiling in damp ringlets, and her hands, as they pulled away, showed dark tan skin with red nail polish. She looked down and took an uneven step backwards, almost stumbling as her high heels caught in the uneven rubble and her long red sheath dress didn't let her legs move as freely as she needed. Her eyes cast down at herself to find a taller, more endowed figure while, in her mind, the idea of a cute lady operator she could almost feel the name of tried to intrude.

“Just go... go away, go live, and let me have my friends, and my family back! Please!” The girl was pleading as much as shouting, and it looked like an effort for her to struggle back to her feet again. The rumbling of the thunder quieted and the rain began to soften while the howling winds slowed to become a softer circling current surrounding the other girl. Tearful eyes begged her, but a spike of irritated resentment answered it. Even now, it was someone else trying to tell her what she had to do and who she was supposed to be. She could still feel her charge coursing under her skin and she grabbed onto it, filling herself with it again as she dug her fingernails into her arms and grit her teeth. She was herself – copy, clone, fake, whatever... what mattered was that she was Lyntael, and no-one had any right to tell her not to be. Cracks of light began to form across her skin, becoming a rapid dance of light caustics that crackled and sparked. If the other girl thought she could batter her into some other shape to suit what she wanted, well people had been trying to do that to her for her whole life. She glared back at the other version of herself.

“My name is Lyntael.” The image of the red-haired woman that she looked like quaked and rippled. “That's who I am. You can't hurt me.” The false form exploded in a shower of electrical bolts and scattering sparks and the other girl fell back crying out as she raised her arms against the wave of energy. Lyntael took long, slow breaths, her chest heaving as she glanced down at herself; pale skin, delicate features... underwhelming femininity. She frowned for a moment; no that wasn't disappointing. It was part of her, and that was fine. She looked to the other girl, fallen to the wet ground again and wincing as she held herself. “I'm stronger now. I don't need your approval to be myself.” The other girl tried to roll over and pick herself up again, but the laboured breaths that wracked her became broken, crying sobs. She pushed herself up to her knees as erratic pulses of crackling light washed over her body and scattered outward in ever-increasing circles. The waves rolled over Lyntael, but they sparked off her skin without hurting her. She could feel everything the other girl was feeling, and a thread of guilt underscored her own anger and indignation. Even now, there was no malice coming from the other girl, no ire or resentment directed towards her. Had she ever been like that, like her memories said, or had it always been this other girl who was the kinder soul in a way that she just... wasn't? Their eyes met as the other girl struggled to form tearful words around her struggling breaths.

“I love them... I miss them. They're my friends, my family. I want to see them again. I just want to see them.” She tried to sniff and catch her breath, then struggled to her feet on shaking limbs. “I've been searching alone, for so long. I've tried so hard. I've done everything I can... I don't want to be alone any more. I just want to be with them again... I've earned it, haven't I?” The girl hugged herself, looking away and Lyntael grit her teeth as she blinked back tears of her own. Even if other parts of her memories were wrong, or didn't feel right, she still hated being alone, just as much as the girl in front of her now. She took a step back, turning her own eyes away and unconsciously hugging herself in a near mirror to the other Lyntael. None of this was right. None of this was fair. She swallowed and sniffed.

“That's not my fault. I'm just here... I can't help any of that. It's always like this. Why am I the one who has to pay for the things that happened before? Can't I just be who I am? Why do I have to carry all of this?” Even if she could give the other girl her place, that still wouldn't be fair. Why...” She shook her head and hardened her expression. “Why should I have to be the one that loses out? It's not my fault.” Her voice grew firmer as she spoke; it wasn't like the other girl had a better answer. She stepped in closer, reaching out to take the other girl by the shoulders and make her look at her. As she reached out, the other Lyntael lifted her head and raised her own hands with a sudden flash of fear. Their fingers linked, gripping as they locked eyes.

“I just want to live!”
“I have the right!”
“I don't want to disappear!”
“This isn't fair!”

Some of it was words, some of it was simply feeling and emotion that flowed between them. Lyntael wasn't sure which of the thoughts were hers and which belonged to the other girl as she felt her charge course and cycle, almost pulled from her as it rushed through her own strikers to the other girl's and back again in a desperate flood of power that crashed through both of their bodies.


Lyntael felt the power flow, a connected circuit between them as they both held on. She felt it scour at her while her body screamed at the sensation. She felt like she was burning, melting; like the ever-circling torrent of current was going to obliterate her. It was the same feeling as the one she remembered; that never-ending scathe. It was less painful, but still overwhelming and she clutched at the flow of energy, trying to pull as much of it as she could back to herself and stop it from destroying her entirely.

There was more to it than that; more than just the flow of power. She could feel the resonance with the other girl, this close; nearly every thought, every feeling, every piece of frustration and resentment that she had felt at nearly every turn of the short life she'd had. And it had been a short life. Shorter event than hers. She felt the sharp, cold feeling in her chest pulse again. Shorter than hers.

The flow of power ebbed, then stilled. Around them, the rain continued as a soft shower while the wind settled into a barely present breeze that ruffled the other girl's sodden clothing. Lyntael struggled to draw a breath and blinked through blurry vision. She was still standing, but leaning against the other Lyntael just as she leaned back against her, panting together with their fingers still linked. Her head was resting on the other girl's shoulder, and she could feel a warm cheek and wet hair resting on one of hers as well. Seconds passed as they both caught their breath in the softly falling rain.

“I... I don't want this anger.” The voice sounded tired and close to tears. Lyntael felt the vibration of the words against her chest as the other girl spoke without moving. “I don't want to hurt people. I don't want to hurt you.” Gradually, she felt the other Lyntael untangle her fingers and let her hands drop, though she still didn't try to move away. She didn't want her to; how long had it been, since she'd felt contact like this? The other girl sniffed and swallowed. “But.. I have to stand up for myself. No-one else will. It's not fair... but one of us has to lose. I'm sorry, I really am. None of this is right.”

Lyntael felt her own body shake with barley contained emotion, but slowly lifted her hands to wrap them about the girl that ought to have been her sister. She closed the hug and held on tight, but in the exhausted, wet stillness, she didn't know what to say. The more she focused on her own thoughts and memories, the clearer they became, and she knew the truth in her heart; Rogan had tried his best, but he hadn't made it. Vigilance had killed her, and her life had ended. She was still here but... maybe her time really was over. She had no right to take that from her newer self. Held close against her, she could feel the warm hum of the other girl's charge buzzing in her skin, and tried to relax her body. Maybe she didn't need to say anything. The charge hummed brighter, stronger, but she could feel a surge of hesitation within the other girl, heard her draw a longer breath.

“I'm... I'm not good at this, not like you are. Maybe... maybe I was a better person before, but I'm what's here now. I can be better. I can, I just need the chance. Please... let me have this.” Her words were soft, begging, and Lyntael lifted her head, then moved to rub at the other girl's back for a moment. She pulled back enough to look her in the eye, holding her shoulders gently. As long as those parts of her history were missing, she'd always feel like there was weight on her shoulders. She could feel, in the other girl's mind, the gap that she couldn't think about, left out from the person she was now, to save her own sanity. Horrors better left unknown... except... she did know about them; she knew that they were there, just not what the spectre at her back was. She nodded and studied the other girl's eyes; she could see her own scarred features in their reflection.

“Lyntael... you should be whole.” Her voice broke as she spoke, but she pushed on with a wet sniffle. “No more missing bits cut away and hidden. I can feel it in your heart; you want to know, to understand, what it is that everyone seems to know, that you don't... but when you think about it, you can't do it. You can't move forward if you keep running away. Let me help you.” As she spoke she pulled the warmth of her own charge and gently spread it out to meet and then fall in sync with the other girl's energy. They were both hurt and tired, barely standing, but at least one of them needed the strength to carry on.


Lyntael looked back at the tired, bleeding and brutalised version of herself that was trying weakly to smile for her. Some part of her understood, truly, who she was now, bleeding wounds, broken smile, open heart and all, but she found herself shaking her head. She knew, somewhere deep, what the other Lyntael was talking about, and it was all the answers she'd demanded, but her thoughts rebelled against it. She shook her head harder, breath short.

“I... I can't...” The warmth of the other girl's hands holding on became a spreading feeling that filled her, and with it she felt her thoughts directed inward. A memory she recognised – her home, before it had started to feel wrong. An evening with friends, talking, playing games, and sharing grief. She remembered sitting with Aurora and Eternalis, knew she'd shared something important with them. She'd cried, and Aurora had cried, and they'd held each other. It was a painful memory, but a good one too. An important one... but what had she told them? A dark feeling crept in, gripping her chest. Something dark, something nasty. She could feel it there, an echo of something she knew, but didn't. She felt sick; she didn't know; didn't want to know. Couldn't.

She pulled away, instinct taking over as terror without form filled her. Not that, anything but that. With a half-strangled gasp, Lyntael stumbled back and turned, staggering a few more paces away from the other girl's touch. There was the thing she'd told them about, and it was bad, but there was more, too – something it was tied to, more that was missing, and that led to the biggest pit of emptiness of all. She could feel it starting to unfold and show itself, and she ran.

At least in her memory, she'd had friends with her. Aurora and Eternalis had been there. They'd been there for her, to listen, and to hold. Maybe she could face it, if they were her with her... she felt her body pulse and spark with instinctive responses; there was nowhere to run, but she wished she wasn't alone. She stumbled down to her knees, breathless and panting; why did it feel like she couldn't breath? Why did all of her friends leave her? As she tried to swallow air, her fingertips dug hard into her own arms and she gripped tight, rocking softly as she curled over on herself. The water on the ground felt cold. Cold water, on her back; cold water, then cold steel. The remembered sensation dragged a wracked sound from her as she tried to push it away.

A presence behind her was followed by warm hands that that rubbed across her shoulders and slid down to gently push her fingers away from the crescent cuts they were digging into her arms. The warm press of another person, holding her. She lifted her head to find the sad, pained expression of her reflection.

“I... I can't... I'm alone, all alone. I'm always alone.” The words were barely words, mumbled through short breaths. “Why am I always alone, when it matters? I don't want to be alone.” The other Lyntael held tighter and leaned in to rest her head against her. She heard a laboured sniffle and felt the tearful quakes of the other girl's body even as the warm, comforting sensation flowing from her redoubled.

“You're not. I'm here. I know... I'm not much, but I'm what's here now. I'm... I'm here, and I'm not letting go. I won't let you be alone, I promise.” If anything, the other girl's voice sounded in worse state than her own. There was a moment as she felt her shift with aching, weary motions, to kneel in front of her and reach out to hug her properly. Lyntael lifted her head to shake it again, but she couldn't muster the will to pull away any more. Instead, she reached up to hold the other girl back and pull her close.

“I... I can't remember, I can't. Please don't make me...” Even as she spoke, she could feel the gaps beginning to fill in at the edges, darkness unfolding to the empty spaces in her memory.
“You'll always know it's there. You always have. I think... I think they tried to spare you, or you tried to spare yourself, but you always felt it there anyway. You know you cant turn away from it.” She gripped tighter. It was true, she knew that, but... she looked up towards the cloudy sky and closed her eyes to the feeling of soft rain on her face.

“It was something terrible, and dark, wasn't it?” She spoke in a whisper. “I know it was, I can feel it. I can't... I hate not knowing, but I can't... can't face it. I can't... Anything but that.” She felt the fear and the pain and felt her charge straining to react, to protect and defend her from its threat. Her skin danced with light but the other girl held on just as tightly. She could feel both beats of their charge pulse together; she could feel the current beneath the other girl's skin, just an extension of her own. The other Lyntael answered, a murmur by her ear, slow and gentle, between sniffles of her own.

“It is... and I'm sorry. It's dark and it's terrible... It won't ever go away. It won't ever fade. No matter how much I might wish I could forget it, it's there, and it always will be there... but it's a part of me, not a spectre on my back... just a part of me, and... and if I choose to be kind, it's part of what makes me that way.” Her body shifted again, just enough to move from rubbing at her back to clasp a hand with hers. “I'm here.” Lyntael squeezed her hand back as the resonating cycle of their shared charge blended into a single roar that sent shock-waves crackling across the broken undernet ruins in every direction.



L*) A Manifest Spirit
L1) Eyes that Dance
L*) A Longing Heart
L2) Discarded Chance
L1) A Scarred Soul
L3) I've Love to Give
L2) A Fresh Start

L*) I Want To Live! L*) I Want To Live! L*) I Want To Live!

L3)A Burning Ache
L*) Laughter Recalled
L4) A Single Ember L4) A Life Left Stalled
L5) My Heart May Break L5) I Linger Yet

L6) I Must Not Remember! L6) I Cannot Forget!

Cooldowns and Ovecharge
((Each signature is used only once))

Lyntael.exe Overcharge: Begin: +8, A Scarred Soul (-4), A Fresh Start (-2), I Want to Live (+2), A Burning Ache (-2), A Single Ember (-2), My Heart May break (+2), I Must Not Remember (+12), End: +14

Lyntael.ides Overcharge: Begin: +6, Eyes That Dance (+3), Discarded Chance (+3), I've Love to Give (-2), I Want to Live (+2), A Life Left Stalled (-2), I Linger Yet (-2), I Cannot Forget (+12), End: +20

-=Echoes of Loss=-
Lyntael.ides: 1 Hp [Rain]

-=Echoes of Doubt=-
Lyntael.exe: 1 Hp [Glitch: Resonance (10)] [Rain]

-=Where Broken Things Fall=-
100% Sea
  • Fire Elementals lose 10 HP/action standing, 20 HP/action submerged. Other Non-Aqua Elementals lose 5 HP/action submerged. Nullified for Aqua Elementals.
  • Ice attacks: 50% Freeze1 chance, Changes terrain hit to Ice.
  • Terrain changes between Sea and Onsen do not inflict damage upon submerged entities, nor do they eject submerged entities to the surface.
  • Elec attacks: +100% Source Damage.
  • PanelShot: Imbue Aqua.
(Rain soaks the ground)


Burning static and the feeling of raw energy filling every sense. A formless void of white and a feeling of numbness, of time slowed down to single timeless moments that held on and lingered.

Lyntael drew a breath, though it didn't really feel like her body meant much in this space. She could feel herself pressed close to another girl, intertwined in a tight embrace with fingers linked and their heads resting on each other's shoulders. She felt weightless, like they were drifting. She didn't need to open her eyes to feel that there was little left to distinguish them here, now. They drifted for long, timeless seconds before one of them spoke; soft words, felt more than heard.

“I think... we could have gone either way, you know. But... you deserve to move forward. I died. I want to see them all again, but... I can't take that from you. I think it's your turn.” The hug grew tighter as the words faded. One of them swallowed, breath shorter; the other sniffed, quiet tears making their way down her cheeks.

“It wasn't fair, the way he treated you. He never gave you the chance you deserved. I can feel it, in all of your memories.” Around them, the emptiness of the white void seemed to hum with pressure, gradually pressing in, but the other girl just shook her head softly.

“Ours. They're your memories too. Even if you're different now, people change. All those memories, they're still yours, still a part of you.”

Silence filled the space for another drawn out moment; one of them could feel the shape of all the things she didn't know – there, but held still, unpleasant in her mind, yet still indistinct. She'd trusted Rogan to save her, and then... the dark shape made her grit her teeth and cling tighter to the other girl.

“How... how can I forgive him, for all of that? For making your life like that, for treating you like that... for... for letting you...” She could feel the memories reaching into her, but a gentle hand still held them back, covered over with an obscuring haze. The other girl spoke.

“Because I love him...” There was a pause and a soft sigh. “Not just because of that. I understand why he was like that, what he was afraid of. It doesn't make it better, but I can forgive him it, because I'm sure he can change, and learn. I know he can... if not for me, then maybe for you.” One of them shifted, releasing the fingers of one hand to lift and rub at her companion's back slowly instead. She paused after a few moments to lift the hand away and open her eyes to look at it. Across her body, echoes of trauma formed faded overlays on her skin.

“I don't... quite know what happened, for Rogan, when it all went wrong. I don't know what he did, in the end – but I'm sure he tried the best he could to save me. I know he tried as hard as he could. I believe that.” The other girl held tight, letting what memories she had come to the surface and sharing them in a way she didn't quite understand. Faint echoes of the same injuries faded into presence across her form to mach the other girl's, though her eyes remained closed. She nodded slowly.

“He did... He did. I don't remember much either, but... there was a hotel room, at an airport, afterwards. I was there, but, I wasn't me. I was hurt still, I think. Everything that made me... me... was gone... I was just empty, and I didn't understand. Rogan was hurt, there was a lot of blood. I think he barely got out alive, after he rescued me. He did try. He tried as hard as he could, and it nearly killed him... and then...” she felt tears welling in her own eyes. “Then he lost you anyway.” She thought about the fight, at Eric's place, the arguments she hadn't been allowed to overhear, and the broken man that Eric had brought in from the rain.

As the memories shared, one of them flinched and squeezed tighter for a moment, as much to comfort as to feel comfort in the other. There was little barrier between them now; just her grip on the darkest moments, held back – even then, she could feel the understanding of them resonating gradually with the other girl. It was done now, one way or another, and stolen moments were all they had. He really had changed, after everything. Lyntael's voice whispered between them, softly encouraging.

“You see...? Everything I wanted; everything he couldn't give me... he can give those things to you now. He's still hurting, but he does love you... he loves you, like he never let himself love me.” She felt the other girl nod slowly against her, felt her breathing hard.

“It's more than that. More than just him... All our friends, out there... they see you, and they love you.” The other girl shuddered, gasping back a sob as she shook her head and the empty void around them pressed in closer still.

“But... But it's not me they love... it's you! You're the one they really want to be friends with. I'm just... the replacement, different, and not quite right.” The whisper was a cracked, breathless sound. She reached for other memories.

“That's not true... they love you, just as you are.” She pushed a small smile into her words, rubbing at the other girl's back again. “Or do you think Aurora was writing that email to me? She likes who you are, right now – confidence and all.” There were other memories too; ones they both shared.

“They've all helped us, because they care... I was scared, and I wasn't ready, but they all did their best to support me, and you are better for that; they see that, and I know it makes them glad to see you doing so well.” She thought of Martia, and how the other woman had helped her face up to fights; she could see, in the other girl, how much Martia's confidence and style had become a part of her. Her thoughts skipped forward to her first brush with the neo-shogunate, and the attention that her chaperones had extended.

“Drago, and his family... they all tried so hard to help me handle my charge better; all the time they took, all the suggestion and tests, just for us... and you manage that so much better now, far better than I ever did. Don't you think... if you told them all about how you took care of that monster, after Aurora and Eternalis had to leave... all by yourself... don't you think they'd be so happy for you?”

One of them nodded, but as she felt the burning static of their stolen moment beginning to collapse, desperate guilt pushed back. She pulled back, drawing away enough to look the other girl in the eyes; soft green eyes looked back, the echoes of horrible scars only faint on her face. She could feel the same across her own body, as the truth and understanding of what she'd been through solidified into a certain dread.

“But it isn't fair... I fought so hard to be 'the one', I've been fighting you, and afraid of disappearing... I've felt like an impostor, but that wasn't enough to stop me trying to make sure I won... but you... you want it, just as much as I do, but you're helping me. You're better than me! If either of us deserves to have another chance it's you!” Across from her, the other girl smiled, but lifted her hands to gently brush a tear from her cheeks.

“You are your own person. I couldn't ever take that away, or deny you.” She only shook her head; the burning, melting feeling was a prickle across her skin as the glow of energy surrounding them pressed in faster, receding.

“I could... I tried to! It shouldn't be me, it should be you... I can still feel you trying to help me, even now. These memories, these black, horrible nightmares that I can feel... I know... I know what happened, I understand, but you're protecting me, aren't you?” A sense of soft regret reached her through the other girl.

“Not for much longer.” She hung her head, then leaned back in to rest her forehead down. “They really are your memories as much as mine; the good and the bad, they're still a part of who you are. I don't have anything else to share with you.”

One of them could feel the echoes of pain across her form, could remember what it felt like, but even as the recollections of that dark night grew clearer and more horrific, she felt the anger in her chest melting away bit by bit. It felt like the other girl was trying to say goodbye, and she didn't want it. She pulled her tighter.

“There's a whole life still to share, isn't there? I don't want you to disappear, that's not fair. I don't want to accept that, I don't! I don't want to face this alone. I don't want you to be alone either. That's not okay, I don't accept it!” Even as she tried to shout the words, her voice barely rose above the feeling of static. They were out of stolen time, and she could feel her senses beginning to return – blurred, blended and melting, but coming back as whatever the momentary meeting of minds had given them finally failed.

“Are you sure...? I don't know what will happen, if I don't let go.”
“I don't care. I'm sure. I don't want to lose the person you are.”
“Okay... together then.”

Symbols that became words continued to battle across what was meant to be the PET's diagnostic screen, while Rogan watched the two navigators struggle against each other. Crouched in the dark, with its glow lighting his features, he found himself trying to react to each shouted accusation or demand that either of the girls made – to him, or to one another – but every time his throat was dry, his thoughts a shambles and his breath short.

He knew he could try to extract at least one of them, but with the way the device was registering signals right now, he had no idea what it would even attempt to retrieve... and so, paralysed by the moment, he watched, and listened, trying to work moisture into his throat without success.

He'd known that Lyntael had been angry and frustrated, he'd just assumed it was because of the things they couldn't tell her, but... the way he heard he speaking, had she really come to doubt herself, that much, after all the time she'd spent insisting to him about her own truth? Had he failed to see that, and let it fester, or had she just not told him? The other one, the one the flickered... gradually, more and more, she was becoming a stable presence, showing each of the horrific injuries but retaining herself too.

If that really was the girl he'd let die, what could he even hope to say to her? He heard her words; she'd trusted him to save her, waited for him, and endured on that hope, and he'd still failed her. His eyes stung and he blinked back the sensation, listening to her shout and plead about the friends and family she missed, and the love she still felt – he'd never managed to acknowledge any of that, to her, not until after it was far too late. It made him wonder why she even wanted to come back to him, rather than seeking out people who had actually shown her love and care.

The fight gradually crumbled into a more pleading, tearful exchange, with both beings on the verge of destroying each other. Two of the three signals had collapsed into each other, leaving just one for each girl now, but they were so intertwined that he couldn't tell which was which. The colliding, static-covered stream of... was it thoughts or feelings? He didn't know... but it continued as the pair spoke, and Rogan dared to let himself breathe, until a final pair of lines overwrote each other at the bottom of the screen, and a blinding white static pulse obscured everything. The PET became a scrambled mess of unintelligible data for a moment, with no reading he could make sense of at all. The visual was no better, showing nothing but the yellow-white blast of some explosive force.

“Lyntael— Lyntael, answer!” Somehow he found the words, but there didn't seem to be anything to even respond, in the moment. He grit his teeth, his body tense and the sounds of the city below forgotten.


The electrical shock-wave rolled outwards and the fierce glow of light faded away. Thick grey clouds rolled overhead, calm in the wake of the storm while a soft, pervasive morning light showed the broken ruins all around. The scent of rain in the air was accompanied by the drip of water into the many puddles that scattered the open space in the centre of the area.

The last of the brilliant light receded into the form of a girl; a slender, slight build, young but toned and fit all the same. Short, spiky blond hair and pale skin, clear and unmarked. She was dressed in a pale pastel yellow vest with broad shoulders and a buckle-up front that left her midriff bare; a small navel piercing in the style of a sunburst remained visible. A pleated yellow skirt reached only to her mid thighs, leaving the rest of her legs bare down to a pair of white and pale yellow running shoes.

The girl hugged herself, head down and hunched, her body heaving with ragged, breathless sobs. What strength was left in her legs seemed to wane as she sank to her knees on the wet ground, and continued to cry, rocking slightly as she gasped for air. After a few more moments, her gasps slowed and she quieted, taking longer, deeper breaths. The clouds overhead gave a quiet rumble.

A soft breeze picked up amidst the ruins. First from one direction, then another. It curled around the broken structures, winding inwards towards the figure. The girl drew a long, deep breath and the breeze circled her, ruffling at her clothes as it drew in faster. She exhaled slowly and the wind turned, spiralling outwards from her again. She lifted her head, eyes closed and her expression soft and calm despite the tears on her cheeks as she raised her face towards the stormy sky overhead.

Slowly she stood as the wind began to rise again, circling. Her arms relaxed, letting go of the fierce hug and turning her palms gently outward; the wind lifted further, becoming a gentle whirlwind about her. The girl seemed to relax into the circling currents of air as a fresh scattering of rain started to fall. As she took another long breath, the sound of a crystalline crack filled the air; a single fracture across the emblem at her chest spread. It cracked again, and again as the image was covered in an increasingly dense fan of cracks, before it burst with the sound of shattering glass. Shards of material scattered across the ground and disintegrated, until just the slim metal ring remained in its place at her chest. It slipped, then fell to the ground, rolling away with a faint metallic ring and leaving only clear, unblemished skin where the emblem had been.

The wind settled down to gentle stillness again and the girl opened her eyes. Bright green, seemingly all the greener now for tear-marked reddening. A sound like strained static crackled before a voice spoke into the air just behind her.

“—can you hear me? Please answer. Everything is scrambled, but I've got your signal... just... just one signal. Are you alright? Are you...” He sounded like he was barely keeping his voice level and the girl sniffled and wiped at her eyes, clearing her face.

“Rogan? I'm here. I can hear you.” She heard a sharp sigh of relief.
“I couldn't... I didn't know what to do! Are you alright? What happened?” She closed her eyes and took another long breath, letting herself feel the play of the soft breeze all around her and the roll of thunder and lighting in the storm overhead; the hum of her own charge, warm and alive, and the all-too-close memory of everything that had brought her to this point. After a moment she lifted her head again and opened her eyes.

“I don't know.” There was a tense, uncertain pause that she could feel the silent weight of on the other end.
“Are you... That is, do you... Which one... No, that's not what I want to say.” He lapsed into awkward silence again, and the girl felt a small, soft smile touch her lips, despite everything.

“I'm not sure... No... I am. My name is Lyntael, and I am your navigator.” Lyntael felt her voice nearly crack with too many complex emotions at once, but she held onto the soft smile. “And... and I'm ready to go home, Rogan.” A few moments later, a pale yellow light beam engulfed her, leaving the broken section of forgotten network quiet and dark again.


-=Subplot Complete=-
- BugStopper NCP activated
- Signature reset to be acquired some other time, because I forgot to ready it in advance.

((To => A New Morning))