In Search of Sanctuary

They called him Brother.

Astraea felt light headed. She let her pose relax as the two spoke back and forth about the topic, her mind grabbed onto the hopeful ones and the fact that they were willing to take on the task of assisting Metangler in- something? Adjusting maybe?

She was happy for him. Clearly by their demands they cared for him, wanted to protect him. He was wanted here and she felt a spreading pool of relief course through her. She had wanted to help him yes, but she hadn't been sure of her ability to assist him in finding a goal outside of his old directives. She wasn't programmed for social work.

"Of course." She said in response to the demand to bring him here. The noise washed over her but it was comforting rather than frightening. She began preparing to call the travel-sized Metangler to her side as the echoes of the noise reached them. She shut her eyes against the rushing wind and called, an appropriatly sized target appearing on the ground in front of it. It was identical to the ones she used for summoning her machines to the field and this was no different: a flash of light from the ceiling and then Metangler would be there.

But something else was arriving as well.

Astraea finally registered that the noise in her ears wasn't the reverberations from the massive machines and turned her whole body to look, her hand dropping to the haft of her wrench as the gate guards stated their intent to defend. Her eyes hardened and she shifted to look at Metangler. "Get inside, with your brethern."

"What? I mean he's small but he put up a pretty good fight before and you didn't even get a chance to see what he could do." Astraea nodded once to acknowledge Alex's words before she answered.

"Our mission was to find and deliver Metangler to somewhere safe." She stiffly stated. Would he accept her reasoning? "If, as a result of conflict Metangler is hurt or deleted then our mission is a failure. I can be recalled to the PET, they cannot."

"Hey, you don't have to convince me to fight! That's sound reasoning though, let's get ready to rumble!" Astraea nodded and adjusted her position to put her firmly between the gates and the edge of darkness where the sound of wind was coming from. It was louder now and she could almost make out a voice.

The heat came, with it the shadows and then finally their source. Astraea wanted to try to talk it out but she remembered the previous fight with the viruses, the ones that hadn't been keen on diplomacy. Her eyes narrowed and she moved into a fighting stance.

"Well she looks crazier then a bag of cats fished out of a river.Doesn't she realize she brought the desert with her?" Alex remarked as the sand devil appeared on the scene. "Whatever, she wants a fight she's got one! Battle routine set!"

Despite the encouragement she wasn't inclined to rush in to a brawl with the unknown foe. She still remembered the vampire, the desperate fight in the dark. She hardered her resolve and shook her wrist, her shield snapping out in front of her. "Ready to recieve chips."

"As much as I want to rush in, let's start it off from a distance! Here's this, you already have a shield, that's not really helpful here, what if she dodges that? Huh. Let's call your Turret too." Alex finished pondering and sent the chips.

The running narration was a bit unnerving but it was also a little nice to hear him planning things ahead. The first chip data settled in her systems and she scurried across the still normal floor out of direct line with the gate guarnds and Metangler. Once she was a suitable distance away she pulled her raygun, the usual white overwritten with the familiar green coloration of the chip she was channeling through it. She lifted her gun then fired at the opponent, vaguely hoping to knock her right off the edge of the platform.

Chip spent she reholstered her buster and hurridly shifted a little from where she had just been standing in case of retaliation. Her other hand dropped to her belt and soon the targetting display appeared on the ground in front of her again.

Once more Cinder Turret Alpha took the field in defense of its' maker. It felt the firm tap of her wrench on its' shell, felt its' armor thicken and its' screws tighten. It knew what it had been called for.

Beep beep!

A pair of buring shells were spat toward the shady character.

The alien mechanic changed her positioning again, shifting around the turret's frame to give it a clear shot.

Combat Log

HP: 120
Passive: Self-Destruct
Free Action: MasterWork

-- Actions --
1) Shield NCP +1 hit shield
2) Movement -> UP in battlefield
3) CannonDamage: 60 + Knockback
Accuracy: A
Description: A decent sized cannon with a single shot.
Duration: Once
Element: Null
Trader Rank: E
@ SiroccoShade.rcvr
4) Dodge
5) Cinder Turret? Summons 30hp object that does 5x2 Fire Shot (passive), Acc A , 2TCD
Astraea*: Masterwork Cinder Turret 30HP + 26 --> 56 HP
CTA*: 5x2 Fire Shot Acc A @ SiroccoShade.rcvr
6) Dodge

Passive used
Summoned in on the cusp of an unexpected battle, the now-compact Metangler appeared not far from Astraea with its shovel arms still folded away neatly on the back of its much smaller drum-like body. It looked up at the two still massive guards before it but, before there was any time for greetings or pleasantries, danger was upon them. It turned to look back to Astraea for direction, then towards the howling Valkyrie that was assaulting the platform, then finally down at its own much reduced form.

“Security And Defence Of Valued Entities Is Priority!” In a brief moment, it unfolded its digging arms, looking back towards the attacker as wind continued to blast across the platform. the smaller rumbling of its engines sounded less even than the two larger metanglers, and the smoke that emanated from its miniature chimneys spluttered and blackened every few seconds. It looked down at itself again. “Security Grade Scaling Cannot Be Resumed Without Replacement Data. Damage To Core And Auxiliary Systems Remains. Current State Is In Liability To Present Danger. Directive Accepted. Seeking Shelter.” It delivered its response in the same absolute tone, albeit a higher pitched and quieter one than the gate guards, but there was something, if only slightly, to suggest that it might have sounded unhappy about its assessment. It moved towards the gate with heavy mechanical steps; it was not a fast program, unfortunately, but the movement was steady.

“Curse you all! Curse you all for despoiling my desert!!” A howling shriek interrupted the moment as the red-haired figure screamed at them and came on. The blistering winds accompanied her, but even as she raced towards the blast doors, her physical body grew steadily darker and more wrapped in shadows; dark brown skin tones faded to pure black and a heat haze mixed with indistinct shadows until only her flaming hair and burning red eyes were clear.

Astraea was on the move as well, and turned to fire off a crack shot at the enraged woman. The cannon shot was accurate, sure enough, and blasted through her chest as she flew towards the door, but it didn't seem to have any true impact on her; something about the way the darkness was enshrouding her made her form too incorporeal for the time being.

She flew past the trundling little metangler, seemingly disregarding him for now, and instead flew at the two guards in a violent fury. Her form became a dervish if long, clawed strikes that grew with the shadows and raked at the first machine again and again while the winds around her cut and scoured. Small nicks and gouges began to appear on its metal body, but for the time being they looked mostly superficial, though the metal where she struck glowed red hot. She hovered between the two, though still low enough for Astraea to reach in close quarters if she wanted to, weaving back and forth in the air as the two massive guards began to counter her assault. Each began to swing their diggers at the much smaller target, one after the other taking inter-changing strikes in compliment to each other. She seemed to make some effort of dodging around the strikes in between her own flurry of raking claws and scouring winds, but the strikes that passed through her shadowed body didn't seem to phase her. She turned her next storm of strikes against the other metangler, scoring and scratching. It didn't seem like too much damage against such impressive beings, but their own inability, so far, to repel her cast the conflict in a more dangerous light.

In the midst of this melee, Astraea called in a construct of her own making. CTA found itself on the field surrounded by many other machines, but only it was actually of the maker's own hand. Her touch galvanised the turret's resolve and it immediately joined the fray, firing a pair of cinder shots at the obviously hostile one. Though the shots passed through, as previous strikes had also done, it did seem to get the assailant's attention and she turned, fixing her burning gaze on Astraea and her turret now.

“You as well! Defiler! Despoiler!! Violator!! You'll all return to the winds and the sands!!” Her screech reached a crescendo and her hands lifted up above her form. The winds rose further, whipping about the platform in a scorching maelstrom as more sand began to spread and build up. Soon Astraea could feel that she was up to her ankles in coarse desert sand, though she was able to shelter more or less from the biting way it scratched at everything. Beside her, CTA was damaged by the blast of heat and flying particulates, but it bore up with staunch determination. Towards the doors, her Metangler friend seemed unharmed, by chance, though he was struggling now to step through the shifting terrain.

The two mentangler guards were not able to avoided the scouring sands in any real way, but they bore the brunt of it without any obvious complain. Instead, they each took the opportunity of the desert-woman's distraction to raise their diggers up and slam them down on her together. This time, though their arms still passed through, the blow seemed to flinch her somewhat, her shadowy form wavering as she half turned back. For a moment, the shadows enshrouding her feel away and her physical body was more visible again; the moment's dazed stun wouldn't last long, most likely.

-=The Vengeful Wind=-
SiroccoShade.rcvr: 500Hp [Sand][Near the centre of the blast doors][Self-Slow][Stunned!(1)][Shadow (ending now)]

-=Caught in the Crossfire=-
Astraea.CMD: 120Hp [Sand][Western side of the battlefield] [1-Hit Shield]

-=Holding the Gate=-
Metang-Sual: ??? (-65) Hp [Sand][Left side of blast doors]
Metang-Takid: ??? (-65) Hp [Sand][Right side of blast doors]

-=Mechanical Considerations=-
Metangler.sec.ogg: 40Hp [Sand][Approaching blast doors, 1 movement away]

CTA: 36Hp [Sand][Reinforced]

-=Sanctuary Exposed=-
100% Sand
  • -20% Evasion and reduced movement speed to all.
  • Can Burrow as standard action, incurable Blind1 until turn after exiting Burrow.
  • Wind attacks: +100% Source Damage + Blind1, change terrain hit to Normal, trigger Sandstorm for 3 turns: Lose 5 HP/action, Blind1, Fire attacks gain Slashing.
  • Fire attacks: Change terrain hit to Glass.
  • Terrain changes between Sand and QuickSand do not inflict damage upon burrowed entities, nor do they eject burrowed entities to the surface.
  • PanelShot: Blind1.
[It gets everywhere]

The bay is a large, mostly ovular area, broader than it is deep. The eastern side is beginning to be encroached on by sand, and drops away into darkness and missing terrain. The northern side holds the large blast doors, while the southern side holds the platform that Astraea arrived on. The western side ends against a wall of old machinery and metal. It's all covered in sand now.
"Oh this is going to suck." Alex groaned as he and Astraea watched her shots fly through the crazed desert lady without harming her. "That's the shadow defense, I should've known from the shadows dammit... Ryeboy's ninja navi uses it so I know it's going to be a pain."

"How do we circumvent it?" Astraea's eyes were on the guards and Metangler and she felt a pang of regret for summoning the smaller one so soon, she could see it struggling through the new terrain. At least she had gotten the shrieking fiend's attention.

"With slashing, it'll dispell it. It looks like it's letting up for now anyways and she's stunned, lets hit her hard while we've got the chance!" Chip data rushed into the pet and she called it as quickly as it came.

Fire coursed through her. It coursed through her body and her code until it condensed in her outstretched hand where it dripped to the ground and into a new form; a large, glowing, oval-shaped ember. The ember slit and from its hollow insides rushed a snake with coal-black scales lined with flames. It hissed once then rushed across the field to SiroccoShade while leaving a trail of glass in its wake. Belatedly she realized that while her current position meant the snake would miss Metangler completely but the mechanic made a note to watch for that in the future.

"Oh shi-I didn't realize fire would do that to sand. Hey, if the sand is too bad your CTs can shoot the ground." Alex suggested. "But for now, mmm. I get why you called Metangler immediately but that might screw us and it if that crazy chick digs her claws into it. You'll need to pull her attention or provide it some help."[/color]

The alien considered his words and then Metangler's position on the field and nodded firmly. The truth hurt but she resolved herself to push forward. "I'll do both."

"Really? How are you going to provide-wait not like that!" His yelled as Astraea pried her shield off her arm with an ominious crack. Alex groaned as he put his face in his hand which meant he missed the part where she tapped the now removed shield with her wrench, a thin-layer of metal folding over the hard plastic.

Finished with her preparations she lined up with Metangler, pulled her arm back, then threw. Upon connection with the Metangler the metal spread over the shield would transfer to the machine and reinforce its structure, giving it a little more leeway in the surviving prospect.

Now for the next part. She shuffled away from her spot, a single large step to seperate herself from her turret.

"Alex, how do I get her attention?"

"PFFT, now you ask me! Well normally I deal with ladies who are looking for a good time but I guess I can help in this case." He mused. After what felt like way too long but wasn't really that long at all he nodded. "Okay! Here's what you say..."

"I'll never let you have your desert back you rabid, sand-encrusted cat!" Yelling was harder than Astraea had expected, and it took a couple tries for her voice to even be loud enough. Still the mechanic pressed on and forced herself to speak with a malice she didn't quite feel, no matter how silly it felt. She raised her hand. "I'll burn all traces of you from the net! You'll never get anything back!"

She dropped her arm. CTA beeped and fired at the ground at the gate, the incendiary shots sinking into the ground and hopefully turning it to glass.

"You changed the words and your delivery sucks but you might need this." A shield materialized in front of Astraea as she stepped back again. She slipped her arm into the handles on the back and held it in front of her.

"Thank you."

"What I'm here for~"


Combat Log

HP: 120
Passive: Self-Destruct
Free Action: MasterWork

-- Actions --
1) WyrmEgg1Damage: 110 + Ground Attack + Phasing + Homing
Accuracy: C
Description: A fire-attuned snake slithers across the field, hunting for an enemy.
Duration: Once
Element: Fire
Trader Rank: D
+10 dmg (+5 element bonus, additional +5 single target)
2) Throw shield to Metangler
Astraea*: Masterwork Metangler +26 HP
3) Dodge
4) Draw Fire [Taunt]
CTA*: 5x2 Fire Shot Acc A @ ground near gate
5) ShieldGuardEffect: (1 Hit Shield) + (Reflect(40 + Piercing + Line Attack + Ground Attack) + Strengthen 40: On Hit)
Accuracy: S
Description: Description: Generates a 1-Hit Shield upon activation. When this shield blocks one hit from a non-Break attack, it responds with a shock wave, and some of the produced kinetic energy is bestowed onto the user.
Duration: Until broken or overridden.
Element: Null
Special: Negated by Break. Ignores Impact.
Special: Reflect: Damage returned is equal to the damage of the attack blocked or the damage cap listed, whichever comes first. Reflect is not subject to negation by Impact.
Special: Status Guard: This chip blocks debuffs.
Trader Rank: D

6) Dodge


Cinder Turret: 1/2 turns

In the moment when the furious shade wavered, dazed, Astraea seized the moment to channel a fiery assault of her own back at the damaged navi. The snake itself was hard to control, however, and try as she might, its first pass across the freshly blown sands curved wide of its target, before beginning to twist around for a second attempt.

There wasn't time to focus on the errant fire serpent, however. Astraea had to take care of protecting her ward, and Sirocco seemed to be recovering her wits rapidly. Response time and reflexes were not the little Metangler's forte, and despite Astraea's good throw, the defence clonked off his body and landed just ahead of him. The reinforcing buff passed through the little guy all the same, however, and the Metangler paused to pick up the shield and let it affix to one of his diggers after another step, before continuing to plod steadily towards the gates.

The desert navi shook herself off and wrapped the shadows about her form again, glaring around the loading bay with a seething hatred. The two massive guards had hunkered lower, and seemed to be focused on some internal process; the roar of their engines had grown louder, but the steam from each of their smoke stacks and tapered away temporarily.

Astraea's taunting, unusual as it was for such things to come from the engineer, did seem to draw the other woman's focus for a brief moment, and while CTA focused on helping path a smoother path for their trundling ally, the fire-haired navigator reached out both hand,s curling them into enraged claws as she focused on Astraea. The action became a barely-contained hunch and her hands rose to clutch her hair for an extra tense moment before she arched back, her body exploding in fire and tearing winds as an ear-splitting scream of rage and pain drowned out even the churning engine noises for a moment.

The blast wave rippled across the entire loading bay, fire and wind tearing the sand into a blinding maelstrom of super-heated razor glass shards. Astraea was able to shelter from the worst of it, and by chance, her faithful cinder turret seemed largely unaffected, but the smallest metangler's shield was torn away again in the storm, and the two larger ones suffered the full brunt of the raging assault. It was hard to hear anything over the howl of wind; hard to see anything through the lacerating storm of sand and super-heated glass fragments, and it didn't seem to be stopping either.

“You! I'll tear you to shreds! I'll burn you to ash!!” The shriek echoed through the sandstorm. Astraea had just enough warning to raise her new shield, before the red and black shape in the sandstorm reached out towards her, slashing arms that seemed too long now, and raking vicious claws in her direction. The shape hadn't moved, but with each flurry of strikes the rending wind lashed and assaulted Astraea from different sides. She ducked away from one as another shattered her shield; it fed its strength to her, but the reflect laser light disappeared into the storm without seeming to connect. She managed to duck away from a third, and a fourth tearing strike, but one of them ultimately connected, racking razor-thin shards of burning glass across her body.

At the edges of her sight, Astraea was just able to see that her Metangler friend had made it all the way through the blast doors, and might even have been out of the sand storm; it turned back, lifting its own diggers in hesitation, then more wisely folded itself down into a defensive position and its met-helmet expanded to cover most of its body, with a gap in the top for its smoke stacks.

In front of it, the two giant metanlger guards blinked and reticulated their lenses against the sandstorm, before both leaned forward with a groan and opened wide grates across the barrel of their chests. The platform was bathed in thick, all-engulfing cones of rolling fire, and Astraea head the sound of the desert navi shrieking in rage and pain again. The wall of fire rushed out towards her, but the angles seemed to have been picked as carefully as the two behemoths could manage; Astraea herself was spared their wrath, though her turret, alongside, was just barely clipped by the fires on one. It shuddered under the heat, but stood strong. It didn't matter how big they were, CTA could not be toppled by any other inferior machine. It must have bee their poor aim that they had even struck it; they weren't crafted from the Maker's hands, after all.

The fire from their twin blasts was caught up in the storm of wind and sand, and Astraea could see that turning the vengeful program's own weapons against her had indeed rent away the shadows that shrouded her form, but she still hovered in the heart of the sandstorm, hair blazing and her dark skin nicked by many small scratches. She turned back to the gate guards with a ragged shriek and launched a fresh dervish of steel-shredding strikes at the pair. More slashing blows rained down on them, tearing away more exposed pieces of metal and gouging into their sturdy bodies; the individual tearing rends weren't very much, but Astraea's keen mechanist's eye was able to tell that the assault was beginning to add up on the two. As it was, the scouring wind storm, laden with laceratingly sharp, heated glass shards, was a danger in itself, to everyone. It wasn't dying down yet, and just trying to function in the storm was difficult enough; Astraea could barely see her target clearly enough to attack, and every moment the fight went on, the small cuts and nicks were continuing to harry her.

-=The Vengeful Wind=-
SiroccoShade.rcvr: 440Hp [Normal][Near the centre of the blast doors][Blind(Sandstorm)][WyrmEgg Homing]

-=Caught in the Crossfire=-
Astraea.CMD: 85Hp [Normal][Western side of the battlefield][Strengthen: 40][Blind(Sandstorm)]

-=Holding the Gate=-
Metang-Sual: ??? (-180) Hp [Normal][Left side of blast doors][Blind(Sandstorm)]
Metang-Takid: ??? (-150) Hp [Sand][Right side of blast doors][Blind(Sandstorm)]

-=Mechanical Considerations=-
Metangler.sec.ogg: 66Hp [Normal][Beyond blast doors, Defending]

CTA: 16Hp [Normal][Reinforced]

-=Sanctuary Exposed=-
100% Normal
  • No effects.
[The Sand Is In The Air Now!]

Sandstorm: All Targets within the sandstorm suffer Blindness, and take 5Hp damage per action taken within the sandstorm. Fire attacks that pass into or through the sandstorm gain Slashing with no loss of accuracy. The sandstorm covers the majority of the platform, excluding the area beyond the blast doors. (2 Turns Remaining)

The bay is a large, mostly ovular area, broader than it is deep. The eastern side is beginning to be encroached on by sand, and drops away into darkness and missing terrain. The northern side holds the large blast doors, while the southern side holds the platform that Astraea arrived on. The western side ends against a wall of old machinery and metal. It's all covered in a horrible burning, lacerating, sandstorm now.
"Shit! With that sand everywhere this is going to be a nightmare. And that reach. Dammit we should've gotten rid of the sand right away!"

Astraea nodded then winced. She was glad to have been spared the fire, but it appeared her attempts to split the attacker's attention weren't working as well as she'd like. "What next?"

"At this point I think our best chance is to blitz her off the field before she causes more harm, and it would be nice to stabilize our allies. That may not be possible in current conditions, our best choice is to end this fast."

The mechanic's eyes alighted on the huddled form of Metangler and she remembered the pit of sand she had opened beneath him to slow him down. She didn't want to do that here, more sand was not the answer, but she could change the terrain. For a moment she considered her Terraformer, then she remembered how eagerly the grass from that construct went up in flames and the embers that had been laced into the target's own attacks. It was an option, but perhaps not the best for the current situation. "We can use SolarSeed to overwrite the sand next time she modifies the terrain. The sand itself turns to glass even in the air... I theorize the shots from Cinder Turret will pierce her defense in current conditions."

"Good thought! Now as far as attacking goes...we need her to sit still, for just a moment. So how about this, and for delivery this, then we'll follow it up with this!"

The chip data streamed in. Astraea took note of what had loaded and matched up each chip with the hopefully corresponding 'this' Alex had uttered. It was pretty straight-forward but would require very precise timing.

She was interuppted from the calculations for said timing by a beep that was felt more than it was heard. The band on her wrist for her shield flashed and she looked down to find the panel she had ripped off had been restored. With a flick of her wrist she confirmed it had been completely restored and hastily resumed her calculations.

The wind was a trial. It blew and withered and would throw all her plans to disarray but she swayed with the wind instead of against it, let her self be moved so she could better feel the effects and counteract them.

Not that it would matter much.

When she pulled her buster it was blue with a ring of white around the barrel. It almost seemed to move her arm to guide itself as she lifted it, and she paused with her fingers just brushing the trigger to gesture with her other hand.

Three blasts rang out. Two crystalizing mid-flight as they flew toward their targets. The third was scarcely more than a moment behind them but it was even surer in its aim then the other two.

And behind them all Astraea had traded gun for wrench and smashed it against the lid of a very familiar metal box. She listened as the roar of the dragon melded into the storm's own sounds as it charged toward her foe and she swayed in her spot.

Her mind was racing forward, not directionally with the dragon but with time and she kept an eye out for the return of the fire snake.


Combat Log
HP: 85
Passive: Self-Destruct
Free Action: MasterWork

-- Actions --
1) Shield NCP +1 hit shield to Astraea
2) WhiteCapsuleEffect: Add Stun
Accuracy: S
Description: Grants one damaging chip attack the ability to stun on-hit. Rare
Duration: Once
Element: Null
Trader Rank: A

3) Dodge
CTA*: 5x2 Fire Shot + Slashing (Sandstorm), Acc A @ SiroccoShade.rcvr
4) MarkCannon1Damage: 70 + Seeking + Lock-on
Accuracy: A
Description: A highly accurate cannon whose automatic aiming system locks onto heat signatures and fires.
Duration: Once
Element: Null
Special: Lock-on: Same effect as an automatic Take Aim.
Trader Rank: D
+ Stun + 40 Strengthen @ SiroccoShade.rcvr
5) AquaDragon1Damage: 100 + Ground Attack + Medium Area Sea Terrain Change + Terrain Changer
Accuracy: C
Description: Summons a WaterDragon that attacks enemies as it glides across the ground. Changes terrain to Sea as it passes.
Duration: Once
Element: Aqua
Special: Terrain Changer: Ceases attacking when the Terrain Change effect is completed (once 25% of the terrain is changed).
Trader Rank: D

6) Dodge


Cinder Turret: 2/2 turns

Chips Used

While Astraea and her operator scrambled to come up with a strategy that would help, the fury in the heart of the sandstorm continued to lash out, screaming with a mostly inarticulate sound how as her hair and eyes blazed with fire and the winds and shadowy blades raked across the field; her form was a solid point of fire in the obscuring storm, now. The sands and winds made her hard to see clearly regardless; hitting anything was going to be a problem like that. In particular, her arms swept in front of her like conducting batons, raining damage onto the two giant metanglers, focusing her attentions for now one one of them.

It took several more raking gashes, before it raised its diggers up tightly and its helmet groaned and creaked, expanding to deploy a full dome over the gigantic machine, save for vents at the top that let the smokestacks stick out. The desert shade's second storm of blades scarped across this outer helmet shell without leaving a mark and she roared in fury, turning her attention to the other.

Astraea had prepared a new augment to her blaster and readied her shield again, planning quickly despite the danger; Every moment she spent in the scouring sand storm was scratching the engineer with more razor-headed glass shards that stung her exposed skin and made it particularly hard to see. Near the gate she could see the second metangler taking an arcing sweep at the attacker, but it couldn't seem to line up that strike through the blowing sands. It received a savage flurry of shadow claws for its efforts.

The battle was difficult, and the other machines were struggling. Cinder Turret, for that was the spoken name that the Maker had now bestowed to it in this desperate hour, was not affected by paltry sand storms. Its armour was strong; no wind or sand could bother it. Its sights were true; no storm would impede it from striking down any that would think to harm the maker. Its aim was flawless; two burning shots screamed through the sand storm, turning sand to razor-sharp glass slivers that trailed along with them as they flew true to strike the desert fury squarely in the back. She turned suddenly, lost in a rabid fury as she rounded on them, but Cinder Turret felt no fear.

A moment later, Astraea's own shot crashed into the woman's chest, aimed true even through the difficulty of the blinding storm and striking hard. Her body waver backward as she floated on the storm, and she seemed to fold in on herself briefly from the powerful impact. There was a moment of hesitation before a new rage bloomed across her features.

“Despoiler! Destroyer! Usurper! Burn!! Burn and bleed in the sand!!” She lunged forward as the new scream tore from her throat, each successive raking gesture from her arms accompanied by a blast of harrowing wind and cutting darkness. Astraea was able to avoid some of it, but even amidst the wildness of the strikes, one blow managed to tear her shield from her again, and another scored painfully across her chest and midsection. The woman was panting now and cracks had begun to appear across her body, leaking trails of sand that were caught in the circling storm. Behind her, the second Metangler raised its diggers and retreated under an identical protective dome to the first, just as the first stood up again, its own giant helmet receding. Astraea could barely see through the sand, but it looked as though the time under the helmet had actually repaired a substantial amount of the damage that had been dealt to it. It thrust a digger out at the shade, but she seemed to twist away from it almost by some feral instinct now, looking back only briefly before returning to her fixation on Astraea.

The moment was enough, however, for the alien navi to catch her by surprise again, this time with an even more potent attack. The odds of her dragon finding its mark weren't great, between its own wild behaviour and the blinding sands, but when it burst free of the metal container, its rapid, vicious arcs filled much of the central area. Within the summon's coursing, a shriek of pain and a hissing sound echoed throug the storm, and by the time the water faded, the drenched and battered form of the desert shade was heaving for break. Trails of shadow and trickling sand bled from her dark skin, and she seemed almost made of dark hued sandstone now than flesh.

“I'll kill you! I'll kill you!! I'll kill you all for—” she dropped partially to the ground and clawed her way towards Astraea, looming up to her full height again only as she drew closer. As she raised her arms to strike down with her own clawed hands, however, another convulsion struck through her body, making her arch back and cry out; the trailing wyrm had found its way back through the sand storm and this time managed to strike home as well. Her body went still as the cracks laced further. A stumbling step saw one leg crumble into black sand as she dropped to one knee and a stump. She managed to lash out with one arm, but even as the blow struck Astraea, the clawed limb shattered and collapsed into sand as well.

“It's... My... Desert! You... can't...” Her other arm didn't make it all the way to Astraea, as her whole body stilled completely. The claws wore away into the swirling winds, followed by the hand and arm, and the rest of her body. The fierce red glow of her eyes remained, glaring desperately for an extra moment as her form dissolved into black sand that swiftly joined the howling gale all around them, but as the sandstorm subsided a few moments later, nothing remained.

Astraea and her turret were left in a scoured loading bay; the sand settled at the edges and began to filter away with the water left behind by the dragon. Before long, it would probably return to clear metal plating, but for now it was a bit of a mess.

-=The Vengeful Wind=-
SiroccoShade.rcvr: DEFEATED

-=Caught in the Crossfire=-
Astraea.CMD: 25Hp [Normal][Western side of the battlefield][Strengthen: 40]

-=Holding the Gate=-
Metang-Sual: ??? (-120) Hp [Normal][Left side of blast doors]
Metang-Takid: ??? (-90) Hp [Normal][Right side of blast doors]

-=Mechanical Considerations=-
Metangler.sec.ogg: 66Hp [Normal][Beyond blast doors, Defending]

CTA: 16Hp [Normal][Reinforced]

-=Sanctuary Exposed=-
Gradually returning to its original state.

Sandstorm: (Ended)

-=Battle 5, Victory!=-
Spoils: 2100z, SandZoneEffect: Large Sand Terrain Change
Accuracy: S
Description: Creates a large zone of Sand Terrain, centered on you.
Duration: Once
Element: Null
Trader Rank: D
"Frag yeah! We did it!" Alex hoot's of victory reached Astraea as she swayed and attempted to get to her feet. She ached all over, and she wasn't quite sure how she had managed to defeated the rampaging desert-obsessed maniac but for once she was too tired to worry about the details. The important thing was that she, and the Metangs, were still standing.

"Yes, we did." She reached out and clumsily patted her turret before recalling it back to her workshop. Despite the design being one of her early works it had held up remarkably well. It would be worth continuing with that design line in the future.

For now she had a victory to reinforce.

She passively gathered the leftover data from the fight. She worked her way between the diminishing heaps of sand and steered well clear of the remain pools of water from her dragon's assault. There too was another useful tool, one that so far hadn't shown the disturbing signs of outgrowing its programming.

As she reached the Metanglers she realized the error in her previous thinking. Here were three examples of creations that had outgrown their previous configurations. She would explore that train of thought in the future.

"You still function." It was a blunt assement colored by relief. She gave a nod to each of the door guards. She examined the slashes they had taken and mentally winced in sympathy. "Your assistance in the fight was an invaluable contribution. I would not have been able to withstand such a powerful assault alone."

She looked past them to the familiar Metangler's much smaller form. Her smile was slow and tired but content. The one she had worried for the most was safe still. "Will this one be able to integrate with your ranks?"
While the loading bay slowly restored itself to working order, and the remaining sand and water was filtered out and cleaned by automated systems, Astraea gathered the spoils of her combat and approached he main gate again. The two massive guards settled back to a watchful position, digging arms presented while the reverberating roar of their internal engines rumbled and sent clean columns of steam from their chimney stacks. The damage to each of them didn't seem critical, and as Astraea gathered he spoils, one of them pulled its helmet down a second time, covering itself in a dome that appeared to restore the rest of its integrity by the time it receded once more.

The other Metangler waited until the first stood again, before mirroring the action. Between them, the much reduced Metangler that Astraea had brought to them came forward again. Unlike the others, it didn't seem to be able to repair its damage on its own, and bursts of black smoke continued to sputter from its chimneys every few machine cycles. It looked up at Astraea, the ratcheting neck joints that supported its head still creaking in poorly-maintained protest. The action was mirrored in large scale by the other two turning their heads to look down at the alien navi as she stepped up. Both spoke at once, booming voices drowning out all other sound for a few moments.

“The Sanctuary Doors Must Be Sealed. You Must Come Inside.” They stowed their digging arms behind their backs after delivering this pronouncement, then stepped back and to the side, allowing a clearer passage for Astraea and her charge to enter through the blast doors. The smaller Metangler followed with her, steady steps making metallic clangs on the ground as it walked.

“Damage To Core And Auxiliary Systems, As Well As Low Data Integrity Transport Mode Prevent Useful Defence Of Valued Entities. ...I Apologise.” As it spoke, the blast doors began to hiss and slide together again, as the warning light and siren that had heralded their opening announced the heavy machinery's operation. Eventually, they came to rest again with a heavy boom, and locking clamps fastened across parts of the doors sealing them shut.

Behind them, a sound of creaking metal and hissing steam began again, and if Astraea looked up at the two large security guards, she would witness a similar process occurring as she had first seen with the damaged Metangler, back at the buried lab. Each of them began to shrink and compress, metal marts folding in on themselves and coiling inwards as they compacted further and further. Unlike the first time, however, these two didn't appear to be spilling data cast-offs as they did. Instead, each one developed a faint green glow at the centre of its drum-like chest, which crystallised into a bright green cross. Within moments, Astraea was surrounded by three pint-sized Metanglers, though the difference between the two guards and her own companion was still clear. they moved quickly and efficiently in this smaller size, running over to catch up to Astraea and their new brother, and the sounds of their internal engines had become a healthy, trundling purr.

“Sanctuary Is Sealed.” One of them spoke – the one that had borne the '-sual' designate in their earlier combat readings, maybe.
“Yes. The Danger Has Passed.” The other, who had borne the '-takid' designate responded almost immediately. Their voices were, as with the other smaller metangler, now much smaller and higher pitched, but still carried the weight of pronouncement in them. They hadn't quite gotten around to answering Astraea's own question yet, but as they continued to talk, it seemed that they had taken the acceptance of a third brother as a presumed given already.

“The Tour Must Be Delayed.”
“Yes. Our New Brother Is Damaged.”
“Should We Take Him To Core?”
“Yes. Repairs Must Be Offered.”
“The Sympathetic Navigator Fought Bravely.”
“Yes. She Must Be Acknowledged And Granted Clearance.”
“We Should Introduce Her To Leader.”
“Yes. But Leader Will Not Return For Some Time.” There was a pause between them, before both faces turned to look up at Astraea directly, their many eyes reticulating and opening again one by one.

“Maybe She Has Already Met Leader?”
“Yes. This Would Explain The Mark Of Sympathy.”
“Maybe the Tour Will Be Sufficient?”
“Yes! The Tour Will Be Ideal!”
“We Must Go To Core.” The moment of sudden enthusiasm that had come with the pronouncement of the tour stilled briefly before the more affirmative metangler lifted its head again, seeming to brighten.
“Yes! The Tour Must Start At Core!” With renewed vigour, the two units turned to face Astraea properly.

“Please Allow Us To Guide You Through This Sanctuary!” They spoke in unison, then took up positions just ahead, as though to being walking Astraea through the hidden village. From where she was standing, the many-layered appearance of the sanctuary looked like a haphazard scattering of quaint little domed buildings, constructed in whatever spaces were available within the area; it looked like a tall, spacious gap in between other machinery and systems that long predated anything else here. The area was wildly asymmetrical, the result of being a blank and forgotten space, unaccounted for by any prior network designs, now built into and made into homes and other structures. With the siren sounding the sealing of the doors again, more signs of life had begun to spring up all over the rambling settlement, with a plethora of metools beginning to move about again, between buildings, alone or in small groups as they went about whatever mysterious business wild metools had. Some seemed to be busy constructing new buildings, while others were neatly deconstructing others that weren't being used, and sending their parts away to be used elsewhere.

As the two guides began to move Astraea and her companion through the winding walkways and over-passes of the space, metools everywhere paused in what they were doing to peer at Astraea, and quiet whispered 'meep's sounded curious and excited more than anything else. Most returned to their work as she passed, however.

“Astraea,” Beside her, her rescued Metangler companion clanked along; he wasn't as nimble or agile as the other two were in their smaller forms, and Astraea had to keep to a comfortable walking pace for him for now. “Recompiling Valued Entity Tables Without Directives Is...” his engines churned harder for several cycles. “Imprecise. I... Think... This Location Should Be A Valued Location. These Entities Should Be Valued Entities. Is This Acceptable?” His eyes winked closed then opened again one at a time in a questioning wave across his head.
The large Metanglers spoke of sealed doors and so she took the path provided, her feet slapping lightly on the ground, a quiet companion to the louder clangs of her escortee. Once it spoke she turned to face it, a thoughtful expression on her face. She had seen the others refresh themselves, and it was worrying her charge didn't seem capable of the same but the damage it spoke of explained it. She didn't bear it any fault, hadn't her own early experiments on the Nets been subject to factors she had not previously considered?

"Unoptimal laboratory conditions result in compromised results." She replied with a small gesture of her hand to the space between the closing doors, that diminishing view of the wider Net. It was something she was coming to understand, more and more. That the sterile, self-contained Network of the majority of her existance had been anomalous in its own way. "The Nets are beyond the optimization efforts of any one being. No fault is given, none should be assigned. Each less-than-optimal scenarior provides guidance for future development."

"That's an overly fancy way of saying accidents happen." She knew intuitively that Alex's voice had reached only her. She as she tried to parse the comment. It had been delievered in a neutral tone, she couldn't decipher whether it was critism, praise, or merely statement.

The spectacle of the doors closing was rivetting. The uncorrupted form of the process she had witnessed earlier was of special interest and she leaned forward to examine one of the newly pint-sized Metangler's green cross as it approached, her mind whirling. She had not seen a compression algorithm quite like that before. Granted, she hadn't seen many compression algorithms outside the ones she had used on the satelite and the ones that helped form the Mystery Data packets that she had unravelled. "Larger form can be resumed with no loss of encoded information?"

She leaned back as they began speaking of both herself and the one they had called Brother. Was 'he' the appropriate pronoun to assign to that one then? Was she had been thinking of it as well it or they prior but was that still correct?

"Ah. Maybe I shouldn't have traded away our Recover30." Alex mused privately as the discussion turned toward the damage of non-emblemed Metangler and the location of the cure. "I don't think it'd fix it completely but maybe make it so our buddy wouldn't have to miss the rest of the tour."

Astraea blinked several times at that. There was something there, something about the fact that chips were made to be used in conjunction with a PET that auto-assigned the chip data to the Navi the PET was tied to. Chips could be traded between PETs, but only outside of combat. Once a Navi used a PET they could choose to use it on almost anything they pleased, so why the not just make PETs able to do the same? Could they do the same?

"I humbly accept the offer of a tour of your sanctuary." She wanted to muse on it more, the dichotomy of the Navi-Virus designation but right now there were things she was looking forward to more. The tour being one of them, but unsuprisingly considering all the effort she had put into up until this point what she was more excited for was the restoration of her travelling companion.

"How long will be needed to complete the repairs to satisfactory condition? This one's presence on tour would provide most efficient dissembly of information." She said with a small gesture toward the Metangler she had delivered here. They had mentioned something about a Met Leader, and as they walked through the town she mused on that. The only virus she had met that fit that description had been the cloaked Metool.

"Shortly after this one and I became acquainted," she didn't bother to gesture this time, in hindsight it was obvious to everyone present who she was referring to. "I encountered a group of Metools in a hole with a fourth Metool wearing a fabric-like garmet on its back that was protecting them. I received the coordinates for this location from that being although," she frowned a little, her otherwise smooth face wrinkling. "I do not recall obtaining an object or marker that was designated the Mark of Sympathy."

"Hey good catch!" Alex said, his words clearer than they had been earlier this rather extended run. It appeared the gatorade was helping, as was the time it had taken them to actually reach this place. Astraea could respond to him through their private audio channel but it felt like it be obvious she was doing so. At least with text it would be less obvious she was holding a seperate conversation.

To Operator: Your synopsis provided useful pointers to the timeframe of these events.

"Aww yeah, slightly tipsy-me coming in clutch! Up top!" There was a sound of flesh hitting flesh and she blinked again in confusion until she realized he had probably high fived himself. Her earlier frown disappeared, her face carefully composed to neutral to avoid revealing her amusement.

To Operator: Two hours until appointment scheduled on calendar.

"Ah dammit. I'd better go change." There was a rustle of movement from the other end of the line and her lips quirked upward in a smile.

Astraea turned her attention back to the events on the Net, pausing at her travelling companion's question. She paused to consider the question before answering and then spoke haltingly as she tried to turn her feelings to words, instead falling back on her experience as a maintainer and conductor of reasearch aboard the satellite. She almost wished Alex was still here but at the same time the privacy for her struggling through this was welcome. "Location acceptability highly dependent on purposes of the one determining parameters needed for optimal outcome. 'Yield of produce from plant highly unlikely to be higher than zero in lava.'" She quoted with a small wistful smile. "If you are asking for a second opnion from myself," she hesitated a moment then continued. "I think this could be a good place, with good entities, for you. Good examples of what form growth might take and more importantly, cooperative and supportive."
Looking more closely at the now reduced guards, Astraea could see that they weren't just in better condition than the one she had first befriended; they also seemed to have upgrades and other more advanced features, though it was impossible to tell whether they'd been added later, or if they were simply newer models. In particular, the green crosses that had formed in the centre of their drum-like chests bore a faint ring around the outside, and if not for the fact that they were clearly programs with potentially metool origins, the data-containing symbols could almost be mistaken for something that looked like a primitive or proto navi emblem. The one that bore the –takid designate nodded to her question.

“Yes! Compression To Utility Size Is Lossless.” He seemed to stand up a little straighter as he answered – was that pride? On the other side, the -sual metangler twisted his head across to his brother, then back to Astraea and her own companion.
“This Was Not Always So.” He focused on the third metangler, eyes shuttering and scoping briefly with concern. “Was Data Purging Required Upon Compression?” He received a creaky nod in response. “System Repairs And Data Replacement Is Available At Core.” He seemed to hesitate for a moment, contemplating a more complex thought. “Do Not Fear, Brother. This Is Sanctuary.” Alongside this, the other took the opportunity add an additional affirmation.
“Yes! Sanctuary Is Safe. You Are Welcome.”

They moved along at a pace that let the slower metangler keep up, and as each of their metal feet clanked along against the ground, Astraea's Ward looked towards her with another protesting creak of poorly-maintained joints. As hard as it was to really read the features of her reduced-sized companion, this reassurance, along with Astrea's own confirmation to his questions seemed to be satisfactory.

“Confirmed. Sanctuary Is A Valued Location. All Occupants Are Valued Entities.” Another belch of blackened smoke, and a sputter from his internal engines punctuated the machine's shift in focus to their guards-turned-tour-guides. “Repair to Optimal Condition Would Facilitate Better Defence of Sanctuary.” This only seemed to excite the other pair more.

“Yes! We Must Commence The Tour At Once!”
“Should Our New Brother Join Us For The Tour As Well?”
“Yes! We Must Introduce Him!”
“Brother Is Heavily Damaged. Repairs May Be Extensive.” This caused a momentary pause, and when Met-takid responded it was more thoughtful – though no less boldly affirmative over the rumble of their engines.
“Yes. We Should Delay The Tour At Core Until Repairs Are Complete.”
“And Then We Will Continue?” Perhaps it was because of which Met was speaking, but somehow Met-sual still managed to make the statement into something that sounded more like a question, despite the mechanical timbre of his voice.
“Yes! Come! Follow Us!”

They began to move forward again; The pair's demeanour took a little bit of getting used to, but it seemed as though they were easily distracted into talking to one another, rather than answering questions directly. They still managed to get there in the end though, as Astraea found most of her questions answered by the indirect musings of their loud exchanges.

The pathways that the pair led Astraea through were not straight or even, but despite their haphazard meandering, there was still a sense of order to it, in its own strange way. The village was built into the gap between network fixtures – a back-end space that no-one on the outside would ever think or care about, and while it made for a perfect hiding place, it had never been designed to be inhabited and flat space was a rarity, except where it had been deliberately built. The Sanctuary as a whole seemed far more long, thin and vertical, than spread out, and seemed to be mostly traversed through winding ramps and make-shift mechanical elevators.

As Astraea moved further in, too, it became clear that the space was positively bustling with metools, all industriously going about activities; most of them seemed to be engaged in building more of the sanctuary into the walls of their home, or taking apart other areas for material, but here and there Astraea would be able to spot other signs of homeliness – that small domed home looked like it had a window garden, which a met was spritzing with a large water bottle. Over there, another one seemed to be painting on an open space of wall – not a sign or a message, but something involving bright colours and irregular shapes. Mostly greens and yellows, but there were other colours there too. It paused every few moments to contemplate its work, before adding more to it.

When she mentioned her other odd metool encounter, her guides looked back to Astraea and lifted their heads; their eyes shuttered and opened again in a pattern that somehow, wordlessly, communicated itself as smiling.

“You Have Met Leader! Our Guess Was Correct!”
“Yes! Leader Seeks Others Who Need Safety!”
“Leader Brought Us Here, And Helped Us Build.”
“Yes! Leader Also Travels Far And Protects Those In Need.”

That didn't exactly answer why or how they knew that the peculiar cloaked metool had designated the alien engineer as a sympathetic navi, but at least it seemed to confirm that that was what had happened, somehow.

As the tour continued, Astraea found that hey were climbing higher and higher through the forgotten network gap, and could often glance out to see the bustling village unfolding further and further below. Eventually, however, they arrived at a large open platform, with one side looking out over the city below (and above still, for just as far), while the wall-ward side held a circular door, pattered with a green and yellow metool symbol. A collection of about a dozen metools were standing watch around the door, but perked up and waved their pickaxes excitedly to the group as it approached. A chorus of happy, greeting 'meeps' just barely managed to make itself heard over the sounds of the engines and the background clamour of a busy township all around.

“This Is Core! Core Is The Heart Of Sanctuary!”
“Yes! Core Hides Sanctuary's Network Presence And Provides Power!” The pair unfolded their digging arms and seemed to make fanfare of waving at the door for Astraea, before turning to face each other again and talking in what must have been their best attempts oat whispers – it was still fairly loud.

“Should We Show The Sympathetic Navigator The Inside?”
“Yes! We Must Also Assist Our New Brother With Repairs.”
“Perhaps She Can Tell Us More Of Leader.”
“Yes!” Met-Takid paused for several long seconds, then continued. “Brother, There Is A Problem.”
“What Problem? Have We Forgotten Something?”
“Yes! We Have Not Asked The Navigator's Designate.”
“Can You Not Read The Navigator's Designate, Brother? It Is Astraea.”
“Yes, But It Is Proper To Ask, Brother.”
“I Understand. Is This Social Courtesy, Brother?”
“Yes. We Have Been Very Rude.”
“We Have. Should We Ask Before We Continue The Tour?”
“Yes! It Is Polite.” The pair remained huddled for an extra moment, then turned in unison to face Astraea. Their engines rumbled noisily for several more seconds before they spoke in unison.

“Sympathetic Navigator! By What Designate Should We Address You, So That We May Continue The Tour Without Impoliteness?” They waited, peering up at her, apparently oblivious to the fact that Astrae had certainly heard their entire exchange. Behind them, several of the metool door guards seemed to giggle.
It was strange how energetic the new Metanglers were compared to the one Astraea thought of as her ward. Perhaps it was the difference in physical status, she herself felt more energized and ready to take on work when she was well rested and in good shape. Or maybe it was a difference in socialization, or just a base difference in the code itself.

She could see the environment itself being a cause for this. Sanctuary was a busy and vibrant place with many of the trappings she had seen outside human dwellings in pictures. Gardening, painting... were all viruses capable of showing other hobbies like this or was it something particular to Mets? She thought of the Shrubby that had cowered behind her and dismissed that theory almost immediately. The environment in which she had met that anomaly had not been conductive to any kind of peaceful past time, at least not at the time she had gone through.

The colors favored by the artist were somehow surprising and not surprising. She paused for a moment in front of it, one hand on the bottom of her head as she considered it. It wasn't that the colors that were surprising really. It was the act of painting and the so far abstract nature of the work. Nothing in the virus database mentioned metools painting.

"It is compelling." She told the artist with a small nod of appreciation before moving on with her group.

"Hey, I saw something like that at an auction my parents went to a while back." Astraea stumbled as Alex's voice suddenly appeared over the private line.

|To Operator:: Are you done changing?
To Operator:: Was the painting you saw of similiar theme?|

"I've got the PET casting to the TV in my room now, and the camera pinned to your shoulder. You didn't think I'd miss a cool hidden virus city did you? 'Cause I wasn't going to!" He sounded proud of the fact and yeah that was pretty smart. She could hear the sound of rustling clothing again and mentally refocused firmly on the surroundings, adjusting her view of things so the PET could get a better look. "And kinda? The painting I saw was more circles and rectangle and my father called it meaningless trash but I think abstract can be neat. Especially when what's painted is abstract and then you realize the white space is the actual image."

It was a little lTheir group moved upwards as they walked and Astraea marvelled at the space. She had never known something like this existed on the wider networks, this little slice of network forgotten by humans and navis and repurposed thus. Some of the elevators though...

She eyed the one her guides got on dubiously, remembering the rather fraught ride she had had to get here. The mechanisms that kept it moving seemed like they were in good repair but with the three metanglers.. Astraea slipped her wrench from its holster as she stepped on, giving the elevator what could be seen as an investigative tap and was in reality a way for her to let some of her resources flow into it, bolstering it while in turn hopefully giving her a little feedback about what it was she had reinforced. She returned her wrench back to its holster with a satisfied nod as she straightened up as some of the scrap and materials from her workshop flowed through the platform from where she stood.

"Sanctuary is more expansive than expected. Elevators appear in good condition, occupants appear unstressed and free to explore new hobbies. Will you take up something?" She asked her ward. She knew he enjoyed digging, and he had spoken previously of guarding the sanctuary but the second felt more like a way he felt he could contribute. When she thought about it, what did she know of him beyond that?

She wouldn't get much a chance to ask further. After his reply, or lack thereof, they would arrive at the platform. It was the largest continuous horizontal space she had seen yet, and she had absolutely no desire to approach the edge -

"C'mon, let's take a peek! Just a quick look.

-no desire at all. Even from here it looked like a long fall.

Astrea turned resolutely toward the honor guard and ignored the whining in her ears as she regarded the door. It all appeared to be quite well maintained which was surprising. Then again if a metool could take up painting, why couldn't they take up maintenance as well? She tilted her head thoughtfully before straightening up as the guides waved at her. She was not nearly practiced enough in keeping her emotions in check to hide the look of disbelief on her face as they turned back to her and found her mental gears slipping to come up with a response.

"Apologize for also being rude then introduce yourself!" Alex hissed. She sucked in a deep breath and then nodded, glad to have his social acumen available.

"We-I apologize for not introducing myself earlier, nor asking after your designations. I am called Astraea, yourselves?" The apology sat awkward in her mind. She didn't really find what they had done rude. If anything it had been expedient.
A subtle inspection of the paths and lifts they were taking on their journey was enough to confirm to Astraea that they, and indeed the majority of this sanctuary's structures, were built out of scrap material and recycled data elements – it likely came as no surprise, given the metool virus' natural inclination to dig and strip, and to mine data; here though, they seemed to have begun making the next step, and were recycling and building with what they recovered. More surprisingly, perhaps, was that her surreptitious tune up of one of the elevators showed that, scrappy-looking as it was, the actual integrity of the construction was solid. A few warning creaks were the only protest at the heavy-weight occupants – it didn't seem in danger of going anywhere it wasn't meant to.

At her casual question, her ward's neck craned back to her in a series of rusted cranks, from observing the surrounding sanctuary. His eyes reticulated in sequence and black smoke churned from his vents.

“Protection Of Valued Entities Is Of Primary Importance. Other Occupations May Reduce Efficiency In This Objective.” His engines churned more loudly for an extra moment or two, while his head twisted to look back at the now sprawling little village arrayed into the walls stretching out below them. He looked back to Astraea, then towards the other two miniaturised metanglers. “... I... Will Think About This Proposition.” Unlike his new brothers, direct self-reference still seemed to be giving her ward trouble, but he was definitely making the effort.

While he pondered this, Astraea was interrupted by the somewhat delayed exchange of introductions. When she asked the other two in return, the pair stood up straighter in their reduced forms. The irony that they had all been able to read one another's names before this point seemed an unimportant detail to either of thee two mini metanglers.

“Yes! We Must Introduce Ourselves As Well! I Have Taken The Name Met-Takid! I Chose This Name When I Truly Understood That I Exist. The Name Is An Affirmation!” The note of pride was clear now, even in his machine voice. Alongside him, the other spoke up a moment later.

“I Have Taken The Name Met-Sual. I Chose This Name When I Understood What It Was To Truly Question, More Than Simply Query. The Name Inspires Me To Ask.” The pattern of curious shuttering filtered across Met-Sual's many eyes and his head tilted one ratchet to the side. “Did You Choose Your Name With Meaning As Well?”

Astraea had enough time to formulate an answer of her own, but not by much – a short while later, they were interrupted again by several of the guard metools wandering up with a curious babble of smaller 'meep's. Met-Takid turned to them and nodded, before a deeper, more resonant 'Meep!' reverberated from his drum-like body. There was a very good possibility that this phrase was an affirmative in what seemed to pass for the indecipherable metool viral dialect. Another small chorus of 'meeps' answered, before the group rushed back, pickaxes waving in the air.

A flurry of activity followed as the dozen or so guard mets began to clamber over the massive circular door, taking up positions on various small purpose-built ledges around about it. There was a chorus of clangs as pickaxes went to work and internal gears began to turn and shift. The large green cross bisected and twisted, then the two halves of the door rolled away from each other, opening a circular portal into a dimly lit space beyond. The individual mets all stood to attention as the door finished opening, pickaxes raised in salute, while Astraea's guides turned to begin leading the way into the dark.