[Collab] Week 438: Meeting The Metal Man

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Aeria Luxus

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Once again, Aeria waited patiently outside of the inn for Lea to meet her. It was a bright, crisp morning and the lean spurii wore a long leather coat, heavy cotton pants and high boots into which the pants were tucked. Her halberd, as ever, rested in her grip and her face wore a neutral expression as her violet eyes swept over the crowd.

The pair were on their way to meet the massive demvir detective who was one of Aeria’s best and oldest friends. He was a man of ability and intellect, but one who also radiated a deep humanity. He was on a rare day off and it was an ideal time to introduce Lea to him in the hopes that they’d get along.

Eventually the young (old?) man emerged from the front door of the inn and the spurii strode over to greet him. “Hey Lea! How are you feeling this morning? Ready to go meet my big metallic chum? I promise he’s a good person to know.”


“Well, if he’s anything like you, I’m sure it’ll go fine.” Despite the cheery tone, Lea’s smile was paper-thin beneath the collar of his newly-bought winter coat, and there was a shadow of exhaustion in his cornflower blue eye this morning. He hadn’t slept - again. And while he didn’t need to, either, the long empty hours between dusk and dawn had started to wear on him. He didn’t like the periods of stillness. They made him think of--

It was nonsense. Nothing was stopping him from doing...well, whatever he wanted. He could run off at a full sprint down the street, and the only thing that might stop him was the bustling crowd. ...And perhaps the concern of a particular young woman.

Liaelty took a breath and let it out, tugging absently on a strand of his loose white hair. “Anyway, I’m doing just--”

A glint of light drew his gaze to Aeria’s halberd, the blade’s edge bright in the morning sunshine. There it was - the same as the day before. Something - ugly - familiar? Painful - gods, it hurt. Something gnawing at the back of his skull--

For a half-moment, he saw, with perfect, brutal clarity, that same halberd blade buried halfway in Aeria’s pale throat. Blood pooled beneath her and flecking the underside of her chin. Her violet eyes fixed on him, glazed and lifeless.

It felt real. Possible. Imminent. Why? Why would he picture that? Lea wrenched his stare away from the weapon. “I’m -”awful he imagined saying. I don’t sleep, the nights feel like years, half the time I think I’m still underwater, and I don’t know who or what I am. I think I’m dangerous.

“...I’m fine!” he concluded with painful brightness. Well, that was an obvious lie. His heartbeat thumped hard and fast in his chest. “Sorry,” he amended. “More truthfully, I -- haven’t been sleeping well, since...” he gestured absently, “...since the rescue. I guess it’s affecting me a bit.”


Aeria wore a briefly solemn expression as she regarded Lea. “I can understand. After the battle at the Black Portal, I had some pretty awful nightmares. If you’re like me, they’ll fade.”

“Mm.” Lea regarded the cobbles. When he looked up, though, his smile was brighter than ever. “I’m sure they will! Don’t let it bother you, though. Lead the way to this metallic chum of yours. Nothing perks me up like dumping years’ of questions on someone!”

A fact Aeria could attest to: Lea had subjected her to quite the extensive questioning on airship engineering during their flight to Terminus.


The abrupt change in mood didn’t entirely reach her companion’s eyes but Aeria returned his bright smile and added an affirming nod. “I agree. Sometimes asking a ton of questions is the way to go!”

After a quick whistle and a raised hand, Aeria stopped a passing steam dray and the pair clambered on board. The slim, elegant spurii instructed the driver to drop them at the Spinning Cog. The vehicle chugged to life and began rolling down the road, passing the bustling crowds on the sidewalks.


Lea gripped the edges of his seat as they set off. His eyes skittered and hopped from one thing to the next, taking in the passing storefronts, the Terminus crowds, the billowing smoke pouring forth from the dray’s undercarriage. He sucked in a breath, then let it out low and slow.

Aeria swept her arms around her and sighed. “Does it ever feel too crowded for you in Terminus? Sometimes I feel like I want a quiet life somewhere far away.”

“I...”

Liaelty hesitated. “Well, I’ve only been here a handful of days,” he pointed out. “And I don’t have any real points of reference to compare it to, aside from the ocean city. Which, for obvious reasons, I should think, isn’t really my...thing.” Lea smiled, almost apologetic, and tilted his head. “Ask me again when I’ve seen an example of what you’d consider a ‘quiet life’.”


Their conveyance shuddered and rumbled down the road, leaning precariously in the turns, before stopping at their destination. Aeria paid the fare, and the companions disembarked from the dray. The massive bronze-clad doors of the Spinning Cog swung open as she pushed them.

A nod and a wave at the dapper demvir bartender elicited a wave from him in return. Aeria proceeded to a door at the back of the pub and opened it to reveal a wood-paneled room with massive leather chairs and a gigantic table. The demvir sat behind the table was equally titanic with a burnished bronze skin. He was clad in a green silk shirt and leather breeches along with a thick leather belt sporting a colossal brass buckle. The back of his oversized chair was draped in a heavy duster also made of leather.

As the pair moved into the room, he rose and directed a bow at both Aeria and Lea. Somehow, despite his expressionless faceplate, he gave off the air of a smile. “Welcome! Aeria and I know one another but we’ve not been introduced. I’m Laermont, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”


Lea stared for a long moment, taking Laermont in, before catching himself. “Oh! Uh, yeah. Yes. I’m Liaelty, er, Lea - I suppose. At least for now.” Lea scratched absently at his face. This demvir was..a big guy. “Airy--Aeria, here, had nothin’ but good things to say about you.”

After introductions, the hulking metal man gestured at two of the large, wingback chairs. “Please sit. If you want any refreshments, just ring for the server. Now Lea, I understand that you’ve some questions for me. Feel free to ask anything, don’t worry because I shan’t be offended by whatever you ask.”

“Alright,” Lea perched on the edge of his chair, and one foot immediately set to tapping out a soft rhythm against the floor. “That’s a relief, since I don’t even know what counts as offensive. Not just to you but...to anyone, really. I don’t know how much Aeria told you, but - er - my memory is...spotty, at best. I’m not even sure how much I’ve forgotten, other than my personal history. Just woke up one day...or, night?...well, whichever! Woke up floating in the deep sea, and that’s my first memory. Aeria said demvir are...similar? Not the water-stuff,” he hurried to say, “but that you wake up and just...are?”

There was a touch of hope somewhere in Lea’s questioning tone. Tell me I’m not alone, it whispered.


Laermont slowly nodded, his blank face turned slightly up and away, thoughtful somehow. “Aeria’s correct. After the Cataclysm, we began to wake. We don’t know how many of us there really are or if all of us have awoken yet. I cannot say definitively, but few of us have even fragmentary recollections of what happened before the Cataclysm.”

After another contemplative pause, the hulking demvir continued. “Personally I have dreams that are full of an inchoate fear, but no clear imagery. I believe they are related to the time before. I do not know why I slumbered nor do I know what prompted me to wake. Do you ever dream like that, Lea? I am curious.”

Ever the investigator, Laermont sat slightly forward, eager to hear what answer might be given to him.


“Do I ever have dreams full of fear?” A tinge of manic amusement colored Lea’s tone. “I didn’t know there were other kinds.”

He cleared his throat. “Er, sorry, sorry! What a downer! It’s just...I’m not sure how to answer.” Lea winced through his smile. “The way you said it, I’m guessing it’s pretty common knowledge, but...what’s the Cataclysm?”


Laermont held up a hand. “Before I answer that, what I wanted to know is if you have dreams that might hint at your life as it was before? Anything that might be hints of memory?”

Lea glanced away, eyes on the barroom floor. “Ah,” he said. “Well then. ...If I do, they aren’t the ones I remember after. The only dreams I know I have are the ones with water or--”

He stopped abruptly. His foot stilled too. His gaze shot up, catching on Aeria then Laermont. “...Or my time as a prisoner,” he finished somewhat stiffly.


Having cleared up the point, the detective moved on. “The Cataclysm is the event that brought Araevis to where it is now. The precise nature of the event is still unclear, but we know it radically altered the world. The demvir existed before the event, but none of us can recall it for some reason.”

He sighed. “Do you have any inkling of why you can’t remember what happened in your past?”



“Nope!” said Liaelty, brightly this time. “Not a clue. But this Cataclysm - it radically-altered the world, ya say?” He leaned forward; his foot began tap-tap-tapping again. “How long ago was that? Altered the world in what way? Do you know? If it’s called a ‘cataclysm’ I’d think it’d be pretty bad, right?”

Laermont gave a slow nod. “It made us into what we are now. Before it, we may have been a great deal more advanced than we are. There are many theories, but not much in the way of knowledge. We demvir are a remnant of what came before, it seems.”

The gigantic, metallic man paused a moment in his explanation, as if thinking, before going on. “It has been 500 years since the Cataclysm happened. It was a physical disaster that appears to have torn the landscape asunder and remade continents.”


Lea whistled softly. “Five hundred years, huh?” He quietly discounted the idea he’d been entertaining: that maybe this Cataclysm was responsible for his own lack of memory. Five hundred years was a long time to be floating in an ocean.

A quizzical tone came into the Quaestor’s’ voice.”Do you really not remember ever having learned any of this history? I am fascinated by the fact that your mind is a perfect blank before a certain time, just as mine is.”

Liaelty hunted through what knowledge he had - strange as it was, devoid of any personal connections or context.

“Nah,” he concluded. “Nuthin’! Doesn’t ring any bells at all. Maybe I hit my head really hard at some point.” He tilted his head. “Speaking of, what about...” And here, he hesitated. He had to be careful. He didn’t really want the questions he was about to ask to be turned back on him; talking about what he was...it made his stomach clench. But...but he had to know. “What about, ah, aging, then? If demvir are from before this Cataclysm event, and that was five hundred years ago - you don’t age?” He hurried on, “What about injuries? Are you - do you get hurt? Feel pain? Can you die?”


A slow, gentle laugh rumbled from Laermont’s featureless faceplate. “That’s a lot of questions all at once, my friend. I’ll take them one at a time if I may.”

He began ticking off points on his gigantic, articulated fingers as he elucidated each. “We do not age. We are powered by a caelitium core that does not seem to run out of energy, so we are effectively immortal.”

The second finger was ticked off. “We can be damaged and we can feel pain and I suppose if we were extremely badly damaged, it might be an effective death but I suspect that the caelitium would keep on creating power.”

His eyeplate swept up to regard Lea. “So…do you know how long you have lived? Are there any…anomalies that you’ve noticed about yourself since you awakened?”

The questions were mild and gentle in tone, but an intense thirst to know burned behind them.


"It...W-well, I..." Lea floundered, confronted with the exact questions he'd feared the robot might ask.

"I don't know about my age," he admitted. "But..." His gaze cut over to Aeria. "Er, did you happen to hear anything about me? From your fishy-lady friend? Or that captain, maybe?"


Laermont nodded slowly, as if he were nibbling at his lower lip in thought. “I know that they found you imprisoned underwater and I know that you seem unable to die. In a way, you and I are not so different. It is why I am so curious.”

He waited a beat before continuing to speak. “I must apologize for the questioning. It’s a bad habit, but it’s been ingrained in me. I am just basically wondering how you feel about waking up and not knowing about who you really are. I want to compare it to my own experience. I suspect you understand that!”


If Liaelty had been listening past the demvir’s first sentence, he might have agreed on instinct - to be polite, if nothing else.

Instead, what he said was, “No.” It came out short, sharp. Like a curse. “That’s wrong. I can die.” His two-tone blue stare remained where it had fallen, fixed on the tabletop, but his thoughts had drifted miles away.

What was it Aeria had said the night they met? Out on the airship deck?
“First of all the naga kept you imprisoned, under water, then...well...I won’t remind you.”

He’d assumed she’d been referring to the torture. Just the torture. He hadn’t considered she already knew more - knew everything. She’d known. Others had known. This robot knew. They all - they all -

“I died. And it hurt,” he said, eyes on the table. The words spilled, now, with no reason to hold them back. There was no secret to keep. “Every time, it hurts. I have scars, but I don’t know where they came from, because I can’t scar, now. When I’m cut, I bleed, it hurts, and then it heals. When I drowned, I could feel the water in my lungs, and it burned - and then...and then it...” Dark. Empty. Endless. Awful. He pressed a hand to his chest, like he was drowning now. “...and then I come back.”

Lea’s head whipped up, gaze flitting between Aeria and Laermont like they were threats. He sucked in a breath. Another. “I can die,” he said. “But I can’t stay dead. And that’s all I know.” Sharper, almost plaintively, he repeated, “That’s all I know.”


Aeria and Laermont’s gazes met at the explosive outburst. Concern was plain in the spurii’s eyes and on her features. The only indication of concern for the demvir was in his voice as he spoke, his tones softer and chastened. “I am truly sorry, Lea. I had no desire to cause you pain. I hadn’t realized…”

“What? No, I--” Lea blinked, then blinked again. His head swam.

Please! He’d screamed, once. Please, that’s all I know! That’s all I know!! Before he’d realised there was no point.

“It - It’s not you.” He jerked his head, trying to dislodge the ghost of old, ugly memories. “I’m, uh. I can just be a bit - a bit - unstable. I think. You didn’t do anything wrong.” He shifted, uneasy; he realised his hands were locked, white-knuckled, on the edge of his seat and forced his fingers loose. “I’m sorry.”


Laermont appeared to gather his thoughts and compose himself. “We’ll say no more about it for now. I may know some people who can help you, who might understand what is happening to you. May I ask them to speak to you? If not, I quite understand.”

Once again he gave Aeria a significant glance. “Perhaps we have had enough for now. I am sure you might want to have your mind taken off of the problem. Again I am sorry if I overstepped the mark.”


Liaelty tried to hide his wince behind an awkward smile. “Really, it’s fine. You’re fine. What I do is...it’s super strange, apparently. I shouldn’t be surprised that people are talking about it.”

The small back room was starting to feel too small. Cramped. Lea’s leg twitched. Taking a deep breath, he added, “Give me, ah, some time? To think about - about things. I should probably want to figure out what’s going on with me, but - it’s -”

It’s so much. Everything’s too much. He sighed and looked down at his hands - clasped tightly in his lap now. “I’m sure I’ll say yes, but I need a little time, I think.”


Laermont flashed a glance at Aeria and gave a simple nod of his colossal head. “That is fair enough, Lea. I do understand the need to consider the situation. I will not apologize again as you’ve insisted that I should not. I appreciate you talking with me.”

Aeria gave Lea a gentle smile. “I am glad Lea agreed to come along and talk to you. Sometimes we all need to just express ourselves. I can also understand why you need the space, Lea. We can give things a break now.”

The two of them rose and Laermont spoke once more. “It was a pleasure to have met you Lea and I hope we’ll talk again when you’re ready so you can speak with the people I mentioned.”


“I, I will. Yes. Of course.” Anything to get out of this room right now.

Lea sprang to his feet, relieved to have a reason to stand. Gripping the back of his chair like a lifeline, he returned Aeria’s kind expression with the nervous smile of a cornered animal. His gaze flit back to Laermont. “Really. I appreciate the -- the concern. And effort. You’re...good people.”

That’s what people said, right? Gods, he didn’t know. ‘We all need to express ourselves’ Aeria had said. He felt like laughing. Screaming. He thought of Aeria’s halberd and his stomach rolled. He just needed space. Was that all? Was he good people?

Weakly, he added, “I’m gonna - I need - I could use some fresh air.”


The massive demvir stood in one smooth motion and crossed the room with a flow that no one so big should have displayed. He swept the door open. “Go ahead Lea and Aeria.”

His watchful gaze observed Lea moving along with Aeria before following them outside into the street. He stood next to the pair and gazed down the road. “Again it was a pleasure to have met you Lea. I hope we may do so again soon. Alas I have a case that cannot wait any longer. I will bid you both farewell.”

After bowing to them both, he set off in huge strides that ate up the ground under his feet. Aeria turned her attention back to her companion. “Well I guess we can head back to your inn. I hope you’re feeling okay, Lea. I didn’t mean to add to any of your stresses.”


Lea sucked in breath after breath of cold air, relishing in the ache it left in his chest. “Me?” he gasped. “I’m fine. Good. Great, even!” The lie was so transparent he shouldn’t have bothered, but he couldn’t stop himself. “I, just, ah-”

He just what? How could he explain himself to her? He didn’t even know how to explain himself to himself. “I just...” Leaning back against the Spinning Cog’s brickwork, he sighed. “Don’t ask me why, but I, ah...the,” his voice dropped to a mutter, “ thedying thing.” He cleared his throat. “I didn’t think -- well. I didn’t want anyone to know. It’s not your fault you did.”

Aeria furrowed her brow. “I certainly intended no harm Lea. I guess I didn’t think either. I’ll do my best in future not to spring stuff on you.”

Blue eye bright in the winter sunlight, Lea tilted his head to study Aeria’s own expression. “Stop worryin’ about me,” he said, abruptly. “I don’t like it, and it can’t be good for you. We’ll get one of those steam-carts, tell them to dump me off back at the inn, then you go do something you enjoy.” He coated his expression in a roguish grin. “Crime, perhaps.”

Shrugging and smiling ruefully, Aeria caught Lea’s bright blue gaze. “I worry anyhow, I can’t help it. I will take you back to the inn though. After that, I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind spending time with you again, but I’ll leave it up to you. I’ll give you my address and you can get me a message when you want to meet up.”
 

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