"W-Wow…" Hanako couldn't help but let out a gasp as her eyes adjusted to the dim lights.
The Black Gulch was a series of caves and tunnels leading from the surface point over which the town was built nearby. Now that she was inside one of the caves, the young woman was so shocked, she could do little but marvel at the sight.
Enormous crystals of various colors jutted out from the walls and ceiling, many of them large as buildings or space shuttles. They each emitted their own dull glow that lit up the caverns fairly well, the light reflecting off the surfaces of several ponds of water. Looking close at one of them, Hanako was surprised at how clear and clean it appeared to be.
"The crystals have such a presence here that they completely purify the water, almost instantly…and those impurities get sucked into these smaller ones, which gives them their unique colors as they grow and grow." Alonn spoke up, kneeling besides her to gently put her hand in the water. Moments later, she pulled it out, and the tarnishes and dirt that was on her gauntlet was completely gone, leaving a shining and almost new hand in its place.
"People don't really know it anymore, but there was a legend that the creator of our galaxy and universe had a special interest and love for crystals…such was her favor, some believe she left crystals for us to find, that each one has its own story and destiny. So I like to think Vengarl is a little spot set aside with that in mind…for both her and us." She continued, standing up and gesturing for Hanako to follow her deeper in. The sound of reverence in the older woman's voice almost put Hanako in awe.
"…I suppose you want to know how I knew about you."
"A l-little, yeah."
"I intended to spend the rest of my life here, thinking you'd never show…but here you are. When I resigned from the Alliance…I left what life I had. I had lost too many comrades…more family than I could ever imagine. Nobody walks onto the battlefield knowing what is going to happen. Every move you make, every motion, is a roll of the dice."
"W-What do you mean?"
"I've lost a lot of friends, Hanako…and parts of me with them." As she spoke, Alonn tapped her left arm meaningfully, leading them deeper and deeper.
Hanako stopped and gasped suddenly, and her guide whirled around.
"What is it!?"
"…L-Look." Hanako lifted her hand, the chain of her pendant wrapped around it. The Elysian was glowing unusually bright, enough to bring a strong glow to the dim caverns with ease.
It was only with the strong glow the pendant gave off that both Alonn and Hanako realized where they were.
"What in the world…"
An enormous metal statue was half-buried above them, a great bronze automaton stuck in rubble and clearly inactive.
"W-What…What i-is that?" Hanako gulped, stepping back.
"Well, I'll be…that's a Sentinel. Ancient automatons built to protect Vengarl by a forgotten civilization. They eventually all shut off…falling apart and becoming buried in such places. If you hadn't lit up the place with that fancy necklace of yours…I doubt anyone would have ever known it was there." Alonn remarked, pointing at several etched symbols on the automaton's armor.
Hanako did recognize several of them from some of her history books, but none of them were specific enough to puzzle out whatever story it was trying to tell.
"This way." Alonn gestured, catching the younger woman's attention.
"R-Right, sorry." Quickly catching up, Hanako followed her deeper into the caves.
"So, what's the story with your glow-in-the-dark necklace?" Alonn prodded cautiously, quietly wondering if this young girl truly was who the old warrior thought she was.
"That's…u-um, I'd rather not say." She nervously responded, clutching the silver pendant tightly.
"Just wondering, wasn't trying to pry. Not often I see a necklace like that…I'd keep it close if I were you. If it looks valuable, people will try to steal it…and that looks like it's worth quite a bit." Alonn quickly reassured her, changing from her questioning tone to an advisory one. Thankfully, it seemed to calm her down.
The girl was as shaky as a leaf, and if it was her…she had a reason to be that way.
"A-Alonn, look." She was broken out of her thoughts as Hanako tugged on her sleeve.
Her pendant's light had revealed a dark corner of the caves that Alonn had never really looked at, much less even explored.
"Another Sentinel?" The warrior questioned, approaching the bronze plate half-buried in crystal. It was covered in the same symbols as the Sentinel's chestplate from earlier, but there appeared to be a dark-colored crystal embedded into the center of this metal plate.
"I-It looks different. Like it's…" Hanako's voice changed from timid to curious, her hand cautiously reaching out.
"Be careful. These machines aren't the only things that civilization left behind." Alonn warned her, but it was too late.
The moment that her fingertips brushed against the cold, rusted metal plate, a massive boom immediately shook the caverns.
Dust and shards of rock fell from the ceiling as the sound grew louder, echoing throughout the tunnels and back up into the surface.
"HANAKO! We need to go!" Alonn yelled, grabbing her shoulder and pulling. She then realized that the girl was frozen in shock.
"W-What's going on?!" She screamed, pure terror in her eyes as the warrior had to pick up and carry her.
As Alonn struggled to see through the collapsing halls, crystals that had stood for hundreds of years easily falling to pieces before her eyes, one roar between the booms caused her to freeze up.
"Oh no." While the wizened warrior had not heard the horn before herself, she had read many books that described it so perfectly, it was as if she knew it by memory.
Turning around, she shuddered as the Sentinel's single eye lit up with a bright red flash, steam spewing from its body as the great war machine woke.
"A-Alonn? W-What have I d-done?" Hanako whimpered, clutching her only protector's shoulder tightly.
In that split second, Alonn turned and gave the strongest sprint she'd tried in years…not since her last days fighting on the battlefield had she felt her blood pumping so strongly.
Finally, daylight met her grateful eyes as she staggered onto the sun-scorched granite, collapsing with Hanako still clutching her tightly.
The sounds of screaming met her ears, but Alonn was too exhausted to care.
She knew now that things were about to change. Not just the Sentinels reawakening, but the entire playing field.
The earth tore open, enormous boulders thrown into the sky as the great Sentinel rose from the now-uprooted caverns. The dozens of tour guides and what tourists still remained in the evening gasped as the magnificent automaton gazed into the skies of its beloved planet. As the dust spewed out of its gears and inner parts, the Sentinel looked back down upon the crowd of onlookers. Turning its head aside, as if curious, its frog-mouthed helmet opening. A gush of steam exploded outwards, and the great war machine looked down upon its witnesses. Its single eye glowed bright red.
A beam of pure, unbridled fury, holy and just in its intention, scorched the land before the Sentinel, obliterating all that stood before the enraged machine.
The screams of the decimated were overridden by the sheer echo of the blasts that the Sentinel gladly paid to those who intruded upon the land of a civilization long past.
In the distance, the Legion's forces halted their activities, for even they heard the cry of this new adversary...and the sheer size of the automaton made it quickly visible.
"All forces, I want that thing destroyed. You understand me? Destroyed!"
Grayson's angered voice echoed through the receivers of every armored soldier, and they responded dutifully.
The bipedal tanks of the Legion, less than a third of the great machine's size, fired upon it. The distance between the town of Navan and the Gulch was no small matter, but the range of the vehicles made it possible.
However, the blasts from the tanks did nothing to faze the bronze Sentinel. Clouds of shrapnel and fire burst from the shots, which it ignored as it walked slowly towards Navan.
In an instant, the Sentinel flashed again. The beam of pure energy peppered through Navan, obliterating every single rickety building from the planet…along with any survivors of the town inhabitants and the Legion soldiers and vehicles stationed there.
Content that it could no longer see any threats to the planet, the Sentinel began to wander, disappearing into the wastes of Vengarl as quickly as it had suddenly risen from its murky gravesite…
Heyyyy…remember this story?
Yeah, I do, too.
I felt shitty giving this one up at the time, and now that I've gotten a regular schedule back up, I'm kicking this baby back into gear.
Anyone who sent me bios when I wrote this story originally, look for em' if you can and give them to me. I seriously cannot find them, wherever I had saved them. And if you've got a new one, feel free to send it in.
Anyway, see ya next chapter!