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Burnt flesh accosted his nostrils, lingering smoke stung his eyes as he rubbed them. Bracing against a still intact wall, he rested. Fools, all of them! Micron’s body ached from running hard towards the mayhem. The dragon attack was just the diversion he needed. Men and women ran here and there, yelling for help, still busy digging through the wreckage, hoping to find life. It all mattered little to his needs.

The Tech Wizard obviously anticipated the mission, weighing the probabilities down to the seventh place to the right of zero. Though practically insane, his prognostications might as well be magic, for the way in which he knew the future was nothing less that miraculous. These group of do-gooders were doomed before they even set sail. He had to find a way out, or else his life would end also. And Edenites? What utter nonsense to bring those weak and frail pretenders along!

Smearing soot on his face, he found an alleyway and rolled in the dirt, spreading some of the ash in his hair. Quieting himself, he waited in the shadows, patiently looking for his chance.

A wagon filled the corpses slowly creaked by, a lone, dejected man managing the reigns of the muscular horse, hoofs clopping along the stone street. It was dusk, and the main rescue effort was still some distance away. Now was his chance.

Between death

Limping out of the shadows, trying not to draw attention, Micron came up behind the cart, climbed up and onto the bloodied and burned bodies, trying not to retch. Burrowing his way among them, he rested between death. Ill make them pay, he thought, looking up to the sides of the buildings as they gave way to countryside.

Lying there, alive among the dead, he seethed with indignity as the wagon lurched over rough ground. He knew that his chief advantage, other than his gift with machines, was a willingness to go as low as required to achieve his ends. Today was just an extreme example of that trait. So many underestimated his intelligence and resolve, but nothing, not even this, was beneath him if it meant his survival.

The wagon stopped near evening. He could hear the driver climb down and walk away. Should he try to leave now? Would anyone see him? Or should he wait until he was thrown along with the other corpses in the mass grave that surely awaited them? He weighed the odds carefully.

Trusting the silence, Micron threw off a charred arm resting on his disfigured head. Slowly, he rose up, like a ghoul, and peered over the bodies. He saw no one. Wiggling out from among the stench, he dropped down to the ground, scanning the area.

First objective

A mound of freshly dug dirt to his left would be his first objective. Making for it, limping as fast as he could, he dropped down behind it, rolling on his back, winded. From under his tunic, he took the cloth for his turban and wrapped it around his scarred head, covering up his shame. Dusting off his clothes, he produced a set of mourning beads. Now he could pass for a survivor, come to mourn a dead relative, if his presence was challenged.

Standing, surveying the impromptu cemetery, he walked slowly, holding his chest, then head, then chest again, pretending to grieve as he faked a soft cry. With the stench of death on him, the blood on his clothes from that load of unfortunates, he knew he’d be convincing.

Ugh… He felt a presence, an apparition, something or someone was near. Though he looked all around him trying to make out any kind of form in the shadows, he saw no one. He walked on, looking up at the city. His best chance of escape was to attach to a trade caravan heading along the rim of the Burnt Sea. He had coin-not much, but enough to buy passage. He would have to make up a convincing story, but he was sure he could create a tragic tale from the war.

A rusty door opened in his mind and someone peered in. He tried to close it, but it wouldn’t shut. A presence entered. He held his head, struggling, shouting in himself, Get out! Fear gripped him as the “other” went through recent memories like someone sorting dirty laundry. Finally the voice said, inside him, Return.

Get out of my mind! he thought as loud as he could.

As the presence continued to rummage, he saw memories playing in his head, long lost fragments being stitched together like a garment being sewn. Trying to distract the intruder, he hit his head over and over. He wanted to yell out loud, but feared drawing attention.

Realizing who it must be, he thought hard, This is against your code! I did not give you permission!

A clam voice

Where do you think you’re going? a calm voice spoke in his mind.

Knowing he could not withstand the intrusion, he replied, The mission is doomed, the Tech Wizard already knows. You know it is impossible. Let me go, I am old, feeble, of no practical use to anyone. You know what I say is true, why torture me like this?

More memories, dredged up from his distant past, rolled in front of his mind’s eye like someone flipping through a picture book, casually browsing.

He saw himself working at the Tech Wizard’s laboratory, fearful and furtive, keeping to himself in a corner , but at the beck and call of his master. He worked hard on his own inventions in secret, between demands. Then another, terrible memory surfaced. He sat at his bench, adjusting the delicate mechanism on Beauty’s hat. Then, inserting the stone, he watched it power up. Like a prisoner forced to watch his own torture, he saw his hands lift the hat and put it on his own head. It was only right he try it, he’d created it after all. Why did she think she was the only one who could wield its power? Was not it his creation!? His right!?

He felt nothing at first, except a sense of lightness. The red stone began to glow in the mechanism, lighting up his corner, drawing power from the objects in the room. The lights flickered. A part of the workbench faded from existence. He put out his hand, then drew it back suddenly. The bench was was still there, but he couldn’t see it. More things began to fade from his workspace then vanish, as he felt power from the universe flow through him, his mind expanding to feel the very pulse of creation around him. Dark energy danced from his fingertips as he lifted his hands.

Stop it, stop it...he pleaded in his head, knowing full well what came next.

Dark powers

Dark powers burned through his mind as he relived the experience, the synapses of his brain firing like lightning. He saw himself grab the hat, trying to pry it off. It seemed glued to his scalp. He screamed in pain, his hair dissolving, and began to writhe, dark power melting his thumb from his left hand as he desperately tried to remove the bonnet. Then, he thudded to the floor as the hat rolled from his head. Standing outside himself, the Hat Maker watched in horror as he screamed in agony.

Then the presence left, closing the door behind, leaving him alone again.

Opening his eyes in the dark now, with a start, Micron saw Meandre standing in front of him, cutless drawn, staring malevolently. Clearly, she weighed his death in her mind.

“I was just mourning the unfortunate dead,” Micron said, holding up his mourning beads. “I swear I was coming back.”

Meandre flicked the point of her blade up and across his cheek drawing a thin red line of blood.

He put his hand to the flesh wound, fighting the pain, knowing that he was inches from real death. Signaling with her weapon, she motioned for him to move. He gave up – for now – limping obediently back towards the city and the docks of Nilfheim.

As they neared the moored sky ships, Micro flinched as Komae fell in alongside him, a mischievous grin spreading over her face.

Calm Down by All Time Low